For the Master's Sake
by Emily Sarah Holt
The story is set in the middle of the sixteenth century, in London,
at a time when a Catholic Queen had succeeded to the throne, shortly to
marry King Philip of Spain. The Protestant Bishops were replaced with
Catholic ones, in particular Bonner, Bishop of London, and these set
about murderously dealing with the least signs of Protestantism.
All this is very confusing to the average person, and that is what
the story is about. Just fairly ordinary citizens of London, trying to
work out what they are supposed to think and do.
The author was a strong Protestant, and this makes her arguments all
FOR THE MASTER'S SAKE, BY EMILY SARAH HOLT.
This is not a story which requires much preface. The tale speaks for
itself. But it is only right to inform the reader, that the persons who
play their parts in it (apart from the historical details given) are
all fictitious, excepting John Laurence and Agnes Stone.
It rests, under God, with the men and women of Englandand chiefly
with those of them who are young nowwhether such events as are here
depicted shall recur in this nineteenth century. The battle of the
Reformation will soon have to be fought over again; and reformations
(no less than revolutions) are not made with rose-water.
Choose you this day whom ye will serve! If the Lord be God, follow
Him; but if Baal, then follow him.
Are we ready to follow the Master,if He lead to Calvary? Or are we
ready to run the awful risk of hearing Christ's Depart! rather than
face men's Crucify? Now, while it is called to-day, let us settle the
CHAPTER ONE. GLAD TIDINGS.
For when the heart of man shuts out,
Straightway the heart of God takes in.
James Russell Lowell.
Good lack, Agnes! Why, Agnes Stone! Thou art right well be-called
Stone; for there is no more wit nor no more quickness in thee than in a
pebble. Lack-a-daisy! but this were never good land sithence preaching
came therein,idle foolery that it is!good for nought but to set
folk by the ears, and learn young maids for to gad about a-showing of
their fine raiment, and a-gossiping one with another, whilst all the
work to be wrought in the house falleth on their betters. Bodykins o'
me! canst not hear mass once i' th' week, and tell thy beads of the
morrow with one hand whilst thou feedest the chicks wi' th' other? and
that shall be religion enough for any unlettered baggage like to thee.
Here have I been this hour past a-toiling and a-moiling like a Barbary
slave, while thou, my goodly young damosel, wert a-junketing it out o'
door; and for why, forsooth? Marry, saith she, to hear a shaven crown
preach at the Cross! Good sooth, but when I tell lies, I tell liker
ones than so! And but now come home, by my troth; and all the pans o'
th' fire might ha' boiled o'er, whilst thou, for aught I know, wert
a-dancing in Finsbury Fields with a parcel of idle jades like thyself.
Beshrew thee for a lazy hilding [young person; a term applied to either
sex] that ne'er earneth her bread by the half! Now then, hold thy
tongue, Mistress, and get thee a-work, as a decent woman should. When I
lack a lick o' th' rough side thereof, I'll give thee due note!
Thus far Mistress Martha Winter poured out the vials of her wrath,
standing with arms akimbo in the doorway, and addressing a slight,
pale-faced, trembling girl of twenty years, who stood before her with
bowed head, and made no attempt at self-defence. Indeed, she would have
been clever who could have slipped in a sentence, or even have edged in
a word, when Mistress Winter had pulled out of her wrath-bottle that
cork which was so seldom in it, as Agnes Stone knew to her cost. Nor
was it the girl's habit to excuse or defend herself. Mistress Winter's
deprecation of that proceeding was merely a flourish of rhetoric. So
Agnes, as usual, let the tempest blow over her, offering no attempt to
struggle, but only to stand and endure.
Mistress Winter had made an excellent investment when, six years
before, she adopted Agnes Stone, then an orphan, homeless and
friendless; not by any means to be treated as one of the family, but
to be tyrannised over as drudge and victim in general. The transaction
furnished her with two endless topics for gossip, on which she dilated
with great enjoymenther own surpassing generosity, and the orphan's
intense unworthiness. The generosity was not costly; for the portion of
food bestowed on Agnes consisted of the scraps usually given to a dog,
while she was clothed with such articles as were voted too shabby for
the family wear. All work which was dirty or disagreeable, fell to
Agnes as a matter of course. The widow's two daughters, Joan and
Dorothy, respectively made her the vent for ill-temper, and the butt
for sarcasm; and if, in some rare moment of munificence, either of them
bestowed on her a specked apple, or a faded ribbon, the most abject
gratitude was expected in return. She was practically a bond slave; for
except by running away, there was no chance of freedom; and running
away, in her case, meant starvation.
It had not always been thus. For ten years, more or less, before her
term of bondage to Martha Winter, Agnes had lived with an aunt, her
only surviving relative. During this stage of her life, she had taken
her fair share in the household work, had been fed and
clothedcoarsely indeed, for her aunt was comparatively poor, but
sufficientlyand she had been allowed a reasonable number of holidays,
and had not been scolded, except when she deserved it. Though her aunt
was an undemonstrative woman, who never gave her an endearing word or a
caress, yet life with her was Elysium compared with present
circumstances. But beyond even this, far back in early childhood, Agnes
could dimly recollect another life againa life which was love and
sunshinewhen a mother's hand came between her and hardship, a
mother's heart brooded warmly over her, and a mother's lips called her
by tender pet names, as one whom his mother comforteth. That was long
ago; so long, that to look back upon it was almost like recalling some
previous state of existence; but the very memory of it, dim though it
was, made the present bondage all the harder.
The offence which Agnes had committed on this occasion lay in having
exceeded the time allowed her by six minutes. Out of respect to the
day, which was the festival of Corpus Christi, she had been graciously
granted the rare treat of a whole hour to spend as she pleased. She had
chosen to spend it in hearing the latter half of a sermon preached at
Paul's Cross. For, despite Mistress Winter's disdainful incredulity,
the assertion was the simple truth; though that lady, being one of the
numerous persons who cannot imagine the possibility of anything
unpleasant to themselves being delightful to others, had been unable to
give credence to the statement. As to the charge of dancing in Finsbury
Fields, poor Agnes had never in her life been guilty of such a piece of
dissipation. But she knew what to expect when she came in sight of the
clock of Saint Paul's Cathedral, and became mournfully conscious that
she would have to confess where she had been: for Mistress Winter had
peculiar ideas about religion, and a particular horror of being
righteous overmuch, which usually besets people who have no tendency in
that direction. Anything in the shape of a sermon was her special
abhorrence. Every Sunday morning Agnes was required to wait upon her
liege lady to matinsthat piece of piety lasting for the week: and
three times in the year, without the faintest consideration of her
feelingsalways terribly outraged therebypoor Agnes was dragged
before the tribunal of the family confessor, and required to give a
list of her sins since the last occasion. But anything beyond this, and
sermons in particular, found no favour in the eyes of Mistress Winter.
Generally speaking, Agnes shrank from the mere thought of a
lecture from this terrible dame. But this time, beyond the unpleasant
sensation of the moment, it produced no effect upon her. Her whole mind
was full of something else; something which she had never heard before,
and could never forget again; something which made this hard, dreary,
practical world seem entirely changed to her, as though suddenly bathed
in a flood of golden light.
God loved her. This was what Agnes had heard. God, who could do
everything, who had all the universe at His command, loved her, the
poor orphan, the unlettered drudge; penniless, despised,
unattractiveGod loved her, just as she was. She drank in the glad
tidings, as a parched soil drinks the rain.
But this was not all. God wanted her to love Him. He sought for her
love, He cared for it. Amid all the hearts laid at His feet, He would
miss hers if she did not give it. The thought came upon her like a new
revelation from Heaven, direct to herself.
The preacher at the Cross that day was a Black Friara tall spare
man, whom some might call gaunt and ungainly; a man of quick
intelligence and radiant eyes, of earnest gesture and burning words. No
idle monastic reveller this, but a man of one object, of one idea, full
of zeal and determination. His years were a little over forty, and his
name was John Laurence. But of himself Agnes thought very little; her
whole soul was concentrated upon the message which he had brought her
from God. God loved her! Since her mother died, she had been unloved.
