"Soon over, to look back, dear Mother," replied Mrs Tremayne. "Yet it never seems short to them that be in the furnace."
Mrs Rose turned rather suddenly to her son-in-law.
"Robin, tell me, if thou couldst have seen thy life laid out before thee on a map, and it had been put to thy choice to bear the Little Ease, or to leave go,—tell me what thou hadst chosen?"
For Mr Tremayne had spent several months in that horrible funnel-shaped prison, aptly termed Little Ease, and had but just escaped from it with life. He paused a moment, and his face grew very thoughtful.
"I think, Mother," he said at length, "that I had chosen to go through with it. I learned lessons in Little Ease that, if I had lacked now, I had been sorely wanting to my people; and—speaking as a man—that perchance I could have learned nowhere else."
"Childre," responded the aged mother, "it seemeth me, that of all matter we have need to learn, the last and hardest is to give God leave to choose for us. At least, thus it hath been with me; it may be I mistake to say it is for all. Yet I am sure he is the happy man that learneth it soon. It hath taken me well-nigh eighty years. Thou art better, Robin, to have learned it in fifty."
"I count, Mother, we learn not all lessons in the same order," said the Rector, smiling, "though there be many lessons we must all learn. 'Tis not like to be my last,—without I should die to-morrow—if I have learned it thoroughly now. And 'tis easier to leave in God's hands, some choices than other."
Mrs Rose did not ask of what he was thinking, but she could guess pretty well. It would be harder to lose his Thekla now, than if he had come out of Little Ease and had found her dead: harder to lose Arthur in his early manhood, than to have seen him coffined with his baby brother and sisters, years ago. Mrs Tremayne drew a long sigh, as if she had guessed it too.
"It would be easier to leave all things to God's choice," she said, "if only we dwelt nearer God."
Note 1. "Vuesa merced," the epithet of ordinary courtesy, is literally "Your Grace."
A SPOKE IN THE WHEEL.
"All the foolish work Of fancy, and the bitter close of all."
A few weeks after that conversation, Lucrece Enville sat alone in the bedroom which she shared with her sister Margaret. She was not shedding tears—it was not her way to weep: but her mortification was bitter enough for any amount of weeping.
Lucrece was as selfish as her step-mother, or rather a shade more so. Lady Enville's selfishness was pure love of ease; there was no deliberate malice in it. Any person who stood in her way might be ruthlessly swept out of it; but those who did not interfere with her pleasure, were free to pursue their own.
The selfishness of Lucrece lay deeper. She not only sought her own enjoyment and aggrandisement; but she could not bear to see anything— even if she did not want it—in the possession of some one else. That was sufficient to make Lucrece long for it and plot to acquire it, though she had no liking for the article in itself, and would not know what to do with it when she got it.
But in this particular instance she had wanted the article: and she had missed it. True, the value which she set upon it was rather for its adjuncts than for itself; but whatever its value, one thought was uppermost, and was bitterest—she had missed it.
The article was Don Juan. His charm was twofold: first, he would one day be a rich man and a noble; and secondly, Blanche was in possession. Lucrece tried her utmost efforts to detach him from her sister, and to attach him to herself. And Don Juan proved himself to be her match, both in perseverance and in strategy.
Blanche had not the faintest suspicion that anything of the sort had been going on. Don Juan himself had very quickly perceived the counterplot, and had found it a most amusing episode in the little drama with which he was beguiling the time during his forced stay in England.
But nobody else saw either plot or counterplot, until one morning, when a low soft voice arrested Sir Thomas as he was passing out of the garden door.
"Father, may I have a minute's speech of you?"
"Ay so, Lucrece? I was about to take a turn or twain in the garden; come with me, lass."
"So better, Father, for that I must say lacketh no other ears."
"What now?" demanded Sir Thomas, laughing. "Wouldst have money for a new chain, or leave to go to a merry-making? Thou art welcome to either, my lass."
"I thank you, Father," said Lucrece gravely, as they paced slowly down one of the straight, trim garden walks: "but not so,—my words are of sadder import."
Sir Thomas turned and looked at her. Never until this moment, in all her four-and-twenty years, had his second daughter given him an iota of her confidence.
"Nay, what now?" he said, in a perplexed tone.
"I pray you, Father, be not wroth with me, for my reasons be strong, if I am so bold as to ask at you if you have yet received any order from the Queen's Majesty's Council, touching the disposing of Don John?"
"Art thou turning states-woman, my lass? Nay, not I—not so much as a line."
"Might I take on me, saving your presence, Father, to say so much as—I would you would yet again desire the same?"
"Why, my lass, hath Don John offenced thee, that thou wouldst fain be rid of him? I would like him to tarry a while longer. What aileth thee?"
"Would you like him to marry Blanche, Father?"
"Blanche!—marry Blanche! What is come over thee, child? Marry Blanche!"
Sir Thomas's tone was totally incredulous. He almost laughed in his contemptuous unbelief.
"You crede it not, Father," said Lucrece's voice—always even, and soft, and low. "Yet it may be true, for all that."
"In good sooth, my lass: so it may. But what cause hast, that thou shouldst harbour such a thought?"
"Nought more than words overheard, Father,—and divers gifts seen— and—"
"Gifts! The child showed us none."
"She would scantly show you, Father, a pair of beads of coral, with a cross of enamel thereto—"
"Lucrece, dost thou know this?"
Her father's tone was very grave and stern now.
"I do know it, of a surety. And if you suffer me, Father, to post you in a certain place that I wot of, behind the tapestry, you shall ere long know it too."
Lucrece's triumphant malice had carried her a step too far. Her father's open, upright, honest mind was shocked at this suggestion.
"God forbid, girl!" he replied, hastily. "I will not play the eavesdropper on my own child. Hast thou done this, Lucrece?"
Lucrece saw that she must make her retreat from that position, and she did so "in excellent order."
"Oh no, Father! how could I so? One day, I sat in the arbour yonder, and they two walked by, discoursing: and another day, when I sat in a window-seat in the hall, they came in a-talking, and saw me not. I could never do such a thing as listen unknown, Father!"
"Right, my lass: but it troubled me to hear thee name it."
Sir Thomas walked on, lost in deep thought. Lucrece was silent until he resumed the conversation.
"Beads, and a cross!" He spoke to himself.
"I could tell you of other gear, Father," said the low voice of the avenger. "As, a little image of Mary and John, which she keepeth in her jewel-closet; and a book wherein be prayers unto the angels and the saints. These he hath given her."
Lucrece was making the worst of a matter in which Don Juan was undoubtedly to blame, but Blanche was much more innocent than her sister chose to represent her. On the rosary Blanche looked as a long necklace, such as were in fashion at the time; and while the elaborate enamelled pendant certainly was a cross, it had never appeared to her otherwise than a mere pendant. The little image was so extremely small, that she kept it in her jewel-closet lest it should be lost. The book, Don Juan's private breviary, was in Latin, in which language studious Lucrece was a proficient, whilst idle Blanche could not have declined a single noun. The giver had informed her that he bestowed this breviary on her, his best beloved, because he held it dearest of all his treasures; and Blanche valued it on that account. Lucrece knew all this: for she had come upon Blanche in an unguarded moment, with the book in her hand and the rosary round her neck, and had to some extent forced her confidence—the more readily given, since Blanche never suspected treachery.
"I can ensure you, Father," pursued the traitress, with an assumption of the utmost meekness, "it hath cost me much sorrow ere I set me to speak unto you."
"Hast spoken to Blanche aforetime?"
"Not much, Father," replied Lucrece, in a voice of apparent trouble. "I counted it fitter to refer the same unto your better wisdom; nor, I think, was she like to list me."
"God have mercy!" moaned the distressed father, thoroughly awake now to the gravity of the case.
"Maybe, Father, you shall think I have left it pass too far," pursued Lucrece, with well-simulated grief: "yet can you guess that I would not by my goodwill seem to carry complaint of Blanche."
"Thou hast well done, dear heart, and I thank thee," answered her deceived father. "But leave me now, my lass; I must think all this gear over. My poor darling!"
Lucrece glided away as softly as the serpent which she resembled in her heart.
In half-an-hour Sir Thomas came back into the house, and sent Jennet to tell his sister that he wished to speak with her in the library. It was characteristic, not of himself, but of his wife, that in his sorrows and perplexities he turned instinctively to Rachel, not to her. When Lucrece's intelligence was laid before Rachel, though perhaps she grieved less, she was even more shocked than her brother. That Blanche should think of quitting the happy and honourable estate of maidenhood, for the slavery of marriage, was in itself a misdemeanour of the first magnitude: but that she should have made her own choice, have received secret gifts, and held clandestine interviews—this was an awful instance of what human depravity could reach.
"Now, what is to be done?" asked Sir Thomas wearily. "First with Don John, and next with Blanche."
"Him?—the viper! Pack him out of the house, bag and baggage!" cried the wrathful spinster. "The crocodile, to conspire against the peace of the house which hath received him in his need! Yet what better might you look for in a man and a Papist?"
"Nay, Rachel; I cannot pack him out: he is my prisoner, think thou. I am set in charge of him until released by the Queen's Majesty's mandate. All the greater need is there to keep him and Blanche apart. In good sooth, I wis not what to do for the best—with Blanche, most of all."
"Blanche hath had too much leisure time allowed her, and too much of her own way," said Rachel oracularly. "Hand her o'er to me—I will set her a-work. She shall not have an idle hour. 'Tis the only means to keep silly heads in order."
"Maybe, Rachel,—maybe," said Sir Thomas with a sigh. "Yet I fear sorely that we must have Blanche hence. It were constant temptation, were she and Don John left in the same house; and though she might not break charge—would not, I trust—yet he might. I can rest no faith on him well! I must first speak to Blanche, methinks, and then—"
"Speak to her!—whip her well! By my troth, but I would mark her!" cried Rachel, in a passion.
"Nay, Rachel, that wouldst thou not," answered her brother, smiling sadly. "Did the child but whimper, thy fingers would leave go the rod. Thy bark is right fearful, good Sister; but some men's sweet words be no softer than thy bite."
"There is charity in all things, of course," said Rachel, cooling down.
