Maud Wilder Goodwin.

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

. (page 15 of 17)
Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 15 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a hard man, tyrannical to those under him, and
passing cruel to a fallen foe."

" By the Lord, maiden, I do believe ye speak no
more than the truth. A report of my commis-
sioners hath lately reached me which do vex me
sorely. They say he hath sacrificed twenty victims
since Bacon's death, twenty ! Why, the old fool
hath taken more lives in that naked country than I
for my father's murder ! "

" And these, Your Majesty," urged Penelope,
timidly, " were neither murderers, nor even rebels,
save against the tyranny of Berkeley." *

" Why, how now ! I thought ye were of Berke-
ley's party ? "

"We were, Your Majesty; but certain things

A Private Interview,

have of late greatly changed our hearts. My
father, who ever inclines to mercy, could still bear
to see punishment, but not injustice, and so
wrought upon was he by the sentence of one of the
poor gentlemen taken after Bacon's death, and
doomed to die, but respited till April, that he hath
vowed to save him if he could, the more that he
owed him thanks for the saving of his life at a
battle near Jamestown, when the sword was at his
heart. 'T is at my father's command that I am
now come over seas to plead in turn for the saving
of the life of his preserver. Oh, pardon, I pray
you, pardon ! " So crying, Penelope fell once more
upon her knees, her hand holding out the petition,
her eyes upturned in deepest supplication.

As she watched his face her heart sank, and she
felt that she must have plead her cause ill indeed ;
for instead of melting, or showing aught of sym-
pathy, the King only smiled. *' Methinks," quoth
he, " you have not yet given sufficient reason why
you, a maid scarce eighteen summers old, if my eye
deceives me not, and it seldom plays me false in
judging the age of women, why, I say, your father
sends you alone and unprotected such a distance
upon such an errand. Were this condemned man
a lover you could scarce do more than brave such
difficulties and dangers in his behalf."


White Aprons.

At these words, which showed but too clearly
that the King had penetrated the disguise behind
which her heart had sought to hide, she answered
steadily, through all the red rushing over neck and
cheek and brow : " I pray thee, Sire, spare a
maiden's confession. I could scarce, e'en had I
a ready tongue and full command of myself, make
any comprehend the strange chances which did
overcome my former enmity. I can but say that
whereas I did once hold Bryan Fairfax my dead-
liest foe, I do now count him most of all the
world my friend my love."

Never in all her life had Penelope looked so
beautiful as now, when, wholly forgetful of herself,
absorbed in her great love and devotion, she knelt
as at an altar, pleading with liquid eyes upturned
to her King, as to her God. The eyes which
looked down upon her took on all at once a new
look, an evil look, a look neither godly nor

" Do you indeed care so much for this pardon ? "
he asked.

" Care ! " cried Penelope. " Oh that there were
any sacrifice I might be thought worthy to make
for such a reward ! "

" Why then," said the king, " I have a mind to
try you."


A Private Interview.

" Ah ! " exclaimed Penelope, " Your Majesty
shall see how gratefully I do accept the trial. Ay,
though it be a dungeon, I will dwell there in cheer-
fulness ; or a scaffold, I will die thanking and bless-
ing your name."

"Nay, nay," answered the king, "I would
scarce care to see so much loveliness shut up in
the darkness of London Tower, nor yet untimely
cut off on Tyburn Hill. Trust me, the trial where-
of I spake was no such killing matter. Come,
my pretty one," he cried with a sudden change of
voice and manner, " let us two strike a bargain.
What say you to a. pardon for your lover, and for
yourself, the favor of the King of England ? "

Penelope would scarcely have been able to in-
terpret the meaning of these words had they not
been accompanied by such an amorous glance as
brought back to her her father's words of warning :
" Trust not the gentlemen of the Court, nay, not
the King himself, for with all his virtues he holdeth
women but lightly."

" Sire," she cried, " I know you do but jest.
Could I believe you for one instant spoke in ear-
nest, I would pray you tear the pardon, and I
would go home and bid Bryan Fairfax die on the
scaffold, as an honest man should, to save the
honor of his affianced wife." As she spoke these

White Aprons.

words in her indignation, she rose to her feet and
stood before the King undismayed, no longer a
suppliant, but a woman.

The King, sovereign though he was, looked ill
at ease, and twisting about in his chair began once
more to play with the spaniel. As he showed his
face it was as if two spirits therein did contend for
the mastery. At last the better prevailed, and
shed over his face such a glow of emotion and
benignity as made clear to Penelope's mind the
love which his subjects bore him.