God loved her! And she had never asked Him for His loveshe had never
It was just the blessed fact itself which filled the heart, and
mind, and soul of Agnes Stone. As to how it had come about, she had
very little idea. She had not heard enough of the Friar's sermon to win
any clear notion on that point; it was enough for her that it was so.
It never occurred to her to doubt the fact, and demand vouchers. It
never occurred to her to suppose that her own hard lot was any
contradiction to the theory. And it never occurred to her to imagine,
as some do, that God's love led to no result; that He could love, and
not care; that He could love, and not be ready to save. Human love was
better than that. The mother who, alone of all creatures, so far as she
knew, had ever loved Agnes Stone, had shown her love by always caring,
by always shielding from danger where it lay in her power. And surely
the Fountain could be no weaker than the stream; the love of a weak,
fallen, fallible human creature must be less, not more, than the love
of Him who is, and who was, and who is to come; who is the same
yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.
Hie thee down this minute, thou good-for-nothing hussy! thundered
the voice of Mistress Winter up the garret stairs, as Agnes was hastily
resuming her working garb. I'll warrant thou didst ne'er set the foul
clothes a-soaking as I bade thee ere thou wentest forth to take thy
pleasure, and left me a-slaving hither! Get thee to thy work, baggage!
Thou art worth but one half as many pence as there be shillings in a
groat! [A fourpenny-piece.] I'll learn thee to gad hearing of sermons!
I set the clothes a-soaking ere I went forth, Mistress, said
Agnes, coming quickly down stairs, and setting to work on the first
thing she saw to need doing.
Marry come up! ejaculated Mistress Winter, looking at her. Good
lack! hast met with a fortune dropped from the clouds, that thou art
all of a grin o' mirth?
I met with nought save that I went for, replied the girl quietly.
But it struck her that the comparison of a fortune dropped from the
clouds was a singularly happy one.
Lack-a-daisy! cried Dorothy. The Friar must have told some merry
tale belike. Prithee, give us the same, Agnes.
Methinks it were scantly so merry for you, Mistress Doll, answered
Agnes rather keenly. The stranger must not intermeddle with her joy.
She held her new treasure with a tight, jealous grasp. Not yet had she
learned that the living water flows the fuller for every streamlet that
it fills; that the true riches are heaped the higher, the more lavish
is the hand that transmits them.
Hold thy silly tongue! cried Mistress Winter, turning sharply
round upon her daughter. It were jolly work to fall of idle
tale-telling, when all the work in the house gapeth for to be
done!Thou weary, dreary jade! what art thou after now? (Agnes was
hastily mending a rent in the curtain.) To fall to dainty stitchery,
like a gentlewoman born, when every one of the trenchers lacketh
scraping, and not the touch of a mop have the walls felt this morrow!
Who dost look to, to slave for thee, prithee, my delicate-fingered
damsel? Thou shouldst like well, I reckon, to have a serving-maid o'
thy heels, for to 'tend to all matter that was not sweet enough for thy
high degree! I go not about to sweep up the dirt off thy shoes,
and so I tell thee plainly!
Certainly there was not often any want of perspicuity in Mistress
Winter's admonitions, though there might occasionally be a little lack
of elegance and gentleness. But plainly told or not, Agnes remained
silent, scraped the wooden trenchers, a process which answered to the
washing of earthenware, and duly mopped the walls, and to the best of
her power fulfilled the hard pleasure of her superior.
And here let us leave her for a moment, while we take a glance at
the outer world, to discover where we are in the stream of time, and
what sort of an England it is into which we have entered.
The day, the festival of Corpus Christi, is the first of June, 1553.
King Edward the Sixth is on the thronea white-faced, grave, reserved
boy of fifteen years, whose life is to close about five weeks
thereafter. But beside the throne, and on it in all but namehis hand
firmly grasping the reins of power, his voice the living law of the
Statestands John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland; a man whose
steel-blue eyes are as cold as his heart, and whose one aim in every
action of his life is the welfare and aggrandisement of John Dudley. He
professes himself a Lutheran: at heart, if he care at all for religion
of any kind, he is a Papist. But it will not be of service to John
Dudley at the present moment to confess that little fact to the world.
Grouped around these two are men of all typesCranmer, Archbishop of
Canterbury, true Nature's gentleman, leal-hearted Gospeller, delicate
in mind, clear in intellect, only not able, having done all, to stand;
Ridley, Bishop of London, whose firm, intelligent, clear-cut features
are an index to his characterperhaps a shade too severe, yet as
severe to himself as any other; Hugh Latimer, blunt, warm-hearted old
man, who calls a spade a spade in the most uncompromising manner, and
spares not vice, though it flaunt its satin robes in royal halls;
William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, the mean-spirited time-server who
would cry long life to a dozen rival monarchs in as many minutes, so
long as he thought it would advance his own interests; Henry Grey, Duke
of Suffolk, who spends his life in a fog of uncertainty, wherein the
most misty object is his own mind; William Paulet, Marquis of
Winchester, who always remembers his motto, I bend, but break not;
Richard Lord Rich, the sensual-faced, comfortable-looking,
stony-hearted man who pulled off his gown the better to rack Anne
Askew, of old time; and, behind them all, one of whom they all think
but littlea young man of short stature, with good forehead, and
small, wizened featuresMr Secretary Cecil, some day to be known as
the great Earl of Burleigh, who holds in his clever hands, as he sits
in the background with his silent face, the strings that move most of
these puppets, and pulls them without the puppets knowing it, until, on
the accession of Mary, the Tower gates will be opened, and Stephen
Gardiner will walk forth, to take the reins into his hands, and to
steep England in blood.
Of public events, there have been few since the general confiscation
of church plate in the preceding month.
The Londoners, of whom our friends at Mistress Winter's form a part,
are divided in opinion concerning this step; but neither party has been
too much distressed to observe the usual dance round the Strand
maypole, on the site of which Saint Mary-le-Strand will presently be
built. At present, and for those five weeks yet to come, the march of
events is dull and sleepy. It will be sufficiently lively and startling
to please the most sensational, before many days of July have run out.
The Bible is now open in every parish church, chained to a desk, so
that any one who pleases may read. The entire service is conducted in
English. The roods and images have been pulled down; candles, ashes,
and palms are laid aside; the wolves are kept close in Tower and
Fleet and Marshalsea; masses, public and private, are contraband
articles; the marriage of priests is freely allowed; the altar has been
replaced by the table. It is still illegal to eat flesh in Lent; but
this is rather with a view to encourage the fish trade than with any
To turn to minor matters, such as costume and customs, we find
Government does not disdain to occupy itself in the regulation of the
former, by making stringent sumptuary laws, and effectually securing
their observance by heavy fines. The gentlemen dress in the Blue-Coat
style, occasionally varying it by a short tunic-like coat instead of
the long gown, and surmounting it by a low flat cap, which the nobles
ornament by an ostrich feather. The ladies array themselves in long
dresses, full of plaits, and often stiff as crinolineplain for the
commonalty, but heavily laden with embroidery, and deeply edged with
fur, in the case of the aristocracy. Both sexes, if aspiring to
fashion, puff and slash their attire in all directions. The ruff,
shortly to become so fashionable, is only just creeping into notice,
and as yet contents itself with very modest dimensions.
Needles are precious articles, of which she is a rich woman who
possesses more than two or three. Glass bottles are unknown, and their
place is supplied by those of leather, wood, or stone. Wooden bowls and
trenchers for the poor, gold and silver plate for the rich, make up for
the want of china. The fuel is chiefly wood, coal being considered
unhealthy. Every now and then Government takes alarm at the prodigious
size to which the metropolis is growing, and an Act is passed to
restrain further building within a given distance from the City walls.
Country gentlemen receive peremptory orders to reside on their estates,
and not to visit London except by licence; for the authorities are
afraid lest the influx of visitors should cause famine and pestilence.
