Lucy Ellen Guernsey.

Loveday's history : a tale of many changes online

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some small, helpless, trapped animal, seeking a way of
escape. In a moment the veil was dropped again,
the other lady mounted her horse, and the whole
cavalcade set forward as briskly as the state of the
road would permit.

The fresh, sharp, autumn air ; the quick movement,
and the change of scene, roused me a little from the
heavy stupor of grief and rage I know not what else
to call it which had oppressed me, and I began to look

62 Loveday^s History.

about me. Father Austin seemed to note the change,
and began gently to point out different objects of
interest. He showed me the house where he himself
was born and brought up a comfortable old red
brick hall, looking like the very home of peace and
plenty in its ancient elm and nut trees, and began to
tell me little tales of his boyhood, of his mother and
sisters and his pet rabbits. At first I was conscious of
nothing but a wish to be let alone, but almost in-
sensibly I began to listen, to be interested, and asked
little questions. The sharp, heavy distress was at my
heart still, but as one suffering from the pain of a wound
is yet willing to be a little diverted from his misery,
albeit the pain is not lessened thereby, so I was not
sorry to listen to the kind father's tale. Presently we
passed a building shut in by high walls, like a convent,
and as the road wound close by the gate, we could
hear within sounds of somewhat unbridled mirth and

"What house is that?" asked the steward, who
rode close by us.

"It was the house of Our Lord once," said the
father, dryly. "Now it belongs to Master Crom-

The man bit his lip as if he had received some sort
of check, and fell back a little. The house was, in
fact, one of the many small convents which had fallen
during the past few years.

We stopped at a way-side inn for some refresh-
ment, and one of the men brought me a glass of
small ale, but I could not take it, and begged for a
drink of pure water instead. My head ached, and I
felt parched with thirst. The priest asked the buxom

A New Life. 63

hostess who brought me the water, if there were any

" Nothing your reverence, save that the foxes have
caught and carried off two or three lambs, but
'tis thought their den will be broken up before long."

I saw two or three of the men who were standing
about wink at each other as if there were some jest
concealed under the woman's words. Father Austin
answered her gently :

" There are many sorts of foxes, and other beasts
also, which spoil the flocks, and the worst of all are
wolves which come in sheep's clothing : remember
that, my daughter."

Young and distraught as I was, I could not but
notice the difference between the treatment of the
priest here, and that which he would have received
in our neighborhood at Peckham Hall. There,
whenever the abbot or Father Barnaby rode abroad,
all bowed before them, as if they had been the pope
himself, and even our own old fat, sleepy Sir John,
was greeted with bared heads ; but here, such as we
met contented themselves with a careless lifting of hat
or cap for a moment, and many gave Father Austin
no greeting at all. Others on the contrary were very
forward in craving his blessing, even kissing the hem
of his robe or the furniture of his mule.

The two ladies rode along close together, but never,
that I could see, exchanging a word. However, the
elder did speak to the younger once or twice, but she
got no answer save an impatient shake of the
head. It was now drawing toward evening, and I
well remember how the level rays of the setting sun
shone through the orchards, making the ripening

64 Loveday's History.

apples glow like balls of gold and fire among the
dusky leaves. The sight recalled so clearly to iny
mind the orchards of my native West Country,
that when we ascended a little rising ground,
and the priest remarked that we should soon
see home, I looked out, expecting for a moment to
behold the gray battlements of Peckham Hall. But
no doubt my head was bewildered even then by the
fever which was stealing over me.

" There, daughters, that is your future home," said
Father Austin, pointing downward, when we had at-
tained the top of the little eminence.

The younger lady uttered an exclamation of some
sort, and turned her horse as though she would have
fled, but her sister and the steward both at once laid
their hands upon her bridle rein, and she made no
further move. I roused myself from the sort of
stupor that was bewildering me, and looked. I saw a
large garden and orchard, surrounded by a high stone
wall, having an embattled gateway. In the midst was
a pile of old red brick buildings and a church. The
little river Darent ran close by, and a stream seemed
to be diverted from it to water the convent grounds.
I could see the water sparkling in the sun. It was, I
suppose, the hour of recreation ; for various black-
veiled and white-veiled figures were walking in the
orchard and garden, while even at this distance the
fitful sound of music reached our ears. It was
indeed a sweet and peaceful scene.

