St Margaret’s Church, Hornby
The Grade I listed St Margaret’s Church in Hornby was founded by Sir Edward Stanley, Lord Mounteagle, in 1514, the tower of which still stands. (An earlier church had been on the site dating from around 1338).
In ‘Traditions of Lancashire’ (1872) John Roby relates the following story of Lord Mounteagle and St Margaret’s. ‘ In relating what may be conceived as the true motive that incited Sir Edward Stanley to the founding of that beautiful structure Hornby Chapel, we may be allowed to show the operation as well as the effect—to trace the steps by which his conversion from an awful and demoralising infidelity was accomplished.
We have borrowed some of the arguments from “Leslie’s Short Method with the Deists,” condensing and illustrating them as the subject seemed to require. We hope to be pardoned this freedom; the nature of the question would necessarily refer to a range of argument and reply in frequent use; and all that we could expect to accomplish was to place the main arguments in such a position as to receive the light of some well-known and self-evident truth.
The dark transactions to which the “Parson of Slaidburn” obscurely refers may be found in Whitaker’s “Whalley,” pp. 475, 476.
The same historian remarks in another work,—”From several hints obliquely thrown out by friends as well as enemies, this man appears to have been a very wicked person, of a cast and character very uncommon in those unreflecting times.” “There certainly was something very extraordinary about the man, which, amidst the feodal and knightly habits in which young persons of his high rank were then bred, prompted him to speculate, however unhappily, on any metaphysical subject. Now, whether this abominable persuasion were the cause or the effect of his actual guilt,—whether he had reasoned himself into materialism in order to drown the voice of conscience, or fell into the sin of murder because he had previously reasoned himself out of all ideas of responsibility, does not appear; but his practice, as might have been expected, was suited to his principles, and Hornby was too rich a bait to a man who hoped for no enjoyment but in the present life, and feared no retribution in another. Accordingly, we find him loudly accused of having poisoned his brother-in-law, John Harrington, by the agency of a servant; and he is suspected also of having, through subornation of perjury, proved, or attempted to prove, himself tenant of the honour of Hornby.”
Sir Edward Stanley, the fifth son of Thomas, first Earl of Derby, early received the notice and favour of his sovereign King Henry the Eighth. It is said of him, “The camp was his school, and his learning the pike and sword.” The king’s greeting, when they met, was “Ho! my soldier.” Honour floated in his veins, and valour danced in his spirits. At the battle of Flodden he commanded the rear of the English army, and was attacked by the Earls of Lennox and Argyle, both of whom were slain, together with the King of Scots, on that memorable day. Through his great bravery and skill he mainly contributed to its success. A sudden feint inducing the Scots to descend a hill, their stronghold, an opening was caused in their ranks, which Sir Edward Stanley espying, he attacked them on the sudden with his Lancashire bowmen. So unexpected an assault put them into great disorder, which gave the first hopes of success, and kindled fresh courage through the English ranks, ending in the complete overthrow and discomfiture of their enemies.
Upon this signal achievement, Sir Edward Stanley, being much advanced thereby in the king’s favour, received from the hand of his royal master a letter of thanks, together with an assurance of some future reward. Accordingly, we are told, the year ensuing, the king keeping Whitsuntide at Eltham in Kent, Sir Edward being in his train, he commanded that, for his valiant acts against the Scots, when he won the hill, and relieved the English from their distress, an achievement worthy of his ancestors, who bore an eagle on their crest, he should be created Lord Monteagle; whereupon he had a special summons to parliament in the same year by the title of Baron Stanley, Lord Monteagle.
