It might have been, by Emily Sarah Holt.
_____________ This book is mainly about the treasonable plot to blow up Parliament, by mining through to its lowest floor, or basement, from an adjacent house. This plot was hatched by a number of Catholic gentlemen, and was quite ingenious. These people came from a wide area of England, and numbered about thirty. One point of interest to your reviewer is that one of the places where they met, or retreated to when not personally involved in mining, was a house called White Webbs, just on what is now the northern limit of London. This house is now in use as a very nice and popular restaurant, well known to me. It was at the time a disused hunting lodge in Enfield Chase.
The discovery of the plot, and the execution of its participants is celebrated every year in Britain, with great displays of fireworks, on a day (5th November) named after one of the plotters, Guy Fawkes. It is interesting to learn so much more about the background of this plot.
Emily Holt wrote a large number of books with a historical background. This book is the third of a series involving a family from Derwent-water in the north of England. The link with the Gunpowder plot is rather weak, but worth reading if you enjoyed the first two books of the series. On the other hand the majority of the book deals with the plot, and is very well researched, and told in a very plausible manner.
As usual with this author you will find that there are a good many footnotes, which we have done our best to make available but not intrusive. There is a great deal of conversation in Elizabethan English, but this will not bother you if you are used to reading the plays of Shakespeare. Finally, there are a few short extracts from contemporary letters, in which the spelling would not pass muster these days, but there were no real standards of spelling in those times. In a very few cases in these letters we have adjusted the spelling to give you, the reader, greater ease in comprehending them.
You may care to make this book into an audiobook, in which case it will take about 12.5 hours to play. We hope you will do this because it will make it much easier for you to enjoy the book.
IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
"There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." That is one of the main lessons to be learned from the strange story of the Gunpowder Plot.
The narrative here given, so far as its historical portion is concerned, is taken chiefly from original and contemporaneous documents. It has been carefully kept to facts—in themselves more interesting than any fiction—and scarcely a speech or an incident has been admitted, however small, for which authority could not be adduced.
Those of my Readers who have made the acquaintance of Lettice Eden, and Joyce Morrell's Harvest, will meet some old friends in this tale.
THE LAST NIGHT IN THE OLD HOME.
"Which speaks the truth—fair Hope or ghastly Fear? God knoweth, and not I. Only, o'er both, Love holds her torch aloft, And will, until I die."
"Fiddle-de-dee! Do give over snuffing and snivelling and sobbing, and tell me if you want your warm petticoat in the saddle-bag. You'd make a saint for to swear!" More sobs, and one or two disjointed words, were all that came in answer. The sobbing sister, who was the younger of the pair, wore widow's mourning, and was seated in a rocking-chair near the window of a small, but very comfortable parlour. Her complexion was pale and sallow, her person rather slightly formed, and her whole appearance that of a frail, weak little woman, who required perpetual care and shielding. The word require has two senses, and it is here used in both. She needed it, and she exacted it.
The elder sister, who stood at the parlour door, was about as unlike the younger as could well be. She was quite a head taller, rosy-cheeked, sturdily-built, and very brisk in her motions. Disjointed though her sister's words were, she took them up at once.
"You'll have your thrum hat, did you say? [Note 1.] Where's the good of crying over it? You've got ne'er a thing to cry for."
Another little rush of sobs replied, amid which a quick ear could detect the words "unfeeling" and "me a poor widow."
"Unfeeling, marry!" said the elder sister. "I'm feeling a whole warm petticoat for you. And tears won't ward off either cramp or rheumatism, my dear—don't think it; but a warm petticoat may. Will you have it, or no?"
"Oh, as you please!" was the answer, in a tone which might have suited arrangements for the speaker's funeral.
"Then I please to put it in the saddle-bag," cheerily responded the elder. "Lettice, come with me, maid. I can find thee work above in the chamber."
A slight sound behind the screen, at the farther end of the parlour, which sheltered the widow from any draught proceeding from the window, was followed by the appearance of a young girl not hitherto visible. She was just eighteen years of age, and resembled neither of the elder ladies, being handsomer than either of them had ever been, yet not sufficiently so to be termed beautiful. A clear complexion, rosy but not florid, golden-brown hair and plenty of it, dark grey eyes shaded by dark lashes, and a pleasing, good-humoured, not self-conscious expression—this was Lettice, who said in a clear musical voice, "Yes, Aunt," and stood ready for further orders.
As the door shut upon the aunt and niece, the former said, as if to the sister left behind in the parlour—
"A poor widow! Ay, forsooth, poor soul, that you are! for you have made of your widowhood so black a pall that you cannot see God's blue sky through it. Dear heart, but why ever they called her Faith, and me Temperance! I've well-nigh as little temperance as she has faith, and neither of them would break a cat's back."
By this time they were up in the bedchamber; and Lettice was kept busy folding, pinning, tying up, and smoothing out one garment after another, until at last her aunt said—
"Now, Lettice, bring thine own gear, such as thou wilt need till we light at Minster Lovel, for there can we shift our baggage. Thy black beaver hat thou wert best to journey in, for though it be good, 'tis well worn; and thy grey kirtle and red gown. Bring the blue gown, and the tawny kirtle with the silver aglets [tags, spangles] pendant, and thy lawn rebatoes, [turn-over collar] and a couple of kerchiefs, and thy satin hat Thou wert best leave out a warm kerchief for the journey."
"And my velvet hood, Aunt, and the green kirtle?"
"Nay, I have packed them, not to be fetched out till we reach London. Thou mayest have thy crimson sleeves withal, an' it list thee."
Lettice fetched the things, and her aunt packed them in one of the great leather trunks, with beautiful neatness. As she smoothed out the blue kirtle, she asked—"Lettice, art thou sorry to be gone?"
"Truly, Aunt, I scarce know," was the answer. "I am sorry to leave Aunt Milisent and my cousins, and Aunt Frances,"—but Aunt Frances was an evident after-thought—"and I dare say I shall be sorry to leave all the places I know, when the time comes. But then so many of us are going,— you, and Grandmother, and Aunt Edith, and Cousin Aubrey, and Aunt Faith—and there are so many new places to see, that on the whole I don't think I am very sorry."
"No, very like not, child."
"Not now," said a third voice, softly, and Lettice looked up at another aunt whose presence she had not previously noticed. This was certainly no sister of the two plain women whose acquaintance we have just made. Temperance Murthwaite had outlived her small share of good looks, and Faith's had long since been washed away in tears; but Edith Louvaine had been extremely beautiful, and yet was so notwithstanding her forty years. Her hair was dark brown, with a golden gleam when the sun caught it, and her eyes a deep blue, almost violet. Her voice was sweet and quiet—of that type of quietness which hides behind it a reserve of power and feeling. "At eighteen, Lettice, we are not commonly sorry to leave home. Much sorrier at thirty-eight: and at eighty, I think, there is little to leave but graves."
"Ay, but they're not all dug by the sexton," remarked Temperance, patting the blue kirtle to make it lie in the hole she had left for it. "At any rate, the sorest epitaphs are oft invisible save to them that have eyes to see them."
Edith did not answer, and the work went on. At length, suddenly, the question was asked—
"Whence came you, Edith?"
"From Mere Lea, whither I have been with Mother and Aubrey, to say farewell."
"And for why came you hither? Not to say farewell, I reckon."
"Nay," replied Edith, smiling. "I thought I might somewhat help you, Temperance. We must all try to spare poor Faith."
"Spare poor Faith!" repeated Temperance, in a sarcastic tone. "Tell you what, Edith Louvaine,—if you'd think a bit less of sparing her, and she'd think a bit more of sparing you, it would be a sight better for poor Faith and poor Edith too."
"I? I don't want to be spared," answered Edith.
"No, you don't, and that's just it. And Faith does. And she oughtn't. And you oughtn't."
"Nay, Temperance. Remember, she is a widow."
"Small chance of my forgetting it. Doesn't she tell me so six dozen times a day? Ask Faith to do any thing she loveth not, and she's always a widow. I've had my thoughts whether I could not be an orphan when I'm wanted to do something disagreeable. What think you?"
"I think your bark is worse than your bite, Temperance," said Edith, smiling.
"I'm about weary of barking," answered Temperance, laying smooth a piece of cobweb lawn. "I think I'll bite, one of these days. Deary me, but there are widows of divers sorts! If ever there were what Paul calls 'a widow indeed,' it is my Lady Lettice; and she doesn't make a screen of it, as Faith does, against all the east winds that blow. Well, well! Give me that pin-case, Lettice, and the black girdle yonder; I lack somewhat to fill up this corner. What hour must we be at Selwick, Edith?"
"At five o' the clock the horses are bidden."
"Very good. You'll bide to supper?"
"Nay, not without I can help you."
"You'll not help me without you'll tell Faith she's a snivelling lazy-bones, and that you'll not, I know. Go and get your beauty-sleep— and comfort Lady Lettice all you can."
When Edith had departed, and the packing was finished, the aunt and niece went down to supper. It consisted of Polony sausages, sweetmeats, and an egg-pie—a Lancashire dainty, which Rachel the cook occasionally sent up, for she was a native of that county. During the entire meal, Faith kept up a slow rain of lamentations, for her widowhood, the sad necessity of leaving her home, and the entire absence of sympathy which she experienced in all around her: till at last her sister inquired—
"Faith, will you have any more pie?"
"N-o," said Faith with a sob, having eaten nearly half of it.
"Nor any more sausage?"
"Oh no!" she answered, heaving a weary sigh.
"Nor sucketts [sweetmeats; subsequently spelt succadet] neither?"
Faith shook her head dolefully.
"Then I'll help you to a little of one other thing, which you need sorely; and that's a bit of advice."
Faith moaned behind her handkerchief.
"As to quitting home, that's your own choice; so don't go and pretend to fret over it. And as to sparing you, you've been spared a deal too much, and I've been a fool to do it. And just bethink you, Faith, that if we are now to make one family with my Lady Lettice and Edith, you'd best be thinking how you can spare them. My Lady Lettice is a deal newer widow than you, and she's over seventy years on her back, and you've but forty—"
"Thirty-nine," corrected Faith in a choked voice.
"And she's leaving her home not from choice, but because she has no choice; and she has spent over fifty years in it, and is like an old oak which can ill bear uprooting. I only trust those Newcastle Louvaines will get what they deserve. I say it's a burning shame, never to come forward nor claim aught for fifty years, until Sir Aubrey and both his sons were gone, and then down they pounce like vultures on the widow and her orphan grandson, and set up a claim, forsooth, to the estate—after all these years! I don't believe they have any right—or at any rate, they've no business to have it: and if my Lady Lettice had been of my mind, she'd have had a fight for it, instead of giving in to them; and if Aubrey Banaster had had a scrap of gumption, he'd have seen to it. He is the eldest man of the family, and they're pretty nigh all lads but him. Howbeit, let that pass. Only I want you, Faith, to think of it, and not go treating my Lady Lettice to a dish of tears every meal she sits down to, or she'll be sorry you're her daughter-in-law, if she isn't now; and if her name were Temperance Murthwaite it's much if she wouldn't be."
