The White Rose of Langley, a Story of the Olden Time, by Emily Sarah Holt.
This book is set in aristocratic circles in the fifteenth century. For that reason there is a great deal of mediaeval English. However, most of the unusual words are explained as they occur, so there is no problem with comprehension. The last chapter is headed "Historical Appendix", and contains potted lives of most of the people whom we meet in the book, since the majority of them really existed. Of course the detail of the conversations in the book is made up, but we can well believe that something very like them might well have happened. What is very evident is that many of these people were plotters, the object of their desires being in some way to increase their own wealth or status. Even small children may be imprisoned and murdered, as we remember from the sad tale of "the Princes in the Tower".
If you are fond of reading historical novels, and are familiar with the general history of the fifteenth century, you will enjoy this view of the lives of the figures that made that history.
THE WHITE ROSE OF LANGLEY, A STORY OF THE OLDEN TIME, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
"Oh, how full of briars is this working-day world!"
"It is so cold, Mother!"
The woman addressed languidly roused herself from the half-sheltered nook of the forest in which she and her child had taken refuge. She was leaning with her back supported by a giant oak, and the child was in her arms. The age of the child was about eight. The mother, though still young in years, was old before her time, with hard work and exposure, and it might be also with sorrow. She sat up, and looked wearily over the winter scene before her. There was nothing of the querulous, complaining tone of the little girl's voice in hers; only the dull, sullen apathy of hopeless endurance.
"Cold, child!" she said. "'Tis like to be colder yet when the night cometh."
"O Mother! and all snow now!"
"There be chiller gear than snow, maid," replied the mother bitterly.
"But it had been warmer in London, Mother?—if we had not lost our road."
"May-be," was the answer, in a tone which seemed to imply that it did not signify.
The child did not reply; and the woman continued to sit upright, and look forward, with an absent expression in her face, indicating that the mind was not where the eyes were.
"Only snow and frost!" she muttered—not speaking to the child. "Nought beyond, nor here ne there. Nay, snow is better than snowed-up hearts. Had it been warmer in London? May-be the hearts there had been as frosty as at Pleshy. Well! it will be warm in the grave, and we shall soon win yonder."
"Be there fires yonder, Mother?" asked the child innocently.
The woman laughed—a bitter, harsh laugh, in which there was no mirth.
"The devil keepeth," she said. "At least so say the priests. But what wit they? They never went thither to see. They will, belike, some day."
The little girl was silent again, and the mother, after a moment's pause, resumed her interrupted soliloquy.
"If there were nought beyond, only!" she murmured; and her look and tone of dull misery sharpened into vivid pain. "If a man might die, and have done with it all! But to meet God! And 'tis no sweven, [dream] ne fallacy, this dread undeadliness [immortality]—it is real. O all ye blessed saints and martyrs in Heaven! how shall I meet God?"
"Is that holy Mary's Son, Mother?"
"Holy Mary will plead for us," suggested the child. "She can alway peace her Son. But methought He was good to folks, Mother. Sister Christian was wont to say so."
"To saints and good women like Sister Christian, may-be."
"Art thou not good, Mother?"
The question was put in all innocence. But it struck the heart of the miserable mother like a poisoned arrow.
"Good!" she cried, again in that tone of intense pain. "I good? No, Maude!—I am bad, bad, bad! From the crown of mine head to the sole of my foot, there is nothing in me beside evil; such evil as thou, unwemmed [undefiled, innocent] dove as thou art, canst not even conceive! God is good to saints—not to sinners. Sister Christian—and thou, yet!—be amongst the saints. I am of the sinners."
"But why art thou not a saint, Mother?" demanded the child, as innocently as before.
"I was on the road once," said the woman, with a heavy sigh. "I was to have been an holy sister of Saint Clare. I knew no more of ill than thou whiteling in mine arms. If I had died then, when my soul was fair!"
Suddenly her mood changed. She clasped the child close to her breast, and showered kisses on the little wan face.
"My babe Maude, my bird Maude!" she said. "My dove that God sped down from Heaven unto me, thinking me not too ill ne wicked to have thee! The angels may love thee, my bird in bower! for thou art white and unwemmed. The robes of thy chrism [see Note 1] are not yet soiled; but, O sinner that I am! how am I to meet God? And I must meet Him—and soon."
"Did not God die on the rood, Mother?"
The woman assented, the old listless tone returning to her voice.
"God wot, child."
"Sister Christian told me He had no need for Himself, but that He loved us; yet why that should cause Him to die I wis not."
The mother made no answer. Her thoughts had drifted away, back through her weary past, to a little village church where a fresco painting stood on the wall, sketched in days long before, of a company of guests at a feast, clad in Saxon robes; and of One, behind whom knelt a woman weeping and kissing His feet, while her flowing hair almost hid them from sight. And back to her memory, along with the scene, came a line from a popular ballad ["The Ploughman's Complaint"] which referred to it. She repeated it aloud—
"'Christ suffered a sinful to kisse His fete.'
"Suffered her, for that she was a saint?" she asked of herself, in the dreamy languor which the intense cold had brought over her. "Nay, for she was 'a sinful.' Suffered her, then, for that she sinned? Were not that to impeach His holiness? Or was He so holy and high that no sin of hers could soil the feet she touched? What good did it her to touch them? Made it her holy?—fit to meet God in the Doom [Judgment], when she had thus met Him here in His lowliness? How wis I? And could it make me fit to meet Him? But I can never kiss His feet. Nor lack they the ournment [adornment] of any kiss of mine. Yet methinks it were she, not He, which lacked it then. And He let her kiss His feet. O Christ Jesu! if in very deed it were in love for us that Thou barest death on the bitter rood, hast Thou no love left to welcome the dying sinner? Thou who didst pity her at yonder feast, hast Thou no mercy for Eleanor Gerard too?"
The words were spoken only half aloud, but they were heard by the child cradled in her arms.
"Mother, why christened you me not Eleanor?" she asked dreamily.
"Hush, child, and go to sleep!" answered the mother, startled out of her reverie.
Maude was silent, and Eleanor wrapped her closer in the old cloak which enfolded both of them. But before the woman yielded herself up to the stupor which was benumbing her faculties, she passed her hand into her bosom, and drew out a little flat parcel, folded in linen, which she secreted in the breast of the child's dress.
"Keep this, Maude," she said gravely.
"What is it, Mother?" was Maude's sleepy answer.
"It is what thou shalt find it hereafter," was the mysterious rejoinder. "But let none take it away, neither beguile thee thereof. 'Tis all I have to give thee."
Maude seemed too nearly asleep for her curiosity to be roused; and Eleanor, leaning back against the tree, resigned herself to slumber also.
Not long afterwards, a goatherd passing that way in search of a strayed kid, came on the unconscious pair, wrapped in each other's arms. He ran for help to his hut, and had them conveyed to a convent at a little distance, which the wanderers had failed to find. The rescue was just in time to bring the life back to the numbed limbs of the child. But for the mother there was no waking in this world. Eleanor Gerard had met God.
Four years after that winter evening, in the guest-chamber of the Convent of Sopwell sat a nun of middle age and cheerful look, in conversation with a woman in ordinary costume, but to whom the same description would very nearly apply.
"Then what were the manner of maid you seek, good Ursula?" inquired the nun.
"By Saint Luke's face, holy Sister, but I would not have her too cunning [clever]. I count (though I say it that need not) I am none ill one to learn her her work; and me loveth not to be checked ne taunted of mine underlings."
The nun, who had known Ursula Drew for some time, was quite aware that superfluity of meekness did not rank among that worthy woman's failings.
"I would fain have a small maid of some twelve or thirteen years. An' ye have them elder, they will needs count they know as much as you, and can return a sharp answer betimes. I love not masterful childre."
"But would you not she were something learned?"
"Nay! So she wit not a pig's head from a crustade Almayne, [A kind of pie of custard or batter, with currants] 'tis all one to me, an' she will do my bidding."
"Then methinks I could right well fit you. We have here at this instant moment a small maid of twelve years, that my Lady the Prioress were well fain to put with such as you be, and she bade me give heed to the same. 'Tis a waif that Anthony, our goatherd, found in the forest, with her mother, that was frozen to death in an hard winter; but the child abode, and was saved. Truly, for cunning there is little in her; but for meekness and readiness to do your will, the maid is as good as any. But ye shall see her I think on."
Sister Oliva stepped to the door, and spoke in a low tone to some person outside. She came back and reseated herself, and a minute afterwards there was a low, timid tap at the door.
"Come in, child," said the nun.
And Maude came in.
She was small and slight for her twelve years, and preternaturally grave. A quantity of long dark hair hung round her head in a condition of seemingly hopeless tanglement, and the dark eyes, proportionately larger than the rest of the features, wore an expression of mingled apathy and suspicion, alike strange and painful to see in the eyes of a child.
"Come forward, Maude, and speak with Mistress Drew. Mercy on us, child! how hast moiled thine hair like a fowl his pennes!" [Feathers.]
Maude made no reply. She came a few steps nearer, dropped a rustic courtesy, and stood to be questioned.
"What is thy name?" inquired Mistress Ursula, as though she were beginning the catechism.
"Maude," said the child under her breath.
"And what years hast—twelve?"
"Twelve, the last Saint Margaret."
"And where wert born? Dost know?"
Maude knew, though for some reason with which she herself was best acquainted, she had been much more chary of her information to my Lady the Prioress than she now chose to be.
"At Pleshy, in Essex."
"And what work did thy father?"
Maude looked up with a troubled air, as if the idea of that relative's possible existence had never suggested itself to her.
"I never had any father!" she said, in a pained tone. "Cousin Hawise had a father, and he wrought iron on the anvil. But I had none—never! I had a mother—that was all."
"And what called men thy mother?"
"Then thy name is Maude Gerard," said Oliva, sharply.
Maude's silence appeared to indicate that she declined to commit herself either affirmatively or negatively.
"And what canst do, maid?" inquired Ursula, changing the subject to one of more practical purport.
Perhaps the topic was too large for reply, for Maude's only response was a nervous twisting of her fingers. Sister Oliva answered for her.
"Marry, she can pluck a chick, and roll pastry, and use a bedstaff, and scour a floor, and sew, and the like. She hath not been idle, I warrant you."
"Couldst cleanse out a pan an' thou wert set about it?"
"Ay," said Maude, under her breath.
"And couldst run of a message?"
"And couldst do as folk bid thee?"
But each time the child's voice grew fainter.
"Sister Oliva, I will essay the little maid, by your leave."
