Produced by Jonathan Ingram and PG Distributed Proofreaders
WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNGER
_Author of “LADY AUDLEY’S SECRET,” “VIXEN,” “ISHMAEL,” ETC._
_CHAPTER I._ A HARBOUR FROM THE STORM
_CHAPTER II._ WITHIN CONVENT WALLS
_CHAPTER III._ LETTERS FROM HOME
_CHAPTER IV._ THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
_CHAPTER V._ A MINISTERING ANGEL
_CHAPTER VI._ BETWEEN LONDON AND OXFORD
_CHAPTER VII._ AT THE TOP OF THE FASHION
_CHAPTER VIII._ SUPERIOR TO FASHION
_CHAPTER IX._ IN A PURITAN HOUSE
_CHAPTER X._ THE PRIEST’S HOLE
_CHAPTER XL._ LIGHTER THAN VANITY
_CHAPTER XII._ LADY FAREHAM’S DAY
_CHAPTER XIII._ THE SAGE OF SAYES COURT
_CHAPTER XIV._ THE MILLBANK GHOST
_CHAPTER XV._ FALCON AND DOVE
_CHAPTER XVI._ WHICH WAS THE FIERCER FIRE?
_CHAPTER XVII._ THE MOTIVE–MURDER
_CHAPTER XVIII._ REVELATIONS
_CHAPTER XIX._ DIDO
_CHAPTER XX._ PHILASTER
_CHAPTER XXI._ GOOD-BYE, LONDON
_CHAPTER XXII._ AT THE MANOR MOAT
_CHAPTER XXIII._ PATIENT, NOT PASSIONATE
_CHAPTER XXIV._ “QUITE OUT OF FASHION”
_CHAPTER XXV._ HIGH STAKES
_CHAPTER XXVI._ IN THE COURT OF KING’S BENCH
_CHAPTER XXVII._ BRINGERS OF SUNSHINE
_CHAPTER XXVIII._ IN A DEAD CALM
A HARBOUR FROM THE STORM.
The wind howled across the level fields, and flying showers of sleet rattled against the old leathern coach as it drove through the thickening dusk. A bitter winter, this year of the Royal tragedy.
A rainy summer, and a mild rainy autumn had been followed by the hardest frost this generation had ever known. The Thames was frozen over, and tempestuous winds had shaken the ships in the Pool, and the steep gable ends and tall chimney-stacks on London Bridge. A never-to-be-forgotten winter, which had witnessed the martyrdom of England’s King, and the exile of her chief nobility, while a rabble Parliament rode roughshod over a cowed people. Gloom and sour visages prevailed, the maypoles were down, the play-houses were closed, the bear-gardens were empty, the cock-pits were desolate; and a saddened population, impoverished and depressed by the sacrifices that had been exacted and the tyranny that had been exercised in the name of Liberty, were ground under the iron heel of Cromwell’s red-coats.
The pitiless journey from London to Louvain, a journey of many days and nights, prolonged by accident and difficulty, had been spun out to uttermost tedium for those two in the heavily moving old leathern coach. Who and what were they, these wearied travellers, journeying together silently towards a destination which promised but little of pleasure or luxury by way of welcome–a destination which meant severance for those two?
One was Sir John Kirkland, of the Manor Moat, Bucks, a notorious Malignant, a grey-bearded cavalier, aged by trouble and hard fighting; a soldier and servant who had sacrificed himself and his fortune for the King, and must needs begin the world anew now that his master was murdered, his own goods confiscated, the old family mansion, the house in which his parents died and his children were born, emptied of all its valuables, and left to the care of servants, and his master’s son a wanderer in a foreign land, with little hope of ever winning back crown and sceptre.
Sadness was the dominant expression of Sir John’s stern, strongly marked countenance, as he sat staring out at the level landscape through the unglazed coach window, staring blankly across those wind-swept Flemish fields where the cattle were clustering in sheltered corners, a monotonous expanse, crossed by ice-bound dykes that looked black as ink, save where the last rays of the setting sun touched their iron hue with blood-red splashes. Pollard willows indicated the edge of one field, gaunt poplars marked the boundary of another, alike leafless and unbeautiful, standing darkly out against the dim grey sky. Night was hastening towards the travellers, narrowing and blotting out that level landscape, field, dyke, and leafless wood.
Sir John put his head out of the coach window, and looked anxiously along the straight road, peering through the shades of evening in the hope of seeing the crocketed spires and fair cupolas of Louvain in the distance. But he could see nothing save a waste of level pastures and the gathering darkness. Not a light anywhere, not a sign of human habitation.
Useless to gaze any longer into the impenetrable night. The traveller leant back into a corner of the carriage with folded arms, and, with a deep sigh, composed himself for slumber. He had slept but little for the last week. The passage from Harwich to Ostend in a fishing-smack had been a perilous transit, prolonged by adverse winds. Sleep had been impossible on board that wretched craft; and the land journey had been fraught with vexation and delays of all kinds–stupidity of postillions, dearth of horseflesh, badness of the roads–all things that can vex and hinder.
Sir John’s travelling companion, a small child in a cloak and hood, crept closer to him in the darkness, nestled up against his elbow, and pushed her little cold hand into his leathern glove.
“You are crying again, father,” she said, full of pity. “You were crying last night. Do you always cry when it grows dark?”
“It does not become a man to shed tears in the daylight, little maid,” her father answered gently.
“Is it for the poor King you are crying–the King those wicked men murdered?”
“Ay, Angela, for the King; and for the Queen and her fatherless children still more than for the King, for he has crowned himself with a crown of glory, the diadem of martyrs, and is resting from labour and sorrow, to rise victorious at the great day, when his enemies and his murderers shall stand ashamed before him. I weep for that once so lovely lady–widowed, discrowned, needy, desolate–a beggar in the land where her father was a great king. A hard fate, Angela, father and husband both murdered.”
“Was the Queen’s father murdered too?” asked the silver-sweet voice out of darkness, a pretty piping note like the song of a bird.
“Did Bradshaw murder him?”
“No, dearest, ’twas in France he was slain–in Paris; stabbed to death by a madman.”
“And was the Queen sorry?”
“Ay, sweetheart, she has drained the cup of sorrow. She was but a child when her father died. She can but dimly remember that dreadful day. And now she sits, banished and widowed, to hear of her husband’s martyrdom; her elder sons wanderers, her young daughter a prisoner.”
“Poor Queen!” piped the small sweet voice, “I am so sorry for her.”
Little had she ever known but sorrow, this child of the Great Rebellion, born in the old Buckinghamshire manor house, while her father was at Falmouth with the Prince–born in the midst of civil war, a stormy petrel, bringing no message of peace from those unknown skies whence she came, a harbinger of woe. Infant eyes love bright colours. This baby’s eyes looked upon a house hung with black. Her mother died before the child was a fortnight old. They had christened her Angela. “Angel of Death,” said the father, when the news of his loss reached him, after the lapse of many days. His fair young wife’s coffin was in the family vault under the parish church of St. Nicholas in the Vale, before he knew that he had lost her.
There was an elder daughter, Hyacinth, seven years the senior, who had been sent across the Channel in the care of an old servant at the beginning of the troubles between King and Parliament.
She had been placed in the charge of her maternal grandmother, the Marquise de Montrond, who had taken ship for Calais when the Court left London, leaving her royal mistress to weather the storm. A lady who had wealth and prestige in her own country, who had been a famous beauty when Richelieu was in power, and who had been admired by that serious and sober monarch, Louis the Thirteenth, could scarcely be expected to put up with the shifts and shortcomings of an Oxford lodging-house, with the ever-present fear of finding herself in a town besieged by Lord Essex and the rebel army.
With Madame de Montrond, Hyacinth had been reared, partly in a mediaeval mansion, with a portcullis and four squat towers, near the Chateau d’Arques, and partly in Paris, where the lady had a fine house in the Marais. The sisters had never looked upon each other’s faces, Angela having entered upon the troubled scene after Hyacinth had been carried across the Channel to her grandmother. And now the father was racked with anxiety lest evil should befall that elder daughter in the war between Mazarin and the Parliament, which was reported to rage with increasing fury.
Angela’s awakening reason became conscious of a world where all was fear and sadness. The stories she heard in her childhood were stories of that fierce war which was reaching its disastrous close while she was in her cradle. She was told of the happy peaceful England of old, before darkness and confusion gathered over the land; before the hearts of the people were set against their King by a wicked and rebellious Parliament.
She heard of battles lost by the King and his partisans; cities besieged and taken; a flash of victory followed by humiliating reverses; the King’s party always at a disadvantage; and hence the falling away of the feeble and the false, the treachery of those who had seemed friends, the impotence of the faithful.
Angela heard so often and so much of these things–from old Lady Kirkland, her grandmother, and from the grey-haired servants at the manor–that she grew to understand them with a comprehension seemingly far beyond her tender years. But a child so reared is inevitably older than her years. This little one had never known childish pleasures or play, childish companions or childish fancies.
She roamed about the spacious gardens, full of saddest thoughts, burdened with all the cares that weighed down that kingly head yonder; or she stood before the pictured face of the monarch with clasped hands and tearful eyes, looking up at him with the adoring compassion of a child prone to hero-worship–thinking of him already as saint and martyr–whose martyrdom was not yet consummated in blood.
King Charles had presented his faithful servant, Sir John Kirkland, with a half-length replica of one of his Vandyke portraits, a beautiful head, with a strange inward look–that look of isolation and aloofness which we who know his story take for a prophecy of doom–which the sculptor Bernini had remarked, when he modelled the royal head for marble. The picture hung in the place of honour in the long narrow gallery at the Manor Moat, with trophies of Flodden and Zutphen arranged against the blackened oak panelling above it. The Kirklands had been a race of soldiers since the days of Edward III. The house was full of war-like decorations–tattered colours, old armour, memorials of fighting Kirklands who had long been dust.
There came an evil day when the rabble rout of Cromwell’s crop-haired soldiery burst into the manor house to pillage and destroy, carrying off curios and relics that were the gradual accumulation of a century and a half of peaceful occupation.
The old Dowager’s grey hairs had barely saved her from outrage on that bitter day. It was only her utter helplessness and afflicted condition that prevailed upon the Parliamentary captain, and prevented him from carrying out his design, which was to haul her off to one of those London prisons at that time so gorged with Royalist captives that the devilish ingenuity of the Parliament had devised floating gaols on the Thames, where persons of quality and character were herded together below decks, to the loss of health, and even of life.
Happily for old Lady Kirkland, she was too lame to walk, and her enemies had no horse or carriage in which to convey her; so she was left at peace in her son’s plundered mansion, whence all that was valuable and easily portable was carried away by the Roundheads. Silver plate and family plate had been sacrificed to the King’s necessities.
The pictures, not being either portable or readily convertible into cash, had remained on the old panelled walls.
Angela used to go from the King’s picture to her father’s. Sir John’s was a more rugged face than the Stuart’s, with a harder expression; but the child’s heart went out to the image of the father she had never seen since the dawn of consciousness. He had made a hurried journey to that quiet Buckinghamshire valley soon after her birth–had looked at the baby in her cradle, and then had gone down into the vault where his young wife was lying, and had stayed for more than an hour in cold and darkness alone with his dead. That lovely French wife had been his junior by more than twenty years, and he had loved her passionately–had loved her and left her for duty’s sake. No Kirkland had ever faltered in his fidelity to crown and king. This John Kirkland had sacrificed all things, and, alone with his beloved dead in the darkness of that narrow charnel house, it seemed to him that there was nothing left for him except to cleave to those fallen fortunes and patiently await the issue.
He had fought in many battles and had escaped with a few scars; and he was carrying his daughter to Louvain, intending to place her in the charge of her great-aunt, Madame de Montrond’s half sister, who was head of a convent in that city, a safe and pious shelter, where the child might be reared in her mother’s faith.
