Poems & Short Stories: 4,435
Forum Members: 67,986
Forum Posts: 1,216,101
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
NEWS FROM FAREHAM
"My soul its secret hath, my life too hath its mystery.
Hopeless the evil is, I have not told its history."
Lady Worsley was a handsome, commanding old dame, who soon made her charge feel the social gulf between a county magnate and a clergyman's niece. She decidedly thought that Mistress Anne Jacobina held her head too high for her position, and was, moreover, conceited of an unfortunate amount of good looks.
Therefore the good lady did her best to repress these dangerous tendencies by making the girl sit on the back seat with two maids, and uttering long lectures on humility, modesty, and discretion which made the blood of the sea-captain's daughter boil with indignation.
Yet she always carried with her the dread of being pursued and called upon to accuse Charles Archfield of Peregrine's death. It was a perpetual cloud, dispersed, indeed, for a time by the events of the day, but returning at night, when not only was the combat acted over again, but when she fell asleep it was only to be pursued by Peregrine through endless vaulted dens of darkness, or, what was far worse, to be trying to hide a stream of blood that could never be stanched.
It was no wonder that she looked pale in the morning, and felt so tired and dejected as to make her sensible that she was cast loose from home and friends when no one troubled her with remarks or inquiries such as she could hardly have answered. However, when, on the evening of the second day's journey, Anne was set down at Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe's house at Westminster, she met with a very different reception.
Lady Oglethorpe, a handsome, warm-hearted Irish woman, met her at once in the hall with outstretched hands, and a kiss on each cheek.
"Come in, my dear, my poor orphan, the daughter of one who was very dear to me! Ah, how you have grown! I could never have thought this was the little Anne I recollect. You shall come up to your chamber at once, and rest you, and make ready for supper, by the time Sir Theophilus comes in from attending the King."
Anne found herself installed in a fresh-smelling wainscotted room, where a glass of wine and some cake was ready for her, and where she made herself ready, feeling exhilarated in spirits as she performed her toilette, putting on her black evening dress, and refreshing the curls of her brown hair. It was a simple dress of deep mourning, but it became her well, and the two or three gentlemen who had come in to supper with Sir Theophilus evidently admired her greatly, and complimented her on having a situation at Court, which was all that Lady Oglethorpe mentioned.
"Child," she said afterwards, when they were in private, "if I had known what you looked like I would have sought a different position for you. But, there, to get one's foot--were it but the toe of one's shoe--in at Court is the great point after all, the rest must come after. I warrant me you are well educated too. Can you speak French?"
"Oh yes, madam, and Italian, and dance and play on the spinnet. I was with two French ladies at Winchester every winter who taught such things."
"Well, well, mayhap we may get you promoted to a sub-governess's place--though your religion is against you. You are not a Catholic-- eh?"
"No, your ladyship."
"That's the only road to favour nowadays, though for the name of the thing they may have a Protestant or two. You are the King's godchild too, so he will expect it the more from you. However, we may find a better path. You have not left your heart in the country, eh?"
Anne blushed and denied it.
"You will be mewed up close enough in the nursery," ran on Lady Oglethorpe. "Lady Powys keeps close discipline there, and I expect she will be disconcerted to see how fine a fish I have brought to her net; but we will see--we will see how matters go. But, my dear, have you no coloured clothes? There is no appearing in the Royal household in private mourning. It might daunt the Prince's spirits in his cradle!" and she laughed, though Anne felt much annoyed at thus disregarding her mother, as well as at the heavy expense. However, there was no help for it; the gowns and laces hidden in the bottom of her mails were disinterred, and the former were for the most part condemned, so that she had to submit to a fresh outfit, in which Lady Oglethorpe heartily interested herself, but which drained the purse that the Canon had amply supplied.
These arrangements were not complete when the first letter from home arrived, and was opened with a beating heart, and furtive glances as of one who feared to see the contents, but they were by no means what she expected.
