LAST OF THE CAERLEONS
When Charles the Second, by the grace of General Monk, safely
ascended the throne of England, none of his faithful subjects
rejoiced more in his elevation than the Dowager Lady Caerleon.
Through all his troubles and reverses her ladyship had been faithful
to his cause, and had proved in the wars of the Cavaliers and
Puritans the intensity of her devotion by expending the whole
of her available wealth in putting Caerleon Keep in defence, and
in fitting out Cavaliers for his service. In this enterprise she
lost her second husband, who was shot down when the castle was
battered and dismantled, while she herself sought safety in the
mountain fastnesses of Wales.
At the Restoration she was about sixty years of age, active,
and upright as a spear; and being desirous of perpetuating the
name of which she and her daughter, now seventeen years of age,
were the only representatives she petitioned the King to save
the title by commanding one his needy followers to assume the
name, and title, and estates, by marrying the sole remaining child
and daughter of the house.
Charles gladly complied with her request, and there was issue
of the union one daughter which was left without a mother ere
it was a week old. The enterprising Dowager by this catastrophe
found herself in a worse position than before, as her blood flowed
only in the veins of a female, while the title and land were irretrievably
in the possession of a stranger, whose sons, should he again marry
and have an heir, would exclude her grandchild, Arvid.
It was six months after her daughter's death that she experienced
the last joy of her life.
It was obtained by ascertaining that a distant cousin on her
mother's side, supposed to be dead, had returned to Wales with
a son four years of age - his name, Gwedr Caradoc.
"He shall be Arvid's husband," said the old Dowager,
"and he shall take the title of Caerleon."
In her heart she defied and commanded Fate.
In the neighbourhood there was an old, old, wild goatherd, fifteen
years her senior, who was known to cast nativities.
To this soothsayer she applied, and her heart rose high when
she heard him say -
"Ay, lady - Gwedr Caradoc will be Caerleon; may be in your
time, may be after!"
"Do you see Arvid near him Aaron?"
"There are two women near him," replied the seer, "but
their faces are veiled. One has dark, the other fair hair; one
is a Briton, the other a Saxon."
"The Briton is Arvid," remarked the Dowager, "it
recks to me little who is the other. The Caerleons shall yet hold
She went home to hear terrible news - that is, terrible to her!
A courier was in the hall with a letter, which announced that
her son-in-law had married again.
Within that hour the remorseless Dowager determined that if a
son were born and brought to the castle, it would be her right
to have him destroyed.
She veiled her designs, and wrote a humble letter of congratulation
to her son-in-law, and the intruder into the family.
Eighteen months afterwards the Lord of Caerleon went home to
Caerleon, with him new wife, a weary-looking, but still very beautiful
She had a child; girl, not a boy, was brought with her.
My lord went back to the easy wicked Court of Charles II, leaving
his wife and daughter with his mother-in-law.
Whatever his motives, the fact remained that for eleven years
the two women and the two children were abandoned in Caerleon
Castle by its lord.
Arvid was not Angela's elder by quite two years, and the children
loved each other perfectly.
As for the Dowager Lady Caerleon, she detested the Saxon and
her child, as she called her son-in-law's second wife and Angela.
Years of companionship made no difference.
She considered they stood between Arvid and her sole rights;
and consequently the young Lady Caerleon led a wretched life with
the Dowager, who, openly polite, was in heart an implacable foe.
When Arvid was thirteen, and Angela eleven years of age, the
lord suddenly swooped upon the castle, and, after a stay of three
days, went away, carrying with him his younger daughter, for the
purpose of putting her in a French convent, to be educated.
It was in vain Lady Caerleon had prayed, entreated that her daughter
should remain with her. He was immovable.
The poor lady was then but twenty-eight years of age, for she
had been married at sixteen and from that time, through six years,
she remained at Caerleon without seeing her daughter.
