The Old English Baron/Part 10
The next morning the whole party set out on their journey; they travelled by easy stages on account of the Baron's health, which began to be impaired, and arrived in health and spirits at the castle of Lord Graham, where they were received with the utmost respect and kindness by the noble master.
The Lord Lovel had recovered his health and strength as much as possible in the time, and was impatient to be gone from thence to his own house. He was surprised to hear of the arrival of his brother and nephews, and expressed no pleasure at the thoughts of seeing them. When Sir Philip Harclay came to pay his respects to Baron Fitz-Owen, the latter received him with civility, but with a coldness that was apparent. Sir Robert left the room, doubting his resolution. Sir Philip advanced, and took the Baron by the hand.
"My Lord," said he, "I rejoice to see you here. I cannot be satisfied with the bare civilities of such a man as you. I aspire to your esteem, to your friendship, and I shall not be happy till I obtain them. I will make you the judge of every part of my conduct, and where you shall condemn me, I will condemn myself."
The Baron was softened, his noble heart felt its alliance with its counterpart, but he thought the situation of his brother demanded some reserve towards the man who sought his life; but, in spite of himself, it wore off every moment. Lord Clifford related all that had passed, with the due regard to Sir Philip's honour; he remarked how nobly he concealed the cause of his resentment against the Lord Lovel till the day of combat, that he might not prepossess the judges against him. He enlarged on his humanity to the vanquished, on the desire he expressed to have justice done to his heirs; finally, he mentioned his great respect for the Lord Fitz-Owen, and the solicitude he shewed to have him come to settle the estate of the sick man in favour of his children. Lord Clifford also employed his son to soften Sir Robert, and to explain to him every doubtful part of Sir Philip's behaviour.
After the travellers had taken some rest, the Lord Graham proposed that they should make a visit to the sick man's chamber. The lords sent to acquaint him they were coming to visit him, and they followed the messenger. The Lord Fitz-Owen went up to the bedside; he embraced his brother with strong emotions of concern. Sir Robert followed him; then Mr. William.
Lord Lovel embraced them, but said nothing; his countenance shewed his inward agitations. Lord Fitz-Owen first broke silence.
"I hope," said he, "I see my brother better than I expected?"
Lord Lovel bit his fingers, he pulled the bed-clothes, he seemed almost distracted; at length he broke out —
"I owe no thanks to those who sent for my relations! Sir Philip Harclay, you have used ungenerously the advantage you have gained over me! you spared my life, only to take away my reputation. You have exposed me to strangers, and, what is worse, to my dearest friends; when I lay in a state of danger, you obliged me to say any thing, and now you take advantage of it, to ruin me in my friends' affection. But, if I recover, you may repent it!"
Sir Philip then came forward.
"My Lords, I shall take no notice of what this unhappy man has just now said; I shall appeal to you, as to the honourable witnesses of all that has passed; you see it was no more than necessary. I appeal to you for the motives of my treatment of him, before, at, and after our meeting. I did not take his life, as I might have done; I wished him to repent of his sins, and to make restitution of what he unjustly possesses. I was called out to do an act of justice; I had taken the heir of Lovel under my protection, my chief view was to see justice done to him; — what regarded this man was but a secondary motive. This was my end, and I will never, never lose sight of it."
Lord Lovel seemed almost choaked with passion, to see every one giving some mark of approbation and respect to Sir Philip. He called out —
"I demand to know who is this pretended heir, whom he brings out to claim my title and fortune?"
"My noble auditors," said Sir Philip, "I shall appeal to your judgment, in regard to the proofs of my ward's birth and family; every circumstance shall be laid before you, and you shall decide upon them.
"Here is a young man, supposed the son of a peasant, who, by a train of circumstances that could not have happened by human contrivance, discovers not only who were his real parents, but that they came to untimely deaths. He even discovers the different places where their bones are buried, both out of consecrated ground, and appeals to their ashes for the truth of his pretensions. He has also living proofs to offer, that will convince the most incredulous. I have deferred entering into particulars, till the arrival of Baron Fitz-Owen. I know his noble heart and honourable character, from one that has long been an eye-witness of his goodness; such is the opinion I have of his justice, that I will accept him as one of the judges in his brother's cause. I and my ward will bring our proofs before him, and the company here present; in the course of them, it will appear that he is the best qualified of any to judge of them, because he can ascertain many of the facts we shall have occasion to mention. I will rest our cause upon their decision."
