Lord Oxford came to Town in May, and Aubrey at once began his duties as a squire in his household. During June and July, he ran into the White Bear some half-dozen times in an evening, he said, to assure them that he was still alive. In August and September he was more remiss: and after October had set in, they scarcely saw him once a month. It was noticeable, when he did come, that the young gentleman was becoming more fashionable and courtly than of old. Lettice asked him once if he had bidden the tailor to make his garments of snips, since the brown suit which had been his Sunday best was breaking out all over into slashes whence puffs of pink were visible. Aubrey drew himself up with a laugh, and told his cousin that she knew nothing of the fashions. Lettice fancied she caught the gleam of a gold chain beneath his doublet, but it was carefully buttoned inside so as not to show.
Meanwhile, Hans—whose brown suit did not break out like Aubrey's—was very busy in the garden, which he diligently dug and stocked. When this was done, he applied to a neighbouring notary, and brought home bundles of copying, at which he worked industriously in an evening. In the afternoon he was generally from home; what he did with himself on these occasions he did not say, and he was so commonly and thoroughly trusted that no one thought it necessary to ask him.
Edith and Temperance, coming in together one evening, were informed that Mrs Rookwood had called during their absence, bringing with her Dorothy, Aubrey's beauty.
"And didst thou think her beauteous, Lettice?" asked her Aunt Edith, with an amused smile.
"Truly, Aunt Edith, I marvel what Aubrey would be at. His fancies must be very diverse from mine. I would liever a deal have our Rachel."
Temperance laughed, for Rachel had few claims of this nature.
"What like is she, Lettice?"
"She hath jet-black hair, Aunt, and thick black brows, with great shining eyes—black likewise; and a big nose-end, and pouting big red lips."
"Humph! I reckon folks see beauty with differing eyes," said Temperance.
The coronation did not take place before July. It was followed by severe pestilence, supposed to arise from the numbers who crowded into Town to witness the ceremony. Temperance kept fires of sweet herbs burning in the garden, and insisted on every body swallowing liberal doses of brick and wormwood, fasting, in the morning—her sovereign remedy against infection. Mrs Abbott said that her doctor ordered her powder of bezoar stone for the same purpose, while the Rookwoods held firmly by a mixture of unicorn's horn and salt of gold. In consequence or in spite of these invaluable applications, no one suffered in the three houses in King Street. His Majesty was terribly afraid of the pestilence; all officials not on duty were ordered home, and all suitors—namely, petitioners—were commanded to avoid the Court till winter. A solemn fast for this visitation was held in August; the statutes against vagabonds and "masterless men" were confirmed, whereat Temperance greatly rejoiced; and "dangerous rogues" were to be banished.
This last item was variously understood, some supposing it aimed at the Jesuits, and some at the Puritans. It was popularly reported that the King "loved no Puritans," as it was now usual to term those Churchmen who declined to walk in the Ritualistic ways of the High Church party. To restrict the term Puritan to Nonconformists is a modern mistake. When, therefore, James began his reign by large remittances of fines to his Romish subjects, issued a declaration against toleration, revived the Star Chamber, and appointed Lord Henry Howard, a Roman Catholic, to the Privy Council, the Papists were encouraged, and the Puritans took alarm. The latter prepared to emigrate on a large scale to the American plantations, where no man could control them in religious matters; the former raised their heads and ventured on greater liberties than they had dared to take during the reign of the dead Queen. The French Ambassador, however, curled his lip contemptuously, and informed his master that James was a hypocrite.
The position of the English Roman Catholics at this time was peculiar and not agreeable. But in order to understand it, we must go back for thirty-five years—to the close of that halcyon period, the earliest ten years of Elizabeth, when the few Romanists then left in England generally came to church like other good citizens, and if they chose to practise the rites of their own faith in private, no notice was taken of it. It was not the Protestant Government, but the Papal See, which was responsible for the violent ending of this satisfactory state of things, when it was perceived at Rome that the Reformation was so thoroughly settled, and the nation so completely severed from Latin control, that (in the words of one of those who attempted the Queen's life) "unless Mistress Elizabeth were suddenly taken away, all the devils in Hell should not be able to shake it." In 1568, therefore, Pope Pius the Fifth put forth a Bull which excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, deposed her, absolved her subjects from their allegiance, and solemnly cursed them if they continued to obey her. To her Protestant subjects, of course, this act of usurpation was mere waste paper—the private spleen of an Italian priest who had no jurisdiction in this realm of England. But to the Romanists it was the solemn decree of Christ by His appointed Vicar, to be obeyed at the peril of their salvation. The first visible effect of the Bull was that they all "did forthwith refrain the church," and joined no more with their fellow-subjects in public prayer. The Queen contented herself in answer with forbidding the bringing in of Bulls—which was no more than Edward the First had done before her. Had the Pope and the Jesuits been then content to let matters rest, no difficulty might have arisen: but they would not. First Mayne, then Campion, the first Jesuit who entered England, were sent to "move sedition," and to "make a party in execution of the former Bull." To this followed an influx of treasonable books. It had now become evident that the Papal Bull was to be no mere brutum fulmen which might be safely left alone to die out, but a deliberate attempt to stir up rebellion against the Queen. For the Government to have kept silence would have been practically to throw their influence into the scale against the reign and the life of their Sovereign Lady.
It is now fashionable with a certain section to stigmatise Elizabeth as a persecutor, and to represent the penal laws against the Papists enacted in her reign as cruel oppressions of innocent and harmless persons, enforced simply because they believed certain religious doctrines. Those who will carefully follow the facts can hardly avoid seeing that the disloyalty preceded the coercion, and that if the Romanists were maddened into plotting against the Government by oppressive laws, those laws were not due to groundless fear or malice, but were simply the just reward of their own deeds. During the five years of Queen Mary, three hundred men, women, and children, were put to death for their religious opinions only. During the forty-four years of Queen Elizabeth, less than thirty priests, and five harbourers of priests, were executed, not for their opinions nor their religion, but for distinctly treasonable practices. [Note 4.]
When matters had come to this pass, in 1580, the first penal laws were issued, against recusancy and seditious publications. The penalty for recusancy—by which was meant a legal conviction for absence from public worship on religious grounds—"was not loss of life or limb, or whole estate, but only a pecuniary mulct and penalty; and that also only until they would submit and conform themselves and again come to church, as they had done for ten years before the Pope's Bull." Twenty pounds per lunar month was the fine imposed; but this referred only to adult males, "not being let by sickness." Compared with the laws of Queen Mary, and even of her predecessors, this penalty was gentleness itself; and those modern writers who see in it cruelty and rigour must have little knowledge of comparative history. Yet so far was this from stopping the flow of treason, that a Jesuit mission entered England with the special purpose of teaching the people that under the Bull of Pope Pius the Queen stood excommunicated, and that it was a positive sin to obey her. Their success was only too manifest. Men of all sorts and conditions, from peers to peasants, were "reconciled" in numbers by their teaching. If this were to go on, not only would Elizabeth's life be the forfeit, but the Reformation settlement would be uprooted and undone, and the blood of the Marian martyrs would have been shed for nought.
The laws were now made more stringent. By the Act of 1580 it had been provided that every priest saying mass should be liable to a fine of two hundred marks (133 pounds), with half that sum for every hearer, and both to imprisonment for a year, or in the priest's case until the fine was paid. Now, all Jesuits and priests ordained since the Queen's accession were banished the kingdom, being allowed forty days after the close of the session; and none were to enter it, on penalty of death. All persons receiving or assisting such priests were held guilty of felony. Recusants were to be imprisoned until they should conform, and if they remained obstinate for three months, they must be banished.
These penal laws, however, were rarely enforced. They were kept as a sword of Damocles, suspended over the heads of the unhappy Romanists, and capable of being brought down on them at any moment. In the hands of an unscrupulous Minister of the Crown they might be made an agency of considerable vexation: yet no reasonable remonstrance could be offered to the reminder that these penalties were inflicted by law, and it was only of the Queen's clemency that they had not been earlier exacted. It must also be admitted that the penal laws bore in reality much harder on the Romanists than they seem to do in Protestant eyes. To deprive a Protestant of the services of a clergyman is at most to incommode him; to deprive a Papist of his priest is equivalent in his eyes to depriving him of his salvation. To them, therefore, it was a matter of life and death. And yet, it must not be forgotten, they had brought it on themselves.
With the death of Elizabeth came a serious change. Revile her as they might, under her the Romanists had been on the whole gently and justly used. But it was in reality, though they could not see it, after her the deluge.
Who was to be Elizabeth's successor had been for years at once a serious and an unsettled question. There were three persons living when she died, each of whom could have put forward a claim to the Crown on various grounds.
Humanly speaking, the decision was made by two groups of persons—the Careys and Cecils, and the Romanists of England—both of whom were determined that James of Scotland should succeed. The latter had been working for some time past, and had secured promises from James that he would extend special toleration to them. He was expected to look kindly on the party which had adhered to his mother—it would be difficult to say why, since in Scotland his adherents had always been at war with hers—and it was remembered that he had been born and baptised in the Church of Rome. The Roman party, therefore, wrought earnestly in his favour. Sir Thomas Tresham proclaimed him at Northampton, at considerable personal risk; his sons and Lord Monteagle assisted the Earl of Southampton to hold the Tower for James. The Pope, Clement the Eighth, was entirely on James's side, of whose conversion he entertained the warmest hopes. To the French Ambassador, Monsieur de Beaumont, James asserted that "he was no heretic, that is, refusing to recognise the truth; neither was he a Puritan, nor separated from the Church: he held episcopacy as necessary, and the Pope as the chief bishop, namely, the president and moderator of councils, but not the head nor superior."
