Part 2 out of 9
out on his journey to the north.
After the impetuous passage through the deep, dark arch of the bridge, the
boat moved slowly up the river in the peaceful eventide, and Angela's eyes
opened wide with wonder as she looked on the splendours of that silent
highway, this evening verily silent, for the traffic of business and
pleasure had stopped in the terror of the pestilence, like a clock that had
run down. It was said by one who had seen the fairest cities of Europe that
"the most glorious sight in the world, take land and water together, was to
come upon a high tide from Gravesend, and shoot the bridge to Westminster;"
and to the convent-bred maiden how much more astonishing was that prospect!
The boat passed in front of Lord Arundel's sumptuous mansion, with its
spacious garden, where marble statues showed white in the midst of
quincunxes, and prim hedges of cypress and yew; past the Palace of the
Savoy, with its massive towers, battlemented roof, and double line of
mullioned windows fronting the river; past Worcester House, where Lord
Chancellor Hyde had been living in a sober splendour, while his princely
mansion was building yonder on the Hounslow Road, or that portion thereof
lately known as Piccadilly. That was the ambitious pile of which Hyacinth
had written, a house of clouded memories and briefest tenure; foredoomed
to vanish like a palace seen in a dream; a transient magnificence,
indescribable; known for a little while opprobriously as Dunkirk House, the
supposed result of the Chancellor's too facile assistance in the surrender
of that last rag of French territory. The boat passed before Rutland House
and Cecil House, some portion of which had lately been converted into the
Middle Exchange, the haunt of fine ladies and Golconda of gentlewomen
milliners, favourite scene for assignations and intrigues; and so by Durham
House, where in the Protector Seymour's time the Royal Mint had been
established; a house whose stately rooms were haunted by tragic
associations, shadows of Northumberland's niece and victim, hapless Jane
Grey, and of fated Raleigh. Here, too, commerce shouldered aristocracy, and
the New Exchange of King James's time competed with the Middle Exchange
of later date, providing more milliners, perfumers, glovers, barbers, and
toymen, and more opportunity for illicit loves and secret meetings.
Before Angela's eyes those splendid mansions passed like phantom pictures.
The westering sunlight showed golden above the dark Abbey, while she sat
silent, with awe-stricken gaze, looking out upon this widespread city that
lay chastened and afflicted under the hand of an angry God. The beautiful,
gay, proud, and splendid London of the West, the new London of Covent
Garden, St. James's Street, and Piccadilly, whose glories her sister's pen
had depicted with such fond enthusiasm, was now deserted by the rabble of
quality who had peopled its palaces, while the old London of the East, the
historic city, was sitting in sackcloth and ashes, a place of lamentations,
a city where men and women rose up in the morning hale and healthy, and at
night-fall were carried away in the dead-cart, to be flung into the pit
where the dead lay shroudless and unhonoured.
How still and sweet the summer air seemed in that sunset hour; how placid
the light ripple of the incoming tide; how soothing even the silence of the
city! And yet it all meant death. It was but a few months since the fatal
infection had been brought from Holland in a bundle of merchandise: and,
behold, through city and suburbs, the pestilence had crept with slow and
stealthy foot, now on this side of a street, now on another. The history of
the plague was like a game at draughts, where man after man vanishes off
the board, and the game can only end by exhaustion.
"See, mistress, yonder is Somerset House," said the boatman, pointing to
one of the most commanding facades in that highway of palaces. "That is the
palace which the Queen-mother has raised from the ashes of the ruins her
folly made, for the husband who loved her too well. She came back to us
no wiser for years of exile--came back with her priests and her Italian
singing-boys, her incense-bearers and golden candlesticks and gaudy rags of
Rome. She fled from England with the roar of cannon in her ears, and the
fear of death in her heart. She came back in pride and vain-glory, and
boasted that had she known the English people better, she would never have
gone away; and she has squandered thousands in yonder palace, upon floors
of coloured woods, and Italian marbles--the people's money, mark you, money
that should have built ships and fed sailors; and she meant to end her days
among us. But a worse enemy than Cromwell has driven her out of the house
that she made beautiful for herself; and who knows if she will ever see
"Then those were right who told me that it was for fear of the plague her
Majesty left London?" said Angela.
"For what else should she flee? She was loth enough to leave, you may be
sure, for she had seated herself in her pride yonder, and her Court was as
splendid, and more looked up to than Queen Catherine's. The Queen-mother is
the prouder woman, and held her head higher than her son's wife has ever
dared to hold hers; yet there are those who say King Charles's widow has
fallen so low as to marry Lord St. Albans, a son of Belial, who would
hazard his immortal soul on a cast of the dice, and lose it as freely as he
has squandered his royal mistress's money. She paid for Jermyn's feasting
and wine-bibbing in Paris, 'tis said, when her son and his friends were on
"You do wrong to slander that royal lady," remonstrated Angela. "She is of
all widows the saddest and most desolate--ever the mark of evil fortune.
Even in the glorious year of her son's restoration sorrow pursued her, and
she had to mourn a daughter and a son. She is a most unhappy lady."
"You would scarcely say as much, young madam, had you seen her in her pomp
and power yonder. And as for Lord St. Albans, if he is not her husband--!
Well, thou art a young innocent thing--so I had best hold my peace. Both
palaces are empty and forsaken, both Whitehall and Somerset House. The rats
and the spiders can take their own pleasure in the rooms that were full of
music and dancing, card-playing and feasting, two or three months ago. Why,
there was no better sight in London, after the dead-cart, than to watch the
train of carriages and horsemen, carts and wagons, upon any of the great
high-roads, carrying the people of London away to the country, as if the
whole city had been moving in one mass like a routed army."
"But in palaces and noblemen's houses surely there would be little
danger?" said Angela. "Plagues and fevers are the outcome of hunger and
uncleanliness, and all such evils as the poor have to suffer."
"Nay, but the pestilence that walketh in darkness is no respecter of
persons," answered the grim boatman. "I grant you that death has dealt
hardest with the poor who dwell in crowded lanes and alleys. But now the
very air reeks with poison. It may be carried in the folds of a woman's
gown, or among the feathers of a courtier's hat. They are wise to go who
can go. It is only such as I, who have to work for my grandchildren's
bread, that must needs stay."
"You speak like one who has seen better days," said Angela.
"I was a sergeant in Hampden's regiment, madam, and went all through the
war. When the King came back I had friends who stood by me, and bought me
this boat. I was used to handle an oar in my boyhood, when I lived on
a little bit of a farm that belonged to my father, between Reading and
Henley. I was oftener on the water than on the land in those days. There
are some who have treated me roughly because I fought against the late
King; but folks are beginning to find out that the Brewer's disbanded
red-coats can be honest and serviceable in time of peace."
After passing the Queen-mother's desolate palace the boat crept along near
the Middlesex shore, till it stopped at the bottom of a flight of stone
steps, against which the tide washed with a pleasant rippling sound, and
above which there rose the walls of a stately building facing south-west;
small as compared with Somerset and Northumberland houses, midway between
which it stood, yet a spacious and noble mansion, with a richly decorated
river-front, lofty windows with sculptured pediments, floriated cornice,
and two side towers topped with leaded cupolas, the whole edifice gilded by
the low sun, and very beautiful to look upon, the windows gleaming as if
there were a thousand candles burning within, a light that gave a false
idea of life and festivity, since that brilliant illumination was only a
"This, madam, is Fareham House," said the boatman, holding out his hand for
He charged treble the sum he would have asked half a year ago. In this time
of evil those intrepid spirits who still plied their trades in the tainted
city demanded a heavy fee for their labour; and it would have been hard to
dispute their claim, since each man knew that he risked his life, and that
the limbs which toiled to-day might be lifeless clay to-night. There was
an awfulness about the time, a taste and odour of death mixed with all the
common things of daily life, a morbid dwelling upon thoughts of corruption,
a feverish expectancy of the end of all things, which no man can rightly
conceive who has not passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Angela paid the man his price without question. She stepped lightly from
the boat, while he deposited her two small leather-covered trunks on the
stone landing-place in front of the Italian terrace which occupied the
whole length of the facade. She went up a flight of marble steps, to a door
facing the river. Here she rang a bell which pealed long and loud over the
quiet water, a bell that must have been heard upon the Surrey shore. Yet no
one opened the great oak door; and Angela had a sudden sinking at the heart
as the slow minutes passed and brought no sound of footsteps within, no
scrooping of a bolt to betoken the opening of the door.
"Belike the house is deserted, madam," said the boatman, who had moored
his wherry to the landing-stage, and had carried the two trunks to the
doorstep. "You had best try if the door be fastened or no. Stay!" he cried
suddenly, pointing upwards, "Go not in, madam, for your life! Look at the
red cross on the door, the sign of a plague-stricken house."
Angela looked up with awe and horror. A great cross was smeared upon the
door with red paint, and above it some one had scrawled the words, "Lord,
have mercy upon us!"
And the sister she loved, and the children whose faces she had never seen,
were within that house, sick and in peril of death, perhaps dying--or dead!
She did not hesitate for an instant, but took hold of the heavy iron ring
which served as a handle for the door and tried to open it.
"I have no fear for myself," she said to the boatman; "I have nursed the
sick and the fever-stricken, and am not afraid of contagion--and there are
those within whom I love. Good night, friend."
The handle of the door turned somewhat stiffly in her hand, but it did
turn, and the door opened, and she stood upon the threshold looking into a
vast hall that was wrapped in shadow, save for a shaft of golden light that
streamed from an oval window on the staircase. Other windows there were on
each side of the door, shuttered and barred.
Seeing her enter the house, the old Cromwellian shrugged his shoulders,
shook his head despondently, shoved the two trunks hastily over the
threshold, ran back to his boat, and pushed off.
"God guard thy young life, mistress!" he cried, and the wherry shot out
into the stream.
There had been silence on the river, the silence of a deserted city
at eventide; but that had seemed as nothing to the stillness of this
marble-paved hall, where the sunset was reflected on the dark oak panelling
in one lurid splash like blood.
Not a mortal to be seen. Not a sound of voice or footstep. A crowd of gods
and goddesses in draperies of azure and crimson, purple and orange, looked
down from the ceiling. Curtains of tawny velvet hung beside the shuttered
windows. A great brazen candelabrum, filled with half-consumed candles,
stood tall and splendid at the foot of a wide oak staircase, the
banister-rail whereof was cushioned with tawny velvet. Splendour of fabric,
wood and marble, colour and gilding, showed on every side; but of humanity
there was no sign.
Angela shuddered at the sight of all that splendour, as if death were
playing hide and seek in those voluminous curtains, or were lurking in the
deep shadow which the massive staircase cast across the hall. She looked
about her, full of fear, then seeing a silver bell upon the table, she took
it up and rang it loudly. Upon the same carved ebony table there lay a
plumed hat, a cane with an amber handle, and a velvet cloak neatly folded,
as if placed ready for the master of the house, when he went abroad; but
looking at these things closely, even in that dim light, she saw that
cloak and hat were white with dust, and, more even than the silence, that
spectacle of the thick dust on the dark velvet impressed her with the idea
of a deserted house.
She had no lack of courage, this pupil of the Flemish nuns, and her
footstep did not falter as she went quickly up the broad staircase until
she found herself in a spacious gallery, and amidst a flood of light, for
the windows on this upper or noble floor were all unshuttered, and the
sunset streamed in through the lofty Italian casements. Fareham House was
built upon the plan of the Hotel de Rambouillet, of which the illustrious
Catherine de Vivonne was herself at once owner and architect. The
staircase, instead of being a central feature, was at the western end of
the house, allowing space for an unbroken suite of rooms communicating one
with the other, and terminating in an apartment with a fine oriel window
The folding doors of a spacious saloon stood wide open, and Angela entered
a room whose splendour was a surprise to her who had been accustomed to
the sober simplicity of a convent parlour and the cold grey walls of the
refectory, where the only picture was a pinched and angular Virgin by
Memling, and the only ornament a crucifix of ebony and brass.