"There is a deal in thee," returned Sir Thomas, "for them that know where to seek it. Well, come with me to Orige; she must be told, I reckon: and then we will send for Blanche."
Rachel opened her lips, but suddenly shut them without speaking, and kept them drawn close. Perhaps, had she not thought better of it, what might have been spoken was not altogether complimentary to Lady Enville.
That very comfortable dame sat in her cushioned chair in the boudoir— there were no easy-chairs then, except as rendered so by cushions; and plenty of soft thick cushions were a very necessary part of the furniture of a good house. Her Ladyship was dressed in the pink of the fashion, so far as it had reached her tailor at Kirkham; and she was turning over the leaves of a new play, entitled "The Comedie of Errour"—one of the earliest productions of the young Warwickshire actor, William Shakspere by name. She put her book down with a yawn when her husband and his sister came in.
"How much colder 'tis grown this last hour or twain!" said she. "Prithee, Sir Thomas, call for more wood."
Sir Thomas shouted as desired—the quickest way of settling matters—and when Jennet had come and gone with the fuel, he glanced into the little chamber to see if it were vacant. Finding no one there, he drew the bolt and sat down.
"Gramercy, Sir Thomas! be we all prisoners?" demanded his wife with a little laugh.
"Orige," replied Sir Thomas, "Rachel and I have a thing to show thee."
"I thought you looked both mighty sad," remarked the lady calmly.
"Dost know where is Blanche?"
"Good lack, no! I never wis where Blanche is."
"Orige, wouldst like to have Blanche wed?"
"To Don John de Las Rojas."
"Gramercy! Sir Thomas, you never mean it?"
"He and Blanche mean it, whate'er I may."
"Good lack, how fortunate! Why, he will be a Marquis one day—and hath great store of goods and money. I never looked for such luck. Have you struck hands with him, Sir Thomas?"
Sir Thomas pressed his lips together, and glanced at his sister with an air of helpless vexation. Had it just occurred to him that the pretty doll whom he had chosen to be the partner of his life was a little wanting in the departments of head and heart?
"What, Orige—an enemy?" he said.
"Don John is not an enemy," returned Lady Enville, with a musical little laugh. "We have all made a friend of him."
"Ay—and have been fools, perchance, to do it. 'Tis ill toying with a snake. But yet once—a Papist?"
"Good lack! some Papists will get to Heaven, trow."
"May God grant it!" replied Sir Thomas seriously. "But surely, Orige, surely thou wouldst never have our own child a Papist?"
"I trust Blanche has too much good sense for such foolery, Sir Thomas," said the lady. "But if no—well, 'tis an old religion, at the least, and a splendrous. You would never let such a chance slip through your fingers, for the sake of Papistry?"
"No, Sister—for the sake of the Gospel," said Rachel grimly.
"Thou wist my meaning, Rachel," pursued Lady Enville. "Well, in very deed, Sir Thomas, I do think it were ill done to let such a chance go by us. 'Tis like throwing back the gifts of Providence. Do but see, how marvellously this young man was brought hither! And now, if he hath made suit for Blanche, I pray you, never say him nay! I would call it wicked to do the same. Really wicked, Sir Thomas!"
Lady Enville pinched the top cushion into a different position, with what was energy for her. There was silence for a minute. Rachel sat looking grimly into the fire, the personification of determined immobility. Sir Thomas was shading his eyes with his hand. He was drinking just then a very bitter cup: and it was none the sweeter for the recollection that he had mixed it himself. His favourite child—for Blanche was that—seemed to be going headlong to her ruin: and her mother not only refused to aid in saving her, but was incapable of seeing any need that she should be saved.
"Well, Orige," he said at last, "thou takest it other than I looked for. I had meant for to bid thee speak with Blanche. Her own mother surely were the fittest to do the same. But since this is so, I see no help but that we have her here, before us three. It shall be harder for the child, and I would fain have spared her. But if it must be,—why, it must."
"She demeriteth [merits] no sparing," said Rachel sternly.
"Truly, Sir Thomas," responded his wife, "if I am to speak my mind, I shall bid Blanche God speed therein. So, if you desire to let [hinder] the same—but I think it pity a thousand-fold you should—you were better to see her without me."
"Nay, Orige! Shall I tell the child to her face that her father and her mother cannot agree touching her disposal?"
"She will see it if she come hither," was the answer.
"But cannot we persuade thee, Orige?"
"Certes, nay!" replied she, with the obstinacy of feeble minds. "Truly, I blame not Rachel, for she alway opposeth her to marriage, howso it come. She stood out against Meg her trothing. But for you, Sir Thomas,—I am verily astonied that you would deny Blanche such good fortune."
"I would deny the maid nought that were for her good, Orige," said the father, sadly.
"'Good,' in sweet sooth!—as though it should be ill for her to wear a coronet on her head, and carry her pocket brimful of ducats! Where be your eyes, Sir Thomas?"
"Thine be dazed, methinks, with the ducats and the coronet, Sister," put in Rachel.
"Well, have your way," said Lady Enville, spreading out her hands, as if she were letting Blanche's good fortune drop from them: "have your way! You will have it, I count, as whatso I may say. I pray God the poor child be not heart-broken. Howbeit, I had better loved her than to do thus."
Sir Thomas was silent, not because he did not feel the taunt, but because he did feel it too bitterly to trust himself with speech. But Rachel rose from her chair, deeply stung, and spoke very plain words indeed.
"Orige Enville," she said, "thou art a born fool!"
"Gramercy, Rachel!" ejaculated her sister-in-law, as much moved out of her graceful ease of manner as it lay in her torpid nature to be.
"You can deal with the maid betwixt you two," pursued the spinster. "I will not bear a hand in the child's undoing."
And she marched out of the room, and slammed the door behind her.
"Good lack!" was Lady Enville's comment.
Without resuming the subject, Sir Thomas walked to the other door and opened it.
"Blanche!" he said, in that hard, constrained tone which denotes not want of feeling, but the endeavour to hide it.
"Blanche is in the garden, Father," said Margaret, coming out of the hall. "Shall I seek her for you?"
"Ay, bid her come, my lass," said he quietly.
Margaret looked up inquiringly, in consequence of her father's unusual tone; but he gave her no explanation, and she went to call Blanche.
That young lady was engaged at the moment in a deeply interesting conversation with Don Juan upon the terrace. They had been exchanging locks of hair, and vows of eternal fidelity. Margaret's approaching step was heard just in time to resume an appearance of courteous composure; and Don Juan, who was possessed of remarkable versatility, observed as she came up to them—
"The clouds be a-gathering, Dona Blanca. Methinks there shall be rain ere it be long."
"How now, Meg?—whither away?" asked Blanche, with as much calmness as she could assume; but she was by no means so clever an actor as her companion.
"Father calleth thee, Blanche, from Mother's bower."
"How provoking!" said Blanche to herself. Aloud she answered, "Good; I thank thee, Meg."
Blanche sauntered slowly into the boudoir. Lady Enville reclined in her chair, engaged again with her comedy, as though she had said all that could be said on the subject under discussion. Sir Thomas stood leaning against the jamb of the chimney-piece, gazing sadly into the fire.
"Meg saith you seek me, Father."
"I do, my child."
His grave tone chilled Blanche's highly-wrought feelings with a vague anticipation of coming evil. He set a chair for her, with a courtesy which he always showed to a woman, not excluding his daughters.
"Sit, Blanche: we desire to know somewhat of thee."
The leaves of the play in Lady Enville's hand fluttered; but she had just sense enough not to speak.
"Blanche, look me in the face, and answer truly:—Hath there been any passage of love betwixt Don John and thee?"
Blanche's heart gave a great leap into her throat,—not perhaps anatomically, but so far as her sensations were concerned. She played for a minute with her gold chain in silence. But the way in which the question was put roused all her better feelings; and when the first unpleasant thrill was past, her eyes looked up honestly into his.
"I cannot say nay, Father, and tell truth."
"Well said, my lass, and bravely. How far hath it gone, Blanche?"
Blanche's chain came into requisition again. She was silent.
"Hath he spoken plainly of wedding thee?"
"I think so," said Blanche faintly.
"Didst give him any encouragement thereto?" was the next question— gravely, but not angrily asked.
If Blanche had spoken the simple truth, she would have said "Plenty." But she dared not. She looked intently at the floor, and murmured something about "perhaps" and "a little."
Her father sighed. Her mother appeared engrossed with the play.
"And yet once tell me, Blanche—hath he at all endeavoured himself to persuade thee to accordance with his religion? Hath he given thee any gifts, such as a cross, or a relic-case, or the like?"
Blanche would have given a good deal to run away. But there was no chance of it. She must stand her ground; and not only that, but she must reply to this exceedingly awkward question.
Don Juan had given her one or two little things, she faltered, leaving the more important points untouched. Was her father annoyed at her accepting them? She had no intention of vexing him.
"Thou hast not vexed me, my child," he said kindly. "But I am troubled—grievously troubled and sorrowful. And the heavier part of my question, Blanche, thou hast not dealt withal."
"Which part, Father?"
She knew well enough. She only wanted to gain time.
"Hath this young man tampered with thy faith?"
"He hath once and again spoken thereof," she allowed.
"Spoken what, my maid?"
Blanche's words, it was evident, came very unwillingly.
"He hath shown me divers matters wherein the difference is but little," she contrived to say.
Sir Thomas groaned audibly.
"God help and pardon me, to have left my lamb thus unguarded!" he murmured to himself. "O Blanche, Blanche!"
"What is it, Father?" she said, looking up in some trepidation.
"Tell me, my daughter,—should it give thee very great sorrow, if thou wert never to see this young man again?"
"What, Father?—O Father!"
"My poor child!" he sighed. "My poor, straying, unguarded child!"
Blanche was almost frightened. Her father seemed to her to be coming out in entirely a new character. At this juncture Lady Enville laid down the comedy, and thought proper to interpose.
"Doth Don John love thee, Blanche?"
Blanche felt quite sure of that, and she intimated as much, but in a very low voice.
"And thou lovest him?"
With a good many knots and twists of the gold chain, Blanche confessed this also.
