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Felipa was very thoroughly frightened now. She stood in wholesome awe of her husband, and it was the first time she had ever made him really angry, although frequently he was vaguely irritated by her. She had had no idea the thing would infuriate him so, or she would probably have kept it to herself. And she wished now that she had, as she went back to the couch and sat on the edge of it, dejectedly.
The Ministers, instead of making rational concessions to the demands of the people for Reform, proceeded without delay to fresh aggressions on their liberties. Not contented with the existing suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, and with introducing into the Lords a Bill for the protection of the king's person and Government, they passed a law prohibiting all political meetings, and another to extend the law of treason; they recommenced arrests and prosecutions, and sent out shoals of spies and informers, so that all the safeguards of public liberty were completely annihilated. These despotic measures did not pass without energetic opposition and a good deal of violent language from Fox; but all remonstrance was useless against Pitt's majority. Still the alarm of the Government was not allayed. On the 8th of December the king sent a message to both Houses, reiterating his assurance of an earnest desire to negotiate peace with France. The Opposition very properly pointed out that, so far as France was concerned, victorious in its armies, and as anti-monarchical in its government as ever, there were less hopes of any consent on its part to peace than when the Opposition had so repeatedly urged the same measure. In this unsatisfactory state closed the year 1795.
Notwithstanding these addresses and the confident tone of the Queen's Speech, the Funds fell, and there was general dissatisfaction at the conditions of the proposed pacification. In order to stimulate the proceedings and excite a jealousy of the Dutch, St. John professed to discover that they were themselves secretly negotiating with France, and urged that, if we did not take care, they would have the management of the negotiations and not her Majesty. Lord Strafford hastened back to the Hague, and from thence to Utrecht, where he proposed a cessation of arms, which was rejected by the Allies. He then went on to the army, where the Duke of Ormonde was in a situation of the utmost difficulty. He had received orders from Government, in consequence of the clamour in Parliament, to support Prince Eugene at the siege of Quesnoy, which he had invested on the 8th of June, and accordingly he had appeared before the place with such forces as threatened speedily to reduce it. At the same time he had received from the Marquis de Torcy a copy of the articles of peace signed by him, and from the Marquis of Villars the most bitter remonstrances on his conduct, which he did not hesitate to declare most perfidious and disgraceful. On the other hand, Prince Eugene, who did not find the English forces, notwithstanding their presence, rendering any active service, was equally irritated by his proceedings. Ormonde could but reply to each party that such were his orders, and leave the Government to bear the ignominy of it. To extricate themselves from the just censures on this dishonourable policy, St. John instructed Ormonde to demand from Villars the surrender of Dunkirk, which, it was asserted, must be put into the hands of the queen's troops, as a pledge that France would perform all that she had promised, before there could be a cessation of hostilities.[See larger version]
But a brave and liberal member of the peerage, Earl Stanhope, did not flinch from endeavouring to get repealed a number of these disgraceful evidences of Church bigotry, which still cumbered the Statute book from long past periods. In May, 1789, a few days after Mr. Beaufoy's second defeat on the question of the Test and Corporation Acts, Lord Stanhope proposed "a Bill for relieving members of the Church of England from sundry penalties and disabilities to which, by the laws now in force, they may be liable, and for extending freedom in matters of religion to all personsPapists only exceptedand for other purposes therein mentioned." His Lordship had given notice of his intention to introduce such a Bill in the previous February, as Mr. William Smith had done in the Commons, when what was called the Uniformity Clause in the Regency Bill was discussed, contending that this clause, which prohibited the Regent from giving the Royal Assent to the repeal of the Act for Uniformity passed in the reign of Charles II., might prevent the repeal of a preceding Act, of a very bigoted character, of a previous date. The Bishops, with the Archbishop of Canterbury at their head, opposed his intention, contending that this was not a proper time for such a discussion. Lord Stanhope now detailed the names, dates, and characters of the Acts which he had in view. They were these:The Act of 1 Elizabeth, ordering every person to go to church, and imposing a fine of twenty poundsa very large sum thenon any one above the age of sixteen absenting himself or herself from church for a month; and in case of non-payment, ordering the imprisonment of the offender till the fine were paid, or the offender conformed. In case of twelve months' absence, the offender was to be bound in a bond of two hundred pounds, with two sureties, for his compliance in future. By the 23 Elizabeth these penalties were made still more rigorous, and by the 35th of her reign, all persons who absented themselves for a month were liable not only to the twenty pounds a month, but that money might be refused, if tendered, and the offender be deprived of two-thirds of his lands, tenements, and hereditaments, instead of the twenty pounds. By the 3 James I. these abominable powers were extended, and every person was made amenable for every visitor, servant, and servant of visitors to his or her house, and should be compelled to pay 10 per month for the non-attendance at church of each of them; and over and above all these penalties, the ecclesiastical courts might as fully exercise their jurisdiction over these offenders as if no such special Acts existed.
It was the signal to the woman in that other room behind the locked door, and above all the demoniacal sounds it reached her. Only an instant she hesitated, until that door, too, began to give. Then a cold muzzle of steel found, in the darkness, two little struggling, dodging facesand left them marred. And once again the trigger was unflinchingly pulled, as greedy arms reached out to catch the white, woman's figure that staggered and fell.