"Mercy preserve us!" ejaculated Rachel.
"Good lack, Sir Thomas!—the lad must have gear!" urged his step-mother.
Sir Thomas laid down the bills.
"Be so good, Jack, as to tell me the full figures of these counts?"
"Good sooth, Sir! I have not added them," replied Jack in a contemptuous tone. "A gentleman is ne'er good at reckoning."
"He seems to be reasonable good at spending," said his father. "But how much, Jack, dost guess they may all come to?"
"Really, Sir, I cannot say."
"Go to—give a guess."
"Marry—somewhere about five thousand pound, it may be."
According to the equivalent value of money in the present day, Jack's debts amounted to about seventy-five thousand pounds. His father's yearly income was equal to about six thousand.
"How lookest thou to pay this money, Jack?" asked Sir Thomas, in a tone of preternatural calmness which argued rather despair than lack of annoyance.
"Well, Sir, there be two or three fashions of payment," returned Jack, airily. "If you cannot find the money—"
"I cannot, in very deed, lad."
"Good," answered Jack quite complacently. "Then—if I win not the monopoly—"
"The monopoly would not pay thy debts under fifty years, Jack; not if thou gavest every penny thereof thereto, and hadst none fresh to pay. How about that, lad?"
"Of course I must live like a gentleman, Sir," said Jack loftily. "Then the next way is to win the grant of a wardship."
This way of acquiring money is so entirely obsolete that it needs explanation. The grant of a wardship meant that some orphan heir of a large inheritance was placed in the care of the grantee, who was obliged to defray out of the heir's estate the necessary expenses of his sustenance and education, but was free to apply all the surplus to his own use until the heir was of age. When the inheritance was large, therefore, the grant was a considerable boon to the guardian.
"And supposing that fail thee?"
"Well, then—if the worst come to the worst—I can but wed an heir," remarked Jack with serenity.
"Wed an estate, thou meanest, Jack."
"Of course, Sir. The woman must come with it, I reckon. That I cannot help."
"Marry come up!" exclaimed Rachel. "Thou art a very man. Those be right the man's ways. 'The woman must come with it,' forsooth! Jack, my fingers be itching to thrash thee."
"Such matters be done every day, Aunt," observed Jack, smiling graciously,—not with reference to the suggested reward of his misdeeds.
"Black sin is done every day, lad. I wis that without thy telling. But that is no cause why thou shouldst be the doer of it."
"Nay, Aunt Rachel!" retorted Jack, in the same manner. "'Tis no sin to wed an heir."
"It was a sin, when I was a child, to tell lies. Maybe that is altered now," said Rachel dryly.
"What lies, Aunt Rachel?" asked Jack laughing.
"Is it no lie, Jack, to lead a woman into believing that thou lovest her, when, if she plucked her purse out of her pocket and gave it thee, thou wert fully content, and shouldst ask no more?"
"You have old-fashioned notions, Aunt Rachel," said Jack, still laughing.
"Jack! I do trust thou wilt not wed with any but one of good degree. Let her be a knight's daughter, at the least—a lord's were all the better," said his step-mother.
"But touching these debts, Jack," resumed his father. "Suppose thou shouldst fail to wed thine heir,—how then?"
"Then, Sir, I shall trust to redeem the money at play."
Every man of substance—not a Puritan—was at that time a gamester.
"And how, if that fail?"
"They can't all fail, Sir!" said Jack lightly.
"My lad!" replied His father earnestly, "I did an ill deed when I sent thee to London."
"Dear heart, Sir!" exclaimed Jack, just suppressing a much stronger ejaculation, "I do ensure you, you never did a wiser thing."
"Then my life hath been one of sore folly," answered his father.
"I alway told thee thou shouldst come to wrack," added his aunt.
"Nay, now, what wrack have I come to?" returned Jack with a graceful flourish of his hands. "Call you it wrack to have a good post in the Queen's Majesty's house, with hope of a better, maybe, when it please God?—or, to be well [stand well, be on good terms] with many honourable gentlemen, and heirs of good houses, throughout all England?—or, to have the pick of their sisters and cousins, when it liketh me to wed?"
"They shall have a jolly picking that pick out thee!" growled Aunt Rachel.
"Or to have open door of full many honourable houses,—and good credit, that there is not a craftsman in London that should not count it honour to serve me with such goods as I might choose?" pursued Jack.
"A mighty barren honour, Jack, on thine own showing."
"Jack!" interposed Sir Thomas, who had seemed deep in thought for a minute, "tell me honestly,—of this five thousand pound, if so be, how much was lost at the dice?"
"Why, Sir!—you did not count I should reckon my debts of honour?"
Sir Thomas groaned within himself.
"Debts of honour!" cried Rachel. "What, be there a parcel more?"
"These be trade-debts, Aunt!" said Jack, with an injured air,—"debts that I can defray or leave, as it may stand with conveniency. My debts of honour must be paid, of course!—I looked to your bounty, Sir, for that. They be not much—but a light thousand or twelve hundred pound, I take it."
That is to say, about 15,000 pounds to 18,000 pounds.
"Jack!" said his father, "dost remember thou hast two sisters yet unwed?"
"One, Sir, under your good pleasure," replied Jack suavely.
"Two," gravely repeated Sir Thomas. "I will set no difference betwixt Blanche and Clare. And they be to portion, lad; and we have all to live. I cannot pay thy debts of honour and see to these likewise. And, Jack, the trade-debts, as thou callest them, must come first."
"Sir!" exclaimed Jack aghast.
"I say, the trade-debts must stand first," repeated his father firmly.
"A gentleman never puts his trade-debts before his debts of honour, Sir!" cried Jack in a tone of intense disgust mixed with amazement.
"I know not what you gentlemen of the Court may account honour nor honesty, Sir," replied Sir Thomas, now sternly; "but I am a plain honest man, that knows nought of Court fashions, for the which His good providence I thank God. And if it be honest to heap up debt that thou hast no means of paying to thy certain knowledge, then I know not the signification of honesty."
"But I must play, Sir!" replied Jack—in the tone with which he might have said, "I must breathe."
"Then thou must pay," said Sir Thomas shortly.
"Must play, quotha!" interjected Rachel. "Thou must be a decent lad,— that is all the must I see."
"Come, be not too hard on the lad!" pleaded Lady Enville, fanning herself elegantly. "Of course he must live as other young men."
"That is it, Madam!" responded Jack eagerly, turning to his welcome ally. "I cannot affect singularity—'tis not possible."
"Of course not," said Lady Enville, who quite agreed with Jack's sentiments, as women of her type generally do.
"Thou canst affect honesty, trow," retorted Rachel.
"Sir," said Jack, earnestly addressing his father, "I do entreat you, look on this matter in a reasonable fashion."
"That is it which I would fain do, Jack."
"Well, Sir,—were I to put my trade-debts before my debts of honour, all whom I know should stamp me as no gentleman. They should reckon me some craftsman's son that had crept in amongst them peradventure."
"Good lack!" said his step-mother and aunt together,—the former in dismay, the latter in satire.
"I am willing that any should count me no gentleman, if he find me not one," answered his father; "but one thing will I never do, and that is, give cause to any man to reckon me a knave."
"But, Sir, these be nought save a parcel of beggarly craftsmen."
"Which thou shouldst have been, had it so pleased God," put in Aunt Rachel.
"Aunt," said Jack loftily, "I was born a gentleman; and under your good leaves, a gentleman I do mean to live and die."
"Thou hast my full good leave to live and die a gentleman, my lad," said his father; "and that is, a man of honour, truth, and probity."
"And 'tis no true man, nor an honourable, that payeth not his just debts," added Rachel.
"I cry thee mercy, Rachel; a gentleman never troubleth him touching debts," observed Lady Enville.
"In especial unto such like low companions as these," echoed Jack.
"Well!—honesty is gone out of fashion, I reckon," said Rachel.
"Only this will I say, Sir," resumed Jack with an air of settling matters: "that if you will needs have my trade-debts defrayed before my debts of honour, you must, an't like you, take them on yourself. I will be no party to such base infringement of the laws of honour."
"Good lack, lad! Thou talkest as though thy father had run into debt, and was looking unto thee to defray the charges! 'Tis tother way about, Jack. Call thy wits together!" exclaimed his aunt.
"Well, Aunt Rachel, you seem determined to use me hardly," said Jack, with an air of reluctant martyrdom; "but you will find I harbour no malice for your evil conception of mine intents."
To see this Jack, who had done all the mischief and made everybody uncomfortable, mount on his pedestal and magnanimously forgive them, was too much for Rachel's equanimity.
"Of all the born fools that e'er gat me in a passion, Jack, thou art very king and captain! I would give my best gown this minute thou wert six in the stead of six-and-twenty—my word, but I would leather thee! I would whip thee till I was dog-weary, whatever thou shouldst be. The born patch [fool]!—the dolt [dunce]!—the lither loon [idle, good-for-nothing fellow]!—that shall harbour no malice against me because—he is both a fool and a knave! If thou e'er hadst any sense, Jack (the which I doubt), thou forgattest to pack it up when thou earnest from London. Of all the long-eared asses ever I saw—"
Mistress Rachel's diatribe came to a sudden close, certainly not from the exhaustion of her feelings, but from the want of suitable words wherein to express them.
"Aunt!" said Jack, still in an injured tone, "would you have me to govern myself by rule and measure, like a craftsman?"
"Words be cast away on thee, Jack: I will hold my peace. When thy brains be come home from the journey they be now gone, thou canst give me to wit, an' it like thee."
"I marvel," murmured Sir Thomas absently, "what Master Tremayne should say to all this."
"He!" returned Jack with sovereign scorn. "He is a Puritan!"
"He is a good man, Jack. And I doubt—so he keep out of ill company— whether Arthur shall give him the like care," said his father sighing.
"Arthur! A sely milksop, Sir, that cannot look a goose in the face!"
"Good lack! how shall he ever win through this world, that is choke-full of geese?" asked Rachel cuttingly.
"Suffer me to say, Sir, that Puritans be of no account in the Court."
"Of earth, or Heaven?" dryly inquired Sir Thomas.
"The Court of England, I mean, Sir. They be universally derided and held of low esteem. All these Sectaries—Puritans, Gospellers, Anabaptists, and what not—no gentleman would be seen in their company."
"Dear heart!" growled the still acetic Rachel. "The angels must be mighty busy a-building chambers for the gentry, that they mix not in Heaven with the poor common saints."
"'Tis the general thought, Aunt, among men of account.—and doth commend itself for truth,—that 't will take more ill-doing to damn a gentleman than a common man." [Note 2.]
"Good lack! I had thought it should be the other way about," said Rachel satirically.
"No doubt," echoed Lady Enville—in approbation of Jack's sentiment, not Rachel's.
