The Old English Baron/Part 11
Edmund went immediately to his friend William, and related all that had passed between the Baron, Sir Philip, and himself. William promised him his interest in the warmest manner; he recapitulated all that had passed in the castle since his departure; but he guarded his sister's delicacy, till it should be resolved to give way to his address. They both consulted young Clifford, who had conceived an affection to Edmund for his amiable qualities, and to William for his generous friendship for him. He promised them his assistance, as Sir Robert seemed desirous to cultivate his friendship. Accordingly, they both attacked him with the whole artillery of friendship and persuasion. Clifford urged the merits of Edmund, and the advantages of his alliance. William enforced his arguments by a retrospect of Edmund's past life; and observed, that every obstacle thrown in his way had brought his enemies to shame, and increase of honour to himself. "I say nothing," continued he, "of his noble qualities and affectionate heart; those who have been so many years his companions, can want no proofs of it."
"We know your attachment to him, sir," said Sir Robert; "and, in consequence, your partiality."
"Nay," replied William, "you are sensible of the truth of my assertions; and, I am confident, would have loved him yourself, but for the insinuations of his enemies. But if he should make good his assertions, even you must be convinced of his veracity."
"And you would have my father give him your sister upon this uncertainty?"
"No, sir, but upon these conditions."
"But suppose he does not make them good?"
"Then I will be of your party, and give up his interest."
"Very well, sir; my father may do as he pleases; but I cannot agree to give my sister to one who has always stood in the way of our family, and now turns us out of our own house."
"I am sorry, brother, you see his pretensions in so wrong a light; but if you think there is any imposture in the case, go with us, and be a witness of all that passes."
"No, not I; if Edmund is to be master of the castle, I will never more set my foot in it."
"This matter," said Mr. Clifford, "must be left to time, which has brought stranger things to pass. Sir Robert's honour and good sense will enable him to subdue his prejudices, and to judge impartially."
They took leave, and went to make preparations for their journey. Edmund made his report of Sir Robert's inflexibility to his father, in presence of Sir Philip; who, again, ventured to urge the Baron on his favourite subject.
"It becomes me to wait for the further proofs," said he; "but, if they are as clear as I expect, I will not be inexorable to your wishes; Say nothing more on this subject till the return of the commissioners."
They were profuse in their acknowledgments of his goodness.
Edmund took a tender leave of his two paternal friends.
"When," said he, "I take possession of my inheritance, I must hope for the company of you both to complete my happiness."
"Of me," said Sir Philip, "you may be certain; and, as far as my influence reaches, of the Baron."
He was silent. Edmund assured them of his constant prayers for their happiness.
Soon after, the commissioners, with Edmund, set out for Lovel Castle; and the following day the Lord Clifford set out for his own house, with Baron Fitz-Owen and his son. The nominal Baron was carried with them, very much against his will. Sir Philip Harclay was invited to go with them by Lord Clifford, who declared his presence necessary to bring things to a conclusion. They all joined in acknowledging their obligations to Lord Graham's generous hospitality, and besought him to accompany them. At length he consented, on condition they would allow him to go to and fro, as his duty should call him.
Lord Clifford received them with the greatest hospitality, and presented them to his lady, and three daughters, who were in the bloom of youth and beauty. They spent their time very pleasantly, excepting the criminal, who continued gloomy and reserved, and declined company.
In the mean time, the commissioners proceeded on their journey. When they were within a day's distance from the castle, Mr. William and his servant put forward, and arrived several hours before the rest, to make preparations for their reception. His sister and brother received them with open arms, and enquired eagerly after the event of the journey to the North. He gave them a brief account of every thing that had happened to their uncle; adding, "But this is not all: Sir Philip Harclay has brought a young man who he pretends is the son of the late Lord Lovel, and claims his estate and title. This person is on his journey hither, with several others who are commissioned to enquire into certain particulars, to confirm his pretensions. If he make good his claim, my father will surrender the castle and estate into his hands. Sir Philip and my lord have many points to settle; and he has proposed a compromise, that you, my sister, ought to know, because it nearly concerns you."