"Now really, Sir Thomas, what would you?" suggested his wife, re-opening the discussion. "Could there be a better establishing for the maiden than so? 'Twere easy to lay down rule, and win his promise, that he should not seek to disturb her faith in no wise. Many have done the like—"
"And suffered bitterly by reason thereof."
"Nay, now!—why so? You see the child's heart is set thereon. Be ruled by me, I pray you, and leave your fantastical objections, and go seek Don John. Make him to grant you oath, on the honour of a Spanish gentleman, that Blanche shall be allowed the free using of her own faith—and what more would you?"
"If thou send me to seek him, Orige, I shall measure swords with him."
Blanche uttered a little scream. Lady Enville laughed her soft, musical laugh—the first thing which had originally attracted her husband's fancy to her, eighteen years before.
"I marvel wherefore!" she said, laying down the play, and taking up her pomander—a ball of scented drugs, enclosed in a golden network, which hung from her girdle by a gold chain.
"Wherefore?" repeated Sir Thomas more warmly. "For plucking my fairest flower, when I had granted unto him but shelter in my garden-house!"
"He has not plucked it yet," said Lady Enville, handling the pomander delicately, so that too much scent should not escape at once.
"He hath done as ill," replied Sir Thomas shortly.
Lady Enville calmly inhaled the fragrance, as if nothing more serious than itself were on her mind. Blanche sat still, playing with her chain, but looking troubled and afraid, and casting furtive glances at her father, who was pacing slowly up and down the room.
"Orige," he said suddenly, "can Blanche make her ready to leave home?— and how soon?"
Blanche looked up fearfully.
"What wis I, Sir Thomas?" languidly answered the lady. "I reckon she could be ready in a month or so. Where would you have her go?"
"A month! I mean to-night."
"To-night, Sir Thomas! 'Tis not possible. Why, she hath scantly a gown fit to show."
"She must go, nathless, Orige. And it shall be to the parsonage. They will do it, I know. And Clare must go with her."
"The parsonage!" said Lady Enville contemptuously. "Oh ay, she can go there any hour. They should scantly know whether she wear satin or grogram. Call for Clare, if you so desire it—she must see to the gear."
"Canst not thou, Orige?"
"I, Sir Thomas!—with my feeble health!"
And Lady Enville looked doubly languid as she let her head sink back among the cushions. Sir Thomas looked at her for a minute, sighed again, and then, opening the door, called out two or three names. Barbara answered, and he bade her "Send hither Mistress Clare."
Clare was rather startled when she presented herself at the boudoir door. Blanche, she saw, was in trouble of some kind; Lady Enville looked annoyed, after her languid fashion; and the grave, sad look of Sir Thomas was an expression as new to Clare as it had been to the others.
"Clare," said her step-father, "I am about to entrust thee with a weighty matter. Are thy shoulders strong enough to bear such burden?"
"I will do my best, Father," answered Clare, whose eyes bespoke both sympathy and readiness for service.
"I think thou wilt, my good lass. Go to, then:—choose thou, out of thine own and Blanche's gear, such matter as ye may need for a month or so. Have Barbara to aid thee. I would fain ye were hence ere supper-time, so haste all thou canst. I will go and speak with Master Tremayne, but I am well assured he shall receive you."
A month at the parsonage! How delightful!—thought Clare. Yet something by no means delightful had evidently led to it.
"Clare!" her mother called to her as she was leaving the room,—"Clare! have a care thou put up Blanche's blue kersey. I would not have her in rags, even yonder; and that brown woolsey shall not be well for another month. And,—Blanche, child, go thou with Clare; see thou have ruffs enow; and take thy pearl chain withal."
Blanche was relieved by being told to accompany her sister. She had been afraid that she was about to be put in the dark closet like a naughty child, with no permission to exercise her own will about anything. And just now, the parsonage looked to her a dark closet indeed.
But Sir Thomas turned quickly on hearing this, with—"Orige, I desire Blanche to abide here. If there be aught she would have withal, she can tell Clare of it."
And, closing the door, he left the three together.
"Oh!—very well," said Lady Enville, rather crossly. Blanche sat down again.
"What shall I put for thee, Blanche?" asked Clare gently.
"What thou wilt," muttered Blanche sulkily.
"I will lay out what I think shall like thee best," was her sister's kind reply.
"I would like my green sleeves, [Note 1] and my tawny kirtle," said Blanche in a slightly mollified tone.
"Very well," replied Clare, and hastened away to execute her commission, calling Barbara as she went.
"What ado doth Sir Thomas make of this matter!" said Lady Enville, applying again to the pomander. "If he would have been ruled by me— Blanche, child, hast any other edge of pearl?" [Note 2.]
"Ay, Mother," said Blanche absently.
"Metrusteth 'tis not so narrow as that thou wearest. It becometh thee not. And the guarding of that gown is ill done—who set it on?"
Blanche did not remember—and, just then, she did not care.
"Whoso it were, she hath need be ashamed thereof. Come hither, child."
Blanche obeyed, and while her mother gave a pull here, and smoothed down a fold there, she stood patiently enough in show, but most unquietly in heart.
"Nought would amend it, save to pick it off and set it on again," said Lady Enville, resigning her endeavours. "Now, Blanche, if thou art to abide at the parsonage, where I cannot have an eye upon thee, I pray thee remember thyself, who thou art, and take no fantasies in thine head touching Arthur Tremayne."
Arthur Tremayne! What did Blanche care for Arthur Tremayne?
"I am sore afeard, Blanche, lest thou shouldst forget thee. It will not matter for Clare. If he be a parson's son, yet is he a Tremayne of Tremayne,—quite good enough for Clare, if no better hap should chance unto her. But thou art of better degree by thy father's side, and we look to have thee well matched, according thereto. Thy father will not hear of Don John, because he is a Papist, and a Spaniard to boot: elsewise I had seen no reason to gainsay thee, poor child! But of course he must have his way. Only have a care, Blanche, and take not up with none too mean for thy degree,—specially now, while thou art out of our wardship."
There was no answer from Blanche.
"Mistress Tremayne will have a care of thee, maybe," pursued her mother, unfurling her fan—merely as a plaything, for the weather did not by any means require it. "Yet 'tis but nature she should work to have Arthur well matched, and she wot, of course, that thou shouldst be a rare catch for him. So do thou have a care, Blanche."
And Lady Enville, leaning back among her cushions, furled and unfurled her handsome fan, alike unconscious and uncaring that she had been guilty of the greatest injustice to poor Thekla Tremayne.
There was a rap at the door, and enter Rachel, looking as if she had imbibed an additional pound of starch since leaving the room.
"Sister, would you have Blanche's tartaryn gown withal, or no?"
"The crimson? Let me see," said Lady Enville reflectively. "Ay, Rachel,—she may as well have it. I would not have thee wear it but for Sundays and holy days, Blanche. For common days, there, thy blue kersey is full good enough."
Without any answer, and deliberately ignoring the presence of Blanche, Rachel stalked away.
It was a weary interval until Sir Thomas, returned. Now and then Clare flitted in and out, to ask her mother's wishes concerning different things: Jennet came in with fresh wood for the fire; Lady Enville continued to give cautions and charges, as they occurred to her, now regarding conduct and now costume: but a miserable time Blanche found it. She felt herself, and she fancied every one else considered her, in dire disgrace. Yet beneath all the mortification, the humiliation, and the grief over which she was brooding, there was a conviction in the depth of Blanche's heart, resist it as she might, that the father who was crossing her will was a wiser and truer friend to her than the mother who would have granted it.
Sir Thomas came at last. He wore a very tired look, and seemed as if he had grown several years older in that day.
"Well, all is at a point, Orige," he said. "Master Tremayne hath right kindly given consent to receive both the maids into his house, for so long a time as we may desire it; but Mistress Tremayne would have Barbara come withal, if it may stand with thy conveniency. She hath but one serving-maid, as thou wist; and it should be more comfortable to the childre to have her, beside the saving of some pain [trouble, labour] unto Mistress Tremayne."
"They can have her well enough, trow," answered Lady Enville. "I seldom make use of her. Jennet doth all my matters."
"But how for Meg and Lucrece?"
Barbara's position in the household was what we should term the young ladies' maid; but maids in those days were on very familiar and confidential terms with their ladies.
"Oh, they will serve them some other way," said Lady Enville carelessly.
The convenience of other people was of very slight account in her Ladyship's eyes, so long as there was no interference with her own.
"Cannot Kate or Doll serve?" asked Sir Thomas—referring to the two chambermaids.
"Of course they can, if they must," returned their nominal mistress. "Good lack, Sir Thomas!—ask Rachel; I wis nought about the house gear."
Sir Thomas walked off, and said no more.
With great difficulty and much hurrying, the two girls contrived to leave the house just before supper. Sir Thomas was determined that there should be no further interview between Blanche and Don Juan. Nor would he have one himself, until he had time to consider his course more fully. He supped in his own chamber. Lady Enville presented herself in the hall, and was particularly gracious; Rachel uncommonly stiff; Margaret still and meditative; Lucrece outwardly demure, secretly triumphant.
Supper at the parsonage was deferred for an hour that evening, until the guests should arrive. Mrs Tremayne received both with a motherly kiss. Foolish as she thought Blanche, she looked upon her as being almost as much a victim of others' folly as a sufferer for her own: and Thekla Tremayne knew well that the knowledge that we have ourselves to thank for our suffering does not lessen the pain, but increases it.
The kindness with which Blanche was received—rather as an honoured guest than as a naughty child sent to Coventry—was soothing to her ruffled feelings. Still she had a great deal to, bear. She was deeply grieved to be suddenly and completely parted from Don Juan; and she imagined that he would be as much distressed as herself. But the idea of rebelling against her father's decree never entered her head; neither did the least suspicion of Lucrece's share in the matter.
Blanche was rather curious to ascertain how much Clare knew of her proceedings, and what she thought of them. Now it so happened that in the haste of the departure, Clare had been told next to nothing. The reason of this hasty flight to the parsonage was all darkness to her, except for the impression which she gathered from various items that the step thus taken had reference not to herself, but to Blanche. What her sister had done, was doing, or was expected to do, which required such summary stoppage, Clare could not even guess. Barbara was quite as ignorant. The interviews between Blanche and Don Juan had been so secret, and so little suspected, that the idea of connecting him with the affair did not occur to either.