"And with my very good will, friend Ursula."
"Me counteth I shall make the best cook of her in all Herts. What sayest, maid?—wilt of thy good will be a cook?"
Maude looked up, looked down, and said nothing. But nature had not made her a cook, and the utmost Ursula Drew could do in that direction was to spoil a good milliner.
So little Maude went with Ursula—into a very different sphere of life from any which she could hitherto remember. The first home which she recollected was her grandfather's cottage, with the great elms on one side of it and the forge on the other, at which the old man had wrought so long as his strength permitted, and had then handed over, as the family inheritance, to his son. Since the world began for Maude, that cottage and the forge had always stood there, and its inhabitants had always been Grandfather, and Uncle David, and Aunt Elizabeth, and Cousin Hawise, and Cousin Jack, and Mother.
At some unknown time in the remote past there had been a grandmother, for Maude had heard of her; but with that exception, there had never been anybody else, and her father was to her an utterly mythic individual. She had never heard such a person named until Ursula Drew inquired his calling. And then, one awful winter night, something dreadful had happened. What it was Maude never precisely knew. She only knew that there was a great noise in the night, and strange voices in the cottage, and cries for mercy; and that when morning broke Uncle David was gone, and was seen afterwards no more. So then they tried to keep on the old forge a little longer; but Grandfather was past work, and Cousin Jack was young and inexperienced, and customers would not come as they had done to brawny-armed Uncle David, to whose ringing blows on the anvil Maude had loved to listen. And one day she heard Aunt Elizabeth say to Grandfather that the forge brought in nothing, and they must go up to the castle and ask the great Lord there, whose vassals they were, to find them food until Jack was able to work: but the old man rose up from the settle and answered, his voice trembling with passion, that he would starve to death ere he would take food from the cruel hand which had deprived him of his boy. So then, Cousin Jack used to go roaming in the forest and bring home roots and wild fruits, and sometimes the neighbours would give them alms in kind or in money, and so for a while they tried to live. But Grandfather grew weaker, and Mother and Aunt Elizabeth very thin and worn, and the bloom faded from Cousin Hawise's cheeks, and the gloss died away from her shining hair. And at last Grandfather died. And then Aunt Elizabeth went to a neighbouring franklin's farm, to serve the franklin's dame; and Cousin Jack went away to sea; and Maude could not recollect how they lived for a time. And then came another mournful day, when strange people came to the cottage and roughly ordered the three who were left to go away. They took Cousin Hawise with them, for they said she would be comely if she were well fed, and the Lady had seen her, and she must go and serve the Lady. And Maude never knew what became of her. But Mother wept bitterly, and seemed to think that Hawise's lot was a very unhappy one. So then they set out, Mother and Maude, for London. The reasons for going to London were very dim and vague to Maude's apprehension. They were going to look for somebody; so much she knew: and she thought it was some relation of Grandmother's, who might perchance give them a home again. London was a very grand place, only a little less than the world: but it could not fill quite all the world, because there was room left for Pleshy and one or two other places. The King lived in London, who never did any thing all day long but sit on a golden throne, with a crown on his head, and eat bread and marmalade, and drink Gascon wine; and the Queen, who of course sat on another golden throne, and shared the good things, and wore minever dresses and velvet robes which trailed all across the room. Perhaps the houses were not all built of gold; some of them might be silver; but at any rate the streets were paved with one or other of the precious metals. And of course, nobody in London was at all poor, and everybody had as much as he could possibly eat, and was quite warm and comfortable, and life was all music, and flowers, and sunshine. Poor little Maude! was her illusion much more extravagant than some of ours?
But, as we have seen, the hapless travellers never reached their bourne. And now even Mother was gone, and Maude was left alone in all the world. The nuns had not been particularly unkind to her; they had taught her many things, though they had not made her work beyond her strength; yet not one of them had given her what she missed most— sympathy. The result was that the child had been unhappy in the convent, and yet she could not have said why, had she been asked. But nobody ever asked that of little Maude. She was alone in all the world—the great, bare, hard, practical world.
For this was the side of the world presented to Maude.
The world is many-sided, and it presents various sides and corners to various people. The side which Maude saw was hard and bare. Hard bed, hard fare, hard work, hard words sometimes. Had she any opportunity of thinking the world a soft, comfortable, cushioned place, as some of her sisters find it?
This had been the child's life up to the moment when Ursula Drew made her appearance on the scene. But now a new element was introduced; for Maude's third home was a stately palace, filled with beautiful carvings, and delicate tracery, and exquisite colours, all which, lowest of the low as she was, she enjoyed with an intensity till then unknown to herself, and certainly not shared by any other in her sphere. That sense of the beautiful, which, trained in different directions, makes men poets, painters, and architects, was very strong in little Maude. She could not have explained in the least how it was that the curves in the stonework, or the rich colours in the windows of the great hall, gave her a mysterious sensation of pleasure, which she could not avoid detecting that they never gave to any of her kitchen associates; and she obtained many a scolding for her habit of what my Lady the Prioress had called "idle dreaming," and Mistress Drew was pleased to term "lither laziness;" when, instead of cleaning pans, Maude was thinking poetry. Alas for little Maude! her vocation was not to think poetry; and it was to scour pans.
The Palace of Langley, which had become the scene of Maude's pan-cleaning, was built in a large irregular pile. The kitchen and its attendant offices were at one end, and over them reigned Ursula Drew, who, though supreme in her government of Maude, was in reality only a vice-queen. Over Ursula ruled a man-cook, by name Warine de la Misericorde, concerning whom his subordinate's standing joke was that "Misericorde was rarely [extremely] merciless." But this potentate in his turn owed submission to the master of the household, a very great gentleman with gold embroidery on his coat, concerning whom Maude's only definite notion was that he must be courtesied to very low indeed.
Master and mistress were mere names to Maude. The child was near-sighted, and though, like every other servant in the Palace, she ate daily in the great hall, her eyes were not sufficiently clear, from her low place at the extreme end, to make out anything on the distant dais beyond a number of grey shapeless shadows. She knew when the royal, and in her eyes semi-celestial persons in question were, or were not, at home; she had a dim idea that they bore the titles of Earl and Countess of Cambridge, and that they were nearly related to majesty itself; she now and then heard Ursula informed that my Lord was pleased to command a certain dish, or that my Lady had condescended to approve a particular sauce. She had noticed, moreover, that two of the grey shadows at the very top of the hall, and therefore among the most distinguished persons, were smaller than the rest; she inferred that these ineffable superiors had at least two children, and she often longed to inspect them within comfortable seeing distance. But no such good fortune had as yet befallen her. Their apartments were inaccessible fairy-land, and themselves beings scarcely to be gazed on with undazzled eyes.
Very monotonous was Maude's new life:—cleaning pans, washing jars, sorting herbs, scouring pails, running numberless infinitesimal errands, doing everything that nobody else liked, hard-worked from morning to night, and called up from her hard pallet to recommence her toil before she had realised that she was asleep. Ursula's temper, too, did not improve with time; and Parnel, the associate and contemporary of Maude, was by no means to be mistaken for an angel.
Parnel was three years older than Maude, and much better acquainted with her work. She could accomplish a marvellous quantity within a given time, when it pleased her; and it generally did please her to rush to the end of her task, and to spend the remaining time in teasing Maude. She had no positive unkind feeling towards the child, but she was extremely mischievous, and Maude being extremely teasable, the temptation of amusing her leisure by worrying the nervous and inexperienced child was too strong to be resisted. The occupations of her present life disgusted Maude beyond measure. The scullery-work, of which Ursula gave her the most unpleasant parts, was unspeakably revolting to her quick sense of artistic beauty, and to a certain delicacy and refinement of nature which she had inherited, not acquired; and which Ursula, if she could have comprehended it, would have despised with the intense contempt of the coarse mind for the fine. The child was one morning engaged in cleaning a very greasy saucepan, close to the open window, when, to her surprise, she was accosted by a strange voice in the base court, or back yard of the palace.
"Is that pleasant work—frotting [rubbing] yonder thing?"
Maude looked up into a pair of bright, kindly eyes, which belonged to a boy attired as a page, some three or four years older than herself. Something in the lad's good-natured face won her confidence.
"No," she answered honestly, "'tis right displeasant to have ado with such feune!" [dirt.]
"So me counted," replied the boy. "What name hast thou, little maid?"
"I have not seen thee here aforetime," resumed the page.
"Nor I you," said Maude. "I have bidden hither no long time. Whereabout sit you in hall?"
"Nigh the high end," said he. "But we are only this day come from Clarendon with the Lord Edward, whom I and my fellows serve. Fare thee well, little maid!"
The bright eyes smiled at her, and the head nodded kindly, and passed on. But insignificant as the remarks were, Maude felt as if she had found a friend in the great wilderness of Langley Palace.
The next time the page's head paused at her window, Maude summoned courage to ask him his name.
"Bertram Lyngern," said he smilingly. "I have a longer name than thou." [See Note 2.]
"And a father and mother?" asked Maude.
"A father," said the boy. "He is one of my Lord's knights; but for my mother,—the women say she died the day I was born."
"I have ne father ne mother," responded Maude, sorrowfully, "ne none to care for me in all the wide world."
"Careth Mistress Drew nought for thee?"
Maude's laugh was bitterly negative.
"Ne Parnel, thy fellow?"
"She striveth alway to abash [frighten] and trouble me," sighed Maude.
"Poor Maude!" said Bertram, looking concerned. "Wouldst have me care for thee? May be I could render thy life somewhat lighter. If I talked with Parnel—"
"It were to no good," said Maude, brushing away to get her sink clean. "There is nothing but sharp words and snybbyngs [scoldings] all day long; and if I give her word back, then will she challenge [accuse] me to Mistress, and soothly I am aweary of life."
Weary of life at twelve years old! It was a new idea to Bertram, and he had found no answer, when the sharp voice of Ursula Drew summoned Maude away.
"Haste, child!" cried Ursula. "Thou art as long of coming as Advent Sunday at Christmas. Now, by the time I be back, lay thou out for me on the table four bundles of herbs from the dry herb closet—an handful of knot-grass, and the like of shepherd's pouch, and of bramble-seeds, and of plantain. Now, mark thou, the top leaves of the plantain only! Leave me not find thee idling; but have yonder row of pans as bright as a new tester when I come, and the herbs ready." [See note 3.]
Ursula bustled off, and Maude set to work at the pans. When they were sufficiently scrubbed, she pulled off the dirty apron in which she had been working, and went towards the dry herb closet. But she had not reached it, when her wrist was caught and held in a grasp like that of a vice.
