Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

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the jerk went nigh to throw poor Virginia into the
mud, and so shook her crown that she feared it
could never be set straight, and she fell to crying
secretly, which was very weak and foolish.

At the last, when they were come within sight of
the palace, her heart quite failed her, and she would
have gone back; but she knew her uncle would
not hear of it : and I would rather believe that she
herself would not in the end have shown herself
such a coward. Up the marble steps they went,
and, having shown their card, Penelope entered
into the disrobing room, and there, after what
seemed an eternity, her uncle came for her, and
together they passed down the corridor and en-
tered the great ball-room, where was much twang-
ing of fiddles, and tightening of strings, and
rosining of bows.

The room was so large that, though many were
gathered, they seemed scarcely a handful therein ;
and as they walked about, so highly polished was
the floor, they seemed like two companies walking
with their feet together. A subdued buzz of talk
was going round, with much laughter and merry-
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Penelope goes to Court.

making ; but as they entered, Mr. Pepys and his
niece, with turbaned Dolly holding up the young
lady's train, the talk died away, and but for the pro-
tection of her mask Penelope thought she would
have died of fright.

In truth the sight itself might well have fright-
ened a maid, for here was such a crew as never
gathered save round the lady in " Comus." Satyrs
with goat-skin legs jostled devils with horns and
hoofs and wicked eyes gleaming through their red
masks. Nymphs there were in plenty, and rustic
maids, whose bare necks and arms put Penelope to
the blush, and made her wonder if the ladies of
the Court fancied that country people went thus
half-clad. It made Penelope smile, though her
heart was in her throat, to fancy such costumes at
Middle Plantation.

After the hush which had greeted her entrance, the
talk began again, livelier than ever, and Penelope
caught some comments which she felt sure con-
cerned herself.

" Who is she ? "

" I know not, but know I will ere the evening
ends."

" Be not too bold. By the carriage of her head,
I could swear she is meet company for thy betters."

"Look at that strange blackamoor who bears

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White Aprons.

her train. Is she really black, or a maid of
honor, disguised like the Jennings and her mis-
chievous friend, when they scandalized the Court by
playing at orange girl before the theatre doors?"

So vext and wrought up, half with wrath and
half with terror, was Penelope at all this bold talk,
that she would even now have run away ; but it
was too late. A blare of trumpets and a crash of
all the ; nstruments together announced the coming
of the King's party, and the Lord Chamberlain with
a wave of his white wand crowded every one back
against either wall to make room for the royal entry.

Oh, how Penelope's heart beat as she turned
her eyes to the door! In they came. First the
King and Queen, together and unmasked ; then a
bevy of ladies, who, as it seemed to the little pro-
vincial maiden, must wear their masks to hide
their shame at the bareness of their bosoms; and
after them, again, a crowd of gallants in every sort
of fantastic costume.

As the King and Queen passed close before
Penelope she had opportunity to study them both.
The Queen was short and dumpy of figure, but
full of a comely graciousness which lent beauty to
a face otherwise ill-favored, with large protruding
teeth which pushed out her lips like a negro's.
The King, Penelope thought, with his tall figure
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Penelope goes to Court.

and rich dress, was all a king should be, though the
deep furrows of brow and cheek belied his title of
" The Merry Monarch." Even to Penelope's un-
tutored eye that saturnine face spoke a melancholy
which strove in vain to find mirth in excess.

Their Majesties moved slowly down the hall,
pausing now to note and smile at some costume
stranger, if possible, than the rest, where all were
strange ; now to comment on some extraordinarily
rich and striking dress. When they had reached
the head of the room, His Majesty with great
courtliness handed the Queen to her seat upon a
gilded chair covered in velvet with an embroidered
canopy above it ; but instead of taking the chair
which stood beside it, he returned to the other
end of the room, and summoned to his side one
who played the role of soothsayer, a tall figure
in Oriental garb, with long white beard, and flow-
ing robes over which hung chains and rich jewelry,
which, had they been real, must have exhausted
the treasure-houses of the East.

" Come, good Master Soothsayer ! " cried the
King, "draw near and I will have you test your
powers. We will have up the ladies of the Court
one by one, and I will try if that keen eye of yours
can see through a mask, and that wagging
beard let slip a true prophecy."
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White Aprons.

