Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 7/The anglers of the Dove - Part 1

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



The Anglers of the Dove (1).png


There was not much life in the society of Buxton Baths towards the end of the year 1568, or, indeed, towards the end of any year. There were not many people there after the closing of the lodging-houses for the winter; no visitors, and not a great number of inhabitants. Some little stir existed, however, in the beginning of this December, for the Countess of Shrewsbury thought proper to come to the Hall just after everybody that could leave Buxton was gone. Nobody was surprised, because Bess of Hardwick had long ceased to surprise anybody. She was amusing, however; and it was with pleasure, on the whole, that the residents in the neighbourhood of any of the Shrewsbury seats heard any morning that the Countess had dropped down among them in the course of the night. When she had been a week at the Hall, on this occasion, a cheerful report began to spread that possibly the Countess would keep her Christmas at Buxton. The Earl was in attendance on the Queen in London; and no mortal in attendance on the Queen could ever tell where he might be, and what he might be doing, three days hence; so whether the Earl would come to Buxton was doubtful. What was not doubtful was, that the Countess was perfectly safe from any summons to Court, and that she would not wait for the Earl to spend her Christmas where and in what manner she pleased. She was exceedingly busy at present, laying plans with her architect, Master Gadbury, and settling accounts with him for the finishing of Hardwick Hall; and before that enterprise was well off her hands she was bent upon discovering some means by which the medicinal spring might be made to bubble up within the inclosure of the Hall at Buxton. Every day she and Gadbury and half-a-dozen attendants came riding to the Baths, consulting and tasting and measuring; and the amusement was too welcome to the inhabitants to be neglected: so there was always a little crowd about the entrance, and plenty of help for holding the horses. Every word that could be caught up was repeated and spread abroad. If the reports of what was said were incorrect, it was owing to the difficulty that some people had in making out whether it was the lady or one of the gentlemen who said this, that, or the other; for the Countess found a half-manly dress convenient: and, as her attendants spoke to her with deference, and she had no idea of moderating her own powerful voice, it was excusable to mistake Bess of Hardwick for a builder of mansions, or for one of her own grooms. An incident which occurred on occasion of her fourth visit to the baths at length fixed many minds in the knowledge of which was the Countess.

The people outside saw, in the midst of a snow-storm on the hills, a man and horse plunging down the steep path from the brow with so much haste that everybody said it was a post. It was so. In a few minutes a splashed and damp rider on a reeking horse appeared close at hand, followed by breathless servants from the Hall, who came to find the Countess, and possibly to take their chance of hearing some news, as the messenger’s business was to deliver into the Countess’s own hand a letter from the Earl.

The letter was presently in her hand, opened, and read. It was evidently very short, for it was thrust into her bosom in half a minute. That half minute changed her whole aspect and mood. Her well-browned face was flushed; her eye was, if possible, haughtier than ever; but her manner was thoughtful; and, after saying “Let us go home,” she spoke no more. The idlers went about saying there was doubtless some news; but nobody could say for certain what it was. By night it was insisted by some people that the Pope and the Spaniards had landed, and were marching straight upon Buxton; others said the Scots had crossed the Border, and would be at Buxton in twenty-four hours; while others doubted whether Queen Elizabeth was murdered, or Queen Mary had got away to France. The one settled point was, that the Countess would not spend her Christmas at Buxton.

None of these things were true: but the Countess could scarcely have been more moved by any of them than by what her husband had really written. His letter contained but six lines. The Queen had just said to him what it was important for his wife to hear at once. The Queen had informed him that she meant to trust him as she would trust few. His wife would see what this meant; and she would not lose an hour in preparing at some one, if not all, of his country-seats a fitting reception for the guest who might be already on the way.