“Twice did he and Sir John Wallop penetrate, with only eight hundred men, into the very heart of France, and four times did he and Sir Thomas Lovell save Calais,—the first time by intelligence, the second by stratagem, the third by their valour and undaunted courage, and the fourth by their unwearied patience and assiduity.” “In the dangerous insurrection by Aske and Captain Cobler, his zeal for the prince’s service and the welfare of his country caused him to outstrip his sovereign’s commands by putting himself at the head of his troops without the king’s commission, for which dangerous piece of loyalty he asked pardon, and received thanks.” By stirring up jealousy and sedition, too, amongst the rebels, he gave his majesty time, by pretended treaties, to draw off the most eminent of the faction, and to overcome and dissipate the rest. Yet, with all this outward show of prosperity, and the bruit of noble deeds so various and multiplied, that Fame herself seemed weary of rehearsing them, there were not wanting evil reports and dark insinuations against his honour. Foul surmises prevailed, especially in the latter part of his life, as to the means by which he possessed himself of the estates he then held in right of his lady, and those too that he enjoyed through the attainder of her uncle, Sir James Harrington. He acknowledged himself a freethinker and a materialist, a character of rare occurrence in those ages, showing him to be as daring in his opinions as in his pursuits. That the soul of man was like the winding up of a watch, and that when the spring was run down the man died, and the soul was extinct, are still recorded as his expressions. In those days of demoralising ignorance, this open and unhesitating opinion might be the means of creating him many dangerous and deadly enemies, especially amongst the priesthood, whose office, though tending to higher and nobler ends than the mere thralling of man’s spirit to creeds and systems of secular ambition, was yet but too often devoted to this purpose. Every power that human cruelty and ingenuity could compass was tried, but happily in vain, to confine the free and unfettered spirit for ever in the dark cells of ignorance and superstition.
From a number of unconnected accounts respecting this great, if not good man, whose virtues even would have been the vices of our own age, we find as the most prominent parts of his disposition a thorough contempt for the maxims and opinions of the world, and an utter recklessness of its censure or esteem. Marrying into the family of the Harringtons, he resided the latter part of his life at the Castle of Hornby, where we find him engaged in schemes for the most part tending to his own wealth and aggrandisement.
The chapel which he built is said to have been vowed at Flodden, but this statement is evidently untrue, having no foundation but the averments of those who content not themselves with a plain narrative of facts, but assume a licence to invent motives agreeable to their own folly or caprice. That Sir Edward Stanley made any such vow we cannot imagine, much less would he put it into execution. “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die,” was the governing principle of his life, and the mainspring of his actions. It would be a strange anomaly in the records of human opinions to find an edifice reared to perpetuate a belief which the founder thought a delusion, a mere system of priestcraft and superstition. To this prominent feature in his history our attention has been directed, and we think the following tradition assigns a better and more plausible motive for the founding of that beautiful structure, the chapel at Hornby.
It was by the still light of a cloudless harvest-moon that two men appeared to be sauntering up the stream that winds through the vale near Hornby. One of them wore a clerical habit, and the other, from his dress, seemed to attend in the capacity of a menial. They rested at the foot of a steep cliff overhung with firs and copse-wood. The castle, upon the summit, with its tall and narrow tower, like a feather stuck in its crown, was not visible from where they sat. The moon threw an unclouded lustre from her broad full face far away over the wide and heavy woods by which they were surrounded. A shallow bend of the stream towards the left glittered over its bed like molten silver, issuing from a dark and deep pool shaded by the jutting boughs and grim-visaged rocks from whence they hung.
The travellers now ascended by a narrow and precipitous path. Their task was continued with no little difficulty, by reason of the looseness of the soil, and the huge rocks that obstructed their progress. By dint of scrambling, rather than walking, they, however, approached to the summit, when a light became visible over the hill, growing brighter as they ascended. It was the castle turret, where Lord Monteagle generally spent the greater part of the night in study. Whatever might be the precise nature of his pursuits, they were not supposed to be of the most reputable sort.
“Wizard spells and rites unholy” were said to occupy these midnight vigils. Often, as that lonely watch-tower caught the eye of the benighted peasant, did he cross himself, and fancy that shadows were flitting to and fro on the trembling and distant beam.
“There it is,” said the hindmost person, who was none other than the parson of Slaidburn.
“That lantern, I think, is unquenchable. Does thy master never quit yon burning pinnacle?”
“May be,” replied the servant, “he careth not to be oft abroad; and who dare thwart his will? ‘Troth he had need be of a tough temper that should give him speech unquestioned.”
“They who hold a higher communion reck but little of this frail and pitiful dust,” returned the clergyman, after a solemn pause. “It is enough that he hath sent for me. I would fain warn him ere he depart, else yon walls had not again echoed my footstep.”
This confidential domestic spoke not; he was either too much attached to his master, or implicated with him, to hazard a remark.