Now and again, her husband, as easy-going and heartless as Charles
II himself, passed two or three days with her, carelessly taking
note of the estate accounts, and always in want of money.
His wife learnt that their daughter was well - and that was all.
Angela wrote periodically, but the desolate mother could not avoid
seeing how her child's memory of herself and of their western
home was fading.
She never murmured. She sought to love her step-child, Arvid,
and quite gained the girl's affection, but Arvid was become of
an age to comprehend that it would be well for all of them if
before the Dowager she never showed affection for her step-mother
- a mode of conduct on the part of Arvid which was very wise,
but which Lady Caerleon naturally felt as a cruel humiliation
of herself and her position.
This, then, was the state of things at Caerleon Castle when Charles
II died of his luxurious life, and his ascetic, Jesuit-loving
brother, James II, came to the throne.
The Dowager Lady Caerleon, now called the ancient, was eighty
years age, but still vigorous and active; Lady Caerleon was a
year or two past thirty, and Arvid, the elder of Lord Caerleon's
two daughters, was about eighteen.
It should be added that Aaron Gruestock was still alive, and
about ninety-five years of age.
He was always welcome at Caerleon, albeit, the maids and even
the men turned pale when the old seer made his appearance. But
to all outward appearance he was perfectly innocent and gentle.
Upon that particular spring day the three ladies had no knowledge
that before the next sunrise their lives, so monotonous for many
years, were to be changed, and for ever.
The sun had set, and the castle had been closed for the night,
when the old soothsayer arrived, saying he must see the Caerleon,
as after the Welsh way he called the Dowager, she being the head
of the house.
He obtained instant admission to her room.
Five minutes afterwards, she came hurriedly amongst the servants,
and ordered them to get the lord's rooms ready.
The servants marvelled, for no courier or messenger had been
near the house for weeks. But they soon read the enigma - Aaron
had divined the coming of the master.
Within five minutes of the orders being given, there was heard
a great cracking of whips outside Caerleon, and sure enough it
was an outrider, to announce Lord Caerleon's return.
Unceremonious as usual, be had only taken the trouble to send
on a messenger an hour or two before his own arrival, so that
he might not experience any inconvenience upon his reaching home.
The Dowager herself announced the news to Lady Caerleon, who
betrayed no great joy at the coming of her husband.
It would have been unreasonable to expect any particular joy
on her part at the arrival of a man whose treatment had been of
the most scandalous character.
But the ancient Dowager, with the eyes and the brain of hate,
saw an evident cause for her indifference.
"Ah!" she thought, "my lady is sorry that her
husband comes to mar her flirtation with waster Griffith Morgan."
This suspicion, on the willing part of the Dowager, was founded
on a very simple circumstance.
Lady Caerleon, meek and gentle as she existed, was a very clever
horsewoman, and she was passionately fond of riding.
Indeed, it was her horsemanship which had attracted Lord Caerleon
in the first place, and though she therefore had little cause
to remember her own exceeding accomplishment with any degree of
pleasure, she had never forsaken the saddle, and she had found
riding, much to the old Dowager's openly expressed disgust, her
Indeed, what would not the Dowager have condemned that Lady Caerleon
Never once had Lady Caerleon been injured on horseback, and for
years she had been in the habit of riding out by herself - for
the country was very quiet and primitive, and too poor to attract
But three weeks previously to the arrival of Lord Caerleon her
horse had taken fright at the sight of a cavalier, and ran away.
Lady Caerleon could have no need for uttering untruth, and consequently
when she said that Master Griffith Morgan saved her life, she
undoubtedly did not speak falsely.
This gentleman, however, who gave himself out as belonging to
North Wales, and whose appearance, indeed, in a red coat had frightened
Lady Caerleon's horse, was hurt somewhat in stopping the runaway,
and her daughter insisted upon his entering the castle and being
tended. It was found that the gentleman had twisted his foot,
though not severely, and that rest was absolutely indispensable.
