Mistress Margery, A Tale of the Lollards, by Emily Sarah Holt.
This is a short book, but it was quite hard to transcribe on account of so much of it being in mediaeval English, with its inconsistent and uncouth spelling.
Margery is a young woman of high birth, who goes one day to hear a sermon preached by one of the new Lollards, who advise people to read the Bible as recently translated by Wycliffe, and to believe only what they find therein. This was directly contrary to the view of the official church, which had made up all sorts of doctrines that could be seen to be not at all supported by the words of the Gospel. Margery can only get hold of a copy of the Gospel according to Saint John.
Margery is very much struck with the words of the Gospel, despite the hostility of all around her. Everyone was far too afraid of the extreme punishment meted out by "Holy Church" to those who questioned its teachings. And Margery ends up by being burnt at the stake for her belief in the Gospel, as opposed to what was taught by the Church.
But you will learn a lot about upper-class life in the early years of the fifteenth century, and if you can put up with the forms of speech, you will gain thereby. Not recommended for audiobook, since a great deal of editing, such as removal of footnotes, conversion of mediaeval speech to modern, and so forth.
MISTRESS MARGERY, A TALE OF THE LOLLARDS, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
A REGULAR OF OXENFORDE.
"Give me the book, and let me read; My soul is strangely stirred— They are such words of love and truth As ne'er before I heard!"
The sun was shining brightly on the battlements and casements of Lovell Tower. The season was spring, and the year 1395. Within the house, though it was barely seven o'clock in the morning, all was bustle and confusion, for Dame Lovell was superintending her handmaidens in the preparation of dinner. A buxom woman was Dame Lovell, neither tall nor short, but decidedly stout, with a round, good-natured face, which just then glowed and burned under the influence of the fire roaring on the large grateless hearth. She wore a black dress, heavily trimmed at the bottom with fur, and she carried on her head one of those remarkable elevations generally known as the Syrian or conical head-dress, made of black stiffened gauze, and spangled with golden stars. Her assistants, mostly girls of from sixteen to twenty-five years of age, were occupied in various parts of the kitchen; while Mistress Katherine, a staid-looking woman of middle age, who filled a post somewhat similar to the modern one of housekeeper, was employed at a side table in mixing some particularly elaborate compound. Among this busy throng moved Dame Lovell, now giving a stir to a pot, and now peeping into a pan, boxing the ears of any maiden who appeared remiss in her duty, and generally keeping up a strict and active supervision.
"Nan, thy leeks be not hewn small enough. Cicely, look to the pottage, that it boil not over. Al'ce, thou idle jade!"—with a sound box on the ear,—"thou hast left out the onions in thy blanch-porre! Margery! Madge! Why, Madge, I say! Where is Mistress Margery, maidens? Joan, lass, hie thee up, and see whether Mistress Margery be not in the chamber."
Joan, a diminutive girl of sixteen, quitted the parsley she was chopping, and ran lithely out of the room, to which she soon returned, and, dropping a courtesy, announced that "Mistress Margery was in her chamber, and was coming presently,"—which latter word, in the year 1395, meant not "by and by," as it now does, but "at present." Mistress Margery verified the assertion of Joan by following her into the kitchen almost immediately. And since Mistress Margery is to play the important part of heroine, it may be well to devote a few words to her person and costume. She is the only child of Sir Geoffrey Lovell, Knight, and Dame Agnes Lovell, and is now seventeen years of age; rather under the middle height, slenderly formed, with an appearance of great fragility and delicacy; her complexion is very fair, of that extreme fairness which often betokens disease, and her face almost colourless. Her features are regular, and classical in their contour; her eyes are a clear grey— honest, truthful eyes, that look straight at you; and her hair, which is almost long enough, when let down, to touch her feet, is of that pale golden colour so much celebrated in the Middle Ages, and so very rarely to be seen now. Mistress Margery's attire comprises a black dress, so stiff, partly from its own richness of material, and partly with whalebone, that it is quite capable of standing upright without any assistance from Mistress Margery's person. Its trimming consists of a border of gris, or marten's fur; and over this black petticoat the young lady wears a cote-hardie, or close-fitting jacket, also edged with gris. Her head is not encumbered by the steeplecap which disfigures her mother; instead of it she wears the beautiful "dove-cote," a net of golden tissue, ornamented with pearls, within which her hair is confined.
It may also be as well to notice here, that Mistress Margery is highly accomplished. Of course she can play the lute, and sing, and work elaborate and delicate embroidery, and compound savoury dishes; and equally of course does she know any nobleman or gentleman by a glance at his shield, and can tell you in a moment to whom belong the three lions rampant sable, and who owns the bend engrailed argent on a field gules. These are but the ordinary acquirements of a gentlewoman; but our heroine knows more than this. Mistress Margery can read; and the handmaidens furthermore whisper to each other, with profound admiration of their young mistress's extraordinary knowledge, that Mistress Margery can write. Dame Lovell cannot do either; but Sir Geoffrey, who is a literary man, and possesses a library, has determined that his daughter shall receive a first-rate education. Sir Geoffrey's library is a very large one, for it consists of no less than forty-two volumes, five of which are costly illuminated manuscripts, and consist of the Quest of the Sangraal [see Note 1], the Travels of Sir John Maundeville, the Chronicle of Matthew Paris, Saint Augustine's City of God, and a Breviary. Dame Lovell has no Breviary, and as she could not read it if she had, does not require one; but Margery, having obtained her father's permission to do so, has employed her powers of writing and illuminating in making an elaborate copy of his Breviary for her own use; and from an illumination in this book, not quite finished, representing Judas Iscariot in parti-coloured stockings, and Saint Peter shooting at Malchus with a cross-bow, is Margery now summoned away to the kitchen.
Margery entered the kitchen with a noiseless step, and making a low courtesy to her mother, said, in a remarkably clear, silvery voice, "It pleased you to send for me, good mother."
"Yea, lass; give a hand to the blanch-porre, for Al'ce knows no more than my shoe; and then see to the grewall, whilst I scrape these almonds for the almond butter."
Margery quietly performed her task, and spoke to the mortified Al'ce in a much gentler tone than Dame Lovell had done. She was occupied in the preparation of "eels in grewall," a kind of eel-stew, when a slender youth, a little older than herself, and attired in the usual costume of a page, entered the kitchen.
"Why, Richard Pynson," cried Dame Lovell, "thou art a speedy messenger, in good sooth. I looked not for thee until evensong."
"I finished mine errand, good mistress," replied the youth, "earlier by much than I looked for to do."
"Hast heard any news, Richard?"
"None, mistress mine, unless it be news that a homily will be preached in Bostock Church on Sunday next ensuing, by a regular of Oxenforde, one Master Sastre."
The grewall was standing still, and Margery was listening intently to the words of Richard Pynson, as he carelessly leaned against the wall.
"Will you go, Mistress Margery?"
Margery looked timidly at her mother. "I would like well to go," said she, "an' it might stand with your good pleasure."
"Ay, lass, go," replied Dame Lovell, good-naturedly. "It is seldom we have a homily in Bostock Church. Parson Leggatt is not much given to preaching, meseemeth."
"I will go with you, Master Pynson," said Margery, resuming the concoction of the dainty dish before her, "with a very good will, for I should like greatly to hear the Reverend Father. I never yet heard preach a scholar of Oxenforde."
Dame Lovell moved away to take the pottage off the fire, and Pynson, approaching Margery, whispered to her, "They say that this Master Sastre preacheth strange things, like as did Master John Wycliffe a while agone; howbeit, since Holy Church interfereth not, I trow we may well go to hear him."
Margery's colour rose, and she said in a low voice, "It will do us no harm, trow?"
"I trust not so," answered Richard; and, taking up his hunting-bag, he quitted the room.
"Why, Cicely!" exclaimed Dame Lovell, turning round from the pottage, "had I wist thou hadst put no saffron herein, thou shouldst have had mine hand about thine ears, lass! Bring the saffron presently! No saffron, quotha!"
Before we accompany Margery and Richard to hear the homily of Master Sastre, it might perhaps be as well to prevent any misunderstanding on the part of the reader with respect to Richard Pynson. He is the page of Sir Geoffrey Lovell, and the son of Sir John Pynson of Pynsonlee; for in the year 1395, wherein our story opens, it is the custom for young gentlemen, even the sons of peers, to be educated as page or squire to some neighbouring knight of wealth and respectability. Richard Pynson, therefore, though he may seem to occupy a subordinate position, is in every respect the equal of Margery.