The path was now wider and less difficult of access, leading over a pretty knoll, glittering like lode-stars in the dew, beyond which arose the huge and cumbrous pile then distinguished as the castle of Hornby.
The barking of some half-dozen hoarse-mouthed dogs announced their approach. Passing over the drawbridge, they entered the court-yard, from whence a side postern at that time opened a communication to the turret-chamber without passing through the main building. A winding staircase led them directly to the summit. Soft gleams of moonlight came at intervals through the narrow loopholes, being the only help or direction whereby to accomplish their ascent. After a tedious gyration, which more than once made the hindmost party pause to obtain a respite, the guide opened a low door. It swung heavily aside, disclosing a small ante-room, destitute of all furniture save a large oaken chest, that seemed to be the depository, or “ark,” as it was usually called, for the safe keeping of the family archives.
The conductor approaching an opposite door gave a private signal. It flew open as if by its own impulse, displaying a chamber of no mean dimensions, in which, by the light from a gigantic lamp, was seen a figure seated before a table absolutely groaning with piles of books, and various apparatus of unknown and wondrous import. Instruments of unimaginable shape lay in heaps round the apartment; their use it were impossible to conjecture. Furnaces, alembics, jars, glass urinals, and bottles of all sizes, rendered the chamber perilous of access, save to those who were acquainted with the intricacies of this labyrinth. “Sir Edward,” as he was yet generally styled, looked full at his visitors as they entered. His eye was large and dark, the expression fierce and commanding. He was clad in a gown of black silk, covering an inner vest of sables. From a broad belt, glittering with costly stones, hung a short sword and a pair of pistols richly embossed.
The upper portion of his head was bald; the hair on its sides short and frizzly. His beard was of a reddish tinge, trimmed square and bushy, beneath which his white ruff seemed to glisten from the sudden contrast. His forehead was high and retreating; his face pale, and-his cheek hollow and slightly wrinkled. His nose was small, looking ill suited to the other features, which were large and strongly-marked. His mouth was full, but compressed; and his teeth beautifully white and well shaped. When he spoke, they were much exposed, projecting slightly, and tending to give an air of ferocity to his countenance.
In stature he was tall and well formed. Proudly upright in his gait and attitude, he appeared like one born to be obeyed,—to rule in whatsoever station he occupied.
“Sir Hugh Parker. The parson of Slaidburn is welcome to Hornby,” said Lord Monteagle, rising. “It is long since we have met. I claim the privilege of old fellowship: give me thy hand.”
“My lord, I am here at your request. Your wishes are commands with my poor endeavours.”
“Thou mayest retire, Maudsley,” said the baron to his servant, motioning him to depart. The minister was accommodated with a low stool, made vacant for the occasion. Lord Monteagle, closing the book, abruptly addressed his visitor.
“I knew thou wast in the neighbourhood, and I would unravel a few arguments with thee; a few quiddities about thy profession. I know thou art skilful at thy trade, which, though a vocation having its basis in fraud, finding countenance through the weakness and credulity of mankind, doth yet hold the commonalty in thrall and terror—a restraint which none other scheme might peradventure impose.”
“You are too harsh, my lord. I minister not to aught that, my conscience disapproves. Being of the Reformed Church, I do not mightily affect creeds and opinions. The Bible is the fountain, pure and undefiled; its waters fertilise and invigorate the seed of the faith, but choke and rot the rampant weeds of error and superstition.”
“The Bible! A forgery: the invention of a cunning priesthood to mask and perpetuate their delusions. Prove its falsehoods to be the truth. Distinguish me thy revelation from the impostures of Mahomet, the dreams of the Sibyls, and the lying oracles of Heathenrie. Oblige me either to renounce my reason and the common principles which distinguish truth from error, or to admit the proof thou shalt allege, which proof, look thee, must be such as no imposture can lay claim to, otherwise it proves thy doctrine to be an imposture. If thy religion be true, there must be such a proof. For if the Being who gave this revelation which He requires all men to receive, have left His own truth destitute of the only proof which can distinguish it from an imposture, this will be an impeaching of His wisdom, an error in the very outset of the case, proving Him not the Allwise, but liable to infirmity and error. This, thou seest, will bring our debate within a narrow compass.”