There is no drainage; for every householder pours his slops into the
street, with a warning shout, that the passengers below may run out of
the way. There are few watches, and fewer carriages; no cabs, no
police, no post-office; no potatoes, tea, coffee, newspapers, brown
paper, copper coinage, streetlamps, shawls, muslin or cotton goods. But
there is at times the dreaded plague, which decimates wherever it
comes; the terrible frequency of capital punishment for comparatively
trivial offences; the pleasant probability of meeting with a few
highwaymen in every country journey; the paucity of roads, and the
extreme roughness of such as do exist; a lamentable lack of education,
even in the higher classes, hardly atoned for by the exceptional
learning of one here and there; and (though the list might be greatly
enlarged) last, not least, the constant presence of vermin of the most
objectionable sort, from which neither palace nor cottage is exempt.
This, then, was the England of 1553.
CHAPTER TWO. FATHER DAN.
Fasting is all very well for those
Who have to contend with invisible foes:
But I am quite sure that it does not agree
With a quiet, peaceable man like me.
Fortunately for Agnes Stone, she was too low down in the world for
many things to affect her which sorely troubled the occupants of the
upper strata. Sumptuary laws were of no consequence to a woman whose
best gown was patched with pieces of different colours, and who had not
a hood in her possession; taxes and subsidies, though they might press
heavily on the rich, were no concern of hers, for she did not own a
penny; while no want, however complete, of letters, books, and
newspapers, distressed the mind of one who had never learned the
Mistress Winter dwelt in Cowbridge Street, otherwise Cow Lane; now
the site of crowded City thoroughfares, but then a quiet, pleasant,
suburban lane, the calm of which was chiefly broken by the presence, on
market-days, of numbers of the animal whence the street took its name,
caused by the close proximity of Smithfield. Green fields lay at the
back of the houses, through which, on its way to the Thames, ran the
little Fleet River, anciently known as the River of the Wells; beyond
it towered the Bishop of Ely's Palace, with its extensive walled
garden, famous for strawberries; to the left was the pleasant and
healthy village of Clerkenwell, whither the Londoners were wont to
stroll on summer evenings, to drink milk at the country inn, and gossip
with each other round the holy well. On the right hand, between Cow
Lane and the Thames, lay the open, airy suburbs of Fleet and Temple,
and the royal Palace of Bridewell, with its grounds. In front, Hosier
Lane and Cock Lane gave access to Smithfield, beyond which was the
sumptuous but now dissolved Priory of Saint Bartholomew, the once royal
domain of Little Britain, and the walls and gates of the great city,
with the grand tower of Saint Paul's Cathedral visible in the distance,
over the low roofs of the surrounding houses.
The locality of Cow Lane was far from being a low neighbourhood,
though its name was not particularly aristocratic in sound. In the old
days before the dissolution, which Agnes could just remember, the Prior
of Sempringham had his town house in Cow Lane; and the Earl of Bath
lived on the further side of the Fleet River, with Furnival's Inn
beyond, the residence of the Barons Furnival, now merged in the Earldom
of Shrewsbury. Mistress Winter lived in the last house at the north end
of the lane, next to Cow Cross, and almost in the country. There is no
need to name her neighbours, with two exceptions, since these only are
concerned in the story. But in Cow Lane every body knew every body
else's business; and the mistress at the Fetterlock could not put on a
new ribbon without the chambermaid at the Black Lion being aware of it.
Do not rush to the conclusion, gentle modern reader, that Cow Lane was
full of inns or public-houses. Streets were not numbered in those days;
and in order to effect the necessary distinction between one house and
another, every man hung out his sign, selecting a silent woman [Note
1], a blue cow, a griffin, or a rose, according as his fancy led him.
Sign-painting must have been a profitable trade at that time, and a
very necessary one, when scarcely one man in twenty knew his alphabet;
and the cardinal figures were cabalistic signs to common eyes.
The two families previously alluded to lived at the southern end of
Cow Lane, and their respective names were Flint and Marvell. Mistress
Flint was a cheerful, good-tempered woman, with whom life went easily,
and who had a large family of sons and daughters, the youngest but one,
little Will, being a special favourite with Agnes. The Marvells were
very quiet people, who kept their opinions and feelings to themselves;
though their son Christie, a mischievous lad of some twelve years, was
renowned in Cow Lane for the exact opposite.
The day was drawing towards evening, when Agnes, as she turned round
from emptying a pail of dirty water into the common sewer of Cow Lane,
detected the burly figure of Father Dan, the Cordelier Friar, who was
Mistress Winter's family confessor, coming up from Seacoal Lane. Not
without some fears of his errand, she waited till he came near, and
then humbly loutedthe ancient English reverence, now conventionally
supposed to be restricted to charity children.
Christ save all here! said the priest, holding up three fingers in
the style of benediction peculiar to his Order.
Taking no further notice of Agnes, he marched within, to be
cordially welcomed, and his blessing begged, by Mistress Winter and
Dorothy; for Joan was gone to see the bear-baiting in Southwark.
Father Dan was a priest of the popular typeflorid, fat, and
jovial. His penances were light and easy to those who had it in their
power to ask him to dinner, or to make gifts to his Order. It might be
that they were all the harder to those from whom such favours were not
The Cordelier took his seat at the supper-table just laid by
Dorothy, this being an easy and dainty style of work in which that
young lady condescended to employ her delicate hands. Mistress Winter
was busily occupied with a skillet containing some savoury compound,
and the Friar's eyes twinkled with expectant gastronomic delight as he
watched the proceedings of his hostess. Supper being at last ready, the
three prepared to do justice to it, while Agnes waited upon them. A
golden flood of buttered eggs was poured upon the dish in front of the
Friar, a cherry pie stood before Dorothy, while Mistress Winter, her
sleeves rolled up, and her widow's barb [Note 2] laid aside because of
the heat, was energetically attacking some ribs of beef.
Had Joan no purpose to be back for supper, Doll? demanded her
Nay, said Dorothy; Mall Whitelock bade her to supper in Long
Lane. I heard them discoursing of the same.
And what news abroad, Father? asked Mistress Winter. Pray you,
give me leave to help you to another shive of the beef. Agnes, thou
lither [wicked] jade, whither hast set the mustard?
Father Dan's news was of a minute type. He was no intellectual
philosopher, no profound conspirator; he was indeed slightly interested
in the advancement of the Church, and much more deeply so in that of
his own particular Order; but beyond this, his mind was one of those
which dwell rather on the game season than the government of the
country, and was likely to feel more pleasure in an enormous
gooseberry, or a calf with two heads, than in the outbreak of a
European war, or the discovery of an unknown continent. The great
subject in his mind at the moment was starch. SomebodyFather Dan
regretted that he was not able to name himhad discovered the means of
manufacturing a precious liquid, which would impart various colours,
and indescribable powers of standing alone, to any texture of linen,
lawn, or lace.
Good heart! what labour it shall save! cried lazy Dorothywho did
assist in the more delicate parts of the household washing, but shirked
as much of it as she could.
Ay, and set you off, belike, Mistress Doll, added the
complimentary Friar. As for us, poor followers of Saint Francis, no
linen alloweth us our Rule, so that little of the new matter is like to
come our way. They of Saint Dominic shall cheapen well the same [buy
plenty of it], I reckon, he added, with a contemptuous curl of his
lip, intended for the rival Order.
But lo' you, there is another wonder abroad, as I do hear tell,
remarked Mistress Winter, and 'tis certain matter the which, being
takenAgnes, thou dolt! what hast done wi' the salad?being taken
hendily [gently, delicately] off the top of ale when 'tis a-making,
shall raise bread all-to [almost] as well as sour dough. I know not
what folk call it.Thou idle, gaping dizzard [fool]! and I have to ask
thee yet again what is come of aught, it shall be with mine hand about
thine ears! Find a spoon this minute!
Ha! said Father Dan, helping himself to sack [Note 3], which had
been brought out specially to do him honour. Yeast is it I have
heard the same called. 'Tis said the bread is better tasted therewith,
rather than sour dough.