One precious relic Blanche had brought with her—the lock of hair received from Don Juan on that afternoon which was so short a time back, and felt so terribly long—past and gone, part of another epoch altogether. Indeed, she had not had any opportunity of parting with it, except by yielding it to her father; and for this she saw no necessity, since he had laid no orders on her concerning Don Juan's gifts. While Clare knelt at her prayers, and Barbara was out of the room, Blanche took the opportunity to indulge in another look at her treasure. It was silky black, smooth and glossy; tied with a fragment of blue ribbon, which Don Juan had assured her was the colour of truth.
"Is he looking at the ringlet of fair hair which I gave him?" thought she fondly. "He will be true to me. Whate'er betide, I know he will be true!"
Poor little Blanche!
Note 1. Sleeves were then separate from the dress, and were fastened into it when put on, according to the fancy of the wearer.
Note 2. Apparently the plaited border worn under the French cap.
THEKLA COMES TO THE RESCUE.
"It were a well-spent journey, Though seven deaths lay between."
"Lysken, didst thou ever love any one very much?"
Blanche spoke dreamily, as she stood leaning against the side of the window in the parsonage parlour, and with busy idleness tied knots in her gold chain, which at once untied themselves by their own weight.
"Most truly," said Lysken, looking up with an expression of surprise. "I love all here—very much."
"Ah! but—not here?"
"Certes. I loved Mayken Floriszoon, who died at Leyden, the day after help came. And I loved Aunt Jacobine; and Vrouw Van Vliet, who took care of me before I came hither. And I loved—O Blanche, how dearly!— my father and my mother."
Blanche's ideas were running in one grove, and Lysken's in quite a different one.
"Ay, but I mean, Lysken—another sort of love."
"Another sort!" said Lysken, looking up again from the stocking which she was darning. "Is there any sort but one?"
"Oh ay!" responded Blanche, feeling her experience immeasurably past that of Lysken.
"Thou art out of my depth, Blanche, methinks," said Lysken, re-threading her needle in a practical unromantic way. "Love is love, for me. It differeth, of course, in degree; we love not all alike. But, methinks, even a man's love for God, though it be needs deeper and higher far, must yet be the same manner of love that he hath for his father, or his childre, or his friends. I see not how it can be otherwise."
Blanche was shocked at the business-like style in which Lysken darned while she talked. Had such a question been asked of herself, the stocking would have stood still till it was settled. She doubted whether to pursue the subject. What was the use of talking upon thrilling topics to a girl who could darn stockings while she calmly analysed love? Still, she wanted somebody's opinion; and she had an instinctive suspicion that Clare would be no improvement upon her cousin.
"Well, but," she said hesitatingly, "there is another fashion of love, Lysken. The sort that a woman hath toward her husband."
"That is deeper, I guess, than she hath for her father and mother, else would she not leave them to go with him," said Lysken quietly; "but I see not wherein it should be another sort."
"'Tis plain thou didst never feel the same, Lysken," returned Blanche sentimentally.
"How could I, when I never had an husband?" answered Lysken, darning away tranquilly.
"But didst thou never come across any that—that thou shouldst fain—"
"Shouldst fain—what?" said Lysken, as Blanche paused.
"Shouldst have liked to wed," said Blanche, plunging into the matter.
"Gramercy, nay!" replied Lysken, turning the stocking to look at the other side. "And I should have thought shame if I had."
Blanche felt this speech a reflection on herself.
"Lysken!" she cried pettishly.
Lysken put down the stocking, and looked at Blanche.
"What meanest thou?" she inquired, in a plain matter-of-fact style which was extremely aggravating to that young lady.
"Oh, 'tis to no good to tell thee," returned Blanche loftily. "Thou wist nought at all thereabout."
"What about?" demanded Lysken, to whom Blanche was unintelligible.
"About nought. Let be!"
"I cannot tell wherefore thou art vexed, Blanche," said Lysken, resuming her darning, in that calm style which is eminently provoking to any one in a passion.
"Thou seest not every matter in the world," retorted Blanche, with an air of superiority. "And touching this matter, 'tis plain thou wist nothing. Verily, thou hast gain therein; for he that hath bettered knowledge—as saith Solomon—hath but increased sorrow."
"Blanche, I do not know whereof thou art talking! Did I put thee out by saying I had thought shame to have cared to wed with any, or what was it? Why, wouldst not thou?"
This final affront was as the last straw to the camel. Deigning no answer, which she felt would be an angry one, Blanche marched away like an offended queen, and sat down on a chair in the hall as if she were enthroning herself upon a pedestal. Mrs Tremayne was in the hall, and the door into the parlour being open, she had heard the conversation. She made no allusion to it at the time, but tried to turn the girl's thoughts to another topic. Gathering from it, however, the tone of Blanche's mind, she resolved to give her a lesson which should not eject her roughly from her imaginary pedestal—but make her come down from it of her own accord.
"Poor foolish child!" said Mrs Tremayne to herself. "She has mistaken a rushlight for the sun, and she thinks her horizon wider than that of any one else. She is despising Lysken, at this moment, as a shallow, prosaic character, who cannot enter into the depth of her feelings, and has not attained the height of her experience. And there are heights and depths in Lysken that Blanche will never reach."
Mrs Tremayne found her opportunity the next evening. She was alone with Blanche in the parlour; and knowing pretty well what every one was doing, she anticipated a quiet half-hour.
Of all the persons to whom Blanche was known, there was not one so well fitted to deal with her in this crisis as the friend in whose hands she had been placed for safety. Thirty years before, Thekla Tremayne had experienced a very dark trial,—had become miserably familiar with the heart-sickness of hope deferred,—during four years when the best beloved of Robin Tremayne had known no certainty whether he was living or dead, but had every reason rather to fear the latter. Compared with a deep, long-tried love like hers, this sentimental fancy over which Blanche was making herself cross and unhappy was almost trivial. But Mrs Tremayne knew that trouble is trouble, if it be based on folly; she thought that she recognised in Blanche, silly though she was in some points, a nobler nature than that of the vain, selfish, indolent mother from whom the daughter derived many of the surface features of her character: and she longed to see that nobler nature rouse itself to work, and sweep away the outward vanity and giddiness. It might be that even this would show her the real hollowness of the gilded world; that this one hour's journey over the weary land would help to drive her for shelter to the shadow of the great Rock.
Blanche sat on a low stool at Mrs Tremayne's feet, gazing earnestly into the fire. Neither had spoken for some time, during which the only sounds were the slight movements of Mrs Tremayne as she sat at work, and now and then a heavy sigh from Blanche. When the fifth of these was drawn, the lady gently laid her hand on the girl's head.
"Apothecaries say, Blanche, that sighing shorteneth life."
Blanche looked up. "I reckon you count me but a fool, Mistress Tremayne, as do all other."
"Blanche," said her friend, "I will tell thee a story, and after that thou shall judge for thyself what account I make of thee."
Blanche looked interested, and altered her position so as to watch Mrs Tremayne's face while she was speaking.
"Once upon a time, Blanche,—in the days of Queen Mary,—there was a priest that had a daughter of thine own age—sixteen years. In those days, as I cast no doubt thou hast heard, all wedded priests were laid under ban, and at the last a day was set whereon all they must needs part from their wives. Though my story take root ere this, yet I pray thee bear it in mind, for we shall come thereto anon. Well, this damsel, with assent of her father, was troth-plight unto a young man whom she loved very dearly; but seeing her youth, their wedding was yet some way off. In good sooth, her father had given assent under bond that they should not wed for three years; and the three years should be run out in June, 1553."
"Three years!" said Blanche, under her breath.
"This young man was endeavouring himself for the priesthood. During the time of King Edward, thou wist, there was no displeasure taken at married priests; and so far as all they might see when the three years began to run, all was like to go smooth enough. But when they were run out, all England was trembling with fear, and men took much thought [felt much anxiety] for the future. King Edward lay on his dying bed; and there was good reason—ah! more reason than any man then knew!—to fear that the fair estate of such as loved the Gospel should die with him. For a maid then to wed a priest, or for a wedded man to receive orders, was like to a man casting him among wild beasts: there was but a chance that he might not be devoured. So it stood, that if this young man would save his life, he must give up one of two things,—either the service which for many months back he had in his own heart offered to God, or the maiden whom, for a time well-nigh as long, he had hoped should be his wife. What, thinkest thou, should he have done, Blanche?"
"I wis not, in very deed, Mistress Tremayne," said Blanche, shaking her head. "I guess he should have given up rather her,—but I know not. Methinks it had been sore hard to give up either. And they were troth-plight."
"Well,—I will tell thee what they did. They did appoint a set time, at the end whereof, should he not then have received orders (it being not possible, all the Protestant Bishops being prisoners), he should then resign the hope thereof, and they twain be wed. The three years, thou wist, were then gone. They fixed the time two years more beyond,—to run out in August, 1555—which should make five years' waiting in all."
"And were they wed then?" said Blanche, drawing a long breath.
"When the two further years were run out, Blanche—"
Blanche was a little startled to hear how Mrs Tremayne's voice trembled. She was evidently telling "an owre true tale."
"The maid's father, and he that should have been her husband, were taken in one day. When those two years were run out, her father lay hidden away, having 'scaped from prison, until he might safely be holpen out of the country over seas: and the young man was a captive in Exeter Castle, and in daily expectation of death."
"And two years thereafter, the young man was had away from Exeter unto Woburn, and there set in the dread prison called Little Ease, shaped like to a funnel, wherein a man might neither stand, nor sit, nor lie, nor kneel."
"O Mistress Tremayne! Heard any ever the like! And what came of the maiden, poor soul?"
The needlework in Mrs Tremayne's hand was still now; and if any one had been present who had known her thirty years before, he would have said that a shadow of her old look at that terrible time had come back to her deep sweet eyes.