The Countess did not lose an hour. Before she slept she had consulted with the architect about alterations at Tutbury, alterations at Chatsworth, alterations in the Sheffield Castle, and at the Halls of Buxton and Hardwick and Chartley,—all having the same object,—the separation of the best suite of apartments from the rest of the house, in regard to attendance by servants, and the privacy of the occupants. Gadbury wondered; but he had too much work to do to spend time in speculation. If the Queen was coming to visit Lord Shrewsbury, he hoped he might see her, and perhaps be mentioned to her; but she could hardly be thinking of making a progress to all Lord Shrewsbury’s mansions,—and in mid-winter too. It struck him afterwards as odd that it had never occurred to him that there was another Queen in England at that time who had occupied three or four castles in twice as many months. But political news travelled slowly, and arrived irregularly; so that public curiosity was not so strong as it became after the roads were improved. Last May, Queen Mary of Scotland had crossed the Solway, and been taken to Carlisle. In October, there had been a sort of trial of her cause in a conference at York. As nothing but confusion had come out of that conference, another was held in London, the result of which was that Queen Mary must remain where she had come of her own accord till the English Government and the Scotch Protestants had settled the difficult point, what to do with her.

“What shall I ever do with her?” thought the Countess that night, many times over in her sleepless hours. It would be a dreadful restraint. She herself had always had her own way; it was well known that Queen Mary liked hers; and moreover that she so accomplished her aims as to convince some people that she had dealings with the powers of darkness. What were two such women to do, if compelled to live together? Here was a loss of all freedom and independence! Yet no,—it might be possible that the will and pleasure of both might be gratified through the resource of travelling. If Queen Mary should become as weary of captivity as most prisoners are, she would be glad to fall into the Countess’s habit of moving from one country house to another, all the year round. Determining to render all the Earl’s houses worthy of royal occupation, the Countess fell asleep on the happy idea.

When her husband met her at Tutbury, to make the necessary arrangements, she found that he had had but little quiet sleep for many nights. But for the suspicion which he would incur by refusal, nothing could have induced him to undertake a charge so burdensome in every way as the custody of the Queen of Scots. Sir Francis Knollys had given him some idea of the mere cost to her hosts of such an inmate: but that was the smallest evil.

“I will not be ruined,” protested the lady Bess, “for any stray princess on earth. The days of wandering princesses are over,—or should be over if I had my way; and those who will wander must pay their charges. I shall ask one of the Queens, or both, which is to pay for the dame’s lodgings, and, till that is settled, I shall suspend the works ordered.”

“The works must go on,” said the Earl; “and as for paying the workmen, leave that to me. I am responsible to the Queen.”

“Yes; but you are responsible to me too, for the improvements ordered at Sheffield Park and Wingfield. Those works are not to be stopped that we may give the funds as alms to a pair of Queens.”

“We cannot help ourselves, when the sovereign lays the charge upon us,” said the Earl.

“That is what I mean to make out,” replied the lady. “This Frenchwoman must have property,—jewels, plate, and funds abroad. Would I touch them? Not I! But I can make her comprehend that she must provide her own entertainment, and that of her servants. It is quite enough for us to give her protection.”

“Put all such thoughts out of thy mind, Bess,” said her husband. “I have positive orders from the Queen that her kinswoman shall have truly royal entertainment, inasmuch as the eyes of the whole world will be upon the house where she is. It would be treason to give room for any one of the Scottish party to say that, while my guest, any person, high or low, had to pay charges, as at an inn.”

“Why then come to us? Why could she not stay at Carlisle? She sought English soil; and there she had it.”

“Her windows looked towards Scotland; and it was easy to make signals. There were two windows from which she might possibly escape into the arms of any party of Border horsemen. Bolton Castle was safer, as being moated round.”

“Then why does she not stay at Bolton Castle?”

“It is not far enough from the Border. From her extreme unwillingness to move, it is supposed that she can carry on Scottish intrigues there. It required all my courtesy to reconcile her to the new arrangements: and I believe it was Knollys who prevailed after all.”

“Knollys’s manners prevail where yours fail!” exclaimed the Countess. “Then the world is turned upside down.”

“It was not his courtesy, but his bluntness which wrought with her,” said the Earl. “She had learned to be afraid of him at Carlisle, where he reasoned with her whether she ought to be deposed or not: and now, every word of his goes through her. At the first hint from him that she must have reasons for objecting to the solace of new scenes and a milder climate, she changed colour, and became cheerful in her inquiries about my house,—my several houses.”

“And about anything further?”

“She could not inquire of me respecting my wife,” observed the Earl, smiling.

“She knows me by repute, no doubt,” replied the Countess. “Every Stuart, from Inverness to Paris, has heard of Bess of Hardwick.”

