When the sword is drawn, and the power of the strongest is to decide, you talk in vain of equity and moderation; those virtues always belong to the conquerors. Thus it has happened to the Cheruscans: they were formerly called just and upright; at present they are called fools and knaves. Victory has transferred every virtue to their masters; and oppression takes the name of wisdom.
It was not the practice of Cromwell to bring to a speedy trial those state-prisoners against whom he could produce no positive proof of the offence with which they were charged. Though the palaces of the degraded bishops and exiled nobility were, during this reign of terror in England, converted into places of confinement, the prisons continued crowded with victims. Judges and juries were too slow and uncertain in their proceedings to be permitted to decide on the fate of those whom the Protector of the liberties of England had pre-ordained to death or captivity. High courts of justice were occasionally erected, and summary modes of trial resorted to, which the ancient laws of the realm reprobated or disavowed. By these the Tyrant freed himself from those more obnoxious enemies who had taken arms against his authority; but the objects of his suspicious fear, whose enmity he knew, and whose ability he dreaded, still remained in close confinement. The crime of some was having concealed Loyalists; many were shut up for sending remittances to the King abroad, or for having shown him some mark of respect and allegiance while he was in England. The presbyterians suffered for lamenting the fall of the Long-parliament, and inveighing against the present tyranny; the Fifth-Monarchy-men, for expecting the reign of King Jesus; the Levellers, for requiring Agrarian laws and the equalization of property. The conduct of Cromwell had disgusted the whole body of sectaries as well as the stanch Republicans. "Anabaptists, Independents, and Quakers conceived an implacable hatred against him; and, whilst they contrived how to raise a power to contend with him, they likewise entered into plots for his assassination." These plots, and the libellous writings by which they excited insurrection, continually agitated the mind of Cromwell; for as his new enemies were not restrained by those principles which prevented most of his old ones from resorting to indirect modes of warfare, cutting off one daring villain added nothing to his security, but rather stimulated that faction to vengeance. He had now humbled and disappointed all parties, and could no longer play one against another. No one was attached to him; even those who had gone equal lengths in guilt only clung to him as a pledge for their own security. Mercy and lenity had no effect on those with whom he now contended. Lilburn, who may be considered as an epitome of the fanatical opponents of Cromwell, "had wrought himself to a marvellous inclination and appetite to suffer in the defence, or for the vindication of any oppressed truth." To men who courted persecution, who gloried in personal suffering, and to whom, connecting their cause with that of the Almighty, all measures seemed allowable which their humours suggested—the axe and the gallows displayed no terrors; and it was as impossible to oblige as it was to intimidate them. They despised temporal possessions, and braced their iron-nerves with misapplications of the texts and examples of Scripture, believing that, in performing the actions of banditti, they were proving themselves to be chosen captains of the host of the Lord.
As the labours of the itinerant preachers already described had converted thousands of the lower orders into ignorant and desperate, and, it might be added, insane, enthusiasts, a mind less indefatigable than Cromwell's would have been wholly engrossed in securing his person and government from their violence and hostile machinations; but his fear of his new enemies did not make him forget his hatred of his old ones. The fanatical conspirators and insurgents being more inimical to the general good sense of the nation, he often submitted them to the ordinary courts of justice, contenting himself (as in the case of Lilburn) with making acquittal issue in more rigorous imprisonment, when a jury had the presumption to decide in favour of a prisoner whom the Protector had resolved to punish. Desirous of conciliating the good opinion of well-informed people, he preserved the fountain of justice uncontaminated. The judges who presided in the several courts were in general an honour to their country; and many of them (especially the immortal Hale) accepted the office, in order to be better able to restrain oppression, "knowing that in every form of government justice must be administered between man and man, and offenders against the universal laws of society punished." By such judges, a Gerrard, a Hewet, a Hyde, and other illustrious Loyalists, would not have been condemned. Against such persons, therefore, Cromwell was compelled to rearrange his pantomimic High Court of Justice, that contemptible but bloody engine, by which he had destroyed the King and the nobles, and to whose authority, as anomalous to the constitution, his victims generally refused to submit, and were thus condemned without any public discussion.
Had Cromwell determined to try Dr. Beaumont for sending pecuniary assistance to the King (an offence which he had the means of proving), he would have immediately collected his creatures and erected one of these executive courts; but if the suspicion of assassinating an officer, who bore a parliamentary commission, could be supported by stronger proofs than the accusation of Lady Bellingham, and the probabilities suggested by Morgan, he need not fear permitting justice to mount her regular seat, and hold her balance in the public eye. No charge of cruelty or persecution could then be brought against him; and the public odium would be transferred to the episcopalians and Loyalists. He attended the first examination of the Doctor before the Council of State, on the ostensible accusation of assisting the King, and saw, in his behaviour, an enlightened opposer of tyranny, and a conscientious adherent to the old government. Such a man, he resolved, should either be cut off, or prevented from doing him any injury. The best policy, therefore, was to defer his trial, and to send down some active emissaries to Ribblesdale to examine minutely into his past conversation, and discover whether any ground of accusation existed against him. At least to ascertain that Sedley had really been cut off, and that Dr. Beaumont had no evidence to disprove his being concerned in the transaction.
Dr. Beaumont was therefore remanded into close confinement. His family had gathered round him, and were supported by the generous contributions of those Loyalists who had hitherto escaped persecution, but made a common cause with their suffering brethren, and liberally ministered to their distresses. Colonel Evellin was concealed in an obscure lodging near the Marshalsea, where Dr. Beaumont was imprisoned. Constantia and Isabel, with patient fortitude, ministered to their respective fathers, while Williams carried on a confidential intercourse with the noble and worthy friends by whom they were supported. Some of these were in the confidence of Lord Falconberg, the accepted lover of one of Cromwell's daughters, and who was thought by many to have sought that alliance with the view of mediating for the persecuted victims to a cause which himself and his family had ever decidedly espoused.
Affairs were in this situation when Jobson arrived in London, and produced Dr. Lloyd's letter, which, confirmed by his own testimony, fully verified the existence of Eustace, the safety of De Vallance, and their welfare and comparative happiness. What a weight of anguish was removed from these amiable victims of tyranny by the intelligence! Imprisonment, poverty, dependence, personal infirmity, were all supportable evils. But for a complete exemplification of the extreme limit of human misery, we must look to the oppressor, not to the oppressed; to Cromwell, galled by the armour worn under his robes of state to defend his person from the expected dagger of a murderer, and not to Dr. Beaumont, languishing for want of the common blessings which freedom bestows, or to Evellin, an aged cripple in the lonely confined chamber of poverty. Cromwell had no daughter who revered his virtues, and cheered his pensive contemplations with the assurance that the righteous sufferer was under the peculiar protection of Heaven. Most of his daughters were strongly attached to the royal cause. The wife of Fleetwood (his eldest) was a furious Republican; Desborough, his brother-in-law, was a Leveller; and his eldest son was incompetent to receive that weight of usurped greatness which he wished to bequeath him. Such was the domestic situation of the man at whose frown Europe trembled. Ever in dread of assassins and conspirators, vexed by family-broils, his nearest connexions hostile to his views, without solace from public care, or sympathy in private distress.
The preservation of his son seemed to bestow on Colonel Evellin a new existence. He was never weary of listening to the particulars of his escape. Again and again he required Jobson to repeat the assurance, that he had actually held in his arms the living Eustace; the determined martyr to loyalty and truth; the brave, conspicuous, honourable soldier; his own dear son, not a traitor to his King or his love, but all that he could wish a true Neville to be, except in his misfortunes. It seemed a double resurrection to life, and to unclouded fame. And was it possible he might again see him at his feet craving his blessing? Should his hand rest upon his head, while, with a prophetic ardour, he predicted a race of worthies that should spring from him—future heroes, patriots, and faithful subjects, alike tenacious of their Sovereign's rights and of the claims of their countrymen. What were privations, infirmities, and restraints to a mind animated with these glorious hopes? He limped on his staff round his narrow room, lest his limbs should grow too contracted to visit every apartment in Bellingham-Castle. He partook of his frugal meal, and talked of the joyous regales he would provide for his tenantry. He was no longer the existing root of a tree that had been hewn down; one fatal shot had not smitten his Eustace, and doomed his Isabel to remain a vestal mourner over her brother's grave. De Vallance and Eustace were now cementing that bond of virtuous friendship which would distinguish them in happier times; and those times would soon return. The generous feelings of English nobles would not long endure the national degradation. They had taught the Norman Conqueror to venerate their ancient rights. They had resisted every attempt of the princely house of Plantagenet to sink subjects into vassals. The First Edward, great in council and in arms, found his people alike invincible in the field, whether they followed his banner under an Asian or a Northern sky, or opposed his violation of their chartered rights! Could a nation, which would only pay a constitutional obedience to a Beauclerk or a Coeur de Lion, which served, not submitted to, the heroes of Cressy and of Agincourt, long writhe under the scorpion-lash of despotism wielded by a low Usurper, whose manners and sentiments were inimical to the general tone of the English character—a man pre-eminent in fraud and hypocrisy, and ignorant of the lively yearnings of humanity.
