Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The anglers of the Dove - Part 4
THE ANGLERS OF THE DOVE.
BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
CHAPTER VII. A HARVEST EVENING AT TUTBURY.
It was a glorious harvest day in Farmer Chell’s fields, but dreary and darksome in the house, when Polly sat there, with no companion but the little dying brother who lay across her lap. The whole household, except these two, were in the field. The farmer had summoned all hands, to make the best use of the fine weather; and there they were, in the sunshine and the shade, reaping, binding, singing, resting, drinking ale and cracking jokes, while Polly had darkened the window, and was moistening the child’s lips, and wishing that somebody would come to the door. Her mother had thought the child was worse; but all the rest had said that these kind of cases went on without end; and she might as well say he would die next Martinmas as to-day. Since the morning, however, there had been a change; and Polly perceived that he could not live to see his parents again. She once went as far as the door, to look out for the chance of some one being within sight: but the slightest movement so distressed the child that she returned to her low seat, and remained motionless till he had breathed his last sigh, with his head on her shoulder.
She was full of awe. She had seen more than one person die; but she had never before been alone with death. The hour was too solemn for tears. She laid him down on his little bed, closed his eyes, crossed his thin hands upon his breast, and stood looking at him, thinking of the first time she saw him, when he was only a few hours old, and of the plaything he was as an infant, and of the growth of her love for him since, and of the relief it would be to that love for him that he would now suffer no more. She was startled from her reverie by a touch on the shoulder. Two of her village acquaintances, Dolly and Cicely, the silk knitters, who could carry their work about with them, and knit as they went, and who were apt to infest their friends’ houses as persons of other trades could not, had entered unheard. They were full of excitement. The Queen of Scots was coming back,—coming to the Castle that very night,—some said within an hour,—some said at any minute now. Polly must come and see the sight.
When she turned, her countenance startled them. She pointed to the little corpse. The intruders cast a scared glance at each other, and rushed out of the house without waiting for a word. They ran till stopped by want of breath: and when each asked the other why she was so frightened, neither could very well say. It was so strange,—that moody girl all alone with the dead child—standing staring at him, and with no tear in her eye, and not a word to say! What was she doing? At first they said she was doing nothing: but then they could not be sure she was doing nothing; and by degrees they were certain that she was making signs with her hands, and muttering with her lips. It must have been a warning within them of something wrong which made them run as they did. Should they go to the field, and tell the farmer and his wife? or should they run to the Minister, and let him know what things were doing? As they did not wish to miss seeing the Castle procession pass, they decided on keeping watch on the path to Farmer Chell’s—listening towards the road, and spying towards the house. They did not watch in vain. Sampson came from the paddock, leaped the fence, and entered the house.
Polly had made several discoveries about Sampson since they were married, two months ago: but she was surprised now, when she thought nothing about him could surprise her again, at his carelessness about the position in which he found her. She believed he would mourn the little brother as a brother should; she believed he would sorrow with her, and minister to her mother: but at this moment he could think of nothing but the expected arrival at the Castle.
“Everything has come upon us at once,” he said. “There is news which her Grace must hear: there will be gentry wanting secret speech with the Castle; and I may be sent to London, or to York, or Hartlepool, at any moment.”
“To Hartlepool! Where is that?”
“Ay! I see I must trust you with more than you think for. I believe you are a good Catholic now, Polly;—such a Catholic as may be trusted in the greatest cause that ever stirred the world.”
“I am sorry for the rightful Queen; and I would do anything to save her from the proud usurper in London there, who persecutes us all,—Catholics and true Protestants.”
“True Protestants, Polly! How can Protestants be true?”
“Well; you know what I mean:—the people who follow Dr. Pantlin, and believe as I believed not long ago; and you too, Sampson.”
“No; that is a mistake, Polly; and I must make you understand about it now. I was under religious orders when I seemed to be a Protestant. Many are so: and there is reason for it. You are sorry for this oppressed Queen; and you abhor her bastard kinswoman—”
Polly started, and looked round.
“Nobody hears;” and as they at the same moment looked at the little white face before them, Sampson’s voice trembled, and the tears at last sprang to Polly’s eyes.
“He will never hear us more!” she sobbed.