"Oh, you can say what you like—you always do—"
"Beg your pardon, Faith; I very generally don't."
"You haven't a bit of feeling for a poor widow. I hope you may never be a widow—"
"Thank you; I'll have a care of that. Now, Lettice! jump up, maid, and don your hat and mantle, and I will run down with you to Selwick while there's a bit of light. My Lady Lettice thought you'd best be there to-night, so you could be up early and of some use to your Aunt Edith."
It was not Temperance Murthwaite's custom to let the grass grow under her feet, and the three miles which lay between the little house at Keswick and Selwick Hall were put behind her and Lettice when another hour was over.
Selwick Hall stood on the bank of Derwentwater, and was the residence of Lettice's grandmother, the widowed Lady Louvaine, her daughter Edith, her grandson Aubrey, and Hans Floriszoon, the orphan nephew of an old friend, Mynheer Stuyvesant, who had been adopted into the family when a little child. It was also theoretically the abode of Lettice's Aunt Faith, who was Aubrey's mother, and who practically flitted from the one house to the other at her rather capricious will. It had become her habit to depart to Keswick whenever her feelings were outraged at Selwick; and as Faith's feelings were of that order which any thing might outrage, and nobody knew of it till they were outraged, her abode during the last six years had been mainly with the sister who never petted her, but from whom she would stand ten times more than from the tenderer hearts at Selwick.
Lettice's hand was on the door when it opened, and there stood her Cousin Aubrey.
"Good even, Aunt Temperance," said he. "You are right in time for supper."
"Thank you, Master Aubrey Late-hours," replied she; "'tis a bit too late for my supper, and Lettice's likewise, without she can eat two of a night. How is it with my Lady Lettice? I hope, lad, you help and comfort her all you can."
Aubrey looked rather astonished.
"Comfort her?" he said. "She's all right."
"How old are you, Aubrey?"
"Why, Aunt Temperance, you know I was twenty last month."
"One makes blunders betimes, lad. That speech of thine sounded about ten."
"What mean you, Aunt Temperance?"
"Nay, lad, if God have not given thee eyes and brains, I shall be ill-set to do it.—Run in, Lettice. No, I'm not coming—not while to-morrow morning. Remember to be up early, and help all you can—both of you. Good even."
Temperance shut the door, and they heard her quick foot tread sharply down the gravel walk.
"I say, 'tis jolly moving house, isn't it?" said Aubrey.
"I can't think why Aunt Temperance supposes that Grandmother or any body should want comforting."
"Well, we are young, and she is old," replied Lettice; "I suppose old folks care more about those things, perhaps."
"Oh, 'tis but because they are lazy and have the rheumatism," said Aubrey, laughing. "Beside, Grandmother cares not about things like Mother. Mother's for ever fretting, but Grandmother's always cheery."
The cousins left the deep whitewashed porch and the oak-panelled hall, and went forward into the chief sitting-room of the house, known as the great parlour. The word "withdrawing-room" was still restricted to palaces and palatial mansions, and had not descended so low as to a country gentleman's house like Selwick Hall. The great parlour was a large room with a floor of polished oak, hung with tapestry in which the prevailing colour was red, and the chairs held cushions of red velvet. On the tiled hearth a comfortable fire burned softly away, and in a large chair of dark carved wood beside it, propped up with cushions of red velvet, sat an old lady of seventy-six, looking the very picture of comfort and sweetness. And though "her golden hairs time had to silver turned," and she was now a widow indeed, and desolate, some of my readers may recognise their old friend Lettice Eden. Her eyes, though a little sunken, kept their clear blue, and her complexion was still fair and peach-like, with a soft, faint rose-colour, like a painting on china. She had a loving smile for every one, and a gentle, soothing voice, which the children said half cured the little troubles wherein they always ran to Grandmother. Aunt Faith was usually too deep in her own troubles, and Aunt Edith, though always kind, was also invariably busy; while there was considerable hesitation in making an appeal to Aunt Temperance, who might answer it with a box on the ear instead of a comforting kiss, or at best had an awkward way of turning the tables on the plaintiff by making him out to be the offender instead of the defendant. But nobody ever hesitated to appeal to Grandmother, whose very rebukes fell as softly as rose-leaves, and were always so justly deserved that they had twice the effect of those which came from perpetual fault-finders. Aubrey had grown up in this atmosphere, but it was much newer to his cousin Lettice, the daughter of Dudley Murthwaite and Helen Louvaine. Until she was twelve years old, Lettice had dwelt with her father at Skiddaw Force, her Aunt Temperance having supplied the place of the dead mother who had faded from her child's memory, for Helen passed away when her daughter was only two years old. It had not been exactly Dudley's choice which had placed Temperance in that position. He would have preferred his wife's youngest sister, Edith, to fill the vacant place of mother to his little girl; but Edith firmly though kindly declined to make her home away from Selwick Hall. The natural explanation of course was that she, being the only unmarried daughter of the house, preferred to remain with her parents. Edith said so, and all her friends repeated it, and thought it very natural and proper. And no one knew, except God and Edith, that the reason given was only half the truth, and that the last place in this world which Edith Louvaine could take was the place of that dead sister Helen who had so unconsciously taken the one thing which Edith coveted for herself. Thus thrown back on one of his own sisters, Dudley tried next to persuade Faith to make her home with him. It might have been better for Faith if she had done so. But she liked the more luxurious life of Selwick Hall, where she had only to represent herself as tired or poorly to have any exertion taken for her by some one else; and she was one of those unconscious impostors who begin by imposing on themselves. Whatever she wished to do, she was always capable of persuading herself that she ought to do. Faith therefore declined to remove to her brother's house. The last resource was Temperance, who, when appealed to, averred herself perfectly ready to go wherever she was most wanted. One baggage-horse would be enough for her luggage, she thanked goodness; she had two gowns for winter and two for summer, and no reasonable woman ought to have any more. As to ruffs and puffs, cuffs and muffs, she troubled herself with none of those ridiculous vanities. A plain laced bodice and skirt were good enough to work in, and a pair of stout shoes to keep her out of the mire, with a hat and kerchief for outdoor wear, and a warm cloak for cold weather. Her miscellaneous possessions were limited to a big work-basket, two silver spoons and a goblet, and three books—namely, a copy of the four Gospels, a Prayer-book, and Luther on the Lord's Prayer. Packing and unpacking were small matters. In these circumstances, and Temperance's change of residence was the affair of an afternoon. Six years afterwards her brother Dudley died; and Temperance, taking into consideration the facts that Skiddaw Force was a very lonely place, having no house within some miles save a few isolated cottages of charcoal-burners and shepherds; that a small house at Keswick belonged to Lettice; and that the child's grand-parents on the mother's side were desirous to have her near them, let the house at Skiddaw Force, and came to live at Keswick.
The family at Selwick Hall had once been much larger than now. All were gone but these few—Milisent to another home; Anstace, Walter, and Helen lay in the churchyard, and Ned, the father of young Aubrey, under the waves of the North Atlantic; and then Mynheer Stuyvesant, the old Dutch gentleman who had been driven from his own land for the faith's sake, and having been the boys' tutor, had stayed for love after necessity was over, took his last journey to the better country; and dear, honest, simple Cousin Bess Wolvercot, friend and helper of all, went to receive her reward, with—
"Nothing to leave but a worn-out frame, And a name without a stain; Nothing to leave but an empty place, That nothing could fill again—"
And after that, Lady Lettice felt herself growing old. The evening shadows crept further, and her right hand in household affairs was gone; but with the constant love and aid of Edith, she held on her way, until the sorest blow of all fell on her, and the husband who had been ever counsellor and comforter and stay, left her side for the continuing City. Since then, Lettice Louvaine had been simply waiting for the day when she should join him again, and in the interim trying through growing infirmities to "do the next thing,"—remembering the words uttered so long ago by his beloved cousin Anstace, that some day the next step would be the last step.
When Sir Aubrey Louvaine died, at the age of seventy-nine, two years before the story opens, Aubrey, his grandson and namesake, became the owner of Selwick Hall: but being under age, every thing was left in the hands of his grandmother.
The pang of Lady Louvaine's bereavement was still fresh when another blow fell on her. Her husband had inherited Selwick from a distant cousin, known in the neighbourhood as the Old Squire. The Old Squire's two sons, Nicholas and Hugh, had predeceased him, Sir Aubrey had taken peaceable possession of the estate, and no one ever doubted his title for fifty years, himself least of all. Three months after his death, Lady Louvaine was astounded to receive a lawyer's letter, claiming the Selwick lands on behalf of one Oswald Louvaine of Newcastle, a young man who asserted himself to be the grandson of the long-deceased Hugh. His documentary proofs were all in order, his witnesses were numerous and positive, and Lady Louvaine possessed no counter-proof of any kind to rebut this unheard-of claim. After a vain search among her husband's papers, and a consultation with such of her friends and relatives as she judged suitable, she decided not to carry the matter into a court of law, but to yield peaceable possession to young Oswald, on consideration of his giving her a writ of immunity from paying back dues of any kind, which indeed it would have been quite out of her power to discharge. Sir Aubrey's income was comfortably sufficient for the family wants, but there was little to spare when both ends had met. Mr Oswald accepted the terms as an immense favour on his part; and at the age of seventy-six Lady Louvaine was deprived of the home wherein she had dwelt for fifty-six years, and summoned like Abraham to go forth into the land which God would show her.
Where to go was the next question. Her daughter Milisent, with her husband Robert Lewthwaite, would gladly have received her, and implored her to come to them; but nine children, a full house, and a small income, barred the way in that direction. No offer of a home came from Red Banks, where the children of her eldest daughter Anstace lived, and where the income was twice as large as at Mere Lea, while the family did not amount to half the number. Temperance Murthwaite trudged up to Selwick to offer the tiny house which was part of Lettice's little patrimony, actually proposing herself to go to service, and leave Lettice in her grandmother's care. This Faith regarded as a cruel injury, and Lady Louvaine would not hear of it. From her daughter-in-law. Mrs Walter Louvaine, at Kendal, came a sweetly-perfumed and sweetly-worded letter, wherein the writer offered— a thousand apologies, and a dozen excuses for not receiving her dear and revered mother. Her grief in having so to write, she assured them, was incalculable and inconsolable. She begged that it might be taken into consideration that Diana was shortly to be married, and would require a trousseau—which, she did not add, comprised a pound of gold lace, and six pairs of silk stockings at two guineas the pair: that Montague, being in a nobleman's household, was an appalling expense to her; that the younger boys were growing up and would require situations found for them, while Jane and Frances would some day need portioning: all which facts were so many heavy burdens,—and had not the Apostle said that he who neglected to provide for his own was worse than an infidel? Lady Louvaine received this letter with a slight sigh, a gentle smile, and "Poor Frances!" But the usually calm, sunny temper of Edith was not proof against it. She tore the letter in two and flung the fragments into the fire.