Lady Kirkland, the only daughter of the Marquise de Montrond, one of Queen Henrietta Maria’s ladies-in-waiting, had been a papist, and, although Sir John had adhered steadfastly to the principles of the Reformed Church, he had promised his bride, and the Marquise, her mother, that if their nuptials were blessed with offspring, their children should be educated in the Roman faith–a promise difficult of performance in a land where a stormy tide ran high against Rome, and where Popery was a scarlet spectre that alarmed the ignorant and maddened the bigoted. And now, duly provided with a safe conduct from the regicide, Bradshaw, he was journeying to the city where he was to part with his daughter for an indefinite period. He had seen but little of her, and yet it seemed as hard to part thus as if she had prattled at his knees and nestled in his arms every day of her young life.
At last across the distance, against the wind-driven clouds of that stormy winter sky, John Kirkland saw the lights of the city–not many lights or brilliant of their kind, but a glimmer here and there–and behind the glimmer the dark bulk of masonry, roofs, steeples, watch-towers, bridges.
The carriage stopped at one of the gates of the city, and there were questions asked and answered, and papers shown, but there was no obstacle to the entrance of the travellers. The name of the Ursuline Convent acted like a charm, for Louvain was papist to the core in these days of Spanish dominion. It had been a city of refuge nearly a hundred years ago for all that was truest and bravest and noblest among English Roman Catholics, in the cruel days of Queen Elizabeth, and Englishmen had become the leading spirits of the University there, and had attracted the youth of Romanist England to the sober old Flemish town, before the establishment of Dr. Allan’s rival seminary at Douai, Sir John could have found no safer haven for his little ewe lamb.
The tired horses blundered heavily along the stony streets, and crossed more than one bridge. The town seemed pervaded by water, a deep narrow stream like a canal, on which the houses looked, as if in feeble mockery of Venice–houses with steep crow-step gables, some of them richly decorated; narrow windows for the most part dark, but with here and there the yellow light of lamp or candle.
The convent faced a broad open square, and had a large walled garden in its rear. The coach stopped in front of a handsome doorway, and after the travellers had been scrutinised and interrogated by the portress through an opening in the door, they were admitted into a spacious hall, paved with black and white marble, and adorned with a statue of the Virgin Mother, and thence to a parlour dimly lighted by a small oil lamp, where they waited for about ten minutes, the little girl shivering with cold, before the Superior appeared.
She was a tall woman, advanced in years, with a handsome, but melancholy countenance. She greeted the cavalier as a familiar friend.
“Welcome to Flanders!” she said. “You have fled from that accursed country where our Church is despised and persecuted—-“
“Nay, reverend kinswoman, I have fled but to go back again as fast as horses and sails can carry me. While the fortunes of my King are at stake, my place is in England, or it may be in Scotland, where there are still those who are ready to fight to the death in the royal cause. But I have brought this little one for shelter and safe keeping, and tender usage, trusting in you who are of kin to her as I could trust no one else–and, furthermore, that she may be reared in the faith of her dead mother.”
“Sweet soul!” murmured the nun. “It was well for her to be taken from your troubled England to the kingdom of the saints and martyrs.”
“True, reverend mother; yet those blasphemous levellers who call us ‘Malignants’ have dubbed themselves ‘Saints.'”
“Then affairs go no better with you in England, I fear, Sir John?”
“Nay, madam, they go so ill that they have reached the lowest depth of infamy. Hell itself hath seen no spectacle more awful, no murder more barbarous, no horrider triumph of wickedness, than the crime which was perpetrated this day se’nnight at Whitehall.”
The nun looked at him wistfully, with clasped hands, as one who half apprehended his meaning.
“The King!” she faltered, “still a prisoner?”
“Ay, reverend lady, but a prisoner in Paradise, where angels are his guards, and saints and martyrs his companions. He has regained his crown; but it is the crown of martyrdom, the aureole of slaughtered saints. England, our little England that was once so great under the strong rule of that virgin-queen who made herself the arbiter of Christendom, and the wonder of the world—-“
The pious lady shivered and crossed herself at this praise of the heretic queen–praise that could only come from a heretic.
“Our blessed and peaceful England has become a den of thieves, given over to the ravening wolves of rebellion and dissent, the penniless soldiery who would bring down all men’s fortunes to their own level, seize all, eat and drink all, and trample crown and peerage in the mire. They have slain him, reverend mother, this impious herd–they gave him the mockery of a trial–just as his Master, Christ, was mocked. They spurned and spat upon him, even as our Redeemer was spurned; and then, on the Sabbath day, they cried aloud in their conventicles, ‘Lord, hast Thou not smelt a sweet savour of blood?’ Ay, these murderers gloried in their crime, bragged of their gory hands, lifted them up towards heaven as a token of righteousness!”
The cavalier was pacing to and fro in the dimness of the convent parlour, with quick, agitated steps, his nostrils quivering, grizzled brows bent over angry eyes, his hand trembling with rage as it clutched his sword-hilt.
The reverend mother drew Angela to her side, took off the little black silk hood, and laid her hand caressingly on the soft brown hair.
“Was it Cromwell’s work?” she asked.
“Nay, reverend mother, I doubt whether of his own accord Cromwell would have done this thing. He is a villain, a damnable villain–but he is a glorious villain. The Parliament had made their covenant with the King at Newport–a bargain which gave them all, and left him nothing–save only his broken health, grey hairs, and the bare name of King. He would have been but a phantom of authority, powerless as the royal spectres Aeneas met in the under-world. They had got all from him–all save the betrayal of his friends. There he budged not, but was firm as rock.”
“‘Twas likely he remembered Strafford, and that he prospered no better for having flung a faithful dog to the wolves,” said the nun.
“Remembered Strafford? Ay, that memory has been a pillow of thorns through many a sleepless night. No, it was not Cromwell who sought the King’s blood–it has been shed with his sanction. The Parliament had got all, and would have been content; but the faction they had created was too strong for them. The levellers sent their spokesman–one Pride, an ex-drayman, now colonel of horse–to the door of the House of Commons, who arrested the more faithful and moderate members, imposed himself and his rebel crew upon the House, and hurried on that violation of constitutional law, that travesty of justice, which compelled an anointed King to stand before the lowest of his subjects–the jacks-in-office of a mutinous commonalty–to answer for having fought in defence of his own inviolable rights.”
“Did they dare condemn their King?”
“Ah, madam, they found him guilty of high treason, in that he had taken arms against the Parliament. They sentenced their royal master to death–and seven days ago London saw the spectacle of judicial murder–a blameless King slain by the minion of an armed rabble!”
“But did the people–the English people–suffer this in silence? The wisest and best of them could surely be assembled in your great city. Did the citizens of London stand placidly by to see this deed accomplished?”
“They were like sheep before the shearer. They were dumb. Great God! can I ever forget that sea of white faces under the grey winter sky, or the universal groan that went up to heaven when the stroke of the axe sounded on the block, and men knew that the murder of their King was consummated; and when that anointed head with its grey hairs, whitened with sorrow, mark you, not with age, was lifted up, bloody, terrible, and proclaimed the head of a traitor? Ah, reverend mother, ten such moments will age a man by ten years. Was it not the most portentous tragedy which the earth has ever seen since He who was both God and Man died upon Calvary? Other judicial sacrifices have been, but never of a victim as guiltless and as noble. Had you but seen the calm beauty of his countenance as he turned it towards the people! Oh, my King, my master, my beloved friend, when shall I see that face in Paradise, with the blood washed from that royal brow, with the smile of the redeemed upon those lips!”
He flung himself into a chair, covered his face with those weather-stained hands, which had broadened by much grasping of sword and pistol, pike and gun, and sobbed aloud, with a fierce passion that convulsed the strong muscular frame. Of all the King’s servants this one had been the most steadfast, was marked in the black book of the Parliament as a notorious Malignant. From the raising of the standard on the castle-hill at Nottingham–in the sad evening of a tempestuous day, with but scanty attendance, and only evil presages–to the treaty at Newport, and the prison on the low Hampshire coast, this man had been his master’s constant companion and friend; fighting in every battle, cleaving to King and Prince in spite of every opposing influence, carrying letters between father and son in the teeth of the enemy, humbling himself as a servant, and performing menial labours, in those latter days of bitterness and outrage, when all courtly surroundings were denied the fallen monarch.
And now he mourned his martyred King more bitterly than he would have mourned his own brother.
The little girl slipped from the reverend mother’s lap, and ran across the room to her father.
“Don’t cry, father!” she murmured, with her own eyes streaming. “It hurts me to see you.”
“Nay, Angela,” he answered, clasping her to his breast. “Forgive me that I think more of my dead King than of my living daughter. Poor child, thou hast seen nothing but sorrow since thou wert born; a land racked by civil war; Englishmen changed into devils; a home ravaged and made desolate; threatenings and curses; thy good grandmother’s days shortened by sorrow and rough usage. Thou wert born into a house of mourning, and hast seen nothing but black since thou hadst eyes to notice the things around thee. Those tender ears should have heard only loving words. But it is over, dearest; and thou hast found a haven within these walls. You will take care of her, will you not, madam, for the sake of the niece you loved?”
“She shall be the apple of my eye. No evil shall come near her that my care and my prayers can avert. God has been very gracious to our order–in all troublous times we have been protected. We have many pupils from the best families of Flanders–and some even from Paris, whence parents are glad to remove their children from the confusion of the time. You need fear nothing while this sweet child is with us; and if in years to come she should desire to enter our order—-“
“The Lord forbid!” cried the cavalier. “I want her to be a good and pious papist, madam, like her sweet mother; but never a nun. I look to her as the staff and comfort of my declining years. Thou wilt not abandon thy father, wilt thou, little one, when thou shalt be tall and strong as a bulrush, and he shall be bent and gnarled with age, like the old medlar on the lawn at the Manor? Thou wilt be his rod and staff, wilt thou not, sweetheart?”
The child flung her arms round his neck and kissed him. It was her only answer, but that mute reply was a vow.
“Thou wilt stay here till England’s troubles are over, Angela, and that base herd yonder have been trampled down. Thou wilt be happy here, and wilt mind thy book, and be obedient to those good ladies who will teach thee; and some day, when our country is at peace, I will come back to fetch thee.”
“Soon,” murmured the child, “soon, father?”
“God grant it may be soon, my beloved! It is hard for father and children to be scattered, as we are scattered; thy sister Hyacinth in Paris, and thou in Flanders, and I in England. Yet it must needs be so for a while!”
“Why should not Hyacinth come to us and be reared with Angela?” asked the reverend mother.
“Nay, madam, Hyacinth is well cared for with your sister, Madame de Montrond. She is as dear to her maternal grandmother as this little one here was to my good mother, whose death last year left us a house of mourning. Hyacinth will doubtless inherit a considerable portion of Madame de Montrond’s wealth, which is not insignificant. She is being brought up in the precincts of the Court.”
“A worldly and a dangerous school for one so young,” said the nun, with a sigh. “I have heard my father talk of what life was like at the Louvre when the Bearnais reigned there in the flower of his manhood, newly master of Paris, flushed with hard-won victory, and but lately reconciled to the Church.”
“Methinks that great captain’s court must have been laxer than that of Queen Anne and the Cardinal. I have been told that the child-king is being reared, as it were, in a cloister, so strict are mother and guardian. My only fear for Hyacinth is the troubled state of the city, given over to civil warfare only less virulent than that which has desolated England. I hear that the Fronde is no war of epigrams and pamphlets, but that men are as earnest and bloodthirsty as they were in the League. I shall go from here to Paris to see my first-born before I make my way back to London.”