The morning on which Master Sastre was to deliver his homily was one of those delicious spring days which seem the immediate harbingers of summer. Margery, in her black dress, and with a warm hood over her cote-hardie, was assisted by her father to mount her pillion, Richard Pynson being already seated before her on the grey palfrey; for in the days of pillions, if the gentleman assisted the lady on her pillion before he mounted himself, he ran imminent risk of knocking her off when he should attempt to mount. They rode leisurely to church, the distance being about two miles, and a little foot-page ran beside them charged with the care of the palfrey, while they attended the service. Mass was performed by the parish priest, but the scholar from Oxford, who sat in the sedilia, where Margery could scarcely see him, took no part in the service beyond reading the Gospel.
The sermons of that day, as a rule, may be spoken of in two classes. Either the preacher would read a passage of Scripture in Latin, and throw in here and there a few remarks by way of commentary, or else the sermon was a long and dry disquisition upon some of the (frequently very absurd) dogmas of the schoolmen; such as, whether angels were synonymous with spirits, which of the seven principal angels was the chief, how long it took Gabriel to fly from heaven to earth at the Annunciation, at what time of day he appeared, how he was dressed, etcetera, Sastre's discourse could not be comprised in either of these classes. He read his text first, as usual, in Latin, but then he said:
"And now, brethren and sistren, to declare in the vulgar tongue unto you that have not the tongues, this passage of God's Word as sueth." [Sueth means follows].
"The Lombe that was slayn is worthi to take vertue and Godhed and wisdom and strengthe and onour and glorie and blessyng!"
Note: it will readily be seen that all the quotations from Scripture in this story are necessarily taken from Wycliffe's translation.
What followed was no scholastic disquisition, no common-place remarks on the passage chosen. "The Lamb that was slain" was the beginning and the end of Sastre's discourse. He divided his sermon into the following subjects. "Who is the Lamb?—how and why was He slain?—why is He worthy?—and, who are the speakers in the text who thus proclaim His worthiness?" He showed them, by a reference to the Mosaic sacrifices, why Christ was called a Lamb; he told them most fully that He died, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; he placed completely before his audience the full and free and finished nature of His perfect work: he told them that God's love to sinners was such that He gave out of His bosom His own dear Son, the Son of His love, that their sins might be counted His, and that His righteousness might be accounted theirs. And under his last head, he spoke of that holy, happy city whereinto no sin, nor harm, nor death could ever enter; whose foundations were gems, and whose gates pearls; the dwelling-place of the blessed ones, who having washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, would never rest day nor night in singing the praises of His worthiness.
Sastre also drew the attention of his hearers to the fact that the ascription of praise in the text was made by the angels. "In all this Book," remarked he, "I find nowhere such like laud as this given unto any but God only. The blessed angels do worship unto the Lamb, but I see not any offer for to do worship unto the angels, save only Saint John himself, who doth twice fall down to worship afore the feet of the angel which did show these things unto him. But I find not the angel in any wise gladded with the same. Nay, the blessed John doth receive a sharp rebuking of his folly: 'See thou that thou do not,' saith the angel; 'worschipe thou God.' Wherefore, good friends, ye may see hence how foolish are they who do worship unto the blessed angels: and how grievous would be the same unto those good spirits of God if they did knowledge it. Whether or no they be witting of such matters, I wis not, for this Book saith nought thereupon; but ye see, friends, that if they wit it, it doth anger them; and if they wit it not, what are ye the better for praying unto them? Moreover, meseemeth for the same reason, that the blessed Virgin Saint Mary, who is now in heaven with her Son and Lord, Christ, would not be in any wise over well pleased if she wist how men do worship unto her on the earth. And the like, I trow, may be said of all God's saints."
At the conclusion of his sermon, Sastre leaned forward over the pulpit and spoke in a low, earnest, loving tone. "Who is here, good friends," asked he, "that loveth this blessed Lord Jesu, the Lamb that was slain? Who is here who will give up this vile and wretched world for His sake? Who that will sue [follow] this blessed Lamb whithersoever He goeth, even though He lead along the sharp way called tribulation, or the weary way called prison, or the bitter way called poverty, or even verily through the low and dark door called death? Who is here? Is there none I beseech you, good friends, hath Christ no souls in this place? When the blessed angels count up the number of the purchased ones, will ye have them leave Bostock out of their reckoning? Shall it be worse than Sodom and Gomorrah, wherein there was one soul that was saved? Is there not one here? Nay, brethren, I trust it is not so. I trust ye will come, yea in numbers, yea in throngs, yea in multitudes, and crowd on Christ to touch the hem of His blessed garment, that is the power of His great mercy. Christ loveth to have folk crowd on Him to cry Him mercy. I read not that ever He complained of the crowding of the multitude. I read not that ever He turned away so much as one poor caitiff [sinner] who came unto Him. I read not that His lips plained ever of aught but that they came not—that they lacked faith. I am an old man, friends, and in all likelihood shall I never come here again; but I say unto you that I shall scan well the multitude in the white apparel for the faces which be upturned unto me this day. I pray you that I miss them not. I pray God that ye—yea, that every man and woman of you, may be clothed in yon glistering and shene [bright] raiment, and may lift up your voices to cry, 'The Lamb is worthy' in the city of God!"
That sermon was a strange thing to Margery Lovell. Never, from the day of her birth to that day, had she heard as she now heard of the Lamb that was slain. For above a mile of their way home Richard and Margery kept perfect silence, which the latter was the first to break just before they came in sight of Lovell Tower.
"Master Pynson, we have heard strange things to-day."
"We have, of a truth, Mistress Margery. I wonder whether Master Sastre be right."
"I wish greatly," replied Margery, "that I could get the book wherein I have heard that Master Wycliffe rendered God's Word into the vulgar tongue. I could see then whether Master Sastre were right. I would I knew of any man who had that book!"
"Master Carew of Marston told me some time agone," said Richard, rather hesitatingly, "that he had the Gospel according to John the Apostle, copied out by a feat [clever] scribe from Master Wycliffe's rendering thereof."
"O Master Pynson!" said Margery, entreatingly, "I pray you that you ask good Master Carew to lend me that book! Tell him that Mistress Margery Lovell will lay her best jewels to pledge that she returneth the book safe. I must see that book Master Pynson!"
"Softly, I pray you, good Mistress Margery," answered Richard, smiling; "it were well to go warily to work; for wot you not that Master Wycliffe—ay, and Master Sastre too—be accounted heretics by some? You would not, trow, fall under the ban of Holy Church?"
"I would with a good will do aught, or bear aught," replied Margery, earnestly, "so I might wit of a surety that I should be one of those who wear the white apparel, and cry, 'The Lamb is worthy' in the city of God!"
"Well, Mistress Margery," said Richard, soothingly, "I will do my best for to get you the book, but it may be some time ere I see Master Carew."
Dame Lovell herself was standing on the steps of Lovell Tower, apparently looking out for the riders, for as soon as they came within hearing distance she raised her voice to say, "Richard Pynson! Sir Geoffrey would speak with you. Come in quickly, I pray you, and leave the handmaidens to help Mistress Margery from her pillion."
"I need no help, good mother," said Margery, as she sprang lightly from her seat, while Richard hurried into the house to find Sir Geoffrey.
"Sir Geoffrey would send Richard Pynson to Marston," said Dame Lovell, as she preceded Margery into the hall. "And how liked you Master Sastre, Madge?"
"Very greatly, good mother; never heard I before a homily so brave."
"That is well," said Dame Lovell, and disappeared into the kitchen, as Margery ran up-stairs to her own room, and brought down in her hand a valuable necklace. Richard came into the banqueting-hall from one door, as Margery made her appearance from the opposite one.
"I have a letter from Sir Geoffrey to bear to Sir Ralph Marston," said he. "Have you any commands for Marston, Mistress Margery?" he mischievously added.
"Master Pynson," said Margery, earnestly, in a low tone, "I pray you to take this jewel to Master Carew, and to leave it in pledge with him, in case he will lend me the book. If he value it at more than this, I can send other jewels; but, Master Pynson, bring me the book!"
Richard placed the necklace for safety in the bosom of his doublet, and answered, "Fear not, good mistress; if I bring you not the book, it shall not be for lack of entreaty. Only hope not too much, for I may chance to fail."
"Pray God he lend you the book!" was her only answer.
Note. The Sangraal was the vessel in which the wine was contained which Christ gave to His disciples, saying, "Drink ye all of this;" this vessel was supposed to have been brought into England by Joseph of Arimathea; and the "quest" or search for this important relic formed one of the chief adventures of the Knights of the Round Table.
A LATE DINNER.
"And there is something in this book That makes all care be gone, And yet I weep—I know not why— As I go reading on!"
