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THE DAUGHTER'S SECRET
"Thy sister's naught: O Regan, she hath tied
Sharp-tooth'd unkindness, like a vulture, here:
I can scarce speak to thee."
"Am I--oh! am I going home?" thought Anne. "My uncle will be at Winchester. I am glad of it. I could not yet bear to see Portchester again. That Shape would be there. Yet how shall I deal with what seems laid on me? But oh! the joy of escaping from this weary, weary court! Oh, the folly that took me hither! Now that the Prince is gone, Lady Strickland will surely speak to the Queen for my dismissal."
There had been seventeen days of alarms, reports, and counter- reports, and now the King, with the Prince of Denmark, had gone to join the army on Salisbury Plain, and at the same time the little Prince of Wales had been sent off to his half-brother, the Duke of Berwick, at Portsmouth, under charge of Lady Powys, there to be embarked for France. Anne had been somewhat disappointed at not going with them, hoping that when at Portsmouth or in passing Winchester she might see her uncle and obtain her release, for she had no desire to be taken abroad; but it was decreed otherwise. Miss Dunord went, rejoicing and thankful to be returning to France, and the other three rockers remained.
There had already been more than one day of alarms and tumults. The Body-guards within were always on duty; the Life-guards without were constantly patrolling; and on the 5th of November, when the Prince of Orange was known to be near at hand, and was in fact actually landing at Torbay, the mob had with difficulty been restrained from burning in effigy, not only Guy Fawkes, but Pope, cardinals, and mitred bishops, in front of the palace, and actually paraded them all, with a figure of poor Sir Edmondbury Godfrey bearing his head in his hand, tied on horseback behind a Jesuit, full before the windows, with yells of
"The Pope, the Pope,
Up the ladder and down the rope,"
and clattering of warming-pans.
Jane Humphreys was dreadfully frightened. Anne found her crouching close to her bed, with the curtains wrapped round her. "Have they got in?" she cried. "O Miss Woodford, how shall we make them believe we are good Protestants?"
And when this terror had subsided, and it was well known that the Dutch were at Exeter, there was another panic, for one of the Life- guardsmen had told her to beware, since if the Royal troops at Hounslow were beaten, the Papists would surely take their revenge.
"I am to scream from the windows to Mr. Shaw," she said; but what good will that do if the priests and the Frenchmen have strangled me? And perhaps he won't be on guard."
"He was only trying to frighten you," suggested Anne.
"Dear me, Miss Woodford, aren't you afraid? You have the stomach of a lion."
"Why, what would be the good of hurting us?"
However, Anne was not at all surprised, when on the very evening of the Prince's departure, old Mrs. Humphreys, a venerable-looking dame in handsome but Puritanically-fashioned garments, came in a hackney coach to request in her son's name that her granddaughter might return with her, as her occupation was at an end.
Jane was transported with joy.
"Ay, ay," said the grandmother, "look at you now, and think how crazy you were to go to the palace, though 'twas always against my judgment."
"Ah, I little knew how mortal dull it would be!" said Jane.
"Ye've found it no better than the husks that the swine did eat, eh? So much the better and safer for your soul, child."
Nobody wanted to retain Jane, and while she was hastily putting her things together, the grandmother turned to Anne: "And you, Mistress Woodford, from what I hear, you have been very good in keeping my silly child stanch to her religion and true to her duty. If ever on a pinch you needed a friend in London, my son and I would be proud to serve you--Master Joshua Humphreys, at the Golden Lamb, Gracechurch Street, mind you. No one knows what may hap in these strange and troublesome times, and you might be glad of a house to go to till you can send to your own friends--that is, if we are not all murdered by the Papists first."
Though Anne did not expect such a catastrophe as this, she was really grateful for the offer, and thought it possible that she might avail herself of it, as she had not been able to communicate with any of her mother's old friends, and Bishop Ken was not to her knowledge still in London.
She watched anxiously for the opportunity of asking Lady Strickland whether she might apply for her dismissal, and write to her uncle to fetch her home.
"Child," said the lady, "I think you love the Queen."
"Indeed I do, madam."
