It was in vain that Wilton denied any superior knowledge. The Duke had so completely made up his mind that his young friend had been in possession of all the secret information obtained by the ministers, and, indeed, of more and earlier information than they had possessed, that nothing would remove the impression from his mind; and when he at length rose, finding that Wilton would drink no more wine, he said—
“Well, Wilton, remember, I depend entirely upon you, with the fullest and most implicit confidence. No one possesses my secret but you, and one or two of these men, who will have enough to do in thinking of themselves without implicating others, I trust. Most of those who were present—for the meeting was very large—did not know who I was, and the rest who did know, must know also very well, that I strenuously objected to their whole proceedings, and quitted them as soon as I discovered what were their real objects. A word said upon the subject, however, might ruin me; for rank and fortune in this world, Wilton, though they bear their own inconveniences with them, are always objects of envy to those who do not possess them; and malice as surely treads upon the steps of envy as night follows day. I trust to you, as I have said, entirely, and I trust to you even with the more confidence, because I find that you have been wise and prudent enough not even to communicate to Laura the fact of my having attended any of these meetings at all. While all this is taking place, however, my dear Wilton—as of course the matter will be a very agitating one to me, when the trials come on (for fear any of the traitors should name me)—let me see you frequently, constantly, every day, if you can, and bring me what tidings you can gain of all that passes.”
Wilton easily promised to do that which the Duke desired, in this respect at least, and they then joined her he loved, with whom he passed one of those calm, sweet evenings, the tranquil happiness of which admits of no description.
Amongst all the curious changes that have taken place in the world—by which expression I mean, upon the world, for the great round ball on which we roll through space is the only part of the whole that remains but little altered—amongst all the changes, then, which have taken place in the world, moral, political, and social, there has been none more extraordinary, perhaps, than the rise, progress, extension, and dominion of that strong power called Decorum. I have heard it asserted by a very clever man, that there was nothing of the kind known in England before the commencement of the reign of George III., and that decorum was, in fact, a mere decent cloak to cover the nakedness of vice. I think he was mistaken: the word was known long before; and there has been at all times a feeling of decorum in the English nation, which has shown itself in gradually