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A Mother of Queens, A Romance of History, Edited by Alfred H. Miles

 

One day, I will not say how many years ago, a young woman stepped from a country waggon that had just arrived at the famous Chelsea inn, “the Goat and Compasses,” a name formed by corrupting time out of the pious original, “God encompasseth us.”

The young woman seemed about eighteen years of age and was neatly dressed, though in the plain rustic fashion of the times. She was well formed and good-looking, both form and looks giving indications of the ruddy health due to the bright sun and the fresh air of the country.

After stepping from the waggon, which the driver immediately led into the court-yard, the girl stood for a moment uncertain which way to go, when the mistress of the inn, who had come to the door, observed her hesitation, and asked her to enter and take a rest.

The young woman readily accepted the invitation, and soon after, by the kindness of the landlady, found herself by the fireside of a nicely sanded parlour, with a good meal before her—welcome indeed after her long and tedious journey.

“And so, my girl,” said the landlady, after having heard the whole particulars of the young woman's situation and history, “so thou hast come all this way to seek service, and hast no friend but John Hodge, the waggoner? Truly, he is like to give thee but small help, wench, towards getting a place.”

“Is service, then, difficult to be had?” asked the young woman, sadly.

“Ay, marry, good situations, at least, are somewhat hard to find. But have a good heart, child,” said the landlady, and as she continued she looked round her with an air of pride and dignity; “thou see'st what I have come to, myself; and I left the country a young thing, just like thyself, with as little to look to. But 'tisn't every one, for certain, that must look for such a fortune, and, in any case, it must first be worked for. I showed myself a good servant before my poor old Jacob, heaven rest his soul, made me mistress of 'the Goat and Compasses.' So mind thee, girl——”

The landlady's speech might have continued indefinitely—for the good dame loved well to hear the sound of her own voice—but for the interruption occasioned by the entrance of a gentleman, whom the landlady rose and welcomed heartily.

“Ha! dame,” said the new-comer, who was a stout respectably attired man of middle age, “how sells the good ale? Scarcely a drop left in thy cellars, I hope?”

“Enough left to give your worship a draught after your long walk,” said the landlady, as she rose to fulfil the promise implied in her words. “I did not walk,” was the gentleman's reply, “but took a pair of oars down the river. Thou know'st, dame, I always come to Chelsea myself to see if thou lackest anything.”

“Ay, sir,” replied the landlady, “and it is by that way of doing business that you have made yourself, as all the city says, the richest man in the Brewers' Corporation, if not in all London itself.”

“Well, dame, the better for me if it is so,” said the brewer, with a smile; “but let us have thy mug, and this pretty friend of thine shall pleasure us, mayhap, by tasting with us.”

The landlady was not long in producing a stoup of ale, knowing that her visitor never set an example hurtful to his own interests by countenancing the consumption of foreign spirits.

“Right, hostess,” said the brewer, when he had tasted it, “well made and well kept, and that is giving both thee and me our dues. Now, pretty one,” said he, filling one of the measures or glasses which had been placed beside the stoup, “wilt thou drink this to thy sweetheart's health?”

The poor country girl to whom this was addressed declined the proffer civilly, and with a blush; but the landlady exclaimed:

“Come, silly wench, drink his worship's health; he is more likely to do thee a service, if it so please him, than John the waggoner. The girl has come many a mile,” continued the hostess, “to seek a place in town, that she may burden her family no more at home.”

“To seek service!” exclaimed the brewer; “why, then, it is perhaps well met with us. Has she brought a character with her, or can you speak for her, dame?”

“She has never yet been from home, sir, but her face is her character,” said the kind-hearted landlady; “I warrant me she will be a diligent and trusty one.”

“Upon thy prophecy, hostess, will I take her into my own service; for but yesterday was my housekeeper complaining of the want of help, since my office in the corporation has brought me more into the way of entertaining the people of the ward.”

Ere the wealthy brewer and deputy left “the Goat and Compasses,” arrangements were made for sending the country girl to his house in the city on the following day.

Proud of having done a kind action, the garrulous hostess took advantage of the circumstance to deliver a long harangue to the young woman on her new duties, and on the dangers to which youth is exposed in large cities. The girl listened to her with modest thankfulness, but a more minute observer than the good landlady might have seen in the eye and countenance of the girl a quiet firmness of expression, such as might have shown the lecture to be unnecessary. However, the landlady's lecture ended, and towards the evening of the day following her arrival at “the Goat and Compasses,” the girl found herself installed as housemaid in the home of the rich brewer.

The fortunes of this girl it is our purpose to follow. It was not long before the post of housekeeper became vacant, and the girl, recommended by her own industry and skill, became housekeeper in the brewer's family. In this situation she was brought more than formerly into contact with her master, who found ample grounds for admiring her propriety of conduct, as well as her skilful economy of management. By degrees he began to find her presence necessary to his happiness; and at length offered her his hand. It was accepted; and she, who but four or five years before had left her country home a poor peasant girl, became the wife of one of the richest citizens of London.

For many years, Mr. Aylesbury, for such was the name of the brewer, and his wife, lived in happiness and comfort together. He was a man of good family and connections, and consequently of higher breeding than his wife could boast of, but on no occasion had he ever to blush for the partner whom he had chosen.

Her calm, inborn strength, if not dignity, of character, united with an extreme quickness of perception, made her fill her place at her husband's table with as much grace and credit as if she had been born to the station. As time ran on, Mr. Aylesbury became an alderman, and, subsequently, a sheriff of the city, and in consequence of the latter elevation, was knighted.