"Me! brother William; pray explain yourself."
"Why, he proposes that, in lieu of arrears and other expectations, my father shall give his dear Emma to the heir of Lovel, in full of all demands."
She changed colour.
"Holy Mary!" said she; "and does my father agree to this proposal?"
"He is not very averse to it; but Sir Robert refuses his consent. However, I have given him my interest with you."
"Have you indeed? What! a stranger, perhaps an impostor, who comes to turn us out of our dwelling?"
"Have patience, my Emma! see this young man without prejudice, and perhaps you will like him as well as I do."
"I am surprised at you, William."
"Dear Emma, I cannot bear to see you uneasy. Think of the man who of all others you would with to see in a situation to ask you of your father, and expect to see your wishes realized."
"Impossible!" said she.
"Nothing is impossible, my dear; let us be prudent, and all will end happily. You must help me to receive and entertain these commissioners. I expect a very solemn scene; but when that is once got over, happier hours than the past will succeed. We shall first visit the haunted apartment; you, my sister, will keep in your own till I shall send for you. I go now to give orders to the servants."
He went and ordered them to be in waiting; and himself, and his youngest brother, stood in readiness to receive them.
The sound of the horn announced the arrival of the commissioners; at the same instant a sudden gust of wind arose, and the outward gates flew open. They entered the court-yard, and the great folding-doors into the hall were opened without any assistance. The moment Edmund entered the hall, every door in the house flew open; the servants all rushed into the hall, and fear was written on their countenances; Joseph only was undaunted. "These doors," said he, "open of their own accord to receive their master! this is he indeed!"
Edmund was soon apprized of what had happened.
"I accept the omen!" said he. "Gentlemen, let us go forward to the apartment! let us finish the work of fate! I will lead the way." He went on to the apartment, followed by all present. "Open the shutters," said he, "the daylight shall no longer be excluded here; the deeds of darkness shall now be brought to light."
They descended the staircase; every door was open, till they came to the fatal closet. Edmund called to Mr. William: "Approach, my friend, and behold the door your family overlooked!"
They came forward; he drew the key out of his bosom, and unlocked the door; he made them observe that the boards were all loose; he then called to the servants, and bid them remove every thing out of the closet. While they were doing this, Edmund shewed them the breastplate all stained with blood. He then called to Joseph: —
"Do you know whose was this suit of armour?"
"It was my Lord's," said Joseph; "the late Lord Lovel; I have seen him wear it."
Edmund bade them bring shovels and remove the earth. While they were gone, he desired Oswald to repeat all that passed the night they sat up together in that apartment, which he did till the servants returned. They threw out the earth, while the by-standers in solemn silence waited the event. After some time and labour they struck against something. They proceeded till they discovered a large trunk, which with some difficulty they drew out. It had been corded round, but the cords were rotted to dust. They opened it, and found a skeleton which appeared to have been tied neck and heels together, and forced into the trunk.
"Behold," said Edmund, "the bones of him to whom I owe my birth!"
The priest from Lord Graham's advanced. "This is undoubtedly the body of the Lord Lovel; I heard his kinsman confess the manner in which he was interred. Let this awful spectacle be a lesson to all present, that though wickedness may triumph for a season, a day of retribution will come!"
Oswald exclaimed. "Behold the day of retribution! of triumph to the innocent, of shame and confusion to the wicked!"
The young gentlemen declared that Edmund had made good his assertions.
"What then," said they, "remains?"
"I propose," said Lord Graham's priest, "that an account be written of this discovery, and signed by all the witnesses present; that an attested copy be left in the hands of this gentleman, and the original be sent to the Barons and Sir Philip Harclay, to convince them of the truth of it."
Mr. Clifford then desired Edmund to proceed in his own way.