" That is Sister Cecilia practicing in the church !
We have the best pair of organs in all the country,"
said Father Austin, with simple pride; "there is
nothing like them in all London."

A New Life. 65

"We now put our horses to a brisk pace, and passing
through the gateway I have spoken of, we entered a
sort of paved outer court, where the men dismounted,
and we women folk were also taken from our
horses. We were led through an inner gate which
opened upon a long paved walk leading up through
the orchard and garden to the house. I was growing
more and more confused ; but I remember well all the
sisters pausing to look at us, as was but natural, poor
things, and my feeling an unreasoning anger against
them for so doing. I have also a vivid impression of
some bright flowers growing by the path. Two or
three of the dark-robed group now came forward to
meet us.

" Here are our new daughters," said the priest, " and
tired enough they are, poor things. I fear the child is
not well."

" Holy Virgin ! I trust she hath not brought the
sickness among us," said one of the number, shrinking

" I dare say she is only weary with her journey,"

said a kind voice, and one of the ladies took my hand

. to lead me into the house. " Come with me, my

child, and we will find some supper and a bed for

these tired little bones."

I am conscious of hearing the words, but they
sounded far and strange, as talk does in the very
early morning, when one is half -asleep. I heard also
an exclamation of surprise and pity, and then my
senses failed me. The next I knew I found myself
being undressed and put into bed, while my teeth chat-
tered and every limb was shaking under the influence
of a strong ague.

66 Lovedatj^s History.

From that time, for several weeks, my recollections
are mostly a blank. I remember begging for water,
water, and loathing the apple-tea and gruel they
brought me instead. I remember seeing people about
me and hearing voices, but it is all dim and dream-
like. At last, one day, I woke and saw Father Austin
standing by my bed, with a lady so exactly like him,
that if they had changed clothes no one would have
known which was which.

" "Water ! " I gasped. It was always my first
word on waking.

" Do you think I might give her a little ? " asked
the lady. " She does crave it so, poor little thing."

" Yes, give her what she wants ; it will make no
difference," said the priest, sadly. He went away, and
the lady brought me a small cup of cool, fresh water.
I drained every drop and begged for more.

"You shall have more by and by, if this does not
hurt you," said the lady. " Be a good child."

I dropped again into a doze. When I waked I was
alone, and the jug, from which my nurse had poured
the water, stood on a little table near by. An over-
mastering desire took possession of me. I crept out
of bed, and, steadying myself by the wall, I reached
the jug, and though I could hardly lift it so as to get
at its contents, I drained every drop. There must
have boen nearly a quart. Then getting back into
bed, I fell asleep and slept soundly. I woke from a
dream of my home before I went to Pcckham Hall,
and found that it was dark and the lady I had seen
before was standing by me with a light in her hand.
She bent down and put her hand on my forehead.

" The saints be praised, here is a blessed change,"

A New Life. 67

said she. " The fever is wholly gone, and your skin
is cool and moist. Do you feel better ? "

I made a motion of assent. Now that the fever
had left me, I was as weak as an infant.

" Well, well. Perhaps the water did you good,
after all. Do you want more ? "

I nodded. She took up the jug, and seemed sur-
prised to find it empty, but asked no questions, and
gave it to an attendant outside, who presently re-
turned, and I had another delightful drink, but I
was not so thirsty as before.

" Do you think you could eat something, my
child ?" asked my new friend.

I assented eagerly, for I had begun to feel de-
cidedly hungry. She again gave some orders to the
person outside, who, by and by, brought I know not
what delicate preparation of milk. I took all that was
given me, and would gladly have had more.

From that hour ray recovery was rapid, and I was
soon able to walk about the room, which was a large
one with several beds, and was, indeed, the infirmary
for the pupils. Then I was allowed to walk in the
gallery, and so, by degrees, I took my place in the
family, and began to understand somewhat of its
constitution and politics.

Dartford nunnery was a place of no little conse-
quence in my time, having some twenty professed
nuns besides the prioress and other needful officers,
such as sacristan, mother assistant and mistress of
novices. It was a wealthy foundation, owning, besides
its fair home domain, other wide fields and orchards
which brought in a good revenue. Most, if not all
of the sisters were ladies of family and breeding.