We in this nineteenth century, accustomed to ideas of complete and perpetual toleration, and alas! also to Gallio-like apathy and indifference, can scarcely form a conception of what was at that time the popular estimate of a Papist. A fair view of it is given by the following sarcastic description, written on the fly-leaf of a volume of manuscript sermons of this date.
"The Blazon of a Papist ['priest' is erased] contrived prettily by som Herault of Armes in ye compasse of Armoury.
"First. There is papist Rampant, a furious beast: 'tis written that the Diuell goes about like a roaring Lion, but the Diuell himselfe is not more fierce and rigorous then is papist where [he] is of force and ability to shew his tyranny: wittnes ye murthers, ye massacres, ye slaughters, ye poysoning, ye stabbing, ye burning, ye broyling, ye torturing, ye tormenting, ye persecuting, with other their bloody executions, euery [sic] fresh in example, infinite to be told, and horrible to be rememberd.
"Second. A papist Passant: he's an instrument of sedition, of insurrection, of treason, of Rebellion, a priest, a Jesuite, a seminary, and such other as find so many friends in England and Ireland both to receaue and harbour them, that it is to be feard we shall smart for it one day.
"Third. A papist Volant; of all the rest, these I take to do the least harme: yet they will say they fly for their consciences, when its apparently known they both practice and conspire.
"Fourth. A papist Regardant; he obserus times, occasions, places, and persons, and though he be one of the Popes intelligencers, yet he walks with such circumspection and heed, that he is not known but to his own faction.
"Fifth. A papist Dormant: he's a sly companion, subtill as a fox: he sleeps with open eyes, yet somtymes seeming to winke, he looks and pries into opportunity, still feeding himselfe with those hopes that I am in hope shall never do him good.
"Sixth. A papist Couchant: this is a daungerous fellow, and much to be feard; he creeps into the bosom of ye state, and will not stick to look into ye Court, nay, if he can, into Court counsells: he will shew himselfe tractable to ye co[mm]on wealthe prescriptions, and with this shew of obedience to Law, he doth ye Pope more service then 20 others that are more resisting.
"Seventh. A papist Pendant: indeed a papist pendant is in his prime p'fection: a papist pendant is so fitting a piece of Armoury for ye time present, as all Herauds in England are not able better to display him: a papist is then in chiefe when he is a Pendant, and he neuer comes to so high p'ferment, but by ye Popes especiall blessing." [Note 5.]
James's first act, when his succession was peaceably ensured, was to remit the fines for recusancy. For the first and second years of his reign, they were not enforced at all. The sum paid into the Exchequer on this account, in the last year of Elizabeth, was 10,333 pounds; in the first and second years of James it was about 300 and 200 pounds respectively. But in his third year, the fines were suddenly revived, and the Romanists took alarm. The King was evidently playing them false. He had been heard to say that "the Pope was the true Antichrist," that "he would lose his crown and his life before he would alter religion;" that "he never had any thought of granting toleration to the Catholics, and that if he thought that his son would condescend to any such course, he would wish the kingdom translated to his daughter;" and lastly, that "he had given them a year of probation, to conform themselves, which, seeing it had not wrought that effect, he had fortified all the laws against them, and commanded them to be put in execution to the uttermost."
Early in 1604, all Jesuits and seminary priests were banished; the recusancy fines and arrears were soon after stringently exacted, and many Roman Catholic families almost reduced to beggary. Sudden domiciliary visits were made in search of concealed priests, usually in the dead of night: empty beds were examined, walls struck with mallets, rapiers thrust into the chinks of wainscots. The Jesuit missionaries were in especial danger; they went about disguised, hid themselves under secular callings and travelled from one house to another, using a different name at each, to avoid discovery. One priest, named Moatford, passed as the footman of Lord Sandys' daughter, wore his livery, and said mass in secret when it seemed safe to do so. Serious difficulties were thrown in the way of educating children; if they were sent abroad, the parents were subject to a fine of 100 pounds; if taught at home by a recusant tutor, both he and his employer were mulcted in forty shillings per day.
It was in these circumstances that the Gunpowder Plot originated,—not from some sudden ebullition of groundless malice: and it was due, not to the Romanists at large, but to that section of them only which constituted the Jesuit party.
It is not generally understood that the Roman Church, which boasts so loudly of her perfect unity, is really divided in two parties, one siding with, and the other against, that powerful and mysterious body calling itself the Society of Jesus. It is with this body, "the power behind the Pope,"—which Popes have ere this striven to put down, and have only fallen a sacrifice themselves—that political plots have most commonly originated, and the Gunpowder Plot was no exception to the general rule. It was entirely got up by the Jesuit faction, the ordinary Roman Catholics not merely having nothing to do with it, but placing themselves, when interrogated, in positive opposition to it.
There are certain peculiarities concerning the conspirators which distinguish this enterprise from others of its class. They were mostly young men; they were nearly all connected by ties of blood or marriage; two-thirds of them, if not more, were perverts from Protestantism; and so far from being the vulgar, brutal miscreants usually supposed, they were—with one exception—gentlemen of name and family, and some of good fortune; educated and accomplished men, who honestly believed themselves to be doing God service. It is instructive to read their profound conviction that they were saving their country's honour, furthering their own salvation, and promoting the glory of God. The slaughter of the innocents which necessarily attended their project was lamentable indeed, but inevitable, and gave rise to as little real compunction as the eating of beef and mutton. These men were by no means heartless; they were only blind from ignorance of Scripture, and excess of zeal in a false cause.
The original propounder of the plot was unquestionably Robert Catesby, of Ashby Saint Ledgers, a Northamptonshire gentleman of ancient ancestry and fair estate. He first whispered it in secret to John Wright, a Lincolnshire squire, and soon afterwards to Thomas Winter, a younger brother of the owner of Huddington Hall in Worcestershire, and a distant cousin of an old friend of some of my readers—Edward Underhill, the "Hot Gospeller." Thomas Winter communicated it in Flanders to Guy Fawkes, a young officer of Yorkshire birth, and these four met with a fifth, Thomas Percy, cousin and steward of the Earl of Northumberland. The object of the meeting was to consider the condition of the Roman Catholics, with a view to taking action for its relief. There was also a priest in the company, but who he was did not transpire, though it is almost certain to have been one of the three Jesuits chiefly concerned in the plot—John Gerard, Oswald Greenway, or Henry Garnet. Percy, usually fertile in imagination and eager in action, was ready with a proposition at once. He said—
"The only way left for us is to kill the King; and that will I undertake to do. From him we looked for bread, and have received nought save stones. Let him be prayed to visit my Lord Mordaunt at Turvey, where a masque may be had for him; and he once there, in the house of one of us (though my Lord be not known so to be), he is at our mercy. How say you, gentlemen?"
"Nay, my son," replied the priest. "There is a better course in hand— even to cut up the very roots, and remove all impediments whatsoever."
"That were to run great risk and accomplish little," added Catesby. "No, Tom: thou shalt not adventure thyself to so small purpose. If thou wilt be a traitor, I have in mine head a much further design than that,—to greater advantage, and that can never be discovered."
Every body wished to know his meaning.
"I have bethought me," continued Catesby, "of a way at one instant to deliver us from all our bonds, and without any foreign help to replant again the Catholic religion. In a word, it is to blow up the Parliament House with gunpowder, for in that place have they done us all the mischief, and perchance God hath designed that place for their punishment."
"Truly, a strange proposal!" said Thomas Winter. "The scandal would be so great that the Catholic religion might sustain thereby."
"The nature of the disease requires so sharp a remedy," was Catesby's reply.
"But were it lawful?" objected John Wright. "Ask your ghostly father," said Catesby, who was pretty sure of the answer in that case.
"But remember," said Winter, "there are many of our friends and Catholic brethren amongst the Lords: shall we destroy them with the rest?"
Catesby's answer was in principle that of Caiaphas. "Ay: 'tis expedient the few die for the good of the many."
The next step was to obtain a house convenient for their operations,— namely, so close to the Houses of Parliament that they could carry a mine from its cellar right under the House. Percy was deputed to attend to this matter, as his circumstances offered an excuse for his seeking such a house. He was one of the band of gentlemen pensioners, whose duty it was to be in daily attendance on the King; a position into which he had been smuggled by his cousin Lord Northumberland, without having taken the oath requisite for it. This oath Percy could not conscientiously have taken, since by it he renounced the authority of the Pope. A little study of the topography induced him to fix on two contiguous houses, which stood close to the House of Lords. On investigation, it was found that these two houses belonged to the Parliament, and were held by Mr Wyniard, Keeper of the King's Wardrobe, "an ancient and honest servant of Queen Elizabeth." Both, however, had been sub-let by him—the nearer to Mr Henry Ferris; the further to Gideon Gibbons, a public porter, subsequently utilised by the plotters, to his danger and discomfort. Percy, therefore, in March, 1604, "began to labour earnestly" with Mr Wyniard and his wife to obtain these houses. Mrs Wyniard seems chiefly to have attended to this business; her husband was not improbably incapacitated by age or ill-health. Percy's efforts proved successful. He was accepted as tenant by the Wyniards at a rent of 12 pounds per annum, Mr Ferris being bought out with 30 pounds for his good-will and 5 pounds more "in consideration of the charges of the house." The agreement was signed on the 24th of May.
The next united act of these five exemplary gentlemen was to meet at a house "in the fields behind Saint Clement's Church, near the arch, near the well called Saint Clement's Well." This seems to have been the residence of the Jesuit priest Gerard; but it is uncertain whether it was identical with that of Percy, or with that of Mrs Herbert, where Fawkes had apartments, both which are also described as "beyond Saint Clement's." Gerard, who was in the company, was with delicate consideration left in an upper room, where he was provided with all necessaries for the celebration of mass, while the conspirators proceeded to business alone in the lower apartment. Taking a primer in his hand, Catesby administered to his four accomplices this oath, which he also took himself:—
"You swear by the blessed Trinity, and by the Sacrament which you now propose to receive, never to disclose directly or indirectly, by word or circumstance, the matter that shall be proposed to you to keep secret, nor desist from the execution thereof till the rest shall give you leave."
