The change in Wilton was of a different kind, but it was also very great. It was an epoch in man’s destiny. His mind was naturally manly, powerful, and decided; but he was very young. The events of that night, however, swept away everything that was youthful or light from his character for ever. He had acted with vigour, and power, and determination, amongst men older, better tried, and more experienced than himself. He had taken a decided and a prominent part in a scene of strife, and danger, and difficulty, and he had (to make use of that most significant though schoolboy phrase) “placed himself.” His character had gone through the ordeal: without any previous preparation, the iron had been hardened into steel; and if any part had remained up to that moment soft or weak, the softness was done away, the weakness no longer existed.
If we were poets or fabulists, and could invest inanimate objects with all the qualities and feelings of animate ones; if, with all the magic of old AEsop, we could make pots and kettles talk, and endue barn-door fowls with the spirit of philosophy, we should be tempted to say that the great gates of Beaufort House, together with the stone Cupids on the tops of the piers, ay, and the vases of carved flowers which stood between those Cupids, turned up the nose as the antiquated, ungilt, dusty, and somewhat tattered vehicle containing the Lady Laura Gaveston and Wilton Brown rolled up.
The postboy got off his horse; Wilton descended from the vehicle, and applied his hand eagerly to the bell; and Laura, who had certainly thought no part of the journey tedious, did now think the minutes excessively long till the gates should be thrown open. In truth, the hour was still an early one; the morning cold and chilly, with a grey biting east wind, making the whole scene appear as if it were looked at through ground glass; and neither the porter nor the porter’s wife had thought it expedient to venture forth from their snug bed at such an unpropitious moment. A second time Wilton applied his hand to the bell, and with more success than before, for in stays and petticoat, unlaced and half tied, forth rushed the grumbling porter’s wife, with a murmured “Marry come up: people are in great haste: I wonder who is in such a hurry!”
The sight of Wilton, however, whom she had seen very lately with the Duke, but still more the sight of her young lady, instantly altered her tone and demeanour, and with a joyful swing she threw the gates wide open. The chaise was drawn round to the great doors of the house, and here a more ready entrance was gained.
“Is the Duke up?” demanded Wilton, as the servant opened the door.
“Oh yes, sir,” replied the man: “he was up before day-break: but he is not out of his dressing-room yet.”
Laura ran up the steps into the vestibule, to see her father, and to relieve his mind at once from all that she knew he was suffering on her account. She paused, however, for a moment at the top to see if Wilton followed; but he merely advanced a few steps, saying, “I will leave you to converse with your father; for, of course, I have very much to do; and he will be glad to spend some time with you alone, and hear all that you have to tell him.”