“I question if you will find her at Paris,” said the reverend mother. “I had news from a priest in the diocese of the Coadjutor. The Queen-mother left the city secretly with her chosen favourites in the dead of the night on the sixth of this month, after having kept the festival of Twelfth Night in a merry humour with her Court. Even her waiting-women knew nothing of her plans. They went to St. Germain, where they found the chateau unfurnished, and where all the Court had to sleep upon was a few loads of straw. Hatred of the Cardinal is growing fiercer every day, and Paris is in a state of siege. The Princes are siding with Mathieu Mole and his Parliament, and the Provincial Parliaments are taking up the quarrel. God grant that it may not be in France as it has been with you in your unhappy England; but I fear the Spanish Queen and her Italian minister scarce know the temper of the French people.”
“Alas, good friend, we have fallen upon evil days, and the spirit of revolt is everywhere; but if there is trouble at the French Court, there is all the more need that I should make my way thither, be it at St. Germain or at Paris, and so assure myself of my pretty Hyacinth’s safety. She was so sweet an infant when my good and faithful steward carried her across the sea to Dieppe. Never shall I forget that sad moment of parting; when the baby arms were wreathed round my sweet saint’s neck; she so soon to become again a mother, so brave and patient in her sorrow at parting with her first-born. Ah, sister, there are moments in this life that a man must needs remember, even amidst the wreck of his country.” He dashed away a tear or two, and then turned to his kinswoman with outstretched hands and said, “Good night, dear and reverend mother; good night and good-bye. I shall sleep at the nearest inn, and shall be on the road again at daybreak. Good-bye, my soul’s delight”
He clasped his daughter in his arms, with something of despair in the fervour of his embrace, telling himself, as the soft cheek was pressed against his own, how many years might pass ere he would again so clasp that tender form and feel those innocent kisses on his bearded lips. She and the elder girl were all that were left to him of love and comfort, and the elder sister had been taken from him while she was a little child. He would not have known her had he met her unawares; nor had he ever felt for her such a pathetic love as for this guiltless death-angel, this baby whose coming had ruined his life, whose love was nevertheless the only drop of sweetness in his cup.
He plucked himself from that gentle embrace, and walked quickly to the door.
“You will apply to me for whatever money is needed for the child’s maintenance and education,” he said, and in the next moment was gone.
WITHIN CONVENT WALLS.
More than ten years had come and gone since that bleak February evening when Sir John Kirkland carried his little daughter to a place of safety, in the old city of Louvain, and in all those years the child had grown like a flower in a sheltered garden, where cold winds never come. The bud had matured into the blossom in that mild atmosphere of piety and peace; and now, in this fair springtide of 1660, a girlish face watched from the convent casement for the coming of the father whom Angela Kirkland had not looked upon since she was a child, and the sister she had never seen.
They were to arrive to-day, father and sister, on a brief visit to the quiet Flemish city. Yonder in England there had been curious changes since the stern Protector turned his rugged face to the wall, and laid down that golden sceptre with which he had ruled as with a rod of iron. Kingly title would he none; yet where kings had chastised with whips, he had chastised with scorpions. Ireland could tell how the little finger of Cromwell had been heavier than the arm of the Stuarts. She had trembled and had obeyed, and had prospered under that scorpion rule, and England’s armaments had been the terror of every sea while Cromwell stood at the helm; but now that strong brain and bold heart were in the dust, and it had taken England little more than a year to discover that Puritanism and the Rump were a mistake, and that to the core of her heart she was loyal to her hereditary King.
She asked not what manner of man this hereditary ruler might be; asked not whether he were wise or foolish, faithful or treacherous. She forgot all of tyranny and of double-dealing she had suffered from his forbears. She forgot even her terror of the scarlet spectre, the grim wolf of Rome, in her disgust at Puritan fervour which had torn down altar-rails, usurped church pulpits, destroyed the beauty of ancient cathedrals. Like a woman or a child, she held out her arms to the unknown, in a natural recoil from that iron rule which had extinguished her gaiety, silenced her noble liturgy, made innocent pleasures and elegant arts things forbidden. She wanted her churches, and her theatres, her cock-pits and taverns, and bear-gardens and maypoles back again. She wanted to be ruled by the law, and not by the sword; and she longed with a romantic longing for that young wanderer who had fled from her shores in a fishing-boat, with his life in his hand, to return in a glad procession of great ships dancing over summer seas, eating, drinking, gaming, in a coat worth scarce thirty shillings, and with empty pockets for his loyal subjects to make haste and fill.
Angela had the convent parlour all to herself this fair spring morning. She was the favourite pupil of the nuns, had taken no vows, pledged herself to no noviciate, ever mindful of her promise to her father. She had lived as happily and as merrily in that abode of piety as she could have lived in the finest palace in Europe. There were other maidens, daughters of the French and Flemish nobility, who were taught and reared within those sombre precincts, and with them she had played and worked and laboured at such studies as became a young lady of quality. Like that fair daughter of affliction, Henrietta of England, she had gained in education by the troubles which had made her girlhood a time of seclusion. She had been first the plaything of those elder girls who were finishing their education in the convent, her childishness appealing to their love and pity; and then, after being the plaything of the nuns and the elder pupils, she became the favourite of her contemporaries, and in a manner their queen. She was more thoughtful than her class-fellows, in advance of her years in piety and intelligence; and they, knowing her sad story–how she was severed from her country and kindred, her father a wanderer with his King, her sister bred up at a foreign Court–had first compassionated and then admired her. From her twelfth year upwards her intellectual superiority had been recognised in the convent, alike by the nuns and their pupils. Her aptitude at all learning, and her simple but profound piety, had impressed everybody. At fourteen years of age they had christened her “the little wonder;” but later, seeing that their praises embarrassed and even distressed her, they had desisted from such loving flatteries, and were content to worship her with a silent adulation.
Her father’s visits to the Flemish city had been few and far apart, fondly though he loved his motherless girl. He had been a wanderer for the most part during those years, tossed upon troubled seas, fighting with Conde against Mazarin and Anne of Austria, and reconciled with the Court later, when peace was made, and his friends the Princes were forgiven; an exile from France of his own free will when Louis banished his first cousin, the King of England, in order to truckle to the triumphant usurper. He had led an adventurous life, and had cared very little what became of him in a topsy-turvy world. But now all things were changed. Richard Cromwell’s brief and irresolute rule had shattered the Commonwealth, and made Englishmen eager for a king. The country was already tired of him whose succession had been admitted with blank acquiescence; and Monk and the army were soon to become masters of the situation. There was hope that the General was rightly affected, and that the King would have his own again; and that such of his followers as had not compounded with the Parliamentary Commission would get back their confiscated estates; and that all who had suffered in person or pocket for loyalty’s sake would be recompensed for their sacrifices.
It was five years since Sir John’s last appearance at the convent, and Angela’s heart beat fast at the thought that he was so near. She was to see him this very day; nay, perhaps this very hour. His coach might have passed the gate of the town already. He was bringing his elder daughter with him, that sister whose face she had never seen, save in a miniature, and who was now a great lady, the wife of Baron Fareham, of Chilton Abbey, Oxon, Fareham Park, in the County of Hants, and Fareham House, London, a nobleman whose estates had come through the ordeal of the Parliamentary Commission with a reasonable fine, and to whom extra favour had been shown by the Commissioners, because he was known to be at heart a Republican. In the mean time, Lady Fareham had a liberal income allowed her by the Marquise, her grandmother, and she and her husband had been among the most splendid foreigners at the French Court, where the lady’s beauty and wit had placed her conspicuously in that galaxy of brilliant women who shone and sparkled about the sun of the European firmament–Le roi soleil, or “the King,” par excellence, who took the blazing sun for his crest. The Fronde had been a time of pleasurable excitement to the high-spirited girl, whose mixed blood ran like quicksilver, and who delighted in danger and party strife, stratagem and intrigue. The story of her courage and gaiety of heart in the siege of Paris, she being then little more than a child, had reached the Flemish convent long after the acts recorded had been forgotten at Paris and St. Germain.
Angela’s heart beat fast at the thought of being restored to these dear ones, were it only for a short span. They were not going to carry her away from the convent; and, indeed, seeing that she so loved her aunt, the good reverend mother, and that her heart cleaved to those walls and to the holy exercises which filled so great a part of her life, her father, in replying to a letter in which she had besought him to release her from her promise and allow her to dedicate herself to God, had told her that, although he could not surrender his daughter, to whom he looked for the comfort of his closing years, he would not urge her to leave the Ursulines until he should feel himself old and feeble, and in need of her tender care. Meanwhile she might be a nun in all but the vows, and a dutiful niece to her kind aunt, Mother Anastasia, whose advanced years and failing health needed all consideration.
But now, before he went back to England, whither he hoped to accompany the King and the Princes ere the year was much older, Sir John Kirkland was coming to visit his younger daughter, bringing Lady Fareham, whose husband was now in attendance upon His Majesty in Holland, where there were serious negotiations on hand–negotiations which would have been full of peril to the English messengers two years ago, when that excellent preacher and holy man, Dr. Hewer, of St. Gregory, was beheaded for having intelligence with the King, through the Marquess of Ormond.
The parlour window jutted into the square over against the town hall, and Angela could see the whole length of the narrow street along which her father’s carriage must come.
The tall, slim figure and the fair, girlish face stood out in full relief against the grey stone mullion, bathed in sunlight. The graceful form was undisguised by courtly apparel. The soft brown hair fell in loose ringlets, which were drawn back from the brow by a band of black ribbon. The girl’s gown was of soft grey woollen stuff, relieved by a cambric collar covering the shoulders, and by cambric elbow-sleeves. A coral and silver rosary was her only ornament; but face and form needed no aid from satins or velvets, Venetian lace or Indian filagree.
The sweet, serious face was chiefly notable for eyes of darkest grey, under brows that were firmly arched and almost black. The hair was a dark brown, the complexion somewhat too pale for beauty. Indeed, that low-toned colouring made some people blind to the fine and regular modelling of the high-bred face; while there were others who saw no charm in a countenance which seemed too thoughtful for early youth, and therefore lacking in one of youth’s chief attractions–gladness.
The face lighted suddenly at this moment, as four great grey Flanders horses came clattering along the narrow street and into the square, dragging a heavy painted wooden coach after them. The girl opened the casement and craned out her neck to look at the arrival The coach stopped at the convent door, and a footman alighted and rang the convent bell, to the interested curiosity of two or three loungers upon the steps of the town hall over the way.
Yes, it was her father, greyer but less sad of visage than at his last visit. His doublet and cloak were handsomer than the clothes he had worn then, though they were still of the same fashion, that English mode which he had affected before the beginning of the troubles, and which he had never changed.
Immediately after him there alighted a vision of beauty, the loveliest of ladies, in sky-blue velvet and pale grey fur, and with a long white feather encircling a sky-blue hat, and a collar of Venetian lace veiling a bosom that scintillated with jewels.
“Hyacinth!” cried Angela, in a flutter of delight.
The portress peered at the visitors through her spy-hole, and being satisfied that they were the expected guests, speedily opened the iron-clamped door.
There was no one to interfere between father and daughter, sister and sister, in the convent parlour. Angela had her dear people all to herself, the Mother Superior respecting the confidences and outpourings of love, which neither father nor children would wish to be witnessed even by a kinswoman. Thus, by a rare breach of conventual discipline, Angela was allowed to receive her guests alone.
The lay-sister opened the parlour door and ushered in the visitors, and Angela ran to meet her father, and fell sobbing upon his breast, her face hidden against his velvet doublet, her arms clasping his neck.
“What, mistress, hast thou so watery a welcome, now that the clouds have passed away, and every loyal English heart is joyful?” cried Sir John, in a voice that was somewhat husky, but with a great show of gaiety.