"My girl," Evellin would often say to Isabel, "the King must be re-instated on his throne, or England will fall from her rank among the nations. The standard of public morals must be reduced, the mode of thinking be changed, the very aspect of Englishmen undergo a revolution before the race of this upstart Despot can take root in this island. We have been accustomed to look up to our governors as great and good; at least they were surrounded by a blaze of ancestry and dignity of manners congenial to our feelings of the prescriptive claims of hereditary rights. We must be all mercenary soldiers, wild fanatics, pensioned informers, or feudal serfs toiling for daily bread, ere we can patiently endure this revolting system of jealousy and suspicion—this cold, selfish scheme of trick and expedient. Astonishment and terror may awhile paralyze the national spirit; the remembered miseries of civil war may render the phantom of peace so alluring as to induce many to call a deleterious intoxication felicity. But unless Cromwell can obliterate every record of what Englishmen were in past ages—unless he can make us forget the education, opinions, and hopes of our youth—the labours, sorrows, and wrongs of our riper years—his meanness and his crimes;—never—never can the British lion crouch at an Usurper's form, or the red-cross banner wave graceful over a traitor's head."
Colonel Evellin was roused from these agreeable reveries by a painful communication from Williams. The means of access which the royalists now had to Cromwell's councils enabled them to discover that the vigilance of Morgan had brought together so many charges against Dr. Beaumont, that there seeming no chance of his escaping condemnation, it was resolved to bring him to trial. Williams could not distinctly make out the crimes with which he was charged, except that he assisted the late and present King with money; that he used the Liturgy and Church ceremonies with such slight alterations as did not prevent their continuing to be that "form of words" and "will-worship" which were forbidden to saints; added to this, he prayed for Charles Stewart; and further, there were secret counsels and mysterious contrivances in the family. A private chamber had also been found, which, it was evident, had been used for the purpose of concealing malignants. The safety of the state required that these practices should be searched into, and that Dr. Beaumont should be tried for contumacy to the government.
This was all Williams could discover; but beside this open attack, there was a mine ready to be sprung for the Doctor's destruction. Lord Bellingham had now lain several years in confinement. His party was believed to be subdued, and his own reputation was so tarnished that he was become quite innoxious. Overtures were now made to him, that he should be restored to liberty, and to a part of his possessions; but it was hinted at the same time that it would show his acquiescence with the existing government if he would take an active part against an atrocious royalist. The sudden and mysterious disappearance of his son (of whom he had heard no tidings since the battle of Preston) was mentioned; and it was soon understood that it was expected he should bring the charge of assassination against Dr. Beaumont, and thus remove all odium from Cromwell. Solitude and confinement had wrought no salutary change on this wretched man's disposition. His prison-hours were occupied by regrets for the past, distaste at the present, and fears for the future. His affections clung fondly to the wealth and title he had lost; nor could his guilty soul disrobe itself "of those lendings" which vitiated its spiritual essence. If he were again placed in Bellingham-Castle he would repent. He would then devote a large proportion of his dearly-purchased estate to charitable purposes; he would seek for Allan Neville and his daughter; were they alive, he would make them happy, or at least place them in affluence; he would erect a monument to the gallant Eustace; he would employ his future life in pious duties; in fine, if restored to the enjoyment of the unrighteous Mammon, he would use it in securing an everlasting inheritance. No angel whispered, "Begin the mighty labour now;" no renovating change took place in his desires. The hour of contrition and repentance was deferred with procrastinating insincerity. Can we then wonder that the man who, in his youth, sacrificed honour and friendship to purchase worldly grandeur, should, in his age, again impawn his conscience for liberty and ease? or that, though he had indeed often deplored the supposed necessity of murdering Eustace Evellin, he should basely yield to become a Tyrant's instrument to cut off that Eustace's uncle on a charge, which, from what he knew of the Doctor's conduct, bore improbability and ingratitude in its aspect. Let those who condemn Lord Bellingham beware how they yield to the first temptations of guilt. The emulation of an aspiring mind, unchecked by principle, degenerated into envy, hatred, malice, injustice, falsehood, and cruelty. Love for a beautiful woman was polluted by an insatiable craving to rise to the same sphere of life in which she moved; and as it was her exterior loveliness, not her inward graces, that inflamed his desires, he scrupled not to become the instrument of her bad passion; that "love might revel on the couch of state," he performed actions which stamped ignominy on his name, and destroyed his peace for ever; and now, in the decline of life, though satiety had taught him the little value of all temporal enjoyments, his imagination clung to the dispersing shadows which even experience would not convince him were only phantoms of happiness. Even while he wept the offences he had committed, he yielded to the first temptation to repeat his crimes.
On the morning fixed for his trial, Dr. Beaumont exhibited an illustration of the scriptural precept, by combining the wisdom of the serpent with the innocence of the dove. Serene, mild, thoughtful, acute, and penetrating, he was capable of using every fair occasion to elude his enemies, and was able also to submit to the will of Heaven, provided their malice should be permitted to triumph. He prepared Constantia for the worst, by assuring her that so many had unjustly suffered in these perturbed times that condemnation was no longer considered as an evidence of guilt. All the disgrace of a public death was removed by the justice of the cause to which he was ready to fall a martyr; and the mere circumstance of his dying as a malefactor ought not to distress her, since, in the article of pain, he should endure much less; and the awakening trial of imprisonment had afforded him leisure to re-consider his ways, and make his peace with God. This singular blessing had supplied the best uses of sickness, without its frequent attendant, bodily incapacity. He reminded her of his declining years. "My enemies," said he, "can only rob me of the dregs of life. Death hath sent many of his forerunners by the hand of time to inform me that my days are drawing to a close. It was my wish to be useful as long as I lived. The new government have done me the honour to think me dangerous. When they immured me in a prison, I considered the loss of liberty as a quietus from my heavenly King, dismissing me from active employments; and I have since endeavoured to improve myself in the practice of those passive virtues which are never enough prized by the world, and which are often painful rather than pleasant. I have endeavoured after the perfection of patience, humility, and submission; but, my Constantia, I have only endeavoured, and have discovered so many unsubdued weaknesses, such a lingering fondness for what I must renounce, that I fear nothing but the cold chill of death will benumb those ardent affections which have often led me to lament (but, I trust, not to repine) that I was born in these unhappy times. To the last I must bemoan the degradation, and crimes of my country, that beloved England, whom, in the humble sphere of a village-rector, I laboured to serve, by making all whom my counsels and example could influence, faithful servants of their God and their King. I feel too the destitution of my family (here he faultered and turned aside his face)—principally thee, poor mourner, tenderly fostered in thine infancy, and, since then, the child of sorrow. Encourage me by thy firmness, now I am on the eve of the most awful occurence of my life. Imitate the cheerful magnanimity of Isabel. Let me not shudder at the thought of leaving thee a weak, heart-broken burden on those who can only pity thy distress; but let me have the comfort of hoping that thou wilt behave like a resigned Christian, who, art not so depressed by a sense of thy own grief, as to be incapable of ministering to the woes of others. Allow me to think of thee as one whose views are not bounded by the grave, and then I shall have no overwhelming terrors to distract my attention, or unfit me for improving every fair opportunity for my deliverance. But, should the worst happen, remember, Constantia, I shall continue to exist. Putting on the garment of immortality does not destroy identity. We shall still continue members of that large family of whom God is the head, the angels being his more exalted servants, and the infernal spirits potent rebels, who in vain labour to defeat his purposes. No event can remove us from the superintendance of Providence; no distance of time or country, no difference of station or fortune, can hinder the glorified spirits of the faithful from meeting in the same paradise, and hearing the same joyful sentence of eternal beatitude. Whether the disembodied souls left their bodies in the north or in the south, they will all rejoice in the society of each other. The spirits of the patriarchs of old, as well as of those who die to-day in the Lord, will meet in one large community. Console thyself, therefore, with the thought of a future, joyful, and eternal re-union; and let that consolation be also an active precept, teaching thee so to order thy daily conversation as to complete thy fitness for that re-union."
He then entreated her to remember the inestimable consolation she possessed, in knowing that Eustace lived and was worthy of her affections, faithful to his vows, to his King, and his God. He advised her, if possible, to remove with her aunt, Isabel, and Colonel Evellin, and to place themselves under his protection. If his situation permitted, he advised her to marry him as the best way of being safe and respectable, to endeavour to procure an honest livelihood by following some humble occupation, and to forget the station to which their birth entitled them to aspire. He was almost hopeless of a speedy change of times. He feared the spirit of the nation was so broken that it would submit to the establishment of the usurping family. Policy would teach Cromwell to soften the terrors of his administration as soon as he could found his government on the safer principles of expedience and prescription. He had already adopted many popular measures; and, in making the power of England formidable abroad, he had gratified the public-feeling. Though the persecution of individuals, and actions of glaring oppression and injustice, soon excited discord in peaceable times, and under the government of a legitimate King, they were so congenial to the nature of tyranny, that people were more apt to rejoice in their own escape than to animadvert on the sufferings of their neighbours. Nor would an accumulation of such deeds rouse to arms a nation, that had recently bled so copiously from the multiplied wounds of civil war. Dreadful calamities had stupified the finer feelings, while self-interest and a mean anxiety for personal safety absorbed their sensibility for the distressed. Above all, he regretted to say that an unfavourable impression of the young monarch's personal qualities had gone abroad; and though the disadvantageous reports might be aggravated by ill-will, it would be inferred that the person on whom they fastened was by no means blameless. For all these reasons, Dr. Beaumont feared that the present ostensible form of a republican government would imperceptibly slide into the restoration of what the laws, institutions, habits, and character of England required, a limited monarchy in the person of one of Cromwell's family, should such a one arise, who, without being stained by the atrocious guilt of his progenitor, should display qualities that would eclipse the legitimate prince. Much, he said, depended on the personal character of a King of England, who was not, like an Eastern sovereign, shown from a distant eminence to be worshipped with prostrations, or, like a Grand Monarque, to be flattered and implicitly obeyed. He ruled over a nation of freemen; he lived in the observation of his subjects, not as a despot coercing slaves and parasites, but as the administrator of public justice, and the conservator of the national rights. He could not put up a more salutary prayer for his country, than that each future Prince (especially in times of great political turbulence) would remember that he is set like a city upon a hill, and that his whole conduct is canvassed by a free, inquisitive, and, generally speaking, an intelligent and high-minded nation, attached to hereditary rule, but indignant at the contamination of the blood-royal. It was impossible for persons eminent for birth to sin in secret; and one bad action of theirs, divulged to the public, did more injury than the machinations of the most subtile traitor. Woe would it be to England, if her liberties were thus made to depend on the mercy and prudence of those who grasped her sceptre in despite of law, while its rightful owner discovered such base propensities as made it safer even in an Usurper's hands than in his, who less prized the inheritance of three kingdoms than the praise of debauchees and the indulgence of depraved appetites.