" Thou hast spoke bravely, bravely and truly,
my child," said he, " and ' t was ill done jesting
with a love like thine, which will dare and suffer
all save loss of honor. Leave me now, I am
weary, and bid thine uncle come next week. I
will look ever the petition and will have the secre-
tary make out the pardon, which I will straightway
sign, and thou shalt have it with no other condi-
tion but that thou do offer up a prayer for thy
sovereign in some chapel of thy native wilderness."

" Sire ! " cried she, " I will pray God preserve the
King, and petition every night and every morning
that Heaven continue him in his present happiness."

" Happiness ! " said he, his face darkening,
" happiness is a word for children, idiots, and
angels. How should a king look to be happy,

A Private Interview.

least of all a king badgered by his wife, baited by
his ministers, hated by his creatures, ruled by "

Ere he had uttered the last word, a tapestry in
one corner of the presence-chamber swayed a little,
then was raised, and beneath it stood the lady of
the Court, Barbara Villiers, Baroness of Nonsuch,
Countess of Southampton, and Duchess of Cleve-
land. Her gown was of brocade, set off with a
girdle stiff with precious stones, which shone forth
with double splendor as she stood against the dark
folds of the purple drapery, one white arm, from
which the sleeve had fallen, raised, and revealing
all its tapering roundness, ere she let it slowly
drop to her side.

The King looked upon her, and, as he looked,
the old sense 6f subjection which had held him in
this woman's thrall for so many years, from which
of late he had flattered himself that he was free,
returned with renewed power. She saw it in an
instant and was quick to push her advantage.

** It is my hour, Your Majesty," she said, speak-
ing scarce above her breath, but holding him by
the spell of her eyes.

The King hesitated a moment, looking first at
her, then at the figure opposite, with its severely
simple drapery, its pure pale face, its proud eyes,
and its halo of red-brown hair.

White Aprons.

Once more the angels struggled within him, and
this time the baser conquered. A hardness settled
down like a mask over his face.

" Yes, Madam," he answered, " it is your hour.
Mistress Payne, your audience is at an end ; you
may withdraw."

Penelope noted nothing of the drama enacted
thus before her eyes, nor did she know after what
fashion she withdrew from the presence-chamber,
if she walked or flew. All she felt sure of was the
precious pardon. " Pardon ! Pardon ! " every
wheel in London echoed it. " Pardon ! Pardon ! "
every oar beat time to it in the barges along the
Thames. " Pardon ! Pardon ! " the church bells
rang it as they sounded out the hours. Pardon
for Bryan Fairfax 1




" A very merry, dancing, drinking,
Laughing, quaffing, and unthinking

" /\A R ' SAMUEL PEPYS his compliments to
1 V 1 Mr. John Dryden and wife, and begs the
honor of their company at the Dog Tavern, South-
wark, on Monday night, to a Foy given in honour
of Mistress Penelope Payne before her setting sail
in the ' White Lady ' for the Colony of Virginia. "

Such pleasure did good Mr. Pepys find in the
despatching of this and other like missives, and,
indeed, in the whole preparation of this farewell
feast, that his niece could not find it in her heart to
tell him how little it was to her liking, or how small
a zest had an anxious mind for merry-making.
But the pardon, duly signed and countersigned,
lay on her breast, and that was joy enough in
itself. She knew, moreover, that though she spent

White Aprons.

her nights in tears and prayers, she could not
hasten, by one slow minute, the departure of the
" White Lady," which was to drop down the Thames
on Tuesday morning, and she bethought her that
she was in duty bound to be as cheerful as she
could in these last hours, if only to requite her
uncle for the kindness with which he had taken
her and her concerns into his care.

When, therefore, he brought with huge delight
all these billets to her, she forced herself to smile,
and offer him thanks for the planning of such a
festival in her honor. Privately she wondered
much that he should hold the feast at a hostelry
rather than in his own house ; for the Virginians
were so wont to look upon their houses as their
castles, and to bid both friends and strangers enter
at pleasure and make them welcome to all within,
that they could conceive no hospitality outside its
walls, still less at an " ordinary," which in Virginia
was a miserable shanty without even the decencies
of life. But Penelope was learning by slow degrees
that many things in this wider world were different
from the ways of her provincial home.