“Oh, sir, I have waited so long, so long for this day. Sometimes I thought it would never come, that I should never see my dear father again.”
“Poor child! it would have been only my desert hadst thou forgotten me altogether. I might have come to you sooner, pretty one; indeed, I would have come, only things went ill with me. I was down-hearted and hopeless of any good fortune in a world that seemed given over to psalm-singing scoundrels; and till the tide turned I had no heart to come nigh you. But now fortunes are mended, the King’s and mine, and you have a father once again, and shall have a home by-and-by, the house where you were born, and where your angel-mother made my life blessed. You are like her, Angela!” holding back the pale face in his strong hands, and gazing upon it earnestly. “Yes, you favour your mother; but your face is over sad for your years. Look at your sister here! Would you not say a sunbeam had taken woman’s shape and come dancing into the room?”
Angela looked round and greeted the lady, who had stood aside while father and daughter met. Yes, such a face suggested sunlight and summer, birds, butterflies, all things buoyant and gladsome. A complexion of dazzling fairness, pearly, transparent, with ever-varying carnations; eyes of heavenliest blue, liquid, laughing, brimming with espieglerie; a slim little nose with an upward tilt, which expressed a contemptuous gaiety, an inquiring curiosity; a dimpled chin sloping a little towards the full round throat; the bust and shoulders of a Venus, the waist of a sylph, set off by the close-fitting velvet bodice, with its diamond and turquoise buttons; hair of palest gold, fluffed out into curls that were traps for sunbeams; hands and arms of a milky whiteness emerging from the large loose elbow-sleeves–a radiant apparition which took Angela by surprise. She had seen Flemish vraus in the richest attire, and among them there had been women as handsome as Helena Forment; but this vision of a fine lady from the court of the “roi soleil” was a revelation. Until this moment, the girl had hardly known what grace and beauty meant.
“Come and let me hug you, my dearest Puritan,” cried Hyacinth, holding out her arms. “Why do you suffer your custodians to clothe you in that odious grey, which puts me in mind of lank-haired psalm-singing scum, and all their hateful works? I would have you sparkling in white satin and silver, or blushing in brocade powdered with forget-me-nots and rosebuds. What would Fareham say if I told him I had a Puritan in grey woollen stuff for my sister? He sends you his love, dear, and bids me tell you there shall be always an honoured place in our home for you, be it in England or France, in town or country. And why should you not fill that place at once, sister? Your education is finished, and to be sure you must be tired of these stone walls and this sleepy town.”
“No, Hyacinth, I love the convent and the friends who have made it my home. You and Lord Fareham are very kind, but I could not leave our reverend mother; she is not so well or so strong as she used to be, and I think she likes to have me with her, because though she loves us all, down to the humblest of the lay-sisters, I am of her kin, and seem nearest to her. I don’t want to forsake her; and if it was not against my father’s wish I should like to end my days in this house, and to give my thoughts to God.”
“That is because thou knowest nought of the world outside, sweetheart,” protested Hyacinth. “I admire the readiness with which folks will renounce a banquet they have never tasted. A single day at the Louvre or the Palais Royal would change your inclinations at once and for ever.”
“She is too young for a court life, or a town life either,” said Sir John. “And I have no mind to remove her from this safe shelter till the King shall be firm upon his throne, and our poor country shall have settled into a stable and peaceful condition. But there must be no vows, Angela, no renunciation of kindred and home. I look to thee for the comfort of my old age!”
“Dear father, I will never disobey you. I shall remember always that my first duty is to you; and when you want me, you have but to summon me; and whether you are at home or abroad, in wealth and honour, or in exile and poverty, I will go to you, and be glad and happy to be your daughter and your servant.”
“I knew thou wouldst, dearest. I have never forgotten how the soft little arms clung about my neck, and how the baby lips kissed me, in this same parlour, when my heart was weighed down by a load of iron, and there seemed no ray of hope for England or me. You were my comforter then, and you will be my comforter in the days to come. Hyacinth here is of the butterfly breed. She is fair to look upon, and tender and loving; but she is ever on the wing. And she has her husband and her children to cherish, and cannot be burdened with the care of a broken-down greybeard.”
“Broken-down! Why, you are as brave a gallant as the youngest cavalier in the King’s service,” cried Hyacinth. “I would pit my father against Montagu or Buckingham, Buckhurst or Roscommon–against the gayest, the boldest of them all, on land or sea. Broken-down, forsooth! We will hear no such words from you, sir, for a score of years. And now you will want all your wits to take your proper place at Court as sage counsellor and friend of the new King. Sure he will need his father’s friends about him to teach him state-craft–he who has led such a gay, good-for-nothing life as a penniless rover, with scarce a sound coat to his back.”
“Nay, Hyacinth, the King will have no need of us old Malignants. We have had our day. He has shrewd Ned Hyde for counsellor, and in that one long head there is craft enough to govern a kingdom. The new Court will be a young Court, and the fashion of it will be new. We old fellows, who were gallant and gay enough in the forties, when we fought against Essex and his tawny scarves, would be but laughable figures at the Court of a young man bred half in Paris, and steeped in French fashions and French follies. No, Hyacinth, it is for you and your husband the new day dawns. If I get back to my old meads and woods and the house where I was born, I will sit quietly down in the chimney corner, and take to cattle-breeding, and a pack of harriers, for the diversion of my declining years. And when my Angela can make up her mind to leave her good aunt she shall keep house for me.”
“I should love to be your housekeeper, dearest father. If it please Heaven to restore my aunt to health and strength, I will go to you with a heart full of joy,” said the girl, hanging caressingly upon the old cavalier’s shoulder.
Hyacinth flitted about the room with a swift, birdlike motion, looking at the sacred images and prints, the _tableau_ over the mantelpiece, which told, with much flourish of penmanship, the progress of the convent pupils in learning and domestic virtues.
“What a humdrum, dismal room!” she cried. “You should see our convent parlours in Paris. At the Carmelites, in the Rue Saint Jacques, _par exemple_, the Queen-mother’s favourite convent, and at Chaillot, the house founded by Queen Henrietta–such pictures, and ornaments, and embroidered hangings, and tapestries worked by devotees. This room of yours, sister, stinks of poverty, as your Flemish streets stink of garlic and cabbage. Faugh! I know not which is worse!”
Having thus delivered herself of her disgust, she darted upon her younger sister, laid her hands upon the girl’s shoulders, and contemplated her with mock seriousness.
“What a precocious young saint thou art, with no more interest in the world outside this naked parlour than if thou wert yonder image of the Holy Mother. Not a question of my husband, or my children, or of the last fashion in hood and mantle, or of the new laced gloves, or the French King’s latest divinity.”
“I should dearly like to see your children, Hyacinth,” answered her sister.
“Ah! they are the most enchanting creatures, the girl a perpetual sunbeam, ethereal, elfish, a being of life and movement, and with a loquacity that never tires; the boy a lump of honey, fat, sleek, lazily beautiful. I am never tired of admiring them, when I have time to see them. Papillon–an old friend of mine has surnamed her Papillon because she is never still–was five years old on March 19. We were at St. Germain on her birthday. You should have seen the toys and trinkets and sweetmeats which the Court showered upon her–the King and Queen, Monsieur, Mademoiselle, the Princess Henrietta, her godmother–everybody had a gift for the daughter of La folle Baronne Fareham. Yes, they are lovely creatures, Angela; and I am miserable to think that it may be half a year before I see their sweet faces again.”
“Why so long, sister?”
“Because they are at the Chateau de Montrond, grandmother’s place near Dieppe, and because Fareham and I are going hence to Breda to meet the King, our own King Charles, and help lead him home in triumph. In London the mob are shouting, roaring, singing, for their King; and Montagu’s fleet lies in the Downs, waiting but the signal from Parliament to cross to Holland. He who left his country in a scurvy fishing-boat will go back to England in a mighty man-of-war, the _Naseby_–mark you, the _Naseby_–christened by that Usurper, in insolent remembrance of a rebel victory; but Charles will doubtless change that hated name. He must not be put in mind of a fight where rebels had the better of loyal gentlemen. He will sail home over those dancing seas, with a fleet of great white-winged ships circling round him like a flight of silvery doves. Oh, what a turn of fortune’s wheel! I am wild with rapture at the thought of it!”
“You love England better than France, though you must be almost a stranger there,” said Angela, wonderingly, looking at a miniature which her sister wore in a bracelet.
“Nay, love, ’tis in Paris I am an insignificant alien, though they are ever so kind and flattering to me. At St Germain I was only Madame de Montrond’s grand-daughter–the wife of a somewhat morose gentleman who was cleverer at winning battles than at gaining hearts. At Whitehall I shall be Lady Fareham, and shall enjoy my full consequence as the wife of an English nobleman of ancient lineage and fine estate, for, I am happy to tell you, his lordship’s property suffered less than most people’s in the rebellion, and anything his father lost when he fought for the good cause will be given back to the son now the good cause is triumphant, with additions, perhaps–an earl’s coronet instead of a baron’s beggarly pearls. I should like Papillon to be Lady Henrietta.”
“And you will send for your children, doubtless, when you are sure all is safe in England?” said Angela, still contemplating the portrait in the bracelet, which her sister had unclasped while she talked. “This is Papillon, I know. What a sweet, kind, mischievous face!”
“Mischievous as a Barbary ape–kind, and sweet as the west wind,” said Sir John.
“And your boy?” asked Angela, reclasping the bracelet on the fair, round arm, having looked her fill at the mutinous eyes, the brown, crisply curling hair, dainty, pointed chin, and dimpled cheeks. “Have you his picture, too?”
“Not his; but I wear his father’s likeness somewhere betwixt buckram and Flanders lace,” answered Hyacinth, gaily, pulling a locket from amidst the splendours of her corsage. “I call it next my heart; but there is a stout fortification of whalebone between heart and picture. You have gloated enough on the daughter’s impertinent visage. Look now at the father, whom she resembles in little, as a kitten resembles a tiger.”
She handed her sister an oval locket, bordered with diamonds, and held by a slender Indian chain; and Angela saw the face of the brother-in-law whose kindness and hospitality had been so freely promised to her.
She explored the countenance long and earnestly.
“Well, do you think I chose him for his beauty?” asked Hyacinth. “You have devoured every lineament with that serious gaze of yours, as if you were trying to read the spirit behind that mask of flesh. Do you think him handsome?”
Angela faltered: but was unskilled in flattery, and could not reply with a compliment.
“No, sister; surely none have ever called this countenance handsome; but it is a face to set one thinking.”
“Ay, child, and he who owns the face is a man to set one thinking. He has made me think many a time when I would have travelled a day’s journey to escape the thoughts he forced upon me. He was not made to bask in the sunshine of life. He is a stormy petrel. It was for his ugliness I chose him. Those dark stern features, that imperious mouth, and a brow like the Olympian Jove. He scared me into loving him. I sheltered myself upon his breast from the thunder of his brow, the lightning of his eye.”
“He has a look of his cousin Wentworth,” said Sir John. “I never see him but I think of that murdered man–my father’s friend and mine–whom I have never ceased to mourn.”
“Yet their kin is of the most distant,” said Hyacinth. “It is strange that there should be any likeness.”
“Faces appear and reappear in families,” answered her father. “You may observe that curiously recurring likeness in any picture-gallery, if the family portraits cover a century or two. Louis has little in common with his grandfather; but two hundred years hence there may be a prince of the royal house whose every feature shall recall Henry the Great”
The portrait was returned to its hiding-place, under perfumed lace and cobweb lawn, and the reverend mother entered the parlour, ready for conversation, and eager to hear the history of the last six weeks, of the collapse of that military despotism which had convulsed England and dominated Europe, and was now melting into thin air as ghosts dissolve at cock-crow, of the secret negotiations between Monk and Grenville, now known to everybody; of the King’s gracious amnesty and promise of universal pardon, save for some score or so of conspicuous villains, whose hands were dyed with the Royal Martyr’s blood.