Then they passed into the upper room, where Gerard stood ready robed, and received the host from his hands—with what "intention" being unknown to him, if the assertion of the conspirators may be believed.
I have gone rather too far, chronologically speaking, in order to tell this part of the story straight through; and now we must go back a little. About four months before this oath was taken, in January, 1604, was held the famous conference of bishops at Hampton Court. The King, who, though baptised a Roman Catholic, had been educated as a Presbyterian, propounded various queries to the hierarchy concerning practices which puzzled him in the Church of England, of which he was now the supreme head upon earth. In the first place, he desired to know the meaning of the rite of confirmation: "if they held the sacrament of baptism invalidous without it, then was it in his judgment blasphemous; yet if it were only that children might themselves profess and be blessed, then very good." The absolution of the Church he had heard compared to the Pope's pardons. Private baptism, he would have administered only by a lawful minister; and concerning excommunications he had also something to say. On all these points the bishops fully satisfied his Majesty, "whose exquisite expositions did breed wonder and astonishment in that learned and noble audience." Modern readers of the proceedings have been much less inclined to astonishment, except indeed that the bishops should have been so easily astonished. On the second day, a deputation was received from the Puritan ministers, who petitioned for four points—which had they gained, the nineteenth century would have found its burdens considerably lightened. They requested that the doctrine of the Church might be preserved pure, according to God's Word; that good pastors might be planted in all churches, to preach in the same; that the Book of Common Prayer might be fitted to more increase of piety; and that Church government might be sincerely ministered according to God's Word.
King James made the deputation explain themselves; and after a day's debate, he angrily told them that they were aiming at a Scottish presbytery, which agreed with monarchy as well as God and the Devil. "No bishop, no king!" added his Majesty. Some few members of the Conference maintained that the Puritans had been crushed and insulted; but Chancellor Egerton said he had never seen king and priest so fully united in one person as in that of his sacred Majesty, and Bancroft (afterwards Archbishop) fell upon his knees, unctuously exclaiming that his heart melted for joy to think that England was blessed with such a ruler. The bishops and privy-councillors then conferred alone, altered a few expressions in the Liturgy, and summoned the Puritans to hear their decision. Dr Raynolds, the Puritan spokesman, entreated that the use of the surplice and the sign of the cross in baptism might be laid aside, or at least not made compulsory, but the King sternly told him that they preferred the credit of a few private men to the peace of the Church; that he would have none of this arguing; "wherefore let them conform, and quickly too, or they shall hear of it." By this short-sighted policy, the opportunity for really securing peace to the Church was lost for sixty years, and many of the troubles of the next reign were sown. The next step was to arrest ten of the Puritan leaders; and then to eject from their benefices three hundred clergy of that school. Among these was Mr Marshall, the pastor of our friends. Lady Louvaine was sorely troubled. She said they were now as sheep without a shepherd, and were but too likely to have a shepherd set over them who would fleece and devour the sheep. Of these clergy some joined the Presbyterians, some the Brownists—whom people now began to call Independents: others remained in the Church, ceasing to minister, and following such callings as they deemed not unbecoming the position of a Christian minister—chiefly tutorship and literature. Mr Marshall was in the last class. He said better times might come, and he could not see his way to desert the Church, though her ways to him at this present were somewhat step-motherly.
"But how, Mr Marshall, if the Church cast you forth?" asked Temperance.
"Then must I needs go," he answered with a smile. "But that, look you, were not my deed, nor should I be responsible for it before God. So long as I break not her laws, she hath no right to eject me; and so long as she abideth in the truth, I have no right to desert her."
"But the bishops abide not in the truth, as I take it."
"The bishops be not the Church," replied he. "Let the Articles and Homilies be changed, with evil tendency, and then that is to change the Church. I go forth of her then at once; for she should be no longer the Church of my faith, to which I sware obedience, and she hath not that right over me to require me to change with her. But so long as these are left unaltered, what matter though bishops change? They are not immortal: and very sure am I they are not infallible."
"What think you, Mother?" said Edith.
"Children," replied Lady Louvaine, laying down her knitting in her lap, "I can get no further at this present than one line of Saint John: 'He Himself knew what He would do.' I do not know what He will do. It may be, as it then was, something that none of all His disciples can guess. One step at a time is all He allows us to see, and all He bids us take. 'He calleth His own sheep by name, and leadeth them out'; but also, 'He goeth before them.' At times He leads them, I think, outside the fold; and if He is outside, and we hear His voice, we must needs go to Him. Yet is this rare, and we should make very sure that it is from without we hear the familiar voice, and not rush forth in haste when He may be calling from within. Let us know that He is on the road before us, and then we need have no fear to run fast, no doubt whither the road will lead. There be some sheep in such haste to run that they must needs go past the Shepherd; and then have they no longer a leader, and are very like to miss the right way."
"You have the right, Lady Louvaine," said Mr Marshall. "'He that believeth shall not make haste.' Yet there be sheep—to follow your imagery, or truly that of our Lord—that will lag behind, and never keep pace with the Shepherd."
"Ay," she answered: "and I know not if that be not the commoner fault of the twain. He calls, and calls, and they come not; and such sheep find many a sharp tap from the rod ere they will walk, never say run. Our Shepherd is human, therefore He can feel for us; He is Divine, therefore can He have patience with us. Let us thank God for both."
Note 1. Except, only. This, now a Northern provincialism, is an archaism at least as old as the fourteenth century.
Note 2. Nevertheless. This strictly Lancastrian provincialism is supposed to be a corruption of "choose how." Its exact pronunciation can hardly be put into English letters.
Note 3. This was a revival; for "persille" is found on the Rolls of Edward II.
Note 4. This is the computation of Sir Edward Coke in his opening speech at the trial of the Gunpowder conspirators.
Note 5. The little manuscript volume wherein this is inscribed, which is in my own possession, consists of sermons—not very legible, and mostly very dry by the Rev. Thomas Stone, their dates ranging from 1622 to 1666, with a few occasional memoranda interspersed.
WE GET INTO BAD COMPANY.
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the Spider to the fly: "'Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy."
One afternoon during that winter, as Lettice was coming down-stairs, her sense of smell was all at once saluted by a strange odour, which did not strike her as having any probable connection with Araby the blest, mixed with slight curls of smoke suggestive of the idea that something was on fire. But before she had done more than wonder what might be the matter, a sound reached her from below, arguing equal astonishment and disapproval on the part of Aunt Temperance.
"Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Durham!" was the ejaculation of that lady. "Lad, art thou afire, or what ails thee?"
The answering laugh was in Aubrey's voice. "Why, Aunt!" said he, "is this the first time you did ever see a man to drink Uppowoc?"
"'Drink up a work!'" exclaimed she. "What on earth—"
"Picielt," said he.
"Lettice, is that thou?" inquired Aunt Temperance. "Call Charity quickly, and bid her run for the apothecary: this boy's gone mad."
A ringing peal of laughter from Aubrey was the answer. Lettice had come far enough to see him now, and there he stood in the hall (his coat more slashed and puffed than ever), and in his hand a long narrow tube of silver, with a little bowl at the end, in which was something that sent forth a great smoke and smell.
"Come, Aunt Temperance!" cried he. "Every gentleman in the land, well-nigh, doth now drink the Indian weed. 'Tis called uppovoc, picielt, petum [whence comes petunia], or tobago, and is sold for its weight in silver; men pick out their biggest shillings to lay against it, and 'tis held a favour for a gentlewoman to fill the pipe for her servant [suitor]. I have heard say some will spend three or four hundred a year after this manner, drinking it even at the table; and they that refuse be thought peevish and ill company."
"And whither must we flee to get quit of it?" quoth she grimly.
"That cannot I say, Aunt. In France they have it, calling it Nicotine, from one Nicot, that did first fetch it thither; 'twas one Ralph Lane that brought it to England. Why, what think you? there are over six thousand shops in and about London, where they deal in it now."
"Six thousand shops for that stinking stuff!"
"Oh, not for this alone. The apothecaries, grocers, and chandlers have it, and in every tavern you shall find the pipe handed round, even where, as in the meaner sort, it be made but of a walnut shell and a straw. Why, Aunt, 'tis wondrous wholesome and healing for divers diseases."
"Let's hear which of them."
"Well—migraines [headaches], colics, toothache, ague, colds, obstructions through wind, and fits of the mother [hysterics]; gout, epilepsy, and hydropsy [dropsy]. The brain, look you, being naturally cold and wet, all hot and dry things must be good for it."
"I'd as soon have any of those divers distempers as that," solemnly announced Aunt Temperance. "'Brain cold and wet!' when didst thou handle thy brains, that thou shouldst know whether they be cold or not?"
"I do ensure you, Aunt, thus saith Dr Barclay, one of the first physicians in London town, which useth this tobago for all these diseases. He only saith 'tis not to be touched with food, or after it, but must be took fasting. Moreover, it helps the digestion."
"It'll not help mine. And prithee, Mr Aubrey Louvaine, which of all this list of disorders hast thou?"
"I, Aunt? Oh, I'm well enough."
"Dear heart! When I am well enough, I warrant you, I take no physic."
"Oh, but, Aunt, 'tis not physic only. 'Tis rare comforting and soothing."
Aunt Temperance's face was a sight to see. She looked Aubrey over from the crown of his head to his boots, till his face flushed red, though he tried to laugh it away.
"Soothing!" said she in a long-drawn indescribable tone. "Lettice, prithee tell me what year we be now in?"
