Annie E. Keeling.

Andrew Golding A Tale of the Great Plague online

. (page 5 of 8)
Online LibraryAnnie E. KeelingAndrew Golding A Tale of the Great Plague → online text (page 5 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the prudent courses enjoined on him.

'He talked much,' said Matthew, 'of the honour of suffering for the
truth, and how he must not be the vile coward to refuse it. And I had
never been able to beat him away from that, but for the excellent
counsel of one that was riding with him; I think he was a Quaker also,
for he could talk with Master Andrew in his own dialect.'

'What manner of man was he?' said our aunt.

'I can hardly tell,' said Matthew; 'he had a piercing eye, I wot, and a
voice as clear as a bell; very neat and seemly he was in his attire, and
yet he might have been a ruffling cavalier if one judged by his hair,
which he wore long and curled.'

'That is much how George Fox himself has been described to me,' said
Aunt Golding.

'Nay, I cannot think it was any such man,' said Matthew, 'for he talked
very reasonably, plain sense and plain words, such as a simple man like
me could not choose but understand; and one told me how George Fox
should be in Lancashire about this time.'

'Well, what said he to persuade my poor lad?' asked aunt.

'Why, he bade him remember certain works of mercy he had already in
hand, which should not be neglected to gratify a mad fancy of thrusting
his head in the lion's mouth whenever it was opened against him. So
Master Andrew was ashamed of his rashness, and was persuaded to take
himself away for a time; and we parted very lovingly. He says it shall
not be long ere you hear from him, mistress.'

I believe, in spite of Matthew's contrary opinion, that Andrew's
counsellor was no other than the famous man whom our aunt had named. But
I have no proof of this, only mine own strong persuasion.

Not many days hereafter, we had proof that Mr. Stokes had been very
honest in his warning to us. There came constables to the Grange, who
showed a warrant to seize the body of Andrew Golding, charged with many
strange misdemeanours, but especially with refusing the Oaths of
Supremacy and Allegiance. I do not believe the poor youth ever had
refused them; but this was the common trap set for the Friends, who were
known to decline all oath-taking, because of that saying of our Lord's,
'Swear not at all,' - a harmless scruple at the worst, which never ought
to be used, as I think, against honest and peaceable subjects.

We were now heartily glad that Andrew was absent, and that we could
truly say, we knew not where he was; nor were the constables much
grieved at it. One of them found an occasion of whispering to Aunt
Golding, 'If you can get word to the young man, let him know this air is
unwholesome for him just now;' after which they went hastily away.

And now we began to be haunted with spies, our steps seeming to be
dogged even in our own garden, where we were aware of people moving
about behind trees and bushes, as if hearkening after our talk; or we
caught sight of faces peering in at the windows when we were at evening
prayer. Also our friends and neighbours began to shun us as if we had
the plague, and no one more than Mrs. Bonithorne, who had been a great
worshipper of Mr. Truelocke, but now, as we heard, blamed him openly for
his lack of true obedience to the powers that be, 'which are ordained of
God,' she would often add. It was her husband who told us this as a good
jest; but it hurt Mr. Truelocke, and he became more set on his design of
leaving the Grange, and betaking himself to his kinsfolk in Cumberland,
where among the waste and lonely mountains he might linger out his days
without offence to any. I could not hear him talk of this plan without
tears, which he perceiving tried to stop.

'Seest thou, dear child,' he would say, 'all these discomforts come upon
this house because of my abode in it; for as for poor Andrew, he is
known to be elsewhere, and however peaceably I may behave myself, you
will be allowed no peace till I am either gone out of sight like him, or
lodged in gaol for some fancied offence. Which were best, thinkest thou,
Lucy?' and when I had no answer but weeping, he would leave that point
and begin to talk of Harry's ship, the _Good Hope_, of which we had got
some news, and would speak hopefully of the joyful meeting we should
have when that ship came home.

Alas, I fear he was no prophet! But he was not to be turned from his
intention; and presently he was gone indeed, in the company of Mr.
Bonithorne, who had business in the north country, and who undertook
with a great deal of satisfaction to let no one, and especially not his
wife, into the mystery of his having this reverend travelling companion.

