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“And so there is, child — but I am old; and the aged, as well as the young, love to be talking. Stephen, you must bear with your mother.”
“Aye, that I will, mother,” replied Holgrave, kissing her cheek, which had assumed its accustomed paleness ; "and ill befall the son that will not !”
Leaving his mother to attend to the visiters, who crowded in to drink success to the new proprietor in a cup of ale, Stephen Holgrave stole unobserved out of the cottage towards nightfall.
Passing through Winchcombe, he arrived at a small neat dwelling, in a little sequestered valley, about a quarter of a mile from the town— - the tenant of which lowly abode is of no small consequence to our story:
Like Holgrave, Margaret was the offspring of the bond and the free. Her father had been a bondman attached to the manor of Sudley; and her mother a poor friendless orphan, with no patrimony save her freedom. Such marriages were certainly of rare occurrence, because women naturally felt a repugnance to become the mother of serfs; but still, that they did
occur, is evidenced by the law of villeinage, ordaining that the children of a bondman and free woman should in no wise partake of their mother's freedom.
It might be, perhaps, that this similarity in their condition had attracted them towards each other; or it might be that, as Margaret had been motherless since her birth, and Edith had nursed and reared her till she grew to womanhood, from the feelings natural to long association, love had grown and strengthened in Stephen's heart. Indeed, there were not many of her class who could have compared with this young woman. Her figure was about the middle height of her sex, and so beautifully proportioned, that even the close kerchief and russet gown could not entirely conceal the symmetrical formation of the broad white shoulders, the swelling bust, and the slender waist. Plain braids of hair of the darkest shade, and arched brows of the same hue, gave an added whiteness to a forehead smooth and high; and her full intelligent eyes, with a fringe as dark as her hair, were of a clear deep blue. The feminine occupation of a sempstress had préserved the delicacy of her complexion, and had left a soft flickering blush playing on her cheek. Such was Margaret, the beloved the betrothed — whom Holgrave was now hastening to invite, with all the simple eloquence of honest love, to become the bride of his bosom - the mistress of his home.
The duskiness of the twilight hour was lightened by the broad beams of an autumn moon; and as the moonlight, streaming full upon the thatch, revealed distinctly the little cot that held his treasure, all the high thoughts of freedom and independence, all the wandering speculative dreamings that come and go in the heart of man, gave place, for a season, to one engrossing feeling. Margaret was not this evening, as she was wont to be, sitting outside the cottage door awaiting his approach. The door was partly opened -- he entered — and beheld a man kneeling before her, and holding one of her hands within his own!
“Stephen Holgrave !" cried the devotee, jumping up, “what brings you here at such an hour ?"
“What brings me, Calverley!” replied Holgrave, furiously, " who are you, to ask such a question? What brings you here ?"
"My own will, Stephen Holgrave,” answered Calverley in a calm tone; " and mark you this maiden has no right to plight her troth except with her lord's consent. She is Lord de Boteler's bondwoman, and dares not marry without his leave — which will never be given to wed with you."
"You talk boldly, sir, of my lord's intents," answered the yeoman sulkily.
“I speak but the truth,” replied Calverley. "You have been rewarded
well for the deed you did ; and think not that your braggart speech will win my lord. This maid is no meet wife for such as you. My lord has offered me fair lands and her freedom if I choose to wed her: and though many a free dowered maid would smile upon the suit of Thomas Calverley, yet have I come to offer wedlock to Margaret.”
“Margaret!” said Holgrave, fiercely, “can this be true? answer me! Has Calverley spoken of marriage to you ? — why do you not answer ? Have I loved a false one ?”
“No, Stephen,” replied Margaret, in a low trembling voice.
Holgrave's mind was relieved as Margaret spoke, for he had confidence in her truth. He knew, however, that Calverley stood high in the favour of De Boteler, and he determined not to trust himself with farther words.
