Maud Wilder Goodwin.

White aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 online

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Remould it nearer to the heart's desire ? "

THE rain was drizzling outside Penelope's win-
dow when she awoke next morning. The fog
was settled down so thick she could scarcely see
the other side of the street, and she was forced to
light her candle that she might see to smooth her
hair. It being still too early for breakfast when
she was dressed, she drew forth her journal and
wrote in much lowness of spirit : " A doleful
day, and one wherein naught of good is like to
befall. I wold it were away and me one day
nearer home."

Seldom are our predictions, even for the short
space of a day, borne out by events. We leap up
joyously to greet coming happiness, and sorrow
lays its heavy hand on our bounding heart and
says, " Be still." We rise reluctantly, and set our
254



Three Letters.

teeth to bear what the day may bring forth, and lo,
happiness and pleasure circle round us, smiling
away with gentle irony our fears and our inquie-
tude. So it proved with Penelope. While she
was still writing, Betty, the maid, knocked at her
chamber door and brought in three letters. Pe-
nelope's heart beat fast, for it took her no long
time to see that they were from over seas, and that
the seal of two out of the three bore the crest of
her house. She hugged them to her heart, and
kissed the wax again and again.

A second glance showed her the dear and fami-
liar writing of her father and the fine tracing of
her mother's hand, now, alas, trembling and fainter
than her wont. Which think you she opened
first ?

Why, God forgive her, it was neither, but the
third letter, with superscription written in a bold
character, which her eyes had lighted on but once
before ; but she knew it for the mate of the one her
bird had brought her beneath his white wing,
the one borne even now on her heart.

With trembling eagerness she tore it open and
read the last words first, " Thy true lover, Bryan
Fairfax." It was enough. He lived. He loved
her. For the rest she could wait, and she turned
again to the other letters.

255



White Aprons.

Her mother's note, written from her sick bed, was
as brave, as cheery, and as full of thought for
others as her heart ever was. All her grief, all her
anxiety, was for Penelope. It was such a letter as
Christiana might have sent back from Beulah-land
to her child still struggling up the hill of difficulty.

Her father's letter, too, was one to strengthen the
weakest heart : " Be not dismayed, dear daughter,"
so he wrote; "let us bravely do that which lies in
our power, and leave the issue in the hands of that
God who hath overruled tyrants greater than
Berkeley in the interest of those weaker than we.
The King's Commissioners are come, and many
be called before them for the giving of testimony ;
yet they say they bring no instructions to override
the Governor, but only to make report upon his
administering of his office to His Majesty. There
is a bitter quarrel on betwixt Berkeley and Sarah
Drummond, from whom he hath alienated the
estate of her husband, and turned her and her
little ones out of house and home to wander shel-
terless in the woods but for the kindness and
charity of her neighbors. Dame Drummond vows
she will have back her property, and is raising
heaven and earth to get her case before the King. I
know not what the outcome will be. God knows
matters look black all around us, and our own dark
256



Three Letters.

enough ; but I am doing my utmost with Berkeley,
and I have striven diligently with Sir John Berry,
who hath come over at the head of the Commission,
and who at my urgency hath promised to plead
the cause of Fairfax with Sir William. Do not
despair, therefore, even shouldst thou fail to reach
the ear of the King. I have writ your uncle.
Should he succeed in procuring for you an intro-
duction at Court, bear in mind my parting words.
Put not too much trust in any man not even in "
(Here certain words were blotted and half scratched
out ; but Penelope's curiosity leading her to study
them the more closely, she could have sworn she
read "the King himself," but the matter was
beyond her comprehension.)

" Bear thyself," he continued, " like a true and
virtuous woman, and thou shalt have no cause to
fear snares or pitfalls, though I am told they do
mightily abound at Court. Wherever thou goest,
my blessing and thy mother's is ever with thee.
Forget not, I charge thee, how our good preacher,
the worthy Dr. Fuller, hath said there is a tree in
Mexicana so tender that if a man but touch its
branches it do presently wither away, and that a
woman's credit is of equal nicety. I speak this, not
that I have not full confidence in thee, but as know-
ing too well the poison that lurketh in the air of
17 257



White Aprons.

