Bryda watched her opportunity, and finding Mr Lambert alone in the parlour, on the first Sunday morning of her residence in Dowry Square, she laid before him her grandfather's troubles. Mr Lambert's advice was soon given.
'Let him sell goods to the value of three hundred pounds, and pay down the money, or he may be clapped into the debtors' prison.'
'Oh! sir, anything would be better than that. I have got a month's delay, and I have some hope of the Squire's relenting.'
'I have none,' said Mr Lambert. 'You ask my advice, and I give it. Let your grandfather employ some trustworthy auctioneer to value stock, to the amount of the debt, then employ him to effect a sale, and the matter is settled. A debt like that is a chain round a man's neck, and he had better live on a loaf a day than go down to his grave burdened by the thought of making a legacy of it to his descendants.'
Bryda could only murmur her thanks. She was wondering if Mr Lambert knew the whole story of her father's disgrace, and she shrank from alluding to it. Presently Mrs Lambert came in with some papers in her hand.
'Look here!' she said, 'I picked up this rubbish in the backyard. It is some of that mad apprentice's stuff. That is how he wastes his time, and robs you of what he is bound to give you. The sooner you are rid of him the better,' and Mrs Lambert held out some fragments of parchment to her son, covered with black hieroglyphics and stained with charcoal.
'I think the fellow is in league with the devil,' Mrs Lambert said. 'What can all this mean?'
'Give the papers to me, mother; I will show them to Barrett and Catcott. They look like trumpery not worth a thought.'
'Now, miss,' Madam Lambert said sharply, 'I am ready to go to church. You must accompany me and carry my books; make haste.'
When Bryda had left the room Mr Lambert said,—
'A pretty girl this new maid of yours, mother. Look sharp after her or you will have the fellows at her heels.'
'She is as quiet as a mouse,' was the reply. 'A bit too quiet, but she is none the worse for that; and I will say she makes the best pastry I ever tasted.'
'Well, have a care,' Mr Lambert said. 'Henderson says that his bright nephew Jack is one of her beaux, and I daresay there will be a dozen more before long.'
A few minutes later Bryda was sedately walking by Mrs Lambert's side, carrying her large prayer book and Bible, while Mrs Lambert had a gold-headed cane in one of her hands, on which she leaned as it tapped on the pavement, and in the other a black silk reticule, which contained her handkerchief, a fan, and a scent-bottle of somewhat gigantic proportions.
She wore her best Sunday black paduasoy, and a hood over the frills of her lace cap, which was tied with whimples under her chin, fastened by a small diamond brooch.
Mrs Lambert was looked upon as 'quality,' and as she passed into the cathedral she curtsied with a patronising air to several of her acquaintances.
It was a long walk for Mrs Lambert from Dowry Square, but she liked to worship where, as she expressed it, the clergy and congregation were composed of 'gentry,' and where the visitors at the Hot Wells were to be seen in a variety of smart costumes.
There was scant reverence for the house of God in these days—days when the Church was asleep, and the fervour of religious zeal was just beginning to burn outside her pale, kindled by the teaching of the Wesleys and Whitfields.
There was a buzz of talk as the congregation reached the choir, and engagements were made and civilities exchanged with almost as much freedom as at the door of the pump-room under St Vincent's Rocks.
Bryda had never been inside a large church before, and she was struck with wonder as she looked up into the vaulted roof and watched the morning sunshine illuminating the pillars with transient radiance.
Bristol Cathedral is not remarkable for stately proportions, and in the eye of many is but an insignificant building, which cannot bear comparison with the noble church of St Mary Redcliffe.
But to Bryda that morning in the cathedral seemed to begin a new era in her life. The Past, with its stories, the stories that Mr Lambert's apprentice told her had been found in the muniment room at St Mary's, seemed to live before her.
The men that had raised those walls and carved the devices on the pillars, who were they?
Was there no record left, no voice to tell of the labour, and the toil, and the spirit which had moved them to do their work well?
Bryda's small figure was hidden in the deep pews which then disfigured the choir, and it was only when she stood up, and was raised above the ledge of the seat by a green baize hassock, that she could see the congregation or could be seen by them.
Mrs Lambert sat through the service, fanning herself at intervals and smelling her salts, though she whispered the prayers after the clergyman and made the responses in an audible voice.
Bryda was in a dream, and thinking alternately of her grandfather, Betty, and the young Squire. Poor child, she had never been taught that the burden of all troubles and anxieties and sorrows can be laid at the feet of the Father who pities His children. He was a God very far off to Bryda Palmer, as to the great majority of girls in her position of life, and, indeed, in any position of life, in the last decades of the eighteenth century.
The sermon was a dry dissertation to which no one listened, to judge by the number of sleepers in the pews, who woke with a start when the organ pealed forth the welcome tidings that the service was over.
At the door of the cathedral Bryda saw, to her great discomforture, Mr Bayfield.
He smiled and made a low bow, which Bryda returned by a curtsey, and then was passing on laden with her heavy books, when the Squire said, 'Permit me,' putting his hand on the heavy Bible.
'No; I thank you, sir,' Bryda said, and Mrs Lambert turned sharply round.
'Miss Palmer, you will oblige me by attending to your duties.'
'Indeed, madam,' Mr Bayfield said, 'I think Miss Palmer is scarce fitted to bear these heavy books. I venture to take them from her, by your leave.'
'Sir,' Mrs Lambert said, bridling, 'I have not the honour of your acquaintance.'
'This is Mr Bayfield,' poor Bryda said, a blush suffusing her fair face and a look of almost terror in her eyes.
'Is he a friend of yours, Miss Palmer?'
'Oh, no,' Bryda said fervently; 'no.'
'Nay. That is cruel, too cruel, Miss Palmer.' Then in a lower voice he said, 'The month expires on this day three weeks. I shall expect, nay demand my reply at that date.'
Then, with another bow, his three-cornered hat in his hand, Mr Bayfield turned away.
But Bryda had not seen the last of him. The midday dinner was not over when the large brass knocker on Mr Lambert's door thundered against it, and took Sam to open it in hot haste. He returned quickly to say,—
'A gentleman wishes to see you, sir, on business.'
'Then tell him I don't see clients on Sunday, but at my office in Corn Street on week days. What does he mean by bringing the house down like that?'
Sam disappeared, but returned again to say,—
'The gentleman desires to see you, sir, on a private matter.'
'Tell him to walk into the study and wait my convenience. I am eating my dinner, if he must know.'
Bryda felt certain the visitor was Mr Bayfield, who must have followed her and Mrs Lambert home from the cathedral, and so discovered where she lived.
She was determined to escape another interview with the Squire, and as soon as she had helped Sam to clear away the glass and china, she gave Mrs Lambert her footstool as she retired to an easy-chair, with a glass of port wine, on a little table at her side, and a volume of Blair's sermons, which were both agreeable sedatives, and conducive to a prolonged sleep. Bryda then went hastily upstairs, and tying on her high poke bonnet, slipped out at the front door, and found, as she expected, Jack awaiting her at the corner of the square. The sight of his friendly, honest face had never been so welcome before, and she showed her pleasure by the warmth of her greeting.
'Oh, Jack,' she said, 'will you take me to see that poor boy's mother?'
'What poor boy?' Jack asked.
'Tom Chatterton, of course, the poet. I do pity him so much. He is miserable and unhappy, and you know, Jack, so am I, and therefore I understand how he feels. Besides, I want to get far away from Mr Lambert this afternoon, for the cruel Squire has followed me, and is now talking to Mr Lambert. I know what he is saying. I dread him, I am afraid of him.'
'Afraid of him? How can you be afraid of him? I will soon show him what I can do if he dares to molest you. Let him try, that's all.'
'Oh, don't quarrel with him, Jack, that would only make matters worse. Don't talk of him. I want to forget him, and see the poor boy's grand church he says is so beautiful, and his mother and his sister.'
'They are quite poor folks,' Jack said, 'but come along. I would take you to the end of the world if you wanted. But will Madam Lambert be angry at you for coming out?'
'She said I was to have time to myself on Sundays, and I have been to church with her this morning. She gave me her books to carry. Such big heavy books.'
'The poor boy,' as Bryda called him, had been pacing up and down on the wide open space before St Mary's Redcliffe for some time.
He had been unwilling to go too near Dowry Square to meet Bryda, for fear of a reprimand if he chanced to be seen by his master or Mrs Lambert.
At the same time he was doubtful as to Bryda finding her way alone, and he had asked Jack Henderson to go to Dowry Square and bring her to his mother's house.
The apprentice in his workaday dress presented a very different appearance from the apprentice in his holiday attire.
Chatterton always liked to do his best to cut a respectable figure amongst his associates.
His coat of mulberry cloth had, it is true, been bought second-hand with some difficulty, but it set off his slight, boyish figure to advantage. His knee-breeches and waistcoat, with embroidered flowers, were the handiwork of his mother and sister, and so was the white neckerchief, with lace at the ends, which was tied in a careless bow at his neck.
His massive curls were brushed and combed back from his wide brow, and there was about him that indescribable 'something' which separated him from the throng of youths who collected in Bristol streets on Sundays, some on the College Green and many in Redcliffe Meadows, talking and laughing with the girls who were, like themselves, occupied in the week in shops and warehouses or in domestic service.