63 Loveday^s History.

The house had a good reputation for sanctity, and
certainly there were no scandals in my time, or at
least so I think, and I was always sufficiently sharp-

When I was able to walk about and see my new
home, which was not till cold weather, I had to con-
fess that it was a fair one. The garden was very
large and contained many fine fruit trees, apples,
plums, and cherries, besides great grape vines and
apricots, trained in curious fashion against the south
wall. The house had been founded in 1371, and it
was said, though I doubt it, that a part of the first
fabric was still standing in my time. Any how some
of the building was very old, and it had been added
to as convenience dictated, till there was no regular-
ity to it ; yet the material being the same throughout,
and the walls much overgrown with ivy, there sub-
sisted a certain harmony in the parts which was
pleasing to the eye. The church was a fine one and
contained some valuable relics, such as Mary Magda-
lene's girdle she must have had a good many girdles
in her time a bottle containing some smoke from the
Virgin's fire, and a glass of St. Anne's tears,* with
others which I don't now remember, all inclosed in rich
reliquiaries and boxes, or highly ornamented shrines.
They were exposed in the church on feast days for the
adoration of the faithful.

But the faithful were not so much disposed to adore
as in times past. The leaven of incredulity was
spreading among the poor, and the new Learning, as it

* All these relics are authentic, and may be found in Leigh-
ton's list contained in his letters,

A New Life. 69

was called, among the rich. It was understood that
the king himself had his doubts about such matters ;
he was at drawn daggers with the pope about his
divorce ; the great cardinal was in disgrace and likely
to lose all his preferments, and nobody knew what
was likely to come next.

But we young ones, shut in by the gray stone walls,
were happily unconscious of the storms that raged
without. Children are easily reconciled to any change
that is not greatly for the worse, and I soon became
as much at home as if I had always lived here. I
must needs say that every one was kind to me, espe-
cially so when I was recovering. I used to have terri-
ble fits of homesickness, which were not lessened by
the anger which still dwelt in my heart against my
uncle. These usually ended in a fit of crying and
that in a chill, so it is no wonder that Mother Joanna
(that was the name of the Mistress of the Novices)
had a dread of them. So, at the last, she took to set-
ting me tasks and work, and finding that I had a talent
for music, she put Sister Cicely upon giving me lessons
upon the lute and in singing, which lessons have since
been of great use to me.

At my first recovery from my sickness, as I have said,
my mind was almost a blank; but by and by my mem-
ory came back and I began to recollect and compare
things, and to ask questions. Mother Joanna liked
me about her when she was busy. Her eyesight was
not as good as it had been, and she found it conven-
ient to have me thread her needles when she was sew-
ing, and do other little offices for her. One day she was
preparing some work for the children (for we had a day-
school in a little house near the gate, where the girls

70 Loveday^s History.

from the village learned to sew and spin and to say
their prayers) ; one day, I say, when we were thus en-
gaged, I ventured to ask :

" Dear mother, did my uncle come to see me when
I was sick ? "

" No, child, your uncle is gone abroad, as I under-
stand, to Holland, about some matters of business but
your aunt sent to inquire for you twice."

" Who came ? " I inquired.

"How do I know, child! You ask too many questions.
It was an elderly serving-man with a scar on his face."

" Joseph Saunders," I said. " Do you know if my
aunt and cousins were well ? "

" Yes, they are all well. I asked because I thought
you would like to know."

" Dear mother, you are very kind."

" Well, I mean to be kind, and so I am going to talk
plainly to you, child. You must give up all notion,
of going back to your uncle's house, for that will
never be. My Lady Peckham has given you to this
house she having absolute control of you since Sir
Edward's death "

" Is Sir Edward dead ? " I asked, in dismay.

"Yes, he died in Scotland. There, don't cry, my
dear ; I thought you knew it, or I would not have told
you so suddenly. I know it is natural for you to
grieve for him, but we must curb even natural affec-
tions when they stand in the way of our duty."

But I could not help crying. Sir Edward had been
uniformly kind to me, and I loved him dearly. The
news of his death was a dreadful shock, and the end
of it was that I had another ague and was sick for sev-
eral days. When I got able to be about again, I was

A New Life. 71

sent for to the prioress's parlor. I had hitherto seen
this lady, only at an awful distance, and, so far as I
know, she had never spoken to me. She was a very
great lady being some way, I know not how, akin to
Bishop Gardner.