"The first thing I propose to do," said he, "is to have a coffin made for these honoured remains. I trust to find the bones of my other parent, and to inter them all together in consecrated ground. Unfortunate pair! you shall at last rest together! your son shall pay the last duties to your ashes!"
He stopped to shed tears, and none present but paid this tribute to their misfortunes. Edmund recovered his voice and proceeded.
"My next request is, that Father Oswald and this reverend father, with whoever else the gentlemen shall appoint, will send for Andrew and Margery Twyford, and examine them concerning the circumstances of my birth, and the death and burial of my unfortunate mother."
"It shall be done," said Mr. William; "but first let me intreat you to come with me and take some refreshment after your journey, for you must be fatigued; after dinner we will proceed in the enquiry."
They all followed him into the great hall, where they were entertained with great hospitality, and Mr. William did the honours in his father's name. Edmund's heart was deeply affected, and the solemnity of his deportment bore witness to his sincerity; but it was a manly sorrow, that did not make him neglect his duty to his friends or himself. He enquired after the health of the lady Emma.
"She is well," said William, "and as much your friend as ever."
Edmund bowed in silence.
After dinner the commissioners sent for Andrew and his wife. They examined them separately, and found their accounts agreed together, and were in substance the same as Oswald and Edmund had before related, separately also. The commissioners observed, that there could be no collusion between them, and that the proofs were indisputable. They kept the foster parents all night; and the next day Andrew directed them to the place where the Lady Lovel was buried, between two trees which he had marked for a memorial. They collected the bones and carried them to the Castle, where Edmund caused a stately coffin to be made for the remains of the unfortunate pair. The two priests obtained leave to look in the coffin buried in the church, and found nothing but stones and earth in it. The commissioners then declared they were fully satisfied of the reality of Edmund's pretensions.
The two priests were employed in drawing up a circumstantial account of these discoveries, in order to make their report to the Barons at their return. In the mean time Mr. William took an opportunity to introduce Edmund to his sister.
"My Emma," said he, "the heir of Lovel is desirous to pay his respects to you."
They were both in apparent confusion; but Edmund's wore off, and Emma's increased.
"I have been long desirous," said he, "to pay my respects to the lady whom I most honour, but unavoidable duties have detained me; when these are fully paid, it is my wish to devote the remainder of my life to Lady Emma!"
"Are you, then, the heir of Lovel?"
"I am, madam; and am also the man in whose behalf I once presumed to speak."
"'Tis very strange indeed!"
"It is so, madam, to myself; but time that reconciles us to all things, will, I hope, render this change in my situation familiar to you."
William said, "You are both well acquainted with the wishes of my heart; but my advice is, that you do not encourage a farther intimacy till my lord's determination be fully known."
"You may dispose of me as you please," said Edmund; "but I cannot help declaring my wishes; yet I will submit to my Lord's sentence, though he should doom me to despair."
From this period, the young pair behaved with solemn respect to each other, but with apparent reserve. The young lady sometimes appeared in company, but oftener chose to be in her own apartment, where she began to believe and hope for the completion of her wishes. The uncertainty of the Baron's determination, threw an air of anxiety over Edmund's face. His friend William, by the most tender care and attention, strove to dispel his fears, and encourage his hopes; but he waited with impatience for the return of the commissioners, and the decision of his fate.
While these things passed at the Castle of Lovel, the nominal Baron recovered his health and strength at the house of Lord Clifford. In the same proportion he grew more and more shy and reserved, avoided the company of his brother and nephew, and was frequently shut up with his two servants. Sir Robert Fitz-Owen made several attempts to gain his confidence, but in vain; he was equally shy to him as the rest. M. Zadisky observed his motions with the penetration for which his countrymen have been distinguished in all ages; he communicated his suspicions to Sir Philip and the Barons, giving it as his opinion, that the criminal was meditating an escape. They asked, what he thought was to be done? Zadisky offered to watch him in turn with another person, and to lie in wait for him; he also proposed, that horses should be kept in readiness, and men to mount them, without knowledge of the service they were to be employed in. The Barons agreed to leave the whole management of this affair to Zadisky. He took his measures so well, that he intercepted the three fugitives in the fields adjoining to the house, and brought them all back prisoner. They confined them separately, while the Lords and Gentlemen consulted how to dispose of them.