“It does not need to be a Stuart to have heard of Bess of Hardwick,” said her husband.

“See now if I do not make a better gaoler—— Now, here you are showing your weakness already,—shivering at the word gaoler as if I had prophesied your being the lady’s headsman! Let us call ourselves what we will, we are this woman’s gaolers. For safe custody alone——

“Safe and honourable custody, Bess; imprisonment softened and sweetened by every device of hospitality.”

“Exactly so. In that view, you will see whether I am not the best turnkey in England. I will baffle her intrigues by carrying her from place to place, with all dutiful profession about her health and amusement.”

“Those are matters for my government,” observed the Earl.

“We are alone,” replied the wife, half-laughing. “We need not keep up appearances at this moment. You do not understand how to govern women: you will do exactly what I say; and you are welcome to the credit of it. But we need not trouble ourselves yet with hypocrisies.”

“Pardon me, Bess. It is not a question of hypocrisies. I have duties that you do not know of, and thoughts which you cannot at present understand.”

“Tell me all, or I will not play hostess to this troublesome guest,” said the Countess.

“I cannot tell you all; and you will play the hostess,” the husband said quietly.

He was right. There was in the case a woman’s spirit more masculine than that of Bess of Hardwick herself. Bess had seen enough of the fate of ladies in prison under the Queen’s displeasure to avoid such punishment for herself: and she was by her husband’s side in all his proceedings from the hour when, on the 14th of January, he received the Queen’s command to assume the charge of her kinswoman of Scotland. By her husband’s side, the Countess rode to Bolton Castle, and, with more graciousness than had ever been seen in her before, she requested the commands of her Grace in everything pertaining to her accommodation or pastime.



The sun had been hidden by black clouds for a week, when, in the afternoon of the 3rd of February, the weather rapidly cleared up. The rays of the low sun lay along the paths of Needwood Forest, and made the moss at the roots of the leafless trees almost dazzling from the vividness of its green. The rock which overhung the river Dove threw the waters into shadow; but the projections of the cliff, and the windows of the castle which crowned it glittered in the sunlight. The summits of the Peak in the distance were snowy; but the lower ridges wore that warm red hue which distinguishes a hilly country on a bright winter day from the grey or pallid plain, as summer from winter. The river banks resounded with human voices; for everybody was coming abroad to see the sport after a week of bad weather. The rapid river which flowed below Tutbury Castle was never frozen over: but there was a broad pond on the verge of the wood where the ball-play of the season flourished. There were almost as many players as men and boys in the neighbourhood, this afternoon. None but very old men were absent. The women and girls came to see, each busy as she moved about, or stood to watch the game. Some few were spinning with the distaff: but most of them were knitting. Some of the knitting was gay in colours; and there seemed to be a great deal to say about it, judging by the eagerness of the groups who compared their works. People in London, and near the coast, might complain of the number of foreigners who had of late entered the country; but in rural places much prosperity was certainly created by the introduction of a new trade. The Flemings and the French seemed to have inoculated the whole kingdom with their arts; for the silk manufacture was now going on from the borders of Wales to the shores which overlooked France.

The gossips could not agree as to the precise hour when the Earl and his train had arrived the evening before. The wind had been so high that the horses could not have been heard, even if there had been no snow on the ground. It was certainly after dark; and the fugitive Queen might well be so fatigued as to keep close to-day. Several curious neighbours had been prying about; and some had invented reasons for knocking at the castle gates; but the porter was surly. He would not tell when the cavalcade arrived, nor what the Queen of Scotland looked like, nor whether the train of Yorkshire and Derbyshire gentlemen stayed or rode away.

While the women’s tongues were rattling about this, and the players were shouting and wrangling over their game,—every cry reverberating from the opposite rock,—all were startled into silence in a moment by an apparition appearing from behind a promontory of the forest which stretched into the road. There was a pair of horsemen abreast. Then there were threes and fours, to the number of a score or upwards. Then there was a group of ladies,—six, riding two and two, with horsemen beside them. More gentlemen followed; and a company of grooms closed the procession. The gossips had a good opportunity for gazing, as soon as they had collected their wits; for one of the ladies checked her horse, and was evidently asking questions of the Earl. The whole cavalcade stopped: the players were desired to throw a cast or two; and the Earl’s servants in the rear were beset with inquiries by their village acquaintance.