At these words, all who could decently leave the
Queen circled close about the group at the lower
end of the hall, and one after another the ladies
drew near ; and by the peals of laughter which fol-
lowed the soothsayer's words Penelope judged that
they must have struck home. Absorbed in look-
ing and listening as she was, she had wholly for-
gotten herself, when of a sudden, to her infinite
alarm, the usher of the white rod plucked her
softly by the sleeve, saying: " Lady, the soothsayer
wishes to tell your fortune, and the King bids you
come forward."

Poor Penelope shrank back in terror very un-
suited to her part, and would have begged to be
excused ; but her uncle frowned upon her, which
frightened her more than aught else, and at the
same time his arm seized and fairly pushed her
forward, till she found herself the centre of the
brilliant, laughing circle which had gathered about
the King and the sorcerer.

Here Penelope's natural grace and courtesy
untaught of courts came to her aid, and made her
a fit centre for even such a circle. Kneeling, as
she had observed the rest do, she bent her head
and kissed the King's hand, and then, rising, bowed
after a more stately fashion to the soothsayer.

" Are you prepared, young woman, to listen to

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Penelope goes to Court.

your fate ? " asked the sham sorcerer, with a so-
lemnity which would have befitted the cardinal
saying mass at St. Peter's."

" Let it be a kind one," murmured Penelope with
fast-beating heart.

" Hearken, then ; I say it, and even as I say it so
shall it be. Ye shall have many strange experi-
ences ; but all shall end well, at least for yourself.
Honor and fortune await you, if you have the wit
and the courage to grasp them. It is your destiny
to live to a good old age here in England, loaded
with riches, and never more to return to that wil-
derness whence you came hither and where all the
land is divided twixt savages and rebels."

What with amazement that the soothsayer had
guessed so much of her history, and a superstitious
feeling which she could not shake off that there
was something of omen in the words, Penelope was
quite overcome. She gave a great gasp, swayed
to and fro, and would have fallen but for the
outstretched hand of the King, which caught her.

" Enough of this folly," cried His Majesty's
voice. " Chamberlain, bid every one unmask ! "

The diversion which these words made gave
Penelope time to recover herself, so that when she
too withdrew her mask, her color and her self-
command had both come back. But when on
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White Aprons.

looking up she recognized in the unmasked sooth-
sayer the man who had stood in her uncle's
dining-room only a fortnight since, she was nearly
overcome once more.

" Your Majesty," said Buckingham, returning
Penelope's gaze of surprise with a look of amuse-
ment, " here is the young Virginia damsel for
whom I craved a card to your mask to-night."

" By Heaven ! and 't is the original of Kneller's
* Spring ' also. Those bright eyes have won two
knights at once. Well done, Villiers!" cried
the King, who seemed to Penelope quite trans-
formed by the smile which lighted up his face,
"ye had always good taste in women, far better,
to our thinking, than in men."

At this Buckingham looked suddenly abashed,
though Penelope knew not why.

"Young lady," continued the King, graciously
turning to Penelope, u be ye * Spring' or ' Virginia, 7
or some fair unknown visitor from our provinces
over sea, ye are welcome to your mother country !
And is your father with you ? "

" Nay, Your Majesty," answered Penelope,
hardly able from fright to utter a word " my
mother was too ill to permit his leaving her."

"Ah, then, 'tis your brother perchance who hath
been your guardian ? "

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Penelope goes to Court.

" Alas, Your Majesty," answered Penelope, " I
have no brother."

"Neither father nor brother!" exclaimed the
King. "It must be pressing business indeed that
brings a young maid three thousand miles alone.
To whose charge prithee did you come, for I sup-
pose ye dwell not alone in London ? "

" I am come to the care of mine uncle, who is
come hither with me to-night, and who stands near
the wall yonder."

"Ah, yes, yes, I do recall now," began His
Majesty, when a lady who stood near him, very
handsome, but bold of eye and bare of bosom, said,
addressing Penelope with scant courtesy of tone
or manner, " How dare ye come across the ocean,
and to the very door of the Court, with no better
guardian ? "

" Pray, Madam," answered Penelope, lifting
her clear eyes full upon the speaker, " what harm
could befall me at Court ? Is not the AV/z^here ? "

Penelope was at a loss to comprehend the effect
of her words ; but she feared there was something
sadly out of the way in them, for she saw the
ladies hide their faces behind their fans, and the
gentlemen bite their mustachios and stare hard at
the toes of their boots, while the Duke of Buck-
ingham shook with laughter, and whispered to his
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White Aprons.

next neighbor, " The Duchess hath caught it fair
from the little savage, she'd best not meddle
with her again. Besides, my Lady hath need to
mark her words carefully, for she can no longer
take such liberties with the King as when she was
the Countess of Castlemaine."