“Listen, Polly,” said her husband, “for there may be no time to lose. The quarrel of these queens is but a small matter, though the whole world is talking of it. As a woman’s quarrel it is nothing; as a strife for a coat-of-arms, or a royal succession, or even a present throne, it is no such great matter. There have been such quarrels before in every country. It is because the salvation of the whole world depends on the fate of these kinswomen that the times are such as men have never seen before.”
“I do not understand all these things,” said Polly: “but Father Berthon says I have only to obey the Church through him, and I shall know all that is necessary. I do not want to know any more: for it is difficult enough now, living in the same house, and with the same people, when all is really so different from former days. Sampson, I do wish we could have a home of our own!”
“We will, child, as soon as we can with any safety: but you must hear me now. ‘The fate of all mankind hangs,’ Father Berthon says, ‘on the fate of these two Queens.’ If the heretic prevails—But we need not think of that; for her doom is certain. When Queen Mary rides into London to be crowned, perhaps by the Pope himself, the Church will be safe, and the happy old times will have come back again.”
“Will that ever be?”
“Yes, it will.”
“And what will the Protestants do?”
“There will be none. There must be an end of them by that time.”
“O, Sampson, how?”
“Most of them will return to the Church; and those who will not must take the consequences. Think of the great Princes who are banded together! When we hear of this poor Queen of Scots being forlorn and weak in the hands of her proud kinswoman, we must remember that it is Elizabeth who is forlorn and weak. Except the traders in the Low Countries, she has few friends; and she will have fewer before another year; for the Pope’s ban will come out by Christmas, they say. Queen Mary has the French Court with her, and nearly all France; and the great great sovereign—”
“The Pope, of course; but the great, rich, pious, powerful prince—.”
“Philip of Spain, you mean. But is he not cruel? And does not he talk sometimes of invading us?”
“Hush!” said Sampson, afraid that his own ears should hear such words. “Not us! He may, and France may, invade England; but not you and me. All good Catholics will be safe. Now, this brings me to what you must hear,—somewhat sooner than I intended. I will show you how safe you and I shall be whenever the Catholics come. Look here!”
And Sampson drew from a concealed pocket in his dress a small leather case, in which there was a silver medal, like some which were given as prizes to improvers of the arts of manufacture on the Continent. It would be supposed by a stranger that Sampson had been distinguished as a silk-weaver; and Polly now asked why she had never seen this medal before. Sampson, however, showed her the reason why. The medal could be opened; and fixed within it was a slip of parchment, exhibiting a device in colours known to every priest, and to all orthodox political leaders of the time.
“It is my master’s device and signature,” whispered Sampson. “Yes, the great Philip of Spain is my master. I am here as his servant.”
“Do you mean as his spy?”
“Yes;” Sampson replied stoutly: “and from this time you must be his servant, too. There are several of us in England always: always one at least where there are Brabant, or Swiss, or French silk-weavers and knitters: and there will be always one or more wherever this poor Queen is detained.”
“Does she know this?”
“She does: but she has, in every new place, to learn to whom to trust. You must get into her presence—”
“I cannot, Sampson! I never can. How should I be ever face to face with a Queen in a castle?”
“Perhaps it may be in this wood: but I will see to that. Wherever it is, you will have to catch her eye with that device within the medal.—‘When?’ Some day very soon.”
“You must not leave the medal with me meantime, Sampson. I cannot undertake the charge.”
“You must. You may be sent for when I am absent. Moreover, there will be strangers in the neighbourhood, now that the Queen has returned; and, perhaps, one or two may be lodged in this house; and you may have to show some one of them that you are to be trusted.”
“Not in my father’s house,” Polly declared. “Not while my poor mother is mourning this child. I have yielded much to you, Sampson. I have got bewildered,—I fear I might say lost,—among you and your friends—”
“Not lost, but saved, as you will find when the French and the Spaniards come.” “But I will not plot about Popes and Queens under my father’s roof. Our own little affairs,—a village girl marrying one lover or another, and being married by priest or parson, secretly or openly,—all that is one thing; and plots which might bring my father to prison, or the gallows, are another. I cannot keep the medal here.”
The creak of the harvest waggon in the lane,—a sound so joyous in former years,—now struck upon her heart. Her parents must be coming home. As they arrived at the door, Sampson carried his point about the medal. He departed by the other door, pointing to the case as it lay on the child’s bed. Polly had but just time to hide it in her dress.