There at Caerleon he remained for ten days, tended chiefly by
Lady Caerleon, between whom and himself this chapter of accidents
naturally produced some sociability; and after he had left the
castle, he returned now and again.
He was perfectly respectful to the Dowager, and to Arvid, but
it was very evident that his devotion and attentions were chiefly
paid to Lady Caerleon, who it will be remembered was not much
past thirty - an age which she was far from looking, in the first
place, because of her simple and retired life, in the second,
because fair women who are careful of their lives never do look
The conclusions at which the Dowager Lady Caerleon arrived were
doubtless the offspring of her wishes, but they were not any the
less vigorous because they had no just basis.
The Lord of Caerleon arrived in state, not upon horseback, but
in a coach; and at his ease, yet, nevertheless, he looked weary
and worn, and older than his years. He was about fifty-five, but
he appeared sixty.
He received his mother-in-law and his wife quite coldly, and
even showed very little excitement when his elder daughter Arvid
approached and curtseyed to her father after the manner of the
"My ladies," he said, "I have news for you. I
go no more to Court!"
"No more to Court, my lord!" said his wife.
"Why, my lady," said the nobleman, "one would
suppose you would be desirous of getting rid of me again!"
"We have seen so little of you," she replied, "at
Caerleon Castle that we could not have hoped for such a change
in your plans."
"Faith, you do not seem particularly joyful at the prospect
of having me amongst you for good!"
"For good!" said his wife.
"Yes," he replied, lightly, "if there is any good
in me. I must try to make you glad that your prodigal has come
home, my ladies."
"Let Lady Caerleon speak for herself!" said the Dowager.
"Her ladyship may or may not be glad to know that my lord
has returned to his duties. I am delighted that at last we can
welcome you, my lord, to that which by law, if not by blood, is
your ancestral home."
The lord looked curiously at his wife. He had no knowledge of
the truth, but the seeds of suspicion had been sown in his doubting
"Yes," he said, "I am come home. Honest old Rowley
is dead; and now the only petticoats seen at the Court of St.
James are those of the robes of the priests his new Majesty is
so fond of having about him."
"We will do our duty, my lord, to make your stay comfortable,"
said Lady Caerleon.
"Duty!" said Caerleon. "Faith, my lady, I would
rather have a little love!"
"I have forgotten how to love," replied the neglected
"Indeed?" added the Dowager, in a sneering voice.
The nobleman looked up, half angry, then fell back again, and
resumed his quiet voice.
"I have such pleasant news for both of you as should make
me welcome. You have not asked for your daughter, my lady?"
"I know she is well, and in France."
"Nay, you are wrong, for Angela is not twenty miles from
"Ah, my lord!" she cried.
"Tut, tut! my lady; no emotion. You and your daughter will
be in each other's arms to-morrow. Spare me - pray spare me your
"And pray, my lord," said the implacable old Dowager,
"what is the good news you have for me? You can barely suppose
that I find it well that the supplanter of my Arvid's love in
the heart of her father is coming to Caerleon."
"My lady, my lady," said Caerleon, fractiously, "I
have room in my heart for loving two daughters, believe me. But
I have still good news for both of you. You will recall, my lady
mother, that you wrote to me some time since, praying me to intercede
with the King to bring about a marriage between our distant cousin,
Gwedr Caradoc, and a daughter of mine, with succession to the
title and estates?"
The dowager had started.
"You mean, my lord, your elder daughter?"
"Faith, it matters little to me which," said careless
Caerleon. "At all events, the King consented. James II has
ratified the agreement, and you may make up the wedding as soon
as you think fit."
"I assume, my lady, that you yield precedence to my granddaughter?"
asked the Dowager.
"I have no opinion in the matter," said meek Lady Caerleon.
Three days afterwards, the family, now augmented by Angela, who
arrived on the morning following her father's coming, sat awaiting
the visit of Sir Gwedr Caradoc.