Pray you, good Father, to eat of this salad, entreated his
hostess. I had it of one of my Lord of Ely his gardeners; and there is
therein the new endive, and the Italian parsley, that be no common
That the Cordelier was by no means indifferent to the good things of
this life might be seen in his face, as he drew the wooden salad bowl a
Have you beheld the strange bird that Mistress Flint hath had sent
to her over seas? inquired he. I do hear that great lords and ladies
have kept such like these fifty years or so; but never saw I one
thereof aforetime. 'Tis bright yellow of plumage, and singeth all one
as a lark: they do call his name canary.
Nay, forsooth, I never see aught that should do me a pleasure!
said Mistress Winter crustily. Gossip Flint might have told me so
much. Take that, thou lither hussy! I'll learn thee to let fall the
And on the ear of the unfortunate Agnes, as she was stooping to
recover the dropped knife, came Mistress Winter's hand, with sufficient
heaviness to make her grow white and totter ere she could recover her
Father Dan took no notice. He could not have afforded to quarrel
with Mistress Winter, especially now when priests of the old style were
at a discount; and in his eyes such creatures as Agnes were made to be
beaten and abused. He merely saw in his hostess a notable housewife,
and in Agnes a kind of animated machine, with just soul enough to be
kept to the duty of confession, and require a careless absolution,
three times in the year. Such people had no business, in Father Dan's
eyes, to have thoughts or feelings of any sort. They were sent into the
world to mop and cook and serve their betters. Of course, when the
animated machines did take to thinking for themselves, and to showing
that they had done so, the Cordelier regarded it as most awkward and
inconvenienta piece of insubordinate presumption that must be stamped
out at once, and not suffered to infect others.
After further conversation in the same style, being unable to go on
eating and drinking for ever, Father Dan rose to depart. It was not
confession-time, and on all other occasions Father Dan's pastoral
visits came very much under the head of revelling. There was not a
syllable of religious conversation; that was considered peculiar to the
Mistress Winter and Dorothy, after a little needlework and some more
scolding of Agnes, tramped upstairs to bed; and Joan, coming in half an
hour later, excessively cross after her day's pleasuring, followed the
example. Having put away the supper things, and laid every thing in
readiness for the morrow's work. Agnes stood for a moment before she
too lay down on her hard pallet in the one chamber above that served
all four as bedroom. Through the uncurtained window high up in the room
the June stars looked down upon her. She had no notion of prayer,
except telling beads to Latin Paters and Aves; but the instinct of the
awakened spirit rose in something like it.
God, Thou lovest me! she said in her heart. He was there,
somewhere beyond those stars. He would know what she was thinking. I
know but little of Thee; I desire to know more. Thou, who lovest me,
tell some one to teach me!
It would have astonished her to be told that such unuttered longings
for the knowledge of God could be of the nature of prayer. Brought up
in intense formalism, it never occurred to her that it was possible to
pray without an image, a crucifix, or a pair of beads. She crept to her
poor straw pallet, and lay down. But the latest thought in her heart,
ere she dropped asleep, was, God loves me; God will take care of me,
and teach me. She would have been startled to hear that this was
faith. Faith, to her, meant relying on the priest, and obeying the
Church. But was there no whisperunheard even by herself
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt?
Note 1. This, I am sorry to say, was a lady without a head. It
probably indicated the residence of an old bachelor.
Note 2. The barb was a plaiting of white linen, which was fastened
at the chin, and entirely covered the neck.
Note 3. Sack appears to have been a general name for white wine,
especially the sweeter kinds.
CHAPTER THREE. MAKING PROGRESS.
I care not how lone in this world I may be,
So long as the Master remembereth me.
So sure as our sweet Lady, Saint Mary, worketh miracles at
Walsingham, never was poor woman so be-plagued as I, with an ill,
ne'er-do-well, good-for-nought, thankless hussy, picked up out of the
mire in the gutter! Where be thy wits, thou gadabout? Didst leave them
at the Cross yester-morrow? Go thither and seek for them! for ne'er a
barley crust shalt thou break this even in this house, or my name is
not Martha Winter!
And, snatching up a broom, Mistress Winter hunted Agnes out of
doors, and slammed the door behind her.
It was not altogether a new thing for Agnes to be turned out into
the street for the night, and Mistress Winter reserved it as her most
tremendous penalty. Perhaps, had she known how Agnes regarded it, she
might have invented a new one. These occasions were her times of
recreation, when she usually took refuge with good-natured Mistress
Flint, who was always ready to give Agnes a supper and a share of her
girls' bed. A few hours in the cheerful company of the Flints was a
real refreshment to the hard-worked and ever-abused drudge. But this
time she did not at once seek Mistress Flint. She walked, as Mistress
Winter had amiably suggested, straight to the now deserted Cross, and
sat down on one of its stone steps. It would not be dark yet for
another hour, and until the gathering dusk warned her to return, Agnes
meant to stay there. She was feeling very sad and perplexed. The glory
in which the world had been steeped only yesterday had grown pale and
grey. The cares of the world had come in. Poor Agnes had set out that
morning with a firm determination to serve God throughout the day. Her
idea of service consisted in the ceaseless mental repetition of forms
of prayer. Busy with her Aves and Paternosters, she had forgotten to
shut the oven door, and a baking of bread had been spoiled. She sat now
mournfully wondering how any one in her position could serve God. If
such mischances as this were always to happen, she could never get
through her work. And the work must be done. Mistress Winter was one of
the last people in the world to permit religion to take precedence of
housewifery. How then was poor Agnes ever to make her salvation at
The mistake was natural enough. All her life she had walked in the
mist of self-righteousness; her teachers had carefully led her into it.
Starting from the idea that man had to merit God's favour, was it any
wonder that, when told that God loved her already, she still fancied
that, in order to retain that love, she must do something to deserve
it? The new piece was sewn on the old garment, and the rent was made
But now, must she give up the glad thought of being loved? If
serving God, as she understood that service, made her neglect her
every-day duties, what then? How was she ever to serve God? It was a
misfortune for Agnes that she had heard only half of the Friar's
sermon. The other half would have removed her difficulties.
She had reached this point in her perplexed thoughts, when she was
startled by a voice inquiring
What aileth thee, my daughter?
Agnes looked up, and beheld the same dark shining eyes which had
flashed down upon her from the Cross yesterday morning.
I scantly can tell, she said, speaking out her thoughts. It
seemeth not worth the while.
What seemeth thus? asked the Friar.
Living, said the girl quietly. There was no bitterness in her
tone, hardly even weariness; it was simply hopeless.
The Friar remained silent for a moment, and Agnes spoke again.
Father, she faltered, in a low, shy voice, I heard you preach
I brought thee glad tidings, was the significant answer.
The tears sprang to her eyes. O Father! she said, I thought them
so gladthat God loved me, and would have me for to love Him; but now
'tis all to no good. I cannot serve God.
That I am in the world, and must needs there abide.
What for no? Serve God in the world.
Good Father, if you did but know, you should not say the same!
said Agnes in the same hopeless tone in which she had spoken before.
If I knew but what?
In answer, Agnes told him her simple story; unavoidably revealing in
it the hardships of her lot. You must needs see, good Father, she
concluded, that I cannot serve God and do Mistress Winter's bidding.
I see no such a thing, good daughter, replied the Friar. Dost
think the serving of God to lie in the saying of Paternosters? It is
thine heart that He would have. Put thine heart in thy labour, and give
Him both together.
But how so, Father? inquired Agnes in an astonished tone. I pray
you tell me how I shall give to God the baking of bread?
Who giveth thee thy daily bread?
That, no doubt, our Lord doth.
Yet He giveth the same by means. He giveth it through the farmer,
the miller, and the baker. It falleth not straight down from Heaven.
When thou art the bakester, art not thou God's servant to give daily
bread? Then thy work should be good and perfect, for He is perfect. By
the servant do men judge of the master; and if thy work is to be
offered unto God, it must be the best thou canst do. Think of this the
next time thou art at work, and I warrant thee not to forget the
oven door. But again: Who hath set thee thy work? When this hard
mistress of thine betook thee to her house, did not God see it? did not
He order it? If so be, then every her order to thee (that is not
sinful, understand thou) is God's order. Seek then, in the doing
thereof, not to please her, but Him.
O Father, if I could do that thing!
