Wilton only saw the Earl for a few minutes during the rest of the day, and with him the statesman was so captious, irritable, and sneering, that, reading his feelings by the key his son had given, Wilton had every reason to believe himself to be in high favour. Various matters of business, however, occurred to keep him late at the Earl’s house, and night had fallen when he returned to his own lodgings.
In about an hour after, however, one of the Earl’s servants brought him a note in Lord Sherbrooke’s handwriting, and marked “In haste.” Wilton tore it open immediately, and read,—
“My dear Wilton,
“My father directs me to request your immediate return. The Duke is now here. Lady Laura has been carried off, or, at all events, has disappeared; and we want your wise head to counsel, perhaps your strong hand to execute. Come directly, for we are all in agitation.
Written below, in smaller characters, and marked “Private,” two lines to the following effect:—
“This business is not
my father’s doing. It is too coarse for
handiwork. He may, perhaps, take advantage of it, however, if he
finds an opportunity. Burn this instantly.”
Having now run on for some time, following almost entirely the course and history of one individual, painting none but the characters with whom he was brought into immediate contact, and making him, as it were, a lantern in the midst of our dark story, all the characters appearing in bright light as long as they were near him, and sinking back into darkness as soon as they were removed from him, we must follow our old wayward and wandering habits; and just at the moment when we have contrived to create the first little gleam of interest in the reader’s breast, must leave our hero entirely to his fate, open out new scenes, introduce new personages, and devote a considerable space to matters which have apparently not the slightest connexion whatsoever with that which went before.
About thirty miles from London, towards the sea-coast, there then stood a small ancient house, built strongly of brick. It was not exactly castellated in its appearance, but yet in the days of Cromwell it had endured a short siege by a small body of the parliamentary troops, and had afforded time, by the resistance which it offered, for a small body of noblemen and gentlemen attached to the cause of King Charles to make their escape from a superior party of pursuers. It was built upon the edge of a very steep slope, so that on one side it was very much taller than the other. It was surrounded by thick trees also; and though by no means large, it had contrived to get into a small space as many odd corners as a Chinese puzzle. The walls were very thick, the windows few and small, the chimneys numerous, and the angles innumerable.