Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The anglers of the Dove - Part 2
THE ANGLERS OF THE DOVE.
BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
CHAPTER III. THE HEART OF NEEDWOOD FOREST.
The next morning was mild as a March day; and the sun came up so clear in the pale blue sky that it might be doubted whether anglers would like it. Sampson, however, knew the shady places all along the Dove, and engaged that the gentleman should have a fair chance for his sport. It was drawing near noon when the two were standing in the shadow of the rock below the Castle, with a little pannier of fish on the grass, when a shout from above made them look up; and they saw a man letting himself down the steep in a rash sort of way.
“What a hasty fellow you are!” cried Stansbury, as soon as the other came within hearing. “Why could not you come down by the right road?”
“We had just passed up it,” answered Felton, “and I thought I would not trouble the warder to fumble with his keys so soon again; and you seemed so near! and the way looked easier than it is.”
“Yes, indeed; or do you suppose my Lady would leave it open?”
“It is not unguarded: there is no point unguarded. The sentinel warned me. I must show him that I am safe.”
And Felton leaped over the stream by the scattered rocks, and waved his hat towards where a pike gleamed on the terrace above.
“What shall I do with all my fish?” asked Stansbury. “Some must appear on my yeoman host’s board: but see what we have caught in three hours!”
“Send them up yonder for her Grace’s table,” Felton advised.
“You are not in earnest?” said Stansbury. “Are these such fish as may appear at a queen’s table?”
“No doubt: and if you had seen the supper we sat down to last night, you would believe that your offering would be very graciously received.”
“Her Grace is ill-pleased at her reception? That was sure to happen.”
“It was: but there is reason. Bess of Hardwick will need some training before she can fitly order the entertainment of a princess;—not a Scottish amazon, but a lady tenderly reared in the French court. Her Grace does not conceal her disgust this morning.”
“Then I will venture: but if she is displeased—”
“I will take the blame on myself: and so I will if Dame Bess quarrels with you.”
“Dame Bess may say what she will of me and my fish: but we will pick out the best for the Castle.”
The party sat down to sort the prey. The finest were taken charge of by Sampson, who marched off with the pannier on his shoulder. The gentlemen amused themselves with stringing the rest on birch twigs and long rushes.
“There is a dark sentinel up above there,” observed Felton.
“No doubt: wherever her Grace is there must be at least one.”
“Yes; but she is attended everywhere by her own chaplain. I do not mean him.”
“I did not know that more than one was allowed,” said Stansbury.
“You are dull to-day. The dark sentinel wears light-coloured clothes.”
“Plots already!” exclaimed Stansbury.
“That is of course,” replied Felton.
“But it is not of course that I should hear of them,” said Stansbury; “and I had rather not, unless you, as my friend, require it.”
“Nothing of the sort. You and I naturally share all we know: but I will stop wherever you please in my confidences, now and always.”
“It is not like us to have any doors of our minds closed to each other,” said Stansbury; “and I shall never have any secret from you. But look you! it is not that this woman is dangerous, and of doubtful report, but that I, for my part, have no interest about her fortunes, and no right to possess any power of injuring her.”
“Is it not of importance to every son of the Church that a Catholic sovereign may be in the heretic’s seat, if loyal men do their duty?”
“My friend, this is mere wildness!” said Stansbury. “After ten years of heretical rule, which has certainly made the kingdom prosperous with industry and trade, and which has satisfied the world of the genius of the woman who reigns, whatever her impiety, can you suppose that a princess, who for genius has only beauty, who is reviled by all earnest heretics, and who has failed in every scheme she ever was concerned in, will mount the English throne over the neck of her who fills it, and who so commands the homage of her people, that they themselves say there is magic at work somewhere?”
“My view is different—different from what it has been,” observed Felton.
“Since you have seen the dark sentinel?”
“No; I have not exchanged a word with him. He sits there cross-legged, fashioning her Grace’s habit for her rides; and I have no call to accost the castle tailor the first morning. I judge by the open evidence of public affairs. I judge by the new severities against papists, and the hunting of the deprived ministers, and the coldness shown towards the colonists in their poverty as refugees, and by the terror of the noblemen of the court, and by the common rumours of the Queen’s imperiousness of temper, that the state of her kingdom does not please her as it did; and that possibly she may herself not be so satisfied as she was of the firmness of her seat. This is only what thousands of men are thinking. True, very few may be saying it; but men will look in one another’s eyes, in such times, to learn more than the tongue speaks.”
