Beauchamp; or, The Error.

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(Harvard University)

COLLECTION

OF

BRITISH AUTHORS.

VOL. CVII.


BEAUCHAMP BY G. P. R. JAMES.
IN ONE VOLUME.

TAUCHNITZ EDITION.

By the same Author.
MORLEY ERNSTEIN (WITH PORTRAIT)1 vol.
FOREST DAYS1 vol.
THE FALSE HEIR1 vol.
ARABELLA STUART1 vol.
ROSE D’ALBRET1 vol.
ARRAH NEIL1 vol.
AGINCOURT1 vol.
THE SMUGGLER1 vol.
THE STEP-MOTHER2 vols.
HEIDELBERG1 vol.
THE GIPSY1 vol.
THE CASTLE OF EHRENSTEIN1 vol.
DARNLEY1 vol.
RUSSELL2 vols.
THE CONVICT2 vols.
SIR THEODORE BROUGHTON2 vols.

BEAUCHAMP;

OR,

THE ERROR.

BY

G. P. R. JAMES.

COPYRIGHT EDITION.

LEIPZIG
BERNHARD TAUCHNITZ
1846.

BEAUCHAMP;

OR,

THE ERROR.

CHAPTER I.

The Attack and the Rescue.

It was in the reign of one of the Georges–it does not matter which, though perhaps the reader may discover in the course of this history. After all, what does it signify in what king’s reign an event happened, for although there may be something in giving to any particular story “a local habitation and a name,” yet there is nothing, strange to say, which gives one–I speak from my own experience–a greater perception of the delusiveness of every thing on earth, than the study of, and deep acquaintance with the annals of a many-lined monarchy. To see how these spoilt children of fortune have fought and struggled, coveted and endeavoured, obtained or have been disappointed, hoped, feared, joyed, and passed away–ay, passed, so that the monumental stone and a few historic lines from friend and foe, as dry as doubtful, are all that remains of them–it gives us a sensation that all on earth is a delusion, that history is but the pages of a dream-book, the truest chronicle, but a record of the unreal pageants that are gone.

However that may be, it was in the reign of one of the Georges–I wont be particular as to the date, for Heaven knows I am likely to be mistaken in the curl of a whig, or the fashion of a sleeve-button, and then what would the antiquaries say?

It was in the reign of one of the Georges–thank Heaven, there were four of them, in long and even succession, so that I may do any thing I like with the coats, waistcoats, and breeches, and have a vast range through a wilderness of petticoats (hooped and unhooped, tight, loose, long, short, flowing, tucked up), to say nothing of flounces and furbelows, besides head-dresses, in endless variety, patches, powder, and pomatum, fans, gloves, and high-heeled shoes. Heaven and earth what a scope!–but I am determined to write this work just as it suits me. I have written enough as it suits the public, and I am very happy to find that I have suited them, but in this, I hope and trust, both to please my public and myself too. Thus I wish to secure myself a clear field, and therefore do declare, in the first instance, that I will stand upon no unities of time or place, but will indulge in all the vagaries that I please, will wander hither and thither at my own discretion, will dwell upon those points that please myself as long as I can find pleasure therein, and will leap over every unsafe or disagreeable place with the bound of a kangaroo. That being settled, and perfectly agreed upon between the reader and myself, we will go on if you please.

It was in the reign of one of the Georges–I have a great mind to dart away again, but I wont, for it is well to be compassionate–when a gentleman of six or seven-and-twenty years of age, rode along a pleasant country road, somewhere in the west of England. It was eventide, when the sun, tired with his long race, slowly wends downward to the place of his repose, looking back with a beaming glance of satisfaction on the bright things he has seen, and like a benevolent heart, smiling at the blessings and the benefits he has left behind him.

The season of the year was one that has served poets and romance-writers a great deal, and which with very becoming, but somewhat dishonest gratitude, they have praised ten times more than it deserves. It was, in short, spring–that season when we are often enticed to wander forth by a bright sky, as if for the express purpose of being wet to the skin by a drenching shower, or cut to the heart by the piercing east wind–that coquettish season that is never for ten minutes in the same mind, which delights in disappointing expectations, and in frowning as soon as she has smiled. Let those who love coquettes sing of spring, for my part, I abhor the whole race of them. Nevertheless, there is something very engaging in that first youth of the year. We may be cross with its wild tricks and sportive mischief, we may be vexed at its whims and caprices as with those of an untamed boy or girl, but yet there is a grace in its waywardness, a softness in its blue violet eyes, a brightness in its uncontaminated smile, a lustre even in the penitential tears, dried up as soon as shed, that has a charm we cannot, if we would, shake off. Oh yes, youth and spring speak to every heart of hope, and hope is the magic of life! Do you not see the glorious promise of great things to be done in that wild and wayward boy? Do you not see the bright assurance of warmer and mellower days to come in that chequered April sky? Youth, and spring, and hope, they are a glad triad, inseparable in essence, and all aspiring towards the everlasting goal of thought–the Future.