Margery went into the kitchen, and helped to prepare supper, under the directions of Dame Lovell, and then she returned to her own room, and tried to finish her illumination of Peter and Malchus; but she could not command her thoughts sufficiently to paint well, so much was her heart set on "the book." Therefore she sat with her hands folded in her lap, and tried to recall Sastre's sermon. Then came supper-time, and Margery went down to the banqueting-hall; and after supper, having begged her parents' blessing before retiring to rest, she came back to her chamber. But she did not attempt to undress. When the sun set, a red glory above the tree-tops, she was watching at her casement for Richard Pynson; and when the silver moon and the little golden stars had taken the sun's place in the heavens, she was watching still. At last she heard the sound of a horse's feet, and stole softly down the private staircase which led from her room to the hall. As Richard entered the hall, Margery softly murmured his name.
"What, Mistress Margery!" he cried, in astonishment. "You here! You have watched well for the book, and—there it is."
And Richard drew from the bag slung over his shoulder a small quarto volume.
"Oh, thanks, good Master Pynson, a thousand thanks!" cried Margery, in delight. "And how long season may I keep the book?"
"Master Carew said," returned Pynson, "that he asked not jewels for the safe-keeping of the book, for the word of a Lovell was enough," and Richard drew the necklace from his bosom and handed it to Margery. "He will lend the book for one month's time. He said, furthermore, that he lent it, not because he loved it not, but because he prayed that you, Mistress Margery, might know and love it too."
"Amen!" was Margery's answer, as she folded the book to her bosom, and crept softly back to her chamber—but not to bed. The first thing she did was to take off her petticoat and cote-hardie, and to put on a loose dressing-gown of grey serge. Then she divested herself of her head-dress, and allowed her fair hair to flow down over her shoulders without restraint. Having thus rendered herself comfortable, she seated herself in a carved chair, furnished with an ample cushion, and proceeded to examine the book.
The book was bound in leather, dark brown in colour, and simple in workmanship. It was clasped with two small clasps of common metal, washed over with silver; the leaves were of vellum, and on the first page was a badly-drawn and violently-coloured illumination of Christ and the Samaritan woman. Stops (as a rule) it had not, except a full stop here and there; and capitals there were none, with the occasional exception of a letter in red ink. Notwithstanding this, the manuscript, being written in a clear small hand, was very legible to eyes accustomed to read only black letter. At first Margery felt as if she were doing wrong in reading the book, but her curiosity drew her on, as well as her earnest desire to know more of those "strange things" of which Sastre had spoken in his sermon. Margery had taken the precaution of fastening the door before she commenced the study of the book. After the first glance which had made her acquainted with the particulars above noticed, she opened the book at random near the middle, and her eye fell on the following words:—
"Be not your herte afrayed, ne drede it; ye bileuen in God, and bileeue ye in me. In the hous of my Fadir ben manye dwellingis; if ony thinge lasse, I hadde seid to you; for I go to make readi to you a place. And if I go to make redy to you a place, eftsoone I come, and I schal take you to my silf, that where I am, ye be." John xiv. 1-3.
Never before had Margery read words like these. "Be not your herte afrayed!" Why, the one feeling which she was taught was more acceptable to God than any other, was fear. "In the hous of my Fadir ben manye dwellingis." Margery clasped her hands above her head, and laid head and hands upon the open volume; and in the agony of her earnestness she cried aloud, "O Lamb that was slain, hast thou not made ready a dwelling for Margery Lovell!"
Margery read on, and the more she read the more she wondered. The Church did not teach as this book did, and both could not be right. Which, then, was wrong? How could the Church be wrong, which was the depository of God's truth? And yet, how could the holy apostle be wrong in reporting the words of Christ?
Many times over during that night did Margery's thoughts arrange themselves in this manner. At one time she thought that nothing could possibly supersede the infallibility of the Church; at another she saw the complete impossibility of anything being able to stand for a moment against the infallibility of God. The only conclusion at which she could arrive was a determination to read the volume, and judge for herself. She read on. "I am weye, treuthe, and lyf; no man cometh to the Fadir but by me." [John xiv. 6.] Were these words the words of Christ? And what way had Margery been taught? Obedience to the Church, humility, penances, alms-giving—works always, Christ never. Could these be the right way? She went on, till the tears ran down her cheeks like rain—till her heart throbbed and her soul glowed with feelings she had never felt before—till the world, and life, and death, and things present, all seemed to be nothing, and Christ alone seemed to be everything. She read on, utterly oblivious of the flight of time, and regardless that darkness had given place to light, until the fall of something in the room below, and the voice of Dame Lovell calling for Cicely, suddenly warned her that the house was astir. Margery sprang up, her heart beating now for a different reason. She hurriedly closed the book, and secreted it in a private cupboard, of which she alone had the key, and where she generally kept her jewels, and any little trinkets on which she set a special value. Margery's next act, I fear, was indefensible; for it was to throw the cover and pillows of her bed into confusion, that the maids might suppose it had been occupied as usual. She then noiselessly unfastened the door, and proceeded with her dressing, so that when, a few minutes after, Dame Lovell came panting up the stairs, and lifted the latch, the only thing she noticed was Margery standing before the mirror, and fastening up her hair with what she called a pin, and what we should, I suspect, designate a metallic skewer.
"What, Madge, not donned yet?" was Dame Lovell's greeting. "How thou hast overslept thyself, girl! Dost know it is already five of the clock, and thy father and I have been stirring above an hour?"
"Is it so late, of a truth?" asked Margery, in dismay. "I cry you mercy, good mother!"
And Margery was thinking what excuse she could use by way of apology, when Dame Lovell's next words set her at rest, as they showed that the mind of that good lady was full of other thoughts than her daughter's late rising.
"Grand doings, lass!" said she, as she sat down in the carved arm-chair. "Grand doings, of a truth, Madge!"
"Where, good mistress mine?"
"Where?" said Dame Lovell, lifting her eyebrows. "Why, here, in Lovell Tower. Where should they be else? Richard Pynson was so late of returning from Marston that he saw not thy father until this morrow."
"I heard him come."
"Yea. I was awake a long season!"
"Poor lass!" said her mother. "No marvel thou art late. But harken to what I was about to tell thee. Sir Ralph Marston and his kinsman the Lord Marnell, dine with us to-day."
"Yea, to-day. Dear, dear, dear, dear! What folk must they be that live in London town! Marry, Sir Ralph sent word by Richard Pynson, praying us not to dine until one of the clock, for that the Lord Marnell is not used to it at an earlier hour. I marvel when they sup! I trow it is not until all Christian folk be a-bed!"
"Dwells the Lord Marnell in London?" inquired Margery, with surprise; for Margery was more astonished and interested to hear of a nobleman from London dining with her parents than a modern young lady would be if told that a Chinese mandarin was expected.
"Yea, truly, in London dwells he, and is of the bedchamber to our Lord the King, and a great man, Madge! Hie thee down when thou art dressed, child, and make up thy choicest dishes. But, good Saint Christopher! how shall I do from seven to one of the clock without eating? I will bid Cicely serve a void at ten."
And so saying, Dame Lovell bustled downstairs as quickly as her corpulence would allow her, and Margery followed, a few minutes later. While the former was busy in the hall, ordering fresh rushes to be spread, and the tables set, Margery repaired to the ample kitchen, where, summoning the maids to assist her, and tying a large coarse apron round her, she proceeded to concoct various dishes, reckoned at that time particularly choice. There are few books more curious than a cookery-book five hundred years old.
Our forefathers appear to have used joints of meat much less frequently than the smaller creatures, whether flesh or fowl, hares, rabbits, chickens, capons, etcetera. Of fish, eels excepted, they ate little or none out of Lent. Potatoes, of course, they had none; and rice was so rare that it figured as a "spice;" but to make up for this, they ate, apparently, almost every green thing that grew in their gardens, rose-leaves not excepted. Of salt they had an unutterable abhorrence. Sugar existed, but it was very expensive, and honey was often used instead. Pepper and cloves were employed in immense quantities. The article which appears to have held with them the corresponding place to that of salt with us, and which was never omitted in any dish, no matter what its other component parts, was saffron. In corroboration of these remarks, I append one very curious receipt,—a dish which formed one of the principal covers on Sir Geoffrey Lovell's table:—
"Farsure of Hare.
"Take hares and flee [flay] hom, and washe hom in broth of fleshe with the blode; then boyle the brothe and scome [skim] hit wel and do hit in a pot, and more brothe thereto. And take onyons and mynce horn and put hom in the pot, and set hit on the fyre and let hit sethe [boil], and take bred and stepe hit in wyn and vynegur, and drawe hit up and do hit in the potte, and pouder of pepur and clowes, and maces hole [whole], and pynes, and raysynges of corance [currants], then take and parboyle wel the hare, and choppe hym on gobettes [small pieces] and put him into a faire [clean] urthen pot; and do thereto clene grese, and set hit on the fyre, and stere hit wele tyl hit be wel fryed; then caste hit in the pot to the broth, an do therto pouder of canell [cinnamon] and sugur; and let hit boyle togedur, and colour hit wyth saffron, and serve hit forthe."