Child, when the Master went home for a season, and left His lodging
here below, He appointed `to every man his work.' Some of us have hard
work: let us press on with it cheerfully. If we be His, it is His
work. He knoweth every burden that we bear, and how hard it presseth,
and how sore weary are His child's shoulders. Did He bear no burdens
Himself in the carpenter's workshop at Nazareth; yea, and up the steep
of Calvary? Let Him have thy best work. He hath given thee His best.
Never before, nor in so short a time, had so many new ideas been
suggested to the mind of Agnes Stone. The very notion of Christ's
sympathy with men was something strange to her. She had been taught to
regard Mary as the tender human sympathiser, and to look upon Christ in
one of two lightseither as the helpless Infant in the arms of the
mother, or as the stern Judge who required to be softened by Mary's
merciful intercession. But the one gush of confidence over, she was
doubly shy. She shrank from clothing her vague thoughts with precise
and distinct language.
I would I might alway confess unto you, Father, she said
gratefully, rising from her hard seat I would have thee confess unto a
better than I, my daughter, was the priest's answer. There is no
confessor like to the great Confessor of God. Christ shall make never a
blunder; and He beareth no tales. Thine innermost heart's secrets be as
safe with Him as with thyself.
But must I not confess to a priest? demanded Agnes in a surprised
There is one Priest, my daughter, said the Friar. And `because He
continueth ever, unchangeable hath He the priesthood.' There can be
This was another new idea to Agnesif possible, more strange than
the former. She ventured a faint protest which showed the nature of her
But He, that is the Judge at the doomsday! how could such as I e'er
confess to Him?
A smilewhich was sad, not mirthfulparted the grave lips of the
Child! he answered, there is no man so lowly, there is no man so
loving, as the Man Christ Jesus.
Agnes was so deep in thought that she did not hear his retreating
steps. She looked up with a further remark on her lips, and found that
he was gone.
It was nearly dark now, and there was only just time to reach the
City gate before the hour when it would be closed. Agnes hurried on
quickly, passed out of Newgate, and, afraid of being benighted, almost
ran up Giltspur Street to the south end of Cow Lane. A hasty rap on
Mistress Flint's door brought little Will to open it.
Good lack! said the child. Mother, here is Mistress Agnes Stone.
What, Agnes! cried Mistress Flint's cheery voice from within.
Come in, dear heart, and welcome. What news to-night, trow?
The old news, my mistress, said Agnes, smiling, that here is a
supperless maid bereft of lodgment, come to see if your heart be as
full of compassion as aforetime.
Lack-a-daisy! hath Gossip Winter turned thee forth? Well, thank the
saints, there is room to spare for thee here. Supper will be ready ere
many minutes, I guess. Prithee take hold o' th' other end of Helen's
work, and it shall be all the sooner.
Helen Flint, who was busy at the fire, welcomed the offered help
with a bright smile like her mother's, and set Agnes to work at once.
The latter was beginning to find herself very hungry, and Mistress
Flint treated her guest to considerably better fare than Mistress
Winter did her drudge. There were comparatively few of the household at
home to supper; for the party consisted only of Mr and Mrs Flint, two
daughters, Helen and Anne, and the little boys, Will and Dickon.
What news abroad, Goodman? demanded Mistress Flint, when her
curiosity got the better of her hunger.
Why, that 'tis like to rain, returned her husband, a quiet,
unobtrusive man, with a good deal of dry humour.
That I wist aforetime, retorted she; for no sooner set I my foot
out of the door this morrow than I well-nigh stepped of a black snail.
I reckon, observed Mr Flint, calmly cutting into a pasty, that
black snails be some whither when there is no wet at hand.
Gramercy, nay! cried unphilosophical Mistress Flint.
Oh, so? said he. Fall they from the sky, trow, or grow up out o'
Dear heart [darling, beloved one], Jack Flint! how can I tell?
answered his wife.
Then, dear heart, Mall Flint! responded he, imitating her, I'd
leave be till I so could.
Mistress Flint laughed; for nothing ever disturbed her temper, and
the banter was as good-humoured as possible.
Well, for sure! said she. Is there ne'er a man put in the
pillory, nor a woman whipped at the cart-tail, nor so much as a strange
fish gone by London Bridge? Ha, Nan! yonder's a stranger in the bars.
Haste thee, see what manner of man.
Anne left the form on which she was sitting, and peered intently
into the grate.
'Tis a dark man, Mother, said she, after careful investigation.
Is he nigh at hand? inquired Mistress Flint anxiously.
I trow so, replied Anne, still occupied with the bars, and
reasonable rich to boot.
Marry, yonder's a jolly hearing! said her mother.
How so, asked Mr Flint, pursing up his lips, without he make us a
gift of his riches?
Dear heart alive! suddenly ejaculated Mistress Flint, turning
round on Helen. How many a score o' times must I tell thee, Nell, that
to lay thy knife and spoon the one across the other is the unluckiest
thing in all this world, saving only the breaking of a steel glass
[looking-glass], and a winding-sheet in the candle? Lay them straight
along this minute, child! Dear, dear; but to think of it!
Helen, in some perturbation, altered her knife and spoon to the
Now, Agnes, dear heart, prithee get some flesh o' thy bones! said
Mistress Flint, returning to her usual cheery manner. Good lack! I
love not to see a maid so like to a scarecrow as thou. Come now,
another shive of mutton? well, then, a piece o' th' pastydo! Eh, in
good sooth, thou mayest well look white. Now, Will and Dickon, lads,
'tis time ye were abed.
Will and Dickon, thus addressed, promptly knelt down, one on each
side of his mother, and Will proceeded to gabble over his prayers,
followed by Dickon with articulate sounds which had no other merit than
that of bearing some resemblance to the words in question.
The boys commenced by crossing themselves, then they raced through
the Paternoster, the Angelical Salutation, and the Creed, all in Latin;
of course without the faintest idea of any meaning. They then repeated
a short prayer in English, entreating the Virgin, their guardian
angels, and their patron saints, to protect them during the night. This
done, Will rattled off half a dozen lines (carefully emphasising the
insignificant words), which alone of all the proceeding had either
interest or meaning in his eyes.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
Bless the bed that I lie on:
Four corners to my bed,
Four angels at their head
One to read, and one to write,
And two to guard my bed at night.
Good lads! said Mistress Flint, as she rose and restored the
crucifix which she had been holding before the boys to its usual place.
Mother! said Will, who was inconveniently intelligent, who be
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? Doth it mean Luke Dobbs, and Father?
Mr Flint indulged himself in a quiet laugh.
Nay, dear heart! answered his mother. Those be the holy Apostles,
that writ the Evangels.
What be the Evangels, Mother?
Did ever one see such a lad to put questions? demanded Mistress
Flint. Why, child, they be writ in the great Bible, that lieth chained
in the Minster.
What be they about, Mother?
Come, lad, if I tarry to answer all thy talk, thou shalt not be
abed this even, responded Mistress Flint discreetly; for this was a
query which she would have found it hard to answer; and with a playful
show of peremptoriness, she drove Will and Dickon upstairs to the
bedchamber, in which slept the five boys of the family.
There was a minute's silence, only broken by the movements of Helen
and Anne, who were putting away the bowls, jugs, and trenchers which
had been used at supper, when suddenly Mr Flint saidto nobody in
What be they about?
His daughters looked up, and then resumed their occupation, with a
shake of the head from Anne, and a little laugh from Helen.
Methinks, Master, said Agnes rather diffidently, 'tis about God,
and His love to men.
What thereabout? replied he, continuing to look into the fire.
Why, Master, said Agnes, surely you do wit better than I.
Well, I wit nought thereabout, nor never want, said Anne a little
pettishly. 'Twill be time enough when I have the years o' my grandame,
I guess, to make me crabbed and gloomsome.
Agnes looked at her in amazement.
Nan, said her father, I heard thee this morrow a-singing of a
Well, so may you yet again, said she, laughing.
That made thee not gloomsome, trow? he asked.
Never a whit! how should it? replied Anne, still laughing.
Let be! but 'tis queer, said he, rising. Man's love is merry
gear; but God's love is crabbed stuff. 'Tis a strange world, my maids.