Sir Philip applied to Lord Fitz-Owen, who begged leave to be silent. "I have nothing," said he, "to offer in favour of this bad man; and I cannot propose harsher measures with so near a relation."
Zadisky then begged to be heard.
"You can no longer have any reliance upon the word of a man who has forfeited all pretensions to honour and sincerity. I have long wished to revisit once more my native country, and to enquire after some very dear friends I left there. I will undertake to convey this man to a very distant part of the world, where it will be out of his power to do further mischief, and free his relations from an ungrateful charge, unless you should rather chuse to bring him to punishment here."
Lord Clifford approved of the proposal; Lord Fitz-Owen remained silent, but shewed no marks of disapprobation.
Sir Philip objected to parting with his friend; but Zadisky assured him he had particular reasons for returning to the Holy Land, of which he should be judge hereafter. Sir Philip desired the Lord Fitz-Owen to give him his company to the criminal's apartment, saying, "We will have one more conversation with him, and that shall decide his fate."
They found him silent and sullen, and he refused to answer their questions.
Sir Philip then bespoke him: "After the proofs you have given of your falsehood and insincerity, we can no longer have any reliance upon you, nor faith in your fulfilling the conditions of our agreement; I will, therefore, once more make you a proposal that shall still leave you indebted to our clemency. You shall banish yourself from England for ever, and go in pilgrimage to the Holy Land, with such companions as we shall appoint; or, secondly, you shall enter directly into a monastery, and there be shut up for life; or, thirdly, if you refuse both these offers, I will go directly to court, throw myself at the feet of my Sovereign, relate the whole story of your wicked life and actions, and demand vengeance on your head. The King is too good and pious to let such villany go unpunished; he will bring you to public shame and punishment; and be you assured, if I begin this prosecution, I will pursue it to the utmost. I appeal to your worthy brother for the justice of my proceeding. I reason no more with you, I only declare my resolution. I wait your answer one hour, and the next I put in execution whatever you shall oblige me to determine."
So saying, they retired, and left him to reflect and to resolve. At the expiration of the hour they sent Zadisky to receive his answer; he insinuated to him the generosity and charity of Sir Philip and the Lords, and the certainty of their resolutions, and begged him to take care what answer he returned, for that his fate depended on it. He kept silent several minutes, resentment and despair were painted on his visage. At length he spoke: —
"Tell my proud enemies that I prefer banishment to death, infamy, or a life of solitude."
"You have chosen well," said Zadisky. "To a wise man all countries are alike; it shall be my care to make mine agreeable to you."
"Are you, then, the person chosen for my companion?"
"I am, sir; and you may judge by that circumstance, that those whom you call your enemies, are not so in effect. Farewell, sir — I go to prepare for our departure."
Zadisky went and made his report, and then set immediately about his preparations. He chose two active young men for his attendants; and gave them directions to keep a strict eye upon their charge, for that they should be accountable if he should escape them.
In the meantime the Baron Fitz-Owen had several conferences with his brother; he endeavoured to make him sensible of his crimes, and of the justice and clemency of his conqueror; but he was moody and reserved to him as to the rest. Sir Philip Harclay obliged him to surrender his worldly estates into the hands of Lord Fitz-Owen. A writing was drawn up for that purpose, and executed in the presence of them all. Lord Fitz-Owen engaged to allow him an annual sum, and to advance money for the expences of his voyage. He spoke to him in the most affectionate manner, but he refused his embrace.
"You will have nothing to regret," said he, haughtily, "for the gain is yours."