It will be noticed from this that our ancestors had none of our vulgar prejudices with respect to onions, neither had they any regard to the Scriptural prohibition of blood. The utter absence of all prescription of quantities in these receipts is delightfully indefinite.
There were many other dishes to this important dinner beside the "farsure of hare;" and on this occasion most of the rabbits and chickens were entire, and not "chopped on gobbettes;" for the feast was "for a lord," and lords were permitted to eat whole birds and beasts, while the less privileged commonalty had to content themselves with "gobbettes."
When Margery had concluded her preparations for dinner, she went into the garden to gather rosemary and flowers, which she disposed in various parts of the hall, laying large bunches of rosemary in all available places. All was now ready, and Margery washed her hands, took off her apron, and ran up into her own room, to pin on her shoulder a "quintise," in other words, a long streamer of cherry-coloured ribbon.
The guests arrived on horseback about half-past twelve, and Richard Pynson ushered them into the hall, and ran into the kitchen to inform Dame Lovell and Margery, adding that "he pitied Lord Marnell's horse," a remark the signification of which became apparent when the ladies presented themselves in the banqueting-hall. Sir Geoffrey was already there, conversing with his guests. Margery expected to find Lord Marnell similar to his cousin, Sir Ralph Marston, whom she already knew, and who was a pleasant, gentlemanly man of about forty years of age, always joking with everybody, and full of fun. But she did not expect what she now saw.
The great man from London, who sat in a large oak-chair in the hall, was a great man in all corporeal senses. He was very tall, and stout in proportion; an older man than his cousin Sir Ralph, perhaps ten or fifteen years older; and there was something in his face which made Margery drop her eyes in an instant. It was a very curious face. The upper part—the eyes and forehead—was finely-formed, and showed at least an average amount of intellect; but from the nose downward the form and expression of the features were suggestive only of the animal,—a brutal, sensual, repelling look. Margery, who had looked for the great man from London with girlish curiosity, suddenly felt an unconquerable and causeless dislike to him swell up in her heart, a something which she could neither define nor account for, that made her wish to avoid sitting near him, and turn her eyes away whenever his were directed towards her.
Sir Geoffrey presented his wife and daughter to Lord Marnell, and Sir Ralph came forward with a cordial greeting; after which they took their seats at table, for Richard Pynson was already bringing in the "farsure of hare," and Mistress Katherine following with the pottage. The occupants of the high table, on the dais, consisted of Sir Geoffrey and Dame Lovell, Lord Marnell, Sir Ralph Marston, Margery, Richard Pynson, Mistress Katherine, and Friar Andrew Rous, Sir Geoffrey's chaplain. The maids sat at the second table, and the farm-servants at a third, lower down the hall. Sir Ralph, as usual, was full of fun, and spared nobody, keeping the whole table in a roar of laughter, excepting Lord Marnell, who neither laughed at his cousin's jokes, nor offered any observations of his own, being wholly occupied with the discussion of the various dishes as they were presented to him, and consuming, according to the joint testimony of Dame Lovell and Friar Andrew after the feast, "enough to last seven men for a week." When dinner was over, and "the tables lifted," the company gathered round the fire, and proceeded to make themselves comfortable. Sir Ralph sang songs, and told funny anecdotes, and cracked jokes with the young people; while Lord Marnell, in conversation with Sir Geoffrey, showed that the promise of neither half of his face was entirely unfulfilled, by proving himself a shrewd observer, and not a bad talker. In the midst of this conversation, Sir Ralph, turning round to Sir Geoffrey, inquired if he had heard anything of a certain sermon that had been preached the day before at Bostock Church.
"I heard of it," answered he, "but I heard it not. Some of mine, methinks, heard the same. Madge, wentest not thou thereto?"
"Ay, good father, I went with Master Pynson."
"Ah!" said Sir Ralph. "I went not, for the which I now grieve, the more as my good cousin telleth me that Master Sastre is accounted a great one by some—but these seem not of the best."
"Misconceive me not, fair cousin," said Lord Marnell. "It is only the Lollards that think well of the man, and thou wottest that Holy Church looketh not kindly on their evil doings. That ill priest, John Wycliffe, who is accounted their leader, hath done more hurt to the faith than any heretic these many years."
"Thou art but ill affected unto them, I trow," said Sir Ralph, jokingly.
"Ill affected!" exclaimed Lord Marnell, bringing down his hand violently upon the arm of his chair, with a blow which made Margery start. "I cry you mercy, fair mistress—but if I knew of any among my kin or meynie [Household retinue] that leaned that way—ay, were it mine own sister, the Prioress of Kennington—I tell thee, Ralph, I would have her up before the King's Grace's council, and well whipped!"
Margery shuddered slightly. Sir Ralph leaned back in his chair, and laughed heartily.
"Well said, fair cousin mine! But I pray thee, tell me what doctrines hold these men, that thou wouldst have them all up afore the King's Grace's council, and well whipped?"
"All manner of evil!" answered Lord Marnell, wrathfully. "They hold, as I hear, that the blessed Sacrament of the Altar is in no wise the true body of Christ, but only a piece of bread blessed by the priest, and to be eaten in memory of His death; for the which reason also they would allow the lay folk to drink Christ's blood. Moreover, they say that the blessed angels and God's saints be not to be worshipped, but only to be held in reverence and kindly memory. Also, they give to the common people the Scriptures of God's Word for to read, which we wot well is only fit for priests. And in all things which they do, I find not that these evil wretches do hold any true thing as taught by Holy Church, but one, which is masses for souls departed. I wis not much concerning them, for they move mine anger."
"I pray your good Lordship," asked Sir Geoffrey, "can you tell me whether these men be in great force in London or thereabouts at this time? Find they any favour in the Court?"
"They be ever increasing," said Lord Marnell "so much so that the King's council have seen good to prepare some orders against them—forbidding of their assemblages, and such like—for to present unto the Parliament. These orders provide, as my good friend holy Abbot Bilson did tell me, that all convicted to be Lollards shall suffer close prison, for longer or shorter time, as pleaseth the King's Grace. I trow they find not favour at Court with many, but the few that look well on them be unhaply of the highest. I have heard say that some in the Duke of Lancaster's palace show them favour, and it is no news that the Queen—whose soul God pardon!—did lean that way. In all open hours she was reading of Scripture in the vulgar tongue. Master Sastre, the priest, who my fair cousin telleth me was a-preaching in Bostock Church yestermorn, is, I take it, one of their chief men, and did learn of Master Wycliffe himself. I trow he will find it go hard with him if ever he cometh near London again. He goeth a-preaching of his doctrines up and down the realm, and perverting from the faith evilly-disposed men and sely [simple, unlearned] damsels who lack something to set their tongues running."
Sir Ralph here made a remark which turned the conversation; for this Margery was sorry, as it had interested her extremely. Lord Marnell's remarks taught her more about the Lollards than she had ever known before. So the Queen read the Bible in English! thought she. Why should not I do the same? She sat wrapped in her own thoughts for a long time, and when she roused herself from them, she noticed that Dame Lovell had quitted the room, and that Sir Ralph and Sir Geoffrey were talking politics, wherein they were occupied in proving, to the unqualified satisfaction of each, that there was "something rotten in the State," and that England could not last very long, her only business being to demolish France. And Margery, finding the conversation now extremely dull—though had she for an instant suspected the turn it would take in her absence, she certainly would never have gone—slipped out, and joined the more noisy party in the kitchen, where she found Dame Lovell seated in the chimney-corner and inveighing fervently against late hours.
"An it be not three of the clock already," said that angry lady, "I am a heathen Jew, and no Christian! Time to prepare supper for Christian folk—but when that great hulk of a man, that can do nothing in this world but eat, thinks to sup, I wis not! Marry, I trow that nought more will go down his throat until evensong! I marvel if our grandsons will be as great fools as we be!"
"More, Dame," answered Mistress Katherine, sententiously. She was a woman who very seldom spoke, and when she did, compressed all her ideas into as few words as would serve the purpose.
"Nay, Saint Christopher! I hope not," said Dame Lovell. "And what am I for to do now? Madge, lass, open the door and bid hither Richard Pynson."
Margery softly opened the door into the hall; and as softly called the person who answered to that name. He rose, and came to her, and Sir Geoffrey and Lord Marnell, who were in low-toned, earnest conversation, suddenly stopped as she appeared.
"Richard," said Dame Lovell, in what she doubtlessly intended for a whisper, "I pray thee, good youth, to go in softly, and privily demand of Sir Ralph what time he list to sup."
Richard executed the order, and, returning, closed the door behind him.