"Edith, my dear daughter!" ejaculated her astonished mother.
"Mother, I can't stand it!" was the response. "I must either do this or something worse. And to drag in the Apostle Paul as a prop for such hypoc—I'll just go and churn, and perhaps I can talk like a Christian when I come back!"
Such things as these did not move Lady Louvaine. But there were two things which did move her, even to tears. The first was when Hans brought her a little box in which lay five silver pieces, entreating her to accept them, such as they were—and she found after close cross-examination that part of the money was the boy's savings to buy cherished books, and part the result of the sale of his solitary valuable possession, a pair of silver buckles. The other took place when notice was given to all the servants. Each received his or her wages, and a little token of remembrance, with bow or courtesy, and an expression of regret on leaving so kind a mistress, mingled with good wishes for her future welfare: all but one. That one was Charity, the under-housemaid from Pendle. Charity rolled up her arms in her apron, and said curtly—"Nay!"
"But, Charity, I owe you this," responded her mistress in some surprise.
"If you're bound to reckon up, my Lady, betwixt you and me, there mun be somewhat set down o' tother side o' th' book," announced Charity sturdily. "Yo' mun mind you 'at yo' took me ba'at [without] a commendation, because nob'ry [nobody] 'd have me at after Mistress Watson charged me wi' stealing her lace fall, 'at she found at after amongst her kerchiefs; that's a hundred pound to th' good. And yo' nursed me through th' fever—that's another. And yo' held me back fro' wedding wi' yon wastrel [scoundrel] Nym Thistlethwaite, till I'd seen a bit better what manner of lad he were, and so saved me fro' being a poor, bruised, heart-broke thing like their Margery is now, 'at he did wed wi'—and that counts for five hundred at least. That's seven hundred pound, Madam, and I've nobut twelve i' th' world—I'm bankrupt. So, if you please, we'll have no reckonings, or I shall come off warst. And would you please to tell me when you look to be i' London town, and where you'll 'light first?"
"My good Charity! they named thee not ill," answered Lady Louvaine. "I trust to be in London the end of March—nigh on Lady Day; and I light at the White Bear, in the King's Street, Westminster."
"Pray you, Madam, how many miles is it hence?"
"'Tis about two hundred miles, Charity."
For a moment Charity was silent. Then she said, "An't like you, Madam, I'd fain go the first o' March."
Lady Louvaine was a little surprised, for she had given her servants a month's notice, which would expire on the fifteenth of March. However, if Charity preferred to be paid in time instead of money, that was her own affair. She assented, and Charity, dropping another courtesy, left the room.
Lady Louvaine's house in London had been obtained through the Earl of Oxford, a distant cousin of her husband, in whose household her son Walter had long before taken unwholesome lessons in fashion and extravagance. The Earl, now in his grand climacteric, had outlived his youthful frivolity, and though he had become a hard and austere man, was yet willing to do a kindness to his kinsman's widow by engaging a house for her, and offering for her grandson a squire's place which happened to be vacant in his household. She would have preferred some less showy and more solid means of livelihood for Aubrey, whose character was yet unfixed, and whose disposition was lighter than she liked to see it: but no other offered, and she accepted this.
A few days before the time for departure, up trudged Temperance Murthwaite again.
"Madam," said she, "I'm something 'feared I'm as welcome as water into a ship, for I dare guess you've enough to do with the hours, but truth to tell, I'm driven to it. Here's Faith set to go after you to London."
"Poor child! let her come."
"I can get as far as 'poor,' Madam, but I can go no further with you," answered Temperance grimly. "Somebody's poor enough, I cast no doubt, but I don't think it's Faith. But you have not yet beheld all your calamities. If Faith goes, I must go too—and if I go, and she, then must Lettice."
"Dear Temperance, I shall be verily glad."
"Lady Lettice, you're too good for this world!—and there aren't ten folks in it to whom I ever said that. Howbeit, you shall not lose by me, for I purpose to take Rachel withal and she and I can do the housework betwixt us, and so set Edith free to wait on you. Were you thinking to carry servants, or find them there?"
"I thought to find one there. More than one, methinks, we can scarce afford."
"Well then for that shall Rachel serve: and I'll work the cost of my keep and more, you shall see. I can spin with the best, and weave too; you'll never come short of linen nor linsey while I'm with you—and Lettice can run about and save steps to us all. What think you?—said I well?"
"Very well indeed, my dear: I were fain to have you."
"Then you'll look for us. Good-morrow!" The last evening was a busy one for all parties, and there was little time to spare for indulgence in remembrance or regret. It was two hours later than usual, when Lettice at last lay down to sleep and even then, sleep seemed long in coming. She heard her Aunt Edith's soft movements in the neighbouring gallery, where she was putting final touches to the packing, and presently they slid unconsciously into the sound of the waterfall at Skiddaw Force, by the side of which Lettice was climbing up to the Tower of London. She knew nothing of the tender, cheerful "Good-night, Mother dear!" given to Lady Louvaine—of the long, pathetic gaze at the moonlit landscape—of the silently-sobbed prayer, and the passionate rain of tears—such different tears from those of Faith!—which left a wet stain upon Edith's coverlet. It was hard to leave the old home—hard to leave the new graves. But the next thing the young niece heard was only—"Time to rise, Lettice!" spoken in the usual bright manner—and, looking up, she saw Aunt Edith fully dressed.
Lettice sprang up in a fright, and scrambled into her clothes with all the haste possible. She, who was to have helped Aunt Edith, to be fast asleep in bed when she was ready! It was not many minutes before Lettice was dressed, but her morning prayer had in it sundry things which were not prayers.
Breakfast was nearly over when a curious rolling sound was heard, followed by the tramp of horses: and Aubrey jumped up to look, for it was half-an-hour too soon for the baggage-horses to be brought. He had to run into the porch-chamber to see what it was, and before he returned came old Roger the serving-man, with a letter in his hand, which he gave to his mistress. She opened the letter, but finding it somewhat difficult for dim eyes to make out, she gave it back to Roger, desiring him to read it. [Note 2.] So Roger read:—
"Madam,—Since I need be in London this next weekend, where I look to tarry some time, and am offered a seat in my good Lord of Northumberland's caroche, it were pity that my caroche should go thither empty, in especial when so good and old a friend is likewise on her journey. May I therefore beg that your Ladyship will so far favour me as to use the caroche as your own, from this day until Friday week, when, if it serve your convenience, it may return to me at Radcliffe House? My servants have orders to obey your Ladyship's directions, and to serve you in all regards as myself.
"I kiss the hands of fair Mistress Edith, and beg my best compliments to your young gentlemen, and am, Madam, yours to my little power, Dilston."
Aubrey had come back whilst Roger was reading, and scarcely gave him leave to make an end of the letter.
"Madam, 'tis my Lord Dilston's caroche, with six great Flanders horses, and three serving-men, all as fine as fiddlers, and never a soul in the caroche—"
"Truly, this is of the Lord's goodness," said Lady Louvaine. "I did indeed fear the journey on horseback, but there seemed none other means."
"The like did I for you, dear Mother," added Edith. "I am most thankful for my Lord Dilston's kindly proffer. It shall ease the journey to you more than all we could do."
Lady Louvaine bade Edith write an answer, and ordered Roger to take back to Mere Lea the three saddle-horses lent her by Mr Lewthwaite, explaining why they were no longer needed. It was then settled that the four ladies and Lettice should travel in the coach, Aubrey, Hans, and Rachel going on horseback.
Hans had gone out, and they saw him talking in the front with Lord Dilston's postillion. Now he came back. "Well, Hans, what wormed you out of the postillion?" inquired Aubrey.
"His master's goodness," said Hans. "Have you a bit left for me? or do you want it all for yourself?"
"It is all for my Lady. My Lord Dilston was meaning to have gone to Town himself in his own caroche, till he heard of your Ladyship's trouble, and then he cast about to know of some friend that was going, so he might leave it for you. Then he heard of my Lord of Northumberland, and he begged a seat in his caroche; and Madam Penelope stuffed the caroche with all the cushions that were in the house, and a hamper of baked meats, and wine, and a great fur mantle to lap your Ladyship in; and my Lord bade the postillion to drive very soft, that you should not be shaken, without you told him to go fast, and the footmen were to have a care of you and save you all that they could. Said I not well, his goodness?"
"Truly, Hans, you did so," answered Edith; "and right thankful should we all be, first to the Lord, and then to my Lord Dilston, that my dear mother can now journey in safety and comfort."
Lady Louvaine said, softly, "Bless the Lord! and may He bless this kind friend! Truly, I marvel wherefore it is that every one is so good to me. It must be, surely, for my dead Aubrey's sake."
"Oh, of course," said young Aubrey, laughing; "they all hate you, Madam, you may be sure."
His grandmother smiled on him, for she understood him.
Now came the Murthwaite sisters trudging up the path, Temperance carrying a heavy basket, and Faith bearing no greater weight than her handkerchief, behind which, as usual, she was weeping.
"Good-morrow, Madam," said Aunt Temperance as she came in. "A fine day for our journey."
"You're to ride in a caroche, Aunt Temperance!" cried Aubrey.
"Who—me? No, I thank you, my young Master. I never set foot in such a thing in my life, nor never will by my good will. I like the feel of a horse under me well enough; but that finicky gingerbread thing, all o'er gilding—I'd as soon go on a broomstick. Whose is it?"
"'Tis my Lord Dilston's, that hath most kindly proffered it to Mother for the journey," replied Edith. "We had settled that we four, with Lettice, should journey therein; but if you would rather be on horseback, Temperance—"
"That would I, by ten mile," said she. "I hate being cooped up in a four-post bed, with all the curtains drawn; and that lumbering thing's no better. Faith'll go, I don't doubt; any thing that's a bit smart and showy!! take her: and Lettice may please herself. I dare say the child will have a fantasy to ride in a caroche for once in her life."
"Indeed, Aunt, I would like it," answered Lettice, "for very like I may never have such another chance while I live."
"Truly, that's little like," retorted Temperance with a laugh. "So have thy ride, child, if thou wilt.—Dear heart! Lady Lettice, I ask your pardon."