Thus fortifying his daughter's mind with the best principles, and then gradually withdrawing it from the agonizing present to circumstances connected with her future fortunes, Dr. Beaumont consoled and instructed Constantia. "I am firm and patient, my dearest father," said she. "Your voice, like that of the angel to Hagar, has pointed out springs of comfort in a frightful desert. One request I must make. Let me stand by your side at your trial. Perhaps my appearance may influence your judges. Men who seem to have renounced every feeling of humanity have been induced to pity orphan wretchedness. Some circumstances may escape your observation that my quick-sighted fears will seize on; at least I may serve as your notary. These times of woe have often witnessed female heroism claiming its affinity to the proscribed victims of injustice, and glorying in partaking their dangers. Thus let me triumph, and, to the last, exult in having such a father." Dr. Beaumont gazed on her with affection, and acceded to her desires. Like his royal Master, he had at first resolved to object to the legality of these high courts of justice; but further consideration made him doubt if the plea was admissible by a Christian, who was required to submit to the powers that are; and its inexpediency was apparent, by the immediate condemnation of all who urged it, since, whatever degree of proof their offences admitted, they were infallibly condemned for contumacy. Being asked, therefore, if he acknowledged the authority of the court, he lifted up the cap which covered his thin silvered locks, and declared that he submitted to be tried by the laws of God and his country, though, as he had not been furnished with a copy of the charges brought against him, he came with no other means of defence than a general consciousness of inoffensive behaviour.
As Dr. Beaumont spoke he withdrew his arm from the feeble support of his trembling daughter. A sun-beam fell upon his pale countenance, and irradiated its expression of piety and resignation, while his clasped hands, and eyes elevated to heaven, bespoke him engrossed by the fervour of mental devotion. Constantia, silent, trembling, and almost fearing to breathe, contrasted, by her apprehensiveness, beauty, and elegance, the awful solemnity of her father's aspect. He was invested with the insignia of his academical honours, and attired in his sacerdotal habit, which, in its decay, seemed emblematical of the ruined Church for whom he was a confessor. Meek but dignified, patient but courageous, he looked like one of the pillars of episcopacy, who, though the beauty of holiness was defaced, and the visible cherubim removed from the sanctuary, continued to support the tottering edifice, deeming the ruins of Zion a better station than the gorgeous temple of Baal. Nor did the celebrated classical example of Antigone more forcibly illustrate the persevering fortitude of passive heroism and enduring love in woman's gentle bosom, than did the interesting, lovely Constantia. Like the renowned daughter of Sir Thomas More, "she seemed to have forgotten herself, being ravished with the entire love of her dear father," and fearful of danger only as it pointed at him. She turned her eyes upon the court with a boldness unusual to their general expression, to see if in any of their faces she could trace the lineaments of justice or compassion; but they were soon arrested by recognising, in the president, the well-remembered face of Major Monthault. The brims of his hat were of more than ordinary dimensions; his hair was notched into the exact shape prescribed by the highest standard of puritanical orthodoxy; his band was crimped, and his robes folded with prim decorum; while his hands demurely rested on the cushion before him, holding a small edition of the sacred volume, on which he seemed to be meditating in the intervals between the exercise of his professional duties. But neither the starched sobriety of his aspect, nor his newly assumed name of Mephibosheth could obliterate her recollection of the daring libertine who had seduced her Eustace, and attempted her honour. She pointed him out to her father, inquiring if he might not be challenged as a personal enemy; but Dr. Beaumont wisely thought it more prudent to avoid a recognition, which would only confirm his enmity by exposing his former conduct; and, reminding Constantia that as no exceptions of theirs would be attended to, they must know Monthault only in his present character, he entreated, as her alarm was so visible, that she would retire, and leave him to the care of Williams.
Dissembling his knowledge of the prisoner, the President showed, by his address to the Court, that he had adopted the language as well as the habit of a fanatic. He observed that the malignants could hardly be bound by any specific terms, being full of evasions and subtleties of expression, by which they ensnared the simplicity of the faithful. He then called on Eusebius Beaumont to say, unequivocally, whether he did so truly and bona fide submit to the authority of this Court, as to acknowledge it was legally assembled by the supreme power in the Commonwealth, namely, His Highness Oliver Cromwell, Protector of the liberties, and General of the armies of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
Dr. Beaumont answered, that he did acknowledge the supreme power was now lodged in the Protector; and that, according to the ordinances made by him, the present High Court of Justice possessed a right to try him. He was then asked if he meant to deny his sending assistance to Charles Stewart, and praying for a restoration of the ancient system; to which he answered, he admitted the truth of these accusations; and being in his heart convinced that the former government of church and state was not only most consonant to the constitution, but also to the prosperity of the kingdom, he must ever wish and pray that it might be restored. But yet, abhorring all conspiracies and plots, the only acts of contumacy of which he had been guilty to the existing powers, were the supplications he offered at the Throne of Grace, and the scanty contributions, which the purse of penury could ill spare, given to the necessities of those who espoused the same cause, and whose wants exceeded his own.
The indictment was then read, in which the charges already noticed were dressed out in vituperative language; but the crimes principally insisted on were, that he had secreted several desperate and proscribed delinquents in a ruinous mansion which he inhabited for the purpose; and that by their assistance he had clandestinely conveyed away, destroyed, and murdered, divers good and faithful citizens. Among these was a godly officer of the commonwealth, Arthur De Vallance, commonly called Lord Sedley, son and heir to the Earl of Bellingham, whom he was known to have kept in custody, and who had never been heard of since. To give a tragical effect to this accusation, the Earl and his Countess, attired in deep mourning, presented themselves in a conspicuous gallery, and, as if overpowered by the sudden emotions of parental anguish, wrung their hands and with loud lamentations besought the court to grant them justice.
Dr. Beaumont's astonishment for some moments precluded the possibility of reply, but as his native integrity never deserted him, he soon recovered sufficient presence of mind to determine rather to fall a victim to the malice of his foes, than to make any discovery which should endanger the life of Arthur De Vallance, who having borne arms against Cromwell was become amenable to the penal ordinances, and would be marked by the Usurper's personal hatred as a confidential friend changed into a renegado. He soon answered in a firm tone, that, being unable to divine that such a charge could be brought against him, he must crave a few days grace to form his reply, and produce evidence which should disprove it. He would, however, observe, that at the time of the supposed murder, and his concealment of desperadoes, he was a suspected persecuted man in distressed circumstances, and all his actions were watched with insidious vigilance. To impute to him a power of restraining a man of Lord Sedley's rank was a futile charge, disproved by its impossibility. There was a person in court (looking at Morgan) who knew the hospitality and kindness he had shown to that nobleman; but he was certain the being did not exist, who could fasten on him the slightest suspicion of his having subsequently practised against his life.
The counsel for the prosecution answered, that his long confinement had given him sufficient opportunity of recollecting his misdeeds, and therefore no accusation could take him by surprise. There could be no occasion to adjourn the court, or longer suspend justice, which thirsted to seize the sanguinary old hypocrite. The feelings of the bereaved parent should be regarded (here a loud sobbing was heard from Lady Bellingham), and as the culprit had declared that there was a person in court who could prove his innocence, they would yield him the advantage of inverting the general order of the trial, and permit him to call and examine his evidence, before they discovered the dark machination, by which an illustrious pair lost the son of their hopes, the only heir to their magnificent fortune.
Dr. Beaumont's strong confidence in his own innocence prevented him from discovering that the proposal was a snare, intended to give indubitable authority to the evidence of Morgan, who now pressed forward, stretched out his hand with an air of friendship to the prisoner, and seemed to rejoice in the opportunity of befriending him. He took the oath, and answered the questions put to him, by giving a minute and (as far as his coarse mind would permit) a pathetic description of the care and attention which the Beaumont family showed to the young nobleman, and of his voluntary continuance with them after his wounds were healed.