The contributions to Felix Farley's Journal had by this time attracted attention to Chatterton, but he was entirely believed in by respectable people when he said he had discovered the works of one Rowley, a priest of St John, in the time of Canynge,[A] and had reproduced them for the wonder and benefit of all lovers of ancient lore, especially when the author of these works had been an inhabitant of the City of the West, which had been famous in the history of the country from very early times.
When at last Jack Henderson and Bryda came in sight Chatterton did not hasten to meet them.
He chose to be offended that Bryda was so much later than he had expected, and for the first few minutes he was moody and gloomy.
The three took the accustomed turn in Redcliffe Meadows, where presently Chatterton's sister joined them, and Bryda was introduced in due form.
'My mother bids me say, Miss Palmer, she will be vastly glad if you will take a dish of tea with us, and you also, Mr Henderson.'
Jack could only express his gratitude for the invitation, and walk by Miss Chatterton's side, while her brother and Bryda were left together.
'That church is fine, is it not, miss?' Chatterton began. 'I consider it a marvel of the builder's art, and a casket which contains precious treasure. In yonder muniment room above the porch lay concealed for centuries the works of a man, as wonderful in their way as yonder pinnacles and buttresses. Will you take a turn in the meadows—there are not so many fools prancing about here to-day as sometimes. The river begins to attract them at this season.'
[Footnote A: William Canynge was five times Mayor of Bristol. He generously contributed to the work of rebuilding and ornamenting the Church of St Mary Redcliffe, and built and endowed an almshouse and hospital in the parish. He took holy orders on the death of his wife to avoid a second marriage pressed on him by King Henry VI., who speaks of him as 'his beloved, eminent merchant of Bristol.' William Canynge was made Dean of the College of Westbury, which he rebuilt with his usual munificence. He died in 1474.]
THE SONGS OF ROWLEY THE PRIEST.
And now Bryda listened to the song of Rowley, the priest of St John, as Chatterton poured it in her ear with almost fiery eloquence. She could scarcely believe the apprentice taking his meals with the footboy in the dingy kitchen at Dowry Square could be one with the young man who walked by her side in his holiday attire.
All the latent romance in Bryda's nature was stirred by the history which her companion told her of the old parchments, used forsooth as covers of books, or cut up into thread papers, and yet of priceless value—a value which he alone had discovered.
'Listen,' he said, stopping short, 'and I will recite to you an elegy or minstrel's song from the "Tragedy of AElla," then tell me whether Rowley the priest was not a king amongst men. A poor priest—aye, and a poor apprentice, brought up on the charity of Colston's School, has brought him to light, and in due time we shall see his memory receive the laurel crown, denied him perhaps in his life. It is only these dull trading Bristol folk who are blind as bats and deaf as adders. Curse them! I hate Bristol and its people for Rowley's sake, and for my own. Yet I will rise above them, and they shall find they cannot trample on me with impunity.'
Bryda began to feel frightened at the increased vehemence of her companion, and looking back, saw they had left Jack Henderson and Miss Chatterton far behind.
But suddenly his manner changed, and he said,—
'No. I will not sing to you of death, you who are so full of life and beauty. The minstrel sang in a sad refrain,—
My love is dead, Gone to his deathbed All under the willow tree.
Your love shall have a happier fate. Hark!' he said, 'you shall have a song of springtime, not of the grave—the dark grave, where I wish myself a dozen times a day.'
'Do not say so. Life is so sweet and beautiful,' Bryda exclaimed. 'Though I have many cares at this time, yet I love life, and even in Dowry Square I think it is good to be alive.'
'Aye, to you, doubtless,' was the reply. 'But now for the verse from the "History of Painting."
When spring came dancing on a flowery bed, Clothed in green raiment of a changing kind, The leaves of hawthorn budding o'er his head, And with fair primroses waving in the wind, Then did the shepherd his white garment spread Upon the green bank, and danced all around, Whilst the sweet flowerets nodded on his head, And his fair lambs were scattered on the ground; Beneath his foot the brooklet ran along, Which strolleth round the vale to hear his joyous song.
'There, Miss Palmer, you have a song of spring, wrote hundreds of years ago. I tell it to you in the language of to-day, but it is ten times sweeter in the beauteous rhythm of the olden time.'
'It would not be sweeter to me,' Bryda said; 'for though I found the "History of the Opening of the Bristol Bridge" full of beauty, yet it teased me to scan the words though I made out their meaning at last. How could you find them out—who helped you?'
'My dear young lady I helped myself to the Saxon language as to most other things. If I trusted to other help I should be worse off than I am. When first it dawned on me that the friend and confessor of Canynge had wrote all these poems for the edifying of his patron, I toiled night and day till I was able to interpret them for this perverse generation. But I had my friends. Mr Catcott is one, Mr Barrett, a surgeon, another, and now let me count as a friend one fairer than they, your sweet self.'
'As we live under the same roof, we may well be friends, but if, as you say, you are yet but sixteen years old, you are so much younger than I am.'
'Nay, older by a score of years,' Chatterton interrupted. 'For age is not counted by years, but by the strife and the struggle and the misery through which the soul passes. In this I am your senior.'
'Nay,' Bryda said gently, 'we cannot enter into each other's secret heart. We all know our own troubles. I have mine, and I am now parted from a sister I love, and I am, after a week's absence, hungering for her tender care.'
And now Bryda became conscious that they were observed by a party of girls who were returning through the meadows from a Sunday ramble with their lovers.
Several of the girls nodded and laughed at Chatterton. One stopped and said,—
'A new flame, Tom? Oh, fie for shame! Do you know, miss, whoever you may be, that Master Tom is a terrible one to shoot from Cupid's bow. He seldom misses his aim.'
'Come on,' said a gruff voice, 'and don't talk such foolery, Sally. Leave the boy to look after his own business.'
'Or rather the girl after hers,' was the saucy reply, as the pair moved away.
Jack Henderson began to think that Miss Chatterton purposely avoided joining company with her brother and Bryda.
He now said,—
'Miss Palmer has a long walk to Dowry Square. I think, by your leave, I will join her, and advise her to take advantage of Mrs Chatterton's offer to rest a while at her house.'
'Certainly, sir, if you desire it; but my brother would fain take her into the church, I fancy, before it is closed.'
Chatterton at once became moody and distrait when his tete-a-tete with Bryda was at an end. He had been annoyed, too, by the remarks of the free-spoken young lady, who had rallied him on his 'new conquest,' and when they entered the church the evil spirit was again dominant.
But Bryda forgot him, forgot Rowley the priest, and the wonderful story of his poems, in the feeling of awe with which the noble church inspired her.
There was in her, as I have said, a quick response to all sights and sounds of beauty. Then, as the organ rolled its waves of melody above her head, as the last Amen of the choir rose to the vaulted roof, her whole soul was wrapt in that feeling which has no other name but devotion. The unseen Presence of what was holy and pure seemed to encompass her, and as she leaned against one of the pillars, close to the monument of the great Canynge, her fair face wore on it an expression those who saw it were not likely to forget.
And, as if in sharp contrast, a little in the background was seen the grand outline of Chatterton's head, thrown back with a strangely defiant air, his lips curled with contempt, his hands clasped at his back, and his whole bearing that of one full of resentment and hatred against what might or might not be imaginary foes.
There is nothing more sorrowful than the story of Chatterton's genius, misdirected, and, as it were, preparing its own doom. The lawyer's apprentice, who had this rare gift of poetry, was to know only broken hopes and unfulfilled desires, and soon to fall beyond the reach of help, of human love, or Christian charity.
There he stood, on that bright summer afternoon, as the procession of clergy passed out and the organ pealed forth its melodious strains, there he stood in the church, where his father had stood before him, chafing against his lot, and conscious, who shall say how bitterly conscious, that like the baseless fabric of a dream the poems of the priest of St John would vanish, and he, Thomas Chatterton, the true poet, stand exposed as an unskilful forger. Sixteen summers had barely passed over his head, and yet in moments like these he looked as if the storms of twice sixteen years had left their mark upon him.
Mrs Chatterton received Bryda with kindly warmth, rather overdoing her apologies for her humble fare and poor cottage. It was evident that Chatterton chafed at this, and he scarcely spoke a word during tea. Jack Henderson and Chatterton's mother made an attempt at conversation, but honest Jack was not skilled in finding subjects for small talk, and he was, moreover, so engrossed with Bryda that he had little room for any other thought.
When tea was over Bryda said she must return to Mr Lambert's, as Sam the footboy was to have his turn for a holiday after six o'clock. Jack was only too glad to get Bryda off, and as they walked away together he said,—
'Don't have too much to say to Tom Chatterton, Bryda.'
She looked up at him and laughed.
'It was he who had so much to say to me,' she said.
'Well, he is not the man for you to make a friend of, mind that.'
'Man!' she said. 'Jack, he is only a boy—just sixteen. You did not call yourself a man then when you were at the Grammar School at Wells. But, Jack—' she said more seriously.
'I don't want to talk any more about the apprentice, though I pity him just as I should pity a young eagle shut up in a close cage, and feeling all his strength to rise to the sun of no use. Oh, yes, I do pity him, and so ought you.'
'I shall pity myself more if you give him all your company another Sunday and shut me out.'