“I trust you have not let the dark sentinel look into your eyes, my friend. Sooner than he should imagine what he saw in mine, I would close them,—would feign sleep in her Grace’s very presence.”
“You could not, Stansbury. There is but one person who could drop asleep in such a presence: and that is Bess of Hardwick. She did it last night. A slight glance of her Grace’s turned the Earl’s eyes towards his lady; and there she was sound asleep, with her head resting on the back of the settle.”
“And the Earl?”
“The Earl made such apology as he could; in which he was but ill seconded by Lady Bess; for she scarcely disguised a stretching of her limbs on waking, and alleged that the slow court pace in journeying had disposed her irresistibly to slumber.”
“I fear there will be bickerings among the ladies,” observed Stansbury.
“Assuredly there will be; and then we know what will happen among the gentlemen. The Earl meant loyalty to his Sovereign when he undertook this charge: but it will cost—”
“A crown?” whispered Stansbury, following his friend’s glance round the spot where they were seated.
“A crown, perhaps:—perhaps that which a crown contains,” Felton replied in a low tone. “Some great catastrophe must ensue from the tangle of affairs. Yes; it is true; there might have been a way out if her Grace had remained in Scotland, or gone anywhere but into this kingdom. But she is here; and—”
“And we had better await events, without looking too curiously into the issue,” said Stansbury. “I am satisfied to fish in the Dove, and leave the dark waters of state intrigue for another sort of anglers. Felton, be one with me in this. Nobody else can have such a claim upon you. Abide by me; and let it stand on our tombstones that we were two Derbyshire squires, who lived in friendship, and died in peace, in a time when other men quarrelled, and every parish had a war in it.”
“So be it,” answered Felton, rising when his friend had put up his fishing-tackle. “Whither now?”
Sampson was approaching. Of course he had seen nobody but the porter. Only the porter and one other person,—the tailor of the establishment,—a fellow in sufficiently gay clothes, who was conferring with the porter about the time it would take to obtain some material for his work from London, if Stafford or Derby could not furnish it. It was a silken lining that was wanted; and some trimmings of a nature which Sampson understood. The tailor thought it lucky that the youth had arrived at that moment, and had desired him to prepare patterns of the commodity without delay, and carry them up himself.
Sampson was now dismissed to his loom, with a string of fish in his hand, and a silver coin in his pocket,—well satisfied with his morning’s work.
“Is that tailor your dark sentinel in light apparel?” asked Stansbury.
“No doubt. Can he make any profit of the youth?”
“He will find him a silk-weaver; and further, a stout Calvinist, fresh from Switzerland; and further, a fellow thoroughly familiar with the ways of this neighbourhood.”
Felton was silent; and the pair sauntered on into the forest. It was past the dinner hour, and yet far from supper time. They fancied that they might find dry wood in the sheltered part of the forest, where they might broil their fish.
They followed one path, and another, and another; but each led to some open space where snow was still lying, or where it had in melting soaked the wood which lay about. They were very hungry before they lighted on a track which soon led them within scent of wood-smoke. This track they pursued till it brought them in view of a low cottage, made of wattle, and plastered with clay, and thatched with fir-branches, from amidst which the thin blue smoke rose into the still air. Here was a fire ready made.
“Who lives here?” asked Felton; a question which was answered by a laugh from within, and an invitation to come in and see.
Having entered, the friends were no wiser. A man of middle age sat on the settle. A bundle of papers and books lay beside him: and, as far off as she could get,—that is, close by the door, sat a woman, across whose lap lay a sick child. When she looked up, and the child began to complain, Stansbury recognised her as his hostess. In great surprise, he asked whether she had actually brought that child all the way in her arms. Not altogether in her arms, she said: she had carried him on her back, part of the way. A mother would do much, she explained, for the hope of obtaining her child’s cure. She was urged to wait a little,—only a very short time, and Stansbury would help her home with her burden. But she would not hear of it. She must instantly depart. While Felton was talking with the man about broiling the fish, Dame Chell was bending her mind to humble entreaty that Stansbury would tell no one of her having been here. The explanation that she gave was that Dr. Pantlin, now her husband’s guest, was daily giving medical advice and physic, with his other ministrations: that thus far her child had been rather worse than better since the preacher’s prayers for him began: and she could not be satisfied without inquiring from a higher authority whether she was in a right or a wrong course. Stansbury promised everything she asked, and she turned to take her leave of the host. When, however, she saw the preparations made for cooking and eating within the house, she sank back upon her seat in evident consternation. She would not, or could not explain herself; but gathered up her forces, and crossed the threshold, tottering under her burden, and saying with white lips that it was the boldest deed she had ever heard of; and she feared it could never come to good.