“Nevertheless, I must own the task is hard,” replied the clergyman, “because of the blindness and impotency of that same reason of which thou vauntest, and the feebleness of our mental sight; for we cannot come at any abstract truth whatsoever but by many inferences hanging together as by a chain, one link of which, not fully apprehended or made fast, loosens the whole, and the argument falls to the ground.”
“Does the reformed doctrine, too, require a belief in what the hearer may not comprehend?” said the baron, scornfully.
“Nay, there is a sufficiency in the evidence, and a fulness in this testimony, of which none other history can boast. What book is that, my lord?”
“Surely thou art in j’est. ‘Tis Xenophon’s.”
“How? Xenophon!” said the divine; “methinks thou speakest unadvisedly. My reason or apprehension knoweth not of such a man, or that he writ this book, and yet thou boldly affirmest the history to be true!”
“I know not that it was ever doubted,” replied the other. “The common consent and belief of mankind, the transmission of the record from remote ages, are of themselves no mean evidence of its truth. But there must have been a time when it was first written, and as he appeals in it to facts, to matters which were then of recent occurrence, and to the public knowledge and belief of those facts, surely every of these statements would have insured detection, especially if put forth at or about the time when the events took place. Would it not have been madness to appeal to eye-witnesses of transactions which never happened, which witnesses were then alive, and could easily have belied such an impudent and furtive attempt at imposture? The idea seems almost too absurd to refute.”
“Thou judgest well. It would be madness and absurdity in the extreme to deny the existence of thy historian, or the events to which he refers; and yet a record which to thee is of the greatest moment, wherein thine own interests are for ever involved, and to the truth of which there is much more clear and irrefragable testimony, thou rejectest as a fraud and an imposture.”
“What proof can its promulgers give me of the infallibility of their doctrines, even supposing these events to be true?”
“Miracles, acknowledged to be such, contravening and transcending the common course of nature,—these, I reckon, will be a sufficient warranty that the message is from the great Author of all things Himself.”
“I own these are the strongest evidences that I could require, and I would admit them if I had witnessed their performance.”
“Good. Now to the proof. It is impossible that any simple fact could be imposed, or that a number of persons could be made to believe they had witnessed such fact, unless it had actually taken place. For instance, if I were to assert that I had divided the waters of this river here, in the presence of the inhabitants, and that I had once led the whole of them over dryshod, the waters standing like a wall on each side, to guard their path, appealing to them at the same time in proof of my testimony; it would be impossible, I say, to convince those people it were true, provided the event had not happened. Every person would be at hand to contradict me, and consequently it would be impossible that such an imposition could be put upon them against the direct evidence of their senses.”
“Granted,” replied the baron. “But this tale I am not too bold to infer might be invented when that generation had passed, when the credulity of coming ages might lead men to believe in such foolish and monstrous imaginings, like the labours of Hercules, the amours of Jove, and the cannibal exploits of Saturn.”
“Nay, but hear me. Whenever such a story was first promulged, were it then stated that not only public monuments remained to attest the event, but that public rites and ceremonies were kept up for its express commemoration, which rites were to that day continual, and to which those writings appealed as evidence attesting the performance of such miracles, then must the deceit have been rendered but the more glaring and easy of detection, as no such monuments could exist, no rites, no ceremonies demonstrating the truth of this appeal could be in observance. Thus, if I should now invent the tale about something done two thousand odd years ago, a few might, peradventure, be credulous enough to believe me; but if I were to say that ever after, even to this day, every male had his nose slit and his ears bored in memory of this event, it would be absolutely impossible that I should gain credit for my story, because the universality of the falsehood being manifest, and the attestation thereof visibly untrue, would prove the whole history to be false. Such were the rites and customs of the Jews.”
“But still, rites and observances were practised by the heathen, which ceremonies ye acknowledge to have been false and impious, yet their followers worshipped and slid their neck into the yoke as readily as thy favourite Hebrews, who are proverbially rogues and cheats in the estimation even of infidels themselves.”