When Morgan's examination was over, the counsel for the prosecution addressed the court. "My Lord President Monthault, and you other My Lords Judges of this honourable tribunal; we all know that the butcher fatteneth the lamb before he leadeth it to the slaughter-house, and therefore the care and hospitality pretended to have been shown to the noble person, whose loss we deplore, establishes nothing positively in the prisoner's favour. I shall prove to you, that Lord Sedley liberally rewarded him for his entertainment, and that notwithstanding all the peaceable professions he has this day made, he took great pains to change that Lord's principles, to make him false to the Commonwealth, and also to engage him in an alliance with his family; failing of which, and also suspecting that he gave information to His Highness of the plots then carrying on for restoring tyranny and superstition; he the prisoner was consenting unto, if not aiding and abetting, the murdering and secreting the aforesaid godly Lord. The time chosen for this business was immediately after his receiving a large remittance. To these facts, together with that of the prisoner's concealing a band of desperate malignants, armed with instruments of destruction, I shall, with leave of the court, proceed to call my evidence."
The payment of several sums of money to Lord Sedley, during his residence at Ribblesdale, and the cessation of all demand for remittances from the period of his quitting it, were proved by his tenants; one of whom particularly specified his having sent him a very considerable sum, raised by mortgage of his principal farm, a few days previous to that fixed on for his disappearance. Morgan was now re-examined, who acted the part of a reluctant witness, with too marked partiality for Dr. Beaumont to deceive any who had not been accustomed to the grossest deceptions of fulsome hypocrisy. Much as he said of his hopes that his good old friend and neighbour would meet with favour, he took care to confirm every circumstance to his prejudice. He dwelt on the steadiness of Lord Sedley's principles; the regular communication he had with him, respecting the views of the royalists; the beauty and allurements of Constantia Beaumont, and the evident consternation of the family, together with her extreme grief at the time of Sedley's disappearing. He now hesitated and begged he might be dismissed; but a few threats of imprisonment restored his volubility, and he anticipated the questions of the counsel by stating, that at the command of His Highness he had minutely searched the late residence of the Beaumonts, and at length found a sliding pannel concealing an arched passage, through an extraordinarily thick wall, which, being excavated in one part, formed a small secret chamber or closet, concealed among the buttresses, so as not to be visible on the out-side, and lighted by a small window in the roof; he found, he said, certain proof of its having been recently inhabited, and on removing the floor he discovered, with several arms and implements, the dress of a parliamentary officer; the same which he had seen Lord Sedley wear. Nor was this the only corroborative proof of his having been assassinated in that dark recess, for, on digging lower, they found several bones, which he feared were part of the remains of that unfortunate gentleman.
The incongruity of finding the dress sufficiently perfect to discover its identity, while the body of Sedley was so dismembered by time, that only a few disjointed bones could be discovered, might have convinced the court, that they could not, without incurring great odium, find Dr. Beaumont guilty of murder. But, indeed, they had not time to reflect on the inadmissibility of such vague circumstances in a criminal charge. Lady Bellingham renewed her screams, to give effect, it was presumed, to the workings of compassion for a fond mother, wounded to agony by such a horrid narration. But her screams continued too long, and were too piercing, to proceed from feigned distress, and the intermingled cries of "He is coming again! Save me!" directed the eyes of all to a figure, who was now perceived slowly making his way through the crowd below the bar. It was the aged Evellin advancing with feeble steps; his majestic form clad in a loose, black, serge gown, and his iron-grey hair and beard waving neglected over his breast and shoulders; his arched brows were still more elevated by disdain, while, glancing his eyes from his screaming sister and her trembling husband, he fixed their unextinguished lustre on the President. "I am an evidence for Eusebius Beaumont," said he; "tender me the oath. My name is Allan Neville, and I require to be confronted with Walter De Vallance, calling himself Earl of Bellingham. Let him not escape," continued he, lifting his staff as it were an ensign of authority. "I accuse him of perfidy, calumny, fraud, usurpation, and murder."
Bellingham had more self-command than his guilty consort. His long acquaintance with the terrors of guilt made him ever on his guard. He knew of the preservation of Allan Neville during the civil wars, but he hoped the death of his son might have terminated his days, or irrecoverably clouded his reason; yet he was ever in apprehension of having his title to greatness disproved by a living claimant, though he knew all written documents to confirm his treachery had been destroyed. He had resolved, if ever this man of many woes should burst upon him, to abide by the criminal's last resource, denial of his identity, and solemn protestations of his own innocence: and though the abode of Neville had been so carefully concealed, that no trace of his residence in London had been discovered, even by the vigilance of Oliverian spies, the terrors to which the wretched Bellingham was a constant prey gave him a degree of adroitness in a moment of surprise. Though a coward, when only in the presence of God and his own conscience, the adhesive habits of a practised courtier, gave him effrontery and address when endeavouring to propitiate mankind in his favour.
"My Lord President," said he, "I must request that this unhappy maniac may be taken into custody. The sight is too dreadful to the weakened spirits of Lady Bellingham. Being a distant kinsman, we long supported him by our bounty; but his disordered imagination has persuaded him that he is the brother of my countess—that unfortunate and guilty man has been long since numbered with the dead."
Neville answered with stern composure, "Stand forth, David Williams; identify thy true Lord, the son of thy old master, to whom thou hast adhered in all his calamities." Williams instantly complied with the requisition, and Neville, then turning his indignant eyes on the horror-struct Bellingham, exclaimed—"I trusted thee with my life, my fortune, and my honour—I supplicated thy aid—I depended on thy integrity, on our alliance in blood, on a friendship formed in our boy-hood, on a thousand instances of kindness which I have shown thee.—Thou stolest from me a pearl, rich as an empire, threwest at me the worthless shell, and then badest thy plundered brother be grateful for thy mercy. Mine, Walter, is not the voice of a raving mendicant, it sounds not in thine ears as the ingratitude of an eleemosynary pensioner, but as the groan of a perturbed spirit, risen from the grave to demand vengeance."
"Hear me," continued he, as Bellingham hid his face with his cloak. "Am not I the friend of thy youth, the brother of thy wife, the owner of thy lands, castles, of all that thou hast, except that wretched body.—Where is my son? My Eustace; condemned by thee in cold blood at Pembroke, for being faithful to the King who ennobled thee, and was then betrayed by thy treasons! Mark, traitor; at the time that thou unpitying sawest the heir of the greatness thou hast long usurped walk to execution, this innocent man, whom thou art now persecuting, preserved the life of thy only child. And dost thou reproach me with the calamities thou hast brought upon me? Remember what I was, before thy avarice and ambition cancelled the ties of blood and gratitude, crushed me to the earth, and plumed thy borrowed pomp with the wings of my lineal greatness. I am now a lame, old, destitute Loyalist; yet, for ten thousand worlds, I would not cease to be the thing I am, if the alternative must be to become what thou art; a meteor, born in the concussion of the elements; a timorous slave of power, scared into the commission of any action which may prolong a life, miserable in its continuance, tremendous in its close."
He now turned to the judges, who were gazing on him in silent consternation. "Are you," said he, "administrators of the new code of criminal justice, or sworn extirpators of inconvenient rectitude. You see in me the bloody malignant, whom Beaumont cherished for years in the secret chamber. Have I physical strength to assassinate a vigorous youth? This arm was rendered useless at the battle of Marston-Moor; these knees were enfeebled by infirmity, resulting from the hardships I endured at the siege of Pontefract-Castle. Thus maimed and disabled, I was removed from a cave where I was hid by my kind comrades on a wain, concealed under rubbish and fed by my daughter, and by that firm friend, first in a sepulchre, and then among the ruins that sheltered his oppressed family. To justify his innocence, I commit my long painfully-preserved life to your clemency. Condemn me for what I have done for the King, to whom my heart is still faithful; bow my hoary locks to the scaffold; cut off the useless trunk which now only serves to bear the unblemished insignia of the true Earls of Bellingham. I suffer worse than death by looking on the traitor you cherish in your bosom. But before you condemn me, mark my words—Young De Vallance lives—he is beyond your power; he is a firm royalist, and ready, like myself, to die for his King. Hear me yet again. If you determine to bring on your cause the odium of deeming an aged cripple dangerous, let my execution be private; for no pomp of death can quail my courage. On the scaffold I shall proclaim my attachment to the Sovereign, who bestowed my birth-right on that viper—the betrayer of us both. But spare Eusebius Beaumont, the minister of good to friend and foe. Keep him alive to be your beadsman, till you cease to provoke heaven by injustice and rebellion."
The cry of "Let us seek the Lord," was immediately vociferated by the members of the mock tribunal. The President ordered Neville to be taken into custody. "There needs no rush of marshals-men," said he, "to effect your purpose; a child may guard me to my dungeon, and a twine confine me in it. But since I have proved the innocence of Beaumont, give him the liberty I willingly resign."
In these times of pretended freedom, a court of justice assembled to try state-criminals was nothing better than a clumsy engine of destruction, moved at the pleasure of the Protector. Condemnation and acquittal depended not on the facts which were disclosed at the trial, but on the pre-disposition of Cromwell, to whom (as was the usual interpretation of the phrase of seeking the Lord) the President immediately reported the appearance of Neville, his singular accusation of Lord Bellingham, his assertion of the existence of young De Vallance, and also of his change of principles. He suggested the impossibility of convicting Dr. Beaumont of murder; and though his concealing a royalist was now proved, the age, debility, and affinity of Neville, would make a strict execution of the penal ordinances, cruelty instead of justice; and throw an odium on His Highness's administration. Dr. Beaumont appeared to be an inoffensive, quiet character; as to Neville, though a furious, desperate delinquent, his infirmities made him insignificant, and death would probably soon relieve the state from his machinations.