She was full of questioning: and, above all, eager to know whether it was true that King Charles was at heart as staunch a papist as his brother the Duke of York was believed to be, though even the Duke lacked the courage to bear witness to the true faith.
Two lay-sisters brought in a repast of cakes and syrups and light wines, such delicate and dainty food as the pious ladies of the convent were especially skilled in preparing, and which they deemed all-sufficient for the entertainment of company; even when one of their guests was a rugged soldier like Sir John Kirkland. When the light collation had been tasted and praised, the coach came to the door again, and swallowed up the beautiful lady and the old cavalier, who vanished from Angela’s sight in a cloud of dust, waving hands from the coach window.
LETTERS FROM HOME.
The quiet days went by, and grew into years, and time was only marked by the gradual failure of the reverend mother’s health; so gradual, so gentle a decay, that it was only when looking back on St. Sylvester’s Eve that her great-niece became aware how much of strength and activity had been lost since the Superior knelt in her place near the altar, listening to the solemn music of the midnight Mass that sanctified the passing of the year. This year the reverend mother was led to her seat between two nuns, who sustained her feeble limbs. This year the meek knees, which had worn the marble floor in long hours of prayer during eighty pious years, could no longer bend. The meek head was bowed, the bloodless hands were lifted up in supplication, but the fingers were wasted and stiffened, and there was pain in every movement of the joints.
There was no actual malady, only the slow death in life called old age. All the patient needed was rest and tender nursing. This last her great-niece supplied, together with the gentlest companionship. No highly trained nurse, the product of modern science, could have been more efficient than the instinct of affection had made Angela. And then the patient’s temper was so amiable, her mind, undimmed after eighty-three years of life, was a mirror of God. She thought of her fellow-creatures with a Divine charity; she worshipped her Creator with an implicit faith. For her in many a waking vision the heavens opened and the spirits of departed saints descended from their abode in bliss to hold converse with her. Eighty years of her life had been given to religious exercises and charitable deeds. Motherless before she could speak, she had entered the convent as a pupil at three years of age, and had taken the veil at seventeen. Her father had married a great heiress, whose only child, a daughter, was allowed to absorb all the small stock of parental affection; and there was no one to dispute Anastasia’s desire for the cloister. All she knew of the world outside those walls was from hearsay. A rare visit from her lovely half-sister, the Marquise de Montrond, had astonished her with the sight of a distinguished Parisienne, and left her wondering. She had never read a secular book. She knew not the meaning of the word pleasure, save in the mild amusements permitted to the convent children–till they left the convent as young women–on the evening of a saint’s day; a stately dance of curtsyings and waving arms; a little childish play, dramatising some incident in the lives of the saints. So she lived her eighty years of obedience and quiet usefulness, learning and teaching, serving and governing. She had lived through the Thirty Years’ War, through the devastations of Wallenstein, the cruelties of Bavarian Tilly, the judicial murder of Egmont and Horn. She had heard of villages burnt, populations put to the sword, women and children killed by thousands. She had conversed with those who remembered the League; she had seen the nuns weeping for Edward Campion’s cruel fate; she had heard Masses sung for the soul of murdered Mary Stuart. She had heard of Raleigh’s visions of conquest and of gold, setting his prison-blanched face towards the West, in the afternoon of life, to encounter bereavement, treachery, sickening failure, and go back to his native England to expiate the dreams of genius with the blood of a martyr. And through all the changes and chances of that eventful century she had lived apart, full of pity and wonder, in a charmed circle of piety and love.
Her room, in these peaceful stages of the closing scene, was a haven of rest. Angela loved the seclusion of the panelled chamber, with its heavily mullioned casement facing the south-west, and the polished oak floor, on which the red and gold of the sunset were mirrored, as on the dark stillness of a moorland tarn. For her every object in the room had its interest or its charm. The associations of childhood hallowed them all. The large ivory crucifix, yellow with age, dim with the kisses of adoring lips; the delf statuettes of Mary and Joseph, flaming with gaudy colour; the figure of the Saviour and St. John the Baptist, delicately carved out of boxwood, in a group representing the baptism in the river Jordan, the holy dove trembling on a wire over the Divine head; the books, the pictures, the rosaries: all these she had gazed at reverently when all things were new, and the convent passages places of shuddering, and the service of the Mass an unintelligible mystery. She had grown up within those solemn walls; and now, seeing her kinswoman’s life gently ebbing away, she could but wonder what she would have to do in this world when another took the Superior’s place, and the tie that bound her to Louvain would be broken.
The lady who would in all probability succeed Mother Anastasia as Superior was a clever, domineering woman, whom Angela loved least of all the nuns–a widow of good birth and fortune, and a thorough Fleming; stolid, bigoted, prejudiced, and taking much credit to herself for the wealth she had brought to the convent, apt to talk of the class-room and the chapel her money had helped to build and restore as “my class-room,” or “my chapel.”
No; Angela had no desire to remain in the convent when her dear kinswoman should have vanished from the scene her presence sanctified. The house would be haunted with sorrowful memories. It would be time for her to claim that home which her father had talked of sharing with her in his old age. She could just faintly remember the house in which she was born–the moat, the fish-pond, the thick walls of yew, the peacocks and lions cut in box, of which the gardener who clipped them was so proud. Faintly, faintly, the picture of the old house came back to her; built of grey stone, and stained with moss, grave and substantial, occupying three sides of a quadrangle, a house of many windows, few of which were intended to open, a house of dark passages, like these in the convent, and flights of shallow steps, and curious turns and twistings here and there. There were living birds that sunned their spreading tails and stalked in slow stateliness on the turf terraces, as well as those peacocks clipped out of yew. The house lay in a Buckinghamshire valley, shut round and sheltered by hills and coppices, where there was an abundance of game. Angela had seen the low, cavern-like larder hung with pheasants and hares.
Her heart yearned towards the old house, so distinctly pictured by memory, though perchance with some differences from the actual scene. The mansion would seem smaller to her, doubtless, beholding it with the eyes of womanhood, than childish memory made it. But to live there with her father, to wait upon him and tend him, to have Hyacinth’s children there, playing in the gardens as she had played, would be as happy a life as her fancy could compass.
All that she knew of the march of events during those tranquil years in the convent came to her in letters from her sister, who was a vivacious letter-writer, and prided herself upon her epistolary talent–as indeed upon her general superiority, from a literary standpoint, to the women of her day.
It was a pleasure to Lady Fareham in some rare interval of solitude–when the weather was too severe for her to venture outside the hall door, even in her comfortable coach, and when by some curious concatenation she happened to be without visitors–to open her portfolio and prattle with her pen to her sister, as she would have prattled with her tongue to the visitors whom snow or tempest kept away. Her letters written from London were apt to be rare and brief, Angela noted; but from his lordship’s mansion near Oxford, or at the Grange between Fareham and Winchester–once the property of the brothers of St. Cross–she always sent a budget. Few of these lengthy epistles contained anything bearing upon Angela’s own existence–except the oft-repeated entreaty that she would make haste and join them–or even the flippant suggestion that Mother Anastasia should make haste and die. They were of the nature of news-letters; but the news was tinctured by the feminine medium through which it came, and there was a flavour of egotism in almost every page. Lady Fareham wrote as only a pretty woman, courted, flattered, and indulged by everybody about her, ever since she could remember, could be forgiven for writing. People had petted her and worshipped her with such uniform subservience that she had grown to thirty years of age without knowing that she was selfish, accepting homage and submission as a law of the universe, as kings and princes do.
Only in one of those letters was there that which might be called a momentous fact, but which Angela took as easily as if it had been a mere detail, to be dismissed from her thoughts when the letter had been laid aside.
It was a letter with a black seal, announcing the death of the Marquise de Montrond, who had expired of an apoplexy at her house in the Marais, after a supper party at which Mademoiselle, Madame de Longueville, Madame de Montausier, the Duchesse de Bouillon, Lauzun, St. Evremond, cheery little Godeau, Bishop of Vence, and half a dozen other famous wits had been present, a supper bristling with royal personages. Death had come with appalling suddenness while the lamps of the festival were burning, and the cards were still upon the tables, and the last carriage had but just rolled under the _porte cochere_.
“It is the manner of death she would have chosen,” wrote Hyacinth. “She never missed confession on the first Sunday of the month; and she was so generous to the Church and to the poor that her director declared she would have been too saintly for earth, but for the human weakness of liking fine company. And now, dearest, I have to tell you how she has disposed of her fortune; and I hope, if you should think she has not used you generously, you will do me the justice to believe that I have neither courted her for her wealth nor influenced her to my dear sister’s disadvantage. You will consider, _tres chere_, that I was with her from my eighth year until the other day when Fareham brought me to England. She loved me passionately in my childhood, and has often told me since that she never felt towards me as a grandmother, but as if she had been actually my mother, being indeed still a young woman when she adopted me, and by strangers always mistaken for my mother. She was handsome to the last, and young in mind and in habits long after youth had left her. I was said to be the image of what she was when she rivalled Madame de Hautefort in the affections of the late King. You must consider, sweetheart, that he was the most moral of men, and that with him love meant a passion as free from sensual taint as the preferences of a sylph. I think my good grandmother loved me all the better for this fancied resemblance. She would arrange her jewels about my hair and bosom, as she had worn them when Buckingham came wooing for his master; and then she would bid her page hold a mirror before me and tell me to look at the face of which Queen Anne had been jealous, and for which Cinq Mars had run mad. And then she would shed a tear or two over the years and the charms that were gone, till I brought the cards and cheered her spirits with her favourite game of primero.
“She had her fits of temper and little tantrums sometimes, Ange, and it needed some patience to restrain one’s tongue from insolence; but I am happy to remember that I ever bore her in profound respect, and that I never made her seriously angry but once–which was when I, being then almost a child, went out into the streets of Paris with Henri de Malfort and a wild party, masked, to hear Beaufort address the populace in the market-place, and when I was so unlucky as to lose the emerald cross given her by the great Cardinal, for whom, I believe, she had a sneaking kindness. Why else should she have so hated his Eminence’s very much favoured niece, Madame de Combalet?
“But to return to that which concerns my dear sister. Regarding me as her own daughter, the Marquise has lavished her bounties upon me almost to the exclusion of my own sweet Angela. In a word, dearest, she leaves you a modest income of four hundred louis–or about three hundred pounds sterling–the rental of two farms in Normandy; and all the rest of her fortune she bequeaths to me, and Papillon after me, including her house in the Marais–sadly out of fashion now that everybody of consequence is moving to the Place Royale–and her chateau near Dieppe; besides all her jewels, many of which I have had in my possession ever since my marriage. My sweet sister shall take her choice of a carcanet among those old-fashioned trinkets. And now, dearest, if you are left with a pittance that will but serve to pay for your gloves and fans at the Middle Exchange, and perhaps to buy you an Indian night-gown in the course of the year–for your Court petticoats and mantuas will cost three times as much–you have but to remember that my purse is to be yours, and my home yours, and that Fareham and I do but wait to welcome you either to Fareham House, in the Strand, or to Chiltern Abbey, near Oxford. The Grange near Fareham I never intend to re-enter if I can help it. The place is a warren of rats, which the servants take for ghosts. If you love water you will love our houses, for the river runs near them both; indeed, when in London, we almost think ourselves in Venice, save that we have a spacious garden, which I am told few of the Venetians can command, their city being built upon an assemblage of minuscule islets, linked together by innumerable bridges.”