It was a dreary evening. The mother said incessantly that she should never forgive herself for going out that day. In the unreasonableness of grief, she said that perhaps her child would not have died if she had been beside him; and the farmer moodily observed that he was of that opinion too. Polly explained how there was nothing to be done; how lonely she had felt, and yet how certain that the child’s last hour had come: and she wept bitterly over the hardship of being made, in a manner, finally answerable for the death of the child who had been kept alive so long at least as much by her tender nursing as by her mother’s. She supposed it was the effect of a new grief upon a stern man, which made her father what he was that night, and afterwards. He scarcely spoke: he would receive nothing from her hand, he seemed to fear,—perhaps to hate her. She wondered whether he could have been made suspicious of her secret marriage. She thought not, as his manner was not that of an angry man: but, whenever the priest should give her leave to tell, she hardly thought she dared do it, if her father continued to watch her as he did. He would not say a word of what he intended to do about burying his child,—the supreme difficulty in the day of the dispersion of the clergy. There lay the little body, at first on its bed, and then in a rude coffin made in the woodcutter’s shed; and even the mother did not know where it was to be put underground. Her husband had muttered that it was enough that his child had been bewitched in its lifetime: it should have a safe sleep now, and an easy grave.
The village gossips had much to say that summer night, for her Grace had returned to the Castle. It seemed like a sudden return; for strange men had been up at the Castle two days before, very busy among the furniture of her Grace’s apartments; so that it was supposed that everything was to be new hung and beautified before her return: yet here she was, before the rooms could have been even put in proper order.
She was more stately and graceful than ever. So the gentlemen in her train agreed; and such was the feeling of the country people, however they might express it. Seeing her ride by, with her grave countenance, her courteous greeting to the people, and her dignified manner to her own servants, the by-standers could not have believed, if they had been told, that she had given way to passion so lately, and had even appealed to the wayside crowd for rescue.
The Countess had hastened forwards within the last hour, and was now awaiting her guest at the great entrance. She made, with some carelessness, the requisite apology for the Earl’s absence, and the introduction of Sir Francis Knollys as his temporary substitute: and she was not sorry to be dismissed from attendance at the door of Mary’s apartments. She had had too little time for effacing the signs of the handiwork of the messengers from London, and she did not desire to witness her Grace’s indignation on finding how her desks and cabinets had been dealt with. If the Lady Bess had entered, she would have found that some diligent hands had restored the disorder which she had partly retrieved. The apartment had the air of having been rifled the night before. As Mary glanced round from open drawer to door ajar, she lifted her hands piteously, and sank on the nearest couch. It might seem strange that she could at such a moment admit a servant to report of garments and hangings: but the gay needleman of her suite desired admittance, and at once obtained it.
“Your Grace must take heart,” he said, smiling. “There is no harm done.”
“How is that possible? Tell me in a word how great the misfortune is.”
“There is no misfortune, madam. I must speak, as you say, in one word; and that word is that all is safe.”
“My papers safe?”
“They are—safely burned two days ago. If your Grace has heard,” he continued, smiling, “of any seizure of papers, that is true also. What those papers were that were seized is another question.”
“But my friends—the friends in the north, and—Norfolk?”
“All secure as yet. Nay, I assure your Grace I speak only what I know. The Duke of Norfolk is travelling to court, where he has been invited to dine with the Queen. We know his Grace well enough to understand how he will profit by the occasion.”
“I trust so,” answered Mary, with a sigh of relief. “But is it possible—can such a thing befal me as that none of my friends have suffered? De Naon? Curie? Were they not arrested?”
“Your Grace’s secretaries were both arrested: but that event had been provided for. Nothing was under their charge which could imperil them; and nothing within their knowledge which could compromise your Grace.”
“It is a boon from Heaven to have such a friend as you,” said Mary, her eyes filling with tears. “But I must take the warning of this event, and resign myself to my fate without further struggle.”
“My counsel, if permitted,” said the disguised priest, cheerfully, “is that your Grace should first resign yourself to sleep. That is the duty of this night. What to do and dare hereafter, we shall see hereafter.”
