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After lunch, the Warden showed a good degree of kind anxiety about his
guest, and ensconced him in a most comfortable chair in his study,
where he gave him his choice of books old and new, and was somewhat
surprised, as well as amused, to see that Redclyffe seemed most
attracted towards a department of the library filled with books of
English antiquities, and genealogies, and heraldry; the two latter,
indeed, having the preference over the others.
"This is very remarkable," said he, smiling. "By what right or reason,
by what logic of character, can you, a democrat, renouncing all
advantages of birth,--neither priding yourself on family, nor seeking
to found one,--how therefore can you care for genealogies, or for this
fantastic science of heraldry? Having no antiquities, being a people
just made, how can you care for them?"
"My dear sir," said Redclyffe, "I doubt whether the most devoted
antiquarian in England ever cares to search for an old thing merely
because it is old, as any American just landed on your shores would do.
Age is our novelty; therefore it attracts and absorbs us. And as for
genealogies, I know not what necessary repulsion there may be between
it and democracy. A line of respectable connections, being the harder
to preserve where there is nothing in the laws to defend it, is
therefore the more precious when we have it really to boast of."
"True," said the Warden, "when a race keeps itself distinguished among
the grimy order of your commonalty, all with equal legal rights to
place and eminence as itself, it must needs be because there is a force
and efficacy in the blood. I doubt not," he said, looking with the free
approval of an elder man at the young man's finely developed face and
graceful form,--"I doubt not that you can look back upon a line of
ancestry, always shining out from the surrounding obscurity of the
Redclyffe, though ashamed of himself, could not but feel a paltry
confusion and embarrassment, as he thought of his unknown origin, and
his advent from the almshouse; coming out of that squalid darkness as
if he were a thing that had had a spontaneous birth out of poverty,
meanness, petty crime; and here in ancestral England, he felt more
keenly than ever before what was his misfortune.
"I must not let you lie under this impression," said he manfully to the
Warden. "I have no ancestry; at the very first step my origin is lost
in impenetrable obscurity. I only know that but for the aid of a kind
friend--on whose benevolence I seem to have had no claim whatever--my
life would probably have been poor, mean, unenlightened."
"Well, well," said the kind Warden,--hardly quite feeling, however, the
noble sentiment which he expressed,--"it is better to be the first
noble illustrator of a name than even the worthy heir of a name that
has been noble and famous for a thousand years. The highest pride of
some of our peers, who have won their rank by their own force, has been
to point to the cottage whence they sprung. Your posterity, at all
events, will have the advantage of you,--they will know their
Redclyffe sighed, for there was truly a great deal of the foolish
yearning for a connection with the past about him; his imagination had
taken this turn, and the very circumstances of his obscure birth gave
it a field to exercise itself.
"I advise you," said the Warden, by way of changing the conversation,
"to look over the excellent history of the county which you are now in.
There is no reading better, to my mind, than these country histories;
though doubtless a stranger would hardly feel so much interest in them
as one whose progenitors, male or female, have strewn their dust over
the whole field of which the history treats. This history is a fine
specimen of the kind."
The work to which Redclyffe's attention was thus drawn was in two large
folio volumes, published about thirty years before, bound in calf by
some famous artist in that line, illustrated with portraits and views
of ruined castles, churches, cathedrals, the seats of nobility and
gentry; Roman, British, and Saxon remains, painted windows, oak
carvings, and so forth.
And as for its contents the author ascended for the history of the
county as far as into the pre-Roman ages, before Caesar had ever heard
of Britain; and brought it down, an ever swelling and increasing tale,
to his own days; inclusive of the separate histories, and pedigrees,
and hereditary legends, and incidents, of all the principal families.
In this latter branch of information, indeed, the work seemed
particularly full, and contained every incident that would have worked
well into historical romance.
"Aye, aye," said the Warden, laughing at some strange incident of this
sort which Redclyffe read out to him. "My old friend Gibber, the
learned author of this work, (he has been dead this score of years, so
he will not mind my saying it,) had a little too much the habit of
seeking his authorities in the cottage chimney-corners. I mean that an
old woman's tale was just about as acceptable to him as a recorded
fact; and to say the truth, they are really apt to have ten times the
life in them."