"In the year of our Lord 1603, Aunt," said Lettice, trying not to laugh.
"Nay," answered she, "that cannot be: for my nephew, Aubrey Louvaine, was born in the year of our Lord 1583, and he is yet, poor babe, in the cradle, and needs rocking and hushing a-by-bye. S-o-o-t-h-i-n-g!" and Aunt Temperance drew out the word in a long cry, for all the world like a whining baby. "Lad, if you desire not the finest thrashing ever you had yet, cast down that drivelling folly of a silver toy, and turn up your sleeves and go to work like a man! When you lie abed ill of the smallpox you may say you want soothing, and no sooner: and if I hear such another word out of your mouth, I'll leather you while I can stand over you."
Aunt Temperance marched to the parlour door, and flung it wide open.
"Madam," said she, "give me leave to introduce to your Ladyship the King of Fools. I go forth to buy a cradle for him, and Edith, prithee run to the kitchen and dress him some pap. He lacks soothing, Madam; and having been brought so low as to seek it, poor fool, at the hands of the evillest-smelling weed ever was plucked off a dunghill, I am moved to crave your Ladyship's kindliness for him. Here's his rattle,"—and Aunt Temperance held forth the silver pipe,—"which lacks but the bells to be as rare a fool's staff as I have seen of a summer day.—Get thee in, thou poor dizard dolt! [Note 1] to think that I should have to call such a patch my cousin!"
Lady Louvaine sat, looking first at Aubrey and then at Temperance, as though she marvelled what it all meant. Edith said, laughingly—
"Why, Aubrey, what hast thou done, my boy, so to vex thine aunt?" and Faith, throwing down her work, rose and came to Aubrey.
"My darling! my poor little boy!" she cried, as a nurse might to a child; but Faith's blandishment was real, while Temperance's was mockery.
All Aunt Temperance's mocking, nevertheless, provoked Aubrey less than his mother's reality. He flushed red again, and looked ready to weep, had it been less unmanly. Temperance took care not to lose her chance.
"Ay, poor little boy!" said she. "Prithee, Faith, take him on thy lap and cuddle him, and dandle him well, and sing him a song o' sixpence. Oh, my little rogue, my pretty bird! well, then, it shall have a new coral, it shall—Now, Madam, pray you look on this piece of wastry! (Dear heart, but a fool and his money be soon parted!) What think you 'tis like?"
"Truly, my dear, that cannot I say," replied Lady Louvaine, looking at the pipe as Temperance held it out: "but either that or somewhat else, it strikes me, hath a marvellous ill savour."
"Ill savour, Madam!" cried Temperance. "Would you even such mean scents as roses and lilies to this celestial odour? Truly, this must it be the angels put in their pouncet-boxes. I am informed of my Lord of Tobago here that all the gentlemen of the Court do use to perfume their velvets with it."
"Well, I can tell you of two which so do," said Aubrey in a nettled fashion—"my Lord of Northumberland and Sir Walter Raleigh: and you'll not call them fools, Aunt Temperance."
"I'll give you a bit of advice, Mr Louvaine: and that is, not to lay your week's wages out in wagers what I shall do. I call any man fool that is given to folly: and as to this filthy business, I should scarce stick at the King's Majesty himself."
"Nay, the King is clean contrary thereto," saith Aubrey, with a rather unwilling air: "I hear of my Lord that he saith it soils the inward parts of men with oily soot, and is loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs, counted effeminate among the Indians themselves, and by the Spanish slaves called sauce for Lutheran curs."
"Well, on my word!" cried Aunt Temperance. "And knowing this, thou Lutheran cur, thou wilt yet soil thine inward parts with this oily soot?"
"Oh, Aunt, every one so doth."
Lady Louvaine and Edith exchanged sorrowful looks, and the former said—
"Aubrey, my boy, no true man accounts that a worthy reason for his deeds. It was true of the Israelites when they fell to worship the golden calf, and of the scribes and priests when they cried, 'Crucify Him!' Hadst thou been in that crowd before Pontius Pilate, wouldst thou have joined that cry?"
Edith went up to her mother, and said in a low voice, "May I tell him?"
Evidently it cost Lady Louvaine some pain to say "Yes," yet she said it. Edith went back to her seat.
"Aubrey," she said, "four-and-twenty years gone, thine uncle, my brother Walter, was what thou art now, in the very same office and household. His wages were then sixteen pound by the year—"
"But mine are thirty-five, Aunt," responded Aubrey quickly, as though he guessed what she was about to say.
"In order to be like every one else, Aubrey, and not come in bad odour with his fellows, he spent well-nigh four hundred pound by the year, and—"
"Uncle Walter!" cried Aubrey in amazement, and Lettice could have been his echo.
"Ay!" said Edith, sadly. "And for over ten years thereafter was my father so crippled with his debts, that I mind it being a fine treat when I and my sisters had a new gown apiece, though of the commonest serge, and all but bare necessaries were cut off from our board. Walter laid it so to heart that of a spendthrift he became a miser. I would not have thee so to do, but I bid thee mind that we have very little to live on, owing all we yet have, and have brought withal, to the goodness of my dear Aunt Joyce; and if thou fall in such ways, Aubrey—"
"Dear heart, Aunt! Think you I have no wit?"
"Thou hast not an ill wit, my lad," said Aunt Temperance, "if a wise man had the keeping of it."
"Temperance, you are so unfeeling!" exclaimed Faith. "Must I needs stand up for my fatherless boy?"
"You'd ruin any lad you were mother to," answered her sister.
Hans now coming in, she set on him.
"Look here, Hans Floriszoon! Didst ever see any thing like this?"
Hans smiled. "Oh ay, Mistress Murthwaite, I have seen men to use them."
"Hast one of these fiddle-faddles thyself? or dost thou desire to have one?"
"Neither, in good sooth," was his reply.
"There, Mr Louvaine! hearken, prithee."
"Hans is only a boy; I am a man," said Aubrey, loftily: though Hans was but a year younger than himself.
"Lancaster and Derby! and are you then content, my Lord Man, that a contemptible boy should have better wit than your magnifical self? Truly, I think Hans was a man before thou hadst ended sucking of thy thumb."
Just then Charity brought in the Rector.
"See you here, Mr Marshall!" cried Temperance, brandishing her pipe. "Be you wont to solace your studies with this trumpery?"
Mr Marshall smiled. "Truly, nay, Mistress Murthwaite; 'tis accounted scandalous for divines to use that tobago, not to name the high cost thereof."
"Pray you, how many pence by the ounce hath any man the face to ask for this stinking stuff?"
"Three shillings or more, and that the poorest sort."
"Mercy me! And can you tell me how folks use it that account it physical?"
"Ay, I have heard tell that the manner of using it as physic is to fill the patient's mouth with a ball of the leaves, when he must incline the face downward, and keep his mouth open, not moving his tongue: then doth it draw a flood of water from all parts of the body. Some physicians will not use it, saying it causeth over-quick digestion, and fills the stomach full of crudities. For a cold or headache the fumes of the pipe only are taken. His Majesty greatly loathes this new fashion, saying that the smoke thereof resembles nothing so much as the Stygian fume of the bottomless pit, and likewise that 'tis a branch of drunkenness, which he terms the root of all sins."
Aubrey laughed rather significantly.
"Why," asked his mother, "is the King's Majesty somewhat given that way?"
"Well, I have heard it said that when the King of Denmark was here, their two Majesties went not to bed sober every night of the week: marry, 'tis whispered all the Court ladies kept not so steady feet as they might have done."
"Alack the day! not the Queen, I hope?"
"Nay, I heard no word touching her."
"Ah, friends!" said Mr Marshall with a sigh, "let me ensure you that England's mourning is not yet over for Queen Elizabeth, and we may live to lament our loss of her far sorer than now we do. Folks say she was something stingy with money, loving not to part with it sooner than she saw good reason: but some folks will fling their money right and left with no reason at all. The present Court much affecteth masques, plays, and such like, so that now there be twenty where her late Majesty would see one."
"Mr Marshall," asked Edith, "is it true, as I have heard say, that King James is somewhat Papistically given?"
"Ay and no," said he. "He is not at all thus, in the signification of obeying the Pope, or suffering himself to be ridden of priests: in no wise. But he hates a Puritan worse than a Papist. Mind you not that in his speech when he opened his first Parliament, he said that he did acknowledge the Roman Church to be our mother Church, though defiled with some infirmities and corruptions?"
"Yet he said also, if I err not, that he sucked in God's truth with his nurse's milk."
"Ay. But what one calls God's truth is not what an other doth. All the Papistry in the world is not in the Roman Church; and assuredly she is in no sense our mother."
"Truly, I thought Saint Austin brought the Gospel hither from Rome."
"Saint Austin brought a deal from Rome beside the Gospel, and he was not the first to bring that. The Gallican Church had before him brought it to Kent; and long ere that time had the ancient British Church been evangelised from no sister Church at all, but right from the Holy Land itself, and as her own unchanging voice did assert, by the beloved Apostle Saint John."
"That heard I never afore," said Lady Louvaine, who seemed greatly interested. "Pray you, Mr Marshall, is this true?"
"I do ensure you it is," replied he; "that is, so far as the wit of man at this distance of time may discern the same."
"Was the French Church, then, lesser corrupted than that of Rome?" queried Edith.
"Certainly so," he said: "and it hath resisted the Pope's usurpations nigh as much as our own Church of England. I mean not in respect of the Reformation, but rather the time before the Reformation, when our kings were ever striving with the Pope concerning his right to appoint unto dignities and livings. Yet the Reformation itself began first in France, and had they in authority been willing to aid it as in England, France had been a Protestant country at this day."
That evening, as they sat round the fire, Hans astonished them all.