Here for the first time she beheld a saloon for whose decoration palaces
had been ransacked and churches desecrated--the stolen treasures of many an
ancestral mansion, spoil of rough soldiery or city rabble, things that had
been slyly stowed away by their possessors during the stern simplicity of
the Commonwealth, and had been brought out of their hiding-places and sold
to the highest bidder. Gold and silver had been melted down in the Great
Rebellion; but art treasures would not serve to pay soldiers or to buy
ammunition; so these had escaped the melting-pot. At home and abroad the
storehouses of curiosity merchants had been explored to beautify Lady
Fareham's reception-rooms; and in the fading light Angela gazed upon
hangings that were worthy of a royal palace, upon Italian crystals and
Indian carvings, upon ivory and amber and jade and jasper, upon tables of
Florentine mosaic, and ebony cabinets incrusted with rare agates, and upon
pictures in frames of massive and elaborate carving, Venetian mirrors which
gave back the dying light from a thousand facets, curtains and portieres of
sumptuous brocade, gold-embroidered, gorgeous with the silken semblance of
peacock plumage, done with the needle, from the royal manufactory of the
Crown Furniture at the Gobelins.
She passed into an ante-room, with tapestried walls, and a divan covered
with raised velvet, a music desk of gilded wood, and a spinet, on which
was painted the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Beyond this there was the
dining-room, more soberly though no less richly furnished than the saloon.
Here the hangings were of Cordovan leather, stamped and gilded with
_fleur-de-lys_, suggesting a French origin, and indeed these very hangings
had been bought by a Dutch Jew dealer in the time of the Fronde, had
belonged to the hated minister Mazarin, and had been sold among other of
his effects when he fled from Paris: to vanish for a brief season behind
the clouds of public animosity, and to blaze out again, an elderly phoenix,
in a new palace, adorned with new treasures of art and industry that made
royal princes envious.
Angela gazed on all this splendour as one bewildered. In front of that
gilded wall, quivering in mid-air, as if it had been painted upon the shaft
of light that streamed in from the tall window, her fancy pictured the
blood-red cross and the piteous legend, "Lord, have mercy on us!" written
in the same blood colour. For herself she had neither horror of the
pestilence nor fear of death. Religion had familiarised her mind with the
image of the destroyer. From her childhood she had been acquainted with the
grave, and with visions of a world beyond the grave. It was not for herself
she trembled, but for her sister, and her sister's children; for Lord
Fareham, whose likeness she recalled even at this moment, the grave dark
face which Hyacinth had shown her on the locket she wore upon her neck, the
face which Sir John said reminded him of Strafford.
"He has just that fatal look," her father had told her afterwards when they
talked of Fareham, "the look that men saw in Wentworth's face when he came
from Ireland, and in his Majesty's countenance, after Wentworth's murder."
While she stood in the dying light, wavering for a moment, doubtful which
way to turn--since the room had no less than three tall oak doors, two of
them ajar--there came a pattering upon the polished floor, a scampering of
feet that were lighter and quicker than those of the smallest child, and
the first living creature Angela saw in that silent house came running
towards her. It was only a little black-and-tan spaniel, with long silky
hair and drooping ears, and great brown eyes, fond and gentle, a very
toy and trifle in the canine kingdom; yet the sight of that living thing
thrilled her awe-stricken heart, and her tears came thick and fast as she
knelt and took the little dog in her arms and pressed him against her
bosom, and kissed the cold muzzle, and looked, half laughing, half crying,
into the pathetic brown eyes.
"At least there is life near. This dog would not be left in a deserted
house," she thought, as the creature trembled against her bosom and licked
the hand that held him.
The pattering was repeated in the adjoining room, and another spaniel,
which might have been twin brother of the one she held, came through
the half open door, and ran to her, and set up a jealous barking which
reverberated in the lofty room, and from within that unseen chamber on the
other side of the door there came a groan, a deep and hollow sound, as of
She set down the dog in an instant, and was on her feet again, trembling
but alert. She pushed the door a little wider and went into the next
apartment, a bedroom more splendid than any bed-chamber her fancy had ever
depicted when she read of royal palaces.
The walls were hung with Mortlake tapestries, representing in four great
panels the story of Perseus and Andromeda, and the Rape of Proserpine.
To her who knew not the old Greek fables those figures looked strangely
diabolical. Naked maiden and fiery dragon, flying horse and Greek hero,
Demeter and Persephone, hell-god and chariot, seemed alike demonaic and
unholy, seen in the dim light of expiring day. The high chimney-piece, with
its Oriental jars, blood-red and amber, faced her as she entered the room,
and opposite the three tall windows stood the state bed, of carved ebony,
the posts adorned with massive bouquets of chased silver flowers, the
curtains of wine coloured velvet, heavy with bullion fringes. One curtain
had been looped back, showing the amber satin lining, and on this bed of
state lay a man, writhing in agony, with one bloodless hand plucking at the
cambric upon his bosom, while with the other he grasped the ebony bed-post
in a paroxysm of pain.
Angela knew that dark and powerful face at the first glance, though the
features were distorted by suffering. This sick man, the sole occupant of a
deserted mansion, was her brother-in-law, Lord Fareham. A large high-backed
armchair stood beside the bed, and on this Angela seated herself. She
recollected the Superior's injunction just in time to put one of the
anti-pestilential lozenges into her mouth before she bent over the
sufferer, and took his clammy hand in hers, and endured the acrimony of his
poisonous breath. That anxious gaze, the dark yellow complexion, and those
great beads of sweat that poured down the pinched countenance too plainly
indicated the disease which had desolated London. The Moslem's invisible
plague-angel had entered this palace, and had touched the master with his
deadly lance. That terrible Presence, which for the most part had been
found among the dwellings of the poor, was here amidst purple and fine
linen, here on this bed of state, enthroned in ebony and silver, hung round
with velvet and bullion. She needed not to discover the pestilential spots
beneath that semi-diaphanous cambric which hung loose upon the muscular
frame, to be convinced of the cruel fact. Here, abandoned and alone, lay
the master of the house, with nothing better than a pair of spaniels for
his companions, and neither nurse nor watcher, wife nor friend, to help him
towards recovery, or to comfort his passing soul.
One of the little dogs leapt on the bed, and licked his master's face again
and again, whining piteously between whiles.
The sick man looked at Angela with awful, unseeing eyes, and then burst
into a wild laugh--
"See them run, the crop-headed clod-hoppers!" he cried. "Ride after
them--mow them down--scatter the rebel clot-pols! The day is ours!" And
then, passing from English to French, from visions of Lindsey and Rupert
and the pursuit at Edgehill to memories of Conde and Turenne, he shouted
with the voice that was like the sound of a trumpet, "_Boutte-selle!
boutte-selle! Monte a cheval! monte a cheval! a l'arme, a l'arme!_"
He was in the field of battle again. His wandering wits had carried him
back to his first fight, when he was a lad in his father's company of
horse, following the King's fortunes, breathing gunpowder, and splashed
with human blood for the first time--when it was not so long since he had
been blooded at the death of his first fox. He was a young man again, with
the Prince, that Bourbon prince and hero whom he loved and honoured far
above any of his own countrymen.
"_O, la folle entreprise du Prince de Conde_," he sang, waving his hand
above his head, while the spaniels barked loud and shrill, adding their
clamour to his. He raved of battles and sieges. He was lying in the
trenches, in cold and rain and wind--in the tempestuous darkness. He was
mounting the breach at Dunkirk against the Spaniard; at Charenton in a
hand-to-hand fight with Frondeurs. He raved of Chatillon and Chanleu, and
the slaughter of that fatal day when Conde mourned a friend and each side
lost a leader. Fever gave force to gesture and voice; but in the midst of
his ravings he fell back, half fainting, upon the pillow, his heart beating
in a tumult which fluttered the lace upon the bosom of his shirt, while
the acrid drops upon his brow gathered thicker than poisonous dew. Angela
remembered how last year in Holland these death-like sweats had not always
pointed to a fatal result, but in some cases had afforded an outlet to the
pestilential influences, though in too many instances they had served only
to enfeeble the patient, the fire of disease still burning, while the damps
of approaching dissolution oozed from the fevered body--flame within and
A MINISTERING ANGEL.
Angela flung off hood and mantle, and looked anxiously round the room.
There were some empty phials and ointment boxes, some soiled linen rags and
wet sponges, upon a table near the bed, and the chamber reeked with the
odour of drugs, hartshorn and elder vinegar, cantharides, and aloes; enough
to show that a doctor had been there, and that there had been some attempt
at nursing the patient. But she had heard how in Holland the nurses had
sometimes robbed and abandoned their charges, taking advantage of the
confusions and uncertainties of that period of despair, quick and skilful
to profit by sudden death, and the fears and agonies of relatives and
friends, whose grief made plunder easy. She deemed it likely that one of
those devilish women had first pretended to succour, and had then abandoned
Lord Fareham to his fate, after robbing his house. Indeed, the open doors
of a stately inlaid wardrobe between two windows over against the bed, and
the confused appearance of the clothes and linen on the shelves, indicated
that it had been ransacked by hasty hands; while, doubtless, there had been
many valuables lying loose about a house where there was every indication
of a careless profusion.
"Alas! poor gentleman, to be left by some mercenary wretch--left to die
like the camel in the desert!"
She bent over him, and laid her hand with gentle firmness upon his
"What! are there saints and angels in hell as well as felons and devils?"
he cried, clutching her by the wrist, and looking up at her with distended
eyes, in which the natural colour of the eye-ball was tarnished almost to
blackness with injected blood.
For long and lonely hours, that seemed an eternity, he had been tossing in
a burning fever upon that disordered bed, until he verily believed himself
in a place of everlasting torment. He had that strange, double sense
which goes with delirium--the consciousness of his real surroundings, the
tapestry and furniture of his own chamber, and yet the conviction that
this was hell, and had always been hell, and that he had descended to this
terrible under-world through infinite abysses of darkness. The glow of
sunset had been to him the fierce light of everlasting flames; the burning
of fever was the fire that is never quenched; the pain that racked his
limbs was the worm that dieth not. And now in his torment there came the
vision of a seraphic face bending over him in gentle solicitude; a face
that brought comfort with it, even in the midst of his agony. After that
one wild question he sank slowly back upon the pillows, and lay faint and
weak, his breathing scarce audible. Angela laid her fingers on his wrist.
The pulse was fluttering and intermittent.
She remembered every detail of her aunt's treatment of the plague-patient
in the convent infirmary, and how the turning-point of the malady and
beginning of cure had seemed to be brought about by a draught of strong
wine which the reverend mother had made her give the poor fainting creature
at a crisis of extreme weakness. She looked about the room for any
flask which might contain wine; but there was nothing there except the
apothecary's phials and medicaments.
It was dusk already, and she was alone in a strange house. It would seem no
easy task to find what she wanted, but the case was desperate, and she knew
enough of this mysterious disease to know that if the patient could not
rally speedily from his prostrate condition the end must be near. With
steady brain she set herself to face the difficulty--first to administer
something which should sustain the sick man's strength, and then, without
loss of time, to seek a physician, and bring him to that deserted bed. Wine
was the one thing she could trust to in this crisis; for of the doses and
lotions on yonder table she knew nothing, nor had her experience made her a
believer in the happy influence of drugs.
Her first search must be for light with which to explore the lower part of
the house, where in pantry or stillroom, or, if not above ground, in the
cellars, she must find what she wanted. Surely somewhere in that spacious
bed-chamber there would be tinder-box and matches. There were a pair of
silver candlesticks on the dressing-table, with thick wax candles burnt
nearly to the sockets.
A careful search at last discovered a tinder-box and matches in a dark
angle of the fireless hearth, hidden behind the heavy iron dog. She struck
a light, kindled her match, and lighted a candle, the sick man's eyes
following all her movements, but his lips mute. As she went out of the door
he called after her--
"Leave me not, thou holy visitant--leave not my soul in hell!"
"I will return!" she cried. "Have no fear, sir; I go to fetch some wine."
Her errand was not done quickly. Amidst all the magnificence she had noted
on her journey through the long suite of reception-rooms--the littered
treasures of amber and gold, and ivory and porcelain and silver--she had
seen only an empty wine-flask; so with quick footfall she ran down the
wide, shallow stairs to the lower floor, and here she found herself in a
labyrinth of passages opening into small rooms and servants' offices. Here
there were darkness and gloom rather than splendour; though in many of
those smaller rooms there was a sober and substantial luxury which became
the inferior apartments of a palace. She came at last to a room which she
took to be the butler's office, where there were dressers with a great
array of costly Venetian glass, and a great many pieces of silver--cups,
tankards, salvers, and other ornamental plate--in presses behind glazed
doors. One of the glass panels had been broken, and the shelves in that
press were empty.
