Charlotte Mary Yonge.

A Reputed Changeling Or Three Seventh Years Two Centuries Ago online

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Transcribed by David Price, email [email protected]




A REPUTED CHANGELING, or, THREE SEVENTH YEARS TWO CENTURIES AGO




PREFACE


I do not think I have here forced the hand of history except by
giving Portchester to two imaginary Rectors, and by a little
injustice to her whom Princess Anne termed 'the brick-bat woman.'

The trial is not according to present rules, but precedents for its
irregularities are to be found in the doings of the seventeenth
century, notably in the trial of Spencer Cowper by the same Judge
Hatsel, and I have done my best to represent the habits of those
country gentry who were not infected by the evils of the later
Stewart reigns.

There is some doubt as to the proper spelling of Portchester, but,
judging by analogy, the t ought not to be omitted.

C. M. YONGE. 2d May 1889.



CHAPTER I: THE EXPERIENCES OF GOODY MADGE


"Dear Madam, think me not to blame;
Invisible the fairy came.
Your precious babe is hence conveyed,
And in its place a changeling laid.
Where are the father's mouth and nose,
The mother's eyes as black as sloes?
See here, a shocking awkward creature,
That speaks a fool in every feature."

GAY.

"He is an ugly ill-favoured boy - just like Riquet a la Houppe."

"That he is! Do you not know that he is a changeling?"

Such were the words of two little girls walking home from a school
for young ladies kept, at the Cathedral city of Winchester, by two
Frenchwomen of quality, refugees from the persecutions preluding the
Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and who enlivened the studies of
their pupils with the Contes de Commere L'Oie.

The first speaker was Anne Jacobina Woodford, who had recently come
with her mother, the widow of a brave naval officer, to live with
her uncle, the Prebendary then in residence. The other was Lucy
Archfield, daughter to a knight, whose home was a few miles from
Portchester, Dr. Woodford's parish on the southern coast of
Hampshire.

In the seventeenth century, when roads were mere ditches often
impassable, and country-houses frequently became entirely isolated
in the winter, it was usual with the wealthier county families to
move into their local capital, where some owned mansions and others
hired prebendal houses, or went into lodgings in the roomy dwellings
of the superior tradesmen. For the elders this was the season of
social intercourse, for the young people, of education.

The two girls, who were about eight years old, had struck up a rapid
friendship, and were walking hand in hand to the Close attended by
the nurse in charge of Mistress Lucy. This little lady wore a black
silk hood and cape, trimmed with light brown fur, and lined with
pink, while Anne Woodford, being still in mourning for her father,
was wrapped in a black cloak, unrelieved except by the white border
of her round cap, fringed by fair curls, contrasting with her brown
eyes. She was taller and had a more upright bearing of head and
neck, with more promise of beauty than her companion, who was much
more countrified and would not have been taken for the child of
higher station.

They had traversed the graveyard of the Cathedral, and were passing
through a narrow archway known as the Slype, between the south-
western angle of the Cathedral and a heavy mass of old masonry
forming part of the garden wall of the present abode of the
Archfield family, when suddenly both children stumbled and fell,
while an elfish peal of laughter sounded behind them.

Lucy came down uppermost, and was scarcely hurt, but Anne had fallen
prone, striking her chin on the ground, so as to make her bite her
lip, and bruising knees and elbows severely. Nurse detected the
cause of the fall so as to avoid it herself. It was a cord fastened
across the archway, close to the ground, and another shout of
derision greeted the discovery; while Lucy, regaining her feet,
beheld for a moment a weird exulting grimace on a visage peeping
over a neighbouring headstone.

"It is he! it is he! The wicked imp! There's no peace for him! I
say," she screamed, "see if you don't get a sound flogging!" and she
clenched her little fist as the provoking "Ho! ho! ho!" rang farther
and farther off. "Don't cry, Anne dear; the Dean and Chapter shall
take order with him, and he shall be soundly beaten. Are you hurt?
O nurse, her mouth is all blood."

"I hope she has not broken a tooth," said nurse, who had been
attending to the sobbing child. "Come in, my lamb, we will wash
your face, and make you well."