It was the month of May–now if poets and romance-writers, as we have before said, have done injustice, or more than justice to spring, as a whole, never were two poor months so scandalously overpraised as April and May. The good old Scotch poet declares that in April,

          Primroses paint the sweet plain,
          And summer returning rejoices the swain,

but rarely, oh, how rarely, do we ever see primroses busy at such artistical work; and as for summer, if he is returning at all, it is like a boy going back to school, and lingering sadly by the way. Such, at least, is the case now-a-days, and if the advice of another old poet, who tells us,

                    Stir not a clout,
                    Till May be out,

would seem to prove that in ancient times, as well as at present, May was by no means so genial a month, as it has pleased certain personages to represent it. Nevertheless, we know that every now and then in May, comes in a warm and summer-like day, bright, and soft, and beautiful, full of a tempered sunshine, appearing after the cold days of winter, like joy succeeding sorrow, and entendered by the memories of the past, such was the sort of day upon which the traveller we have spoken of rode on upon his way through a very fair and smiling country. The season had been somewhat early in its expansion; the weather had been unusually mild in March; frequent and heavy showers had succeeded in April, and pouring through the veins of the earth the bountiful libation of the sky, had warmed the bosom of our common mother to a rich and lovely glow. The trees were all out in leaf, but yet not sufficiently unclosed to have lost the rich variety of hues, displayed by the early buds. The colouring would have been almost that of autumn, so bright and manifold were the tints upon the wood, had it not been for a certain tenderness of aspect which spoke of youth and not decay. There was the oak in its red and brown, here and there mingled with the verdant hue of summer, but beside it waved the beech, with its long arms robed in the gentlest and the softest green, the ash pointed its taper fingers in the direction where the wind was going, and the larch lifted up its graceful spire, fringed with its grass-like filaments, while its beautiful cones, full of their coral studs, afforded ornaments, that queens might be proud to wear. The fields were spangled with a thousand flowers, and every bank and hedge was jewelled with vegetable stars; not only the pale violet, and the yellow primrose, but the purple columbine and the white hawthorn, even the odorous-breathed cowslip, the wild geranium, and a long list beside, were all spreading their beauty in the evening air, and glittering with the drops of a shower not long passed by. Overhead, too, the sky was full of radiance, warm yet soft, deep in the azure, yet tinted with the evening light, as if the sunbeams were the threads of a crimson woof woven in with the blue warp of the sky.

But enough of this, it was a very fine evening, of a very fine day, of a very fine season, and that surely was enough to make any man happy who had good health, a guinea in his purse, and had not committed either murder or bigamy. The horseman seemed to feel the influence of the scene as much as could be expected of any man. When he was in a green bowery lane, with the wild plants trailing up and down the red banks, and he could neither look to the right nor to the left, he whistled snatches of a popular song, when he rose the side of the hill, and could gaze over the world around, he looked at the green fields, or the clear stream, or the woody coverts with searching and yet well satisfied eyes, and murmured to himself, “Capital sport here, I dare say.”