Wine there was none to be found in any part of the room; but a small army
of empty bottles in a corner of the floor, and a confusion of greasy
plates, knives, chicken bones, and other scraps, indicated that there had
been carousing here at no remote time.
The cellars were doubtless below these offices; but the wine-cellars would
assuredly be locked, and she had to search for the keys. She opened drawer
after drawer in the lower part of the presses, and at last, in an inner and
secret drawer, found a multitude of keys, some of which were provided with
parchment labels, and among these happily were two labelled "Ye great wine
cellar, S." and "Ye smaller wine cellar, W."
This was a point gained; but the search had occupied a considerable time.
She had yet enough candle to last for about half an hour, and her next
business was to find one of those cellars which those keys opened. She was
intensely anxious to return to her patient, having heard how in some cases
unhappy wretches had leapt from the bed of death and rushed out-of-doors,
delirious, half naked, to anticipate their end by a fatal chill.
On her way to the butler's office she had seen a stone archway at the head
of a flight of stairs leading down into darkness. By this staircase she
hoped to find the wine-cellars, and presently descended, her candlestick in
one hand, and the two great keys in the other. As she went down into the
stone basement, which was built with the solidity of a dungeon, she heard
the plash of the tide, and felt that she was now on a level with the river.
Here she found herself again in a labyrinth of passages, with many doors
standing ajar. At the end of one passage she came to a locked door, and on
trying her keys, found one of them to fit the lock; it was "Ye great wine
cellar, S.," and she understood by the initial "S." that the cellar looked
south and faced the river.
She turned the heavy key with an effort that strained the slender fingers
which held it; but she was unconscious of the pain, and wondered afterwards
to see her hand dented and bruised where the iron had wrung it. The clumsy
door revolved on massive hinges, and she entered a cellar so large that the
light of her candle did not reach the furthermost corners and recesses.
This cellar was built in a series of arches, fitted with stone bins, and in
the upper part of one southward-fronting arch there was a narrow grating,
through which came the cool breath of evening air and the sound of water
lapping against stone. A patch of faint light showed pale against the iron
bars, and as Angela looked that way, a great grey rat leapt through the
grating, and ran along the topmost bin, making the bottles shiver as he
scuttled across them. Then came a thud on the sawdust-covered stones, and
she knew that the loathsome thing was on the floor upon which she was
standing. She lowered her light shudderingly, and, for the first time
since she entered that house of dread, the young brave heart sank with the
sickness of fear.
The cellar might swarm with such creatures; the darkness of the fast-coming
night might be alive with them! And if yonder dungeon-like door were
to swing to and shut with a spring lock, she might perish there in the
darkness. She might die the most hideous of deaths, and her fate remain for
In a sudden panic she rushed back to the door, and pushed it wider--pushed
it to its extremest opening. It seemed too heavy to be likely to swing back
upon its hinges; yet the mere idea of such a contingency appalled her.
Remembering her labour in unlocking the door from the outside, she doubted
if she could open it from within were it once to close upon that awful
vault. And all this time the lapping of the tide against the stone sounded
louder, and she saw little spirts of spray flashing against the bars in the
She collected herself with an effort, and began her search for the wine.
Sack was the wine she had given to the sick nun, and it was that wine for
which she looked. Of Burgundy, and claret, labelled "Clary Wine," she found
several full bins, and more that were nearly empty. Tokay and other rarer
wines were denoted by the parchment labels which hung above each bin; but
it was some minutes before she came to a bin labelled "Sherris," which she
knew was another name for sack. The bottles had evidently been undisturbed
for a long time, for the bin was full of cobweb, and the thick coating of
dust upon the glass betokened a respectable age in the wine. She carried
off two bottles, one under each arm, and then, with even quicker steps than
had brought her to that darksome place, she hastened back to the upper
floor, leaving the key in the cellar door, and the door unlocked. There
would be time enough to look after Lord Fareham's wine when she had cared
for Lord Fareham himself.
His eyes were fixed upon the doorway as she entered. They shone upon her in
the dusk with an awful glassiness, as if life's last look had become fixed
in death. He did not speak as she drew near the bed, and set the wine
bottles down upon the table among the drugs and cataplasms.
She had found a silver-handled corkscrew in the butler's room among the
relics of the feast, and with this she opened one of the bottles, Fareham
watching her all the time.
"Is that some new alexipharmic?" he asked with a sudden rational air, which
was almost as startling as if a dead man had spoken. "I will have no more
of their loathsome drugs. They have made an apothecary's shop of my body. I
would rather they let me rot by the plague than that they should poison me
with their antidotes, or dissolve me to death with their sudorifics."
"This is not a medicine, Lord Fareham, but your own wine; and I want you to
drink a long draught of it, and then, who knows but you may sleep off your
"Ay, sleep in the grave, sweet friend! I have seen the tokens on my breast
that mean death. There is but one inevitable end for all who are so marked.
'Tis like the forester's notch upon the tree. It means doom. He was king of
the forest once, perhaps; but no matter. His time has come. Oh, Lord, thou
hast tormented me with hot burning coals!" he cried, in a sudden access of
pain; and in the next minute he was raving.
Angela filled a beaker with the bright golden wine, and offered it to the
sick man's lips. It was not without infinite pains and coaxing that she
induced him to drink; but, when once his parched lips had tasted the cold
liquor, he drank eagerly, as if that strong wine had been a draught of
water. He gave a deep sigh of solace when the beaker was empty, for he had
been enduring an agony of thirst through all the glare and heat of the
afternoon, and there was unspeakable comfort in that first long drink. He
would have drunk foul water with almost as keen a relish.
He talked fast and furiously, in the disjointed sentences of delirium, for
some little time; and then, little by little, he grew more tranquil; and
Angela, sitting beside the bed, with her fingers laid gently on his wrist,
marked the quieter beat of the pulse, which no longer fluttered like the
wing of a frightened bird. Then with deep thankfulness she saw the eyelids
droop over the bloodshot eyeballs, while the breathing grew slower and
heavier as sleep clouded the wearied brain. The spaniels crept nearer him,
and nestled close to his pillow, so that the man's dark locks were mixed
with the silken curls of the dogs.
Would he die in that sleep? she wondered.
It was only now for the first time since she entered this unpeopled house
that she had leisure to speculate on the circumstances which had brought
about such loneliness and neglect, here where rank and state, and wealth
almost without limit should have secured the patient every care and comfort
that devoted service could lavish upon a sufferer. How was it that she
found her sister's husband abandoned to the care of hirelings, left to the
chances of paid service?
To the cloister-reared maiden the idea of wifely duty was elevated almost
to a religion. To father or to husband she would have given a boundless
devotion, in sickness most of all devoted. To leave husband or father in
a plague-stricken city would have seemed to her a crime as abominable as
Tullia's, a treachery base as Goneril's or Regan's. Could it be that her
sister, that bright and lovely creature, whose face she remembered as a
sunbeam incarnate, could she have been swept away by the pestilence which
spared neither youth nor beauty, neither the strong man nor the weakling
child? Her heart grew heavy as lead at the thought that this stranger, by
whose pillow she was watching, might be the sole survivor in that forsaken
palace, and that in a few more hours he, too, would be numbered with the
dead, in that dreadful city where Death reigned omnipotent, and where the
living seemed but a vanishing minority, pale shadows of living creatures
passing silently along one inevitable pathway to the pest-house or pit.
That calm sleep of the plague-stricken might mean recovery, or it might
mean death. Angela examined the potions and unguents on the table near the
bed, and read the instructions on jars and phials. One was an alexipharmic
draught, to be taken the last thing at night, another a sudorific, to be
administered once in every hour.
"I would not wake him to give him the finest medicine that ever physician
prescribed," Angela said to herself. "I remember what a happy change one
hour of quiet slumber made in Sister Monica, when she was all but dead of a
quartan fever. Sleep is God's physic."
She knelt upon a Prie-Dieu chair remote from the bed, knowing that
contagion lurked amid those voluminous hangings, beneath that stately
canopy with its lustrous satin lining, on which the light of the wax
candles was reflected in shining patches as upon a lake of golden water.
She had no fear of the pestilence; but an instinctive prudence made her
hold herself aloof, now that there was nothing more to be done for the
She remained long in prayer, repeating one of those litanies which she had
learnt in her infancy, and which of late had seemed to her to have somewhat
too set and mechanical a rhythm. The earnestness and fervour seemed to have
gone out of them in somewise since she had come to womanhood. The names of
the saints her lips invoked were dull and cold, and evolved no image
of human or superhuman love and power. What need of intercessors whose
personality was vague and dim, whose earthly histories were made up of
truth so interwoven with fable that she scarce dared believe even that
which might be true? In the One Crucified was help for all sinners, gospel
and creed, the rule of life here, the promise of immortality hereafter.
The litanies to Virgin and Saints were said as a duty--a part of implicit
obedience which was the groundwork of her religion; and then all the
aspirations of her heart, her prayers for the sick man yonder, her fears
for her absent sister, for her father in his foreign wanderings, went up in
one stream of invocation to Christ the Redeemer. To Him, and Him alone, the
strong flame of faith and love rose, like the incense upon an altar--the
altar of a girl's trusting heart.
She was so lost in meditation that she was unconscious of an approaching
footstep in the stillness of the deserted house, till it drew near to the
threshold of the sick-room. The night was close and sultry, so she had left
the door open, and that slow tread had crossed the threshold by the time
she rose from her knees. Her heart beat fast, startled by the first human
presence which she had known in that melancholy place, save the presence of
the pest-stricken sufferer.
She found herself face to face with a middle-aged gentleman of medium
stature, clad in the sober colouring that suggested one of the learned
professions. He appeared even more startled than Angela at the unexpected
vision which met his gaze, faintly seen in the dim light.
There was silence for a few moments, and then the stranger saluted the lady
with a formal reverence, as he laid down his gold-handled cane.
"Surely, madam, this mansion of my Lord Fareham's must be enchanted," he
said. "I left a crowd of attendants, and the stir of life below and above
stairs, only this forenoon last past. I find silence and vacancy. That is
scarce strange in this dejected and unhappy time; for it is but too common
a trick of hireling nurses to abandon their patients, and for servants to
plunder and then desert a sick house. But to find an angel where I left
a hag! That is the miracle! And an angel who has brought healing, if I
mistake not," he added, in a lower voice, bending over the speaker.
"I am no angel, sir, but a weak, erring mortal," answered the girl,
gravely. "For pity's sake, kind doctor--since I doubt not you are my lord's
physician--tell me where are my dearest sister, Lady Fareham, and her
children. Tell me the worst, I entreat you!"
"Sweet lady, there is no ill news to tell. Her ladyship and the little ones
are safe at my lord's house in Oxfordshire, and it is only his lordship
yonder who has fallen a victim to the contagion. Lady Fareham and her girl
and boy have not been in London since the plague began to rage. My lord
had business in the city, and came hither alone. He and the young Lord
Rochester, who is the most audacious infidel this town can show, have been
bidding defiance to the pestilence, deeming their nobility safe from a
sickness which has for the most part chosen its victims among the vulgar."
"His lordship is very ill, I fear, sir?" said Angela interrogatively.
"I left him at eleven o'clock this morning with but scanty hope of
finding him alive after sundown. The woman I left to nurse him was his
house-steward's wife, and far above the common kind of plague-nurse. I did
not think she would turn traitor."
"Her husband has proved a false steward. The house has been robbed of plate
and valuables, as I believe, from signs I saw below stairs; and I suppose
husband and wife went off together."
"Alack! madam, this pestilence has brought into play some of the worst
attributes of human nature. The tokens and loathly boils which break out
upon the flesh of the plague-stricken are less revolting to humanity than
the cruelty of those who minister to the sick, and whose only desire is to
profit by the miseries that surround them; wretches so vile that they have
been known wilfully to convey the seeds of death from house to house, in
order to infect the sound, and so enlarge their area of gains. It was an
artful device of those plunderers to paint the red cross on the door, and
thus scare away any visitor who might have discovered their depredations.
