Robert Hugh Benson
"The Light Invisible," "The King's Achievement," "A Book of the Love of Jesus," etc.
BENIZIGER BROS. PRINTERS TO THE HOLY APOSTOLIC SEE, NEW YORK, CINCINNATI, CHICAGO.
I wish to acknowledge a great debt of gratitude to the Reverend Dom Bede Camm., O.S.B., who kindly read this book in proof, and made many valuable corrections and suggestions.
ROBERT HUGH BENSON
Tremans Horsted Keynes October 27, 1904
PENATIBVS . FOCISQVE . CARIS
NECNON . TRIBVS . CARIORIBVS
APVD . QVAS . SCRIPSI
IN . QVARVM . AVRES . LEGI
A . QVIBVS . ADMONITVS . EMENDAVI
HVNC . LIBRVM
I. The Situation 1
II. The Hall and the House 8
III. London Town 21
IV. Mary Corbet 37
V. A Rider From London 51
VI. Mr. Stewart 64
VII. The Door in the Garden Wall 79
VIII. The Taking of Mr. Stewart 90
IX. Village Justice 99
X. A Confessor 108
XI. Master Calvin 124
XII. A Winding Up 140
I. Anthony in London 152
II. Some New Lessons 168
III. Hubert's Return 183
IV. A Counter March 196
V. The Coming of the Jesuits 213
VI. Some Contrasts 235
VII. A Message From the City 252
VIII. The Massing-House 267
IX. From Fulham to Greenwich 279
X. The Appeal to Caesar 296
XI. A Station of the Cross 313
XII. A Strife of Tongues 334
XIII. The Spiritual Exercises 351
XIV. Easter Day 368
I. The Coming of Spain 384
II. Men of War and Peace 390
III. Home-Coming 404
IV. Stanfield Place 421
V. Joseph Lackington 429
VI. A Departure 439
VII. Northern Religion 453
VIII. In Stanstead Woods 468
IX. The Alarm 484
X. The Passage To the Garden-house 492
XI. The Garden-house 505
XII. The Night Ride 521
XIII. In Prison 526
XIV. An Open Door 541
XV. The Rolling of the Stone 552
BY WHAT AUTHORITY?
To the casual Londoner who lounged, intolerant and impatient, at the blacksmith's door while a horse was shod, or a cracked spoke mended, Great Keynes seemed but a poor backwater of a place, compared with the rush of the Brighton road eight miles to the east from which he had turned off, or the whirling cauldron of London City, twenty miles to the north, towards which he was travelling.
The triangular green, with its stocks and horse-pond, overlooked by the grey benignant church-tower, seemed a tame exchange for seething Cheapside and the crowded ways about the Temple or Whitehall; and it was strange to think that the solemn-faced rustics who stared respectfully at the gorgeous stranger were of the same human race as the quick-eyed, voluble townsmen who chattered and laughed and grimaced over the news that came up daily from the Continent or the North, and was tossed to and fro, embroidered and discredited alternately, all day long.
And yet the great waves and movements that, rising in the hearts of kings and politicians, or in the sudden strokes of Divine Providence, swept over Europe and England, eventually always rippled up into this placid country village; and the lives of Master Musgrave, who had retired upon his earnings, and of old Martin, who cobbled the ploughmen's shoes, were definitely affected and changed by the plans of far-away Scottish gentlemen, and the hopes and fears of the inhabitants of South Europe. Through all the earlier part of Elizabeth's reign, the menace of the Spanish Empire brooded low on the southern horizon, and a responsive mutter of storm sounded now and again from the north, where Mary Stuart reigned over men's hearts, if not their homes; and lovers of secular England shook their heads and were silent as they thought of their tiny country, so rent with internal strife, and ringed with danger.
For Great Keynes, however, as for most English villages and towns at this time, secular affairs were so deeply and intricately interwoven with ecclesiastical matters that none dared decide on the one question without considering its relation to the other; and ecclesiastical affairs, too, touched them more personally than any other, since every religious change scored a record of itself presently within the church that was as familiar to them as their own cottages.
On none had the religious changes fallen with more severity than on the Maxwell family that lived in the Hall, at the upper and southern end of the green. Old Sir Nicholas, though his convictions had survived the tempest of unrest and trouble that had swept over England, and he had remained a convinced and a stubborn Catholic, yet his spiritual system was sore and inflamed within him. To his simple and obstinate soul it was an irritating puzzle as to how any man could pass from the old to a new faith, and he had been known to lay his whip across the back of a servant who had professed a desire to try the new religion.
His wife, a stately lady, a few years younger than himself, did what she could to keep her lord quiet, and to save him from incurring by his indiscretion any further penalties beyond the enforced journeys before the Commission, and the fines inflicted on all who refused to attend their parish church. So the old man devoted himself to his estates and the further improvement of the house and gardens, and to the inculcation of sound religious principles into the minds of his two sons who were living at home with their parents; and strove to hold his tongue, and his hand, in public.
The elder of these two, Mr. James as he was commonly called, was rather a mysterious personage to the village, and to such neighbours as they had. He was often in town, and when at home, although extremely pleasant and courteous, never talked about himself and seemed to be only very moderately interested in the estate and the country-life generally. This, coupled with the fact that he would presumably succeed his father, gave rise to a good deal of gossip, and even some suspicion.
His younger brother Hubert was very different; passionately attached to sport and to outdoor occupations, a fearless rider, and in every way a kindly, frank lad of about eighteen years old. The fifth member of the family, Lady Maxwell's sister, Mistress Margaret Torridon, was a quiet-faced old lady, seldom seen abroad, and round whom, as round her eldest nephew, hung a certain air of mystery.
The difficulties of this Catholic family were considerable. Sir Nicholas' religious sympathies were, of course, wholly with the spiritual side of Spain, and all that that involved, while his intense love of England gave him a horror of the Southern Empire that the sturdiest patriot might have envied. And so with his attitude towards Mary Stuart and her French background. While his whole soul rose in loathing against the crime of Darnley's murder, to which many of her enemies proclaimed her accessory, it was kindled at the thought that in her or her child lately crowned as James VI. of Scotland, lay the hope of a future Catholic succession; and this religious sympathy was impassioned by the memory of an interview a few years ago, when he had kissed that gracious white hand, and looked into those alluring eyes, and, kneeling, stammered out in broken French his loyalty and his hopes. Whether it was by her devilish craft as her enemies said, or her serene and limpid innocence as her friends said, or by a maddening compound of the two, as later students have said—at least she had made the heart and confidence of old Sir Nicholas her own.
But there were troubles more practical than these mental struggles; it was a misery, beyond describing, to this old man and his wife to see the church, where once they had worshipped and received the sacraments, given over to what was, in their opinion, a novel heresy, and the charge of a schismatic minister. There, in the Maxwell chapel within, lay the bones of their Catholic ancestors; and there they had knelt to adore and receive their Saviour; and now for them all was gone, and the light was gone out in the temple of the Lord. In the days of the previous Rector matters were not so desperate; it had been their custom to receive from his hands at the altar-rail of the Church hosts previously consecrated at the Rectory; for the incumbent had been an old Marian priest who had not scrupled so to relieve his Catholic sheep of the burden of recusancy, while he fed his Protestant charges with bread and wine from the Communion table. But now all that was past, and the entire family was compelled year by year to slip off into Hampshire shortly before Easter for their annual duties, and the parish church that their forefathers had built, endowed and decorated, knew them no more.
But the present Rector, the Reverend George Dent, was far from a bigot; and the Papists were more fortunate than perhaps, in their bitterness, they recognised; for the minister was one of the rising Anglican school, then strange and unfamiliar, but which has now established itself as the main representative section of the Church of England. He welcomed the effect but not the rise of the Reformation, and rejoiced that the incrustations of error had been removed from the lantern of the faith. But he no less sincerely deplored the fanaticism of the Puritan and Genevan faction. He exulted to see England with a church truly her own at last, adapted to her character, and freed from the avarice and tyranny of a foreign despot who had assumed prerogatives to which he had no right. But he reverenced the Episcopate, he wore the prescribed dress, he used the thick singing-cakes for the Communion, and he longed for the time when nation and Church should again be one; when the nation should worship through a Church of her own shaping, and the Church share the glory and influence of her lusty partner and patron.
But Mrs. Dent had little sympathy with her husband's views; she had assimilated the fiery doctrines of the Genevan refugees, and to her mind her husband was balancing himself to the loss of all dignity and consistency in an untenable position between the Popish priesthood on the one side and the Gospel ministry on the other. It was an unbearable thought to her that through her husband's weak disposition and principles his chief parishioners should continue to live within a stone's throw of the Rectory in an assured position of honour, and in personal friendliness to a minister whose ecclesiastical status and claims they disregarded. The Rector's position then was difficult and trying, no less in his own house than elsewhere.