"Whither goest, Mistress Maude?" demanded an unwelcome voice.
"Stay me not, I pray thee, Parnel!" said the child entreatingly. "Mistress Drew hath bidden me lay out divers herbs against she cometh."
"What herbs be they?" inquired Parnel demurely, with an assumption of gravity and superior knowledge which Maude knew, from sad experience, to mask some project of mischief. But knowing also that peril lay in silence, no less than in compliance, she reluctantly gave the information.
"There is no shepherd's pouch in the closet," responded Parnel.
"Then whither must I seek it?" asked Maude.
"In the fields," said Parnel.
"Ay me!" exclaimed the child.
"And 'tis not in leaf, let be flower," added her tormentor.
"What can I do?" cried Maude in dismay.
Still keeping tight hold of her wrist, Parnel answered the query by the execution of a war-dance around Maude.
"Parnel, do leave go!" supplicated the prisoner.
"Mistress Maude is bidden lay out herbs!" sang the gaoler in amateur recitative. "Mistress Maude hath no shepherd's pouch! Mistress Maude is loth to go and pluck it!"
"Parnel, do leave me go!"
"Mistress Maude doth not her mistress' bidding! Mistr—"
Suddenly breaking off, Parnel, who could be as quick as a lizard when she chose, quitted her hold, and vanished out of sight in some incomprehensible manner, as Ursula Drew marched into the kitchen.
"Now, then, where be those herbs?" demanded that authority, in a tone indicative of a whipping.
"Mistress, I could not help it!" sobbed the worried child.
"By'r Lady, but thou canst help it if thou wilt!" returned Ursula. "Reach me down the rod; thy laziness shall be well a-paid for once."
Maude sobbed helplessly, but made no effort to obey.
"Where be thine ears? Reach the rod!" reiterated Ursula.
"Whom chastise you, Mistress Drew?" inquired Bertram's voice through the door; "she that demeriteth the same, or she that no doth?"
"This lazy maid demeriteth fifty rods!" was the pleasing answer.
"I cry you mercy, but I think not so," said Bertram judicially. "An' you whipped the demeritous party, it should be Parnel. I saw all that chanced, by the lattice, but the maids saw not me."
Parnel was not whipped, for her quickness made her a favourite; but neither was Maude, for Bertram's intercession rescued her.
"The saints bless you, Master Bertram!" said Maude, at the next opportunity. "And the saints help me, for verily I have an hard life. I am all of a bire [hurry, confusion], and sore strangled [tired], from morn to night."
"Poor little Maude!" answered Bertram pityingly. "Would I might shape thy matters better-good. Do the saints help, thinkest? Hugh Calverley saith no."
"Talk you with such like evil fawtors, [factor, doer], Master Bertram?" asked Maude in a shocked voice.
"Evil fawtors, forsooth! Hugh is no evil fawtor. How can I help but rede [attend to] his sayings? He is one of my fellows. And 'tis but what he hath from his father. Master Calverley is a squire of the Queen's Grace, and one of Sir John de Wycliffe's following."
"Who is Sir John de Wycliffe?" said Maude.
"One of the Lord Pope his Cardinals," laughed Bertram. "Get thee to thine herbs and pans, little Maude; and burden not thy head with Sir John de Wycliffe nor John de Northampton neither. Fare thee well, my maid. I must after my master for the hawking."
But before Bertram turned away, Maude seized the opportunity to ask a question which had been troubling her for many a month.
"If you be not in heavy bire, Master Bertram—"
"Go to! What maketh a minute more nor less?"
"Would it like you of your goodness to tell me, an' you wit, who dwelleth in the Castle of Pleshy?"
"'An' I wit'! Well wis I. 'Tis my gracious Lord of Buckingham, brother unto our Lord of Cambridge."
"Were you ever at Pleshy, Master Bertram?"
"Truly, but a year gone, for the christening of the young Lord Humphrey."
"And liked it you to tell me if you wot at all of one Hawise Gerard among the Lady's maidens?"
Maude awaited the answer in no little suppressed eagerness. She had loved Cousin Hawise; and if she yet lived, though apart, she would not feel herself so utterly alone. Perhaps they might even meet again, some day. But Bertram shook his head.
"I heard never the name," he said. "The Lady of Buckingham her maidens be Mistress Polegna and Mistress Sarah [fictitious persons]: their further names I wis not. But no Mistress Hawise saw I never."
"I thank you much, Master Bertram, and will not stay you longer."
But another shadow fell upon Maude's life. Poor, pretty, gentle, timid Cousin Hawise! What had become of her? The next opportunity she had, Maude inquired from Bertram, "What like dame were my Lady of Buckingham's greathood?"
Bertram shrugged his shoulders, as if the question took him out of his depth.
"Marry, she is a woman!" said he; "and all women be alike. There is not one but will screech an' she see a spider."
"Mistress Drew and Mother be not alike," answered Maude, falling back on her own small experience. "Neither were Hawise and I alike. She would alway stay at holy Mary her image, to see if the lamp were alight; but I—the saints forgive me!—I never cared thereabout. So good was Cousin Hawise."
"Maude," suggested Bertram in a low voice, as if he felt half afraid of his own idea, "Countest that blessed Mary looketh ever her own self to wit if the lamp be alight?"
Maude was properly shocked.
"Save you All Hallows, Master Bertram! How come you by such fantasies?"
Bertram laughed and went away, chanting a stave of the "Ploughman's Complaint"—[See Note 4.]
"Christ hath twelve apostles here; Now, say they, there may be but one, That may not erre in no manere— Who 'leveth [believeth] not this ben lost echone. [each one] Peter erred—so did not Jhon; Why is he cleped the principal? [See note 5.] Christ cleped him Peter, but Himself the Stone— All false faitours [doers] foule hem fall!" [Evil befall them.]
Late that evening a mounted messenger crossed the drawbridge, and stayed his weary horse in the snows-prinkled base court. He was quickly recognised by the household as a royal letter-bearer from London.
"And what news abroad, Master Matthew?"
"Why, the King's Highness keepeth his Christmas at Eltham; and certain of the Council would fain have the Queen's Bohemians sent forth, but I misdoubt if it shall be done. And Sir Nicholas Brembre is the new mayor. There is no news else. Oh, ay! The parson of Lutterworth, Sir John de Wycliffe—"
"The lither heretic!" muttered Warine, for he was the questioner. "What misturnment [perversion] would he now?"
"He will never turn ne misturn more," said the messenger. "The morrow after Holy Innocents a second fit of the palsy took him as he stood at the altar at mass, and they bare him home to die. And the eve of the Circumcision [December 31st, 1384], two days thereafter, the good man was commanded to God."
"Good man, forsooth!" growled Warine.
"Master Warine," said Hugh Calverley's voice behind him, "the day may come when thou and I would be full fain to creep into Heaven at the heels of the Lutterworth parson."
Note 1. The anointing at baptism, when a white cloth was always placed on the head.
Note 2. Bertram, Ursula, Parnel, Warine, and Maude and her family, are all fictitious persons.
Note 3. The herbs were to be boiled and the liquid drunk, for a sprain, bruise, or broken bone.
Note 4. Wright's Political Poems, one 304, et seq. The date of the poem given by Wright is anticipated by about nine years.
Note 5. Why is Peter called the "Prince of the Apostles?"
"'Now God, that is of mightes most, Grant him grace of the Holy Ghost His heritage to win: And Mary moder of mercy fre Save our King and his meynie Fro' sorrow and shame and sin.'"
The song was trilled in a pleasant voice by an old lady who sat spinning in an upper chamber of Langley Palace. She paused a moment in her work, and then took up again the latter half of the strain.
"'And Mary moder of mercy fre'—Called any yonder?"
"May I come in, Dame Agnes?" said a child's voice at the door.
The old lady rose hastily, laid down her distaff, and opening the door, courtesied low to the little girl of ten years old who stood outside.
"Enter freely, most gracious Lady! Wherefore abide without?"
It was a pretty vision which entered. Not that there was any special beauty in the child herself, for in that respect she was merely on the pretty side of ordinary. She was tall for her age—as tall as Maude, though she was two years younger. Her complexion was very fair, her hair light with a golden tinge, and her eyes of a peculiar shade of blue, bright, yet deep—the shade known as blue eyes in Spain, but rarely seen in England. But her costume was a study for a painter. Little girls dressed like women in the fourteenth century; and this child wore a blue silk tunic embroidered with silver harebells, over a brown velvet skirt spangled with rings of gold. Her hair was put up in a net of golden tissue, ornamented with pearls. The dress was cut square at the neck; she wore a pearl necklace, and a girdle of turquoise and pearls. Two rows of pearls and turquoise finished the sleeves at the wrist; they were of brown velvet, like the skirt. This finery was evidently nothing new to the little wearer. She came into the room and flung herself carelessly down on a small stool, close to the chair where Dame Agnes had been sitting—to the unfeigned horror of that courtly person.
"Lady, Lady! Not on a stool, for love of the blessed Mary!"
And drawing forward an immense old arm-chair, Dame Agnes motioned the child to take it.
"Remember, pray you, that you be a Prince's daughter!" [See Note 1.]
The child rose with some reluctance, and climbed into the enormous chair, in which she seemed almost lost.
"Prithee, Dame Agnes, is it because I be a Prince's daughter that I must needs be let from sitting whither I would?"
"There is meetness in all things," said the old lady, picking up her distaff.
"And what meetness is in setting the like of me in a chair that would well hold Charlemagne and his twelve Peers?" demanded the little girl, laughing.
"The twelve Peers of Charlemagne, such saved as were Princes, were not the like of you, Lady Custance," said Dame Agnes, almost severely.
"Ah me!" and Constance gaped (or, as she would herself have said, "goxide.") "I would I were a woodman's daughter."
Dame Agnes de La Marche, [see Note 2], whose whole existence had been spent in the scented atmosphere of Court life, stared at the child in voiceless amazement.
"I would so, Dame. I might sit then of the rushes, let be the stools, or in a fieldy nook amid the wild flowers. And Dona Juana would not be ever laying siege to me—with 'Dona Constanca, you will soil your robes!'—or, 'Dona Constanca, you will rend your lace!'—or, 'Dona Constanca, you will dirty your fingers!' Where is the good of being rich and well-born, if I must needs sit under a cloth of estate [a canopy] all the days of my life, and dare not so much as to lift a pin from the floor, lest I dirty my puissant and royal fingers? I would liefer have a blacksmith to my grandsire than a King."
