Dutton Payne.

Mistress Penwick online

. (page 1 of 20)
Online LibraryDutton PayneMistress Penwick → online text (page 1 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Josephine Paolucci and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team.
































"If the ship sails at dawn, then I must hasten to tell my mistress of
the departure, and - of her father's letter."

"I am loath to let yonder tide take her away so soon, Janet."

"But my master's words are a positive command to leave Quebec at
once," and Janet's eyes fell to the imperative line at the close of
her letter which read: "In God's name, good nurse, take my baby to
England in all haste."

"Aye, our noble patron's desire must be carried out!" and the Mother
Superior without further lament went from the small cell.

When the last echo of her footsteps had died away, Janet Wadham
cautiously opened the inner door and passed to the cell adjoining, and
to the low couch upon which lay her mistress in sound slumber.

Fondly she noted the beauty of her charge; the heavy waving hair
gleaming in the fading light a bronze-like amber, the white forehead,
the arched brow, the glow of health upon lip and cheek, the slender
neck, the slope of shoulders, and the outline of a perfect form.

Then the maid stirred and opened her eyes. Her whole body thrilled
with the awakening.

"Ah, 'twas like the bursting of a bud! How dost feel now, Mistress?"

"I am not ill at all. I am a martyr to thy imagination. Dost remember
the time, Janet, I drowsed in the chapel and thou didst make me drink
bitterwort for a fortnight?" and the girl's voice rung out in soft

"Aye, I have not forgotten, nor why thou wert drowsy either, Mistress

"Nay, thou didst not know."

"I did so. Thou hadst a book of tales and read nights with the candle
shaded by thy mother's landskip fan, and I gave thee aloes for thy

"Thou dost always find me out, Janet; I shall be glad when I become a
woman as big as thou."

"Thou art a woman to-day, and thou wilt never be as big as I; so,
having age and not a hulking servant's body, be content. I have a
letter from my master, and in it is much that concerns thee - "

"Isn't there always much that concerns me?"

"But not such important concernings. He has gone on a long journey and
proposes one for thee, my lambkin." Katherine raised herself in bed.
"Nay, thou must not stir or I hush my tale! Thy father has provided
thee with a guardian and 'tis to him I take thee. We go to England
by the first boat, - nay, lay back, calm thyself or I take my wagging
tongue away; if thou dost so much as stir again, I leave thee. Thou
art to go to a great house over there and see grand folks with fine
airs and modish dress. Wilt be glad to see outside of convent walls?
'Tis nine years since I brought thee here a babe of six, and have
nursed thee well to this hour, and thy strength and health and beauty
show the care given thee." She suddenly arose and went to the window
to hide if possible her agitation; but when she looked forth on the
snow-covered city and on beyond at the long range of forest that lay
low and black against the arctic sky, she turned from the gloomy scene
and went again to the couch, quickly suppressing all thoughts save
those that were purely selfish: she would be glad to bid adieu to this
great, still northern world and leave behind forever old Quebec, even
though she must divide her treasure.

"I have been a mother to thee, child, and now I must divide my rule
with a cantankerous Scot - "

"Nay, a Scot and lives in England?"

"He lives in England and thy father speaks of bending somewhat thy
quick temper to the mould of self-control as a safer parry to Scotch
thrust; so I conclude the gentleman must be a Scot."

"Janet, 'tis these awful men that wear skirts like women. I remember
many years ago when I was in Sister Agnes' room, of seeing some of
those dreadful pictures of skirts and bandy-legs. They are unseemly
things for men to wear; it is as though one were uncivilised. I hate
him already for it!"

"Lambkin, thou must remember thy teachings. Sister Agnes would
admonish thee for saying hate. Besides thou dost not know the man, he
may be a second father to thee and cajole and pamper thy whims. He
may even eschew plaid frocks and don modish garments - that would
hide bandy-legs still less! Thy father said I must enjoin upon thee
respect, for his lordship's age; regard, for his wishes, and thou art
to obey his commands, as 'twas not possible for him to direct thee
otherwise than good. If at any time he should find thee in fault, be
the matter seemingly beneath notice, acknowledge thy wrongness, for he
hath a temper and might goad thee to greater blunder. His blood flows
hot and fast, and thou must cool and swage it with thy gentle dignity.
Inasmuch as thy moneys and estates are in my Lord Cedric's control,
thou art to receive such income from him without question. Thy father
further directs perfect submission to Lord Cedric in matters of
marriage, as he will bring suitors of high degree for thy choice and
thou wilt find among them a lover to thy liking." The rosy red flew
into the maiden's face and she trembled with a sweet new emotion she
did not understand.

