By H. K.
CHAPTER I. THE MERCERS’ GARDENS.
Somewhere about the close of the reign of King Charles the Second, on a fine night in summer, there was a pretty sprinkling of company in the Mercers’ Gardens. London had been baptised with fire, and was fast rising in more extensive proportions; the bricks of which the new city was built being notably good, and likely to resist such another calamity. The crop of wild mustard which had flaunted on the blackened ruins was almost trodden underfoot in new streets and lanes, but the pest field beyond the Oxford road, with its hedges, still grew green and flowery, undisturbed by mattock and pick-axe for centuries.
St. Paul’s was rising in noble proportions, Monmouth House and Southampton House gladdened simple folks’ eyes with their princely splendour — but Clarence House in its rural isolation to the north of Piccadilly, reflecting the disgrace of its founder, was the subject of a quip, and maliciously named Dunkirk House, though the staunch soldier, Albemarle, now owned it, and entertained there, in duchess’s state, the Savoy blacksmith’s daughter, fierce Nan Clarges.
Again, in Craven House, once possessed by kind Sir Robert Drury, Lord Craven had dwelt lately, next door to his royal mistress, Elizabeth of Bohemia, the Queen of Hearts ; and some said the mayor’s son, in his prosperity, maintained the king’s daughter in her dependence out of his own generous exchequer.
Among other delights London then boasted various traders’ pleasure-grounds, or pleasances, real gardens at Drury Lane and Spring Gardens, the Grocers’ Gardens and the Mercers’ Gardens, though the splendid Mercers’ church had perished for ever.
Down the shady walks, among the mulberry-trees and the lilacs, passed the groups, — the men in the cloth doublet replacing the velvet of the courtier, the plain collar, the sober hose; the women, though less manageable in their fashions, wearing different shades of the kerchief, folded caleche, or Welsh hat, the petticoat wanting the train, the tight sleeve with the cuff and prim-looking white tippet with its embroidered or lace border. Sometimes finer birds intruded on the scene — a lace cravat, a scented wig, and an insolent eye; or the sweeping skirt, the uncovered neck and the flowing hair of some wanton, young, widowed Countess of Drogheda in search of a handsome, gallant, profligate Wycherley, condemned, by the emptiness of his purse, to consort with the staid inhabitants of the city.
It seemed that pleasure was not the only object in view among the walkers. There were grave talkers and serious faces, and occasionally the air of greeting by appointment; and those business-like traits as could have been told by an individual well acquainted with the scene, were principally shown by members of the Stationers’ Company, whose fortunes were then specially precarious, unless they happened to be of the same way of thinking as burly Sir Roger L’Estrange, in his malignant, savage papers in the ” Observator.” “The Protestant Intelligence,” “The Current Intelligence,” and “The Domestic Intelligence,” had been arrested to give place to “The London Gazette ” and its interpreter, the “Observator.”
One of the complainants and protestors with the Whig’s green bunch of ribbons at his breast, was a young, comely man, though his air was unconsciously severe, and his broad brow was cumbered with much thought and care. He inclined decidedly to join in the discussions of his elderly confederates — worthy Master Guy, who was so economic that he ate his dinner from a pot-house upon a newspaper on his counter, and yet so munificent that he endowed the two great hospitals; a strong man loving all liberty, and at the same time, most tenderly charitable, who formed a broad contrast to another bookseller — crafty Jacob Tonson — who “aggravated ” the nose of Dryden’s AEneas to suit Tonson’s King William, and whom the poet brought to order and branded indelibly:
With leering looks, bull-faced, and freckled fair,
With two left legs, and Judas-coloured hair.
The young man did not care to be waylaid, and drawn aside by the juvenile promenaders, and he went at last absently and unwillingly along with a company which contained matrons and maids, one of whose members called upon him to help to form an escort; for it was not altogether safe for a flock of women, unless well guarded, to traverse these cool alleys in the twilight.
The leader of these enterprising fair ones was an acquaintance of this austere young Harris, actually in the trade herself, — none less than Mrs. Lucy Soule, both a printer and stationer, on her father’s old foundation, and marvel of marvels in that age of illiterate and frivolous women, in addition, a good ‘compositor.’ Being able to display such transcendent talents, there was no great objection to Mistress Lucy’s being affected, and as she was a woman — and a very delicate woman, too — her conceit took a languishing, die-away form.
But as Mrs. Lucy refused many offers, not from love of power, but’that her aged mother might have the chief command in her house,’ Mrs. Lucy unquestionably deserved to be cited as a good soul, — a pious, affectionate soul to whom, as rumour whispered, dark, blunt Thomas Guy had inclined, only his shyness matched with his magnanimity, and what might have been the brave, honest man’s bliss, was but his secret sadness. Yet, mourn not for him, because such sadness must have had its sweetness also.