Anne, blinded with tears, jarred, bruised, bleeding, and bewildered,
submitted to be led by kind nurse the more willingly because she
knew that her mother, together with all the quality, were at Sir
Thomas Charnock's. They had dined at the fashionable hour of two,
and were to stay till supper-time, the elders playing at Ombre, the
juniors dancing. As a rule the ordinary clergy did not associate
with the county families, but Dr. Woodford was of good birth and a
royal chaplain, and his deceased brother had been a favourite
officer of the Duke of York, and had been so severely wounded by his
side in the battle of Southwold as to be permanently disabled.
Indeed Anne Jacobina was godchild to the Duke and his first Duchess,
whose favoured attendant her mother had been. Thus Mrs. Woodford
was in great request, and though she had not hitherto gone into
company since her widowhood, she had yielded to Lady Charnock's
entreaty that she would come and show her how to deal with that
strange new Chinese infusion, a costly packet of which had been
brought to her from town by Sir Thomas, as the Queen's favourite
beverage, wherewith the ladies of the place were to be regaled and
astonished.

It had been already arranged that the two little girls should spend
the evening together, and as they entered the garden before the
house a rude voice exclaimed, "Holloa! London Nan whimpering. Has
my fine lady met a spider or a cow?" and a big rough lad of twelve,
in a college gown, spread out his arms, and danced up and down in
the doorway to bar the entrance.

"Don't, Sedley," said a sturdy but more gentlemanlike lad of the
same age, thrusting him aside. "Is she hurt? What is it?"

"That spiteful imp, Peregrine Oakshott," said Lucy passionately.
"He had a cord across the Slype to trip us up. I heard him laughing
like a hobgoblin, and saw him too, grinning over a tombstone like
the malicious elf he is."

The college boy uttered a horse laugh, which made Lucy cry, "Cousin
Sedley, you are as bad!" but the other boy was saying, "Don't cry,
Anne None-so-pretty. I'll give it him well! Though I'm younger,
I'm bigger, and I'll show him reason for not meddling with my little
sweetheart."

"Have with you then!" shouted Sedley, ready for a fray on whatever
pretext, and off they rushed, as nurse led little Anne up the broad
shallow steps of the dark oak staircase, but Lucy stood laughing
with exultation in the intended vengeance, as her brother took down
her father's hunting-whip.

"He must be wellnigh a fiend to play such wicked pranks under the
very Minster!" she said.

"And a rascal of a Whig, and that's worse," added Charles; "but I'll
have it out of him!"

"Take care, Charley; if you offend him, and he does really belong to
those - those creatures" - Lucy lowered her voice - "who knows what
they might do to you?"

Charles laughed long and loud. "I'll take care of that," he said,
swinging out at the door. "Elf or no elf, he shall learn what it is
to play off his tricks on _my_ sister and my little sweetheart."

Lucy betook herself to the nursery, where Anne was being comforted,
her bleeding lip washed with essence, and repaired with a pinch of
beaver from a hat, and her other bruises healed with lily leaves
steeped in strong waters.

"Charley is gone to serve him out!" announced Lucy as the sovereign
remedy.

"Oh, but perhaps he did not mean it," Anne tried to say.

"Mean it? Small question of that, the cankered young slip! Nurse,
do you think those he belongs to can do Charley any harm if he
angers them?"

"I cannot say, missie. Only 'tis well we be not at home, or there
might be elf knots in the horses' manes to-night. I doubt me
whether _that sort_ can do much hurt here, seeing as 'tis holy
ground."

"But is he really a changeling? I thought there were no such things
as - "

"Hist, hist, Missie Anne!" cried the dame; "'tis not good to name
them."

"Oh, but we are on the Minster ground, nurse," said Lucy, trembling
a little however, looking over her shoulder, and coming closer to
the old servant.

"Why do they think so?" asked Anne. "Is it because he is so ugly
and mischievous and rude? Not like boys in London."

"Prithee, nurse, tell her the tale," entreated Lucy, who had made
large eyes over it many a time before.

"Ay, and who should tell you all about it save me, who had it all
from Goody Madge Bulpett, as saw it all!"

"Goody Madge! It was she that came when poor little Kitty was born
and died," suggested Lucy, as Anne, laying her aching head upon
nurse's knees, prepared to listen to the story.

"Well, deary darlings, you see poor Madam Oakshott never had her
health since the Great Fire in London, when she was biding with her
kinsfolk to be near Major Oakshott, who had got into trouble about
some of his nonconforming doings. The poor lady had a mortal fright
before she could be got out of Gracechurch Street as was all of a
blaze, and she was so afeard of her husband being burnt as he lay in
Newgate that she could scarce be got away, and whether it was that,
or that she caught cold lying out in a tent on Highgate Hill, she
has never had a day's health since."