At this time Cromwell courted popularity; he wished to engage honourable and eminent persons to support his government, and he thought an indisputable reputation for liberality and impartiality would expedite his ultimate projects. He had engaged some respectable characters in his service; and the description his emissaries gave him of Neville and Beaumont, showed him the impolicy of publickly sacrificing such victims for state-offences. He affected to think it was possible he might attach them to his interests, and declared he never could fear a disabled soldier and sequestered parson, but that he was even ready to vindicate the rights of a Loyalist, who had been injured by the partiality of the late tyrant, and thus prove his own impartial justice, while he transferred deserved odium on the memory of him who was called the Royal martyr. Monthault pleaded warmly for the Beaumonts, but not with disinterested earnestness. The appearance of Constantia in court revived the recollection of his former designs on her person, and as the acknowledged death of Eustace had removed what he supposed the chief barrier to his wishes, he deemed his suit might not be unsuccessfully urged, especially if he assumed the character of a mediator between her father and the government. He willingly obeyed Cromwell's order to adjourn the court to an indefinite time, till it could be ascertained if the prisoners would purchase prosperity by a change of principle, and he resolved to employ the interim in prosecuting his own designs.
None but the guilty are long and completely miserable.
The convulsions which seized Lady Bellingham, at again beholding what she still supposed was the apparition of her brother, had a speedy and fatal termination. The apparent reconciliation between herself and her lord had been effected for the purpose of revenge. Their enmity was the interminable feud of co-partners in iniquity, the hatred which ever exists between the contriver and the executor of horrible enormities. Their mutual recriminations and accusations were suspended; their aversion was made to look like grief, and they walked together into the court, as affectionate parents to prosecute the supposed murderer of their only child. But the sympathy which softens affliction, and even soothes despair, was here unknown. Lady Bellingham's false views of religion had, indeed, so far skinned over the wounds of her ulcerated conscience, as to produce a stupefaction, which might last as long as health and prosperity continued. But when, what she conceived to be a supernatural visitation, had terrified her into a dangerous indisposition; the anchor of absolute election trembled in her grasp, and her bodily weakness was rapidly increased by the wild agonies a soul roused to a sense of its danger, when the bridegroom called and the lamp of faith, unsupplied with good works, was extinguished. Her troubled spirit saw nothing but darkness in its future prospects, while, with a dying voice, she continued imploring her physicians to save her life, and wondering why this judgment was fallen upon her.
The most illiterate and presumptuous of the fanatical preachers crowded round her bed, and by the canting verbiage of delusion strove to revive the raptures of enthusiasm. Not one had the honesty to tell her that the figure which so appalled her, was her living brother. They feared the assurance of his existence acting upon her present terrors might induce her to do an act of justice, and to make an effectual effort to restore him to his ancient rights. They were equally silent as to the safety of her son, and careful to keep her husband out of her apartment. It was their aim to prevail upon her to bequeathe her large possessions to promote the interests of their party. With the spirit of the false prophets of old, they sounded in her ears, "The temple of the Lord." They reminded her of her prayers, alms, mortifications, and zeal for the good cause. They required her to recollect the time and circumstances of her conversion; the pangs she then suffered; her subsequent experiences and convictions of having received saving grace. They proceeded, as they termed it, to buffet Satan with prayers, while with impassioned hymns they endeavoured to awaken in the trembling sinner, the raptures of divine love. All sense of contrition for past offences, all disposition to be reconciled to her lord was prevented by their assurances of her safety, and their prayers for his conversion, which ran in the style of craving that he might no longer halt between two opinions, but renouncing the fears of the carnal man be perfected in faith and love. Every Scripture narrative, which, by falsifying some circumstances, could be made to answer their purpose, was presented to her remembrance. The murder, adultery, and acceptance of David; the liberality of Solomon to the church; the preservation of Rahab the harlot from the general massacre of her people, on account of her saving faith; the supposed profligacy of Magdalen's early life, atoned for by her sitting passive at the feet of her Lord.—All these instances were produced to prove the false and scandalous tenet, that a course of sin was a better preparative to conversion than a life of comparative innocence. Arguments were bandied from tongue to tongue; each one cavilled at the assertions of the other, yet all united in the purpose of pacifying an alarmed conscience, and changing despair into ill-founded confidence. The groans of Lady Bellingham, the consternation of her attendants, the fierce disputes of her ghostly assistants, occasionally suspended by ejaculations and hymns, exhibited a scene of distracting confusion, in which it would have been impossible for the firmest mind to have preserved its recollection. Lady Bellingham was soon induced to say that she knew she had once been in a state of grace, and this acknowledgement was welcomed as her pass-port to heaven. She was informed that her salvation was unalienable; that grace could neither be resisted nor forfeited, and that though the saints might appear to sin, yet their offences were not imputable to them.
This pious conflict (for in an age when fanaticism and hypocrisy were misnamed religion, these solemn mockeries passed for charitable assistance to the dying,) was interrupted by the presence of Monthault, now become the favourite and confidant of a chief leader of the fanatical party. This renegade-Loyalist had served Cromwell with conspicuous bravery in the Irish wars, and once, when a division of the army was thrown into great danger, by the retreat of the forlorn hope, before it had accomplished its purpose, he rushed forward, killed the commanding officer with his own hand, and seizing the colours, led them back, undismayed, by a grove of pikes and a shower of missile weapons. With desperate but successful valour he carried the redoubt and escaped with life. All this passed under the immediate observation of Cromwell, whose retentive memory never forgot any signal action, and whose discriminating policy generally placed the man who performed it in a situation suited to his character. He soon found Monthault to be as perfidious and unprincipled as he was daring and ready to undertake any office which would gratify his passions, which (being now past the heyday of youth) were diverted from licentious indulgence by the more substantial enjoyments of avarice and ambition.
At this time Cromwell was secretly panting to add the name and paraphernalia of a King to the authority which he actually exercised. The fanatics, whom he had so long courted, were the most active opponents of this project. The other sectaries had been long convinced, by experience, that their views of republican felicity and perfection were illusory. The respectable dissenters always professed themselves friends of a limited monarchy; many staunch royalists thought the renewal of kingly power would gradually turn the public eye on their exiled Prince; and some selfish ones would have been content with such an approach to the old order of things as would give them back their sequestered estates. Some parties would be brought over by seeming to fall in with their views, others cajoled by bribing their leaders, but the levellers and fanatics were invincible. They had been Cromwell's agents in subduing his enemies, and a consciousness of their power made them unmanageable; they were determined on owning no King but Jesus, and on thinking the regal title, when assumed by man, the mark of the beast and the seal of reprobation to its supporters. "The Protector's son-in-law, Fleetwood, kneeled and prayed publickly, that the Lord might spit in his face if the unrighteous mammon tempted him into this sin; and his brother Desborough anathematized him, and vowed to devote his own sword to Charles Stewart sooner than to him, if he persevered in longing for the forbidden spoil." Lambert, who was in the entire confidence of these two, had seduced the affections of the army; Cromwell, therefore, had a difficult game to play. His passionate desire of royalty combated those secret fears that arose from a mysterious warning which he received when he first meditated on the designs afterwards realized by his lucky and unprincipled ambition. A vision, or day-dream, impressed his enthusiastic imagination, detailing the steps by which he was to rise, and assuring him, "that he should be the greatest man in England, and near being King." Yet, though this seemed to warn him of an impassable bound to his greatness, the pageant of royalty which he had so often vilified and derided, on a close view appeared so irresistible, that he became enchanted with its fascinations, till, in aiming at the decorations of power, he nearly sacrificed the substance.
At this juncture the daring character and versatility of Monthault marked him out to the Protector as a proper instrument to negotiate with Lambert, whose talents were far more dangerous than the fanaticism of Fleetwood or Desborough's virulence. It was plain that though Monthault wore the enlarged phylacteries and sanctified demeanour of the sect he had lately adopted, he was more a hypocrite than an enthusiast. It is well known, that Cromwell found means to discover every private incident in the lives of his agents, and thus penetrated into all their views. While pleading for the imprisoned Beaumonts, the Protector read the soul of the former lover of Constantia, now known to be nearly allied to the true stock of the house of Bellingham. Cromwell therefore took occasion to commend the filial piety and courage which he heard that this young lady had exemplified; and declared himself resolved, not only to show Dr. Beaumont favour, but also to consider the case of Neville; intimating, that he looked on an hereditary and uncontaminated nobility as the strongest link between the people and the government; and from this acknowledgment he took occasion to glance at the benefit of a partial restoration of old usages, as most likely to unite all parties, and heal the wounds of the three kingdoms. The stress laid on the last word, (the use of which had been for some time interdicted,) shewed Monthault what was expected from him, and he left the presence, persuaded that if he would assist to gird the austere brows of the Usurper with the kingly diadem, the hand of his mistress, and a large portion of the Bellingham property, if not its reversionary honours, would be his reward.
