Clare Avery, by Emily Sarah Holt. This book, one of Emily Holt's many historical novels, is set in the reign of Elizabeth, around the time of the Armada, which has a chapter to itself. The story revolves round a moderately well-off family, who really did exist, many details of the family being given in the last chapter, or Appendix. In order to make the story realistic there are a number of fictitious persons, but there is always a note to that effect when the person first appears. In general these fictitious persons are no more than minor characters.
There is an interesting passage in which Jack, one of the youths of the family, obtains a place at Court, but finds he needs to spend enormous amounts on apparel to keep up with the other young men he meets. By no means does the family have the resources to pay his trade-debts, and it turns out that his gambling debts, known as "debts of honour" are even greater. They had to tell him to go away and sort it out for himself.
But it must be said that a great deal of the book is taken up with religious discussions, mostly centring on the perceived imperfections of the Papist religion, as opposed to the Protestant. If you are not interested in this it does tend to make the going a bit heavy at times. But if you are interested, well then, it makes good reading.
As ever with this author there are many words and phrases used which are now outdated. When they first appear a note of the current meaning is given, for instance "popinjay [parrot]". On the whole this is not confusing except where a word has changed or even reversed its meaning. We do not recommend learning by heart from a sort of vocab list, the words in use in Elizabethan times, unless you are studying that period in depth. CLARE AVERY, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
LITTLE CLARE'S FIRST HOME.
"The mossy marbles rest On the lips he hath pressed In their bloom, And the names he loved to hear Have been carved for many a year On the tomb."
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
"Cold!" said the carrier, blowing on his fingers to keep them warm.
"Cold, bully Penmore!" ejaculated Hal Dockett,—farrier, horse-leech, and cow-doctor in ordinary to the town of Bodmin and its neighbourhood... "Lack-a-daisy! thou that hast been carrier these thirty years, and thy father afore thee, and his father afore him, ever sith 'old Dick Boar' days, shouldst be as hard as a milestone by this time. 'Tis the end of March, fellow!"
Be it known that "old Dick Boar" was Mr Dockett's extremely irreverent style of allusion to His Majesty King Richard the Third.
"'Tis the end of as bitter a March as hath been in Cornwall these hundred years," said the carrier. "Whither away now, lad?"
"Truly, unto Bradmond, whither I am bidden to see unto the black cow."
"Is it sooth, lad, that the master is failing yonder?"
"Folk saith so," replied Hal, his jocund face clouding over. "It shall be an evil day for Bodmin, that!"
"Ay so!" echoed the carrier. "Well! we must all be laid in earth one day. God be wi' thee, lad!"
And with a crack of his whip, the waggon lumbered slowly forward upon the Truro road, while Dockett went on his way towards a house standing a little distance on the left, in a few acres of garden, with a paddock behind.
About the cold there was no question. The ground, which had been white with snow for many days, was now a mixture of black and white, under the influence of a thaw; while a bitterly cold wind, which made everybody shiver, rose now and then to a wild whirl, slammed the doors, and groaned through the wood-work. A fragment of cloud, rather less dim and gloomy than the rest of the heavy grey sky, was as much as could be seen of the sun.
Nor was the political atmosphere much more cheerful than the physical. All over England,—and it might be said, all over Europe,—men's hearts were failing them for fear,—by no means for the first time in that century. In Holland the Spaniards, vanquished not by men, but by winds and waves from God, had abandoned the siege of Leyden; and the sovereignty of the Netherlands had been offered to Elizabeth of England, but after some consideration was refused. In France, the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew, nearly three years before, had been followed by the siege of La Rochelle, the death of the miserable Charles the Ninth, and the alliance in favour of Popery, which styled itself the Holy League. At home, gardeners were busy introducing the wallflower, the hollyhock, basil, and sweet marjoram; the first licence for public plays was granted to Burbage and his company, among whom was a young man from Warwickshire, a butcher's son, with a turn for making verses, whose name was William Shakspere; the Queen had issued a decree forbidding costly apparel (not including her own); and the last trace of feudal serfdom had just disappeared, by the abolition of "villenage" upon the Crown manors. As concerned other countries, except when active hostilities were going on, Englishmen were not generally much interested, unless it were in that far-off New World which Columbus had discovered not a hundred years before,—or in that unknown land, far away also, beyond the white North Cape, whither adventurers every now and then set out with the hope of discovering a north-west passage to China,—the north-west passage which, though sought now with a different object, no one has discovered yet.
It may be as well to recall the state of knowledge in English society at this period. The time had gone by when the burning of coal was prohibited, as prejudicial to health; but the limits of London, beyond which building might not extend, were soon after this fixed at three miles from the city gates; the introduction of private carriages was long opposed, lest it should lead to luxury; [Note 1] and sumptuary laws, regulating, according to rank, the materials for dress and the details of trimmings, were issued every few years. Needles were treasures beyond reach of the poor; yeast, starch, glass bottles, woven stockings, fans, muffs, tulips, marigolds,—had all been invented or introduced within thirty years: the peach and the potato were alike luxuries known to few: forks, sedan or Bath chairs, coffee, tea, gas, telescopes, newspapers, shawls, muslin,—not to include railways and telegraphs,—were ideas that had not yet occurred to any one. Nobody had ever heard of the circulation of the blood. A doctor was a rara avis: medical advice was mainly given in the towns by apothecaries, and in the country by herbalists and "wise women." There were no Dissenters—except the few who remained Romanists; and perhaps there were not likely to be many, when the fine for non-attendance at the parish church was twenty pounds per month. Parochial relief was unknown, and any old woman obnoxious to her neighbours was likely to be drowned as a witch. Lastly, by the Bull of excommunication of Pope Pius the Fifth, issued in April, 1569, Queen Elizabeth had been solemnly "cut off from the unity of Christ's Body," and "deprived of her pretended right to the Crown of England," while all who obeyed or upheld her were placed under a terrible curse. [Note 2.]
Nineteen years had passed since that triumphant 17th of November which had seen all England in a frenzy of joy on the accession of Elizabeth Tudor. They were at most very young men and women who could not remember the terrible days of Mary, and the glad welcome given to her sister. Still warm at the heart of England lay the memory of the Marian martyrs; still deep and strong in her was hatred of every shadow of Popery. The petition had not yet been erased from the Litany—why should it ever have been?—"From the Bishop of Rome and all his enormities, good Lord, deliver us!"
On the particular afternoon whereon the story opens, one of the dreariest points of the landscape was the house towards which Hal Dockett's steps were bent. It was of moderate size, and might have been very comfortable if somebody had taken pains to make it so. But it looked as if the pains had not been taken. Half the windows were covered by shutters; the wainscot was sadly in want of a fresh coat of paint; the woodbine, which should have been trained up beside the porch, hung wearily down, as if it were tired of trying to climb when nobody helped it; the very ivy was ragged and dusty. The doors shut with that hollow sound peculiar to empty uncurtained rooms, and groaned, as they opened, over the scarcity of oil. And if the spectator had passed inside, he would have seen that out of the whole house, only four rooms were inhabited beside the kitchen and its dependencies. In all the rest, the dusty furniture was falling to pieces from long neglect, and the spiders carried on their factories at their own pleasure.
One of these four rooms, a long, narrow chamber, on the upper floor, gave signs of having been inhabited very recently. On the square table lay a quantity of coarse needlework, which somebody seemed to have bundled together and left hastily; and on one of the hard, straight-backed chairs was a sorely-disabled wooden doll, of the earliest Dutch order, with mere rudiments, of arms and legs, and deprived by accidents of a great portion of these. The needlework said plainly that there must be a woman in the dreary house, and the doll, staring at the ceiling with black expressionless eyes, spoke as distinctly for the existence of a child.
Suddenly the door of this room opened with a plaintive creak, and a little woman, on the elderly side of middle life, put in her head.
A bright, energetic, active little woman she seemed,—not the sort of person who might be expected to put up meekly with dim windows and dusty floors.
"Marry La'kin!" [a corruption of "Mary, little Lady!"] she said aloud. "Of a truth, what a charge be these childre!"
The cause of this remark was hardly apparent, since no child was to be seen; but the little woman came further into the room, her gestures soon showing that she was looking for a child who ought to have been visible.
"Well! I've searched every chamber in this house save the Master's closet. Where can yon little popinjay [parrot] have hid her? Marry La'kin!"
This expletive was certainly not appreciated by her who used it. Nothing could much more have astonished or shocked Barbara Polwhele [a fictitious person]—than whom no more uncompromising Protestant breathed between John o' Groat's and the Land's End—than to discover that since she came into the room, she had twice invoked the assistance of Saint Mary the Virgin.
Barbara's search soon brought her to the conclusion that the child she sought was not in that quarter. She shut the door, and came out into a narrow gallery, from one side of which a wooden staircase ran down into the hall. It was a wide hall of vaulted stone, hung with faded tapestry, old and wanting repair, like everything else in its vicinity. Across the hall Barbara trotted with short, quick steps, and opening a door at the further end, went into the one pleasant room in all the house. This was a very small turret-chamber, hexagonal in shape, three of its six sides being filled with a large bay-window, in the middle compartment of which were several coats of arms in stained glass. A table, which groaned under a mass of books and papers, nearly filled the room; and writing at it sat a venerable-looking, white-haired man, who, seeing Barbara, laid down his pen, wiped his spectacles, and placidly inquired what she wanted. He will be an old friend to some readers: for he was John Avery of Bradmond.
"Master, an't like you, have you seen Mrs Clare of late?"
"How late, Barbara?"
"Marry, not the fourth part of an hour gone, I left the child in the nursery a-playing with her puppet, when I went down to let in Hal Dockett, and carry him to see what ailed the black cow; and now I be back, no sign of the child is any whither. I have been in every chamber, and looked in the nursery thrice."
"Where should she be?" quietly demanded Mr Avery.
"Marry, where but in the nursery, without you had fetched her away."
"And where should she not be?"
"Why, any other whither but here and there,—more specially in the garden."
"Nay, then, reach me my staff, Barbara, and we will go look in the garden. If that be whither our little maid should specially not be, 'tis there we be bound to find her."
"Marry, but that is sooth!" said Barbara heartily, bringing the walking-stick. "Never in all my life saw I child that gat into more mischievousness, nor gave more trouble to them that had her in charge."
"Thy memory is something short, Barbara," returned her master with a dry smile, "'Tis but little over a score of years sithence thou wert used to say the very same of her father."
"Eh, Master!—nay, not Master Walter!" said Barbara, deprecatingly.
"Well, trouble and sorrow be ever biggest in the present tense," answered he. "And I wot well thou hast a great charge on thine hands."