Sir Philip conjured Zadisky to return to him again, who answered:
"I will either return, or give such reasons for my stay, as you shall approve. I will send a messenger to acquaint you with my arrival in Syria, and with such other particulars as I shall judge interesting to you and yours. In the meantime remember me in your prayers, and preserve for me those sentiments of friendship and esteem, that I have always deemed one of the chief honours and blessings of my life. Commend my love and duty to your adopted son; he will more than supply my absence, and be the comfort of your old age. Adieu, best and noblest of friends!"
They took a tender leave of each other, not without tears on both sides.
The travellers set out directly for a distant seaport where they heard of a ship bound for the Levant, in which they embarked and proceeded on their voyage.
The Commissioners arrived at Lord Clifford's a few days after the departure of the adventurers. They gave a minute account of their commission, and expressed themselves entirely satisfied of the justice of Edmund's pretensions; they gave an account in writing of all that they had been eyewitnesses to, and ventured to urge the Baron Fitz-Owen on the subject of Edmund's wishes. The Baron was already disposed in his favour; his mind was employed in the future establishment of his family. During their residence at Lord Clifford's, his eldest son Sir Robert had cast his eye upon the eldest daughter of that nobleman, and he besought his father to ask her in marriage for him. The Baron was pleased with the alliance, and took the first opportunity to mention it to Lord Clifford; who answered him, pleasantly:
"I will give my daughter to your son, upon condition that you will give yours to the Heir of Lovel." The Baron looked serious; Lord Clifford went on:
"I like that young man so well, that I would accept him for a son-in-law, if he asked me for my daughter; and if I have any influence with you, I will use it in his behalf."
"A powerful solicitor indeed!" said the Baron; "but you know my eldest son's reluctance to it; if he consents, so will I."
"He shall consent," said Lord Clifford, "or he shall have no daughter of mine. Let him subdue his prejudices, and then I will lay aside my scruples."
"But, my Lord," replied the Baron, "if I can obtain his free consent, it will be the best for all; I will try once more, and if he will not, I will leave it wholly to your management."
When the noble company were all assembled, Sir Philip Harclay revived the subject, and besought the Lord Fitz-Owen to put an end to the work he had begun, by confirming Edmund's happiness. The Baron rose up, and thus spoke:
"The proofs of Edmund's noble birth, the still stronger ones of his excellent endowments and qualities, the solicitations of so many noble friends in his behalf, have altogether determined me in his favour; and I hope to do justice to his merit, without detriment to my other children; I am resolved to make them all as happy as my power will allow me to do. Lord Clifford has been so gracious to promise his fair daughter to my son Robert, upon certain conditions, that I will take upon me to ratify, and which will render my son worthy of the happiness that awaits him. My children are the undoubted heirs of my unhappy brother, Lovel; you, my son, shall therefore immediately take possession of your uncle's house and estate, only obliging you to pay to each of your younger brothers, the sum of one thousand pounds; on this condition, I will secure that estate to you and your heirs for ever. I will by my own act and deed surrender the castle and estate of Lovel to the right owner, and at the same time marry him to my daughter. I will settle a proper allowance upon my two younger sons, and dispose of what remains by a will and testament; and then I shall have done all my business in this world, and shall have nothing to do but prepare for the next."
"Oh, my father!" said Sir Robert, "I cannot bear your generosity! you would give away all to others, and reserve nothing for yourself."
"Not so, my son," said the Baron; "I will repair my old castle in Wales, and reside there. I will visit my children, and be visited by them; I will enjoy their happiness, and by that means increase my own; whether I look backwards or forwards, I shall have nothing to do but rejoice, and be thankful to Heaven that has given me so many blessings; I shall have the comfortable reflection of having discharged my duties as a citizen, a husband, a father, a friend; and, whenever I am summoned away from this world, I shall die content."
Sir Robert came forward with tears on his cheeks; he kneeled to his father.