But you, madam, a being so young and fragile, have you no fear of the
"Nay, sir, I know that I am in God's hand. Yonder poor gentleman is not the
first plague-patient I have nursed. There was a nun came from Holland to
our convent at Louvain last year, and had scarce been one night in the
house before tokens of the pestilence were discovered upon her. I helped
the infirmarian to nurse her, and with God's help we brought her round. My
aunt, the reverend mother, bade me give her the best wine there was in the
house--strong Spanish wine that a rich merchant had given to the convent
for the use of the sick--and it was as though that good wine drove the
poison from her blood. She recovered by the grace of God after only a
few days' careful nursing. Finding his lordship stricken with such great
weakness, I ventured to give him a draught of the best sack I could find in
"Dear lady, thou art a miracle of good sense and compassionate bounty. I
doubt thou hast saved thy sister from widow's weeds," said Dr. Hodgkin,
seated by the bed, with his fingers on the patient's wrist, and his massive
gold watch in the other hand. "This sound sleep promises well, and the
pulse beats somewhat slower and steadier than it did this morning. Then
the case seemed hopeless, and I feared to give wine--though a free use of
generous wine is my particular treatment--lest it should fly to his brain,
and disturb his intellectuals at a time when he should need all his senses
for the final disposition of his affairs. Great estates sometimes hang upon
the breath of a dying man."
"Oh, sir, but your patient! To save his life, that would sure be your first
and chiefest thought?"
"Ay, ay, my pretty miss; but I had other measures. Apollo twangs not ever
on the same bowstring. Did my sudorific work well, think you?"
"He was bathed in perspiration when first I found him; but the sweat-drops
seemed cold and deadly, as if life itself were being dissolved out of him."
"Ay, there are cases in which that copious sweat is the forerunner of
dissolution; but in others it augurs cure. The pent-up poison which is
corrupting the patient's blood finds a sudden vent, its virulence is
diluted, and if the end prove fatal, it is that the patient lacks power to
rally after the ravages of the disease, rather than that the poison kills.
Was it instantly after that profuse sweat you gave him the wine, I wonder?"
"It was as speedily as I could procure it from the cellar below."
"And that strong wine, given in the nick of time, reassembled Nature's
scattered forces, and rekindled the flame of life. Upon my soul, sweet
young lady, I believe thou hast saved him! All the drugs in Bucklersbury
could do no more. And now tell me what symptoms you have noted since you
have watched by his bed; and tell me further if you have strength to
continue his nurse, with such precautions as I shall dictate, and such help
as I can send you in the shape of a stout, honest, serving-wench of mine,
and a man to guard the lower part of your house, and fetch and carry for
"I will do everything you bid me, with all my heart, and with such skill as
I can command."
"Those delicate fingers were formed to minister to the sick. And you will
not shrink from loathsome offices--from the application of cataplasms, from
cleansing foul sores? Those blains and boils upon that poor body will need
care for many days to come."
"I will shrink from nothing that may be needful for his benefit. I should
love to go on nursing him, were it only for my sister's sake. How sorry she
would feel to be so far from him, could she but know of his sickness!"
"Yes, I believe Lady Fareham would be sorry," answered the physician,
with a dry little laugh; "though there are not many married ladies about
Rowley's court of whom I would diagnose as much. Not Lady Denham, for
instance, that handsome, unprincipled houri, married to a septuagenarian
poet, who would rather lock her up in a garret than see her shine at
Whitehall; or Lady Castlemaine, whose husband has been uncivil enough to
show discontent at a peerage that was not of his own earning; or a dozen
others I could name, were not such scandals as these Hebrew to thine
"Nay, sir, my sister has written of Court scandals in many of her letters,
and it has grieved me to think her lot should be cast among people of
whose reckless doings she tells me with a lively wit that makes sin seem
something less than sin."
"There is no such word as 'sin' in Charles Stuart's Court, my dear young
lady. It is harder to achieve bad repute nowadays than it was once to be
thought a saint. Existence in this town is a succession of bagatelles.
Men's lives and women's reputations drift down to the bottomless pit upon
a rivulet of epigrams and chansons. You have heard of that Dance of Death,
which was one of the nervous diseases of the fifteenth century--a malady
which, after beginning with one lively caperer, would infect a whole
townspeople, and send an entire population curvetting and prancing,
until death stopped them. I sometimes think, when I watch the follies at
Whitehall, that those graceful dancers, sliding upon pointed toe through a
coranto, amid a blaze of candles and star-shine of diamonds, are capering
along the same fatal road by which St. Vitus lured his votaries to the
grave. And then I look at Rowley's licentious eye and cynical lip, and
think to myself, 'This man's father perished on the scaffold; this man's
lovely ancestress paid the penalty of her manifold treacheries after
sixteen years' imprisonment; this man has passed through the jaws of death,
has left his country a fugitive and a pauper, has returned as if by a
miracle, carried back to a throne upon the hearts of his people; and behold
him now--saunterer, sybarite, sensualist--strolling through life without
one noble aim or one virtuous instinct; a King who traffics in the pride
and honour of his country, and would sell her most precious possessions,
level her strongest defences, if his cousin and patron t'other side the
Channel would but bid high enough.' But a plague on my tongue, dear lady,
that it must always be wagging. Not one word more, save for instructions."
Dr. Hodgkin loved talking even better than he loved a fee, and he allowed
himself a physician's licence to be prosy; but he now proceeded to give
minute directions for the treatment of the patient--the poultices and
stoups and lotions which were to reduce the external indications of the
contagion, the medicines which were to be given at intervals during the
night. Medicine in those days left very little to Nature, and if patients
perished it was seldom for want of drugs and medicaments.
"The servant I send you will bring meat and all needful herbs for making a
strong broth, with which you will feed the patient once an hour. There are
many who hold with the boiling of gold in such a broth, but I will not
enter upon the merits of aurum potabile as a fortifiant. I take it that in
this case you will find beef and mutton serve your turn. I shall send you
from my own larder as much beef as will suffice for to-night's use; and
to-morrow your servant must go to the place where the country people sell
their goods, butchers' meat, poultry, and garden-stuff; for the butchers'
shops of London are nearly all closed, and people scent contagion in any
intercourse with their fellow-citizens. You will have, therefore, to look
to the country people for your supplies; but of all this my own man will
give you information. So now, good night, sweet young lady. It is on the
stroke of nine. Before eleven you shall have those who will help and
protect you. Meanwhile you had best go downstairs with me, and lock and
bolt the great door leading into the garden, which I found ajar."
"There is the door facing the river, too, by which I entered."
"Ay, that should be barred also. Keep a good heart, madam. Before eleven
you shall have a sturdy watchman on the premises."
Angela took a lighted candle and followed the physician through the great
empty rooms, and down the echoing staircase; under the ceiling where Jove,
with upraised goblet, drank to his queen, while all the galaxy of the Greek
pantheon circled his imperial throne. Upon how many a festal procession
had those Olympians looked down since that famous house-warming, when
the colours were fresh from the painter's brush, and when the third
Lord Fareham's friend and gossip, King James, deigned to witness the
representation of Jonson's "Time Vindicated," enacted by ladies and
gentlemen of quality, in the great saloon, a performance which--with the
banquet and confectionery brought from Paris, and "the sweet waters which
came down the room like a shower from heaven," as one wrote who was
present at that splendid entertainment, and the _feux d'artifice_ on the
river--cost his lordship a year's income, but stamped him at once a fine
gentleman. Had he been a trifle handsomer, and somewhat softer of speech,
that masque and banquet might have placed Richard Revel, Baron Fareham,
in the front rank of royal favourites; but the Revels were always a
black-visaged race, with more force than comeliness in their countenances,
and more gall than honey upon their tongues.
It was past eleven before the expected succour arrived, and in the interval
Lord Fareham had awakened once, and had swallowed a composing draught,
having apparently but little consciousness of the hand that administered
it. At twenty minutes past eleven Angela heard the bell ring, and ran
blithely down the now familiar staircase to open the garden door, outside
which she found a middle-aged woman and a tall, sturdy young man, each
carrying a bundle. These were the nurse and the watchman sent by Dr.
Hodgkin. The woman gave Angela a slip of paper from the doctor, by way of
"You will find Bridget Basset a worthy woman, and able to turn her hand to
anything; and Thomas Stokes is an honest, serviceable youth, whom you may
trust upon the premises, till some of his lordship's servants can be sent
from Chilton Abbey, where I take it there is a large staff."
It was with an unspeakable relief that Angela welcomed these humble
friends. The silence of the great empty house had been weighing upon her
spirits, until the sense of solitude and helplessness had grown almost
unbearable. Again and again she had watched Lord Fareham turn his feverish
head upon his pillow, while the parched lips moved in inarticulate
mutterings; and she had thought of what she should do if a stronger
delirium were to possess him, and he were to try and do himself some
mischief. If he were to start up from his bed and rush through the empty
rooms, or burst open one of yonder lofty casements and fling himself
headlong to the terrace below! She had been told of the terrible things
that plague-patients had done to themselves in their agony; how they had
run naked into the streets to perish on the stones of the highway; how
they had gashed themselves with knives; or set fire to their bed-clothes,
seeking any escape from the torments of that foul disease. She knew that
those burning plague-spots, which her hands had dressed, must cause a
continual anguish that might wear out the patience of a saint; and as the
dark face turned on the tumbled pillow, she saw by the clenched teeth and
writhing lips, and the convulsive frown of the strongly marked brows,
that even in delirium the sufferer was struggling to restrain all unmanly
expressions of his agony. But now, at least, there would be this strong,
capable woman to share in the long night watch; and if the patient grew
desperate there would be three pair of hands to protect him from his own
She made her arrangements promptly and decisively. Mrs. Basset was to stay
all night with her in the patient's chamber, with such needful intervals of
rest as each might take without leaving the sick-room; and Stokes was
first to see to the fastening of the various basement doors, and to assure
himself that there was no one hidden either in the cellars or on the ground
floor; also to examine all upper chambers, and lock all doors; and was
then to make himself a bed in a dressing closet adjoining Lord Fareham's
chamber, and was to lie there in his clothes, ready to help at any hour of
the night, should help be wanted.
BETWEEN LONDON AND OXFORD.
Three nights and days had gone since Angela first set her foot upon the
threshold of Fareham House, and in all that time she had not once gone out
into the great city, where dismal silence reigned by day and night, save
for the hideous cries of the men with the dead-carts, calling to the
inhabitants of the infected houses to bring out their dead, and roaring
their awful summons with as automatic a monotony as if they had been
hawking some common necessary of life--a dismal cry that was but
occasionally varied by the hollow tones of a Puritan fanatic, stalking,
gaunt and half clad, along the Strand, and shouting some sentence of fatal
bodement from the Hebrew prophets; just as before the siege of Titus there
walked through the streets of Jerusalem one who cried, "Woe to the wicked
city!" and whose voice could not be stopped but by death.
In those three days and nights the worst symptoms of the contagion were
subjugated. But the ravages of the disease had left the patient in a
state of weakness which bordered on death; and his nurses were full of
apprehension lest the shattered forces of his constitution should fail even
in the hour of recovery. The violence of the fever was abated, and the
delirium had become intermittent, while there were hours in which the
sufferer was conscious and reasonable, in which calmer intervals he would
fain have talked with Angela more than her anxiety would allow.
He was full of wonder at her presence in that house; and when he had been
told who she was, he wanted to know how and why she had come there. By what
happy accident, by what interposition of Providence, had she been sent to
save him from a hideous death?
"I should have died but for you," he said. "I should have lain here till
the cart fetched my putrid carcase. I should be rotting in one of their
plague-pits yonder, behind the old Abbey."
"Nay, indeed, my lord, your good doctor would have discovered your desolate
condition, and would have brought Mrs. Basset to nurse you."
"He would have been too late. I was drifting out to the dark sea of death.
I felt as if the river were bearing me so much nearer to that unknown sea
with every ripple of the hurrying tide. 'Twas your draught of strong wine
snatched me back from the cruel river, drew me on to _terra firma_ again,
renewed my consciousness of manhood, and that I was not a weed to be washed
away. Oh, that wine! Ye gods! what elixir to this parched, burning throat!
Did ever drunkard in all Alsatia snatch such fierce joy from a brimmer?"
Angela put her finger on her lip, and with the other hand drew the silken
coverlet over the sick man's shoulders.
"You are not to talk," she said, "you are to sleep. Slumber is to be your
diet and medicine after that good soup at which you make such a wry face."
"I would swallow the stuff were it Locusta's hell-broth, for your sake."