He proceeded to take his leave; but had to answer one or two more questions. He related that he was still consulted by the hostess as a spy on her Grace. He had established a channel of communication for letters from abroad; and any person who, appearing in any capacity before her Grace, should exhibit the signature of his Majesty of Spain, might be charged with letters as a safe post. The Earl would return as soon as he could by any means bear the journey; and his return would be very welcome. Her Grace’s devoted friends would meantime remain at hand, to protect her as far as possible from the insolence of Sir Francis Knollys. In short, her Grace’s position was in no respect worse than when she left Tutbury; but rather it was better, inasmuch as seizures had been made without result.
“What say the country folk?” asked Mary. “I fear these alarms making them spies upon my friends. What say they to these alarms?”
“Your Grace must not be displeased at the answer to that question,” replied the priest. “They say that it is by witchcraft that your Grace holds fast all eyes and all hearts. They are a wonderfully superstitious people, now that they have lost the true faith; and they will no more meddle with your Grace’s affairs than they would rummage the papers and implements of the Wise Man who lives in the wood yonder. I entreat you, madam, to take heart when all is so well.”
“I will,” said Mary; “and I will not forget whose voice gave me this comfort. May you have such peace as you have given to me!”
It rather startled the priest to see, half an hour later, her Grace and the Ladies Hamilton and Douglass walking on the terrace by moonlight, and to catch the tones even of mirth as they walked; but he said to himself that it was a natural revulsion from the terror of the last three days.
“See her,” whispered a voice on the river bank below. “By the faintest blink of moonlight, one would know her from every other. But one thirsts the more for her voice. If one could scale the height there, and nestle under the wall—”
“Felton, you are mad,” said Stansbury, laughing. “A Bedlamite would not think of scaling that rock.”
“That may be a mistake,” said Felton, quietly. “However, the sight we see is enough for this night. What a queenly heart and courage she has,—to leave her chamber, and taste the summer night, after passing through the fiery furnace of the last three days.”
“Possibly she has good news of the Duke,” Stansbury suggested, and to this his comrade made no reply.
CHAPTER VIII. POLLY BEGINS TO KNOW THE WORLD.
As the autumn advanced, the Earl of Shrewsbury recovered his health. He would have returned to Tutbury much sooner if either he could or his wife could not have been present with his charge. Her daily messengers kept up his fever beyond its necessary term; for they brought letters detailing harshnesses and indignities inflicted on the captive Queen, which the Earl felt as a sort of disgrace to his own honour. Before his physician would declare him able to travel, he was on his way to Tutbury; and within twenty-four hours of his arrival, Sir Francis Knollys was gone.
The Earl had heard and seen enough in passing through the forest and village to be satisfied that there was something wrong among the people. His lady could only say that that was a matter of course wherever the Queen of Scots inflicted her malignant presence. More definite information than this being needed, the Earl’s gentlemen were sent down to learn what they could of the state of affairs in the village and the country round. Meantime, one of the servants made known that there was a young woman then at the gate,—sent for about some silk nets for her Grace’s ladies,—a girl likely to know what the people were thinking and saying: and in a trice Polly found herself, to her great consternation, in the presence of the Earl and Countess, instead of her patron, the needleman.
“I know you, girl,” said the Countess. “You are the daughter of the yeoman at the edge of the forest.”
“Are you married?” asked Bess, in her blunt way.
“Perhaps going to be,” the Earl observed, seeing Polly’s confusion.
“What I am thinking of,” said the Countess, “is that somebody said, after that youth—that artisan from Switzerland—came here, that he was going to marry you: and if that did not happen to be true, the youth might serve, as he is said to be educated, to send to the university for a year, to qualify for our church here. It is a serious thing the church being closed so long. I believe it to be at the bottom of the discontent that we hear of below. The bishop says we may not reckon on any pastor from him; for half the pulpits are empty. If this youth—I forget his name—”
“If Sampson Rudd is married, or likely to be, the thing cannot be done, because the Queen does not approve of a married clergy.”
“She would allow a married priest rather than none,” the Earl observed.
“Perhaps so; but in this place it is necessary to be very careful in the choice of a preacher, as long as the papists throng hither as they do. As the young woman seems unwilling to speak,” the Countess observed to her husband, “I suppose Sampson Rudd is not one to answer our purpose.”