"Why, Aunt!—think you no account is taken of birth and blood in Heaven?"
"Nay, I'll e'en let it be," said Rachel, rising and opening the door. "Only look thou, Jack,—there is another place than Heaven; and I don't reckon there be separate chambers there. Do but think what it were, if it should chance to a gentleman to be shut up yonder along with the poor sinners of the peasantry!"
And leaving this Parthian dart, Rachel went her way.
"I will talk with thee again, Jack: in the mean while, I will, keep these," said his father, taking up the bills.
"As it like you, Sir," responded Jack airily. "I care not though I never see them again."
"What ado is here!" said Lady Enville, as her husband departed. "I am sore afeared thou wilt have some trouble hereabout, Jack. Both thy father and aunt be of such ancient notions."
Jack bent low, with a courtier's grace, to kiss his step-mother's hand.
"Trouble, Madam," he said—and spoke truly—"trouble bideth no longer on me than water on a duck's back."
"And now tell me, Tremayne, what shall I do with this lad?"
"I am afeared, Sir Thomas, you shall find it hard matter to deal with him."
"Good lack, these lads and lasses!" groaned poor Sir Thomas. "They do wear a man's purse—ay, and his heart. Marry, but I do trust I gave no such thought and sorrow to my father! Yet in very deed my care for the future passeth it for the past. If Jack go on thus, what shall the end be?"
Mr Tremayne shook his head.
"Can you help me to any argument that shall touch the lad's heart?"
"Argument ne'er touched a man's heart yet," said the Rector. "That is but for the head. There is but one thing that will touch the heart to any lasting purpose; and that is, the quickening grace of God the Holy Ghost."
"Nay, all they seem to drift further away from Him," sighed the father sadly.
"My good friend, it may seem so to you, mainly because yourself are coming nearer."
Sir Thomas shook his head sorrowfully.
"Nay, for I ne'er saw me to be such a sinner as of late I have. You call not that coming nearer God?"
"Ay, but it is!" said Mr Tremayne. "Think you, friend; you were such a sinner all your life long, though it be only now that, thanks to God, you see it. And I do in very deed hope and trust that you have this true sight of yourself because the Lord hath touched your eyes with the ointment of His grace. Maybe you are somewhat like as yet unto him whose eyen Christ touched, that at first he could not tell betwixt men and trees. The Lord is not like to leave His miracle but half wrought. He will perfect that which He hath begun."
"God grant it!" said Sir Thomas feelingly. "But tell me, what can I do for Jack? I would I had listed you and Rachel, and had not sent him to London. Sir Piers, and Orige, and the lad himself, o'er-persuaded me. I rue it bitterly; but howbeit, what is done is done. The matter is, what to do now?"
"The better way, methinks, should be that you left him to smart for it himself, an' you so could."
"Jack will ne'er smart for aught," said his father. "Were I to stay his allowance, he should but run into further debt, ne'er doubting to pay the same somewhen and somehow. The way and the time he should leave to chance. I see nought but ruin before the lad. He hath learned over ill lessons in the Court,—of honour which is clean contrary to common honesty, and courtesy which standeth not with plain truth."
"Ay, the Devil can well glose," [flatter, deceive] said Mr Tremayne sadly.
"The lad hath no conscience!" added Sir Thomas. "With all this, he laugheth and singeth as though nought were on his mind. Good lack! but if I had done as he, I had been miserable thereafter. I conceive not such conditions."
"I conceive them, for I have seen them aforetime. But I would not have such a conscience for the worth of the Queen's Mint."
Indeed, Jack did seem perfectly happy. His appetite, sleep, and spirits, were totally unaffected by his circumstances. Clare, to whom this anomaly seemed preposterous, one day asked him if he were happy.
"Happy?" repeated Jack. "For sure! Wherefore no?"
Clare did not tell him.
One evening in the week of Jack's return, to the surprise of all, in walked Mr John Feversham. He did not seem to have much to say, except that Uncle Piers and Aunt Lucrece were well. In fact, he never had much to say. Nor did he think it necessary to state what had brought him to Lancashire. He was asked to remain, of course, to which he assented, and slipped into his place with a quiet ponderosity which seemed to belong to him.
"An oaken yule-log had as much sense, and were quicker!" [livelier] said Jack aside to Blanche.
"Nay, he wanteth not for sense, I take it," returned his sister, "but of a truth he is solid matter."
"I marvel if he ever gat into debt," observed Clare quietly from the other side of Jack.
"He!" sneered that young gentleman. "He is the fashion of man that should pay all his trade-debts and ne'er ask for a rebate."
"Well! methinks that were no very ill deed," said Clare.
"A deed whereof no gentleman of spirit should be guilty!"
"There be divers sorts of spirits, Jack."
"There is but one manner of spirit," returned Jack sharply, "and I ne'er saw a spark thereof in yon bale of woollen goods labelled Jack Feversham."
"May be thou wilt, some day," answered Clare.
"That will be when the Ribble runneth up instead of down. He is a coward,—mine head to yon apple thereon."
"Be not so sure thereof."
"But I am sure thereof—as sure as a culverin shot."
Clare dropped the subject.
Rather late on the following evening, with his usual quiet, business-like air, John Feversham asked for a few words with Sir Thomas. Then—to the astonishment of that gentleman—the purport of his visit came out. He wanted Blanche.
Sir Thomas was quite taken by surprise. It had never occurred to him that silent John Feversham had the faintest design upon any one. And what could this calm, undemonstrative man have seen in the butterfly Blanche, which had captivated him, of all people? He promised an answer the next day; and, feeling as if another straw had been added to his burden, he went to consult the ladies.
Lady Enville disapproved of the proposal. So unlike Don Juan!—so totally inferior, in every respect! And would it not be desirable to wait and see whether John were really likely to succeed to his uncle's inheritance within any reasonable time? she calmly urged. Sir Piers might live twenty years yet, or he might have a family of his own, and then where would John Feversham be? In present circumstances, concluded her Ladyship, enjoying the scent of her pomander, she thought this a most undesirable match for Blanche, who could not do much worse, and might do much better.
Rachel, as might be expected, took the contrary view. Unlike Don Juan!—yes, she hoped so, indeed! This was a sensible young man, who, it might be trusted, would keep Blanche in order, which she was likely enough to need as long as she lived. How should the girl do better? By all means take advantage of the offer.
"Well, should Blanche know? That is, before acceptance."
"Oh, ay!" said Lady Enville.
"Oh, no!" said Rachel.
In Rachel's eyes, the new-fangled plan of giving the young lady a voice in the question was fraught with danger. But Lady Enville prevailed. Blanche was summoned, and asked what she thought of John Feversham.
It did not appear that Blanche had thought much about him at all. She was rather inclined to laugh at and despise him.
Well, had she any disposition to marry him?
Blanche's shrinking—"Oh no, an' it liked you, Father!"—decided the matter.
To all outward appearance, John Feversham took his rejection very quietly. Sir Thomas couched it in language as kind as possible. John said little in answer, and exhibited no sign of vexation. But Rachel, who was still pursuing her career of amateur detective, thought that he felt more distress than he showed.
Note 1. The embroidery about the heel and ankle, which showed above the low shoes then fashionable.
Note 2. Lest the reader should think this idea too preposterous to have been seriously entertained, I refer him to words actually uttered (and approved by the hearers) on the death of Philippe, Duke of Orleans, brother of Louis the Fourteenth:—"I can assure you, God thinks twice before He damns a person of the Prince's quality."—(Memoires de Dangeau).
WHICH WAS THE COWARD?
"Je crains Dieu, cher Abner, et n'ai point d'autre crainte."
"There shall be a bull baited to-morrow at Rosso Hall," [now Rossall] said Jack one evening at rear-supper. "I shall be there, without fail; who goeth withal?"
Lady Enville was doubtful of the weather, but she expressed no compassion for the bull. Clare declined without giving her reason. Blanche looked as if she did not know whether or not to ask permission to accompany her brother. Sir Thomas said he had too much to think about; and if not, it was an amusement for which he had no fancy.
"And thou, Feversham?"
"No! I thank you."
"Because I count it not right."
"Puritan!" cried Jack in accents of the deepest scorn. Feversham continued his supper with great unconcern.
"Art thou no Puritan?"
"What is a Puritan?" calmly returned John.
"One that reckoneth a laugh sin."
"Then, if so be, I am no Puritan."
"Jack!" reproved his father.
"Sir, of all things in this world, there is nought I do loathe and despise like to a Puritan!"
"There is a worse thing than reckoning a laugh to be sin, Jack," said Sir Thomas gravely; "and that is, reckoning sin a thing to laugh at."
"And wherefore dost loathe a Puritan, quotha?" demanded Rachel. "Be they so much better than thou?"
"There be no gentlemen amongst them, Aunt Rachel," suggested Blanche mischievously.
"They set them up for having overmuch goodness," answered Jack in a disgusted tone.
"Prithee, Jack, how much goodness is that?" his Aunt Rachel wished to know.
"Over Jack's goodness," whispered Blanche.
"There is not one that is not a coward," resumed Jack, ignoring the query. "As for Feversham yonder, I can tell why he would not go."
"Why?" said Feversham, looking up.
"Because," returned Jack with lofty scorn, "thou art afeared lest the bull should break loose."
Blanche was curious to hear what John Feversham would say to this accusation—one which to her mind was a most insulting one. Surely this would rouse him, if anything could.
"That is not all I am afeared of," said John quietly.
"Art thou base enough to confess fear?" cried Jack, as if he could hardly believe his ears.
John Feversham looked him steadily in the face.
"Ay, Jack Enville," he said, unmoved by the taunt. "I am afeared of God."
"Well said, my brave lad!" muttered Sir Thomas.
Jack turned, and left the hall without answering. But after that evening, his whole conduct towards Feversham evinced the uttermost contempt. He rarely spoke to him, but was continually speaking at him, in terms which classed him with "ancient wives" and "coward loons"— insinuations so worded that it was impossible to reply, and yet no one could doubt what was meant by them. Unless Feversham were extremely careless of the opinion of his fellows, he must have found this very galling; but he showed no indication of annoyance, beyond an occasional flush and quiver of the lip. Sir Thomas had at once exhibited his displeasure when he heard this, so that Jack restricted his manifestations to times when his father was absent; but the amusement sometimes visible in Blanche's face was not likely to be pleasant to the man whom Blanche had refused to marry.
"Well, Sir?" queried Jack one Saturday evening, as the family sat round the hall fire after rear-supper. "My leave, an' I remember rightly, shall end this week next but one. I must look shortly to be on my way to London. What say you touching these little matters?"
"What little matters, Jack?" inquired his father.
"These bills, Sir."
"I cry thee mercy," said Sir Thomas dryly. "I counted those great matters."
