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The White Lady of HazelwoodA Tale of the Fourteenth CenturyByEmily Sarah Holt
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The White Lady of Hazelwood
A Tale of the Fourteenth Century
Emily Sarah Holt
Illustrator: W. Rainey
Chapter One. At the Patty-Maker’s Shop.
Chapter Two. The Goldsmith’s Daughter.
Chapter Three. Who can she be?
Chapter Four. The White Lady.
Chapter Five. New and Strange.
Chapter Six. A Thankless Child.
Chapter Seven. On the Terrace.
Chapter Eight. Alners and Samitelle.
Chapter Nine. Mischief.
Chapter Ten. Night Alarms.
Chapter Eleven. Beaten Back.
Chapter Twelve. Wherein Sundry People act Foolishly.
Chapter Thirteen. My Lord Elect of York.
Chapter Fourteen. Posting a Letter.
Chapter Fifteen. Too Little.
Chapter Sixteen. The Request Granted.
Chapter Seventeen. Satisfied at last.
On the crowded canvas of the fourteenth century stands out as one of its most prominent figures that of the warrior Countess of Montfort. No reader of Froissart’s Chronicle can forget the siege of Hennebon, and the valiant part she played in the defence of her son’s dominions. Actuated by more personal motives than the peasant maid, she was nevertheless the Joan of Arc of her day, and of Bretagne.
What became of her?
After the restoration of her son, we see no more of that brave and tender mother. She drops into oblivion. Her work was done. Those who have thought again of her at all have accepted without question the only extant answer—the poor response of a contemporary romance, according to which she dwelt in peace, and closed an honoured and cherished life in a castle in the duchy of her loving and grateful son.
It has been reserved for the present day to find the true reply—to draw back the veil from the “bitter close of all,” and to show that the hardest part of her work began when she laid down her sword, and the ending years of her life were the saddest and weariest portion. Never since the days of Lear has such a tale been told of a parent’s sacrifice and of a child’s ingratitude. In the royal home of the Duke of Bretagne, there was no room for her but for whose love and care he would have been a homeless fugitive. The discarded mother was imprisoned in a foreign land, and left to die.
Let us hope that as it is supposed in the story, the lonely, broken heart turned to a truer love than that of her cherished and cruel son—even to His who says “My mother” of all aged women who seek to do the will of God, and who will never forsake them that trust in Him.
“Man wishes to be loved—expects to be so: And yet how few live so as to be loved!” Rev. Horatius Bonar, D.D.
It was a warm afternoon in the beginning of July—warm everywhere; and particularly so in the house of Master Robert Altham, the patty-maker, who lived at the corner of Saint Martin’s Lane, where it runs down into the Strand. Shall we look along the Strand? for the time is 1372, five hundred years ago, and the Strand was then a very different place from the street as we know it now.
In the first place, Trafalgar Square had no being. Below where it was to be in the far future, stood Charing Cross—the real Eleanor Cross of Charing, a fine Gothic structure—and four streets converged upon it. That to the north-west parted almost directly into the Hay Market and Hedge Lane, genuine country roads, in which both the hay and the hedge had a real existence. Southwards ran King Street down to Westminster; and northwards stood the large building of the King’s Mews, where his Majesty’s hawks were kept. Two hundred years later, bluff King Hal would turn out the hawks to make room for his horses; but as yet the word mews had its proper signification of a place where hawks were mewed or confined. At the corner of the Mews, between it and the patty-maker’s, ran up Saint Martin’s Lane; its western boundary being the long blank wall of the Mews, and its eastern a few houses, and then Saint Martin’s Church. Along the Strand, eastwards, were stately private houses on the right hand, and shops upon the left. Just below the cross, further to the south, was Scotland Yard, the site of the ancient Palace of King David of Scotland, and still bearing traces of its former grandeur; then came the Priory of Saint Mary Rouncival, the town houses of six Bishops, the superb mansion of the Earl of Arundel, and the house of the Bishops of Exeter, interspersed with smaller dwellings here and there. A long row of these stretched between Durham Place and Worcester Place, behind which, with its face to the river, stood the magnificent Palace of the Savoy, the city habitation of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, eldest surviving son of the reigning King. The Strand was far narrower than now, and the two churches, instead of being in the middle, broke the monotony of the rows of houses on the north side. Let us look more especially at the long row which ran unbroken from the corner of Saint Martin’s Lane to the first church, that of “our Lady and the holy Innocents atte Stronde.”