I hope you have arrived safely in London, and that you are not displeased with your first taste of life in a Court. Neither town nor country is exempt from sorrow and death. I was summoned only on the second day after your departure to share in the sorrows at Archfield, where the poor young wife died early on Friday morning, leaving a living infant, a son, who, I hope, may prove a blessing to them, if he is spared, which can scarcely be expected. The poor young man, and indeed all the family, are in the utmost distress, and truly there were circumstances that render the event more than usually deplorable, and for which he blames himself exceedingly, even to despair. It appears that the poor young gentlewoman wished to add some trifle to the numerous commissions with which she was entrusting you on the night of the bonfire, and that she could not be pacified except by her husband undertaking to ride over to give the patterns and the orders to you before your setting forth. You said nothing of having seen him--nor do I see how it was possible that you could have done so, seeing that you only left your chamber just before the breakfast that you never tasted, my poor child. He never returned till long after noon, and what with fretting after him, and disappointment, that happened which Lady Archfield had always apprehended, and the poor fragile young creature worked herself into a state which ended before midnight in the birth of a puny babe, and her own death shortly after. She wanted two months of completing her sixteenth year, and was of so frail a constitution that Dr. Brown had never much hope of her surviving the birth of her child. It was a cruel thing to marry her thus early, ungrown in body or mind, but she had no one to care for her before she was brought hither. The blame, as I tell Sir Philip, and would fain persuade poor Charles, is really with those who bred her up so uncontrolled as to be the victim of her humours; but the unhappy youth will listen to no consolation. He calls himself a murderer, shuts himself up, and for the most part will see and speak to no one, but if forced by his father's command to unlock his chamber door, returns at once to sit with his head hidden in his arms crossed upon the table, and if father, mother, or sister strive to rouse him and obtain answer from him, he will only murmur forth, "I should only make it worse if I did." It is piteous to see a youth so utterly overcome, and truly I think his condition is a greater distress to our good friends than the loss of the poor young wife. They asked him what name he would have given to his child, but all the answer they could get was, "As you will, only not mine;" and in the enforced absence of my brother of Fareham I baptized him Philip. The funeral will take place to-morrow, and Sir Philip proposes immediately after to take his son to Oxford, and there endeavour to find a tutor of mature age and of prudence, with whom he may either study at New College or be sent on the grand tour. It is the only notion that the poor lad has seemed willing to entertain, as if to get away from his misery, and I cannot but think it well for him. He is not yet twenty, and may, as it were, begin life again the wiser and the better man for his present extreme sorrow. Lady Archfield is greatly wrapped up in the care of the babe, who, I fear, is in danger of being killed by overcare, if by nothing else, though truly all is in the hands of God. I have scarce quitted the afflicted family since I was summoned to them on Friday, since Sir Philip has no one else on whom to depend for comfort or counsel; and if I can obtain the services of Mr. Ellis from Portsmouth for a few Sundays, I shall ride with him to Oxford to assist in the choice of a tutor to go abroad with Mr. Archfield.
One interruption however I had, namely, from Major Oakshott, who came in great perturbation to ask what was the last I had seen of his son Peregrine. It appears that the unfortunate young man never returned home after the bonfire on Portsdown Hill, where his brother Robert lost sight of him, and after waiting as long as he durst, returned home alone. It has become known that after parting with us high words passed between him and Lieutenant Sedley Archfield, insomuch that after the unhappy fashion of these times, blood was demanded, and early in the morning Sedley sent the friend who was to act as second to bear the challenge to young Oakshott. You can conceive the reception that he was likely to receive at Oakwood; but it was then discovered that Peregrine had not been in his bed all night, nor had any one seen or heard of him. Sedley boasts loudly that the youngster has fled the country for fear of him, and truly things have that appearance, although to my mind Peregrine was far from wanting in spirit or courage. But, as he had not received the cartel, he might not have deemed his honour engaged to await it, and I incline to the belief that he is on his way to his uncle in Muscovy, driven thereto by his dread of the marriage with the gentlewoman whom he holds in so much aversion. I have striven to console his father by the assurance that such tidings of him will surely arrive in due time, but the Major is bitterly grieved, and is galled by the accusation of cowardice. "He could not even be true to his own maxims of worldly honour," says the poor gentleman. "So true it is that only by grace we stand fast." The which is true enough, but the poor gentleman unwittingly did his best to make grace unacceptable in his son's eyes. I trust soon to hear again of you, my dear child. I rejoice that Lady Oglethorpe is so good to you, and I hope that in the palace you will guard first your faith and then your discretion. And so praying always for your welfare, alike spiritual and temporal.-- Your loving uncle, JNO. WOODFORD.