The third main family in the village was that of the Norrises, who lived in the Dower House, that stood in its own grounds and gardens a few hundred yards to the north-west of the village green. The house had originally been part of the Hall estate; but it had been sold some fifty years before. The present owner, Mr. Henry Norris, a widower, lived there with his two children, Isabel and Anthony, and did his best to bring them up in his own religious principles. He was a devout and cultivated Puritan, who had been affected by the New Learning in his youth, and had conformed joyfully to the religious changes that took place in Edward's reign. He had suffered both anxiety and hardships in Mary's reign, when he had travelled abroad in the Protestant countries, and made the acquaintance of many of the foreign reformers—Beza, Calvin, and even the great Melancthon himself. It was at this time, too, that he had lost his wife. It had been a great joy to him to hear of the accession of Elizabeth, and the re-establishment of a religion that was sincerely his own; and he had returned immediately to England with his two little children, and settled down once more at the Dower House. Here his whole time that he could spare from his children was divided between prayer and the writing of a book on the Eucharist; and as his children grew up he more and more retired into himself and silence and communing with God, and devoted himself to his book. It was beginning to be a great happiness to him to find that his daughter Isabel, now about seventeen years old, was growing up into active sympathy with his principles, and that the passion of her soul, as of his, was a tender deep-lying faith towards God, which could exist independently of outward symbols and ceremonies. But unlike others of his school he was happy too to notice and encourage friendly relations between Lady Maxwell and his daughter, since he recognised the sincere and loving spirit of the old lady beneath her superstitions, and knew very well that her friendship would do for the girl what his own love could not.
The other passion of Isabel's life at present lay in her brother Anthony, who was about three years younger than herself, and who was just now more interested in his falcons and pony than in all the religious systems and human relationships in the world, except perhaps in his friendship for Hubert, who besides being three or four years older than himself, cared for the same things.
And so relations between the Hall and the Dower House were all that they should be, and the path that ran through the gardens of the one and the yew hedge and orchard of the other was almost as well trodden as if all still formed one estate.
As for the village itself, it was exceedingly difficult to gauge accurately the theological atmosphere. The Rector despaired of doing so. It was true that at Easter the entire population, except the Maxwells and their dependents, received communion in the parish church, or at least professed their willingness and intention to do so unless prevented by some accident of the preceding week; but it was impossible to be blind to the fact that many of the old beliefs lingered on, and that there was little enthusiasm for the new system. Rumours broke out now and again that the Catholics were rising in the north; that Elizabeth contemplated a Spanish or French marriage with a return to the old religion; that Mary Stuart would yet come to the throne; and with each such report there came occasionally a burst of joy in unsuspected quarters. Old Martin, for example, had been overheard, so a zealous neighbour reported, blessing Our Lady aloud for her mercies when a passing traveller had insisted that a religious league was in progress of formation between France and Spain, and that it was only a question of months as to when mass should be said again in every village church; but then on the following Sunday the cobbler's voice had been louder than all in the metrical psalm, and on the Monday he had paid a morning visit to the Rectory to satisfy himself on the doctrine of Justification, and had gone again, praising God and not Our Lady, for the godly advice received.
But again, three years back, just before Mr. Dent had come to the place, there had been a solemn burning on the village-green of all such muniments of superstition as had not been previously hidden by the priest and Sir Nicholas; and in the rejoicings that accompanied this return to pure religion practically the whole agricultural population had joined. Some Justices had ridden over from East Grinsted to direct this rustic reformation, and had reported favourably to the new Rector on his arrival of the zeal of his flock. The great Rood, they told him, with SS. Mary and John, four great massy angels, the statue of St. Christopher, the Vernacle, a brocade set of mass vestments and a purple cope, had perished in the flames, and there had been no lack of hands to carry faggots; and now the Rector found it difficult to reconcile the zeal of his parishioners (which indeed he privately regretted) with the sudden and unexpected lapses into superstition, such as was Mr. Martin's gratitude to Our Lady, and others of which he had had experience.
As regards the secular politics of the outside world, Great Keynes took but little interest. It was far more a matter of concern whether mass or morning prayer was performed on Sunday, than whether a German bridegroom could be found for Elizabeth, or whether she would marry the Duke of Anjou; and more important than either were the infinitesimal details of domestic life. Whether Mary was guilty or not, whether her supporters were rising, whether the shadow of Spain chilled the hearts of men in London whose affair it was to look after such things; yet the cows must be milked, and the children washed, and the falcons fed; and it was these things that formed the foreground of life, whether the sky were stormy or sunlit.
And so, as the autumn of '69 crept over the woods in flame and russet, and the sound of the sickle was in folks' ears, the life at Great Keynes was far more tranquil than we should fancy who look back on those stirring days. The village, lying as it did out of the direct route between any larger towns, was not so much affected by the gallop of the couriers, or the slow creeping rumours from the Continent, as villages that lay on lines of frequent communication. So the simple life went on, and Isabel went about her business in Mrs. Carroll's still-room, and Anthony rode out with the harriers, and Sir Nicholas told his beads in his room—all with nearly as much serenity as if Scotland were fairyland and Spain a dream.
THE HALL AND THE HOUSE
Anthony Norris, who was now about fourteen, went up to King's College, Cambridge, in October. He was closeted long with his father the night before he left, and received from him much sound religious advice and exhortation; and in the morning, after an almost broken-hearted good-bye from Isabel, he rode out with his servant following on another horse and leading a packhorse on the saddle of which the falcons swayed and staggered, and up the curving drive that led round into the village green. He was a good-hearted and wholesome-minded boy, and left a real ache behind him in the Dower House.
Isabel indeed ran up to his room, after she had seen his feathered cap disappear at a trot through the gate, leaving her father in the hall; and after shutting and latching the door, threw herself on his bed, and sobbed her heart out. They had never been long separated before. For the last three years he had gone over to the Rectory morning by morning to be instructed by Mr. Dent; but now, although he would never make a great scholar, his father thought it well to send him up to Cambridge for two or three years, that he might learn to find his own level in the world.
Anthony himself was eager to go. If the truth must be told, he fretted a little against the restraints of even such a moderate Puritan household as that of his father's. It was a considerable weariness to Anthony to kneel in the hall on a fresh morning while his father read, even though with fervour and sincerity, long extracts from "Christian Prayers and Holy Meditations," collected by the Reverend Henry Bull, when the real world, as Anthony knew it, laughed and rippled and twinkled outside in the humming summer air of the lawn and orchard; or to have to listen to godly discourses, however edifying to elder persons, just at the time when the ghost-moth was beginning to glimmer in the dusk, and the heavy trout to suck down his supper in the glooming pool in the meadow below the house.
His very sports, too, which his father definitely encouraged, were obviously displeasing to the grave divines who haunted the house so often from Saturday to Monday, and spoke of high doctrinal matters at meal-times, when, so Anthony thought, lighter subjects should prevail. They were not interested in his horse, and Anthony never felt quite the same again towards one good minister who in a moment of severity called Eliza, the glorious peregrine that sat on the boy's wrist and shook her bells, a "vanity." And so Anthony trotted off happy enough on his way to Cambridge, of which he had heard much from Mr. Dent; and where, although there too were divines and theology, there were boys as well who acted plays, hunted with the hounds, and did not call high-bred hawks "vanities."
Isabel was very different. While Anthony was cheerful and active like his mother who had died in giving him life, she, on the other hand, was quiet and deep like her father. She was growing up, if not into actual beauty, at least into grace and dignity: but there were some who thought her beautiful. She was pale with dark hair, and the great grey eyes of her father; and she loved and lived in Anthony from the very difference between them. She frankly could not understand the attraction of sport, and the things that pleased her brother; she was afraid of the hawks, and liked to stroke a horse and kiss his soft nose better than to ride him. But, after all, Anthony liked to watch the towering bird, and to hear and indeed increase the thunder of the hoofs across the meadows behind the stomping hawk; and so she did her best to like them too; and she was often torn two ways by her sympathy for the partridge on the one hand, as it sped low and swift across the standing corn with that dread shadow following, and her desire, on the other hand, that Anthony should not be disappointed.
But in the deeper things of the spirit, too, there was a wide difference between them. As Anthony fidgeted and sighed through his chair-back morning and evening, Isabel's soul soared up to God on the wings of those sounding phrases. She had inherited all her father's tender piety, and lived, like him, on the most intimate terms with the spiritual world. And though, of course, by training she was Puritan, by character she was Puritan too. As a girl of fourteen she had gone with Anthony to see the cleansing of the village temple. They had stood together at the west end of the church a little timid at the sight of that noisy crowd in the quiet house of prayer; but she had felt no disapproval at that fierce vindication of truth. Her father had taught her of course that the purest worship was that which was only spiritual; and while since childhood she had seen Sunday by Sunday the Great Rood overhead, she had never paid it any but artistic attention. The men had the ropes round it now, and it was swaying violently to and fro; and then, even as the children watched, a tie had given, and the great cross with its pathetic wide-armed figure had toppled forward towards the nave, and then crashed down on the pavement. A fanatic ran out and furiously kicked the thorn-crowned head twice, splintering the hair and the features, and cried out on it as an idol; and yet Isabel, with all her tenderness, felt nothing more than a vague regret that a piece of carving so ancient and so delicate should be broken.