Redclyffe saw in the volume a full account of the founding of the
Hospital, its regulations and purposes, its edifices; all of which he
reserved for future reading, being for the present more attracted by
the mouldy gossip of family anecdotes which we have alluded to. Some of
these, and not the least singular, referred to the ancient family which
had founded the Hospital; and he was attracted by seeing a mention of a
Bloody Footstep, which reminded him of the strange old story which good
Doctor Grimshawe had related by his New England fireside, in those
childish days when Edward dwelt with him by the graveyard, On reading
it, however, he found that the English legend, if such it could be
called, was far less full and explicit than that of New England.
Indeed, it assigned various origins to the Bloody Footstep;--one being,
that it was the stamp of the foot of the Saxon thane, who fought at his
own threshold against the assault of the Norman baron, who seized his
mansion at the Conquest; another, that it was the imprint of a fugitive
who had sought shelter from the lady of the house during the Wars of
the Roses, and was dragged out by her husband, and slain on the door-
step; still another, that it was the footstep of a Protestant in Bloody
Mary's days, who, being sent to prison by the squire of that epoch, had
lifted his hands to Heaven, and stamped his foot, in appeal as against
the unjust violence with which he was treated, and stamping his foot,
it had left the bloody mark. It was hinted too, however, that another
version, which out of delicacy to the family the author was reluctant
to state, assigned the origin of the Bloody Footstep to so late a
period as the wars of the Parliament. And, finally, there was an odious
rumor that what was called the Bloody Footstep was nothing miraculous,
after all, but most probably a natural reddish stain in the stone door-
step; but against this heresy the excellent Dr. Gibber set his face
The original legend had made such an impression on Redclyffe's childish
fancy, that he became strangely interested in thus discovering it, or
something remotely like it, in England, and being brought by such
unsought means to reside so near it. Curious about the family to which
it had occurred, he proceeded to examine its records, as given in the
County History. The name was Redclyffe. Like most English pedigrees,
there was an obscurity about a good many of the earlier links; but the
line was traced out with reasonable definiteness from the days of Coeur
de Lion, and there was said to be a cross-legged ancestor in the
village church, who (but the inscription was obliterated) was probably
a Redclyffe, and had fought either under the Lion Heart or in the
Crusades. It was, in subsequent ages, one of the most distinguished
families, though there had been turbulent men in all those turbulent
times, hard fighters. In one age, a barony of early creation seemed to
have come into the family, and had been, as it were, playing bo-peep
with the race for several centuries. Some of them had actually assumed
the title; others had given it up for lack of sufficient proof; but
still there was such a claim, and up to the time at which this County
History was written, it had neither been made out, nor had the hope of
doing so been relinquished.
"Have the family," asked Redclyffe of his host, "ever yet made out
their claim to this title, which has so long been playing the will-of-
the-wisp with them?"
"No, not yet," said the Warden, puffing out a volume of smoke from his
meerschaum, and making it curl up to the ceiling. "Their claim has as
little substance, in my belief, as yonder vanishing vapor from my pipe.
But they still keep up their delusion. I had supposed that the claim
would perish with the last squire, who was a childless man,--at least,
without legitimate heirs; but this estate passed to one whom we can
scarcely call an Englishman, he being a Catholic, the descendant of
forefathers who have lived in Italy since the time of George II., and
who is, moreover, a Catholic. We English would not willingly see an
ancestral honor in the possession of such a man!"
"Is there, do you think, a prospect of his success?"
"I have heard so, but hardly believe it," replied the Warden. "I
remember, some dozen or fifteen years ago, it was given out that some
clue had been found to the only piece of evidence that was wanting. It
had been said that there was an emigration to your own country, above a
hundred years ago, and on account of some family feud; the true heir
had gone thither and never returned. Now, the point was to prove the
extinction of this branch of the family. But, excuse me, I must pay an
official visit to my charge here. Will you accompany me, or continue to
pore over the County History?"