"Lady Custance! With which of her Grace's scullion maidens have you demeaned yourself to talk?"
"I will tell thee, when thou wilt answer when I was suffered to say so much as 'Good morrow' to any maid under the degree of a knight's daughter."
"Holy Mary, be our aid!" interjected the horrified old lady.
"I am aweary, Dame Agnes," said the child, laying herself down in the chair, as nearly at full length as its size would allow. "I have played the damosel [person of rank—used of the younger nobility of both sexes] so long time, I would fain be a little maid a season. I looked forth from the lattice this morrow, and I saw far down in the base court a little maid the bigness of me, washing of pans at a window. Now, prithee, have yon little maid up hither, and set her under the cloth of estate in my velvets, and leave me run down to the base court and wash the pans. It were rare mirth for both of us."
Dame Agnes shook her head, as if words failed to express her feelings at so unparalleled a proposal.
"What sangst thou as I was a-coming in?" asked the child, dropping a subject on which she found no sympathy.
"'Twas but an old song, Lady, of your Grace's grandsire King Edward (whom God assoil! [pardon]) and his war of France."
"That was ere I was born. Was it ere thou wert, Dame?"
"Truly no, Lady," said Agnes, smiling; "nor ere my Lord your father."
"What manner of lad was my Lord my father, when he was little?"
"Rare meek and gent, Lady,—for a lad, and his ire saved." [Except when he was angry.]
Dame Agnes saved her conscience by the last clause, for gentle as Prince Edmund had generally been, he was as capable of going into a genuine Plantagenet passion as any of his more fiery brothers.
"But a maiden must be meeker and gentler?"
"Certes, Damosel," said Agnes, spinning away.
The child reclined in her chair for a time in silence. Perhaps it was the suddenness of the next question which made the old lady drop her distaff.
"Dame, who is Sir John de Wycliffe?"
The distaff had to be recovered before the question could be considered.
"Ask at Dame Joan, Lady," was the discreet reply.
"So I did; and she bade me ask at thee."
"A priest, methinks," said Agnes vaguely.
"Why, I knew that," answered the child. "But what did he, or held he?— for 'tis somewhat naughty, folk say."
"If it be somewhat naughty, Lady Custance, you should not seek to know it."
"But my Lady my mother wagged her head, though she spake not. So I want to know."
"Then your best way, Damosel," suggested the troubled Agnes, "were to ask at her Grace."
"I did ask at her."
"And what said she?"
"She said she would tell me another day. But I want to know now."
"Her Grace's answer might have served you, Lady."
"It did not serve Ned. He said he would know. And so will I."
"The Lord Edward is two years your elder, Lady."
"Truth," said the child shrewdly, "and you be sixty years mine elder, so you should know more than he by thirty."
Agnes could not help smiling, but she was sadly perplexed how to dismiss the unwelcome topic.
"Let be. If thou wilt not tell me, I will blandish some that will. There be other beside thee in the university [world, universe].—What is yonder bruit?" [a noise.]
It was little Maude, flying in frantic terror, with Parnel in hot pursuit, both too much absorbed to note in what direction they were running. The cause was not far to seek.
After Maude had recovered from the effects of her exposure in the forest, she lighted unexpectedly on the little flat parcel which her mother had charged her to keep. It was carefully sewn up in linen, and the sewing cost Maude some trouble to penetrate. She reached the core at last. It was something thin and flat, with curious black and red patterns all over it. This would have been the child's description. It was, in truth, a vellum leaf of a manuscript, elaborately written, but not illuminated, unless capitals in red ink can be termed illumination. Remembering her mother's charge, to let "none beguile her of it," Maude had striven to keep its possession a secret from every one, first from the nuns, and then from Ursula Drew. Strange to say, she had succeeded until that morning. It was to her a priceless treasure—all the more inestimable because she could not read a word of it. But on that unlucky morning, Parnel had caught a glimpse of the precious parcel, always hidden in Maude's bosom, and had immediately endeavoured to snatch it from her. Contriving to elude her grasp, yet fearful of its repetition, Maude rushed out of the kitchen door, and finding that her tormentor followed, fled across the base court, took refuge in an open archway, dashed up a flight of steps, and sped along a wide corridor, neither knowing nor caring that her flying feet were bearing her straight in the direction of the royal apartments. Parnel was the first to see where they were going, and at the last corner she stayed her pursuit, daring to proceed no further. But Maude did not know that Parnel was no longer on her track, and she fled wildly on, till her foot tripped at an inequality in the stone passage, and she came down just opposite an open door.
For a minute the child was too much stunned by her fall to think of any thing. Then, as her recollection returned, she cast a terrified glance behind her, and saw that her pursuer had not yet appeared round the corner. And then, before she could rise, she heard a voice in front of her.
"What is this, my child?"
Maude looked up, past a gorgeous spread of blue and gold drapery, into a meek, quiet face—a face whose expression reassured and comforted her. A calm, pale, oval face, in which were set eyes of sapphire blue, framed by soft, light hair, and wearing a look of suffering, past or present. Maude answered the gentle voice which belonged to that face as she might have answered her mother.
"I pray you of pardon, Mistress! Parnel, my fellow, ran after me and affrighted me."
"Wherefore ran she after thee?"
"Because she would needs see what I bare in my bosom, and I was loth she so should, lest she should do it hurt."
"What is that? I will do it no hurt."
Maude looked up again, and felt as if she could trust that face with any thing. So merely saying—"You will not give it Parnel, Mistress?" she drew forth her treasure and put it into the lady's hand.
"I will give it to none saving thine own self. Dost know what it is, little maid?"
"No, Mistress, in good sooth."
"How earnest by it? 'Tis a part of a book."
"My mother, that is dead, charged me to keep it; for it was all she had for to give me. I know not, in very deed, whether it be Charlemagne or Arthur"—the only two books of which poor Maude had ever heard. "But an' I could meet with one that wist to read, and that were my true friend, I would fain cause her to tell me what I would know thereabout."
"And hast no true friend?" inquired the lady.
"Not one," said Maude sorrowfully.
"Well, little maid, I can read, and I would be thy true friend. What is it thou wouldst fain know?"
"Why," said Maude, in an interested tone, "whether the great knight, of whose mighty deeds this book doth tell, should win his 'trothed love at the last, or no."
For the novel-reader of the fourteenth century was not very different from the novel-reader of the nineteenth. The lady smiled, but grew grave again directly. She sat down in one of the cushioned window-seats, keeping Maude's treasured leaf in her hand.
"List, little maid, and thou shalt hear—that the great Knight, of whose mighty prowess this book doth tell, shall win His 'trothed love at last."
And she began to read—very different words from any Maude expected. The child listened, entranced.
"And I saigh [saw] newe heuene and newe erthe; for the firste heuene and the firste erthe wenten awei; and the see is not now. And I ioon [John] saigh the hooli citee ierusalim newe comynge doun fro heuene maad redi of god as a wyf ourned to hir husbonde. And I herde a greet voice fro the trone seiynge [saying], lo a tabernacle of god is with men, and he schal dwelle with hem, and thei schulen be his peple, and he, god with hem, schal be her [their] god. And god schal wipe awei ech teer fro the ighen [eyes] of hem, and deeth schal no more be, neithir mournyng neither criyng neither sorewe schal be ouer, whiche thing is firste [first things] wenten awei. And he seide that sat in the trone, lo I make alle thingis newe. And he seide to me, write thou, for these wordis ben [are] moost feithful and trewe. And he seide to me, it is don, I am alpha and oo [omega] the bigynnyng and ende, I schal ghyue [give] freli of the welle of quyk [quick, living] water to him that thirstith. He that schal ouercome schal welde [possess] these thingis, and I schal be god to him, and he schal be sone to me. But to ferdful men, and unbileueful, and cursid, and manquelleris, and fornicatours, and to witchis and worschiperis of ydols and to alle lyeris the part of hem schal be in the pool brenynge with fyer and brymstoon, that is the secounde deeth. And oon [one] cam of the seuene aungelis hauynge violis ful of seuene the laste ueniauncis [vengeances, plagues], and he spak with me and seide, come thou and I schal schewe to thee the spousesse [bride] the wyf of the lombe. And he took me up in spirit into a greet hill and high, and he schewide to me the hooli cite ierusalem comynge doun fro heuene of god, hauynge the cleerte [glory] of god; and the light of it lyk a precious stoon as the stoon iaspis [jasper], as cristal. And it hadde a wall greet and high hauynge twelue ghatis [gates], and in the ghatis of it twelue aungelis and names writen yn that ben the names of twelue lynagis [lineages, tribes] of the sones of israel. Fro the eest three ghatis, and fro the north three ghatis, and fro the south three ghatis, and fro the west three ghatis. And the wall of the citee hadde twelue foundamentis, and in hem the twelue names of twelue apostlis and of the lombe. And he that spak with me hadde a goldun mesure of a rehed [reed] that he schulde mete the citee and the ghatis of it and the wall. And the citee was sett in a square, and the lengthe of it is so mych as mych as is the brede [breadth], and he mat [meted, measured] the citee with the rehed bi furlongis twelue thousyndis, and the highthe and the lengthe and breede of it ben euene. And he maat [meted, measured] the wallis of it of an hundride and foure and fourti cubitis bi mesure of man, that is, of an aungel. And the bilding of the wall thereoff was of the stoon iaspis and the citee it silff was cleen gold lyk cleen glas. And the foundamentis of the wal of the cite weren ourned [adorned] with al precious stoon, the firste foundament iaspis, the secound saphirus, the thridde calsedonyus, the fourthe smaragdus [emerald], the fifthe sardony [sardonyx], the sixte sardyus [ruby], the seuenthe crisolitus, the eighthe berillus, the nynthe topasius, the tenthe crisopassus, the elleuenthe iacinctus [jacinth], the tweluethe amiatistus [amethyst]. And twelue ghatis ben twelue margaritis [pearls] bi ech [each], and ech ghate was of ech [each] margarite and the streetis of the citee weren cleen gold as of glas ful schinynge. And I saigh no temple in it, for the lord god almyghti and the lomb is temple of it, and the citee hath not nede of sunne neither moone that thei schine in it, for the cleerite of god schal lightne it, and the lombe is the lanterne of it, and the kyngis of erthe schulen bringe her glorie and onour into it. And the ghatis of it schulen not be closid bi dai, and nyght schal not be there, and thei schulen bringe the glorie and onour of folkis into it, neither ony man defouled and doynge abomynacioun and leesyng [lying] schal entre into it, but thei that ben writun in the book of lyf and of the lombe."