"This is the first time thou hast ever spoken to me of lovers, Janet.
Indeed very strange things seem to be happening to-day. I feel like a
bird about to fly forth from its cradle-nest, I have forgotten how the
world appears. 'Tis broad and vast; it makes me dizzy to think between
these cramped walls that never seemed so narrow heretofore!" She
lay for a moment in deep thought, then, - "Where didst say father

"He said not, but intimated 'twas a place of safety where he was
happy to go from political intrigue and war, and where he shall meet

"Why did he not inscribe some words to me?"

"He speaks of an epistle of welcome - and farewell to be given thee
by Lord Cedric upon thy arrival in England. 'Twill give thee greater
pleasure then."

"But Janet; a Scot! A blustering, red-faced Scot with petticoats! Hast
ever seen one outside of pictures?"

"Aye, Lambkin, and 'twas the unseemly kilt that was the better part;
for I have met a blustering red-faced Scot as thou sayest; and he
was boisterous and surly, giving vent to a choleric temper by coarse
oaths; and 'twas his plaid denoted a gentleman of high rank withal.
The long hair that swept his shoulders was as florid as his face, as
was also his flowing whiskers and mustachio, the latter being bitten
short and forming a bristling fringe over a slavering mouth, - what is
it, Mistress, thou art pale, has pain taken thee?"

"Nay, 'tis nausea, an awful loathing; I wish to remain here. Send at
once my desires to my father. I will not go to England, Janet!"

"'Tis better thou shouldst think of something else beside my Lord
Cedric, for instance, his great demesne, Crandlemar Castle, the most
beautiful of his several seats; the splendid horses and equipages;
and, thyself, Lambkin, think of thyself bedecked in gorgeous hued
brocades; be-furbelowed in rare lace and costly furs. And thou wilt
have a maid to build thy hair, tie shoulder knots and make smart
ribbons and frills, and furbish bijoux and gems. And thou wilt wear
perfume, and carry a nosegay and fan. And thou wilt sweep the most
graceful courtesy and queen it everywhere with thy sweet graciousness.
Thy father says thou shouldst become an idol to the old man's heart,
as my lord is without wife or daughter."

"If his demesne be in England, 'tis but right he should become as far
as possible a genuine Anglo-Saxon, and if I can turn him, I will. How
soon does the boat sail?"

"Within forty-eight hours we shall be upon the sea and thou wilt
have begun to whimper and bemoan its awful swell. 'Twill have more
evacuating power than teeth-curtailed mustachios upon thy heretofore
staunch stomach."

"Nay, I will not believe my Lord Cedric such a man; and yet thou hast
drawn a picture that will be ever before me until I see him. Sister
Agnes would say, - 'there is a sinfulness in doubt and anxiety,
inasmuch as such thoughts lash the soul to uneasiness and draw it
from celestial contemplations. Think not on it!' neither will I,
but rather, I will fancy the morrow's sun glinting upon myriad
white-capped waves; the bosom of the ocean swelling with emotion
and - didst say 'twould make me ill, Janet?"

"I am afraid of it, 'twill be glorious if thou art not; for 'tis a
wonderful thing to see the rise and fall of sun and moon, and witness
storms that seldom fail to lend their fearfulness to the voyagers of
so long a journey."

"Wilt thou be afraid, Janet?"

"Nay, not I; 'twill be the elixir of ambrosia to breathe salt air
again, and the stronger and more mist-laden the better to knock out
foul exhalations sucked in these nine years from musty walls. 'Twill
be sweet to have the wind rap from us the various fungi that comes
from sunless chambers. Ah, a stiff breeze will rejuvenate thy fifteen
years one month to a lusty, crowing infant and my forty all-seasons to
a simpering wench."

"How splendid, Janet!" Katherine threw out her arms and drew a long,
deep breath. "'Twill be glorious to breathe pure, free air!"

