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"Baby born to woe."
F. T. PALGRAVE.
When Anne Woodford began to wake from the constant thought of the grief and horror she had left at Portchester, and to feel more alive to her surroundings and less as if they were a kind of dream, in which she only mechanically took her part, one thing impressed itself on her gradually, and that was disappointment. If the previous shock had not blunted all her hopes and aspirations, perhaps she would have felt it sooner and more keenly; but she could not help realising that she had put herself into an inferior position whence there did not seem to be the promotion she had once anticipated. Her companion rockers were of an inferior grade to herself. Jane Humphreys was a harmless but silly girl, not much wiser, though less spoilt, than poor little Madam, and full of Cockney vulgarities. Education was unfashionable just then, and though Hester Bridgeman was bettor born and bred, being the daughter of an attorney in the city, she was not much better instructed, and had no pursuits except that of her own advantage. Pauline Dunord was by far the best of the three, but she seemed to live a life apart, taking very little interest in her companions or anything around her except her devotions and the bringing them over to her Church. The nursery was quite a separate establishment; there was no mingling with the guests of royalty, who were only seen in excited peeps from the window, or when solemnly introduced to the presence chamber to pay their respects to the Prince. As to books, the only secular one that Anne saw while at Whitehall was an odd volume of Parthenissa. The late King's summary of the Roman controversy was to be had in plenty, and nothing was more evident than that the only road to favour or promotion was in being thereby convinced.
"Don't throw it down as if it were a hot chestnut," said her Oriana. "That's what they all do at first, but they come to it at last."
Anne made no answer, but a pang smote her as she thought of her uncle's warnings. Yet surely she might hope for other modes of prospering, she who was certainly by far the best looking and best educated of all the four, not that this served her much in her present company, and those of higher rank did not notice her at all. Princess Anne would surely recollect her, and then she might be safe in a Protestant household, where her uncle would be happy about her.
The Princess had been at Bath when first she arrived, but at the end of a week preparations were made at the Cockpit, a sort of appendage to Whitehall, where the Prince and Princess of Denmark lived, and in due time there was a visit to the nursery. Standing in full ceremony behind Lady Powys, Anne saw the plump face and form she recollected in the florid bloom of a young matron, not without a certain royal dignity in the pose of the head, though in grace and beauty far surpassed by the tall, elegant figure and face of Lady Churchill, whose bright blue eyes seemed to be taking in everything everywhere. Anne's heart began to beat high at the sight of a once familiar face, and with hopes of a really kind word from one who as an elder girl had made much of the pretty little plaything. The Princess Anne's countenance was, however, less good-natured than usual; her mouth was made up to a sullen expression, and when her brother was shown to her she did not hold out her arms to him nor vouchsafe a kiss.
The Queen looked at her wistfully, asking--
"Is he not like the King?"
"Humph!" returned Princess Anne, "I see no likeness to any living soul of our family."
"Nay, but see his little nails," said the Queen, spreading the tiny hand over her finger. "See how like your father's they are framed! My treasure, you can clasp me!"
"My brother, Edgar! He was the beauty," said the Princess. "He was exactly like my father; but there's no judging of anything so puny as this!"
"He was very suffering last week, the poor little angel," said the mother sadly; "but they say this water-gruel is very nourishing, and not so heavy as milk."
"It does not look as if it agreed with him," said the Princess. "Poor little mammet! Did I hear that you had the little Woodford here? Is that you, girl?"
Anne courtesied herself forward.
"Ay, I remember you. I never forget a face, and you have grown up fair enough. Where's your mother?"
"I lost her last February, so please your Royal Highness."
"Oh! She was a good woman. Why did she not send you to me? Well, well! Come to my toilette to-morrow."
So Princess Anne swept away in her rich blue brocade. Her behest was obeyed, of course, though it was evidently displeasing to the nursery authorities, and Lady Strickland gave a warning to be discreet and to avoid gossip with the Cockpit folks.
Anne could not but be excited. Perhaps the Princess would ask for her, and take her into the number of her own attendants, where she would no longer be in a Romish household, and would certainly be in a higher position. Why, she remembered that very Lady Churchill as Sarah Jennings in no better a position than she could justly aspire to. Her coming to Court would thus be truly justified.