"Forsooth, no, Sir! There be few gentlemen in the Court that do owe so little as I."
"The Court must be a rare ill place, belike."
"My good Sir!" said Jack condescendingly, "suffer me to say that you, dwelling hereaway in the country, really can form no fantasy of the manner of dwellers in the town. Of course, aught should serve here that were decent and comely. But in the Court 'tis right needful that fashion be observed. Go to!—these chairs we sit on, I dare say, have been here these fifty years or more?"
"As long as I mind, Jack," said his father; "and that is somewhat over fifty years."
"Truly, Sir. Now, no such a thing could not be done in the Court. A chair that is ten years old is there fit for nought; a glass of five years may not be set on board; and a gown you have worn one year must be cast aside, whether it be done or no. The fashion choppeth and changeth all one with the moon; nor can a gentleman wear aught that is not the newest of his sort. Sir, the Queen's Highness carrieth ne'er a gown two seasons, nor never rippeth—all hang by the walls."
It was the custom at that time to pull handsome dresses in pieces, and use the materials for something else; but if a dress were not worth the unpicking, it was hung up and left to its fate. Queen Elizabeth kept all hers "by the walls;" she never gave a dress, and never took one in pieces.
"Gentility, son—at least thy gentility—is costly matter," remarked Sir Thomas.
"Good lack, Sir! You speak as though I had been an ill husband!" [an extravagant man] cried Jack in an injured tone. "Look you, a gentleman must have his raiment decent—"
"Three cloth suits, six shirts, and six pair of stockings should serve for that, Jack, nor cost above twenty pound the year, and that free reckoned," [a very handsome allowance] put in Aunt Rachel.
"Six shirts, my dear Aunt!—and six pair of stockings!" laughed Jack. "Why, 'twere not one the day."
"Two a-week is enow for any man—without he be a chimney-sweep," said Aunt Rachel oracularly.
This idea evidently amused Jack greatly.
"'Tis in very deed as I said but now: you have no fantasy hereaway of the necessities of a man that is in the Court. He must needs have his broidered shirts, his Italian ruff, well-set, broidered, and starched; his long-breasted French doublet, well bombasted [padded]; his hose,— either French, Gally, or Venetian; his corked Flemish shoes of white leather; his paned [slashed and puffed with another colour or material] velvet breeches, guarded with golden lace; his satin cloak, well broidered and laced; his coats of fine cloth, some forty shillings the yard; his long, furred gown of Lukes' [Lucca] velvet; his muff, Spanish hat, Toledo rapier; his golden and jewelled ear-rings; his stays—"
A few ejaculations, such as "Good lack!" and "Well-a-day!" had been audible from Aunt Rachel as the list proceeded; but Sir Thomas kept silence until the mention of this last article, which was in his eyes a purely feminine item of apparel.
"Nay, Jack, nay, now! Be the men turning women in the Court?"
"And the women turning men, belike," added Rachel. "The twain do oft-times go together."
"My good Sir!" returned Jack, with amused condescension. "How shall a gentleman go about a sorry figure, more than a gentlewoman?"
"Marry come up!" interposed Rachel. "If the gentleman thou hast scarce finished busking be not a sorry figure, I ne'er did see the like."
"Stays, ear-rings, muffs!" repeated Sir Thomas under his breath. "Belike a fan, too, Jack?—and a pomander?—and masks?—and gloves?"
"Gloves, without doubt, sir; and they of fair white Spanish leather, wrought with silk. Masks, but rarely; nor neither fans nor pomanders."
"Not yet, I reckon. Dear heart! what will the idle young gallants be a-running after the next? We shall have them twisting rats' tails in their hair, or riding in coaches."
"I ensure you, Sir, many gentlemen do even now ride in coaches. 'Tis said the Queen somewhat misliketh the same."
"Dear heart!" said Sir Thomas again.
"And now, Sir, you can well see all these must needs be had—"
"Beshrew me, Jack, if I see aught of the sort!"
"All I see," retorted Rachel, "is, if they be had, they must be paid for."
"Nay, worry not the lad thus!" was softly breathed from Lady Enville's corner. "If other gentlemen wear such gear, Jack must needs have the same also. You would not have him mean and sorry?" [shabby.]
"Thou wouldst have him a scarlet and yellow popinjay!" said Rachel.
"I would not have him mean, Orige," replied Sir Thomas significantly.
"Well, Sir,—all said, we come to this," resumed Jack in his airy manner. "If these bills must needs be paid—and so seem you to say—how shall it be? Must I essay for the monopoly?—or for a wardship?—or for an heir?—or shall I rather trust to my luck at the dice?"
"Buy aught but a living woman!" said Rachel, with much disgust.
"The woman is nought, Aunt. 'Tis her fortune."
"Very good. I reckon she will say, 'The man is naught.' And she'll speak truth."
Rachel was playing, as many did in her day, on the similarity of sound between "nought," nothing, and "naught," good-for-nothing.
"Like enough," said Jack placidly.
"I will spare thee what money I can, Jack," said his father sighing. "But I do thee to wit that 'twill not pay thy debt—no, or the half thereof. For the rest, I must leave thee to find thine own means: but, Jack!—let them be such means that an honest man and true need not be 'shamed thereof."
"Oh!—of course, sir," said Jack lightly.
"Jack Feversham!" asked Sir Thomas, turning suddenly to his young visitor, "supposing this debt were thine, how shouldst thou pay it?"
"God forbid it were!" answered Feversham gravely. "But an' it were, sir, I would pay the same."
"At the dice?" grimly inquired Rachel.
"I never game, my mistress."
"A monopoly?" pursued she.
"I am little like to win one," said Feversham laughingly.
"Or by wedding of an heir?"
"For the sake of her money? Nay, I would think I did her lesser ill of the twain to put my hand in her pocket and steal it."
"Then, whereby?" asked Sir Thomas, anxious to draw John out.
"By honest work, Sir, whatso I might win: yea, though it were the meanest that is, and should take my life to the work."
"Making of bricks?" sneered Jack.
"I would not choose that," replied Feversham quietly. "But if I could earn money in no daintier fashion, I would do it."
"I despise mean-spirited loons!" muttered Jack, addressing himself to the fire.
"So doth not God, my son," said his father quietly.
Blanche felt uncertain whether she did or not. In fact, the state of Blanche's mind just then was chaos. She thought sometimes there must be two of her, each intent upon pursuing a direction opposite to that of the other. Blanche was in the state termed in the Hebrew Old Testament, "an heart and an heart." She wished to serve God, but she also wanted to please herself. She was under the impression—(how many share it with her!)—that religion meant just two things—giving up everything that one liked, and doing everything that one disliked. She did not realise that what it really does mean is a change in the liking. But at present she was ready to accept Christ's salvation from punishment, if only she might dispense with the good works which God had prepared for her to walk in.
And when the heart is thus divided between God and self, it will be found as a rule that, in all perplexities which have to be decided, self carries the day.
The only result of the struggle in Blanche's mind which was apparent to those around her was that she was very cross and disagreeable. He who is dissatisfied with himself can never be pleased with other people.
Ah, how little we all know—how little we can know, as regards one another—of the working of that internal kingdom which is in every man's breast! A woman's heart may be crushed to death within her, and those who habitually talk and eat and dwell with her may only suppose that she has a headache.
And those around Blanche entirely misunderstood her. Lady Enville thought she was fretting over her crossed love, and lavished endless pity and petting upon her. Clare only saw, in a vague kind of way, that something was the matter with her sister which she could not understand, and let her alone. Her Aunt Rachel treated her to divers acidulated lectures upon the ingratitude of her behaviour, and the intensity with which she ought to be ashamed of herself. None of these courses of treatment was exactly what Blanche needed; but perhaps the nipping north wind of Aunt Rachel was better than the dead calm of Clare, and far superior to the soft summer breeze of Lady Enville.
It was a bright, crisp, winter day. The pond in the grounds at Enville Court was frozen over, and Jack, declaring that no consideration should baulk him of a slide, had gone down to it for that purpose. John Feversham followed more deliberately; and a little later, Clare and Blanche sauntered down in the same direction. They found the two Johns sliding on the pond, and old Abel, the head gardener, earnestly adjuring Master Jack to keep off the south end of it.
"Th' ice is good enough at this end; but 'tis a deal too thin o'er yon. You'd best have a care, of you'll be in ere you know aught about it."
"Thou go learn thy gra'mmer!" [teach thy grandmother] said Jack scornfully. "Hallo, maids! Come on the ice—'tis as jolly as a play."
Clare smilingly declined, but Blanche stepped on the ice, aided by Jack's hand, and was soon sliding away as lithely and merrily as himself.
"Ay me! yonder goeth the dinner bell," said Blanche at last. "Help me back on the bank, Jack; I must away."
"Butter the dinner bell!" responded Jack. "Once more—one grand slide, Snowdrop."
This had been Jack's pet name for his youngest sister in childhood, and he used it now when he was in a particularly good temper.
"Master! Master! yo're comin' too near th' thin!" shouted old Abel.
Jack and Blanche, executing their final and most superb slide, heard or cared not. They came flying along the pond,—when all at once there was a shriek of horror, and Jack—who was not able to stop himself—finished the slide alone. Blanche had disappeared. Near the south end of the great pond was a round jagged hole in the ice, showing where she had gone down.
"Hold her up, Master, quick!" cried old Abel. "Dunnot let her be sucked under, as what happens! Creep along to th' edge, and lay you down; and when hoo comes to th' top, catch her by her gown, or her hure [hair], or aught as 'll hold. I'll get ye help as soon as I can;" and as fast as his limbs would carry him, Abel hurried away.
Jack did not move.
"I shall be drowned! I can't swim!" he murmured, with white lips, "I would sure go in likewise."
Neither he nor Clare saw in the first moment of shocked excitement that somebody else had been quicker and braver than they.
"I have her!" said John Feversham's voice, just a little less calm than usual. "I think I can keep her head above water till help cometh. Jack Enville, fetch a rope or a plank—quick!"
They saw then that Feversham was lying on his face on the ice, and holding firmly to Blanche by her fair hair, thus bringing her face above the water.
"O Jack, Jack!" cried Clare in an agony. "Where is a rope or plank?"
Even in that moment, Jack was pre-eminently a gentleman—in his own sense of the term.
"How should I know? I am no serving-man."
Clare dashed off towards the house without another word. She met Sir Thomas at the garden gate, hastening out to ascertain the meaning of the screams which had been heard.
"Father!—a rope—a plank!" she panted breathlessly. "Oh, help! Blanche is drowning!"
Before Clare's sentence was gasped out, Sim and Dick ran past, the one with a plank, the other with a coil of rope, sent by Abel to the rescue. Sir Thomas followed them at his utmost speed.