"You will take it for wisdom's sake, that you may mend speedily, and go
home to my sister," said Angela.
"Home, yes! It will be bliss ineffable to see flowery pastures and wooded
hills after this pest-haunted town; but oh, Angela, mine angel, why dost
thou linger in this poisonous chamber where every breath of mine exhales
infection? Why do you not fly while you are still unstricken? Truly the
plague-fiend cometh as a thief in the night. To-day you are safe. To-night
you may be doomed."
"I have no fear, sir. You are not the first plague-patient I have nursed."
"And thou fanciest thyself pestilence-proof! Sweet girl, it may be that the
divine lymph which fills those azure veins has no affinity with poisons
that slay rude mortals like myself."
"Will you ever be talking?" she said with grave reproach, and left him to
the care of Mrs. Basset, whose comfortable and stolid personality did not
stimulate his imagination.
She had a strong desire to explore that city of which she had yet seen so
little, and her patient being now arrived at a state of his disorder when
it was best for him to be tempted to prolonged slumbers by silence and
solitude, she put on her hood and gloves and went out alone to see the
horrors of the deserted streets, of which nurse Basset had given her so
appalling a picture.
It was four o'clock, and the afternoon was at its hottest; the blue of a
cloudless sky was reflected in the blue of the silent river, where, instead
of the flotilla of gaily painted wherries, the procession of gilded barges,
the music and song, the ceaseless traffic of Court and City, there was only
the faint ripple of the stream, or here and there a solitary barge
creeping slowly down the tide with ineffectual sail napping in the sultry
That unusual calm which had marked this never-to-be-forgotten year, from
the beginning of spring, was yet unbroken, and the silent city lay like a
great ship becalmed on a tropical ocean; the same dead silence; the same
cruel, smiling sky above; the same hopeless submission to fate in every
soul on board that death-ship. How would those poor dying creatures,
panting out their latest breath in sultry, airless chambers, have welcomed
the rush of rain, the cool freshness of a strong wind blowing along those
sun-baked streets, sweeping away the polluted dust, dispersing noxious
odours, bringing the pure scents of far-off woodlands, of hillside heather
and autumn gorse, the sweetness of the country across the corruption of
the town. But at this dreadful season, when storm and rain would have been
welcomed with passionate thanksgiving, the skies were brass, and the ground
was arid and fiery as the sands of the Arabian desert, while even the grass
that grew in the streets, where last year multitudinous feet had trodden,
sickened as it grew, and faded speedily from green to yellow.
Pausing on the garden terrace to survey the prospect before she descended
to the street, Angela thought of that river as her imagination had depicted
it, after reading a letter of Hyacinth's, written so late as last May; the
gay processions, the gaudy liveries of watermen and servants, the gilded
barges, the sound of viol and guitar, the harmony of voices in part songs,
"Go, lovely rose," or "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" the beauty and the
splendour; fair faces under vast plumed hats, those picturesque hats which
the maids of honour snatched from each other's heads with giddy laughter,
exchanging head-gear here on the royal barge, as they did sometimes walking
about the great rooms at Whitehall; the King with his boon companions
clustered round him on the richly carpeted dais in the stern, his courtiers
and his favoured mistresses; haughty Castlemaine, empres, regnant over the
royal heart, false, dissolute, impudent, glorious as Cleopatra when her
purple sails bore her down the swift-flowing Cydnus; the wit and folly
and gladness. All had vanished like the visions of a dreamer; and there
remained but this mourning city, with its closed windows and doors, its
watchmen guarding the marked houses, lest disease and death should hold
communion with that poor remnant of health and life left in the infected
town. Would that fantastic vision of careless, pleasure-loving monarch and
butterfly Court ever be realised again? Angela thought not. It seemed to
her serious mind that the glory of those wild years since his Majesty's
restoration was a delusive and pernicious brightness which could never
shine again. That extravagant splendour, that reckless gaiety had borne
beneath their glittering surface the seeds of ruin and death. An angry
God had stretched out His hand against the wicked city where sin and
profaneness sat in the high places. If Charles Stuart and his courtiers
ever came back to London they would return sobered and chastened, taught
wisdom by adversity. The Puritan spirit would reign once more in the land,
and an age of penitence and Lenten self-abasement would succeed the orgies
of the Restoration; while the light loves of Whitehall, the noble ladies,
the impudent actresses, would vanish into obscurity. Angela's loyal young
heart was full of faith in the King. She was ready to believe that his sins
were the sins of a man whose head had been turned by the sudden change from
exile to a throne, from poverty to wealth, from dependence upon his
Bourbon cousin and his friends in Holland to the lavish subsidies of a
No words could paint the desolation which reigned between the Strand and
the City in that fatal summer, now drawing to its melancholy close. More
than once in her brief pilgrimage Angela drew back, shuddering, from the
embrasure of a door, or the inlet to some narrow alley, at sight of death
lying on the threshold, stiff, stark, unheeded; more than once in her
progress from the New Exchange to St Paul's she heard the shrill wail of
women lamenting for a soul just departed. Death was about and around her.
The great bell of the cathedral tolled with an inexorable stroke in the
summer stillness, as it had tolled every day through those long months of
heat, and drought, and ever-growing fear, and ever-thickening graves.
Eastward there rose the red glare of a great fire, and she feared that some
of those old wooden houses in the narrower streets were blazing, but on
inquiry of a solitary foot passenger, she learnt that this fire was one of
many which had been burning for three days, at street corners and in open
spaces, at a great expense of sea-coal, with the hope of purifying the
atmosphere and dispersing poisonous gases--but that so far no amelioration
had followed upon this outlay and labour. She came presently to a junction
of roads near the Fleet ditch, and saw the huge coal-fire flaming with a
sickly glare in the sunshine, tended by a spectral figure, half-clad and
hungry-looking, to whom she gave an alms; and at this juncture of ways a
great peril awaited her, for there sprang, as it were, out of the very
ground, so quickly did they assemble from neighbouring courts and alleys,
a throng of mendicants, who clustered round her, with filthy hands
outstretched, and shrill voices imploring charity. So wasted were their
half-naked limbs, so ghastly and livid their countenances, that they might
have all been plague-patients, and Angela recoiled from them in horror.
"Keep your distance, for pity's sake, good friends, and I will give you all
the money I carry," she exclaimed, and there was something of command in
her voice and aspect, as she stood before them, straight and tall, with
pale, earnest face.
They fell off a little way, and waited till she scattered the contents of
her purse--small Flemish coin--upon the ground in front of her, where they
scrambled for it, snarling and scuffling with each other like dogs fighting
for a bone.
Hastening her footsteps after the horror of that encounter, she went by
Ludgate Hill to the great cathedral, keeping carefully to the middle of the
street, and glancing at the walls and shuttered casements on either side of
her, recalling that appalling story which the Italian choir-mistress at the
Ursulines had told her of the great plague in Milan--how one morning the
walls and doors of many houses in the city had been found smeared with some
foul substance, in broad streaks of white and yellow, which was believed to
be a poisonous compost carrying contagion to every creature who touched
or went within the influence of its mephitic odour; how this thing had
happened not once, but many times; until the Milanese believed that Satan
himself was the prime mover in this horror, and that there were a company
of wretches who had sold themselves to the devil, and were his servants and
agents, spreading disease and death through the city. Strange tales were
told of those who had seen the foul fiend face to face, and had refused his
proffered gold. Innocent men were denounced, and but narrowly escaped being
torn limb from limb, or trampled to death, under the suspicion of being
concerned in this anointing of the walls, and even the cathedral benches,
with plague-poison; yet no death, that the nun could remember, had ever
been traced directly to the compost. It was a mysterious terror which
struck deep into the hearts of a frightened people, so that at last,
against his better reason, and at the repeated prayer of his flock, the
good Archbishop allowed the crystal coffin of St. Carlo Borromeo to be
carried in solemn procession, upon the shoulders of Cardinals, from end to
end of the city--on which occasion all Milan crowded into the streets,
and clustered thick on either side of the pompous train of monks and
incense-bearers, priests and acolytes. But soon there fell a deeper despair
upon the inhabitants of the doomed city; for within two days after this
solemn carrying of the saintly remains the death-rate had tripled and there
was scarce a house in which the contagion had not entered. Then it was said
that the anointers had been in active work in the midst of the crowd, and
had been busiest in the public squares where the bearers of the crystal
coffin halted for a space with their sacred load, and where the people
clustered thickest. The Archbishop had foreseen the danger of this
gathering of the people, many but just recovering from the disease, many
infected and unconscious of their state; but his flock saw only the
handiwork of the fiend in this increase of evil.
In Protestant London there had been less inclination to superstition; yet
even here a comet which, under ordinary circumstances, would have appeared
but as other comets, was thought to wear the shape of a fiery sword
stretched over the city in awful threatening.
Full of pity and of gravest, saddest thoughts, the lonely girl walked
through the lonely town to that part of the city where the streets were
narrowest, a labyrinth of lanes and alleys, with a church-tower or steeple
rising up amidst the crowded dwellings at almost every point to which the
eye looked. Angela wondered at the sight of so many fine churches in this
heretical land. Many of these city churches were left open in this day of
wrath, so that unhappy souls who had a mind to pray might go in at will,
and kneel there. Angela peered in at an old church in a narrow court,
holding the door a little way ajar, and looking along the cold grey nave.
All was gloom and silence, save for a monotonous and suppressed murmur
of one invisible worshipper in a pew near the altar, who varied his
supplicatory mutterings with long-drawn sighs.
Angela turned with a shudder from the cold emptiness of the great grey
church, with its sombre woodwork, and lack of all those beautiful forms
which appeal to the heart and imagination in a Romanist temple. She thought
how in Flanders there would have been tapers burning, and censors swinging,
and the rolling thunder of the organ pealing along the vaulted roof in the
solemn strains of a _Dies Irae_, lifting the soul of the worshipper into
the far-off heaven of the world beyond death, soothing the sorrowful heart
with visions of eternal bliss.
She wandered through the maze of streets and lanes, sometimes coming back
unawares to a street she had lately traversed, till at last she came to a
church that was not silent, for through the open door she heard a voice
within, preaching or praying. She hesitated for a few minutes on the
threshold, having been taught that it was a sin to enter a Protestant
church; and then something within her, some new sense of independence and
revolt against old traditions, moved her to enter, and take her place
quietly in one of the curious wooden boxes where the sparse congregation
were seated, listening to a man in a Geneva gown, who was preaching in a
tall oaken pulpit, surmounted by a massive sounding-board, and furnished
with a crimson velvet cushion, which the preacher used with great effect
during his discourse, now folding his arms upon it and leaning forward to
argue familiarly with his flock, now stretching a long, lean arm above it
to point a denouncing finger at the sinners below, anon belabouring it
severely in the passion of his eloquence.
The flock was small, but devout, consisting for the most part of
middle-aged and elderly persons in sombre attire and of Puritanical aspect;
for the preacher was one of those Calvinistic clergy of Cromwell's time who
had been lately evicted from their pulpits, and prosecuted for assembling
congregations under the roofs of private citizens, and had shown a noble
perseverance in serving God in circumstances of peculiar difficulty. And
now, though the Primate had remained at his post, unfaltering and unafraid,
many of the orthodox shepherds had fled and left their sheep, being too
careful of their own tender persons to remain in the plague-stricken town
and minister to the sick and dying; whereupon the evicted clergy had
in some cases taken possession of the deserted pulpits and the silent
churches, and were preaching Christ's Gospel to that remnant of the
faithful which feared not to assemble in the House of God.
Angela listened to a sermon marked by a rough eloquence which enchained her
attention and moved her heart. It was not difficult to utter heart-stirring
words or move the tender breast to pity when the Preacher's theme was
death; with all its train of attendant agonies; its partings and farewells;
its awful suddenness, as shown in this pestilence, where a young man
rejoicing in his health and strength at noontide sees, as the sun slopes
westward, the death-tokens on his bosom, and is lying dumb and stark at
night-fall; where the joyous maiden is surprised in the midst of her mirth
by the apparition of the plague-spot, and in a few hours is lifeless
clay. The Preacher dwelt upon the sins and follies and vanities of the
inhabitants of that great city; their alacrity in the pursuit of pleasure;
their slackness in the service of God.