Both Helen and Anne broke into a peal of laughter; but Mr Flint was
grave enough. He walked through the kitchen, and out at the front door,
without saying more.
What hath come o'er Father of late? said Helen. He is fallen to
ask as queer questions as Will.
What know I? replied Anne, or care, for the matter of that. Come,
Nell, let us sing a bit, to cheer us!
It struck Agnes that there was not much want of cheer in that house;
but Helen readily responded to her sister's wish, and they struck up a
The hunt is up, the hunt is up,
The hunt is up and away,
And Harry our King is gone hunting,
To bring his deer to bay.
The east is bright with morning light,
And darkness it is fled,
And the merry horn wakes up the morn
To leave his idle bed.
Behold the skies with golden dyes
Are glowing all around,
The grass is green, and so are the treen,
All laughing at the sound.
The sisters sang well, and Agnes enjoyed the music. This song was
followed by others, and Mistress Flint, coming down, joined in; and the
eldest son, Ned, made his appearance and did the same, till there was
almost a concert. At last Mistress Flint stopped the harmony, by
declaring that she could not keep awake five minutes longer; and all
parties made the best of their way to bed.
Mistress Winter was found, on the following morning, to have
recovered as much of her temper as she was usually in the habit of
recovering. That Joan had lost hers was nothing new; it was rarely the
case that both mother and daughter were in an amiable mood together.
The former received Agnes with her customary amenities, merely
suggesting, with pleasantry of her own kind, that of course 'twould be
too heavy a toil for her gracious madamship to carry the water-pails to
Horsepoolthe spring in West Smithfield which supplied Cow Laneand
that so soon as she could hear tell of a gentlewoman lacking of a
service, she would engage her at ten pound by the month to wait of her
worshipfulness. Agnes made no answer in words; she only took up the
pails quietly and went out. As she came up to Horsepool, she spied her
friend Mistress Flint, bent on a similar errand, coming up Cock Lane.
Dear heart, Agnes! cried the latter. Is there none save thee to
bear those heavy pails of water? Methinks yon lazy Joan might lift one,
and be none the worsen. She hath the strength of a horse, and thou
barely so much as a robin.
Agnes smiled her thanks for her friend's sympathy, as she let down
I am used to the same, Mistress Flint, I thank you.
Go to,wert thou at the Cross t' other morrow? Methought I saw thy
face in the throng.
A light broke over the face, but Agnes only said, Ay.
How liked thee yon Friar's discourse?
It liked me well.
Marry, thus said Cicely Marvell, that dwelleth by me. But for me, I
saw none so much therein to make ado o'er. `God loveth men'ay, to be
sure He doth so: and `we should love God'why, of course we so should,
and do. Forsooth, what then, I pray you?
Why, then, much comfort, as meseemeth, answered Agnes.
Comfort! repeated Mrs Flint, looking at her. Ay, poor soul, I
dare say thou hast need. But I lack no comfort at this present, the
blessed Sacrament be thanked! I have enough and to spare.
And, half laughing, with a farewell nod, Mrs Flint took up her full
pail, and trudged away. With some surprise Agnes realised that to this
cheerful, healthy, prosperous woman, the ray of light which was making
her whole soul glad, was not worth opening the windows to behold; the
wine of Paradise which brimmed her cup with joy, was only common water.
Perhaps, before that light could make a happy heart glad, other lights
must be put out; before the water could be changed to wine, other
conduits must run dry. It was well for Agnes Stone that she had nothing
wherewith to quench her thirst but the cup of salvation, and no light
to shine upon her pathway but the light of life.
CHAPTER FOUR. THE ROOT OF THE MATTER.
My Christ He is the Heaven of Heavens
My Christ what shall I call?
My Christ is first, my Christ is last,
My Christ is all in all.
As Agnes toiled home with her weary burden, she met her own special
favourite, little Will.
Look you, Mistress Agnes! cried little Will, triumphantly holding
up his horn-book.
I can say all my Christ-Cross-Row [alphabet]every letter!
Dear heart! returned Agnes, sympathising in her little friend's
And as to-morrow I am to join the letters! exclaimed little Will
again, in high exultation.
I trust thou wilt be a good lad, Will, and apply thee diligently.
Oh, ay, said Will, dismissing that part of the question somewhat
curtly. And look you, I met, an half-hour gone, with the Black Friar
that preached at the Cross th' other morrow; and he saw my horn-book,
and asked at me if I knew the same. And when I said I so did, what did
he, think you, but sat him down of a stone, and would needs have me for
to say it all o'er unto him. And I made but one only blunder; I said,
`Q, S, R,' in the stead of `Q, R, S.' And he strake mine head, and said
I was a good lad, and he would I should go on with my learning till I
might read in the great Bible that lieth chained in the Minster.
Well-a-day! did he so? responded Agnes.
Ay, so did he. But wot you what Christie Marvell saith? He saith
'tis rare evil doing that any save a priest should read in yon big
book, and he hath heard his father for to say the same. And he saith
old Father Dan, the Cordelier, that is alway up and down hereabout, he
said unto him that he would not for no money that he should learn to
read the Evangel, for that it should do him a mischief. What think you,
Methinks, Will, thou shalt do well to give good heed unto the Black
Friar, and to thy master at the school, and leave Christie Marvell a-be
with his idle talk.
Nay, go to, Mistress Agnes! 'tis Father Dan's talk.
Then tarry till Father Dan tell thee so much himself. It may well
be that Christie took not his words rightly.
Ay, said the child, doubtfully. But what manner of mischief,
think you, meant he? Should it cast a spell on me, or give me the
Little Will, as we have already seen, was the child of a
superstitious mother. To hear the tap of a death-watch was sufficient
to make Mistress Flint lose a night's sleep; and a person who
disbelieved in fairies she would have considered next door to a
reprobate. But Agnes was remarkably free from such ideas for her time,
when few were entirely devoid of them; and she laughed at little Will's
Well, said he, any way, when I can read in the great Bible,
Mistress Agnes, then will I read unto you, and you shall come to the
Minster and hear me. Christie's mother saith there be right pretty
Like many another in those days, into the household of Henry and
Cicely Marvell, the Gospel had brought not peace, but a sword. The
husband, a stern, morose man, was fondly attached to the beggarly
elements of Roman ceremonials; while the wife had received and hidden
the Word in her heart, and though too much afraid of her husband to
venture far, contrived now and then to drop a word for Christ's Gospel.
Christie, the troublesome boy, cared for none of these things, and made
game of the views of each parent in turn.
Agnes smilingly bade good-bye to her ambitious little friend Will,
for they had now reached Mistress Winter's door. A scolding awaited
her, as usual, first for dawdling, and then for spilling a few drops
of water on the brick floor as she set down the heavy pails. But Agnes
scarcely heeded it, for her mind was full of a new project. It would be
some time before little Will could read, and longer still before he
could see over the Minster desk, where the great Bible lay chained. But
why should she wait for that? She dimly remembered, in long past days,
when her aunt was living, having several times gone with her on Sunday
afternoons to vespers in the Cathedral, and heard some one reading at
the desk in the nave. Then she had not cared to listen. Why should she
not go to hear it now?
Of political events Agnes knew little, and thought less. She could
barely have told who was on the throne, had she been asked. She had
watched alike tumult and pageant without any intelligent notion of what
was passing. Nor had she any idea that during those past days, when
such things had no interest for her, the opportunity of using them had
been passing away; and that in a very few weeks the public reading of
the Bible would be perilous to those who had the courage to dare it.
Imprisonment would soon await any layman who should dare to read to
another the Word of Life.
It often occurred that projects had to dwell in Agnes's mind for
some time before she had an opportunity to put them into execution.
That such should be the case with this one gave her no surprise.
Generally speaking, after mass on Sunday, Joan and Dorothy donned their
finest clothes, and went out on a merry-making expedition, while
Mistress Winter, also in grand array, preferred to entertain her
neighbours at home. She considered Agnes on these occasions as one too
many, and usually contrived to send her on some errand to a distance;
but now and then, when no errand was forthcoming, she had the Sunday
afternoon to herself. Five Sundays passed after the project had taken
shape in her mind, and no leisure had yet come to Agnes. The Saturday
arrived, the eve of the sixth Sunday, and she was still in expectation
of fulfilling her hopes in some happy future. The hope was communicated
to Cicely Marvell, whom Agnes met in returning from the pump, with
certainty of sympathy on her part.