But when the work was over, and the crowd and Anthony with them had stamped out, directed by the justices, dragging the figures and the old vestments with them to the green, she had seen something which touched her heart much more. She passed up alone under the screen, which they had spared, to see what had been done in the chancel; and as she went she heard a sobbing from the corner near the priest's door; and there, crouched forward on his face, crying and moaning quietly, was the old priest who had been rector of the church for nearly twenty years. He had somehow held on in Edward's time in spite of difficulties; had thanked God and the Court of Heaven with a full heart for the accession of Mary; had prayed and deprecated the divine wrath at the return of the Protestant religion with Elizabeth; but yet had somehow managed to keep the old faith alight for eight years more, sometimes evading, sometimes resisting, and sometimes conforming to the march of events, in hopes of better days. But now the blow had fallen, and the old man, too ill-instructed to hear the accents of new truth in the shouting of that noisy crowd and the crash of his images, was on his knees before the altar where he had daily offered the holy sacrifice through all those troublous years, faithful to what he believed to be God's truth, now bewailing and moaning the horrors of that day, and, it is to be feared, unchristianly calling down the vengeance of God upon his faithless flock. This shocked and touched Isabel far more than the destruction of the images; and she went forward timidly and said something; but the old man turned on her a face of such misery and anger that she had run straight out of the church, and joined Anthony as he danced on the green.
On the following Sunday the old priest was not there, and a fervent young minister from London had taken his place, and preached a stirring sermon on the life and times of Josiah; and Isabel had thanked God on her knees after the sermon for that He had once more vindicated His awful Name and cleansed His House for a pure worship.
But the very centre of Isabel's religion was the love of the Saviour. The Puritans of those early days were very far from holding a negative or colourless faith. Not only was their belief delicately dogmatic to excess; but it all centred round the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. And Isabel had drunk in this faith from her father's lips, and from devotional books which he gave her, as far back as she could remember anything. Her love for the Saviour was even romantic and passionate. It seemed to her that He was as much a part of her life, and of her actual experience, as Anthony or her father. Certain places in the lanes about, and certain spots in the garden, were sacred and fragrant to her because her Lord had met her there. It was indeed a trouble to her sometimes that she loved Anthony so much; and to her mind it was a less worthy kind of love altogether; it was kindled and quickened by such little external details, by the sight of his boyish hand brown with the sun, and scarred by small sporting accidents, such as the stroke of his bird's beak or talons, or by the very outline of the pillow where his curly head had rested only an hour or two ago. Whereas her love for Christ was a deep and solemn passion that seemed to well not out of His comeliness or even His marred Face or pierced Hands, but out of His wide encompassing love that sustained and clasped her at every moment of her conscious attention to Him, and that woke her soul to ecstasy at moments of high communion. These two loves, then, one so earthly, one so heavenly, but both so sweet, every now and then seemed to her to be in slight conflict in her heart. And lately a third seemed to be rising up out of the plane of sober and quiet affections such as she felt for her father, and still further complicating the apparently encountering claims of love to God and man.
Isabel grew quieter in a few minutes and lay still, following Anthony with her imagination along the lane that led to the London road, and then presently she heard her father calling, and went to the door to listen.
"Isabel," he said, "come down. Hubert is in the hall."
She called out that she would be down in a moment; and then going across to her own room she washed her face and came downstairs. There was a tall, pleasant-faced lad of about her own age standing near the open door that led into the garden; and he came forward nervously as she entered.
"I came back last night, Mistress Isabel," he said, "and heard that Anthony was going this morning: but I am afraid I am too late."
She told him that Anthony had just gone.
"Yes," he said, "I came to say good-bye; but I came by the orchard, and so we missed one another."
Isabel asked a word or two about his visit to the North, and they talked for a few minutes about a rumour that Hubert had heard of a rising on behalf of Mary: but Hubert was shy and constrained, and Isabel was still a little tremulous. At last he said he must be going, and then suddenly remembered a message from his mother.
"Ah!" he said, "I was forgetting. My mother wants you to come up this evening, if you have time. Father is away, and my aunt is unwell and is upstairs."
Isabel promised she would come.
"Father is at Chichester," went on Hubert, "before the Commission, but we do not expect him back till to-morrow."
A shadow passed across Isabel's face. "I am sorry," she said.
The fact was that Sir Nicholas had again been summoned for recusancy. It was an expensive matter to refuse to attend church, and Sir Nicholas probably paid not less than L200 or L300 a year for the privilege of worshipping as his conscience bade.
In the evening Isabel asked her father's leave to be absent after supper, and then drawing on her hood, walked across in the dusk to the Hall. Hubert was waiting for her at the boundary door between the two properties.
"Father has come back," he said, "but my mother wants you still." They went on together, passed round the cloister wing to the south of the house: the bell turret over the inner hall and the crowded roofs stood up against the stars, as they came up the curving flight of shallow steps from the garden to the tall doorway that led into the hall.
It was a pleasant, wide, high room, panelled with fresh oak, and hung with a little old tapestry here and there, and a few portraits. A staircase rose out of it to the upper story. It had a fret-ceiling, with flower-de-luce and rose pendants, and on the walls between the tapestries hung a few antlers and pieces of armour, morions and breast-plates, with a pair of pikes or halberds here and there. A fire had been lighted in the great hearth as the evenings were chilly; and Sir Nicholas was standing before it, still in his riding-dress, pouring out resentment and fury to his wife, who sat in a tall chair at her embroidery. She turned silently and held out a hand to Isabel, who came and stood beside her, while Hubert went and sat down near his father. Sir Nicholas scarcely seemed to notice their entrance, beyond glancing up for a moment under his fierce white eyebrows; but went on growling out his wrath. He was a fine rosy man, with grey moustache and pointed beard, and a thick head of hair, and he held in his hand his flat riding cap, and his whip with which from time to time he cut at his boot.
"It was monstrous, I told the fellow, that a man should be haled from his home like this to pay a price for his conscience. The religion of my father and his father and all our fathers was good enough for me; and why in God's name should the Catholic have to pay who had never changed his faith, while every heretic went free? And then to that some stripling of a clerk told me that a religion that was good enough for the Queen's Grace should be good enough for her loyal subjects too; but my Lord silenced him quickly. And then I went at them again; and all my Lord would do was to nod his head and smile at me as if I were a child; and then he told me that it was a special Commission all for my sake, and Sir Arthur's, who was there too, my dear.... Well, well, the end was that I had to pay for their cursed religion."
"Sweetheart, sweetheart," said Lady Maxwell, glancing at Isabel.
"Well, I paid," went on Sir Nicholas, "but I showed them, thank God, what I was: for as we came out, Sir Arthur and I together, what should we see but another party coming in, pursuivant and all; and in the mid of them that priest who was with us last July.—Well, well, we'll leave his name alone—him that said he was a priest before them all in September; and I went down on my knees, thank God, and Sir Arthur went down on his, and we asked his blessing before them all, and he gave it us: and oh! my Lord was red and white with passion."
"That was not wise, sweetheart," said Lady Maxwell tranquilly, "the priest will have suffered for it afterwards."
"Well, well," grumbled Sir Nicholas, "a man cannot always think, but we showed them that Catholics were not ashamed of their religion—yes, and we got the blessing too."
"Well, but here is supper waiting," said my lady, "and Isabel, too, whom you have not spoken to yet."
Sir Nicholas paid no attention.
"Ah! but that was not all," he went on, savagely striking his boot again, "at the end of all who should I see but that—that—damned rogue—whom God reward!"—and he turned and spat into the fire—"Topcliffe. There he was, bowing to my Lord and the Commissioners. When I think of that man," he said, "when I think of that man—" and Sir Nicholas' kindly old passionate face grew pale and lowering with fury, and his eyebrows bent themselves forward, and his lower lip pushed itself out, and his hand closed tremblingly on his whip.
His wife laid down her embroidery and came to him.
"There, sweetheart," she said, taking his cap and whip. "Now sit down and have supper, and leave that man to God."
Sir Nicholas grew quiet again; and after a saying a word or two of apology to Isabel, left the room to wash before he sat down to supper.
"Mistress Isabel does not know who Topcliffe is," said Hubert.
"Hush, my son," said his mother, "your father does not like his name to be spoken."
Presently Sir Nicholas returned, and sat down to supper. Gradually his good nature returned, and he told them what he had seen in Chichester, and the talk he had heard. How it was reported to his lordship the Bishop that the old religion was still the religion of the people's hearts—how, for example, at Lindfield they had all the images and the altar furniture hidden underground, and at Battle, too; and that the mass could be set up again at a few hours' notice: and that the chalices had not been melted down into communion cups according to the orders issued, and so on. And that at West Grinsted, moreover, the Blessed Sacrament was there still—praise God—yes, and was going to remain there. He spoke freely before Isabel, and yet he remembered his courtesy too, and did not abuse the new-fangled religion, as he thought it, in her presence; or seek in any way to trouble her mind. If ever in an excess of anger he was carried away in his talk, his wife would always check him gently; and he would always respond and apologise to Isabel if he had transgressed good manners. In fact, he was just a fiery old man who could not change his religion even at the bidding of his monarch, and could not understand how what was right twenty years ago was wrong now.
Isabel herself listened with patience and tenderness, and awe too; because she loved and honoured this old man in spite of the darkness in which he still walked. He also told them in lower tones of a rumour that was persistent at Chichester that the Duke of Norfolk had been imprisoned by the Queen's orders, and was to be charged with treason; and that he was at present at Burnham, in Mr. Wentworth's house, under the guard of Sir Henry Neville. If this was true, as indeed it turned out to be later, it was another blow to the Catholic cause in England; but Sir Nicholas was of a sanguine mind, and pooh-poohed the whole affair even while he related it.