And now the Grange seemed a sad lonely house indeed; for every day and
all day long we missed that noble white head, that kindly presence, that
voice still musical and tender in spite of seventy years of service.
Those spyings and watchings of us, which had helped to drive away our
fatherly friend, were a little intermitted when he was gone; but the
poor benefit was counterpoised with a heavy trouble, for now our Aunt
Golding began to decline, falling into a strange lingering kind of
fever, which the doctors could not understand. I think it was nothing
but trouble of heart which caused it, for she was mightily disquieted
about Andrew. There was reason to think it would be as unsafe as ever
for him to return home, and letters from him were very rare; he could
not often find a messenger whom he would trust, and this difficulty was
increased by his wandering about the country as he did, which yet was
deemed the best way for him to live.

So being often a prey to anxious thoughts, the poor lady pined and faded
away, and presently catching a cold, she began to be troubled with
difficulty in breathing, and her sleep went from her. It was now that we
learned the worth of Grace Standfast, who fairly took us poor silly
girls in hand as her pupils, setting us tasks to do both in the house
and the sick chamber, and keeping us in heart with cheerful words and
looks. But for all her skill and her cheerfulness, our patient visibly
grew worse and worse, and as the year wore into winter, we saw that we
should lose her.

And now there befell a strange thing, which I will tell just as it
happened, and I think there can be no superstition in dwelling on it so

Aunt Golding's sickness had now become so sore, that it was needful for
one of us always to watch with her; and on the night I speak of it was
my turn to do so. She was very uneasy the first part of my watch, but
about midnight she fell into a deep sleep, and continued so for an hour,
when, hearing no sound, I went to look on her, and saw such heavenly
peace on her sleeping countenance, that I could have thought a light
shone from it like the glory about a saint's head in a picture. I do not
know how long I had stood gazing on her, when all at once she woke, and,
smiling at me, -

'Is it thou, Lucy?' said she; 'that is well. I have good news for thee;'
at which I began to fear she was light-headed, for how should she have
news that I knew not? But presently she went on, with many pauses
because of her difficult breathing.

'Thou hast grieved much, Lucy, thinking thy sailor would never come home
to thee again; be at peace, he shall come home, a better man, - and find
thee a holier woman for all the troubles thou shalt have seen.'

'How do you know? how can you tell?' I cried.

'I cannot tell thee now,' she said, 'but I do know. And thou hast seen,
dear heart, how I have grieved over my Andrew - my heart's child, the
comfort of my old age; I have thought he was clean gone out of the right
way, for all his sincerity. It has been shown me in my sleep, that I had
no need thus to grieve. His rashness may bring him sharp trials, but
even through those shall he enter in. The light that leads him is the
true Light. And though he and his fellows are but erring men, - like all
others, - yet even their trivial errors shall have their use; in days to
come men shall say that these despised and persecuted believers have
done nobly - for their country and for the world.'

'Then, do you think,' I said, in some trouble, 'that we are all wrong,
and only Andrew and those like-minded in the right?'

'Nay, dear heart,' said she, 'I think not so. The paths are many - but
the Guide is one. Let us only follow His voice, - and He will bring us
to His Father's house in safety. I have comfort about thy sister too,'
she added presently, 'though I fear it is not such as she can value yet.
Do not forget, dear child, to have Mr. Stokes sent for to-morrow; I wish
to receive the most comfortable Sacrament of the Lord's Supper once
more - with you all, before I go hence.' As she said the last words, her
voice sank away, and I saw that she was sleeping once more.

The next day we did as she had bidden, in sending for Mr. Stokes, who
accordingly came, and gave the Communion to all our household, as well
as to our poor aunt. I never liked him better than on that day.

But a sad day it proved to us, for we all saw plainly how our second
mother was now a dying woman. I think she hardly said twenty words to
one of us thereafter, but quietly slept and dreamed her life away, and
on the third day she was gone. This was last winter, the winter of 1664;
and I remember how all that melancholy time the people were greatly
disturbed about the comet that was to be seen, wondering what mischiefs
it should betoken; I saw it myself, but so full was my mind of my
private griefs, I cared not much about ill omens to the State. Indeed,
one thing that soon happened was very distressing to us, and I shall
shortly relate what it was.



