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THE LADY ALICE LISLE.
I come to the last scenes in the life of the Lady Alice Lisle. Shortly after the murder of her husband at the town of Lausanne, in Switzerland, she returned to her native country. With the true feelings of a mother, her grief seemed to press heavier upon her heart while she knew herself parted from her children. Her own friends, many of whom she had befriended during the season of her husband's prosperity, welcomed her with open arms. The Lady Lisle had no house of her own to receive her, for all the estates of John Lisle had been confiscated; but her friends were true and powerful : they represented her situation to their good-natured monarch, and not many months had passed away when the gentle widow found herself in possession of her former wealth and station. The world said that the tide of her fortune had turned again, and, indeed, so it seemed. Her health, which had long been feeble, improved: her children grew up lovely in outward form, and noble in spirit: her servants returned to their mistress, and served her faithfully: the poor blessed her: the rich esteemed her: her sovereign honoured the Lady Lisle. At his express command she went once to the court of his queen, and but once; for she sought to lead a retired and a holy life, as became the widow of a traitor, and the mother of fatherless children. She was wont to reside chiefly at Moyles Court, near Ringwood, in Hampshire; and there, year after year stealing away her youth, left in exchange new graces, fresh vigour to her soul.
I will pass on silently through the calm of her middle age, even to the last years of her venerable life. In the month of July, in the year of our Lord, 1685, it being then the early part of the reign of James the Second, the Lady Lisle came down to Moyles Court, having remained in London during the time that the country was troubled by the rebellion of the unfortunate Duke of Monmouth. The battle of Sedgemoor, at which the adherents of Monmouth were defeated, ended the war; and the Duke being taken a few days after, in a field near Ringwood, the Lady Lisle no longer hesitated to leave London. She brought with her the gentle ladies her daughters: they were, altogether, a female party at Moyles Court, the son of the Lady Lisle being still with the king's troops. Nearly a week had passed since their arrival, and they began to rejoice that all appeared so quiet in their neighbourhood, knowing how lately it had been the scene of civil disturbances.
On the evening of the 26th of July, the weather being cool and freshening after a sultry day, the Lady Lisle ordered the supper-table to be spread in the great hall, to which she adjourned with her daughters, intending to remain there till they should retire for the night. The repast was finished ; and the family, after having been assembled at prayers, had dispersed, the chief part of them to their sleeping-chambers
. The venerable lady yet lingered with her two daughters before the long open windows towards the garden, through which the moonbeams shone brightly, and the pleasant breeze brought along with its fitful breathings the many perfumes of the flower-plots. “ Truly, " said the Lady Lisle, who had sat for some minutes in a profound silence, “ truly, I have cause to bless our heavenly Father, when I look back upon the length of days he has given me.
Chequered they have been, you may tell me, with many troubles; but for this I bless God, that he hath enabled me to perceive the mercy of each trial; that he hath turned the murmurs of my rebellious heart into praises.”—“ Yet we may hope,” said Tryphena, the elder of her daughters, " that the troubles of your life have ceased, and that, although the day hath been clouded, a fair calmness may wait upon its setting." =" I would fain hope with you, my child,” replied the Lady Lisle, “ but I would not think too often of any hopes which might leave me unprepared for future events. It is better to pray Thy will be done,' than to indulge in hopes which might be contrary to that best and blessed will. - Watch,' is our Lord's command; I know that He will bless that servant whom He shall find watching, and I feel within me so perfect a confidence in His unchanging love, that I think there is no earthly trial over which I should not be enabled to rejoice. If I must confess to you my secret thoughts, I own that I am tempted to believe my
troubles are over ; I tempted to give way to my body's age and infirmities, and be too indulgent to them. I must not feel thus. Who can tell but that the short period yet remaining of my life may be that one hour in which I am most urgently called upon to watch and pray
without ceasing.”—“Oh, my mother," said Tryphena,“ do not speak thus; why should you anticipate evils which may not, will not surely happen?“ I will not speak thus again,” replied the Lady Lisle, "I will only seek support from day to-day; I will take no thought for the morrow : sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
The Lady Lisle seldom spoke of the troublous times in which she had lived with her husband; she seldom, indeed, mentioned the name of the Lord Lisle, and then only to her children, whom she treated with all the confidence of dear familiar friends. This evening she conversed on many of the events which had occurred
while they were yet children, and her daughters listened to her with feelings of deep emotion. She spoke much of Charles the First. She described the court of that unhappy monarch as she had once beheld it; how she had seen him at the side of the lovely Henrietta Maria, surrounded by their children. She told of the gallant lords of those times, who were not court friends to their king, but who followed him in his perils, and never forsook him till they fell fighting for his cause. She told of the beautiful and high-souled dames, whose chaste and noble conduct contrasted so strikingly with the loose demeanour of the wantons that had thronged the court of Charles the Second. She spoke also of that dark period when the forsaken monarch was put to the trial as a criminal, and condemned and executed; and how he seemed greater in his afflictions than in prosperity. She stopped—she had, as I before said, lived in the interchange of a perfect confidence with her daughters, but she had never described many of the circumstances which had affected her most deeply in those perilous times. She told with what a fearful and heart-sinking anxiety she had waited her husband's return home, after the death-warrant of the king had been signed, and how, after he had suddenly quitted the house, she had continued, by night and by day, in a fever of restless terror, till, unable to restrain her feelings, she rushed upon the sight she most dreaded, and saw with her own eyes the horrid death-blow given to her beloved king. She mentioned the civilities of the aged gentlewoman who received her when saved from the turbulence of the mob.
