William Black.

Judith Shakespeare, her love affairs and other adventures online

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they had Judith's eyes and the light and witchery of these;
and that, when they spoke (if such wonderful creatures vouch-
safed to speak), it was with the softness of Judith's voice. So
it is not to be conceived that Judith, who knew something of
this mute and secret adoration, had any malice in her heart
firhen, on this particular evening, she began to question the
boy as to the kind of sweetheart he would choose when he
was grown up: the fact being that she spoke from idleness,
and a wish to be friendly and companionable, her thoughts
being really occupied elsewhere.

"Come, now, Willie, tell me," said she, "what sort of one
you will choose, some fifteen or twenty years hence, when you


are grown up to be a man, and will be going- abroad from place
to place. In Coventry, perchance, you may find her, or over
at Evesham, or in Warwick, or Worcester, or as far away as
Oxford : in all of them are plenty of pretty maidens to be had
for the asking, so you be civil-spoken enough, and bear your-
self well. Now tell me your fancy, sweetheart: what shall her
height be ?"

"Why, you know, Judith," said he, rather shamefacedly.
"Just your height."

"My height ?" she said, carelessly. " Why, that is neither
the one way nor the other. My father says I am just as high
as his heart; and with that I am content. Well, now, her hair
what color of hair shall she have ?"

"Like y ours, Judith ; and it must come round about her
ears like yours," said he, glancing up for a moment.

"Eyes : must they be black, or gray, or brown, or blue?
Nay, you shall have your choice, sweetheart Willie : there be
all sorts, if you go far enough afield and look around you.
What eyes do you like, now ?"

" You know well, Judith, there is no one has such pretty
eyes as you ; these are the ones I like, and no others."

" Bless the boy ! would you have her to be like me ?"

"Just like you, Judith - altogether," said he, promptly;
and he added, more shyly, "For you know there is none as
pretty, and they all of them say that."

"Marry, now!" said she, with a laugh. "Here be news.
What ? When you go choosing your sweetheart, would you
pick out one that had as large hands as these ?"

She held forth her hands, and regarded them ; and yet with
some complacency, for she had put on a pair of scented gloves
which her father had brought her from London, and these
were beautifully embroidered with silver, for he knew her
tastes, and that she was not afraid to wear finery, whatever the
preachers might say.

"Why, you know, Judith," said he, "that there is none
has such pretty hands as you, nor so white, nor so soft."

"Heaven save us! am I perfection, then?" she cried (but
she was pleased). " Must she be altogether like me ?"

"Just so, Cousin Judith; altogether like you; and she must
wear pretty things like you, and walk as you walk, and speak


like you, else I shall not love her nor go near her, though she
were the Queen herself."

"Well said, sweetheart Willie ! you shall to the court some
day, if you can speak so fair. And shall I tell you, now, how
you must woo and win such a one ?" she continued, lightly.
" It may be you shall find her here or there in a farm-house,
perchance ; or she may be a great lady with her coach ; or a
wench in an ale-house ; but if she be as you figure her, this is
how you shall do : you must not grow up to be too nice and
fine and delicate-handed; you must not bend too low for her
favor ; but be her lord and governor ; and you must be ready
to fight for her, if need there be yes, you shall not suffer a
word to be said in dispraise of her ; and for slanderers you must
have a cudgel and a stout arm withal ; and yet you must be
gentle with her, because she is a woman ; and yet not too gentle,
for you are a man ; and you must be no slape-face, with whin-
ing through the nose that we are all devilish and wicked and
the children of sin ; and you must be no tavern-seeker, with
oaths and drunken jests and the like ; and when you find her
you must be the master of her and yet a gentle master: mar-
ry, I can not tell you more; but, as I hope for heaven, sweet
Willie, you will do well and fairly if she love thee half as much
as I do."

And she patted the boy's head. What sudden pang was it
that went through his heart ?

"They say you are going to marry Parson Blaise, Judith,"
said he, looking up at her.

" Do they, now?" said she, with a touch of color in her face.
"They are too kind that would take from me the business of
choosing for myself."

" Is it true, Judith ?"