Only His Majesty kept the gravity of his face
unmoved, and replied still more kindly to Penelope,
" Ay, ye have said aright, the King is here and
ye have naught to fear. Now gentlemen," he
added turning to those around, " choose your part-
ners for the brantle. Buckingham, bid the mu-
sicians strike a tune ! "

With this there was much moving to and fro.
Very noble the procession was, and a great pleas-
ure to see; but there were two in that hall who
gave it little heed, those left thus for an instant
alone together, the man who ruled it all, and the
little rustic who looked on it for the first time : yet
somehow Penelope feared the King least of all.

"Tell me," he said in a voice which of itself
gave her courage, so kind was it, "is it some
sorrow that hath driven you thus over seas, my
child ? Your face is too sad for one so young, and
surely you have ne'er made such a journey without
grave occasion."

" The time and place, Your Majesty," answered
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Penelope goes to Court.

Penelope, " scarce befit my sad story, else would I
crave the boon of laying it before you."

The maid choked and could say no more. " You
say truly," said the King, " that this is neither the
time nor the place ; but we will set a time and find
a place for the hearing. Mr. Pepys," he added,
turning to that gentleman, who courtier like stood
just near enough to catch what was going for-
ward without appearing to hear, " ye have twice
written asking permission to come kiss our hand.
Your petition is granted ; we will arrange an audi-
ence both for you and your niece. Let it be to-
morrow stay to-morrow is mortgaged to the
ambassadors of Spain and Sweden. We will say
Friday no, Friday is unlucky; and on Saturday
I go a-hunting at Windsor. Well, ye shall hear of
the time later."

Pepys would fain have burst out with a florid
speech of gratitude, but the King cut him short
and bade him make ready to take his niece in to
supper, whither he shortly led the way with a lady
whose beauty was so dazzling that it fairly took
away Penelope's breath. She was dressed as Bri-
tannia, with a burnished helmet from which rose
a great cluster of white ostrich plumes, whose
whiteness could not surpass the brow beneath, or
the neck, bare save for the shower of raven-black

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White Aprons.

curls which fell over it. Her breast-plate was of
beaten gold, with a group of pearls in the centre
worth a man's ransom, and her mantle was caught
at the shoulder with a brooch of rubies, and the
sheer lawn of the sleeve was bound above the
elbow with a band of gems which flashed in Pe-
nelope's eyes as the radiant vision passed.

" Who is she ? O uncle, who is she, that
lovely lady, queenlier than the queen, whose
beauty strikes me breathless ? "

" Ay, mark her," quoth Pepys, as he carefully
gathered his robe over his arm and prepared to
follow the procession. " Ye '11 ne'er see anything
to match her. Did ever ye set eyes on such an
excellent taille or such a complexion (all her own
too) ; and then that sweet eye and little Roman
nose, oh, there is none like La Belle Stuart in
the whole of England ! And yet, child, I heard
three gentlemen say that you were the fairer of the
two, and that there was none could match you for
grace and stateliness."

As the procession moved into the Banqueting
Hall with much mirth and laughter, Penelope fell
to wondering how the son of the martyred king
could find heart to make merry on the spot where
his father had suffered, ay, and gone forth to his
death beneath that very window now hung gayly
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Penelope goes to Court.

with lanterns. As she gazed around upon the
panels blazoned with heraldry, and upon the great
oaken beams which supported the open-timbered
roof, her mind was carried strangely back to the
rude rafters and bare boards of the rough Court
House at Middle Plantation. Yes, she could see
once more the grim faces of the fierce old Governor
and his counsellors ; and the crowd of figures that
thronged around her as she sat on that Court House
bench seemed far more substantial than the liveried
lackeys who stood before her now, waiting to
bring her portions of the pheasants which lay in
state on their platters of gold, or of the great
peacock, which, with his tail outspread, decorated
one end of the long board beneath the twinkling
candles.