Angela smiled as she looked down at her black gown–the week-day uniform of the convent school, exchanged for a somewhat superior grey stuff on Sundays and holidays–smiled at the notion of spending the rent of two farms upon her toilet. And how much more ridiculous seemed the assertion that to appear at King Charles’s Court she must spend thrice as much! Yet she could but remember that Hyacinth had described trains and petticoats so loaded with jewelled embroidery that it was a penance to wear them–lace worth hundreds of pounds–plumed hats that cost as much as a year’s maintenance in the convent.
Mother Anastasia expressed considerable displeasure at Madame de Montrond’s disposal of her wealth.
“This is what it is to live in a Court, and to care only for earthly things!” she said. “All sense of justice is lost in that world of vanity and self-love. You are as near akin to the Marquise as your sister; and yet, because she was familiar with the one and not with the other–and because her vain, foolish soul took pleasure in a beauty that recalled her own perishable charms, she leaves one sister a great fortune and the other a pittance!”
“Dear aunt, I am more than content—-“
“But I am not content for you, Angela. Had the estate been divided equally you might have taken the veil, and succeeded to my place in this beloved house, which needs the accession of wealth to maintain it in usefulness and dignity.”
Angela would not wound her aunt’s feelings by one word of disparagement of the house in which she had been reared; but, looking along the dim avenue of the future, she yearned for some wider horizon than the sky, barred with tall poplars which rose high above the garden wall that formed the limit of her daily walks. Her rambles, her recreations, had all been confined within that space of seven or eight acres, and she thought sometimes with a sudden longing of those hills and valleys of fertile Buckinghamshire, which lay so far back in the dawn of her mind, and were yet so distinctly pictured in her memory.
And London–that wonderful city of which her sister wrote in such glowing words! the long range of palaces beside the swift-flowing river, wider than the Seine where it reflects the gloomy bulk of the Louvre and the Temple! Were it only once in her life, she would like to see London–the King, the two Queens, Whitehall, and Somerset House. She would like to see all the splendour of Court and city; and then to taste the placid retirement of the house in the valley, and to be her father’s housekeeper and companion.
Another letter from Hyacinth announced the death of Mazarin.
“The Cardinal is no more. He died in the day of success, having got the better of all his enemies. A violent access of gout was followed by an affection of the chest which proved fatal. His sick-room was crowded with courtiers and sycophants, and he was selling sinecures up to the day of his death. Fareham says his death-bed was like a money-changer’s counter. He was passionately fond of hocca, the Italian game which he brought into fashion, and which ruined half the young men about the Court. The counterpane was scattered with money and playing cards, which were only brushed aside to make room for the last Sacraments. My Lord Clarendon declares that his spirits never recovered from the shock of his Majesty’s restoration, which falsified all his calculations. He might have made his favourite niece Queen of England; but his Italian caution restrained him, and the beautiful Hortense has to put up with a new-made duke–a title bought with her uncle’s money–to whom the Cardinal affianced her on his death-bed. He was a remarkable man, and so profound a dissembler that his pretended opposition to King Louis’ marriage with his niece Olympe Mancini would have deceived the shrewdest observer, had we not all known that he ardently desired the union, and that it was only his fear of Queen Anne’s anger which prevented it. Her Spanish pride was in arms at the notion, and she would not have stopped short at revolution to prevent or to revenge such an alliance.
“This was perhaps the only occasion upon which she ever seriously opposed Mazarin. With him expires all her political power. She is now as much a cypher as in the time of the late King, when France had only one master, the great Cardinal. He who is just dead, Fareham says, was but a little Richelieu; and he recalls how when the great Cardinal died people scarce dared tell one another of his death, so profound was the awe in which he was held. He left the King a nullity, and the Queen all powerful. She was young and beautiful then, you see; her husband was marked for death, her son was an infant. All France was hers–a kingdom of courtiers and flatterers. And now she is old and ailing; and Mazarin being gone, the young King will submit to no minister who claims to be anything better than a clerk or a secretary. Colbert he must tolerate–for Colbert means prosperity–but Colbert will have to obey. My friend, the Duchesse de Longueville, who is now living in strict retirement, writes me the most exquisite letters; and from her I hear all that happens in that country which I sometimes fancy is more my own than the duller climate where my lot is now cast. Fifteen years at the French Court have made me in heart and mind almost a Frenchwoman; nor can I fail to be influenced by my maternal ancestry. I find it difficult sometimes to remember my English, when conversing with the clod-hoppers of Oxfordshire, who have no French, yet insist, for finery’s sake, upon larding their rustic English with French words.
“All that is most agreeable in our court is imitated from the Palais Royal and the Louvre.
“‘Whitehall is but the shadow of a shadow,’ says Fareham, in one of his philosophy fits, preaching upon the changes he has seen in Paris and London. And, indeed, it is strange to have lived through two revolutions, one so awful in its final catastrophe that it dwarfs the other, yet both terrible; for I, who was a witness of the sufferings of Princes and Princesses during the two wars of the Fronde, am not inclined to think lightly of a civil war which cost France some of the flower of her nobility, and made her greatest hero a prisoner and an exile for seven years of his life.
“But oh, my dear, it was a romantic time! and I look back and am proud to have lived in it. I was but twelve years old at the siege of Paris; but I was in Madame de Longueville’s room, at the Hotel de Ville, while the fighting was going on, and the officers, in their steel cuirasses, coming in from the thick of the strife. Such a confusion of fine ladies and armed men–breast-plates and blue scarves–fiddles squeaking in the salon, trumpets sounding in the square below!”
* * * * *
In a letter of later date Lady Fareham expatiated upon the folly of her sister’s spiritual guides.
“I am desolated, _ma mie_, by the absurd restriction which forbids you to profit by my New Year’s gift. I thought, when I sent you all the volumes of la Scudery’s enchanting romance, I had laid up for you a year of enjoyment, and that, touched by the baguette of that exquisite fancy, your convent walls would fall, like those of Jericho at the sound of Jewish trumpets, and you would be transported in imagination to the finest society in the world–the company of Cyrus and Mandane–under which Oriental disguise you are shown every feature of mind and person in Conde and his heroic sister, my esteemed friend, the Duchesse de Longueville. As I was one of the first to appreciate Mademoiselle Scudery’s genius, and to detect behind the name of the brother the tender sentiments and delicate refinement of the sister’s chaster pen, so I believe I was the first to call the Duchesse ‘Mandane,’ a sobriquet which soon became general among her intimates.
“You are not to read ‘Le Grand Cyrus,” your aunt tells you, because it is a romance! That is to say, you are forbidden to peruse the most faithful history of your own time, and to familiarise yourself with the persons and minds of great people whom you may never be so fortunate as to meet in the flesh. I myself, dearest Ange, have had the felicity to live among these princely persons, to revel in the conversations of the Hotel de Rambouillet–not, perhaps, as our grandmother would have told you, in its most glorious period–but at least while it was still the focus of all that is choicest in letters and in art. Did we not hear M. Poquelin read his first comedy before it was represented by Monsieur’s company in the beautiful theatre at the Palais Royal, built by Richelieu, when it was the Palais Cardinal? Not read ‘Le Grand Cyrus,’ and on the score of morality! Why, this most delightful book was written by one of the most moral women in Paris–one of the chastest–against whose reputation no word of slander has ever been breathed! It must, indeed, be confessed that Sapho is of an ugliness which would protect her even were she not guarded by the aegis of genius. She is one of those fortunate unfortunates who can walk through the furnace of a Court unscathed, and leave a reputation for modesty in an age that scarce credits virtue in woman.
“I fear, dear child, that these narrow-minded restrictions of your convent will leave you of a surpassing ignorance, which may cover you with confusion when you find yourself in fine company. There are accomplishments without which youth is no more admired than age and grey hairs; and to sparkle with wit or astonish with learning is a necessity for a woman of quality. It is only by the advantages of education that we can show ourselves superior to such a hussy as Albemarle’s gutter-bred duchess, who was the faithless wife of a sailor or barber–I forget which–and who hangs like a millstone upon the General’s neck now that he has climbed to the zenith. To have perfect Italian and some Spanish is as needful as to have fine eyes and complexion nowadays. And to dance admirably is a gift indispensable to a lady. Alas! I fear that those little feet of yours–I hope they _are_ small–have never been taught to move in a coranto or a contre-danse, and that you will have to learn the alphabet of dancing at an age when most women are finished performers. The great Conde, while winning sieges and battles that surpassed the feats of Greeks and Romans, contrived to make himself the finest dancer of his day, and won more admiration in high-bred circles by his graceful movements, which every one could understand and admire, than by prodigies of valour at Dunkirk or Nordlingen.”
The above was one of Lady Fareham’s most serious letters. Her pen was exercised, for the most part, in a lighter vein. She wrote of the Court beauties, the Court jests–practical jokes some of them, which our finer minds of to-day would consider in execrable taste–such jests as we read of in Grammont’s memoirs, which generally aimed at making an ugly woman ridiculous, or an injured husband the sport and victim of wicked lover and heartless wife. No sense of the fitness of things constrained her ladyship from communicating these Court scandals to her guileless sister. Did they not comprise the only news worth anybody’s attention, and relate to the only class of people who had any tangible existence for Lady Fareham? There were millions of human beings, no doubt, living and acting and suffering on the surface of the earth, outside the stellary circles of which Louis and Charles were the suns; but there was no interstellar medium of sympathy to convey the idea of those exterior populations to Hyacinth’s mind. She knew of the populace, French or English, as of something which was occasionally given to become dangerous and revolutionary, which sometimes starved and sometimes died of the plague, and was always unpleasing to the educated eye.
Masquerades, plays, races at Newmarket, dances, duels, losses at cards–Lady Fareham touched every subject, and expatiated on all; but she had usually more to tell of the country she had left than of that in which she was living.
“Here everything is on such a small scale, _si mesquin!_” she wrote. “Whitehall covers a large area, but it is only a fine banqueting hall and a labyrinth of lodgings, without suite or stateliness. The pictures in the late King’s cabinet are said to be the finest in the world, but they are a kind of pieces for which I care very little–Flemish and Dutch chiefly–with a series of cartoons by Raphael, which connoisseurs affect to admire, but which, did they belong to me, I would gladly exchange for a set of Mortlake tapestries.
“His Majesty here builds ships, while the King of France builds palaces. I am told Louis is spending millions on the new palace at Versailles, an ungrateful site–no water, no noble prospect as at St. Germain, no population. The King likes the spot all the better, Madame tells me, because he has to create his own landscape, to conjure lakes and cataracts out of dry ground. The buildings have been but two years in progress, and it must be long before these colossal foundations are crowned with the edifice which Louis and his architect, Mansart, have planned. Colbert is furious at this squandering of vast sums on a provincial palace, while the Louvre, the birthplace and home of dynasties, remains unfinished.
“The King’s reason for disliking St. Germain–a chateau his mother has always loved–has in it something childish and fantastic, if, as my dear duchess declares, he hates the place only because he can see the towers of St. Denis from the terrace, and is thus hourly reminded of death and the grave. I can hardly believe that a being of such superior intelligence could be governed by any such horror of man’s inevitable end. I would far sooner attribute the vast expenditure of Versailles to the common love of monarchs and great men for building houses too large for their necessities. Indeed, it was but yesterday that Fareham took me to see the palace–for I can call it by no meaner name–that Lord Clarendon is building for himself in the open country at the top of St. James’s Street. It promises to be the finest house in town, and, although not covering so much ground as Whitehall, is judged far superior to that inchoate mass in its fine proportions and the perfect symmetry of its saloons and galleries. There is a garden a-making, projected by Mr. Evelyn, a great authority on trees and gardens. A crowd of fine company had assembled to see the newly finished hall and dining parlour, among them a fussy person, who came in attendance upon my Lord Sandwich, and who was more voluble than became his quality as a clerk in the Navy Office. He was periwigged and dressed as fine as his master, and, on my being civil to him, talked much of himself and of divers taverns in the city where the dinners were either vastly good or vastly ill. I told him that as I never dined at a tavern the subject was altogether beyond the scope of my intelligence, at which Sandwich and Fareham laughed, and my pertinacious gentleman blushed as red as the heels of his shoes. I am told the creature has a pretty taste in music, and is the son of a tailor, but professes a genteel ancestry, and occasionally pushes into the best company.