Redclyffe felt enough of the elasticity of convalescence to be desirous
of accompanying the Warden; and they accordingly crossed the enclosed
quadrangle to the entrance of the Hospital portion of the large and
intricate structure. It was a building of the early Elizabethan age, a
plaster and timber structure, like many houses of that period and much
earlier. [Endnote: 1] Around this court stood the building, with the
date 1437 cut on the front. On each side, a row of gables looked upon
the enclosed space, most venerable old gables, with heavy mullioned
windows filled with little diamond panes of glass, and opening on
lattices. On two sides there was a cloistered walk, under echoing
arches, and in the midst a spacious lawn of the greenest and loveliest
grass, such as England only can show, and which, there, is of perennial
verdure and beauty. In the midst stood a stone statue of a venerable
man, wrought in the best of mediŠval sculpture, with robe and ruff, and
tunic and venerable beard, resting on a staff, and holding what looked
like a clasped book in his hand. The English atmosphere, together with
the coal smoke, settling down in the space of centuries from the
chimneys of the Hospital, had roughened and blackened this venerable
piece of sculpture, enclosing it as it were in a superficies of decay;
but still (and perhaps the more from these tokens of having stood so
long among men) the statue had an aspect of venerable life, and of
connection with human life, that made it strongly impressive.
"This is the effigy of Sir Edward Redclyffe, the founder of the
Hospital," said the Warden. "He is a most peaceful and venerable old
gentleman in his attire and aspect, as you see; but he was a fierce old
fellow in his day, and is said to have founded the Hospital as a means
of appeasing Heaven for some particular deed of blood, which he had
imposed upon his conscience in the War of the Roses."
"Yes," said Redclyffe, "I have just read in the County History that the
Bloody Footstep was said to have been imprinted in his time. But what
is that thing which he holds in his hand?"
"It is a famous heirloom of the Redclyffes," said the Warden, "on the
possession of which (as long as they did possess it) they prided
themselves, it is said, more than on their ancient manor-house. It was
a Saxon ornament, which a certain ancestor was said to have had from
Harold, the old Saxon king; but if there ever was any such article, it
has been missing from the family mansion for two or three hundred
years. There is not known to be an antique relic of that description
now in existence."
"I remember having seen such an article,--yes, precisely of that
shape," observed Redclyffe, "in the possession of a very dear old
friend of mine, when I was a boy."
"What, in America?" exclaimed the Warden. "That is very remarkable. The
time of its being missed coincides well enough with that of the early
settlement of New England. Some Puritan, before his departure, may have
thought himself doing God service by filching the old golden gewgaw
from the Cavalier; for it was said to be fine, ductile gold."
The circumstances struck Redclyffe with a pleasant wonder; for, indeed,
the old statue held the closest possible imitation, in marble, of that
strange old glitter of gold which he himself had so often played with
in the Doctor's study; [Endnote: 2] so identical, that he could have
fancied that he saw the very thing, changed from metal into stone, even
with its bruises and other casual marks in it. As he looked at the old
statue, his imagination played with it, and his naturally great
impressibility half made him imagine that the old face looked at him
with a keen, subtile, wary glance, as if acknowledging that it held
some secret, but at the same time defying him to find it out. And then
again came that visionary feeling that had so often swept over him
since he had been an inmate of the Hospital.
All over the interior part of the building was carved in stone the
leopard's head, with wearisome iteration; as if the founder were
anxious to imprint his device so numerously, lest--when he produced
this edifice as his remuneration to Eternal Justice for many sins--the
Omniscient Eye should fail to be reminded that Sir Edward Redclyffe had
done it. But, at all events, it seemed to Redclyffe that the ancient
knight had purposed a good thing, and in a measurable degree had
effected it; for here stood the venerable edifice securely founded,
bearing the moss of four hundred years upon it; and though wars, and
change of dynasties, and religious change, had swept around it, with
seemingly destructive potency, yet here had the lodging, the food, the
monastic privileges of the brethren been held secure, and were
unchanged by all the altering mariners of the age. The old fellow,
somehow or other, seemed to have struck upon an everlasting rock, and
founded his pompous charity there.
They entered an arched door on the left of the quadrangle, and found
themselves hi a dark old hall with oaken beams; to say the truth, it
was a barn-like sort of enclosure, and was now used as a sort of
rubbish-place for the Hospital, where they stored away old furniture,
and where carpenter's work might be done. And yet, as the Warden
assured Redclyffe, it was once a hall of state, hung with tapestry,
carpeted, for aught he knew, with cloth of gold, and set with rich
furniture, and a groaning board in the midst. Here, the hereditary
patron of the Hospital had once entertained King James the First, who
made a Latin speech on the occasion, a copy of which was still
preserved in the archives. On the rafters of this old hall there were
cobwebs in such abundance that Redclyffe could not but reflect on the
joy which old Doctor Grimshawe would have had in seeing them, and the
health to the human race which he would have hoped to collect and
distil from them.