'Don't be silly, Jack; I am not one to cast off old friends for new. But, Jack, I am so frightened when I think the Squire is in Bristol. What did he come for?'
'What was he saying to you by the orchard gate that evening I came upon you?'
'Oh, that I could not tell you; it was all meant to flatter me, and I hate him.'
'Why did he say he would give your grandfather a month before he sold off?'
'He said something about he would have me instead of the money.'
Jack Henderson's honest face flushed with indignation.
'The villain—the cursed villain! I see what he is driving at, but I will be quits with him.'
Bryda grew calm as Jack waxed more and more vehement, and his loud voice attracted the passers-by.
'Hush, Jack, people are staring at you! Do you suppose I would be bought like that? No! What would Bet say? I would sooner die than strike a bargain like that!'
'I'd sooner see you dead,' Jack replied.
Bryda was afraid to say more that would rouse Jack's wrath, so she asked him to be sure to let her hear any news of home.
'I sha'n't hear any news. No one ever writes to me. When the farm produce comes in once a month on market days the old carter asks if I am in good health—with the missus' love—that's about all.'
'I am writing to Bet, little bits every day. I have got an ink-pot and a quill pen up in the garret, and Mr Chatterton gave me some paper from the office, but I don't think that is quite honest, so please buy me a little. I can give you a shilling,' she said, putting her hand in the large pocket which was fastened to her waist under the short skirt.
Jack pushed her hand away.
'I don't want your shilling,' he said.
'Oh, Jack, why are you so cross-grained,' Bryda said, 'it is not like you.'
'I don't feel like myself neither,' poor Jack said, 'but I'll be in a better temper when I see you next Sunday, and don't have that mad boy at your heels. Take care what you do in Bristol; it is full of people, and some of them are bad enough. So take care, for you know you are—well, you have only to look in a glass to see. Good-bye, Bryda, I won't come up to the door.'
Bryda found Mrs Lambert only half awake in her easy-chair, with the best china teacups and a small teapot before her. Blair's sermons and the port wine together had caused a prolonged slumber, and Sam had brought in the tray all unobserved at five o'clock. Mr Lambert generally spent his Sunday afternoons with a friend at Long Ashton, and sometimes one of Mrs Lambert's cronies looked in on her for a dish of tea and a gossip. But no one had arrived on this afternoon, and the good lady had thus slept on undisturbed.
'What is the time, Miss Palmer? It must be time for tea.'
'Oh, yes, madam; it is six o'clock. I will go and boil the kettle, and make the tea; please give me the keys of the caddy.'
Bryda took the large tortoiseshell caddy from the shelf in the glass cupboard, and Mrs Lambert solemnly unlocked it. Tea was precious in those days, and Mrs Lambert took a teaspoon and carefully measured the precise quantity, saying,—
'One for each person, and one for the pot.'
'I have had my tea, madam,' Bryda said.
'Oh! Well you can take another cup, I daresay,' Mrs Lambert said graciously. 'I am getting a little faint,' she added, yawning, 'so I shall be obliged to you to hasten to brew the tea.'
Bryda lost no time, and descending to the lower regions, set Sam at liberty till nine o'clock, and very soon had tea and crisp toast ready for her mistress.
All her handy ways were rapidly winning her favour, and Mrs Lambert called her 'a very notable young person, not at all like one brought up in a farmhouse!'
When the tea was over Bryda cleared it away, and carefully washing the handleless cups, replaced them in the corner cupboard. Then she took a seat by the window, at Mrs Lambert's request, and read to her—a dry sermon first, and then Mrs Lambert told her she might go to the bookcase and choose a book for her own reading.
Bryda's eyes kindled with delight, and she joyfully accepted the offer.
'May I choose any book, madam?'
'Any book that is not a novel. There are some there not for Sunday reading, or indeed for workaday reading for a young person.'
'Milton's Paradise Lost,' Bryda said, 'may I take that?'
'Yes, but be careful not to finger the binding, and remember no book leaves this room. I found the apprentice had dared to abstract a volume of an old poet—which I am sure he could not read—by name Chaucer, for the poems are wrote in old English. He had a deserved reprimand, and a box on the ears for his pains.'
'Old English,' thought Bryda, 'old English, Tom Chatterton can read old English, for I suppose Rowley the priest's poems are in old English.'
THE POET'S FRIENDS.
When Chatterton left his mother's house soon after Bryda and Jack Henderson had gone away together he was in one of his most depressed moods.
What did anyone care for him or his disappointments and continually deferred hope that Mr Walpole would at least return the manuscripts, at first so graciously received, and now it would seem thrown aside as worthless?
Everything seemed against him, and the gay throng of pleasure seekers on the fair summer evening was an offence to him.
As he passed over Bristol Bridge he looked down into the river with a strange longing that he could find rest there, and be free from the torments of disappointed life and fruitless aims.
As he leaned over the parapet, gazing down into the dun-coloured waters, a hand was laid on his shoulder, and a cheery voice said,—
'Eh, Tom, my lad, what are you dreaming about? Come with me to sup at Mr Barrett's and meet my brother Alexander, the parson. I'll warrant you have got some more bits of history for him to put into his big book. Come, come, don't look so glum, and we'll take a glass at the tavern in Wine Street on the way.'
'No,' was the reply; 'you are very good sir, but I am in no mood for taverns to-night.'
'Well, a little bird whispered in my ear that you were seen in Redcliffe Meadows walking with a mighty pretty young lady, with a figure like a sylph and a face like an angel. Now then, Tom, don't be shy, but out with it, and tell the truth.'
'There's nothing to tell, sir. Miss Palmer is so unfortunate as to be under the same roof with me in Dowry Square, and misfortunes make us akin. She has great literary taste, and—'
'Ah, can see the beauties of Rowley's poems! Well, I am glad to hear it. They are wonders—wonders, and, Tom, you are a wonder for bringing them to light.' 'Then you are a poet, you know, a real poet, and Bristol will be proud of you some day. Why, there is not a lad of your age who can boast of his verses being taken by a London magazine and printed and admired. Come, Tom, don't be downcast; you should hear what my brother the reverend Alexander says of you, and he is a judge. A man who can write a book about the Deluge must be a judge—eh?'
Mr Catcott was a pewterer by trade, and a simple-hearted, kindly man, a staunch friend of Chatterton from first to last, never wavering in his allegiance nor in his faith in Rowley the priest; no, not even when not long after the great Dr Johnson asserted that the poems were a forgery, though at the same time he acknowledged that it was wonderful how the whelp had written such things. The honest pewterer now put his arm through Chatterton's, and soon his sympathy and perfect faith dispelled the cloud, and by the time they reached Mr Barrett's house Chatterton was his most winning self again.
Mr Barrett was a surgeon in good practice, and a man of culture, who found time to pursue his historical studies without neglecting his professional duties. In this he was very different from the ordinary general country practitioners of his times, who were for the most part men of scant education. Mr Barrett's introduction to Thomas Chatterton was brought about by the boy assuring Mr Burgum, Mr Catcott's partner in the pewtering business, that he came of a noble race, and that he had discovered a full account of the family of the De Bergheims, and at once presented Mr Burgum with a manuscript copy of the original document on parchment.
Mr Burgum had been so pleased that he gave the boy, then scarcely fourteen years old, in Colston's School, five shillings.
This success was followed by further particulars of the family, and a poet was found amongst the pewterer's ancestors, one John de Bergheim, a Cistercian monk, and a poem called the Romaunt of the Cnyghte was inserted in the second document to give the good pewterer a specimen of his skill.
To make the poem more intelligible to the puzzled pewterer a modern English version was appended, and very soon the boy at Colston's School attracted attention and became celebrated amongst a small circle of the more educated and literary Bristol people.
Mr Barrett received Chatterton on this particular Sunday evening with much cordiality, and the conversation over the supper-table was easy and pleasant.
'Any news of the manuscripts?' Mr Barrett asked.
'No, sir, nor ever will be. I fear now they are lost beyond recall.'
'Nonsense; that cannot be allowed. Mr Walpole shall be forced to return them—if he is forced to do nothing else.'
'Sir,' Chatterton said, 'you know full well that Mr Walpole's whole manner changed when he discovered I was the son of a poor widow, and was small, and of no repute.'
'The very information which should have secured his heart and made your literary zeal of more value in his eyes. But means shall not be wanting to come to the bottom of this conduct of Mr Walpole's. Your friends will rally round you,' exclaimed Mr Catcott vehemently.
'Gently, gently, George,' exclaimed his more wary brother Alexander: 'We must first know that Mr Walpole has any dishonest intentions, which in a person of quality like him is scarce reasonable to suppose,' and then the author of The History of the Deluge pulled from his capacious waistcoat pocket a bit of fossil, which he handed round for inspection in support of one of his theories.
When the clock chimed the quarter to ten o'clock Chatterton hastily rose, saying,—
'I am late as it is, sir. Permit me to bid you good evening.'
Mr Barrett followed Chatterton to the door, and laying his hand kindly on his arm, he slipped into his hand half-a-guinea.
'This is a small acknowledgment for the last curious bit of information you handed me on Bristol antiquities. Be of good courage, my boy; your time will come, and your industry in adding to the history of past ages will meet its reward.'
Chatterton pressed Mr Barrett's hand fervently.