"I reckon you should think so, an' you had the doing of it," said Barbara complacently. "Up ere the lark, and abed after the nightingale! What with scouring, and washing, and dressing meat, and making the beds, and baking, and brewing, and sewing, and mending, and Mrs Clare and you atop of it all—"
"Nay, prithee, let me drop off the top, so thou lame me not, for the rest is enough for one woman's shoulders."
"In good sooth, Master, but you lack as much looking after, in your way, as Mrs Clare doth; for verily your head is so lapped in your books and your learning, that I do think, an' I tended you not, you should break your fast toward eventide, and bethink you but to-morrow at noon that you had not supped overnight."
"Very like, Barbara,—very like!" answered the old man with a meek smile. "Thou hast been a right true maid unto me and mine,—as saith Solomon of the wise woman, thou hast done us good and not evil, all the days of thy life. The Lord apay thee for it!—Now go thou forward, and search for our little maid, and I will abide hither until thou bring her. If I mistake not much, thou shalt find her within a stone's throw of the fishpond."
"The fishpond?—eh, Master!"
And Barbara quickened her steps to a run, while John Avery sat down slowly upon a stone seat on the terrace, leaning both hands on his staff, as if he could go no farther. Was he very tired? No. He was only very, very near Home.
Close to the fishpond, peering intently into it between the gaps of the stone balustrade, Barbara at length found what she sought, in the shape of a little girl of six years old. The child was spoiling her frock to the best of her ability, by lying on the snow-sprinkled grass; but she was so intent upon something which she saw, or wanted to see, that her captor's approach was unheard, and Barbara pounced on her in triumph without any attempt at flight.
"Now, Mrs Clare, [a fictitious character] come you hither with me!" said Barbara, seizing the culprit. "Is this to be a good child, think you, when you were bidden abide in the nursery?"
"O Bab!" said the child, half sobbingly. "I wanted to see the fishes."
"You have seen enough of the fishes for one morrow," returned Barbara relentlessly; "and if the fishes could see you, they should cry shame upon you for ruinating of your raiment by the damp grass."
"But the fishes be damp, Bab!" remonstrated Clare. Barbara professed not to hear the last remark, and lifting the small student of natural history, bore her, pouting and reluctant, to her grandfather on the terrace.
"So here comes my little maid," said he, pleasantly. "Why didst not abide in the nursery, as thou wert bid, little Clare?"
"I wanted to see the fishes," returned Clare, still pouting.
"We cannot alway have what we want," answered he.
"You can!" objected Clare.
"Nay, my child, I cannot," gravely replied her grandfather. "An' I could, I would have alway a good, obedient little grand-daughter."
Clare played with Mr Avery's stick, and was silent.
"Leave her with me, good Barbara, and go look after thy mighty charges," said her master, smiling. "I will bring her within ere long."
Barbara trotted off, and Clare, relieved from the fear of her duenna, went back to her previous subject.
"Gaffer, what do the fishes?"
"What do they? Why, swim about in the water, and shake their tails, and catch flies for their dinner."
"What think they on, Gaffer?"
"Nay, thou art beyond me there. I never was a fish. How can I tell thee?"
"Would they bite me?" demanded Clare solemnly.
"Nay, I reckon not."
"What, not a wild fish?" said Clare, opening her dark blue eyes.
Mr Avery laughed, and shook his head.
"But I would fain know—And, O Gaffer!" exclaimed the child, suddenly interrupting herself, "do tell me, why did Tom kill the pig?"
"Kill the pig? Why, for that my Clare should have somewhat to eat at her dinner and her supper."
"Killed him to eat him?" wonderingly asked Clare, who had never associated live pigs with roast pork.
"For sure," replied her grandfather.
"Then he had not done somewhat naughty?"
"Nay, not he."
"I would, Gaffer," said Clare, very gravely, "that Tom had not smothered the pig ere he began to lay eggs. [The genuine speech of a child of Clare's age.] I would so have liked a little pig!"
The suggestion of pig's eggs was too much for Mr Avery's gravity. "And what hadst done with a little pig, my maid."
"I would have washed it, and donned it, and put it abed," said Clare.
"Methinks he should soon have marred his raiment. And maybe he should have loved cold water not more dearly than a certain little maid that I could put a name to."
Clare adroitly turned from this perilous topic, with an unreasoning dread of being washed there and then; though in truth it was not cleanliness to which she objected, but wet chills and rough friction.
"Gaffer, may I go with Bab to four-hours unto Mistress Pendexter?"
"An' thou wilt, my little floweret."
Mr Avery rose slowly, and taking Clare by the hand, went back to the house. He returned to his turret-study, but Clare scampered upstairs, possessed herself of her doll, and ran in and out of the inhabited rooms until she discovered Barbara in the kitchen, beating up eggs for a pudding.
"Bab, I may go with thee!"
"Go with me?" repeated Barbara, looking up with some surprise. "Marry, Mrs Clare, I hope you may."
"To Mistress Pendexter!" shouted Clare ecstatically.
"Oh ay!" assented Barbara. "Saith the master so?"
Clare nodded. "And, Bab, shall I take Doll?"
This contraction for Dorothy must have been the favourite name with the little ladies of the time for the plaything on which it is now inalienably fixed.
"I will sew up yon hole in her gown, then, first," said Barbara, taking the doll by its head in what Clare thought a very disrespectful manner. "Mrs Clare, this little gown is cruel ragged; if I could but see time, I had need make you another."
"Oh, do, Bab!" cried Clare in high delight.
"Well, some day," replied Barbara discreetly.
A few hours later, Barbara and Clare were standing at the door of a small, neat cottage in a country lane, where dwelt Barbara's sister, Marian Pendexter, [a fictitious person] widow of the village schoolmaster. The door was opened by Marian herself, a woman some five years the senior of her sister, to whom she bore a good deal of likeness, but Marian was the quieter mannered and the more silent of the two.
"Marry, little Mistress Clare!" was her smiling welcome. "Come in, prithee, little Mistress, and thou shalt have a buttered cake to thy four-hours. Give thee good even, Bab."
A snowy white cloth covered the little round table in the cottage, and on it were laid a loaf of bread a piece of butter, and a jug of milk. In honour of her guests, Marian went to her cupboard, and brought out a mould of damson cheese, a bowl of syllabub, and a round tea-cake, which she set before the fire to toast.
"And how fareth good Master Avery?" asked Marian, as she closed the cupboard door, and came back.
Barbara shook her head ominously.
"But ill, forsooth?" pursued her sister.
"Marry, an' you ask at him, he is alway well; but—I carry mine eyes, Marian."
Barbara's theory of educating children was to keep them entirely ignorant of the affairs of their elders. To secure this end, she adopted a vague, misty style of language, of which she fondly imagined that Clare did not understand a word. The result was unfortunate, as it usually is. Clare understood detached bits of her nurse's conversation, over which she brooded silently in her own little mind, until she evolved a whole story—a long way off the truth. It would have done much less harm to tell her the whole truth at once; for the fact of a mystery being made provoked her curiosity, and her imaginations were far more extreme than the facts.
"Ah, he feeleth the lack of my mistress his wife, I reckon," said Marian pityingly. "She must be soothly a sad miss every whither."
"Thou mayest well say so," assented Barbara. "Dear heart! 'tis nigh upon five good years now, and I have not grown used to the lack of her even yet. Thou seest, moreover, he hath had sorrow upon sorrow. 'Twas but the year afore that Master Walter [a fictitious person] and Mistress Frances did depart [die]; and then, two years gone, Mistress Kate, [a fictitious person]. Ah, well-a-day! we be all mortal."
"Thank we God therefore, good Bab," said Marian quietly. "For we shall see them again the sooner. But if so be, Bab, that aught befel the Master, what should come of yonder rosebud?"
And Marian cast a significant look at Clare, who sat apparently engrossed with a mug full of syllabub.
"Humph! an' I had the reins, I had driven my nag down another road," returned Barbara. "Who but Master Robin [a fictitious person] and Mistress Thekla [a fictitious person] were meetest, trow? But lo! you! what doth Mistress Walter but indite a letter unto the Master, to note that whereas she hath never set eyes on the jewel—and whose fault was that, prithee?—so, an' it liked Him above to do the thing thou wottest, she must needs have the floweret sent thither. And a cruel deal of fair words, how she loved and pined to see her, and more foolery belike. Marry La'kin! ere I had given her her will, I had seen her alongside of King Pharaoh at bottom o' the Red Sea. But the Master, what did he, but write back and say that it should be even as she would. Happy woman be her dole, say I!"
And Barbara set down the milk-jug with a rough determinate air that must have hurt its feelings, had it possessed any.
"Mistress Walter! that is, the Lady—" [Note 3.]
"Ay—she," said Barbara hastily, before the name could follow.
"Well, Bab, after all, methinks 'tis but like she should ask it. And if Master Robin be parson of that very same parish wherein she dwelleth, of a surety ye could never send the little one to him, away from her own mother?"
"Poor little soul! she is well mothered!" said Barbara ironically. "Never to set eyes on the child for six long years; and then, when Mistress Avery, dear heart! writ unto her how sweet and debonnaire [pretty, pleasing] the lily-bud grew, to mewl forth that it was so great a way, and her health so pitiful, that she must needs endure to bereave her of the happiness to come and see the same. Marry La'kin! call yon a mother!"
"But it is a great way, Bab."
"Wherefore went she so far off, then?" returned Barbara quickly enough. "And lo! you! she can journey thence all the way to York or Chester when she would get her the new fashions,—over land, too!—yet cannot she take boat to Bideford, which were less travail by half. An' yonder jewel had been mine, Marian, I would not have left it lie in the case for six years, trow!"
"Maybe not, Bab," answered Marian in her quiet way. "Yet 'tis ill judging of our neighbour. And if the lady's health be in very deed so pitiful—"
"Neighbour! she is no neighbour of mine, dwelling up by Marton Moss!" interrupted Barbara, as satirically as before. "And in regard to her pitiful health—why, Marian, I have dwelt in the same house with her for a year and a half, and I never knew yet her evil health let [hinder] her from a junketing. Good lack! it stood alway in the road when somewhat was in hand the which misliked her. Go to church in the rain,—nay, by 'r Lady!—and 'twas too cold in the winter to help string the apples, and too hot in the summer to help conserve the fruits: to be sure! But let there be an even's revelling at Sir Christopher Marres his house, and she bidden,—why, it might rain enough to drench you, but her cloak was thick then, and her boots were strong enough, and her cough was not to any hurt—bless her!"
The tone of Barbara's exclamation somewhat belied the words.
"Have a care, Bab, lest—" and Marian's glance at Clare explained her meaning.