Penelope raised her hand to her brow as if to
brush away the fog which clung around her mind.
"Which," she wondered, "is the true Penelope,
the maiden in the prisoner's dock, hand clasping
hand with a convicted felon, or this princess with
golden crown and sweeping draperies at the King's
levee ? " A conviction flashed upon her, as it does
on all of us at certain crises, that she was but a
puppet, made to dance and laugh and sing, or to
kneel and weep and pray, according as the hand
behind the scenes pulled the strings. Thus she sat

285



White Aprons.

silent and cast down, and could touch no morsel
of the feast spread before her ; but her uncle had
no such sentimental scruples.

" 'T is a fine supper," quoth he, " a prodigious
fine supper; but the venison pasty is very palpable
beef, which is not handsome."



286




CHAPTER XVII.

A PRIVATE INTERVIEW,

" Full little knowest thou that hast not tried
What Hell it is in sueing long to bide,
To lose good dayes that might be better spent,
To wast long nights in pensive discontent,
To speed to-day, to be put back to-morrow,
To feed on hope, -to pine with f eare and sorrow. ' '

ON the day after the ball Penelope spent half
her time hanging out of the little latticed
window, waiting and watching for a messenger who
never came. The next day it was as bad, and her
heart began to lose its courage, and her cheek to
lose its color, till at length her uncle chid her, but
gently, saying : " 'T is little ye know of Courts, child,
else would ye not expect the King to be a man of
business, who keeps his appointments clerk-like."

"But, Uncle, he did promise."

"Oh, he did promise," echoed her uncle, jest-
ingly. " I would have you know, Penelope, that
there be men in London Tower with a promise of

287



White Aprons.

fat office in their pocket, and men swinging from
the gibbet who died with promises ringing in their
ears."

" Then," cried Penelope, flying out in a passion,
" I say an unkept promise is no better than a lie,
and a lie is most unkingly."

" Hush, hush, girl ! " whispered Pepys, hastily,
glancing at the door to make sure that no one had
overheard the bold words. "The King is the
King, and little good comes of speaking evil of
those in authority. Have patience, and time will
pass the quicker."

" Have patience ! " cried Penelope, mockingly,
and with anger in her voice. " Oh, I am sick of
the sound of the word. 'T is easy to say 'have
patience,' but when the horologe is ticking away
a man's life 'tis a mean virtue, and little to be
commended save to time-servers."

It may be that the last word hit Mr. Pepys a
little hard, for he flounced about in his chair,
quite forgetful of his dignity, and turned his back
upon Penelope, while she in turn sat tapping the
floor with the heel of her little slipper, when in
came Betty very opportunely, bearing biscuit and
wine, and on the tray beside them, a letter. Yes,
a letter from the King's secretary appointing an in-
terview for the morrow morning at eleven o'-clock.
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A Private Interview.

The summons set Mr. Pepys in good humor once
more, and Penelope, ashamed of her peevishness,
ran to him and caught him about the neck and
begged him to forgive her; and so they were
friends once more.

The next day came at last, though to one little
maid in London it seemed that all the clocks had
hands of lead, and that the very sun stood still on
the dial plates.

" This morning being Thursday," says Penelope's
journal, "we betook ourselves once more to the
palace at Whitehall. 'T were idle to set down my
feelings; they were past describing, almost past
realizing. I knew naught save that y e supreme
hour of my life was come, and yet I was tying my
hood and smoothing my bands even as I had done
hundreds of times before, and instead of finding
all things blurred, my senses did but seem so
sharpened that they took note of even the least
thing. My uncle chid me for uneasiness and
haste to be gone, but though to me he seemed
slower than the creeping of the muddy Thames,
we did at length set out, and when we were come
to y e palace it wanted yet a half hour of the time
y e King had set ; wherfore to while away y e un-
easiness of waiting, mine uncle drew me into the
privy garden, where we did walk up and down,
19 289



White Aprons.

sheltered from the wind and comfortable enough
in body, but I at least much shaken in sole by an
aggony of fear and anxiety."

This garden wherein poor Penelope walked up
and down so shaken in " sole " was the pride of all
London, and especially of Mr. Pepys, who, for all
he plumed himself so much upon his knowledge of
human nature, fancied now that he could divert his
niece from her sorrow by pointing out the windows
of the different maids of honor and the extraordi-
nary fine lace on the underclothing marked B. V.
with a coronet above, which hung upon the lines
beneath the windows of the Duchess of Cleveland.
Penelope looked and nodded and smiled a sad
little absent smile, more pathetic than a flood of
tears.