“Did you hear what she said?” asked Stansbury, seeing that the host was smiling. “You heard her? What can her warning mean? It seems you are an apothecary. Is she afraid of your poisons?”
“She is afraid of my art. Persons who have an art—”
“You mean black art,” said Felton.
“What the ignorant call so. Those who have knowledge and skill are exiles, even more than the priests of your Church. Your priests are wandering in foreign countries, but they are among friends. I am living under the trees which I climbed for birds’-nests when a boy; but I am exiled from human society. No man will eat with me, or walk with me, or sit on the same bench, or open his mind as to a comrade.”
“We are not well enough acquainted to be comrades,” said Stansbury; “but we will dine together, and walk afterwards, if you will.”
The Wise Man carefully closed the door, and then sat down to the board; but he refused to appear abroad with his guests. Their generosity might ruin them, he said.
As his heart opened under the long lost pleasure of free conversation, his visitors could say anything they wished; and what they wished was to know what could compensate to him for such isolation as he incurred by his choice of a way of life. His reply was, that there was no choice in the case. He had sought knowledge early, thinking no harm; and one day—one terrible day—he discovered himself to be in possession of a knowledge, not only surpassing other persons’ in degree, but different in kind. Nothing could then be done: his fate was sealed. He could only endeavour to do good with his power, and take such pleasure as he could in the pursuit of wisdom. That pursuit had its pleasures, he emphatically declared.
“But, surely, you see human faces almost every day?” asked Felton. “How many days in the year pass without your hearing a human voice?”
“Formerly I was sometimes weeks together without hearing a footstep in the wood,” the Wise Man replied; “or worse, the boys that were nesting or gathering berries made game of me; or, if they were afraid of what I might do to them, I knew that their fathers scorned me. For the last ten years the fate of my order has been changing; and now we have attained nearly as much honour as perhaps we ever shall.”
“How do you account for that? But stay,” said Felton, interrupting himself; “we will inquire further when you have finished eating. We will not spoil a repast which you say is a sort of festival to you.”
The Wise Man was brightening every moment; and of the three he perhaps enjoyed most the rare wine which he brought out of an inner apartment of his cottage. He said he seldom touched wine; and thus he had some to produce on this singular occasion. He asked his guests, laughing, whether they were not afraid to pledge him; and they laughed in reply.
“I perceive you are not superstitious,” he observed, when the fish-bones were removed, and nuts were on the board with the wine; “but nearly all the world is in these days. This is the answer to the question you put just now—that before men’s minds were disturbed by a change of religion, their affairs and beliefs went on in a regular course, and their priests were their resource in all their perplexities. Since there have been two religions, or several, and men have either to judge for themselves or choose among various oracles, the growth of superstition has become remarkable.”
“You find it so?”
“Yes, indeed! If I encouraged the resort of the people to me, I might have more power, more repute, and infinitely more money than any priest, or preacher, or religious leader within a hundred miles round.”
“And why do you not? Nay; I meant no offence,” said Felton, perceiving that he had hurt his host’s feelings. “You spoke of using your knowledge for good, and I supposed that the more power you had the more good you would effect.”
“Not so,” replied the Wise Man. “The people come to me for charms; and if I explain that they are medicines, they at once conclude that I am ashamed of my charms, and beguiling them with false pretences. If I were to encourage all who would come to me, and to act upon them as it is in my power to do, we should see a worship of Satan set up by my means; and my will being against it would rather help than hinder. Another consequence would be, that I should be burnt alive; but that would be right if I had acted like a real priest of the Devil.”
“What, then, is your plan, if I may ask?” said Felton.
“I wish it to be known by those who will vouchsafe to attend to it. There are so many who revile me—as Dr. Pantlin will next Sunday—without dreaming that I may have a case to state, that I may well be thankful when young men like yourselves—men fixed in the old faith, and therefore composed enough in mind to do justice—ask for my own explanation of my plan of life. My first duty is to keep up my insight into human affairs—”
“Do you mean a preternatural insight?”