"Lady Lettice," said he, "were you willing that I should embark in trade?"
"Hans, my dear boy!" was the astonished response.
"I will not do it without your good-will thereto," said he; "nor would I at all have done it, could I have seen any better way. But I feel that I ought to be a-work on some matter, and not tarry a burden on your hands: and all this time have I been essaying two matters—to look out for a service, and to make a little money for you. The second I have in some sense accomplished, though not to the extent I did desire, and here be the proceeds,"—and rising from his seat, Hans opened his purse, and poured several gold pieces into his friend's lap. "The former, howbeit, is not—"
He was interrupted by a little cry from Lady Louvaine.
"Hans! thou surely thinkest not, dear lad, that I shall strip thee of thy first earnings, won by hard work?"
"You will, Lady Lettice, without you mean to disappoint and dishearten me very sore," he answered.
"But all this!" she exclaimed.
"'Tis much less than I would have had it; and it hath taken me three-quarters of a year to scrape so much together. But—nay, Lady Lettice, forgive me, but never a penny will I take back. You sure forget that I owe all unto you. What should have come of me but for you and Sir Aubrey? But I was about to say, I have essayed in every direction to take service with a gentleman, and cannot compass it in any wise. So I see no other way but to go into trade."
"But, Hans, thou art a gentleman's son!"
"I am a King's son, Madam," said Hans with feeling: "and if I tarnish not the escocheon of my heavenly birth by honest craft, then shall I have no fear for that of mine earthly father."
"Yet if so were, dear lad—though I should be verily sorry to see thee come down so low—yet bethink thee, thine apprenticeship may not be compassed without a good payment in money."
"Your pardon, Madam. There is one craftsman in London that is willing to receive me without a penny. Truly, I did nothing to demerit it, since I did but catch up his little maid of two years, that could scarce toddle, from being run over by an horse that had brake loose from the rein. Howbeit, it pleaseth him to think him under an obligation to me, and his good wife likewise. And having made inquiries diligently, I find him to be a man of good repute, one that feareth God and dealeth justly and kindly by men: also of his wife the neighbours speak well. Seeing, then, all doors shut upon me save this one, whereat I may freely enter, it seems to me, under your Ladyship's leave, that this is the way which God hath prepared for me to walk in: yet if you refuse permission, then I shall know that I have erred therein."
"Hans, I would give my best rebate Aubrey had one half thy wit and goodness!" cried Temperance.
"I thank you for the compliment, Mistress Murthwaite," said Hans, laughingly. "But truly, as for my wit, I should be very ill-set to spare half of it; and as for my goodness, I wish him far more of his own."
"Where dwells this friend of thine, Hans?" inquired Lady Louvaine. "What is his name? and what craft doth he follow?"
"He dwells near, Madam, in Broad Saint Giles'; his name, Andrew Leigh, and is a silkman."
"We shall miss thee, my boy," said Edith.
"Mrs Edith, that was the only one point that made me to doubt if I should take Master Leigh's offer or no. If my personal service be of more value to you than my maintenance is a burden, I pray you tell it me: but if not—"
"We never yet reckoned thy maintenance a burden, my dear," answered Lady Louvaine, lovingly. "And indeed we shall miss thee more than a little. Nevertheless, Hans, I think thou hast wisely judged. There is thine own future to look to: and though, in very deed, I am sorry that life offer thee no fairer opening, yet the Lord wot best that which shall be best for thee. Ay, Hans: thou wilt do well to take the offer."
But there were tears in her eyes as she spoke.
The old feudal estimate was still strong in men's minds, by which the most honourable of all callings was held to be domestic service; then, trade and handicraft; and, lowest and meanest of all, those occupations by which men were not fed, clothed, nor instructed, but merely amused. Musicians, painters, poetasters, and above all, actors, were looked on as the very dregs of mankind. The views of the old Lollards, who held that art, not having existed in Paradise, was a product of the serpent, had descended to the Puritans in a modified form. Was it surprising, when on every side they saw the serpent pressing the arts and sciences into his service? It was only in the general chaos of the Restoration that this estimate was reversed. The view of the world at present is exactly opposite: and the view taken by the Church is too often that of the world. Surely the dignity of labour is lost when men labour to produce folly, and call it work. There can be no greater waste either of time, money, or toil, than to expend them on that which satisfieth not.
When Hans came home, a day or two afterwards, he went straight to Lady Louvaine and kissed her hand.
"Madam," said he, in a low voice of much satisfaction, "I bring good news. I have covenanted with Mr Leigh, who has most nobly granted me, at my request, a rare favour unto a 'prentice—leave to come home when the shop is closed, and to lie here, so long as I am every morrow at my work by six of the clock. I can yet do many little things that may save you pain and toil, and I shall hear every even of your welfare."
"My dear lad, God bless thee!" replied Lady Louvaine, and laid her hand upon his head.
Somewhat later in the evening came Aubrey, to whom all this concerning Hans was news.
"Master Floriszoon, silkman, at the Black Boy in Holborn!" cried he, laughingly. "Pray you, my worthy Master, how much is the best velvet by the yard? and is green stamyn now in fashion? Whereto cometh galowne lace the ounce? Let us hear thee cry, 'What do you lack?' that we, may see if thou hast the true tone. Hans Floriszoon, I thought thou hadst more of the feeling of a gentleman in thee."
The blood flushed to Hans' forehead, yet he answered quietly enough.
"Can a gentleman not measure velvet? and what harm shall it work him to know the cost of it?"
"That is a quibble," answered Aubrey, loftily. "For any gentleman to soil his fingers with craft is a blot on his escocheon, and that you know as well as I."
"For any man, gentle or simple, to soil his fingers with sin, or his tongue with falsehood, is a foul blot on his escocheon," replied Hans, looking Aubrey in the face.
Once more the blood mounted to Aubrey's brow, and he answered with some warmth, "What mean you?"
"I did but respond to your words. Be mine other than truth?"
"Be not scurrilous, boy!" said Aubrey, angrily.
"Hans, I am astonished at you!" said Faith. "I know not how it is, but since we came to London, you are for ever picking quarrels with Aubrey, and seeking occasion against him. Are you envious of his better fortune, or what is it moves you?"
It was a minute before Hans answered, and when he did so, his voice was very quiet and low.
"I am sorry to have vexed you, Mrs Louvaine. If I know myself, I do not envy Aubrey at all; and indeed I desire to pick no quarrel with any man, and him least of any."
Then, turning to Aubrey, he held out his hand. "Forgive me, if I said aught I should not."
Aubrey took the offered hand, much in the manner of an insulted monarch to a penitent rebel. Lettice glanced just then at her Aunt Edith, and saw her gazing from one to the other of the two, with a perplexed and possibly displeased look on her face, but whether it were with Aubrey or with Hans, Lettice could not tell. What made Aubrey so angry did not appear.
Lettice's eyes went to her grandmother. On her face was a very sorrowful look, as if she perceived and recognised some miserable possibility which she had known in the past, and now saw advancing with distress. But she did not speak either to Hans or Aubrey.
The full moon of a spring evening, almost as mild as summer, lighted up the Strand, throwing into bold relief the figure of a young man, fashionably dressed, who stood at the private door of a tailor's shop, the signboard of which exhibited a very wild-looking object of human species, clad in a loose frock, with bare legs and streaming hair, known to the initiated as the sign of the Irish Boy.
Fashionably dressed meant a good deal at that date. It implied a doublet of velvet or satin, puffed and slashed exceedingly, and often covered with costly embroidery or gold lace; trunk hose, padded to an enormous width, matching the doublet in cost, and often in pattern; light-coloured silk stockings, broad-toed shoes, with extremely high heels, and silver buckles, or gold-edged shoe-strings; garters of broad silk ribbons, often spangled with gold, and almost thick enough for sashes; a low hat with a feather and silk hatband, the latter sometimes studded with precious stones; a suspicion of stays in the region of the waist, but too likely to be justified by fact; fringed and perfumed gloves of thick white Spanish leather; lace ruffs about the neck and wrists, the open ones of immense size, the small ones closer than in the previous reign; ear-rings and love-locks: and over all, a gaudy cloak, or rather cape, reaching little below the elbow. In the youth's hand was an article of the first necessity in the estimation of a gentleman of fashion,—namely, a tobacco-box, in this instance of chased silver, with a mirror in the lid, whereby its owner might assure himself that his ruff sat correctly, and that his love-locks were not out of curl. A long slender cane was in the other hand, which the youth twirled with busy idleness, as he carelessly hummed a song.
"Let's cast away care, and merrily sing, For there's a time for every thing: He that plays at his work, and works at his play, Doth neither keep working nor holy day."
A second youth came down the street westwards, walking not with an air of haste, but of one whose time was too valuable to be thrown away. He was rather shorter and younger than the first, and was very differently attired. He wore a fustian doublet, without either lace or embroidery; a pair of unstuffed cloth hose, dark worsted stockings, shoes with narrow toes and plain shoe-strings of black ribbon; a flat cap; cloth gloves, unadorned and unscented, and a cloak of black cloth, of a more rational length than the other. As he came to the tailor's shop he halted suddenly.
"Aubrey!" The tone was one of surprise and pain.
"Spy!" was the angry response.
"I am no spy, and you know it. But I would ask what you do here and now?"
"Are you my gaoler, that I must needs give account to you?"
"I am your brother, Aubrey; and I, as well as you, am my brother's keeper in so far as concerns his welfare. It is over a month since you visited us, and your mother and Lady Lettice believe you to be with your Lord in Essex. How come you hither, so late at night, and at another door than your own?"
"No business of yours! May a man not call to see his tailor?"
"Men do not commonly go to their tailors after shops be shut."
"Oh, of course, you wot all touching shop matters. Be off to your grograne and cambric! I'm not your apprentice."