“Margaret,” said Calverley suddenly, “I leave Sudley Castle on the morrow to attend my lord to London. "At my return I shall expect that this silence be changed into language befitting the chosen bride of the Baron de Boteler's esquire. Remember you are not yet free!-- and now, Stephen Holgrave, I leave not this cottage till you depart. The maiden is my lord's nief, the cottage is his, and here I am privileged -- not you."
Fierce retorts and bitter revilings were on Holgrave's tongue; but the sanctuary of a maiden's home was no place for contention. He knew that Calverley did possess the power he vaunted ; and, without uttering a word, he crossed the threshold, and stood on the sod just beyond the door.
Calverley paused a moment gazing on the blanched beauty of the agitated girl, her cheek looking more pale from the moonlight that fell upon
and then, in the soft insinuating tone he knew so well how to as“Forgive me, Margaret,” said he, “ for what I have said. But oh,” he continued, taking her hand, and pressing it passionately to his bosorn, “You know not how much I love you !- Come, sir, will you walk ?" Then kissing the damsel's hand, he relinquished it; and Margaret, with streaming eyes and a throbbing heart, watched till the two receding figures were lost in the distance.
Holgrave and Calverley pursued their path in sullen silence. There were about a dozen paces between them, but neither were one foot in advance of the other. On they went through Winchcombe and along the road, till they came to where a footpath from the left intersected the highway. Here they both, as if by mutual agreement, made a sudden pause, and stood doggedly eyeing each other. At considerably less than a quarter of a mile to the right was Sudley Castle ; and at nearly the same distance to the left was Holgrave's new abode. After the laspe of several minutes, Calverley leaped across a running ditch to the right; and Holgrave, having thus far conquered, turned to the left on his homeward path.
The reader will, perhaps, feel some surprise that an esquire of the rich and powerful Lord'de Boteler should be thus competing with the yeoman for the hand of a portionless humble nief; but it is necessary to observe, in the first place, that in the fourteenth century esquires were by no means of the consideration they had enjoyed a century before. Some nobles, indeed, who were upholders of the ancient system, still regarded an esquire as but a degree reinoved from a knight, but these were merely exceptions ; – the general rule, at the period we are speaking of, was to consider an esquire simply as a principal attendant, without the least claim to any distinction beyond. Such a state of things accorded well with the temper of De Boteler ;--- he could scarcely have endured the equality, which, in some mcasure, formerly subsisted between the esquire and his lord. With him the equal might be familiar, but the inferior must be submissive; and it was, perhaps, the humility of Calverley's deportment that alone had raised him to the situation he now held. Calverley, besides, had none of the requisites of respectability which would have entitled him to take a stand among a class such as esquires had formerly been.
About ten years before the commencement of our tale, a pale emaciated youth presented himself one morning at Sudley Castle, desiring the hospitality that was never denied to the stranger. Over his dress, which was of the coarse monks' cloth then generally worn by the religious, he wore a tattered cloak of the dark russet peculiar to the peasant. That day he was fed, and that night lodged at the castle; and the next morning, as he stood in a corner of the court-yard, apparently lost in reflection as to the course he should next adopt, the young Roland de Boteler, then a fine boy of fifteen, emerged from the stone archway of the stable mounted on a spirited charger. The glow on his cheek, the brightness of his eyes, and the youthful animation playing on his face, and ringing in the joyous tones of his voice, seemed to make the solitary dejected being, who looked as if he could claim neither kindred nor home, appear even more care-worn and friendless. The youth gazed at the young De Boteler, and ran after him as he rode through the gateway followed by two attendants.
He then wandered about with a look of still deeper despondence, till the trampling of the returning horses sent a transient tinge across his cheek. He followed Roland's attendants, and again entered the court-yard. By some chance, as the young rider was alighting, his eye fell on the dejected stranger, who was standing at a little distance fixing an anxious gaze upon the heir.
“Who is that sickly-looking carle, Ralph ?" inquired De Boteler.