The Princess sat in a silken wrapper, called a night-gown, in her chamber, which had a richly-curtained bed in the alcove, and a toilet-table with a splendid Venetian mirror, and a good deal of silver sparkling on it, while a strange mixture of perfumes came from the various boxes and bottles. Ladies and tirewomen stood in attendance; a little black boy in a turban and gold-embroidered dress held a salver with her chocolate cup; a cockatoo soliloquised in low whispers in the window; a monkey was chained to a pole at a safe distance from him; a French friseur was manipulating the Princess's profuse brown hair with his tongs; and a needy-looking, pale thin man, in a semi-clerical suit, was half-reading, half- declaiming a poem, in which 'Fair Anna' seemed mixed up with Juno, Ceres, and other classical folk, but to which she was evidently paying very little attention.
"Ah! there you are, little one. Thank you, Master--what's name; that is enough. 'Tis a fine poem, but I never can remember which is which of all your gods and goddesses. Oh yes, I accept the dedication. Give him a couple of guineas, Ellis; it will serve him for board and lodging for a fortnight, poor wretch!" Then, after giving a smooth, well-shaped white hand to be kissed, and inviting her visitor to a cushion at her feet, she began a long series of questions, kindly ones at first, though of the minute gossiping kind, and extending to the Archfields, for poor young Madam had been of the rank about which royalty knew everything in those days. The inquiries were extremely minute, and the comments what from any one else, Anne would have thought vulgar, especially in the presence of the hairdresser, but her namesake observed her blush and hesitation, and said, "Oh, never mind a creature like that. He is French, besides, and does not understand a word we say."
Anne, looking over the Princess's head, feared that she saw a twinkle in the man's eye, and could only look down and try to ignore him through the catechism that ensued, on when she came to Whitehall, on the Prince of Wales's health, the management of him, and all the circumstances connected with his birth.
Very glad was Anne that she knew nothing, and had not picked up any information as to what had happened before she came to the palace. As to the present, Lady Strickland's warning and her own sense of honour kept her reticent to a degree that evidently vexed the Princess, for she dropped her caressing manner, and sent her away with a not very kind, "You may go now; you will be turning Papist next, and what would your poor mother say?"
And as Anne departed in backward fashion she heard Lady Churchill say, "You will make nothing of her. She is sharper than she affects, and a proud minx! I see it in her carriage."
The visit had only dashed a few hopes and done her harm with her immediate surroundings, who always disliked and distrusted intercourse with the other establishment.
However, in another day the nursery was moved to Richmond. This was a welcome move to Anne, who had spent her early childhood near enough to be sometimes taken thither, and to know the Park well, so that there was a home feeling in the sight of the outline of the trees and the scenery of the neighbourhood. The Queen intended going to Bath, so that the establishment was only that of the Prince, and the life was much quieter on the whole; but there was no gratifying any yearning for country walks, for it was not safe nor perhaps decorous for one young woman to be out alone in a park open to the public and haunted by soldiers from Hounslow--nor could either of her fellow-rockers understand her preference for a secluded path through the woods. Miss Dunord never went out at all, except on duty, when the Prince was carried along the walks in the garden, and the other two infinitely preferred the open spaces, where tables were set under the horse-chestnut trees for parties who boated down from London to eat curds and whey, sometimes bringing a fiddler so as to dance under the trees.
Jane Humphreys especially was always looking out for acquaintances, and once, with a cry of joy, a stout, homely-looking young woman started up, exclaiming, "Sister Jane!" and flew into her arms. Upon which Miss Woodford was introduced to 'My sister Coles' and her husband, and had to sit down under a tree and share the festivities, while there was an overflow of inquiries and intelligence, domestic and otherwise. Certainly these were persons whom she would not have treated as equals at home.
Besides, it was all very well to hear of the good old grandmother's rheumatics, and of little Tommy's teething, and even to see Jane hang her head and be teased about remembering Mr. Hopkins; nor was it wonderful to hear lamentations over the extreme dulness of the life where one never saw a creature to speak to who was not as old as the hills; but when it came to inquiries as minute as the Princess's about the Prince of Wales, Anne thought the full details lavishly poured out scarcely consistent with loyalty to their oaths of service and Lady Strickland's warning, and she told Jane so.
She was answered, "Oh la! what harm can it do? You are such a proud peat! Grand-dame and sister like to know all about His Royal Highness."
This was true; but Anne was far more uncomfortable two or three days later. The Prince was ailing, so much so that Lady Powys had sent an express for the Queen, who had not yet started for Bath, when Anne and Jane, being relieved from duty by the other pair, went out for a stroll.
"Oh la!" presently exclaimed Jane, "if that is not Colonel Sands, the Princess's equerry. I do declare he is coming to speak to us, though he is one of the Cockpit folks."