“Ay, but impostors appeal not to facts, to eye-witnesses of some event, confirming and attesting the authority of their mission. Moses could not have persuaded half-a-million of persons that he had brought them through the Red Sea, fed them forty years with manna in the wilderness, and performed many other miracles during their journey, had not the facts been well known; and down to this day the rites and ceremonies of the Jews are, in consequence, linked to these main facts as securely as though we ourselves had formed the first series of the chain, eye-witnesses to the miracles they attest. Again, the books of Moses expressly represent that they are the great history and transcript of the Jewish law, and speak of their being delivered by him and kept in the ark from his time; likewise they are commanded to be read at stated periods, and to be taught from father to son throughout all generations, to the end that no imposition might be practised. In whatever age, therefore, after Moses, these forgeries were committed, it were impossible they should have been believed—every one must have known they had not even heard of them aforetime, much less been taught all these burdensome precepts by their forefathers.”
“Still the cunning and wily priests might have prepared men’s minds for the discovery, having themselves deposited these writings in the ark.”
“A manifest impossibility, my lord, and for this plain reason: those writings profess to be a book of statutes, the standing law of the land, a code of ordinances by which the people had all along been governed. Could any person invent a body of statutes for this good realm of England, and make it pass upon the nation as the only book of laws which they had ever known or observed? Could any man, could any priest, or conspiracy of priests, have persuaded the Jews they had owned and obeyed these ordinances from the time of Moses, when they had not even so much as heard of them in times past?”
“These rites, it is most likely, having their origin in the simplest occurrences, might still have been practised prior to the forgeries; and these books, by allusions to them, deceived the nation, causing it to believe they were performed in memory of some miraculous events which never happened.”
“What! Is it possible to persuade men they have kept laws which they have not even heard of? If I were to frame some idle story of things done a long while ago, and say that our Sabbath was kept holy in commemoration of these events—this I think, my lord, will answer to the terms of your assertion. Suppose I made an attempt to persuade the people this day was kept holy in memory of Julius Cæsar or Mahomet, and that everybody had been circumcised or baptized in their names; that in the courts of judicature oaths had been taken on these very writings I had fabricated, and which, of necessity, they could not have seen prior to my attempt; and that these books likewise contained their laws and religion—ordinances which they had always acknowledged—is it possible, I ask, that such a cheat could for one moment have existed? An impostor would not have dared to make any such references, knowing they must inevitably have led to the rejection of his testimony.”
“But surely if this great transaction, the passage of the Red Sea, had really happened, and in the way thou hast pointed out, the evidence would not have been suffered to rest solely on the frail and uncertain records to which thou hast referred. Books of laws, for instance, the writings of Mahomet, we know have been forged, as even thou wilt acknowledge.”
“True, but those books refer not to miracles and the testimony of eye-witnesses, nor to laws and ordinances handed down from generation to generation, even to that time. That Mahomet pretended not to the working of miracles, he tells us in the Koran. The ridiculous legends related by his followers are rejected as spurious by the scholars and expounders of the prophet; and even his converse with the moon, his night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and from thence to heaven, were not performed before witnesses. The same may be said of the absurd exploits related of the heathen deities.”
“But had not the heathen their priests, their public rites and sacrifices, equally with the Jews?”
“They had. But it was not even pretended that these rites commenced at the time when the things which they commemorate were said to have happened. The Bacchanalia, for example, and other festivals, were established long after the fabulous events to which they refer. The priests of Juno and Venus were not appointed by those imaginary deities, but arose in some after-age, and are therefore no evidence whatever to the truth of their worship.”
“But where is thy proof in the unwritten evidence—monuments which cannot lie, bearing silent but convincing testimony to the truth of these miracles?”
“Twelve stones” it is said, were set up at Gilgal to commemorate the passage over Jordan.”
“Ay, in thy book we read it.”
“But mark the intention, to which no lying imposture durst have referred,—to the end, it is written, that when the children of those who had witnessed this miracle, and their children’s children, should ask their meaning, it should be told them. Now the miracle for which these stones were set up as a memorial by the eye-witnesses themselves, could not, as before proved, have been imposed upon the people at the time it happened, had it not really occurred.”
“All this I can safely grant. Yet thou lackest wherewith to conclude thine argument.”
“Bear with me, my lord, until I have made an end. Let us suppose, for one moment, there was no such miracle wrought as this same passage over Jordan.”
“Which supposition of thine I do hold to be the truth as firmly as I believe your revelation is an imposture.”
“And yet if it should be true, my lord?” The minister said this in a tone that made the listener start. He bit his lips. But the feeling had subsided, as, with a sharp and hurried accent, he exclaimed—
“Why this pause? I am prepared to listen.”