In a few minutes the signal was given to move on; and the cavalcade wound up the steep road to the castle gates.

That was the Earl, certainly; but how was it? Had they been for a ride after dinner? Or had they not arrived yesterday, after all? The game was broken up by the general curiosity, though one young man did his best to induce his party to conquer their antagonists while light enough remained.

“He is thinking of nothing but the game,—that Sampson Rudd,” observed Polly Chell to her father's lodger, the itinerant parson who was here to preach for a week or two. “He would not stop his ball-play to look at a queen.”

“He has everything to learn about the royal and noble persons,” replied the priest, Dr. Pantlin. “What should he hear of the affairs of England while he was learning to weave in Switzerland, and getting his head filled with the stiff notions that Calvin’s followers mislead our English youth by?”

Polly thought Sampson Rudd must remember enough of England to feel English people’s interests. He had been absent only twelve years; and he came back now, very learned about silk-worms and silk fabrics, but apparently not knowing a queen from a milkmaid, or a popish princess from a Bible-reading sovereign.

The Reverend Dr. Pantlin doubted whether Sampson was so indifferent about the popish part of English affairs. Polly would see what the lad had to say.

“It is too dark for more play, Sampson,” said she, walking where he was kicking the ball on the ice for his own amusement.

“Then where are the lights?” he added. “I remember when we played a dozen years ago, we did not leave off for night coming on. Don’t you remember the cressets on the pond bank? Why not have them now?”

“Because we are all thinking of something else, I suppose,—all of us but you. Come! do let that ball alone for a minute, and tell us what you think of the popish queen.”

“I suppose she looks as queens do look,” said Sampson, carelessly. “I dare say they are all nearly alike.”

“All nearly alike!” exclaimed Polly, who had once seen Queen Elizabeth on a journey, and could now, therefore, compare two queens who had not exactly the air of twin sisters.

“Now you see how Calvin’s influence works,” observed the preacher.

“Why should they be all alike, Sampson?” asked Polly.

“It may be the habit of ordering everybody,” he replied. “They naturally get into a haughty way, and speak loud, as this one did just now. And if they are broad and fat, and ride like men, and halloo to the grooms, it is from their loose way of living, naturally.”

“Broad and fat! and hallooing!” exclaimed Polly.

“He does not know a queen from a countess, as you expected,” declared Dr. Pantlin.

And Polly explained to Sampson that he had mistaken Bess of Hardwick for Mary of Scotland.

“The poor queen looked very gentle,” she said. “She smiled about the game; but it was such a sad smile!”

“She is ill, no doubt,” said the preacher. “The party were obliged to stop at Chesterfield, last night, they say, because she had such a pain in her side that she could not sit her horse any further. I believe it is true—I mean that they lodged at Chesterfield; for I saw both Felton and Stansbury in her train.”

“Do you mean that you doubt of her illness?” asked Polly.

“One need not say that,” replied the priest. “However full she may be of art and wiles, she may well have pain of heart enough to ache in every part of her body. She may have been ill, but she looks—”

“O! so sweetly!” exclaimed Polly.

“Very much so,” Dr. Pantlin assented. They had all heard that it was so.

“Did you really not see her, Sampson?” said Polly; “that graceful, downcast, beautiful lady——

“Was that lady the Queen of Scots?” asked Sampson, for the first time really interested. “I wonder whether I should know her again.”

“I am afraid you lost your opportunity, looking at Bess,” observed Polly.

“I did not look much at either,” replied the youth. “Queens are not much in my way; and if I cared for any, it would not be a popish one, whose relations afflict the godly in France, and who has had three husbands, and would not be sorry, they say, to take a fourth.”

“It appears you do know something about queens,” Dr. Pantlin observed.

“Surely I know about the Frenchwoman, and this Scottishwoman, seeing what they do against religion. I was sent for, when I came through London, to interpret for the poor fellows from Havre,—the garrison that were driven away by the Papists. They brought the smallpox with them; and when several of them were at the worst, there was a call to some of us who had lived abroad to speak for them. The things that they had to tell!”

“What things?” asked Dr. Pantlin.