"For what, Temperance, my dear?"
"Taking your place, Madam, instead of my own. Here am I, deciding what Lettice shall do or not do, when you being in presence, it belongs to you to judge."
Lady Louvaine gave her gentle smile.
"Nay, if we must stand upon our rights, you, Temperance, as her father's sister, have the right to choose."
"Then I choose to obey you, Lady Lettice," said Temperance with a courtesy.
"Madam," now announced Hans from the door, "the baggage is packed, and the caroche awaiteth your Ladyship."
Edith helped her mother to rise from, her chair. She stood one moment, her hand on Edith's arm; and a look came into her eyes such as a drowning man might give to the white cliffs whereon his home stood, where his wife and his little children were waiting for him. So she stood and looked slowly round the chamber, her eyes travelling from one thing to another, till she had gone all over it. And then she said, in a low, pathetic voice—
"'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee.' Once before I had that call, and it led me to him who was the stay and blessing of my life. Yet again I go forth: O my Father, let it lead to Thee, unto Thy holy hill, and to Thy tabernacle! Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, wherein Thou hast caused me to hope—'Certainly I will be with thee,'—'I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee,'—'Fear not, for I have redeemed thee: I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine.' Lord, keep Thine own!—Now, my children, let us go hence with God."
In something like a procession they went forth from Selwick Hall. Lady Louvaine first, leaning on Edith and Hans, to whom Aubrey was always ready to resign troublesome duties; then Faith, Temperance, Aubrey, and Lettice.
At the door stood the great coach, painted in dark mulberry-colour and picked out with gilding, the lining and cushions of blue: and harnessed to it were the six great horses, dark roan, with cream-coloured manes, knotted likewise in blue. The servants wore mulberry-coloured livery, corded with blue.
Lady Louvaine took her place on the right hand of the coach, facing the horses, Faith being at her side. Opposite sat Edith, and Lettice by the door.
"Aunt Temperance!" called out Aubrey from the doorstep, "you shall have my horse, if you will; I am going in the caroche."
"You are what, Sirrah?" demanded Aunt Temperance, with the severity of at least one Lord Chief-Justice.
"I shall ride in the caroche," repeated Aubrey calmly.
"Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham!" was the awful answer.
The young people knew what that meant. When Temperance said "Dear heart!" she was just a little surprised or put out; when it was "Lancaster and Derby!" she was very much astonished or provoked; but when she supplicated the help of "Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham!" it meant from Aunt Temperance what swearing would from any one else.
"I should like to know, if you please, Mr Aubrey Louvaine, whether you are a king, a sick woman, or a baby?"
"Well, Aunt, I don't think I am any of them at present."
"Then you have no business to ride in a caroche till you are. I never heard of such a thing in my life. A man to ride in a caroche! We shall have them hemming handkerchiefs to-morrow."
"You won't have me," said Aubrey.
"I won't have you in there," retorted Temperance bluntly, "without my Lady Lettice call you in, and that she won't. Will you, Madam?"
"Certainly not, my dear, after your decision," she replied. "Indeed, I do think it too effeminate for men, persons of high honour except, or them that are sick and infirm."
"That rascal's not sick, any more than he's a person of honour.—Thee bestride thy horse, lad—without thou canst find an ass, which would suit with thee better.—Now, Hans, come and help me to mount."
When all were mounted, the six great horses tugged and strained at the big coach, and with a good push from the four farm-servants, it moved forwards, at first slowly, then faster. The farm-servants stood bareheaded, to see the family depart, crying, "God bless you, my Lady, and bring you home in peace!"
Faith sank back sobbing into the corner, and there were tears in Edith's eyes which she would not let fall.
"Farewell!" said Lady Louvaine, leaning forward. "Farewell, my good, kind old friends—Thomas, William, Isaac, and Gideon—I wish you God's blessing, and a better head than I."
"Nay, nay, that'll ne'er be, nor couldn't, no wise!" cried old Gideon, and the rest all echoed his "Nay, nay!"
"Farewell!" said his mistress again, somewhat faintly, as she sank back into the corner. "Friends, God will bless me, and He shall bring me home in peace."
Note 1. The thrum is the fringed end of a weaver's web; a thrum hat was made of very coarse tufted woollen cloth.
Note 2. This was quite a common occurrence at that time, when men-servants were usually better educated, and ladies and gentlemen much less so, than now.
THE JOURNEY TO LONDON.
"And yet, I do remember, some dim sense Of vague presentiment Swept o'er me, as beyond the gates we turned To make the long descent."
At the bridge-end, as they came up, were Milisent and her husband, with seven of their nine children,—even little Fortune, but five years old, whom Milisent lifted into the coach and set on her Aunt Edith's knee, saying "she should say all her life that she had sat in my Lord Dilston's earache." Then Milisent came in herself and sat down for a moment between her mother and Faith, whilst her husband talked with Aubrey, and all the children crowded about Hans, always a favourite with children. After a few minutes' conversation, Robert came up to the coach-door with—"Time to go, Milly. We must not tarry Mother on her journey, for she is like to be weary enough ere she come to its end."
Then Milisent broke down, and threw her arms around her mother, and cried,—"O Mother, Mother, how shall I do without you? Must I never see you again?"
"My Milisent," said Lady Louvaine, "I shall not carry God from thee. And thou wilt surely see me again, sweet heart, where we shall part no more for ever."
For a few minutes Milisent wept as if her heart would break; then she wiped her eyes, and kissed them all round, only breaking down a little again when she came to her sister Edith.
"O Edith, darling sister, I never loved thee half well enough!"
Edith was calm now. "Send me the other half in thy letters, Milly," she replied, "and I will return it to thee."
"Ay, we can write betimes," said Milisent, looking a little comforted. Then to her niece,—"Now, Lettice, I look to thee for all the news. The first day of every month shall we begin to look out for a letter at Mere Lea; and if my sister cannot write, then must thou. Have a care!"
"So I will, Aunt," said Lettice.
Milisent alighted with a rather brighter look—she was not wont to look any thing but bright—Robert took his leave and then came all the cousins pouring in to say good-bye. So the farewells were spoken, and they went on their journey; but as far as they could see until hidden by the hill round which they drove, Milisent's handkerchief was waving after them.
Lady Louvaine bore the journey better than her daughters had feared; and our friends deemed themselves very happy that during the whole of it, they were not once overturned, and only four times stuck in the mud. At the end of the fourth day, which was Friday, they came up to the door of the Hill House at Minster Lovel. And as they lumbered round the sweep with their six horses, Edith cried joyously,—"Oh, there's old Rebecca!"
To Edith Louvaine, a visit to the Hill House was in a sense coming home, for its owner, her father's cousin, Joyce Morrell, had been to her almost a second mother. When people paid distant visits in the sixteenth century, it was not for a week's stay, but for half a year, or at least a quarter. During many years it had been the custom that visits of this length should be exchanged between Selwick Hall and the Hill House at Minster Lovel alternately, at the close of every two years. But Edith, who was Aunt Joyce's special favourite, had paid now and then a visit between-times; and when, as years and infirmities increased, the meetings were obliged to cease for the elders, Edith's yearly stay of three or four months with the old and lonely cousin had become an institution instead of them. Her feeling, therefore, was much like that of a daughter of the house introducing her relatives to her own home; for Lady Louvaine was the only other of the party to whom the Hill House had been familiar in old times.
Its owner, the once active and energetic old lady, now confined to her couch by partial paralysis, had been called Aunt Joyce by the Louvaines of the second generation ever since their remembrance lasted. To the younger ones, however, she was a stranger; and they watched with curious eyes their Aunt Edith's affectionate greeting of the old servant Rebecca, who had guarded and amused her as a baby, and loved her as a girl. Rebecca, on her part, was equally glad to see her.
"Run you in, Mrs Edith, my dear," said she; "you'll find the mistress in the Credence Chamber. Eh, she has wearied for you!—Good evening, Madam, and I'm fain to see your Ladyship again. Would you please to allow of my help in 'lighting?"
While Rebecca and Hans assisted her mother to descend, Edith ran into the house with as light and fleet a step as if she were fourteen instead of forty, and entered a large, low chamber, hung with dark leather hangings, stamped in gold, where a bright lamp burned on a little table, and on a low couch beside it lay an old lady, covered over with a fur coverlet. She had a pleasant, kindly old face, with fresh rose-colour in her cheeks, and snow-white hair; and her face lighted up when she saw Edith, like a candle set in a dark window. Edith ran to her, and cast her arms about her, and she said, "My Edith, mine own dear child!" as tenderly as if she had been her own mother.
Lady Louvaine followed her daughter, leaning on Hans and Rebecca, who took her up to the couch, and set her down in a large chair furnished with soft cushions, which stood close beside, as if it were there on purpose. She laid her hand upon Joyce's, who fondled it in both hers. Then Joyce gave a little laugh.
"Lettice, dost thou wonder to hear me laugh?" asked she. "I seemed like as if I saw, all at once, that sunshine afternoon when thou earnest first over from the Manor House, sent of my Lady Norris to make friends with us. Dost remember?"
"And thou earnest tripping lightly down the stairs, clad of a russet gown, and leddest me up to see Anstace. 'Do I remember it!' Ah, Joyce, my sister, there be sore changes since that day!"
"Be there so?" said Joyce, and smiled brightly enough. "A good number of miles nearer Home, Lettice, and a good number of treasures laid up for both of us, where neither moth nor rust shall hurt them. My treasures are all there which are not likewise thine. And now let me see the new gems in thy jewel-box. Who art thou, my maid?"
"I am Lettice Murthwaite, Madam, if you please."
"My dear heart, I do not please to be called Madam. I am thine Aunt Joyce. Come here and kiss me, if thou wilt."
Lettice knelt down by the couch, and kissed the old lady.
"There is not much of Nell here, Lettice," said Joyce to Lady Louvaine. "'Tis her father the child is like. Now then, which of these two lads is Aubrey—he with the thinking brow, or he with the restless eyes?"
Lady Louvaine called Aubrey, and he came up.
"Why, thou art like nobody," said Aunt Joyce. "Neither Ned nor Faith, nor any of Ned's elders. Lettice, where is Faith? hast not brought her withal?"
Faith was in the hall, listening to a lecture from Temperance, embellished by such elegancies as "Stuff and nonsense!" and "Listen to reason!" which ended up at last with "Lancaster and Derby!" and Faith came slowly in, with her everlasting handkerchief at her eyes.
"Nay, Faith, sweet heart, no tears!" cried the old lady. "Sure there's nought to weep for this even, without thou art so dog-weary that thou canst not keep them back."