"Not she!" returned Barbara, looking in her turn at the child, whose attention was apparently concentrated on one of Marian's kittens, which she was stroking on her lap, while the mother cat walked uneasily round and round her chair. "I have alway a care to speak above yon head."
"Is there not a little sister?" asked Marian in a low tone.
"Ay," said Barbara, dropping her voice. "Blanche, the babe's name is [a fictitious character.] Like Mrs Walter—never content with plain Nell and Nan. Her childre must have names like so many queens. And I dare say the maid shall be bred up like one."
The conversation gradually passed to other topics, and the subject was not again touched upon by either sister.
How much of it had Clare heard, and how much of that did she understand?
A good deal more of either than Barbara imagined. She knew that Walter had been her father's name, and she was well aware that "Mistress Walter" from Barbara's lips, indicated her mother. She knew that her mother had married again, and that she lived a long way off. She knew also that this mother of hers was no favourite with Barbara. And from this conversation she gathered, that in the event of something happening—but what that was she did not realise—she was to go and live with her mother. Clare was an imaginative child, and the topic of all her dreams was this mysterious mother whom she had never seen. Many a time, when Barbara only saw that she was quietly dressing or hushing her doll, Clare's mind was at work, puzzling over the incomprehensible reason of Barbara's evident dislike to her absent mother. What shocking thing could she have done, thought Clare, to make Bab angry with her? Had she poisoned her sister, or drowned the cat, or stolen the big crown off the Queen's head? For the romance of a little child is always incongruous and sensational.
In truth, there was nothing sensational, and little that was not commonplace, about the character and history of little Clare's mother, whose maiden name was Orige Williams. She had been the spoilt child of a wealthy old Cornish gentleman,—the pretty pet on whom he lavished all his love and bounty, never crossing her will from the cradle. And she repaid him, as children thus trained often do, by crossing his will in the only matter concerning which he much cared. He had set his heart on her marrying a rich knight whose estate lay contiguous to his own: while she, entirely self-centred, chose to make a runaway match with young Lieutenant Avery, whose whole year's income was about equal to one week of her father's rent-roll. Bitterly disappointed, Mr Williams declared that "As she had made her bed, so she should lie on it;" for not one penny would he ever bestow on her while he lived, and he would bequeath the bulk of his property to his nephew. In consequence of this threat, which reached, her ears, Orige, romantic and high-flown, fancied herself at once a heroine and a martyr, when there was not in her the capacity for either. In the sort of language in which she delighted, she spoke of herself as a friendless orphan, a sacrifice to love, truth, and honour. It never seemed to occur to her that in deceiving her father— for she had led him to believe until the last moment that she intended to conform to his wishes—she had acted both untruthfully and dishonourably; while as to love, she was callous to every shape of it except love of self.
For about eighteen months Walter and Orige Avery lived at Bradmond, during which time Clare was born. She was only a few weeks old when the summons came for her father to rejoin his ship. He had been gone two months, when news reached Bradmond of a naval skirmish with the Spaniards off the Scilly Isles, in which great havoc had been made among the Queen's forces, and in the list of the dead was Lieutenant Walter Avery.
Now Orige's romance took a new turn. She pictured herself as a widowed nightingale, love-lorn and desolate, leaning her bleeding breast upon a thorn, and moaning forth her melancholy lay. As others have done since, she fancied herself poetical when she was only silly. And Barbara took grim notice that her handkerchief was perpetually going up to tearless eyes, and that she was not a whit less particular than usual to know what there was for supper.
For six whole months this state of things lasted. Orige arrayed herself in the deepest sables; she spoke of herself as a wretched widow who could never taste hope again; and of her baby as a poor hapless orphan, as yet unwitting of its misery. She declined to see any visitors, and persisted in being miserable and disconsolate, and in taking lonely walks to brood over her wretchedness. And at the end of that time she electrified her husband's family—all but one—by the announcement that she was about to marry again. Not for love this time, of course; no, indeed!—but she thought it was her duty. Sir Thomas Enville—a widower with three children—had been very kind; and he would make such a good father for Clare. He had a beautiful estate in the North. It would be a thousand pities to let the opportunity slip. Once for all, she thought it her duty; and she begged that no one would worry her with opposition, as everything was already settled.
Kate Avery, Walter's elder and only surviving sister, was exceedingly indignant. Her gentle, unsuspicious mother was astonished and puzzled. But Mr Avery, after a momentary look of surprise, only smiled.
"Nay, but this passeth!" [surpasses belief] cried Kate.
"Even as I looked for it," quietly said her father. "I did but think it should maybe have been somewhat later of coming."
"Her duty!" broke out indignant Kate. "Her duty to whom?"
"To herself, I take it," said he. "To Clare, as she counteth. Methinks she is one of those deceivers that do begin with deceiving of themselves."
"To Clare!" repeated Kate. "But, Father, she riddeth her of Clare. The babe is to 'bide here until such time as it may please my good Lady to send for her."
"So much the better for Clare," quietly returned Mr Avery.
And thus it happened that Clare was six years old, and her mother was still an utter stranger to her.
The family at Bradmond, however, were not without tidings of Lady Enville. It so happened that Mr Avery's adopted son, Robert Tremayne, was Rector of the very parish in which Sir Thomas Enville lived; and a close correspondence—for Elizabethan days—was kept up between Bradmond and the Rectory. In this manner they came to know, as time went on, that Clare had a little sister, whose name was Blanche; that Lady Enville was apparently quite happy; that Sir Thomas was very kind to her, after his fashion, though that was not the devoted fashion of Walter Avery. Sir Thomas liked to adorn his pretty plaything with fine dresses and rich jewellery; he surrounded her with every comfort; he allowed her to go to every party within ten miles, and to spend as much money as she pleased. And this was precisely Orige's beau ideal of happiness. Her small cup seemed full—but evidently Clare was no necessary ingredient in the compound.
If any one had taken the trouble to weigh, sort, and label the prejudices of Barbara Polwhele, it would have been found that the heaviest of all had for its object "Papistry,"—the second, dirt,—and the third, "Mistress Walter." Lieutenant Avery had been Barbara's darling from his cradle, and she considered that his widow had outraged his memory, by marrying again so short a time after his death. For this, above all her other provocations, Barbara never heartily forgave her. And a great struggle it was to her to keep her own feelings as much as possible in the background, from the conscientious motive that she ought not to instil into Clare's baby mind the faintest feeling of aversion towards her mother. The idea of the child being permanently sent to Enville Court was intensely distasteful to her. Yet wherever Clare went, Barbara must go also.
She had promised Mrs Avery, Clare's grandmother, on her dying bed, never to leave the child by her own free will so long as her childhood lasted, and rather than break her word, she would have gone to Siberia— or to Enville Court. In Barbara's eyes, there would have been very little choice between the two places. Enville Court lay on the sea-coast, and Barbara abhorred the sea, on which her only brother and Walter Avery had died: it was in Lancashire, which she looked upon as a den of witches, and an arid desert bare of all the comforts of life; it was a long way from any large town, and Barbara had been used to live within an easy walk of one; she felt, in short, as though she were being sent into banishment.
And there was no help for it. Within the last few weeks, a letter had come from Lady Enville,—not very considerately worded—requesting that if what she had heard was true, that Mr Avery's health was feeble, and he was not likely to live long—in the event of his death, Clare should be sent to her.
In fact, there was nowhere else to send her. Walter's two sisters, Kate and Frances, were both dead,—Kate unmarried, Frances van Barnevelt leaving a daughter, but far away in Holland. The only other person who could reasonably have claimed the child was Mr Tremayne; and with what show of justice could he do so, when his house lay only a stone's throw from the park gates of Enville Court? Fate seemed to determine that Clare should go to her mother. But while John Avery lived, there was to be a respite.
It was a respite shorter than any one anticipated—except, perhaps, the old man himself. There came an evening three weeks after these events, when Barbara noticed that her master, contrary to his usual custom, instead of returning to his turret-chamber after supper, sat still by the hall fire, shading his eyes from the lamp, and almost entirely silent. When Clare's bed-time came, and she lifted her little face for a good-night kiss, John Avery, after giving it, laid his hands upon her head and blessed her.
"The God that fed me all my life long, the Angel that redeemed me from all evil, bless the maid! The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep thy heart and mind, through Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty,—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost—be upon thee, and remain with thee always!"
So he "let her depart with this blessing." Let her depart—to walk the thorny path of which he had reached the end, to climb the painful steeps of which he stood at the summit, to labour along the weary road which he would tread no more. Let her depart! The God who had fed him had manna in store for her,—the Angel who had redeemed him was strong, enough, and tender enough, to carry this lamb in His bosom.
Barbara noted that his step was slower even than had been usual with him of late. It struck her, too, that his hair was whiter than she had ever noticed it before.
"Be you aweary this even, Master?"
"Something, good maid," he answered with a smile. "Even as a traveller may well be that hath but another furlong of his journey."
Another furlong! Was it more than another step? Barbara went upstairs with him, to relieve him of the light burden of the candle.
"Good night, Master! Metrusteth your sleep shall give you good refreshing."
"Good night, my maid," said he. "I wish thee the like. There shall be good rest up yonder."
Her eyes filled with tears as she turned away. Was it selfish that her wish was half a prayer,—that he might be kept a little longer from that rest?
She waited longer than usual before she tapped at his door the next morning. It was seven o'clock—a very late hour for rising in the sixteenth century—when, receiving no answer, Barbara went softly into the room and unfastened the shutters as quietly as she could. No need for the care and the silence! There was good rest up yonder.
The shutters were drawn back, and the April sunlight streamed brightly in upon a still, dead face.
Deep indeed was the mourning: but it was for themselves, not for him. He was safe in the Golden Land, with his children and his Isoult—all gone before him to that good rest. What cause could there be for grief that the battle was won, and that the tired soldier had laid aside his armour?
But there was need enough for grief as concerned the two survivors,—for Barbara and little Clare, left alone in the cold, wide world, with nothing before them but a mournful and wearisome journey, and Enville Court the dreaded end of it.
Note 1. So lately as 1601, an Act of Parliament forbade men to ride in coaches, as an effeminate practice.
Note 2. This was "His Holiness' sentence," of which the Armada was "in execution." See note, p.
Note 3. The names, and date of marriage, of Walter Avery and Orige Williams, are taken from the Bodmin Register. In every other respect they are fictitious characters.
ON THE BORDER OF MARTON MERE.
"Thou too must tread, as we trod, a way Thorny, and bitter, and cold, and grey."