It was about a ten days after Mrs. Golding's death, and we were
beginning to feel as if our desolation was a thing that had always been
and always would be, for so I think it often seems when a grief is new.
However desolate we were, we were not destitute; she who was gone had
cared for that, and we found a modest dower secured to each of us,
without injury to Andrew's rightful inheritance of the Grange and the
lands belonging thereto; also we were to continue dwelling in the Grange
till its new master should come home and make such dispositions as
pleased him. But for all this we were greatly perplexed; we had been
long without news of Andrew, and could not tell how to get word to him
of Mrs. Golding's death.

On the day I speak of, we had been teased by a visit from Mrs.
Bonithorne, who, professing great sorrow for our loss, and her own loss
of one whom she called her oldest friend, soon fell to talking of
Andrew, and how his unlucky doings were all owing to our good aunt's
foolishness in entertaining so pestilent a heretic as James Westrop
under her roof.

'I warned her of it,' quoth she; 'I said to her, "You will rue it yet,
Margaret; with such an one you should have no dealings, no, not so much
as to eat," and now see what has come of her perverseness!' and
such-like stuff she said, which moved Grace Standfast to say
disdainfully, when our visitor was gone, 'Yon woman surely owes us a
little grudge, that 'twas our house and not hers which entertained so
rare a monster as a wandering Quaker; she asked me twenty questions
about him the day after, I remember it well; but we hardly had heart to
laugh, though we were sure enough she had given no such warnings as she
spake of. Althea only sighed and said, ''twas an evil day for her when
she first saw that man;' and as she told me, his two appearances to us
haunted her as she went to rest, and mingled themselves with her dreams.
She woke at last sharply and suddenly, thinking she heard the hail
rattling against the windows as it did when Mr. Truelocke preached his
last sermon in our church; but it was not hail that rattled, it was some
one throwing sand and pebbles up at her window to wake her, and then a
voice calling on her name. She sprang up, and, hurrying on some clothes,
she ran down-stairs; for, as she told me, she had no more doubt of its
being Andrew who called, than if it had been broad daylight, and she
could see him standing below the window; and, being too impatient to
unlock any door, she undid the hasp of the nearest casement and climbed
out; and at the same moment hearing a voice again calling softly,
'Althea,' she ran in the direction of the sound, and came upon a man
whom in the starlight she saw to be Andrew indeed; she spoke his name,
holding out both her hands, and he turning at once grasped them in both
his, and so they stood gazing at each other awhile. Then she said, half
sobbing, -

'You come strangely, Andrew - but you come to your own house, and I am
glad that it falls to me to welcome you to it; it lacks a master sadly;'
and she tried to draw him towards the door, telling him she would set
it open if he would tarry a few minutes while she herself climbed in to
do it.

'Alas!' he said, resisting her efforts; 'what do you mean by calling
this my house? is our aunt indeed gone? I had hoped that part of the
message might be a delusion.'

'What message? I sent none, for I knew not where to send, nor did any of
us,' she replied; 'but it is too true that Mrs. Golding is dead these
ten days; and all things are at a stand for lack of your presence. Come
in; do not keep me here in the darkness and the cold.'

'I will not keep thee long,' he said sadly; 'fear it not, Althea. But I
may not come under this roof which thou sayest is mine. I saw the dim
light in your window,' he went on, like one talking in a dream, 'and I
could not bear to pass by and make no sign, as I ought to have done. For
I love thee too well, Althea Dacre, as thou knowest.'

'How can it be too well,' she answered boldly, 'if you do not love me
better than I do you? and therefore come in to your own home, or I will
not believe there is any love in you at all.'

'That's a foolish jest,' said he half angrily. 'I may not cross the
doorstone of this house to-day, Althea; I am forbidden; so hear me say
what I came to say. There is a heavy burden laid on me. For seven nights
together I saw in vision a dark terrible angel, having his wings
outspread and holding in his hand a half-drawn glittering sword; he was
hovering over this land of England; and it was shown me that he was a
messenger of wrath bidden to smite the land with a pestilence. Now there
be those far holier than I who have seen the like vision; but to me came
the word that I must go up to London, where this year the plague shall
be very sore, and as I go I must warn all men, that they may repent and
amend, before this judgment fall on them.'

There was that in his voice and words that made Althea tremble like a
leaf; she did not disbelieve in his visions while she heard him; but she
strove against the impression, and cried out, when she could find her
voice, that this was indeed madness.