Mrs. Lucy, in her blue roquelary, with her cambric hood, meeting and forming part of her tippet, like a very dainty sister of charity’s cap and collar, and infinitely becoming to her soft features and sunny complexion, albeit they were past their prime, would have had Harris walk by her side and listen to her.
“Sir, this is a most heavenly night. The evening-star doth come out finely. I confess I affect the evening-star, notwithstanding I ne’er listened to a lover’s vow; in truth, I never did, sir, when I could help it, but I don’t object to my friends calling me Stella — a most divine name, though I don’t pretend to be divine, only I’m prodigiously fond of the first star, as some chatterers will tell you.”
But when she found that he was restless, and did not care to press her on her tastes, and hold gallant, witty converse on her widely-blown cruelty, like a mild, innocent, foolish woman as she was, she just winced for a moment, and then forgave the slight — never dreamt of revenge, unless that when she looked around and planned to promote another man to her right-hand, she transferred Harris, by a recommendation which he could not scorn, to walk with and have a care of one of the prettiest of her maidens to whom Mrs. Lucy liked to act as a youthful mother; for Mrs. Lucy was too fortunate a woman — too much envied in her substance and state — to feel ashamed of her forty summers.
This revenge most young men would have considered a slight punishment. The damsel was Mistress Patience Chiswell, one of the daughters of Mr. Chiswell, the carver and gilder, in Lombard Street. Master Harris really did not know very well how to begin to amuse Mrs. Patience, though he was by no means stupid; so, in place of unfolding his parts in paying her the compliments of the day, and courting her smiles, he kept glancing aside at her as she tripped by his side, and by dint of noticing her much more than he would have otherwise done, or than he had found time and inclination to do to other young women, he began to wonder, Puritan as he was, what deep feelings filled the heart, or high principles swayed the spirit of this bright, fragile piece of humanity.
Mrs. Patience was very young, fresh and fearless, and a little loquacious withal, as is the way with empty little heads and hearts. Not that Patience was singularly ignorant, shallow, or careless; but she was one of the many green olive branches round a very busy man’s table, where the elders were well meaning, but commonplace and easy, and the young were very thoughtless and a little selfish, and at the same time as guileless in their faults and follies as lads and lasses can be in this evil world.
Mrs. Patience looked quite as well as MrsLucy, and yet with a difference; Harris found that out. The child had no peculiar advantage either, that his inexperienced eye could detect, except the loveliest, liveliest bow of a rosy mouth, and a pair of the most strangely sensible grey eyes.
Mrs. Patience wore the same modest apparel of a merchant’s daughter, the disencumbered feet, the tuckered throat, the head-dress for a covering: but, granting Mrs. Patience’s crimson and white colours and her patterns were perfectly decorous, she sported a fan, which Master Harris deemed frivolous, and she prattled, which was a far more hopeless and heinous evil. She told him of the difficulty she had found in crossing the Strand and Snow Hill after the last rain, and she asked him if he ever went a junketting to gather the roses for which Holborn was still renowned, though sure they were only to be got in private gardens now.
London would soon be too confined for young folks who must have play, and plain folks who had no fine grounds of their own: and then she wandered to the Mall and the king’s ducks, and her father’s maggot, who would not suffer them to go there on account of the wild courtiers, but for her part she was not affrighted. What could they say to her? They would but take off their hats and laugh, and challenge her, and she would curtsey and run away, and if they gave chase, she was fleet of foot and would soon escape them.
Master Harris bent his eyes on the ground, and asked his judgment, was this little lass so giddy or so unprepared for offences, or was she bold? In verity it mattered not: she could in neither case comprehend his anxiety lest the prohibitions on their sales and the penalties on their licence should crush all free opinion, and quench the expression of that pure and mighty intellect which he wotted of, working in darkness and surrounding corruption, or stifle the ripe experience of yonder humble, but passionate dreamer lying in Bedford gaol. Only Master Evelyn and Master Walton, of all good men who wrote, and would neither be blasphemous nor ribald, nor false to the rights of the people, were held in any esteem by a lewd and persecuting court.
Of a sudden, as the staid young vendor of knowledge mused, the sorrows and sins of the time reached nearer home, inasmuch as on a portion of the company of which he constituted a fraction, approaching the gate in order to return to their houses when the bells gave them warning, they were met by a sudden outcry in the streets, — a loud and riotous uproar which it was scarcely possible for quiet women to face, and which even composed, courageous men might have been excused for shrinking from at that particular date. All who heard the tumult stood still — excited, incensed, appalled. Mrs. Lucy shook dolorously, and no longer admired the divine beauty of the evening-star, but she called her young companions round her and generously strove, while helpless herself, save for her few peaceful but strong, stern men, to impress them with a sense of her protection; but Patience Chiswell gripped Harris’s arm and shrieked outright.