Truly it was well that Anne had secluded herself to read this letter.
So the actual cause for which poor Charles Archfield had entreated silence was at an end. The very evil he had apprehended had come to pass, and she could well understand how, on his return in a horror- stricken, distracted state of mind, the childish petulance of his wife had worried him into loss of temper, so that he hardly knew what he said. And what must not his agony of remorse be? She could scarcely imagine how he had avoided confessing all as a mere relief to his mind, but then she reflected that when he called himself a murderer the words were taken in another sense, and no questions asked, nor would he be willing to add such grief and shame to his parents' present burthen, especially as no suspicion existed.
That Peregrine's fate had not been discovered greatly relieved her. She believed the vault to go down to a considerable depth after a first platform of stone near the opening, and it was generally avoided as the haunt of hobgoblins, fairies, or evil beings, so that no one was likely to be in its immediate neighbourhood after the hay was carried, so that there might have been nothing to attract any one to the near neighbourhood and thus lead to the discovery. If not made by this time, Charles would be far away, and there was nothing to connect him with the deed. No one save herself had even known of his having been near the castle that morning. How strange that the only persons aware of that terrible secret should be so far separated from one another that they could exchange no confidences; and each was compelled to absolute silence. For as long as no one else was suspected, Anne felt her part must be not to betray Charles, though the bare possibility of the accusation of another was agony to her.
She wrote her condolences in due form to Fareham, and in due time was answered by Lucy Archfield. The letter was full of details about the infant, who seemed to absorb her and her mother, and to be as likely to live as any child of those days ever was--and it was in his favour that his grandmother and her old nurse had better notions of management than most of her contemporaries. In spite of all that Lucy said of her brother's overwhelming grief, and the melancholy of thus parting with him, there was a strain of cheerfulness throughout the letter, betraying that the poor young wife of less than a year was no very great loss to the peace and comfort of the family. The letter ended with--
There is a report that Sir Peregrine Oakshott is dead in Muscovy. Nothing has been heard of that unfortunate young man at Oakwood. If he be gone in quest of his uncle, I wonder what will become of him? However, nurse will have it that this being the third seventh year of his life, the fairies have carried off their changeling--you remember how she told us the story of his being changed as an infant, when we were children at Winchester; she believes it as much as ever, and never let little Philip out of her sight before he was baptized. I ask her, if the changeling be gone, where is the true Peregrine? but she only wags her head in answer.
A day or two later Anne heard from her uncle from Oxford. He was extremely grieved at the condition of his beloved alma mater, with a Roman Catholic Master reigning at University College, a doctor from the Sorbonne and Fellows to match, inflicted by military force on Magdalen, whose lawful children had been ejected with a violence beyond anything that the colleges had suffered even in the time of the Rebellion. If things went on as they were, he pronounced Oxford would be no better than a Popish seminary: and he had the more readily induced his old friend to consent to Charles's desire not to remain there as a student, but to go abroad with Mr. Fellowes, one of the expelled fellows of Magdalen, a clergyman of mature age, but a man of the world, who had already acted as a travelling tutor. Considering that the young widower was not yet twenty, and that all his wife's wealth would be in his hands, also that his cousin Sedley formed a dangerous link with the questionable diversions of the garrison at Portsmouth, both father and friend felt that it was well that he should be out of reach, and have other occupations for the present.
Change of scene had, Dr. Woodford said, brightened the poor youth, and he was showing more interest in passing events, but probably he would never again be the light-hearted boy they used to know.
Anne could well believe it.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.