Courts. Thy dear mother hath failed a little since
thy going, but spite of all she is as ever the life
and soul and sunshine of the house. She talks and
thinks of nothing but thee, and prays ever for thy
success. If the prayers of the saints availed in
times of old, why not now? Be of good cheer,
therefore, and go forward in full faith and with
unshaken confidence. I have succeeded through
one of the jailers in getting for thee a line from
Fairfax, which, methinks, will do more to cheer thee
than all the pages I can write. It goes with mine
on the ship which sails to-morrow. Who would
have thought I could e 'er be reconciled to such a
marriage for thee ! But now my earnest prayer is
that God may keep him for thee and send thee
safe home to him and to us." (Here a tear
blotted the paper.) "He is a fine fellow, and
there do be much talk of his cheerful courage in
the prison at James City."

Could anything have made Penelope love her
father more it would have been these words.
" Oh, how unworthy," she thought, " am I of so
much affection ! "

Having smoothed out this letter and laid it by the
side of her mother's, Penelope again took up that
other, and having kissed and cried over the outside,
she unfolded it slowly and laid it open on her knee.

258



Three Letters.

She felt in that instant the fulness of joy, and was
ready to swear that should darkness and sorrow
shut down like a mourning veil about her future,
this one moment would atone for all.

" MY DEAR LOVE," thus the note began, " Waste
no tears from those bright eyes of thine in thinking upon
me. Thy love has made me the happiest man in Vir-
ginia ; ay, and the proudest, though iron bars be around
me and a scaffold before me. Should the worst come,
say to thyself, ' There died a man who had known the
chief est good which can come to mortals and whose
heart went singing in its prison.'

" Ay, dearest, and .'t is not my heart alone that sings,
but my voice "also, till the gaolers do oft put in their
heads, thinking, I verily believe, that through my mis-
fortune I am gone daft. The tune that does be oftest on
my tongue is that one you sang in the hall of Rosemary
(ah, I can see thee yet, darling, with the September sun
glistening in thy bright hair, and the tender look in thine
eyes ere my rude summons called the darkness of anger
into them), and the burden of those words, shall I e'er
forget them ? 'Love will find out the way Love will
find out the way ! ' Ay, doubt it not, dear heart. Not,
perchance, the way thou and I in our mortal short-
sightedness would choose, but the way which, though it
leads through the very Valley of the Shadow of Death,
is filled with light and gladness because it is the way of
love.
"Till death ay, and after, thy true lover,

"BRYAN FAIRFAX."
259



White Aprons.

It was long before Penelope could cease read-
ing this letter over and over ; and even when she
had conned every word by heart she still pored
over the written lines, till Betty knocked once more,
to say that Master Pepys was impatient for her
coming, and Mrs. Fane was angry that the break-
fast was kept waiting so long on the table.

More alarmed at the prospect of Mrs. Fane's
wrath than of her uncle's impatience, Penelope
hastily tucked away her precious letters, and tripped
down the stairs as if her lightness of heart had lent
lightness to her feet. Her uncle looked at her quiz-
zically as she entered. " So, Mistress Pen," said he,
" you and your father did fancy yourselves a match
in state-craft for Samuel Pepys, who hath been
near the Court these twenty years. If 't were not
so childish simple, one might well be vext thereat."

" How mean you, uncle ? Sooth, I am guilty of
no deceiving."

" Faith," cried Pepys, slapping his knee, " your
ingenuous father writes me that he thinks himself
to seek in frankness that he wrote me not upon
your first coming that this Bryan Fairfax was
your lover as well as his friend, oh, mighty confi-
dence deep secret indeed! As if I were like
to believe those downcast looks and heart-rending
sighs were all for thy father's friend, or that thy
260



Three Letters.

father would e'er have given his consent to thy
making of thy perilous journey without the occa-
sion was most pressing and personal in its nature !
Sooth, I never could have forgiven either him or
you but that I knew the convicted rebel was your
lover.

" Nay, nay, redden not, nor let fall those tears
upon that fresh front of thine, for the laundering
thereof will cost sixpence. 'T is no crime to have a
lover, still less to strive to save his life. Now
sit ye down, and have a bite of this toasted cheese
which Mrs. Fane did prepare because ye did say
ye liked it. I know not how ye have twisted that
old woman about your pretty finger, but an ye do
as well with the King ye may look to succeed with-
out a struggle. 'T is most unfair that youth and
good looks should win with ease where plain age
must work so hard."