The attendant did not know. The youth interpreted the meaning of Roland's glance, and approached, and with an humble yet not ungraceful obeisance
“Noble young lord,” said he, “may a wanderer crave leave to abide for a time in this castle ?"
“You have my leave," replied the boy, in the consequential tone that youth generally assumes when conferring a favour. Indeed, you don't look very fit to wander farther ; — Ralph, see that this knave is attended to."
The stranger was now privileged to remain, and a week's rest and good cheer considerably improved his appearance. He did not presume, however, to approach the part of the castle inhabited by the owners; but never did the young Roland enter the court-yard, or walk abroad, but the silent homage of the grateful stranger greeted him.
This strange youth was Thomas Calverley, and, by the end of a month, Roland's eyes as instinctively sought for him when he needed an attend ant, as if he had been a regular domestic.
It was good policy in Calverley to propitiate the young De Boteler; for had he presented himself to his father, although for a space he might haye been fed, he could never have presumed to obtrude himself upon his notice.
There was a humility in the stranger which pleased Roland's imperious temper; he had granted the permission by which he abided in the castle, and he seemed to feel a kind of interest in his protegé; and the envy of his attendants was often excited by their young lord beckoning to Calverley to assist him to mount, or alight, or do him any other little service. Calverley began now to be considered as a kind of inmate in the castle, and various were the whispered tales that went about respecting him. At length it was discovered that he was a scholar— that is, he could read and write ; and the circumstance, though it abated nothing of the whisperings of idle curiosity, entirely silenced the taunts he had been compelled to endure. If still disliked, yet was he treated with some respect; for none of the unlettered domestics would have presumed to speak rudely to one so far above them in intellectual attainments.
Such a discovery could not long remain a secret; - the tale reached the ears of young Dé Boteler, and, already prepossessed in his favour, it was but a natural consequence that Calverley should rise from being first an assistant, to be the steward,
the page, and, at length, the esquire to the heir to the barony of Sudley. But the progress of his fortunes did but add to the malevolence of the detractor and the tale-bearer; theft, sacrilege, and even murder, were hinted at as probable causes for a youth, who evidently did not belong to the vulgar, being thus a friendless outcast. But the most charitable surmise was, that he was the offspring of the unhallowed love of some dame or damsel who had reared him in privacy, and had destined him for the church; and that either upon the death oř his protectress, or through some fault, he had been expelled from his home. Calverley had a distant authoritative manner towards his equals and inferiors, which, despite every effort, checked inquisitiveness; and all the information he ever gave was, that he was the son of a respectable artizan of the city of London, whom his father's death had left friendless. Whether this statement was correct or not, could never be discovered. Calverley was never known to allude to aught that happened in the years previous to his becoming an inmate of the castle: what little he had said was merely in reply to direct questions. It would seem, then, that he stood alone in the world, and such a situation is by no means enviable; and although duplicity, selfishness, and tyranny, formed the principal traits in his character, and though independently of tyranny and selfishness, his mind instinctively shrunk from any contact, save that of necessity, with those beneath him, yet had he gazed upon the growing beauty of Margaret till a love pure and deep - a love in which was concentrated all the slumbering affections, had risen and expanded in his breast, until it had, as it were, become a part of his being.
Margaret had a brother - a monk in the abbey at Winchcombe, to whose care she was indebted for the instructions which had made her a skilful embroideress, and still more for the precautions which had preserved her opening beauty from the gaze of the self-willed Roland de Boteler. Though the daughter of a bondman, her services had never been demanded; and father John had ultimately removed her from Edith's roof to the little cottage already mentioned.
Calverley had intended to see Margaret again before leaving the castle; but De Boteler having changed the hour he had appointed, there was not a moment to spare from the necessary arrangements. Never before had Calverley's assumed equanimity of temper been so severely tried; the patient attention with which he listened, and the prompt assiduity with which he executed a thousand trifling commands — although, from the force with which he bit his under-lip, he was frequently compelled to wipe away the blood from his mouth — showed the absolute control he had acquired over his feelings — at least so far as the exterior was concerned.