The full pails were only just set down on the kitchen floor, when in
bustled Mistress Flint, with a dish-cloth in her hand, which she had
not waited to lay down, so eager was she to utter what she came to say.
Go to, Gossip Winter! Heard you the news?
News, gramercy! Who e'er hath the grace to tell me a shred
thereof? returned Mistress Winter crustily. What now, Gossip?
Forsooth, the King's Grace is departed.
Alack the day! Who saith it?
Marry, my Lord Mayor himself hath proclaimed it at the Cross, and
as Monday are my Lords of the Council to ride unto the Tower for to
salute the new Queen.
The new Queen! Who is she, belike? demanded Mistress Winter, who
did not usually trouble her head with politics. She was standing by the
fire with a frying-pan in her hand, arrested in her occupation by
surprise and curiosity, as Mistress Flint had been in hers.
Why, what think you? Folk say that heard the same, that the King's
Highness hath left the Crown by will to his cousin, my Lady Jane
Dudley, and hath put by his own sisters; and she shall be proclaimed as
to-morrow in Cheapside.
Dear heart alive! cried Mistress Winter. And what say my Ladies
the King's sisters, that be thus left out in the cold?
That is as it may be, replied Mistress Flint mysteriously. My
good man saith, if the Lady Mary suffer all tamely, then is she not the
maid he took her to be.
Lack-a-day! but I do verily hope siege shall be ne'er laid to
London! It should go ill with us that dwell in the outskirts.
You say well, Gossip, in very deed. The blessed saints have a care
of us! as metrusteth they shall.
Not they belike! growled Mistress Winter, resuming her suspended
proceedings with the frying-pan. They shall be every one a-looking out
for the Lady Jane.
Mistress Flint came nearer, and replied in a mysterious whisper.
Scantly so, as methinks, Gossip, when she is of the new learning,
if folk speak sooth touching her. The saints and angels shall trouble
them rare little about her. Trust me, they shall go with the Lady Mary,
every man of them.
Say you so? demanded Mistress Winter. Why, then shall the old
learning come in again, an' she win.
Ay, I warrant you! responded her neighbour.
Mistress Winter fried her rashers with a meditative face.
Doll! said she, when Mistress Flint and her dish-cloth had
departed, whither is become Saint Thomas of Canterbury?
Go to! what wis I? returned Dorothy. He was cast with yon old
lumber in the back attic, when King Edward's Grace come in. He hath
been o' no count this great while.
Fetch him forth, said Mistress Winter; and, Agnes, do thou
cleanse him well. If my Lady Jane win, why, 'tis but that we love not
to have no dirt in the house: but if my Lady Mary, then shall he go to
the gilder, and I will set him of an high place, for to be seen. Haste
thee about it.
Half an hour later, Agnes (to whom Dorothy deputed the dusty search)
came down from the attic, carrying a battered wooden doll on a stand,
which had once been gaudily painted, but was now worn and soiled,
deprived of an arm, and gashed in sundry places, having been used as a
chopping-block for a short time during the palmy days of the
He'll lack a new nose, remarked Mistress Winter, thoughtfully
considering the poor ill-used article. And an arm must he have, and be
all fresh painted and gilt, belike. Dear heart! it shall be costly
matter! Howbeit, we must keep up with the times, if we would swim and
Keeping up with the times is a very costly business. It costs many
men their fortunes, many their reputations, and some their souls. Yet
men and women are always to be found who will pay the full price,
rather than miss doing it.
The struggle was sharp, but short. On the tenth of July, Lady Jane
made her queenly entry into the Tower, in anticipation of that
coronation which was never to be hers in this world; and on the
twentieth, her nine days' reign was over, and Mary was universally
acknowledged Queen of England. The first important prisoner made was
the Duke of Northumberland, hurled down just as he touched the
glittering prize to the winning of which he had given his life; the
second was Bishop Ridley. Events followed each other with startling
rapidity. The Lady Elizabeth, with her customary sagacity, kept quiet
in the background until the succession of her sister was assured, and
then came openly to London to meet the Queen. Peers were sent to the
Tower in a long procession. Bonner was restored to the See of London,
Gardiner sworn of the Council, Norfolk and Tunstal released from
prison. The Queen made her triumphal entry into her metropolis, and the
new order of things was secured beyond a doubt.
Business was very brisk, for some weeks afterwards, with the carver
and gilder at the bottom of Hosier Lane. Quantities of idols, thrown
six years before to the moles and to the bats, were now searched for,
mended, cleaned, regilt, and set up in elevated niches. Every house
showed at least one, except where those few dwelt who counted not their
lives dear unto them for the Master's sake. Henry Marvell went to the
expense of a new Virgin, which he set up on high in his kitchen; but
Cicely did not put her hand to the accursed thing, and quietly ignored
its existence. Christie, as usual, made himself generally disagreeable,
by low reverences to the image in the presence of his mother, and
making faces at it in that of his fathera state of things which
lasted until he was well beaten by the latter, after which occurrence
he reserved his grimaces for other company.
Mistress Flint was entirely indifferent to the question; but since
every body else was setting up an idol, she followed in the crowd. If
Mr Flint cared, he kept his own counsel. Little Dickon clapped his
hands at the pretty colours and bright gilding; and Will innocently
asked, Mother, wherefore had we ne'er Saint Christopher aforetime?
Come now, be a good lad, and run to Gossip Hickman for a candle!
was his mother's convincing answer.
But this is anticipating, and we must retrace our steps to that
sixth Sunday for which Agnes was waiting in patient hope. Very
anxiously she watched to see whether, when dinner was over, she would
be despatched to Aldgate or Bermondsey. But it happened at last as she
desired; there was nowhere to send her. Mistress Winter, in her usual
considerate style of language, gave Agnes to understand that she had no
wish to see her again before dark; and, clad in the old patched serge
which was her Sunday dress, the poor drudge crept timidly into Saint
From the Lady Chapel, soft and low, came the chant of the Virgin's
Litany. The fashionable people, in rich attire, were promenading up and
down the aisle known as Paul's Walk. In the side chapels a few
worshippers lingered before the shrines; and round a lectern, in one
corner of the nave, were gathered a little knot of men and women,
waiting there in the almost forlorn hope that some priest, more zealous
than the rest, might come up and read to them. They could not now
expect any layman to have the courage to do so. Agnes joined this
I misdoubt there'll be no reading this day, said a grey-headed
Ne'er a priest in Paul's careth to do the same, responded a
forlorn-looking woman. They be an idle set of wine-bibbers, every man
Jack of them.
Hush thee, Goody! whispered a second woman, giving a friendly push
to the first. Keep a civil tongue in thine head, prithee, as whatso
thy thoughts be.
Thoughts make no noise, said the old man, smiling grimly.
All at once there was a little stir among the group, as the tall,
gaunt figure of the Black Friar was seen climbing the steps of the
Brethren! said the voice which Agnes so well remembered, let us
read together the word of God.
And, beginning just where he had opened the book, he read to them
the story of the raising of Lazarus. He gave no word of comment till he
reached the end; then he shut the book and spoke to them.
Brethren! said the ringing voice, this day is come Christ unto
you, that He may awake you out of sleep. And if ye have not heretofore
heard His voice, your sleep, like Lazarus, is that of very death. Now,
O ye dead, hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. No man cometh
unto the Father but by Him. Ye must come at God neither by mass, nor by
penance, nor by confessing, nor by alms-giving, but alonely by Christ.
And him that cometh will Christ in nowise cast out. No thief will He
turn away; no murderer shall hear that he hath overmuch sinned for
pardon; no poor soul shall be denied the unsearchable riches; no weary
heart shall seek for rest and find none. Yea, He is become Christthat
is, God and man togetherfor this very thing, that He might give unto
every one of you that will have them, His pardon and His peace. Come
ye, every one of you, this day, and put this Christ unto the test.