Among the guests bidden to the feast, much to
the maiden's delight, were Captain and Mrs. Ben-
nett. (Ah, how she gave thanks to Heaven that
their ship was stayed till now with loading, and

A Foy.

that the homeward voyage was not to be under-
taken with strangers ! ) With them were to come
Mr. Godfrey Kneller, not yet knighted, and Mr.
Dryden, who wrote to say that he should do him-
self the honor to accept Mr. Pepys's invitation,
but that his wife was ill and could not be of the

Sooth to say, Penelope sorrowed little over the
prospect of her absence; she felt, though she
could hardly tell why, that she fared less well with
the women than with the men here in this strange
new old world. She counted it the result of the
quaintness of her dress and the uncouthness of her
manners, which, as she said to herself, are more
prone to strike the quick eye of women than the
duller perceptions of men.

The morning before the foy, it chanced that the
Duke of Buckingham called at Seething Lane,
ostensibly on navy business ; but the real object of
his visit transpired ere long, for after repeating
much Court gossip anent the appearance of the new
beauty, who (so he said) was counted to outshine
even the Duchess of Richmond, and to be the first
stranger that ever Lady Castlemaine honored with
her jealousy, he dropped, quite by accident as it were,
the remark that he had heard from Mr. Dryden
how a foy was to be held at the Dog Tavern, in


White Aprons.

Mistress Payne's honor : but he had told him this
could not be, else had he himself surely been of
the number of those bidden.

" Nay, nay, my Lord ! " answered Mr. Pepys
with a fine bow, though looking a trifle taken
aback, " I should never have dreamed of taking
the liberty to ask your Lordship to so poor a feast
as the best ' the Dog's ' kitchen can provide."

" Thanks," answered His Grace, cheerfully.
" Methinks I am like to go to the dogs without
awaiting any bidding of thine, Master Pepys."

After this he turned and bade Penelope farewell
very graciously, wishing her a fair wind and a safe
return, and that she might find all in Virginia to
her liking, congratulating her upon her success,
and praying his regards to his cousin by marriage,
Bryan Fairfax.

" Is it too late, my Lord, to beg you to favor us
with your company at the feast ? " asked Mr.
Pepys, with his hand upon his breast.

" I do be much beholden by the invitation,"
quoth the Duke, laying his hand likewise upon the
ruffles over his heart, " and I grieve that it comes
too late to be accepted, as I am bound by another
engagement ; but I pray you at your foy to give one
toast from me: 'The Virginia Beauty to our
eyes a meteor in our hearts a fixed star.' "

A Foy.

With this, feeling perhaps that he had no other
speech at hand so pat and pretty, and being enough
a courtier to like to retire on a success, he bowed
himself from the room, and Penelope ran away to
her chamber to finish the packing of her chest.
Her heart was much touched to find upon her chest
of drawers a little worn pincushion, made of two
shells and a bit of damask which she had seen in
the housekeeper's room.

" Dear Mrs. Fane," cried she, as she heard the
housekeeper's step outside the door, "I cannot
take this, for I know what store you do set by it."

" Ay," answered the old woman, the wrinkles of
her parched skin puckering still more, till her face
looked like the skin of a shrivelled winter apple,
" I do in truth set much store by it, for 't was my
husband brought me the shells on his last voyage
home from the Indies, and the damask was given
me by a lady from the clippings of her wedding-
gown ; but I set more store by thee, and I would
have thee keep it to remember a crabbed old
woman whose heart hath been strangely soft like
to thee." At this, Penelope, whose heart was too
full for words, threw her arms about Mrs. Fane's
neck and their tears fell together. Oh blessed
welding power of love and sympathy !

It was six o'clock when Mr. Pepys and his

20 305

White Aprons.

niece set out by chair over London Bridge, and her
uncle pointed out to Penelope the spot where he
was near to breaking his leg one night through
falling in a hole where no light was set, and more
shame to the watch. "Nay, never shake that
pretty head of thine, Penelope; 'twas not the
unsteadiness of my legs that did bewray me, for
though I had in truth passed the evening at a
supper, 't was gave by a man too mean to provide
enough liquor to make his guests drunk withal."

" Indeed, dear Uncle, I thought no such thing,"
said Penelope, who in truth had come to the habit
of smiling and nodding her head and even saying
" yea " and " nay " by rote and quite at random ;
which ordinarily mattered little, for to Master
Pepys the sound of his own voice was so sweet a
music that it quite shut out the sound of another's,
and a listener was but a target to be hit or missed
by his discourse.