When the soft, quiet voice ceased, it was like the sudden cessation of sweet music to the enchanted ears of little Maude. The child was very imaginative, and in her mental eyes the City had grown as she listened, till it now lay spread before her—the streets of gold, and the gates of pearl, and the foundations of precious stones. Of any thing typical or supernatural she had not the faintest idea. In her mind it was at once settled that the City was London, and yet was in some dreamy way Jerusalem; for of any third city Maude knew nothing. The King, of course, had his Palace there; and a strong desire sprang up in the child's mind to know whether the royal mistress, who was to her a kind of far-off fairy queen, had a palace there also. If so—but no! it was too good to be true that Maude would ever go to wash the golden pans and diamond dishes which must be used in that City.
"Mistress!" said Maude to her new friend, after a short silence, during which both were thinking deeply.
The lady brought her eyes down to the child from the sky, where they had been fixed, and smiled a reply to the appeal.
"Would you tell me, of your grace, whether our Lady mistresshood's graciousness hath in yonder city a dwelling?"
Maude wondered exceedingly to see tears slowly gather in the sapphire eyes.
"God grant it, little maid!" was, to her, the incomprehensible answer.
"And if so were, Mistress, counteth your Madamship that our said puissant Lady should ever lack her pans cleansed yonder?"
"Wherefore, little maid?" asked the lady very gently.
"Because, an' I so might, I would fain dwell in yonder city," said Maude, with glittering eyes.
"And thy work is to cleanse pans?"
Little Maude sighed heavily. "Ay, yonder is my work."
"Which thou little lovest, as methinks."
"Should you love it, Mistress, think you?" demanded Maude.
"Truly, little maid, that should I not," answered the lady. "Now tell me freely, what wouldst liefer do?"
"Aught that were clean and fair and honest!" [pretty] said Maude confidentially, her eyes kindling again. "An' they lack any 'prentices in that City, I would fain be bound yonder. Verily, I would love to twine flowers, or to weave dovecotes [the golden nets which confined ladies' hair], or to guard brave gowns with lace, and the like of that, an' I could be learned. Save that, methinks, over there, I would be ever and alway a-gazing from the lattice."
"And yet I wis not," added Maude, thinking aloud. "Where the streets be gold, and the gates margarites, what shall the gowns be?"
"Pure, bright stones [see Note 3], little maid," said the lady. "But there be no 'prentices yonder."
"What! be they all masters?" said the child.
"'A kingdom and priests,'" she said. "But there be no 'prentices, seeing there is no work, save the King's work."
Little Maude wondered privately whether that were to sew stars upon sunbeams.
"But there shall not enter any defouled thing into that City," pursued the lady seriously; "no leasing, neither no manner of wrongfulness."
Little Maude's face fell considerably.
"Then I could not go to cleanse the pans yonder!" she said sorrowfully. "I did tell a lie once to Mistress Drew."
"Who is Mistress Drew?" enquired the lady.
The child looked up in astonishment, wondering how it came to pass that any one living in Langley Palace should not know her who, to Maude's apprehension, was monarch of all she surveyed—inside the kitchen.
"She is Mistress Ursula Drew, that is over me and Parnel."
"Doth she cleanse pans?" said the lady smilingly.
"Nay, verily! She biddeth us."
"I see—she is queen of the kitchen. And is there none over her?"
"Ay, Master Warine."
"And who is over Master Warine?"
A question beyond little Maude's power to answer.
"The King must be, of force," said she meditatively. "But who is else— saving his gracious mastership and our Lady her mistresshood—in good sooth I wis not."
The lady looked at her for a minute with a smile on her lips. Then, a little to Maude's surprise, she clapped her hands. A handsomely attired woman—to the child's eyes, the counterpart of the lady who had been talking with her—appeared in the doorway.
"Senora!" she said, with a reverence.
The two ladies thereupon began a conversation, in a language totally incomprehensible to little Maude. They were both Spanish by birth, and they were speaking their own tongue. They said:—
"Dona Juana, is there any vacancy among my maids?"
"Senora, we live to fulfil your august pleasure."
"Do you think this child could be taught fine needlework?"
"The Infanta has only to command."
"I wish it tried, Dona Juana."
"I lie at the Infanta's feet."
The lady turned back to Maude.
"Thy name, little maid?" she gently asked.
"Maude, and your servant, Mistress," responded the child.
"Then, little Maude, have here thy treasure"—and she held forth the leaf to her—"and thy wish. Follow this dame, and she will see if thou canst guard gowns. If so be, and thou canst be willing and gent, another may cleanse the pans, for thou shalt turn again to the kitchen no more."
Little Maude clasped her hands in ecstasy.
"Our Lady Mary, and Peter and Paul, bless your Ladyship's mistresshood! Be you good enough for to ensure me of the same?"
"Thou shalt not win back, an' thou do well," repeated the lady, smiling. "Now follow this dame."
Dona Juana was not at all astonished. Similar sudden transformations were comparatively of frequent occurrence at that time; and to call in question any act of the King of Castilla's daughter would have been in her eyes the most impossible impropriety. She merely noted mentally the extremely dirty state of Maude's frock, calculated how long it would take to make her three new ones, wondered if she would be very troublesome to teach, and finally asked her if she had any better dress. Maude owned that she possessed a serge one for holidays, upon which Dona Juana, after a minute's hesitation, looked back into the room she had left, and said, "Alvena!" A lively-looking woman, past girlhood in age, but retaining much of the character, answered the call.
"Hie unto Mistress Ursula Drew, that is over the kitchen, and do her to wit that her Grace's pleasure is to advance Maude, the scullion, unto room [situation] of tire-woman; bid her to give thee all that 'longeth unto the maid, and bear it hither."
Alvena departed on her errand, and Maude followed Dona Juana into fairy land. Gorgeous hangings covered the walls; here and there a soft mossy carpet was spread over the stone floor—for it was not the time of year for rushes. The guide's own dress—crimson velvet, heavily embroidered—was a marvel of art, and the pretty articles strewn on the tables were wonders of the world. They had passed through four rooms ere Maude found her tongue.
"Might it like your Madamship," she asked timidly, her curiosity at last overcoming her reserve, though she felt less at home with Dona Juana than with the other lady, "to tell me the name of the fair mistress that did give me into your charge?"
"That is our Lady's Grace, maiden," said Juana rather stiffly, "the Lady Infanta Dona Isabel, Countess of Cambridge."
"What, she that doth bear rule over us all?" said Maude amazedly.
"She," replied Juana.
"Had I wist the same, as wot the saints, I had been sore afeard," responded Maude. "And what call men your Grace's Ladyship, an' I may know?"
Dona Juana condescended to smile at the child's simplicity.
"My name is Juana Fernandez," she said. "Thou canst call me Dame Joan."
At this point the hangings were suddenly lifted, and something which seemed to Maude the very Queen of the Fairies crept out and stood before them. Juana stopped and courtesied, an act which Maude was too fascinated to imitate.
"Whither go you, Dona Juana?" asked the vision. "In good sooth, this is the very little maid I saw a-washing the pans. Art come to sit under the cloth of estate in my stead?"
Little Maude gazed on her Fairy Queen, and was silent.
"What means your Grace, Dona Constanca?" asked Juana.
"What is thy name, and wherefore earnest hither?" resumed Constance, still addressing herself to Maude.
"Maude," said the child shyly.
"Maude! That is a pretty name," pronounced the little Princess.
"The Senora Infanta, your Grace's mother, will have me essay to learn the maid needlework," added Juana in explanation.
"Leave me learn her!" said Constance eagerly. "I can learn her all I know; and I am well assured I can be as patient as you, Dona Juana."
"At your Ladyship's feet," responded Juana quietly, using her customary formula. She felt the suggestion highly improper and exceedingly absurd, but she was far too great a courtier to say so.
"Come hither!" said Constance gleefully, beckoning to Maude. "Sue [follow] thou me unto Dame Agnes de La Marche her chamber. I would fain talk with thee."
Maude glanced at Juana for permission.
"Sue thou the Senorita Dona Constanca," was the reply. "Be thou ware not to gainsay her in any thing."
There was little need of the warning, for Maude was completely enthralled. She followed her Fairy Queen in silence into the room where Dame Agnes still sat spinning.
"Sit thou down on yonder stool," said Constance. "My gracious Ladyship will take this giant's chair. (I have learned my lesson, Dame Agnes.) Now—where is thy mother?"
"A fathom underground."
"Poor Maude! hast no mother?—And thy father?"
"Never had I."
"And thy brethren and sustren?" [Sisters.]
"Ne had I never none."
"Maiden!" interjected Dame Agnes, "wist not how to speak unto a damosel of high degree? Thou shalt say 'Lady' or 'Madam.'"
"'Lady' or 'Madam,'" repeated Maude obediently.
"How long hast washed yonder pans?" asked Constance, leaning her head on the arm of the chair.
"'Lady' or 'Madam,'" answered Maude, remembering her lesson, "by the space of ten months."
"The sely hilding!" [sely=simple, hilding=young person of either sex] exclaimed Agnes; while Constance flung herself into another attitude, and laughed with great enjoyment.
"Flyte [scold] her not, Dame Agnes. I do foresee she and I shall be great friends."
"Lady Custance! The dirt under your feet is no meet friend ne fellow [companion] for the like of you."
"Truly, no, saving to make pies thereof," laughed the little Princess. "Nathless, take my word for it, Maude and I shall be good friends."
Was there a recording angel hovering near to note the words? For the two lives, which had that day come in contact, were to run thenceforth side by side so long as both should last in this world.
But the little Princess was soon tired of questioning her new acquaintance. She sauntered away ere long in search of some more novel amusement, and Dame Agnes desired Maude to change her dress, and then to return to the ante-chamber, there to await the orders of Dame Joan, as Dona Juana was termed by all but the Royal Family. Maude obeyed, and in the ante-chamber she found, not Juana, but Alvena [a fictitious person], and another younger woman, whom she subsequently heard addressed as Mistress Sybil [a fictitious person].
"So thou shalt be learned?" [you have to be taught] said Alvena, as her welcome to Maude. "Come, look hither on this gown. What is it?"
"'Tis somewhat marvellous shene!" [bright] said Maude, timidly stroking the glossy material.
Alvena only laughed, apparently enjoying the child's ignorance; but Sybil said gently, "'Tis satin, little maid."
"Is it for our Lady's Grace?" asked Maude.