"My child, God allowed her to be brought very low. At the first, she was upheld mightily by His consolations: and they that saw her said how well she bare it. But 'tis not alway the first blush of a sorrow that trieth the heart most sorely. And there came after this a time—when it was an old tale to them that knew her, and their comforting was given over,—a day came when all failed her. Nay, I should have said rather, all seemed to fail her. God failed her not; but her eyes were holden, and she saw Him not beside her. It was darkness, an horror of great darkness, that fell upon her. The Devil came close enough; he was very busy with her. Was there any hope? quoth he. Nay, none, or but very little. Then of what worth were God's promises to hear and deliver? He had passed His word, and He kept it not. Was God able to help?—was He true to His promise?—go to, was there any God in Heaven at all? And so, Blanche, she was tossed to and fro on the swelling billows, now up, seeing a faint ray of light, now down, in the depth of the darkness: yet, through all, with an half-palsied grasp, so to speak, upon the hem of Christ's garment, a groping after Him with numb hands that scarce felt whether they held or no. O Blanche, it was like the plague in the land of Egypt—it was darkness that might be felt!"
Blanche listened in awed interest.
"Dear heart, the Lord hath passed word to help His people in their need; but He saith not any where that He will alway help them right as they would have it. We be prone to think there is but one fashion of help, and that if we be not holpen after our own manner, we be not holpen at all. Yet, if thou take a penny from a poor beggar, and give him in the stead thereof an angel [half-sovereign], thou hast given him alms, though he have lost the penny. Alas, for us poor beggars! we fall to weeping o'er our penny till our eyes be too dim with tears to see the gold of God's alms. Dear Blanche, I would not have thee miss the gold."
"I scantly conceive your meaning, dear Mistress."
"We will come back to that anon. I will first tell thee what befel her of whom I spake."
"Ay, I would fain hear the rest."
"Well, there were nigh four years of that fearful darkness. She well-nigh forgat that God might have some better thing in store for her, to the which He was leading her all the time, along this weary road. She thought He dealt hardly with her. At times, when the darkness was at the thickest, she fancied that all might be a delusion: that there was no God at all, or none that had any compassion upon men. But it was not His meaning, to leave one of His own in that black pit of despair. He lifted one end of the dark veil. When the four years were over,— that is, when Queen Elizabeth, that now is, happily succeeded to her evil sister,—God gave the maiden back her father safe."
Blanche uttered a glad "Oh!"
"And He gave her more than that, Blanche. He sent her therewith a message direct from Himself. Thou lookest on me somewhat doubtfully, dear heart, as though thou shouldst say, Angels bring no wolds from Heaven now o' days. Well, in very sooth, I wis not whether they do or no. We see them not: can we speak more boldly than to say this? Yet one thing I know, Blanche: God can send messages to His childre in their hearts, howso they may come. And what was this word? say thine eyes. Well, sweeting, it was the softest of all the chidings that we hear Him to have laid on His disciples,—'O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?' As though He should say,—'Thou mightest have doubted of the fulfilling of thy special hope; yet wherefore doubt Me? Would I have taken pleasure in bereaving thee of aught that was not hurtful? Could I not have given thee much more than this? Because I made thine heart void, that I might fill it with Myself,—child, did I love thee less, or more?'"
Mrs Tremayne paused so long, that Blanche asked timidly—"And did he come again at last, or no?"
A slight, sudden movement of her friend's head showed that her thoughts were far away, and that she came back to the present with something like an effort.
"Methinks, dear heart," Mrs Tremayne said lovingly, "there was a special point whereto God did desire to bring this maiden;—a point whereat He oft-times aimeth in the training of His childre. It is, to be satisfied with His will. Not only to submit thereto. Thou mayest submit unto all outward seeming, and yet be sore dissatisfied."
Was not this Blanche's position at that moment?
"But to be satisfied with His ordering—to receive it as the best thing, dearer unto thee than thine own will and way; as the one thing which thou wouldst have done, at the cost, if need be, of all other:—ah, Blanche, 'tis no light nor easy thing, this! And unto this God led her of whom I have been telling thee. He led her, till she could look up to Him, and say, with a true, honest heart—'Father, lead where Thou wilt. If in the dark, well: so Thou hold me, I am content I am Thine, body, and soul, and spirit: it shall be well and blessed for me, if but Thy will be done.' And then, Blanche,—when she could look up and say this in sincerity—then He laid down His rod, and gave all back into her bosom."
Blanche drew a deep sigh,—partly of relief, but not altogether.
"You knew this maiden your own self, Mrs Tremayne?"
"Wouldst thou fain know whom the maid were, Blanche? Her name was— Thekla Rose."
"Myself, dear heart. And I should not have gone back over this story now, but that I thought it might serve thee to hear it. I love not to look back to that time, though it were to mine own good. 'Tis like an ill wound which is healed, and thou hast no further suffering thereof: yet the scar is there for evermore. And yet, dear Blanche, if it were given me to choose, now, whether I would have that dark and weary time part of my life, or no—reckoning what I should have lost without it—I would say once again, Ay. They that know the sweetness of close walking with God will rather grope, step by step, at His side through the darkness, than walk smoothly in the full glare of the sun without Him: and very street was my walk, when I had won back the felt holding of His hand."
"But is He not with them in the sunlight?" asked Blanche shyly.
"He is alway with them, dear heart: but we see his light clearest when other lights are out. And we be so prone to walk further off in the daylight!—we see so many things beside Him. We would fain be running off after birds and butterflies; fain be filling our hands with bright flowers by the way: and we picture not rightly to ourselves that these things are but to cheer us on as we step bravely forward, for there will be flowers enough when we reach Home."
Blanche looked earnestly into the red embers, and was silent.
"Seest thou now, Blanche, what I meant in saying, I would not have thee miss the gold?"
"I reckon you mean that God hath somewhat to give, better than what He taketh away."
"Right, dear heart. Ah, how much better! Yet misconceive me not, my child. We do not buy Heaven with afflictions; never think that, Blanche. There be many that have made that blunder. Nay! the beggar buyeth not thy gold with his penny piece. Christ hath bought Heaven for His chosen: it is the purchase of His blood; and nothing else in all the world could have paid for it. But they that shall see His glory yonder, must be fitted for it here below; and oft-times God employeth sorrows and cares to this end.—And now, Blanche, canst answer thine own question, and tell me what I think of thee?"
Blanche blushed scarlet.
"I am afeared," she said, hanging down her head, "you must think me but a right silly child."
Mrs Tremayne stroked Blanche's hair, with a little laugh.
"I think nothing very ill of thee, dear child. But I do think thou hast made a blunder or twain."
"What be they?" Blanche wished to know, more humbly than she would have done that morning.
"Well, dear Blanche—firstly, I think thou hast mistaken fancy for love. There be many that so do. Many think they love another, when in truth all they do love is themselves and their own pleasures, or the flattering of their own vain conceits. Ask thine own heart what thou lovest in thy lover: is it him, or his liking for thyself? If it be but the latter, that is not love, Blanche. 'Tis but fancy, which is to love as the waxen image to the living man. Love would have him it loveth bettered at her own cost: it would fain see him higher and nobler—I mean not higher in men's eyes, but nearer Heaven and God—whatever were the price to herself. True love will go with us into Heaven, Blanche: it can never die, nor be forgotten. Remember the word of John the Apostle, that 'he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.' And wouldst thou dare to apply that holy and heavenly name unto some vain fancy that shall be as though it had never been six months thereafter? My child, we men and women be verily guilty concerning this matter. We take the name of that which is the very essence of God, and set it lightly on a thing of earth and time, the which shall perish in the using. Well, and there is another mistake, sweet, which I fear thou mayest have made. It may be thou art thinking wrongfully of thine earthly father, as I did of my heavenly One. He dealeth with thee hardly, countest thou? Well, it may be so; yet it is to save thee from that which should be much harder. Think no ill of the father who loveth thee and would fain save thee. And, O Blanche! howsoever He may deal with thee, never, never do thou think hardly of that heavenly Father, who loveth thee far dearer than he, and would save thee from far bitterer woe."
Blanche had looked very awe-struck when Mrs Tremayne spoke so solemnly of the real nature of love; and now she raised tearful eyes to her friend's face.
"I thought none ill of my father, Mistress Tremayne. I wis well he loveth me."
"That is well, dear heart. I am fain it should be so."
And there the subject dropped rather abruptly, as first Clare, and then Arthur, came into the room.
Don Juan did not appear to: miss Blanche, after the first day. When he found that she and her father and sister were absent from the supper-table, he looked round with some surprise and a little perplexity; but he asked no question, and no one volunteered an explanation. He very soon found a new diversion, in the shape of Lucrece, to whom he proceeded to address his flowery language with even less sincerity than he had done to Blanche. But no sooner did Sir Thomas perceive this turn of affairs than he took the earliest opportunity of sternly demanding of his troublesome prisoner "what he meant?"
Don Juan professed entire ignorance of the purport of this question. Sir Thomas angrily explained.
"Nay, Senor, what would you?" inquired the young Spaniard, with an air of injured innocence. "An Andalusian gentleman, wheresoever he may be, and in what conditions, must always show respect to the ladies."
"Respect!" cried the enraged squire. "Do Spanish gentlemen call such manner of talk showing respect? Thank Heaven that I was born in England! Sir, when an English gentleman carries himself toward a young maiden as you have done, he either designs to win her in honourable wedlock, or he is a villain. Which are you?"
"If we were in Spain, Senor," answered Don Juan, fire flashing from his dark eyes, "you would answer those words with your sword. But since I am your prisoner, and have no such remedy, I must be content with a reply in speech. The customs of your land are different from ours. I will even condescend to say that I am, and for divers years have so been, affianced to a lady of mine own country. Towards the senoritas your daughters, I have shown but common courtesy, as it is understood in Spain."
In saying which, Don Juan stated what was delicately termed by Swift's Houynhnms, "the thing which is not." Of what consequence was it in his eyes, when the Council of Constance had definitively decreed that "no faith was to be kept with heretics"?
Sir Thomas Enville was less given to the use of profane language than most gentlemen of his day, but in answer to this speech he swore roundly, and—though a staunch Protestant—thanked all the saints and angels that he never was in Spain, and, the Queen's Highness' commands excepted, never would be. As to his daughters, he would prefer turning them all into Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace to allowing one of them to set foot on the soil of that highly objectionable country. These sentiments were couched in the most peppery language of which the Squire's lips were well capable; and having thus delivered himself, he turned on his heel and left Don Juan to his own meditations.