“Not preternatural, but, in regard to the condition of the general mind, premature, and therefore special. I religiously sustain my knowledge of what is happening, and must happen. This is my first duty; and next to it comes the secluding myself to the utmost from popular resort, for the reason I have given. After that comes the easy task of imparting, whether in the form of medical advice, or counsel about conduct, or information which may be useful.”
“Political information among others.”
“How is it obtained from you?”
“Simply by asking. It rests with me to give or refuse it.”
“If I were to ask you what further adventures are in store for the lady now within the Castle walls yonder—”
“I should refuse to give it, because it is needless. It requires no magic to foretell that a princess so unhappy and so helpless from such causes can never seat herself firmly on a throne filled as the English throne is now; and that she could not reconcile parties at home; and that she would not even conceive of sustaining the honour and independence of England abroad.”
“I suppose that is true,” said Stansbury.
“But she cannot pass her life shut up in an English castle, with English courtiers for her gaolers,” said Felton.
“Can she not?” asked the Wise Man.
“Impossible! The Christian chivalry of England will not endure it.”
“The Christian chivalry of England may dare and do great things; yet this may not be one of the things that they can do. One may scale an impassable rock; another may bring stout heretics into the Church by a silken thread—”
“How applied?” asked Stansbury, looking up from his nuts.
“By the needle and shaping-board, and shears,” the Wise Man continued: “and the highest below the throne may sink himself into the common huntsman or angler—”
Stansbury laughed, saying:
“I was beginning to believe in your black art, friend; but your art breaks down under you. We are not noble,—my comrade and I.”
“You are squires from the next county: it takes no magic to know that much. And you are not the only anglers on the Dove.”
“Go on,” said Felton, in a voice which made his comrade look into his face.
“I will say no more,” replied the host. “If it is plain to calm observers that yonder princess and the English crown are not made for each other—”
“But that is past argument,” Felton asserted. “Her arms, her style, and title have always told another tale.”
“To what end? Inquiring of me of the future, you hear me say that the English throne is not for her, and why. So much of the Christian chivalry of the country as may stake its fortunes on a miracle should satisfy itself whether the days of miracles are past.”
“Who believes that?” exclaimed Stansbury. “Except myself, everybody seems to me to be steeped in superstition; so that a miracle being necessary to any enterprise may just now be rather a recommendation.”
“What you say is too true,” replied the Wise Man; “and, till the Church is settled, men will pray for miracles, and expect them: but Christian chivalry should be mindful of what it has in its charge. The whole life of chivalry is a choice between objects, with honour or perdition for reward of a right or wrong choice. Passing over the lower considerations of honour or perdition to the individual, let us admit that if there is an interesting and unhappy cause—”
“An incomparable woman!” Felton observed.
“Well! an incomparable princess on the one hand, there is—omitting all estimate of our Queen—the peace and prosperity and freedom of England on the other. I do not wish to say more,” concluded the host. “My words are doubtless thrown away even thus far.”
“Not so,” said Stansbury. “I agree with you; and I trust my comrade will remember your words as well as I shall.”
“No doubt of it,” said Felton.
“Not the less are they thrown away,” persisted the Wise Man.
This persistence was remarked upon, and dwelt upon by the comrades during their walk back through the forest. They said it was unavoidable that a man who lived like an oracle in a shrine should be peremptory in his utterances: but not the less were they impressed by the Wise Man’s conclusion.
As they came out of the wood a bowshot from the river, they stopped at the same moment. They were looking up at the Castle, as every one does at that spot; and they saw figures relieved against the pale yellow evening sky. They were moving figures.
“Is that a terrace walk?” asked Stansbury.
“Yes; and where you see those tree-tops over the wall there is a garden. That terrace is where her Grace will take her walking exercise. O yes! she will ride in the forest, and out to the chase; but her walking exercise will be daily on yonder terrace. See her now!”
“Which—which? They are but black forms against the sky. Ah! now they disappear against the dim building! But which was she?”
“Which?” replied Felton, impatiently. “If eyes cannot tell that form from all others . . . Is it possible to mistake Lady Janet Hamilton for her, or Grisel Douglass?”
“My dear fellow! consider the distance!”
“But you saw forms:—you saw them move. Is there any bearing, any movement that could be mistaken for hers? Yet you have seen her.”
“Once. I must bow before you who have seen her twice.”
Felton did not smile. He was astonished to discover that he had not had his mind wholly filled with her all his life.
CHAPTER IV. DISCOURSINGS IN NEEDWOOD FOREST.