"And the gentleman - her husband?" asked Anne.

"They all broke prison, poor fellows, as they had need to do, and
the Major's time was nearly up. He made himself busy in saving and
helping the folk in the streets; and his brother, Sir Peregrine, who
was thick with the King, and is in foreign parts now, took the
chance to speak of the poor lady's plight and say it would be the
death of her if he could not get his discharge, and his Majesty,
bless his kind heart, gave the order at once. So they took madam
home to the Chace, but she has been but an ailing body ever since."

"But the fairy, the fairy, how did she change the babe?" cried Anne.

"Hush, hush, dearie! name them not. I am coming to it all in good
time. I was telling you how the poor lady failed and pined from
that hour, and was like to die. My gossip Madge told me how when,
next Midsummer, this unlucky babe was born they had to take him from
her chamber at once because any sound of crying made her start in
her sleep, and shriek that she heard a poor child wailing who had
been left in a burning house. Moll Owens, the hind's wife, a comely
lass, was to nurse him, and they had him at once to her in the
nursery, where was the elder child, two years old, Master Oliver, as
you know well, Mistress Lucy, a fine-grown, sturdy little Turk as
ever was."

"Yes, I know him," answered Lucy; "and if his brother's a
changeling, he is a bear! The Whig bear is what Charley calls him."

"Well, what does that child do but trot out of the nursery, and try
to scramble down the stairs. - Never tell me but that they you wot of
trained him out - not that they had power over a Christian child, but
that they might work their will on the little one. So they must
needs trip him up, so that he rolled down the stair hollering and
squalling all the way enough to bring the house down, and his poor
lady mother, she woke up in a fit. The womenfolk ran, Molly and
all, she being but a slip of a girl herself and giddy-pated, and
when they came back after quieting Master Oliver, the babe was
changed."

"Then they didn't see the - "

"Hush, hush, missie! no one never sees 'em or they couldn't do
nothing. They cannot, if a body is looking. But what had been as
likely a child before as you would wish to handle was gone! The
poor little mouth was all of a twist, and his eyelid drooped, and he
never ceased mourn, mourn, mourn, wail, wail, wail, day and night,
and whatever food he took he never was satisfied, but pined and
peaked and dwined from day to day, so as his little legs was like
knitting pins. The lady was nigh upon death as it seemed, so that
no one took note of the child at first, but when Madge had time to
look at him, she saw how it was, as plain as plain could be, and
told his father. But men are unbelieving, my dears, and always
think they know better than them as has the best right, and Major
Oakshott would hear of no such thing, only if the boy was like to
die, he must be christened. Well, Madge knew that sometimes they
flee at touch of holy water, but no; though the thing mourned and
moaned enough to curdle your blood and screeched out when the water
touched him, there he was the same puny little canker. So when
madam was better, and began to fret over the child that was nigh
upon three months old, and no bigger than a newborn babe, Madge up
and told her how it was, and the way to get her own again."

"What was that, nurse?"

"There be different ways, my dear. Madge always held to breaking
five and twenty eggs and have a pot boiling on a good sea-coal fire
with the poker in it red hot, and then drop the shells in one by
one, in sight of the creature in the cradle. Presently it will up
and ask whatever you are about. Then you gets the poker in your
hand as you says, "A-brewing of egg shells." Then it says, "I'm
forty hundred years old and odd, and yet I never heard of a-brewing
of egg shells." Then you ups with the poker and at him to thrust it
down his ugly throat, and there's a hissing and a whirling, and he
is snatched away, and the real darling, all plump and rosy, is put
back in the cradle."

"And did they?"