Lord Graham applauded Sir Philip's appeal, affirming his own impartiality, and calling upon Lord Clifford and his son, and also his own nephews who were present. Lord Clifford said —
"Sir Philip offers fairly, and like himself; there can be no place nor persons more impartial than the present, and I presume the Lord Lovel can have no objection."
"No objection!" answered he; "what, to be tried like a criminal, to have judges appointed over me, to decide upon my right to my own estate and title? I will not submit to such a jurisdiction!"
"Then," said Sir Philip, "you had rather be tried by the laws of the land, and have them pronounce sentence upon you? Take your choice, sir; if you refuse the one, you shall be certain of the other."
Lord Clifford then said — "You will allow Lord Lovel to consider of the proposal; he will consult his friends, and be determined by their advice."
Lord Fitz-Owen said — "I am very much surprised at what I have heard. I should be glad to know all that Sir Philip Harclay has to say for his ward, that I may judge what my brother has to hope or fear; I will then give my best advice, or offer my mediation, as he may stand in need of them."
"You say well," replied Lord Graham, "and pray let us come directly to the point; Sir Philip, you will introduce your ward to this company, and enter upon your proofs."
Sir Philip bowed to the company; he went out and brought in Edmund, encouraging him by the way; he presented him to Baron Fitz-Owen, who looked very serious.
"Edmund Twyford," said he, "are you the heir of the house of Lovel?"
"I am, my Lord," said Edmund, bowing to the ground; "the proofs will appear; but I am, at the same time, the most humble and grateful of all your servants, and the servant of your virtues."
Sir Robert rose up, and was going to leave the room.
"Son Robert, stay," said the Baron; "if there is any fraud, you will be pleased to detect it, and, if all that is affirmed be true, you will not shut your eyes against the light; you are concerned in this business; hear it in silence, and let reason be arbiter in your cause."
He bowed to his father, bit his lip, and retired to the window. William nodded to Edmund, and was silent. All the company had their eyes fixed on the young man, who stood in the midst, casting down his eyes with modest respect to the audience; while Sir Philip related all the material circumstances of his life, the wonderful gradation by which he came to the knowledge of his birth, the adventures of the haunted apartment, the discovery of the fatal closet, and the presumptive proofs that Lord Lovel was buried there. At this part of his narration, Lord Fitz-Owen interrupted him.
"Where is this closet you talk of? for I and my sons went over the apartment since Edmund's departure, and found no such place as you describe."
"My Lord," said Edmund, "I can account for it: the door is covered with tapestry, the same as the room, and you might easily overlook it; but I have a witness here," said he, and putting his hand into his bosom, he drew out the key. "If this is not the key of that closet, let me be deemed an impostor, and all I say a falsehood; I will risk my pretensions upon this proof."
"And for what purpose did you take it away?" said the Baron.
"To prevent any person from going into it," replied Edmund; "I have vowed to keep it till I shall open that closet before witnesses appointed for that purpose."
"Proceed, sir," said the Baron Fitz-Owen.
Sir Philip then related the conversation between Edmund and Margery Twyford, his supposed mother.
Lord Fitz-Owen seemed in the utmost surprise. He exclaimed, "Can this be true? strange discovery! unfortunate child!"
Edmund's tears bore witness to his veracity. He was obliged to hide his face, he lifted up his clasped hands to heaven, and was in great emotions during all this part of the relation; while Lord Lovel groaned, and seemed in great agitation.
Sir Philip then addressed himself to Lord Fitz-Owen.
"My Lord, there was another person present at the conversation between Edmund and his foster-mother, who can witness to all that passed; perhaps your lordship can tell who that was?"
"It was father Oswald," replied the Baron; "I well remember that he went with him at his request; let him be called in."
He was sent for, and came immediately. The Baron desired him to relate all that passed between Edmund and his mother.
Oswald then began —
"Since I am now properly called upon to testify what I know concerning this young man, I will speak the truth, without fear or favour of any one; and I will swear, by the rules of my holy order, to the truth of what I shall relate."
He then gave a particular account of all that passed on that occasion, and mentioned the tokens found on both the infant and his mother.
"Where are these tokens to be seen?" said the Lord Clifford.
"I have them here, my lord," said Edmund, "and I keep them as my greatest treasures."
He then produced them before all the company.
"There is no appearance of any fraud or collusion," said Lord Graham; "if any man thinks he sees any, let him speak."
"Pray, my lord, suffer me to speak a word," said Sir Robert. "Do you remember that I hinted my suspicions concerning father Oswald, the night our kinsmen lay in the east apartment?"
"I do," said the Baron.
"Well, sir, it now appears that he did know more than he would tell us; you find he is very deep in all Edmund's secrets, and you may judge what were his motives for undertaking this journey."