By the rule of our constitution we were to elect a
prioress every three years, but there was nothing to
hinder the same person from being elected again
and again, and Mother Paulina was such a Queen
Log that I imagine nobody cared to get rid of her.
She was an indolent, easy-going body, caring, I do
think, more for her own ease and comfort than any
thing else, and very little troubled as to how matters
went in the house, so long as they did not come in her
way. Like many such persons, however, she now and
then took a fit of activity and authority, when she
would go about the house interfering in every body's
business whether she knew any thing about the mat-
ter in hand or not, giving contradictory orders and
setting things generally at sixes and sevens. This
happily accomplished, and her conscience discharged,
she would relapse into her great chair and her indolence
again, and leave matters to settle as they might.
One of these fits was on her just now. She had been
out in the garden in the morning, scolding the gar-
dener about the management of the winter celery and
the training of the apricots, of which she knew as
much as she did of Hebrew. I saw her two attend-
ant sisters fairly laughing behind her back. As for
the gardener, he was a sober old Scotsman, who had
come to this country in the train of some of the ban-
ished Scots lords, and liked it too well to leave it. He
understood his business, and his mistress, too. He

72 Loveday^s History.

would stand, cap in hand, in an attitude of the deep-
est humility, listening to his lady's lectures and throw-
ing in a word now and then, as "Na doot, madam !
Ye'll hae the right o't. I would say so ! " Then he
would go on his own course, precisely as if she had not
spoken, and she, having said her say without contra-
diction, would imagine she had had her own way. (It
is not a bad way to deal with unreasonable people, as
I have learned by experience.)

I found the lady sitting in her great chair, beside a
table on which was a crucifix of gold and ivory, a vase
for holy water, and a box which I supposed to contain
some holy relic. A handsome rug was before her
chair, and she rested her feet on an embroidered
hassock. According to the custom of the house,
two sisters stood behind her. The younger sisters
took this duty in rotation.

" So ! " said she, when I had made my obeisance,
" you are the child who was sent hither by my Lady

This in a severe tone, as if I had been much to
blame for being such a child.

" And why did not you come hither at once,
instead of stopping four months in London, and
putting me to all that trouble of looking over poor
Sister Benedict's things, and finding my lady's

To which I could only answer that I did not know.
As if a little chit like myself would have any hand in
her own disposal.

" Well, now you are here, you must be content.
Mother Joanna says you are homesick and make your-
self ill by crying. That must be stopped. If I hear

A New Life. 73

any more of it, I will try what virtue is in a birch
twig to cure ague. I am afraid you are a naughty
child, or your uncle would not have been in such a
hurry to get rid of you."

How easy it is for idle or careless hands to gall a
sore wound. Her words were like a stab to me, but I
set my teeth and clenched my hands and made no sign.

" But now you must understand, once for all, that I
will have no more crying or homesickness ! " pursued
the lady, who was like a stone that once set a-going
down hill rolls on by its own weight.

" You are in a good home and a holy house, where
you may grow up without danger of being infected
by the heresies, which, as we hear, are so rife in Lon-
don. Your good mistress, Lady Peckham, will give
you a dowry when you are professed, and some time
you may come to be prioress, and sit in this chair ;
who knows?" concluded the lady, relapsing into an
easy talking tone, having, I suppose, sustained her
dignity as long as was convenient. " So now be a
good child, and here is a piece of candied angelica for
you ! " she added, taking the cover from what I had
taken for a reliquary, " and pray don't let us have
any more crying."

I took the sweetmeat with a courtesy, and after-
ward gave it to one of the lay sisters, having no great
fondness for such things.

"And how did you leave my Lady Peckham?"
pursued the prioress ; then, without waiting for an an-
swer : " We were girls at school together, though she
was older than I oh, yes, quite a good deal older, I
should say. Let me see, she married twice, I think.
What was her first husband's name ? "

74 Loveday^s History.

" Walter Corbet, madam ? " I managed to say. I
was feeling very queer by that time, being weak and
unused to standing so long. The prioress was pur-
suing her catechism, when I saw the two attendant
sisters look at each other, and then one of them bent
down as if to whisper in the lady's ear. That was
the last I did see or know till I woke, as it were, to
find myself on the floor, with one of the sisters bath-
ing my face with some strong waters, and the prior-
ess fussing about, wringing her hands and calling on
all the saints in the calendar. I felt \\ery dreamy and
strange, and, I fancy, lost myself again, for the next
thing I heard was Mother Joanna's voice, speaking in
the tone which showed she was displeased.