'You have no right,' she said, 'to desert your natural and lawful
duties, and your poor kinswomen too, who are desolate; you will break
our hearts, you will ruin yourself, and all for a delusion.'

'It is no delusion,' said he; 'your own words, Althea, have confirmed
to me the truth of my mission. For it was said to me, "This shall be a
sign to thee, that Margaret, the widow of thy father's brother, lies
sick even to death; and thou shalt see her face no more, nor come under
her roof." And is it not so? for her face is buried out of our
sight,' - his voice shook, - 'so dost not see, Althea, I may not come in
as thou wouldst have me? Furthermore, I believe my earthly pilgrimage
shall come to its end in London; I cannot be sure; but, I think, I
return no more alive. That is why I hungered so for one last look at
thee, Althea; also I wished as a dying man to entreat thee not to
despise the Lord's poor people any more. Now I must go; farewell, dear
heart, for ever;' and with these words he assayed to go; but, as she
told me afterwards, she clutched at his coat, passionately protesting he
should never go; and when he unlocked her hands, and besought her not to
hinder him, she dropt on the ground at his feet, clasped him round the
knees, and called on me with all her might.

'Help, Lucia! help, sister!' were the words that woke me, and sent me
flying with breathless speed to the place whence the call came. I
climbed through the window which I found open, and ran to the spot where
I could discern that a struggle was going on; but as I came up Andrew
had got himself loosed; and, saying low and thickly to me, -

'Look to your sister, take her in instantly,' he turned and fled as a
man might flee for his life, while Althea threw herself on the cold
ground, moaning and sobbing like a creature mortally hurt. I took her in
my arms and raised her up, asking her, all amazed, was that indeed
Andrew? but she did nothing but wring her hands and implore me to follow
him and fetch him back; and I had much trouble to persuade her that was
useless and hopeless for us at that hour of the night. At last she was
won to rise and return to the house; and we both found it a difficult
matter to get in where we had got out easily enough; which Mr.
Truelocke, I doubt not, would have moralized in his pleasant way into a
sort of holy parable. But I have not that gift, and I suppose 'twas the
hope in Althea's breast and the fear in mine which had raised our powers
for a moment and made a hard thing easy.

[Illustration: 'Look to your sister, take her in instantly.']

When we had recovered a little, and had got safely to my room, Althea
recollected herself and told me every word that had passed; and we both
agreed that Andrew was running himself into new and strange dangers in
pursuance of what he held as a Divine call. I noted it as a new thing
in Althea, that she could no longer scoff at this belief of his in the
inward heavenly voice that must be obeyed; but this matter was very
terrible to us; and we talked of it till daylight, without coming to any
conclusion as to what we were best to do about it.



And now we had a time of unceasing disquiet. It was soon noised abroad
that the heir to the Grange was missing, and his house and lands left
masterless; and there presently appeared first one and then another of
the Goldings, far-off kinsmen of Andrew; these persons came to the house
to examine it, and talked much with the Standfasts; also they tried to
find out what my sister and I knew of Andrew's doings; some of them went
to York to talk with Aunt Golding's lawyer; and it was not hard to see
that they would have been glad to get certain news of Andrew's death.
This made their coming hateful to us; but the house not being our own,
we could not shut them out. We did what we could to get news of Andrew;
but there was small comfort in the scanty intelligence we could glean,
since it all pointed to his having indeed gone up to London, and having
preached woe and judgment on his way thither.

And had it not been that we sometimes got comfortable letters from Mr.
Truelocke, telling of his quiet untroubled life in the Dale country, I
had now been unhappy enough; for we were ever hearing tales of the evil
handling of all kinds of Dissenters; even young maidens and little
children being pelted, whipped, and chained for the crime of being of
Quaker parentage and belief, while hundreds of Nonconformists of that
sort and other sorts were thrown into prison and left there. I suppose
it was the mad doings of the Fifth Monarchy men, as folks called them,
which stirred up such a persecuting spirit; so at least said the people
of our village, who now began to come about us again, with some show of
former kindness; but they proved very Job's comforters to us, by reason
of the frightful stories they loved to retail.