" It is but idle talk; heed it not, sweetheart," said she, rather
sharply. ' ' I would they were as busy with their fingers as with
their tongues ; there would be more wool spun in Warwick-

But here she remembered that she had no quarrel with the
lad, who had but innocently repeated the gossip he had heard ;
and so she spoke to him in a more gentle fashion ; and, as they
were now come to a parting of the ways, she said that she had
a message to deliver, and bade him go on by himself to the cot-


tage, and have some flowers gathered for her from out of the
garden by the time she should arrive. He was a biddable boy,
and went on without further question. Then she turned off
to the left, and in a few minutes was in the wide and wooded
lane where she was to meet the young gentleman that had ap-
pealed to her friendliness.

And there, sure enough, he was; and as he came forward,
hat in hand, to greet her, those eloquent black eyes of his ex-
pressed so much pleasure (and admiration of a respectful kind)
that Judith became for a moment a trifle self-conscious, and
remembered that she was in unusually brave attire. There
may have been something else: some quick remembrance of
the surprise and alarm of the morning; and also in spite
of her determination to banish such unworthy fancies some
frightened doubt as to whether, after all, there might not be a
subtle connection between her meeting with this young gen-
tleman and the forecasts of the wizard. This was but for a mo-
ment, but it confused her in what she had intended to say
(for, in crossing the meadows, she had been planning out cer-
tain speeches as well as talking idly to Willie Hart), and she
was about to make some stumbling confession to the effect that
she had obtained no clear intelligence from her gossip Pru-
dence Shawe, when the young gentleman himself absolved her
from all further difficulty.

"I beseech your pardon, sweet lady," said he, "that I have
caused you so much trouble, and that to no end ; for I am of
a mind now not to carry the letter to your father, whatever
hopes there might be of his sympathy and friendship."
She stared in surprise.

"Nay, but, good sir, "said she, "since you have the letter,
and are so near to Stratford, that is so great a distance from
London, surely it were a world of pities you did not see my
father. Not that I can honestly gather that he would huv>
any favor for a desperate enterprise upsetting the peace of the

"I am in none such, Mistress Judith, believe me," said he,
quickly. "But it behooves me to be cautious; and I have
heard that within the last few hours which summons me away.
If I were inclined to run the risk, there is no tim-e at this
present ; and what I can do now is to try to thank you for the


kindness you have shown to one that has no habit of forget

'' You are going away forthwith ?" said she.

There was no particular reason why she should be sorry
at his departure from the neighborhood, except that he was an
extraordinarily gentle-spoken young man, and of a courteous
breeding, whom her father, as she thought, would have been
pleased to welcome as being commended from his friend Ben
Jonson. Few visitors came to New Place; the faces to be met
with there were grown familiar year after year. It seemed a
pity that this stranger and so fair-spoken a stranger, more-
over should be close at hand, without making her father's

"Yes, sweet lady," said he, in the same respectful way, " it is
true that I must quit my present lodging for a time ; but I doubt
whether I could find anywhere a quieter or securer place nay,
I have no reason to fear you ; I will tell you freely that it is
Bassfield Farm, that is on the left before you go down the
hill to Bidford ; and it is like enough I may come back thither,
when that I see how matters stand with me in London."

And then he glanced at her with a certain diffidence.

"Perchance I am too daring," said he; "and yet youis-
courtesy makes me bold. Were I to communicate with you
when I return-
He paused, and his hesitation well became him : it was more
eloquent in its modesty than many words.

" That were easily done," said Judith at once, and with her
usual frankness; "but I must tell you, good sir, that any writ-
ten message you might send me I should have to show to my
friend and gossip Prudence Shawe, that reads and writes for
me, being so skilled in that ; and when you said that to no one
was the knowledge to be given that you were in this neighbor-

'Sweet lady," said he, instantly, with much gratitude vis-
ible in those handsome dark eyes, " if I may so far trespass
on your goodness, I would leave that also within your discre-
tion. One that you have chosen to be your friend must needs
be trustworthy nay, I am sure of that."
4 ^ut my father too, good sir v

"Nay, not so," said he, with some touch of entreaty in his


voice. ' ' Take it not ill of me, but one that is in peril must use
precautions for his safety, even though they savor of ill man-
ners and suspicion."

' ' As you will, sir as you will ; I know little of such mat-
ters," Judith said. "But yet I know that you do wrong to
mistrust my father."