" You kept her standing too long, that is all. No-
body recovering from a fever should be kept stand-

; ng ."

" You don't think she will die, do you, mother ? "
asked one of the sisters, I do believe out of sheer mis-

" Holy Virgin ! you don't think so ? " cried the prior-
ess. " Holy Saint Joseph ! what shall I do ? Send
for Father Austin, somebody, quick! Bring her the
holy Magdalene's girdle, or the thumb of Saint Bar-
tholomew. Holy Magdalene ! I will vow

" Reverend mother, please do be quiet ! " inter-
posed Mother Joanna, with very little ceremony.
" The child is not dying, if she be not scared to
death by all this noise. Sister Priscilla, go and see
that her bed is ready. Come, Loveday," in her crisp,
kindly tone, "rouse yourself, child. Why, that is
well ! " as I opened my eyes " there, don't try to
sit up, but take what the sister is giving you, and we

A New Life. 75

will soon have you better. Open the casement a
moment, Sister Anne ; the room is stifling."

" Really, sister ! " said the prioress, in an injured
tone, " I think you should remember that you are in
my apartment, before you take such a liberty. The
child will do well enough, I dare say. It is more than
half pretense to get herself noticed, and I believe
might be whipped out of her, " she pursued, for hav-
ing a little gotten over her fright, she was beginning
to be angry with the cause of it. Mother Joanna
treated the reproof and the suggestion with equally
little ceremony, and gathering me up in her strong
arms, she bore me off to my bed in the dormitory, and
went to bring me some soup. I was quite myself in a
few hours, and from that time my health improved so
that I was soon as well as I had ever been in my life.
Every one was kind to me, as I have said. I went to
work with great zeal at my lessons in music and needle-
work, both of which I loved. One day I was hold-
ing some silk for Sister Denys. She was the novice
who had entered the house at the same time as my-
self, and had taken the white veil while I was ill.
She was very young, and, but for her unvarying ex-
pression of listless sadness, would have been very
pretty ; but she moved more like a machine, than a
living creature, never spoke if she could help it, and
faded day by day, like a waning moon. I more than
once saw Mother Joanna shake her head sadly as she
looked at the poor thing.

Well, as I said, I was holding some thread for her,
when somehow, I don't know how it happened, I
made use of a Latin phrase. I saw that she started,
and her eyes brightened.

76 Loveday^s History.

" Do you know Latin, child I mean, so as to un-
derstand it ? "

I was as much surprised as if the image of Mary
Magdalene in the chapel had spoken to me, but I
made haste to answer

" Yes, Sister Denys ; I have learned it for two or
three years. And I have read through the * Orbis
Sensualium Pictus,' * and some of Cornelius Nepos,
and I have read a part of St. Matthew his Gospel
in the Vulgate" (so I had, with my uncle). " I wish
I had lessons here," I added, regretfully. "I
have forgot so much since I had the fever, and I love
my Latin, because I used to read it with Walter."

"Who was Walter your brother?"

" No, sister ; my cousin," and then, in answer to
her questions, I began, nothing loth, to tell her of my
home in Somersetshire. Presently she dropped the
silk, and I saw she was weeping bitterly.

"Never mind, little maiden you have done me
good," she said at last, as I stood by her side, dis-
mayed at her sorrow, yet feeling by instinct that it
was better to let her have her cry out, without calling
any one. She made a great effort to check her sobs,
and presently, kissing me, she added :

" I know Latin, and I will teach you, if the mother
is willing."

" I am sure she will be willing ! " I answered. " She
said herself it was a pity I should lose what I had
gained." And the mother passing at the moment, I
preferred my petition to her. I think she was un-
feigned ly pleased to see poor Sister Denys interested

*I am not sure that I have not antedated this wonderful

Online LibraryLucy Ellen GuernseyLoveday's history : a tale of many changes → online text (page 5 of 24)