That caballero speedily discovered that he had addressed his last compliment to any of the young ladies at Enville Court. Henceforward he only saw them at meals, and then he found himself, much to his discomfiture, placed between Jack and Mistress Rachel. To pay delicate attentions to the latter was sheer waste of frankincense: yet it was so much in his nature, when speaking to a woman, that he began to tell her that she talked like an angel. Mistress Rachel looked him full in the face.
"Don John," said she, in the most unmoved manner, "if I believed you true, I should call on my brother to put you forth of the hall. As I believe you false, I do it not."
After that day, Don Juan directed all his conversation to Jack.
He was not very sorry to leave Enville Court, which had become no longer an amusing, but an uncomfortable place. In his eyes, it was perfectly monstrous that any man should object to his daughters being honoured by the condescending notice of an Andalusian gentleman, who would one day be a grandee of the first class; utterly preposterous! But since this unreasonable man was so absurd as to object to the distinction, conferred upon his house, it was as well that an Andalusian gentleman should be out of his sphere. So Don Juan went willingly to London. Friends of his parents made suit for him, and Elizabeth herself remembered his mother, as one who had done her several little kindnesses, such as a Lady-in-Waiting on the Queen could do for a Princess under a cloud; and Don Juan received a free pardon, and leave to return home when and as he would. He only broke one more heart while he remained in England; and that was beneath any regret on his part, being only a poor, insignificant grocer's daughter. And then he sailed for Spain; and then he married Dona Lisarda; and then he became a Lord-in-Waiting; and then he lived a wealthy, gorgeous, prosperous life; and then all men spoke well of him, seeing how much good he had done to himself; and then he grew old,—a highly respected, highly self-satisfied man.
And then his soul was required of him. Did God say to him,—"Thou fool"?
TOO ABSTRUSE FOR BLANCHE.
"Hear the just law, the judgment of the skies! He that hates truth shall be the dupe of lies; And he that will be cheated to the last, Delusions strong as Hell shall bind him fast."
"I did conceive, Mistress Blanche," said Mr Tremayne one morning, as the party rose from the breakfast-table, "that you would with a good will see the picture of Clare's grandsire, the which hangeth in my study-chamber?"
"Oh ay, an' it like you," responded Blanche eagerly.
Clare had seen the portrait, but not Blanche. Mr Tremayne led the way to his study, allowed her to examine the likeness at her leisure, and answered all her questions about John Avery. Entrapped Blanche did not realise that he was catching her with the same sort of guile which Saint Paul used towards the Corinthians. [2 Corinthians 12, 16] Mrs Tremayne came in, and sat down quietly with her work, before the inspection was over. When her curiosity was at length satisfied, Blanche thanked Mr Tremayne, and would have left the room with a courtesy: but such was by no means the intention of her pastor.
"I have heard, say, Mistress Blanche," said he quietly, "that your mind hath been somewhat unsettled touching the difference, or the lack of difference, betwixt us and the Papists. If so be, pray you sit down, and give us leave to talk the same over."
Blanche felt caught at last. It must be Sir Thomas, of course, who had told the Rector, for there was no one else who could have done it. And it may be added, though Blanche did not know it, that her father had specially begged Mr Tremayne to examine into the matter, and to set Blanche right on any points whereon she might have gone wrong.
Thus brought to a stand and forced to action, it was Blanche's nature to behave after the manner of a mule in the same predicament, and to affect stronger contrary convictions than she really felt. It was true, she said rather bluntly: she did think there was very little, if any, difference between many doctrines held by the rival Churches.
"There is all the difference that is betwixt Heaven and earth," answered Mr Tremayne. "Nay, I had well-nigh said, betwixt Heaven and Hell: for I do believe the Devil to have been the perverter of truth with those corruptions that are in Papistry. But I pray you, of your gentleness, to tell me of one matter wherein, as you account, no difference lieth?"
With what power of intellect she had—which was not much—Blanche mentally ran over the list, and selected the item on which she thought Mr Tremayne would find least to say.
"It seemeth me you be too rude [harsh, severe] to charge the Papists with idolatry," she said. "They be no more idolaters than we."
"No be they? How so, I pray you?"
"Why, the images in their churches be but for the teaching of such as cannot read, nor do they any worship unto the image, but only unto him that is signified thereby. Moreover, they pray not unto the saints, as you would have it; they do but ask the saints' prayers for them. Surely I may ask my father to pray for me, and you would not say that I prayed unto him!"
"I pray you, pull bridle there, Mistress Blanche," said Mr Tremayne, smiling; "for you have raised already four weighty points, the which may not be expounded in a moment. I take them, an' it like you, not justly in your order, but rather in the order wherein they do affect each other. And first, under your good pleasure,—what is prayer?"
Blanche was about to reply at once, when it struck her that the question involved more than she supposed. She would have answered,—"Why, saying my prayers:" but the idea came to her, Was that prayer? And she felt instinctively that, necessarily, it was not. She thought a moment, and then answered slowly;—
"I would say that it is to ask somewhat with full desire to obtain the same."
"Is that all?" replied Mr Tremayne.
Blanche thought so.
"Methinks there is more therein than so. For it implieth, beyond this, full belief that he whom you shall ask,—firstly, can hear you; secondly, is able to grant you; thirdly, is willing to grant you."
"Surely the saints be willing to pray for us!"
"How know you they can hear us?"
Blanche thought, and thought, and could find no reason for supposing it.
"Again, how know you they can grant us?"
"But they pray!"
"They praise, and they hold communion: I know not whether they offer petitions or no."
Blanche sat meditating.
"You see, therefore, there is no certainty on the first and most weighty of all these points. We know not that any saint can hear us. But pass that—grant, for our talk's sake, that they have knowledge of what passeth on earth, and can hear when we do speak to them. How then? Here is Saint Mary, our Lord's mother, sitting in Heaven; and upon earth there be petitions a-coming up unto her, at one time, from Loretto in Italy, and from Nuremburg in Germany, and from Seville in Spain, and from Bruges in Flanders, and from Paris in France, and from Bideford in Devon, and from Kirkham in Lancashire. Mistress Blanche, if she can hear and make distinction betwixt all these at the self-same moment, then is she no woman like to you. Your brain should be mazed with the din, and spent with the labour. Invocation declareth omnipotency. And there is none almighty save One,—that is, God."
"But," urged Blanche, "the body may be one whither, and the spirit another. And Saint Mary is a spirit."
"Truly so. Yet the spirit can scantly be in ten places at one time—how much less a thousand?"
Blanche was silent.
"The next thing, I take it, is that they pray not unto the saints, but do ask the saints only to pray for them. If the saints hear them not, the one is as futile as the other. But I deny that they do not pray unto the saints."
Mr Tremayne went to his bookcase, and came back with a volume in his hand.
"Listen here, I pray you—'Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, and after Him mine only hope, pray for me, and guard me during this night'—'Give me power to fight against thine enemies'—'Great God, who by the resurrection of Thy Son Jesus Christ hast rejoiced the world, we pray Thee, grant that by His blessed mother the Virgin Mary we may obtain the bliss of eternal life'—'Make mine heart to burn with love for Jesus Christ,—make me to feel the death of Jesus Christ in mine heart,—cause to be given unto us the joys of Paradise—O Jesu! O Mary! cause me to be truly troubled for my sins.' These, Mistress Blanche, be from the book that is the Common Prayer of the Papistical Church: and all these words be spoken unto Mary. As you well see, I cast no doubt, they do ascribe unto her divinity. For none can effectually work upon man's heart—save the Holy Ghost only. None other can cause his heart to be 'truly troubled for sin;' none other can make his heart to burn. Now what think you of this, Mistress Blanche? Is it praying unto the saints, or no?"
What Blanche thought, she did not say; but if it could be guessed from the expression of her face, she was both shocked and astonished.
"Now come we to the third point: to wit, that images be as pictures for the teaching of such as have no learning. Methinks, Mistress Blanche, that God is like to be wiser than all men. There must needs have been many Israelites in the wilderness that had no learning: yet His command unto them, as unto us, is, 'Ye shall not make unto you any graven image.' I take it that the small good that might thereby be done (supposing any such to be) should be utterly overborne of the companying evil. Moreover, when you do learn the vulgar, you would, I hope, learn them that which is true. Is it true, I pray you, that Mary was borne into Heaven of angels, like as Christ did Himself ascend?—or that being thus carried thither, she was crowned of God, as a queen? Dear maid, we have the Master's word touching all such, pourtrayments. 'The graven images of their gods shall ye burn with fire.—Thou shalt utterly detest it, and thou shalt utterly abhor it; for it is a cursed thing.'" [Deuteronomy twelve, verses 25, 26.]
"O Mr Tremayne!" said Blanche, with a horrified look. "You would surely ne'er call a picture or an image of our Lord's own mother a thing accursed?"
"But I would, my maid," he answered very gravely, "that instant moment that there should be given thereunto the honour and worship and glory that be only due to Him. 'My glory will I not give to another, neither My praise to graven images.' Nay, I would call an image of Christ Himself a thing accursed, if it stood in His place in the hearts of men. Mark you, King Hezekiah utterly destroyed the serpent of brass that was God's own appointed likeness of Christ, that moment that the children of Israel did begin to burn incense unto it, thereby making it an idol."
"But in the Papistical Church they be no idols, Master Tremayne!" interposed Blanche eagerly. "Therein lieth the difference betwixt Popery and Paganism."
"What should you say, Mistress Blanche, if you wist that therein lieth no difference betwixt Popery and Paganism? The old Pagans were wont to say the same thing. [Note 1.] They should have laughed in your face if you had charged them with worshipping wood and stone, and have answered that they worshipped only the thing signified. So much is it thus, that amongst some Pagan nations, they do hold that their god cometh down in his proper person into the image for a season (like as the Papists into the wafer of the sacrament), and when they account him gone, they cast the image away as no more worth. Yet hark you how God Himself accounteth of this their worship. 'He maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto IT, and worshippeth IT, and prayeth unto IT, and saith, Deliver me, for thou art my god.' And list also how He expoundeth the same:—'A deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?' [Isaiah 44, verses 17, 20.] There should be little idolatry in this world if there were no deceived hearts."