He was a very fine gentleman indeed, all scarlet and gold, and no wonder Jane was flattered and startled, so that she jerked her fan violently up and down as he accosted her with a wave of his cocked hat, saying that he was rejoiced to meet these two fair ladies, having been sent by the Princess of Denmark to inquire for the health of the Prince. She was very anxious to know more than could be learnt by formal inquiry, he said, and he was happy to have met the young gentlewomen who could gratify him.
The term 'gentlewoman' highly flattered Miss Humphreys, who blushed and bridled, and exclaimed, "Oh la, sir!" but Anne thought it needful to say gravely--
"We are in trust, sir, and have no right to speak of what passes within the royal household."
"Madam, I admire your discretion, but to the--(a-hem)--sister of the--(a-hem)--Prince of Wales it is surely uncalled for."
"Miss Woodford is so precise," said Jane Humphreys, with a giggle; "I do not know what harm can come of saying that His Royal Highness peaks and pines just as he did before."
"He is none the better for country air then?"
"Oh no? except that he cries louder. Such a time as we had last night! Mrs. Royer never slept a wink all the time I was there, but walked about with him all night. You had the best of it, Miss Woodford."
"He slept while I was there," said Anne briefly, not thinking it needful to state that the tired nurse had handed the child over to her, and that he had fallen asleep in her arms. She tried to put an end to the conversation by going indoors, but she was vexed to find that, instead of following her closely, Miss Humphreys was still lingering with the equerry.
Anne found the household in commotion. Pauline met her, weeping bitterly, and saying the Prince had had a fit, and all hope was over, and in the rockers' room, she found Hester Bridgeman exclaiming that her occupation was gone. Water-gruel, she had no doubt, had been the death of the Prince. The Queen was come, and wellnigh distracted. She had sent out in quest of a wet-nurse, but it was too late; he was going the way of all Her Majesty's children.
Going down again together the two girls presently had to stand aside as the poor Queen, seeing and hearing nothing, came towards her own room with her handkerchief over her face. They pressed each other's hands awe-stricken, and went on to the nursery. There Mrs. Labadie was kneeling over the cradle, her hood hanging over her face, crying bitterly over the poor little child, who had a blue look about his face, and seemed at the last gasp, his features contorted by a convulsion.
At that moment Jane Humphreys was seen gently opening the door and letting in Colonel Sands, who moved as quietly as possible, to give a furtive look at the dying child. His researches were cut short, however. Lady Strickland, usually the gentlest of women, darted out and demanded what he was doing in her nursery.
He attempted to stammer some excuse about Princess Anne, but Lady Strickland only answered by standing pointing to the door and he was forced to retreat in a very undignified fashion.
"Who brought him?" she demanded, when the door was shut. "Those Cockpit folk are not to come prying here, hap what may!"
Miss Humphreys had sped away for fear of questions being asked, and attention was diverted by Mrs. Royer arriving with a stout, healthy- looking young woman in a thick home-spun cloth petticoat, no stockings, and old shoes, but with a clean white cap on her head--a tilemaker's wife who had been captured in the village.
No sooner was the suffering, half-starved child delivered over to her than he became serene and contented. The water-gruel regime was over, and he began to thrive from that time. Even when later in the afternoon the King himself brought in Colonel Sands, whom in the joy of his heart he had asked to dine with him, the babe lay tranquilly on the cradle, waving his little hands and looking happy.
The intrusion seemed to have been forgotten, but that afternoon Anne, who had been sent on a message to one of the Queen's ladies, more than suspected that she saw Jane in a deep recess of a window in confabulation with the Colonel. And when they were alone at bed- time the girl said--
"Is it not droll? The Colonel cannot believe that 'tis the same child. He has been joking and teasing me to declare that we have a dead Prince hidden somewhere, and that the King showed him the brick-bat woman's child."
"How can you prattle in that mischievous way--after what Lady Strickland said, too? You do not know what harm you may do!"
"Oh lack, it was all a jest!"
"I am not so sure that it was."
"But you will not tell of me, dear friend, you will not. I never saw Lady Strickland like that; I did not know she could be in such a rage."
"No wonder, when a fellow like that came peeping and prying like a raven to see whether the poor babe was still breathing," cried Anne indignantly. "How could you bring him in?"
"Fellow indeed! Why he is a colonel in the Life-guards, and the Princess's equerry; and who has a right to know about the child if not his own sister--or half-sister?"
"She is not a very loving sister," replied Anne. "You know well, Jane, how many would not be sorry to make out that it is as that man would fain have you say."
"Well, I told him it was no such thing, and laughed the very notion to scorn."
"It were better not to talk with him at all."