"Aye, my Lambkin, and thy chest will broaden and be larger by two good
inches ere we see chalk cliffs and English waters. Thou wilt open
like a rose to the sunshine of the outer world. But, we are
anticipating - let us speak of the present. To-night we go to vespers
for the last time, and thou must bid thy friends adieu before I tuck
thee in thy cot as we arise and are off before day-dawn. Let thy
farewells be briefly spoken as if thou wert to be gone but a day.
'Twas thy father's wish thou shouldst not grieve at parting with thy
companions, or the Sisters or Mother. 'Tis best to leave them the
remembrance of a face happy, rather than one steeped in sorrow. Say
to them what thy heart dictates, but with a quick tongue and bright
countenance; 'twill tend to suppress tears and numb the pain at thy
heart. When thou art thus engaged I will prepare us for journeying.
Wilt thou wear thy Sunday gown?"

"'Tis none too good! couldst put on a ribbon to relieve its greyness?"

"Ah, Lambkin, thou hast begun already with thy fine lady's notions!
thou wilt be crying for high-heeled boots and built-up hair and stays,
stays, Mistress, stays wilt be thy first cry - oh, Lambkin, thou art
heavy-hearted and I am turning myself into a fool to physic thy
risibles; - I wish we were upon the sea at this moment; if it were
possible I should have taken thee while thou wert in sleep; but nay,
I could not; for thou art a maiden grown and art plump and heavy with
all. If I had taken thee so, thou wouldst have wept anyway, perhaps;
for 'tis thy nature to have thy own way. 'Twould be a cross to thy
father could he see thee now. I doubt not 'twould turn the Scot's
bull-scaring face to ashen hues, 'tis possible - " Katherine's soft
rippling laugh interrupted her, and at its sound Janet leant and
kissed the maid's pink-palmed hands as they lay upon the coverlet,
and taking them within her own fondled them, saying, - "And thou
wilt surprise my lord and his friends by thy rare playing of the
clavichord, and 'tis possible so great and wealthy a man will own a
piano-forte of which we have heard so much; and mayhap thou will be
presented at Court, and in great London town thou mayest see many
musicians from France, for 'tis not improbable they are brought over
the channel at the instance of his Majesty. Is it not grand to think
of all these things, Lambkin?"

"Aye, 'tis glorious! But Janet, let me up and dress me - ah, it seems
an age until the morrow!"

'Twas with greater care than usual Janet made ready her Mistress. And
after sundry admonitions about cold corridors and draughts, opened the
door and watched her in silence as she passed through, and down the
hall to vespers. And when evening prayer was over and Katherine had
gone to say adieu, Janet began to pack the chests for their early
flight; her heart exultant, save for the sorrow of not seeing her
master again as she believed and having some little fear of the new
one she was about to encounter.



The adieux had been said, the night had come and gone, and with the
dawn the tide drew away carrying with it a large vessel upon the deck
of which stood Janet and Katherine wrapped in long traveling capes.

"'Tis the most wondrous sight I ever beheld! Thinkest thou the
Bethlehem Star could have been more beautiful than yonder Lucifer.
Indeed it seems, Janet, we see in all nature the reflection of the
Christ; the birth of dawn; the presence of the star; these black
waters. 'Tis awesome! Listen, Janet, thou must acknowledge thou
hearest something more than plaint of ocean. 'Tis something more than
sound. It fills me with an exultation I cannot analyze. Dost feel it,

"I cannot tell what I feel, Mistress." And Janet covered her mouth
to smother her laughter; first of all because she felt seasick, and
secondly the child's words stirred in her no such youthful enthusiasm.
She was not yet rejuvenated.

"And with all this glory of nature filling me I can less understand
Sister Phelia's words at parting. Her eyes seemed to burn to my very
soul as she said: 'Dost not feel as thou art leaving these sacred
walls that thou art passing from a retreat where the Blessed Virgin
ever guides thee?' 'I have felt her presence ever, said I. 'But 'tis
better to renounce the world and have strength to live in seclusion,'
she answered. I made bold and replied that I thought it required much
greater strength to go on the battlefield of the world and be good
than live within the impenetrable walls of a cloister where bin cannot
come. 'But, child, thou wilt see beautiful things made by the hand
of man that will fill thy heart leaving not room for the Divine
Presence.' 'Nay,' said I, 'I shall see God's work in every beauteous
thing and I shall trust Him for the gift of penetration to see through
filthy rags and distorted body the beauty of the soul.' 'Twas her wish
that I should write her once a year of my spiritual condition and to
think of her as being happy in her isolation. And with this strange
light about us, the farewell recurs to me and I wonder that human
beings could shut themselves from so beauteous a thing as Nature in
their fear of contamination by sin!"