There came into the room a handsome gentleman, known to all there,
except Lord Caerleon himself, as Griffith Morgan.
The four ladies uttered a faint scream, which arrested the introduction
upon Lord Caerleon's lips.
"Forgive me what I have done," said the young Baronet,
in a most winning voice. "I heard from aunt, and while in
France, of his late Majesty's disposition of my hand. A cousin
of mine was at the convent where Lady Angela was being educated,
and it took my fancy to see her in the convent parlour, and this
was effected. I saw your daughter Angela, my lord; to love her,
and to obey the late and the reigning King's request will be the
greatest happiness of my life."
"My lord," here said the terrible Dowager, "Sir
Gwedr is already known to my lady here, and my lady seems moved."
Caerleon looked up.
His wife calmly told him all that had occurred.
"I came to try and win your ladyship to like me," said
the young suitor.
"And succeeded," answered the Dowager, calmly.
Lady Caerleon was very pale.
The Dowager went on.
"But, Lady Caerleon, you have reckoned wrongly if for one
moment you suppose that my lord will be unjust. My lord,"
she continued, imperiously, "you have not forgotten that
you were a penniless man when the late King continued you in the
patent of my husband's nobility. Your elder daughter Arvid claims
her kindred's title, and I demand that this gentleman, Sir Gwedr
Caradoc, marry my granddaughter, the last of the Caerleons. I
await your answer."
"Tut - tut !" said the easy, selfish, careless lord.
"Why here is a pother at Caerleon already. Tell me; Gwedr,
do you love my daughter Angela?"
"With my whole heart."
"Would you take her without fortune and title?"
"The more willingly."
"Tell me, Angela - do you love Caradoc?"
"Yes, my lord," she said, simply.
"And you, Arvid - do you love Sir Gwedr?"
The elder daughter was very pale, but after a pause she slowly
said, "I decline to marry Sir Gwedr!"
"What, my lady Dowager!" cried the nobleman; "shall
your confounded family pride break these young hearts? Nay, Angela
and Sir Gwedr here shall marry, and if you know the name of any
man our Arvid loves, you may petition James II to give him the
title and fortune, for my other children shall never be wretched
at thy beck and call."
The old woman stood up, and shook her weak hand at Lady Caerleon.
"Viper and hypocrite!" she cried. "Thy smooth,
civil ways cannot soften me. I know thee for what thou art. So
thou hast turned what remains of my blood against me - Arvid's
and Gwedr's. What, pale-faced Saxon! dost think that the triumph
is thine? War! war! war!"
She had shrieked each "war!" louder than the other,
and at every repetition of the word she took a step nearer the
meek and shrinking lady.
Then she fell forward to the ground, senseless.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Three months have elapsed since the Dowager's declaration of
She was not dead, but paralyzed in both legs. Her brain, her
hate, and her hands were as active as ever, and yet she could
not take a step.
But she was not the only invalid in the house - Angela was ill
of a wasting sickness. She was always coughing, and complaining
of a burning sensation in the mouth.
Upon the night when the Dowager Lady Caerleon had fallen forward
a shapeless mass, Sir Gwedr sought out Caerleon, and he said -
"I have found out what is happening to Angela. You know
that I studied chemistry in France. She is being slowly, steadily
poisoned. I took some of the posset last night, and tasted it.
The liquid contained a minute portion of arsenic."
When Lady Caerleon heard the news she fainted, and remained senseless
for some time.
The first words she uttered upon recovering herself were to the
effect that no one should go near her daughter but herself. From
that hour she never left Angela's room. At the end of five days
the young lady was out of danger.
On the sixth day, Lord Caerleon was paying a visit to bedridden
Dowager Lady Caerleon, when the latter said to him, "Your
daughter is better, my lord?"
"Ah - you have removed her mother from her bedside!"
"No; but why such a question?"
"Because there must be a cause for Angela's sickness. What
if she were being poisoned?"