“Shall I describe to you one of my latest conquests, sweetheart? ‘Tis a boy–an actual beardless boy of eighteen summers; but such a boy! So beautiful, so insolent, with an impudence that can confront Lord Clarendon himself, the gravest of noblemen, who, with the sole exception of my Lord Southampton, is the one man who has never crossed Mrs. Palmer’s threshold, or bowed his neck under that splendid fury’s yoke. My admirer thinks no more of smoking these grave nobles, men of a former generation, who learnt their manners at the court of a serious and august King, than I do of teasing my falcon. He laughs at them, jokes with them in Greek or in Latin, has a ready answer and a witty quip for every turn of the discourse; will even interrupt his Majesty in one of those anecdotes of his Scottish martyrdom which he tells so well and tells so often. Lucifer himself could not be more arrogant or more audacious than this bewitching boy-lover of mine, who writes verses in English or Latin as easy as I can toss a shuttlecock. I doubt the greater number of his verses are scarce proper reading for you or me, Angela; for I see the men gather round him in corners as he murmurs his latest madrigal to a chosen half-dozen or so; and I guess by their subdued tittering that the lines are not over modest; while by the sidelong glances the listeners cast round, now at my Lady Castlemaine, and anon at some other goddess in the royal pantheon, I have a shrewd notion as to what alabaster breast my witty lover’s shafts are aimed at.
“This youthful devotee of mine is the son of a certain Lord Wilmot, who fought on the late King’s side in the troubles. This creature went to the university of Oxford at twelve years old–as it were, straight from his go-cart to college, and was master of arts at fourteen. He has made the grand tour, and pretends to have seen so much of this life that he has found out the worthlessness of it. Even while he woes me with a most romantic ardour, he affects to have outgrown the capacity to love.
“Think not, dearest, that I outstep the bounds of matronly modesty by this airy philandering with my young Lord Rochester, or that my serious Fareham is ever offended at our pretty trifling. He laughs at the lad as heartily as I do, invites him to our table, and is amused by his monkeyish tricks. A woman of quality must have followers; and a pert, fantastical boy is the safest of lovers. Slander itself could scarce accuse Lady Fareham, who has had soldier-princes and statesmen at her feet, of an unworthy tenderness for a jackanapes of seventeen; for, indeed, I believe his eighteenth birthday is still in the womb of time. I would with all my heart thou wert here to share our innocent diversions; and I know not which of all my playthings thou wouldst esteem highest, the falcon, my darling spaniels, made up of soft silken curls and intelligent brown eyes, or Rochester. Nay, let me not forget the children, Papillon and Cupid, who are truly very pretty creatures, though consummate plagues. The girl, Papillon, has a tongue which Wilmot says is the nearest approach to perpetual motion that he has yet discovered; and the boy, who was but seven last birthday, is full of mischief, in which my admirer counsels and abets him.
“Oh, this London, sweetheart, and this Court! How wide those violet eyes would open couldst thou but look suddenly in upon us after supper at Basset, or in the park, or at the play-house, when the orange girls are smoking the pretty fellows in the pit, and my Lady Castlemaine is leaning half out of her box to talk to the King in his! I thought I had seen enough of festivals and dances, stage-plays and courtly diversions beyond sea; but the Court entertainments at Paris or St. Germain differed as much from the festivities of Whitehall as a cathedral service from a dance in a booth at Bartholomew Fair. His Majesty of France never forgets that he is a king. His Majesty of England only remembers his kingship when he wants a new subsidy, or to get a Bill hurried through the Houses. Louis at four-and-twenty was serious enough for fifty. Charles at thirty-four has the careless humour of a schoolboy. He is royal in nothing except his extravagance, which has squandered more millions than I dare mention since he landed at Dover.
“I am growing almost as sober as my solemn spouse, who will ever be railing at the King and the Duke, and even more bitterly at the favourite, his Grace of Buckingham, who is assuredly one of the most agreeable men in London. I asked Fareham only yesterday why he went to Court, if his Majesty’s company is thus distasteful to him. ‘It is not to his company I object, but to his principles,’ he answered, in that earnest fashion of his which takes the lightest questions _au grand serieux_. ‘I see in him a man who, with natural parts far above the average, makes himself the jest of meaner intellects, and the dupe of greedy courtesans; a man who, trained in the stern school of adversity, overshadowed by the great horror of his father’s tragical doom, accepts life as one long jest, and being, by a concatenation of circumstances bordering on the miraculous, restored to the privileges of hereditary monarchy, takes all possible pains to prove the uselessness of kings. I see a man who, borne back to power by the irresistible current of the people’s affections, has broken every pledge he gave that people in the flush and triumph of his return. I see one who, in his own person, cares neither for Paul nor Peter, and yet can tamely witness the persecution of his people because they do not conform to a State religion–can allow good and pious men to be driven out of the pulpits where they have preached the Gospel of Christ, and suffer wives and children to starve because the head of the household has a conscience. I see a king careless of the welfare of his people, and the honour and glory of his reign; affecting to be a patriot, and a man of business, on the strength of an extravagant fancy for shipbuilding; careless of everything save the empty pleasure of an idle hour. A king who lavishes thousands upon wantons and profligates, and who ever gives not to the most worthy, but to the most importunate.’
“I laughed at this tirade, and told him, what indeed I believe, that he is at heart a Puritan, and would better consort with Baxter and Bunyan, and that frousy crew, than with Buckhurst and Sedley, or his brilliant kinsman, Roscommon.”
From her father directly, Angela heard nothing, and her sister’s allusions to him were of the briefest, anxiously as she had questioned that lively letter-writer. Yes, her father was well, Hyacinth told her; but he stayed mostly at the Manor Moat. He did not care for the Court gaieties.
“I believe he thinks we have all parted company with our wits,” she wrote. “He seldom sees me but to lecture me, in a sidelong way, upon my folly; for his railing at the company I keep hits me by implication. I believe these old courtiers of the late King are Puritans at heart; and that if Archbishop Laud were alive he would be as bitter against the sins of the town as any of the cushion-thumping Anabaptists that preach to the elect in back rooms and blind alleys. My father talks and thinks as if he had spent all his years of exile in the cave of the Seven Sleepers. And yet he fought shoulder to shoulder with some of the finest gentlemen in France–Conde, Turenne, Gramont, St. Evremond, Bussy, and the rest of them. But all the world is young, and full of wit and mirth, since his Majesty came to his own; and elderly limbs are too stiff to trip in our new dances. I doubt my father’s mind is as old-fashioned, and of as rigid a shape as his Court suit, at sight of which my best friends can scarce refrain from laughing.”
This light mention of a parent whom she reverenced wounded Angela to the quick; and that wound was deepened a year later, when she was surprised by a visit from her father, of which no letter had forewarned her. She was walking in the convent garden, in her hour of recreation, tasting the sunny air, and the beauty of the many-coloured tulips in the long narrow borders, between two espalier rows trained with an exquisite neatness, and reputed to bear the finest golden pippins and Bergamot pears within fifty miles of the city. The trees were in blossom, and a wall of pink and white bloom rose up on either hand above the scarlet and amber tulips.
Turning at the end of the long alley, where it met a wall that in August was flushed with the crimson velvet of peaches and nectarines, Angela saw a man advancing from the further end of the walk, attended by a lay sister. The high-crowned hat and pointed beard, the tall figure in a grey doublet crossed with a black sword-belt, the walk, the bearing, were unmistakable. It might have been a figure that had stepped out of Vandyke’s canvas. It had nothing of the fuss and flutter, the feathers and ruffles, the loose flow of brocade and velvet, that marked the costume of the young French Court.
Angela ran to receive her father, and could scarce speak to him, she was so startled, and yet so glad.
“Oh, sir, when I prayed for you at Mass this morning, how little I hoped for so much happiness! I had a letter from Hyacinth only a week ago, and she wrote nothing of your intentions. I knew not that you had crossed the sea.”
“Why, sweetheart, Hyacinth sees me too rarely, and is too full of her own affairs, ever to be beforehand with my intentions; and, although I have been long heartily sick of England, I only made up my mind to come to Flanders less than a week ago. No sooner thought of than done. I came by our old road, in a merchant craft from Harwich to Ostend, and the rest of the way in the saddle. Not quite so fast as they used to ride that carried his Majesty’s post from London to York, in the beginning of the troubles, when the loyal gentlemen along the north road would galop faster with despatches and treaties than ever they rode after a stag. Ah, child, how hopeful we were in those days; and how we all told each other it was but a passing storm at Westminster, which could all be lulled by a little civil concession here and there on the King’s part! And so it might, perhaps, if he would but have conceded the right thing at the right time–yielded but just the inch they asked for when they first asked–instead of shilly-shallying till they got angry, and wanted ells instead of inches. ‘Tis the stitch in time, Angela, that saves trouble, in politics as well as in thy petticoat.”
He had flung his arm round his daughter’s neck as they paced slowly side by side.
“Have you come to stay at Louvain, sir?” she asked, timidly.
“Nay, love, the place is too quiet for me. I could not stay in a town that is given over to learning and piety. The sound of their everlasting carillon would tease my ear with the thought, ‘Lo, another quarter of an hour gone of my poor remnant of days, and nothing to do but to doze in the sunshine or fondle my spaniel, fill my pipe, or ride a lazy horse on a level road, such as I have ever hated.'”
“But why did you tire of England, sir? I thought the King would have wanted you always near him. You, his father’s close friend, who suffered so much for Royal friendship. Surely he loves and cherishes you! He must be a base, ungrateful man if he do not.”
“Oh, the King is grateful, Angela, grateful enough and to spare. He never sees me at Court but he has some gracious speech about his father’s regard for me. It grows irksome at last, by sheer repetition. The turn of the sentence varies, for his Majesty has a fine standing army of words, but the gist of the phrase is always the same, and it means, ‘Here is a tiresome old Put to whom I must say something civil for the sake of his ancient vicissitudes.’ And then his phalanx of foppery stares at me as if I were a Topinambou; and since I have seen them mimic Ned Hyde’s stately speech and manners, I doubt not before I have crossed the ante-room I have served to make sport for the crew, since their wit has but two phases–ordure and mimickry. Look not so glum, daughter. I am glad to be out of a Court which is most like–such places as I dare not name to thee.”
“But to have you disrespected, sir; you, so brave, so noble! You who gave the best years of your life to your royal master!”
“What I gave I gave, child. I gave him youth–that never comes back–and fortune, that is not worth grieving for. And now that I have begun to lose the reckoning of my years since fifty, I feel I had best take myself back to that roving life in which I have no time to brood upon losses and sorrows.”
“Dear father, I am sure you must mistake the King’s feelings towards you. It is not possible that he can think lightly of such devotion as yours.”
“Nay, sweetheart, who said he thinks lightly? He never thinks of me at all, or of anything serious under God’s sky. So long as he has spending money, and can live in a circle of bright eyes, and hear only flippant tongues that offer him a curious incense of flattery spiced with impertinence, Charles Stuart has all of this life that he values. And for the next–a man who is shrewdly suspected of being a papist, while he is attached by gravest vows to the Church of England, must needs hold heaven’s rewards and hell’s torments lightly.”
“But Queen Catherine, sir–does not she favour you? My aunt says she is a good woman.”