As the spring advanced it was everybody’s remark that so many strangers had never before visited Tutbury,—far famed as was the Castle with Needwood Forest for its chase. It seemed as if all the Earl of Shrewsbury’s abodes had become suddenly celebrated; for, wherever he and his establishment went, there was presently a throng of strangers. The Countess had put in execution her plan of removing her royal guest from place to place; and therein she had shown great determination; for she was resisting the wishes of two queens. Her Grace of Scotland could not always repress her disgust at her mode of life, under such a guardian as Dame Bess; and, by a very natural peevishness, she dissented from the praises of Tutbury with which her hostess tried her patience. She had suffered much at Tutbury, she said; and she could not be expected to praise it. This was laid hold of as the occasion for a series of removals as the days lengthened. But, ill as Mary of Scotland liked Tutbury, she liked still less to leave it. At first, she declared her will to abide. She resented the indignity of being pressed for reasons: but it was necessary to assign some; and she complained of her health, and of the fatigues of travelling. This brought on a recommendation to try the Buxton waters; and afterwards the fine air of Sheffield Park. After a month’s resistance, the captive found that she had only excited suspicion. A courtier or two appeared from London, and was introduced to her presence or not, as she chose: but, as soon as they were gone, she missed some occasional visitors,—she ceased to hear from her most punctual correspondents,—and she received, in fact, very few letters, and was restricted in her intercourses with even the few persons in the neighbourhood whose services she commanded. To the Earl she could speak as a gentleman, if not as a friend; and the Earl told her that his sovereign blamed him for permitting too much resort of strangers to his Castle at a critical season, and had herself ordered the new arrangements. Assuming that he was consulted, he gave it as his opinion that it would be greatly for her Grace’s interest to disarm suspicion by ready conformity to any plans laid for her Grace’s good, in health or otherwise. It was a bitter potion, the poor lady said,—this practice of obedience,—however sweetened by the courtesy of her host: but by resistance she might doom herself to close imprisonment. Her host did not gainsay this: and to Buxton they went.
Among the throng who saw the cavalcade descend the hill, and wind away through the now green forest, was Dr. Pantlin. He had been out of sight for some weeks, as men of his class found it necessary to be. Deprived clergymen were scarcely less abhorred by the ruling powers than Jesuit priests; and, if they thought fit to hold to their ministry, they could do it only on sufferance. Dr. Pantlin then had been on one of his rounds since February; and now, at the end of April, he appeared only in passing.
On the next Sunday it was plain that he had gathered matter for his discourse in attending on the departure of the Castle party. The church was closed, as happened very frequently, for want of a preacher. The Earl had applied to the universities for a man of learning and piety, to fill the parish pulpit: but the answer was that if the universities could not supply one-fifth part of the demands of the populous towns, they could not attend to rural parishes. One bishop had lately declared that he had but two preachers in his whole diocese. If the Earl would send up some promising young man, of sufficient instruction to read the service and a homily, such a person could be ordained on easy terms: otherwise there was no help. This left the field of religious teaching open to the deprived clergy; and they were eagerly listened to, and zealous to use their opportunity.
It was seven years since Dr. Pantlin had spoken from a pulpit, as he did not let his hearers forget. This time he preached from a stump, firmly planted under a spreading oak in the forest. It was as lovely a spring Sunday as could be seen: but a gloom overhung the people and the service. The preacher was in more or less danger: among his hearers were some who suffered under the suspension of the lawful services of the Church: lovers were waiting, angry and disgusted, for some one to marry them: there were many infants not yet baptised: and Dr. Pantlin had been heart-wrung, that very morning as often before, to be compelled to refuse the rites of burial to a departed brother who well deserved them. His theme was one which moved hearts ready prepared. He described in his discourse the terrible interdict under which the kingdom had suffered in the time of King John: he showed what the Papal tyranny was which inflicted such horrors; and thence it was easy to show that by dallying with the Papal faith, even the heretical government of England was renewing the old penalties. The waters flowed, but infants were not baptised: marriage was honourable for all, yet those who would be joined in holy matrimony could not obtain the rite: the promises of the gospel of departing saints were bright and sure: and yet the dead were buried like dogs. Such was the retribution brought on society by the rightful priests being scattered abroad, while there were none ready to occupy their pulpits in their stead. There never could be a worse moment for closing the churches. At the very time when every Sunday and other holy