Polly admitted that Sampson certainly intended not to be a bachelor; and then she was glad of a subject to speak on. She told of her little brother’s coffin, covered over in the garden, for want of a priest to bury it; and she could answer any questions about the itinerant preachers who appeared every few weeks; and especially Dr. Pantlin, the old favourite over the whole country side, who preached in the wood, or among the rocks on the moor, while the cobwebs thickened upon the church-door. Further than this, Polly gave no definite information. The people were in an uncertain temper, no doubt. Some of them believed something was going to happen. The thunder-storms had been so awful this summer,—that was one thing; and there were reports of great dangers to the Queen and the Church. Which Church?—Why, for that matter, there was talk about both: but the new people from abroad, the silk manufacturers, were afraid of the same thing happening again that had happened before,—that their relations would be murdered by the Romanists.
“Where?” the Earl inquired.
“Wherever they may be, my Lord. Some in Switzerland, where Sampson lived so long; and more in the Low Countries and in France; and some say here,—in London, and as far as Tutbury itself.”
“You do not believe that,” said the Earl, smiling. “You do not expect to have your throat cut by any Frenchman or Spaniard?”
How should she know what to expect? Polly asked. It was said that persons much wiser than herself were very uncertain. It was said that her Majesty herself had told her greatest lords that she was so surrounded by plots that she did not know which way to turn: and if the Queen felt so, with all her guards about her, poor people down in the country, who were ordered about, two or three different ways, about their religion, and always threatened by somebody, might well be troubled in mind, and somewhat out of temper. This seemed to the Earl very reasonable; and he said so, adding that all good subjects might comfort themselves, as the Queen certainly did, with the certainty that no foreigners would be allowed to do any harm to Queen or people. Englishmen of all religions, as well as of all ranks and fortunes, would join with one heart and one soul to beat off any invader who should attempt mischief here. With this piece of comfort, Polly was dismissed, to receive her orders from the tailor.
Steps must be taken to open the church, the Earl said. And there must be some further discouragement of strangers; too many of whom came, and held intercourse with the residents. “If you believe,” said the Earl, “that all those gentry that I see are here to fish and sport in the forest, you are more easy of belief than I am.”
“Nobody sees so much of them as the tailor,” the Countess said: “his affairs bring him into intercourse with the people every day of the week; and he is my chief authority.”
“And you think him thoroughly trustworthy,—sure to be right?”
“He certainly is. He knows this false woman within there in spite of her winning airs. He has said enough to me, many a time, to prove that she does not captivate quite everybody.”
“How happens it that he is still in her service? Women are sharp enough in discovering whether they are liked or despised by those about them.”
“He is sufficiently obsequious—”
“To her or to you, Bess? He deceives one or the other of you.”
“I will prove to you what his disposition is,” the Countess said. “He hears a great deal of news,—tailors are like barbers for that,—and one of his late anecdotes is this. He says the Duke of Norfolk was sent to London to dine with the Queen, at the time of our alarm. Yes,—everybody knows that; but see the spirit of what follows. Upon the Queen warning him, in a significant way, to lay his head on no unsafe pillow, he readily fell into discourse with her Majesty about the Queen of Scots, calling this fair lady here a murderess, and an adulteress, and a pretender. He said he had nothing to desire beyond what his Sovereign had enriched him with; and that he was more of a prince in his own bowling-alley at Norwich than her Grace of Scotland in her own kingdom. I doubted how this could be; but that is not the question.”
“Norfolk explained at the moment,” said the Earl, “that his revenues are larger than those of the kingdom of Scotland; and that his possessions were in his own hand, whereas those of the Queen’s kinswoman were almost as visionary in Scotland as in England.”
“Then the story is true?”
“It is; and it is known to many people.”
“But this man would not have repeated it to me, you see, unless he was awake to the arts of the woman he measures in mind as well as in outward proportions.”
The Earl was not so sure. His remark was:
“The man’s telling you the story proves, not his opinion of the woman, but his knowledge of yours. He may be honest, however: I do not say he is not. But I shall not converse needlessly with him.”
“And you will thereby lose many a useful hint,” the wife declared. “Women make the best gaolers, after all.”
That was a point which could not be settled at the moment. A more practical concern was one on which the Earl spoke with great decision. His guest must not be irritated and vexed by the presence of persons who were not agreeable to her. Sir Francis Knollys was gone: he should himself intrude as little as possible; and he could not see the necessity of any one but those invited by herself attending her in her walks and her retirement. The Countess shrugged her shoulders, declared she must keep the power of intrusion, as a necessary safeguard, and received with infinite disgust her husband’s commands to abstain from visiting her guest uninvited. To ascertain that her Grace was safe, morning and evening, was the Earl’s own business: and more was not needed.