'I thank you, sir,' he said; 'you are my good friend, and were there others like you I might be delivered from the chains which gall me.' Then Chatterton took a flying leap down the steps before Mr Barrett's house and sped on his way to Dowry Square.
'Poor boy!' the kindly surgeon said, 'poor boy! he is not made to bear the frowns of the rich and great, nor the buffets which all must meet in life. Poor boy! I would fain be of some use to him, but it is a hard matter to help such as he.'
In his better moments Chatterton had a longing to throw aside all shams, and be true.
As he stood at the door of the house in Dowry Square, waiting the first stroke of ten before he gave the single knock which should announce his arrival, he, looking up at the starlit sky, felt there was something greater and nobler to strive after than mere fame and recognition of his powers by those around him.
The silent majesty of the heavens has often brought a message, as to the psalmist of old, 'When I consider Thy heaven the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast created, what is man that Thou art mindful of Him, or the son of man that Thou visitest him.' That this poor boy had moments when he felt after God as the supreme good is shown by his poem which he calls 'The Resignation.'
O God, whose thunder shakes the sky, Whose eye this atom globe surveys, To Thee, my only Rock, I fly, Thy mercy in Thy justice praise.
The mystic mazes of Thy will, The shadows of celestial light Are past the power of human skill, But what the Eternal does is right.
Then why, my soul, dost thou complain, Why drooping, seek the dark recess? Shake off the melancholy chain, For God created all to bless.
We, who read these verses after the lapse of a hundred and twenty years, may well feel as sorrowful as if it were but a story of yesterday, that for Chatterton the last verse of this fine poem was, as far as our poor human judgment can go, never fulfilled, when he says,—
The gloomy mantle of the night Which on my sinking spirit steals, Will vanish at the morning light Which God, my East, my Sun, reveals.
The next day Mr Lambert, standing at the door of his study with his hands full of papers, called Bryda as she passed.
'Step in a moment, Miss Palmer,' the lawyer said, surveying her with his keen eyes, which gleamed under bushy eyebrows.
As Bryda obeyed and followed Mr Lambert into the room he shut the door.
'Mr Bayfield was here yesterday, as you may be aware.'
'I knew he was in Bristol, sir,' Bryda said, her voice faltering.
'Well, he has consented to await your decision before proceeding to recover the debt which your grandfather is unable to pay.'
'My decision, sir,' Bryda said, with some dignity, 'is made, and can never be altered.'
'Well, well, Bayfield is not the only man who has been taken at first sight with a pretty face. He says, if you will marry him, he will let your grandfather go scot-free. He has told you as much, I believe.'
Bryda's crimson cheeks was sufficient answer, but she said firmly,—
'I told the Squire my decision was made. I will not marry him.'
'That is your own affair, but it seems to me, you'll excuse me for saying so, you are throwing away a good chance. Young Bayfield seems to have got a great deal of practical knowledge in America, and I do not doubt will soon retrieve his fortunes. But he wants ready money, and this three hundred pounds is of importance to him. Still, he will waive his claim, it seems, if you consent to his proposal, and put in the scale with the gold you appear to weigh a good deal more. That is all I have to say. I felt bound to tell you what passed yesterday between me and Mr Bayfield. And, Miss Palmer, pardon me, but do not encourage that apprentice of mine to talk to you. You may find him troublesome. He is half mad, I think, and he does the most preposterous things, aiming the shafts of his so-called wit at those above him in station—his old master at Colston's School for one, and I thrashed him for his pains. I am seriously thinking I must break the indentures and be quit of him, with his rubbish and nonsense about old parchments, wasting his time when he ought to be learning his business. My mother seems very well satisfied with you, Miss Palmer, and I hope you will remain with us, unless you give the Squire the preference!' This was said with a laugh which made Bryda's heart swell with indignation as the lawyer bustled off to his office, where Chatterton had been an hour and more before him.
Bryda clasped her hands, and exclaimed,—
'He would not dare to speak to me like this if I were not poor. The apprentice is right, poverty is a curse, though Betty will not have it so; and how shameful of the Squire to speak of private affairs to Mr Lambert—about me. No, not even to save poor old grandfather will I have any more to do with him. After all, if the stock is sold, there will be the garden and the poultry and the dairy. I forget, though, if there are no cows there will be no milk—still there will be a roof over grandfather's head, and Silas will stand by him.'
Bryda continued to win favour with Mrs Lambert, and she snatched many an odd half-hour to read, taking a book from the cedar-lined bookcase and reading while Mrs Lambert dosed in her chair, or was engaged with some crony who looked in for a gossip, when Bryda had only eyes for her book, not ears for what was being said by the furthest window of the little parlour.
The Vicar of Wakefield fed Bryda's romance, and Milton fired her enthusiasm by his lofty strain. With the book on her knee, and some fine lace of Mrs Lambert's in her hand, which she was supposed to be darning, Bryda committed to heart 'Lycidas,' and 'L'Allegro,' while the faithful Abdiel in the larger poem became a living personage to her.
Writing to Bet was more difficult to achieve, but she used to kneel at the window seat in her little attic and set down the thoughts of every day as they occurred to her. As the month passed she felt some uneasiness for fear Mr Bayfield should make any further sign.
To take a stroll at a slow and measured pace with Mrs Lambert was one of her duties. Sometimes the old lady would go to the pump-room and drink a glass of the water, and Bryda was quietly amused to watch the gay crowd flitting here and there in the sunshine of the beautiful summer weather.
Sometimes a short cough struck upon her ear, and her heart would go out in sympathy with some hectic invalids who, with the invariable desire of consumptive patients to appear better than they are, would sink exhausted on one of the benches, and then start up again to walk with a gaily dressed beau to the strains of the band playing under the row of trees before the houses.
'She will die before July is out,' Bryda heard someone near her say of a girl who had just recovered from a violent fit of coughing, and was placed in a sedan chair by her mother, resisting it and saying,—
'I had much rather walk. Don't make a fuss, pray.'
'Death so near, and life so sweet,' thought Bryda, and then she recalled the elegy on the dead lamb, and the same shrinking from the unknown and the inevitable oppressed her.
One morning, when the dreaded month had nearly expired, Bryda was dispatched on a message to a shop celebrated for Bath buns, to buy a shilling's worth for the 'tea company' Mrs Lambert expected that afternoon. And she was also to call in at the grocer's and buy some allspice and orange peel for a tasty pudding which Mr Lambert wanted for a supper he was to give to some friends. Bryda looked as fresh as a rose just gathered as she set out on her errand, Mrs Lambert's large leather purse in her hand, and the directions as to her purchases in her mind, which had been repeated at least a dozen times.
'Mind you insist on having the buns puffy at the top. Don't let them press on you those with a sink in the middle where the comfits lie. They are sure to be heavy; and take care you get the narrow blue ribbon from a roll that is not faded outside at the haberdasher's in the College Green.'
'Mrs Lambert ought to think twice before she sends out that girl a-shopping,' Mrs Symes said to Sam the footboy. 'She is a vast deal too dainty to walk Bristol streets alone. I've seen the fellows turn and stare at her as she crosses the square, and as to Chatterton, he has eyes for nothing when she is by. I declare if ever eyes were like evil eyes they are that mad boy's.'
Then Mrs Symes wiped her face with her apron, and said the kitchen was enough to stifle her, proceeded to pursue her scrubbing and cleaning with great vehemence.
Meanwhile Bryda went gaily on her way. She was very susceptible of the circumstances of the moment, and the summer air playing amongst the sails of the ships, as she got to the quay, and the water rippling at their sides, where the sunbeams danced and sparkled, gave her a sense of life and gladness which for the moment made her forget how near she was standing to the day when the Squire would again put before her the alternative of seeing her grandfather's stock sold, and so ruining him for the future as a farmer—or marrying him.
The idea seemed preposterous to her, and she shrank from it with the shrinking of a pure, high-minded girl.
She had finished her purchases, and carefully counted the change in the large leather purse, when the cathedral bells, chiming as she passed, made her think she would go in for the service.
There were not more than half-a-dozen straggling worshippers, and the prayers were made as short as possible by the irreverent fashion in which they were hurried over. But Bryda's ear caught the words of the anthem, which, by the care of the organist, was really the only devotional part of the service.
It was but a fragment from Handel's Messiah, but it was well sung, and the words struck home to Bryda's heart.
As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. For as by man came death, by man came also the resurrection from the dead.
Death, on which she had so often meditated—death, which had for her so much of darkness and fear—death could be changed by Him who had conquered death—'All be made alive.'
The beauty of the music and the words acted like a spell on her, and she forgot the passing of time, till, as the half-dozen old men and women tottered away to their homes, she raised her head to see the verger beckoning to her.
'Service over, we clear the church,' he said, and Bryda rose hastily, and with heightened colour went out again into the summer noontide.
A LONG RESPITE.
Bryda had nearly reached the entrance to Dowry Square, fearing she might be reprimanded for delay, when her heart beat fast as she recognised the Squire, Mr Bayfield, crossing over it to meet her.
His manner had changed, and he was gentle and even deferential as he bowed low and addressed Bryda.
'Good-day to you, Miss Palmer. I have come, by your leave, to hear your decision.'
'My decision was made, sir, when I last saw you. I have no more to say.'