What would first strike the eye was the signboards, gaily painted, and swinging in the summer breeze. Every house had one, for there were no numbers, and these served the purpose; consequently no two similar ones must be near each other. People directed letters to Master Robert Altham, “at the Katherine Wheel, by Saint Martin’s Church, nigh the King’s Mews,” when they had any to write; but letters, except to people in high life or in official positions, were very rare articles, and Master Altham had not received a full dozen in all the seven-and-twenty years that he had lived in the Strand and made patties. Next door to him was John Arnold, the bookbinder, who displayed a Saracen’s head upon his signboard; then came in regular order Julian Walton, the mercer, with a wheelbarrow; Stephen Fronsard, the girdler, with a cardinal’s hat; John Silverton, the pelter or furrier, with a star; Peter Swan, the Court broiderer, with cross-keys; John Morstowe, the luminer, or illuminator of books, with a rose; Lionel de Ferre, the French baker, with a vine; Herman Goldsmith, the Court goldsmith, who bore a dolphin; William Alberton, the forcermonger, who kept what we should call a fancy shop for little boxes, baskets, etcetera, and exhibited a fleur-de-lis; Michael Ladychapman, who sported a unicorn, and sold goloshes; Joel Garlickmonger, at the White Horse, who dealt in the fragrant vegetable whence he derived his name; and Theobald atte Home, the hatter, who being of a poetical disposition, displayed a landscape entitled, as was well understood, the Hart’s Bourne. Beyond these stretched far away to the east other shops—those of a mealman, a lapidary, a cordwainer—namely, a shoemaker; a lindraper, for they had not yet added the syllable which makes it linen; a lorimer, who dealt in bits and bridles; a pouchmonger, who sold bags and pockets; a parchment-maker; a treaclemonger, a spicer, a chandler, and a pepperer, all four the representatives of our modern grocer; an apothecary; a scrivener, who wrote for the numerous persons who could not write; a fuller, who cleaned clothes; a tapiser, who sold tapestry, universally used for hangings of rooms; a barber, an armourer, a spurrier, a scourer, a dyer, a glover, a turner, a goldbeater, an upholdester or upholsterer, a toothdrawer, a buckler-maker, a fletcher (who feathered arrows), a poulter or poulterer, a vinter or wine-merchant, a pewterer, a haberdasher, a pinner or pin-maker, a skinner, a hamper-maker, and a hosier. The list might be prolonged through fifty other trades, but we have reached Temple Bar. So few houses between Saint Martin’s Lane and Temple Bar! Yes, so few. Ground was cheap, and houses were low, and it cost less to cover much ground than to build high. Only very exalted mansions had three floors, and more than three were unknown even to imagination. Moreover, the citizens of London had decided ideas of the garden order. They did not crush their houses tight together, as if to squeeze out another inch, if possible. Though their streets were exceedingly narrow, yet nearly every house had its little garden; and behind that row to which we are paying particular attention, ran “le Covent Garden,” the Abbot of Westminster’s private pleasure ground, and on its south-east was Auntrous’ Garden, bordered by “the King’s highway, leading from the town of Seint Gylys to Stronde Crosse.” The town of Seint Gylys was quite a country place, and as to such remote villages as Blumond’s Bury or Iseldon, which we call Bloomsbury and Islington, nobody thought of them in connection with London, any more than with Nottingham or Durham.
The houses were much more picturesque than those of modern build. There was no attempt at uniformity. Each man set his house down as it suited him, and some thatches turned to the east and west, while others fronted north and south. There were few chimneys, except in the larger houses, and no shop windows; a large wooden shutter fixed below the window covered it at night, and in the day it was let down to hang, tablewise, as a counter whereon the goods sold by the owner were displayed.
The Strand was one of the few chief streets where various trades congregated together. Usually every street had its special calling, and every trade its own particular street. Some of the latter retain their significant names even yet—Hosier Lane, Cordwainer Street, Bread Street, Soper’s Lane, the Poultry, Silver Street, Ironmonger’s Lane, and Paternoster Row, in which last lived the text-writers and rosary-makers. The mercers lived mainly in Cheapside, the drapers in Lombard Street (they were mostly Italians, as the name shows), the furriers in Saint Mary Axe, the fishmongers in Knightriders’ Street, the brewers by the Thames, the butchers in Eastcheap, and the goldsmiths in Guthrum’s (now Gutter) Lane.
But it is time to inquire what kind of patties were inviting the passer-by on Mr. Altham’s counter. They were a very large variety: oyster, crab, lobster, anchovy, and all kinds of fish; sausage-rolls, jelly, liver, galantine, and every sort of meat; ginger, honey, cream, fruit; cheese-cakes, almond and lemon; little open tarts called bry tarts, made of literal cheese, with a multitude of other articles—eggs, honey or sugar, and spices; and many another compound of multifarious and indigestible edibles; for what number of incongruities, palatable or sanitary, did our forefathers not put together in a pie! For one description of dainty, however, Mr. Altham would have been asked on this July afternoon in vain. He would have deemed it next door to sacrilege to heat his oven for a mince pie, outside the charmed period between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Day.
On the afternoon in question, Mr. Altham stepped out of his door to speak with his neighbour the girdler, and no sooner was he well out of the way than another person walked into it. This was a youth of some eighteen years, dressed in a very curious costume. Men did not affect black clothes then, except in mourning; and the taste of few led them to the sombre browns and decorous greys worn by most now. This young gentleman had on a tunic of dark red, in shape not unlike a butcher’s blue frock, which was fastened round the hips by a girdle of black leather, studded with brass spangles. His head was covered by a loose hood of bright blue, and his hose or stockings—for stockings and trousers were in one—were a light, bright shade of apple-green. Low black shoes completed this showy costume, but it was not more showy than that of every other man passing along the street. Our young man seemed rather anxious not to be seen, for he cast sundry suspicious glances in the direction of the girdler’s, and having at length apparently satisfied himself that the patty-maker was not likely to return at once, he darted across the street, and presented himself at the window of the corner shop. Two girls were sitting behind it, whose ages were twenty and seventeen. These young ladies were scarcely so smart as the gentleman. The elder wore a grey dress striped with black, over which was a crimson kirtle or pelisse, with wide sleeves and tight grey ones under them; a little green cap sat on her light hair, which was braided in two thick masses, one on each side of the face. The younger wore a dress of the same light green as the youth’s hose, with a silvery girdle, and a blue cap.
“Mistress Alexandra!” said the youth in a loud whisper.
The elder girl took no notice of him. The younger answered as if she had just discovered his existence, though in truth she had seen him coming all the time.
“O Clement Winkfield, is that you? We’ve no raffyolys (Sausage-rolls) left, if that be your lack.”
“I thank you, Mistress Ricarda; but I lack nought o’ the sort. Mistress Alexandra knoweth full well that I come but to beg a kind word from her.”
“I’ve none to spare this even,” said the elder, with a toss of her head.
“But you will, sweet heart, when you hear my tidings.”
“What now? Has your mother bought a new kerchief, or the cat catched a mouse?”
“Nay, sweet heart, mock me not! Here be grand doings, whereof my Lord talked this morrow at dinner, I being awaiting. What say you to a goodly tournament at the Palace of the Savoy?”
“I dare reckon you fell asleep and dreamed thereof.”
“Mistress Alexandra, you’d make a saint for to swear! Howbeit, if you reck not thereof,—I had meant for to practise with my cousin at Arundel House, for to get you standing room with the maids yonder; but seeing you have no mind thereto—I dare warrant Mistress Joan Silverton shall not say me nay, and may be Mistress Argenta—”
“Come within, Clement, and eat a flaune,” said Ricarda in a very different tone, taking up a dish of cheese-cakes from the counter. “When shall the jousting be?”
“Oh, it makes no bones, Mistress Ricarda. Your sister hath no mind thereto, ’tis plain.”
However, Clement suffered himself to be persuaded to do what he liked, and Ricarda going close to her sister to fetch a plate, whispered to her a few words of warning as to what she might lose by too much coldness, whereupon the fair Alexandra thawed somewhat, and condescended to seem slightly interested in the coming event. Ricarda, however, continued to do most of the talking.
Clement Winkfield was scullion in the Bishop of Durham’s kitchen, and would have been considered in that day rather a good match for a tradesman’s daughter; for anything in the form of manufacture or barter was then in a very mean social position. Domestic service stood much higher than it does now; and though Mr. Altham’s daughters were heiresses in a small way, they could not afford to despise Clement Winkfield, except as a political stratagem.
“And what like shall the jousting be, Clement?” asked Ricarda, when that young gentleman had been satisfactorily settled on a form inside the shop, with a substantial cheese-cake before him—not a mere mouthful, but a large oval tart from which two or three people might be helped.
“It shall be the richest and rarest show was seen this many a day, my mistress,” replied Clement, having disposed of his first bite. “In good sooth, Mistress, but you wot how to make flaunes! My Lord hath none such on his table.”
“That was Saundrina’s making,” observed Ricarda with apparent carelessness.
“Dear heart! That’s wherefore it’s so sweet, trow,” responded Clement gallantly.
Alexandra laughed languidly. “Come now, Clem, tell us all about the jousting, like a good lad as thou art, and win us good places to see the same, and I will make thee a chowet-pie (liver-pie) of the best,” said she, laying aside her affected indifference.
“By my troth, I’ll talk till my tongue droppeth on the floor,” answered the delighted Clement; “and I have heard all of Will Pierpoint, that is in my Lord of Arundel his stable, and is thick as incle-weaving with one of my Lord of Lancaster his palfreymen. The knights be each one in a doublet of white linen, spangled of silver, having around the sleeves and down the face thereof a border of green cloth, whereon is broidered the device chosen, wrought about with clouds and vines of golden work. The ladies and damsels be likewise in green and white. For the knights, moreover, there be masking visors, fourteen of peacocks’ heads, and fourteen of maidens’ heads, the one sort to tilt against the other. My Lord Duke of Lancaster, that is lord of the revels, beareth a costume of white velvet paled with cramoisie (striped with crimson velvet), whereon be wrought garters of blue, and the Lady of Cambridge, that is lady of the jousts, and shall give the prizes, shall be in Inde-colour (blue), all wrought with roses of silver. There be at this present forty women broiderers a-working in the Palace, in such haste they be paid mighty high wage—fourpence halfpenny each one by the day.”
In order to understand the value of these payments, we must multiply them by about sixteen. The wages of a broideress, according to the present worth of money, were, when high, six shillings a day.
“And the device, what is it?”
“Well, I counsel not any man to gainsay it. ‘It is as it is’—there you have it.”
“Truly, a merry saying. And when shall it be, Clem?”
Mistress Alexandra was quite gracious now.
“Thursday shall be a fortnight, being Saint Maudlin’s Day, at ten o’ the clock in the forenoon. Will hath passed word to me to get me in, and two other with me. You’ll come, my mistresses? There’ll not be room for Mistress Amphillis; I’m sorry.”
Alexandra tossed her head very contemptuously.
“What does Amphillis want of jousts?” said she. “She’s fit for nought save to sift flour and cleanse vessels when we have a-done with them. And she hasn’t a decent kirtle, never name a hood. I wouldn’t be seen in her company for forty shillings.”
“Saundrina’s been at Father to put her forth,” added Ricarda, “if he could but hear of some service in the country, where little plenishing were asked. There’s no good laying no money out on the like of her.”
A soft little sound at the door made them look round. A girl was standing there, of about Clement’s age—a pale, quiet-looking girl, who seemed nervously afraid of making her presence known, apparently lest she should be blamed for being there or anywhere. Alexandra spoke sharply.
“Come within and shut the door, Amphillis, and stare not thus like a goose! What wouldst?”
Amphillis neither came in nor shut the door. She held it in her hand, while she said in a shy way, “The patties are ready to come forth, if one of you will come,” and then she disappeared, as if frightened of staying a minute longer than she could help.
“‘Ready to come forth!’” echoed Ricarda. “Cannot the stupid thing take them forth by herself?”
“I bade her not do so,” explained her sister, “but call one of us—she is so unhandy. Go thou, Ricarda, or she’ll be setting every one wrong side up.”
Ricarda, with a martyr-like expression—which usually means an expression very unlike a martyr’s—rose and followed Amphillis. Alexandra, thus left alone with Clement, became so extra amiable as to set that not over-wise youth on a pinnacle of ecstasy, until she heard her father’s step, when she dismissed him hastily.
She did not need to have been in a hurry, for the patty-maker was stopped before he reached the threshold, by a rather pompous individual in white and blue livery. Liveries were then worn far more commonly than now—not by servants only, but by officials of all kinds, and by gentlemen retainers of the nobles—sometimes even by nobles themselves. To wear a friend’s livery was one of the highest compliments that could be paid. Mr. Altham knew by a glance at his costume that the man who had stopped him bore some office in the household of the Duke of Lancaster, since he not only wore that Prince’s livery, but bore his badge, the ostrich feather ermine, affixed to his left sleeve.
“Master Altham the patty-maker, I take it?”
“He, good my master, and your servant.”
“A certain lady would fain wit of you, Master, if you have at this present dwelling with you a daughter named Amphillis?”
“I have no daughter of that name. I have two daughters, whose names be Alexandra and Ricarda, that dwell with me; likewise one wedded, named Isabel. I have a niece named Amphillis.”
“That dwelleth with you?”
“Ay, she doth at this present, sithence my sister, her mother, is departed (dead); but—”
“You have had some thought of putting her forth, maybe?”
Mr. Altham looked doubtful.
“Well! We have talked thereof, I and my maids; but no certain end was come to thereabout.”
“That is it which the lady has heard. Mistress Walton the silkwoman, at the Wheelbarrow, spake with this lady, saying such a maid there was, for whom you sought service; and the lady wotteth (knows) of a gentlewoman with whom she might be placed an’ she should serve, and the service suited your desires for her.”
“Pray you, come within, and let us talk thereon at our leisure. I am beholden to Mistress Walton; she knew I had some thoughts thereanent (about it), and she hath done me a good turn to name it.”
The varlet, as he was then called, followed Mr. Altham into the shop. Aralet is a contraction of this word. But varlet, at that date, was a term of wide signification, including any type of personal attendant. The varlet of a duke would be a gentleman by birth and education, for gentlemen were not above serving nobles even in very menial positions. People had then, in some respects, “less nonsense about them” than now, and could not see that it was any degradation for one man to hand a plate to another.
Alexandra rose when the varlet made his appearance. She did not keep a heart, and she did keep a large stock of vanity. She was consequently quite ready to throw over Clement Winkfield as soon as ever a more eligible suitor should present himself; and her idea of mankind ranged them in two classes—such as were, and such as were not, eligible suitors for Alexandra Altham.
Mr. Altham, however, led his guest straight through the shop and upstairs, thus cutting short Miss Altham’s wiles and graces. He took him into what we should call his study, a very little room close to his bedchamber, and motioned him to the only chair it contained; for chairs were rare and choice things, the form or bench being the usual piece of furniture. Before shutting the door, however, he called—“Phyllis!”
Somebody unseen to the varlet answered the call, and received directions in a low voice. Mr. Altham then came in and shut the door.
“I have bidden the maid bring us hypocras and spice,” said he; “so you shall have a look at her.”
Hypocras was a very light wine, served as tea now is in the afternoon, and spice was a word which covered all manner of good things—not only pepper, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmegs, but rice, almonds, ginger, and even gingerbread.
Mr. Tynneslowe—for so the varlet was named—sat down in the chair, and awaited the tray and Amphillis.
“I can live A life that tells on other lives, and makes This world less full of evil and of pain— A life which, like a pebble dropped at sea, Sends its wide circles to a hundred shores.” Rev. Horatius Bonar, D.D.
The coming hypocras interested Mr. Tynneslowe more than its bearer. He was privately wondering, as he sat awaiting it, whether Mr. Altham would have any in his cellar that was worth drinking, especially after that of his royal master. His next remark, however, had reference to Amphillis.
“It makes little matter, good Master, that I see the maid,” said he. “The lady or her waiting-damsels shall judge best of her. You and I can talk over the money matters and such. I am ill-set to judge of maids: they be kittle gear.”
“Forsooth, they be so!” assented Mr. Altham, with a sigh: for his fair and wayward Alexandra had cost him no little care before that summer afternoon. “And to speak truth, Master Tynneslowe, I would not be sorry to put the maid forth, for she is somewhat a speckled bird in mine house, whereat the rest do peck. Come within!”
The door of the little chamber opened, and Amphillis appeared carrying a tray, whereon was set a leather bottle flanked by two silver cups, a silver plate containing cakes, and a little silver-gilt jar with preserved ginger. Glass and china were much too rare and costly articles for a tradesman to use, but he who had not at least two or three cups and plates of silver in his closet was a very poor man. Of course these, by people in Mr. Altham’s position, were kept for best, the articles commonly used being pewter or wooden plates, and horn cups.
Amphillis louted to the visitor—that is, she dropped what we call a charity school-girl’s “bob”—and the visitor rose and courtesied in reply, for the courtesy was then a gentleman’s reverence. She set down the tray, poured out wine for her uncle and his guest into the silver cups, handed the cakes and ginger, and then quietly took her departure.
“A sober maid and a seemly, in good sooth,” said Mr. Tynneslowe, when the door was shut. “Hath she her health reasonable good? She looks but white.”
“Ay, good enough,” said the patty-maker, who knew that Amphillis was sufficiently teased and worried by those lively young ladies, her cousins, to make any girl look pale.
“Good. Well, what wages should content you?”
Mr. Altham considered that question with pursed lips and hands in his pockets.
“Should you count a mark (13 shillings 4 pence) by the year too much?”
This would come to little over ten pounds a year at present value, and seems a very poor salary for a young lady; but it must be remembered that she was provided with clothing, as well as food and lodging, and that she was altogether free from many expenses which we should reckon necessaries—umbrellas and parasols, watches, desks, stamps, and stationery.
“Scarce enough, rather,” was the unexpected answer. “Mind you, Master Altham, I said a lady.”
Master Altham looked curious and interested. We call every woman a lady who has either money or education; but in 1372 ranks were more sharply defined. Only the wives and daughters of a prince, peer, or knight were termed ladies; the wives of squires and gentlemen were gentlewomen; while below that they were simply called wives or maids, according as they were married or single.
“This lady, then, shall be—Mercy on us! Sure, Master Tynneslowe, you go not about to have the maid into the household of my Lady’s Grace of Cambridge, or the Queen’s Grace herself of Castile?”
The Duke of Lancaster having married the heiress of Castile, he and his wife were commonly styled King and Queen of Castile.
Mr. Tynneslowe laughed. “Nay, there you fly your hawk at somewhat too high game,” said he; “nathless (nevertheless), Master Altham, it is a lady whom she shall serve, and a lady likewise who shall judge if she be meet for the place. But first shall she be seen of a certain gentlewoman of my lady’s household, that shall say whether she promise fair enough to have her name sent up for judgment. I reckon three nobles (one pound; present value, 6 pounds) by the year shall pay her reckoning.”
“Truly, I would be glad she had so good place. And for plenishing, what must she have?”
“Store sufficient of raiment is all she need have, and such jewelling as it shall please you to bestow on her. All else shall be found. The gentlewoman shall give her note of all that lacketh, if she be preferred to the place.”
“And when shall she wait on the said gentlewoman?”
“Next Thursday in the even, at Master Goldsmith’s.”
“I will send her.”
Mr. Tynneslowe declined a second helping of hypocras, and took his leave. The patty-maker saw him to the door, and then went back into his shop.
“I have news for you, maids,” said he.
Ricarda, who was arranging the fresh patties, looked up and stopped her proceedings; Alexandra brought her head in from the window. Amphillis only, who sat sewing in the corner, went on with her work as if the news were not likely to concern her.
“Phyllis, how shouldst thou like to go forth to serve a lady?”
A bright colour flushed into the pale cheeks.
“I, Uncle?” she said.
“A lady!” cried Alexandra in a much shriller voice, the word which had struck her father’s ear so lightly being at once noted by her. “Said you a lady, Father? What lady, I pray you?”
“That cannot I say, daughter. Phyllis, thou art to wait on a certain gentlewoman, at Master Goldsmith’s, as next Thursday in the even, that shall judge if thou shouldst be meet for the place. Don thee in thy best raiment, and mind thy manners.”
“May I go withal, Father?” cried Alexandra.
“There was nought said about thee. Wouldst thou fain be put forth? I never thought of no such a thing. Maybe it had been better that I had spoken for you, my maids.”
“I would not go forth to serve a city wife, or such mean gear,” said Alexandra, contemptuously. “But in a lady’s household I am well assured I should become the place better than Phyllis. Why, she has not a word to say for herself,—a poor weak creature that should never—”
“Hush, daughter! Taunt not thy cousin. If she be a good maid and discreet, she shall be better than fair and foolish.”
“Gramercy! Cannot a maid be fair and discreet belike?”
“Soothly so. ’Tis pity she is not oftener.”
“But may we not go withal, Father?” said Ricarda.
“Belike ye may, my maid. Bear in mind the gentlewoman looks to see Amphillis, not you, and make sure that she wist which is she. Then I see not wherefore ye may not go.”
Any one who had lived in Mr. Altham’s house from that day till the Thursday following would certainly have thought that Alexandra, not Amphillis, was the girl chosen to go. The former made far more fuss about it, and she was at the same time preparing a new mantle wherein to attend the tournament, of which Amphillis was summoned to do all the plain and uninteresting parts. The result of this preoccupation would have been very stale pastry on the counter, if her father had not seen to that item for himself. Ricarda was less excited and egotistical, yet she talked more than Amphillis.
The Thursday evening came, and the three girls, dressed in their best clothes, took their way to the Dolphin. The Court goldsmith was a more select individual than Mr. Altham, and did not serve in his own shop, unless summoned to a customer of rank. The young men who were there had evidently been prepared for the girls’ coming, and showed them upstairs with a fire of jokes which Alexandra answered smartly, while Amphillis was silent under them.
They were ushered into the private chamber of the goldsmith’s daughter, who sat at work, and rose to receive them. She kissed them all, for kissing was then the ordinary form of greeting, and people only shook hands when they wished to be warmly demonstrative.
“Is the gentlewoman here, Mistress Regina?”
“Sit you down,” said Mistress Regina, calmly. “No, she is not yet come. She will not long be. Which of you three is de maiden dat go shall?”
“That my cousin is,” said Alexandra, making fun of the German girl’s somewhat broken English, though in truth she spoke it fairly for a foreigner. But Amphillis said gently—
“That am I, Mistress Regina; and I take it full kindly of you, that you should suffer me to meet this gentlewoman in your chamber.”
“So!” was the answer. “You shall better serve of de three.”
Alexandra had no time to deliver the rather pert reply which she was preparing, for the door opened, and the young man announced “Mistress Chaucer.”
Had the girls known that the lady who entered was the wife of a man before whose fame that of many a crowned monarch would pale, and whose poetry should live upon men’s lips when five hundred years had fled, they would probably have looked on her with very different eyes. But they knew her only as a Lady of the Bedchamber, first to the deceased Queen Philippa, and now to the Queen of Castile, and therefore deserving of all possible subservience. Of her husband they never thought at all. The “chiel amang ’em takin’ notes” made no impression on them: but five centuries have passed since then, and the chiel’s notes are sterling yet in England.
Mistress Chaucer sat down on the bench, and with quiet but rapid glances appraised the three girls. Then she said to Amphillis—
“Is it thou whom I came to see?”
Amphillis louted, and modestly assented, after which the lady took no further notice of the two who were the more anxious to attract her attention.
“And what canst thou do?” she said.
“What I am told, Mistress,” said Amphillis.
“Ach!” murmured Regina; “you den can much do.”
“Ay, thou canst do much,” quietly repeated Mistress Chaucer. “Canst dress hair?”
Amphillis thought she could. She might well, for her cousins made her their maid, and were not easily pleased mistresses.
“Thou canst cook, I cast no doubt, being bred at a patty-shop?”
“Mistress, I have only dwelt there these six months past. My father was a poor gentleman that died when I was but a babe, and was held to demean himself by wedlock with my mother, that was sister unto mine uncle, Master Altham. Mine uncle was so kindly as to take on him the charge of breeding me up after my father died, and he set my mother and me in a little farm that ’longeth to him in the country: and at after she departed likewise, he took me into his house. I know somewhat of cookery, an’ it like you, but not to even my good cousins here.”
“Oh, Phyllis is a metely fair cook, when she will give her mind thereto,” said Alexandra with a patronising air, and a little toss of her head—a gesture to which that young lady was much addicted.
A very slight look of amusement passed across Mistress Chaucer’s face, but she did not reply to the remark.
“And thy name?” she asked, still addressing Amphillis.
“Amphillis Neville, and your servant, Mistress.”
“Canst hold thy peace when required so to do?” Amphillis smiled. “I would endeavour myself so to do.”
“Canst be patient when provoked of other?”
“With God’s grace, Mistress, I so trust.” Alexandra’s face wore an expression of dismay. It had never occurred to her that silence and patience were qualities required in a bower-maiden, as the maid or companion to a lady was then called; for the maid was the companion then, and was usually much better educated than now—as education was understood at that time. In Alexandra’s eyes the position was simply one which gave unbounded facilities for flirting, laughing, and giddiness in general. She began to think that Amphillis was less to be envied than she had supposed.
“And thou wouldst endeavour thyself to be meek and buxom (humble and submissive) in all things to them that should be set over thee?”
“I would so, my mistress.”
“What fashions of needlework canst do?”
“Mistress, I can sew, and work tapestry, and embroider somewhat if the pattern be not too busy (elaborate, difficult). I would be glad to learn the same more perfectly.”
Mistress Chaucer rose. “I think thou wilt serve,” said she. “But I can but report the same—the deciding lieth not with me. Mistress Regina, I pray you to allow of another to speak with this maid in your chamber to-morrow in the even, and this time it shall be the lady that must make choice. Not she that shall be thy mistress, my maid; she dwelleth not hereaway, but far hence.”
Amphillis cared very little where her future duties were to lie. She was grateful to her uncle, but she could hardly be said to love him; and her cousins had behaved to her in such a style, that the sensation called forth towards them was a long way from love. She felt alone in the world; and it did not much signify in what part of that lonely place she was set down to work. The only point about which she cared at all was, that she was rather glad to hear she was not to stay in London; for, like old Earl Douglas, she “would rather hear the lark sing than the mouse cheep.”
The girls louted to Mistress Chaucer, kissed Regina, and went down into the shop, which they found filled with customers, and Master Herman himself waiting on them, they being of sufficient consequence for the notice of that distinguished gentleman. On the table set in the midst of the shop—which, like most tables at that day, was merely a couple of boards laid across trestles—was spread a blue cloth, whereon rested various glittering articles—a silver basin, a silver-gilt bottle, a cup of gold, and another of a fine shell set in gold, a set of silver apostle spoons, so-called because the handle of each represented one of the apostles, and another spoon of beryl ornamented with gold; but none of them seemed to suit the customers, who were looking for a suitable christening gift.
“Ach! Dey vill not do!” ejaculated Master Herman, spreading out his fat fingers and beringed thumbs. “Then belike we must de jewels try. It is a young lady, de shild? Gut! Den look you here. Here is de botoner of perry (button-hook of goldsmith’s work), and de bottons—twelf—wrought wid garters, wid lilies, wid bears, wid leetle bells, or wid a reason (motto)—you can haf what reason you like. Look you here again, Madam—de ouches (brooches)—an eagle of gold and enamel, Saint George and de dragon, de white hart, de triangle of diamonds; look you again, de paternosters (rosaries), dey are lieblich! Gold and coral, gold and pearls, gold and rubies; de rings, sapphire and ruby and diamond and smaragdus (emerald)—ach! I have it. Look you here!”
And from an iron chest, locked with several keys, Master Herman produced something wrapped carefully in white satin, and took off the cover as if he were handling a baby.
“Dere!” he cried, holding up a golden chaplet, or wreath for the head, of ruby flowers and leaves wrought in gold, a large pearl at the base of every leaf—“dere! You shall not see a better sight in all de city—ach! Not in Nuremburg nor Cöln. Dat is what you want—it is schön, schön! And dirt sheap it is—only von hundert marks. You take it?”
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