“The treatment of the godly in France; and worse still, in the Low Countries. There are thousands upon thousands of poor Flemings who have had their tongues cut out.”

“Those Havre men must have been in the height of the fever when they said that,” Polly quietly remarked.

“No, it was when they were recovering, and taking the air,” Sampson said.

Dr. Pantlin knew the fact also. The pretence for the cruelty was that those protestants should be deprived of the means of protesting. Where were they now?—Most of them were dead; for few could survive that injury: but still there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, living in England and in Switzerland. Dr. Pantlin was, in fact, himself acquainted with two of these dumb martyrs.

“I do not believe that sorrowful lady had any concern in such doings,” Polly declared: and as for her having had three husbands that was certainly an idle story about one so young.

Again the preacher justified what Sampson had said; and Polly observed, with a vexed air, that travellers’ tales were very wonderful. She turned homewards in the twilight, and Sampson stayed behind when she walked away.

Polly was wanted at home,—sorely wanted. Her father was in from the field; her mother was weary with the tending of the ewes, and had brought in two or three half alive lambs, which began to make a noise as the warmth of the chimney corner revived them. The good wife remarked that they had made her neglect her own dear lamb; and she leaned over the crib in which lay her sick child, quietly crying because the noise prevented him from sleeping. The pottage was simmering over the wood fire; but the board was not spread, for the serving woman was milking. Polly exerted herself, under some sense of fault for having lingered in the twilight longer than she ought. She set the trestles in the middle of the floor, and lifted the boards without troubling anybody to help. Then she brought down the trenchers from the shelf, and placed them on the rough boards; and lastly, she spread a linen cloth over a part of the upper end, and put upon it a pewter platter from the beaufet, and a pewter mug, and a small salt-cellar and spice-box. These were for the preacher, who was to be the yeoman’s guest till over Sunday. This done, Polly fetched down, from their proper shelf, three or four iron cups, furnished with hooks, and filled with fat. She supplied each with a wick, lighted it, and hooked it upon a staple in the wall. She turned out the pottage into its bowl, threw down the wooden spoons on the board, placed her father’s three-cornered chair, and then begged her mother to go to supper. She would take little Dick on her lap the while.

This was about to be done when one person after another entered. The first was the preacher, who had only to lay aside his hat, say grace, and sit down to supper. Before his platter could be filled, there was a knock at the door,—a hasty knock, and one of the hangers-on of the Castle came in. The Castle could not accommodate all the gentlemen who had joined the Earl’s riding party; and the neighbours must be hospitable. Here was a gentleman who must have a lodging.

“I would make the gentleman welcome,” said Farmer Chell, “but that there is not room. The Minister is here.”

The Castle servant showed no reverence to the minister. On the contrary, he observed in an undertone that a man who preached in the forest when there were churches all over the land, might make shift to sleep in his own sort of vestry. There was room enough in the woods for all the priests that were shut out of the churches, and moss and dead leaves enough for all their beds. Dr. Pantlin declared his intention of being no hindrance to anyone: but yeoman and housewife would not hear of a clergyman being turned out of doors after dark. It was the other gentleman who must take his chance.

The other gentleman seemed quite willing to take his chance. He declared that he was so used to every sort of accommodation in his fishing and fowling rambles, that he did not know till next morning where and how he had slept. He was so merry and good-humoured that Polly presently returned her little sick brother to his crib, and went to work to fill a bedsack with fresh straw, and a bolster-sack with sweet dry chaff. These, a sheet and a rug, made a good bed on the broad settle in the living-room.

During his hearty meal, the stranger explained that he had taken horse at short notice, and without any previous notion of attending her Grace of Scotland. His dearest friend and nearest neighbour was Mr. Felton, of the Manor-house by Chesterfield.

“Then you are Mr. Stansbury?” observed Dr. Pantlin.

“I am; and I remember you when you had the pulpit in Derby. Felton and I were making flies for our spring fishing after supper yesterday, when we heard the tramp of horsemen in the avenue. There were so many that we went out to see whether we were under her Majesty’s displeasure, and her Grace’s arrest. But we were told that a lady was overwrought with her journey, and unable to go further; and we opened the doors to as many as chose to enter. The lady turned out to be her Scottish Grace; and when we saw the jades she and her ladies were mounted on, the wonder was that all were not sick alike.”