He seemed to be fond of variety, for sometimes he trotted his horse, sometimes made him canter, sometimes brought him into a walk, but it would appear that there was a certain portion of humanity mingling with the latent motives for these proceedings, inasmuch as the walk was either up or down a steep hill, the canter over a soft piece of turf wherever it could be found, and the trot, where the road was tolerably level. Ever and anon, too, he patted the beast’s neck, and talked to him quite friendly, and the horse would have answered him in the same tone, beyond doubt, if horses’ throats and tongues had been formed by nature with the design of holding long conversations. Such not being the case, however, all the beast could do to express his satisfaction at his master’s commendations, was to arch his neck and bend down his under lip till it touched his chest, and put his quivering ears backwards and forwards in a very significant manner. It was a handsome animal, of a bright bay colour, about fifteen hands and a half high, strongly built, yet showing a good deal of blood, and its coat was as soft and shining as satin. There was a good deal of red dust about its feet and legs however, which showed that it had made a somewhat long journey, but yet it displayed no signs of weariness, its head had no drowsy droop, like that of a county member on the back benches at three o’clock in the morning after a long debate. Oh no, there was muscle and courage for forty miles more, had it been necessary, and the noble beast would have done it right willingly. The horseman rode him well–that is to say, lightly, and though he was tall, muscular, and powerful in frame, many a man of less weight would have wearied his horse much more. His hand was light and easy, his seat was light and easy, and his very look was light and easy. There was no black care sat behind that horseman, so that the burden was not burdensome, and the pair went on together with alacrity and good fellowship. The gentleman’s dress was in very good taste, neither too smart nor too plain, well fitted for a journey, yet not unfitted for a drawing-room in the morning. This is enough upon that subject, and I will not say another word about it, but as to his face, I must have a word or two more–it was gay and good-humoured, and though it might be called somewhat thoughtless in expression, yet somehow–I know not very well from what cause–when one examined it one was convinced that the thoughtless look was more a matter of habit than of nature. He was dark in complexion, but with a healthy glow in his cheeks, and though certainly his face was not as perfect as that of the Apollo of Belvidere, yet few would have scrupled to pronounce him a good-looking man. There was also an easy, almost careless swinging, rapid air about him, which generally engages kindly feelings, if it cannot secure much respect; and one could not watch him come cantering over the lea, with his open, smiling face, without judging he would make an entertaining, good-humoured companion, with whom any body might pass a few hours very pleasantly.

Thus he rode along, blithe as a lark, till the sun went down in glory, showing at the distance of about a couple of miles, the spire of a small church in a small town–or perhaps I had better call it a village, for I am not sure that it had grown up to townhood in those days.

The hint I have given that he could see the spire of the church must have shown the reader, that at the moment of the sun’s setting he was on the brow of a hill, for there are no plains in that part of the country, and it was well wooded also. Down from the spot at which he had then arrived, in a line very nearly direct towards the spire, descended the road, crossing first a small patch of common, perhaps not twenty acres in extent, and then entering between deep, shady banks, as it went down the hill, not only arched over with shrubs, but canopied by the branches of tall trees. There was quite sufficient light in the sky to show him the entrance of this green avenue, and he said to himself, as he looked on, “Wat a pretty approach to the village; how peaceful and quiet every thing looks.”

He was not aware that he had work to do in that quiet road, nor that it was to be of anything but a peaceful character, but so it is with us in life, we never know what is before us at the next step. We may scheme, and we may calculate; we may devise, and we may expect, but, after all, we are but blind men, led we know not whither by a dog, and the dog’s name is, Fate.

When he saw that he was so near the village, he slackened his pace, and proceeded at a walk, wishing, like a wise and experienced equestrian, to bring his horse in cool. At the first trees of the road a deeper shade came into the twilight. About half a mile farther it became quite dark under the boughs, whatever it might be in the open fields; the darkness did not make him quicken his pace, but the minute after he heard some sounds before him which did. It is not very easy to explain what those sounds were, or by what process it was, that striking upon the tympanum of his ear, the two or three air-waves conveyed to his brain a notion that there were people in danger or distress at no great distance. There was a word spoken in a sudden and imperative tone, and that was the first sound he heard, and then there was a voice of remonstrance and entreaty, a woman’s voice, and then something like a shriek, not loud and prolonged, but uttered as if the person from whose lips it came caught it as it was issuing forth, and strove to stifle it in the birth; some loud swearing and oaths were next heard, mingled with the noise of quick footfalls, as if some one were running fast towards the spot from the side of the village, and the next moment the horseman perceived, at the first indistinctly, and then clearly, a number of objects on the road before him, the largest, if not the most important of which was a carriage. At the head of the horses which had drawn it stood a man with something in his hand which might be a pistol. At the side of the vehicle were two more, with a saddled horse standing by, and they were apparently dragging out of the carriage a lady who seemed very unwilling to come forth, but from the other side was hurrying up, as hard as he could run, another personage of very different appearance from the three other men. By this time he was within ten yards of them, and our horseman, from his elevation on his beast’s back, could see the head and shoulders of him who was approaching, and judged at once that he was a gentleman.