The sight which met his eyes at the pond, had it been less serious, would have been ludicrous. Feversham still lay on the ice, grasping Blanche, who was white and motionless; while Jack, standing in perfect safety on the bank, was favouring the hero with sundry scraps of cheap advice.
"Hasten!" said Feversham in a low, constrained voice, when he heard help coming. "I am wellnigh spent."
Sir Thomas was really angry with his son. A few words of withering scorn made that young gentleman—afraid of his father for the first time—assist with his own courtly hands in pushing the plank across the ice.
The relief reached those endangered just in time.
Blanche was carried home in her father's arms, and delivered to Rachel to be nursed; while Feversham, the moment that he recognised himself to be no longer responsible for her safety, fainted where he lay. He was borne to the house by Sim and Dick—Master Jack following in a leisurely manner, with his gentlemanly hands in his pockets.
When all was safely over, Sir Thomas put his hand on Jack's shoulder. For the first time that the father could remember, the son looked slightly abashed.
"Jack, which was the coward?"
And Jack failed to answer.
John Feversham joined the party again at supper. He looked very pale, but otherwise maintained his usual imperturbable demeanour, though scarcely seeming to like the expressions of admiration which were showered upon him.
"Metrusteth, Jack," said Rachel cuttingly to her nephew, "next time thou wilt do thy best not to mistake a hero for a coward. I should not marvel, trow, if the child's going on yon ice were some mischievous work of thine."
"'Twas a gallant deed, in very sooth, Master Feversham,—without you can swim," said Lady Enville faintly. She had gone into hysterics on hearing of the accident, and considered herself deserving of the deepest commiseration for her sufferings. "I am thankful Blanche wear but her camlet."
"Canst thou swim, lad?" asked Sir Thomas of John.
"No," he answered quietly.
"Were you not afeared, Master Feversham?" said Rachel.
"Ay, a little—lest I should be full spent ere help could come. But for that I trusted God. For aught else—nay: it was no time to think thereof."
"Methinks, Jack Feversham," said Sir Thomas affectionately, "none shall call thee a coward any more."
Feversham smiled back in answer.
"Sir Thomas," he said, "I fear God, and I love her. This was God's work, and her great peril. How could I have held back?"
Sir Thomas glanced at his son; but Jack was twirling his moustache, and intently contemplating one of the stags' heads which decorated the hall.
After that day, there was a great change in Blanche Enville. She had come so near death, and that so suddenly, that she was sobered and softened. God in His mercy opened her eyes, and she began to ask herself,—What is the world worth? What, after all, is anything worth, except to please God, and win His blessing, and inherit His glory?
Her opinion was changed, too, as it respected John Feversham. There was no possibility of mistaking him for a coward any longer. And whatever he had been, she could scarcely have failed to cherish some kindly feeling towards the man who had risked his life for hers.
The two Johns left Enville Court together on the following Tuesday. And after reaching London, Jack began to write letters home pretty regularly, for that time,—always gay, airy, and sanguine.
Jack's first letter conveyed the information that he was absolutely certain of obtaining the monopoly. Sir Christopher Hatton and Sir Walter Raleigh had both promised their interest, and any thought of failure after that was quite out of the question.
The second letter brought the news that Sir Christopher was very ill—(in fact, he was dying)—and that, by some unfortunate mistake (with Jack, any want of capacity to see his immense value, was always a mistake), the monopoly had been granted to young Philip Hoby. But there was no reason for disappointment. Jack had had an unusual run of good luck that week at the gaming-table. It was quite Providential. For Jack, like some other gentlemen of his day, dealt largely in religious phrases, and did not trouble himself about religion in any other way.
The third letter stated that Jack had not been able to obtain the grant of a wardship. That was another unfortunate mistake. But his good luck as a gamester still kept up, and my Lord of 'Bergavenny was his very good lord. These items, also, were most Providential.
The fourth letter informed his father that all his difficulties were at last surmounted. Providence had rewarded his merits as they deserved. He was on the eve of marriage.
"To whom?" asked Lady Enville, with languid curiosity.
"To seven thousand pounds," said Sir Thomas dryly; "that is as much as I can make out of the lad's letter."
The fifth epistle condescended to rather mere detail. Jack's fiancee was the daughter of an Earl, and the niece by marriage of a Viscount. She had a fortune of seven thousand pounds—that was the cream and chorus of the whole. But still it did not apparently occur to Jack that his friends at home might be interested to know the name of his beloved.
"What must we call her?" asked Blanche. "We know not her name."
"And we cannot say 'Mistress Jack,' sith she hath a title," added Sir Thomas.
"'My Lady Jack,'" laughingly suggested Rachel.
And "Lady Jack" the bride was dubbed from that day forth.
The sixth letter was longer in coming. But when it came it was short and sweet. Jack's nuptials were to be solemnised on the following day, and he and his bride would start three days later for Enville Court. There was a general flutter through the family.
"Dear heart! how was Jack donned? I would give a broad shilling to know!" said Rachel satirically. "In white satin, trow, at the very least, with a mighty great F on his back, wrought in rubies."
"F, Aunt Rachel!" repeated Blanche innocently. "You mean E, surely. What should F spell?"
"Thou canst spell aught thou wilt therewith, child," said Rachel coolly, as she left the room.
"Sir Thomas, I pray you of money," said Lady Enville, rousing up. "We have nought fit to show."
Sir Thomas glanced at his wife's flowing satin dress, trimmed with costly lace, and, like an unreasonable man, opined that it was quite good enough for anything; "This!" exclaimed Lady Enville. "Surely you cannot mean it, Sir Thomas. This gown is all rags, and hath been made these four years."
Sir Thomas contemplated the dress again, with a rather puzzled face.
"I see not a patch thereon, Orige. Prithee, be all thy gowns rags?—and be Clare and Blanche in rags likewise?"
"Of course—not fit to show," said the lady.
"It seemeth me, Orige, thou shouldst have had money aforetime. Yet I cannot wholly conceive it,—we went not to church in rags this last Sunday, without somewhat ail mine eyes. If we be going thus the next, prithee lay out in time to avoid the same."
"Gramercy, Sir Thomas!—how do you talk!"
"Rachel," said her brother, as she entered, "how many new gowns dost thou need to show my Lady Jack?"
"I lack no new gowns, I thank thee, Tom. I set a new dowlas lining in my camlet but this last week. I would be glad of an hood, 'tis true, for mine is well worn; but that is all I need, and a mark [13 shillings and 4 pence] shall serve me."
"Then thy charges be less than Orige, for she ensureth me that all her gowns be but rags, and so be Clare's, and the like by Blanche."
"Lack-a-daisy!" cried Rachel. "Call me an Anabaptist, if she hath not in her coffers two velvet gowns, and a satin, and a kersey, and three camlets—to say nought of velvet kirtles and other habiliments!"
"My dear Rachel!—not one made this year!"
"My satin gown was made six years gone, Orige; and this that I bear seven; and my camlet—well-a-day!—it may be ten."
"They be not fit to sweep the house in."
"Marry come up!—Prithee, Tom, set Orige up in tinsel. But for Clare and Blanche, leave me see to them. Clare hath one gown was made this year—"
"A beggarly say!" [a coarse kind of silk, often used for curtains and covering furniture] put in Lady Enville.
"And Blanche hath one a-making."
"A sorry kersey of twenty pence the yard!"
"Orige, prithee talk no liker a fool than thou canst help. Our gowns be right and—decent, according to our degree. We be but common folks, woman! For me, I go not about to prink [make smart and showy] me in cloth of gold,—not though Jack should wed all the countesses in England. If she love not me by reason of my gowns, she may hold me off with the andirons. I can do without her."
And away marched Rachel in high dudgeon. "It is too bad of Rachel!" moaned Lady Enville, lifting her handkerchief to tearless eyes. "I would have nought but to be decent and fit for our degree, and not to shame us in the eyes of her that hath been in the Court. I was ne'er one to cast money right and left. If I had but a new velvet gown, and a fair kirtle of laced satin, and a good kersey for every day, and an hood, and a partlet or twain of broidered work, and two or three other small matters, I would ask no more. Rachel would fain don us all like scullery-maids!"
Sir Thomas hated to see a woman weep; and above all, his wife—whom he still loved, though he could no longer esteem her.
"Come, Orige,—dry thine eyes," he said pityingly.
He did not know, poor victim! that they required no drying.
"Thou shalt have what thou wouldst. Tell me the sum thou lackest, and I will spare it, though I cut timber therefor."
Which was equivalent, in his eyes, to the very last and worst of all honest resources for raising money.
Lady Enville made a rapid calculation (with her handkerchief still at her eyes), which ran much in this fashion:—
============================================+ YVelvet dress - at least 40; say Y45 0 0Y +——————————————————————— YSatin kirtle - about Y20 0 0Y ———————————————————————+ YKersey dress Y3 10 0Y +——————————————————————— YHood, best Y 1 6 8Y ———————————————————————+ YHood, second-rate Y 13 4Y +——————————————————————— YFrontlet Y 4 4Y ———————————————————————+ YLawn for ruffs (embroidered at home) sayY 2 6Y +——————————————————————— YGloves, one dozen pairs, best quality Y 2 6Y ———————————————————————+ YRibbon, 40 yards, various colours Y 13 4Y +——————————————————————— YMiscellaneous items, a good margin, say Y 9 7 4Y ———————————————————————+ YWhich makes a total of Y80 0 0Y +========================================
Without removing the signal of distress, her Ladyship announced that the small sum of 80 pounds would satisfy her need: a sum equivalent to about 1200 pounds in our day. Sir Thomas held his breath. But he knew that unless he had courage authoritatively to deny the fair petitioner, argument and entreaty would alike be thrown away upon her. And that courage he was conscious he had not.
"Very well, Orige," he said quietly; "thou shalt have it."
But he ordered four fine oaks to be felled that evening.
"Clare, what lackest thou in the matter of raiment?" he asked when he met her alone.
"If it liked your goodness to bestow on me a crown-piece, Father, I would be very thankful," said Clare, blushing as if she thought herself extravagant. "I do lack gloves and kerchiefs."
"And what for thee, Blanche?" he asked in similar circumstances.
Before Blanche's eyes for a moment floated the vision of a new satin dress and velvet hood. The old Blanche would have asked for them without scruple. But the new Blanche glanced at her father's face, and saw that he looked grave and worried.
"I thank you much, Father," she said. "There is nought I do really lack, without it were three yards of blue ribbon for a girdle."
This would cost about a shilling. Sir Thomas smiled, blessed her, and put a crown-piece in her hand; and Blanche danced down-stairs in her delight,—evoked less by the crown-piece than by the little victory over herself. It was to her that for which a despot is recorded to have longed in vain—a new pleasure.