"It is well that at this juncture all Protestants should not leave her. You are a gentlewoman in manner, and can speak her native tongue, friends are falling from her, scarcely ladies are left enough to make a fit appearance around her; if you are faithful to her, remain, I entreat of you."
There was no resisting such an appeal, and Anne remained in the rooms now left bare and empty, until a message was brought to her to come to the Queen. Mary Beatrice sat in a chair by her fire, looking sad and listless, her eyes red with weeping, but she gave her sweet smile as the girl entered, and held out her hand, saying in her sweet Italian, "You are faithful, Signorina Anna! you remain! That is well; but now my son is gone, Anna, you must be mine. I make you my reader instead of his rocker."
As Anne knelt on one knee to kiss hands with tears in her eyes, the Queen impulsively threw her arms round her neck and kissed her. "Ah, you loved him, and he loved you, il mio tesorino?"
Promotion had come--how strangely. She had to enter on her duties at once, and to read some chapters of an Italian version of the Imitation. A reader was of a higher grade of importance than a rocker, and for the ensuing days, when not in attendance on the Queen, Anne was the companion of Lady Strickland and Lady Oglethorpe. In the absence of the King and Prince, the Queen received Princess Anne at her own table, and Lady Churchill and Lady Fitzhardinge joined that of her ladies-in-waiting.
Lady Churchill, with her long neck, splendid hair and complexion, short chin, and sparkling blue eyes, was beautiful to look at, but not at all disposed to be agreeable to the Queen's ladies, whom she treated with a sort of blunt scorn, not at all disguised by the forms of courtesy. However, she had, to their relief, a good deal of leave of absence just then to visit her children, as indeed the ladies agreed that she did pretty much as she chose, and that the faithful Mrs. Morley was somewhat afraid of the dear Mrs. Freeman.
One evening in coming up some steps Princess Anne entangled her foot in her pink taffetas petticoat, nearly fell, and tore a large rent, besides breaking the thread of the festoons of seed pearls which bordered it, and scattering them on the floor.
"Lack-a-day! Lack-a-day!" sighed she, as after a little screaming she gathered herself up again. "That new coat! How shall I ever face Danvers again such a figure? She's an excellent tirewoman, but she will be neither to have nor to hold when she sees that gown-- that she set such store by! Nay, I can hardly step for it."
"I think I could repair it, with Her Majesty's and your Royal Highness's permission," said Anne, who was creeping about on her knees picking up the pearls."
"Oh! do! do! There's a good child, and then Danvers and Dawson need know nothing about it," cried the Princess in great glee. "You remember Dawson, don't you, little Woodie, as we used to call you, and how she used to rate us when we were children if we soiled our frocks?"
So, in the withdrawing-room, Anne sat on the floor with needle and silk, by the light of the wax candles, deftly repairing the rent, and then threading the scattered pearls, and arranging the festoon so as to hide the darn. The Princess was delighted, and while the poor wife lay back in her chair, thankful that behind her fan she could give way to her terrible anxieties about her little son, who might be crossing to France, and her husband, suffering from fearful nose-bleeding, and wellnigh alone among traitors and deserters, the step-daughter, on the other side of the great hearth, chattered away complacently to 'little Woodford.'
"Do you recollect old Dawson, and how she used to grumble when I went to sup with the Duchess--my own mother--you know, because she used to give me chocolate, and she said it made me scream at night, and be over fat by day? Ah! that was before you used to come among us. It was after I went to France to my poor aunt of Orleans. I remember she never would let us kiss her for fear of spoiling her complexion, and Mademoiselle and I did so hate living maigre on the fast days. I was glad enough to get home at last, and then my sister was jealous because I talked French better than she did."
So the Princess prattled on without needing much reply, until her namesake had finished her work, with which she was well pleased, and promised to remember her. To Anne it was an absolute marvel how she could thus talk when she knew that her husband had deserted her father in his need, and that things were in a most critical position.
The Queen could not refrain from a sigh of relief when her step- daughter had retired to the Cockpit; and after seeking her sleepless bed, she begged Anne, "if it did not too much incommode her, to read to her from the Gospel."