And so the evening passed in talk. When Sir Nicholas had finished supper, they all went upstairs to my lady's withdrawing-room on the first floor. This was always a strange and beautiful room to Isabel. It was panelled like the room below, but was more delicately furnished, and a tall harp stood near the window to which my lady sang sometimes in a sweet tremulous old voice, while Sir Nicholas nodded at the fire. Isabel, too, had had some lessons here from the old lady; but even this mild vanity troubled her puritan conscience a little sometimes. Then the room, too, had curious and attractive things in it. A high niche in the oak over the fireplace held a slender image of Mary and her Holy Child, and from the Child's fingers hung a pair of beads. Isabel had a strange sense sometimes as if this holy couple had taken refuge in that niche when they were driven from the church; but it seemed to her in her steadier moods that this was a superstitious fancy, and had the nature of sin.
This evening the old lady went to her harp, while Isabel sat down near her in the wide window seat and looked out over the dark lawn, where the white dial glimmered like a phantom, and thought of Anthony again. Sir Nicholas went and stretched himself before the fire, and closed his eyes, for he was old, and tired with his long ride; and Hubert sat down in a dark corner near him whence he could watch Isabel. After a few rippling chords my lady began to sing a song by Sir Thomas Wyatt, whom she and Sir Nicholas had known in their youth; and which she had caused to be set to music by some foreign chapel master. It was a sorrowful little song, with the title, "He seeketh comfort in patience," and possibly she chose it on purpose for this evening.
"Patience! for I have wrong, And dare not shew wherein; Patience shall be my song; Since truth can nothing win. Patience then for this fit; Hereafter comes not yet."
While she sang, she thought no doubt of the foolish brave courtier who lacked patience in spite of his singing, and lost his head for it; her voice shook once or twice: and old Sir Nicholas shook his drowsy head when she had finished, and said "God rest him," and then fell fast asleep.
Then he presently awoke as the others talked in whispers, and joined in too: and they talked of Anthony, and what he would find at Cambridge; and of Alderman Marrett, and his house off Cheapside, where Anthony would lie that night; and of such small and tranquil topics, and left fiercer questions alone. And so the evening came to an end; and Isabel said good-night, and went downstairs with Hubert, and out into the garden again.
"I am sorry that Sir Nicholas has been so troubled," she said to Hubert, as they turned the corner of the house together. "Why cannot we leave one another alone, and each worship God as we think fit?"
Hubert smiled in the darkness to himself.
"I am afraid Queen Mary did not think it could be done, either," he said. "But then, Mistress Isabel," he went on, "I am glad that you feel that religion should not divide people."
"Surely not," she said, "so long as they love God."
"Then you think—" began Hubert, and then stopped. Isabel turned to him.
"Yes?" she asked.
"Nothing," said Hubert.
They had reached the door in the boundary wall by now, and Isabel would not let him come further with her and bade him good-night. But Hubert still stood, with his hand on the door, and watched the white figure fade into the dusk, and listened to the faint rustle of her skirt over the dry leaves; and then, when he heard at last the door of the Dower House open and close, he sighed to himself and went home.
Isabel heard her father call from his room as she passed through the hall; and went in to him as he sat at his table in his furred gown, with his books about him, to bid him good-night and receive his blessing. He lifted his hand for a moment to finish the sentence he was writing, and she stood watching the quill move and pause and move again over the paper, in the candlelight, until he laid the pen down, and rose and stood with his back to the fire, smiling down at her. He was a tall, slender man, surprisingly upright for his age, with a delicate, bearded, scholar's face; the little plain ruff round his neck helped to emphasise the fine sensitiveness of his features; and the hands which he stretched out to his daughter were thin and veined.
"Well, my daughter," he said, looking down at her with his kindly grey eyes so like her own, and holding her hands.
"Have you had a good evening, sir?" she asked.
He nodded briskly.
"And you, child?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," she said, smiling up at him.
"And was Sir Nicholas there?"
She told him what had passed, and how Sir Nicholas had been fined again for his recusancy; and how Lady Maxwell had sung one of Sir Thomas Wyatt's songs.
"And was no one else there?" he asked.
"Yes, father, Hubert."
"Ah! And did Hubert come home with you?"
"Only as far as the gate, father. I would not let him come further."
Her father said nothing, but still looked steadily down into her eyes for a moment, and then turned and looked away from her into the fire.
"You must take care," he said gently. "Remember he is a Papist, born and bred; and that he has a heart to be broken too."
She felt herself steadily flushing; and as he turned again towards her, dropped her eyes.
"You will be prudent and tender, I know," he added. "I trust you wholly, Isabel."
Then he kissed her on the forehead and laid his hand on her head, and looked up, as the Puritan manner was.
"May the God of grace bless you, my daughter; and make you faithful to the end." And then he looked into her eyes again, smiled and nodded; and she went out, leaving him standing there.
Mr. Norris had begun to fear that the boy loved Isabel, but as yet he did not know whether Isabel understood it or even was aware of it. The marriage difficulties of Catholics and Protestants were scarcely yet existing; and certainly there was no formulated rule of dealing with them. Changes of religion were so frequent in those days that difficulties, when they did arise, easily adjusted themselves. It was considered, for example, by politicians quite possible at one time that the Duke of Anjou should conform to the Church of England for the sake of marrying the Queen: or that he should attend public services with her, and at the same time have mass and the sacraments in his own private chapel. Or again, it was open to question whether England as a whole would not return to the old religion, and Catholicism be the only tolerated faith.
But to really religious minds such solutions would not do. It would have been an intolerable thought to this sincere Puritan, with all his tolerance, that his daughter should marry a Catholic; such an arrangement would mean either that she was indifferent to vital religion, or that she was married to a man whose creed she was bound to abhor and anathematise: and however willing Mr. Norris might be to meet Papists on terms of social friendliness, and however much he might respect their personal characters, yet the thought that the life of any one dear to him should be irretrievably bound up with all that the Catholic creed involved, was simply an impossible one.
Besides all this he had no great opinion of Hubert. He thought he detected in him a carelessness and want of principle that would make him hesitate to trust his daughter to him, even if the insuperable barrier of religion were surmounted. Mr. Norris liked a man to be consistent and zealous for his creed, even if that creed were dark and superstitious—and this zeal seemed to him lamentably lacking in Hubert. More than once he had heard the boy speak of his father with an air of easy indulgence, that his own opinion interpreted as contempt.
"I believe my father thinks," he had once said, "that every penny he pays in fines goes to swell the accidental glory of God."
And Hubert had been considerably startled and distressed when the elder man had told him to hold his tongue unless he could speak respectfully of one to whom he owed nothing but love and honour. This had happened, however, more than a year ago; and Hubert had forgotten it, no doubt, even if Mr. Norris had not.
And as for Isabel.
It is exceedingly difficult to say quite what place Hubert occupied in her mind. She certainly did not know herself much more than that she liked the boy to be near her; to hear his footsteps coming along the path from the Hall. This morning when her father had called up to her that Hubert was come, it was not so hard to dry her tears for Anthony's departure. The clouds had parted a little when she came and found this tall lad smiling shyly at her in the hall. As she had sat in the window seat, too, during Lady Maxwell's singing, she was far from unconscious that Hubert's face was looking at her from the dark corner. And as they walked back together her simplicity was not quite so transparent as the boy himself thought.
Again when her father had begun to speak of him just now, although she was able to meet his eyes steadily and smilingly, yet it was just an effort. She had not mentioned Hubert herself, until her father had named him; and in fact it is probably safe to say that during Hubert's visit to the north, which had lasted three or four months, he had made greater progress towards his goal, and had begun to loom larger than ever in the heart of this serene grey-eyed girl, whom he longed for so irresistibly.
And now, as Isabel sat on her bed before kneeling to say her prayers. Hubert was in her mind even more than Anthony. She tried to wonder what her father meant, and yet only too well she knew that she knew. She had forgotten to look into Anthony's room where she had cried so bitterly this morning, and now she sat wide-eyed, and self-questioning as to whether her heavenly love were as lucid and single as it had been; and when at last she went down on her knees she entreated the King of Love to bless not only her father, and her brother Anthony who lay under the Alderman's roof in far-away London; but Sir Nicholas and Lady Maxwell, and Mistress Margaret Hallam, and—and—Hubert—and James Maxwell, his brother; and to bring them out of the darkness of Papistry into the glorious liberty of the children of the Gospel.
Isabel's visit to London, which had been arranged to take place the Christmas after Anthony's departure to Cambridge, was full of bewildering experiences to her. Mr. Norris from time to time had references to look up in London, and divines to consult as to difficult points in his book on the Eucharist; and this was a favourable opportunity to see Mr. Dering, the St. Paul's lecturer; so the two took the opportunity, and with a couple of servants drove up to the City one day early in December to the house of Alderman Marrett, the wool merchant, and a friend of Mr. Norris' father; and for several days both before and after Anthony's arrival from Cambridge went every afternoon to see the sights. The maze of narrow streets of high black and white houses with their iron-work signs, leaning forward as if to whisper to one another, leaving strips of sky overhead; the strange play of lights and shades after nightfall; the fantastic groups; the incessant roar and rumble of the crowded alleys—all the commonplace life of London was like an enchanted picture to her, opening a glimpse into an existence of which she had known nothing.