"For perhaps the dreaded future Has less bitter than I think; The Lord may sweeten the waters Before I stoop to drink; Or if Marah must be Marah, He will stand beside the brink."
All was ready for the reception of the newcomers. The hall at Enville Court was gay with spring flowers, and fresh rushes were strewn over the floor. Sir Thomas and Dick had gone so far as Kirkham to meet the visitors. Lady Enville, attired in her new kersey, which had cost the extravagant price of five shillings per yard, [Note 1] sat by the hall fire. Rachel, in the objectionable camlet, which had been declared too shabby to sweep the house in, stood near the door; while Clare and Blanche, dressed in their Sunday costume, were moving about the hall, giving little finishing touches to things as they saw them needed.
"There be the horses!" said Blanche excitedly.
She was very curious to see her new sister.
In about ten minutes Sir Thomas entered, leading a masked lady by the hand. Jack came lounging behind, his hands in his pockets, after his usual fashion.
"Our new daughter,—the Lady Gertrude Enville." [A fictitious person.]
One glance, and Lady Enville almost fainted from pique. Lady Gertrude's travelling costume was grander than her own very best new velvet. Violet velvet, of the finest quality, slashed in all directions, and the slashes filled with puffings of rich pale buff satin; yards upon yards of the costliest white lace, literally strewn upon the dress: rich embroidery upon the most delicate lawn, edged with deep lace, forming the ruff; a hood of black velvet, decorated with pearls and gold passementerie; white leather shoes, wrought with gold; long worked gloves of thick white kid,—muff, fan, mask—all complete. As the bride came up the hall, she removed her mask, and showed a long pale face, with an unpleasant expression. Her apparent age was about thirty.
"Give you good even, Madam!" she said, in a high shrill voice—not one of those which are proverbially "an excellent thing in woman."
"These be your waiting gentlewomen?"
"These are my daughters," said Lady Enville—stiffly, for her; the mistake had decidedly annoyed her.
"Ah!" And the bride kissed them. Then turning to Rachel,—"This, I account, is the lady mistress?"
("That camlet!" said Lady Enville to herself, deeply vexed.)
Sir Thomas introduced her gravely,—"My sister."
Lady Gertrude's bold dark eyes scanned Rachel with an air of contempt. Rachel, on her part, quite reciprocated the feeling.
"You see, Niece, we keep our velvets for Sundays hereaway," she said in her dry way.
The bride answered by an affected little laugh, a kiss, and a declaration that travelling ruined everything, and that she was not fit to be seen. At a glance from Lady Enville, Clare offered to show Gertrude to her chamber, and they went up-stairs together. Jack strolled out towards the stable.
"Not fit to be seen!" gasped poor Lady Enville. "Sir Thomas, what can we do? In the stead of eighty pound, I should have laid out eight hundred, to match her!"
"Bear it, I reckon, my dear," said he quietly.
"Make thy mind easy, Orige," scornfully answered Rachel. "I will lay my new hood that her father made his fortune in some manner of craft, and hath not been an Earl above these two years. Very ladies should not deal as she doth."
Meanwhile, above their heads, the bride was putting Clare through her catechism.
"One of you maidens is not in very deed Sir John's sister. Which is it?"
"Sir John?" repeated Clare in surprise.
"Of course. Think you I would have wedded a plain Master? I caused my father to knight him first.—Which is it?"
"That am I," said Clare.
"Oh, you? Well, you be not o'er like him. But you look all like unto common country folk that had never been in good company."
Though Clare might be a common country girl, yet she was shocked by Gertrude's rudeness. She had been brought up by Rachel to believe that the quality of her dress was of less consequence than that of her manners. Clare thought that if Gertrude were a fair sample of "good company," she did not wish to mix in it.
"I have been alway bred up in the Court," Gertrude went on, removing her hood. "I never was away thence afore. Of course I do conceive that I am descended to a lower point than heretofore—you have no coach, I dare wager? yet I looked not to find my new kin donned in sorry camlet and mean dowlas. Have you any waiting-maid?—or is that piece of civility [civilisation] not yet crept up into this far corner of the world?"
Clare summoned Jennet, and took her own seat in the further window. The vulgar, purse-proud tone of Gertrude's remarks disgusted her exceedingly. She did not enter into all of them. Simple Clare could not see what keeping a carriage had to do with gentlemanliness.
Jennet came in, and dropped a "lout" to the bride, whom she was disposed to regard with great reverence as a real lady. At that time, "lady" was restricted to women of title, the general designation being "gentlewoman."
"Here, woman!" was Gertrude's peremptory order. "Untwist my hair, and dress it o'er again."
Jennet quickly untwisted the hair, which was elaborately curled and frizzed; and when it was reduced to smoothness, asked,—"What mun [must] I do wi' 't?"
"Eh?" said Gertrude.
"I'm ill set [I find it difficult] to make thore twirls and twists," explained Jennet. "Mun I curl 't, or ye'll ha' 't bred?" [Braided, plaited.]
"What means the jade?" demanded Gertrude with an oath.
Clare was horrified. She had heard men swear when they were in a passion, and one or two when they were not; but that a woman should deliberately preface her words with oaths was something new and shocking to her. Lady Enville's strongest adjurations were mild little asseverations "by this fair daylight," or words no nearer profanity. However, startled as she was, Clare came out of her corner to mediate.
"How should it like you dressed?"
"Oh! with the crisping-pins. 'Twill take as short time as any way."
"Wi' whatten a thingcum?" [with what sort of a thing] stared Jennet.
"I am afeared, Sister, we have no crisping-pins," said Clare.
"No crisping-pins!" cried Gertrude, with another oath. "Verily, I might have come to Barbary! Are you well assured?"
"Be there any manner of irons, Jennet, for crisping or curling the hair?"
"Nay, Mistress Clare, we're Christians here," said Jennet in her coolest manner, which was very cool indeed. "We known nought about French ways, nor foreigners nother. [In Lancashire, strangers to the locality, if only from the next county, are termed foreigners.] There's been no such gear i' this house sin' I come—and that's eighteen year come Lady Day."
"Good sonties! [Little saints!] do't as thou wilt," sneered Gertrude. "I would I had brought all my gear withal. Whate'er possessed yon jade Audrey to fall sick, that I was like to leave her behind at Chester!— Truly, I knew not what idiots I was coming amongst—very savages, that wist not the usages of decent folk!"
"Bi' th' mass!" [not yet obsolete] cried Jennet in burning wrath, resorting to her strongest language, "but I'm no more an idiot nor thee, my well-spoken dame,—nay, nor a savage nother. And afore I set up to dress thy hure again, thou may ask me o' thy bended knees—nor I'll none do't then, I warrant thee!"
And setting down the brush with no light hand, away stalked Miss Jennet, bristling with indignation. Gertrude called her back angrily in vain, looked after her for a moment with parted lips, and then broke forth into a torrent of mingled wrath and profanity. She averred that if one of her fathers servants had thus spoken, she would have had her horsewhipped within an inch of her life. Clare let her run on until she cooled down a little, and then quietly answered that in that part of the world the people were very independent; but if Gertrude would allow her, she would try to dress her hair as well as she could. That it would be of no use to ask Jennet again, Clare well knew; and she shrank from exposing her dear old Barbara to the insolent vulgarity of Gertrude.
"You may as well," said Gertrude coolly, and without a word of thanks. "You be meet for little else, I dare say."
And reseating herself before the mirror, she submitted her hair to Clare's inexperienced handling. For a first attempt, however, the result was tolerably satisfactory, though Clare had never before dressed any hair but her own; and Gertrude showed her gratitude by merely asserting, without anger or swearing, that she was right thankful no ladies nor gentlemen should behold her thus disfigured, as she would not for all the treasures of the Indies that they should. With this delicate compliment to her new relatives, she rustled down into the hall, Clare following meekly. Gertrude had not changed her dress; perhaps she did not think it worth while to honour people who dressed in say and camlet. Sir Thomas received her with scrupulous deference, set her on his right hand, and paid all kindly attention to her comfort. For some time, however, it appeared doubtful whether anything on the supper-table was good enough for the exacting young lady. Those around her came at last to the conclusion that Gertrude's protestations required considerable discount; since, after declaring that she "had no stomach," and "could not pick a lark's bones," she finished by eating more than Clare and Blanche put together. Jack, meanwhile, was attending to his own personal wants, and took no notice of his bride, beyond a cynical remark now and then, to which Gertrude returned a sharp answer. It was evident that no love was lost between them.
As soon as supper was over, the bride went up to her own room, declaring as she went that "if yon savage creature had the handling of her gowns"—by which epithet Clare guessed that she meant Jennet—"there would not be a rag left meet to put on"—and commanding, rather than requesting, that Clare and Blanche would come and help her. Sir Thomas looked surprised.
"Be these the manners of the great?" said he, too low for Jack to hear.
"Oh ay!" responded his wife, who was prepared to fall down at the feet of her daughter-in-law, because she was Lady Gertrude. "So commanding is she!—as a very queen, I do protest. She hath no doubt been used to great store of serving-maidens."
"That maketh not our daughters serving-maids," said Sir Thomas in an annoyed tone.
"I would have thought her mother should have kept her in order," said Rachel with acerbity. "If that woman were my daughter, she had need look out."
Rachel did not know that Gertrude had no mother, and had been allowed to do just as she pleased ever since she was ten years old.
Meanwhile, up-stairs, from trunk after trunk, under Gertrude's directions—she did not help personally—Clare and Blanche were lifting dresses in such quantities that Blanche wondered what they could have cost, and innocent Clare imagined that their owner must have brought all she expected to want for the term of her natural life.
"There!" said Gertrude, when the last trunk which held dresses was emptied. "How many be they? Count. Seventeen—only seventeen? What hath yon lither hilding [wicked girl] Audrey been about? There should be nineteen; twenty, counting that I bear. I would I might be hanged if she hath not left out, my cramoisie! [crimson velvet!] the fairest gown I have! And"—with an oath—"if she hath put in my blue taffata, broidered with seed-pearl, I would I might serve as a kitchener!"
Rachel walked in while Gertrude was speaking.
"Surely you lack no more!" said Blanche. "Here be seven velvet gowns, and four of satin!"
"Enow for you, belike!" answered Gertrude, with a sneer.
"Enow for any Christian woman, Niece, and at the least ten too many," said Rachel severely.
"Lack-a-daisy!—you have dwelt so long hereaway in this wilderness, you wit not what lacketh for decency in apparel," returned Gertrude irreverently, greatly scandalising both her sisters-in-law by her disrespect to Aunt Rachel. "How should I make seventeen gowns serve for a month?"
"If you don a new every second day," said Rachel, "there shall be two left over at the end thereof."
Gertrude stared at her for a moment, then broke into loud laughter.