"Mistress Morrell, I wish you good even," said Temperance, coming in after her sister. "If you'll but learn Faith to keep that handkerchief of hers in her pocket, you'll have done the best work ever you did since we saw you last in Derwent-dale. She's for ever and the day after a-fretting and a-petting, for why she'd better tell you, for I'm a Dutchman if I can make out."
Aunt Joyce looked from one to the other.
"So unfeeling!" came Faith's set form, from behind the handkerchief. "And me a poor widow!"
The old lady's face went very grave, and all the cheeriness passed out of it.
"Faith, you are not the only widow in the chamber," she said gently. "Temperance, my dear, she is weary, maybe."
"She hasn't got a bit of call," rejoined Temperance. "Sat all day long in my Lord Dilston's smart caroche, lolling back in the corner, just like a feather-bed. Mistress Joyce, 'tis half ill-temper and half folly—that's what it is."
"Well, well, my dear, we need not judge our neighbours.—Edith, my child, thou knowest the house as well as I; wilt thou carry thy friends above? Rebecca hath made ready My Lady's Chamber for my Lady,"—with a smile at her old friend—"and the Fetterlock Chamber for Faith and Temperance. The Old Wardrobe is for thee and Lettice, and the lads shall lie in the Nursery."
Names to every room, after this fashion, were customary in old houses. The party were to stay at Minster Lovel for four days, from Friday to Tuesday, and then to pursue their journey to London.
In the Old Wardrobe, a pleasant bedchamber on the upper floor, Lettice washed off the dust of the journey, and changed her clothes when the little trunk came up which held the necessaries for the night. Then she tried to find her way to the Credence Chamber, and—as was not very surprising—lost it, coming out into a long picture-gallery where she was at once struck and entranced by a picture that hung there. It represented a young girl about her own age, laid on a white couch, and dressed in white, but with such a face as she had never seen on any woman in this life. It was as white as the garments, with large dark eyes, wherein it seemed to Lettice as if her very soul had been melted; a soul that had gone down into some dreadful deep, and having come up safe, was ever afterwards anxiously ready to help other souls out of trouble. She would have thought the painter meant it for an angel, but that angels are not wont to be invalids and lie on couches. Beside this picture hung another, which reminded her of her Grandfather Louvaine; but this was of a young man, not much older than Aubrey, yet it had her grandfather's eyes, which she had seen in none else save her Aunt Edith. Now Lettice began to wonder where she was, and how she should find her way; and hearing footsteps, she waited till they came up, when she saw old Rebecca.
"Why, my dear heart, what do you here?" said she kindly.
"Truly, I know not," the youthful visitor answered. "I set forth to go down the stairs, and missed the right turning, as I guess. But pray you, Rebecca, ere you set me in the way, tell me of whom are these two pictures?"
"Why," said she, "can you not guess? The one is of your own grandfather, Sir Aubrey Louvaine."
"Oh, then it is Grandfather when he was young. But who is this, Rebecca? It looks like an angel, but angels are never sick, and she seems to be lying sick."
"There be angels not yet in Heaven, Mistress Lettice," softly answered the old servant. "And if you were to live to the age of Methuselah, you'd never see a portrait of one nearer the angels than this. 'Tis a picture that old Squire—Mistress Joyce's father—would have taken, nigh sixty years since, of our angel, our Mistress Anstace, when she was none so many weeks off the golden gate. They set forth with her in a litter for London town, and what came back was her coffin, and that picture."
"Was she like that?" asked Lettice, scarcely above her breath, for she felt as if she could not speak aloud, any more than in church.
"She was, and she was not," said old Rebecca. "Them that knew her might be minded of her. She was like nothing in this world. But, my dear heart, I hear Mrs Edith calling for you. Here be the stairs, and the Credence Chamber, where supper is laid, is the first door on your left after you reach the foot."
On the Saturday evening, as they sat round the fire in the Credence Chamber, Edith asked Aunt Joyce if old Dr Cox were still parson of Minster Lovel.
"Nay," said she; "I would he were. We have a new lord and new laws, the which do commonly go together."
"What manner of lord?" inquired Edith.
"And what make of laws?" said Temperance.
"Bad, the pair of them," said the old lady.
"Why, is he a gamester or drunkard?" asked Lady Louvaine.
"Or a dumb dog that cannot bark?" suggested Temperance.
"Well, I'd fain have him a bit dumber," was Aunt Joyce's answer. "At least, I wish he'd dance a bit less."
"Dance!" cried Edith.
"Well!" said Aunt Joyce, "what else can you call it, when a man measures his steps, goes two steps up and bows, then two steps down and bows, then up again one step, with a great courtesy, and holds up his hands as if he were astonished—when there's nothing in the world to astonish him except his own foolish antics?"
"But where doth he this?" said Lady Louvaine: "here in the chamber, or out of door?"
"Dear heart! in the church."
"But for why?"
"Prithee ask at him, for I can ne'er tell thee."
"Did you ne'er ask him, Aunt?" said Edith.
"For sure did I, and gat no answer that I could make aught of: only some folly touching Catholic practice, and the like. And, 'Master Twinham,' said I, 'I know not well what you would be at, but I can tell you, I lived through the days of Queen Mary, and, if that be what you mean by Catholic practices, they are practices we don't want back again.' Well, he mumbled somewhat about being true to the Church, and such like: but if he be an honest man, my shoes be made of Shrewsbury sweet bread. We tumbled all such practices out of the Church, above forty years gone; and what's more, we'll not stand to have them brought in again, though there be some may try."
"They will not bring any such folly in while the Queen liveth, I guess," answered Edith.
"Amen! but the Queen, God bless her! is seventy this year."
"Would you have her live for ever, Aunt Joyce?" asked Aubrey.
"Would she could!" she answered. "As to this fellow, I know not what he'll be at next. He told me to my face that a Papist was better than a Puritan. 'Well, Mr Twinham,' said I, 'you may be a Papist, but I am a Puritan, and there I tarry till I find somewhat better.'"
"Why, Joyce!" said Lady Louvaine, smiling, "thou wert not wont to call thyself a Puritan, in the old days when thou and Bess Wolvercot used to pick a crow betwixt you over Dr Meade's surplice at Keswick."
"No, I wasn't," said she. "But I tell you, Lettice, there be things human nature cannot bear. A clean white surplice and Christ's Gospel is one thing, and a purple vestment and an other Gospel is another. And if I'm to swallow the purple vestment along with the white surplice, I'll have neither. As to old Bess, dear blessed soul! she's in her right place, where she belongs; and if I may creep in at a corner of Heaven's door and clean her golden sandals, I shall be thankful enough, the Lord knows."
"But, Mrs Morrell! sure you never mean to say that surplices be giving place to purple vestments down this road!" cried Temperance in much horror.
"Children," said the old lady very solemnly, "we two, in God's mercy, shall not live to see what is coming, but very like you will. And I tell you, all is coming back which our fathers cast forth into the Valley of Hinnom, and afore you—Temperance, Faith, and Edith—be old women, it will be set up in the court of the Temple. Ay, much if it creep not into the Holy of Holies ere those three young folks have a silver hair. The Devil is coming, children: he's safe to be first; and in his train are the priests and the Pope. They are all coming: and you'll have to turn them out again, as your grandfathers did. And don't you fancy that shall be an easy task. It'll be the hardest whereto you ever set your shoulders. God grant you win through it! There are two dangers afore you, and when I say that, I mean not the torture-chamber and the stake. Nay, I am thinking of worser dangers than those—snares wherein feet are more easily trapped, a deal. List to me, for ere many years be over, you will find that I speak truth. The lesser danger is if the Devil come to you in his black robes, and offer to buy you with that which he guesseth to be your price—and that shall not be the same for all: a golden necklace may tempt one, and a place at Court another, and a Barbary mare a third. But worse, far worse, is the danger when the Devil comes in his robes of light; when he gilds his lie with a cover of outside truth; when he quotes Scripture for his purpose, twisting it so subtilely that if the Spirit of God give you not the answer, you know not how to answer him. Remember, all you young ones, and Aubrey in especial, that no man can touch pitch and not be denied. 'Evil communications corrupt good manners:' and they corrupt them worst and quickest when you see not that they be evil. If you think the scales be falling from your eyes, make very sure that they are not growing on them. And you can do that only by keeping very close to God's footstool and to God's Word. Be sure of this: whatsoever leads you away from that Book leads you wrong. I care not what it be—King or Pope, priest or layman, blind faith or blind reason,—he that neglects and sets aside the Word of God, for whatever cause, and whatever thing he would put in his place—children, his ways incline unto Hell, and his paths unto the dead. Go not after him, nor follow him. Mark my words, and see, twenty and yet more forty years hence, if they come not true."
Aubrey whispered to Lettice, "What made her pick out me in 'especial,' trow? I'm not about to handle no pitch."
But Hans said, with his gravest face, "I thank you, Madam," and seemed to be thinking hard about something all the rest of the evening.
On the Sunday morning, all went to church except the two old ladies, who could honestly plead infirmity.
When they came out, Lettice, who was burning to speak her mind, exclaimed,—"Saw you ever a parson so use himself, Aubrey? Truly I know not how to specify it—turning, and twisting, and bowing, and casting up of his hands and eyes—it well-nigh made me for to laugh!"
"Like a merry Andrew or a cheap Jack," laughed Aubrey.
"I thought his sermon stranger yet," said Hans, "nor could I see what it had to do with his text."
"What was his text?" inquired heedless Aubrey.
"'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,'" repeated Hans.
"Ay, and all he did, the hour through," cried Lettice, "was to bid us obey the Church, and hear the Church, and not run astray after no novelties in religion. And the Church is not the Lord our God, neither is religion, so far as I see."
"I mind Sir Aubrey once saying," added Hans, "that when a bride talked ever of herself, and nothing of her bridegroom, it was a very ill augury of the state of her heart."
"But saw you those two great candlesticks on the holy table?—what for be they?" said Lettice.
"Oh, they be but ornaments of the church," answered Aubrey, carelessly.
"But we have none such in Keswick Church: and what is the good of candlesticks without candles?"
"The candles will come," quietly replied Hans.
"Ah! you're thinking of what the old gentlewoman said last night— confess, Master Sobersides!" said Aubrey.
"I have thought much on it," answered Hans, who walked along, carrying the ladies' prayer-books; for the road being dirty, they had enough to do in holding up their gowns. "And I think she hath the right."
"Hans, I marvel how old thou wert when thou wert born!" said Aubrey.
"I think, very like, about as old as you were," said Hans.