"My master's shop is shut with the rest. Aubrey, I saw you last night— though till now I tried to persuade myself it was not you—in Holborn, leaving the door of the Green Dragon. What do you there?"
The answer came blazing with wrath.
"You saw—you mean, sneaking, blackguardly traitor of a Dutch shopkeeper! I'll have no rascal spies dogging my steps, and—"
"Aubrey," said the quiet voice that made reply, "you know me better than that. I never played the spy on you yet, and I trust you will never give me cause. Yet what am I to think when as I pass along the street I behold you standing at the door of a Pa—"
"Hold your tongue!"
The closing word was cut sharply in two by that fierce response. It might be a pavior, a pear-monger, or a Papist. Hans was silent until Aubrey had again spoken, which he did in a hard, constrained tone.
"I shall go where I please, without asking your leave or any body's else! I am of age, and I have been tied quite long enough to the apron-strings of a parcel of women: but I mean not to cut myself loose from them, only to pass under guidance of a silly lad that hath never a spark of spirit in him, and would make an old woman of me if I gave him leave." Then, in a voice more like his own, he added, "Get you in to your knitting, old Mistress Floriszoon, and tie your cap well o'er your ears, lest the cold wind give you a rheum."
"I will go in when you come with me," said Hans calmly.
"I will not."
"To-night, Aubrey—only just to-night!"
"And what for to-night, prithee? I have other business afloat. To-morrow I will maybe look in."
Perhaps Aubrey was growing a little ashamed of his warmth, for his voice had cooled down.
"We can never do right either to-morrow or yesterday," answered Hans. "To-night is all we have at this present."
"I tell you I will not!" The anger mounted again. "I will not be at the beck and call of a beggarly tradesfellow!"
"You love better to be at Satan's?"
"Take that for your impudence!"
There was the sound of a sharp, heavy blow—so heavy that the recipient almost staggered under it. Then came an instant's dead silence: and then a voice, very low, very sorrowful, yet with no anger in it—
"Good-night, Aubrey. I hope you will come to-morrow."
And Hans's steps died away in the distance.
Left to himself, Aubrey's feelings were far from enviable. He was compelled to recognise the folly of his conduct, as more calculated to fan than deter suspicion; and it sorely nettled him also to perceive that Hans, shopkeeper though he might be, had shown himself much the truer gentleman of the two. But little time was left him to indulge in these unpleasant reflections, for the door behind him was opened by a girl.
"Mr Catesby at home?"
"Ay, Sir, and Mr Winter is here. Pray you, walk up."
Aubrey did as he was requested, adding an unnecessary compliment on the good looks of the portress, to which she responded by a simper of gratified vanity—thereby showing that neither belonged to the wisest class of mankind—and he was ushered upstairs, into a small but pleasant parlour, where three gentlemen sat conversing. A decanter stood on the table, half full of wine, and each gentleman was furnished with a glass. The long silver pipe was passing round from one to another, and its smoker looked up as Aubrey was announced.
"Ah! welcome, Mr Louvaine. Mr Winter, you know this gentleman. Sir, this is my very good friend Mr Darcy,"—indicating the third person by a motion of the hand. "Mr Darcy, suffer me to make you acquainted with Mr Louvaine, my good Lord Oxford's gentleman and a right pleasant companion.—Pray you, help yourself to Rhenish, and take a pipe."
Aubrey accepted the double invitation, and was soon puffing at the pipe which Catesby handed to him.
He had not taken much notice of the stranger, and none at all of a gesture on the part of Mr Catesby as he introduced him—a momentary stroking upwards of his forehead, intended as a sign not to Aubrey, but to the other. The stranger, however, perfectly understood it. To him it said, "Here is a simpleton: mind what you say."
Mr Catesby, the occupant of the furnished apartments, was a man of unusually lofty height, being over six feet, and of slender build, though well-proportioned; he had a handsome and expressive face, and, while not eloquent, was possessed of the most fascinating and attractive manners by which man ever dragged his fellow-man to evil. Mr Winter, on the other hand, was as short as his friend was tall. His rather handsome features were of the Grecian type, and he had the power of infusing into them at will a look of the most touching child-like innocence. He spoke five, languages, and was a well-read man for his time.
The stranger, to whom Aubrey had been introduced as Mr Darcy, was an older man than either of the others. Mr Catesby was aged thirty-two, and Mr Winter about thirty-five; but Mr Darcy was at least fifty. He was a well-proportioned man, and dressed with studied plainness. A long, narrow face, with very large, heavy eyelids, and a long but not hooked nose, were relieved by a moustache, and a beard square and slightly forked in the midst. This moustache hid a mouth which was the characteristic feature of the face. No physiognomist would have placed the slightest confidence in the owner of that mouth. It was at once sanctimonious and unstable. The manners of its possessor might be suave or severe; his reputation might be excellent or execrable; but with that mouth, a Pharisee and a hypocrite at heart he must be. This gentleman found it convenient not to be too invariably known by a single name, and that whereby he had been introduced to Aubrey was one of five aliases— his real one making a sixth. Different persons, in various parts of the country, were acquainted with him as Mr Mease, Mr Phillips, Mr Farmer, and—his best-known alias—Mr Walley. But his real name was Henry Garnet, and he was a Jesuit priest.
To do justice to Aubrey Louvaine, who, though weak and foolish, being mainly led astray by his own self-sufficiency, was far from being deliberately wicked, it must be added that he entertained not the least idea of the real characters of his new friends. At the house of Mr Thomas Rookwood, whither he was attracted by the fair Dorothy—who, had he but known it, regarded him with cleverly concealed contempt—he had made the acquaintance of Mr Ambrose Rookwood, the elder of the brothers, and the owner of Coldham Hall. This gentleman, to Aubrey's taste, was not attractive; but by him he was introduced to Mr Percy, and later, to Mr Thomas Winter, in whose society the foolish youth took great pleasure. For Mr Catesby he did not so much care; the fact being that he was too clever to suit Aubrey's fancy.
Neither had Aubrey any conception of the use which was being made of him by his new friends. He was very useful; he had just brains enough, and not too much, to serve their purpose. It delighted Aubrey to air his familiarity with the Court and nobility, and it was convenient to them to know some one whom they could pump without his ever suspecting that he was being pumped. They often required information concerning the movements and present whereabouts of various eminent persons; and nothing was easier than to obtain it from Aubrey as they sat and smoked. A few glasses of Rhenish wine, and a few ounces of tobacco, were well worth expending for the purpose.
Aubrey's anger with Hans, therefore, was not based on any fear of discovery, arising from suspicion of his associates. He was only aiming at independence, combined with a little secret unwillingness to acknowledge his close connection with Mr Leigh's apprentice. Of the real end of the road on which he was journeying, he had not the least idea. Satan held out to him with a smile a fruit pleasant to the eyes and good for food, saying, "Thou shalt be as a god," and Aubrey liked the prospect, and accepted the apple.
Having enjoyed himself for about an hour in this manner, and—quite unconsciously on his part—given some valuable information to his associates, he bade them good evening, and returned to Lord Oxford's mansion, in a state of the most delicately-balanced uncertainty whether to appear or not at the White Bear on the following evening. If only he could know how much Hans would tell the ladies!
In the room which he had left, he formed for some minutes the subject of conversation.
"Where picked you up that jewel?" asked Garnet of Winter.
"He lives—or rather his friends do—next door to Tom Rookwood," answered Winter.
"A pigeon worth plucking?" was the next question.
"As poor as a church-mouse, but he knows things we need to know, and in point of wits he is a very pigeon. He no more guesseth what time of day it is with us than my Lord Secretary doth."
The trio laughed complacently, but a rather doubtful expression succeeded that of amusement in Garnet's face.
"Now, good gentlemen, be quiet," said he, piously. Was there a faint twinkle in his eyes? "God will do all for the best. We must get it by prayer at God's hands, in whose hands are the hearts of princes."
"You pray, by all means, and we'll work," said Catesby, removing the pipe from his lips for an instant.
At that moment the door opened, and a fourth gentleman made his appearance. He was as tall and as handsome as Catesby; but the considerable amount of white in his dark hair, and more slightly in his broad beard, made him look older than his real age, which was forty-six. He stooped a little in the shoulders. His manners were usually gentle and grave; but a pair of large and very lively eyes and an occasional impulsive eagerness of speech, wherein he was ready and fluent at all times, showed that there was more fire and life in his character than appeared on the surface. Those who knew him well were aware that his temper was impetuous and precipitate, and on given occasions might be termed quarrelsome without calumny.
"Shall we always talk, gentlemen, and never do anything?" demanded the newcomer, without previous greeting.
"Come in, Mr Percy, and with a right good welcome! The talk is well-nigh at an end, and the doing beginneth."
"Our Lady be thanked!" was Percy's response. "We have dallied and delayed long enough. This morning have I been with Mr Fawkes over the house; and I tell you, the mining through that wall shall be no child's play."
Winter lifted his eyebrows and pursed his lips. Catesby only remarked, "We must buy strong pickaxes, then," and resumed his puffing in the calmest manner.
"The seventh of February, is it not, Parliament meets?"
"Ay. I trust the Bulls will come from Rome before that."
"They will be here in time," said Garnet, rising. "Well, I wish you good-night, gentlemen. 'Tis time I was on my way to Wandsworth. I lie to-night at Mrs Anne's, whither she looks for her cousin Tresham to come."
"My commendations to my cousins," said Catesby. "Good-night. We meet at White Webbs on Tuesday."
"Pax vobiscum," said Garnet softly, as he left the room.
Note 1. All these are old terms signifying a fool or idiot. Patch was the favourite jester of Henry the Eighth, whose name was used as synonymous with fool.
BEGINS WITH TEMPERANCE, AND ENDS WITH TREACHERY.