"Nay, dearest lady," he said, quickly, "it is you that do me
wrong to use such words. I mistrust him not; but, indeed,
I dare not disclose to him the charge that is brought against
me until I have clearer proofs of my innocence, and these I
hope to have in time, when I may present myself to your fa-
ther without fear. Meanwhile, sweet Mistress Judith, I can
but ill express my thanks to you that you have vouchsafed to
lighten the tedium of my hiding through these few words that
have passed between us. Did you know the dullness of the
days at the farm for sad thoughts are but sorry companions
you would understand my gratitude toward you-

" Nay, nothing, good sir, nothing, " said she; and then she
paused, in some difficulty. She did not like to bid him fare-
well without any reference whatsoever to the future; for in
truth she wished to hear more of him, and how his fortunes
prospered. And yet she hesitated about betraying so much
interest of however distant and ordinary a kind in the af-
fairs of a stranger. Her usual frank sympathy conquered : be-
sides, was not this unhappy young man the friend of her fa-
ther's friend ?

"Is it to the farm that you return when you have been to
London ?" she asked.

"I trust so : better security I could not easily find elsewhere;
and my well-wishers have means of communication with me,
so that I can get the news there. Pray Heaven I may soon be
quit of this skulking in corners ! I like it not : it is not the
life of a free man."

"I hope your fortunes will mend, sir, and speedily," said
she, and there was an obvious sincerity in her voice.

"Why," said he, with a laugh for, indeed, this young man,
to be one in peril of his life, bore himself with a singularly
free and undaunted demeanor ; and he was not looking around
him in a furtive manner, as if he feared to be observed, but was
allowing his eyes to rest on Judith's eyes, and 011 the details of


her costume (which, he seemed to approve), in a quite easy and
unconcerned manner ''the birds and beasts we hunt are al-
lowed to rest at times, but a man in hiding has no peace nor
freedom from week's end to week's end no, nor at any mo-
ment of the day or night. And if the good people that shelter
him are not entirely of his own station, and if he cares to have
but little speech with them, and if the only book in the house
be the family Bible, then the days are like to pass slowly with
him. Can you wonder, sweet Mistress Judith," he continued,
turning his eyes to the ground in a modest manner, "that I
shall carry away the memory of this meeting with you as a
treasure, and dwell on it, and recall tho kindness of each word
you have spoken ?"

" In truth, no, good sir, "said she, with a touch of color in
her cheeks, that caught the warm golden light shining over
from the west. "I would not have you think them of any
importance, except the hope that matters may go well with

"And if they should," said he, "or if they should go ill,
and if I were to presume to think that you cared to know
them, when I return to Bassfield I might make so bold as to
send you some brief tidings, through your friend Mistress Pru
dence Shawe, that I am sure must be discreet, since she hat
won your confidence. But why should I do so ?" he added, aft-
er a second. "Why should I trouble you with news of one
whose good or evil fortune can not concern you ?"

"Nay, sir, I wish you well," said she, simply, "and would
fain hear better tidings of your condition. If you may not
come at present to New Place, where you would have better
counsel than I can give you, at least you may remember that
there is one in the household there that will be glad when
she hears of your welfare, and better pleased still when she
learns that you are free to make her father's friendship."

This was clearly a dismissal ; and after a few more words of
gratitude on his part (he seemed almost unable to take away
his eyes from her face, or to say all that he would fain say of
thanks for her gracious intervention and sympathy) they part-
ed ; and forthwith Judith now with a much lighter heart, for
this interview had cost her not a little embarrassment and
anxiety hastened away back through the lane in the direction