Meantime Polly, in another part of the Castle, had found her tongue. She had once little thought that she could speak in the presence of royalty as she was doing now.
She began her complaints to Father Berthon: but he presently bade her wait while he took her Grace’s pleasure about the silk nets which occasioned Polly’s visit. In a few moments he beckoned her to an inner apartment, and brought her and her wares into the presence of three ladies, one of whom was the Queen of Scots. He informed her Grace that the young woman had been devoted to her from the first moment she had seen her.
“And when was that?” Queen Mary asked.
“That winter evening, when the nobles and ladies came riding through the wood, and up to the Castle,” Polly said, “and when the Queen herself looked—”
Polly stopped short.
“Looked like what?” asked the Queen, smiling.
“Like a vision of the twilight,” Polly said, boldly,—“like a spirit,—like a downcast angel—”
“Enough, enough!” Queen Mary said,—not with any displeasure in her tone. “You are married to the young man Sampson?”
This time Polly made no evasions. Father Berthon had married her to Sampson; and it was as Sampson’s wife that she came to speak now. She was bidden to speak; and she asked:
“Where is my husband? I am very unhappy; everything is going wrong; and I do not know where my husband is.”
Father Berthon looked at the Queen, and received permission to speak at his discretion.
“Sampson is not far off,” he said, “and you will see him soon. You shall be protected meantime. What is your trouble? Tell her Majesty what the people are saying and doing below.”
“Let me hear it all,” said Mary.
“First,” said Polly, producing the medal-case, “I must entreat your Majesty or Father Berthon to take charge of this case and what is in it. Sampson compelled me to keep it, as my warrant if sent before your Majesty; and now it is not safe with me, day or night, and I get no rest.”
The priest well knew the spring and the device. He handed it open to the Queen; and she forgot everything else in contemplating the device and signature of the deliverer from whom everything was expected, if England should fail to be restored to the true Church before Christmas. If France did not seat Mary in London as Queen of England within the next few weeks, Spain must take up the enterprise; and here, by the hands of a weaver’s wife, arrived a token of Philip’s good intentions. Such tokens were in the hands of high and low: Philip had spies and agents of all ranks and degrees; and no one of them ever offered his credentials to the gaze of the captive Queen without seeing her eyes fill with tears, and the pale cheeks flush with hope.
“This is indeed too precious to be put to risk,” Mary observed, still contemplating the signature. “We will keep it safely for Sampson. We may promise that?” she inquired of Father Berthon.
“To keep it, or dispose of it safely,” the priest declared. “But what is the special danger?” he inquired of Polly, as if he had not already heard.
“They have found out that I am married,” said Polly; “and my father rages against me so that I am afraid for my life. His eye is never off me, and there is nothing that he does not say of me.”
“What does he say?”
With a burst of tears, Polly told that her father charged her with having killed her little brother,—the little brother she was so fond of! “He must be mad,” the priest observed; and Polly said he was like the rest,—all seemed mad together, except her mother and one or two more. Two girls, who happened to come in when the child had just died, were ready to swear that they caught Polly making magical signs over the body, and neither weeping nor making moan. It was most unfortunate that she was alone,—the whole household being out in the harvest-field, and nobody within call. Her father had taken advice, and she believed he would have her put in prison and charged with the murder; and she had dreaded being searched while she carried that token. The Queen inquired how long the child had been ill; and when she found the case was one of decline of many months, she cast up her eyes at the accusation of murder. Polly was eloquent on the madness, as well as the cruelty, of supposing that there was a woman in the world who could caress and tend a near relation,—one with whom she had been familiar, and whom she had ever loved,—and then murder him. As she spoke, a streak of paleness appeared round the beautiful mouth of the Queen, and spread and spread till Polly, in the midst of her excitement, observed it, and suddenly stopped. Father Berthon was frowning so that Polly’s heart stood still. The Queen cleared her voice, and quietly observed that she did not understand this now. Why should the girl murder her brother?
“It is witchcraft, your Majesty, they say.”
“Then they have discovered your return to the Church?”
“Yes; but that is not all. There is a general fear of something,—of the Devil’s doings, to say the truth,” said Polly. “They take one after another of us to be bewitched, till I do not know where they will stop.”