"Good heart, if she think not they be all of a sort! Why, look you here—this is a riding gown, and this a junketing gown, and this a night-gown [evening dress]. Two left over, quotha!"
"I would fain, Niece," said Rachel gravely, "you had paid as much note unto the adorning of your soul as you have to that of your body. You know 'tis writ—but may be 'tis not the fashion to read God's Word now o' days?"
"In church, of course," replied Gertrude. "Only Puritans read it out of church."
"You be no Puritan, trow?"
"Gramercy! God defend me therefrom!"
"Good lack! 'tis the first time I heard ever a woman—without she were a black Papist—pray God defend her from reading of His Word. Well, Niece, may be He will hear you. Howbeit, 'tis writ yonder that a meek spirit and a quiet is of much worth in His sight. I count you left that behind at Chester, with Audrey and the two gowns that lack?" [That are wanting.]
"I would you did not call me Niece!" responded Gertrude in a querulous tone. "'Tis too-too [exceedingly] ancient. No parties of any sort do now call as of old [Note 2],—'Sister,' or 'Daughter,' or 'Niece'."
"Dear heart! Pray you, what would your Ladyship by your good-will be called?"
"Oh, Gertrude, for sure. 'Tis a decent name—not an ugsome [ugly] old-fashioned, such as be Margaret, or Cicely, or Anne."
"'Tis not old-fashioned, in good sooth," said Rachel satirically; "I ne'er heard it afore, nor know I from what tongue it cometh. Then—as I pick out of your talk—decent things be new-fangled?"
"I want no mouldy old stuff!—There! Put the yellow silk on the lowest shelf."
"'Tis old-fashioned, I warrant you, to say to your sister, 'An' it please you'?"
"And the murrey right above.—Oh, stuff!"
The first half of the sentence was for Clare; the second for Rachel.
"'Tis not ill stuff, Niece," said the latter coolly, as she left the room.
"And what thinkest of Gertrude?" inquired Sir Thomas of his sister, when she rejoined him and Lady Enville.
"Marry!" said Rachel in her dryest manner, "I think the goods be mighty dear at the price."
"I count," returned her brother, "that when Gertrude's gowns be paid for, there shall not be much left over for Jack's debts."
"Dear heart! you should have thought so, had you been above but now. To see her Grace (for she carrieth her like a queen) a-counting of her gowns, and a-cursing of her poor maid Audrey that two were left behind, when seventeen be yet in her coffers!"
"Seventeen!" repeated the Squire, in whose eyes that number was enough to stock any reasonable woman for at least half her life.
"Go to—seventeen!" echoed Rachel.
"Well-a-day! What can the lass do with them all?" wondered Sir Thomas.
"Dear hearts! Ye would not see an earl's daughter low and mean?" interposed Lady Enville.
"If this Gertrude be not so, Orige,—at the least in her heart,—then is Jennet a false speaker, and mine ears have bewrayed me, belike. Methinks a woman of good breeding might leave swearing and foul talk to the men, and be none the worse for the same: nor see I good cause wherefore she should order her sisters like so many Barbary slaves."
"Ay so!—that marketh her high degree," said Lady Enville.
"I wis not, Orige, how Gertrude gat her degree, nor her father afore her," answered Rachel: "but this I will tell thee—that if one of the 'beggarly craftsmen' that Jack loveth to snort at, should allow him, before me, in such talk as I have heard of her, I would call on Sim to put him forth with no more ado. Take my word for it, she cometh of no old nor honourable stock, but is of low degree in very truth, if the truth were known."
Rachel's instinct was right. Lady Gertrude's father was a parvenu, of very mean extraction. Her great-uncle had made the family fortune, partly in trade, but mostly by petty peculations; and her father, who had attracted the Queen's eye when a young lawyer, had been rapidly promoted through the minor grades of nobility, until he had reached his present standing. Gertrude was not noble in respect of anything but her title.
Lady Enville, with a smile which was half amusement and half contempt, rose and retired to her boudoir. Sir Thomas and Rachel sat still by the hall fire, both deeply meditating: the former with his head thrown back, gazing—without seeing them—at the shields painted on the ceiling; while the latter leaned forward towards the fire, resting her chin on both hands.
"What saidst, Tom?" asked Rachel in a dreamy voice.
"I spake not to know it, good Sister: but have what I said, an' thou so wilt. I was thinking on that word of Paul—'Not many noble are called.' I thought, Rachel, how far it were better to be amongst the called of God, than to be of the noble."
"'Tis not the first, time that I have thanked the Lord I am not noble," said Rachel without changing her attitude. "'Tis some comfort to know me not so high up that any shall be like to take thought to cut my head off. And if Gertrude be noble—not to say"—Rachel's voice died away. "Tom," she said in a moment later, "we have made some blunders in our lives, thou and I."
"I have, dear Rachel," said Sir Thomas sighing: "what thine may be I wis not."
"God knoweth!" she replied in a low voice. "And I know of one—the grandest of all blunders. Thou settedst out for Heaven these few months gone, Tom. May be thou shalt find more company on the road than thou wert looking for."
"Clare must be metely well on by this time," she continued in the dry tone with which she often veiled her deepest feelings, "and Blanche is tripping in at the gate, or I mistake. I would not by my goodwill have thee lonely in the road, Tom: and I suppose—there shall be room for more than two a-breast, no' will?" [Will there not?]
During all this time, the once close intercourse between the Court and the parsonage had been somewhat broken off. Arthur had never been in the Squire's house since the day when Lucrece jilted him; and Clare was shy of showing herself in his vicinity. Blanche visited Mrs Tremayne occasionally, and sometimes Lysken paid a return visit; but very much less was seen of all than in old times. When, therefore, it became known at Enville Court that Arthur had received holy orders at the Bishop's last ordination, the whole family as it were woke with a start to the recollection that Arthur had almost passed out of their sphere. He was to be his father's curate for the present—the future was doubtful; but in an age when there were more livings than clergy to fill them, no difficulty need be expected in the way of obtaining promotion.
Just after Jack and Gertrude had returned to London (to the great relief of every one, themselves not excepted), in his usual unannounced style, Mr John Feversham made his appearance at Enville Court. Blanche greeted him with a deep blush, for she felt ashamed of her former unworthy estimate of his character. John brought one interesting piece of news—that his uncle and aunt were well, and Lucrece was now the mother of a little boy.
Lady Enville looked up quickly. Then John was no longer the heir of Feversham Hall. It might therefore be necessary—if he yet had any foolish hopes—to put an extinguisher upon him. She rapidly decided that she must issue private instructions to Sir Thomas. That gentleman, she said to herself, really was so foolish—particularly of late, since he had fallen into the pit of Puritanism—that if she did not look sharply after him, he might actually dream of resigning his last and fairest daughter to a penniless and prospectless suitor. If any such idea existed in the mind of Sir Thomas, of John Feversham, or of Blanche,—and since John had saved Blanche's life, it was not at all unlikely,—it must be nipped in the bud.
Accordingly, on the first opportunity, Lady Enville began.
"Of course you see now, Sir Thomas, how ill a match Master John Feversham should have been for Blanche."
"Wherefore?" was the short answer.
"Sith he is no longer the heir." [Sith and since are both contractions of sithence.]
"Oh!—ah!" said Sir Thomas, as unpromisingly as before.
"Why, surely you would ne'er dream of so monstrous a thing?"
Sir Thomas, who had been looking out of the window, came across to the fire, and took up the master's position before it—standing just in the middle of the hearth with his back to the fire.
"Better wait, Orige, and see whereof John and Blanche be dreaming," said he calmly.
"What reckoneth he to do now, meet for livelihood?"
It would be difficult to estimate the number of degrees by which poor John had fallen in her Ladyship's thermometer, since he had ceased to be the expected heir of Feversham Hall.
"He looketh," said Sir Thomas absently, as if he were thinking of something else, "to receive—if God's good pleasure be—holy orders."
"A parson!" shrieked Lady Enville, in her languid style.
"A parson, Orige. Hast aught against the same?"
"Oh no!—so he come not anear Blanche."
"Wilt hold him off with the fire-fork?"
"Sir Thomas, I do beseech you, consider this matter in sober sadness. Only think, if Blanche were to take in hand any fantasy for him, after his saving of her!"
"Well, Orige—what if so?"
"I cannot bring you to a right mind, Sir Thomas!" said his wife pettishly. "Blanche,—our fairest bud and last!—to be cast away on a poor parson—she who might wed with a prince, and do him no disgrace! It were horrible!"
"Were it?" was the dry response.
"I tell you," said Lady Enville, sitting up in her chair—always with her a mark of agitation—"I would as soon see the child in her coffin!"
"Hush, Orige, hush thee!" replied her husband, very seriously now.
"It were as little grief, Sir Thomas! I would not for the world—nay, not for the whole world—that Blanche should be thus lost. Why, she might as well wed a fisherman at once!"
"Well, the first Christian parsons were fishermen; and I dare be bound they made not ill husbands. Yet methinks, Orige, if thou keptest thy grief until the matter came to pass, it were less waste of power than so."
"'Forewarned is forearmed,' Sir Thomas. And I am marvellous afeared lest you should be a fool."
"Marry guep!" [probably a corruption of go up] ejaculated Rachel, coming in. "'Satan rebuketh sin,' I have heard say, but I ne'er listed him do it afore."
After all, Lady Enville proved a true prophet. Mr John Feversham was so obtuse, so unreasonable, so unpardonably preposterous, as to imagine it possible that Blanche Enville might yet marry him, though he had the prospect of a curacy, and had not the prospect of Feversham Hall.
"I told you, Sir Thomas!" said the prophetess, in the tone with which she might have greeted an earthquake. "Oh that you had listed me, and gat him away hence ere more mischief were done!"
"I see no mischief done, Orige," replied her husband quietly. "We will call the child, and see what she saith."
"I do beseech you, Sir Thomas, commit not this folly! Give your own answer, and let it be, Nay. Why, Blanche may be no wiser than to say him ay."
"She no may," [she may not] said Sir Thomas dryly.
But he was determined to tell her, despite the earnest protestations of his wife, who dimly suspected that Blanche's opinion of John was not what it had been, and was afraid that she would be so wanting in worldly wisdom as to accept his offer. Lady Enville took her usual resource—an injured tone and a handkerchief—while Sir Thomas sent for Blanche.
Blanche, put on her trial, faltered—coloured—and, to her mother's deep disgust, pleaded guilty of loving John Feversham at last. Lady Enville shed some real tears over the demoralisation of her daughter's taste.
"There is no manner of likeness, Blanche, betwixt this creature and Don John," she urged.
"Ay, mother, there is no likeness," said Blanche calmly.
"I thank Heaven for that mercy!" muttered Rachel.
"Likeness!" repeated Sir Thomas. "Jack Feversham is worth fifty Don Johns."