“Yes, a good woman, and the nearest approach to a cypher to be found at Hampton Court or Whitehall. Young Lord Rochester has written a poem upon ‘Nothing.’ He might have taken Queen Catherine’s name as a synonym. She is nothing; she counts for nothing. Her love can benefit nobody; her hatred, were the poor soul capable of hating persistently, can do no one harm.”
“And the King–is he so unkind to her?”
“Unkind! No. He allows her to live. Nay, when for a few days–the brief felicity of her poor life–she seemed on the point of dying, he was stricken with remorse for all that he had not been to her, and was kind, and begged her to live for his sake. The polite gentleman meant it for a compliment–one of those pious falsehoods that men murmur in dying ears–but she took him at his word and recovered; and she is there still, a little dark lady in a fine gown, of whom nobody takes any notice, beyond the emptiest formality of bent knees and backward steps. There are long evenings at Hampton Court in which she is scarce spoken to, save when she fawns upon the fortunate lady whom she began by hating. Oh, child, I should not talk to you of these things; but some of the disgust that has made my life bitter bubbles over in spite of me. I am a wanderer and an exile again, dear heart. I would sooner trail a pike abroad than suffer neglect at home. I will fight under any flag so long as it flies not for my country’s foe. I am going back to my old friends at the Louvre, to those few who are old enough to care for me; and if there come a war with Spain, why my sword may be of some small use to young Louis, whose mother was always gracious to me in the old days at St. Germain, when she knew not in the morning whether she would go safe to bed at night. A golden age of peace has followed that wild time; but the Spanish king’s death is like to light the torch and set the war-dogs barking. Louis will thrust his sword through the treaty of the Pyrenees if he see the way to a throne t’other side of the mountains.”
“But could a good man violate a treaty?”
“Ambition knows no laws, sweet, nor ever has since Hannibal.”
“Then King Louis is no better a man than King Charles?”
“I cannot answer for that, Angela; but I’ll warrant him a better king from the kingly point of view. Scarce had death freed him from the Cardinal’s leading-strings than he snatched the reins of power, showed his ministers that he meant to drive the coach. He has a head as fit for business as if he had been the son of a woollen-draper. Mazarin took pains to keep him ignorant of everything that a king ought to know; but that shrewd judgment of his taught him that he must know as much as his servants, unless he wanted them to be his masters. He has the pride of Lucifer, with a strength of will and power of application as great as Richelieu’s. You will live to see that no second Richelieu, no new Mazarin, will arise in his reign. His ministers will serve him, and go down before him, like Nicolas Fouquet, to whom he has been implacable.”
“Poor gentleman! My aunt told me that when his judges sentenced him to banishment from France, the King changed the sentence to imprisonment for life.”
“I doubt if the King ever forgave those fetes at Vaux, which were designed to dazzle Mademoiselle la Valliere, whom this man had the presumption to love. One may pity so terrible a fall, yet it is but the ruin of a bold sensualist, who played with millions as other men play with tennis balls, and who would have drained the exchequer by his briberies and extravagances if he had not been brought to a dead stop. The world has been growing wickeder, dearest, while this fair head has risen from my knee to my shoulder; but what have you to do with its wickedness? Here you are happy and at peace—-“
“Not happy, father, if you are to hazard your life in battles and sieges. Oh, sir, that life is too dear to us, your children, to be risked so lightly. You have done your share of soldiering. Everybody that ever heard your name in England or in France knows it is the name of a brave captain–a leader of men. For our sakes, take your rest now, dear sir. I should not sleep in peace if I knew you were with Conde’s army. I should dream of you wounded and dying. I cannot bear to think of leaving my aunt now that she is old and feeble; but my first duty is to you, and if you want me I will go with you wherever you may please to make your home. I am not afraid of strange countries.”
“Spoken like my sweet daughter, whose baby arms clasped my neck in the day of despair. But you must stay with the reverend mother, sweetheart. These bones of mine must be something stiffer before they will consent to rest in the chimney corner, or sit in the shade of a yew hedge while other men throw the bowls. When I have knocked about the world a few years longer, and when Mother Anastasia is at rest, thou shalt come to me at the Manor, and I will find thee a noble husband, and will end my days with my children and grandchildren. The world has so changed since the forties, that I shall think I have lived centuries instead of decades, when the farewell hour strikes. In the mean time I am pleased that you should be here. The Court is no place for a pure maiden, though some sweet saints there be who can walk unsmirched in the midst of corruption.”
“And Hyacinth? She can walk scatheless through that Court furnace. She writes of Whitehall as if it were Paradise.”
“Hyacinth has a husband to take care of her; a man with a brave headpiece of his own, who lets her spark it with the fairest company in the town, but would make short work of any fop who dared attempt the insolence of a suitor. Hyacinth has seen the worst and the best of two Courts, and has an experience of the Palais Royal and St. Germain which should keep her safe at Whitehall.”
Sir John and his daughter spent half a day together in the garden and the parlour, where the traveller was entertained with a collation and a bottle of excellent Beaujolais before his horse was brought to the door. Angela saw him mount, and ride slowly away in the melancholy afternoon light, and she felt as if he were riding out of her life for ever. She went back to her aunt’s room with an aching heart. Had not that kind lady, her mother in all the essentials of maternal love, been so near the end of her days, and so dependent on her niece’s affection, the girl would have clung about her father’s neck, and implored him to go no more a-soldiering, and to make himself a home with her in England.
THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW.
The reverend mother lingered till the beginning of summer, and it was on a lovely June evening, while the nightingales were singing in the convent garden, that the holy life slipped away into the Great Unknown. She died as a child falls asleep, the saintly grey head lying peacefully on Angela’s supporting arm, the last look of the dying eyes resting on that tender nurse with infinite love.
She was gone, and Angela felt strangely alone. Her contemporaries, the chosen friend who had been to her almost as a sister, the girls by whose side she had sat in class, had all left the convent. At twenty-one years of age, she seemed to belong to a former generation; most of the pupils had finished their education at seventeen or eighteen, and had returned to their homes in Flanders, France, or England. There had been several English pupils, for Louvain and Douai had for a century been the seminaries for English Romanists.
The pupils of to-day were Angela’s juniors, with whom she had nothing in common, except to teach English to a class of small Flemings, who were almost unteachable.
She had heard no more from her father, and knew not where or with whom he might have cast in his lot. She wrote to him under cover to her sister; but of late Hyacinth’s letters had been rare and brief, only long enough, indeed, to apologise for their brevity. Lady Fareham had been in London or at Hampton Court from the beginning of the previous winter. There was talk of the plague having come to London from Amsterdam, that the Privy Council was sitting at Sion House, instead of in London, that the judges had removed to Windsor, and that the Court might speedily remove to Salisbury or Oxford. “And if the Court goes to Oxford, we shall go to Chilton,” wrote Hyacinth; and that was the last of her communications.
July passed without news from father or sister; and Angela grew daily more uneasy about both. The great horror of the plague was in the air. It had been raging in Amsterdam in the previous summer and autumn, and a nun had brought the disease to Louvain, where she might have died in the convent infirmary but for Angela’s devoted attention. She had assisted the over-worked infirmarian at a time of unusual sickness–for there was a good deal of illness among the nuns and pupils that summer–mostly engendered of the fear lest the pestilence in Holland should reach Flanders. Doctor and infirmarian had alike praised the girl’s quiet courage, and her instinct for doing the right thing.
Remembering all the nun had told of the horrors of Amsterdam, Angela awaited with fear and trembling for news from London; and as the summer wore on, every news-letter that reached the Ursulines brought tidings of increasing sickness in the great prosperous city, which was being gradually deserted by all who could afford to travel. The Court had moved first to Hampton Court, in June, and later to Salisbury, where again the French Ambassador’s people reported strange horrors–corpses found lying in the street hard by their lodgings–the King’s servants sickening. The air of the cathedral city was tainted–though deaths had been few as compared with London, which was becoming one vast lazar-house–and it was thought the Court and Ambassadors would remove themselves to Oxford, where Parliament was to assemble in the autumn, instead of at Westminster.
Most alarming of all was the news that the Queen-mother had fled with all her people, and most of her treasures, from her palace at Somerset House–for Henrietta Maria was not a woman to fly before a phantom fear. She had seen too much of the stern realities of life to be scared by shadows; and she had neither establishment nor power in France equal to those she left in England. In Paris the daughter of the great Henry was a dependent. In London she was second only to the King; and her Court was more esteemed than Whitehall.
“If she has fled, there must be reason for it,” said the newly elected Superior, who boasted of correspondents at Paris, notably a cousin in that famous convent, the Visitandines de Chaillot, founded by Queen Henrietta, and which had ever been a centre of political and religious intrigue, the most fashionable, patrician, exalted, and altogether worldly establishment.
Alarmed at this dismal news, Angela wrote urgently to her sister, but with no effect; and the passage of every day, with occasional rumours of an increasing death-rate in London, strengthened her fears, until terror nerved her to a desperate resolve. She would go to London to see her sister; to nurse her if she were sick; to mourn for her if she were dead.
The Superior did all she could to oppose this decision, and even asserted authority over the pupil who, since her eighteenth year had been released from discipline, subject but to the lightest laws of the convent. As the great-niece and beloved child of the late Superior she had enjoyed all possible privileges; while the liberal sum annually remitted for her maintenance gave her a certain importance in the house.
And now on being told she must not go, her spirit rose against the Superior’s authority.
“I recognise no earthly power that can keep me from those I love in their time of peril!” she said.
“You do not know that they are in sickness or danger. My last letters from Paris stated that it was only the low people whom the contagion in London was attacking.”
“If it was only the low people, why did the Queen-mother leave? If it was safe for my sister to be in London it would have been safe for the Queen.”
“Lady Fareham is doubtless in Oxfordshire.”
“I have written to Chilton Abbey as well as to Fareham House, and I can get no answer. Indeed, reverend mother, it is time for me to go to those to whom I belong. I never meant to stay in this house after my aunt’s death. I have only been waiting my father’s orders. If all be well with my sister I shall go to the Manor Moat, and wait his commands quietly there. I am home-sick for England.”
“You have chosen an ill time for home-sickness, when a pestilence is raging.”
Argument could not touch the girl, whose mind was braced for battle. The reverend mother ceded with as good a grace as she could assume, on the top of a very arbitrary temper. An English priest was heard of who was about to travel to London on his return to a noble friend and patron in the north of England, in whose house he had lived before the troubles; and in this good man’s charge Angela was permitted to depart, on a long and weary journey by way of Antwerp and the Scheldt. They were five days at sea, the voyage lengthened by the almost unprecedented calm which had prevailed all that fatal summer–a weary voyage in a small trading vessel, on board which Angela had to suffer every hardship that a delicate woman can be subjected to on board ship: a wretched berth in a floating cellar called a cabin, want of fresh water, of female attendance, and of any food but the coarsest. These deprivations she bore without a murmur. It was only the slowness of the passage that troubled her.
The great city came in view at last, the long roof of St. Paul’s dominating the thickly clustered gables and chimneys, and the vessel dropped anchor opposite the dark walls of the Tower, whose form had been made familiar to Angela by a print in a History of London, which she had hung over many an evening in Mother Anastasia’s parlour. A row-boat conveyed her and her fellow-traveller to the Tower stairs, where they landed, the priest being duly provided with an efficient voucher that they came from a city free of the plague. Yes, this was London. Her foot touched her native soil for the first time after fifteen years of absence. The good-natured priest would not leave her till he had seen her in charge of an elderly and most reputable waterman, recommended by the custodian of the stairs. Then he bade her an affectionate adieu, and fared on his way to a house in the city, where one of his kinsfolk, a devout Catholic, dwelt quietly hidden from the public eye, and where he would rest for the night before setting