of the barns and gardens of Shottery. All these occurrences
of the day had happened so rapidly that she had had but little
time to reflect over them; but now she was clearly glad that
she should be able to talk over the whole affair with Prudence
Shawe. There would be comfort in that, and also safety ; for,
if the truth must be told, that wild arid bewildering fancy that
perchance the wizard had prophesied truly would force itself
on her mind in a disquieting manner. But she strove to reason
herself and laugh herself out of such imaginings. She had
plenty of courage and a strong will. From the first she had
made light of the wi/^rd's pretensions ; she was not going to
alarm herself about t'fie possible future consequences of this
accidental meeting. And, indeed, when she recalled the par-
ticulars of that meeting, she came to think that the circum-
stances of the young man could not be so very desperate. He
did not speak nor look like one in imminent peril; his gay
description of the masques and entertainments of the court was
not the talk of a man seriously and really in danger of his life.
Perhaps he had been in some thoughtless escapade, and was
waiting for the bruit of it to blow over; perhaps he was un-
used to confinement, and may have exaggerated (for this also
occurred to her) somewhat in order to win her sympathy.
But, anyhow, he was in some kind of misfortune or trouble,
and she was sorry for him ; and she thought that if Prudence
Shawe could see him, and observe how well-bred and civil-
spoken and courteous a young gentleman he seemed to be, she,
too, would pity the dullness of the life he must be leading at
the farm, and be glad to do anything to relieve such a tedium.
In truth, by the time Judith was drawing near her grandmo-
ther's cottage, she had convinced herself that there was no
dark mystery connected with this young man ; that she had
not been holding converse with any dangerous villain or con-
spirator; and that soon everything would be cleared up, and
perhaps he himself present himself at New Place, with Ben Jon-
son's letter in his hand. So she was in a cheerful enough
frame of mind when she arrived at the cottage.

This was a picturesque little building of brick and timber,
with a substantial roof of thatch, and irregularly placed small
windows ; and it was prettily set in front of a wild and varie-
gated garden, and of course all the golden glow of the west


now flooding the place with its beautiful light, and caus
ing the little rectangular panes in the open casements to gleam
like jewels. And here, at the wooden gate of the garden, was
Millie Hart, who seemed to have been using the time profit-
ably, for he had a most diverse and sweet-scented gathering of
flowers and herbs of a humble and familiar kind forget-me-
nots. and pansies. and wall-flower, and mint, and sweet-brier,
and the like to present to his pretty cousin.

' ' Well done, sweetheart ! and are all these for me ?" said
she. as she passed within the little gate, and stood for a moment
arranging and regarding them. " What, then, what is this ?
what mean you by it. Cousin Willie ?"

11 By what. Cousin Judith ?" said the small boy, looking up
with his wondering and wistful eyes.

"Why." said she. gayly, "this pansy that you have put
fair in the front. Know you not the name of it ?''

11 Indeed I know it not, Cousin Judith/'

' ' Ah. you cunning one ! well you know it, I'll be sworn !
Why. 'tis one of the chiefest favorites everywhere. Did you
never hear it called ' kiss-me-at-the-gate' ? Marry, 'tis an ex-
cellent name: and if I take you at your word, little sweet-
heart ?"

And so they went into the cottage together; and she had
her arm lying lightly round his neck.



BUT instantly her manner changed. Just within the door-
way of the passage that cut the rambling cottage into two
halves, and attached to a string that was tied to the handle of
the door, lay a small spaniel-gentle, peacefully snoozing ; and
well Judith knew that the owner of the dog (which she had
heard, indeed, was meant to be presented to herself) was in-
side. However, there was no retreat possible, if retreat she
would have preferred : for here was the aged grandmother a
little old woman, with fresh pink cheeks, silver-white hair,
and keen eves come out to see if it were Judith's footsteps





she had heard; and she was kindly in her welcome of the
girl, though usually she grumbled a good deal about her, and
would maintain that it was pure pride and willfulness that
kept her from getting married.

"Here be finery! 1 ' said she, stepping back as if to gain a
fairer view. "God's mercy, wench, have you come to your
senses at last ? be you seeking a husband ? would you win
one of them ? They have waited a goodly time for the bating
of your pride; but you must after them at last ay, ay, I
thought 'twould come to that."

"Good grandmother, you give me no friendly welcome,"
said Judith. " And Willie here; have you no word for him,
that he is come to see how you do ?"

"Nay, come in. then, sweetings both; come in and sit ye
down: little Willie has been in the garden long enough,
though you know I grudge you not the flowers, wench. Ay,
ay, there is one within, Judith, that would fain be a nearer
neighbor, as I hear, if you would but say yea ; and bethink ye,
wench, an apple may hang too long on the bough your brav-
ery may be put on to catch the eye when it is overlate

" I pray you, good grandmother, forbear," said Judith, with
some asperity. "I have my own mind about such things."