"Lady Caerleon - you dare not mean to insinuate-"
"I do not insinuate. I declare that your wife grew to love
this Sir Gwedr before she knew anything beyond the fact that he
saved her life, or before she pretended that he did so."
"Oh, monstrous!" said the nobleman. "What! jealous
of her own daughter, and so infamous in her passion as to poison
"Why not, my lord? Human nature is so depraved?"
"Ah! I will take my daughter from this house to-morrow."
"To-morrow!" echoed the Dowager, in a startled voice.
That night, Lord Caerleon, who by this time was terribly broken
down, insisted upon his wife taking her rest, and ordered Arvid
to watch by her sister.
Lady Caerleon herself set the large cup of drink for the night,
and which she had made herself, exactly as she prepared all that
her daughter ate and drank.
Angela was troubled with incessant thirst.
The posset was set on the table near the arras covering the wall,
and Arvid began her vigil.
Three hours afterwards, the occupants of the castle were awakened
by a loud and agonised scream.
Arvid was found on the floor of her sister's room, insensible,
while Angela, who had crept from the bed, was endeavouring to
The first word she uttered, as her wandering eyes fell upon her
father and step-mother were these, "My lord, my lady is not
"I!" cried the lady. "I guilty of what?"
"My lady! my lady!" cried the poor girl, "My grandame
and my lord suspect you of poisoning my dear sister. My lord,
it is not true. Take Angela and my lady from the castle! - take
"Ah, my lord!" cried Lady Caerleon, with a mother's
instinct. "She knows the poisoner! Make her speak, my lord!"
"Is this so, Arvid?"
"I will not speak!" she cried.
Sir Gwedr had entered the room with the others, and had gone
straight to the table where the night-drink stood.
A few moments, and he approached Lord Caerleon, and whispered
in a low voice, "My lord, I have tested the posset placed
upon the table, made by Lady Caerleon, put there by her ladyship
the last thing before leaving the room. I grieve to say, it is
poisoned sufficiently to kill in a few minutes."
"'Tis she?" said Caerleon.
Then the spirit of retribution possessed him.
He pointed to the night-drink, and said to his wife, "My
lady, your affright has made you sick. Believe me, I know what
will cure you. Drink the night-drink on the table there. I am
pitying, and I command."
She looked at him wonderingly, and saying, "I obey!"
she went towards the table. But now, with a wild cry, Arvid ran
towards it, and before she could be prevented, she seized the
glass, and drank its contents.
The next moment, a terrible noise was hard, the arras behind
the table was shaken, the table was overthrown, and the-Dowager,
upright and moving, tottered into the room.
"Arvid!" she cried - "my Arvid, it was for thee
and thy rights."
"As thou hast sown, granddam, so thou reapest. It is I who
die - not Angela. Gwedr Caradoc," she said, "I loved
you, but said no, that Angela might be happy - happy. Granddam,
stoop down and kiss me."
"Keep back," she cried. "She is mine - only mine.
Yes, my feet bore me to my revenge. Lady Caerleon, fate has saved
you, and destroyed me. I meant to poison your child, and to have
seen you die of a broken heart, when accused of the death of your
own child. Arvid, Arvid! He would have loved thee after the Saxons
had died, my Arvid. Sir Gwedr, the title is yours, but the blood
of the Caerleons is changed - changed. Lady Caerleon, Arvid and
I are going away together. We hate! hate! Hate!"
Those were the last words she uttered in this world.
They were embittered, perhaps, by hearing dying Arrid say, "No,
no! I love, I love! Forgive us! forgive us both!"
My lord left Caerleon, and it passed into other - into many hands.
Only the name and the legend remain; and where the fierce dowager
plotted destruction, and was destroyed, there wanders the bell-wether
of the flock, and the peaceful tinkle of the sheep-bell is heard
where the last of the race of Caerleons died - vanquished, but
defiant to her last death-arrested breath.