It was evident that Mr. Pepys was in high good
humor ; but when Penelope asked him tremblingly
if he had heard aught touching an audience with
the King, he shook his head and counselled her to
wait patiently, for that was the first lesson learned
at Court. With this, and a tweak of the ear, he
bade her fetch her hood and make ready to go out
with him, for the rain was clearing, and he was fain
to take her with him to the house of a friend.
261



White Aprons.

For this expedition Penelope donned a black
paragon petticoat with her aunt's cramoisie bodice,
and a whisk of snowy lawn above it, and over all
her brown camelot cloak with hood and veil, and,
thus equipped, she set forth with her uncle obedi-
ently, though with no great interest.

When they were come to the rooms of Godfrey
Kneller, who was the friend they were to see, the
painter had gone out for a time ; but the servant
bade them enter and await his coming, which they
did. The rooms were warm, and Penelope was
glad to accept her uncle's permission to put off
her cloak and hood, which he gallantly took from
her hand and threw over the high back of the
oaken chair whereon she sat beneath the latticed
window.

Her uncle was quite right in his assurance that
change of scene was the best help for her uneasy
soul, and that no anxiety in youth can wholly
obscure the interest which lies in novelty. His
wisdom showed itself still further in his leaving her
now to herself, unmolested by calls upon her atten-
tion. But this was, perhaps, as much out of regard
for himself as for her, since he was not above taking
his own comfort into consideration.

Picking up a volume of Marlowe's plays, he
sat down in the corner and began to read, with
262



Three Letters.

such absorption of interest that his chuckles
and strange grimaces and pursing of the lips al-
most drove his niece to open laughter, till she
took refuge in gazing about the apartment, which
was full of things quaint and curious, at least
to Penelope's unaccustomed eyes. An easel stood
in one corner beside the window, with a palette
still wet hanging upon its peg, and a stiff stool
near by, as though the artist had but just pushed
it away. A massive chest of black oak leaned its
lid against. the wall, which gave support to the
rickety cover, and formed a background for a draw-
ing in black and white. Above it, covering almost
the side of the room, hung a great Flemish tapestry
representing the temptation of Eve, wherein a
green serpent was seen curling round a yellow tree
to reach a brown apple, while Adam and Eve
looked on from behind a hedge of red bushes. Yet
so old and mellow were the colors that they blended
into a fine, harmonious tone, which matched well
with the artist's other belongings ; and though the
chest beneath it was from France, and the carved
table before it from Sweden, and the mantel had
been brought hither from an old Italian palace,
yet there was no break in the harmony: for
fine furnishings are like fine folk, and have
power to adapt themselves to their surroundings,

263



White Aprons.

and, for the matter of that, the best are at home
everywhere.

No whit of all this philosophizing, you may be
sure, came into Penelope's mind as she gazed
around with wide-open, child-like eyes, her lips
parted, and her cheek flushed by the heat from the
great logs which blazed at the back of the deep
fireplace. She was only vaguely conscious of
pleasure in all this warmth and color and beauty.
At length Mr. Pepys shut his book, looked at the
clock, and vowed they must be going unless the
artist came soon, though he would like to have Pe-
nelope catch sight of his portraits, for some counted
them the best in England.

They had been sitting but a few moments longer
when Kneller came in after the brisk fashion which
was his wont ; but catching sight of Penelope he
fell back a step, as if in amazement, and scarcely
waiting to say "Good day," he exclaimed to her
uncle, " I do entreat your permission to make a
sketch of this young lady, whoever she be."

"Ah," answered Mr. Pepys, with a low bow,
"such a request from Godfrey Kneller is a com-
pliment indeed, and some day, when my niece is in
her best attire, we shall both be only too happy to
grant the sitting."

" My good sir," interrupted Kneller, impatiently,
264



Three Letters.

"I would have you know I am an artist, not a
tailor" When he had got thus far he stopped
and bit his lip, and Penelope saw that he had of a
sudden remembered that Mr. Pepys's father was
of that calling, for he hurried on : " Your niece is
of so rare and delicate a beauty that dress is an
impertinence which doth rather detract from it than
enhance it. Of a truth, I am weary of painting
bedizened dames with powder and paint, and
patches set on in fantastical shapes of birds and
beasts and even coach and four. This simplicity
will have all the charms of art blended with nature,
and novelty to crown all. I will have her just as
she is, with the sunlight falling through the lattice
upon that wonderful hair.