The next day was Sunday, and Anne felt almost as if deserting her cause, when going to the English service in Whitehall Chapel Royal, now almost emptied except of the Princess's suite, and some of these had the bad taste and profanity to cough and chatter all through the special prayer drawn up by the Archbishop for the King's safety.
People were not very reverent, and as all stood up at the end of the Advent Sunday service to let the Princess sweep by in her glittering green satin petticoat, peach-coloured velvet train, and feather- crowned head, she laid a hand on Anne's arm, and whispered, "Follow me to my closet, little Woodford."
There was no choice but to obey, as the Queen would not require her reader till after dinner, and Anne followed after the various attendants, who did not seem very willing to forward a private interview with a possible rival, though, as Anne supposed, the object must be to convey some message to the Queen. By the time she arrived and had been admitted to the inner chamber or dressing-room, the Princess had thrown off her more cumbrous finery, and sat at ease in an arm-chair. She nodded her be-curled head, and said, "You can keep a secret, little Woodie?"
"I can, madam, but I do not love one," said Anne, thinking of her most burthensome one.
"Well, no need to keep this long. You are a good young maiden, and my own poor mother's godchild, and you are handy and notable. You deserve better preferment than ever you will get in that Popish household, where your religion is in danger. Now, I am not going to be in jeopardy here any longer, nor let myself be kept hostage for his Highness. Come to my rooms at bedtime. Slip in when I wish the Queen good-night, and I'll find an excuse. Then you shall come with me to--no, I'll not say where, and I'll make your fortune, only mum's the word."
"But--Your Royal Highness is very good, but I am sworn to the Prince and Queen. I could not leave them without permission."
"Prince! Prince! Pretty sort of a Prince. Prince of brickbats, as Churchill says. Nay, girl, don't turn away in that fashion. Consider. Your religion is in danger."
"Nay, madam, my religion would not be served by breaking my oath."
"Pooh! What's your oath to a mere pretender? Besides, consider your fortune. Rocker to a puling babe--even if he was what they say he is. And don't build on the Queen's favour--even if she remains what she is now, she is too much beset with Papists and foreigners to do anything for you."
"I do not," Anne began to say, but the Princess gave her no time.
"Besides, pride will have a fall, and if you are a good maid, and hold your tongue, and serve me well in this strait, I'll make you my maid of honour, and marry you so that you shall put Lady before your name. Ay, and get good preferment for your uncle, who has had only a poor stall from the King here."
Anne repressed an inclination to say this was not the way in which her uncle would wish to get promotion, and only replied, "Your Royal Highness is very good, but--"
Whereat the Princess, in a huff, exclaimed, "Oh, very well, if you choose to be torn to pieces by the mob, and slaughtered by the priests, like poor Godfrey, and burnt by the Papists at last, unless you go to Mass, you may stay for aught I care, and joy go with you. I thought I was doing you a kindness for my poor mother's sake, but it seems you know best. If you like to cast in your lot with the Pope, I wash my hands of you."
Accordingly Anne courtesied herself off, not seriously alarmed as to the various catastrophes foretold by the Princess, though a little shaken in nerves. Here then was another chance of promotion, certainly without treason to her profession of faith, but so offered that honour could not but revolt against it, though in truth poor Princess Anne was neither so foolish nor so heartless a woman as she appeared in the excitement to which an uneasy conscience, the expectation of a great enterprise, and a certain amount of terror had worked her up; but she had high words again in the evening, as was supposed, with the Queen. Certainly Anne found her own Royal Mistress weeping and agitated, though she only owned to being very anxious about the health of the King, who had had a second violent attack of bleeding at the nose, and she did not seem consoled by the assurances of her elder attendants that the relief had probably saved him from a far more dangerous attack. Again Anne read to her till a late hour, but next morning was strangely disturbed.
The Royal household had not been long dressed, and breakfast had just been served to the ladies, when loud screams were heard, most startling in the unsettled and anxious state of affairs. The Queen, pale and trembling, came out of her chamber with her hair on her shoulders. "Tell me at once, for pity's sake. Is it my husband or my son?" she asked with clasped hands, as two or three of the Princess's servants rushed forward.