All present agreed that it was a strange want of courtesy to mount these ladies on miserable horses. It was not like the Earl to do such a thing.

“It was not the Earl’s doing; no Talbot would do it—”

“Unless Bess of Hardwick,” somebody observed.

“She is no Talbot. But, in truth, it was nobody’s fault. There was a lively alarm of a swoop from the Border, at any moment. The ladies opposed themselves to any removal with a vehemence which looked ominous; and Sir Francis Knollys sent out for horses, and must take such as could be got.”

“I wonder he and the Earl consented to stop at Chesterfield,” the Minister observed.

“There was a watch set against the Borderers, all the country round,” Stansbury explained. “I told Felton that, as host, he must take her Grace’s part against all comers, night or day; and I verily believe the poor lady hoped the occasion might arise. I never leave Felton, nor he me, when any adventure befals; so I rode on in the train to-day, to see the end of the march. We thought to ride back, or to take lodgings together in the nearest inn; but her Grace will not hear of Felton being dismissed to-night: so he is the Earl’s guest, and I am yours, at your service.”

At this moment the servants came in—the two men from the field and stall, and Bridget, who had been milking the ewes. They were to have their supper; and there was no more discourse at the upper end of the board about the company at the Castle. Dr. Pantlin said grace for the meal which was ending, and then for that of the servants, which was beginning. Stansbury did not leave the table; but the Minister observed that he turned half away, and that he certainly crossed himself.

“You perceive,” said Stansbury, “that I am not of any new persuasion. I am of the Church.”

“Nor am I of any new persuasion,” said Dr. Pantlin. “I am of the Church as it was before the passions and lusts of men corrupted it.”

“Yes, yes; we know our grounds of difference,” said Stansbury, refusing by his manner to enter upon any religious discussion. “We are each out of favour with the government of the day: and if we must discuss the matter of our churches, we had better take the only common ground, and find fault with the sect which has usurped the pulpits of the kingdom.”

“Better say nothing at all,” remarked Farmer Chell. “The days are past when a man might say what he liked within his own four walls. Now that these foreigners come in swarms, and settle where they see fit, asked or unasked, one is never sure that all one’s neighbours are honest. And when they are honest, they are hardly civil. They frown at any jest, and make such a noise about any innocent pastime, that we have little pleasure in our feast-days, and little freedom at any time.”

“You may thank the Papists for that last,” his wife remarked. “They are the real spies, and I dare say the gentleman knows it as well as we do.”

Dr. Pantlin’s smile said “Perhaps rather better;” and Stansbury returned the smile. He said he hated spying and plotting—they were the curse of the land. Everybody was spying upon everybody else, and the merriment of Old England was spoilt, it was the proper punishment for the violence which had been offered to the Church. When the silliest children of a household insisted on correcting their mother, how should there not be confusion, high and low? Here was Dr. Pantlin, a deprived pastor, preaching in barns or in the lanes; there was his pulpit at Derby empty, and the doors shut, Sunday after Sunday; there were the Anabaptists collecting crowds in the streets by their antics; and, if you wanted the true clergy, they were where they could give you no good,—shut up in the dark in prisons, and fed on bread and water. This was what merry England had come to!

Polly did not see that times were so bad for gentlemen who were free to amuse themselves as they liked. A man who sat at his loom abroad—anywhere in France or the Low Countries—was never sure of being in possession of his own tongue or his own life at the end of the day. . . .

“You mean if he is a Calvinist,” observed Stansbury.

“Yes, of course; but you Popish gentlemen can sit making flies for your fishing, and can ride on your own errands, and entertain Papist princesses without molestation from anybody.”

“Unless they plot,” her father put in.

“Oh! if they plot, they must expect what may happen. We are speaking of those who do not plot.”

“I have one plot,” said Stansbury; “and that is to get some fishing while I am here. Can I get any good fellow to go out with me?”

No man could be spared from the field at this season. Polly was of opinion that no craftsman could be induced to leave his loom or his workshop, because all were preparing for the Easter fair—the great market of the year. There was one neighbour, however, who preferred roving to sitting at his loom. Perhaps Sampson Rudd would go out with the gentleman.