day should summon the whole people to worship, as one rallying point for men’s thoughts and wills, there was no chime of bells, no service, no exhortation; and the people sought out a word of advice wherever there was anybody who pretended to give it. Sometimes it was a necromancer in a wood, or in some dark hole in a city. Sometimes there was a resort to some barn where the blasphemous Anabaptists said and did worse things than the Pagans of old. Sometimes the unwary were led captive by the disguised Papists, whose toils were spread everywhere. Once drunk with the scent of incense, or lured to the secret chamber by the tinkle of the bell or the yellow light of the taper, the victim of the priests was lost, for this world and the next. While such were the horrors now going on in once merry England, there was no sign of repentance or godly sorrow. There was my Lady Go-fine in every neighbourhood, caring little for godly or ungodly arrivals on our coasts, provided only the latest fashion of attire came over too. No matter what Romish fox or Anabaptist hog was on board any smack from the Low Countries, provided there was a pair of silken hose, or a new adornment for the hair, or a special velvet for gentlemen’s cloaks. If there were such dangers from fantastical vanities everywhere, what could be said of Tutbury in particular? There had been a whole train of Lady Go-fines for weeks past, showing their mincing gait on the terrace, or sporting in the woods: and if they were gone now, they would come back: and, considering what was suspected of the sort of power employed by the chief witch of that strange company, there might be as much danger in hanging about the Castle in her absence as when she might be met at any turn. What he, the preacher, meant was that persons—and young men in particular—who wished to escape from blood and fire in this world and the next, would be wise to turn their backs on the Castle altogether. Or, if some must go as far as the gate,—as indeed provisions for the Earl’s household must be supplied,—all messengers should keep outside the threshold, and have no speech but with the porter. Of the porter there was no harm known; but that was more than could be said for everybody who might, at one time or other, be in the porter’s chamber.
The discourse was becoming interesting; for there were persons present who liked nothing so well as hanging about the Castle; and there were few of the hearers who had not secretly visited the Wise Man within a few months. Dr. Pantlin stopped while the interest was lively. After showing the contrast between the smooth order of daily life in former times and the disturbed state of men’s minds at present, he terrified the timid of his hearers by telling them that, having the very enchantress of the Papacy in their midst, they must expect, by and by, to have their pleasant abode made what the lair of an enchantress always is,—a place of blood, and bones, and perdition.
Among the timid hearers Polly could scarcely be reckoned. She was as capable as other people of dread; but she was not scared by pictures of blood and bones, nor intimidated by hints of dangerous mysteries. She actually stole away behind the trees during the stir which followed the close of the discourse; and by the time Dr. Pantlin had obtained silence enough for the concluding prayer, she was quite out of hearing, on the way to the Wise Man’s cottage.
“You have come to tell me about the child?” inquired the Wise Man.
“No. Mother told me, however, that she had shown him to you. He may be somewhat less pining these few days; but the neighbours may well say he is bewitched, seeing how he is, from week to week. What is it that ails him?”
“You would be no wiser if I told you the name of his disease. But he is not bewitched.”
“No, no. I am not one who fears that way of being ill. But will the child recover?”
“That is a question which I never answer.”
“You might tell me. I can be secret; and it may be best that I should know.”
“I think otherwise, if you have no more wit than to press for an answer to such a question. What can be done for the child’s ease shall be done; and I can say no more. What was it that you came to say; for it was not this?”
“You ask for the form’s sake,” observed Polly; “for you read thoughts, and know what is on my mind.”
“I can guess, Polly. You are in a difficulty with Sampson.”
“I am. I have no peace about it, night or day.”
“You would have married him this month if there had been a priest within reach to marry you.”
“Ah! if that were all! It may be at any time that a priest would come this way, and stay a day for the church rites. But whether ever to marry Sampson is my doubt.”
Did he then think seriously of becoming a priest himself?
Never. The Earl showed him that his way was clear. He could read the service; and the university would have made him ready for ordination in a year; and the Earl was pleased to say that he was distinguished for piety; and he had only to throw off his wild Swiss notions—
“More easily said than done,” observed the Wise Man.
“Only too easily done, however,” sighed Polly.
“Why regret it?” asked her counsellor. “You dread the Queen’s displeasure at her clergy marrying. But, you see, they do marry; and if she dislikes it, she cannot prevent it. You and Sampson might be very happy in your parsonage, so far out of the range of the Queen’s eye. But I perceive that your difficulty is of another kind. Perhaps Sampson is no Protestant at all.”