"I observe what you say," answered his father, "but let us hear all that Oswald has to say; I will be as impartial as possible."
"My lord," returned Oswald, "I beg you also to recollect what I said, on the night your son speaks of, concerning secrecy in certain matters."
"I remember that also," said the Baron; "but proceed."
"My lord," continued Oswald, "I knew more than I thought myself at liberty to disclose at that time; but I will now tell you every thing. I saw there was something more than common in the accidents that befell this young man, and in his being called out to sleep in the east apartment; I earnestly desired him to let me be with him on the second night, to which he consented reluctantly; we heard a great noise in the rooms underneath, we went down stairs together; I saw him open the fatal closet, I heard groans that pierced me to the heart, I kneeled down and prayed for the repose of the spirit departed; I found a seal, with the arms of Lovel engraven upon it, which I gave to Edmund, and he now has it in his possession. He enjoined me to keep secret what I had seen and heard, till the time should come to declare it. I conceived that I was called to be a witness of these things; besides, my curiosity was excited to know the event; I, therefore, desired to be present at the interview between him and his mother, which was affecting beyond expression. I heard what I have now declared as nearly as my memory permits me. I hope no impartial person will blame me for any part of my conduct; but if they should, I do not repent it. If I should forfeit the favour of the rich and great, I shall have acquitted myself to God and my conscience. I have no worldly ends to answer; I plead the cause of the injured orphan; and I think, also, that I second the designs of Providence."
"You have well spoken, father," said the Lord Clifford; "your testimony is indeed of consequence."
"It is amazing and convincing," said Lord Graham; "and the whole story is so well connected, that I can see nothing to make us doubt the truth of it; but let us examine the proofs."
Edmund gave into their hands the necklace and earrings; he showed them the locket with the cypher of Lovel, and the seal with the arms; he told them the cloak, in which he was wrapped, was in the custody of his foster-mother, who would produce it on demand. He begged that some proper persons might be commissioned to go with him to examine whether or no the bodies of his parents were buried where he affirmed; adding, that he put his pretensions into their hands with pleasure, relying entirely upon their honour and justice.
During this interesting scene, the criminal covered his face, and was silent; but he sent forth bitter sighs and groans that denoted the anguish of his heart. At length, Lord Graham, in compassion to him, proposed that they should retire and consider of the proofs; adding, "Lord Lovel must needs be fatigued; we will resume the subject in his presence, when he is disposed to receive us."
Sir Philip Harclay approached the bed; "Sir," said he, "I now leave you in the hands of your own relations; they are men of strict honour, and I confide in them to take care of you and of your concerns."
They then went out of the room, leaving only the Lord Fitz-Owen and his sons with the criminal. They discoursed of the wonderful story of Edmund's birth, and the principal events of his life.
After dinner, Sir Philip requested another conference with the Lords, and their principal friends. There were present also Father Oswald, and Lord Graham's confessor, who had taken the Lord Lovel's confession, Edmund, and Zadisky. "Now, gentlemen," said Sir Philip, "I desire to know your opinion of our proofs, and your advice upon them."
Lord Graham replied, "I am desired to speak for the rest. We think there are strong presumptive proofs that this young man is the true heir of Lovel; but they ought to be confirmed and authenticated. Of the murder of the late Lord there is no doubt; the criminal hath confessed it, and the circumstances confirm it; the proofs of his crime are so connected with those of the young man's birth, that one cannot be public without the other. We are desirous to do justice; and yet are unwilling, for the Lord Fitz-Owen's sake, to bring the criminal to public shame and punishment. We wish to find out a medium; we therefore desire Sir Philip to make proposals for his ward, and let Lord Fitz-Owen answer for himself and his brother, and we will be moderators between them."
Here every one expressed approbation, and called upon Sir Philip to make his demands.
"If," said he, "I were to demand strict justice, I should not be satisfied with any thing less than the life of the criminal; but I am a Christian soldier, the disciple of Him who came into the world to save sinners; — for His sake," continued he, crossing himself, "I forego my revenge, I spare the guilty. If Heaven gives him time for repentance, man should not deny it. It is my ward's particular request, that I will not bring shame upon the house of his benefactor, the Lord Fitz-Owen, for whom he hath a filial affection and profound veneration. My proposals are these: — First, that the criminal make restitution of the title and estate, obtained with so much injustice and cruelty, to the lawful heir, whom he shall acknowledge such before proper witnesses. Secondly, that he shall surrender his own lawful inheritance and personal estate into the hands of the Lord Fitz-Owen, in trust for his sons, who are his heirs of blood. Thirdly, that he shall retire into a religious house, or else quit the kingdom in three months time; and, in either case, those who enjoy his fortune shall allow him a decent annuity, that he may not want the comforts of life. By the last, I disable him from the means of doing further mischief, and enable him to devote the remainder of his days to penitence. These are my proposals, and I give him four-and-twenty hours to consider of them; if he refuses to comply with them, I shall be obliged to proceed to severer measures, and to a public prosecution. But the goodness of the Lord Fitz-Owen bids me expect, from his influence with his brother, a compliance with proposals made out of respect to his honourable character."