It was drawing towards the dusk of a bright day early in May. The landscape was not attractive, at least to a tired traveller. It was a dreary waste of sandhills, diversified by patches of rough grass, and a few stunted bushes, all leaning away from the sea, as though they wanted to get as far from it as their small opportunities allowed; on one side foamed the said grey-green expanse of sea; on the other lay a little lakelet, shining in the setting sun: in front, at some distance, a rivulet ran from the lake to the sea. On the nearer side of the brook lay a little village; while on the further bank was a large, well-kept park, in which stood a grey quadrangular mansion. Beyond the park, nearly as far as the eye could reach, stretched a wide, dreary swamp, bounded only by the sea on the one hand and the lake on the other. The only pretty or pleasant features in the landscape were the village and park; and little could be seen of those for intervening sandhills.
The lake was Marton Mere; the swamp was Marton Moss; and the district was the Fylde of Lancashire. The County Palatine was renowned, at that time, in the eyes of the Londoners, for its air, which was "subtile and piercing," without any "gross vapours nor foggie mists;" for the abundance and excellence of its cattle, which were sent even then to the metropolis; for the plentiful variety of its provisions; for its magnificent woods, "preserved by gentlemen for beauty," to such an extent that no wood was used for fuel, and its place was supplied by "sea-coal" and turf; for its numerous churches, "in no part of the land more in proportion to the inhabitants." But the good qualities of the County Palatine were not likely to be appreciated by our weary travellers.
The travellers were three in number:—a short, thick-set man, in a coat of frieze as rough as his surroundings; a woman, and a child; lastly came a pack-horse, bearing a quantity of luggage.
"Eh me!" ejaculated Barbara Polwhele, with a weary sigh. "Master, doth any man live hereaway?"
"Eh?" queried the man, not looking back.
Barbara repeated her question.
"Ay," said he in a rough voice.
"By 'r Lady!" exclaimed Barbara, pityingly. "What manner of folk be they, I marvel?"
"Me an' th' rest," said the man.
"Eh? what, you never—Be we anear Enville Court now?"
"O'er yon," replied the man, pointing straight forward with his whip, and then giving it a sharp crack, as a reminder to the galloways.
"What, in the midst of yonder marsh?" cried poor Barbara.
Dick gave a hoarse chuckle, but made no other reply. Barbara's sensations were coming very near despair.
"What call men your name, Master?" she demanded, after some minutes' gloomy meditation.
"Name?" echoed the stolid individual before her.
"Ay," said she.
"Dick o' Will's o' Mally's o' Robin's o' Joan's o' owd Dick's," responded he, in a breath.
"Marry La'kin!" exclaimed Barbara, relieving her feelings by recourse to her favourite epithet. She took the whole pedigree to be a polysyllabic name. "Dear heart, to think of a country where the folk have names as long as a cart-rope!"
"Bab, I am aweary!" said little Clare, rousing up from a nap which she had taken leaning against Barbara.
"And well thou mayest, poor chick!" returned Barbara compassionately; adding in an undertone,—"Could she ne'er have come so far as Kirkham!"
They toiled wearily on after this, until presently Dick o' Will's—I drop the rest of the genealogy—drew bridle, and looking back, pointed with his whip to the village which now lay close before them.
"See thee!" said he. "Yon's th' fold."
"Yon's what?" demanded Barbara.
The word was unintelligible to her, as Dick pronounced it "fowd;" but had she understood it, she would have been little wiser. Fold meant to her a place to pen sheep in, while it signified to Dick an enclosure surrounded by houses.
"What is 't?" responded Dick. "Why, it's th' fowd."
"But what is 'fowd'?" asked bewildered Barbara.
"Open thy een, wilt thou?" answered Dick cynically.
Barbara resigned the attempt to comprehend him, and, unwittingly obeying, looked at the landscape.
Just the village itself was pretty enough. It was surrounded with trees, through which white houses peeped out, clustered together on the bank of the little brook. The spire of the village church towered up through the foliage, close to the narrow footbridge; and beside it stood the parsonage,—a long, low, stone house, embowered in ivy.
"Is yonder Enville Court?" asked Barbara, referring to the house in the park.
"Ay," said Dick.
"And where dwelleth Master Tremayne?"
"Master Tremayne—the parson—where dwelleth he?"
"Th' parson? Why, i' th' parsonage, for sure," said Dick, conclusively. "Where else would thou have him?"
"Ay, in sooth, but which is the parsonage?"
"Close by th' church—where would thou have it?"
"What, yonder green house, all o'er ivy?"
They slowly filed into the village, rode past the church and parsonage,—at which latter Barbara looked lovingly, as to a haven of comfort—forded the brook, and turned in at the gates of Enville Court. When they came up to the house, and saw it free of hindering foliage, she found that it was a stately quadrangle of grey stone, with a stone terrace round three sides of it, a garden laid out in grim, Dutch square order, away from the sea; and two or three cottages, with farm-buildings and stables, grouped behind. The horses drew up at a side door.
"Now!" lethargically said Dick, lumbering off his horse. "Con ye get off by yoursen?"
"I'll try," grunted the rather indignant Barbara, who considered that her precious charge, Clare, was being very neglectfully received. She sprang down more readily than Dick, and standing on the horse-block, lifted down little Clare.
"Hallo!" said Dick, by way of ringing the bell.
A slight stir was heard through the open door, and a young woman appeared, fresh-looking and smiling-faced.
"Mistress Polwhele, I reckon?" she asked. "An' is this t' little lass? Eh, God bless thee, little lass! Come in—thou'rt bound to be aweary."
Clare looked up into the girl's pleasant face, and sliding her hand confidingly into hers, said demurely,—"I'll come."
"Dick 'll see to th' gear, Mistress," said the girl.
"Thou'd better call Sim, Dick.—I reckon you'd best come wi' me."
"What is your name?" asked Barbara, following her guide.
"Jennet," said the smiling girl.
"Well, Jennet, you are the best thing I have yet seen up hither," announced Barbara cynically.
"Eh, you've none seen nought yet!" said Jennet, laughing. "There's better things here nor me, I'se warrant you."
"Humph!" returned Barbara meditatively. She doubted it very much.
Jennet paused at a door, and rapped. There was no answer; perhaps her appeal was not heard by those within. She pushed the door a little open, saying to Barbara, "There! you'd best go in, happen."
So Barbara, putting little Clare before her, went in.
It was a large, square, low room, sweet with the perfume of dried roses. There were four occupants,—two ladies, and two girls. One of the ladies sat with her back to the door, trying to catch the last ray of daylight for her work; the other had dropped asleep. Evidently neither had heard Jennet's knock.
It was rather an awkward state of things. Little Clare went a few feet into the room, stopped, and looked up at Barbara for direction. At the same moment the elder girl turned her head and saw them.
"Madam!" said Barbara stiffly.
"Aunt Rachel!" [Note 1] said the girl.
The lady who sat by the window looked round, and rose. She was young— certainly under thirty; but rather stiff and prim, very upright, and not free from angularity. She gave the impression that she must have been born just as she was, in her black satin skirt, dark blue serge kirtle, unbending buckram cap, whitest and most unruffled of starched frills,— and have been kept ever since under a glass case.
"You are Barbara Polwhele?" she said.
Barbara dropped a courtesy, and replied affirmatively.
"Sister!" said Mistress Rachel, appealing to the sleeper.
No greater difference between two young women could well be imagined, than that which existed in this instance. Lady Enville—for she was the taker of the siesta—was as free from any appearance of angularity or primness as possible. Everything about her was soft, delicate, and graceful. She was fair in complexion, and very pretty. She had been engaged in fancy-work, and it lay upon her lap, held lightly by one hand, just as it had dropped when she fell asleep.
"Sister!" said Rachel again.
Lady Enville stirred, sighed, and half opened her eyes.
"Here is thy little maid, Sister."
Lady Enville opened her blue eyes fully, dropped her work on the floor, and springing up, caught Clare to her bosom with the most exalted expressions of delight.
"Fragrance of my heart! My rose of spring! My gem of beauty! Art thou come to me at last, my soul's darling?"
Barbara looked on with a grim smile. Clare sat in perfect silence on her mother's knee, suffering her caresses, but making no response.
"She is not like thee, Sister," observed Rachel.
"No, she is like her father," replied Lady Enville, stroking the child's hair, and kissing her again. "Medoubteth if she will ever be as lovesome as I. I was much better favoured at her years.—Art thou aweary, sweeting?"
At last Clare spoke; but only in an affirmative monosyllable. Clare's thoughts were mixed ones. It was rather nice to sit on that soft velvet lap, and be petted: but "Bab didn't like her." And why did not Bab like her?
"Thou hast not called me Mother, my floweret."
Clare was too shy for that. The suggestion distressed her. To move the house seemed as near possibility as to frame her lips to say that short word. Fortunately for her, Lady Enville's mind never dwelt on a subject for many seconds at once. She turned to Barbara.
"And how goes it with thee, Barbara?"
"Well, and I thank you, Mistress—my Lady, I would say."
"Ah!" said Lady Enville, laughing softly. "I shall alway be Mistress Walter with thee, I am well assured. So my father Avery is dead, I count, or ye had not come?"
The question was put in a tone as light and airy as possible. Clare listened in surprised vexation. What did "she" mean by talking of "Gaffer," in that strange way?—was she not sorry that he was gone away? Bab was—thought Clare.
Barbara's answer was in a very constrained tone.
"Ah, well, 'tis to no good fretting," returned Lady Enville, gently smoothing Clare's hair. "I cannot abide doole [mourning] and gloomy faces. I would have all about me fresh and bright while I am so."
This was rather above Clare's comprehension; but looking up at Barbara, the child saw tears in her eyes. Her little heart revolted in a moment from the caressing lady in velvet. What did she mean by making Bab cry?
It was rather a misfortune that at this moment it pleased Lady Enville to kiss Clare's forehead, and to say—
"Art thou ready to love us all, darling? Thou must know thy sisters, and ye can play you together, when their tasks be adone.—Margaret!"
The elder girl laid down her work, and came to Lady Enville's side.
"And thou too, Lucrece.—These be they, sweeting. Kiss them. Thou shalt see Blanche ere it be long."
But then Clare's stored-up anger broke out. The limit of her endurance had been reached, and shyness was extinguished by vexation.
"Get away!" she said, as Margaret bent down to kiss her. "You are not my sisters! I won't kiss you! I won't call you sisters. Blanche is my sister, but not you. Get away, both of you!"
Lady Enville's eyes opened—for her—extremely wide.
"Why, what can the child mean?" she exclaimed. "I can never govern childre. Rachel, do—"
Barbara was astonished and terrified. She laid a correcting hand upon Clare's shoulder.