The great fire had destroyed so many houses
that there were some desolate places to be passed,
and Penelope's heart was in her mouth for fear of
footpads and highwaymen. Glad was she as they
passed up High Street and neared Kent Road,
when the cheerful lantern of the Dog Tavern
gleamed full in sight, and the fresh painted sign
with its couchant dog, which had taken the place

A Foy.

of the old tabard, told them that they had arrived
at the famous hostelry. Though the new front,
raised since the fire, detracted somewhat from its
ancient look, yet it was the same old Tabard Inn
at which the Canterbury pilgrims had gathered,
and it was in the Pilgrims' Room that the table
was set, and on the gallery over it hung a faded
picture of that other feast held here by the pil-
grims before their setting forth. Though the room
was private, the door stood open into the main
hall, where there was much coming and going of
men and maids.

Presently in came Mr. Dryden, very gay, in a
purple velvet coat and flowered waistcoat; Mr.
Godfrey Kneller, still finer, in a vest of white satin,
the King's artist medal on his breast, and over his
shoulder a short cavalier cloak of crimson velvet,
lined also with white satin and tied with silken
tassels, very handsome.

" Faith," whispered Pepys, " it vexes me that I
did wear this sad-colored suit when the rest be so

"Heed it not, dear Uncle," said Penelope, jest-
ingly ; " they may count thee in half-mourning for
the loss of thy niece."

"'Tis true. Thou sayest well," he answered,
taking all quite gravely.


White Aprons.

At this point in bustled Captain Bennett and his
spouse, he in rough suit of Frisian cloth, plain
and blunt, like the bluff sailor he was ; but his
wife with a hint of finery in her apparel, and a
somewhat mincing gait, which must not be set
down to her discredit, for many a woman changes
her walk to suit her company.

" Ah, my child," she exclaimed, kissing Penelope
on both cheeks, " it was like thee not to forget
thine old friends for all thy fine new ones. In
sooth, I see thee still just thy simple self."

" Indeed, Mrs. Bennett, if I am still myself 't is
no credit to me, but only that I know not how to be
any one else ; and of a truth, the more I see of this
strange new world the more I cling to old friends,
tried and true, like you and the captain, and
when I think of resting my eyes once more on the
blue line of the Virginia shore, and sailing in
between the two capes and through the broad bay,
and up the yellow James to the little wharf "

As she reached these words the girl's voice
faltered suddenly and broke ; and her eyes, which
had been set in a wide, far-seeing gaze, like a
mystic in a trance, suddenly ceased from their
vision, as if the future were too joyful or too
dreadful to look upon, and the tears welled up in
their brown depths, and stood for a moment like

A Foy.

a diamond fringe on the curling length of her
eyelashes ; but at the instant Mr. Pepys came to
them and made his best bow to Mrs. Bennett, who
answered it with a courtesy she had learned of a
lady's maid, who had caught it from a duchess.
And so, all being ready, the party sat down, Pene-
lope at the head of the table next her uncle, Mr.
Dryden next her, and Mrs. Bennett next her uncle
Pepys, then Godfrey Kneller and Captain Bennett
on either side ; but the great oaken table was so
long the party only half filled it, and the candles
being all set at one end, Penelope could fancy that
end which was half hidden in darkness to be filled
with shadowy pilgrims with the poet at their head.
She spoke her thoughts to her next neighbor.

" Ay, of a truth," answered Mr. Dryden, " I can
see them all, their humors, their features, and
their very dress, as distinctly as if they supped
with us here at the Tabard to-night."

None took up his words; for all save Penelope
were giving more heed to the table than to the talk.
The first dish that was set on was of marrow bones,
and this was followed by three pullets and a neat's
tongue, with two dozen larks, all in a dish; and
when it seemed as though none could eat more, the
maid came again from the kitchen bearing a flam-
ing pudding alight with brandy. To wash all


White Aprons.

down withal, there were both Fayal and Canary,
which, for her part, Penelope scarcely tasted ; but
the gentlemen swallowed such mighty draughts
thereof as shortly loosened their tongues so that all
went merrily enough. Mr. Pepys, who had brought
his violin, now stood up ; and after much pecking at
the strings as I have seen a woodpecker tap at the
bark of a tree, he tucked it under his chin, and
drawing his bow, set it first to jigging merrily and
then to sobbing plaintively (for of a truth he was a
rare musician), till Penelope found it hard to keep
back the too ready tears.