"Ay, when 'tis purfiled," replied Alvena.
"Pray you, Mistress Alvena, what is 'purfiled?'"
"Why, maid! Where hast dwelt all thy life? 'Purfiled' signifieth guarded with peltry."
"But under your good allowance, Mistress Alvena, what is 'peltry'?"
"By my Lady Saint Mary! heard one ever the like?"
"Peltry," quietly explained Sybil, "is the skin of beast with the dressed fur thereon—such like as minever, and gris [marten], and the like."
"Thurstan," said Alvena suddenly, turning to a little errand boy [a fictitious person] who sat on a stool in the window, and whose especial business it was to do the bidding of the Countess's waiting-women, "Hie thee down to Adam [a fictitious person] the peltier [furrier. Ladies of high rank kept a private furrier in the household], and do him to wit that the Lady would have four ells of peltry of beasts ermines for the bordure of her gown of blue satin that is in making. The peltry shall be of the breadth of thine hand, and no lesser; and say unto him that it shall be of the best sort, and none other. An' he send me up such evil gear as he did of gris for the cloak of velvet, he may look to see it back with a fardel [parcel] of flyting lapped [wrapped] therein. Haste, lad! and be back ere my scissors meet."
Thurstan disappeared, and Alvena threw herself down on the settle while she waited for her messenger.
"Ay me! I am sore aweary of all this gear—snipping, and sewing, and fitting. If I would not as lief as forty shillings have done with broidery and peltry, then the moon is made of green cheese. Is that strange unto thee, child?"
"Verily, Mistress Alvena, methinks you be aweary of Fairy Land," said little Maude in surprise.
"Callest this Fairy Land?" laughed Alvena. "If so be, child, I were fain to dwell a season on middle earth."
"In good sooth, so count I it," answered Maude, allowing her eyes to rove delightedly among all the marvels of the ante-chamber, "and the Lady Custance the very Queen of Faery."
"The Lady Custance is made of flesh and blood, trust me. An' thou hadst had need to bear her to her bed, kicking and striving all the way, when she was somewhat lesser than now, thou shouldst be little tempted to count her immortal."
"An' it like you, Mistress Alvena—"
"Marry, Master Thurstan, it liketh me right well to see thee back without the peltry wherefor I sent thee! Where hast loitered, thou knave?"
"Master Adam saith he is unfurnished at this time of the peltry you would have, Mistress, and without fox will serve your turn—"
"Fox me no fox, as thou set store by thy golden locks!" said Alvena, advancing towards the luckless Thurstan in a threatening attitude, with the scissors open in her hand. "I'll fox him, and thee likewise. Go and bring me the four ells of peltry of beasts ermines, and that of the best, or thou shalt wake up to-morrow to find thy poll as clean as the end of thine ugsome [ugly] nose."
Poor Thurstan, who was only a child of about ten years old, mistook Alvena's jesting for earnest, and began to sob.
"But what can I, Mistress?" urged the terrified urchin. "Master Adam saith he hath never a nail thereof, never name an ell."
"Alvena, trouble not the child," interposed Sybil.
But Sybil's gentle intercession would have availed little if it had not been seconded by the unexpected appearance of the only person whom Alvena feared.
"What is this?" inquired Dona Juana, in a tone of authority.
Thurstan, with a relieved air, subsided into his recess, and Alvena, with a rather abashed one, began to explain that no ermine could be had for the trimming of the blue satin dress.
"Then let it wait," decided the Mistress—for this was Juana's official title. "Alvena, set the child a-work, and watch that she goeth rightly thereabout. Sybil, sue thou me."
The departure of Juana and Sybil, for which Maude was privately rather sorry, set Alvena's tongue again at liberty. She set Maude at work, on a long hem, which was not particularly interesting; and herself began to pin some trimming on a tunic of scarlet cloth.
"Pray you, Mistress Alvena," asked Maude at length—wedging her question in among a quantity of small-talk—"hath the Lady Custance brethren or sustren?"
"Sustren, not one; and trust me, child, an' thou knewest her as I do, thou shouldst say one of her were enough. But she hath brethren twain— the Lord Edward, which is her elder, and the Lord Richard, her younger. The little Lord Richard is a sweet child as may lightly be seen; and dearly the Lady Custance loveth him. But as for the Lord Edward—an' he can do an ill turn, trust him for it."
"And what like is my Lord our master?" asked Maude.
Alvena laughed. "Sawest ever Ursula Drew bake bread, child?"
"Oh ay!" sighed the ex-scullery-maid.
"And hast marked how the dough, ere he be set in the oven, should take any pattern thou list to set him on?"
"Then thou hast seen what the Lord Earl is like."
"But who setteth pattern on the Lord Earl?" inquired Maude, looking up in some surprise.
"All the world, saving my Lady his wife, and likewise in his wrath. Hast ever seen one of our Princes in a passion of ire?"
"Never had I luck yet to see one of their Graces," said Maude reverently.
"Then thou wist not what a man can be like when he is angered."
"But not, I ensure me, the Lady Custance!" objected Maude, loth to surrender her Fairy Queen.
"Wait awhile and see!" was the ominous answer.
"Methought she were sweet and fair as my Lady her mother," said Maude in a disappointed tone.
"'Sweet and fair'!—and soft, is my Lady Countess. Why, child, she should hardly say this kirtle were red, an' Dame Joan told her it were green. Thou mayest do aught with her, an' thou wist how to take her."
"How take you her?" demanded Maude gravely.
"By 'r Lady! have yonder fond [foolish] books of the Lutterworth parson at thy tongue's end, and make up a sad face, and talk of faith and grace and forgiving of sins and the like, and mine head to yon shred of tinsel an' she give thee not a gown within the se'nnight."
"But, Mistress Alvena! that were to be an hypocrite, an' you felt it not."
"Hu-te-tu! We be all hypocrites. Some of us feign for one matter, and some for other. I wis somewhat thereabout, child; for ere I came hither was I maid unto the Lady Julian [a fictitious person], recluse of Tamworth Priory. By our dear Lady her girdle! saw I nothing of hypocrisy there!"
"You never signify, Mistress, that the blessed recluse was an hypocrite?"
"The blessed recluse was mighty fond of sweetbreads," said Alvena, taking a pin out of her mouth, "and many an one smuggled I in to her under my cloak, when Father Luke thought she was a-fasting on bread and water. And one clereful [glorious] night had we, she and I, when one that I knew had shot me a brace of curlews, and coming over moorland by the church, he dropped them—all by chance, thou wist!—by the door of the cell. And I, oping the door—to see if it rained, trow!—found these birds a-lying there. Had we no supper that night!—and 'twas a vigil even. The blessed martyr or apostle (for I mind me not what day it were) forgive us!"
"But how dressed you them?" said Maude.
Alvena stopped in her fitting and pinning to laugh.
"Thou sely maid! The sacristan was my mother's brother."
Maude looked up as if she did not see the inference.
"I roasted them in the sacristy, child. The priests were all gone home to bed; and so soon as the ground were clear, mine uncle rapped of the door; and the Lady Julian came after me to the sacristy, close lapped in my cloak—"
How long Alvena might have proceeded to shock Maude's susceptibilities and outrage her preconceived opinions, it is impossible to say; for at this moment Thurstan opened the door and announced in a rather consequential manner—
"The Lord Le Despenser, to visit the Lady Custance, and Dame Margaret his sister."
Maude lifted her eyes to the height of Alvena, and found that she had to lower them to her own. A young lady of about sixteen entered, dressed in a rose-coloured silk striped with gold, and a gold-coloured mantle lined with the palest blue. She led by the hand a very pretty little boy of ten or eleven years of age, attired in a velvet tunic of that light, bright shade of apple-green which our forefathers largely used. It was edged at the neck by a little white frill. He carried in his hand a black velvet cap, from which depended a long and very full red plume of ostrich feathers. His stockings were white silk, his boots red leather, fastened with white buttons. The brother and sister were alike, but the small, delicately-cut features of both were the more delicate in the boy, and on his dark brown hair was a golden gloss which was not visible on that of his sister.
"Give you good morrow, Mistress Alvena," said Dame Margaret pleasantly. "The Lady Custance—may one have speech of her?"
Before Alvena could reply, the curtain which shrouded the door leading to the Countess's rooms was drawn aside, and Constance came forward herself.
"Good morrow, Meg," said she, kissing the young lady. "Thou hast mistaken thy road, Tom."
"Wherefore so?" asked Dame Margaret; for her little brother was silent, except that he offered a kiss in his turn, and looked rather disconcerted when no notice was taken of it.
"Why, Ned is playing quoits below, and Tom should have bidden with him. Come hither, Meg; I have a pretty thing to show thee."
"But Tom came to see your Ladyship."
"Well, he has seen me!" said the little Princess impatiently. "I love not lads. They are fit for nought better than playing quoits. Let them go and do it."
"What, Dickon?" said Margaret, smiling.
"Oh, Dickon!" returned Constance in a changed tone. "But Tom is not Dickon. Neither is he an angel, I wis, for I heard him gainsay once his preceptor."
Tom looked very unhappy at this raking up of bygone misdeeds.
"Methinks your Ladyship is in ill humour this morrow," said Margaret. "Be not so hard on the lad, for he loveth you."
"When I love him, I will do him to wit," said Constance cuttingly. "Come, Meg."
Dame Margaret obeyed the command, but she kept hold of the hand of her little brother. When they were gone, Alvena laid down her work and laughed.
"Thy Queen of Faery is passing gracious, Maude."
"She scarce seemed to matter the lad," was Maude's reply.
"Yet she hath sworn to do his bidding all the days of her life," said Alvena.
"Why," said Maude, looking up in surprise, "would you say the Lady Custance is troth-plight unto this imp?" [Little boy.]
"Nay, she is wedded wife. 'Tis five years or more sithence they were wed. My Lady Custance had years four, and my Lord Le Despenser five. They could but just syllable their vows. And I mind me, the Lady Custance stuck at 'obey,' and she had to be threatened with a fustigation [beating, whipping] ere she would go on."
"But who dared threaten her?" inquired Maude.
"Marry, my Lord her father, which fell into a fit of ire to see her perversity.—There goeth the dinner bell; lap thy work, child. For me, I am well fain to hear it."
Note 1. The child was Constance, only daughter of Edmund Duke of York (seventh son of Edward the Third) and Isabel of Castilla.
Note 2. Agnes de La Marche had been the nurse of two of Edward the Third's sons, Lionel and Edmund. She lived to old age, and was long in receipt of a pension from the Crown for her former service.