"Well, Mr Louvaine, you are a complete young gentleman!" cried his Aunt Temperance, looking back at him. "To suffer three elder gentlewomen to trudge in the mire, and never so much as offer to hand one of them! Those were not good manners, my master, when I was a young maid—but seeing how things be changed now o' days, maybe that has gone along with them. Come hither at once, thou vagrant, and give thine hand to thy mother, like a dutiful son as thou shouldest be, and art not."
"Oh, never mind me!" sighed Faith. "I have given over expecting such a thing. I am only a poor widow."
"Madam," apologised Hans, very red in the face, "I do truly feel ashamed that I have no better done my duty, and I entreat you not—"
"I was not faulting thee, lad," said Temperance. "We have already laden thee with books; and it were too much to look for thee to do thine own duty and other folks' too. It's this lazy lad I want. I dare be bound he loveth better to crack jests with his cousins than to be dutiful to his old mother and aunts."
"Temperance, I am only thirty-nine," said Faith in an injured voice. "I am the youngest of us three."
"Oh deary me! I ask your pardon," cried Temperance, with a queer set of her lips. "Yes, Madam, you are; Edith is an old woman of forty, and I a decrepit creature of forty-five; but you are a giddy young thing of thirty-nine. I'll try to mind it, at least till your next birthday."
Lettice laughed, and Aunt Temperance did not look angry, though she pulled a face at her. Edith smiled, and said pleasantly—
"Come, Aubrey, hand thy mother on my side; I will walk with Lettice and Hans."
"Aunt Edith," said Lettice, "pray you, why be those candlesticks on the holy table, with never a candle in them?"
"I cannot tell, Lettice," replied she; "I fear, if the parson dared, there would be candles in them, and belike will, ere long."
"Think you Aunt Joyce is right in what she said last night?"
"I fear so, Lettice," she answered very gravely. "We have not yet seen the last, I doubt, of Satan and his Roman legion."
The same afternoon, Lettice had a talk with old Rebecca, which almost frightened her. She went up to the gallery for another look at the two pictures, and Rebecca passing by, Lettice begged that if she were not very busy, she would tell her something about them. In reply she heard a long story, which increased her reverential love for the dead grandfather, and made her think that "Cousin Anstace" must have been an angel indeed. Rebecca had lived in the Hill House for sixty years, and she well remembered her mistress's sister.
"Mind you Queen Mary's days, Rebecca?" asked Lettice.
"Eh, sweet heart!" said the old servant. "They could ne'er be forgot by any that lived in them."
"Saw you any of the dreadful burnings?"
"Ay, did I, Mrs Lettice," said she,—"even the head and chief of them all, of my Lord's Grace of Canterbury. I saw him hold forth his right hand in the flame, that had signed his recantation: and after all was over, and the fire out, I drew nigh with the crowd, and beheld his heart entire, uncharred amongst the ashes. Ah my mistress! if once you saw such a sight as that, you could never forget it, your whole life thereafter."
"It must have been dreadful, Rebecca!" said Lettice.
"Well, it was, in one way," she answered: "and yet, in another, it was right strengthening. I never felt so strong in the faith as that hour, and for some while after. It was like as if Heaven had been opened to me, and I had a glimpse of the pearly portals, and the golden street, and the white waving wings of the angels as he went in."
"Saw you the Bishops burned, Rebecca—Dr Ridley and Dr Latimer?"
"I did not, Mrs Lettice; yet have I seen them both, prisoners, led through Oxford streets. Dr Ridley was a man with a look so grave that it was well-nigh severe: but Dr Latimer could break a jest with any man, and did, yea, with his very judges."
"Were you ever in any danger, Rebecca?—or Mrs Morrell?"
"I never was, Mrs Lettice; but my good mistress was once well-nigh taken of the catchpoll [constable]. You ask her to tell you the story, how she came at him with the red-hot poker. And after that full quickly she packed her male, and away to Selwick to Sir Aubrey and her Ladyship, where she tarried hid until Queen Elizabeth came in."
"Think you there shall ever be such doings in England again?"
"The Lord knoweth," and old Rebecca shook her white head. "There's not a bit of trust to be put in them snakes of priests and Jesuits and such like: not a bit! Let them get the upper hand again, and we shall have the like times. Good Lord, deliver us from them all!"
Lettice went down, intending to ask Aunt Joyce to tell her the story of the red-hot poker; but she never thought of it again, so absorbed was she with what the two old ladies were saying as she came in. They did not hear her enter: and the first word she heard made her so desirous of more, that she crept as softly as she could to a seat. Curiosity was her besetting sin.
"She used not to be thus," said Lady Louvaine. "Truly, I know not what hath thus sorrowfully changed the poor child; but I would some means might be found to undo the same. Even for some years after Ned's death, I mind not this change; it came on right slowly and by degrees."
Lettice felt pretty sure that "she" was Aunt Faith.
"'Tis weakness, I suppose," said Lady Louvaine, in a questioning tone.
"Ay, we are all weak some whither," replied Aunt Joyce; "and Faith's weakness is a sort to show. She is somewhat too ready to nurse her weaknesses, and make pets of them. 'Tis bad enough for a woman to pet her own virtues; but when she pets her vices, 'tis a hard thing to better her. But, Lettice, there is a strong soul among you—a rare soul, in good sooth; and there is one other, of whose weakness, and what are like to be its consequences, I am far more in fear than of Faith's."
"Nay, who mean you?" asked Lady Louvaine in a perplexed voice.
"I mean the two lads—Hans and Aubrey."
"Hans is a good lad, truly."
"Hans has more goodness in him than you have seen the end of, by many a mile. But Aubrey!"
"You reckon not Aubrey an ill one, I hope?"
"By which you mean, one that purposes ill? Oh no, by no means. He is a far commoner character—one that hath no purpose, and so being, doth more real ill than he that sets forth to do it of malicious intent."
"Are you assured you wrong not the lad, Joyce, in so saying?"
"If I do, you shall full shortly know it. I trust it may be so. But he seems to me to have a deal more of Walter in him than Ned, and to be right the opposite of our Aubrey in all main conditions."
"Ah," sighed the widow, in a very tender tone, "there can be no two of him!" Then after a little pause, "And what sayest thou to Lettice—my little Lettice?"
The concealed listener pricked up both her ears.
Aunt Joyce gave a little laugh. "Not so very unlike an other Lettice that once I knew," said she. "Something less like to fall in the same trap, methinks, and rather more like to fall in an other."
"Now, tell me what other?"
"I mean, dear heart, less conceit of her favour [beauty], and more of her wisdom. A little over-curious and ready to meddle in matters that concern her not. A good temper, methinks, and more patience than either of her aunts on the father's side: as to humility—well, we have none of us too much of that."
"Joyce, wouldst thou like to have us leave Lettice a while with thee? She could wait on thee and read to thee, and be like a daughter to thee. I will, if thou wouldst wish it."
"Nay, that would I not, Lettice, for the child's own sake. It were far better for her to go with you. There is an offer thou couldst make me, of that fashion, that my self-denial were not equal to refuse. So see thou make it not."
"What, now? Not Hans, trow?"
"Ay, dear heart, I know. Nay, fear not. I'll not take the last bud off the old tree. But, thyself saved, Lettice, there is none left in all the world that I love as I love her. Perchance she will find it out one day."
"Joyce, my dear sister—"
"Hold thy peace, Lettice. I'll not have her, save now and again on a visit. And not that now. Thou shouldst miss her sorely, in settling down in thy new home. Where shall it be?"
"In the King's Street of Westminster. My good Lord Oxford hath made earnest with a gentleman, a friend of his, that hath there an estate, to let us on long lease an house and garden he hath, that now be standing empty."
"Ay, that is a pleasant, airy place, nigh the fields. At what rent?"
"Twenty-four shillings the quarter. Houses be dearer there than up in Holborn, yet not so costly as in the City; and it shall not be far for Aubrey, being during the day in the Court with his Lord."
"Lettice, you shall need to pray for that boy."
"What shall I ask for him, Joyce?"
"'That he may both perceive and know what things he ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same.' Don't let him rule you. He is very like to try it, the only man in a family of women—for he shall make little account of Hans Moriszoon, though there is more sense in Hans's little finger than in all Aubrey's brains. If I can see into the future, Aubrey is not unlike to push you o'er, and Hans to pick you up again. Have a care, Lettice. You remember when Walter was in Court, with my Lord Oxford?"
Lettice wondered what they meant, for she had never heard of her Uncle Walter being with Lord Oxford. She had never much liked Uncle Walter. He was always rather stiff and stern, and he used to come down sharply on niece or nephew if they did any thing wrong, yet not like her Grandfather Murthwaite, who was slow and solemn, and seemed to mourn over their evil deeds; but Uncle Walter was quick and sharp, and he snapped at them. They were under the impression that he never could have done a naughty thing in the whole course of his life, because he always seemed so angry and astonished to see the children do so. Lettice, therefore, was curious to hear about Uncle Walter.
"Well," said Aunt Joyce, "not exactly the same, yet too like. He'll take the colour of his company, like Walter: and he shall be evenly free-handed with his money—"
Lettice stared, though there was nothing to stare at but Aunt Joyce's big grey cat, curled up in the window-seat Uncle Walter a spendthrift! she could not even imagine it. Did she not remember her Cousin Jane's surprise when her father gave her a shilling for a birthday present? When Lettice listened again, Aunt Joyce was saying—
"He's no standing-ground. Whatso be the fantasy of the moment, after it he goes; and never stays him to think what is like to come thereof, far less what might come. But that which causes me fear more for him than Walter, is the matter of friends. Walter was not one to run after folks; he was frighted of lowering himself in the eyes of them he knew, but methinks he ran not after them as Aubrey doth. Hast ever watched a dog make friends of other dogs? for Aubrey hath right the dog's way. After every dog he goes, and gives a sniff at him; and if the savour suit, he's Hail, fellow, well met! with him the next minute. Beware that Aubrey makes no friend he bringeth not home, so far as you can: and yet, Beware whom he bringeth, for Lettice' sake. 'Tis hard matter: 'good for the head is evil for the neck and shoulders.' To govern that lad shall ask no little wisdom; and if thou have it not, thou knowest where to ask. I would his mother had more, or that his father had lived. Well! that's evil wishing; God wist better than I. But the lad 'll be a sore care to thee, and an heavy."
"I fear so much, indeed," said Lady Louvaine, and she sighed.
Then Edith came in, and exclaimed, "What, all in the dark?" and Aunt Joyce bade her call Rebecca to bring light. So the naughty Lettice slipped out, and in five minutes more came boldly in, and no one knew what she had heard.
As they sat round the fire that evening, Aunt Joyce asked suddenly, "Tell me, you three young folks, what be your ambitions? What desire you most of all things to be, do, or have?—Lettice?"
"Why, Aunt, I can scarce tell," said Lettice, "for I never thought thereupon."