"Mrs Clare, I'm ashamed of you! Cruel 'shamed, I am! The ladies will account that I ne'er learned you behaviour. Kiss the young damsels presently [immediately], like a sweet little maid, as you use to be, and not like a wild blackamoor that ne'er saw governance!"
But the matter was taken out of Barbara's hands, as Mistress Rachel responded to the appeal made to her—not in words, but in solid deed. She quietly grasped Clare, lifted her from her mother's knee, and, carrying her to a large closet at one end of the room, shut her inside, and sat down again with judicial imperturbability.
"There you 'bide, child," announced Rachel, from her chair, "until such time as you shall be sorry for your fault, and desire pardon.—Meg and Lucrece, come and fold your sewing. 'Tis too dark to make an end thereof this even."
"Good Mistress," entreated poor Barbara in deep dismay, "I beseech you, leave my little maid come out thence. She was never thus dealt withal in all her life afore!"
"No was she, [was she not], good wife?" returned Rachel unconcernedly. "Then the sooner she makes beginning thereof, the better for her. Ease your mind; I will keep her in yonder no longer than shall stand with her good. Is she oft-times thus trying?"
"Never afore knew I no such a thing!" said Barbara emphatically.
"Only a little waywardness then, maybe," answered Rachel. "So much the better."
"Marry, sweet Mistress, the child is hungered and aweary. Pray you, forgive her this once!"
"Good lack!" plaintively exclaimed Lady Enville. "I hate discords around me. Call Jennet, and bid her take Barbara into the hall, for it must be nigh rear-supper."
Go and sit down comfortably to supper, with her darling shut in a dark closet! Barbara would as soon have thought of flying.
"Leave her come forth, Rachel," said the child's mother.
"I love peace as well as thou, Sister; but I love right better," answered Rachel unmovedly. But she rose and went to the closet. "Child! art thou yet penitent?"
"Am I what?" demanded Clare from within, in a voice which was not promising for much penitence.
"Art thou sorry for thy fault?"
"Wilt thou ask pardon?"
"No," said Clare sturdily.
"Thou seest, Sister, I cannot let her out," decided Rachel, looking back.
In utter despair Barbara appealed to Lady Enville.
"Mistress Walter, sure you have never the heart to keep the little maid shut up in yon hole? She is cruel weary, the sweeting!—and an-hungered to boot. Cause her to come forth, I pray you of your gentleness!"
Ah, Barbara! Appearances were illusive. There was no heart under the soft exterior of the one woman, and there was a very tender one, covered by a crust of rule and propriety, latent in the breast of the other.
"Gramercy, Barbara!" said Lady Enville pettishly, with a shrug of her shoulders. "I never can deal with childre."
"Leave her come forth, and I will deal withal," retorted Barbara bluntly.
"Dear heart! Rachel, couldst thou not leave her come? Never mind waiting till she is sorry. I shall have never any peace."
Rachel laid her hand doubtfully on the latch of the closet door, and stood considering the matter.
Just then another door was softly pushed open, and a little child of three years old came into the room:—a much prettier child than Clare, having sky-blue eyes, shining fair hair, a complexion of exquisite delicacy, pretty regular features, and eyebrows of the surprised type. She ran up straight to Rachel, and grasped the blue serge kirtle in her small chubby hand.
"Come see my sis'er," was the abrupt announcement.
That this little bit of prettiness was queen at Enville Court, might be seen in Rachel's complacent smile. She opened the closet door about an inch.
"Art thou yet sorry?"
"No," said Clare stubbornly.
There was a little pull at the blue kirtle.
"Want see my sis'er!" pleaded the baby voice, in tones of some impatience.
"Wilt be a good maid if thou come forth?" demanded Rachel of the culprit within.
"That is as may be," returned Clare insubordinately.
"If I leave thee come forth, 'tis not for any thy goodness, but I would not be hard on thee in the first minute of thy home-coming, and I make allowance for thy coldness and weariness, that may cause thee to be pettish."
Another little pull warned Rachel to cut short her lecture.
"Now, be a good maid! Come forth, then. Here is Blanche awaiting thee."
Out came Clare, looking very far from penitent. But when Blanche toddled up, put her fat arms round her sister as far as they would go, and pouted up her little lips for a kiss,—to the astonishment of every one, Clare burst into tears. Nobody quite knew why, and perhaps Clare could hardly have said herself. Barbara interposed, by coming forward and taking possession of her, with the apologetic remark—
"Fair cruel worn-out she is, poor heart!"
And Rachel condoned the affair, with—"Give her her supper, good wife, and put her abed. Jennet will show thee all needful."
So Clare signalised her first entrance into her new home by rebellion and penalty.
The next morning rose brightly. Barbara and Jennet came to dress the four little girls, who all slept in one room; and took them out at once into the garden. Clare seemed to have forgotten the episode of the previous evening, and no one cared to remind her of it. Margaret had brought a ball with her, and the children set to work at play, with an amount of activity and interest which they would scarcely have bestowed upon work. Barbara and Jennet sat down on a wooden seat which ran round the trunk of a large ash-tree, and Jennet, pulling from her pocket a pair of knitting-needles and a ball of worsted, began to ply the former too quickly for the eye to follow.
"Of a truth, I would I had some matter of work likewise," observed Barbara; "I have been used to work hard, early and late, nor it liketh me not to sit with mine hands idle. Needs must that I pray my Lady of some task belike."
"Do but say the like unto Mistress Rachel," said Jennet, laughing, "and I warrant thee thou'lt have work enough."
"Mistress Rachel o'erseeth the maids work?"
"There's nought here but hoo [she] does o'ersee," replied Jennet.
"She keepeth house, marry, by my Lady's direction?"
"Hoo does not get much direction, I reckon," said Jennet.
"What, my Lady neither makes nor meddles?"
Jennet laughed. "I ne'er saw her make yet so much as an apple turno'er. As for tapestry work, and such, hoo makes belike. But I'll just tell thee:—Sir Thomas is our master, see thou. Well, his wife's his mistress. And Mistress Rachel's her mistress. And Mistress Blanche is Mistress Rachel's mistress. Now then, thou knowest somewhat thou didn't afore."
"And who is Mistress Blanche's mistress or master belike?" demanded Barbara, laughing in her turn.
"Nay, I've getten to th' top," said Jennet. "I can go no fur'."
"There'll be a master some of these days, I cast no doubt," observed Barbara, drily.
"Happen," returned Jennet. "But 'tis a bit too soon yet, I reckon.— Mrs Meg, yon's the breakfast bell."
Margaret caught the ball from Clare, and pocketed it, and the whole party went into the hall for breakfast. Here the entire family assembled, down to the meanest scullion-lad. Jennet took Clare's hand, and led her up to the high table, at which Mistress Rachel had already taken her seat, while Sir Thomas and Lady Enville were just entering from the door behind it.
"Ha! who cometh here?" asked Sir Thomas, cheerily. "My new daughter, I warrant. Come hither, little maid!"
Clare obeyed rather shyly. Her step-father set her on his knee, kissed her, stroked her hair with a rather heavy hand, and bade her "be a good lass and serve God well, and he would be good father to her." Clare was not sorry when the ordeal was over, and she found herself seated between Margaret and Barbara. Sir Thomas glanced round the table, where an empty place was left on the form, just opposite Clare.
"Where is Jack?" he inquired.
"Truly, I know not," said Lady Enville languidly.
"I bade him arise at four of the clock," observed Rachel briskly.
"And saw him do it?" asked Sir Thomas, with an amused expression.
"Nay, in very deed,—I had other fish to fry."
"Then, if Jack be not yet abed, I am no prophet."
"Thou art no prophet, brother Tom, whether or no," declared Rachel. "I pray thee of some of that herring."
While Rachel was being helped to the herring, a slight noise was audible at the door behind, and the next minute, tumbling into his place with a somersault, a boy of eleven suddenly appeared in the hitherto vacant space between Rachel and Lucrece.
"Ah Jack, Jack!" reprimanded Sir Thomas.
"Salt, Sir?" suggested Jack, demurely.
"What hour of the clock did thine Aunt bid thee rise, Jack?"
"Well, Sir," responded Jack, screwing up one eye, as if the effort of memory were painful, "as near as I may remember, 'twas about one hundred and eighty minutes to seven of the clock."
"Thou wilt come to ill, Jack, as sure as sure," denounced Aunt Rachel, solemnly.
"I am come to breakfast, Aunt, and I shall come to dinner," remarked Jack: "that is as sure as sure."
Sir Thomas leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily, bidding Jack help himself; while Rachel shook her head ominously over Jack's future. Jack stood up, surveyed the table, and proceeded to make a wide gash in an enormous pie. Just as he was laying down knife and spoon, and retiring with his spoils, he caught a glimpse of Clare, who sat studying him in some trepidation and much curiosity.
"Hallo! who are you?" was Jack's unceremonious greeting.
"Wilt thou ne'er learn to behave thyself, lad?" corrected Rachel.
"You see, Aunt, none never learned me yet," returned Jack coolly; looking at Clare in a manner which said, "I await your answer."
Sir Thomas good-naturedly replied for her.
"'Tis thy new sister, my lad,—little Clare Avery. Play none of thy tricks on her, Jack."
"My tricks, Sir?" demanded Jack with an air of innocent astonishment.
"I know thee, lad!" said Sir Thomas shortly, but good humouredly.
Jack proceeded to make short work of the pie, but kept his eyes on Clare.
"Now, little maids," said Rachel, when they rose from the table, "I will hear, you your tasks in an hour hence. Till the clock strike, ye may go into the garden."
"May we have some cakes with us, Aunt Rachel?" inquired Jack demurely.
"Cake!" echoed Blanche, clapping her little fat hands.
"Thou!" said Rachel. "Art thou a maid? I have nought to do with thy tasks. Be they ready for Master Tremayne?"
Jack turned up the whites of his eyes, and turned down the corners of his mouth, in a style which exhibited a very emphatic No.
"Go and study them, then, this minute," said his Aunt.
The party separated, Jack putting on a look which was the embodiment of despair; but Sir Thomas, calling Margaret back, put into her hands the plate of small cakes; bidding her take them to the garden and divide them among the children.
"Brother, Brother!" remonstrated Rachel.
"Tut! the cakes will do them no harm," said he carelessly. "There are but a dozen or the like."
Margaret went first towards the garden, carrying the plate, Clare and Blanche following. As they reached the terrace, Lucrece overtook them, going on about a yard in advance of Margaret. When the latter turned her head to call Blanche to "come on," Clare, to her utter amazement, saw Lucrece stop, and, as Margaret passed her, silently and deftly dip her hand into the plate, and transfer two of the little cakes to her pocket. The action was so promptly and delicately performed, leaving Margaret entirely unconscious of it, that in all probability it was not the first of its kind.