The Lady Lisle had the power of making her descriptions pictures, striking and animated pictures, of the scenes she had beheld ; and her daughters had deeply sympathized with her feelings, as she mentioned how she had seen her husband ride along Westminsterstreet with Colonel Hacker and his soldiers. She spoke again of the aged gentlewoman, and mentioned the young lad whom she had seen in that house in Westminster, and whom his grandmother had recommended to her protection, should he ever need to claim it. One of her daughters asked (it was but a casual question), if the lad had ever claimed her promise ?
66 Never," replied the lady, “ I have almost ceased to expect he will; indeed I know not if he be yet alive; and how I could be made useful to him seemeth a question not easily to be answered.” The conversation ceased—the Lady Lisle, with the younger of her daughters, retired to her chamber. The elder lingered after them; and when they had disappeared, she took the lamp and entered her favourite apartment; it was spacious and lofty, panelled with dark oak, and hung round with portraits. She raised the lamp to the features of one of those well-known portraits of Charles the First, by Vandyke, in which the painter has pleaded
more eloquently than any historian the cause of the unhappy monarch. Tryphena turned slowly from this portrait to another which hung beside it, painted by the same master, a young maiden she appeared who was represented in the picture; her slender form was half turned away, but her face was not averted. With one of her beautiful hands she appeared to be pulling down a branch of a luxuriant rose-tree in full flower, growing in a vase of antique fashion, which stood upon a sculptured stone ballustrade. There was an expression upon the features which seemed to ask, “ Shall I gather them?” Ĝirlish as those lovely features were, bright with all the freshness of youth and health, the gazer was chiefly struck by the free expanse of the fair forehead, and the sweet but firm decision of the lips, which declared the original to be not only of a beautiful countenance, but one whose spirit was also of a noble and superior order.
66 And this was my mother,” said Tryphena, shading the lamp with her hand, that she might throw its light more fully upon the portrait, lovely she has been, and how lovely she still is ! Her eyes have still all that calm innocence, her face and person have still that delicate purity, that nameless charm about them, which is here so remarkable !" Tryphena started—the stillness that reigned around was broken by what seemed to be the loud and approaching tramp of horsemen. In a few minutes the bell at the principal entrance was violently rung. Tryphena hastened to her mother's chamber-before she reached it the ringing was repeated. A maid servant came up with a message from three men, strangers, who stood without, entreating shelter for the night. The Lady Lisle questioned the servant as to the appearance and words of the strangers. One of them alone had spoken, whose face had not been seen; he had turned away
from the light which the steward held as he opened the door. He would explain, he had said, the reason of his visit to the lady of the house (and he begged he might see her), but to no other. The lady went down to him; he was the very person of whom she had been speaking that evening—the grandchild of the old gentle woman who had sheltered her from the mob on the morning of the execution of Charles the First.
At the first mention of the strangers, a foreboding flashed through her mind that some danger would attend her receiving them into her house. Two of them were non-conformist ministers, Hicks and Nelthorpe by name, and the third person was their servant. Without asking any farther questions, the kind lady granted their request,—they were all admitted. Supper was provided for the two ministers in an upper chamber, and thither, accompanied by the Lady Lisle and her eldest daughter, they repaired. “ You have treated us with much confidence, noble
lady,” said Master Hicks, “we cannot do less than return it. We are accused of having taken part in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth. I will not say how true the charge may be; but this is certainly true, a party of the king's troops are in search of us, and if they find us here your safety may be endangered. I think, however, that we have for the present escaped our pursuers; that they have not discovered in what direction we have fled. Will you now protect us till to-morrow morning, or shall we depart forthwith ?" The lady saw her danger, but she did not hesitate. « The Lord would surely punish me,” she replied, were I to send
out wearied and faint among your enemies. Rest here at the least for some hours. I am, I hope, a true subject to my king, and I must not harbour his foes; I would therefore wish you to remain here no longer than for the night, and for your own safety I would have you set off betimes. An hour before day-break would not be too early.” · An hour before day-break Moyles Court was surrounded by soldiers, and little time had passed before the house was occupied by the king's troops, and in the king's name were arrested Hicks and Nelthorpe, and Alice Lisle herself. The conduct of the soldiers was insolent and unbridled; the house soon resounded with their riotous uproar; they scrupled not to pillage whatever tempted them, even to the wardrobes of the ladies of the house. Vainly were expostulations and entreaties addressed to Colonel Penruddock, the commander of the troop.* The Lady Lisle, accompanied by one of her daughters, was carried off that very day to the gaol at Winchester.
A very short time had elapsed after the arrest of the Lady Lisle, when she was called upon to take her trial for her life, upon the charge of having harboured and abetted John Hicks and James Nelthorpe, traitors and rebels against their Sovereign Lord the King. The court was immensely crowded when the venerable lady appeared. She walked onward to the bar, leaning upon the arm of her eldest daughter, her face pale as the dead, but very calm. Once or twice she looked round mournfully upon the crowd, and a sigh escaped her lips; but she stood up bar without trembling, and replied to the question, “ Guilty, or not guilty ?” with a firm and distinct voice: “ Not Guilty, so help me God.” The Lady Lisle being, from her great age, rather thick of hearing, one Mathew Brown was allowed to stand beside her, and acquaint her with all that passed in the court. It would be wearying and disgusting to recount all the proceed
• It was well known that the Lord Lisle had been accessary to the beheading of Penruddock's father, and it seemed but too evident that Penruddock had determined to be revenged on the innocent and helpless widow of his enemy. Vol. III. PART II.