“I was sure you would know,” said the sighing girl. “And now, what am I to do? If I marry him, I must be a Papist too: and if I break off from him, he will be suspected; and he will—O! I must do anything rather than betray him to suspicion.”
“If I were he, I would avow the conversion,” said the adviser. “Times are not yet so bad but that a man may follow his own religion, after a manner, if he keeps himself quiet.”
“He must keep his secret,” Polly declared. “Those who made him a Papist have pledged him to secresy. Yes,—I know it is bad: but it is a thing done. They have their reasons—”
“Very strong reasons, no doubt. They hope, and by ‘they’ I mean in particular the Jesuit priest who masquerades as a tailor before the Earl’s eyes—”
“Ah! I was sure you would be able to help me,” said Polly. “You see what is going on up at the Castle as plain as if its walls were made of glass, and you were always walking round them.”
“Far from it, Polly. That disguised Jesuit may well be suspected, if plain, guileless persons are watched, from the same suspicion, all over the kingdom. You may not be aware, but I was, that Sampson himself was suspected of being a Popish agent, from the moment he arrived here.”
“Who suspected him?” asked Polly, indignantly.
“Warning was sent from London to the magistrates, and to certain trusty citizens.”
“What a shame!” exclaimed Polly; “and he so proud of the twice-reformed faith, and of the courage of his Church, and of having himself picked up John Calvin’s bowls when he played at Geneva on Sunday evenings. If they had once heard what Sampson had to tell, they could never have suspected him.”
“Yet you say he is now a Papist. He must be very weak, or—”
The Wise Man paused, and Polly poured out the defence of her lover which had been collecting in her mind. Sampson had soon learned that the gay tailor was a priest; and that he wore his disguise in the pure love of human souls. He did not care for the humiliation of his function. He could cut out and stitch with gaiety of heart to draw stray souls into the Church—”
“Ah! yes; I know,” observed the Wise Man. “That is a very common story.”
And then, Polly said, he had spoken so strongly to Sampson on the perilous pride and vanity shown in setting up against the Church which had for so many ages included all the wisdom—”
“Ah! yes,” said the Wise Man. “That is the way the story runs; but, to come to the end,—has not Sampson, just once, only once,—had a sight of the lady?”
“The Lady Bess? He has seen her often, for she busies herself much about the accommodations of the apartments which are not yet fully furnished. The Countess herself has given orders at several times to Sampson for silken hangings for two windows, and—”
“I did not speak of Bess of Hardwick; and you are aware that I meant the greater lady, Polly. I divine that Sampson has seen her Grace of Scotland, and has, moreover, heard the sound of her voice.”
“Once,—only once,” Polly admitted.
“I understand that sort of magical practice, at least,” the Wise Man observed. “The same honey-pot catches many flies.”
“Do not speak so of Sampson!” Polly entreated.
“Well! if he has not been employed to fetch and carry—”
“Do not speak so of Sampson!” cried Polly, more piteously.
“What, then, do you wish more from me, Polly? If he has been used by his new friends as an agent, I perceive that you do not know it. What is the question which weighs upon your mind? Are you doubting whether to turn Papist, and marry Sampson, or to leave him to his new friends? You cannot break off from him, you think, without dooming him to terrible things. Then, I suppose, you are intending the other course. But how can it be? Will yonder gay tailor tie the knot?”
“Yes,—yes,—that is it?” whispered Polly. “They wish it to be done while the household are mostly absent: they wish it done this week.”
“Protestant as you still are? Well; they may be right in reckoning on your conversion as a certain event, if you are to contend alone against a Jesuit priest and a husband. Have you made up your mind, Polly?”
Certainly not, or she would not be asking counsel. It did seem a great deal to risk and to undergo; and she would not think of it for a moment but for the fear of destroying Sampson. He would remain, whatever happened. Nothing could induce him to leave.
“No; he is too useful,” the Wise Man said. “He will remain while her Grace wants secret messages carried. If you marry him, Polly, you must bring none of your secret messages here. I cannot harbour anything of the sort.”
“I would not be so suspicious as you—” Polly broke out: but she checked herself.
“Yes, you would, if you had seen what I have seen of princes and priests. Now tell me, Polly, has it occurred to you that it may be no such new thing to Sampson to be a papist?”
“Suppose he should never have been anything else? I offend you, I see: that is no wonder. You will tell me that I do not know Sampson; and that is pretty nearly true.”
“I wish you would not make any guesses about him at all,” Polly said, angrily.