There was one good soul whom I loved well to see, who yet gave me many a
heart-quake; it was a Mrs. Ashford, wife to a small farmer near us; a
lad of hers had sailed with my Harry, and thus she would often come to
talk over the hopes and fears we had in common, and to exchange with me
whatever scraps of sea-news we could pick up. So one day, as we sat
talking, -

'It may be,' says she, 'we shall see things as terrible here in England,
as any that can befall our darlings at sea;' and I asking what she
meant, she told me she had learnt from certain poor seamen that the
Plague was assuredly on its way to us, having been creeping nearer and
nearer for a year and a half.

'A Dutch ship from Argier in Africa,' says she, 'brought it first to
Amsterdam, where it grows more and more; and 'tis certain, in another
Dutch ship, a great one, all hands died of the Plague, the ship driving
ashore and being found full of dead corpses, to the great horror and
destruction of the people there; which makes our people tremble, because
of our nearness to Holland and our traffic with it.'

'I heard something of this,' I said, 'last summer, but it seemed an idle
tale only, that died away of itself.'

'It is no idle tale,' answered she; 'see you not, sweet lady, the
infection itself died away somewhat in the cold winter; but now that
spring comes on so fast, the sickness and people's fears of it revive
together. You will see.'

Well, this news was frightful to me for Harry's sake. I began to tremble
lest perchance the _Good Hope_ should be visited like that Dutch ship;
but I did not breathe such a fear to Mrs. Ashford. And as the spring
drew on, and war with the Dutch was in every mouth, we had a new terror;
for now if our sailors came safe home, they could scarce escape being
impressed for the king's service; so we knew not what to wish for.

The spring being more than ordinarily hot, doubled the apprehensions of
the Plague; and some time in April, as I think, news came down that it
had broken out indeed in London. 'Twas said it came in a bale of silk,
brought from some infected city, and the fear of it increased mightily;
and we, remembering Andrew's strange vision, were not less in terror
than our neighbours.

About that time I was busy one morning in the front garden, when a
gentleman in black came in at the gate, and was making up to the hall
door, when, espying me, he stopped, beckoning with his hand, and seeming
to want speech with me. He was muffled in a cloak, and his hat pulled
over his brows, so I could not tell who he was; yet I went to meet him,
and when I was near enough, -

'I think, madam,' says he, in an odd husky voice, 'you have a kinsman
who took his way up to town some weeks ago? I bring news of him;' on
which I begged he would come in and tell it to my sister also; but he
said, -

'There is much sickness in town; I am newly come from it; it were more
prudent for me to speak with you here;' on which I ran and fetched
Althea out; and the man said, 'I do not pretend, madam, that my news is
good news. Your kinsman demeaned himself strangely on his coming up,
denouncing wrath and woe against the poor citizens, speaking much evil
of both Court and City; I am told his civillest name for one was Sodom,
and for the other Gomorrah.'

Here Althea said scornfully, if all tales were true, those names were
fit enough; and the stranger replied, that might be, but civil speech
was best.

'People took your kinsman's preachings very unkindly,' he continued;
'the more so when the Plague he prophesied of began to show itself; then
he was called a sorcerer; and to make a long story short, he was taken
up for a pestilent mad Quaker, and clapt into gaol. I looked on him
there; and in gaol he lies still, and may lie for me.'

With that he plucked his cloak away from his face, and, lifting his hat,
made us a deep, mocking bow, and we saw it was Ralph Lacy; but such a
ghastly change I never saw on any man. His face was livid, his eyes,
deep sunk in his head, glared like coals of fire; and when he began to
laugh, his look was altogether devilish.

'You did not know me, pretty one,' he said to Althea, 'did you? When I
had seen Golding laid in gaol, I swore none but I should bring you the
joyful news; and I can tell you he is worse lodged than even his great
prophet, Fox himself, at whose lodging in Lancaster Castle I looked this
year with great pleasure - very smoky, and wet, and foul it is.'

'Wretch!' said Althea; 'do you exult over the sufferings of harmless,
peaceable men?'

'Harmless and peaceable, quotha?' said he; 'it was one of these
peaceable creatures flung me into the dust like a worm; but the worm
turns, you know. I took much pains to requite that kindness, and now I
cry quits with Master Andrew.'

'Your wickedness shall return on your own head! I pray God it may!'
cries Althea, trembling with indignation.

1 2 3 5 7 8

Online LibraryAnnie E. KeelingAndrew Golding A Tale of the Great Plague → online text (page 5 of 8)