Clare was intensely shocked. Was Lucrece a thief?
Margaret sat down on a grassy bank, and counted out the cakes. There were eleven.
"How is this?" she asked, looking perplexed. "There were thirteen of these, I am well assured, for I counted them o'er as I came out of hall. Who has taken two?"
"Not I," said Clare shortly.
Blanche shook her curly head; Lucrece, silently but calmly, held out empty hands. So, thought Clare, she is a liar as well, as a thief.
"They must be some whither," said Margaret, quietly; "and I know where it is like: Lucrece, I do verily believe they are in thy pocket."
"Dost thou count me a thief, Meg?" retorted Lucrece.
"By no manner of means, without thou hast the chance," answered Margaret satirically, but still quietly. "Very well,—thou hast chosen thy share,—take it. Three for each of us three, and two over. Shall we give them to Jack? What say ye?"
"Jack!" cried Blanche, dancing about on the grass.
Clare assented shyly, and she and Blanche received their three cakes each.
"Must I have none, Meg?" demanded Lucrece in an injured tone.
"Oh ay! keep what thou hast," said Margaret, calmly munching the first of her own three cakes.
"Who said I had any?"
"I said it. I know thee, as Father saith to Jack. Thou hast made thy bed,—go lie thereon."
Lucrece marched slowly away, looking highly indignant; but before she was quite out of sight, the others saw her slip her hand into her pocket, bring out one of the little cakes, and bite it in two. Margaret laughed when she saw Clare's look of shocked solemnity.
"I said she had them,—the sly-boots!" was her only comment.
Clare finished her cakes, and ran off to Barbara, who, seated under the ash-tree, had witnessed the whole scene.
"Bab, I will not play me with yonder Lucrece. She tells lies, and is a thief."
"Marry La'kin, my poor lamb!" sighed Barbara. "My mind sorely misgiveth me that I have brought thee into a den of thieves. Eh me, if the good Master had but lived a while longer! Of a truth, the Lord's ways be passing strange."
Clare had run off again to Margaret, and the last sentence was not spoken to her. But it was answered by somebody.
"Which of the Lord's ways, Barbara Polwhele?"
"Sir?" exclaimed Barbara, looking up surprisedly into the grave, though kindly face of a tall, dark-haired man in clerical garb. "I was but— eh, but yon eyes! 'Tis never Master Robin?"
Mr Tremayne's smile replied sufficiently that it was.
"And is yonder little Clare Avery?" he asked, with a tender inflection in his voice. "Walter's child,—my brother Walter!"
"Ay, Master Robin, yon is Mistress Clare; and you being shepherd of this flock hereaway, I do adjure you, look well to this little lamb, for I am sore afeard she is here fallen amongst wolves."
"I am not the Shepherd, good friend,—only one of the Shepherd's herd-lads. But I will look to the lamb as He shall speed me. And which of the Lord's ways is so strange unto thee, Barbara?"
"Why, to think that our dear, good Master should die but now, and leave the little lamb to be cast in all this peril."
"Then—'Some of the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth'—doth the verse run thus in thy Bible, Barbara?"
"Nay, not so: but can you understand the same Master Robin?"
"By no means. Wherefore should I?"
Barbara made no answer beyond an appealing look.
"'He knoweth the way that I take.' If I know not so much as one step thereof, what matter? I shall have light to see the next step ere I must set down my foot. That is enough, Barbara, for 'such as keep His covenant,' and I have ever counted thee amongst them."
"Eh, Master Robin, but 'twere easier done to walk in darkness one's self, than to see yon little pet lamb—"
And Barbara's voice faltered.
"Hath somewhat troubled thee specially at this time?"
In answer, she told him what she had just seen.
"And I do trust, Master Robin, I have not ill done to say this unto you, but of a truth I am diseased [uneasy, anxious] touching my jewel, lest she fall into the like evil courses, being to dwell here."
"Thou hast not ill done, friend; nor will I neglect the warning, trust me."
"I thank you much, Master. And how doth good Mistress Thekla? Verily I am but evil-mannered to be thus long ere I ask it."
"She is well, and desiring much to see thee."
"And your childre, Master Robin,—have you not?"
"I have five childre, Barbara, two sons and three daughters; but of them Christ hath housen four in His garner, and hath left but one in my sight. And that seemed unto us a very strange way; yet was it mercy and truth."
"Eh, but I could ne'er repine at a babe's dying!" said Barbara, shaking her head. "Do but think what they 'scape of this weary world's troubles, Master Robin."
"Ah, Barbara, 'tis plain thou never hadst a child," said Mr Tremayne, sighing. "I grant all thou hast said. And yet, when it cometh to the pass, the most I can do is to lift mine head and hold my peace, 'because God did it.' God witteth best how to try us all."
"Nay, if He would but not try yon little lambkin!"
"An unhappy prayer, Barbara; for, that granted, she should never come forth as gold.—But I must be on my way to give Jack his Latin lesson. When thou canst find thy way to my dwelling, all we shall be full fain to see thee. Good morrow."
When Clare was undergoing her ordeal in the schoolroom, an hour later, Barbara set out on her visit to the parsonage. But she missed her way through the park, and instead of coming out of the great gates, near the foot-bridge, she found herself at a little gate, opening on the road, from which neither church nor village could be seen as landmarks. There was no cottage in sight at which to ask the road to the parsonage. While Barbara stood and looked round her, considering the matter, she perceived a boy of about twelve years old slowly approaching her from the right hand,—evidently a gentleman's son, from his dress, which, though very simple, was of materials indicative of good birth. He had long dark brown hair, which curled over his shoulders, and almost hid his face, bent down over a large book, for he was reading as he walked. Barbara waited until he came up to her.
"Give you good morrow, Master! I be loth to come betwixt you and your studies, but my need presseth me to pray of you the way unto Master Tremayne's house the parson?"
The lad started on hearing a voice, hastily closed his book, and lifted a pair of large, dreamy brown eyes to Barbara's face. But he seemed quite at a loss to recall what he had been asked to do.
"You would know?"—he said inquiringly.
"I would know, young Master," returned Barbara boldly, "if your name be not Tremayne?"
"Ay so," assented the boy, with a rather surprised look. "My name is Arthur Tremayne." [A fictitious person.]
"And you be son unto Master Tremayne the parson?"
"Verily I guessed so much, for his eyes be in your head," said Barbara quaintly. "But your mouth and nose be Mrs Thekla's. Eh, dear heart, what changes life bringeth! Why, it seemeth me but yestre'en that your father was no bigger than you. And every whit as much given to his book, I warrant you. Pray you, is my mistress your mother at home?"
"Ay, you shall find her there now," said the boy, as he tucked the big book under his arm, and began to walk on in Barbara's company. "I count you be our old friend, Barbara Polwhele, that is come with little Mistress Clare? My mother will be fain to see you."
Barbara was highly gratified to find that Arthur Tremayne had heard of her already. The two trudged onwards together, and in a few minutes reached the ivy-covered parsonage, standing in its pretty flower-garden. Arthur preceded Barbara into the house, laid down his book on the hall window-seat, and opening a door which led to the back part of the house, appealed to an unseen person within.
"Mother! here is Mistress Barbara Polwhele."
"Barbara Polwhele!" said a voice in reply,—a voice which Barbara had not heard for nineteen years, yet which time had so little altered that she recognised at once the Thekla Rose of old. And in another moment Mrs Tremayne stood before her.
Her aspect was more changed than her voice. The five terrible years of the Marian persecution had swept over her head in early youth, and their bitter anxieties and forebodings left her, at the age of nineteen, a white, wan, slender, delicate girl. But now a like number of years, spent in calm, happy work, had left their traces also, and Mrs Tremayne looked what she was, a gentle, contented woman of thirty-eight, with more bloom on her cheek than she had ever worn in youth, and the piteous expression of distressed suspense entirely gone from her eyes.
"Eh, Mistress Thekla!" was Barbara's greeting.
"I be cruel glad to see you. Methinks you be gone so many years younger as you must needs be elder."
"Nay, truly, for I were then but a babe in the cradle," was the laughing answer. "Thou art a losenger [flatterer], Barbara."
"In very deed," returned Barbara inconsistently, "I could have known you any whither."
"And me also?" demanded another voice, as a little lively old lady trotted out of the room which Mrs Tremayne had just left. "Shouldst thou have known me any whither, Barbara Polwhele?"
"Marry La'kin! if 'tis not Mistress Rose!" [Name fact, character fictitious.]
"Who but myself? I dwell with Thekla since I am widow. And I make the cakes, as Arthur knows," added Mrs Rose, cheerily, patting her grandson's head; "but if I should go hence, there should be a famine, ma foi!"
"A famine of pain d'epices" assented Mrs Tremayne, smiling. "Ah, Mother dear, thou spoilest the lad."
"Who ever knew a grandame to do other?" observed Barbara. "More specially the only one."
"The only one!" echoed his mother, softly, stroking his long hair. "There be four other, Barbara,—not lost, but waiting."
"Now, Barbara, come in hither," said Mrs Rose, bustling back into the room, apparently desirous of checking any sad thoughts on the part of her daughter; "sit thou down, and tell us all about the little Clare, and the dear Master Avery, and all. I listen and mix my cake, all one."
Barbara followed her, and found herself in the kitchen. She had not done wondering at the change—not in Mrs Tremayne, but in her mother. Nineteen years before, Barbara had known Marguerite Rose, a crushed, suffering woman, with no shadow of mirth about her. It seemed unnatural and improper to hear her laugh. But Mrs Rose's nature was that of a child,—simple and versatile: she lived in the present, whether for joy or pain.
Mrs Rose finished gathering her materials, and proceeded to mix her pain d'epices, or Flemish gingerbread, while Mrs Tremayne made Barbara sit down in a large chair furnished with soft cushions. Arthur came too, having picked up his big book, and seated himself in the window-seat with it, his long hair falling over his face as he bent down over it but whether he were reading or listening was known only to himself.
The full account of John Avery's end was given to these his dearest friends, and there was a good deal of conversation about other members of the family: and Barbara heard, to her surprise, that a cousin of Clare, a child rather older than herself, was shortly coming to live at the parsonage. Lysken van Barnevelt [a fictitious person], like Clare, was an only child and an orphan; and Mr Tremayne purposed to pay his debt to the Averys by the adoption of Frances Avery's child. But Barbara was rather dismayed when she heard that Lysken would not at first be able to talk to her cousin, since her English was of the most fragmentary description.
"She will soon learn," said Mrs Tremayne.