“But simply hear what you tell me of him. Well and good! but then you must not imagine you have my counsel.”
“Let us say no more about it at all!” exclaimed Polly.
“With all my heart. Only this. After what you have laid open to me I am bound to tell you that wherever the Queen of Scots remains for many days together, there plots spring up, and simple people are won, and pious people are compelled, and selfish people are bribed, to serve the purposes of the plotters. Here, where her Grace has remained weeks instead of days, there are almost as many secrets hanging about the Castle as there are birds in the holes of the rock below it. Now you have your warning.”
“I have,” replied Polly; “and I thank you for it.”
As she was leaving the threshold, the Wise Man called her back.
“One word more, Polly. All the honesty in this case lies on one side. Simply to have no more to say to Sampson could not endanger him. Well! I see you will not hear of that. Farewell, then; but remember”—and he held up his hand in a warning way—“no state secrets, no papist secrets, no secrets of Sampson’s must come here.”
Polly would have been glad to be angry; but she turned away without a word. The Wise Man was sorry for her.
“They want some clever, unsuspected agent in the village,” thought he; “and they will sacrifice her for the object. She will be bound by a secret marriage: her father’s house is a convenient resting place for the Duke and his rod and tackle. She makes the channel complete, from her Grace to the Duke. I have said all that it could avail to say. If she can get over the hint of Sampson’s having been only a pretended Protestant, and of her being made a mere tool of, nothing else that I could have said would have answered any purpose. As she walks now, she is turning all I have said of danger into a reason for uniting her fate with Sampson’s to-morrow; and the more I have touched her with suspicion of her being courted to be used, the more eager she will be to show a generous faith by an act which nothing can recall. I think she is safe about Sampson being a bachelor. These priests have few scruples; but no one of them would venture upon marrying a man over and over, however convenient the wives may be as tools. And Sampson himself could hardly go that length, though he is more cunning than wise. Polly will be a real wife; and then she must make the best of it. If she were not in love, she would see how simple and safe an honest course would really be. But she will take the hard and doubtful one.”
This was just what Polly herself was intending, as she made her way through the wood by round-about paths. She was proud of a lover who was a servant of the most unhappy and the sweetest princess in the world; and she would brave everything to be his wife, and his supporter in peril and duty. As for becoming a Papist, she need not think of that at the moment; her way would clear; and it could be no good religion which would make her desert her lover, and seek her own safety, as soon as she was put to the proof. In this mood she was met by Sampson and his patron the tailor. The latter promised to show her the Scottish ladies’ apartments, and the Queen’s own walk on the terrace, if she would come up to the Castle before sunset.
Her heart was as soft as anybody could desire as she and Sampson paced the terrace at sunset. She had seen the apartment where the Queen passed the mornings, the desk at which she wrote, the frame on which her embroidery was stretched, and a book in which she had read only a few days before. She had sat in the window-seat which commanded a wide view over Need wood Forest, but from which one could almost step out upon the terrace. The sleeping-rooms above, she was told, might be opened to her some day soon, if she should deserve the confidence. Meantime, Sampson had a hundred little anecdotes to tell her of the Queen’s sayings and doings. He was intoxicated by an interview he had had with her about some silk. Polly knew this before: but now she was confident that there was more than silk in the matter. Sampson was not a very good keeper of secrets, she now found. He was fidgety about a certain stand-point on the terrace; he was restless when she looked over the parapet, and saw a man loitering by the Dove, some way off; he was evidently delighted when her enthusiasm about the captive Queen grew to be like his own; but he let her see plainly that he had kept some things from her which were occupying his thoughts very much. After watching the swallows flitting from under the castle eaves, and swooping to the river below, and reappearing high overhead; after leaning over the ivied wall, listening for the cuckoo in the forest; after hearing how the poor Queen had burst into tears, and sobbed for an hour after meeting a toddling child which had trespassed on the terrace, and how she had said that she had a baby son in Scotland; after listening to fearful stories of the malice which had pursued this Catholic princess, even charging her with adultery and murder—suffering saint as she was!—Polly was in no mood to break for ever with Sampson, and the little world of the Queen of Scots. And if she did not break with them, she must join them. The worst trial would be living apart from them, in the very midst of the Queen’s enemies. The tailor, however, threw out a hint that the time might not be far off when the Queen would be found to have fewer enemies than was supposed, and when Polly might . . . . There was no saying what Polly might not have arrived at.