To live, too, in the whirl of news that poured in day after day borne by splashed riders and panting horses;—this was very different to the slow round of country life, with rumours and tales floating in, mellowed by doubt and lapse of time, like pensive echoes from another world. For example, morning by morning, as she came downstairs to dinner, there was the ruddy-faced Alderman with his fresh budget of news of the north;—Lords Northumberland and Westmoreland with a Catholic force of several thousands, among which were two cousins of Mrs. Marrett herself—and the old lady nodded her head dolorously in corroboration—had marched southwards under the Banner of the Five Wounds, and tramped through Durham City welcomed by hundreds of the citizens; the Cathedral had been entered, old Richard Norton with the banner leading; the new Communion table had been cast out of doors, the English Bible and Prayer-book torn to shreds, the old altar reverently carried in from the rubbish heap, the tapers rekindled, and amid hysterical enthusiasm Mass had been said once more in the old sanctuary.
Then they had moved south; Lord Sussex was powerless in York; the Queen, terrified and irresolute, alternately storming and crying; Spain was about to send ships to Hartlepool to help the rebels; Mary Stuart would certainly be rescued from her prison at Tutbury. Then Mary had been moved to Coventry; then came a last flare of frightening tales: York had fallen; Mary had escaped; Elizabeth was preparing to flee.
And then one morning the Alderman's face was brighter: it was all a lie, he said. The revolt had crumbled away; my Lord Sussex was impregnably fortified in York with guns from Hull; Lord Pembroke was gathering forces at Windsor; Lords Clinton, Hereford and Warwick were converging towards York to relieve the siege. And as if to show Isabel it was not a mere romance, she could see the actual train-bands go by up Cheapside with the gleam of steel caps and pike-heads, and the mighty tramp of disciplined feet, and the welcoming roar of the swarming crowds.
Then as men's hearts grew lighter the tale of chastisement began to be told, and was not finished till long after Isabel was home again. Green after green of the windy northern villages was made hideous by the hanging bodies of the natives, and children hid their faces and ran by lest they should see what her Grace had done to their father.
In spite of the Holy Sacrifice, and the piteous banner, and the call to fight for the faith, the Catholics had hung back and hesitated, and the catastrophe was complete.
The religion of London, too, was a revelation to this country girl. She went one Sunday to St. Paul's Cathedral, pausing with her father before they went in to see the new restorations and the truncated steeple struck by lightning eight years before, which in spite of the Queen's angry urging the citizens had never been able to replace.
There was a good congregation at the early morning prayer; and the organs and the singing were to Isabel as the harps and choirs of heaven. The canticles were sung to Shephard's setting by the men and children of St. Paul's all in surplices: and the dignitaries wore besides their grey fur almuces, which had not yet been abolished. The grace and dignity of the whole service, though to older people who remembered the unreformed worship a bare and miserable affair, and to Mr. Norris, with his sincere simplicity and spirituality, a somewhat elaborate and sensuous mode of honouring God, yet to Isabel was a first glimpse of what the mystery of worship meant. The dim towering arches, through which the dusty richly-stained sunbeams poured, the far-away murmurous melodies that floated down from the glimmering choir, the high thin pealing organ, all combined to give her a sense of the unfathomable depths of the Divine Majesty—an element that was lacking in the clear-cut personal Puritan creed, in spite of the tender associations that made it fragrant for her, and the love of the Saviour that enlightened and warmed it. The sight of the crowds outside, too, in the frosty sunlight, gathered round the grey stone pulpit on the north-east of the Cathedral, and streaming down every alley and lane, the packed galleries, the gesticulating black figure of the preacher—this impressed on her an idea of the power of corporate religion, that hours at her own prayer-desk, or solitary twilight walks under the Hall pines, or the uneventful divisions of the Rector's village sermons, had failed to give.
It was this Sunday in London that awakened her quiet soul from the lonely companionship of God, to the knowledge of that vast spiritual world of men of which she was but one tiny cell. Her father observed her quietly and interestedly as they went home together, but said nothing beyond an indifferent word or two. He was beginning to realise the serious reality of her spiritual life, and to dread anything that would even approximate to coming between her soul and her Saviour. The father and daughter understood one another, and were content to be silent together.
Her talks with Mrs. Marrett, too, left their traces on her mind. The Alderman's wife, for the first time in her life, found her views and reminiscences listened to as if they were oracles, and she needed little encouragement to pour them out in profusion. She was especially generous with her tales of portents and warnings; and the girl was more than once considerably alarmed by what she heard while the ladies were alone in the dim firelit parlour on the winter afternoons before the candles were brought in.
"When you were a little child, my dear," began the old lady one day, "there was a great burning made everywhere of all the popish images and vestments; all but the copes and the altar-cloths that they made into dresses for the ministers' new wives, and bed-quilts to cover them; and there were books and banners and sepulchres and even relics. I went out to see the burning at Paul's, and though I knew it was proper that the old papistry should go, yet I was uneasy at the way it was done.
"Well," went on the old lady, glancing about her, "I was sitting in this very room only a few days after, and the air began to grow dark and heavy, and all became still. There had been two or three cocks crowing and answering one another down by the river, and others at a distance; and they all ceased: and there had been birds chirping in the roof, and they ceased. And it grew so dark that I laid down my needle and went to the window, and there at the end of the street over the houses there was coming a great cloud, with wings like a hawk, I thought; but some said afterwards that, when they saw it, it had fingers like a man's hand, and others said it was like a great tower, with battlements. However that may be, it grew nearer and larger, and it was blue and dark like that curtain there; and there was no wind to stir it, for the windows had ceased rattling, and the dust was quiet in the streets; and still it came on quickly, growing as it came; and then there came a far-away sound, like a heavy waggon, or, some said, like a deep voice complaining. And I turned away from the window afraid; and there was the cat, that had been on a chair, down in the corner, with her back up, staring at the cloud: and then she began to run round the room like a mad thing, and presently whisked out of the door when I opened it. And I went to find Mr. Marrett, and he had not come in, and all the yard was quiet. I could only hear a horse stamp once or twice in the stable. And then as I saw calling out for some one to come, the storm broke, and the sky was all one dark cloud from side to side. For three hours it went on, rolling and clapping, and the lightning came in through the window that I had darkened and through the clothes over my head; for I had gone to my bed and rolled myself round under the clothes. And so it went on—and, my dear—" and Mrs. Marrett put her head close to Isabel's—"I prayed to our Lady and the saints, which I had not done since I was married; and asked them to pray God to keep me safe. And then at the end came a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning more fearful than all that had gone before; and at that very moment, so Mr. Marrett told me when he came in, two of the doors in St. Denys' Church in Fanshawe Street were broken in pieces by something that crushed them in, and the stone steeple of Allhallow Church in Bread Street was broken off short, and a part of it killed a dog that was beneath, and overthrew a man that played with the dog."
Isabel could hardly restrain a shiver and a glance round the dark old room, so awful were Mrs. Marrett's face and gestures and loud whispering tone, as she told this.
"Ah! but, my dear," she went on, "there was worse happened to poor King Hal, God rest him—him who began to reform the Church, as they say, and destroyed the monasteries. All the money that he left for masses for his soul was carried off with the rest at the change of religion; and that was bad enough, but this is worse. This is a tale, my dear, that I have heard my father tell many a time; and I was a young woman myself when it happened. The King's Grace was threatened by a friar, I think of Greenwich, that if he laid hands on the monasteries he should be as Ahab whose blood was licked by dogs in the very place which he took from a man. Well, the friar was hanged for his pains, and the King lived. And then at last he died, and was put in a great coffin, and carried through London; and they put the coffin in an open space in Sion Abbey, which the King had taken. And in the night there came one to view the coffin, and to see that all was well. And he came round the corner, and there stood the great coffin—(for his Grace was a great stout man, my dear)—on trestles in the moonlight, and beneath it a great black dog that lapped something: and the dog turned as the man came, and some say, but not my father, that the dog's eyes were red as coals, and that his mouth and nostrils smoked, and that he cast no shadow; but (however that may be) the dog turned and looked and then ran; and the man followed him into a yard, but when he reached there, there was no dog. And the man went back to the coffin afraid; and he found the coffin was burst open, and—and—"
Mrs. Marrett stopped abruptly. Isabel was white and trembling.
"There, there, my dear. I am a foolish old woman; and I'll tell you no more."
Isabel was really terrified, and entreated Mrs. Marrett to tell her something pleasant to make her forget these horrors; and so she told her old tales of her youth, and the sights of the city, and the great doings in Mary's reign; and so the time passed pleasantly till the gentlemen came home.
At other times she told her of Elizabeth and the great nobles, and Isabel's heart beat high at it, and at the promise that before she left she herself should see the Queen, even if she had to go to Greenwich or Nonsuch for it.
"God bless her," said Mrs. Marrett loyally, "she's a woman like ourselves for all her majesty. And she likes the show and the music too, like us all. I declare when I see them all a-going down the water to Greenwich, or to the Tower for a bear-baiting, with the horns blowing and the guns firing and the banners and the barges and the music, I declare sometimes I think that heaven itself can be no better, God forgive me! Ah! but I wish her Grace 'd take a husband; there are many that want her; and then we could laugh at them all. There's so many against her Grace now who'd be for her if she had a son of her own. There's Duke Charles whose picture hangs in her bedroom, they say; and Lord Robert Dudley—there's a handsome spark, my dear, in his gay coat and his feathers and his ruff, and his hand on his hip, and his horse and all. I wish she'd take him and have done with it. And then we'd hear no more of the nasty Spaniards. There's Don de Silva, for all the world like a monkey with his brown face and mincing ways and his grand clothes. I declare when Captain Hawkins came home, just four years ago last Michaelmas, and came up to London with his men, all laughing and rolling along with the people cheering them, I could have kissed the man—to think how he had made the brown men dance and curse and show their white teeth! and to think that the Don had to ask him to dinner, and grin and chatter as if nought had happened."