"Sir Ralph saith, good mistress mine, that the Lord Marnell when at home suppeth not afore six of the clock; but he prayeth you for to sup when you will, to the which he will without doubt accommodate himself."
"Six of the clock!" cried Dame Lovell, in amazement. "Richard, art sure thou heardest aright?"
"Certes, good mistress."
Dame Lovell sat in silent horror.
"Well!" said she at length, "if ever in all my days did I hear of a like thing! Cicely, serve a void in my privy chamber at four of the clock. This poor country of ours may well go to wrack, if its rulers sup not afore six of the clock! Dear, dear, dear! I marvel if the blessed Virgin Saint Mary supped not until six of the clock! May all the saints forgive us that we be such fools!"
COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE.
"Ay, sooth we feel too strong in weal to need Thee on that road. But woe being come, the soul is dumb that crieth not on God."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The guests departed about seven o'clock, and Dame Lovell got to bed a little before nine—an hour which was in her eyes most untimely. Margery, though she had not slept on the previous night, was unable to close her eyes for some time. The unwonted excitement kept her awake, and another idea, too, mingled with her thoughts. The book! How should she copy it? It must be at stolen hours—probably in the night. And what material should she use? Not vellum, for Sir Geoffrey might ask what she was doing if she requested more of that precious article than was necessary for her Breviary. He had allowed her some paper for the rough draft of her illuminations, and she had a little of this left. She determined to make use of this paper so far as it would go, and to trust to circumstances for the remainder.
Thinking and contriving, Margery sank to sleep, and dreamed that Sir Geoffrey was reading the book to Lord Marnell, who, by that curious mixture which often takes place in dreams, was also Richard Pynson. From this dream, about ten minutes after she fell asleep, as it appeared to her, Margery suddenly sprang up to the conviction that broad daylight was streaming in at the window. She rose and dressed herself hurriedly, and, running down into the kitchen, was surprised to find nobody there but Joan, the drudge of the household, who moreover was rubbing her eyes, and apparently only half awake.
"Why, Mistress Margery!" said the girl, in astonishment, "your good mistress-ship is early, considering our late hours. The Dame is not yet risen."
"In good sooth?" inquired Margery, looking at the clock, when she found to her surprise that it was barely five o'clock; and receiving from Joan the information that Dame Lovell had told Cicely overnight that she did not intend to appear until six, she returned to her own room, and, drawing the book from its hiding-place, commenced her task of copying. Margery worked quickly, and had copied nearly a page in the hour. So absorbed was she in her task, that she never heard the door open, and started like a guilty thing when the well-known voice of her mother sounded close by her.
"Eh, Madge! Up and at work? Thou wilt work thy fingers to the bone, child! Is that thy mass-book? Nay, it is paper, I see, and that, I wis, is on vellum. What art doing, damsel?"
Pale and red, red and pale, went Margery by turns at this string of questions.
"Why, lass, what hast?" asked Dame Lovell, in surprise.
"I cry you mercy, good mother!" said Margery, descending to equivocation, and blushing more than ever; "I heard you not open my door, and your voice started me."
"Poor Madge! did I fright thee?" said Dame Lovell, kindly. "But what is this, child? Another Breviary? Dost want two?"
"Poor Madge" she was indeed at this moment. Terrified beyond measure lest Dame Lovell should inform Sir Geoffrey, whose learned eyes would perceive in a moment what the book was—and seeing more danger in his discovering its real character than in letting him suppose it to be another Breviary, Margery, generally so truth-telling, was frightened into a lie.
"Ay, good mother," she stammered out, "'tis a Breviary."
All that day Margery sat upon thorns; but Dame Lovell made no mention of the incident, and she accordingly hoped it was forgotten.
Day after day passed on, and Margery worked harder than ever at copying the book. She finished her task just one day before the month was up, and gave back the original to Richard Pynson, entreating him to make an errand to Marston as soon as possible, and restore the book, with her hearty thanks, into the hands of Master Carew.
On the evening of that day, Dame Lovell sat at work in the wide chimney-corner of the hall. Near her was Mistress Katherine, scraping almonds into a bowl; while Margery, occupied with her distaff, sat at a little distance. On a wide oaken settle on the opposite side of the fire lay Friar Andrew, taking a nap, as was his afternoon custom; while on another settle drawn up before the fire, Sir Geoffrey and Richard Pynson sat conversing with the ladies.
"Madge, lass, hast finished thy Breviary?" asked Sir Geoffrey. "An thou hast, I would see it."
Margery's heart leaped into her mouth, for now was the time for the discovery of her falsehood to be made. Simply replying, however, "I will seek it, father," she rose and laid her distaff down.
"Ay, Madge is a feat scribe, truly!" remarked Dame Lovell, to Margery's unspeakable distress. "She hath written two Breviaries, I wis."
"Two!" said Sir Geoffrey, laughing. "One for Sundays and feasts, and the other for week-days? Madge, bring us both of them."
Margery left the room, and returned in a few minutes, with both the books in her hand. Sir Geoffrey took them, and opened the illuminated one—the genuine Breviary—first. Margery reseated herself, and took up her distaff, but the thread was very uneven, and she broke it twice, while her father turned over the leaves of the book, and praised her writing and illuminations. His praise was sweet enough, but some time he must come to the end, and then—!
How fervently Margery wished that Dame Lovell would ask an irrelevant question, which might lead to conversation—that Friar Andrew would awake—that Cicely would rush in with news of the cows having broken into the garden—or that anything would occur which would put a stop to the examination of those volumes before Sir Geoffrey arrived at the last leaf! But everything, as it always is under such circumstances, was unusually quiet; and Sir Geoffrey fastened the silver clasps of the Breviary, and opened the book without anything to hinder his doing so. Margery stole furtive looks at her father over her distaff, and soon observed an ominous look of displeasure creeping over his face. He passed over several leaves—turned to the beginning, and then to the end,—then, closing the volume, he looked up and said, in a stern voice—
Friar Andrew snored placidly on.
"Andrew!" said Sir Geoffrey, in a louder tone.
Friar Andrew gave an indistinct sound between a snore and a grunt. Sir Geoffrey rose from his seat, and striding over to where his confessor slept, laid hold of his shoulders, and gave him such a shake as nearly brought him to the stone floor.
"Awake, thou sluggard!" said he, angrily. "Is it a time for the shepherd to sleep when the wolf is already in the fold, and the lambs be in danger?"
"Eh? Oh! ay!" said Friar Andrew, half awake. "Time to sup, eh?"
"Look here, Andrew!" roared his offended patron, "and see thee what this sinful maid hath been doing. What penance deemest thou fit for such fault as this?" He handed the book to the friar. The friar sat up, rubbed his eyes, opened the book, and turned over two or three leaves.
"I cry your good worship mercy," said he. "I knew not you were assaying to arouse me. I was dreaming of a kettle of furmety of Madge's making."
"I trow here is a pretty kettle of furmety of Madge's making!" was the irate response.
"I conceive you not, good master," said the friar. "The book is a good book enough, trow."
"Thou art an ass!" was the civil answer. "Seest thou not that it is the translation of Scripture whereof the Lord Marnell spake, by Master John Wycliffe, the Lollard priest? Mindest thou not that which he said about Lollards?"
"An what if it be?" said the confessor, yawning. "I pin not my faith on my Lord Marnell's sleeve, though it were made of slashed velvet. And I trow Madge hath been too well bred up to draw evil from the book. So let the damsel alone, good master, and give her book back. I trow it will never harm her." Margery was exceedingly surprised at the turn which affairs were taking. The truth was, that Friar Andrew was very fond of her; he had been Sir Geoffrey's chaplain before she was born, she had grown up under his eye, and she made, moreover, such a kettle of furmety as he declared no one else could make. Beside this, Andrew was a marvellous poor scholar; he could never read a book at sight, and required to spell it over two or three times before he could make out the meaning. He could read his mass-book, because he had done so for the last forty years, and could have gone through the service as easily without book as with it; though, had a different copy been given him, in which the pages did not commence with the same line, it would probably have perplexed him extremely. Thus, under these circumstances, his love for Margery, his love for furmety, and his utter ignorance, combined to dispose him to let her off easily.
Sir Geoffrey took the book from his chaplain with a sort of growl, and threw it into Margery's lap.
"There! take it, damsel!" said he. "I account it Andrew's business to take care of thy soul, and he saith it will not hurt thee. I mind it the less, as thou wilt shortly go to dwell with one who will see to thee in these matters, and will not let thee read Lollard books."
The thread fell from Margery's hand, and so did the distaff, which rolled over the floor with a clatter. She never heeded it. A terrible, indefinite dread had taken hold of her.
"Father! what mean you?" she stammered forth at last.