The chapel bell rang for mass, at which Father John, the brother of Margaret, officiated, in consequence of the sudden illness of the resident chaplain. Calverley waited till the service was concluded; and then, first pausing a few minutes to allow the monk to recite the office, he unclosed the door of the sacristy and entered. Father John was sitting with a book in his hand, and he still wore the white surplice.
The ecclesiastic, on whose privacy Calverley had thus intruded, was a man about thirty-five, of a tall muscular figure, with thick dark hair encircling his tonsure, a thin visage, and an aquiline nose.
There was piety and meekness in the high pale forehead; and in the whole countenance, when the eyes were cast down, or when their light was partly shaded by the lids and the projecting brows: but when the lids were raised, and the large, deeply-set eyes flashed full upon the object of his scrutiny, there was
a proud a searching expression in the glance, which had often made the obdurate sinner tremble, and which never failed to awe presumption and extort respect. Such was the man whom Calverley was about to address; and from whose quiet, unassuming demeanour at this moment, a stranger would have augured little opposition to any reasonable proposal that might be suggested: but Calverley well knew the character of the monk, and there was a kind of hesitation in his voice as he said
“Good morrow, holy father." The monk silently bent his head.
"My Lord de Boteler,” resumed Calverley, “will, in a few minutes, depart hence. I attend him; but before I go, I would fain desire your counsel.”
“Speak on, my son,” said the monk, in a full deep voice, as Calverley paused.
“Father John, you have a sister “What of her ?" asked the monk, looking inquiringly on the esquire.
“I love her !” replied Calverley, his hesitation giving place to an impas. sioned earnestness. -“Why look you so much astonished ? Has she not beauty, and have I not watched the growth of that beauty from the interesting loveliness of a child, to the full and fascinating charms of a woman. Father John, you have never loved -- you cannot tell the conflict that is within my heart.”
“ But,” asked the monk, "have you spoken to Margaret ?"
“Last evening I went to give her freedom and to ask her love, when Stephen Holgrave “ Did the baron empower you to free her ?" eagerly asked the monk.
but Holgrave entered and “She is still a nief?”
“Yes; — when that knave Holgrave entered, I could not speak of what was burning in my breast."
“ Stephen Holgrave is not a knave," returned the monk. “He is an honest man, and Margaret is betrothed to him.”
There was a momentary conflict in Calverley's breast as the monk spoke; - there was a shade across his brow, and a slight tremor on his lip; but he conquered the emotion - love triumphed, and, in a soft imploring tone, he said
“ Think you, father, Holgrave loves her as I do; or think you his rude untutored speech will accord well with so gentle a creature. Oh! father John, be you my friend. Bid her forget the man who is unworthy of her! She will listen to you - she will be guided by you -- you are the only kingman she can claim; and surely even you must wish rather to see your sister attended almost as a mistress in this castle, than the harassed wife of a laborious yeoman. Oh! if you win her to my arms, I here swear to you, that not even your own heart could ask for more gentle care than she will receive from me. My happiness centres in her to love her, to cherish her - to see the smile of joy for ever on her lips."
At this moment a knock was heard at the door. Calverley opened it, and De Boteler's page appeared, to say, that if Thomas Calverley had wanted the aid of the priest, he should have applied sooner, for his lord was now waiting for him.
"Tell my lord,” said Calverley, "I will attend him instantly."
The page withdrew, and Calverley, turning to the monk, asked hastily if he might reckon on his friendship.
“ Thomas Calverley,” replied John," I believe you do love my sister, but I cannot force her inclinations; — I will not even strive to bias her mind; there is a sympathy in hearts predestined to unite, which attracts them towards each other ;--if that secret sympathy exist not between you, ye aro not destined to become as one."