Lord Graham applauded the humanity, prudence, and piety of Sir Philip's proposals. He enforced them with all his influence and eloquence. Lord Clifford seconded him; and the rest gave tokens of approbation.
Sir Robert Fitz-Owen then rose up. "I beg leave to observe to the company, who are going to dispose so generously of another man's property, that my father purchased the castle and estate of the house of Lovel; who is to repay him the money for it?"
Sir Philip then said, "I have also a question to ask. Who is to pay the arrears of my ward's estate, which he has unjustly been kept out of these one-and-twenty years? Let Lord Clifford answer to both points, for he is not interested in either."
Lord Clifford smiled.
"I think," returned he, "the first question is answered by the second, and that the parties concerned should set one against the other, especially as Lord Fitz-Owen's children will inherit the fortune, which includes the purchase-money."
Lord Graham said, "This determination is both equitable and generous, and I hope will answer the expectations on all sides."
"I have another proposal to make to my Lord Fitz-Owen," said Sir Philip; "but I first wait for the acceptance of those already made."
Lord Fitz-Owen replied, "I shall report them to my brother, and acquaint the company with his resolution to-morrow."
They then separated; and the Baron, with his sons, returned to the sick man's chamber; there he exhorted his brother, with the piety of a confessor, to repent of his sins and make atonement for them. He made known Sir Philip's proposals, and observed on the wonderful discovery of his crime, and the punishment that followed it. "Your repentance," continued he, "may be accepted, and your crime may yet be pardoned. If you continue refractory, and refuse to make atonement, you will draw down upon you a severer punishment."
The criminal would not confess, and yet could not deny, the truth and justice of his observations. The Baron spent several hours in his brother's chamber. He sent for a priest, who took his confession; and they both sat up with him all night, advising, persuading, and exhorting him to do justice, and to comply with the proposals. He was unwilling to give up the world, and yet more so to become the object of public shame, disgrace, and punishment.
The next day, Lord Fitz-Owen summoned the company into his brother's chamber, and there declared, in his name, that he accepted Sir Philip Harclay's proposals; that, if the young man could, as he promised, direct them to the places where his parents were buried, and if his birth should be authenticated by his foster-parents, he should be acknowledged the heir of the house of Lovel. That to be certified of these things, they must commission proper persons to go with him for this purpose; and, in case the truth should be made plain, they should immediately put him in possession of the castle and estate, in the state it was. He desired Lord Graham and Lord Clifford to chuse the commissioners, and gave Sir Philip and Edmund a right to add to them, each, another person.
Lord Graham named the eldest son of Lord Clifford, and the other, in return, named his nephew; they also chose the priest, Lord Graham's confessor, and the eldest son of Baron Fitz-Owen, to his great mortification. Sir Philip appointed Mr. William Fitz-Owen, and Edmund named father Oswald; they chose out the servants to attend them, who were also to be witnesses of all that should pass. Lord Clifford proposed to Baron Fitz-Owen, that, as soon as the commissioners were set out, the remainder of the company should adjourn to his seat in Cumberland, whither Lord Graham should be invited to accompany them, and to stay till this affair was decided. After some debate, this was agreed to; and, at the same time, that the criminal should be kept with them till every thing was properly settled.
Lord Fitz-Owen gave his son William the charge to receive and entertain the commissioners at the castle; But, before they set out, Sir Philip had a conference with Lord Fitz-Owen, concerning the surrender of the castle; in which he insisted on the furniture and stock of the farm, in consideration of the arrears. Lord Fitz-Owen slightly mentioned the young man's education and expences. Sir Philip answered, "You are right, my Lord; I had not thought of this point; we owe you, in this respect, more than we can ever repay. But you know not half the respect and affection Edmund bears for you. When restitution of his title and fortune are fully made, his happiness will still depend on you."
"How on me?" said the Baron.
"Why, he will not be happy unless you honour him with your notice and esteem; but this is not all, I must hope that you will do still more for him."