" 'Tis a strange, mixed type of beauty," he con-
tinued, as if talking to himself of some portrait.
" The pink and white of the skin are pure English,
but the hot red tones in the hair bespeak a more
Southern race. That long Spanish eye should
go with calm, voluptuous features, and looketh
strangely at variance with the petulant nostril and
short-lipped, decided mouth beneath it. 'T is a face
full of contradictions, but only the more charming
for that; and nothing could be finer to an artist's eye
than the flesh tints seen through the bluish shadows
of the lawn folds. Yet pardon me if I draw it back

265



White Aprons.

a trifle thus that the turn of the throat and
the curve of the chin be the better seen. So
that is perfect. Prithee, young lady, stir not,
but stay exactly as you are while I fetch my
canvas."

With this he ran out of the room, and presently
returned with a roll of canvas which he fastened
to a stretcher and set upon an easel before Pe-
nelope. About the floor stood various portraits, so
faithful to life that the young visitor, who knew
little of the painter's art, almost expected to see
them speak. In particular the portrait of the
Queen rather pretty, with soft eyes and a white
neck, on which her hair fell in stiff little curls like
the tendrils of the grapevines in spring greatly
took her fancy.

"There," said Kneller at last, stepping back
that he might view his sketch the better, " 't is little
more than a hint, but I can now work it out alone,
and perchance Mistress Payne will grant me an-
other sitting on the morrow."

"The working of this great artist," wrote Pe-
nelope afterward in her diary, "is surely like y e
waving of a magician's wand ; for ere I had time to
tire of looking about, he had set on his canvas a
picture which I should have said was alive, only
far, far too butifull for me. I should scarce have
266



Three Letters.

known it but for that homesick look in its eyes, and
y e string of pearls about y e throat." l

1 Visitors to the National Gallery may have noticed a
portrait closely resembling this description. It is
labelled in the catalogue, " Portrait of a lady, un-
known, by Sir Godfrey Kneller." But if the visitor
inspect the canvas closely, he will find in the lower left-
hand corner, traced in red, the word " Penelope."



267



CHAPTER XVI.

PENELOPE GOES TO COURT.

She sails by that rock, the Court,
Where oft Virtue splits her mast
And retiredness thinks the port
Where her fame may anchor cast
Virtue cannot safely sit
Where vice is enthroned for wit.

" T AM to go to Court, and 'tis come about in
1 the strangest fashion. One would scarce
credit it an it were set forth in a play. Folk would
say, * Why doth ye playwright trifle with us thus,
and think to trick us into a belief in so unlikely a
happening ? ' Yet all this hath verily come to
pass, and in real life too."

Yes, it was indeed, as Penelope wrote in her
journal, a strange happening. Just when she and
her uncle were worn out with waiting for news
from the Duke of Buckingham, and when Mr.
Pepys was actually writing to beg the intervention
of the Duke of York with the King, his brother,
268



Penelope goes to Court.

in burst Godfrey Kneller one morning, bubbling
over with joy and well-nigh breathless with
excitement.

He had been at Whitehall, so his story ran, for
a sitting of Queen Catherine, the last before the
finishing of her portrait, and having with him the
sketch of Penelope, had shown it to the Queen as
a fancy piece, to be called " Spring ; " and she, being
mightily taken therewith, had called His Majesty,
and bade him say if ever he had seen a face so
fair at once and so sad. " 'T is Spring ' indeed,"
quoth she, " and a very pretty conceit, with the sun
on the hair and the .dew in the eyes and April in
the showery smiling o' the lips."

But His Majesty took the picture to the window,
and, after studying it close, looked up and said to
the artist, while he twirled his mustachios :

" Kneller, this is no fancy piece. 'T is a por-
trait, and a close study at that. This eye, with its
tiny mole on the under lid, hath the very trick of
life in 't, and that ripple of red brown hair was
never imagined save by him who had seen it. Out
with it, man, what name bears thy Spring ' when
she steps forth from this canvas ? "

" Thus commanded by royalty," said the painter,
" I dared not dissemble, but told him straight 't was
the niece of Samuel Pepys^ one Mistress Pe-
269



White Aprons.

nelope Payne, but lately come to London from the
colony of Virginia."