"She should choose to be beautiful, of course," suggested Aubrey. "All women do."
"Marry come up, my young Master!" cried his Aunt Temperance.
"Oh, let him be, Temperance," answered Aunt Joyce. "He knows a deal more about women than thou and I; 'tis so much shorter a time since he was one."
Temperance laughed merrily, and Aubrey looked disconcerted.
"I think I care not much to be beautiful, Aunt, nor rich," said Lettice: "only sufficient to be not uncomely nor tried of poverty. But so far as I myself can tell what I do most desire is to know things—all things that ever there be to know. I would like that, I think, above all."
"To know God and all good things were a very good and wise wish, Lettice," was Aunt Joyce's answer; "but to know evil things, this was the very blunder that our mother Eve made in Eden. Prithee, repeat it not. Now, Aubrey, what is thy wish?"
"I would like to be a rich king," said he. "Were I a fairy queen, Aubrey, I would not give thee thy wish: for thou couldst scarce make a worser. 'They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare,' and they that seek power be little behind them. 'Godliness is great riches,' lad, 'if a man be content with that he hath.'"
"Methinks, Aunt, that is one of your favourite texts," remarked Edith.
"Ay," said she, "it is. 'Enough is as good as a feast.' Hans, 'tis thy turn."
Hans had sat gravely looking into the fire while the others talked. Now he looked up, and answered—
"Madam, I am ambitious more than a little. I desire to do God's will, and to be content therewith."
"Angels could win no further," answered Aunt Joyce, with much feeling in her voice. "Ay, lad; thou hast flown at highest game of all."
"Why, Aunt!" said Aubrey, "never heard I a meaner wish. Any man could do that."
"Prithee do it, then," replied Aunt Joyce, "and I for one shall be full fain to see thee."
"No man ever yet fulfilled that wish," added Edith, "save only Christ our Lord."
Lady Louvaine sighed somewhat heavily; and Joyce asked, "What is it, dear heart?"
"Ah!" said she, "thy question, Joyce, and the children's answers, send me back a weary way, nigh sixty years gone, to the time when I dwelt bowerwoman with my Lady of Surrey, when one even the Lady of Richmond willed us all to tell our desires after this manner. I mind not well all the answers, but I know one would see a coronation, and an other fair sights in strange lands: and I, being then young and very foolish, wished for a set of diamond, and my Lady of Richmond herself to be a queen. But my Aubrey's wish was something like Hans's, for he said he desired to be an angel. Ah me! nigh sixty years!"
"He hath his wish," responded Aunt Joyce softly. "And methinks Hans is like to have his also, so far as mortal man may compass it. There be some wishes, children, that fulfil themselves: and aspirations after God be of that sort. 'He meeteth them that remember Him.' Lettice, I trust thou mayest have thy wish to a reasonable length, so far as is good for thee: and, Aubrey, I can but desire the disappointment of thine, for it were very evil for thee. But thou, Hans Floriszoon, 'go in peace; and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of Him.'"
It was hard work for those two old friends to part, each knowing that it was almost certain they would never again meet until they clasped hands in the Paradise of God. When it came to the farewell, Lady Louvaine knelt down, though with difficulty—for Joyce could not raise herself— and the adopted sisters exchanged one long fervent embrace.
"O Joyce, my friend, my sister! my one treasure left to me from long ago! We shall never kiss again till—"
Lettice Louvaine's voice was lost in sobs.
"Maybe, dear heart—maybe not. Neither thou nor I can know the purposes of God. If so, farewell till the Golden City!—and if thou win in afore me at the pearly portals, give them all my true love, and say I shall soon be at home."
"Farewell, love! There is none to call me Lettice but thee, left now."
"Nay, sweet heart, not so. 'I have called thee by thy name.' There will be One left to call thee 'Lettice,' until He summon thee by that familiar name to enter the Holy City."
So they journeyed on towards London. It was on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth of March that they sighted the metropolis at last from the summit of Notting Hill. They drove down the Oxford road, bounded on either side by green hedges, with here and there a house—the busy Oxford Street of our day—turned down the Hay Market to Charing Cross, and passed by Essex Gate and its companion portal, the Court Gate, through "the Court," now known as Whitehall, emerging upon "the King's Street." There was no Parliament Street in those days.
As they turned into King Street, it struck the elders of the party that there seemed to be an unusual stir of some kind. The streets were more crowded than usual, men stood in little knots to converse, and the talk was manifestly of a serious kind. Lady Louvaine bade Edith look out and call Aubrey, whom she desired to inquire of some responsible person the meaning of this apparent commotion. Aubrey reined in his horse accordingly, as he passed a gentleman in clerical attire, which at that date implied a cassock, bands, and black stockings. Had Aubrey known it, the narrowness of the bands, the tall hat, the pointed shoes, and the short garters, also indicated that the clergyman in question was a Puritan.
"Pray you, Sir, is there news of import come?" inquired the youth: "or what means this ado?"
The clergyman stopped suddenly, and looked up at his questioner.
"What means it?" he said sadly. "Friend, the great bell of Paul's was rung this morrow."
"I cry you mercy, Sir. Being a countryman, I take not your meaning."
"The great bell of Paul's," explained the stranger, "tolls never but for one thing, and hath been silent for over forty years."
"Good lack! not the plague, I trust?" cried Aubrey.
"Would it were no worse! Nay, this means that we are sheep without a shepherd—that she who hath led us for three-and-forty years, who under God saved us from Pope and Spaniard, can lead us no more for ever. Lad, no worser news could come to Englishmen than this. Queen Elizabeth hath passed away."
So, under the shadow of that dread sorrow, and that perilous uncertain future, they entered their new home.
HOW IT FIRST BEGAN.
"O Conspiracy! Sham'st thou to show thy dangerous brow by night, When evils are most free? Oh, then, by day, Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough To mask thy monstrous visage?"
The new home was the midmost of three contiguous houses, standing on the western side of King Street, and nearly opposite to what is now the entrance to New Palace Yard. They were a little larger and more pretentious than most of the houses in this street, and a goodsized garden ran backwards from each towards Saint James's Park. As every house had then its name and a signboard to exhibit it—numbers being not yet applied to houses—these were no exception to the rule. That one of the trio nearest to the Abbey displayed a golden fish upon its signboard; the middle one hung out a white bear; while from the northernmost swung a panel representing an extremely stiff and angular creature apparently intended to suggest an angel. The young people made merry over their sign, Aubrey insisting that Hans was the White Bear, and Lettice retorting that it was Aubrey himself.
Hans and Aubrey sprang from their horses at the door; and while the latter rang the bell, the former busied himself in helping the ladies to alight. Whether any one would be inside the house was a problem requiring solution; and they thought it worth while to ascertain this before going further. In a moment, quick steps were heard approaching, and the door was opened by a woman who hardly showed herself behind it.
Lady Louvaine came in first, leaning on Hans.
"Good evening," she said to the portress. "It was good of my Lord Oxford to provide—nay! Charity!"
"Ay, Madam, it's me," said the familiar voice of the old servant, whom her mistress believed she had left behind in Cumberland.
"Why, old friend! when earnest thou hither?"
"You'd best sit you down afore you hear folks their catechisms," said Charity, coolly, leading the way to a pleasant parlour hung and upholstered in green, where a fire was burning on the hearth, and a large cushioned chair stood beside it. "When did I come? Well, let's see?—it was o' Tuesday last."
"But how?" queried her mistress, in a tone which was a mixture of astonishment and perplexity.
"Same how as I get to most places, Madam—on my feet."
"You walked to London, Charity?"
"Ay, I did. I'm good for fifteen miles at a stretch."
"And whence gat you the money for your lodging?"
Charity laughed. "I never paid a halfpenny for lodging nobut [Note 1] once, and that was th' last night afore I got here. Some nights I lay in a barn upo' th' hay: but most on 'em I got took in at a farm-house, and did an hour or two's work for 'em i' th' morn to pay for my lodging and breakfast. But some on 'em gave it me right out for nought—just for company like. I bought my victuals, of course: but I should ha' wanted them wherever I'd been."
"And what led you to wish for life in London, Charity?"
"Eh! bless you, I want none to live i' London. It's a great, smoky, dirty place."
"Then what did you want?"
"I wanted yo'," said Charity, with a nod at her mistress. "Lady Lettice, yo'll not turn me away? If things is so bad you cannot afford to keep me, you shalln't: I can earn enough by my spinning half th' day, and serve you i' t' other half. But yo'll want two: I'm sure Rachel can ne'er do all th' work, and you'd best have me, for nob'ry else 'll put so much heart into 't as I shall. Do let me stop, for I cannot abear to leave you."
It was a moment before Lady Louvaine could speak. Then she held out her hand to Charity.
"My faithful Charity, I will not turn thee away! So long as I have two loaves of bread, thou mayest be sure of one."
"Thank God, that's all right!" said Charity with a sigh of evident relief. "We's [we shall] get on famous, Rachel and me, and nother on us 'll feel as if we'd been cast away of a desert island, as I've been feeling afore yo' come. Eh, but it is a town, is this!"
"Charity, I wonder how you won in the house," said Edith. "My Lord Oxford—"
"I've got a bit more gumption, Mrs Edith, than you credit me with. I brought a letter to my Lord, or I should ne'er ha' looked to get in else."
"A letter!—from whom?"
"Fro' Mrs Joyce Morrell, to tell him who I were, and a bit more, I reckon."
"I asked my Lord Oxford of his goodness to speak to some upholder [upholsterer] to send in a little necessary furnishing," said Lady Louvaine, looking round, "such as were strictly needful, and should last us till we could turn us about: but methinks he hath done somewhat more than that."
"You'll turn you round middling easy, Madam," answered Charity. "Th' upholder were bidden to put th' house to rights all through, and send the bill to Mistress Joyce. She gave me lodging fro' Setterday to Monday, and bade me see to 't that yo' had all things comfortable. 'Don't split sixpences,' she saith; 'the bigger the charges the better, so long as they be for true comfort and not for gimcracks.' So, Madam, I hope we've hit your Ladyship's liking, for me and Mrs Joyce, we tried hard—me at choosing, and she at paying. So that's how it were."
And dropping a quick courtesy, Charity departed with too much alacrity for thanks.
Lady Louvaine's eyes followed her.
"The lines are fallen unto us in pleasant places," quoted Edith, softly.
"Ay," answered her mother. "And the pillar of the cloud hath gone before."
Charity found Rachel in the kitchen, carrying a carpet-bag and a great bundle, and gazing round her with a bewildered air.
"Well, lass, what's ta'en thee?" was her greeting.
"Eh, Charity Ashworth, is that thee? Where art thou fro'?"