I have said that under the trees it was quite dark, and yet that he could see all this, but neither of these is a mistake, whatever the reader may think, for just at that part of the highway where the carriage stood, it was crossed by another road which let in all that remained of the western light, and there the whole scene was before his eyes, as a picture, even while he himself was in comparative darkness. Impulse is an excellent thing, and a great deal more frequently leads us right than reason, which in cases of emergency, is a very unserviceable commodity. It is only necessary to have a clever impulse, and things go wonderfully well. The horseman stuck his spurs into his horse’s sides: previously he had been going at a trot, since the first sounds struck his ear, now it became a canter, and two or three springs brought him up to the carriage. He was making straight for the side, but the man who was at the horses’ heads seemed to regard his coming as unpleasant, and shouting to him in a thundering voice to keep back, he presented a pistol straight at him with a sharp, disagreeable, clicking sound, which, under various circumstances, is peculiarly ungrateful to the human ear, especially when the muzzle of the instrument is towards us, for there is no knowing what may come out of the mouth at the next minute. But the horseman was quick, active, and not accustomed to be daunted by a little thing like a pistol, and therefore, holding his heavy riding-whip by the wrong end, though in this instance it proved the right one, he struck the personage opposite to him a thundering blow over the arm. That limb instantly dropped powerless by his side, and the pistol went off under the horse’s feet, causing the animal to rear a little, but hurting no one. In an instant the horse was turned, and amongst the party by the carriage; but that party was by this time increased in number, though not fortified by unanimity, for the person who had been seen running up, was by this time engaged in fierce struggle with one of the original possessors of the ground, while the other kept a tight grasp upon the lady who had just been dragged out of the carriage. With the two combatants our horseman thought it best not to meddle in the first instance, though he saw that the object of one of them was to get a pistol at the head of the other, who seemed neither unwilling nor unable to prevent him from accomplishing that object, but they were grappling so closely, that it was difficult to strike one without hitting the other, especially in the twilight; and therefore, before he interfered in their concerns, he bestowed another blow, with the full sweep of his arm, upon the head of the man who was holding the lady, and who seemed to take so deep an interest in what was going on between the other two, as not to perceive that any one was coming up behind him. He instantly staggered back, and would have fallen, had not the wheel of the carriage stopped him, but then turning fiercely round, he stretched out his arm, and a flash and report followed, while a ball whistled past the horseman’s cheek, went through his hair, and grazed his hat.

“Missed, on my life,” cried the horseman; “take that for your pains, you clumsy hound.” And he again struck him, though, on this occasion the person’s head was defended by his arm.

“H–l and d–n,” cried the other, seizing his horse’s bridle and trying to force him back upon his haunches, but another blow, that made him stagger again, showed him that the combat was not likely to end in his favour, and darting past, he exclaimed, “Run, Wolf, run. Harry is off!” And before our friend on the bay horse could strike another blow at him, he had sprung upon the back of the beast that stood near, and without waiting to put his feet into the stirrups, galloped off as hard as he could go. In regard to the other two who were wrestling, as we have said, in deadly strife, the game they were playing had just reached a critical point, for the gentleman who had come up, had contrived to get hold of the barrel of the pistol, and at the very instant the other galloped away, the respectable person he called Wolf received a straightforward blow in the face, which made him stagger back, leaving his weapon in the hand of his opponent. Finding that his only advantage was gone, he instantly darted round the back of the carriage to make his escape up the other road.

“Jump down and stop him, post-boy,” cried the horseman, pursuing him at the same time without a moment’s pause, but the post-boy’s legs, though cased in leather, seemed to be made of wood, if one might judge by the stiff slowness with which they moved, and before he had got his feet to the ground, and his whip deliberately laid over the horse’s back, the fugitive finding that the horseman had cut him off from the road, caught the stem of a young ash, swung himself up to the top of the bank, and disappeared amongst the trees.

“Hark, there is a carriage coming,” said the horseman, addressing the stranger, who had followed him as fast as two legs could follow four. They both paused for an instant and listened, but to their surprise the sound of rolling wheels, which they both distinctly heard, diminished instead of increasing, and it became evident that some vehicle was driving away from a spot at no great distance.

“That’s droll,” said the horseman, dismounting; “but we had better see after the ladies, for I dare say they are frightened.”

“No doubt they are,” replied the other, in a mild and musical voice, leading the way round the carriage again. “Do you know who they are?”

“Not I,” answered the horseman, “don’t you?”

“No, I am a stranger here,” answered the other, approaching the side of the carriage, to which the lady who had been dragged out had now returned.

She was seated with her hands over her eyes, as if either crying with agitation or in deep thought; but the moment the gentleman who had come up on foot addressed her, expressing a hope that she had not been much alarmed, she replied, “Oh, yes, I could not help it, but my mother has fainted. We must go back, I fear.”

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