" ' Pepys ? ' quoth the King; * Pepys of the Navy
Office I trow. He hath besieged me with letters of
late, since he hath been in disgrace, begging to
come kiss my hand. Well, perchance his banish-
ment hath lasted long enough, how say you,
Kate, shall we have this Mistress Spring and her
uncle to our mask next week ? '

" The Queen, who, methought, was but too happy
at hearing herself thus kindly spoke to by His
Majesty, smiled right graciously, and declared she
would give much to see the beautiful young
stranger ; whereupon the Chamberlain, in my hear-
ing, was bidden to despatch a card. Methinks,"
Kneller added, "it had been no more than civil
had he included the artist as well as the subject ;
but we painters rarely get our deserts, and I bear
no malice, and shall feel more than repaid if I
catch a glimpse of Mistress Payne in her Court
attire."

The good Kneller little knew what service he
had done his sitter. He thought he was giving a
young girl from the wilderness a taste of Court
pleasures. In fact, he was giving her a chance for
life. Thus it came to pass that on a February
morning a great card arrived at the door of
270



Penelope goes to Court.

the small house in Seething Lane, a card with
gilt lettering, bidding Mr. Pepys and his niece to
a mask at Whitehall a week from that night.
Penelope wavered between the heights of hope
and the depths of despair ; but her uncle was all
delight, and talked of costumes till his niece was
nearly distracted. She strove to gain his permis-
sion to go as a nun, in a black domino ; but he
would hear no such word.

" If you would catch the King's ear," said Mas-
ter Worldly-Wise-Man, "ye must first catch his
eye." So he talked now of a shepherdess, that
the turn of the foot might show to advantage ; then
of Diana with a bow and arrows, leaving the arm
bare ; then of the part of St. Cecilia, which, as
he said, need cost but little, as his cousin Roger
would lend the harp, only that would prevent
moving about, and Penelope's walk was the most
seizing thing about her.

At last, wearied out, poor Penelope cried : " If in
very truth I must trick out a sad heart in such like
mumeries, I will go as Virginia"

" Ay, and so thou shalt," answered her uncle.
"'Tis an extraordinary good idea and do please
me mightily. For myself, I will be a Spanish car-
dinal, for I love a scarlet robe, and considering the
silver cup I have promised to the clothworkers,
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White Aprons.

methinks I should get the making on 't for nothing."
And so the matter was settled.

It was scarcely two o'clock on the afternoon of
the ball when Betty and Dolly came to Penelope's
chamber bearing the dress which her uncle had
provided. It was indeed a marvel of ingenuity,
and did credit to his taste and imagination. The
petticoat was of white satin, wrought richly about
the edge with a design of tobacco leaves worked
in golden thread. The bodice was finished with a
fall of soft yellow lace, and the girdle fell to meet
the hem in tassels like the tassels of the Indian
corn. About her neck Penelope wore her mother's
string of pearls ; and on her head they set a crown
made in the form of five golden bands, one above
the other, and on the upper was writ in bril-
liants,

11 Virginia adds a fifth crown"

When Penelope looked into her bit of mirror,
her heart gave a sudden leap, in spite of all her
trouble, at the loveliness which smiled back at
her, though she could scarcely connect that radiant
vision in any fashion with herself ; but when she
went downstairs she read in her uncle's eyes a
repetition of the flattering story her glass had told
her above. It was indeed a tribute that none
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Penelope goes to Court.

could fail to pay who saw her as she was that
night, beautiful, exceedingly, with a loveliness
far above and beyond that of mere sense ; a flame
blazing out through her great dark eyes, and burn-
ing on her red lips, and breathing from her heaving
bosom. She was indeed the soul of love incarnate.

" Child ! " cried Master Pepys, " thy cause is
as good as won. If the King set eyes on thee as
thou art now, he can refuse thee naught. Prithee,
Pen, what think ye of my looks ? "

With this, the tailor in him much delighted with
his trappings, he strutted thrice up and down the
room in his red cap and gown, with the church
lace in front hanging clear to his knees, and with
such a solemn air as gave his niece great trouble
to keep a grave face. In the midst of his showing
off his finery, Betty came running up to say that it
was past seven, and the chairs were at the door.

When they were seated, Penelope's crown stood
so high that the bearers could scarcely shut down
the cover, and they were so long about the business
that Mr. Pepys swore roundly at them, and charged
them with delaying that they might ask the more
pay for their time ; but one of the bearers answered
that for his part he thought himself well paid by
the sight of so beautiful a lady, which Penelope
thought wondrous civil for a chair man.
18 273



White Aprons.

Dolly felt herself a fine lady in a chair of her
own. The link boys went before and behind ; yet
so bad were the streets that, despite their lights,
the bearer of Penelope's chair stumbled twice, and


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