"And until she shall learn, I only can talk to her," added Mrs Rose, laughing. "Ay de mi! I must pull up my Flemish out of my brains. It is so deep down, I do wonder if it will come. It is—let me see!— forty, fifty—ma foi! 'tis nigh sixty years since I talk Flemish with my father!"
"And now, tell us, what manner of child is Clare?" asked Mrs Tremayne.
"The sweetest little maid in all the world, and of full good conditions [disposition], saving only that she lacketh breeding [education] somewhat."
"The which Mistress Rachel shall well furnish her withal. She is a throughly good teacher. But I will go and see the sweeting, so soon as I may."
"Now, Mrs Thekla, of your goodness, do me to wit what manner of folk be these that we be fallen in withal? It were easier for me to govern both Mrs Clare and mine own self, if I might but, know somewhat thereof aforetime."
"Truly, good friend, they be nowise ill folk," said Mrs Tremayne, with a quiet smile. "Sir Thomas is like to be a good father unto the child, for he hath a kindly nature. Only, for godliness, I fear I may not say over much. But he is an upright man, and a worthy, as men go in this world. And for my Lady his wife, you know her as well as I."
"Marry La'kin, and if you do love her no better!—"
"She is but young," said Mrs Tremayne, excusingly.
"What heard I?" inquired Mrs Rose, looking up from her cookery. "I did think thou hadst been a Christian woman, Barbara Polwhele."
"Nay, verily, Mistress Rose!—what mean you?" demanded the astonished Barbara.
"Bon!—Is it not the second part of the duty of a Christian woman to love her neighbour as herself?"
"Good lack! 'tis not in human nature," said Barbara, bluntly. "If we be no Christians short of that, there be right few Christians in all the world, Mistress mine."
"So there be," was the reply. "Is it not?"
"Truly, good friend, this is not in nature," said Mrs Tremayne, gently. "It is only in grace."
"Then in case it so be, is there no grace?" asked Barbara in a slightly annoyed tone.
"Who am I, that I should judge?" was the meek answer. "Yet methinks there must be less grace than nature."
"Well!—and of Mistress Rachel, what say you?"
"Have you a care that you judge her not too harshly. She is, I know, somewhat forbidding on the outside, yet she hath a soft heart, Barbara."
"I am thankful to hear the same, for I had not so judged," was Barbara's somewhat acrid answer.
"Ah, she showeth the worst on the outside."
"And for the childre? I love not yon Lucrece.—Now, Mistress Rose, have a care your cakes be well mingled, and snub not me."
"Ah! there spake the conscience," said Mrs Rose, laughing.
"I never did rightly understand Lucrece," answered her daughter. "For Margaret, she is plain and open enough; a straightforward, truthful maiden, that men may trust. But for Lucrece—I never felt as though I knew her. There is that in her—be it pride, be it shamefacedness, call it as you will—that is as a wall in the way."
"I call it deceitfulness, Thekla," said her mother decidedly.
"I trust not so, Mother! yet I have feared—"
"Time will show," said Mrs Rose, filling her moulds with the compound which was to turn out pain d'epices.
"Mistress Blanche, belike, showeth not what her conditions shall be," remarked Barbara.
"She is a lovesome little maid as yet," said Mrs Tremayne. "Mefeareth she shall be spoiled as she groweth toward womanhood, both with praising of her beauty and too much indulging of her fantasies."
"And now, what say you to Master Jack?" demanded Barbara in some trepidation. "Is he like to play ugsome [ugly, disagreeable] tricks on Mrs Clare, think you?"
"Jack—ah, poor Jack!" replied Mrs Tremayne.
Barbara looked up in some surprise. Jack seemed to her a most unlikely subject for the compassionate ejaculation.
"And dost thou marvel that I say, 'Poor Jack'? It is because I have known men of his conditions aforetime, and I have ever noted that either they do go fast to wrack, or else they be set in the hottest furnace of God's disciplining. I know not which shall be the way with Jack. But how so,—poor Jack!"
"But what deem you his conditions, in very deed?"
"Why, there is not a soul in all the village that loveth not Jack, and I might well-nigh say, not one that hath not holpen him at some pinch, whereto his reckless ways have brought him. If the lacings of satin ribbon be gone from Mistress Rachel's best gown, and the cat be found with them tied all delicately around her paws and neck, and her very tail,—'tis Jack hath done it. If Margaret go about with a paper pinned to the tail of her gown, importing that she is a thief and a traitor to the Queen's Highness,—'tis Jack hath pinned it on when she saw him not. If some rare book from Sir Thomas his library be found all open on the garden walk, wet and ruinated,—'tis Jack. If Mistress Rachel be astepping into her bed, and find the sheets and blankets all awry, so that she cannot compass it till all is pulled in pieces and turned aright, she hath no doubt to say, 'tis Jack. And yet once I say, Poor Jack! If he be to come unto good, mefeareth the furnace must needs be heated fiercely. Yet after all, what am I, that I should say it? God hath a thousand ways to fetch His lost sheep home."
"But is he verily ill-natured?"
"Nay, in no wise. He hath as tender a heart as any lad ever I saw. I have known him to weep bitterly over aught that hath touched his heart. Trust me, while I cast no doubt he shall play many a trick on little Clare, yet no sooner shall he see her truly sorrowful thereat, than Jack shall turn comforter, nor go not an inch further."
Barbara was beginning another question, of which she had plenty more to ask, when she saw that the clock pointed to a quarter to eleven, which was dinner-time at Enville Court. There was barely time to reach the house, and she took leave hastily, declining Mrs Tremayne's invitation to stay and dine at the parsonage.
When she entered the hall, she found the household already assembled, and the sewers bringing in a smoking baron of beef. At the upper end Lady Enville was delicately arranging the folds of her crimson satin dress; the little girls were already seated; and Mistress Rachel, with brown holland apron and cuffs, stood with a formidable carving-knife in her hand, ready to begin an attack upon the beef. The carving was properly Lady Enville's prerogative; but as with all things which gave her trouble, she preferred to delegate it to her sister-in-law.
Sir Thomas came in late, and said grace hastily. The Elizabethan grace was not limited to half-a-dozen words. It took about as long as family prayers usually do now. Jack, in his usual style, came scampering in just when grace was finished.
"Good sooth! I have had such discourse with Master Tremayne," said Sir Thomas. "He hath the strangest fantasies. Only look you—"
"A shive of beef, Sister?" interpolated Rachel, who had no notion of allowing the theoretical to take precedence of the practical.
Lady Enville languidly declined anything so gross as beef. She would take a little—very little—of the venison pasty.
"I'll have beef, Aunt!" put in unseasonable Jack.
"Wilt thou have manners?" severely returned Rachel.
"Where shall I find them, Aunt?" coolly inquired Jack, letting his eyes rove about among the dishes. "May I help you likewise?"
"Behave thyself, Jack!" said his father, laughing.
The rebuke was neutralised by the laughter. Rachel went on carving in dignified silence.
"Would you think it?" resumed Sir Thomas, when everybody was helped, and conversation free to flow. "Master Tremayne doth conceive that we Christian folk be meant to learn somewhat from those ancient Jews that did wander about with Moses in the wilderness. Ne'er heard I no such a fantasy. To conceive that we can win knowledge from the rotten old observances of those Jew rascals! Verily, this passeth!"
"Beats the Dutch, Sir!" said incorrigible Jack.
Note 1. All members of the Enville family and household are fictitious persons.
"Our treasures moth and rust corrupt: Or thieves break through and steal; or they Make themselves wings and fly away. One man made merry as he supped, Nor guessed how, when that night grew dim, His soul should be required of him."
Eleven years had passed away since the events of the previous chapters, and in the room where we first saw her, Rachel Enville sat with the four girls around her. Little girls no longer,—young ladies now; for the youngest, Blanche, was not far from her fifteenth birthday. Margaret— now a young woman of four-and-twenty, and only not married because her betrothed was serving with the army of occupation in the Netherlands— was very busily spinning; Lucrece—a graceful maiden of twenty-two, not strictly handsome, but possessed of an indescribable fascination which charmed all who saw her—sat with her eyes bent down on her embroidery; Clare—seventeen, gentle, and unobtrusive—was engaged in plain sewing; and Blanche,—well, what was Blanche doing? She sat in the deep window-seat, her lap full of spring flowers, idly taking up now one, and now another,—weaving a few together as if she meant to make a wreath,— then suddenly abandoning the idea and gathering them into a nosegay,— then throwing that aside and dreamily plunging both hands into the fragrant mass. Blanche had developed into a very pretty picture,— lovelier than Lady Enville, whom she resembled in feature.
"Blanche!" said her aunt suddenly.
Blanche looked up as if startled. Rachel had changed little. Time had stiffened, not softened, both her grogram and her prejudices.
"What dost thou?" she demanded.
"Oh! I—well—I know not what I did, Aunt Rachel. I was thinking, I reckon."
"And where were thy thoughts?" was the next searching query.
Blanche smelt at her flowers, coloured, laughed, and ended by saying lightly, "I scantly know, Aunt."
"Then the sooner thou callest them to order, the better. She must needs be an idle jade that wits not whereof she thinketh."
"Well, if you must needs know, Aunt Rachel," said Blanche, laughing again, and just a trifle saucily, "I thought about—being wed."
"Fie for shame!" was the prompt comment on this confession. "What hast thou to do withal, till thy father and mother bid thee?"
"Why, that is even what I thought, Aunt Rachel," said Blanche coolly, "and I would I had more to do withal. I would fain choose mine own servant." [Suitor.]
"Thou!—Poor babe!" was the contemptuous rejoinder.
"Well, Aunt Rachel, you wot a woman must be wed."
"That's a man's notion!" said Rachel in her severest manner. "Blanche, I do marvel greatly that thou hast not more womanfulness than so. A woman must be wed, quotha! Who saith it? Some selfish man, I warrant, that thought women were create into the world for none other cause but to be his serving-maids!"
"I am sure I know not wherefore we were create," muttered Blanche, loud enough for her sisters to hear but not her Aunt.
Rachel stopped her carding. She saw a first-rate opening for a lecture, and on her own special pet topic.
"Maidens, I would fain have you all list me heedfully. Prithee, take not up, none of you, with men's notions. To wit, that a woman must needs be wed, and that otherwise she is but half a woman, and the like foolery. Nay, verily; for when she is wed she is no more at all a woman, but only the half of a man, and is shorn of all her glory. Wit ye all what marriage truly meaneth? It is to be a slave, and serve a man at his beck, all the days of thy life. A maid is her own queen, and may do as it like her—"
"Would I might!" said Blanche under her breath.
"But a wife must needs search out her lord's pleasure."
"Or make him search out hers," boldly interposed Blanche.