"What mean I?" said Sir Geoffrey, in the same half-affectionate, half-sarcastic tone. "Why, that I have promised thee to the Lord Marnell, Lord of the Bedchamber to the King's Grace, and Knight of the Garter—and thou wilt be a lady and dwell in London town, and hold up thine head with the highest! What sayest to that, child?" he added, proudly.
She sat a moment with her white lips parted,—cold, silent, stunned. Then the bitter cry of "Father, father!" awoke the echoes of the old hall.
Sir Geoffrey was evidently troubled. He had sought only his daughter's grandeur, and had never so much as dreamed that he might be making her miserable.
"Why, child! dost not like it?" said he, in surprise.
She rose from her seat, and went to him, and kneeling down by him, laid her head, bowed on her clasped hands, upon his knee. "O father, father!" was all she said again.
"Truly, lass, I grieve much to see thee thus," said her father, in a perplexed tone. "But thou wilt soon get over this, and be right glad, too, to be so grand a lady. What shall I say to comfort thee?"
Long, terrible, hysterical sobs were coming from the bowed frame—but no tears. At length, still without lifting up her head, she whispered—
"Is there no way to shun it, father? I love him not. O father, I love him not—I cannot love him!"
"Truly, my poor lass, I trow we cannot shun it," said he. "I never thought to see thee grieve so sore. The Lord Marnell is a noble gentleman, and will find thee in silken tissues and golden cauls."
Sir Geoffrey did not rightly understand his daughter's sorrow. His "silken tissues and golden cauls" did not raise the bowed head one inch.
"Father!" she whispered, "have you promised him?"
"I have, my child," he answered, softly.
She rose suddenly, and quickly turned to go up the stairs leading to her own room. At this moment Richard Pynson rose also, and quietly taking up the book, which had fallen from Margery's lap on the floor, he handed it to her. She took it with one hand, and gave him the other, but did not let him see her face. Then she passed into her chamber, and they heard her fasten the door.
When she had done so, she flung herself down on the rushes [note 1], and bent her head forward on her knees. The longer she thought over her prospects, the more dreary and doleful they appeared. Her state of mind was one that has been touchingly described by a writer who lived three hundred years later—"Sidney's sister, Pembroke's mother"—who, of all who have attempted and failed in the impossible task of rendering the Psalms into verse, perhaps approached as near success as any one.
"Troublous seas doe mee surrownde; Saue, O Lord, my sinking soule, Sinking wheare it feeles no grownde, In this gulf, this whirling hole; Wayghting ayde with earnest eying, Calling God with bootles crying; Dymme and drye in mee are fownde Eyes to see, and throat to sounde."
Suddenly, as she sat thus bowed down, too sorrowful for tears, like the dew to a parched flower came the words of the book—nay, the words of the Lord—into her soul.
"Be not your herte afrayed, ne drede it."
"And therfore ghe han now sorowe, but eftsoone I schal se ghou, and ghoure herte schal haue ioie, and no man schal take fro ghou ghoure ioie. Treuly, treuly, I seie to ghou, if ghe axen the Fadir ony thing in my name he schal ghyue to ghou." John xvi. 22, 23.
Now, Margery had neither teacher nor commentary to interpret to her the words of Scripture; and the result was, that she never dreamed of modifying any of them, but took the words simply and literally. It never entered her head to interpret them with any qualification—to argue that "anything" must mean only some things. Ah! how much better would it be for us, if we would accept those blessed words as plainly, as unconditionally, as conclusively, as this poor untaught girl!
But when Margery considered the question more minutely, poor child! she knew not what to ask. The constant reference of everything by the Lord Jesus to "the will of the Father" had struck her forcibly; and now she dared not ask for entire freedom from the crashing blow which had fallen on her, lest it should not be the will of the Father. So she contented herself with a supplication which, under the circumstances, was the best she could have offered. She did not even try to form her petitions into words—the depths in which her soul lay were too deep for that; it was a wordless cry which went up to God. But its substance was an entreaty that the Father would do His will, and would bend her will to it; that whatever He saw fit to give her, He would always give His presence and His love; that whatever He was pleased to take away, He would not take from her the word unto His handmaid wherein He had caused her to hope. And when she rose from her knees, the prominent idea in her mind might have been expressed in the words of the old proverb, "He loseth nothing that keepeth God for his friend."
An hour afterwards, Dame Lovell, who could not rest for the remembrance of her child's grief, came softly into Margery's chamber to see if she could comfort her. She was surprised to find her sleeping as quietly as a little child, with the book, even in sleep, held fast to her bosom, as if she would permit nothing to separate her from that Word of God which had given rest to her soul.
Note 1. Carpets were very rare at this time, and only used on state occasions and for invalids. Their place was supplied by fresh green rushes, strewn on the floor. It appears rather doubtful, however, whether carpets were not sometimes used in the winter.
LIFE IN LONDON.
"Whan we cam' in by Glasgow toun, We were a comely sicht to see,— My luve was clad in velvet black And I mysel' in cramoisie."
A fortnight after the events recorded in the last chapter, Lovell Tower was in the confusion of great preparations for the approaching wedding. Friar Andrew was despatched to York fair to purchase twenty yards of scarlet cloth, fourteen yards of tawny satin, eight of purple satin, and the same number of blue cloth of silver, with jewels and rich furs. All was cutting-out and fitting-on, with discussions about trimmings, quintises, and head-dresses. Richard Pynson was sent hither and thither on errands. Sir Geoffrey himself superintended the purchase of a new pillion, and ordered it to be covered with green velvet. Lord Marnell, who did not often come to Lovell Tower himself, sent over a trusty messenger every day to inquire if Mistress Margery had rested well and was merry. From the latter condition she was very far. At length the preparations were completed; and on a splendid summer day, when the birds were singing their most joyous melodies, Margery Lovell was married, in Bostock Church, to Sir Ralph Marnell, Baron Marnell of Lymington, Knight of the Garter. The bride was attired in blue cloth of silver, trimmed with miniver; and her hair, as was then the custom at weddings, was not confined by any head-dress, but flowed down her back, long and straight. The bridegroom was dressed in cramoisie—crimson velvet—richly trimmed with bullion, and wore three long waving plumes in his cap, as well as a streamer of gold lace. If any one who may read these pages should inquire why Margery chose blue for her wedding-dress, I may answer that Margery would have been greatly astonished if any one had recommended white. White at this period was not only a mourning colour, but mourning of the very deepest character.
No pains were spared to make this a merry wedding, and yet it certainly could not be called a joyous one. All the inhabitants of Lovell Tower knew well that the bride was very far from happy; Sir Geoffrey and Dame Lovell were naturally sorry to lose their only child; Friar Andrew mourned over his favourite and his kettle of furmety; while Richard Pynson had his own private sorrow, to which I need not allude further in this place.
The bridal feast was held at Lovell Tower, and all the neighbours were invited to it. The festivities were prolonged to a late hour; and at five o'clock next morning everybody was busy helping the bride to pack up. Everybody thought of everything so well, that there was very little left for her to think of; but she did think of one thing. When Margery set out for her new home in London, the book went too.
The journey to London from the North was in those days a long and wearisome one. There were no vehicles but litters and waggons. Margery travelled part of the way in a litter, and part on a pillion behind her bridegroom, who rode on horseback the whole way. He had with him a regular army of retainers, besides sundry maidens for the Lady Marnell, at the head of whom was Alice Jordan, the unlucky girl who, at our first visit to Lovell Tower, was reprimanded for leaving out the onions in the blanch-porre. Margery had persuaded her mother to resign to her for a personal attendant this often clumsy and forgetful but really well-meaning girl. It was a Friday evening when they arrived in London; and Margery was much too tired to think of doing anything but rest her wearied head in sleep.
As early as four o'clock the next morning, she was roused by London cries from a happy dream of Lovell Tower. "Quinces! sweet quinces! ripe quinces!"
"Any kitchen-stuff, have you, maids?"
"Cakes and ale! cakes and ale!"
"Cherry ripe! cherry ripe!"
"Come buy, pretty maids, come buy! come buy!" with an undercurrent of the long rhymed cry of the hawker of haberdashery, of which Shakespeare has given us a specimen as regards the English version—
"Lawn, as white as driven snow; Cyprus, black as e'er was crow," etcetera.
Margery lay still, and listened in silence to all these new sounds. At length she rose and dressed herself, with the assistance of Alice, who was seriously dissatisfied with the narrow streets and queer smells of the town, and spared no comment on these points while assisting her young mistress at her toilette. Having dressed, Margery passed into an antechamber, close to her bedroom, where breakfast was served. This repast consisted of a pitcher of new milk, another pitcher of wine, a dish of poached eggs, a tremendous bunch of water-cress, a large loaf of bread, and marchpanes—a sweet cake, not unlike the modern macaroon. Breakfast over, Margery put on her hood, and taking Alice with her, she sallied forth on an expedition to examine the neighbourhood of her new home. One of Lord Marnell's men-servants followed at a short distance, wearing a rapier, to defend his mistress in case of any assault being made upon her.