'Hearken, fair lady, I am not one to be beaten in the race. See here, I had determined, as you know, to get that money, my lawful due. When I saw you standing at the cross roads like an incarnation of spring's loveliness my courage forsook me. In our future interviews it grew fainter and ever fainter. I love you, madam, and if you will promise to be my wife I swear I will never press that old man again for the money. I will work honestly to redeem the neglect of the past, at my poor home, and I swear further I will see you its fair mistress ere another year is out.
'Nay, sir,' Bryda said, gathering up all her strength, 'nay, sir, do not swear what is impossible to perform. Not even to save those I love from penury will I accept your proposal.'
'Another suitor is more favoured, I presume. Who is he?'
'Nay, sir,' Bryda said, with heightened colour and flashing eyes, 'there is a limit to such questions. I decline to answer them.'
'Now, see here,' Mr Bayfield went on, 'I give you a proof of my ardent affection. Name a time for the further consideration of this matter, and as I ride back to-day I will give them warning at Bishop's Farm that I extend the time for claiming my dues. Name the time, and I grant it, for your sweet sake, and for yours alone. Speak, and I obey—command me as your slave.'
Bryda hastily went over in her mind the probability that after all this was but a subterfuge, and that Mr Bayfield would not be true to his word. Then she thought of what the joy and relief at the farm would be when a long delay was granted—much might happen in six months—the winter might be hard, and there would be a terrible pinch, perhaps, for the necessaries of life at Bishop's Farm.
But could she trust Mr Bayfield?
She felt a strange recoil from him, and yet something like admiration, for he was a distinctly handsome man, and had an air and bearing far above good Jack Henderson, or any of her old admirers in her native village. After a moment's pause, while she nervously pinched the corners of the paper bag containing the Bath buns, she looked up with her clear guileless eyes into the Squire's face.
'Will you grant a delay of a year, sir?' she asked.
'A year—no! I am not made of the stuff of patient Job,' he replied, with a little laugh. 'No, madam, I will not wait a year.'
'Till Eastertide next year, then?'
'Well, you are a little witch. I think you have cast a spell over me. I will wait till then. Come, thank me—give me a sign of gratitude.'
Bryda put out her little hand, and the Squire took it, bowed over it, raised it to his lips, and then said,—
'If I keep this hand your grandfather shall keep the money.'
'But I do not promise, sir—mind, I do not promise. I only crave for delay—understand me, sir.'
'I do understand,' was the reply, and then there were steps along the pavement of the square, as the apprentice hurried home for his midday meal in the kitchen.
Bryda reached the door at the same moment, but Chatterton made no remark.
He was in one of his unquiet moods. No news from Horace Walpole—no reply to his repeated demands for his manuscripts—nothing but complaints of him at the office—nothing but indignities in the house where he lived as a servant. What was it to him that Bryda's sweet face was clouded by distress—that tears stood on her long curled lashes—and that Mrs Lambert's voice was heard from the parlour door, raised in no pleasant tones?
'Miss Palmer, you are late in returning. Unpunctuality I cannot tolerate. Remember, miss, you are bound to follow my instructions, and—'
Then the door closed, and Chatterton heard no more.
But that afternoon he went into Mr Antony Henderson's office in Corn Street, where poor Jack Henderson sat on his low stool, with his long legs bent up under the watchmaker's counter, pulling to pieces a large watch in a pinchbeck case, and thinking more of Bryda than the wheels of that cumbrous bit of mechanism.
Chatterton bent over him, and whispered in his ear,—
'Look about you, Henderson. Your fair lady has another suitor. He was with her in the square to-day at noon. A fine fellow, too, I swear he was.'
Jack started so that the pinchbeck watch had a narrow escape of falling from the counter, and the man who had the care of the apprentices at Mr Henderson's exclaimed,—
'Take care, you clumsy lout. You spoil more things than you mend. You'll never be fit for the trade. You might as well put one of your mother's heifers in here to learn the business.'
Jack paid little heed to this taunt, and bent his head lower over the watch.
Chatterton laughed a low laugh.
'Well,' he said, 'I advise you to look out or your fair one will slip through your fingers.'
And then he was gone.
Jack had to wait till the following Sunday before he could see Bryda. Everything was against him, for a heavy rain was falling, and there was no chance of Bryda coming out for a Sunday walk. But he went boldly up the steps before Mr Lambert's house and gave a heavy thud on the door with the knocker.
The footboy opened it, and Jack said,—
'Can I see Miss Palmer?'
'I don't know. She is reading to the missis. But,' said the boy, with a knowing wink, 'the missis takes a nap after dinner, and if she is gone off Miss Palmer may get out on the sly. I'll peep in and see. You are Miss P.'s beau, ain't you?'
'Hold your tongue,' Jack said wrathfully, 'you impudent young villain.'
'Oh, that's it, is it? Then I sha'n't do no more for you. You may stand there till the "crack of doom" the 'prentice is always talking about.'
The voices in the little lobby attracted Bryda's attention. Mrs Lambert was comfortably asleep, and Bryda opened the door softly, and saw Jack standing near it, arrayed in his Sunday best—blue coat, bright buttons, and large buff waistcoat.
Bryda closed the door behind her and said,—
'I cannot come out to-day, Jack, it is raining so hard.'
'I know that. Can't I speak to you here a minute?'
'Mr Lambert is gone out for the day. Yes, you may come into his study. Is anything wrong, Jack?' she asked, looking anxiously into his face.
'What have you got to do with that brute of a Squire Bayfield? I know it was he you were talking to t'other day. Don't have aught to do with him or you'll rue it, I tell you. You will—'
'I don't know why you should be so cross, Jack,' Bryda said, assuming a jesting air. 'I shall sing you the old rhyme,—
Crosspatch, draw the latch, Sit by the fire and spin.'
'Don't be silly, Bryda. It is no laughing matter.'
'No, perhaps it isn't,' Bryda replied, 'but I have had a letter from my dear Bet, which the carrier brought, which will please you, or ought to please you.'
Bryda plunged her little hand into her deep pocket and drew out Betty's letter. Betty had not the gift of either penmanship or composition, and this letter had cost her much trouble.
'Here, read what Bet says,' Bryda exclaimed, holding out the letter to Jack.
'No, thank you. I don't want to read it.'
'Then I shall read it for you,' Bryda exclaimed, 'you stupid old Jack.'
How pretty she looked as she stood before Jack with the open letter, her face flushed with the most delicate crimson, her eyes sparkling as she began,—
'DEAR BRYDA,—This leaves me well, as I hope it finds you at present. Dear Bryda, the young Squire, Mr Bayfield, came over here last evening. He was as kind as he could be. Grandfather is not to trouble about the money for another few months. The Squire says he won't press it, and so we can go on as we are till next Easter. Dear Bryda, I think the Squire was tender-hearted when he saw grandfather so old and broken. I don't wonder. He looks ten years older since it came out about the money and our poor father. That's what cuts him to the heart—'
Bryda sighed as she read these words, and Jack was touched. He had been cross-grained, he knew, but nevertheless he would gladly have got the Squire at that moment in his hands and thrashed him without mercy.
'That's all in the letter,' Bryda said. 'There's only love and kisses, and a few words written below to say grandfather had eaten a good supper and was more like himself for this good news.'
'It's all very well,' Jack said, 'but it seems to me if the Squire gets the money at Easter he might as well have it now. What's the odds?'
'Oh, Jack, they will have the winter to look about them. It does make a difference.'
'Well,' Jack said, 'I would not trust that man. He has got some reason for this, depend on it.'
But poor Jack dare not trust himself to ask what that reason might be. His was a mind slow to reach any conclusion. He was filled with a subtle uneasiness as to what might be the relations between Bryda and the Squire, and yet he dared not come to the point and ask the plain question. Bryda would resent it, and he might lose what was so precious to him—the Sunday walks and the sight of her who was the light of his eyes. He only repeated,—
'He has got some reason, I'll warrant.'
'Kindness to an old man of seventy-six years is not that a reason enough to please you,' Bryda said, and then she added, 'I must go back to the parlour now. Mrs Lambert will awake and be angry if I am not at hand. Good-bye, Jack, good-bye. I hope it will be fair weather next Sunday, and then we'll go to the Redcliffe Meadows again. Good-bye.'
Jack turned away sorrowful and uneasy, determined to watch the movements of the Squire and question Chatterton about him. 'And yet I should not like to act spy to her,' he sighed, as he went out into the relentless rain, which pattered on his best Sunday coat and dimmed the glory of the large gilt buttons with moisture.
In a city like Bristol, then as now, many stories of love and hatred, of vain aspirations and blighted hopes, are told out, of which the passer-by in the busy streets knows nothing.
To-day, as yesterday, our hermit spirits dwell apart, and even those with whom we live in daily intercourse but dimly guess what reason we have to smile or sigh.
Perhaps there never has been anyone, dwelling apart in the dreams of romance, and the world of the past peopled by his own fervid imagination, whose short, sad story can be compared with that of Mr Lambert's apprentice.