It was with a further view of securing this prize that Monthault visited the dying Lady Bellingham, to whom their party-connexions gave him free access. Pretending he had received a special revelation, which he must impart to her alone, he dismissed the ministers, and assured her of the actual existence of her brother, whose pardon her again-alarmed conscience seemed most anxious to secure, even at the price of relinquishing to him those possessions which her increasing weakness told her she could not long retain. Monthault assured her it would be greatly for the benefit of her soul, if she would sign a deed bequeathing to Allan Neville the inheritance of their ancestors; and produced a prepared instrument, which Lady Bellingham was not in a state to read, or indeed to listen to its recital. Relying on the veracity of one whom she considered as a saint upon earth, and catching eagerly at every thing which would allay those inward terrors that had been rather benumbed than pacified, Lady Bellingham was induced to consent, and the ministers were re-introduced to certify her being in a sound mind and to witness the execution of a deed, which they trusted was to promote the good cause, but which in reality bequeathed the Bellingham estate, after the demise of Allan Neville, to Constantia Beaumont, provided she consented to marry Monthault. Thus cheated and bewildered in her last moments by those whom she believed to be endowed with super-human perfections, this wretched woman terminated her miserable and guilty life.
Monthault's next care was, to discover if his apparent reformation of manners could so far impose on the simplicity and candour of the Beaumonts as to make them strain the principle of Christian forgiveness, and receive him as a friend. They were still in prison, but the Protector had given orders, that they should be provided with handsome apartments, and every comfort compatible with confinement at the public expence. But though Monthault took on himself the merit of this lenient treatment, the prejudices of the whole family against him formed an insuperable bar to his designs. His change of conduct was too pointedly obtrusive; his piety and penance too ostentatious to pass on a man who was thoroughly conversant with the marks of genuine repentance. Dr. Beaumont did not approve of an elaborate and unnecessary disclosure of the secret enormities of his early life, which seemed to him more like the wantonness of a depraved imagination wallowing in its former abominations, than penitence shrinking, with horror, from its recollected transgressions. But when Monthault proceeded to talk of his present sinless rectitude, certainty of acceptance, rapturous exercises, and experiences of future beatification, (the common cant of those times,) the sound divine saw the once audacious sinner covering his adhesive wickedness with the Pharisee's cloak, exchanging libertinism for spiritual pride, and the excesses of debauchery for ambition and malevolence. Though no one was more adverse than Dr. Beaumont from colouring gross sins with the name of amiable frailties, he thought Monthault more horrible with his Scripture-appellative and precise habits, than when as a drunken cavalier he toasted the King and the Church, while he disgraced the one by his rapine, and the other by his profaneness.
Monthault was equally unsuccessful with Constantia. In vain did he assure her that the awakening change in his soul had been expedited by his yearnings after her. She coldly told him, she hoped for his sake the reformation was real. He assured her he had disposed the Protector to befriend her relations. She thanked the Protector's justice, and relapsed into silence. He spoke of the identity of her uncle as being indisputable, and that he was likely soon to be removed from a prison to an earldom. She answered, that would be miraculous, but no irradiation of her countenance implied her belief that such an event was probable. He inquired if her cousin Isabel was still devoted to Sedley. Constantia could here speak with energy, and replied, "She is." Monthault reminded her, that whatever became of his father, he was necessarily proscribed; having violated the bond of private friendship, as well as of public trust, with the Protector. Constantia answered, that Isabel saw nothing infamous in banishment or poverty, but much in breaking her early vows to a man whose misfortunes were his praise. "But," replied Monthault, "your early vows have been dissolved by death; and celibacy is one of the popish snares of Satan. Marriage was divinely appointed, and it is sinful to neglect the godly ordinance." "To marry with an unconsenting heart is more so," replied Constantia; "I was betrothed to Eustace Evellin, and living or dead, to him will I ever be faithful. His genuine integrity, his frank affectionate disposition won all my heart; and since I have lost him, I live only to the claims of filial duty and sisterly affection. I have been long familiarized with fear and sorrow, but hope and joy can only visit me in his form."
Monthault told her, that this persevering regret was a mark of her being in an unsanctified rebellious state. He quoted many texts to prove that the saints would eventually inherit the earth; declaring that the wonderful success which attended Cromwell, first pointed him out as an instrument of Providence, designed for an especial purpose. Constantia expressed her belief that he was; but silenced Monthault's intended allusions to a millennial state of felicity under his government, by declaring her conviction that he was the sword of vengeance, rather than the renovating sun of mercy.
Monthault withdrew sullen and offended, planning schemes of vengeance, all pointed at Arthur de Vallance, whose retreat he determined to discover. He questioned the keeper of the prison, who had access to the Beaumonts, and was by him directed to Jobson. His talkative simplicity, and the danger that would result from his being sifted by Cromwell's spies, had obliged them to dispense with the services of the faithful trooper, who now earned his bread by manual labour, and only came occasionally to inquire after their health. Though care was taken to represent him as a porter occasionally employed, the jailor suspected he had been an old servant. Monthault immediately recollected him as attached to Eustace a little before their separation at Dartmoor, and recommended himself to the affectionate creature, by recognising him as one who leaped with him into the moat, and climbed the wall at his side, when Prince Rupert stormed Bristol. Taking him apart, he avowed himself to be a stanch royalist, watching every opportunity to serve a cause he still wore at his heart. He declared that he accepted the office of a judge at Dr. Beaumont's trial, with a resolution of saving him; he praised his firm demeanour, the beauty of Constantia, the goodness of Isabel, and the noble self-devotedness of Neville; assuring Jobson, that he was most sedulous in employing the interest he possessed with the Protector to the advantage of this family. But he lamented that there existed one obstacle to Neville's becoming Earl of Bellingham: the Protector's betrayed confidence required a victim, and Arthur de Vallance must be given up to his vengeance.
The honest countenance of Jobson fell at this information. "Ah, worthy sir," said he, "there is no washing the black-a-moor white; Old Noll will continue Old Noll, dress him up how you will. There's no putting a King's heart into a scoundrel's body; and a tailor never yet made more than the clothes of a gentleman. I say, the man that can't forgive a brave young gentleman, never ought to wear the crown of England. You had half persuaded me to forget the true King beyond sea, and to think, as this ruler would do justice, we might go on as we are, but when you talk about harping on old grievances, and taking vengeance for private fallings-out, I say, though Old Noll may do for a Lord-Protector, Kings must never have any enemies but the enemies of their country."
Monthault, seeming to enter into his feelings, uttered many encomiums on young De Vallance, whom he said he really thought one of the finest gentlemen in England. "Aye, in England now, I grant you," returned Jobson; "but there is another before him, Mr. Eustace Evellin; we used to call him the true Lord Sedley, for the other is but a make-believe. Very good-humoured and generous, and fair-spoken I allow; but the right lord, O! he has an eye like a hawk, and so open and daring, and spirited—I wish, noble Sir, you had seen him."
Monthault affected to brush a tear from his eye, lamenting that an interview was now impossible. Jobson had an inveterate antipathy to giving any one pain, except in the field of battle. He caught Monthault by his cloak, pressed him to be secret, and whispered he might have that pleasure before he died. "Mum," said he, "for your life; Mr. Eustace is alive and merry, and only waits for the King's coming over to be among us."
Monthault vowed secresy, and readily drew from Jobson all he knew respecting the preservation and subsequent history of the heir of Neville. Fortunately, he had never been intrusted with the place of their retreat, and could only say, that he and De Vallance were somewhere very safe, and ready to drub Old Noll into better manners than authorizing the shooting of men in cold blood.
Monthault then informed Jobson, that he possessed a large fortune, and secretly devoted ample remittances to the service of the King, and the most eminent Loyalists. As the state now liberally supported the prisoners, the exiles had the first claim on his purse. Unintentionally he feared, he had been of great disservice to Eustace, and therefore justice, as well as humanity and admiration, pointed him out as the first person whom he ought to assist. He would most willingly send Jobson with a sum of money to these illustrious friends, and he entreated him to discover where they had taken shelter, and say he was commissioned to supply their wants. But as he was ever attentive to the rule of doing good in secret, his own name was, on no account, to be divulged, nor would he press Jobson to inform him where the fugitives resided. The language of loyalty, unostentatious generosity, and warm attachment to Eustace, was, to Jobson, a sure pledge of the honour and sincerity of Monthault. He readily promised to get the whole secret out of Mrs. Isabel, and discover none of his intentions. "I see, noble sir," continued he, "you are a true gentleman, and know, that a gentleman like yourself hates to be thought poor, and had rather starve than have money given him; whereas we poor men never care how much we get from our betters. But trust me for managing the business cleverly."
Happily for the exiles, Jobson was equally deficient in finesse and secrecy. The first question he put to Isabel respecting the place of their retreat, discovered that he had a mysterious reason for wishing to be informed, and she soon drew from him that the benevolent unknown was a tall, solemn gentleman, who turned up the whites of his eyes, and was dressed like a round-head, though a stanch Loyalist in his heart. This description, so applicable to Monthault, excited her liveliest terrors. It was impossible to convince Jobson, that a man who talked so kindly could have any insidious design; and thinking it best not to combat this delusion, she thought it expedient to misdirect the wily traitor, and observed, that the inhabitants of the mountainous parts of Cumberland, where she and her father had so long lived, were well affected to the King, and disposed to shelter and protect her brother. From the manner in which Jobson communicated this intelligence, Monthault was convinced that Isabel had penetrated into his designs; and he resolved to suspend his machinations till he could extort, by terror, what intrigue had failed to procure.