"A man who will give twenty shillings for a pair of laced gloves to
a pretty shopwoman at the New Exchange, will grudge a crown for the
maintenance of God's people that are in distress; and one who is not hardy
enough to walk half a mile to church, will stand for a whole afternoon in
the pit of a theatre, to see painted women-actors defile a stage that was
evil enough in the late King's time, but which has in these latter days
sunk to a depth of infamy that it befits not me to speak of in this holy
place. Oh, my Brethren, out of that glittering dream which you have dreamt
since his Majesty's return, out of the groves of Baal, where you have sung
and danced, and feasted, worshipping false gods, steeping your benighted
souls in the vices of pagans and image-worshippers, it has pleased the God
of Israel to give you a rough waking. Can you doubt that this plague, which
has desolated a city, and filled many a yawning pit with the promiscuous
dead, has been God's way of chastening a profligate people, a people caring
only for fleshly pleasures, for rich meats and strong wines, for fine
clothing and jovial company, and despising the spiritual blessings that
the Almighty Father has reserved for them that love Him? Oh, my afflicted
Brethren, bethink you that this pestilence is a chastisement upon a blind
and foolish people; and if it strikes the innocent as well as the guilty,
if it falls as heavily upon the spotless virgin as upon the hoary sinner,
remember that it is not for us to measure the workings of Omnipotence with
the fathom-line of our earthly intellects; or to say this fair girl should
be spared, and that hoary sinner taken. Has not the Angel of Death ever
chosen the fairest blossoms? His business is to people the skies rather
than to depopulate the earth. The innocent are taken, but the warning is
for the guilty; for the sinners whose debaucheries have made this world so
polluted a place that God's greatest mercy to the pure is an early death.
The call is loud and instant, a call to repentance and sacrifice. Let each
bear his portion of suffering with patience, as under that wise rule of
a score years past each family forewent a weekly meal to help those who
needed bread. Let each acknowledge his debt to God, and be content to have
paid it in a season of universal sorrow."
And then the Preacher turned from that awful image of an angry and avenging
God to contemplate Divine compassion in the Redeemer of mankind--godlike
power joined with human love. He preached of Christ the Saviour with a
fulness and a force which were new to Angela. He held up that commanding,
that touching image, unobscured by any other personality. All those
surrounding figures which Angela had seen crowded around the godlike form,
all those sufferings and virtues of the spotless Mother of God were ignored
in that impassioned oration. The preacher held up Christ crucified, Him
only, as the fountain of pity and pardon. He reduced Christianity to its
simplest elements, primitive as when the memory of the God-man was yet
fresh in the minds of those who had seen the Divine countenance and
listened to the Divine voice; and Angela felt as she had never felt before
the singleness and purity of the Christian's faith.
It was the day of long sermons, when a preacher who measured his discourse
by the sands of an hour-glass was deemed moderate. Among the Nonconformists
there were those who turned the glass, and let the flood of eloquence flow
on far into the second hour. The old man had been preaching a long time
when Angela awoke as from a dream, and remembered that sick-chamber where
duty called her. She left the church quietly and hurried westward, guided
chiefly by the sun, till she found herself once more in the Strand; and
very soon afterwards she was ringing the bell at the chief entrance of
Fareham House. She returned far more depressed in spirits than she went
out, for all the horror of the plague-stricken city was upon her; and,
fresh from the spectacle of death, she felt less hopeful of Lord Fareham's
Thomas Stokes opened the great door to admit that one modest figure, a door
which looked as if it should open only to noble visitors, to a procession
of courtiers and court beauties, in the fitful light of wind-blown torches.
Thomas, when interrogated, was not cheerful in his account of the patient's
health during Angela's absence. My lord had been strangely disordered; Mrs.
Basset had found the fever increasing, and was "afeared the gentleman was
Angela's heart sickened at the thought. The Preacher had dwelt on the
sudden alternations of the disease, how apparent recovery was sometimes the
precursor of death. She hurried up the stairs, and through the seemingly
endless suite of rooms which nobody wanted, which never might be inhabited
again perhaps, except by bats and owls, to his lordship's chamber, and
found him sitting up in bed, with his eyes fixed on the door by which she
"At last!" he cried. "Why did you inflict such torturing apprehensions upon
me? This woman has been telling me of the horrors of the streets where
you have been; and I figured you stricken suddenly with this foul malady,
creeping into some deserted alley to expire uncared for, dying with your
head upon a stone, lying there to be carried off by the dead-cart. You must
not leave this house again, save for the coach that shall fetch you to
Oxfordshire to join Hyacinth and her children--and that coach shall start
to-morrow. I am a madman to have let you stay so long in this infected
"You forget that I am plague-proof," she answered, throwing off hood and
cloak, and going to his bedside, to the chair in which she had spent many
hours watching by him and praying for him.
No, there was no relapse. He had only been restless and uneasy because of
her absence. The disease was conquered, the pest-spots were healing fairly,
and his nurses had only to contend against the weakness and depression
which seemed but the natural sequence of the malady.
Dr. Hodgkin was satisfied with his patient's progress. He had written to
Lady Fareham, advising her to send some of her servants with horses for his
lordship's coach, and to provide for relays of post-horses between London
and Oxfordshire, a matter of easier accomplishment than it would have been
in the earlier summer, when the quality were flying to the country, and
post-horses were at a premium. Now there were but few people of rank or
standing who had the courage to stay in town, like the Archbishop, who had
not left Lambeth, or the stout old Duke of Albemarle, at the Cockpit, who
feared the pestilence no more than he feared sword or cannon.
Two of his lordship's lackeys, and his Oxfordshire major-domo and clerk of
the kitchen, arrived a week after Angela's landing, bringing loving letters
from Hyacinth to her husband and sister. The physician had so written as
not to scare the wife. She had been told that her husband had been ill, but
was in a fair way to recovery, and would post to Oxfordshire as soon as he
was strong enough for the journey, carrying his sister-in-law with him,
and lying at the accustomed inn at High Wycombe, or perchance resting two
nights and spending three days upon the road.
That was a happy day for Angela when her patient was well enough to start
on his journey. She had been longing to see her sister and the children,
longing still more intensely to escape from the horror of that house, where
death had seemed to lie in ambush behind the tapestry hangings, and where
few of her hours had been free from a great fear. Even while Fareham was on
the high-road to recovery there had been in her mind the ever-present dread
of a relapse. She rejoiced with fear and trembling, and was almost afraid
to believe physician and nurse when they assured her that all danger was
The pestilence had passed by, and they went out in the sunshine, in the
freshness of a September morning, balmy, yet cool, with a scent of flowers
from the gardens of Lambeth and Bankside blowing across the river. Even
this terrible London, the forsaken city, looked fair in the morning light;
her palaces and churches, her streets of heavily timbered houses, their
projecting windows enriched with carved wood and wrought iron--streets that
recalled the days of the Tudors and even suggested an earlier and rougher
age, when the French King rode in all honour, albeit a prisoner, at his
conqueror's side; or later, when fallen Richard, shorn of all royal
dignity, rode abject and forlorn through the city, and caps were flung up
for his usurping cousin. But oh, the horror of closed shops and deserted
houses, and pestiferous wretches running by the coach door in their
poisonous rags, begging alms, whenever the horses went slowly, in those
narrow streets that lay between Fareham House and Westminster!
To Angela's wondering eyes Westminster Hall and the Abbey offered a new
idea of magnificence, so grandly placed, so dignified in their antiquity.
Fareham watched her eager countenance as the great family coach, which had
been sent up from Oxfordshire for his accommodation, moved ponderously
westward, past the Chancellor's new palace, and other new mansions, to the
Hercules Pillars Inn, past Knightsbridge and Kensington, and then northward
by rustic lanes, and through the village of Ealing to the Oxford road.
The family coach was as big as a small parlour, and afforded ample room for
the convalescent to recline at his ease on one seat, while Angela and the
steward, a confidential servant with the manners of a courtier, sat side by
side upon the other.
They had the two spaniels with them, Puck and Ganymede, silky-haired little
beasts, black and tan, with bulging foreheads, crowded with intellect, pug
noses so short as hardly to count for noses, goggle eyes that expressed
shrewdness, greediness, and affection. Puck snuggled cosily in the soft
lace of his lordship's shirt; Ganymede sat and blinked at the sunshine from
Angela's lap. Both snarled at Mr. Manningtree, the steward, and resented
the slightest familiarity on his part.
Lord Fareham's thoughtful face brightened with its rare smile--half amused,
half cynical--as he watched Angela's eager looks, devouring every object on
"Those grave eyes look at our London grandeurs with a meek wonder,
something as thy namesake an angel might look upon the splendours of
Babylon. You can remember nothing of yonder palace, or senate house, or
Abbey, I think, child?"
"Yes, I remember the Abbey, though it looked different then. I saw it
through a cloud of falling snow. It was all faint and dim there. There were
soldiers in the streets, and it was bitter cold; and my father sat in the
coach with his elbows on his knees and his face hidden in his hands. And
when I spoke to him, and tried to pull his hands away--for I was afraid of
that hidden face--he shook me off and groaned aloud. Oh, such a harrowing
groan! I should have thought him mad had I known what madness meant; but I
know not what I thought. I remember only that I was frightened. And later,
when I asked him why he was sorry, he said it was for the King."
"Ay, poor King! We have all supped full of sorrow for his sake. We have
cursed and hated his enemies, and drawn and quartered their vile carcases,
and have dug them out of the darkness where the worms were eating them. We
have been distraught with indignation, cruel in our fury; and I look back
to-day, after fifteen years, and see but too clearly now that Charles
Stuart's death lies at one man's door."
"At Cromwell's? At Bradshaw's?"
"No, child; at his own. Cromwell would have never been heard of, save in
Huntingdon Market-place, as a God-fearing yeoman, had Charles been strong
and true. The King's weakness was Cromwell's opportunity. He dug his own
grave with false promises, with shilly-shally, with an inimitable talent
for always doing the wrong thing and choosing the wrong road. Open not so
wide those reproachful eyes. Oh, I grant you, he was a noble king, a king
of kings to walk in a royal procession, to sit upon a dais under a velvet
and gold canopy, to receive ambassadors, and patronise foreign painters,
and fulfil all that is splendid and stately in ideal kingship. He was an
adoring husband--confiding to simplicity--a kind father, a fond friend,
though never a firm one."
"Oh, surely, surely you loved him?"
"Not as your father loved him, for I never suffered with him. It was those
who sacrificed the most who loved him best, those who were with him to the
end, long after common sense told them his cause was hopeless; indeed, I
believe my father knew as much at Nottingham, when that luckless standard
was blown down in the tempest. Those who starved for him, and lay out
on barren moors through the cold English nights for him, and wore their
clothes threadbare and their shoes into holes for him, and left wife and
children, and melted their silver and squandered their gold for him--those
are the men who love his memory dearest, and for whose poor sakes we of the
younger generation must make believe to think him a saint and a martyr."
"Oh, my lord, say not that you think him a bad man!"
"Bad! Nay, I believe that all his instincts were virtuous and honourable,
and that--until the whirlwind of those latter days in which he scarce knew
what he was doing--he meant fairly by his people, and had their welfare at
heart. He might have done far better for himself and others had he been a
brave bad man like Wentworth--audacious, unscrupulous, driving straight
to a fixed goal. No, Angela, he was that which is worse for mankind--an
obstinate, weak man. A bundle of impulses, some good and some evil; a man
who had many chances, and lost them all; who loved foolishly and too well,
and let himself be ruled by a wife who could not rule herself. Blind
impulse, passionate folly were sailing the State ship through that sea of
troubles which could be crossed but by a navigator as politic, profound,
and crafty as Richelieu or Mazarin. Who can wonder that the Royal Charles
"It must seem strange to you, looking back from the Court, as Hyacinth's
letters have painted it--to that time of trouble?"