" All's well, wench, all's well," said the old dame, as she led
the way into the main room of the cottage. It was a wide
and spacious apartment, with heavy black beams overhead, a
mighty fire-place, here or there a window in the walls just
as it seemed to have been wanted, and in the middle of the
floor a plain old table, on which were placed a jug and two or
three horn tumblers.

Of course Judith knew whom she had to expect : the pres-
ence of the little spaniel-gentle at the door had told her that.
This young fellow that now quickly rose from his chair and
came forward to meet her "Good-even to you, Judith," said
he, in a humble way, and his eyes seemed to beseech her favor
- was as yet but in his two-and-twentieth year, but his tall and
lithe and muscular figure had already the firm set of manhood
on it. He was spare of form and square-shouldered ; his head
smallish, his brown hair short; his features were regular, and
the forehead, if not high, was square and firm ; the general
look of him was suggestive of a sculptured Greek or Roman


wrestler, but that this deprecating glance of the eyes was not
quite consistent. And, to tell the truth, wrestling and his
firm-sinewed figure had something to do with his extreme hu-
mility on this occasion. He was afraid that Judith had heard
something. To have broken the head of a tapster was not a
noble performance, no matter how the quarrel was forced OD
him; and this was but the most recent of several squabbles
for the championship in the athletic sports of a country neigh
borhood is productive of rivals, who may take many ways of
provoking anger. "Good-even to you, Judith," said he, as if
he really would have said, ' ' Pray you believe not all the ill
you hear of me !" Judith, however, did not betray anything by
her manner, which was friendly enough in a kind of formal
way, and distinctly reserved. She sat down, and asked her
grandmother what news she had of the various members of
the family, that now were widely scattered throughout War-
wickshire. She declined the cup of merry-go-down that the
young man civilly offered to her. She had a store of things
to tell about her father ; and about the presents he had brought ;
and about the two pieces of song-music that Master Robert
Johnson had sent, that her father would have Susan try over
on the lute ; and the other twenty acres that were to be added ;
and the talk there had been of turning the house opposite New
Place, at the corner of Chapel Street and Scholars Lane, into a
tavern, and how that had happily been abandoned for her fa-
ther wanted no tavern-revelry within hearing ; and so forth ;
but all this was addressed to the grandmother. The young
man got scarce a word, though now and again he would inter-
pose gently, and, as it were, begging her to look his way. She
was far kinder to Willie Hart, who was standing by her side;
for sometimes she would put her hand on his shoulder, or stroke
his long yellow-brown hair.

' Willie says he will have just such another as I, grandmo-
ther," said she, when these topics were exhausted, "to be his
sweetheart when he grows up; so you see there be some that
value me."

'Look to it that you be not yourself unmarried then, Ju-
dith," said the old dame, who was never done grumbling on
this account. ' ' I should not marvel ; they that refuse when
they are sought come in time to wonder that there are none to


seek nay, 'tis so, I warrant you. You are hanging 1 late on
the bough, wench; see you be not forgotten."

"But, good grandmother, 1 ' said Judith, with some color in
her cheeks (for this was an awkward topic in the presence of
this youth), "would you have me break from the rule of the
family? My mother was six-and-twenty when she married,
and Susan four-and-twenty ; and indeed there might come one
of us who did not perceive the necessity of marrying at all."

"In God's name, if that be your mind, wench, hold to it.
Hold to it, I say!" And then the old dame glanced with her
sharp eyes at the pretty costume of her visitor. ' ' But I had oth-
er thoughts when I saw such a fine young madam at the door ;
in truth, they befit you well, these braveries; indeed they do;
though 'tis a pity to have them bedecking out one that is above
the marrying trade. But take heed, wench, take heed lest you
change your mind when it is too late: the young men may
hold you to your word, and you find yourself forsaken when
you least expected it."

" Give ye thanks for your good comfort, grandmother," said
Judith, indifferently. And then she rose. "Come, Willie,
'tis about time we were going through the fields to the town.
What message have you, grandmother, for my father ? He is
busy from morning till night since his coming home; but I
know he will be over to visit you soon. The flowers, Willie-
did you leave them on the bench outside ?"

Online LibraryWilliam BlackJudith Shakespeare, her love affairs and other adventures → online text (page 6 of 34)