When Isabel communicated this intelligence to her friends, their apprehensions of some fatal snare which might blast all their hopes, determined them to send the faithful and discreet Williams to the exiles, advising them of Cromwell's designs to get them into his power, and entreating them immediately to quit their present abode. But whither to point for a safe retreat was the difficulty, since at that time this extraordinary man seemed to extend the scorpion fangs of his tyranny over the continent, as well as the British dominions. He had, at every court, not only an accredited minister, but a subordinate host of spies liberally paid, who gave him an account of every stranger of distinction that sought a refuge from his cruelty, and contrived also, by false accusations or threats to the affrighted sovereigns, to have the victims he had marked for destruction delivered into his power. Cromwell had formerly made a close league with the Queen of Sweden, between whose successor and his neighbour the King of Denmark, a furious contest had commenced. As all hope of serving his native Prince was for the present suspended, Neville advised his son to draw his sword for the royal Dane, and Williams was charged with many affectionate remembrances. "Tell my son," said he, "never to disgrace the name, to which, at hazard of my life, I have proved his title." Constance whispered a tender assurance that the tidings of his preservation had reconciled her to life. "Yet tell my Eustace," said she, "that though time and sorrow have so changed the face he used to admire, that he would now hardly know his Constance, they have improved the heart, which neither calumny, nor suspence, nor despair, could alienate from its only love." Isabel, too, had a brief encouraging remembrance for her lover: "Tell my De Vallance," said she, "I live for him and for happier times. Bid him remember me in the hour of peril and the moment of temptation; assure him I count the years of our separation, and endure my present sorrows in the confidence that they will serve for sweet discourses in the time to come." The message of Dr. Beaumont was pious and prudential.—He rejoiced that an opportunity was afforded them of serving a Protestant King, and he advised them, if their successful services allowed them an honourable establishment in Denmark, to withdraw their views, though not their love or their prayers, from England.
Charged with these endearing recollections Williams departed, but on his arrival at Jersey found the fugitives had long left the island. Their protectress was dead, and her husband had removed to the South of France. Dr. Lloyd was well remembered for his medical skill, and his pupils for their correct manners and exemplary friendship. A lady, daughter of one of the first people in St. Helier, had formed a strong attachment to one of the gentlemen, and as she left the island about the time they did, it was supposed a marriage had been solemnized. Williams durst not be very minute in his inquiries; he gathered however that the place of their retreat could not be discovered, though the friends of the lady had taken every measure to regain her.
This intelligence greatly increased the dejection of Constantia, and almost clouded the sanguine mind of Isabel. "Has mutability," she would often say, "entirely usurped the earth? No. Inanimate nature is not changed; the sun-beams steal through these grated windows at the same hour this year as they did last. Summer and winter, day and night, return at stated periods; the animal organs present the same objects, and excite the usual sensations; nor are my moral feelings altered; truth and honour continue to delight me; vice and falsehood are as odious to my soul as if good men still triumphed, and guilt held its alliance with infamy. Yet are not subjects transformed into traitors and rebels; lovers forsworn; do not Christians renounce their baptism and abjure their faith; and is not friendship become a cloak to conceal the informer and assassin? Whom shall we acquit of inconstancy, if either Eustace or De Vallance are false? How shall we depicture fidelity and honour if they dwell not in the open front of heroic candour, or the mild suavity of undeviating rectitude? Away!—the report of Williams is a gossip's tale, forged to explain a mystery of their own forming. Constance, I shall live to arrange your jewels and fold your robe, when you walk at the coronation as Countess of Bellingham, and you shall be sponsor to my little Arthur. At least I will cherish these day-dreams, till I know Cromwell has done a disinterested generous action; I will then resign you to Monthault, and employ myself in clear-starching and crimping bands for the conventicle."
Thus rallying her own spirits, and endeavouring to animate the hopes of others, Isabel contrived to lighten the burden of voluntary captivity, as she had used to alleviate the hardships of poverty. Her mind, equally firm and innocent, feared nothing but the reproaches of her conscience and the despair of her father. Happy in the resources of an active disposition, she soon convinced Constantia that even confinement does not proscribe utility. While Dr. Beaumont administered to the spiritual wants of his fellow-prisoners, Isabel contrived to promote their comforts, often with the labours of her hand, always by the un-failing cordial of her hilarity, and sometimes with her slender purse, cheerfully abridging her own wants to supply the need of others. Nor was she wholly disinterested in this conduct; she found it the best method of diverting anxiety and suppressing doubt; of resisting that misanthropy which a long continuance of adversity is apt to engender in the tenderest hearts; and of preserving those social feelings of general good-will, which, to austere dispositions, render even prosperity distasteful.
 Many of these circumstances are copied from the death of Cromwell.
"See Cromwell damn'd to everlasting fame."
It was at this period that Cromwell underwent that memorable struggle between his ambition and his fears, which ultimately preserved the monarchy of England in the line of legitimate descent. He tampered with all parties, and found none hearty in his cause: the best-disposed to his interests were only passive; but his enemies were implacable. The popularity of a pamphlet recommending his assassination upon principle, and declaring that the perpetrator of the deed would deserve the favour of God and man, destroyed every vestige of his comfort. "He read it, and was never seen to smile more." With late repentance for his vanity, which prompted him to excite such furious opposition, he pushed from him the crown he had courted, when offered by his creatures; but he did it with an affectation of disdain and self-command, that ill accorded with his former intrigues to obtain it. All his anxiety was now directed to the preservation of his joyless life. He had long worn light armour under his clothes, and carried pistols in his pockets. He seldom lay twice in the same chamber, or informed any one which apartment he meant to select. He travelled with extreme rapidity, attended by numerous guards, and never returned by the way he went. Yet no sooner was one conspiracy detected, than another was formed; the fanatics were irreconcileable, and the most worthy and eminent among the dissenters determined on his overthrow. His old military comrades, Fairfax and Waller, were bent to destroy him. His treasury was drained by the rapacity of his numerous spies; and as fines and exactions had been strained to the utmost, he had no means of replenishing it but by a recourse to measures similar to those which had overthrown the monarchy; for his fanatical puppet-shows had brought the name of Parliament into contempt, and he durst not appeal to the free voice of the nation. I have already mentioned the disunion of his family, and the desertion of his kindred and near alliances. Such were the accumulated miseries, such the soul-harrowing and unremitting sufferings, of this man, whom Europe considered as the favourite of fortune, and whose extraordinary success has been urged as a plea against the divine government, and a proof that the kingdoms of this world are left to the disposal of Satan. Penetrate the recesses of the tyrant's palace, and it will be seen that enormous offences, after they have outstripped the power of human punishment, visit, on the oppressor, their own atrocity, and revenge the wrongs of a bleeding world by torments more insupportable than any which cruelty can inflict on others.
Distrusting even his most faithful informers, and jealous of his own creatures, Cromwell always endeavoured to see every thing with his own eyes. A little before his unlamented death, two strangers visited the prison where Neville and Dr. Beaumont were confined. One of them avowed himself to be the Lord Whitlock, the other passed as his secretary. They were both masked, and wore long cloaks to conceal their persons. The secretary was furnished with writing materials; he placed himself at a table, and affected only to take minutes of the conversation.
Whitlock began with upbraiding the national ingratitude, and acknowledging its general indisposition to the Protector's vigorous and successful administration. He insisted that His Highness wished to conciliate all parties by a mild and impartial government, though the ample means with which he was furnished, the tried fidelity of the army, and the respect he was held in by foreign Potentates, prevented him from needing the friendship of any. But being now past the meridian of life, he was desirous of leaving the nation whom he had rendered great and prosperous, in the possession of internal tranquillity. Though irreconcileable from principle, he regarded the royalists as the most respectable of his opponents, and "he had ever resisted the advice of the fanatics, to cut them off by a general massacre." Whitlock then expressed his hope, that the prisoners condemned the newly-broached opinion that assassination was allowable, and were disposed to be quiet, if not contented, under the present government, which would reward such submission by relaxing the penal statutes now in force against them. Dr. Beaumont spoke first, and declared that assassination was forbidden by the general tenor of Scripture. The particular instances now so much dwelt on, of Jael's killing Sisera, or Judith's Holofernes, could not be urged in vindication of similar attempts. Both acts were committed previous to the Christian dispensation, which prescribes submissive patience under injuries, and overcoming evil with good. Those deeds were performed under a Divine impetus, and though, by their performance, the will of God was fulfilled, it is not clear that the perpetrators were justified in His sight, any more than was Hazael, when (as had been divinely predicted) he acted as the chastiser of offending Israel.
Neville then took up the argument. He retorted on Whitlock the expressions used by St. John to procure the condemnation of Lord Strafford, and asked how they had the effrontery to object to that rule when employed against themselves. "You have cut off our nobles, our prelates, and our King," said he, "by that formal and public assassination, an illegal trial; but we alike abjure your principles and practice. If I hunt a usurper and tyrant to death, it shall be by honourable means. If his character deserves no respect, I know what is due to my own. I hold no tenets in common with regicides. Man cannot commit a crime that can so far deface the image of his Maker impressed upon him as to reduce him to the level of a beast of prey. Would that this unnerved arm had strength, and that this sinking frame were again erect with youthful vigour, then, if the awakened feelings of the nation allowed me opportunity to meet, in the field of battle, the brave, great, wicked man you serve, I would single him out from every opponent; but were he unarmed, and in my power, I would give him a sword before I assailed him."