And Mrs. Marrett's good-humoured face broke into mirth at the thought of the Ambassador's impotence and duplicity.
Anthony's arrival in London a few days before Christmas removed the one obstacle to Isabel's satisfaction—that he was not there to share it with her. The two went about together most of the day under their father's care, when he was not busy at his book, and saw all that was to be seen.
One afternoon as they were just leaving the courtyard of the Tower, which they had been visiting with a special order, a slight reddish-haired man, who came suddenly out of a doorway of the White Tower, stopped a moment irresolutely, and then came towards them, bare-headed and bowing. He had sloping shoulders and a serious-looking mouth, with a reddish beard and moustache, and had an air of strangely mingled submissiveness and capability. His voice too, as he spoke, was at once deferential and decided.
"I ask your pardon, Mr. Norris," he said. "Perhaps you do not remember me."
"I have seen you before," said the other, puzzled for a moment.
"Yes, sir," said the man, "down at Great Keynes; I was in service at the Hall, sir."
"Yes, yes," said Mr. Norris, "I remember you perfectly. Lackington, is it not?"
The man bowed again.
"I left about eight years ago, sir; and by the blessing of God, have gained a little post under the Government. But I wished to tell you, sir, that I have been happily led to change my religion. I was a Papist, sir, you know."
Mr. Norris congratulated him.
"I thank you, sir," said Lackington.
The two children were looking at him; and he turned to them and bowed again.
"Mistress Isabel and Master Anthony, sir, is it not?"
"I remember you," said Isabel a little shyly, "at least, I think so."
Lackington bowed again as if gratified; and turned to their father.
"If you are leaving, Mr. Norris, would you allow me to walk with you a few steps? I have much I would like to ask you of my old master and mistress."
The four passed out together; the two children in front; and as they went Lackington asked most eagerly after the household at the Hall, and especially after Mr. James, for whom he seemed to have a special affection.
"It is rumoured," said Mr. Norris, "that he is going abroad."
"Indeed, sir," said the servant, with a look of great interest, "I had heard it too, sir; but did not know whether to believe it."
Lackington also gave many messages of affection to others of the household, to Piers the bailiff, and a couple of the foresters: and finished by entreating Mr. Norris to use him as he would, telling him how anxious he was to be of service to his friends, and asking to be entrusted with any little errands or commissions in London that the country gentleman might wish performed.
"I shall count it, sir, a privilege," said the servant, "and you shall find me prompt and discreet."
One curious incident took place just as Lackington was taking his leave at the turning down into Wharf Street; a man hurrying eastwards almost ran against them, and seemed on the point of apologising, but his face changed suddenly, and he spat furiously on the ground, mumbling something, and hurried on. Lackington seemed to see nothing.
"Why did he do that?" interrupted Mr. Norris, astonished.
"I ask your pardon, sir?" said Lackington interrogatively.
"That fellow! did you not see him spit at me?"
"I did not observe it, sir," said the servant; and presently took his leave.
"Why did that man spit at you, father?" asked Isabel, when they had come indoors.
"I cannot think, my dear; I have never seen him in my life."
"I think Lackington knew," said Anthony, with a shrewd air.
"Lackington! Why, Lackington did not even see him."
"That was just it," said Anthony.
Anthony's talk about Cambridge during these first evenings in London was fascinating to Isabel, if not to their father, too. It concerned of course himself and his immediate friends, and dealt with such subjects as cock-fighting a good deal; but he spoke also of the public disputations and the theological champions who crowed and pecked, not unlike cocks themselves, while the theatre rang with applause and hooting. The sport was one of the most popular at the universities at this time. But above all his tales of the Queen's visit a few years before attracted the girl, for was she not to see the Queen with her own eyes?
"Oh! father," said the lad, "I would I had been there five years ago when she came. Master Taylor told me of it. They acted the Aulularia, you know, in King's Chapel on the Sunday evening. Master Taylor took a part, I forget what; and he told me how she laughed and clapped. And then there was a great disputation before her, one day, in St. Mary's Church, and the doctors argued, I forget what about, but Master Taylor says that of course the Genevans had the best of it; and the Queen spoke, too, in Latin, though she did not wish to, but my lord of Ely persuaded her to it; so you see she could not have learned it by heart, as some said. And she said she would give some great gift to the University; but Master Taylor says they are still waiting for it; but it must come soon, you see, because it is the Queen's Grace who has promised it; but Master Taylor says he hopes she has forgotten it, but he laughs when I ask him what he means, and says it again."
"Who is this Master Taylor?" asked his father.
"Oh! he is a Fellow of King's," said Anthony, "and he told me about the Provost too. The Provost is half a Papist, they say: he is very old now, and he has buried all the vessels and the vestments of the Chapel, they say, somewhere where no one knows; and he hopes the old religion will come back again some day; and then he will dig them up. But that is Papistry, and no one wants that at Cambridge. And others say that he is a Papist altogether, and has a priest in his house sometimes. But I do not think he can be a Papist, because he was there when the Queen was there, bowing and smiling, says Master Taylor; and looking on the Queen so earnestly, as if he worshipped her, says Master Taylor, all the time the Chancellor was talking to her before they went into the chapel for the Te Deum. But they wished they had kept some of the things, like the Provost, says Master Taylor, because they were much put to it when her Grace came down for stuffs to cover the communion-tables and for surplices, for Cecil said she would be displeased if all was bare and poor. Is it true, father," asked Anthony, breaking off, "that the Queen likes popish things, and has a crucifix and tapers on the table in her chapel?"
"Ah! my son," said Mr. Norris, smiling, "you must ask one who knows. And what else happened?"
"Well," said Anthony, "the best is to come. They had plays, you know, the Dido, and one called Ezechias, before the Queen. Oh! and she sent for one of the boys, they say, and—and kissed him, they say; but I think that cannot be true."
"Well, my son, go on!"
"Oh! and some of them thought they would have one more play before she went; but she had to go a long journey and left Cambridge before they could do it, and they went after her to—to Audley End, I think, where she was to sleep, and a room was made ready, and when all was prepared, though her Grace was tired, she came in to see the play. Master Taylor was not there; he said he would rather not act in that one; but he had the story from one who acted, but no one knew, he said, who wrote the play. Well, when the Queen's Grace was seated, the actors came on, dressed, father, dressed"—and Anthony's eyes began to shine with amusement—"as the Catholic Bishops in the Tower. There was Bonner in his popish vestments—some they had from St. Benet's—with a staff and his tall mitre, and a lamb in his arms; and he stared at it and gnashed his teeth at it as he tramped in; and then came the others, all like bishops, all in mass-vestments or cloth cut to look like them; and then at the end came a dog that belonged to one of them, well-trained, with the Popish Host in his mouth, made large and white, so that all could see what it was. Well, they thought the Queen would laugh as she was a Protestant, but no one laughed; some one said something in the room, and a lady cried out; and then the Queen stood up and scolded the actors, and trounced them well with her tongue, she did, and said she was displeased; and then out she went with all her ladies and gentlemen after her, except one or two servants who put out the lights at once without waiting, and broke Bonner's staff, and took away the Host, and kicked the dog, and told them to be off, for the Queen's Grace was angered with them; and so they had to get back to Cambridge in the dark as well as they might."
"Oh! the poor boys!" said Mrs. Marrett, "and they did it all to please her Grace, too."
"Yes," said the Alderman, "but the Queen thought it enough, I dare say, to put the Bishops in prison, without allowing boys to make a mock of them and their faith before her."
"Yes," said Anthony, "I thought that was it."
When the Alderman came in a day or two later with the news that Elizabeth was to come up from Nonsuch the next day, and to pass down Cheapside on her way to Greenwich, the excitement of Isabel and Anthony was indescribable.
Cheapside was joyous to see, as the two, with their father behind them talking to a minister whose acquaintance he had made, sat at a first-floor window soon after mid-day, waiting to see the Queen go by. Many of the people had hung carpets or tapestries, some of taffetas and cloth-of-gold, out of their balconies and windows, and the very signs themselves,—fantastic ironwork, with here and there a grotesque beast rampant, or a bright painting, or an escutcheon;—with the gay, good-tempered crowds beneath and the strip of frosty blue sky, crossed by streamers from side to side, shining above the towering eaves and gables of the houses, all combined to make a scene so astonishing that it seemed scarcely real to these country children.
It was yet some time before she was expected; but there came a sudden stir from the upper end of Cheapside, and then a burst of cheering and laughter and hoots. Anthony leaned out to see what was coming, but could make out nothing beyond the head of a horse, and a man driving it from the seat of a cart, coming slowly down the centre of the road. The laughter and noise grew louder as the crowds swayed this way and that to make room. Presently it was seen that behind the cart a little space was kept, and Anthony made out the grey head of a man at the tail of the cart, and the face of another a little way behind; then at last, as the cart jolted past, the two children saw a man stripped to the waist, his hands tied before him to the cart, his back one red wound; while a hangman walked behind whirling his thonged whip about his head and bringing it down now and again on the old man's back. At each lash the prisoner shrank away, and turned his piteous face, drawn with pain, from side to side, while the crowd yelled and laughed.