Another turn in this walk brought them to a sun
dial of stone richly carved with vines and strange
intertwining dragons. It had been in its prime a
thing of quaint and curious beauty, but unluckily,
in spite of being surrounded with the protection of
an iron railing, it had been broken by a drunken
gallant in some midnight brawl, and now was so
sunken and out of shape that its hand no longer
truly marked the hour. Beneath its shattered face
some wag, who knew well the foibles of Charles's
Court, had written :

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A Private Intenriew.

" This place for a dial was too insecure,
Since a guard and a garden could not it defend;
For so near the Court they could never endure
Any witness to show how their time they misspend."

As though to show that not all those at Court
deserved such harsh satire, the little door at one
end of the garden opened even while Penelope
and her uncle bent over the dial, and a short and
straggling procession crossed the garden. First
came two priests, their cowls covering their heads,
and the foremost one bearing a crucifix of silver
and ebony. They were followed by six little boys
in black petticoats, and what looked to Penelope
like white nightgowns over, each carrying a lighted
taper. Then walking alone came the Queen, a
long veil covering her from head to foot, and
giving to her short figure a dignity which it lacked
in gayer dress. Finally a knot of Court ladies in
sober attire hurried after, and then the little gate
closed again with another clang.

Penelope had half a mind as the procession
passed to throw herself at the Queen's feet and
entreat her protection and intercession. Indeed
she did take a step forward ; but her uncle, per-
ceiving her intention, whispered, "Are ye mad?
The Queen's favor is the last road to the King's,
Keep back, I say!"

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White Aprons.

Penelope wavered, and then stopped and drew
her veil closer.

"The Court is divided 'twixt mass and mum-
ming," said Mr. Pepys, as the gate closed; but his
niece noted that he crossed himself as the priest
passed, and she wondered if there were any ground
for the charge of popery which she had heard that
some brought against him.

The shadow on the dial crept on, till at length,
after a time that seemed well-nigh endless, an
usher, very gorgeously attired, approached, and
bade them follow him to the King's presence-
chamber. Through the grilled gateway they
passed, and down the long stone gallery, which
echoed to the sound of their footsteps, till at last
their guide paused before a door richly hung with
velvet of a deep purple color. This curtain being
softly drawn aside from within, they passed through,
and found themselves in the royal ante-chamber.
A clerk seated at a table, busily employed in sort-
ing papers, looked up at their entrance, and bade
Mr. Pepys be seated, as the King would receive
the young lady first, and alone. Penelope, looking
at her uncle, saw his face cloud, but whether with
anxiety on her behalf, or vexation that his own suit
should thus be put off, she knew not.

For herself, robbed thus of the support of his
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A Private Interview.

presence, she felt ready to sink to the earth. Her
knees trembled so, she must needs grasp the folds
of the curtain which hung between the presence-
chamber and the ante-room. But the usher led
her forward, over soft Eastern carpets, between the
great porphyry jars which stood on either side of
the doorway, to the table where the King sat.
Kneeling down, Penelope kissed his hand in
silence, scarcely able to command herself enough
to utter a word. The King, as if comprehending
the disorder of her mind, raised her gently, and
setting her in the deep-cushioned velvet chair oppo-
site his own, bade the lackey bring her a glass of
wine, that therein she might find strength and re-
freshment. He watched her in silence, while her
trembling fingers broke the biscuit and held the
goblet to her lips; then, greatly to her re.tief, he
was graciously pleased himself to begin the con-
versation, toying as he spoke with the drooping ears
of a tiny coal-black spaniel which lay on the table
beside him, its tail playing sad havoc with the state
papers which were scattered in heaps about him.

" So," began the King, smiling, " you are come
ail the way from Virginia. I trust you are
not a little rebel against the authority of your
sovereign, not of those who, as I hear, have
earned the inglorious title of * White Aprons ' by

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White Aprons.

having on one occasion taken shelter behind the
petticoats of women." With this the King burst
out laughing, and Penelope blushed furiously as
she remembered how she herself had been the first
to cast the aspersion.

" Nay, Your Majesty," she answered, " my
father served in Berkeley's army, and the Governor
had no stancher supporter in the colony."

"And what say they across the water of
Berkeley?"

" I trust I speak not too much in bitterness,"
answered Penelope, " when I say they do call him


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Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 14 of 17)