"Strange! I stand in the crowd at Whitehall sometimes, amidst their masking
and folly, their frolic schemes, their malice, their jeering wit and
riotous merriment, and wonder whether it is all a dream, and I shall wake
and see the England of '44, the year Henrietta Maria vanished--a discrowned
fugitive, from the scene where she had lived to do harm. I look along the
perspective of painted faces and flowing hair, jewels, and gay colours,
towards that window through which Charles I. walked to his bloody death,
suffered with a kingly grandeur that made the world forget all that was
poor and petty in his life; and I wonder does anyone else recall that
suffering or reflect upon that doom. Not one! Each has his jest, and his
mistress--the eyes he worships, the lips he adores. It is only the rural
Put that feels himself lost in the crowd whose thoughts turn sadly to the
"Yet whatever your lordship may say----"
"Tush, child, I am no lordship to you! Call me brother, or Fareham;
and never talk to me as if I were anything else than your brother in
"It is sweet to hear you say so much, sir," she answered gently. "I have
often envied my companions at the Ursulines when they talked of their
brothers. It was so strange to hear them tell of bickering and ill-will
between brother and sister. Had God given me a brother, I would not quarrel
"Nor shall thou quarrel with me, sweetheart; but we will be fast friends
always. Do I not owe thee my life?"
"I will not hear you say so; it is blasphemy against your Creator, who
relented and spared you."
"What! you think that Omnipotence, in the inaccessible mystery of Heaven,
keeps the muster-roll of earth open before Him, and reckons each little
life as it drops off the list? That is hardly my notion of Divinity. I
see the Almighty rather as the Roman poet saw Him--an inexorable Father,
hurling the thunderbolt our folly has deserved from His red right hand, yet
merciful to stay that hand when we have taken our punishment meekly. That,
Angela, is the nearest my mind can reach to the idea of a personal God. But
do not bend those pencilled brows with such a sad perplexity. You know,
doubtless, that I come of a Catholic family, and was bred in the old faith.
Alas! I have conformed ill to Church discipline. I am no theologian, nor
quite an infidel, and should be as much at sea in an argument with Hobbes
as with Bossuet. Trouble not thy gentle spirit for my sins of thought or
deed. Your tender care has given me time to repent all my errors. You
were going to tell my lordship something, when I chid you for excess of
"Nay, sir--brother, I had but to say that this wicked Court, of which my
father and you have spoken so ill, can scarcely fail to be turned from its
sins by so terrible a visitation. Those who have looked upon the city as I
saw it a week ago can scarce return with unchastened hearts to feasting and
dancing and idle company."
"But the beaux and belles of Whitehall have not seen the city as my brave
girl saw it," cried Fareham.
"They have not met the dead-cart, nor heard the groans of the dying, nor
seen the red cross upon the doors. They made off with the first rumour of
peril. The roads were crowded with their coaches, their saddle-horses,
their furniture and finery; one could scarce command a post-horse for love
or money. 'A thousand less this week,' says one. 'We may be going back to
town and have the theatres open again in the cold weather.'"
They dined at the Crown, at Uxbridge, which was that "fair house at the end
of the town" provided for the meeting of the late King's Commissioners with
the representatives of the Parliament in the year '44. Fareham showed his
sister-in-law a spacious panelled parlour, which was that "fair room in
the middle of the house" that had been handsomely dressed up for the
Commissioners to sit in.
They pushed on to High Wycombe before night-fall, and supped _tete-a-tete_
in the best room of the inn, with Fareham's faithful Manningtree to bring
in the chief dish, and the people of the house to wait upon them. They were
very friendly and happy together, Fareham telling his companion much of his
adventurous life in France, and how in the first Fronde war he had been on
the side of Queen and Minister, and afterwards, for love and admiration of
Conde, had joined the party of the Princes.
"Well, it was a time worth living in--a good education for the boy-king,
Louis, for it showed him that the hereditary ruler of a great nation has
something more to do than to be born, and to exist, and to spend money."
Lord Fareham described the shining lights of that brilliant court with a
caustic tongue; but he was more indulgent to the follies of the Palais
Royal and the Louvre than he had been to the debaucheries of Whitehall.
"There is a grace even in their vices," he said. "Their wit is lighter, and
there is more mind in their follies. Our mirth is vulgar even when it is
not bestial. I know of no Parisian adventure so degrading as certain pranks
of Buckhurst's, which I would not dare mention in your hearing. We imitate
them, and out-herod Herod, but we are never like them. We send to Paris for
our clothes, and borrow their newest words--for they are ever inventing
some cant phrase to startle dulness--and we make our language a foreign
farrago. Why, here is even plain John Evelyn, that most pious of pedants,
pleading for the enlistment of a troop of Gallic substantives and
adjectives to eke out our native English!"
Fareham told Angela much of his past life during the freedom of that long
_tete-a-tete_, talking to her as if she had indeed been a young sister from
whom he had been separated since her childhood. That mild, pensive manner
promised sympathy and understanding, and he unconsciously inclined to
confide his thoughts and opinions to her, as well as the history of his
He had fought at Edgehill as a lad of thirteen, had been with the King at
Beverley, York, and Nottingham, and had only left the Court to accompany
the Prince of Wales to Jersey, and afterwards to Paris.
"I soon sickened of a Court life and its petty plots and parlour
intrigues," he told Angela, "and was glad to join Conde's army, where my
father's influence got me a captaincy before I was eighteen. To fight under
such a leader as that was to serve under the god of war. I can imagine Mars
himself no grander soldier. Oh, my dear, what a man! Nay, I will not call
him by that common name. He was something more or less than man--of another
species. In the thick of the fight a lion; in his dominion over armies,
in his calmness amidst danger, a god. Shall I ever see it again, I
wonder--that vulture face, those eyes that flashed Jove's red lightning?"
"Your own face changes when you speak of him," said Angela, awe-stricken
at that fierce energy which heroic memories evoked in Fareham's wasted
"Nay, you should have seen the change in _his_ face when he flung off the
courtier for the captain. His whole being was transformed. Those who knew
Conde at St. Germain, at the Hotel de Rambouillet, at the Palais Royal,
knew not the measure or the might of that great nature. He was born to
conquer. But you must not think that with him victory meant brute force. It
meant thought and patience, the power to foresee and to combine, the
rapid apprehension of opposing circumstances, the just measure of his own
materials. A strict disciplinarian, a severe master, but willing to work at
the lowest details, the humblest offices of war. A soldier, did I say? He
was the Genius of modern warfare."
"You talk as if you loved him dearly."
"I loved him as I shall never love any other man. He was my friend as
well as my General. But I claim no merit in loving one whom all the world
honoured. Could you have seen princes and nobles, as I saw them when I
was a boy at Paris, standing on chairs, on tables, kneeling, to drink his
health! A demi-god could have received no more fervent adulation. Alas!
sister, I look back at those years of foreign service and know they were
the best of my life!"
They started early next morning, and were within half a dozen miles of
Oxford before the sun was low. They drove by a level road that skirted the
river; and now, for the first time, Angela saw that river flowing placidly
through a rural landscape, the rich green of marshy meadows in the
foreground, and low wooded hills on the opposite bank, while midway across
the stream an islet covered with reed and willow cast a shadow over the
rosy water painted by the western sun.
"Are we near them now?" she asked eagerly, knowing that her
brother-in-law's mansion lay within a few miles of Oxford.
"We are very near," answered Fareham; "I can see the chimneys, and the
white stone pillars of the great gate."
He had his head out of the carriage, looking sunward, shading his eyes with
his big doe-skin gauntlet as he looked. Those two days on the road, the
fresh autumn air, the generous diet, the variety and movement of the
journey, had made a new man of him. Lean and gaunt he must needs be for
some time to come; but the dark face was no longer bloodless; the eyes had
the fire of health.
"I see the gate--and there is more than that in view!" he cried excitedly.
"Your sister is coming in a troop to meet us, with her children, and
visitors, and servants. Stop the coach, Manningtree, and let us out."
The post-boys pulled up their horses, and the steward opened the coach
door and assisted his master to alight. Fareham's footsteps were somewhat
uncertain as he walked slowly along the waste grass by the roadside,
leaning a little upon Angela's shoulder.
Lady Fareham came running towards them in advance of children and friends,
an airy figure in blue and white, her fair hair flying in the wind, her
arms stretched out as if to greet them from afar. She clasped her sister to
her breast even before she saluted her husband, clasped her and kissed her,
laughing between the kisses.
"Welcome, my escaped nun!" she cried. "I never thought they would let thee
out of thy prison, or that thou wouldst muster courage to break thy bonds.
Welcome, and a hundred times, welcome. And that thou shouldst have nursed
and tended my ailing lord! Oh, the wonder of it! While I, within a hundred
miles of him, knew not that he was ill, here didst thou come across seas to
save him! Why, 'tis a modern fairy tale."
"And she is the good fairy," said Fareham, taking his wife's face between
his two hands and bending down to kiss the white forehead under its cloud
of pale golden curls, "and you must cherish her for all the rest of your
life. But for her I should have died alone in that great gaudy house, and
the rats would have eaten me, and then perhaps you would have cared no
longer for the mansion, and would have had to build another further west,
by my Lord Clarendon's, where all the fine folks are going--and that would
have been a pity."
"Oh, Fareham, do not begin with thy irony-stop! I know all your organ
tones, from the tenor of your kindness to the bourdon of your displeasure.
Do you think I am not glad to have you here safe and sound? Do you think I
have not been miserable about you since I knew of your sickness? Monsieur
de Malfort will tell you whether I have been unhappy or not."
"Why, Malfort! What wind blew you hither at this perilous season, when
Englishmen are going abroad for fear of the pestilence, and when your
friend St Evremond has fled from the beauties of Oxford to the malodorous
sewers and fusty fraus of the Netherlands?"
"I had no fear of the contagion, and I wanted to see my friends. I am in
lodgings in Oxford, where there is almost as much good company as there
ever was at Whitehall."
The Comte de Malfort and Fareham clasped hands with a cordiality which
bespoke old friendship; and it was only an instinctive recoil on the part
of the Englishman which spared him his friend's kisses. They had lived in
camps and in courts together, these two, and had much in common, and much
that was antagonistic, in temperament and habits, Malfort being lazy and
luxurious, when no fighting was on hand; a man whose one business, when not
under canvas, was to surpass everybody else in the fashion and folly of
the hour, to be quite the finest gentleman in whatever company he found
He was a godson and favourite of Madame de Montrond, who had numbered his
father among the army of her devoted admirers. He had been Hyacinth's
playfellow and slave in her early girlhood, and had been _l'ami de la
maison_ in those brilliant years of the young King's reign, when the
Farehams were living in the Marais. To him had been permitted all
privileges that a being as harmless and innocent as he was polished and
elegant might be allowed, by a husband who had too much confidence in his
wife's virtue, and too good an opinion of his own merits to be easily
jealous. Nor was Henri de Malfort a man to provoke jealousy by any superior
gifts of mind or person. Nature had not been especially kind to him. His
features were insignificant, his eyes pale, and he had not escaped that
scourge of the seventeenth century, the small-pox. His pale and clear
complexion was but slightly pitted, however, and his eyelids had
not suffered. Men were inclined to call him ugly; women thought him
interesting. His frame was badly built from the athlete's point of view;
but it had the suppleness which makes the graceful dancer, and was an
elegant scaffolding on which to hang the picturesque costume of the day.
For the rest, all that he was he had made himself, during those eighteen
years of intelligent self-culture, which had been his engrossing occupation
since his fifteenth birthday, when he determined to be one of the finest
gentlemen of his epoch.
A fine gentleman at the Court of Louis had to be something more than a
figure steeped in perfumes and hung with ribbons. His red-heeled shoes, his
periwig and cannon sleeves, were indispensable to fashion, but not
enough for fame. The favoured guest of the Hotel de Rambouillet, and of
Mademoiselle de Scudery's "Saturdays," must have wit and learning, or at
least that capacity for smart speech and pedantic allusion which might pass
current for both in a society where the critics were chiefly feminine.
Henri de Malfort had graduated in a college of blue-stockings. He had grown
up in an atmosphere of gunpowder and _bouts rimes_. He had stormed the
breach at sieges where the assault was led off by a company of violins,
in the Spanish fashion. He had fought with distinction under the finest
soldiers in Europe, and had seen some of his dearest friends expire at his
Unlike Gramont and St. Evremond, he was still in the floodtide of royal
favour in his own country; and it seemed a curious caprice that had led him
to follow those gentlemen to England, to shine in a duller society, and
sparkle at a less magnificent court.