Afterwards the important place which the wealthy brewer filled in the city called down upon him the attention and favour of the king, Charles I., then anxious to conciliate the goodwill of the citizens, and the city knight received the farther honour of a baronetcy.

Lady Aylesbury, in the first years of her married life, gave birth to a daughter, who proved an only child, and around whom, as was natural, all the hopes and wishes of the parents entwined themselves. This daughter had only reached the age of seventeen when her father died, leaving an immense fortune behind him.

It was at first thought that the widow and her daughter would become inheritors of this without the shadow of a dispute. But it proved otherwise. Certain relatives of the deceased brewer set up a plea upon the foundation of a will made in their favour before he married.

With her wonted firmness, Lady Aylesbury immediately took steps for the vindication of her rights.

A young lawyer, who had been a frequent guest at her husband's table, and of whose abilities she had formed a high opinion, was the person whom she fixed upon as her legal representative. Edward Hyde was, indeed, a youth of great ability. Though only twenty-four years of age at the period referred to, and though he had spent much of his youthful time in the society of the gay and fashionable of the day, he had not neglected the pursuits to which his family's wish, as well as his own tastes, had devoted him. But it was with considerable hesitation, and with a feeling of anxious diffidence, that he consented to undertake the charge of Lady Aylesbury's case; for certain feelings were at work in his heart which made him fearful of the responsibility, and anxious about the result.

The young lawyer, however, became counsel for the brewer's widow and daughter, and, by a striking display of eloquence and legal knowledge, gained their suit.

Two days afterwards, the successful pleader was seated beside his two clients. Lady Aylesbury's usual manner was quiet and composed, but she now spoke warmly of her gratitude to the preserver of her daughter from want, and also tendered a fee—a payment munificent, indeed, for the occasion.

The young barrister did not seem at ease during Lady Aylesbury's expression of her feelings. He shifted upon his chair, changed colour, looked to Miss Aylesbury, played with the purse before him, tried to speak, but stopped short, and changed colour again. Thinking only of best expressing her own gratitude, Lady Aylesbury appeared not to observe her visitor's confusion, but rose, saying:

“In token that I hold your services above compensation in the way of money, I wish also to give you a memorial of my gratitude in another shape.”

As she spoke thus, she drew from her pocket a bunch of keys such as every lady carried in those days, and left the room.

What passed during her absence between the young people whom she had left together will be shown by the sequel. When Lady Aylesbury returned, she found her daughter standing with averted eyes, with her hand in that of the young barrister, who knelt on the mother's entrance, and besought her consent to their union. Confessions of mutual affection ensued, and Lady Aylesbury was not long in giving her consent to their wishes.

“Give me leave, however,” said she to the lover, “to place around your neck the memorial which I intended for you. The chain”—it was a superb gold one—“was a token of gratitude, from the ward in which he lived, to my dear husband.” Lady Aylesbury's calm, serious eyes were filled with tears as she threw the chain round Edward's neck, saying, “These links were borne on the neck of a worthy and an honoured man. May thou, my beloved son, attain to still higher honours.”

The wish was fulfilled, though not until danger and suffering had tried severely the parties concerned. The son-in-law of Lady Aylesbury became an eminent member of the English bar, and also an important speaker in Parliament.

When Oliver Cromwell brought the king to the scaffold, and established the Commonwealth, Sir Edward Hyde—for he had held a government post, and had been knighted—was too prominent a member of the royalist party to escape the attention of the new rulers, and was obliged to reside upon the continent till the Restoration.

While abroad, he was so much esteemed by the exiled prince (afterwards Charles II.) as to be appointed Lord High Chancellor of England, which appointment was confirmed when the king was restored to his throne. Some years afterwards, Hyde was elevated to the peerage, first in the rank of a baron, and subsequently as Earl of Clarendon, a title which he made famous in English history.

These events, so briefly narrated, occupied considerable time, during which Lady Aylesbury passed her days in quiet and retirement. She had now the gratification of beholding her daughter Countess of Clarendon, and of seeing the grandchildren who had been born to her mingling as equals with the noblest in the land.

But a still more exalted fate awaited the descendants of the poor friendless girl who had come to London, in search of service, in a waggoner's van. Her granddaughter, Anne Hyde, a young lady of spirit, wit, and beauty, had been appointed, while her family were living abroad, one of the maids of honour to the Princess of Orange, and in that situation had attracted so strongly the regard of James, Duke of York, and brother of Charles II., that he contracted a private marriage with her.

The birth of a child forced on a public announcement of this contract, and ere long the granddaughter of Lady Aylesbury was openly received by the Royal Family, and the people of England, as Duchess of York, and sister-in-law of the sovereign.

Lady Aylesbury did not long survive this event. But ere she sunk into the grave, at a ripe old age, she saw her descendants heirs-presumptive of the British Crown. King Charles had married, but had no children, and, accordingly, his brother's family had the prospect and the right of succession. And, in reality, two immediate descendants of the poor peasant girl did ultimately fill the throne—Mary (wife of William III.), and Queen Anne.

Such were the fortunes of the young woman whom the worthy landlady of “the Goat and Compasses” was fearful of encouraging to rash hopes by a reference to the lofty position it had been her good fortune to attain in life. In one assertion, at least, the hostess was undoubtedly right—success in life must be laboured for in some way or other. Without the prudence and propriety of conduct which won the esteem and love of her wealthy employer, the sequel of the country girl's history could not have been such as it was.

 
 
 

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