"Dear heart! how is the child changed for the worser!" sobbed her disappointed mother, who saw the coronet and fortune, on which she had long set her heart for Blanche, fading away like a dissolving view.
"Orige, be not a fool!" growled Rachel suddenly. "But, dear heart! I am a fool to ask thee."
There was a family tempest. But at last the minority succumbed; and Blanche became the betrothed of John Feversham.
From the day of Jack's departure from Enville Court with Gertrude, Sir Thomas never heard another word of his debts. Whether Jack paid them, or compounded for them, or let them alone, or how the matter was settled, remained unknown at Enville Court. They only heard the most flourishing accounts of everything connected with Jack and Gertrude. They were always well; Jack was always prospering, and on the point of promotion to a higher step of the social ladder. Sir Thomas declared drily, that his only wonder was that Jack was not a duke by this time, considering how many steps he must have advanced. But Lady Gertrude never paid another visit to Enville Court; and nobody regretted it except Jack's step-mother. Jack's own visits were few, and made at long intervals. His language was always magniloquent and sanguine: but he grew more and more reserved about his private affairs, he aged fast, and his hair was grey at a time of life when his father's had been without a silver thread. Sir Thomas was by no means satisfied with his son's career: but Jack suavely evaded all inquiries, and he came to the sorrowful conclusion that nothing could be done except to pray for him.
It was late in the autumn, and the evening of Blanche's departure from home after her marriage. John Feversham's clerical labours were to lie in the north of Cheshire, so Blanche would not be far away, and might be expected to visit at the Court more frequently than Lucrece or Jack. By the bride's especial request, the whole family from the parsonage were present at the ceremony, and Lysken was one of the bridesmaids.
The guests had been dancing in the hall; they were now resting, standing or sitting in small groups, and conversing,—when Clare stole out of the garden-door, and made her way to the arbour.
She could not exactly tell why she felt so sad. Of course, she was sorry to lose Blanche. Such an occasion did not seem to Clare at all proper for mirth and feasting: on the contrary, it felt the thing next saddest to a funeral. They would see Blanche now and then, no doubt; but she was lost to them on the whole: she would never again be, what she had always been till now, one of themselves, an integral part of the home. And they were growing fewer; only four left now, where there had once been a household of eight. And Clare felt a little of the sadness—felt much more deeply by some than others—of being, though loved by several, yet first with none. Well, God had fixed her lot: and it was a good one, she whispered to herself, as if to repel the sadness gathering at her heart—it was a good one. She would always live at home; she would grow old, ministering to father and mother and aunt— wanted and looked for by all three; not useless—far from it. And that was a great deal. What if the Lord had not thought her meet for work in His outer vineyard?—was not this little home-corner in His vineyard still?—She was not a foundation-stone, not a cornice, not a pillar, in the Church of God. Nay, she thought herself not even one of the stones in the wall: only a bit of mortar, filling up a crevice. But the bit of mortar was wanted, and was in its right place, because the Builder had put it there. That was a great deal—oh yes, it was everything.
"And yet," said Clare's heart,—"and yet!—"
For this was not an unlabelled sorrow. Arthur Tremayne's name was written all over it. And Clare had to keep her heart stayed on two passages of Scripture, which she took as specially for her and those in her position. It is true, they were written of men: but did not the grammar say that the masculine included the feminine? If so, what right had any one to suppose (as Lady Enville had once said flippantly) that "there were no promises in the Bible to old maids?"
Were there not these glorious two?—the one promise of the Old Covenant, the one promise of the New.
"Even unto them will I give in Mine house and within My walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." [Isaiah sixteen verse 5.]
"These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the first-fruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile; for they are without fault before the throne of God." [Revelations fourteen verses 4, 5.]
So Clare was content. Yet it was a sorrowful sort of content, after all—for Clare was human, too.
She was absently pulling off some dead leaves from the arbour, and the sudden jump which she gave showed how much she was startled.
"May I come in, Clare?" asked a voice at the entrance.
"Oh, ay—come in," said Clare, in a flutter, and trembling all over.
"I did not mean to fright you," said Arthur, with a smile, as he came inside and sat down. "I desired speech of you, on a matter whereof I could not well touch save in private. Clare,—may I speak,—dear Clare?"
But of course, dear reader, you know all about it.
So Clare was first with somebody, after all.
Note 1. A price which, about sixty years before, a vice-queen had thought sufficient in presenting a new year's gift to Queen Anne Boleyn. John Husee writes to his mistress, Honour Viscountess Lisle, in 1534, that he has obtained the kersey for her gift to the Queen, eleven and a quarter yards at 5 shillings the yard, "very fine and very white." (Lisle Papers, twelve 90.) A few weeks later he writes, "The Queen's grace liketh your kersey specially well." (Lisle Papers, eleven 112.)
Note 2. The disuse of this custom in England really dates from a rather later period. 'Sister' has somewhat resumed its position, but 'Daughter' and 'Niece,' in the vocative, are never heard amongst us now.
"DIEU LA VOULU."
"Over himself and his own heart's complaining Victorious still."
The bells were pealing merrily for the marriage of Clare Avery—I beg her pardon—of Clare Tremayne; and the wedding party were seated at breakfast in the great hall at Enville Court.
"The bridesmaids be well-looking," said Lady Enville, behind her fan, to Sir Piers Feversham, who was her next neighbour,—for Sir Piers and Lucrece had come to the wedding—"and I do hear Mistress Penelope Travis—she of them that is nearest—is like to be the next bride of our vicinage."
"Say you so?" responded Sir Piers. "I do desire all happiness be with her. But there is one of yonder maids for whom in very deed I feel compassion, and it is Mistress Lysken Barnevelt. Her May is well-nigh over, and no bells be ringing for her. Poor maiden!"
"Go to, now, what dolts be men!" quoth Mistress Rachel Enville, addressing herself, to all appearance, to the dish of flummery which stood before her. "They think, poor misconceiving companions! that we be all a-dying for them. That's a man's notion. Moreover, they take it that 'tis the one end and aim of every woman in the world to be wed. That's a man's notion, again. And belike they fancy, poor patches! that when she striketh thirty years on the bell, any woman will wed any man that will but take compassion to ask her. That caps all their notions. (Thou shalt right seldom hear a woman to make no such a blunder. They know better.) Poor blockheads!—as if we could not be useful nor happy without them! Lysken Barnevelt and Rachel Enville, at the least, be not fools enough to think it."
"Neither is the Queen's Majesty, my mistress," observed Sir Piers, greatly amused.
"Who e'er said the Queen's Majesty were a fool?" demanded Rachel bluntly. "She is a woman, and no man—Heaven be praised for all His mercies!"
"Yet if no man were," pursued Sir Piers, "methinks you gentlewomen should be but ill bestead."
"Oh, should we so?" retorted Rachel. "Look you, women make no wars, nor serve therein: nor women be no lawyers, to set folk by the ears: nor women write not great tomes of controversy, wherein they curse the one the other because Nell loveth a white gown, and Bess would have a black. Is the Devil a woman? Answer me that, I pray you."
"Do women make no wars?" laughed Sir Piers. "What! with Helen of Troy, and—"
"Good lack, my master!—and what ill had Helen's fair face wrought in all this world, had there been no dolts of men to be beguilen thereby?" was Rachel's instant response.
Sir Piers made a hasty retreat from that part of the field.
"But, my mistress, though the Devil be no woman, yet was the woman the first to be deceived by him."
"Like enough!" snapped Rachel. "She sinned not open-eyed, as did Adam. She trusted a man-devil, like too many of her daughters sithence, and she and they alike have found bitter cause to rue the day they did it."
Sir Piers prudently discovered that Lady Enville was asking him a question, and let Rachel alone thereafter.
Ay, Lysken Barnevelt adopted from choice the life to which Clare had been only willing to resign herself because she thought it was the Father's will. It amused Lysken to hear people pity her as one who had failed to win the woman's aim in life. To have failed to obtain what she had never sought, and did not want, was in Lysken's eyes an easily endurable affliction. The world was her home, while she passed through it on her journey to the better Home: and all God's family were her brethren or her children. The two sisters from Enville Court were both happy and useful in their corners of the great harvest-field; but she was the happiest, and the best loved, and when God called her the most missed of all—this solitary Lysken. Distinguished by no unusual habit, fettered by no unnatural vow, she went her quiet, peaceful, blessed way—a nun of the Order of Providence, for ever.
And what was the fate of Lady Enville?
Just what is generally the fate of women of her type. They pass through life making themselves vastly comfortable, and those around them vastly uncomfortable, and then "depart without being desired." They are never missed—otherwise than as a piece of furniture might be missed. To such women the whole world is but a platform for the exhibition and glorification of the Great Me: and the persons in it are units with whom the Great Me deigns—or does not deign—to associate. Happy are those few of them who awake, on this side of the dread tribunal, to the knowledge that in reality this Great Me is a very little me indeed, yet a soul that can be saved, and that may be lost.
And Rachel?—Ah, Rachel was missed when she went on the inevitable journey. The house was not the same without her. She had been like a fresh breeze blowing through it,—perhaps a little sharp at times, but always wholesome. Those among whom she had dwelt never realised all she had been to them, nor all the love they had borne to her, until they could tell her of it no more.
The winter of 1602 had come, and on the ground in Devonshire the snow lay deep. The trees, thickly planted all round Umberleigh, drooped with the white weight; and a keen North wind groaned among the branches. All was gloomy and chill outside.
And inside, all was gloomy and mournful too, for a soul was in departing. The ripe fruit that had tarried so late on the old tree, was shaken down at last. Softly and tenderly, the Lady Elizabeth, the young wife of Sir Robert Basset, was ministering to the last earthly needs of Philippa the aged, the sister of her husband's grandfather. [Note 1.]
"'Tis high time, Bess, child!" whispered the dying woman, true to her character to the last. "I must have been due on the roll of Death these thirty years. I began to marvel if he had forgot me. And I am going Home, child. Thank God, I am going Home!
"They are are all safe yonder, Bess—Arthur, and Nell [Wife of Sir Arthur Basset], and little Honor, and thy little lad [Arthur, who died in infancy], and Jack, and Frances—my darling sister!—and George, and Kate, and Nan. I am assured of them, all. There be James and Mall,— well, I am not so sure of them. Would God I were! He knoweth.
"But I do hope I shall see my mother. And, O Bess! I shall see him—my blessed, beloved father—I shall see him!
"And they'll be glad, child. They'll all be glad when they see poor blundering old Philippa come stumbling in at the gate. I misdoubt if they look for it. They'll be glad!
"Bess, I do hope thou wilt ne'er turn thy back upon God so many years as I have done. And I had never turned to Him at last, if He had not stooped and turned me.