"But you will not speak of it. If I were turned away my father would beat me. Nay, I know not what he might not do to me. You will not tell, dear darling Portia, and I will love you for ever."
"I have no call to tell," said Anne coldly, but she was disgusted and weary, and moreover not at all sure that she, as the other Protestant rocker, and having been in the Park on that same day, was not credited with some of the mischievous gossip that had passed.
"There, Portia, that is what you get by walking with that stupid Humphreys," said Oriana. "She knows no better than to blab to any one who will be at the trouble to seem sweet upon her, though she may get nothing by it."
"Would it be better if she did?" asked Anne.
"Oh well, we must all look out for ourselves, and I am sure there is no knowing what may come next. But I hear we are to move to Windsor as soon as the child is strong enough, so as to be farther out of reach of the Cockpit tongues."
This proved to be true, but the Prince and his suite were not lodged in the Castle itself, a house in the cloisters being thought more suitable, and here the Queen visited her child daily, for since that last alarm she could not bear to be long absent from him. Such emissaries as Colonel Sands did not again appear, but after that precedent Lady Strickland had become much more unwilling to allow any of those under her authority to go out into any public place, and the rockers seldom got any exercise except as swelling the Prince's train when he was carried out to take the air.
Anne looked with longing eyes at the Park, but a ramble there was a forbidden pleasure. She could not always even obtain leave to attend St. George's Chapel; the wish was treated as a sort of weakness, or folly, and she was always the person selected to stay at home when any religious ceremony called away the rest of the establishment.
As the King's god-daughter it was impressed on her that she ought to conform to his Church, and one of the many priests about the Court was appointed to instruct her. In the dearth of all intellectual intercourse, and the absolute deficiency of books, she could not but become deeply interested in the arguments. Her uncle had forearmed her with instruction, and she wrote to him on any difficulty which arose, and this became the chief occupation of her mind, distracting her thoughts from the one great cloud that hung over her memory. Indeed one of the foremost bulwarks her feelings erected to fortify her conscience against the temptations around, was the knowledge that she would have, though of course under seal of confession, to relate that terrible story to a priest.
Hester Bridgeman could not imagine how her Portia could endure to hear the old English Prayer-book droned out. For her part, she liked one thing or the other, either a rousing Nonconformist sermon in a meeting-house or a splendid Mass.
"But, after all," as Anne overheard her observing to Miss Dunord, "it may be all the better for us. What with her breeding and her foreign tongues, she would be sure to be set over our heads as under-governess, or the like, if she were not such an obstinate heretic, and keeping that stupid Humphreys so. We could have converted her long ago, if it were not for that Woodford and for her City grand-dame! Portia is the King's godchild, too, so it is just as well that she does not see what is for her own advantage."
"I do not care for promotion. I only want to save my own soul and hers," said Pauline. "I wish she would come over to the true Church, for I could love her."
And certainly Pauline Dunord's gentle devotional example, and her perfect rest and peace in the practice of her religion, were strong influences with Anne. She was waiting till circumstances should make it possible to her to enter a convent, and in the meantime she lived a strictly devout life, abstracted as far as duty and kindness permitted from the little cabals and gossipry around.
Anne could not help feeling that the girl was as nearly a saint as any one she had ever seen--far beyond herself in goodness. Moreover, the Queen inspired strong affection. Mary Beatrice was not only a very beautiful person, full of the grace and dignity of the House of Este, but she was deeply religious, good and gentle, kindly and gracious to all who approached her, and devoted to her husband and child. A word or look from her was always a delight, and Anne, by her knowledge of Italian, was able sometimes to obtain a smiling word or remark.
The little Prince, after those first miserable weeks of his life, had begun to thrive, and by and by manifested a decided preference not only for his beautiful mother, but for the fresh face, bright smile, and shining brown eyes of Miss Woodford. She could almost always, with nods and becks, avert a passion of roaring, which sometimes went beyond the powers of even his foster-mother, the tiler's wife. The Queen watched with delight when he laughed and flourished his arms in response, and the King was summoned to see the performance, which he requited by taking out a fat gold watch set with pearls, and presenting it to Anne, as his grave gloomy face lighted up with a smile.
"Are you yet one of us?" he asked, as she received his gift on her knee.
"No, sir, I cannot--"
"That must be amended. You have read his late Majesty's paper?"
"I have, sir."
"And seen Father Giverlai?"
"Yes, please your Majesty."
"And still you are not convinced. That must not be. I would gladly consider and promote you, but I can only have true Catholics around my son. I shall desire Father Crump to see you."
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