Note 3. Wycliffe's rendering of Revelations sixteen 6. In various places he follows what are now determined to be the best and most ancient authorities.
"Oh stay me not, thou holy friar! Oh stay me not, I pray! No drizzling rain that falls on me Can wash my fault away."—Bishop Percy.
On entering the banquet-hall of Langley Palace, Maude the tire-maiden found herself promoted to a very different position from that which had been filled by Maude the scullion. Her former place had been near the door, and far below that important salt-cellar which was then the table-indicator of rank. She was directed now to take her seat as the lowest of the Countess's maidens, on a form just opposite the salt-cellar, which was more than half-way up the hall. Maude had hardly sat down when her next neighbour below accosted her in a familiar voice.
"Why, little Maude! I looked for thee in vain at yon board end, and I was but now marvelling what had befallen thee. How earnest up hither?" Maude smiled back at Bertram Lyngern.
"It pleased the Lady's Grace to make me of her especial following."
"Long life to the Lady!—Now will I cause thee to wit who be all my friends. This on my left hand is Master Hugh Calverley, Mistress Maude (for thou art now of good degree, and must be spoken unto belike); he is mine especial friend, and a very knight-errant in succour of all unceli [distressed, unhappy] damsels."
"And who is he that is next unto the Lady Custance?"
"On her right hand, the Lord Edward, and the Lord Richard at her left— her brethren both."
Lord Richard pleased Maude. He was a winning little fellow of eight years old. But Edward she disliked instinctively:—a tall, handsome boy of twelve, but completely spoiled by the supercilious curl of his lip and the proud carriage of his head.
"And the Lord Earl?" she whispered to Bertram, who pointed out his royal master.
He was very tall, and extremely slender; not exactly ungraceful, but he gave the impression that his arms and legs were perpetually in his way. In fact, he was a nervous man, always self-conscious, and therefore never natural nor at ease. His hair was dark auburn; and in his lower lip there was a tremulous fulness which denoted at once great good-nature and great indecision.
It is a singular fact that the four English Princes who have borne the name of Edmund have all shared this character, of mingled gentleness and weakness; but in each the weakness was more and the amiability less, until the dual character terminated in this last of our royal Edmunds. He was the obedient servant of any person who chose to take the trouble to be his master. And there was one person who found it worth his while to take that trouble. This individual—the Earl's youngest brother— will come across our path presently.
The dinner to-day was more elaborate than usual, for there were several guests present. Since the host was a Prince, the birds presented were served whole; had both he and his guests been commoners, they would have been "chopped on gobbets." More interesting than any fictitious delineation on my part will be a genuine menu of the period, "The purveyance made for King Richard, being with the Duke of Lancaster at the Bishop's Palace of Durham at London," of course accompanied by their suites. That the suites were of no small size we gather from the provision made. It consisted of "14 oxen lying in salt, 2 oxen fresh, 120 heads of sheep fresh, 120 carcases of sheep fresh, 12 boars, 14 calves, 140 pigs; 300 marrow-bones, of lard and grease enough, 3 tons of salt venison, 3 does of fresh venison. The poultry:—50 swans, 210 geese, 50 capons of grease (fat capons), 8 dozen other capons, 60 dozen hens, 200 couple conies (rabbits), 4 pheasants, 5 herons and bitterns, 6 kids, 5 dozen pullets for jelly, 12 dozen to roast, 100 dozen peions (peacocks), 12 dozen partridges, 8 dozen rabbits, 10 dozen curlews, 12 dozen brewes (doubtful), 12 cranes, wild fowl enough: 120 gallons milk, 12 gallons cream, 40 gallons of curds, 3 bushels of apples, eleven thousand eggs."
This tremendous supply was served in the following manner:
"The first course:—Venison with furmety; a potage called viaundbruse (broth made with pork and onions); heads of boars; great flesh (probably roast joints); swans roasted, pigs roasted; crustade lumbard (custard) in paste; and a subtlety." (The subtlety was an ornamental dish, representing a castle, ship, human figures, etcetera.)
"The second course:—A potage called jelly (jellies of meat or fish were served as entrees); a potage of blandesore (a white soup); pigs roasted; cranes roasted; pheasants roasted; herons roasted; chickens roasted; breme (possibly pork broth); tarts; brokebrawn; conies roasted; and a subtlety.
"The third course:—Potage brewet of almonds (another white soup, made with almonds and rabbit or chicken broth); sewde lumbarde (probably some kind of stew); venison roasted; chickens roasted; rabbits roasted; partridges roasted; peions roasted; quails roasted; larks roasted; payne puff (a pudding); a dish of jelly; long fruits (a sweetmeat); and a subtlety."
It must not be inferred that no vegetables were used, but simply that they were not thought worth mention. Our forefathers ate, either in vegetable or salad, almost every green thing that grew.
Before Maude had been many days in her new position, she made various discoveries—not all pleasant ones, and some at complete variance with her own preconceived fancies. In the first place she discovered that her Fairy Queen, Constance, was neither more nor less than a spoiled child. While the young Princess's affections were very warm, she had been little accustomed to defer to any wishes but her own or those of her two brothers. The pair of boys governed their sister, but they swayed different sceptres. Edward ruled by fear, Richard by love. "Ned" must be attended to, because his wont was to make himself very disagreeable if he were not; but "Dickon" must have every thing he wanted, because Constance could not bear to deny her darling any thing. Bertram told Maude, however, that nobody could be more fascinating than Edward when he liked: the unfortunate item being that the happy circumstance very rarely occurred.
But Bertram's information was not exhausted.
"Hast heard that the Lady of Buckingham cometh hither?"
"When?" Maude whispered back.
"To-morrow, to sup and bide the night. So thou mayest search her following for thy Mistress Hawise."
"But shall all her following follow her?" inquired Maude.
"Every one, for she goeth anon unto her place in London to tarry the winter, and shall be here on her way thither. And hark thou, Maude! in her train—as thou shalt see—is the fairest lady in all the world."
"And what name hath she?" was Maude's answer.
"The fair Lady de Narbonne, widow of Sir Robert de Narbonne, a good knight and true, that fell in these late wars. She hath but some twenty years e'en now, and 'tis full three summers sithence his death."
"And what like is she?"
"Like the angels in Paradise!" said Bertram enthusiastically. "I tell thee, there is none like her in all the world."
Maude awaited the following evening with two-fold interest. She might possibly see Hawise, and she should certainly see some one who was like the angels in Paradise. The evening came, and with it the guests. One look at the Countess of Buckingham was enough. She certainly did not resemble the angels, unless they looked very cross and discontented. Her good qualities were not apparent to Maude, for they consisted of two coronets and an enormous fortune. Her ladies were much more interesting to Maude than herself. The first who entered behind her was a stiff middle-aged woman with dark hair.
"That is Dame Edusa," [A fictitious person] whispered Bertram, "the Lady Mistress. Here is Mistress Polegna—yonder little damsel with the dark locks; and the high upright dame is Mistress Sarah. She that cometh after is the Lady de Say."
Not one of these was the golden-haired Cousin Hawise, whose years barely numbered twenty. Maude's eyes had come back in disappointment, when Bertram touched her arm.
"Now, Maude—look now! Look, the beauteous Lady de Narbonne! [A fictitious person.] Sawest ever maiden meet to be her peer?"
Maude looked, and saw a young girlish figure, splendidly attired,—a rich red and white complexion, beautiful blue eyes, and a sunny halo of shining fair hair. But she saw as well, a cold, hard curve of the delicate lips, a proud cynical expression in the handsome eyes, a bold, forward manner. Yes, Maude admitted, the Lady de Narbonne was beautiful; yet she did not care to look at her. Bertram was disappointed. And so was Maude, for all hope of finding Hawise had disappeared.
When supper was over, the tables were lifted. The festive board was at this time literally a board or boards, which were simply set upon trestles to form a table. At the close of a meal, the tables were reduced to their primitive elements, and boards and trestles were either carried away, or heaped in one corner of the hall. The dining-room was thus virtually transmuted into the drawing-room, ceremony and precedence being discarded for the rest of the evening—state occasions of course excepted, and the royal persons present not being addressed unless they chose to commence a conversation.
Maude kept pretty strictly to her corner all that evening. She was generally shy of strangers, and none of these were sufficiently attractive to make her break through her usual habits. Least attractive of all, to her, was the lovely Lady de Narbonne. Her light, airy ways, which seemed to enchant the Earl's knights and squires, simply disgusted Maude. She was the perpetual centre of a group of frivolous idlers, who dangled round her in the hope of leading her to a seat, or picking up a dropped glove. She laughed and chatted freely with them all, distributing her smiles and frowns with entire impartiality—except in one instance. One member of the Earl's household never came within her circle, and he was the only one whom she seemed at all desirous to attract. This was Hugh Calverley. He held aloof from the bright lamp around which all the other moths were fluttering, and Maude fancied that he admired the queen of the evening as little as she did herself.
All at once, by no means to Maude's gratification, the lady chose to rise and walk across the room to her corner.
"And what name hast thou, little maid?" she asked, with a light swing of her golden pomander—the vinaigrette of the Middle Ages.
Maude had become very tired of being asked her name, the more so since it was the manner in which strangers usually opened negotiations with her. She found it the less agreeable because she was conscious of no right to any surname, her mother's being the only one she knew. So she answered "Maude" rather shortly.
"Only Maude. Madam, might it like your Ladyship to tell me if you wit of one Hawise Gerard anything?"
If the Lady de Narbonne would talk to her, Maude resolved to utilise the occasion; though she felt there could be little indeed in common between her gentle, modest cousin, and this far from retiring young widow. That they could not have been intimate friends Maude was sure; but acquaintances they might be—and must be, unless the Lady de Narbonne had been too short a time at Pleshy to know Hawise. As Maude in speaking lifted her eyes to the lady's face, she saw the smiling lips grow suddenly grave, and the cold bright light die out of the beaming eyes.
"Child," said the Lady de Narbonne seriously, "Hawise Gerard is dead."
"Woe is me! I feared so much," answered Maude sorrowfully. "And might it please you, Madam, to arede [tell] me fully when she died, and how, and where?"
"She died to thee, little maid, when she went to the Castle of Pleshy," was the unsatisfactory answer.
"May I wit no more, Madam? Your Ladyship knew her, trow?"
"Once," said the lady, with a slight quiver of her lower lip,—"long, long ago!" And she suddenly turned her head, which had been for a moment averted from Maude, round towards her. "'When, and how, and where?'" she repeated. "Little maid, some dying is slower than men may tell the hour, and there be graves that are not dug in earth. Thy cousin Hawise is dead and gone. Forget her."