"Child, lay thou down forthwith that foolish fantasy," returned Rachel with great solemnity. "So long time as that thing man is not sure of thee, he is the meekest mannered beast under the sun. He will promise thee all thy desire whatsoever. But once give leave unto thy finger to be rounded by that golden ring the which he holdeth out to thee, and where be all his promises? Marry, thou mayest whistle for them,—ay, and weep."
Rachel surely had no intention of bringing her lecture to a close so early; but at this point it was unfortunately—or, as Blanche thought, fortunately—interrupted. A girl of nineteen came noiselessly into the room, carrying a small basket of early cherries. She made no attempt to announce herself; she was too much at home at Enville Court to stand on ceremony. Coming up to Rachel, she stooped down and kissed her, setting the basket on a small table by her side.
"Ah, Lysken Barnevelt! Thou art welcome. What hast brought yonder, child?"
"Only cherries, Mistress Rachel:—our early white-hearts, which my Lady loveth, and Aunt Thekla sent me hither with the first ripe."
"Wherefore many thanks and hearty, to her and thee. Sit thee down, Lysken: thou art in good time for four-hours. Hast brought thy work?"
Lysken pulled out of her pocket a little roll of brown holland, which, when unrolled, proved to be a child's pinafore, destined for the help of some poverty-stricken mother; and in another minute she was seated at work like the rest. And while Lysken works, let us look at her.
A calm, still-faced girl is this, with smooth brown hair, dark eyes, a complexion nearly colourless, a voice low, clear, but seldom heard, and small delicate hands, at once quick and quiet. A girl that has nothing to say for herself,—is the verdict of most surface observers who see her: a girl who has nothing in her,—say a few who consider themselves penetrating judges of character. Nearly all think that the Reverend Robert Tremayne's partiality has outrun his judgment, for he says that his adopted daughter thinks more than is physically good for her. A girl who can never forget the siege of Leyden: never forget the dead mother, whose latest act was to push the last fragment of malt-cake towards her starving child; never forget the martyr-father burnt at Ghent by the Regent Alva, who boasted to his master, Philip of Spain, that during his short regency he had executed eighteen thousand persons,—of course, heretics. Quiet, thoughtful, silent,—how could Lysken Barnevelt be anything else?
A rap came at the door.
"Mistress Rachel, here's old Lot's wife. You'll happen come and see her?" inquired Jennet, putting only her head in at the door.
"I will come to the hall, Jennet."
Jennet's head nodded and retreated. Rachel followed her.
"How doth Aunt Rachel snub us maids!" said Blanche lazily, clasping her hands behind her head. "She never had no man to make suit unto her, so she accounteth we may pass us [do without] belike."
"Who told thee so much?" asked Margaret bluntly.
"I lacked no telling," rejoined Blanche. "But I say, maids!—whom were ye all fainest to wed?—What manner of man, I mean."
"I am bounden already," said Margaret calmly. "An' mine husband leave me but plenty of work to do, he may order him otherwise according to his liking."
"Work! thou art alway for work!" remonstrated ease-loving Blanche.
"For sure. What were men and women made for, if not work?"
"Nay, that Aunt Rachel asked of me, and I have not yet solute [solved] the same.—Clare, what for thee?"
"I have no thought thereanent, Blanche. God will dispose of me."
"Why, so might a nun say.—Lysken, and thou?"
Lysken showed rather surprised eyes when she lifted her head. "What questions dost thou ask, Blanche! How wit I if I shall ever marry? I rather account nay."
"Ye be a pair of nuns, both of you!" said Blanche, laughing, yet in a slightly annoyed tone. "Now, Lucrece, thou art of the world, I am well assured. Answer me roundly,—not after the manner of these holy sisters,—whom wert thou fainest to wed?"
"A gentleman of high degree," returned Lucrece, readily.
"Say a king, while thou goest about it," suggested her eldest sister.
"Well, so much the better," was Lucrece's cool admission.
"So much the worse, to my thinking," said Margaret. "Would I by my good-will be a queen, and sit all day with my hands in my lap, a-toying with the virginals, and fluttering of my fan,—and my heaviest concernment whether I will wear on the morrow my white velvet gown guarded with sables, or my black satin furred with minever? By my troth, nay!"
"Is that thy fantasy of a queen, Meg?" asked Clare, laughing. "Truly, I had thought the poor lady should have heavier concernments than so."
"Well!" said Blanche, in a confidential whisper, "I am never like to be a queen; but I will show you one thing,—I would right dearly love to be presented in the Queen's Majesty's Court."
"Dear heart!—Presented, quotha!" exclaimed Margaret. "Prithee, take not me withal."
"Nay, I will take these holy sisters," said Blanche, merrily. "What say ye, Clare and Lysken?"
"I have no care to be in the Court, I thank thee," quietly replied Clare.
"I shall be, some day," observed Lysken, calmly, without lifting her head.
"Thou!—presented in the Court!" cried Blanche.
For of all the five, girls, Lysken was much the most unlikely ever to attain that eminence.
"Even so," she said, unmoved.
"Hast thou had promise thereof?"
"I have had promise thereof," repeated Lysken, in a tone which was lost upon Blanche, but Clare thought she began to understand her.
"Who hath promised thee?" asked Blanche, intensely interested.
"The King!" replied Lysken, with deep feeling. "And I shall be the King's daughter!"
"Lysken Barnevelt!" cried Blanche, dropping many of her flowers in her excitement, "art thou gone clean wood [mad], or what meanest thou?"
Lysken looked up with a smile full of meaning.
"'Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,—to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty.'—Do but think,— faultless! and, before His glory!"
Lysken's eyes were alight in a manner very rare with her. She was less shy with her friends at Enville Court than with most people.
"So that is what thou wert thinking on!" said Blanche, in a most deprecatory manner.
Lysken did not reply; but Clare whispered to her, "I would we might all be presented there, Lysken."
While the young ladies were thus engaged in debate, and Rachel was listening to the complaints of old Lot's wife from the village, and gravely considering whether the said Lot's rheumatism would be the better for a basin of viper broth,—Sir Thomas Enville, who was strolling in the garden, perceived two riders coming up to the house. They were evidently a gentleman and his attendant serving-man, and as soon as they approached near enough for recognition, Sir Thomas hurried quickly to meet them. The Lord Strange, heir of Lathom and Knowsley, must not be kept waiting.
Only about thirty years had passed over the head of Ferdinand Stanley, Lord Strange, yet his handsome features wore an expression of the deepest melancholy. People who were given to signs and auguries said that it presaged an early and violent death. And when, eight years later, after only one year's tenancy of the earldom of Derby, he died of a rapid, terrible, and mysterious disease, strange to all the physicians who saw him, the augurs, though a little disappointed that he was not beheaded, found their consolation in the conviction that he had been undoubtedly bewitched. His father, Earl Henry, seems to have been a cool, crafty time-server, who had helped to do the Duke of Somerset to death, more than thirty years before, and one of whose few good actions was his intercession with Bishop Bonner in favour of his kinsman, the martyr Roger Holland. His mother was the great heiress Margaret Clifford, who had inherited, before she was fifteen years of age, one-third of the estates of Duke Charles of Suffolk, the wealthiest man in England.
"'Save you, my good Lord!" was Sir Thomas's greeting. "You be right heartily welcome unto my poor house."
"I have seen poorer," replied Lord Strange with a smile.
"Pray your Lordship, go within."
After a few more amenities, in the rather ponderous style of the sixteenth century, Sir Thomas ceremoniously conducted his guest to Lady Enville's boudoir. She sat, resplendent in blue satin slashed with yellow, turning over some ribbons which Barbara Polwhele was displaying for her inspection. The ribbons were at once dismissed when the noble visitor appeared, and Barbara was desired to "do the thing she wot of in the little chamber."
The little chamber was a large, light closet, opening out of the boudoir, with a window looking on the garden; and the doorway between the rooms was filled by a green curtain. Barbara's work was to make up into shoulder-knots certain lengths of ribbon already put aside for that purpose. While the speakers, therefore, were to her invisible, their conversation was as audible as if she had been in the boudoir.
"And what news abroad, my good Lord?" asked Sir Thomas, when the usual formal civilities were over.
"Very ill news," said Lord Strange, sadly.
"Pray your Lordship, what so? We hear none here, lying so far from the Queen's highway."
"What heard you the last?"
"Well, methinks it were some strange matter touching the Scottish Queen, as though she should be set to trial on charge of some matter of knowledge of Babington's treason."
Sir Thomas's latest news, therefore, was about seven months old. There were no daily papers and Reuter's telegrams in his day.
"Good Sir Thomas, you have much to hear," replied his guest. "For the Scottish Queen, she is dead and buried,—beheaden at Fotheringay Castle, in Yorkshire, these three months gone."
"'Tis very true, I do ensure you. And would God that were the worst news I could tell you!"
"Pray your Lordship, speak quickly."
"There be afloat strange things of private import:—to wit, of my kinsman the Earl of Arundel, who, as 'tis rumoured, shall this next month be tried by the Star Chamber, and, as is thought, if he 'scape with life, shall be heavily charged in goods [Note 1]: or the Black Assize at Exeter this last year, whereby, through certain Portugals that were prisoners on trial, the ill smells did so infect the Court, [Note 2] that many died thereof—of the common people very many, and divers men of worship,—among other Sir John Chichester of Raleigh, that you and I were wont to know, and Sir Arthur Basset of Umberleigh—"
Barbara Polwhele heard no more for a while. The name that had been last mentioned meant, to Lord Strange and Sir Thomas, the head of a county family of Devonshire, a gentleman of first-class blood. But to her it meant not only the great-grandson of Edward the Fourth, and the heir of the ruined House of Lisle,—but the bright-faced boy who, twenty-seven years before, used to flash in and out of John Avery's house in the Minories,—bringing "Aunt Philippa's loving commendations," or news that "Aunt Bridget looketh this next week to be in the town, and will be rare fain to see Mistress Avery:"—the boy who had first seen the light at Calais, on the very threshold of the family woe—and who, to the Averys, and to Barbara, as their retainer, was the breathing representative of all the dead Plantagenets. As to the Tudors,—the Queen's Grace, of course, was all that was right and proper, a brave lady and true Protestant; and long might God send her to rule over England!—but the Tudors, apart from Elizabeth personally, were—Hush! in 1587 it was perilous to say all one thought. So for some minutes Lord Strange's further news was unheard in the little chamber. A pathetic vision filled it, of a night in which there would be dole at Umberleigh, when the coffin of Sir Arthur Basset was borne to the sepulchre of his fathers in Atherington Church. [Note 3.] He was not yet forty-six. "God save and comfort Mistress Philippa!"