"Whate'er we do, we all are doing this— Reaping the harvest of our yesterdays, Sowing for our to-morrows."
On the following evening, Aubrey put in an appearance at the White Bear. As soon as he entered, he gave a quick, troubled look round the parlour, before he went up to kiss his grandmother's hand. His Aunt Temperance greeted him with, "Give you good even, my Lord Chamberlain! Lancaster and Derby! do but look on him! Blue feather in his hat—lace ruff and ruffles—doublet of white satin with gold aglets—trunk hose o' blue velvet, paned with silver taffeta—garters of blue and white silk— and I vow, a pair o' white silken hose, and shoes o' Spanish leather. Pray you, my Lord, is your allowance from the King's Majesty five hundred pounds or a thousand by the year?"
"Now, Aunt, you know," said Aubrey, laughing. "That thou art a spendthrift?" answered she. "Ay, I do: and if thou run not into debt this side o' Christmas, my name is not Temperance Murthwaite."
"I'm not in debt a penny," retorted he.
"Then somebody must have given thee thy pantofles," replied she. "Be they a cast-off pair of his Majesty's, or did my Lord Oxford so much alms to thee?"
Aubrey laughed again, as merrily as if he had not a care nor a fault in the world.
"They cost not so much as you reckon," he said.
"Four yards of velvet," calculated Aunt Temperance—"you'll not do it under, stuffed that wise of bombast, nor buy that quality, neither, under eighteen shillings the yard—let's see,—that is three pounds twelve shillings: silver taffeta, a yard and an half, twenty-two and sixpence—that's four pounds fourteen and six; then the lining, dowlas, I suppose, at fourteen pence—"
"They are lined with perpetuana, Aunt," answered Aubrey, who seemed greatly amused by this reckoning.
"Perpetuana—lining? Thou reckless knave! Three-and-fourpence the yard at the least—well, we'll say ten shillings—five pounds four and six: and the lace, at four shillings by the ounce, and there'll be two ounces there, good: five pounds twelve shillings and sixpence, as I'm a living woman! 'Tis sinful waste, lad: that's what it is. Your father never wore such Babylonian raiment, nor your grandfather neither, and there was ten times the wisdom and manliness in either of them that there'll ever be in you, except you mean to turn your coat ere you are a month elder."
As Aubrey turned to reply, his eyes fell on Hans, coming home from the mercer's. His face changed in a minute: but Hans came forward with his hand held out as cordially as usual, and a look of real pleasure in his eyes.
"Good even, Aubrey; I am glad to see you," said he.
"Ay, see him, do!" cried Temperance, before Aubrey could answer; and he only gave his hand in silence. "Look at him, Hans! Didst ever behold such a pair of pantofles? Five pounds twelve shillings and sixpence! How much cost thine?"
"Mine be not so brave as these," replied Hans, smiling. "My Lord Oxford's squire must needs wear better raiment than a silkman's apprentice, Mrs Murthwaite."
"Five pounds twelve shillings and sixpence!" persisted she.
"Come, now, Aunt Temperance! They cost not the half," said Aubrey.
"Who didst thou cheat out of them, then?" asked she.
"I bought them," he answered, laughing, "of a young noble that had borne them but twice, and was ill content with the cut and colour of them."
"He'll come to no good," sternly pronounced Aunt Temperance.
"You made a good bargain," said Hans. "That velvet cost full a pound the yard, I should say."
"Aubrey," inquired Temperance, "I do marvel, and I would fain know, what thou dost all the day long? Doth thy Lord keep thee standing by his chair, first o' one leg, and then o' tother, while he hath an errand for thee?"
"Why, no, Aunt! I am not an errand-lad," said Aubrey, and laughed more merrily than ever. "Of late is his Lordship greatly incommoded, and hath kept his chamber during many days of this last month; but when he hath his health, I will specify unto you what I do."
"Prithee specify, and I shall be fain to hearken."
"Well, of a morning I aid his Lordship at his lever, and after breakfast I commonly ride with him, if it be my turn: then will he read an hour or twain in the law, without the Parliament be sitting, when he is much busied, being not only a morning man, but at committees also; in the afternoon he is often at Court, or practising of music—just now he exerciseth himself in broken music [the use of stringed instruments] and brachigraphy [shorthand]: then in the evening we join my Lady and her gentlewomen in the withdrawing chamber, and divers gestes and conceits be used—such as singing, making of anagrams, guessing of riddles, and so forth. There is my day."
"Forsooth, and a useless one it is," commented she. "The law-books and the Parliament business seem the only decent things in it."
"Ah, 'tis full little changed," remarked Lady Louvaine, "these sixty years since I dwelt at Surrey Place." And she sighed.
"Temperance, I am astonished at you," interposed Faith. "You do nought save fault-find poor Aubrey."
"Poor Aubrey! ay, that he is," returned his Aunt, "and like to be a sight poorer, for all that I can see. If you'll fault-find him a bit more, Faith, there'll not be so much left for me to do."
"What is the matter?" asked Edith, coming softly in.
"There's a pair of velvet pantofles and an other of silken hose the matter, my dear," answered Temperance, "and a beaver hat with a brave blue feather in it. I trust you admire them as they deserve, and him likewise that weareth them."
"They are brave, indeed," said Edith, in her quiet voice. "I would fain hope it is as fair within as without, my boy."
She looked up in his face as she spoke with yearning love in her eyes; and as Aubrey bent his head to kiss her, he said, in the softest tone which he had yet employed since his entrance, "I am afraid not, Aunt Edith."
And Edith answered, in that low, tender voice—
"'Thy beauty was perfect through My comeliness which I had put upon thee.' Dear Aubrey, let us seek that."
Aubrey made no answer beyond a smile, and quickly turned the conversation, on his mother asking if he brought any news.
"But little," said he. "There be new laws against witchcraft, which is grown greater and more used than of old, and the King is mightily set against it—folks say he is afraid of it. None should think, I ensure you, how easily frightened is his Majesty, and of matters that should never fright any save a child."
"But that is not news, Aubrey," said his mother plaintively. "I want to hear something new."
"There isn't an artichoke in the market this morrow," suddenly remarked her sister.
"Temperance, what do you mean?"
"Why, that's news, isn't it? I am sure you did not know it, till I told you."
Mrs Louvaine closed her eyes with an air of deeply-tried forbearance.
"Come, lad, out with thy news," added Temperance. "Wherewith hath my Lady guarded her new spring gowns? That shall serve, I reckon."
Aubrey laughed. "I have not seen them yet, Aunt. But I heard say of one of the young gentlewomen that silk is now for the first to be woven in England, so 'tis like to be cheaper than of old."
"There's a comfort!" said Mrs Louvaine, rather less languidly than usual.
"I heard tell likewise of a fresh colewort, from Cyprus in the East— they call it broccoli or kale-flower. Methinks there is nought else, without you would hear of a new fashion of building of churches, late come up—but his Lordship saith 'tis a right ancient fashion, wherein the old Greeks were wont to build their houses and temples."
"Methinks it scarce meet to go to the heathen for the pattern of a church," said Lady Louvaine; "are not our old churches fair enough, and suitable for their purpose?"
"In this new fashion he no chancels," said Aubrey.
"Well, and I should hold with that," cried Temperance: "they give rise to vain superstitions. If there be no mass, what lack we of a chancel?"
"If men list, my dear, to bring in the superstitions," quietly remarked Lady Louvaine, "they shall scarce stick at the want of a chancel."
"True, Madam: yet would I fain make it as hard to bring them as ever I could."
Aubrey left his friends about six o'clock, and Hans followed him to the door. On the steps there was a short, low-toned conversation.
"Hans, after all, thou art a good lad. Did I hurt thee?"
"'Tis all o'er now, Aubrey: no matter."
"Then I did. Well, I am sorry. Shall I give thee a silver chain to make up, old comrade?"
"All is made up. Prithee, give me nothing—save—my brother Aubrey."
Aubrey's tone was glib and light, though with a slight sub-accent of regret. Hans's voice was more hesitating and husky. It cost Hans much to allow any one a glimpse into his heart; it cost Aubrey nothing. But, as is often the case, the guarded chamber contained rare treasure, while in the open one there was nothing to guard.
"Thou art a good lad!" said Aubrey again, in a slightly ashamed tone, as he took the offered hand. "Truly, Hans, I was after none ill, only— well, I hate to be watched and dogged, or aught like thereto."
"Who does not?" replied Hans. "And in truth likewise, I was but coming home, and spake my astonishment at seeing you."
"We are friends, then?"
"God forbid we should ever be any thing else! Good-night, and God keep you in His way!"
Not many days afterwards, an event happened, of some consequence to our friends at the White Bear. Their one powerful friend, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, died in June, 1604.
A strange study for a student of human nature is this Earl of Oxford—a curious compound, like his late royal lady, of greatness and littleness. He began life as a youthful exquisite. His costumes were more extravagant, his perfumes more choice, his Italian more pure and fluent, than those of the other dilettante nobles of his time. He was a minor poet of some note in his day, and was esteemed to be the first writer of comedy then living—though Shakespeare was living too. In middle life he blossomed out into a military patriot. He ended his days as a hard, cold, morose old man. His life-lamp was used up: it had been made so to flare in early youth, that there was no oil left to light him at the end, when light and warmth were most needed. Having quarrelled with his father-in-law, the great Earl of Burleigh, he registered a savage and senseless vow to "ruin his daughter," which he could do only by ruining himself. In pursuance of this insane resolution, he spent right and left, until his estate was wrecked, and the innocent Countess Anne was hunted into her grave.