At this time of which I write—when Bryda Palmer was full of her own troubles, and with many misgivings tried to persuade herself she had given Mr Bayfield no promise, yet dreading lest he should interpret her acquiescence in the delay as a promise—Chatterton was brooding over his wrongs, and in August was in a frenzy of indignation when he received his cherished manuscripts back from Mr Walpole in a blank cover. This was the unkindest cut of all, for we all know that the wound to pride is, to a sensitive nature, the sorest and the slowest to heal.
But Bristol took but little heed of the slender figure of Mr Lambert's apprentice as he paced the street, with hands clenched and brows knit, nursing his wrath against the great man who had once raised his hopes, and by his moody and fitful temper turning even his friends against him, or at any rate tending to make them indifferent to his woes. For Bristol citizens had many more important subjects claiming their attention at this particular time than the angry disappointment of a self-conscious and irritable boy.
Mr Wilkes was with some the hero of the hour, and the rebellious feeling in America, of which Bristol had perhaps the earliest intelligence, excited the popular feeling, and roused the sympathy of many for those who resisted the enforcement of the Stamp Act, and the indignation of others who were of the old Tory faction and thought that submission was the duty of their brethren on the further side of the great dividing ocean.
Chatterton was too much occupied with his own grievances to be keenly interested in what he heard discussed at Mr Barrett's supper-table or Mr Catcott's tavern. This good, simple-hearted man was faithful in his allegiance to the boy, and never doubted but the great work Chatterton had done in unearthing the poems of Rowley the priest would in time meet its reward.
'A fig for Mr Walpole!' he said. 'Never you fear, my lad, you'll find your level, and it will be a good deal above the level of Mr Walpole, with all his grand relations and riches. Go on, go on, and write for the Town and Country Magazine. Why, what a feather that is in your cap. There's not another fellow in Bristol to match you. Bless you, my brother Alexander's history of the Deluge is mighty dry reading though a watery subject,' and Mr Catcott sipped the large tankard before him, and setting it down with a loud thud on the tavern table, he laughed at his own wit. 'And then there's Barrett, his history is learned and all the rest of it, but I'd sooner read one of your own poems, my lad, let alone hear you recite from Rowley's 'Tragedy of AElla,' than I would read twenty pages of history. It suits my tastes,' the worthy man said, 'and I have some taste and discernment, though my brother won't allow it. If I had none I should never have valued you as I do, my boy,' and then Mr Catcott flung down his money for his pot of beer, and clapping Chatterton on the back, went out with him into the streets of the city again, his arm linked in his, and his portly figure contrasting with the slight boyish form at his side.
CHRISTMAS AT THE FARM.
Mrs Lambert became more and more dependent on Bryda. She was an utterly selfish old lady, and selfish people have a strange power of getting all they want out of those who minister to their particular weaknesses and foster their self-love and self-indulgence. Bryda was allowed to go home for two days at Christmas, having first made the puddings, and pastry for the mince pies, and cut the citron and orange peel into the prescribed portions for the rum punch which would be brewed for the Christmas supper.
Bryda was driven home in the cart which brought in some turnips and potatoes to Mr Henderson and produce for the Christmas market. Jack, to his great satisfaction, was allowed to return for Christmas, and include boxing day, not then as now the recognised holiday, but still a day of feasting and general jollification amongst the people.
Bryda's spirits rose when she reached the farm once more. She had been very quiet during the ride, and Jack was not a person of many words, but when Bet came out to clasp her in her arms, and her friend Flick went nearly mad with joy, she felt a thrill of satisfaction that by her means those she loved were still left in peaceful enjoyment of the old home.
Her grandfather was more like himself, and when she arrived had just returned from an inspection of the stock with Silas, with a colour on his cheek like that of russet apple, and leaning less heavily on his staff.
'Well, my lass,' he said, 'town air has taken some of your colour from your cheeks, but you look like a wild rose all the same. Well—' and then the old man sank down on the settle and surveyed his grandchild with some admiring glances.
'Quite the town miss!' Dorothy Burrow said. 'I hope you ain't putting all your earnings on your back, Biddy?'
'No, aunt, not I. Madam Lambert gave me this sacque which makes me so smart, and some lace ruffles, beside my half-year's wages. Oh, I am quite rich, I can tell you.'
Bryda had time to hear all Bet's news in their own room before the evening meal.
'The Squire comes here sometimes,' Bet said; 'he is wonderfully kind. I can't help thinking he will never take the money, and leave grandfather in peace for the rest of his days.'
Bryda, who was opening her box to bring out her presents for Bet—a large crimson neckerchief with a border, a bow of ribbon to match for her cap, and a pair of long mittens—did not reply.
'What do you think, Bryda? Shall we have all the trouble back again at Easter?'
'Oh, no; let's hope not,' Bryda said carelessly. 'See, do you like these things? They are all for you.'
'Oh! they are beautiful! But, dear, you must have spent too much money on me.'
'Not I. Why, child, I had five pounds wages, and I have got a lot left, and I am going to give Aunt Doll this warm shawl, and the dear old daddy a pipe, and yet I have three pounds left to last me till midsummer.'
'Ah, midsummer!' Betty said. 'We shall know by then.'
'Know what?' Bryda said sharply.
'Know whether we are sold up or not.'
'Well, let us have peace now, and forget everything but how we love each other; and oh! Bet, I have so much to tell you. I have read so many books while madam is asleep. The Vicar of Wakefield, and Paradise Lost, and Mr Pope's poetry, and history—and then there is poor Tom Chatterton, his verses are lovely!'
'Chatterton!' Betty said, 'who is he? Oh, yes, I remember—the apprentice who lives in the kitchen, and you went to see his mother.'
'Of course he is very strange and queer sometimes,' Bryda went on, 'but he is what is called a genius.'
'Is he in love with you?' Betty asked.
'Not that I know of. He is too full of Rowley the priest, and Mr Walpole's horrible rudeness to him, to be much in love. Of course he talks about my eyes, and my grace, and all such rubbish, but that is not love, little Bet.'
'Jack Henderson's is love,' Bet ventured to say. 'He has time to think of nothing but you, anyhow.'
'Poor fellow!' Bryda said. 'I am afraid I have a great many other things to think of besides him. Let us go down. There's Aunt Doll screeching for you as usual.'
It was a pleasant Christmas in the old homestead. There seemed to be a tacit understanding in the family not to forecast the changes that Easter might bring. Everything went smoothly till the last evening of Bryda's holiday, when Jack Henderson came to supper, the board spread with the remains of the fine turkey cooked on Christmas day, and the large mince pie, pricked out with holly, which stood in the middle of the table.
The log fire sparkled merrily up the wide chimney, and Bryda, seated next her grandfather, felt a sense of happiness which had no cloud over it. Betty and Jack were happy in the joy of looking at her, for it would be difficult to say whether sister or lover was the most devoted worshipper at her shrine.
The dish of snap-dragon, just placed on the table, was waiting to be set alight, when a tap at the door made Flick start, rise warily on his forelegs, and growl ominously.
Betty, who was nearest the door, opened it, and with difficulty kept Flick back, who seemed determined to fly at the intruder.
'Down, Flick; be quiet,' the farmer thundered. 'Friend or foe, it ain't the thing to fly at folk's throats.'
'Friend or foe?' said a voice Bryda knew too well, and Mr Bayfield, his long riding-coat peppered with snow, which had touched his thick hair with a fringe of white, came in. 'Mr Palmer, I hope you will tell your hound I am a friend—eh, Miss Bryda?'
'Sit down, sir, sit ye down,' said the farmer. 'And, Doll there, take the gentleman's coat and shake it.'
'I came to wish you a merry Christmas,' the Squire said, 'a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I have brought some trifles for the ladies, if they will honour me by accepting them.'
All this time Jack Henderson had not spoken. His honest heart was filled with jealous hatred of the visitor, who seemed to be unconscious of his presence and took no notice of him.
Apparently Flick and Jack had some sympathy with each other, for the dog retreated from the hearth and went to Jack's side, crouching at his feet, with his nose on his paws and his watchful eyes fixed on the guest, with no very amiable expression in them.
'Light the snap-dragon dish,' Mr Bayfield exclaimed, 'and let me have a dip for a raisin. It is many a long year since I burnt my fingers in such a quest. The old customs have a charm,' he added. 'Do you not say so, Miss Bryda?'
Betty now carried away the two tallow candles, which stood in large pewter candlesticks on the high mantel-shelf, and the spirit was set on fire by Jack Henderson.
Then the hands were dipped in and the usual amount of exclamations followed.
Jack, who had looked forward to this episode of the Christmas supper, supplied Bryda with more plums than she could eat. The ladies of the party, on these occasions, were supposed to give their spoil, snatched from the burning mass amidst much screaming and laughing, to the most favoured gentlemen of the company.
Bryda studiously avoided bestowing a single raisin on Mr Bayfield, and fed her grandfather with the hot morsels, and tossed one now and then to Jack Henderson.
Then there came the final scene, when most of the plums were secured, and Dorothy sprinkled the dish with salt. The ghastly light that flickered on the hot faces round the table was a part of the amusement.
The last flicker had died out, and the wide kitchen was nearly in darkness, for the fire had burnt low, when Bryda felt her hand seized and pressed to Mr Bayfield's lips.
'Remember Easter,' he said.
His words smote her with sudden fear. She snatched her hand away, and exclaimed,—
'Bring back the candles, Betty, and we will mix the punch.'