Lord Marnell's house was very near the country, and in a quiet and secluded position, being pleasantly situated in Fleet Street. Green fields lay between the two cities of London and Westminster. There was only one bridge across the river, that silver Thames, which ran, so clear and limpid, through the undulating meadows; and the bridge was entirely built over, a covered way passing under the houses for wheeled vehicles. Far to the right rose the magnificent Palace of Westminster, a relic of the Saxon kings; and behind it the grand old Abbey, and the strong, frowning Sanctuary; while to the left glittered the walls and turrets of the White Tower, the town residence of royalty. Margery, however, could not see the whole of this as she stepped out of her house. What first met her eyes were the more detailed and less pleasant features of the scene. There were no causeways; the streets, as a rule, would just allow of the progress of one vehicle, though a few of the principal ones would permit the passage of two; and the pavements consisted of huge stones, not remarkable either for evenness or smoothness. A channel ran down the middle of the street, into which every housewife emptied her slops from the window, and along which dirty water, sewerage, straw, drowned rats, and mud, floated in profuse and odoriferous mezee. Margery found it desirable to make considerable use of her pomander, a ball of various mixed drugs inclosed in a gold network, and emitting a pleasant fragrance when carried in the warm hand. As she proceeded along the streets which were lined with shops, the incessant cry of the shopkeepers standing at their doors, "What do you lack? what do you lack?" greeted her on every side. The vehicles were of two classes, as I have before observed—waggons and litters, the litters being the carriages of the fourteenth century; but the waggons were by far the most numerous. Occasionally a lady of rank would ride past in her litter, drawn by horses whose trappings swept the ground; or a knight, followed by a crowd of retainers, would prance by on his high-mettled charger. Margery spent the happiest day which she had passed since her marriage, in wandering about London, and satisfying her girlish curiosity concerning every place of which she had ever heard. Lord Marnell frowned when Margery confessed, on her return, that she had been out to see London. It was not fit, he said, that she should go out on foot: ladies of rank were not expected to walk: she ought to have ordered out her litter, with a due attendance of retainers.
"But, my lord," said Margery, very naturally, "an't please you, I could not see so well in a litter."
Lord Marnell's displeased lips relaxed into a laugh, for he was amused at her simplicity; but he repeated that he begged she would remember, now that she had seen, that she was no longer plain Mistress Margery Lovell, but Baroness Marnell of Lymington, and would behave herself accordingly. Margery sighed at this curtailment of her liberty, and withdrew to see where Alice was putting her dresses.
As it was approaching evening, Lord Marnell's voice called her downstairs.
"If thou wilt see a sight, Madge," he said, good-naturedly, as she entered, "come quickly, and one will gladden thine eyes which never sawest thou before. The King rideth presently from the Savoy to the Tower."
Margery ran to the window, and saw a number of horses, decked, as well as their riders, in all the colours of the rainbow, coming up the street from the stately Savoy Palace, which stood, surrounded by green fields, in what is now the Strand.
"Which is the King's Grace, I pray you?" asked she, eagerly.
"He weareth a plain black hood and a red gown," answered her husband. "He rideth a white horse, and hath a scarlet footcloth, all powdered over with ostrich feathers in gold."
"What!" said Margery, in surprise, "that little, fair, goodly man, with the golden frontlet to his horse?"
"The very same," said Lord Marnell. "The tall, comely man who rideth behind him, on yon brown horse, and who hath eyes like to an eagle, is the Duke of Lancaster. 'John of Gaunt,' the folk call him, by reason that he was born at Ghent, in Flanders."
"And who be the rest, if I weary you not with asking?" said Margery, rather timidly.
"In no wise," answered he. "Mostly lords and noble gentlemen, of whom thou mayest perchance have heard. The Earl of Surrey is he in the green coat, with a red plume. The Earl of Northumberland hath a blue coat, broidered with gold, and a footcloth of the same. Yon dark, proud-looking man in scarlet, on the roan horse, is the Duke of Exeter [Sir John Holland], brother to the King's Grace by my Lady Princess his mother, who was wed afore she wedded the Prince, whose soul God rest! Ah! and here cometh my Lord of Hereford, Harry of Bolingbroke [afterwards Henry IV], the Duke of Lancaster's only son and heir—and a son and heir who were worse than none, if report tell truth," added Lord Marnell, in a lower tone. "Seest thou, Madge, yon passing tall man, with black hair, arrayed in pink cloth of silver?" [See note 1].
"I see him well, I thank your good Lordship," was Margery's answer; but she suddenly shivered as she spoke.
"Art thou cold, Madge, by the casement? Shall I close the lattice?"
"I am not cold, good my Lord, I thank you," said Margery, in a different tone; "but I like not to look upon that man."
"Why so?" asked Lord Marnell, looking down from his altitude upon the slight frail figure at his side. "Is he not a noble man and a goodly?"
"I know not," answered Margery, still in a troubled voice. "There is a thing in his face for which I find not words, but it troubleth me."
"Look not on him, then," said he, drawing her away. She thanked him for his kindness in showing and explaining the glittering scene to her, and returned to her supervision of Alice.
A few days after this, the Prioress of Kennington, Lord Marnell's sister, came in her litter to see her young sister-in-law. Margery was surprised to find in her a lady so little resembling her country-formed idea of a nun. She wore, indeed, the costume of her order; but her dress, instead of being common serge or camlet, was black velvet; her frontlet and barb [see Note 2] were elaborately embroidered; her long gloves [see Note 3] were of white Spanish leather, delicately perfumed, and adorned with needlework in coloured silks; she wore nearly as many rings as would have stocked a small jeweller's shop, and from her girdle, set with the finest gems, were suspended a pomander richly worked in gold and enamel, a large silver seal, and a rosary, made of amethyst beads, holding a crucifix, the materials of which were alabaster and gold.
In those palmy days of Romanism in England, nuns were by no means so strictly secluded as now. They were present at all manner of festivities; the higher class travelled about the country very much as they chose, and all of them, while retaining the peculiar shape and colour of the prescribed monastic costume, contrived to spend a fortune on the accessories and details of their dress. The Prioress of Kennington, as I have just described her, is a specimen of nearly all the prioresses and other conventual authorities of her day.
This handsomely-dressed lady was stiff and stately in her manner, and uttered, with the proudest mien, words expressive only of the most abject humility. "If her fair sister would come and see her at her poor house at Kennington, she would be right glad of so great honour." Margery replied courteously, but she had no desire to see much of the Prioress.
Lord Marnell took his wife to Court, and presented her to the King—the Queen was dead—and the Duchess of Gloucester [Eleanor Bohu], his aunt. The King spoke to Margery very kindly, and won her good opinion by so doing. The Duchess honoured her with a haughty stare, and then "supposed she came from the North?" in a tone which indicated that she considered her a variety of savage. The ladies in waiting examined and questioned her with more curiosity than civility; and Margery's visit to Court left upon her mind, with the single exception of King Richard's kindness, a most unpleasant impression.
In the winter of 1396, King Richard brought home a new queen, the Princess Isabelle of France, who had attained the mature age of eight years. Margery watched the little Queen make her entrance into London. She was decked out with jewels, of which she brought a great quantity over with her, and fresh ones were presented to her at every place where she halted. Alice, with round eyes, declared that "the Queen's Grace's jewels must be worth a King's ransom—and would not your good Ladyship wish to have the like?"
Margery shook her head.
"The only jewels that be worth having, good Alice," said she, "be gems of the heart, such like as meekness, obedience, and charity. And in truth, if I were the chooser, there be many things that I would have afore jewels. But much good do they the Queen's Grace, poor child! and I pray God she rest not content with gauds of this earth."
Before that winter was over, one thing, worth more than the Queen's jewels in her eyes, was bestowed upon Margery. Something to take care of—something to love and live for. A little golden-haired baby, which became, so far as anything in this world could become so, the light and joy of her heart and soul.
Margery soon learned to value at its true worth the show and tinsel of London life. She never appeared again at Court but once, to pay her respects to the new Queen, who received her very cordially, seated on a throne by her husband. The small Queen of eight "hoped she was quite well, and thought that England was a very fine country." The king spoke to her as kindly as before, offered her ipocras [see Note 4] and spices, and on the close of the interview, took up his little Queen in his arms, and carried her out of the room. Margery had, indeed, no opportunity to visit the Court again; for the young Queen was educated at Windsor, and very rarely visited London. And Lady Marnell, tired of the hollow glitter of high life, and finding few or none in her own sphere with whom she could complacently associate, went back with fresh zest to her baby and the book.