“These stones,” continued the divine, “were, of necessity, well known as public monuments existing at the time when these writings were first rehearsed in the ears of all the people, because they are here referred to as testimonials of the event. But supposing them to have been set up on some unknown occasion, as you say, and that designing men in after-ages invented the book of Joshua, affirming it was written at the time of that imaginary event by Joshua himself, adducing this pile of stones in evidence of its truth, what is the answer which every one who heard it must have made to this witless falsehood? ‘We know this pile of stones,’ they would say; ‘but of such an origin as thou hast related we have, not heard, nor even of this book of Joshua. Where has it been concealed, and from whence was it brought forth? Besides, it solemnly inculcates that this miraculous event, our fathers’ passage over Jordan, should be taught their children and children’s children from that day forward, who were to be shown and carefully instructed as to the meaning and design of this very monument; but of this we have not so much as heard, nor has thy history been handed down to us from our forefathers. It is a lying testimony, therefore, and we cannot receive it.’ Yet do we find the children of Israel commemorating, handing down, and instructing their children from age to age into the meaning and design of these memorials, which instruction must at some time or another have had a beginning, having its commencement with the very events to which they refer, which events it would then have been impossible to make the people believe against the plain evidence of their senses. Is the chain complete, my lord?”
“But what has all this to do with thy religion?—a system far different, methinks, from the primitive institutions of these remote ages.”
“The self-same reasoning will apply, and in precisely the same mode, to the miracles of our Lord and His apostles, together with their transmission by records from their times. The histories of the Old and New Testaments could not have been received at the time they were written, if they had not been true, because the priesthoods of Levi and of Christ,—the observance of the Sabbath, the passover, and circumcision,—the ordinances of baptism and the eucharist, are there represented as descending by uninterrupted succession from the time of their respective institution. It would have been as impossible to persuade men in after-ages that they had been circumcised or baptized, had celebrated passovers and Sabbaths under the ministration of a certain order of priests, if it were not so, as to make them believe they had gone through the seas dryshod, seen the dead raised, and so forth. But without such a persuasion neither the law nor gospel could have been received.”
“Yet, methinks, if I were the founder of a new religion, and had all the stores of Nature and Omnipotence at my command—those boasted attributes of thy Law-giver—I would not have left it liable to doubt, to the sneers and cavils of any one who might question my pretensions, or my right to control their belief. The truths of Omnipotence should be clear as the sun’s beam, and unquestioned as his existence.”
“‘If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe though one should rise from the dead.’ ‘Tis not for lack of proof; ’tis for lack of will. ‘Tis not for lack of testimony, one tithe of which would have gained a ready assent to any of the drivelling absurdities of heathen mythology,—’tis for lack of inclination; ’tis a wish that these revelations may not be true; and where the heart inclines, the judgment is easily biassed.”
“True, ‘as the fool thinks.’ The proverb is somewhat stale. I marvel thou findest not its application to thine own bias, perdie!”
“At any rate, if I am fooled, I am none the worse for my belief, if my creed be not true; but if man, as thou wouldest fain hope, is like the beasts that perish, I am still at quits with thee. And if this dream of thine should prove but a dream, and thou shouldest awake—to the horrors of the pit, and the torments of the worm that dieth not!”
“Peace, thou croaker! I did not send for thee to prophesy, but to prove; I would break a lance and hold a tilt at thine argument. Now, I have a weapon in reserve which shall break down thy defences—the web of thy reasoning shall vanish. The fear of punishment, and the hope of future reward, held out as a bait to the cowardly and the selfish, shall be of no avail when the object of my research is accomplished. Hast thou not heard of the supreme elixir—the pabulum of life, which, if a man find, he may renew his years, and bid defiance alike to time and the destroyer? Then what will become of thy boasted system of opinions, begotten by priesthood and nurtured by folly?”
“And this phantasma, which man has never seen; which exists not upon the least shadow of evidence—which has not even the lowest dictates of sense and plausibility in its favour—on this Ignis fatuus, eluding the grasp, and for ever mocking the folly of its pursuers, thou canst build thine hopes, because it flatters thy wishes and thy fears?”