Again the low voice said, in tones which were almost a whisper,—
'Unless your promise is kept, this will be the last Christmas here for yonder old man.'
'I made no promise, sir,' was the reply; 'the promise was yours.'
'Come, sir, come,' the old farmer said, 'draw closer to the hearth, and let us drink to your health. Yon old punch bowl,' he said, with a sigh, 'belonged to my father, and his father before him. I would not care to part with it, nor of nothing they called their own.'
'Part!' Mr Bayfield exclaimed; 'no, by George! why should you. We won't talk of parting to-night, though you know, sir, the most precious things you possess will have to be parted with sooner or later.'
'Ah, that's true; we can't carry aught out of the world with us, and we brought nothing into it. But let's fill the mugs to the brim and drink to the Squire's health, for I don't forget you have treated me handsomely, sir, in giving me breathing time. So here's to your health and happiness.'
Dorothy Burrows had thrown on more logs, and the genial blaze shone on the dark leaves of the evergreens and the scarlet holly berries, and brought out the dull white beads of the great mistletoe bough which hung suspended from the thick oaken beam of the kitchen.
The firelight made a bright light round Bryda's fair head, on which the masses of her hair were gathered and surmounted by a dainty top-knot of blue ribbon. Jack's eyes fed on her with a hungry longing to possess her. He saw visions of future Christmastides, when he should be a prosperous silversmith and live in one of the houses in the College Green, as his uncle did, with Bryda its mistress, with all she liked best about her—plenty of books, and music, and everything she asked for. Lost in the contemplation of that halcyon time, Jack forgot the present, and was only awoke to it by the old man's exclamation of wonder as Mr Bayfield laid the gifts of which he spoke on the table.
'Lor', to be sure, what a pretty necklace! Shells do you say, sir? I never saw such shells in my born days—green and white; and what a grand silver comb—that will please Biddy and no mistake—and a brooch for my daughter—well, to be sure! But I favour the shells most,' and the old man fingered the necklace made of the pearly shells, shot with green, which are to be found on the shores of the South Pacific ocean. 'And both of 'em for Biddy—and Bet a brooch like aunt's and a pin for her cap. Well,' said the old man, in whose veins the punch was circulating, and giving a comfortable sense of warmth and contentment, 'you are turning out a good friend, sir, after all, Mr Bayfield, sir. I thought you must have something of your good father in you, though at first you seemed a bit rough—you'll excuse me for saying so.'
Meanwhile, there lay the gifts on the table. Dorothy took up her brooch, and making a bob-curtsy, said,—
'I'm greatly obleeged to you, sir, I am sure.'
Betty, uncertain whether to speak before Bryda did, looked questioningly at her sister.
Bryda stood motionless, feeling the Squire's eyes were on her.
Presently he took up the necklace and said,—
'Permit me to clasp it on a neck which is fair as—'
But Bryda put up her hand to prevent it, and started back. Suddenly the necklace became like a fetter which would bind her to the man who gave it. But Mr Bayfield was not to be baffled. As Bryda retreated he advanced, the necklace in his hand, till Bryda stood under the mistletoe bough.
Then he caught her hand, and saying, 'I take my privilege here,' he put his arm round her and kissed her on the lips as he clasped the necklace round her slender throat.
Like a lion from his lair Jack Henderson sprang on the Squire, and shouted,—
'You villain! how dare you?'
Instead of an angry retort the Squire only laughed ironically,—
'My good fellow, you may have your turn now. All is fair under the mistletoe bough at Christmas.'
Then, with a bow and a 'Good-night to you all,' the Squire departed, whistled to his groom, who had been holding his horse under cover in one of the farm sheds, and was gone.
Bryda, with burning cheeks, unfastened the hateful necklace, flung it down, and rushed out of the kitchen, regardless of her grandfather's repeated exclamations,—
'What are you about, you saucy baggage? And you, you lout, Jack, go and wait on the Squire, and see to his horse. What ails you—eh? It is not often a gentleman like that crosses our threshold and behaves so affable like and friendly.'
'Curse him!' was all that Jack could reply. 'If you think he is a gentleman, I say he is a villain. Good-night,' and then poor Jack, fuming and helpless, went out into the snowy night.
THE FINAL BLOW.
Betty found that to question Bryda as to the cause of her wrath against Mr Bayfield was useless.
To Betty's simple soul a kiss under the mistletoe bough was of no further significance. She had been kissed by Jack, and even her Aunt Dorothy had received a kiss from a neighbouring farmer who had visited them on Christmas day.
Betty pleaded that if the Squire was disposed to be kind and friendly to the old grandfather it was a risk to anger him. If they could keep the farm during his life times might improve, and there might be saving instead of loss, and the debt paid back.
Both girls felt that the debt itself had a peculiar interest for them. It had been originally incurred to save their father from death, for death by hanging was then the punishment awarded to forgery. Bryda, however, preserved silence as to the Squire, and when she had returned to Bristol Betty found the necklace and the silver comb hidden away in a deep drawer in a bureau.
Betty was suddenly struck with an idea.
'Perhaps the Squire is really in love with her, and if he is, why should she be so angry? It would be a fine thing for Bryda, who sets such store by pretty things, and is so much more of the lady than I am. Dear Bryda, I should love to see her happy—but oh, poor Jack! what would he say?' And as she recalled his fierce looks as he sprang upon Mr Bayfield she added, 'And what might he not do?'
It is always difficult to realise how swiftly a certain period which we fix for any great decision in our lives, or any event which is to seriously affect us, will come. We look forward, especially in youth, to six or nine months and think there is time yet, we need not determine yet on any particular course of action, or make any definite plan yet. And then, even while we are thinking that there is yet delay, the days and weeks and months, perhaps years, have passed, and we find ourselves changing 'not yet' changed into the inexorable now.
It was thus with Bryda when she had pleaded for delay from Mr Bayfield. The hour for decision looked far away, and she had tried to put off thinking about it, and, trust with the hopefulness of youth, that all would be well.
Her life at Mrs Lambert's was not uncongenial to her, and she rose daily in the old lady's favour. Her hunger for books was in a measure satisfied, and she found good pasturage in the standard works of those times, with which Mr Lambert's library was well furnished.
Though the lace mending and lace cleaning for Mrs Lambert's caps and whimples and neckerchiefs and aprons went on, and though the preparation of dainty dishes to please the lawyer's appetite when he came home after hours spent in his office gave more and more satisfaction, Bryda found, and made time for her favourite pursuit. She was now allowed to take the books from the shelves and study them at leisure, and an old edition of Shakespeare's plays filled her with a strange thrill of delight. They were to Bryda, as to many another novice, like an introduction into a new world.
For all her aspirations and longings, and for all her secret misgivings and fears for the future, for all her dreams of beauty and love of the good and true, she found the right expression and the right word.
'How wonderful,' she thought, 'that he should know everything I feel.'
The master's hand was recognised, and the recognition quickened her sympathy for poor Chatterton, who at this time—this Eastertide of 1770—was so greatly in need of it.
The storm that had long been in the air now broke over the head of Mr Lambert's apprentice.
Bryda heard angry voices in Mr Lambert's study before he went to his office one morning, and presently Madam Lambert came out bridling with rage, and declaring she would not sleep another night under the same roof with 'the young rascal.'
'No, no, I will not run the risk. What are you standing there for, Miss Palmer?' she said as, trembling with suppressed indignation, she put out her hand to Bryda to support her into her own parlour.
'Take care of my mother, Miss Palmer,' the lawyer said. 'Give her a glass of wine. She is too old to work herself into a frenzy like this.'
Bryda, frightened at the old lady's pale face and trembling lips, hastened to get something to revive her, and placing her in her chair in the parlour, held a glass of port wine to her mouth, and fanned her with a large green fan lying on her little table.
'What has he done? What has Mr Chatterton done?'
'Tried to kill himself. Why, we might have had the house streaming with blood, and the crowner's inquest held here.'
'He threatened to kill himself, in a letter which Mr Barrett put into my hands,' Mr Lambert said, as he stood at the parlour door looking anxiously at his mother. 'Come, come, mother, no harm is done. The boy is mad, and a lot of people here have turned his head by flattering him till he is puffed up, and, like the frog in the fable, is all but bursting with conceit. I'll soon settle matters. He must take away what belongs to him; there's not much, I'll warrant, except his manuscripts in their outlandish trashy language. Now, keep her quiet, Miss Palmer, and don't let her fume and fret.'
Madam Lambert took her son's advice, and Bryda, seeing her inclined to take a nap, quietly left the room, and went downstairs to pursue her usual domestic duties. Mrs Symes was gone to market, and the footboy had been sent with her to carry the basket of purchases, so that Bryda was alone in the kitchen regions.
Presently a quick step was heard coming down the stairs, and Chatterton appeared.
'I am free,' he said, 'Miss Palmer, I am free, and Bristol chains will hold me no longer. Do they think I am sorry? Not I! And yet'—the boy paused—'there is my mother. Poor soul, it will vex her sorely—and poor sister also. Well, I shall be off to London, and then—why, Miss Palmer, then you may live to hear of me as famous.'
Bryda raised her eyes to the boy's glowing face as he repeated the word famous, and said gently,—
'You would not, sure, think of taking your own life? Oh, it is very dreadful—it is a sin!'