The son who succeeded to his father's title, and to the few acres which this mad folly had not flung away, was a mere boy of twelve years old. It became a serious question in Lady Louvaine's mind whether Aubrey should remain in the household after the decease of the old Earl. She found, however, that the widowed Countess Elizabeth kept a very orderly house, and a strict hand over her son and his youthful companions, so that Lady Louvaine, who saw no other door open, thought it best to leave Aubrey where he was. The Countess, who had been Maid of Honour to Queen Elizabeth, had been well drilled by that redoubtable lady into proper and submissive behaviour; and she now required similar good conduct from her dependants, with excellent reasons for absence or dereliction from duty. That she was never deceived would be too much to say.
Meanwhile, matters progressed busily in the house by the river-side. The conspirators took in a sixth accomplice—Christopher Wright, the younger brother of John—and the six began their mine, about the eleventh of December, 1604.
The wall of the House of Lords was three yards in thickness; the cellar of Percy's house was extremely damp, being close to the river, and the water continually oozed through into the mine. Finding their task more difficult than they had anticipated, a seventh was now taken into the number—a pervert, Robert Keyes, the son of a Protestant clergyman in Derbyshire. A second house was hired at Lambeth, of which Keyes was placed in charge, while to Fawkes was committed the chief business of laying in the combustibles, first in the Lambeth house, and afterwards of removing them to that at Westminster. Fawkes went cautiously about his business, purchasing his materials in various parts of the City, so as not to excite suspicion. He provided in all, three thousand billets of wood, five hundred faggots, thirty-six barrels of gunpowder, with stones and bars of iron, in order that the explosion might be more destructive. From the Bankside, or south bank of the Thames, where it lay in hampers, twenty barrels of the powder was first brought in boats, by night, to the house at Westminster, where it was stored in the cellar to await the finishing of the mine. By Christmas they had penetrated the wall of Percy's house, and had reached that of the House of Lords. They thought it desirable now to rest for the Christmas holidays; Keyes was left in charge of the house at Lambeth, and the others departed in various directions.
"Well, upon my word! Prithee, good my master, who's your tailor?"
The speaker was Temperance Murthwaite, who was clad in the plainest of brownish drab serges, without an unnecessary tag or scrap of fringe, and carried on her arm an unmistakable market-basket, from which protruded the legs of a couple of chickens and sundry fish-tails, notwithstanding the clean cloth which should have hidden such ignoble articles from public view. The person addressed was Mr Aubrey Louvaine, and his costume was a marvel of art and a feast of colour.
"My tailor is Adrian Sewell, Aunt, in Thieving Lane—"
"Like enough!" was the response. "Well, Gentleman?"
"Shall I—" The words died on Aubrey's lips. His aunt, who read his thoughts exactly, stood wickedly enjoying the situation.
"Shall you carry the basket? By all means, if it please your Highness. Have a care, though, lest the tails of those whitings sully yon brave crimson velvet, and see the fowls thrust not their talons into that Spanish lace. Methinks, Master Aubrey, considering your bravery of array, you were best pocket your civility this morrow. It'll be lesser like to harm the lace and velvet than the chicks' legs and the fish-tails. You may keep me company an' you will, if I be good enough to trudge alongside so fine a Whitsuntide show as you are. That's two of 'em."
"Of what, Aunt?" said Aubrey, feeling about as unhappy as a mixture of humiliation and apprehension could make him. If they were to meet one of Lord Oxford's gentlemen, or one of his wealthy acquaintances, he felt as though he should want the earth to open and swallow him.
"Suits, Gentleman," was the reply. "Blue and white the first; crimson and silver the second. Haven't seen the green and gold yet, nor the yellow, nor purple. Suppose they're in the wardrobe. Rather early times, to be thus bedizened, or seems so to working folks—the Abbey clock went eight but a few minutes since. But quality is donned early, I know."
As Mistress Temperance emitted this tingling small-shot of words, she was marching with some rapidity up Old Palace Yard and the Abbey Close, her magnificent nephew keeping pace with her, right sore against his will. At last Aubrey could bear no longer. The windows of the Golden Fish were in sight, and his soul was perturbed by a vision of the fair Dorothy, who might be looking out, and whose eyes might light on the jewel of himself in this extremely incongruous setting of Aunt Temperance and the fish-tails.
"Aunt Temperance, couldn't—" Aubrey's words did not come so readily as usual, that morning.
"Couldn't I walk slower?" suggested the aggravating person who was the cause of his misery. "Well, belike I could.—There's Mrs Gertrude up at the window yonder—without 'tis Mrs Dorothy.—There's no hurry in especial, only I hate to waste time."
And suiting the action to the word, Aunt Temperance checked her steps, so as to give the young lady, whether it were Gertrude or Dorothy, a more leisurely view of the fish-tails.
"Couldn't Rachel go marketing instead of you?" sputtered out Aubrey.
"Rachel has her own work; and so has Charity. And so have I, Mr Louvaine. I suppose you haven't, as you seem to be gallivanting about Westminster in crimson and silver at eight o'clock of a morning. Now then—"
"Aunt, 'tis not my turn this morrow to wait on my Lord's lever. I shall be at his coucher this even."
"You may open the door, my master, if it demean not so fine a gentleman.—Good maid! Take my basket, Rachel. The fish for dinner, and the chicken for to-morrow."
"There's nobut four whitings here, Mistress: shouldn't there be five?"
"Hush thee, good maid. They're twopence apiece."
"Eh, yo' never sen [say] so!"
"Ay, but I do. Let be; I'll have a bit of green stuff, or something."
And as Rachel, looking but half satisfied, went off with the basket, Temperance threw open the parlour door.
"Madam, suffer me to announce the Duke of Damask, the Prince of Plush, the Viscount of Velvet, and the Baron of Bombast. Pray you, look not for four nobles; there is but one."
"Aubrey!" was the response, in diverse tones, from the three ladies.
The object of this attention did not look happy; but he walked in and offered due greeting to his relatives. Temperance sat down, untied her plain black hood, and laid it aside.
"And whither might your Lordship be going when I captivated you?" asked she. "Not to this house, for you had passed it by."
"In good sooth, Aunt, I did not—I meant, indeed—I should maybe have looked in," stammered the young man.
"Tell no lies, my lad, for thou dost it very ill," was Aunt Temperance's most inconsiderate reply.
"You might come to see us oftener, I'm sure, Aubrey, if you would," said his mother in a plaintive voice. "It is hard, when I have only one child, that he should never care to come. I wish you had been a girl like Lettice, and then we could have had some comfort out of you."
"My dear," said Aunt Temperance, "he is devoutly thankful he's not. He doesn't want to be tied at the aprons of a parcel of women, trust me. Have you had your pipe of open-work, or what you are pleased to call it, Gentleman, this morrow? Only think of hanging that filthy stench about those velvet fal-lals! With whom spent you last even, lad?"
The question came so suddenly that Aubrey was startled into truth. "With some friends of mine in the Strand, Aunt." The next instant he was sorry.
"Let's have their names," said Aunt Temperance.
"Well, Tom Rookwood was one."
"Folks generally put the best atop. Hope he wasn't the best. Who else?"
"Some gentlemen to whom Rookwood introduced me."
"I want their names," said the female examiner.
"Well—one of them is a Mr Winter." Aubrey spoke with great reluctance, as his aunt saw well. He selected Winter's name as being least uncommon of the group. But he soon found that Destiny, in the person of Aunt Temperance, did not mean to let him off so lightly as this.
"What sort of an icicle is he?"
"He isn't an icicle at all, Aunt, but a very good fellow and right pleasant company."
"Prithee bring him to see us. Where lodgeth he?—is he a London man?"
"He is a Worcestershire gentleman, on a visit hither."
"Pass him. Who else?"
"Well—a man named Darcy."
"A man, and not a gentleman? Whence comes he?"
"I don't know. Scarcely a gentleman, seeing he deals in horses."
"Horses are good fellows enough, mostly: but folks who deal in horses are apt to be worser,—why, can I never tell. Is the horse-dealer pleasant company belike?"
"Not so much to my liking as Mr Winter."
"I'm fain to hear it. Who else?"
"There is a Mr Percy, kin to my Lord Northumberland."
Aunt Temperance drew in her breath with an inverted whistle. "Lo, you now, we are in select society!"
But Edith turned suddenly round. "Aubrey, is he a true Protestant?" She knew that Lord Northumberland was reckoned "the head of the recusants."
"I really don't know, Aunt," replied Aubrey, to whom the idea had never before occurred. "I never heard him say aught whence I could guess it. He is a very agreeable man."
"The more agreeable, maybe, the more dangerous. My boy, do have a care! 'He that is not with Me is against Me.'"
"Oh, he's all right, I am sure," said Aubrey, carelessly.
"You seem sure on small grounds," said Aunt Temperance. "Well, have we made an end?—is he the last?"
"No, there is one other—Mr Catesby."
Aubrey had deliberately left Catesby to the last, yet he could not have explained for what reason. Lady Louvaine spoke for the first time.
"Catesby?—a Catesby of Ashby Ledgers?"
"I have not heard, further than that his home is in Northamptonshire, and his mother the Lady Anne Catesby."
"I think it is. They are a Popish family, or were, not many years ago. Aubrey, come here."
The young man obeyed, in some surprise. His gentle grandmother was not wont to speak in tones of such stern determination as these.
"My boy!" she said, "I charge thee on my benison, and by the dear memory of him from whom thou hast thy name, that thou endeavour thyself to thine utmost to discover whether these men be Papists or no. Ask not of themselves—they may deceive thee; and a Papist oft counts deceit no wrong when it is done in the interests of his Church. Make my compliments to my cousin, my Lady Oxford, and give her the names of these gentlemen, and where they lodge; saying also that I do most earnestly beseech that she will make inquiry by her chaplain, and give me to know, how they stand concerned in this matter. Aubrey, you know not the danger of such friendship: I do. Obey me, at your peril."