Note 1. These descriptions are taken from the invaluable illuminations in Creton's Histoire du Roy Richart Deux, Harl. Ms. 1319. Creton was a contemporary and personal friend of King Richard.
Note 2. The frontlet and barb were pieces of white linen, the former worn over the forehead, the latter over the chin.
Note 3. Gloves were just becoming fashionable in the fourteenth century for common wear. Before that, they were rarely used except when the wearer carried a falcon on the wrist.
Note 4. A sweet wine or liqueur, generally served at the "void."
THE BEGINNING OF THE END.
"All quick and troubled was his speech, And his face was pale with dread, And he said, 'The king had made a law, That the book must not be read,— For it was such fearful heresy, The holy abbot said.'"
Three years had passed since the events narrated in the last chapter, and Margery was now twenty-one years of age. She appeared older than she was, and her face wore an unnaturally pensive expression, which had been gradually settling itself there since the day of her marriage. She never laughed, and very rarely smiled, except when her eyes rested upon her little golden-haired Geoffrey, whom she had sought and obtained permission to name after her father. He was a bright, merry little fellow, perpetually in motion, and extremely fond of his mother, though he always shrank from and seemed to fear his father.
On a summer day in the year 1399, Margery sat in her bower, or boudoir, perusing the book. Lord Marnell was, as usual, at Court; and little Geoffrey was running about his mother's apartments on what he doubtless considered important business. Suddenly, in the midst of her reading, a cry of pain from the child startled Margery. She sprang up, and ran to him; and she found that in running about, he had contrived to fall down a step which intervened between the landing and the antechamber, whereby he had very slightly bruised his infantine arm, and very greatly perturbed his infantine spirit. Geoffrey was weeping and whining piteously, and his mother lifted him up, and carried him into her bedroom, where she examined the injured arm, and discovered that the injury consisted only of an almost imperceptible bruise. The child, however, still bewailed his misfortune; and Lady Marnell, having applied some ointment to the sore place, sat down, and taking Geoffrey in her lap, she soothed and rocked him until he fell asleep, and forgot all about his bruised arm. The boy had been asleep about a quarter of an hour, when the recollection suddenly flashed upon Margery's mind that she had left the book open to all comers and goers, instead of putting it carefully away, as was her wont. She set down the child softly on the trussing-bed, (the curious name given by our forefathers to a piece of furniture which formed a sofa or travelling-bed at pleasure), and quietly opening the door into her bower, she saw—her husband standing on the hearth, with the book in his hand, and a very decided frown gathering on his countenance. The rustle of Margery's dress made Lord Marnell look up.
"What meaneth this, I pray you, mistress?" asked he, angrily.
There was no need, had Margery felt any disposition, to attempt further concealment. The worst that could come, had come.
"It is a book of mine," she quietly answered, "which I left here a short season agone, when the boy's cry started me."
"Hast read it?" asked Lord Marnell, no less harshly.
"I have read it many times, good my Lord."
"And I pray you for to tell me whence you had it, good my Lady?" said he, rather ironically.
Margery was silent. She was determined to bear the blame alone, and not to compromise either Pynson or Carew.
"Had you this book since you came hither?" said Lord Marnell, varying the form of his question, when he saw she did not answer.
"No, my Lord. I brought it with me from home."
And the word "home" almost brought the tears into her eyes.
"Your father—Sir Geoffrey—knew he thereof?"
"He did," said Margery, "and rebuked me sharply therefor."
"He did well. Why took he not the book from you?"
"Because he showed it to Friar Andrew Rous, his and my confessor, who thought there was no harm in the book, and that I might safely retain the same."
"Then Friar Andrew Rous is the longest-eared ass I have lightly seen. Whence got you this book?"
"It is mine own writing. I copied it."
"Whence had you it?"
"I say, whence had you this book?" roared Lord Marnell.
"My Lord," said Margery, gently, but decidedly, "I think not that it needeth to say whence I had the same. The book was lent unto me, whence I copied that one; but I say not of whom it was lent unto me."
"You shall say it, and soon too!" was the reply. "This matter must not be let drop—it passeth into the hands of holy Abbot Bilson. I will seek him presently."
And so saying, Lord Marnell strode out of the room, leaving Margery in a condition of intense terror.
That afternoon, as Margery sat in her bower, she was informed that the Prioress of Kennington was in the oaken chamber. Margery went down to her, holding Geoffrey by the hand, and found her seated on a settle, apparently preferring this more ancient form of seat to a chair; and wearing her veil low over her face. The Prioress rose when Lady Marnell entered, and threw back her heavy black veil, as she advanced to greet her. Margery returned her salutation courteously, and then tried to induce Geoffrey to go to his aunt—but Geoffrey hung back and would not go. Margery did not attempt to force the child, but sat down, and he attached himself to that particular plait of her dress which was furthest from the Prioress. The Prioress tried to propitiate him, by drawing from her pocket a piece of linen, which, being unfolded, revealed a placenta—a delicacy which the nuns of several convents were specially famed for making, and the nature of which will be better known to an ordinary reader by the explanatory term cheese-cake. Geoffrey graciously accepted the placenta, but utterly declined all further intimacy. The expression of the Prioress's countenance suggested to Margery the idea that she had seen her brother, and had heard of the discovery of the book; so that Margery was quite prepared for her remarking gravely, after her unsuccessful attempt to attract her little nephew—
"I heard this morn, fair sister, of a thing which did much trouble me."
"You mean," said Margery, simply, "of the discovering of a book in my chamber by my Lord my husband, the which did anger him?"
"I rejoice that you take my meaning," answered the Prioress, in an even voice. "I meant that verily. I grieve much, fair sister, to hear from my fair brother that you have allied yourself unto those evil men which be known by the name of Lollards."
"I cry you mercy, holy mother," answered Margery, quietly, "I have allied myself unto no man. I know not a Lollard in the realm. Only I read that book—and that book, as you must needs wit, holy mother, containeth the words of the Lord Jesu. Is there hurt therein?"
The Prioress did not directly answer this question. She said, "If your elders [parents], fair sister, had shown the wisdom for to have put you in the cloister, you would have been free from such like temptations."
"Is it a temptation?" replied Margery. "Meseemeth, holy mother, that there be temptations as many in the cloister as in the world, only they be to divers sins: and I misdoubt that I should have temptation in the cloister, to the full as much as here."
"I cry you mercy, fair sister!" said the Prioress, with an air of superiority. "We have no temptations in our blessed retreat. Our rule saveth us, and our seclusion from the vanity of the world—and I pray you, what other evil can assail a veiled nun?"
Margery glanced at the heavy gold chain round the Prioress's neck, the multifarious rings on her fingers, and the costly jewels in her girdle, and rather doubted her testimony as to the utter absence of vanity in a veiled nun; but she contented herself with saying, "I trow, holy mother, that ye carry with you evil hearts into your cloister, as have all men without; and an evil heart within, and the devil without, need not outward matters whereon to form temptation. At least, I speak by mine own."
The Prioress looked rather shocked. "The evil heart," answered she, "is governed and kept down in us by our mortifications, our almsgivings, our penances, our prayers, and divers other holy exercises."
"Ah, holy mother," said Margery, looking up, "can ye keep down by such means your evil hearts! I trow mine needeth more than that!"
"What mean you, fair sister?" inquired the Prioress.
"Nought less," replied Margery, "than the blood of the Lamb slain, and the grace of Christ risen, have I yet found, that would avail to keep down an evil heart!"
"Of force, fair sister, of force!" said the Prioress, coldly, "that is as well as said."
"Then I pray you, why said you it not?"
The Prioress rose. "I trust, fair sister," said she, without giving any reply to Margery's home question, "that you may see your error ere it be full late so to do."
"I trust," said Margery, as she followed her sister-in-law to the door, "that God will keep me in the true faith, whatsoever that be."
"Amen!" said the Prioress, her long black robe sweeping the steps as she mounted her litter.
"Is she gone?" lisped little Geoffrey, when his mother returned. "Deff'y so glad! Deff'y don't like her!"
That evening Margery received a message from her husband, bidding her meet him and Abbot Bilson in the oaken chamber, and bring the book with her. She took the book from the table on which Lord Marnell had thrown it—no need to hide it any longer now—kissed little Geoffrey's sleeping forehead, as he lay in his cradle, and went down to the oaken chamber.
Lord Marnell, who, when angry, looked taller than ever, stood on the hearth with his arms folded. Abbot Bilson was seated in an arm-chair, with his cowl thrown back. He was a man of about sixty, with a finely-formed head, more bald than the tonsure would account for, and a remarkably soft, persuasive voice and manner. Had the Order of Jesuits existed at that time, Abbot Bilson might fitly have been the head of it. "His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords."