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THE ONE HOPE
"There's some fearful tie
Between me and that spirit world, which God
Brands with His terrors on my troubled mind."
The final blow had fallen upon Anne Woodford so suddenly that for the first few days she moved about as one in a dream. Lady Archfield came to her on the first day, and showed her motherly kindness, and Lucy was with her as much as was possible under the exactions of young Madam, who was just sufficiently unwell to resent attention being paid to any other living creature. She further developed a jealousy of Lucy's affection for any other friend such as led to a squabble between her and her husband, and made her mother-in-law unwillingly acquiesce in the expediency of Anne's being farther off.
And indeed Anne herself felt so utterly forlorn and desolate that an impatience of the place came over her. She was indeed fond of her uncle, but he was much absorbed in his studies, his parish, and in anxious correspondence on the state of the Church, and was scarcely a companion to her, and without her mother to engross her love and attention, and cut off from the Archfields as she now was, there was little to counterbalance the restless feeling that London and the precincts of the Court were her natural element. So she wrote her letters according to her mother's desire, and waited anxiously for the replies, feeling as if anything would be preferable to her present unhappiness and solitude.
The answers came in due time. Mrs. Evelyn promised to try to find a virtuous and godly lady who would be willing to receive Mistress Anne Woodford into her family, and Lady Oglethorpe wrote with vaguer promises of high preferment, which excited Anne's imagination during those lonely hours that she had to spend while her strict mourning, after the custom of the time, secluded her from all visitors.
Meantime, in that anxious spring of 1688, when the Church of England was looking to her defences, the Doctor could not be much at home, and when he had time to listen to private affairs, he heard reports which did not please him of Peregrine Oakshott. That the young men in the county all abhorred his fine foreign airs was no serious evil, though it might be suspected that his sharp ironical tongue had quite as much to do with their dislike as his greater refinement of manner.
His father was reported to be very seriously displeased with him, for he openly expressed contempt of the precise ways of the household, and absented himself in a manner that could scarcely be attributed to aught but the licentious indulgences of the time; and as he seldom mingled in the amusements of the young country gentlemen, it was only too probable that he found a lower grade of companions in Portsmouth. Moreover his talk, random though it might be, offended all the Whig opinions of his father. He talked with the dogmatism of the traveller of the glories of Louis XIV, and broadly avowed his views that the grandeur of the nation was best established under a king who asked no questions of people or Parliament, 'that senseless set of chattering pies,' as he was reported to have called the House of Commons.
He sang the praises of the gracious and graceful Queen Mary Beatrice, and derided 'the dried-up Orange stick,' as he called the hope of the Protestants; nor did he scruple to pronounce Popery the faith of chivalrous gentlemen, far preferable to the whining of sullen Whiggery. No one could tell how far all this was genuine opinion, or simply delight in contradiction, especially of his father, who was in a constant state of irritation at the son whom he could so little manage.
And in the height of the wrath of the whole of the magistracy at the expulsion of their lord-lieutenant, the Earl of Gainsborough, and the substitution of the young Duke of Berwick, what must Peregrine do but argue in high praise of that youth, whom he had several times seen and admired. And when not a gentleman in the neighbourhood chose to greet the intruder when he arrived as governor of Portsmouth, Peregrine actually rode in to see him, and dined with him. Words cannot express the Major's anger and shame at such consorting with a person, whom alike, on account of parentage, religion, and education, he regarded as a son of perdition. Yet Peregrine would only coolly reply that he knew many a Protestant who would hardly compare favourably with young Berwick.
It was an anxious period that spring of 1688. The order to read the King's Declaration of Indulgence from the pulpit had come as a thunder-clap upon the clergy. The English Church had only known rest for twenty-eight years, and now, by this unconstitutional assumption of prerogative, she seemed about to be given up to be the prey of Romanists on the one hand and Nonconformists on the other; though for the present the latter were so persuaded that the Indulgence was merely a disguised advance of Rome that they were not at all grateful, expecting, as Mr. Horncastle observed, only to be the last devoured, and he was as much determined as was Dr. Woodford not to announce it from his pulpit, whatever might be the consequence; the latter thus resigning all hopes of promotion.
News letters, public and private, were eagerly scanned. Though the diocesan, Bishop Mew, took no active part in the petition called a libel, being an extremely aged man, the imprisonment of Ken, so deeply endeared to Hampshire hearts when Canon of Winchester and Rector of Brighstone, and with the Bloody Assize and the execution of Alice Lisle fresh in men's memories, there could not but be extreme anxiety.
In the midst arrived the tidings that a son had been born to the king--a son instantly baptized by a Roman Catholic priest, and no doubt destined by James to rivet the fetters of Rome upon the kingdom, destroying at once the hope of his elder sister's accession. Loyal Churchmen like the Archfields still hoped, recollecting how many infants had been born in the royal family only to die; but at Oakwood the Major and his chaplain shook their heads, and spoke of warming pans, to the vehement displeasure of Peregrine, who was sure to respond that the Queen was an angel, and that the Whigs credited every one with their own sly tricks.
The Major groaned, and things seemed to have reached a pass very like open enmity between father and son, though Peregrine still lived at home, and reports were rife that the year of mourning for his brother being expired, he was, as soon as he came of age, to be married to Mistress Martha Browning, and have an establishment of his own at Emsworth.
Under these circumstances, it was with much satisfaction that Dr. Woodford said to his niece: "Child, here is an excellent offer for you. Lady Russell, who you know has returned to live at Stratton, has heard you mentioned by Lady Mildmay. She has just married her eldest daughter, and needs a companion to the other, and has been told of you as able to speak French and Italian, and otherwise well trained. What! do you not relish the proposal?"
"Why, sir, would not my entering such a house do you harm at Court, and lessen your chance of preferment?"
"Think not of that, my child."
"Besides," added Anne, "since Lady Oglethorpe has written, it would not be fitting to engage myself elsewhere before hearing from her again."
"You think so, Anne. Lady Russell's would be a far safer, better home for you than the Court."
Anne knew it, but the thought of that widowed home depressed her. It might, she thought, be as dull as Oakwood, and there would be infinite chances of preferment at Court. What she said, however, was: "It was by my mother's wish that I applied to Lady Oglethorpe."
"That is true, child. Yet I cannot but believe that if she had known of Lady Russell's offer, she would gladly and thankfully have accepted it."
So said the secret voice within the girl herself, but she did not yet yield to it. "Perhaps she would, sir," she answered, "if the other proposal were not made. 'Tis a Whig household though."
"A Whig household is a safer one than a Popish one," answered the Doctor. "Lady Russell is, by all they tell me, a very saint upon earth."
Shall it be owned? Anne thought of Oakwood, and was not attracted towards a saint upon earth. "How soon was the answer to be given?" she asked.
"I believe she would wish you to meet her at Winchester next week, when, if you pleased her, you might return with her to Stratton."
The Doctor hoped that Lady Oglethorpe's application might fail, but before the week was over she forwarded the definite appointment of Mistress Anne Jacobina Woodford as one of the rockers of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, his Majesty having been graciously pleased to remember her father's services and his own sponsorship. "If your friends consider the office somewhat beneath you," wrote Lady Oglethorpe, "it is still open to you to decline it."
"Oh no; I would certainly not decline it!" cried Anne. "I could not possibly do so; could I, sir?"
"Lady Oglethorpe says you might," returned the Doctor; "and for my part, niece, I should prefer the office of a gouvernante to that of a rocker."
"Ah, but it is to a Prince!" said Anne. "It is the way to something further."
"And what may that something further be? That is the question," said her uncle. "I will not control you, my child, for the application to this Court lady was by the wish of your good mother, who knew her well, but I own that I should be far more at rest on your account if you were in a place of less temptation."
"The Court is very different from what it was in the last King's time," pleaded Anne.
"In some degree it may be; but on the other hand, the influence which may have purified it is of the religion that I fear may be a seduction."
"Oh no, never, uncle; nothing could make me a Papist."
"Do not be over confident, Anne. Those who run into temptation are apt to be left to themselves."
"Indeed, sir, I cannot think that the course my mother shaped for me can be a running into temptation."
"Well, Anne, as I say, I cannot withstand you, since it was your mother who requested Lady Oglethorpe's patronage for you, though I tell you sincerely that I believe that had the two courses been set before her she would have chosen the safer and more private one.
"Nay but, dear sir," still pleaded the maiden, "what would become of your chances of preferment if it were known that you had placed me with Lord Russell's widow in preference to the Queen?"
"Let not that weigh with you one moment, child. I believe that no staunch friend of our Protestant Church will be preferred by his Majesty; nay, while the Archbishop and my saintly friend of Bath and Wells are persecuted, I should be ashamed to think of promotion. Spurn the thought from you, child."
"Nay, 'twas only love for you, dear uncle."
"I know it, child. I am not displeased, only think it over, and pray over it, since the post will not go out until to-morrow."
Anne did think, but not quite as her uncle intended. The remembrance of the good-natured young Princesses, the large stately rooms, the brilliant dresses, the radiance of wax lights, had floated before her eyes ever since her removal from Chelsea to the quieter regions of Winchester, and she had longed to get back to them. She really loved her uncle, and whatever he might say, she longed to push his advancement, and thought his unselfish abnegation the greater reason for working for him; and in spite of knowing well that it was only a dull back-stair appointment, she could look to the notice of Princess Anne, when once within her reach, and further, with the confidence of youth, believed that she had that within her which would make her way upwards, and enable her to confer promotion, honour, and dignity, on all her friends. Her uncle should be a Bishop, Charles a Peer (fancy his wife being under obligations to the parson's niece!), Lucy should have a perfect husband, and an appointment should be found for poor Peregrine which his father could not gainsay. It was her bounden duty not to throw away such advantages; besides loyalty to her Royal godfather could not permit his offer to be rejected, and her mother, when writing to Lady Oglethorpe, must surely have had some such expectation. Nor should she be entirely cut off from her uncle, who was a Royal chaplain; and this was some consolation to the good Doctor when he found her purpose fixed, and made arrangements for her to travel up to town in company with Lady Worsley of Gatcombe, whom she was to meet at Southampton on the 1st of July.
Meantime the Doctor did his best to arm his niece against the allurements to Romanism that he feared would be held out. Lady Oglethorpe and other friends had assured him of the matronly care of Lady Powys and Lady Strickland to guard their department from all evil; but he did fear these religious influences and Anne, resolute to resist all, perhaps not afraid of the conflict, was willing to arm herself for defence, and listened readily. She was no less anxious to provide for her uncle's comfort in his absence, and many small matters of housewifery that had stood over for some time were now to be purchased, as well as a few needments for her own outfit, although much was left for the counsel of her patroness in the matter of garments.
Accordingly her uncle rode in with her to Portsmouth on a shopping expedition, and as the streets of the seaport were scarcely safe for a young woman without an escort, he carried a little book in his pocket wherewith he beguiled the time that she spent in the selection of his frying-pans, fire-irons, and the like, and her own gloves and kerchiefs. They dined at the 'ordinary' at the inn, and there Dr. Woodford met his great friends Mr. Stanbury of Botley, and Mr. Worsley of Gatcombe, in the Isle of Wight, who both, like him, were opposed to the reading of the Declaration of Indulgence, as unconstitutional, and deeply anxious as to the fate of the greatly beloved Bishop of Bath and Wells. It was inevitable that they should fall into deep and earnest council together, and when dinner was over they agreed to adjourn to the house of a friend learned in ecclesiastical law to hunt up the rights of the case, leaving Anne to await them in a private room at the Spotted Dog, shown to her by the landlady.
Anne well knew what such a meeting betided, and with a certain prevision, had armed herself with some knotting, wherewith she sat down in a bay window overlooking the street, whence she could see market-women going home with empty baskets, pigs being reluctantly driven down to provision ships in the harbour, barrels of biscuit, salt meat, or beer, being rolled down for the same purpose, sailors in loose knee-breeches, and soldiers in tall peaked caps and cross- belts, and officers of each service moving in different directions. She sat there day-dreaming, feeling secure in her loneliness, and presently saw a slight figure, daintily clad in gray and black, who catching her eye made an eager gesture, doffing his plumed hat and bowing low to her. She returned his salute, and thought he passed on, but in another minute she was startled to find him at her side, exclaiming: "This is the occasion I have longed and sought for, Mistress Anne; I bless and thank the fates."
"I am glad to see you once more before I depart," said Anne, holding out her hand as frankly as she could to the old playfellow whom she always thought ill-treated, but whom she could never meet without a certain shudder.
"Then it is true?" he exclaimed.
"Yes; I am to go up with Lady Worsley from Southampton next week."
"Ah!" he cried, "but must that be?" and she felt his strange power, so that she drew into herself and said haughtily--
"My dear mother wished me to be with her friends, nor can the King's appointment be neglected, though of course I am extremely grieved to go."
"And you are dazzled with all these gewgaws of Court life, no doubt?"
"I shall not be much in the way of gewgaws just yet," said Anne drily. "It will be dull enough in some back room of Whitehall or St. James's."
"Say you so. You will wish yourself back--you, the lady of my heart--mine own good angel! Hear me. Say but the word, and your home will be mine, to say nothing of your own most devoted servant."
"Hush, hush, sir! I cannot hear this," said Anne, anxiously glancing down the street in hopes of seeing her uncle approaching.
"Nay, but listen! This is my only hope--my only chance--I must speak--you doom me to you know not what if you will not hear me!"
"Indeed, sir, I neither will nor ought!"
"Ought! Ought! Ought you not to save a fellow-creature from distraction and destruction? One who has loved and looked to you ever since you and that saint your mother lifted me out of the misery of my childhood."
Then as she looked softened he went on: "You, you are my one hope. No one else can lift me out of the reach of the demon that has beset me even since I was born."
"That is profane," she said, the more severe for the growing attraction of repulsion.
"What do I care? It is true! What was I till you and your mother took pity on the wild imp? My old nurse said a change would come to me every seven years. That blessed change came just seven years ago. Give me what will make a more blessed--a more saving change-- or there will be one as much for the worse."
"But--I could not. No! you must see for yourself that I could not-- even if I would," she faltered, really pitying now, and unwilling to give more pain than she could help.
"Could not? It should be possible. I know how to bring it about. Give me but your promise, and I will make you mine--ay, and I will make myself as worthy of you as man can be of saint-like maid."
"No--no! This is very wrong--you are pledged already--"
"No such thing--believe no such tale. My promise has never been given to that grim hag of my father's choice--no, nor should be forced from me by the rack. Look you here. Let me take this hand, call in the woman of the house, give me your word, and my father will own his power to bind me to Martha is at an end."
"Oh, no! It would be a sin--never. Besides--" said Anne, holding her hands tightly clasped behind her in alarm, lest against her will she should let them be seized, and trying to find words to tell him how little she felt disposed to trust her heart and herself to one whom she might indeed pity, but with a sort of shrinking as from something not quite human. Perhaps he dreaded her 'besides'--for he cut her short.
"It would save ten thousand greater sins. See, here are two ways before us. Either give me your word, your precious word, go silent to London, leave me to struggle it out with my father and your uncle and follow you. Hope and trust will be enough to bear me through the battle without, and within deafen the demon of my nature, and render me patient of my intolerable life till I have conquered and can bring you home."
Her tongue faltered as she tried to say such a secret unsanctioned engagement would be treachery, but he cut off the words.
"You have not heard me out. There is another way. I know those who will aid me. We can meet in early dawn, be wedded in one of these churches in all secrecy and haste, and I would carry you at once to my uncle, who, as you well know, would welcome you as a daughter. Or, better still, we would to those fair lands I have scarce seen, but where I could make my way with sword or pen with you to inspire me. I have the means. My uncle left this with me. Speak! It is death or life to me."
This last proposal was thoroughly alarming, and Anne retreated, drawing herself to her full height, and speaking with the dignity that concealed considerable terror.
"No, indeed, sir. You ought to know better than to utter such proposals. One who can make such schemes can certainly obtain no respect nor regard from the lady he addresses. Let me pass"--for she was penned up in the bay window--"I shall seek the landlady till my uncle returns."
"Nay, Mistress Anne, do not fear me. Do not drive me to utter despair. Oh, pardon me! Nothing but utter desperation could drive me to have thus spoken; but how can I help using every effort to win her whose very look and presence is bliss! Nothing else soothes and calms me; nothing else so silences the demon and wakens the better part of my nature. Have you no pity upon a miserable wretch, who will be dragged down to his doom without your helping hand?"
He flung himself on his knee before her, and tried to grasp her hand.
"Indeed, I am sorry for you, Master Oakshott," said Anne, compassionate, but still retreating as far as the window would let her; "but you are mistaken. If this power be in me, which I cannot quite believe--yes, I see what you want to say, but if I did what I know to be wrong, I should lose it at once; God's grace can save you without me."
"I will not ask you to do what you call wrong; no, nor to transgress any of the ties you respect, you, whose home is so unlike mine; only tell me that I may have hope, that if I deserve you, I may win you; that you could grant me--wretched me--a share of your affection."
This was hardest of all; mingled pity and repugnance, truth and compassion strove within the maiden as well as the strange influence of those extraordinary eyes. She was almost as much afraid of herself as of her suitor. At last she managed to say, "I am very sorry for you; I grieve from my heart for your troubles; I should be very glad to hear of your welfare and anything good of you, but--"
"But, but--I see--it is mere frenzy in me to think the blighted elf can aspire to be aught but loathsome to any lady--only, at least, tell me you love no one else."
"No, certainly not," she said, as if his eyes drew it forcibly from her.
"Then you cannot hinder me from making you my guiding star--hoping that if yet I can--"
"There's my uncle!" exclaimed Anne, in a tone of infinite relief. "Stand up, Mr. Oakshott, compose yourself. Of course I cannot hinder your thinking about me, if it will do you any good, but there are better things to think about which would conquer evil and make you happy more effectually."
He snatched her hand and kissed it, nor did she withhold it, since she really pitied him, and knew that her uncle was near, and all would soon be over.
Peregrine dashed away by another door as Dr. Woodford's foot was on the stairs. "I have ordered the horses," he began. "They told me young Oakshott was here."
"He was, but he is gone;" and she could not quite conceal her agitation.
"Crimson cheeks, my young mistress? Ah, the foolish fellow! You do not care for him, I trust?"
"No, indeed, poor fellow. What, did you know, sir?"
"Know. Yes, truly--and your mother likewise, Anne. It was one cause of her wishing to send you to safer keeping than mine seems to be. My young spark made his proposals to us both, though we would not disturb your mind therewith, not knowing how he would have dealt with his father, nor viewing him, for all he is heir to Oakwood, as a desirable match in himself. I am glad to see you have sense and discretion to be of the same mind, my maid."
"I cannot but grieve for his sad condition, sir," replied Anne, "but as for anything more--it would make me shudder to think of it--he is still too like Robin Goodfellow."
"That's my good girl," said her uncle. "And do you know, child, there are the best hopes for the Bishops. There's a gentleman come down but now from London, who says 'twas like a triumph as the Bishops sat in their barge on the way to the Tower; crowds swarming along the banks, begging for their blessing, and they waving it with tears in their eyes. The King will be a mere madman if he dares to touch a hair of their heads. Well, when I was a lad, Bishops were sent to the Tower by the people; I little thought to live to see them sent thither by the King."
All the way home Dr. Woodford talked of the trial, beginning perhaps to regret that his niece must go to the very focus of Roman influence in England, where there seemed to be little scruple as to the mode of conversion. Would it be possible to alter her destination? was his thought, when he rose the next day, but loyalty stood in the way, and that very afternoon another event happened which made it evident that the poor girl must leave Portchester as soon as possible.
She had gone out with him to take leave of some old cottagers in the village, and he finding himself detained to minister to a case of unexpected illness, allowed her to go home alone for about a quarter of a mile along the white sunny road at the foot of Portsdown, with the castle full in view at one end, and the cottage where he was at the other. Many a time previously had she trodden it alone, but she had not reckoned on two officers coming swaggering from a cross road down the hill, one of them Sedley Archfield, who immediately called out, "Ha, ha! my pretty maid, no wench goes by without paying toll;" and they spread their arms across the road so as to arrest her.
"Sir," said Anne, drawing herself up with dignity, "you mistake--"
"Not a whit, my dear; no exemption here;" and there was a horse laugh, and an endeavour to seize her, as she stepped back, feeling that in quietness lay her best chance of repelling them, adding--
"My uncle is close by."
"The more cause for haste;" and they began to close upon her. But at that moment Peregrine Oakshott, leaping from his horse, was among them, with the cry--
"Dastards! insulting a lady."
"Lady, forsooth! the parson's niece."
In a few seconds--very long seconds to her--her flying feet had brought her back to the cottage, where she burst in with--"Pardon, pardon, sir; come quick; there are swords drawn; there will be bloodshed if you do not come."
He obeyed the summons without further query, for when all men wore swords the neighbourhood of a garrison were only too liable to such encounters outside. There was no need for her to gasp out more; from the very cottage door he could see the need of haste, for the swords were actually flashing, and the two young men in position to fight. Anne shook her head, unable to do more than sign her thanks to the good woman of the cottage, who offered her a seat. She leant against the door, and watched as her uncle, sending his voice before him, called on them to desist.
There was a start, then each drew back and held down his weapon, but with a menacing gesture on one side, a shrug of the shoulders on the other, which impelled the Doctor to use double speed in the fear that the parting might be with a challenge reserved.
He was in time to stand warning, and arguing that if he pardoned the slighting words and condoned the insult to his niece, no one had a right to exact vengeance; and in truth, whatever were his arguments, he so dealt with the two young men as to force them into shaking hands before they separated, though with a contemptuous look on either side--a scowl from Sedley, a sneer from Peregrine, boding ill for the future, and making him sigh.
"Ah! sister, sister, you judged aright. Would that I could have sent the maid sooner away rather than that all this ill blood should have been bred. Yet I may only be sending her to greater temptation and danger. But she is a good maiden; God bless her and keep her here and there, now and for evermore, as I trust He keepeth our good Dr. Ken in this sore strait. The trial may even now be over. Ah, my child, here you are! Frightened were you by that rude fellow? Nay, I believe you were almost equally terrified by him who came to the rescue. You will soon be out of their reach, my dear."
"Yes, that is one great comfort in going," sighed Anne. One comfort--yes--though she would not have stayed had the choice been given her now. And shall the thought be told that flashed over her and coloured her cheeks with a sort of shame yet of pleasure, "I surely must have power over men! I know mother would say it is a terrible danger one way, and a great gift another. I will not misuse it; but what will it bring me? Or am I only a rustic beauty after all, who will be nobody elsewhere?"
Still heartily she wished that her rescuer had been any one else in the wide world. It was almost uncanny that he should have sprung out of the earth at such a moment.
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