Blanche twisted her handkerchief about, in the manner of a person who is determined not to be convinced, yet can find nothing to say in answer.
"Tell me, Mistress Blanche,—for I think too well of your good sense to doubt the same,—you cannot believe that Christ Himself is in a piece of bread?"
In her inmost heart she certainly believed no such thing. But it would never do to retreat from her position. In Blanche's eyes, disgrace lay not in being mistaken, but in being shown the mistake.
"Wherefore may it not be so?" she murmured. "'Tis matter of faith, in like manner as is our Lord's resurrection."
"In like manner? I cry you mercy. You believe the resurrection on the witness of them that knew it—that saw the sepulchre void; that saw Christ, and spake with Him, and did eat and drink with Him, and knew Him to be the very same Jesus that had died. You can bear no witness either way, for you were not there. But in this matter of the bread, here are you; and you see it for yourself not to be as you be told. Your eyes tell you that they behold bread; your hands tell you that they handle bread; your tongue tells you that it tasteth bread. The witness of your senses is in question: and these three do agree that the matter is bread only."
"The senses may be deceived, I reckon?"
"The senses may be deceived; and, as meseemeth, after two fashions: firstly, when the senses themselves be not in full healthfulness and vigour. Thus, if a man have some malady in his eyes, that he know himself to see things mistakenly, from the relation of other around him, then may he doubt what his eyes see with regard to this matter. Secondly, a man must not lean on his senses touching matters that come not within the discerning of sense. Now in regard to this bread, the Papists do overreach themselves. Did they but tell us that the change made was mystical and of faith,—not within the discernment of sense—we might then find it harder work to deal withal, and we must seek unto the Word of God only, and not unto our sense in any wise. But they go farther: they tell us the change is such, that there is no more the substance of bread left at all. [Note 2.] This therefore is matter within the discerning of sense. If it be thus, then this change is needs one that I can see, can taste, can handle. I know, at my own table, whether I eat flesh or bread; how then should I be unable to know the same at the table of the Lord? Make it matter of sense, and I must needs submit it to the judgment of my senses. But now to take the other matter,—to wit, of faith. Christ said unto the Jews, 'The bread which I will give is My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.' They took Him right as the Papists do. They 'strave among themselves, saying, How shall this man give us his flesh to eat?' Now mark you our Lord's answer. Doth He say, 'Ye do ill to question this matter; 'tis a mystery of the Church; try it not by sense, but believe?' Nay, He openeth the door somewhat wider, and letteth in another ray of light upon the signification of His words. He saith to them,—'Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you.' I pray you, what manner of life? Surely not the common life of nature, for that may be sustained by other food. The life, then, is a spiritual life; and how shall spiritual life be sustained by natural meat? The meat must be spiritual, if the life be so. Again He saith,—'He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, dwelleth in Me, and I in him.' Now, if the eating be after a literal manner, so also must be the dwelling. Our bodies, therefore, must be withinside the body of Christ in Heaven, and His body must be withinside every one of ours on earth. That this is impossible and ridiculous alike, I need not to tell you. Mistress Blanche, faith is not to believe whatsoever any shall tell you. It is less to believe a thing than to trust a man. And I can only trust a man on due testimony that he is worthy trust."
"But this is to trust Christ our Lord," said Blanche.
"Ay so, my maid? Or is it rather to trust our own fantasy of what Christ would say?"
Blanche was silent for a moment; then she answered,—"But He did say, 'This is My body.'"
"Will you go further, an' it like you?"
"How, Master Tremayne?"
"'This is My body, which is broken for you.' Was the bread that He held in His hand the body that was broken? Did that morsel of bread take away the sin of the world? Look you, right in so far as the bread was the body, in so far also was the breaking of that bread the death of that body,—and no further. Now, Mistress Blanche, was the breaking of the bread the death of the body? Think thereon, and answer me."
"It was an emblem or representation thereof, no doubt," she said slowly.
"Good. Then, inasmuch as the breaking did set forth the death, in so much did the bread set forth the body. If the one be an emblem, so must be the other."
"That may be, perchance," said Blanche, sheering off from the subject, as she found it passing beyond her, and requiring the troublesome effort of thought: "but, Master Tremayne, there is one other matter whereon the speech of you Gospellers verily offendeth me no little."
"Pray you, tell me what it is, Mistress Blanche."
"It is the little honour, or I might well say the dishonour, that you do put upon Saint Mary the blessed Virgin. Surely, of all that He knew and loved on this earth, she must have been the dearest unto our Lord. Why then thus scrimp and scant the reverence due unto her? Verily, in this matter, the Papists do more meetly than you."
"'More meetly'—wherewith, Mistress Blanche? With the truth of Holy Scripture, or with the fantasies of human nature?"
"I would say," repeated Blanche rather warmly, "that her honour must be very dear to her blessed Son."
"There is one honour ten thousand-fold dearer unto His heart, my maid, and that is the honour of God His eternal Father. All honour, that toucheth not this, I am ready to pay to her. But tell me wherefore you think she must be His dearest?"
"Because it must needs be thus," replied illogical Blanche.
"I would ask you to remember, Mistress Blanche, that He hath told us the clean contrary."
Blanche looked up with an astonished expression.
"'Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.' Equally honourable, equally dear, with that mother of His flesh whom you would fain upraise above all other women. And I am likewise disposed to think that word of Paul,—'Yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more'—I say, I am disposed to think this may have his reverse side. Though He hath known us after the flesh, yet thus, now that He is exalted to the right hand of God, He knoweth us no more. And if so, then Mary is now unto Him but one of a multitude of saved souls, all equally fair and dear and precious in the eyes of Him that died for them."
"O Master Tremayne!"
"What would you say, Mistress Blanche?"
"That is truly—it sounds so cold!" said Blanche, disparagingly.
"Doth it so?" asked the Rector, smiling. "Cold, that all should be beloved of His heart? Dear maid, 'tis not that He loveth her the less, but that He loveth the other more."
As Blanche made no response, Mr Tremayne went on.
"There is another side to this matter, Mistress Blanche, that I daresay you have ne'er looked upon: and it toucheth at once the matter of images, and the reverence due unto Saint Mary. Know you that great part of the images held in worship for her by the Papists, be no images of her at all? All the most ancient—and many be very ancient—were ne'er made for Mary. The marvel-working black Virgins—our Lady of Einsiedeln, our Lady of Loretto, and all such—be in very truth old idols, of a certain Tuscan or Etruscan goddess, elder than the days of the Romans. [Note 3.] Again, all they that are of fair complexion—such as have grey eyes [blue eyes were then called grey] and yellow hair— these be not Mary the Jewess. We can cast no doubt she was dark. Whence then come all these fair-complexioned pictures? We might take it, in all likelihood, from the fancy of the painters, that did account a fair woman to be of better favour than a dark. But search you into past history, and you shall find it not thus. These fair-favoured pictures be all of another than Mary; to wit, of that ancient goddess, in her original of the Babylonians, that was worshipped under divers names all over the world,—in Egypt as Isis; in Greece, as Athene, Artemis, and Aphrodite; in Rome as Juno, Diana, and Venus: truly, every goddess was but a diversity of this one. [Note 4.] These, then, be no pictures of the Maid of Nazareth. And 'tis the like of other images,— they be christened idols. The famed Saint Peter, in his church at Rome is but a christened Jupiter. Wit you how Paganism was got rid of? It was by receiving of it into the very bosom of the Roman Church. The ceremonies of the Pagans were but turned,—from Ceres, Cybele, Isis, or Aphrodite, unto Mary—from Apollo, Bacchus, Osiris, Tammuz, unto Christ. Thus, when these Pagans found that they did in very deed worship the same god, and with the same observances, as of old—for the change was in nothing save the name only—they became Christians by handfuls;—yea, by cityfuls. What marvel, I pray you? But how shall we call this Church of Rome, that thus bewrayed her trust, and sold her Lord again like Judas? An idolatrous Christianity—nay, rather a baptised idolatry! God hath writ her name, Mistress Blanche, on the last page of His Word; and it is, Babylon, Mother of all Abominations."
"I do marvel, Master Tremayne," said Blanche a little indignantly, though in a constrained voice, "how you dare bring such ill charges against the Papistical Church. Do they not set great store by holiness, I pray you? Yea, have they not monks and nuns, and a celibate priesthood, consecrate to greater holiness than other? How can you charge them with wickedness and abomination?"
"Poor child!" murmured the Rector, as if to himself,—"she little wist what manner of life idolaters term holiness! Mistress Blanche, yonder cloak of professed holiness hideth worser matter than you can so much as think on. 'Tis not I that set that name on the Papistical Church. It was God Himself. Will you tell me, moreover, an' it like you,—What is holiness?"
"Those be unclear words, methinks. They may mean well-nigh aught. For me, I would say, Holiness is walking with God, and according to the will of God."
"Well! Is not God pleased with the doing of good?"
"God is pleased with nothing but Christ. He is not pleased with you because of your deeds. He must first accept you, and that not for any your deserving, but for the sake of the alone merits of His Son; and then He shall be pleased with your deeds, since they shall be such as His Spirit shall work in you. But nothing can please God except that which cometh from God. Your works, apart from Him, be dead works. And you cannot serve the living God with dead works."
Blanche's half-unconscious shrug of the shoulders conveyed the information that this doctrine was not agreeable to her.
"Surely God will be pleased with us if we do out best!" she muttered.
"By no means," said Mr Tremayne quietly. "Your best is not good enough for God. He likeneth that best of yours to filthy rags. What should you say to one that brought you a present of filthy rags, so foul that you could not so much as touch them?"
Blanche, who was extremely dainty as to what she touched, quite appreciated this simile. She found an answer, nevertheless.
"God is merciful, Mr Tremayne. You picture Him as hard and unpitiful."
"Verily, Mistress Blanche, God is merciful: more than you nor I may conceive. But God hath no mercies outside of Christ. Come to Him bringing aught in your hand save Christ, and He hath nought to say to you. And be you ware that you cannot come and bring nothing. If you bring not Christ, assuredly you shall bring somewhat else,—your own works, or your own sufferings, or in some manner your own deservings. And for him that cometh with his own demerits in hand, God hath nought saving the one thing he hath indeed demerited,—which is—Hell."