"Tell Robin, with my blessing, to be a whole man for God. A whole man and a true! He is too rash—and yet not bold [true] enough. He cares too much what other folk think. (Thank God, I ne'er fell in that trap! 'Tis an ill one to find the way out.) Do thou keep him steadfast, Bess. He'll ask some keeping. There's work afore thee yet, child; 'tis work worthy an angel—to keep one man steadfast for God. Thou must walk close to God thyself to do it. And after all, 'twill be none of thy doing, but of His that wrought by thee.—
"And God bless the childre! I count there's the making of a true man in little Arthur. Thou mayest oft-times tell what a child is like to be when he is but four years old. God bless him, and make him another Arthur! (Nay, I stay me not at Robin's father, as thou dost. Another Arthur,—like that dear father of ours, whom we so loved! He is the Arthur for me.) I can give the lad no better blessing.
"Wilt draw the curtain, Bess? I feel as though I might sleep. Bless thee, dear heart, for all thy tender ministering. And if I wake not again, but go to God in sleep,—farewell, and Christ be with thee!"
So she slept—and woke not again.
Three months after the death of Philippa Basset, came another death— like hers, of an old woman full of years. The last of the Tudors passed away from earth. Sir Robert Basset was free. To Stuart, or Seymour, or Clifford, he "owed no subscription." King of England he would be de facto, as de jure he believed himself in his heart.
And but for two obstacles in his way, it might have been Robert Basset who seated himself on the seat of England's Elizabeth. For England was much exercised as to who had really the right to her vacant throne.
It was no longer a question of Salic law—a dispute whether a woman could reign. That point, long undetermined, had been finally settled fifty years before.
Nor was it any longer a doubtful matter concerning the old law of non-representation,—to which through centuries the English clung tenaciously,—the law which asserted that if a son of the sovereign predeceased his father, leaving issue, that issue was barred from the succession, because the link which bound them to the throne was lost. This had been "the custom of England" for at least three hundred years. But, originally altered by the mere will of Edward the Third, the change had now been confirmed by inevitable necessity, for when the Wars of the Roses closed, links were lost in all directions, and the custom of England could no longer be upheld.
The two obstacles in Robert Basset's way were the apathy of the majority, and the strong contrary determination of the few who took an interest in the question.
The long reign of Elizabeth, and her personal popularity, had combined to produce that apathy. Those who even dimly remembered the Wars of the Roses, and whose sympathies were fervid for White or Red, had been long dead when Elizabeth was gathered to her fathers. And to the new generation, White and Red were alike; the popular interest in the question was dead and buried also.
But there was a little knot of men and women whose interest was alive, and whose energies were awake. And all these sided with one candidate. Sir Robert Cecil, the clever, wily son of the sagacious Burleigh,—Lord Rich and his wife Penelope sister of the beheaded Earl of Essex,—Robert Carey, a distant cousin of Queen Elizabeth through her mother,—his sister, Lady Scrope, one of the Queen's suite—and a few more, were all active in the interest of James the Sixth of Scotland, who was undoubtedly the true heir, if that true heir were not Sir Robert Basset.
In their way, too, there was an obstacle. And they were all intent on getting rid of it.
King Henry the Eighth had introduced into the complicated question of the succession one further complication, which several of his predecessors had tried to introduce in vain. The success of all, before him, had been at best only temporary. It took a Tudor will to do the deed, and it took an obsequious Tudor age to accept it.
This new element was the pure will of the sovereign. Richard the First had willed his crown to a nephew shut out by the law of non-representation, and the attempt had failed to change the order of succession. Edward the Third had in his life demanded the consent of his nobility to a scheme exactly similar on behalf of his grandson, and his plan had taken effect for twenty-three years, mainly on account of the fact that the dispossessed heir, a protesting party in the first case, had been a consenting party in the second. But one great element in the success of Henry the Fourth was the return of the succession to the old and beloved order.
The principle on which Henry the Eighth had governed for nearly forty years was his own despotic will. And it would appear that England liked his strong hand upon the rein. He had little claim beyond his strong hand and (so much as he had of) his "Right Divine." Having become accustomed to obey this man's will for thirty-eight years, when that will altered the order of succession after the deaths of his own children, England placidly submitted to the prospective change.
His son, Edward the Sixth, followed his father's example, and again tried to alter the succession by will. But he had inherited only a portion of his father's prestige. The party which would have followed him was just the party which was not likely to struggle for its rights. The order set up by Henry the Eighth prevailed over the change made by Edward the Sixth.
But when Elizabeth came to die, the prestige of Henry the Eighth had faded, and it was to her personal decision that England looked for the settlement of the long-vexed question. The little knot of persons who wished to secure the King of Scots' accession, therefore, were intensely anxious to obtain her assent to their project.
The Delphic oracle remained obstinately silent. Neither grave representations of necessity, nor coaxing, could induce her to open her lips upon the subject; and as no living creature had ever taken Elizabeth off her guard, there was no hope in that direction. The old woman remembered too well the winter day, forty-five years before, when the time-serving courtiers left the dying sister at Westminster, to pay court to the living sister at Hatfield; and with the mixture of weakness and shrewdness which characterised her, she refused to run the risk of its repetition by any choice of a successor from the candidates for the throne.
There were five living persons who could set up a reasonable claim, of whom four were descendants of Henry the Seventh. They were all a long way from the starting-point.
The first was the King of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James the Fifth, son of Princess Margaret of England, eldest daughter of Henry the Seventh.
The second was the Lady Arbella Stuart, the only child of Lord Charles Stuart, son of Lady Margaret Douglas, daughter of the same Princess Margaret.
The third was Edward Seymour, son of Lady Katherine Grey, daughter of Lady Frances Brandon, eldest daughter of Princess Mary, youngest daughter of Henry the Seventh.
The fourth was Lady Anne Stanley, eldest daughter of Ferdinand Earl of Derby, son of Lady Margaret Clifford, only daughter of Lady Eleanor Brandon, second daughter of the same Princess Mary.
And the fifth was Sir Robert Basset of Umberleigh, son of Sir Arthur Basset, son of Lady Frances Plantagenet, eldest daughter of Arthur Lord Lisle, son of Edward the Fourth.
Of these five, the one who would have inherited the Crown, under the will of Henry the Eighth, was unquestionably Edward Seymour; and, Mary and Elizabeth being both now dead, the reversion fell to him also under that of Edward the Sixth. But, strange to say, he was not a formidable opponent of James of Scotland. Queen Elizabeth had been so deeply offended with his mother (Lady Katherine Grey, sister of the beheaded Lady Jane) for making a love-match without her royal licence, that she had immured both bride and bridegroom in the Tower for years. Perhaps the prestige of Elizabeth's will remained potent, even after Elizabeth was dead; perhaps Edward Seymour had no wish to occupy such a thorny seat as the throne of England. Neither he nor Lady Anne Stanley set up the faintest claim to the succession; though Seymour, at least, might have done so with a decided show of justice, as the law of succession then stood. By the two royal wills, King James of Scotland, and his cousin, Lady Arbella Stuart, were entirely dispossessed; their claim had to be made under the law as it had stood unaltered by the will of Henry the Eighth.
But there was one prior question, which, had it been settled in the affirmative, would have finally disposed of all these four claims at once. If the contract between Edward the Fourth and Elizabeth Lucy were to be regarded as a legal marriage, then there could be no doubt who was the true heir. Better than any claim of Stuart or Tudor, of Seymour or Stanley, was then that of the Devonshire knight, Sir Robert Basset. For fifteen hundred years, a contract had been held as legal marriage. The vast estates of the Plantagenets of Kent had passed to the Holands on the validity of a contract no better, and perhaps worse, than that of Elizabeth Lucy. [Note 2.] Why was this contract to be set aside?
Had England at large been less apathetic, or had the little knot of agitators been less politic, a civil war might have been reasonably anticipated. But the intriguers were determined that James of Scotland should succeed; and James himself, aware of the flaw in his title, was busily working with them to the same end. Cecil, Lady Rich, Lady Scrope, and Carey, were all pledged to let him know the exact moment of the Queen's, decease, that he might set out for England at once.
All was gloom and suspense in the chamber of Richmond Palace, where the great Queen of England lay dying. Her ladies and courtiers urged her to take more nourishment,—she refused. They urged her to go to bed,—she refused. She would be a queen to her last breath. No failure of bodily strength could chill or tame the lion heart of Elizabeth.
At last, very delicately, Cecil attempted to sound the dying Queen on that subject of the succession, always hitherto forbidden. Her throat was painful, and she spoke with difficulty: Cecil, as spokesman for her Council, asked her to declare "whom she would have for King," offering to name sundry persons, and requesting that. Her Majesty would hold up her finger when he came to the name which satisfied her. To test the vigour of her mind, he first named the King of France.
Elizabeth did not stir.
"The King's Majesty of Scotland?"
There was no sign still.
"My Lord Beauchamp?"—Edward Seymour, the heir according to the wills of her father and brother.
Then the royal lioness was roused.
"I tell you," she said angrily, "I will have no rascal's son in my seat, but a king's son."
There was no king's son among the candidates but one, and that was James of Scotland.
Once more, when she was past speech, Elizabeth was asked if she wished James to succeed her. She indicated her pleasure in a manner which some modern writers have questioned, but which was well understood in her own day. Lifting her clasped hands to her head, the dying Elizabeth made them assume the form of a crown; and once more those around her knew that she desired her successor to be a king.
Tradition says that as soon as Elizabeth was dead, Lady Scrope dropped a sapphire ring from the window—a preconcerted signal—to her brother, Robert Carey, who was waiting below. Carey states that he was told in a more matter-of-fact way—by a sentinel, whom he had previously requested to bring him the news.
That hour Carey set out: and except for one night's rest at Carlisle, he spurred night and day till he stood before King James. There was a sudden intimation—a hurried action taken—and the Stuarts were Kings of England.
The claims of the Lady Arabella were disposed of by making her a companion to the new Queen, until she had the presumption to marry, and, of all people, to marry the heir under King Henry the Eighth's will. This was too much. She was imprisoned for life, and she died in her prison, simply because she was her father's daughter and her husband's wife.
The claims of Lord Beauchamp and Lady Anne Stanley needed no disposal, since they had both remained perfectly quiescent, and had put forth no claim.
But Robert Basset was not so easily managed. James knew that he was capable of making the throne a very uncomfortable seat. And Basset, with his usual rashness, had on the Queen's death dashed into the arena and boldly asserted his right as the heir of Edward the Fourth. The only way to dispose of him was by making him realise that the crown was beyond his grasp; and that if he persevered, he would find the scaffold and the axe within it. This was accordingly done so effectually that weak, impulsive Basset quailed before the storm, and fled to France to save his own life. He survived the accession of James the First for seventeen years at least [Note 3]; but no more was heard of his right to the throne of England.