“Do they think I am bewitched?” asked Mary.
“They think your Grace is the witch,” Polly replied.
The priest and the ladies would have laughed, but that the Queen sighed, while she smiled.
“Do they take Father Berthon for a sorcerer?” she asked.
“No, madam; but they take another to be so. The Wise Man ought to have warning of what they may do. I would have tried to run through the wood to him, but I was so watched!”
“He shall have warning,” said the priest, “though, if he is such a wise man, he should not need it. But what is their plot?”
“They will fire the four corners of his house while he is asleep. They say that every hair of his body, and every word of his books and writings, must be burnt. I was listening all last night. O, no! the Wise Man has not been bewitching me, nor anybody. Indeed, what he said to me was just warning me—”
She suddenly stopped, and no satisfactory account could be obtained from her of what he had warned her about. As his words now rushed back upon her mind she stood covered with confusion, and Father Berthon resolved that he must learn from her every syllable of the Wise Man’s warnings.
“What others?” the Queen asked. “What do they say of Father Berthon?”
“They say he is the only bit of merry England that is left. He is as good as a barber for news, they say, besides being learned in the modes, as her Grace’s needleman ought to be.”
“And is that all?”
“Yes,” said Polly; “and that is more praise than any one else gets. The gentlemen who come to sport give their money freely, but I doubt their being welcome. Some think they are foreign papists sent—”
“What! Felton and Stansbury!” exclaimed Father Berthon. “They speak good Derbyshire English, if anybody does.”
“Yes; and they are among the bewitched.”
Again there would have been a smile, but for the Queen’s extreme gravity. Polly went on:
“There is more said about their being—what they should not—than about others: and it is certain that people have reason to give for it. Three persons at one time—Martin, and Nancy Sporle, and Geoffrey Clippesby—saw Mr. Felton up high on the rock, between the great rowan and the terrace wall, where it is steepest. Now, that is a place where nobody ever yet climbed, or can climb, because it is upright and smooth as a wall. They say the Devil, who can carry one up to a pinnacle of the Temple, set him there, and brought him down again: and they believe it the more because Mr. Stansbury pretended to be only fishing, and not to see Mr. Felton at all, when he had certainly been watching him the minute before.”
“You shall show me the place from the terrace,” Father Berthon told Polly.
Being pressed to say what she dreaded,—what she thought would happen,—Polly could only declare that all was at sixes and sevens; or, perhaps, it seemed so to her, because she was confused and dizzy from fear and want of sleep. She believed her father would send her to gaol, and that the Wise Man’s house would be burnt; and that the visitors in the neighbourhood might at any moment be mobbed and stoned as papists and foreign enemies. Some persons expected an invasion of the kingdom, and that Queen Bess would be deposed; and many talked of a general slaughter of the Protestants; or, at any rate, of the Calvinists. Nobody seemed to think that Old England would ever be Merry England again.
The tears sprang as Polly said this. The priest patted her on the shoulder, and bade her hope better things. Mary observed, with a look of kind compassion, that the poor thing had been hardly dealt with, by her husband having been sent away without any reference to his young wife’s feelings. If it was really known that Polly had returned to the old faith, the Castle was the proper place for her; and she commanded Polly to remain, and consider herself in the service of the Queen of Scots. Having found Polly willing to take the vows of service, the Queen went on to console her with some wonderful words. She said, while the priest looked upon the ground, as if in some doubt of the prudence of her so speaking:
“Those are not far wrong, my child, who expect changes soon. Old England is going to be Merry England again, under a sovereign who will restore the ancient faith, and put an end to all the religious quarrels which make men so rude and unhappy. If you will stay with me, and if Sampson brings us such news as he will in all likelihood be charged with, you will not repent having married him, nor having made friends of us. You shall go to rest this night, free from fear of any worse prison than your mistress inhabits. We shall all be free and happy soon.”
“And I, for my part,” said the priest, “will keep watch over yonder Wise Man’s house. I know where to look in the wood for the blaze, if they were to put the torch to his house:—we can see it from the terrace. But we will keep a better watch than that. The house shall not be attacked.”
Polly curtseyed low at each promise of relief; and then she was taken to the terrace, to show Father Berthon the spot where Mr. Felton was seen, perched there by the Powers of Evil.