From this great, antique room they crossed the quadrangle and entered
the kitchen of the establishment. A hospitable fire was burning there,
and there seemed to be a great variety of messes cooking; and the
Warden explained to Redclyffe that there was no general table in the
Hospital; but the brethren, at their own will and pleasure, either
formed themselves into companies or messes, of any convenient size, or
enjoyed a solitary meal by themselves, each in their own apartments.
There was a goodly choice of simple, but good and enjoyable food, and a
sufficient supply of potent ale, brewed in the vats of the Hospital,
which, among its other praiseworthy characteristics, was famous for
this; having at some epoch presumed to vie with the famous ale of
Trinity, in Cambridge, and the Archdeacon of Oxford,--these having come
down to the hospital from a private receipt of Sir Edward's butler,
which was now lost in the Redclyffe family; nor would the ungrateful
Hospital give up its secret even out of loyalty to its founder.
"I would use my influence with the brewer," said the Warden, on
communicating this little fact to Redclyffe; "but the present man--now
owner of the estate--is not worthy to have good ale brewed in his
house; having himself no taste for anything but Italian wines, wretched
fellow that he is! He might make himself an Englishman if he would take
heartily to our ale; and with that end in view, I should be glad to
give it him."
The kitchen fire blazed warmly, as we have said, and roast and stewed
and boiled were in process of cooking, producing a pleasant fume, while
great heaps of wheaten loaves were smoking hot from the ovens, and the
master cook and his subordinates were in fume and hiss, like beings
that were of a fiery element, and, though irritable and scorching, yet
were happier here than they could have been in any other situation. The
Warden seemed to have an especial interest and delight in this
department of the Hospital, and spoke apart to the head cook on the
subject (as Redclyffe surmised from what he overheard) of some especial
delicacy for his own table that day.
"This kitchen is a genial place," said he to Redclyffe, as they
retired. "In the evening, after the cooks have done their work, the
brethren have liberty to use it as a sort of common room, and to sit
here over their ale till a reasonable bedtime. It would interest you
much to make one at such a party; for they have had a varied experience
in life, each one for himself, and it would be strange to hear the
varied roads by which they have come hither."
"Yes," replied Redclyffe, "and, I presume, not one of them ever dreamed
of coming hither when he started in life. The only one with whom I am
acquainted could hardly have expected it, at all events."
"He is a remarkable man, more so than you may have had an opportunity
of knowing," said the Warden. "I know not his history, for he is not
communicative on that subject, and it was only necessary for him to
make out his proofs of claim to the charity to the satisfaction of the
Curators. But it has often struck me that there must have been strange
and striking events in his life,--though how it could have been without
his attracting attention and being known, I cannot say. I have myself
often received good counsel from him in the conduct of the Hospital,
and the present owner of the Hall seems to have taken him for his
counsellor and confidant, being himself strange to English affairs and
"I should like to call on him, as a matter of course rather than
courtesy," observed Redclyffe, "and thank him for his great kindness."
They accordingly ascended the dark oaken staircase with its black
balustrade, and approached the old man's chamber, the door of which
they found open, and in the blurred looking-glass which hung deep
within the room Redclyffe was surprised to perceive the young face of a
woman, who seemed to be arranging her head-gear, as women are always
doing. It was but a moment, and then it vanished like a vision.
"I was not aware," he said, turning to the Warden, "that there was a
feminine side to this establishment."
"Nor is there," said the old bachelor, "else it would not have held
together so many ages as it has. The establishment has its own wise,
monkish regulations; but we cannot prevent the fact, that some of the
brethren may have had foolish relations with the other sex at some
previous period of their lives. This seems to be the case with our wise
old friend of whom we have been speaking,--whereby he doubtless became
both wiser and sadder. If you have seen a female face here, it is that
of a relative who resides out of the hospital,--an excellent young
lady, I believe, who has charge of a school."
While he was speaking, the young lady in question passed out, greeting
the Warden in a cheerful, respectful way, in which deference to him was
well combined with a sense of what was due to herself.
"That," observed the Warden, who had returned her courtesy, with a
kindly air betwixt that of gentlemanly courtesy and a superior's
acknowledgment,--"that is the relative of our old friend; a young
person--a gentlewoman, I may almost call her--who teaches a little
school in the village here, and keeps her guardian's heart warm, no
doubt, with her presence. An excellent young woman, I do believe, and
very useful and faithful in her station."
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