Whitlock walked to the table; but it was evident that he received, rather than gave, directions. The soul-searching eye of Cromwell peered through his visor, and turned alternately on Neville and Beaumont. Though a stranger to the feelings of magnanimity, he honoured its expressions. He walked towards the captives, removed the shade from his sickly, care-worn features, and asked how he could make them his friends.
Neville shrunk aghast, petrified at the aspect of his Sovereign's murderer. The feelings of a father repressed his maledictions, while he gazed on him with stern silence as he would on a portentous meteor. Dr. Beaumont sooner recollected himself. Bowing to Cromwell as to one of those powers that are ordained by God, he answered that forgiveness and obedience were duties; but that the feelings of friendship were a voluntary engagement, and arose from very different motives.
"Your frankness," replied Cromwell, "proves that you well understand my plain nature and abhorrence of flattery, and my condescension in visiting you shows I take you to be open, fair enemies, not likely to engage in conspiracies, or desirous of renewing the times of confusion. But I would ask, What hope have you left, or what portion, even in its best days, did your thriftless loyalty acquire you? Eusebius Beaumont it found an obscure rector, and so it left you; for you could only boast simplicity of life and doctrine; but court-chaplains, drivellers in learning, and lewd knaves in manners, were rewarded with stalls and mitres. You, Allan Neville, were stripped of your patrimony, and slandered in your reputation, by the injustice of the King for whom you bled."
Neville started from his indignant reverie. "Were you," said he, "invested with tenfold terrors, I would not hear this aspersion cast upon my Sovereign's memory. Injustice consists in knowing what is wrong, and persisting in doing it. My King was misled, deceived, like myself, by the viper we both cherished; even by one of those recreants to whom you owe your exaltation. With double perfidy, you overthrew the King by attributing to him the crimes of his favourites, and then converted them into state-engines, first to elevate you to greatness, and afterwards to convey away the offscourings of the dignity you had soiled. My King was open to conviction. He knew the fidelity of his soldier, and purposed to make him ample reparation."
"I have the power," returned Cromwell, "to accomplish those purposes." "Impossible!" was Neville's reply; "my lands were alienated by a King of England, and by his lawful successor only can they be restored."
"Are you," returned the Usurper, "aware that you are the only man in Europe who dares question my power. I visited you with friendly dispositions, and you receive me with insults."
"When, veiling your dignity with disguises," answered Neville; "you borrow the occupation of your myrmidons, and steal on the privacies of those you oppress, can you wonder to hear their imprecations sound in unison with the clanking of their fetters?"
"I have a will," replied Cromwell, "as stubborn as yours. We will try for the mastery. What hinders me from laying that head of yours on the block?"
"—The insufferable goadings of your afflicted conscience, perpetually whispering that you have shed too much blood already.—Every wrinkle which care has imprinted on your brow, every tremulous infirmity which constant watchfulness has introduced into your frame, acting as mementos that the day of account cannot be far distant.—The iron you wear on your bosom, that by its stern pressure tells you what you deserve.—The public clamour, which will not now permit you to immolate the confined victims whom your own lips have pronounced innocent of recent provocations, and against whom you dare not revive the charge of acknowledged resistance, which, by long impunity, you seem to have pardoned. All these reasons are pledges for our safety. You cannot further tempt the sufferance of Englishmen. Your declining health makes you fear to add to the long indictment which your crimes have prepared against you.
The garlands wither on your brow, Then boast no more your mighty deeds, Upon Death's purple altar now, See where the victor-victim bleeds: All heads must come to the cold tomb; Only the actions of the just Smell sweet, and blossom in the dust."
As Neville uttered this bold appeal to the feelings of an alarmed and conscious villain, a cold shivering ran through the Protector's frame, and his eye expressed a vain supplication, that it were possible to exchange his garlands and his glories for those ever-fragrant actions which blossom on the grave of the just. He strove to rally his air of moody dignity, to recover the austere deliberate tone of his expressions; but his manner was embarrassed, and his voice inarticulate. A groan, such as only tortured guilt can utter, partially relieved his swollen bosom. "Neville," said he, "I will not expect you to be my friend; but will you cease to be my enemy?"
"Miserable victim of ambition," said Neville to himself; "how much happier is my lot than thine!" Cromwell persisted in asking if there was any favour he would receive at his hand. Neville paused, and answered, "Yes; liberty."
"And what pledge," said Cromwell, "can you give me that you will not use freedom to my prejudice?"
"My own honour," returned Neville, "which will never allow me to use the instrument you put in my hand to destroy you."
"No equivocation!" said Whitlock; "in receiving freedom from His Highness you acknowledge his authority."
"No," returned Neville, "I simply own he has a power to confine me. The question of right is undetermined. If a Usurper restores me to the free use of light and air, I need not examine his title before I resume the enjoyment of those common blessings."
Cromwell addressed Dr. Beaumont: "You belong to a church whose doctrine is passive obedience. You are not bewildered by this madman's chimeras, but can prudently estimate the value of our free grace and promised favour."
"My religion," replied the Doctor, "teaches me to submit to the dispensations of Providence; but it will not allow me to divide the spoil with those who have grown mighty on the ruins of my friends."
"Are there no points," again inquired Cromwell, "in which we may agree to join our common wishes? What if I beseech the Lord to give you the spirit of wisdom?"
"May he afford you that of consolation," was the emphatical wish of Dr. Beaumont. Neville waved his hand in silence. "Oh! my friend," said he, as soon as the Protector and Whitlock had retired, "I have suffered more than the rack. I have seen the fiend-like face which looked, without compunction, on the sufferings of the Royal Martyr, and I felt too weak to revenge his wrongs. Have I not gone too far in saying I would accept of freedom from his hands?"
"Vengeance for such a crime," replied Dr. Beaumont, "is too vast and comprehensive to be entrusted to mortal agency. Let us leave it to Him who claims it as his own prerogative. Murder, perfidy, and treason, will be remembered when the avenging angel shall visit the sins of man."
Cromwell returned from his insidious visit, disappointed and dejected. He had failed of the end which he proposed to himself by his condescension. A reconciliation with two such distinguished Loyalists, founded on the mutual benefits of submission and restitution, would have strengthened his government; but he found abstinence from treacherous hostility was all that his blandishments could obtain, and this he would owe rather to their own principles of honour and religion than to his threats or his promises. Though stung to the heart by the bold taunts of Neville, he could not punish him. The very aspect and figure of the two venerable sufferers were so fitted to excite sympathy and indignation, that he durst not expose them on a scaffold, nor could he privately cut them off. The fate of Syndercome, a daring Anabaptist, who had several times attempted his life, and, on his trial, persevered in expressing his determination, if possible, to kill him, alike deterred Cromwell from bringing his private enemies to the bar of a court of justice, or resorting to private measures of revenge. He had with difficulty procured this man's condemnation; but the night previous to his intended execution he escaped, by suicide, the Protector's power; and so prejudiced were the populace against their Ruler, that they accused him of having poisoned the victim he feared to bring to a public death. If the prosecution of a notorious and avowed ruffian brought him into this dilemma, what odium would the death of two respectable and aged Loyalists excite, especially as their story was become public, and the wrongs of Neville, and the generous friendship of Beaumont, had awakened a powerful sympathy. Yet his narrow soul could not accede to the generous alternative of giving them freedom. Pretending that the state had a claim to the Bellingham-property, he prevented Monthault from taking any measures to establish the will of the guilty Countess, and contented himself with keeping the lawful claimant in prison, hoping that confinement would accelerate the decays of nature, and thus give a safe quietus to his own fears.
But ere that event happened the Usurper was called to the dreadful tribunal for which few among the descendants of Adam were apparently less prepared. His restless, intriguing ambition; the dissimulation and hypocrisy by which he rose to supreme power; the ability with which he wielded it; his splendid wretchedness; the terror he excited and felt; his cruelty and fanaticism, his determined spirit, and occasionally timid vacillation, read a most impressive lesson to aspiring minds infatuated by success, and regardless of moral or religious restraints. O that, in this age of insubordination, selfishness, and enterprise, a poet would arise, animated with Shakespeare's "Muse of fire," embody the events of those seventeen years of wo, and invest the detestable Regicide with the same terrible immortality which marks the murderous Thane in his progress from obedience and honour to supreme power and consummate misery!
Nor does the death-bed of Cromwell afford a less useful warning to the pen of instruction, when she aims at distinguishing true piety from hypocrisy or fanaticism. It is still doubtful under which of those counterfeits of religion we must rank this great but wicked man. Yet, whether he deceived his own soul, or attempted to deceive others; whether he really believed himself an elected instrument of Providence; or, having long worn devotion as the mask of ambition, retained it to the last,—his almost unexampled crimes (so plainly forbidden by that scripture he had ever on his lips), and the security and confidence of his last moments, furnish stronger arguments than a thousand volumes of controversy, to prove the fallacy and danger of those speculative notions which he patronized, propagated, and exemplified.