Next, he would have Penelope sing " Gaze not
on Swans," and after that "Beauty Retire" and
then ''Love will find out the Way" which she
did not like, for the place seemed to her too public,
and the more so, that while she was singing
there came into the room two strangers having on
masks and long dominos, one black, one purple,
which covered them close from head to foot,
so there was no recognizing them. She was
frightened, and would have stopped short ; but her
uncle whispered to her to take no notice, for that
it was naught out of the common for gentlemen to
wander about thus unknown, to pick up whatever
of fun and merriment might be going at the various
taverns of the town.


A Foy.

So she went on, though somewhat falteringly, for
seeing these muffled forms standing there in the
doorway. But her heart was in the words, and
found its way to her voice, moving her hearers as
only the soul behind the voice can do for all the
art in the world.

"You may train the eagle
To stoop to your fist
Or you may inveigle
The phoenix o' the East
The lioness ye may move her
To give o'er her prey ;
But you '11 ne'er stop a lover
He' 11 find out the way."

What was her surprise, as she sang, to hear the
tinkling notes of some strange instrument, and to
see one of the masked visitors leaning against the
frame of the doorway draw from under his cloak a
mandolin and touch the strings thereof to so sweet
a harmony with the voice of the singer as drew
forth a great clapping of hands from the company
when the two had finished.

" Come in, gentlemen, whoever you be," cried
Mr. Pepys. " I love you already for your music's
sake, and a good tune doth richly merit a good
supper. Sit ye down, therefore, and I will order
plates set for you."


White Aprons.

"We thank you, worthy master, and we do
accept the invitation as heartily as 'tis offered
withal." So spoke the companion of the mandolin
player, and straightway both took chairs opposite
Penelope and sat them down.

When they were seated, Mr. Pepys toasted the
" White Lady " and her gallant Captain, to which
all drank with a right good will. Captain Bennett
rose in his place, his cheek red with honest blushes
and his nose with honest Canary. " Damme ! " he
cried, striving to swear away his embarrassment.
" I have no skill to make speeches ; but by the
Lord, I thank ye all, and if ever any one of you is
minded to make a voyage on the * White Lady,'
there's a berth at your service, yes, damme,
there is." Thumping another emphasis with his
fist, the Captain sat down, greeted by another
round of cheers, and much clinking of goblets set
down noisily on the board.

When they had finished, Mr. Dryden arose with
much ceremony, and bowing like a mandarin to
each of the company in turn, he drew from his
pocket, and asked permission to read aloud, a neat
copy of verses addressed to Penelope, stanzas
wherein she was committed to the care of the
ocean nymphs, and they were warned that they
must play no tricks with so precious a freight, nor

A Foy.

let loose wind or wave till she was set in safety on
her native shore.

" Call ye this stuff poetry ? " whispered one of
the masks to his comrade. " I have a fellow
in my service could reel you off better by the

Penelope marvelled much at the stranger's inci-
vility, and felt mightily tempted to let him know
who it was whom he was criticising with such
ignorant freedom. Mr. Pepys too, whose ear
appeared to grow the sharper as his eye grew dull,
must have caught the whispered words, for he
turned to the new-comer, and said with a tone of
ill-suppressed irony,

"Perchance, Sir Mask, you who seem so
good a judge of poetry will give us some verses in
honor of Mistress Penelope Payne, the young lady
for whom we hold the foy to-night."

" Why, so I will, with pleasure," answers the
Mask, as bold as brass, " an ye will give me
permission to sing it ; for I have oft heard lines go
well enough to the accompaniment of the lute
which had sounded monstrous flat without."

With this he rose, and drawing his cloak close
about his wrist as one who fears his dress may
betray him, he began :


White Aprons*

" What a dull fool was I
To think so gross a lie
As that I ever was in love before.
I have perhaps known one or two
With whom I was content to be
At that which they call keeping company.
But after all that they could do
I still could be with none;
Their absence never made me shed a tear,
And I can truly swear
That, till my eyes first gazed on you,
I ne'er beheld the thing I could adore."

So soft was the tone of the singer's voice and
so intent the gaze he bent upon Penelope that she
hung her head and knew not where to look ; but
the others all clapped hands, and with one voice
(save for Mr. Dryden) cried, "Go on!" The
stranger, so urged, continued :

" She that would raise a noble love must find
Ways to beget a passion for her mind :
She must be that which she to be would seem,
For all true love is founded on esteem.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17

Online LibraryMaud Wilder GoodwinWhite aprons, a romance of Bacon's rebellion: Virginia, 1676 → online text (page 15 of 17)