"The Princess, the Princess!" was the cry, "the priests have murdered her."
"What have you done with her, madam?" rudely demanded Mrs. Buss, one of the lost lady's nurses.
Mary Beatrice drew herself up with grave dignity, saying, "I suppose your mistress is where she likes to be. I know nothing of her, but I have no doubt that you will soon hear of her."
There was something in the Queen's manner that hushed the outcry in her presence, but the women, with Lady Clarendon foremost of them, continued to seek up and down the two palaces as if they thought the substantial person of the Princess Anne could be hidden in a cupboard.
Anne, in the first impulse, exclaimed, "She is gone!"
In a moment Mrs. Royer turned, "Gone, did you say? Do you know it?"
"You knew it and kept it secret!" cried Lady Strickland.
"A traitor too!" said Lady Oglethorpe, in her vehement Irish tone. "I would not have thought it of Nanny Moore's daughter!" and she turned her eyes in sad reproach on Anne.
"If you know, tell me where she is gone," cried Mrs. Buss, and the cry was re-echoed by the other women, while Anne's startled "I cannot tell! I do not know!" was unheeded.
Only the Queen raising her hand gravely said, "Silence! What is this?"
"Miss Woodford knew."
"And never told!" cried the babble of voices.
"Come hither, Mistress Woodford," said the Queen. "Tell me, do you know where Her Highness is?"
"No, please your Majesty," said Anne, trembling from head to foot. "I do not know where she is."
"Did you know of her purpose?"
"Your Majesty pardon me. She called me to her closet yesterday and pledged me to secrecy before I knew what she would say."
"Only youthful inexperience will permit that pledge to be implied in matters of State," said the Queen. "Continue, Mistress Woodford; what did she tell you?"
"She said she feared to be made a hostage for the Prince of Denmark, and meant to escape, and she bade me come to her chamber at night to go with her."
"And wherefore did you not? You are of her religion," said the Queen bitterly.
"Madam, how could I break mine oath to your Majesty and His Royal Highness?"
"And you thought concealing the matter according to that oath? Nay, nay, child, I blame you not. It was a hard strait between your honour to her and your duty to the King and to me, and I cannot but be thankful to any one who does regard her word. But this desertion will be a sore grief to His Majesty."
Mary Beatrice was fairer-minded than the women, who looked askance at the girl, Princess Anne's people resenting that one of the other household should have been chosen as confidante, and the Queen's being displeased that the secret had been kept. But at that moment frightful yells and shouts arose, and a hasty glance from the windows showed a mass of men, women, and children howling for their Princess. They would tear down Whitehall if she were not delivered up to them. However, a line of helmeted Life-guards on their heavy horses was drawn up between, with sabres held upright, and there seemed no disposition to rush upon these. Lord Clarendon, uncle to the Princess, had satisfied himself that she had really escaped, and he now came out and assured the mob, in a stentorian voice, that he was perfectly satisfied of his niece's safety, waving the letter she had left on her toilet-table.
The mob shouted, "Bless the Princess! Hurrah for the Protestant faith! No warming-pans!" but in a good-tempered mood; and the poor little garrison breathed more freely; but Anne did not feel herself forgiven. She was in a manner sent to Coventry, and treated as if she were on the enemy's side. Never had her proud nature suffered so much, and she shed bitter tears as she said to herself, "It is very unjust! What could I have done? How could I stop Her Highness from speaking? Could they expect me to run in and accuse her? Oh, that I were at home again! Mother, mother, you little know! Of what use am I now?"
It was the very question asked by Hester Bridgeman, whom she found packing her clothes in her room.
"Take care that this is sent after me," she said, "when a messenger I shall send calls for it."
"What, you have your dismissal?"
"No, I should no more get it than you have done. They cannot afford to let any one go, you see, or they will have to dress up the chambermaids to stand behind the Queen's chair. I have settled it with my cousin, Harry Bridgeman, I shall mix with the throng that come to ask for news, and be off with him before the crowd breaks in, as they will some of these days, for the guards are but half- hearted. My Portia, why did not you take a good offer, and go with the Princess?"
"I thought it would be base."