Mr Tremayne spoke so solemnly that Blanche felt awed. But she did not relish the doctrine which he preached any better on that account.
"How have I demerited that?" she asked.
"God Himself shall answer you. 'He that hath not the Son of God hath not life.' 'He that believeth not is condemned already.'"
"But I do believe—all Christians believe!" urged Blanche.
"What believe you?"
"I believe unfeignedly all that the creed saith touching our Lord."
"And I believe as unfeignedly all that the Commentaries of Caesar say touching that same Julius Caesar."
"What mean you, Master Tremayne?"
"What did Julius Caesar for me, Mistress Blanche?"
"Marry, nought at all," said Blanche, laughing, "without his invading of England should have procured unto us some civility which else we had lacked."
Civility, at that time, meant civilisation. When, according to the wondrous dreamer of Bedford Gaol, Mr Worldly Wiseman referred Christian, if he should not find Mr Legality at home, to the pretty young man called Civility, whom he had to his son, and who could take off a burden as well as the old gentleman himself,—he meant, not what we call civility, but what we call civilisation. That pretty young man is at present the most popular physician of the day; and he still goes to the town of Morality to church. The road to his house is crowded more than ever, though the warning has been standing for two hundred years, that "notwithstanding his simpering looks, he is but a hypocrite,"—as well as another warning far older,—"Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom." [Job twenty-eight verse 28.]
"But now," said the Rector, with an answering smile, "tell me, what did Jesus Christ for me?"
"He is the Saviour," she said in a low voice.
"Of whom, dear maid?"
Blanche felt rather vague on that point, and the feeling was combined with a conviction that she ought not to be so. She tried to give an answer which could not be contradicted.
"Of them that believe."
"Certes," said Mr Tremayne, suppressing a smile, for he saw both Blanche's difficulty and her attempt to evade it. "But that, look you, landeth us on the self place where we were at aforetime: who be they that believe?"
Blanche wisely determined to commit herself no further.
"Would it please you to tell me, Sir?"
"Dear child, if you heard me to say, touching some man that we both were acquaint withal,—'I believe in John'—what should you conceive that I did signify?"
"I would account," said Blanche readily, thinking this question easy to answer, "that you did mean, 'I account of him as a true man; I trust him; I hold him well worthy of affiance.'"
"Good. And if, after thus saying, you should see me loth to trust an half-angel into his hands to spend for me,—should you think that mine act did go with my words, or no?"
"Then look you, Mistress Blanche, that it is greater matter than you maybe made account, when a man shall say, 'I believe in Jesus Christ.' For it signifieth not only that I believe He was born, and lived, and suffered, and arose, and ascended. Nay, but it is, I account of Him as a true man; I trust Him, with body and soul, with friends and goods: I hold Him worthy of all affiance, and I will hold back nothing, neither myself nor my having, from His keeping and disposing. (Ah, my maid! which of us can say so much as this, at all times, and of all matters?) But above all, in the relation whereof we have spoken, it is to say, I trust Christ with my soul. I lean it wholly upon Him. I have no hope in myself; He is mine hope. I have no righteousness of myself; He is my righteousness. I have no standing before God,—I demerit nought but hell; but Christ standeth before God for me: His blood hath washed me clean from all sin, and His pleading with God availeth to hold me up in His ways. And unless or until you can from your heart thus speak I pray you say not again that you believe in Jesus Christ."
"But, Master, every man cannot thus believe."
"No man can thus believe until God have taught him."
Blanche thought, but was not bold enough to say, that she did not see why anybody should believe such disagreeable things about himself. She did not feel this low opinion of her own merits. Hers was the natural religion of professing Christians—that she must do the best she could, and Christ would make up the remainder. Mr Tremayne knew what was passing in her mind as well as if she had spoken it.
"You think that is hard?" said he.
"I think it—Mr Tremayne, I could not thus account of myself."
"You could not, dear maid. I am assured of that."
"Then wherein lieth my fault?" demanded Blanche.
"In that you will not."
Blanche felt stung; and she spoke out now, with one of those bursts of confidence which came from her now and then.
"That is sooth, Master. I will not. I have not committed such sins as have many men and women. I ne'er stole, nor murdered, nor used profane swearing, nor worshipped idols, nor did many another ill matter: and I cannot believe but that God shall be more merciful to such than to the evil fawtors [factors, doers] that be in the world. Where were His justice, if no?"
"Mistress Blanche, you wit neither what is God, neither what is sin. The pure and holy law of God is like to a golden ring. You account, that because you have not broken it on this side, nor on that side, you have not broken it at all. But if you break it on any side, it is broken; and you it is that have broken it."
"Wherein have I broken it?" she asked defiantly.
"'All unrighteousness is sin.' Have you alway done rightly, all your life long? If not, then you are a sinner."
"Oh, of course, we be all sinners," said Blanche, as if that were a very slight admission.
"Good. And a sinner is a condemned criminal. He is not come into this world to see if he may perchance do well, and stand: he is already fallen; he is already under condemnation of law."
"Then 'tis even as I said,—there is no fault in any of us," maintained Blanche, sturdily clinging to her point.
"'This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.'"
"Nay, Master Tremayne, you be now too hard on me. I love not darkness rather than light."
"God saith you so do, dear maid. And He knoweth—ay, better than yourself. But look not only on that side of the matter. If a man believe that and no more, 'tis fit to drive him unto desperation. Look up unto the writing which is over the gate into God's narrow way—the gate and the way likewise being His Son Jesus Christ—and read His message of peace sent unto these sinners. 'Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.' It is God's ordering, that whosoever will, he can."
"You said but this last Sunday, Master Tremayne, that 'twas not possible for any man to come to Christ without God did draw him thereto."
"I said, my maid? My Master it was which said that. Well—what so?"
"Then we can have nought to answer for; for without God do draw us, we cannot come."
"And without we be willing to be thus drawn, God will not do it."
"Nay, but you said, moreover, that the very will must come from God."
"Therein I spake truth."
Blanche thought she had now driven her pastor into a corner.
"Then you do allow," she asked triumphantly, "that if I should not will the same, I am clean of all fault, sith the very will must needs come from God?"
Mr Tremayne understood the drift of his catechumen.
"An' it like you, Mistress Blanche, we will leave a moment to make inquiry into that point, till we shall have settled another, of more import to you and me."
"What is it, Master?"
"Are you willing?"
"Willing that I should be saved eternally? Most assuredly."
"Then—willing that all the will of God shall be done, in you and by you?"
"The one followeth not the other."
"I cry you mercy. The King of kings, like other princes, dealeth with His rebels on his own terms."
Blanche was silent, and, very uncomfortable.
"'Tis time for me to be about my duties. When you shall have fully settled that point of your willingness, Mistress Blanche, and shall have determined that you are thus willing—which God grant!—then, an' it like you, we will go into the other matter."
And Mr Tremayne left the room with a bow, very well knowing that as soon as the first point was satisfactorily settled, the second would be left quiescent.
Mrs Tremayne had never opened her lips; and leaving her in the study, Blanche wandered into the parlour, where Clare and Lysken were seated at work.
"I marvel what Master Tremayne would have!" said Blanche, sitting down in the window, and idly pulling the dead leaves from the plant which stood there. "He saith 'tis our own fault that we will not to be saved, and yet in the self breath he addeth that the will so to be must needs be given us of God."
Lysken looked up.
"Methinks we are all willing enow to be saved from punishment," she said. "What we be unwilling to be saved from is sin."
"'Sin'—alway sin!" muttered Blanche. "Ye be both of a story. Sin is wickedness. I am not wicked."
"Sin is the disobeying of God," replied Lysken. "And saving thy presence, Blanche, thou art wicked."
"Then so art thou!" retorted Blanche.
"So I am," said Lysken. "But I am willing to be saved therefrom."
"Prithee, Mistress Elizabeth Barnevelt, from what sin am I not willing to be saved?"
"Dost truly wish to know?" asked Lysken in her coolest manner.
"Pride is no sin!"
"I love not gainsaying, Blanche. But I dare in no wise gainsay the Lord. And He saith of pride, that it is an abomination unto Him, and He hateth it." [Proverbs six, verse 16; and sixteen verse 5.]
"But that is ill and sinful pride," urged Blanche. "There is proper pride."
"It seemeth to my poor wits," said Lysken, "that a thing which the Lord hateth must be all of it improper."
"Why, Lysken! Thus saying, thou shouldst condemn all high spirit and noble bearing!"
"'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' There was no pride in Christ, Blanche. And thou wilt scarce say that He bare Him not nobly."
"Why, then, we might as well all be peasants!"
"I suppose we might, if we were," said Lysken.
"Lysken, it should be a right strange world, where thou hadst the governance!"
"Very like," was Lysken's calm rejoinder, as she set the pin a little further in her seam.
"What good is it, prithee, to set thee up against all men's opinion? [What are now termed 'views' were then called 'opinions.'] Thou shalt but win scorn for thine."
"Were it only mine, Blanche, it should be to no good. But when it is God's command wherewith mine opinion runneth,—why then, the good shall be to hear Christ say, 'Well done, faithful servant.' The scorn I bare here shall be light weight then."
"But wherefore not go smoothly through the world?"
"Because it should cost too much."
"Nay, what now?" remonstrated Blanche.
"I have two lives, Blanche: and I cannot have my best things in both. The one is short and passing; the other is unchangeable, and shall stand for ever. Now then, I would like my treasures for the second of these two lives: and if I miss any good thing in the first, it shall be no great matter."
"Thou art a right Puritan!" said Blanche disgustedly.
"Call not names, Blanche," gently interposed Clare.
"Dear Clare, it makes he difference," said Lysken. "If any call me a Papist, 'twill not make me one."
"Lysken Barnevelt, is there aught in this world would move thee?"
"'In this world?' Well, but little, methinks. But—there will be some things in the other."
"What things?" bluntly demanded Blanche.
"To see His Face!" said Lysken, the light breaking over her own. "And to hear Him say, 'Come!' And to sit down at the marriage-supper of the Lamb,—with the outer door closed for ever, and the woes, and the wolves, and the winter, all left on the outside. If none of these earthly things move me, Blanche, it is because those heavenly things will."