“It is the Scourers,” she groaned through her chattering teeth, “and they spare neither man, woman, nor child in their frolics. The good Lord have mercy on us!”
Harris had some difficulty in convincing her what his cool judgment and better view enabled him to decide, that the band streaming past the entrance without attempting to invade the precincts was not one of those dissolute troops of squires and noblemen who once or twice a-week at least beat and bruised members of the resisting middle class, overcoming them by sheer force of numbers (for did not the train-bands of London defeat and rout these young gentlemen’s fathers in the open field when yon grinning head that had rotted off the bridge, held the brains and the will of a man ?) and fri ghtening honest women into fits by their fierce, unholy caresses.
“You should not have boasted of your confidence before it had been tried, Mrs. Patience,” said Harris, reproving her, bluntly but gently, for the shuddering girl touched his manhood.
Patience hung her head.
“I meant to defy them in broad day, and plenty of people by, and they only after their morning draughts. Indeed I could not choose but be mightily afraid when the Scourers are abroad in the dusk, and the greater part of the world safe under their own roofs.”
“Nay, I have no objection to your horror within bounds. I love not that women should be rash and forward,” observed Harris, without delaying to ascertain whether or no he had a right to offer an opinion. “I can decipher from where I stand that the whole brawl is about a woman — a wretched orange-woman, whom Dr. Bates, or Dugdale, or Turberville, may suspect of dealings with the Pope and the French and the devil, and whom they thus hound along the kennel to prison and to judgment:” and young Harris, though he might have been thankful on his politics’ account, looked gloomy and oppressed.
Patience Chiswell, taking comfort for her own safety, honour, and happiness, glanced up in his face to be still more fully reassured, and had her sympathies immediately drawn away in a new channel.
“Will no one save her?” she whispered. “She may not be guilty. She may not be so bad as she seemeth. I doubt me she is a light creature, by reason of her pursuing such a trade; yet she may have poor, honest friends, who care for her. Alas! the miserable wench to be ducked, to be branded, to be hung! Dear, good sir, for the sake of God, whom I am certain you fear, because Mrs. Lucy told us you were a dutiful fellow as ever lived, in the name of other women who are not undone, wilt thou not speak a word in this sinner’s cause?”
In proportion as Harris hated and waged war with sin, he had a soft, tender heart, and he was powerfully affected by this instance of a foolish young girl’s trembling, spontaneous, earnest mercy, the more so that he could not act upon it, as she would have demanded of him, at a risk she little guessed. He was forced to explain to her that he could not abandon her, no light creature, but a modest inexperienced girl, to traverse the disturbed streets, in order that he might carry aid to any other person, whatever their strait; that his single voice and arm would avail nothing against the authorities with whom a mean orange woman, after Stafford and Plunkett, was nothing.
Since he saw the culprit pinioned by some of the town’s servants and the mayor’s own men, she would certainly have law in her sentence, and what more could she ask, unless she were so unreasonable as to expect justice? Mistress Patience was only half satisfied, and cried a little, so shaken had her nerves been, behind her kerchief and her decried fan, so that Master Harris had to repeat all his arguments more and more earnestly and civilly, like a man of benevolence as he was, while he got her with the rest conveyed as far as Mrs. Lucy Soule’s.
Mrs. Lucy’s old mother was regaling herself upon her favourite slice of the larded capon, and drinking her humming ale (sack was not for tradesmen’s wives and widows), and conning the scold she would give her simple, heedless Luce for keeping her awake till the bat’s flight. And Mrs. Lucy would listen to those fond, querulous, maundering tones more sweetly than to any lover’s brusque speeches, and lay down her comely head in her peaked nightcap, and sleep like a child on the same pillow with that hoary crown of glory which she cherished so reverently.
Long before, Benjamin Harris, of Gracechurch Street carried his point of putting agitated Patience Chiswell into a hackney-chair, and walking most considerately and good humouredly by the bearers as far as her father’s door in Lombard Street, returning slowly to his flat above his shop — as all London tradesmen, yea, and many merchants, dwelt in his generation — still haunted between times by the green shady Mercers’ Gardens, and youthful, sweet, quick Patience Chiswell, first beseeching him to save herself, and then to rescue another.
It must have made an enormous difference to the self-collected young Whig to be so sued; for he could not deny the subsequent fact — though it disconcerted him greatly to admit it, even to himself, and he endeavoured strenuously to cheat his conscience and blink the new sensation — that the image of the carver and gilder’s frank, transparent, light-hearted little daughter, grown all of a sudden distressed and pitiful, would make his calm, serious heart beat.
(To be continued.)