"My Lambkin, 'they talk strongest who never felt temptation;' thou
art going into a world thou hast not seen, much less, felt its
power. Sister Phelia is right. We acknowledge the Divine Presence is
everywhere; she intimated thou wert leaving a place where sin was not,
to go where it abounded. There is one place, however, we may always be
sure of finding the divine atom whether we be in seclusion or abroad;
'tis in our own heart and called before the ages, 'Holy Ghost.' Many
of us fail to recognize it; others cry 'insolvency'; but the better
part draw on it with confidence. It honours our call and gives us
on demand, conscience, with which we can withstand all sin if we so

The second day upon the water Janet fell a victim to _mal-de-mer_, and
'twas Katherine who turned nurse; and after four or five days
Janet grew better and was half ashamed, veiling her confusion with
self-accusation: "'Tis good enough for me, 'twas wrong to be eating
pork, 'tis positively forbidden us. I lay it to that! I gave myself
over to eating to make up for a fast of nine long years. Thou hadst
not a qualm because thou hast been fed on wine and porridge and beef
gruel and whey. The clearness of thy body speaks for a pure stomach.
Let the awfulness of my condition warn thee. Thou must never grumble
when I take from thee weightier food than thou hast been used to. But,
Lambkin, we have had a glorious voyage inasmuch as we have had both
calm and storm; had I been privileged to do the ordering, we could not
have had better weather."

Janet and her mistress walked the deck when 'twas possible, from rise
to set of sun, and Katherine expanded until her convent dress became
straightened, and she retired to her bed while Janet let out seams,
augmenting it to her mistress' further comfort and development.

It was almost with regret that they espied land; for Janet was
anxious, and Katherine was apprehensive of the Scot, and as the white
cliffs appeared to rise higher they each wished the sea journey had
just begun.

At last they stood upon English soil, and so bewildered was Katherine
she could only cling to Janet's dress like a frightened child; there
was such a clamour, 'twas like pandemonium. The poor frightened thing
was inclined to believe that the people were mad and raving, and was
hardly called to concentration of thought when Lord Cedric's Chaplain
stood before them dumbfounded by her beauty.

He was a pale, little man, who managed with difficulty to collect his
senses and lead them to an equipage of imposing richness that stood
not far away. And immediately after chests and sundry articles of
travel were placed upon the coach, the rolling wheels carried them
through the town and on beyond, over plains and hills and lonely
moors, through forests of oak and beech, coloured in the grey of
winter. Nor did the ponderous vehicle stop save for a hurried
refreshment or a short night's rest at some wayside inn.

Lord Cedric's orders were not being strictly carried out. The Chaplain
was to bring back to the castle Janet Wadham and baby. Here was the
first-named, but where was the child? The little man was fearful he
had made some mistake, and grew exceedingly nervous when they at last
spied the battlements of Crandlemar Castle, and the child for whom he
had gone must be accounted for.

Night was falling as the equipage bearing Mistress Katherine and her
attendants passed between the massive stone pillars of the gate
into the long avenues bordered by leafless trees; and when yet some
distance from the castle, the occupants could catch glimpses of many
lighted windows. Katherine lay back on the cushions tired, timid,
half-fearful, wondering. Not so Janet; she craned body and neck
fearful lest some small detail of the visible grandeur might escape
her. In a moment more they had stopped at the great entrance, and
immediately the ponderous doors were thrown wide by two ugly little
dwarfs in magnificent livery. Out trooped other menials of perhaps
less age and greater dignity, quickly gathering from the equipage the
chests and bags and other articles of less cumbrousness. Mistress
Katherine, with Janet by her side, was so blinded by the glare of
lights and furbished gildings, she saw naught, but followed on up
winding stairs, stepping twice upon each broad step; through corridors
and alcoves and winding halls, and in her ears was the sound of men's
and women's soft laughter, and she breathed the perfume of flowers,
and inhaled as they passed some half-open door, the odour of _paudre
de rose_ and jasmine.