"No, my dears. Madam was that soft-hearted she could not bring her
mind to it, though they promised her not to touch him unless he
spoke. But nigh on two years later, Master Robert was born, as fine
and lusty and straight-limbed as a chrisom could be, while the other
could not walk a step, but sat himself about on the floor, a-moaning
and a-fretting with the legs of him for all the world like the
drumsticks of a fowl, and his hands like claws, and his face wizened
up like an old gaffer of a hundred, or the jackanapes that Martin
Boats'n brought from Barbary. So after a while madam saw the rights
of it, and gave consent that means should be taken as Madge and
other wise folk would have it; but he was too old by that time for
the egg shells, for he could talk, talk, and ask questions enough to
drive you wild. So they took him out under the privet hedge, Madge
and her gossip Deborah Clint, and had got his clothes off to flog
him with nettles till they changed him, when the ill-favoured elf
began to squall and shriek like a whole litter of pigs, and as ill
luck would have it, the master was within hearing, though they had
watched him safe off to one of his own 'venticles, but it seems
there had been warning that the justices were on the look-out, so
home he came. And behold, the thing that never knew the use of his
feet before, ups and flies at him, and lays hold of his leg,
hollering out, "Sir, father, don't let them," and what not. So then
it was all over with them, as though that were not proof enow what
manner of thing it was! Madge tried to put him off with washing
with yarbs being good for the limbs, but when he saw that Deb was
there, he saith, saith he, as grim as may be, "Thou shalt not suffer
a witch to live," which was hard, for she is but a white witch; and
he stormed and raved at them with Bible texts, and then he vowed
(men are so headstrong, my dears) that if ever he ketched them at it
again, he would see Deb burnt for a witch at the stake, and Madge
hung for the murder of the child, and he is well known to be a man
of his word. So they had to leave him to abide by his bargain, and
a sore handful he has of it."

Anne drew a long sigh and asked whether the real boy in fairyland
would never come back.

"There's no telling, missie dear. Some say they are bound there for
ever and a day, some that they as holds 'em are bound to bring them
back for a night once in seven years, and in the old times if they
was sprinkled with holy water, and crossed, they would stay, but
there's no such thing as holy water now, save among the Papists, and
if one knew the way to cross oneself, it would be as much as one's
life was worth."

"If Peregrine was to die," suggested Lucy.

"Bless your heart, dearie, he'll never die! When the true one's
time comes, you'll see, if so be you be alive to see it, as Heaven
grant, he will go off like the flame of a candle and nothing be left
in his place but a bit of a withered sting nettle. But come, my
sweetings, 'tis time I got your supper. I'll put some nice rosy-
cheeked apples down to roast, to be soft for Mistress Woodford's
sore mouth."

Before the apples were roasted, Charles Archfield and his cousin,
the colleger Sedley Archfield, a big boy in a black cloth gown, came
in with news of having - together with the other boys, including
Oliver and Robert Oakshott - hunted Peregrine all round the Close,
but he ran like a lapwing, and when they had pinned him up in the
corner by Dr. Ken's house, he slipped through their fingers up the
ivy, and grinned at them over the wall like the imp he was. Noll
said it was always the way, he was no more to be caught than a bit
of thistledown, but Sedley meant to call out all the college boys
and hunt and bait him down like a badger on 'Hills.'



CHAPTER II: HIGH TREASON


"Whate'er it be that is within his reach,
The filching trick he doth his fingers teach."

Robin Badfellow.

There was often a considerable distance between children and their
parents in the seventeenth century, but Anne Woodford, as the only
child of her widowed mother, was as solace, comfort, and companion;
and on her pillow in early morning the child poured forth in grave
earnest the entire story of the changeling, asking whether he could
not be "taken to good Dr. Ken, or the Dean, or the Bishop to be ex -
ex - what is it, mother? Not whipped with nettles. Oh no! nor burnt
with red hot pokers, but have holy words said so that the right one
may come back."

"My dear child, did you really believe that old nurse's tale?"

"O madam, she _knew_ it. The other old woman saw it! I always
thought fairies and elves were only in tales, but Lucy's nurse knows
it is true. And _he_ is not a bit like other lads, mamma dear. He
is lean and small, and his eyes are of different colours, look two
ways at once, and his mouth goes awry when he speaks, and he laughs
just like - like a fiend. Lucy and I call him Riquet a la Houppe,
because he is just like the picture in Mademoiselle's book, with a
great stubbly bunch of hair sticking out on one side, and though he
walks a little lame, he can hop and skip like a grasshopper, faster
than any of the boys, and leap up a wall in a moment, and grin - oh
most frightfully. Have you ever seen him, mamma?"

"I think so. I saw a poor boy, who seemed to me to have had a
stroke of some sort when he was an infant."

"But, madam, that would not make him so spiteful and malicious!"

"If every one is against him and treats him as a wicked mischievous
elf, it is only too likely to make him bitter and spiteful. Nay,
Anne, if you come back stuffed with old wives' tales, I shall not
allow you to go home with Lucy Archfield."