'A sin!' he repeated. 'Well, I have not done it yet. I feel vastly full of life to-day. Old Lambert's rating at me put some spirit into me, and I shall not die yet.'
'Death is so solemn,' Bryda said, 'even when God calls us to die—the leaving of the sun and all the beauty of the world for the dark grave. I always shudder to see even a little bird dead, to think its songs are silent for ever, and its happy flights into the blue sky, and its sleep in its warm nest—'
'Ah!' Chatterton said, 'you have a breath of poetry in you. You can understand!'
'But what will you do in London? It is such a big place. And how will you live?'
'I shall try to live, and if I can't—well, I will do what I meant to do to-morrow—die. But,' he went on, throwing back his head with the proud gesture peculiar to him, 'I can turn a penny to more purpose in London than here. I have been paid for my contributions to the Town and Country Magazine, and the Middlesex Journal will take what I write and be glad. Then I have all my "AElla"—"AElla,"' he repeated, 'I set great store by "AElla"—money will be sure to come for that and "The Tournament." But come and see my mother, Miss Palmer, next week, and we will have a parting visit together to the grand old church, and I will tell you more. Oh, I am not crushed yet—not I! I have heaps of literary stuff which may turn into gold, and I can say,—
Hope, holy sister, sweeping through the sky, In crown of gold and robe of lily white, Which far abroad in gentle air doth fly, Meeting from distance the enjoyous sight, Albeit oft thou takest thy high flight Shrouded in mist and with thy blinded eyne.
'Yes, holy sister,' he repeated, 'I clasp thee to my heart, and away and away to London.'
'These are beautiful words,' Bryda said; 'are they yours?'
'Mine? yes, they are mine. Despair came to me in black guise when I went to old Burgum, and he vowed he had not sixpence to give me. And as to lend money—who would lend to a beggar? Not Burgum; he is a thrifty soul though he comes of the grand race of De Bergheim, of which he is mighty proud, poor fool!' And Chatterton indulged in a fit of laughter, probably remembering how easily the honest pewterer had been gulled by the story of his noble ancestry, for which he had given him a crown piece.
The laugh was strange, and not a melodious sound, and almost at the same moment Mrs Symes and the footboy came into the kitchen.
'Laughing, are you?' she said. 'You will have to laugh on the wrong side of your mouth, young man. Why, the folks are all talking of you and your wickedness. Come, I hear you have notice to quit—be off. And as to you, Miss Palmer, I would take care what you have to do with this limb, for he is a limb and no mistake—a real limb of the Evil One.'
Chatterton did not seem much affected by Mrs Symes' tirade. He made a graceful bow as he left the kitchen for the last time, and with 'We shall meet again, Miss Palmer, so whispers the holy maid we spoke of just now,' he was gone.
But although Chatterton could be indifferent to the gibes of Mrs Symes he was by no means indifferent to the censure of his best friend Mr Barrett. The good surgeon sent for him to his house, and then said that, after a consultation with all his friends, there seemed no alternative but to agree to Mr Lambert's giving up the indentures, and getting rid of him.
Mr Barrett had ever a kindly feeling for the wild, undisciplined boy, whose genius he recognised although he had not measured the extent of his powers. Perhaps he knew how to awake in the boy poet his best and higher nature, for instead of receiving his reproofs and advice in a defiant manner he melted into tears, confessed that pride, his unconquerable pride, was his worst enemy, and that he would try to learn humility. The mention of his mother's distress affected him more than anything, and Mr Barrett, saw him depart with a sad heart.
Of all his other friends, perhaps the kindly good-natured George Catcott was the most sorely troubled. But this Easter week in Bristol was one of great excitement, and the worthy citizens were all much occupied with their views of the great event of the time.
On Tuesday, the 17th of April, Mr Wilkes was released from prison, and all the advanced Liberals of the ancient city were to make themselves merry at the Crown Inn in honour of their hero's triumphant release.
Bristol has always been foremost in hero-worship, though too often the Dagon at whose feet it has lain has, like Mr Wilkes, been a poor creature after all, and has fallen from his pedestal and broken himself to pieces.
As Chatterton was pacing the familiar streets, and with alternate fits of hope and the most cruel despair thinking out his future, he passed the Crown Inn, in the passage from Bond Street to Gower Lane.
Sounds of revelry and merry voices struck his ear, and he paused to listen.
There were several other hangers-on in the precincts of the inn, and they were discussing Wilkes and liberty, and the freedom of the subject, with all the keen zest of those within.
A woman jostled against Chatterton, and raised herself on tiptoe, hoping to see something through the crack in the red curtain which hung over the window of the large room where the revellers were gathered. She was poor and ragged, and the goodly smell of the viands made her exclaim,—
'What a dinner they be having, while hundreds are starving. Ah! starving is hard work!'
Chatterton heard the words and said,—
'Aye, my good woman, you are right,' and then he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out one of the very few copper coins which were left there and gave it to the woman.
'Lord bless you, my dear,' she said, 'you've a kind heart, and you look as thin as a rod yourself. I hear,' she said confidentially, 'they've got forty-five pounds of meat in there, and puddin' and punch and baccy. Ah! it's a queer world, that it is!' and then she passed on, the smell of the viands becoming more tantalising every minute.
There is something very pathetic in the position of the Bristol poet on that spring evening—alone, and as he thought deserted, and driven to despair by what he believed to be the ill-treatment of the people of Bristol.
After the lapse of a hundred and twenty years the memory of that boyish figure still haunts the streets of Bristol, and there comes a vain and helpless longing that at that critical moment of Chatterton's life some hand of blessed charity had been stretched out to him, some word of loving counsel and sympathy offered him.
It was the young eagle chafing against the bars of his cage, wounding his wings in every vain attempt to soar above his prison house; it was the prisoner held captive by chains, of his own forging, it may be, but not the less galling. The gift bestowed by the hand of God was soiled by its contact with earthly desires, and the Giver altogether unrecognised, and His divinity unfelt.
Chatterton, on this evening, was drifting on a sea of doubt and perplexity, nursing within angry passions of hate and revenge, and yet through all was to be seen the better self trying to assist itself, as when he gave his poor mite to the starving woman, and going to his home made his mother's heart sing for joy as he cast off his gloom, praised the frugal supper she set before him, and told her the day was soon coming when she should feast with him in London, whither he was bent on going as soon as possible. The very next day this scheme was rendered comparatively easy of accomplishment.
Mr Barrett, probably when discussing Chatterton's story over the punch bowl at the Crown, got up a little subscription for him, and sent for him to communicate the intelligence on the next morning.
And now indeed Hope, holy sister, swept through the poet's sky in crown of gold and robe of lily white. Dire despondency was changed into raptures of joy, and his mother, though with a pain at her heart, busied herself to enter into all the little preparations for her son's start to London—London, which meant for him a new bright world, the world of Goldsmith and Garrick, of Johnson and Burke, and who could tell if, when with the laurel crown of success on his brow, he might not meet Horace Walpole as an equal and repay his coldness with disdain. Who could tell? Alas that this exultant happiness in promised good should be doomed to end in the wail of sadness which was to know no note of triumph henceforth.
AN UNSUCCESSFUL SUIT.
Never once in all the months that Bryda had spent under Mr Lambert's roof had Jack Henderson failed to appear at the door of the house in Dowry Square on Sunday afternoons to inquire if Miss Palmer was disposed for a walk. But he had often to turn away dejected and sorrowful. Sometimes Bryda could not leave Mrs Lambert, sometimes she had promised to take a dish of tea with one or other of the friends of the old lady who frequented her parlour, and praised the girl, who was, as they said, so notable and obliging, and who was really quite the young gentlewoman though country bred and born in a farmhouse.
But Jack had worse misgivings than could be caused by Mrs Lambert's disappointing him of his Sunday treat—looked forward to with hungry eagerness from Monday morning to Saturday night—he heard from Chatterton that the suitor whom he had seen in Dowry Square in the autumn was frequently known to be hanging about the place, that he visited Mr Lambert's office, that he had been invited more than once to the midday dinner, and that he had on these occasions made himself generally agreeable.
Jack attempted once or twice to question Bryda about the Squire, but she always resented it, and the pleasure of his walk was consequently spoiled.
Mrs Lambert, though she never asked Jack Henderson to cross the threshold, was abundantly gracious to Mr Bayfield, and he, taking his cue, flattered the good lady to the top of her bent, sympathised about the crazy apprentice, and declared hanging was too good for him. After the meal was over, Bryda would sit silently by with her work, and the Squire left her alone. But on this memorable Saturday, when the apprentice had finally been dismissed, and his iniquities fully discussed, he leaned over Bryda as he took leave and said,—
'The morrow is Easter day. Did we not agree for Easter or Whitsuntide?'
'For neither, sir,' was the reply, in a low voice, 'for neither,' she repeated.
'Then I may put in an execution on the farm next week. Is it so?'
And Bryda answered,—
'If you are minded to be so cruel, sir.'
And so Mr Bayfield left her.
'Miss Palmer,' Mrs Lambert said, 'if that gentleman is paying his addresses to you, it is my duty to express a hope that they are honourable.'
Bryda's eyes flashed, and she answered,—
'The Squire has a matter of business connected with my grandfather, beyond this I have no dealings with him, madam.'