"What's it for, what's it for?" inquired Anthony, eager and interested.
A boy leaning from the next window answered him.
"He said Jesus Christ was not in heaven."
At that moment a humorist near the cart began to cry out:
"Way for the King's Grace! Way for the King's Grace!" and the crowd took the idea instantly: a few men walking with the cart formed lines like gentlemen ushers, uncovering their heads and all crying out the same words; and one eager player tried to walk backwards until he was tripped up. And so the dismal pageant of this red-robed king of anguish went by; and the hoots and shouts of his heralds died away. Anthony turned to Isabel, exultant and interested.
"Why, Isabel," he said, "you look all white. What is it? You know he's a blasphemer."
"I know, I know," said Isabel.
Then suddenly, far away, came the sound of trumpets, and gusts of distant cheering, like the sound of the wind in thick foliage. Anthony leaned out again, and an excited murmur broke out once more, as all faces turned westwards. A moment more, and Anthony caught a flash of colour from the corner near St. Paul's Churchyard; then the shrill trumpets sounded nearer, and the cheering broke out at the end, and ran down the street like a wave of noise. From every window faces leaned out; even on the roofs and between the high chimney pots were swaying figures.
Masses of colour now began to emerge, with the glitter of steel, round the bend of the street, where the winter sunshine fell; and the crowds began to surge back, and against the houses. At first Anthony could make out little but two moving rippling lines of light, coming parallel, pressing the people back; and it was not until they had come opposite the window that he could make out the steel caps and pikeheads of men in half-armour, who, marching two and two with a space between them, led the procession and kept the crowds back. There they went, with immovable disciplined faces, grounding their pike-butts sharply now and again, caring nothing for the yelp of pain that sometimes followed. Immediately behind them came the aldermen in scarlet, on black horses that tossed their jingling heads as they walked. Anthony watched the solemn faces of the old gentlemen with a good deal of awe, and presently made out his friend, Mr. Marrett, who rode near the end, but who was too much engrossed in the management of his horse to notice the two children who cried out to him and waved. The serjeants-of-arms followed, and then two lines again of gentlemen-pensioners walking, bare-headed, carrying wands, in short cloaks and elaborate ruffs. But the lad saw little of them, for the splendour of the lords and knights that followed eclipsed them altogether. The knights came first, in steel armour with raised vizors, the horses too in armour, moving sedately with a splendid clash of steel, and twinkling fiercely in the sunshine; and then, after them (and Anthony drew his breath swiftly) came a blaze of colour and jewels as the great lords in their cloaks and feathered caps, metal-clasped and gemmed, came on their splendid long-maned horses; the crowd yelled and cheered, and great names were tossed to and fro, as the owners passed on, each talking to his fellow as if unconscious of the tumult and even of the presence of these shouting thousands. The cry of the trumpets rang out again high and shattering, as the trumpeters and heralds in rich coat-armour came next; and Anthony looked a moment, fascinated by the lions and lilies, and the brightness of the eloquent horns, before he turned his head to see the Lord Mayor himself, mounted on a great stately white horse, that needed no management, while his rider bore on a cushion the sceptre. Ah! she was coming near now. The two saw nothing of the next rider who carried aloft the glittering Sword of State, for their eyes were fixed on the six plumed heads of the horses, with grooms and footmen in cassock-coats and venetian hose, and the great gilt open carriage behind that swayed and jolted over the cobbles. She was here; she was here; and the loyal crowds yelled and surged to and fro, and cloths and handkerchiefs flapped and waved, and caps tossed up and down, as at last the great creaking carriage came under the window.
This is what they saw in it.
A figure of extraordinary dignity, sitting upright and stiff like a pagan idol, dressed in a magnificent and fantastic purple robe, with a great double ruff, like a huge collar, behind her head; a long taper waist, voluminous skirts spread all over the cushions, embroidered with curious figures and creatures. Over her shoulders, but opened in front so as to show the ropes of pearls and the blaze of jewels on the stomacher, was a purple velvet mantle lined with ermine, with pearls sewn into it here and there. Set far back on her head, over a pile of reddish-yellow hair drawn tightly back from the forehead, was a hat with curled brims, elaborately embroidered, with the jewelled outline of a little crown in front, and a high feather topping all.
And her face—a long oval, pale and transparent in complexion, with a sharp chin, and a high forehead; high arched eyebrows, auburn, but a little darker than her hair; her mouth was small, rising at the corners, with thin curved lips tightly shut; and her eyes, which were clear in colour, looked incessantly about her with great liveliness and good-humour.
There was something overpowering to these two children who looked, too awed to cheer, in this formidable figure in the barbaric dress, the gorgeous climax of a gorgeous pageant. Apart from the physical splendour, this solitary glittering creature represented so much—it was the incarnate genius of the laughing, brutal, wanton English nation, that sat here in the gilded carriage and smiled and glanced with tight lips and clear eyes. She was like some emblematic giant, moving in a processional car, as fantastic as itself, dominant and serene above the heads of the maddened crowds, on to some mysterious destiny. A sovereign, however personally inglorious, has such a dignity in some measure; and Elizabeth added to this an exceptional majesty of her own. Henry would not have been ashamed for this daughter of his. What wonder then that these crowds were delirious with love and loyalty and an exultant fear, as this overwhelming personality went by:—this pale-faced tranquil virgin Queen, passionate, wanton, outspoken and absolutely fearless; with a sufficient reserve of will to be fickle without weakness; and sufficient grasp of her aims to be indifferent to her policy; untouched by vital religion; financially shrewd; inordinately vain. And when this strange dominant creature, royal by character as by birth, as strong as her father and as wanton as her mother, sat in ermine and velvet and pearls in a royal carriage, with shrewd-faced wits, and bright-eyed lovers, and solemn statesmen, and great nobles, vacuous and gallant, glittering and jingling before her; and troops of tall ladies in ruff and crimson mantle riding on white horses behind; and when the fanfares went shattering down the street, vibrating through the continuous roar of the crowd and the shrill cries of children and the mellow thunder of church-bells rocking overhead, and the endless tramp of a thousand feet below; and when the whole was framed in this fantastic twisted street, blazing with tapestries and arched with gables and banners, all bathed in glory by the clear frosty sunshine—it is little wonder that for a few minutes at least this country boy felt that here at last was the incarnation of his dreams; and that his heart should exult, with an enthusiasm he could not interpret, for the cause of a people who could produce such a queen, and of a queen who could rule such a people; and that his imagination should be fired with a sudden sense that these were causes for which the sacrifice of a life would be counted cheap, if they might thereby be furthered.
Yet, in this very moment, by one of those mysterious suggestions that rise from the depth of a soul, the image sprang into his mind, and poised itself there for an instant, of the grey-haired man who had passed half an hour ago, sobbing and shrinking at the cart's tail.
The spring that followed the visit to London passed uneventfully at Great Keynes to all outward appearances; and yet for Isabel they were significant months. In spite of herself and of the word of warning from her father, her relations with Hubert continued to draw closer. For one thing, he had been the first to awaken in her the consciousness that she was lovable in herself, and the mirror that first tells that to a soul always has something of the glow of the discovery resting upon it.
Then again his deference and his chivalrous air had a strange charm. When Isabel rode out alone with Anthony, she often had to catch the swinging gate as he rode through after opening it, and do such little things for herself; but when Hubert was with them there was nothing of that kind.
And, once more, he appealed to her pity; and this was the most subtle element of all. There was no doubt that Hubert's relations with his fiery old father became strained sometimes, and it was extraordinarily sweet to Isabel to be made a confidant. And yet Hubert never went beyond a certain point; his wooing was very skilful: and he seemed to be conscious of her uneasiness almost before she was conscious of it herself, and to relapse in a moment into frank and brotherly relations again.
He came in one night after supper, flushed and bright-eyed, and found her alone in the hall: and broke out immediately, striding up and down as she sat and watched him.
"I cannot bear it; there is Mr. Bailey who has been with us all Lent; he is always interfering in my affairs. And he has no charity. I know I am a Catholic and that; but when he and my father talk against the Protestants, Mistress Isabel, I cannot bear it. They were abusing the Queen to-night—at least," he added, for he had no intention to exaggerate, "they were saying she was a true daughter of her father; and sneers of that kind. And I am an Englishman, and her subject; and I said so; and Mr. Bailey snapped out, 'And you are also a Catholic, my son,' and then—and then I lost my temper, and said that the Catholic religion seemed no better than any other for the good it did people; and that the Rector and Mr. Norris seemed to me as good men as any one; and of course I meant him and he knew it; and then he told me, before the servants, that I was speaking against the faith; and then I said I would sooner speak against the faith than against good Christians; and then he flamed up scarlet, and I saw I had touched him; and then my father got scarlet too, and my mother looked at me, and my father told me to leave the table for an insolent puppy; and I knocked over my chair and stamped out—and oh! Mistress Isabel, I came straight here."
And he flung down astride of a chair with his arms on the back, and dropped his head on to them.