The threat silenced Anne, who was a grave and rather silent little
person, and when she mentioned it to her friend, the answer was,
"Did you tell your mother? If I had told mine, I should have been
whipped for repeating lying tales."

"Oh then you don't believe it!"

"It must be true, for Madge knew it. But that's the way always if
one lets out that one knows more than they think."

"It is not the way with my mother," stoutly said Anne, drawing up
her dignified little head. And she kept her resolution, for though
a little excited by her first taste of lively youthful
companionship, she was naturally a thoughtful reticent child, with a
character advanced by companionship with her mother as an only
child, through a great sorrow. Thus she was in every respect more
developed than her contemporary Lucy, who regarded her with wonder
as well as affection, and she was the object of the boyish devotion
of Charley, who often defended her from his cousin Sedley's
endeavours to put down what he considered upstart airs in a little
nobody from London. Sedley teased and baited every weak thing in
his way, and Lucy had been his chief butt till Anne Woodford's
unconscious dignity and more cultivated manners excited his utmost
spleen.

Lucy might be incredulous, but she was eager to tell that when her
cousin Sedley Archfield was going back to 'chambers,' down from the
Close gate came the imp on his shoulders in the twilight and twisted
both legs round his neck, holding tight on in spite of plunges,
pinches, and endeavours to scrape him off against the wall, which
were frustrated or retaliated by hair pulling, choking, till just
ere entering the college gateway, where Sedley looked to get his
revenge among his fellows, he found his shoulders free, and heard
"Ho! ho! ho!" from the top of a wall close at hand. All the more
was the young people's faith in the changeling story confirmed, and
child-world was in those days even more impenetrable to their elders
than at present.

Changeling or no, it was certain that Peregrine Oakshott was the
plague of the Close, where his father, an ex-officer of the
Parliamentary army, had unwillingly hired a house for the winter,
for the sake of medical treatment for his wife, a sufferer from a
complication of ailments. Oakwood, his home, was about five miles
from Dr. Woodford's living of Portchester, and as the families would
thus be country neighbours, Mrs. Woodford thought it well to begin
the acquaintance at Winchester. While knocking at the door of the
house on the opposite side of the Close, she was aware of an elfish
visage peering from an upper window. There was the queer mop of
dark hair, the squinting light eyes, the contorted grin crooking the
mouth, the odd sallow face, making her quite glad to get out of
sight of the strange grimaces which grew every moment more hideous.

Mrs. Oakshott sat in an arm-chair beside a large fire in a
wainscotted room, with a folding-screen shutting off the window.
Her spinning-wheel was near, but it was only too plain that 'feeble
was the hand, and silly the thread.' She bent her head in its
wadded black velvet hood, but excused herself from rising, as she
was crippled by rheumatic pains. She had evidently once been a
pretty little person, innocent and inane, and her face had become
like that of a withered baby, piteous in its expression of pain and
weariness, but otherwise somewhat vacant. At first, indeed, there
was a look of alarm. Perhaps she expected every visitor to come
with a complaint of her unlucky Peregrine, but when Mrs. Woodford
spoke cheerfully of being her neighbour in the country, she was
evidently relieved and even gratified, prattling in a soft plaintive
tone about her sufferings and the various remedies, ranging from
woodlice rolled into natural pills, and grease off the church bells,
to diamond dust and Goa stones, since, as she said, there was no
cost to which Major Oakshott would not go for her benefit. He had
even procured for her a pound of the Queen's new Chinese herb, and
it certainly was as nauseous as could be wished, when boiled in
milk, but she was told that was not the way it was taken at my Lady
Charnock's. She was quite animated when Mrs. Woodford offered to
show her how to prepare it.

Therewith the master of the house came in, and the aspect of affairs
changed. He was a tall, dark, grave man, plainly though handsomely
dressed, and in a gentlemanly way making it evident that visits to
his wife were not welcome. He said that her health never permitted
her to go abroad, and that his poor house contained nothing that
could please a Court lady. Mrs. Oakshott shrank into herself, and
became shy and silent, and Mrs. Woodford felt constrained to take
leave, courteously conducted to the door by her unwilling host.

She had not taken many steps before she was startled by a sharp
shower from a squirt coming sidelong like a blow on her cheek and
surprising her into a low cry, which was heard by the Major, so that
he hastened out, exclaiming, "Madam, I trust that you are not hurt."



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