"Indeed," said the Baron, "he has put my regard for him to a severe proof; what further can he expect from me?"
"My dear Lord, be not offended, I have only one more proposal to make to you; if you refuse it, I can allow for you; and I confess it requires a greatness of mind, but not more than you possess, to grant it."
"Well, sir, speak your demand."
"Say rather my request; it is this: Cease to look upon Edmund as the enemy of your house; look upon him as a son, and make him so indeed."
"How say you, Sir Philip? my son!"
"Yes, my lord, give him your daughter. He is already your son in filial affection; your son William and he are sworn brothers; what remains but to make him yours? He deserves such a parent, you such a son; and you will, by this means, ingraft into your family, the name, title, and estate of Lovel, which will be entailed on your posterity for ever."
"This offer requires much consideration," returned the Baron.
"Suffer me to suggest some hints to you," said Sir Philip. "This match is, I think, verily pointed out by Providence, which hath conducted the dear boy through so many dangers, and brought him within view of his happiness; look on him as the precious relic of a noble house, the son of my dearest friend! or look on him as my son and heir, and let me, as his father, implore you to consent to his marriage with your daughter."
The Baron's heart was touched, he turned away his face.
"Oh, Sir Philip Harclay, what a friend are you! why should such a man be our enemy?"
"My lord," said Sir Philip, "we are not, cannot be enemies; our hearts are already allied; and I am certain we shall one day be dear friends."
The Baron suppressed his emotions, but Sir Philip saw into his heart.
"I must consult my eldest son," returned he.
"Then," replied Sir Philip, "I foresee much difficulty; he is prejudiced against Edmund, and thinks the restitution of his inheritance an injury to your family. Hereafter he will see this alliance in a different light, and will rejoice that such a brother is added to the family; but, at present, he will set his face against it. However, we will not despair; virtue and resolution will surmount all obstacles. Let me call in young Lovel."
He brought Edmund to the Baron, and acquainted him with the proposal he had been making in his name, my Lord's answers, and the objections he feared on the part of Sir Robert. Edmund kneeled to the Baron; he took his hand and pressed it to his lips.
"Best of men! of parents! of patrons!" said he, "I will ever be your son in filial affection, whether I have the honour to be legally so or not; not one of your own children can feel a stronger sense of love and duty."
"Tell me," said the Baron, "do you love my daughter?"
"I do, my lord, with the most ardent affection; I never loved any woman but her; and, if I am so unfortunate as to be refused her, I will not marry at all. Oh, my Lord, reject not my honest suit! Your alliance will give me consequence with myself, it will excite me to act worthy of the station to which I am exalted; if you refuse me, I shall seem an abject wretch, disdained by those whom my heart claims relation to; your family are the whole world to me. Give me your lovely daughter! give me also your son, my beloved William; and let me share with them the fortune Providence bestows upon me. But what is title or fortune, if I am deprived of the society of those I love?"
"Edmund," said the Baron, "you have a noble friend; but you have a stronger in my heart, which I think was implanted there by Heaven to aid its own purposes. I feel a variety of emotions of different kinds, and am afraid to trust my own heart with you. But answer me a question: Are you assured of my daughter's consent? have you solicited her favour? have you gained her affections?"
"Never, my lord. I am incapable of so base an action; I have loved her at an humble distance; but, in my situation, I should have thought it a violation of all the laws of gratitude and hospitality to have presumed to speak the sentiments of my heart."
"Then you have acted with unquestionable honour on this, and, I must say, on all other occasions."
"Your approbation, my lord, is the first wish of my life; it is the seal of my honour and happiness."
Sir Philip smiled: "My Lord Fitz-Owen, I am jealous of Edmund's preferable regard for you; it is just the same now as formerly."
Edmund came to Sir Philip, he threw himself into his arms, he wept, he was overpowered with the feelings of his heart; he prayed to Heaven to strengthen his mind to support his inexpressible sensations.
"I am overwhelmed with obligation," said he; "oh, best of friends, teach me, like you, to make my actions speak for me!"
"Enough, Edmund; I know your heart, and that is my security. My lord, speak to him, and bring him to himself, by behaving coldly to him, if you can."
The Baron said, "I must not trust myself with you, you make a child of me. I will only add, gain my son Robert's favour, and be assured of mine; I owe some respect to the heir of my family; he is brave, honest, and sincere; your enemies are separated from him, you have William's influence in your behalf; make one effort, and let me know the result."
Edmund kissed his hand in transports of joy and gratitude.
"I will not lose a moment," said he; "I fly to obey your commands."