"That can I never!" replied Maude tenderly, as the memory of her dead came fresh and warm upon her.
The Lady de Narbonne rose abruptly, and walked away, without another word, to the further end of the room. Half an hour later, Maude saw her in the midst of a gay group, laughing and jesting in the cheeriest manner. Of what sort of stuff could the woman be made?
The Countess of Buckingham did not leave Langley until after dinner the next day—that is to say, about eleven a.m. A little before dinner, as Maude, not being wanted at the moment, stood alone at the window of the hall, leaning her arms on the wide window-ledge, a voice asked behind her,—"Art yet thinking of Hawise Gerard?"
"I was so but this moment, Madam," replied Maude, turning round to meet the eyes of the Lady de Narbonne, now quiet and grave enough. "'Tis little marvel, for I loved her dear."
"And love lasteth with thee—how long time?"
"Till death, assuredly," said Maude. "What may lie beyond death I wis nothing."
"Till what manner of death? The resurrection, men say, shall give back the dead. But what shall give back a dead heart or a lost soul? Can thy love pass such death as this, Maude Gerard?"
"Madam, I said never unto your Ladyship that Hawise Gerard was kinswoman of mine. How wit you the same?"
A faint, soft smile, very unlike her usual one, so bright and cold, flickered for a moment on the lips of the Lady de Narbonne.
"Not too far gone for that, Cousin Maude," she said.
"'Cousin'—Madam! You are—"
"I am Avice de Narbonne, waiting-dame unto my Lady of Buckingham's Grace. I was Hawise Gerard, David Gerard's daughter."
"Hawise! Thou toldest me she was dead!" cried Maude confusedly.
"That Hawise Gerard whom thou knewest is dead and gone, long ago. Thou wilt never see her again. Thy mother Eleanor is not more dead than she; but the one may return to thee on the resurrection morrow, and the other never can. Tell me now whether I could arede thee, as thou wouldst have had it, how, or where, or when, thy cousin Hawise died?"
"Our dear Lady be thine aid, Hawise! What has changed thee so sore?" asked Maude, the tears running down her cheeks.
"Call me Avice, Maude. Hawise is old-fashioned," said the lady coolly.
Maude seized her cousin's hands, and looking into her eyes, spoke as girls of her age rarely speak, though they think frequently.
"Come back to me, Hawise Gerard!—from the dead, if thou wilt have it so. Cousin Hawise—fair, gent, shamefaced, loving, holy!—come back to me, and speak with the olden voice, and give me to wit what terrible thing hath been, to take away thyself, and leave but this instead of thee!"
Maude's own earnestness was so intense, that she felt as if her passionate words must have moved a granite mountain; but they fell cold and powerless upon Avice de Narbonne.
"Look out into the dark this night, Maude, and call thy mother, and see whether she will answer. The dead cannot come back. I have no more power to call back to thee the maiden I was of old, than thou. Rest, maid; and do what thou wilt and canst with that which is."
"What can I?" said Maude bitterly. "At least thou canst tell me what hath wrought this fearful change in thee."
"Can I?" replied Avice, seating herself on the window-seat, and motioning her cousin to do the same. "And what shall I say it were— call it light or darkness, love or hate? For six months after I left home I was right woesome. (It is all gone, Maude—the old cottage, and the forge, and the elms—they razed them all!) And then there came into my life a fair false face, and a voice that spake well, and an heart that was black as night. And I trusted him, for I loved him. Loved him—ay, better than all the saints in Heaven! I could have died to save a pang of pain to him, and smiled in doing it. But he was false, false, false! And on the day that I knew it—O that horrible day!—my love turned to black hate within me. I knelt and prayed that my wrong should be avenged—that some sorrow should befal him. But I never meant that. Holy Mary, Lady of Sorrows, thou knewest I never meant that! And that very night I knelt and prayed, he died on the field of battle far away. I knew not he was in danger till four days after. When I so did, I prayed as fervently for his safety. The old love came back upon me, and I could have rent the heavens if my weak hands had reached them, to undo that fearful prayer. But she heard me not—she, the Lady of Pity! She had heard me once too well. And fifteen days later, I knew that I was a widow—that he had died that night, with none to pillow his head or wipe the death-dews from his brow—died unassoiled, unatoned with either God or me! And I had done it. Child, my heart was closed up that day as with a wall of stone. It will never open again. It is not my love that is dead—it is my heart."
"But, Hawise, hadst no masses sung for his soul?" asked Maude in loving pity.
"Too late," she said, dropping her face upon her hands. "Too late!"
"Too late for what?" softly inquired a third voice—so gently and compassionately that no annoyance could be felt.
Avice was silent, and Maude answered for her.
"For the winning of a soul from Purgatory that hath passed thither without housel ne chrism."
"Too late for the mercy of God?" replied Hugh Calverley gently. "For the housel and the chrism, they be mercies of man. But the mercies of God are infinite and unchangeable unto all such as grip hold on Jesu Christ."
"Unto them that die in mortal sin?" said Avice, not lifting her head.
"All sin is mortal," said Hugh in the same quiet manner; "but for His people, He hath made an end of sin, and hath 'distreiede [destroyed] deeth, and lightnide [brought to light] lyf.'"
"That is, for the saints?" said Maude sadly.
"Mistress, an' it had not been for the sinners, you and I must needs have fared ill. Who be saints saving they that were once sinners?"
"Soothly, Master Calverley, these be matters too high for me. I am no saint, God wot."
"Doth God wot that, Mistress Maude? Then of a surety I am sorry for you."
Maude was silent, though she thought it strange doctrine. But Avice said in a low voice, recurring to her former subject,—"You believe, Master Calverley, that God can raise the dead; but think you that He can quicken again to life an heart that is dead, and cold, and hard as yonder stone? Is there any again rising for such?"
"Madam, if no, there had been never none for neither you nor me. We be all dead souls by nature."
"Ay, afore baptism, so wit I; but what of mortal sin done after baptism?"
"I speak but as I am learned, Madam," said Hugh modestly. "I am younger even than you, methinks, and far more witless. But I have heard them say that have been deep skilled, as methinks, in the ministeries [mysteries] of God, that wherein it is said that 'He mai save withouten ende,' it scarce signifieth only afore baptism."
"Ah!" said Maude, with a sigh, "to do away sin done after baptism is a mighty hard and grievous matter. Good sooth, at my first communion, this last summer, so abashed [nervous] was I, and in so painful bire [confused haste], that I let drop the holy wafer upon the ground; and for all I gat it again unbroke, and licked well with my tongue the stide [spot] where it had fallen, Father Dominic [a fictitious person] said I had done dreadful sin, and he caused me to crawl upon my knees all around the church, and to say an hundred Ave Marys and ten Paternosters at every altar. And in very deed I was right sorrowful for mine ill mischance; nor could I help the same, for I saw not the matter rightly. But Father Dominic said our Lord should be right sore offenced with me, and mine only hope lay in moving the mercy of our dear worthy Lady to plead with Him. If it be not wicked to say the same," added she timidly, "I would God were not angered with us for such like small gear. But I count our Lady heard me, sith Father Dominic was pleased to absolve me at last."
"Will you give me leave to say a thing, Mistress Maude?"
"I pray you so do, Master Calverley."
"Then if the same hap should chance unto you again, I counsel you to travail [trouble] yourself neither with Father Dominic nor our Lady, but to go straight to our Lord Himself. Maybe He were pleased to absolve you something sooner than Father Dominic. Look you, the priest died not to atone God for your sins, neither our Lady did not. And if it be, as men do say, that commonly the mother is more fond [foolishly indulgent] unto the child than any other, by reason she hath known more travail and pain [labour] with him, then surely in like manner He that hath borne death for our sins shall be more readier to assoil them than he that no did."
These were bold words to speak in the year of grace 1385. But the Queen's squire, John Calverley, was one of those advanced Lollards of whom there were very few, and his son had learned of him. Even Wycliffe himself would scarcely have dared to venture so far as this, until the latter years of his life. It takes long to convince men that no lesser advocate is needed between them and the one Mediator with God. And where they are taught that "Mary is the human side of Jesus," the result generally is that they lose sight of the humanity of Jesus altogether.
It was not, therefore, unnatural that Maude's answer should have been,—"But, Master Calverley! so saying you should have no need of our Lady." She expected Hugh to reply by an indignant denial; and it astounded her no little to hear him quietly accept the unheard-of alternative.
"Do you as you list, Mistress Maude," he answered. "For me, I am content with our Lord."
"Well-a-day! methought all pity [piety] lay in worship of our Lady!" said Maude, in that peculiar constrained tone which implies that the speaker feels himself the infinitely distant superior of his antagonist.
"Mistress," was Hugh's answer, "I never said that I was content without our Lord. I lack an advocate, to the full as well as any; but Saint Paul saith that 'oo [one] God and a mediatour is of God and of men, a man, Christ Jesu.' And methinks he should be a sorry mediator that lacked an advocate himself."
Avice had lifted her head, and had fixed her eyes intently on Hugh. She had said nothing more; she was learning.
"Likewise saith He," resumed Hugh, "that 'no man cometh to the Fadir but by me.' Again, 'no man may come to me but if the Fadir that hath sente me drawe him:' yet 'all thing that the Fadir gyueth me schal come to me.'"
Avice spoke at last.
"'All thing given' and none other? Then without we be given, we may not come. And how shall a man wit so much?"
"Methinks, Madam," said Hugh, thoughtfully, "that if a man be willing to come, and to give himself, he hath therein witness that he was given of the Father."
"But to give himself wholly unto God," added Maude, "signifieth that he shall take no more pleasure in this life?"
"Try it," responded Hugh, "and see if it signifieth not rather that a man shall enter into joys he never knew aforetime. God's gifts to us prevent our gifts to Him."
"Lady Avice! Dame Edusa hath asked twice where you be," said Polegna, running into the hall. "The bell shall sound in an other minute, and our Lady maketh no tarrying after dinner."
So the trio were parted. There was no opportunity after dinner for anything beyond a farewell, and Maude, with her heart full of many thoughts, went back to her sewing in the antechamber.
About an hour after Maude had resumed her work, Constance strolled into the room in search of amusement. She looked at the crimson tunic and black velvet skirt which were in making for her own wear at the coming Easter festival; gazed out of the window for ten minutes; sat and watched Maude work for about five; and at last, a bright idea striking her, put it into action.