The children hung upon their father, Papillon on one side, Cupid on the
other, and it was in them rather than in her sister's friend that Angela
was interested. The girl resembled her mother only in the grace and
flexibility of her slender form, the quickness of her movements, and the
vivacity of her speech. Her hair and eyes were dark, like her father's, and
her colouring was that of a brunette, with something of a pale bronze under
the delicate carmine of her cheeks. The boy favoured his mother, and was
worthy of the sobriquet Rochester had bestowed upon him. His blue eyes,
chubby cheeks, cherry lips, and golden hair were like the typical Cupid
of Rubens, and might be seen repeated _ad libitum_ on the ceiling of the
"I'll warrant this is all flummery," said Fareham, looking down at the girl
as she hung upon him. "Thou art not glad to see me."
"I am so glad that I could eat you, as the Giant would have eaten Jack,"
answered the girl, leaping up to kiss him, her hair flying back like a
dark cloud, her nimble legs struggling for freedom in her long brocade
"And you are not afraid of the contagion?"
"Afraid! Why, I wanted mother to take me to you as soon as I heard you were
"Well, I have been smoke-dried and pickled in strong waters, until Dr.
Hodgkin accounts me safe, or I would not come nigh thee. See, sweetheart,
this is your aunt, whom you are to love next best to your mother."
"But not so well as you, sir. You are first," said the child, and then
turned to Angela and held up her rosebud mouth to be kissed. "You saved my
father's life," she said. "If you ever want anybody to die for you let it
"Gud! what a delicate wit! The sweet child is positively _tuant_,"
exclaimed a young lady, who was strolling beside them, and whom Lady
Fareham had not taken the trouble to introduce by name to any one, but who
was now accounted for as a country neighbour, Mrs. Dorothy Lettsome.
Angela was watching her brother-in-law as they sauntered along, and she saw
that the fatigue and agitation of this meeting were beginning to affect
him. He was carrying his hat in one hand, while the other caressed
Papillon. There were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and his
footsteps began to drag a little. Happily the coach had kept a few paces in
their rear, and Manningtree was walking beside it; so Angela proposed that
his lordship should resume his seat in the vehicle and drive on to his
house, while she went on foot with her sister.
"I must go with his lordship," cried Papillon, and leapt into the coach
before her father.
Hyacinth put her arm through Angela's, and led her slowly along the grassy
walk to the great gates, the Frenchman and Mrs. Lettsome following; and
unversed as the convent-bred girl was in the ways of this particular world,
she could nevertheless perceive that in the conversation between these two,
M. de Malfort was amusing himself at the expense of his fair companion. His
own English was by no means despicable, as he had spent more than a year,
at the Embassy immediately after the Restoration, to say nothing of his
constant intercourse with the Farehams and other English exiles in France;
but he was encouraging the young lady to talk to him in French, which was
spoken with an affected drawl, that was even more ridiculous than its
errors in grammar.
AT THE TOP OF THE FASHION.
Nothing could have been more cordial than Lady Fareham's welcome to her
sister, nor were it easy to imagine a life more delightful than that at
Chilton Abbey in that autumnal season, when every stage of the decaying
year clothed itself with a variety and brilliancy of colouring which made
ruin beautiful, and disguised the approach of winter, as a court harridan
might hide age and wrinkles under a yellow satin mask and flame-coloured
domino. The Abbey was one of those capacious, irregular buildings in which
all that a house was in the past and all that it is in the present are
composed into a harmonious whole, and in which past and present are so
cunningly interwoven that it would have been difficult for any one but an
architect to distinguish where the improvements and additions of yesterday
were grafted on to the masonry of the fourteenth century. Here, where the
spacious plate-room and pantry began, there were walls massive enough for
the immuring of refractory nuns; and this corkscrew Jacobean staircase,
which wound with carved balusters up to the garret story, had its
foundations in a flight of Cyclopean stone steps that descended to the
cellars, where the monks kept their strong liquors and brewed their beer.
Half of my lady's drawing-room had been the refectory, and the long
dining-parlour still showed the groined roof of an ancient cloister; while
the music-room, into which it opened, had been designed by Inigo Jones, and
built by the last Lord Fareham. All that there is of the romantic in this
kind of architectural patchwork had been enhanced by the collection of old
furniture that the present possessors of the Abbey had imported from Lady
Fareham's chateau in Normandy, and which was more interesting though less
splendid than the furniture of Fareham's town mansion, as it was the result
of gradual accumulation in the Montrond family, or of purchase from the
wreck of noble houses, ruined in the civil war which had distracted France
before the reign of the Bearnais.
To Angela the change from an enclosed convent to such a house as Chilton
Abbey, was a change that filled all her days with wonder. The splendour,
the air of careless luxury that pervaded her sister's house, and suggested
costliness and waste in every detail, could but be distressing to the pupil
of Flemish nuns, who had seen even the trenchers scraped to make soup for
the poor, and every morsel of bread garnered as if it were gold dust. From
that sparse fare of the convent to this Rabelaisian plenty, this plethora
of meat and poultry, huge game pies and elaborate confectionery, this
perpetual too much of everything, was a transition that startled and
shocked her. She heard with wonder of the numerous dinner tables that were
spread every day at Chilton. Mr. Manningtree's table, at which the Roman
Priest from Oxford dined, except on those rare occasions when he was
invited to sit down with the quality; and Mrs. Hubbock's table, where the
superior servants dined, and at which Henriette's dancing-master considered
it a privilege to over-eat himself; and the two great tables in the
servants' hall, twenty at each table; and the _gouvernante_, Mrs. Priscilla
Goodman's table in the blue parlour upstairs, at which my lady's English
and French waiting-women, and my lord's gentlemen ate, and at which
Henriette and her brother were supposed to take their meals, but where they
seldom appeared, usually claiming the right to eat with their parents. She
wondered as she heard of the fine-drawn distinctions among that rabble of
servants, the upper ranks of whom were supplied by the small gentry--of
servants who waited upon servants, and again other servants who waited on
those, down to that lowest stratum of kitchen sluts and turnspits, who
actually made their own beds and scraped their own trenchers. Everywhere
there was lavish expenditure--everywhere the abundance which, among that
uneducated and unthoughtful class, ever degenerates into wanton waste.
It sickened Angela to see the long dining-table loaded, day after day, with
dishes that were many of them left untouched amidst the superabundance,
while the massive Cromwellian sideboard seemed to need all the thickness
of its gouty legs to sustain the "regalia" of hams and tongues, pasties,
salads and jellies. And all this time _The Weekly Gazette_ from London
told of the unexampled distress in that afflicted city, which was but the
natural result of an epidemic that had driven all the well-to-do away, and
left neither trade nor employment for the lower classes.
"What becomes of that mountain of food?" Angela asked her sister, after
her second dinner at Chilton, by which time she and Hyacinth had become
familiar and at ease with each other. "Is it given to the poor?"
"Some of it, perhaps, love; but I'll warrant that most of it is eaten in
the offices--with many a handsome sirloin and haunch to boot."
"Oh, sister, it is dreadful to think of such a troop! I am always meeting
strange faces. How many servants have you?"
"I have never reckoned them. Manningtree knows, no doubt; for his wages
book would tell him. I take it there may be more than fifty, and less than
a hundred. Anyhow, we could not exist were they fewer."
"More than fifty people to wait upon four!"
"For our state and importance, _cherie_. We are very ill-waited upon. I
nearly died last week before I could get any one to bring me my afternoon
chocolate. The men had all rushed off to a bull-baiting, and the women
were romping or fighting in the laundry, except my own women, who are too
genteel to play with the under-servants, and had taken a holiday to go and
see a tragedy at Oxford. I found myself in a deserted house. I might have
been burnt alive, or have expired in a fit, for aught any of those over-fed
"But could they not be better regulated?"
"They are, when Manningtree is at home. He has them all under his thumb."
"And he is an honest, conscientious man?"
"Who knows? I dare say he robs us, and takes a _pot de vin_ wherever 'tis
offered. But it is better to be robbed by one than by an army; and if
Manningtree keeps others from cheating he is worth his wages."
"And you, dear Hyacinth. Do you keep no accounts?"
"Keep accounts! Why, my dearest simpleton, did you ever hear of a woman of
quality keeping accounts--unless it were some lunatic universal genius like
her Grace of Newcastle, who rises in the middle of the night to scribble
verses, and who might do anything preposterous. Keep accounts! Why, if you
was to tell me that two and two make five I couldn't controvert you, from
my own knowledge."
"It all seems so strange to me," murmured Angela.
"My aunt supervised all the expenditure of the convent, and was unhappy if
she discovered waste in the smallest item."
"Unhappy! Yes, my dear innocent. And do you think if I was to investigate
the cost of kitchen and cellar, and calculate how many pounds of meat each
of our tall lackeys consumes per diem, I should not speedily be plagued
into grey hairs and wrinkles? I hope we are rich enough to support their
wastefulness. And if we are not--why, _vogue la galere_--when we are ruined
the King must do something for Fareham--make him Lord Chancellor. His
Majesty is mighty sick of poor old Clarendon and his lectures. Fareham has
a long head, and would do as well as anybody else for Chancellor if he
would but show himself at Court oftener, and conform to the fashion of the
time, instead of holding himself aloof, with a Puritanical disdain for
amusements and people that please his betters. He has taken a leaf out of
Lord Southampton's book, and would not allow me to return a visit Lady
Castlemaine paid me the other day, in the utmost friendliness: and to
slight her is the quickest way to offend his Majesty."
"But, sister, you would not consort with an infamous woman?"
"Infamous! Who told you she is infamous? Your innocency should be ignorant
of such trumpery tittle-tattle. And one can be civil without consorting, as
you call it."
Angela took her sister's reckless speech for mere sportiveness. Hyacinth
might be careless and ignorant of business, but his lordship doubtless knew
the extent of his income, and was too grave and experienced a personage to
be a spendthrift. He had confessed to seven and thirty, which to the girl
of twenty seemed serious middle-age.
There were musicians in her ladyship's household--youths who played
lute and viol, and sang the dainty, meaningless songs of the latest
ballad-mongers very prettily. The warm weather, which had a bad effect
upon the bills of mortality, was so far advantageous that it allowed these
gentlemen to sing in the garden while the family were at supper, or on
the river while the family were taking their evening airing. Their newest
performance was an arrangement of Lord Dorset's lines--"To all you ladies
now on land," set as a round. There could scarcely be anything prettier
than the dying fall of the refrain that ended every verse:--
"With a fa, la, la,
Perhaps permit some happier man
To kiss your hand or flirt your fan,
With a fa, la, la."
The last lines died away in the distance of the moonlit garden, as the
singers slowly retired, while Henri de Malfort illustrated that final
couplet with Hyacinth's fan, as he sat beside her.
"Music, and moonlight, and a garden. You might fancy yourself amidst the
grottoes and terraces of St. Germain."
"I note that whenever there is anything meritorious in our English life
Malfort is reminded of France, and when he discovers any obnoxious feature
in our manners or habits he expatiates on the vast difference between the
two nations," said his lordship.
"Dear Fareham, I am a human being. When I am in England I remember all I
loved in my own country. I must return to it before I shall understand the
worth of all I leave here--and the understanding may be bitter. Call your
singers back, and let us have those two last verses again. 'Tis a fine
tune, and your fellows perform it with sweetness and brio."
The song was new. The victory which it celebrated was fresh in the minds
of men. The disgrace of later Dutch experiences--the ships in the Nore
ravaging and insulting--was yet to come. England still believed her
floating castles invincible.
To Angela's mind the life at Chilton was full of change and joyous
expectancy. No hour of the day but offered some variety of recreation, from
battledore and shuttlecock in the _plaisance_ to long days with the hounds
or the hawks. Angela learnt to ride in less than a month, instructed by the
stud-groom, a gentleman of considerable importance in the household; an old
campaigner, who had groomed Fareham's horses after many a battle, and
many a skirmish, and had suffered scant food and rough quarters without
murmuring; and also with considerable assistance and counsel from Lord
Fareham, and occasional lectures from Papillon, who was a Diana at ten
years old, and rode with her father in the first flight. Angela was soon
equal to accompanying her sister in the hunting-field, for Hyacinth liked
following the chase after the French rather than the English fashion,
affecting no ruder sport than to wait at an opening of the wood, or on
the crest of a common, to see hounds and riders sweep by; or, favoured
by chance now and then, to signal the villain's whereabouts by a lace
handkerchief waved high above her head. This was how a beautiful lady who
had hunted in the forests of St. Germain and Fontainebleau understood
sport; and such performances as this Angela found easy and agreeable. They