"And much you gained by it! You are only suspected and accused."
"I can't be a rat leaving a sinking ship."
"That is courteous, but I forgive it, Portia, as I know you will repent of your folly. But you never did know which side to look for the butter."
Perhaps seeing how ugly desertion and defection looked in others made constancy easier to Anne, much as she longed for the Close at Winchester, and she even thought with a hope of the Golden Lamb, Gracechurch, as an immediate haven sure to give her a welcome.
Her occupation of reading to the Queen was ended by the King's return, so physically exhausted by violent nose-bleeding, so despondent at the universal desertion, and so broken-hearted at his daughter's defection, that his wife was absorbed in attending upon him.
Anne began to watch for an opportunity to demand a dismissal, which she thought would exempt her from all blame, but she was surprised and a little dismayed by being summoned to the King in the Queen's chamber. He was lying on a couch clad in a loose dressing-gown instead of his laced coat, and a red night-cap replacing his heavy peruke, and his face was as white and sallow as if he were recovering from a long illness.
"Little godchild," he said, holding out his hand as Anne made her obeisance, "the Queen tells me you can read well. I have a fancy to hear."
Immensely relieved at the kindness of his tone, Anne courtesied, and murmured out her willingness.
"Read this," he said; "I would fain hear this; my father loved it. Here."
Anne felt her task a hard one when the King pointed to the third Act of Shakespeare's Richard II. She steeled herself and strengthened her voice as best she could, and struggled on till she came to--
"I'll give my jewels for a set of beads, My gay apparel for an almsman's gown, My figured goblets for a dish of wood, My sceptre for a palmer's walking-staff, My subjects for a pair of carved saints, And my large kingdom for a little grave, A little, little grave."
There she fairly broke down, and sobbed.
"Little one, little one," said James, you are sorry for poor Richard, eh?"
"Oh, sir!" was all she could say.
"And you are in disgrace, they tell me, because my daughter chose to try to entice you away," said James, "and you felt bound not to betray her. Never mind; it was an awkward case of conscience, and there's not too much faithfulness to spare in these days. We shall know whom to trust to another time. Can you continue now? I would take a lesson how, 'with mine own hands to give away my crown.'"
It was well for Anne that fresh tidings were brought in at that moment, and she had to retire, with the sore feeling turned into an enthusiastic pity and loyalty, which needed the relief of sobs and mental vows of fidelity. She felt herself no longer in disgrace with her Royal master and mistress, but she was not in favour with her few companions left--all who could not get over her secrecy, and thought her at least a half traitor as well as a heretic.
Whitehall was almost in a state of siege, the turbulent mob continually coming to shout, 'No Popery!' and the like, though they proceeded no farther. The ministers and other gentlemen came and went, but the priests and the ladies durst not venture out for fear of being recognised and insulted, if not injured. Bad news came in from day to day, and no tidings of the Prince of Wales being in safety in France. Once Anne received a letter from her uncle, which cheered her much.
DEAR CHILD--So far as I can gather, your employment is at an end, if it be true as reported that the Prince of Wales is at Portsmouth, with the intent that he should be carried to France; but the gentlemen of the navy seem strongly disposed to prevent such a transportation of the heir of the realm to a foreign country. I fear me that you are in a state of doubt and anxiety, but I need not exhort your good mother's child to be true and loyal to her trust and to the Anointed of the Lord in all things lawful at all costs. If you are left in any distress or perplexity, go either to Sir Theophilus Oglethorpe's house, or to that of my good old friend, the Dean of Westminster; and as soon as I hear from you I will endeavour to ride to town and bring you home to my house, which is greatly at a loss without its young mistress.
The letter greatly refreshed Anne's spirits, and gave her something to look forward to, giving her energy to stitch at a set of lawn cuffs and bands for her uncle, and think with the more pleasure of a return that his time of residence at Winchester lay between her and that vault in the castle.
There were no more attempts made at her conversion. Every one was too anxious and occupied, and one or more of the chiefly obnoxious priests were sent privately away from day to day. While summer friends departed, Anne often thought of Bishop Ken's counsel as to loyalty to Heaven and man.
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