It would have been difficult for Hubert, even if he had been very clever indeed, to have made any speech which would have touched Isabel more than this. There was the subtle suggestion that he had defended the Protestants for her sake; and there was the open defence of her father, and defiance of the priests whom she feared and distrusted; there was a warm generosity and frankness running through it all; and lastly, there was the sweet flattering implication that he had come to her to be understood and quieted and comforted.
Then, when she tried to show her disapproval of his quick temper, and had succeeded in showing a poorly disguised sympathy instead, he had flung away again, saying that she had brought him to his senses as usual, and that he would ask the priest's pardon for his insolence at once; and Isabel was left standing and looking at the fire, fearing that she was being wooed, and yet not certain, though she loved it. And then, too, there was the secret hope that it might be through her that he might escape from his superstitions, and—and then—and she closed her eyes and bit her lip for joy and terror.
She did not know that a few weeks later Hubert had an interview with his father, of which she was the occasion. Lady Maxwell had gone to her husband after a good deal of thought and anxiety, and told him what she feared; asking him to say a word to Hubert. Sir Nicholas had been startled and furious. It was all the lad's conceit, he said; he had no real heart at all; he only flattered his vanity in making love; he had no love for his parents or his faith, and so on. She took his old hand in her own and held it while she spoke.
"Sweetheart," she said, "how old were you when you used to come riding to Overfield? I forget." And there came peace into his angry, puzzled old eyes, and a gleam of humour.
"Mistress," he said, "you have not forgotten." For he had been just eighteen, too. And he took her face in his hands delicately, and kissed her on the lips.
"Well, well," he said, "it is hard on the boy; but it must not go on. Send him to me. Oh! I will be easy with him."
But the interview was not as simple as he hoped; for Hubert was irritable and shamefaced; and spoke lightly of the Religion again.
"After all," he burst out, "there are plenty of good men who have left the faith. It brings nothing but misery."
Sir Nicholas' hands began to shake, and his fingers to clench themselves; but he remembered the lad was in love.
"My son," he said, "you do not know what you say."
"I know well enough," said Hubert, with his foot tapping sharply. "I say that the Catholic religion is a religion of misery and death everywhere. Look at the Low Countries, sir."
"I cannot speak of that," said his father; and his son sneered visibly; "you and I are but laymen; but this I know, and have a right to say, that to threaten me like that is the act of a—is not worthy of my son. My dear boy," he said, coming nearer, "you are angry; and, God forgive me! so am I; but I promised your mother," and again he broke off, "and we cannot go on with this now. Come again this evening."
Hubert stood turned away, with his head against the high oak mantelpiece; and there was silence.
"Father," he said at last, turning round, "I ask your pardon."
Sir Nicholas stepped nearer, his eyes suddenly bright with tears, and his mouth twitching, and held out his hand, which Hubert took.
"And I was a coward to speak like that—but, but—I will try," went on the boy. "And I promise to say nothing to her yet, at any rate. Will that do? And I will go away for a while."
The father threw his arms round him.
As the summer drew on and began to fill the gardens and meadows with wealth, the little Italian garden to the south-west of the Hall was where my lady spent most of the day. Here she would cause chairs to be brought out for Mistress Margaret and herself, and a small selection of devotional books, an orange leather volume powdered all over with pierced hearts, filled with extracts in a clear brown ink, another book called Le Chappellet de Jesus, while from her girdle beside her pocket-mirror there always hung an olive-coloured "Hours of the Blessed Virgin," fastened by a long strip of leather prolonged from the binding. Here the two old sisters would sit, in the shadow of the yew hedge, taking it by turns to read and embroider, or talking a little now and then in quiet voices, with long silences broken only by the hum of insects in the hot air, or the quick flight of a bird in the tall trees behind the hedge.
Here too Isabel often came, also bringing her embroidery; and sat and talked and watched the wrinkled tranquil faces of the two old ladies, and envied their peace. Hubert had gone, as he had promised his father, on a long visit, and was not expected home until at least the autumn.
"James will be here to-morrow," said Lady Maxwell, suddenly, one hot afternoon. Isabel looked up in surprise; he had not been at home for so long; but the thought of his coming was very pleasant to her.
"And Mary Corbet, too," went on the old lady, "will be here to-morrow or the day after."
Isabel asked who this was.
"She is one of the Queen's ladies, my dear; and a great talker."
"She is very amusing sometimes," said Mistress Margaret's clear little voice.
"And Mr. James will be here to-morrow?" said Isabel.
"Yes, my child. They always suit one another; and we have known Mary for years."
"And is Miss Corbet a Catholic?"
"Yes, my dear; her Grace seems to like them about her."
When Isabel went up again to the Hall in the evening, a couple of days later, she found Mr. James sitting with his mother and aunt in the same part of the garden. Mr. James, who rose as she came through the yew archway, and stood waiting to greet her, was a tall, pleasant, brown-faced man. Isabel noticed as she came up his strong friendly face, that had something of Hubert's look in it, and felt an immediate sense of relief from her timidity at meeting this man, whose name, it was said, was beginning to be known among the poets, and about whom the still more formidable fact was being repeated, that he was a rising man at Court and had attracted the Queen's favour.
As they sat down again together, she noticed, too, his strong delicate hand in its snowy ruff, for he was always perfectly dressed, as it lay on his knee; and again thought of Hubert's browner and squarer hand.
"We were talking, Mistress Isabel, about the play, and the new theatres. I was at the Blackfriars' only last week. Ah! and I met Buxton there," he went on, turning to his mother.
"Dear Henry," said Lady Maxwell. "He told me when I last saw him that he could never go to London again; his religion was too expensive, he said."
Mr. James' white teeth glimmered in a smile.
"He told me he was going to prison next time, instead of paying the fine. It would be cheaper, he thought."
"I hear her Grace loves the play," said Mistress Margaret.
"Indeed she does. I saw her at Whitehall the other day, when the children of the Chapel Royal were acting; she clapped and called out with delight. But Mistress Corbet can tell you more than I can—Ah! here she is."
Isabel looked up, and saw a wonderful figure coming briskly along the terrace and down the steps that led from the house. Miss Corbet was dressed with what she herself would have said was a milkmaid's plainness; but Isabel looked in astonishment at the elaborate ruff and wings of muslin and lace, the shining peacock gown, the high-piled coils of black hair, and the twinkling buckled feet. She had a lively bright face, a little pale, with a high forehead, and black arched brows and dancing eyes, and a little scarlet mouth that twitched humorously now and then after speaking. She rustled up, flicking her handkerchief, and exclaiming against the heat. Isabel was presented to her; she sat down on a settle Mr. James drew forward for her, with the handkerchief still whisking at the flies.
"I am ashamed to come out like this," she began. "Mistress Plesse would break her heart at my lace. You country ladies have far more sense. I am the slave of my habits. What were you talking of, that you look so gravely at me?"
Mr. James told her.
"Oh, her Grace!" said Miss Corbet. "Indeed, I think sometimes she is never off the stage herself. Ah! and what art and passion she shows too!"
"We are all loyal subjects here," said Mr. James; "tell us what you mean."
"I mean what I say," she said. "Never was there one who loved play-acting more and to occupy the centre of the stage, too. And the throne too, if there be one," she added.
Miss Corbet talked always at her audience; she hardly ever looked directly at any one, but up or down, or even shut her eyes and tilted her face forward while she talked; and all the while she kept an incessant movement of her lips or handkerchief, or tapped her foot, or shifted her position a little. Isabel thought she had never seen any one so restless.
Then she went on to tell them of the Queen. She was so startlingly frank that Lady Maxwell again and again looked up as if to interrupt; but she always came off the thin ice in time. It was abominable gossip; but she talked with such a genial air of loyal good humour, that it was very difficult to find fault. Miss Corbet was plainly accustomed to act as Court Circular, or even as lecturer and show-woman on the most popular subject in England.
"But her Grace surpassed herself in acting the tyrant last January; you would have sworn her really angry. This was how it fell out. I was in the anteroom one day, waiting for her Grace, when I thought I heard her call. So I tapped; I got no clear answer, but I heard her voice within, so I entered. And there was her Majesty, sitting a little apart in a chair by herself, with the Secretary—poor rat—white-faced at the table, writing what she bade him, and looking at her, quick and side-ways, like a child at a lifted rod; and there was her Grace: she had kicked her stool over, and one shoe had fallen; and she was striking the arm of her chair as she spoke, and her rings rapped as loud as a drunken watchman. And her face was all white, and her eyes glaring"—and Mary began to glare and raise her voice too—"and she was crying out, 'By God's Son, sir, I will have them hanged. Tell the——' (but I dare not say what she called my Lord Sussex, but few would have recognised him from what she said)—'tell him that I will have my will done. These—' (and she called the rebels a name I dare not tell you)—'these men have risen against me these two months; and yet they are not hanged. Hang them in their own villages, that their children may see what treason brings.' All this while I was standing at the open door, thinking she had called me; but she was as if she saw nought but the gallows and hell-fire beyond; and I spoke softly to her, asking what she wished; and she sprang up and ran at me, and struck me—yes; again and again across the face with her open hand, rings and all—and I ran out in tears. Yes," went on Miss Corbet in a moment, dropping her voice, and pensively looking up at nothing, "yes; you would have said she was really angry, so quick and natural were her movements and so loud her voice."