A woman older, less comely than Janet, and having the smirk of a
perfunctory greeting upon her flabby face, stood within the room
assigned to Mistress Katherine. As her eyes fell upon the maid, she
stepped back surprised, and with a confusion she essayed to hide in
her coarse voiced acknowledgment of their presence.

"The child, madam, where's the child? 'is Ludship sent me to take
charge of the hinfant and 'er nurse."

Janet's voice rang like steel as she said, - "Thou canst fondle me to
thy heart's content, but the 'hinfant his' a maiden grown and well
able to look after her own swathings; 'twould better serve thee and us
to get thee below and prepare thine 'hinfant' grown some meat and
wine with etceteras, and plenty of them, for she hath a lusty and
ever-present appetite. But stay, where wilt thou cradle thy babe's
nurse, in this room beyond the closet?" With a superhuman effort, as
it were, - the woman, confident of the importance of her position,
and the forbearance such an one should have in dealing with the less
consequential, - suppressed her choler and raised her eyebrows, and
spoke with the coldness of her betters.

"Thou wilt sleep there for a time, at least until 'is Ludship's guests
'ave gone; the nurseries 'ave been turned into guests' rooms, - 'is
Ludship 'as Royalty beneath 'is roof and bade me take the - the child
to the furth'rest room and keep hits squawking 'ushed!" With a
deprecating gesture, she shuffled from the room.

'Twas a great square apartment, with low ceiling, a small hearthstone
and an immense bedstead with tester and outer coverings of flowered
chintz. The light from the two small candles upon the high
mantel-shelf were dimmed by the greater light from the hearth.

With a long, heavy sigh, which ended in a quiet half-hearted laugh,
Katherine flung herself back in a huge chair and said, -

"Art not afraid to lash tongues with a trusted servant of my Lord
Cedric? She may give thee an ill name."

"Nay, rather, if I had boxed' er hears' 'twould have been better.
Indeed, if thou hadst been absent I should have brawled it with her.
'Ludship' - 'tis the cant of a pot house wench, - 'is Ludship' to me,
who has been consorting with Sister Agnes and Phelia and Drusah and
the Mother Superior of the Ursuline. Wilt let me dress thee now?"

"Nay, Janet, I will cleanse my face and hands, have my supper - for I'm
nearly famished, and jump into yonder bed that hath a lid - "

"Why, Lambkin, that is a tester, 'tis the first thou hast seen! But,
Lambkin, I would have thee don thy pretty white dress and go down to
more cheerful surroundings."

"Nay, Janet, I could not raise courage. Have my supper brought up!"

"My blessed Lambkin, I will take thee down and see that they give thee
proper food for thy coach-jostled stomach. Thou shalt have a room and
table to thyself. I'll see to it. I thought upon it coming up to this
sky-begotten chamber. The toddy would freeze stiff and the pheasants
grow to clamminess on so long and frigid a journey. I will dress thee
and then will find my way down and make things ready for thy comfort
and privacy."

'Twas a soft, white, clinging gown, high-necked and long-sleeved, with
the perfume of incense in its folds, Janet vested her mistress in. The
thick rolls of hair framing her face glinted with bronze and amber
sheen. Her warm youthful blood coloured her countenance with the tints
of the peach blossom. Thus she stood gloriously beautiful; ready for

Janet went below, nor was she gone long ere she came again to her
mistress' side.

"Didst see any signs of petticoats. Janet?"

"Nay, mistress," and her voice was sober and intense. "I tried to find
a servants' stairway, but it seemed all were grand and confusing. And
every moment lackeys rushed by me bearing trays of smoking viands,
and not even so much as looking my way. At last I found one I thought
would take the time to answer a question and I asked him the way
below. He answered me civilly and conducted me saying the while, that
'twas a grand party his Lord Cedric was having; members of the Royal
family being present; he even mentioned the Dukes of Buckingham and
Monmouth. The boy was so filled with good sense I am sure, Mistress,
he spoke truly and that we are within a very great man's house. I
found old flabby, and she took me to a cosy little room with a table
ready spread. So come, my Lambkin, when his Lordship finds not a baby
but a rare gem for his costly setting, his heart will bound with
pleasure and he will regret he did not prepare for a great lady
instead of an infant."

Timorously the maid followed Janet through intricate windings to the
broad stairway.

"Janet, take me through the servants' passage for this once!"

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryDutton PayneMistress Penwick → online text (page 1 of 20)