"Best of parents, and of men!" said he; "you have subdued a heart that has been too refractory to your will; you have this day made me sensible how much I owe to your goodness and forbearance with me. Forgive me all that is past, and from henceforward dispose of me; I will have no will but yours, no ambition but to be worthy of the name of your son."
"And this day," said the Baron, "do I enjoy the true happiness of a father! Rise, my son, and take possession of the first place in my affection without reserve." They embraced with tears on both sides; The company rose, and congratulated both father and son. The Baron presented his son to Lord Clifford, who embraced him, and said:
"You shall have my daughter, for I see that you deserve her."
Sir Philip Harclay approached — the Baron gave his son's hand to the knight.
"Love and respect that good man," said he; "deserve his friendship, and you will obtain it."
Nothing but congratulations were heard on all sides.
When their joy was in some degree reduced to composure, Sir Philip proposed that they should begin to execute the schemes of happiness they had planned. He proposed that my Lord Fitz-Owen should go with him to the Castle of Lovel, and settle the family there. The Baron consented; and both together invited such of the company, as liked it, to accompany them thither. It was agreed that a nephew of Lord Graham's, another of Lord Clifford's, two gentlemen, friends of Sir Philip Harclay, and father Oswald, should be of the party; together with several of Sir Philip's dependants and domestics, and the attendants on the rest. Lord Fitz Owen gave orders for their speedy departure. Lord Graham and his friends took leave of them, in order to return to his own home; but, before he went, he engaged his eldest nephew and heir to the second daughter of the Lord Clifford; Sir Robert offered himself to the eldest, who modestly received his address, and made no objection to his proposal. The fathers confirmed their engagement.
Lord Fitz-Owen promised to return to the celebration of the marriage; in the mean time he ordered his son to go and take possession of his uncle's house, and to settle his household; He invited young Clifford, and some other gentlemen, to go with him. The company separated with regret, and with many promises of friendship on all sides; and the gentlemen of the North were to cultivate the good neighbourhood on both sides of the borders.
Sir Philip Harclay and the Baron Fitz-Owen, with their friends and attendants, set forwards for the Castle of Lovel; a servant went before, at full speed, to acquaint the family of their approach. Edmund was in great anxiety of mind, now the crisis of his fate was near at hand; He enquired of the messenger, who were of the party? and finding that Sir Philip Harclay was there, and that Sir Robert Fitz-Owen stayed in the North, his hopes rose above his fears. Mr. William, attended by a servant, rode forward to meet them; he desired Edmund to stay and receive them. Edmund was under some difficulty with regard to his behaviour to the lovely Emma; a thousand times his heart rose to his lips, as often he suppressed his emotions; they both sighed frequently, said little, thought much, and wished for the event. Master Walter was too young to partake of their anxieties, but he wished for the arrival of his father to end them.
Mr. William's impatience spurred him on to meet his father; as soon as he saw him, he rode up directly to him.
"My dear father, you are welcome home!" said he.
"I think not, sir," said the Baron, and looked serious.
"Why so, my lord?" said William.
"Because it is no longer mine, but another man's home," answered he, "and I must receive my welcome from him."
"Meaning Edmund?" said William.
"Whom else can it be?"
"Ah, my Lord! he is your creature, your servant; he puts his fate into your hands, and will submit to your pleasure in all things!"
"Why comes he not to meet us?" said the Baron.
"His fears prevent him," said William; "but speak the word, and I will fetch him."
"No," said the Baron, "we will wait on him."
William looked confused.
"Is Edmund so unfortunate," said he, "as to have incurred your displeasure?"
Sir Philip Harclay advanced, and laid his hand on William's saddle.
"Generous impatience! noble youth!" said he; "look round you, and see if you can discover in this company one enemy of your friend! Leave to your excellent father the time and manner of explaining himself; he only can do justice to his own sentiments."
The Baron smiled on Sir Philip; William's countenance cleared up; they went forward, and soon arrived at the Castle of Lovel.