"Where are we both come to? That's more to th' purpose."
"I'm banished my country, that's all I know," said Rachel, blankly. "I'm glad to see thee, schuzheaw." [Note 2.]
"Dost thou mean to carry yon for th' rest o' thy life?" demanded Charity, laying hands on the carpet-bag. "Come, wake up, lass, and look sharp, for there'll be some supper wanted."
A very expressive shake of Rachel's head was the response. But she set down the bundle, and began to unfasten her sleeves for work. Sleeves were not then stitched to the gown, but merely hooked or buttoned in, and were therefore easily laid aside when needful.
"What's the price o' eggs this road on?" asked she.
"Nought. We 'n getten th' hens to lay 'em. Down i' th' market they're four a penny."
"Eggs—four a penny!" ejaculated the horrified cook.
"Ay—they're a bonnie price, aren't they? Ten to a dozen the penny at Keswick. Chickens be twopence and threepence apiece."
Rachel turned and faced her colleague with a solemn air. "Charity Ashworth, wilt thou tell me what we've come here for?"
"'To do our duty in that state of life to which it shall please God to call us,'" said Charity, sturdily. "There's twenty hens i' yon yard at th' end o' th' garden, and two cows i' th' shippen, and three black pigs i' th' sty,—Mistress Joyce ordered 'em—and two pairs o' hands, and two brains, and two hearts, and the grace o' God: and if thou wants aught more, thou'lt have to ask Him for it. So now let's be sharp and see to th' supper."
As they sat at breakfast the next morning, which was Lady Day and Sunday, Lady Louvaine said—
"I would fain know what manner of neighbours we shall have here, whether pleasant or displeasant; for some of our comfort shall hang thereon."
"Oh, there's a capital fellow at the Golden Fish," cried Aubrey. "His name is Tom Rookwood, and his sister Dorothy is the prettiest girl I have seen this month. I know nought of the Angel."
"Ah!" said Hans, and shook his head, "I have seen the Angel."
"And is he angelic?" responded Aubrey.
"There be angels good and ill," Hans made answer. "Madam, I were best forewarn you—there's a tongue dwelleth there."
"What manner of tongue, Hans?" said Lady Louvaine, smiling.
"One that goes like a beggar's clap-dish," said he; "leastwise, it did all the while I was in the garden this morning. She greeted me o'er the wall, and would know who we were, and every one of our names, and what kin we were one to the other, and whence we came, and wherefore, and how long we looked to tarry—she should have asked me what we had to our breakfast, if I had not come in."
"And how much toldest her?" inquired Temperance.
"Not a word that I could help," answered Hans. "Indeed, that is the only comfort of her—that she asks questions so fast you can scarce slide in an answer. She was free enough with her information as well— told me her name, and how many children she had, and that she paid three-and-fourpence the yard for her perpetuance gown."
"And what is her name?" asked Faith.
"Silence Abbott," said he.
"She scarce answers to it, seemingly," replied Temperance.
"Where made you acquaintance with your Tom Rookwood, Aubrey?" said his grandmother.
"At the door," said he. "His father is a gentleman of Suffolk, a younger son of Rookwood of Coldham Hall. He has three sisters,—I saw not the other two; but I say, that Dorothy's a beauty!"
"Well!" replied Temperance. "Folks say, 'As mute as a fish'; but it seems to me the Golden Fish is well-nigh as talkative as the Angel. Mind thy ways, Aubrey, and get not thyself into no tanglements with no Dorothys. It shall be time enough for thee to wed ten years hence."
"And have a care that Mr Rookwood be himself an upright and God-fearing man," added his Aunt Edith.
"Oh, he's all right!" answered Aubrey, letting Dorothy go by. "He saith he can hit a swallow flying at eighty paces."
"More shame for him!" cried Edith. "What for should he hit a swallow?"
"He has promised to show me all sorts of things," added Aubrey.
"Have a care," said Lady Louvaine, "that he lead thee not into the briars, my boy, and there leave thee."
The Monday morning brought a visitor—Mrs Abbott, from the Angel, after whose stay Edith declared that a day's hard work would have fatigued her less of the two inflictions. This lady's freedom in asking questions, without the remotest sense of delicacy, was only to be paralleled by her readiness to impart information. The party at the White Bear knew before she went home, that she had recently had her parlour newly hung with arras, representing the twelve labours of Hercules: that she intended to have roast veal to supper: that her worsted under-stockings had cost her four-and-sixpence the pair: that her husband was a very trying man, and her eldest son the cleverest youth in Westminster.
"Worsted stockings four-and-sixpence!" cried Temperance. "What a sinful price to pay! And I declare if they ask not three shillings and fourpence for a quarter of veal! Why, I mind the time when in Keswick it was but sixteen pence. Truly, if things wax higher in price than now they are, it shall be an hard matter to live. This very morrow was I asked a shilling for a calf's head of the butcher, and eightpence for a lemon of the costard-monger, whereat I promise you I fumed a bit; but when it came to threepence apiece for chickens,—Lancaster and Derby! It shall cost us here ever so much more to live."
"It shall not," said Hans. "There be five acres of garden, and save for foreign fruits and spices, you shall ask little of the costard-monger shortly."
"But who is to dig and dress it?" moaned Faith. "Aubrey cannot, all the day with his Lord, even if he were not away o' nights: and Charity shall have too much to do."
"I have two hands, Madam," answered Hans, "and will very quickly have a spade in them: and ere I do aught else will I set the garden a-going, that Rachel and Charity can keep it in good order, with a little overlooking from you."
"Me!" cried Faith, with a gasp of horror.
"Right good for you!" said her sister. "I'll not help at that work; I shall leave it for you. As to foreign fruits and spices, we'll have none of them, save now and then a lemon for the Lady Lettice—she loves the flavour, and we'll not have her go short of comforts—but for all else, I make no 'count of your foreign spice. Rosemary, thyme, mint, savoury, fennel, and carraway be spice enough for any man, and a deal better than all your far-fetched maces, and nutmegs, and peppers, that be fetched over here but to fetch the money out of folks' pockets: and wormwood and currant wine are every bit as good, and a deal wholesomer, than all your sherris-sack and Portingale rubbish. Hans, lad, let's have a currant-bush or two in that garden; I can make currant wine with any, though I say it, and gooseberry too. I make no count of your foreign frumps and fiddlements. What's all your Champagne but just gooseberry with a French name to it? and how can that make it any sweeter? I'll be bounden half of it is made of gooseberries, if folks might but know. And as to your Rhenish and claret, and such stuff, I would not give a penny for the lot—I'd as soon have a quart of alegar. Nay, nay! we are honest English men and women, and let us live like it."
"But, Temperance, my dear," suggested Lady Louvaine, with a smile, "if no foreign fruits had ever been brought to England, nor planted here, our table should be somewhat scanty. In truth, we should have but little, I believe, save acorns and beech-nuts."
"Nay, come!" responded Temperance; "wouldn't you let us have a bit of parsley, or a barberry or twain?"
"Parsley!" said Lady Louvaine, smiling again. "Why, Temperance, that came first into England from Italy the year Anstace was born—the second of King Edward." [Note 3.]
"Dear heart, did it so?" quoth she. "And must not we have so much as a cabbage or a sprig of sweet marjoram?"
"Sweet marjoram came in when thou wert a babe, Temperance; and I have heard my mother say that cabbages were brought hither from Flanders the year my sister Edith was born. She was five years elder than I, and died in the cradle."
"Well!" concluded Temperance, "then I'll hold my peace and munch my acorns. But I reckon I may have a little salt to them."
"Ay, that mayest thou, and honey too."
The next day, the Golden Fish swam in at the door; and it came in the form of Mistress Rookwood and her daughter Gertrude, who seemed pleasanter people than Mrs Abbott. A few days afterwards came the Rector, Mr Marshall, with his wife and daughter; and though—or perhaps because—Agnes Marshall was very quiet, they liked her best of any woman they had yet seen. Before they had stayed long, the Rector asked if Lady Louvaine had made acquaintance with any of her neighbours. She answered, only with two houses, the one on either side.
Mr Marshall smiled. "Well, Mistress Abbott means no ill, methinks, though her tongue goeth too fast to say she doth none. Yet is her talk the worst thing about her. Tell her no secrets, I pray you. But I would warn you somewhat to have a care of the Rookwoods."
"Pray you, Sir, after what fashion?" asked Lady Louvaine. "If I know from what quarter the arrow is like to come, it shall be easier to hold up the shield against it."
"Well," said he, "they come to church, and communicate, and pay all their dues; they may be honest folks: but this can I tell you, Mr Rookwood is brother to a Papist, and is hand in glove with divers Popish perverts. Wherefore, my Lady Louvaine, I would not have you suffer your young folks to be too intimate with theire; for though these Rookwoods may be safe and true—I trust they are—yet have they near kinsmen which assuredly are not, who should very like be met at their house. So let me advise you to have a care."
"That will I, most surely," said she: "and I thank you, Sir, for putting me on my guard."
In May the King arrived from Scotland, and in June the Queen, with the Prince, Prince Charles, and the Lady Elizabeth. "Princess" at this time indicated the Princess of Wales alone, and the first of our King's daughters to whom the term was applied, except as heiress of England, were the daughters of Charles the First. Henry Prince of Wales was a boy of nine years old, his sister a child of seven, and the little Charles only three. The youthful Princess was placed in the charge of Lord Harrington, at Combe Abbey, near Coventry—a fact to which there will be occasion to refer again. The Princes remained with their parents, to the great satisfaction of the Queen, who had struggled as ceaselessly as vainly against the rigid Scottish custom of educating the heir-apparent away from Court Queen Anne of Denmark was a graceful, elegant woman, with extremely fair complexion and abundant fair hair. The King was plain even to ungainliness—a strange thing for the son of one of the most beautiful women that ever lived. The wisdom of James the First has been by different writers highly extolled and contemptuously derided. It seems to me to have partaken, like everything else, of the uncertainty of its author. He did give utterance to some apothegms of unquestionable wisdom, and also to some speeches of egregious folly. His subjects did not err far when they nicknamed their Scottish master and their "dear dead Queen," his predecessor, "King Elizabeth and Queen James." Yet justice requires the admission that the chief root of James's many failings was his intense, unreasoning, constitutional timidity, which would have been ludicrous if it had been less pitiful. He could not see a drawn sword without shuddering, even if drawn for his own defence; and when knighting a man, it was necessary for the Lord Chamberlain to come to his Majesty's help, and guide the blade, lest the recipient of the honour should be wounded by the unsteadiness of the King's hand under the strong shuddering which seized him. So afraid was he of possible assassins that he always wore a thickly-padded cotton garment under his clothes, to turn aside bullet or dagger.