“My fears!” said the Baron, rising: “and who speaks of my fears? I would chastise thee, thou insolent priest, wert thou not protected by the laws of courtesy.”
“Yes, thy fears, Baron Monteagle,” said this undaunted minister of the truth. “Thou wouldest not care to face thy lady’s cousin! His blood yet crieth from the ground!”
“And who dares whisper, even to the walls, that I murdered John Harrington?” cried the astonished adept, trembling with ill-suppressed rage. “Methinks he holdeth his life too cheap who doth let this foul suspicion even rest upon his thoughts.” He drew his sword as he spoke; but the minister stood undaunted, surveying his adversary with a look of pity and commiseration.
“Put up thy sword. Thou hast enow of sins to repent thee of without an old man’s blood added to the number.”
“How hast thou dared this insult? By my “——
“Nay, spare your oaths, my lord; they are better unspoken than unkept.”
“Have I sent for thee to make sport? To gibe and taunt me even to my face?”
“I’ll tell thee for what cause thou didst crave my presence,” replied the other, firmly. “Thou hast misgivings lest thine own hopes should not be true; lest thou shouldest perchance depart with a lie in thy right hand. Thou didst send for me, an unworthy minister to the faith which I profess, that by thy subtlety thou mightest deceive thyself; that by overthrowing my arguments thine own might be strengthened, for truly ’tis a comfortable thing to have our opinions confirmed through the weakness of an opponent.”
“And daredst thou, with such apprehensions upon thy stomach, to commit thyself alone to my mercy and my keeping? Suppose I should reward thee according to thine own base suspicions. Understandest thou me?”
“Yes, proud and guilty man, too well! But I fear thee not!”
“What! holdest thou a charmed life? Thou mayest fall into a broil as well as other men. And who shall require thy blood at my hands?”
“Ere I left,” said the divine, warily, “I whispered a word in your cousin Beaumont’s ear. Should I not return, he will be here anon. Peradventure I am not misunderstood. Thou hadst need be careful of my life, otherwise thine own may be in jeopardy!”
A fierce and terrible brightness, like the lurid flashes from his own torment, burst from his eye. The very anger and malice he strove to quell made it burn still hotter. His visage gathered blackness, cloud hurrying on cloud, like the grim billows of the storm across a glowing atmosphere. Rapid was the transition. Rage, apprehension, abhorrence,—all that hate and malignity could express, threw their appalling shadows over his features. Still the dark hints uttered by his visitor seemed to hold him in check. Chafed, maddened, yet not daring to execute the vengeance he desired, he strode through the apartment with an uneasy and perturbed gait. He paused at times, darting a look at the minister as if about to address him. Suddenly he stood still, nerving his spirit to some awful question.
“My cousin John Harrington died in his own chamber. In this house, God wot. Thou didst shrive him at his last shift, and how sayest thou he was poisoned?”
“I said not aught so plainly; but thou hast spoken out. Behold him!—There!”—The divine pointed his finger slowly round the apartment. “Within a short space he cites thee to that bar where his presence will be a swift witness to thy doom!”
Had the spirit of the unfortunate heir of Hornby suddenly appeared, the Baron could not have followed the movement of the minister’s hand with greater dismay and astonishment. The strong barrier of guilt seemed breaking down. Conscience aroused, as if at once the veil that concealed his iniquities had been withdrawn, they rose in all their unmitigated horror and enormity. An arrow, drawn at a venture, had pierced the joints of the harness. He stood powerless and without defence—motionless as the image of despair. By a strange coincidence a thick white cloud seemed to coil itself heavily round the room. Whether to the heated imaginations of the disputants this appearance might not present an image of the form then visible to their minds, it would be impossible to determine. Suffice it to say, the effect was memorable, from whatever cause it was produced.
An altered man was the Baron Monteagle. The arguments of this champion of the truth had in some measure prepared his mind for its reception. Under his ministrations he felt gradually more enlightened. His terrors were calmed. Soon afterwards rose that noble structure, the chapel of Hornby, bearing on its front the following legend:—
EDWARDUS STANLEY MILES, DNS. MONTEAGLE, ME FIERI FECIT.
It is recorded that Sir Edward Stanley, Baron Monteagle, died in the faith he had once despised; and we trust he has found a place at the footstool of that Mercy whose interposition was not solicited in vain.