Without another word the Black Friar descended from the desk, and
passed along the nave to the western door with long, rapid strides. And
Agnes went home with her heart full.
Fullwith what strange and new thoughts! No masses, no penances, no
confessions, no alms-givings, to be the means of reconciliation with
God; but only Christ. And was it possible that the Friar meant one
other thing which, he had not saidno intercession of saints? If
Christ were so ready to receive and bless all who would comeif He
were Himself the Mediator for man with Godcould He need a mediator in
Yet if not, thought Agnes with a feeling of sudden terror as the
supposition came to her, what became of the intercession of Mary? She
who was held up as the Lady of Sorrowsjust as Isis, and Cybele, and
Hertha had been before her, but of that Agnes knew nothingshe who was
pictured by the Church as the fountain of mercy and compassionthe
maiden who could sympathise with the griefs of womanhood, the mother
who had influence with, yea, authority over, the divine Sonwhat place
did Friar Laurence find for her in his teaching? The mere imagination
of a religion without Mary, was like the thought of chaos. Hitherto she
had been the motive-power of all piety to Agnes Stone. A sermon without
our Lady! It was shocking even to think of it.
Had Agnes been in the regular habit of attendance at Saint Paul's
Cross, she would have heard many such sermons during the reign of
Edward the Sixth. But Mistress Winter's disapprobation, combined with
her own indifference, had been enough to keep her away, and the
half-discourse of John Laurence at the Cross had been the only sermon
she remembered to have heard during the five years of her residence
with that delectable dame. Many thoughts, therefore, now familiar to
the church-going public, were quite new to her.
If she could but once again come across Friar Laurence!
CHAPTER FIVE. AGNES IS ASKED A
Whate'er I say, whate'er I syng,
Whate'er I do, that hart shall se,
That I shall serue with hart lovyng
That lovyng hart that lovyth me.
Few things are more touching in their way than the fragment of paper
containing the poem from which the motto to this chapter is a
quotation. Among the dusty business manuscripts of the Dean and Chapter
of Canterbury, in the oldest division, relating to the affairs of the
Priory of Christ Church, were found by the Historical Commission two
songs, scribbled on scraps of paper. One was a love-song of the common
type, such as, allowing for difference of diction, might be had in any
second-rate music-shop of the present day. But the other was of a very
different and far higher order. It was the cry of the immured bird
which has been forced from its nest in the greenwood, and for which
life has no other attraction than to sit mournfully at the door of the
cage, looking out to the fair fields, and the blue sky in which it
shall stretch its wings no more. None but God will ever know the name
or the story of that poor heart-weary monk, torn from all that he loved
on earth, who thus pressed his soul on paper, one hundred years
before the dissolution of the monasteries. We can only hope that
through the superincumbent wood, hay, stubble, he dug down to the one
Foundation and was safe: that through the dead words of the Latin
services he heard the Living Voice calling to all the weary and
heavy-laden, and that he too came and found rest.
But to turn to our story.
The days rolled slowly on, undistinguishable from one another save
by the practical divisions of baking-day, washing-day, brewing-day, and
so forth; and, certainly, not distinguished by any increase of comfort
in the outward surroundings of Agnes's lot. She was trying to do her
work heartily, as to the Lord; but it did seem to her that the harder
she tried, the harder Mistress Winter was to please; the crosser was
Joan, the more satirical was Dorothy. The only sunshine of her life was
on those precious Sunday afternoons, when always the tall gaunt figure
might be seen ascending the desk in the nave of Saint Paul's, and,
after the reading from Scripture, came a few pithy, fervent words,
which Agnes treasured up as very gems. But by-and-by, another gleam of
sunlight began to creep into her life.
It was again Sunday afternoon, and the reading in Saint Paul's was
over for that day. But it was too soon to go back to the bosom of that
uncongenial household which Agnes called home; for Mistress Winter was
generally extra crossand the ordinary exhibition was enough without
the extraif Agnes presented herself before she was expected. The now
deserted steps of the Cross were the only place where she could sit;
and accordingly she took refuge there. Not many minutes were over, when
she recognised the dark figure of Friar Laurence passing through the
churchyard with his usual rapid step. All at once a thought seemed to
strike him. He paused, turned, and came straight up to the place where
Agnes was seated.
And how is it with thee, my daughter? he demanded.
Well, Father; and I thank you, said she. Verily, touching outward
things, as aforetime; but touching the inward, methinks the good Lord
learneth me somewhat.
Be thou an apt scholar, said he.
Agnes grew desperate, and resolved to plunge into the matter. She
was afraid lest he should leave her, with one of his usual rapid
movements, before she had got to know what she wanted.
Father! she said hastily, crimsoning as she spoke, pray you, give
me leave to demand a thing of you.
Ask thy will, my daughter.
Pray you, tell me of your grace, wherefore in your goodly
discourses you make at all no mention of our Lady?
The Friar sat down on the steps, when he was asked that question.
What wouldst thou have me for to say of her?
Nay, Father! returned Agnes, humbly. You be a learned priest, and
I but an ignorant maiden; but having alway heard them that did preach
sermons to make much of our Lady, methought I would fain wit, an' I
might ask it at you, wherefore you make thus little.
My child! answered the Friar quietly, who died on the rood for
Jesus Christ our Lord, responded Agnes readily.
What! not Saint Mary?
Certes, nay, Father, as methinks.
And who is it that pleadeth with God for thee?
You have told me, Father, our Lord Christ is He. Yet the folk say
alway, that our Lady doth entreat our Lord for to hear our prayers.
Child! asked the Black Friar, did Christ die for thee against His
I would humbly think, not so, Father, answered Agnes meekly, sith
He needed not to have so done at all without it were His good
Right! was the rejoinder. It was by reason that God the Father
loved thee, that He gave Christ to die for thee; it was by reason that
Christ loved thee, that He bare for thee the pain and shame of the
bitter cross. Tell me, is there in this world any that thou lovest?
Agnes hesitated. It seemed something new and strange to think that
she could love, or could be loved, since the death of her mother. But
she thought, and said, that she loved little Will Flint.
Tell me, then, pursued her teacher, if this little lad were in
some sore trouble, and that thou couldst quickly ease him thereof,
should he need for to run home and fetch his mother to entreat thee?
Surely, nay! responded Agnes. I would do the same incontinent
[immediately], of mine own compassion, and the more if he should ask
it. I would never tarry for his mother!
My daughter, is thy love so much better than His that died for us?
Should Christ tarry till His mother pray Him to be thine help, when of
Himself He loveth thee?
But, FatherI pray you pardon me if I speak foolishly, in mine
unwisdomhow then needeth a mediator at all, if God the Father be so
loving unto men?
God is a King, whose law thou hast broken. He is all perfect;
therefore must His justice be perfect, no less than His mercy. A
lawgiver that were all justice should be a scourge unto men; but a
lawgiver that were all mercy should be as good as no law. God hath
appointed His Son to be thy Surety; and by reason that He is thy
Surety, He is become thine Advocate. He hath said in His Word that the
Son is the Advocate with the Father; but of an advocate with the Son
never a word saith He. Wherefore God saw fit to appoint a Mediator, He
knoweth, not I. I am content that having thus decreed, He hath Himself
provided the same.
Agnes looked up, after a moment's thought, with an expression of
fear and trouble on her white face.
But what then of our Lady?
Wherefore should there be aught beyond what God hath told us?
replied Friar Laurence. She was `highly favoured' and `blessed among
women,' in that she was the mother of the Saviour. Must she needs be
the Saviour to boot?
But we must worship her, trow?
Must we so? `Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only
shalt thou serve.' Let us hold by God's Word, my daughter.
Father, I wis so little thereof! nought at all but what I do hear
of you, said Agnes with a sigh.
Then, my child, he replied gently, list thou the better. And here
is a word for thee, and for all other in thy place: `If any man do
desire to do God's will, he shall know whether doctrine be truth or
no.' Keep that desire ever sharp on the whetstone of prayer. Then,
surely as God is in Heaven, thou shalt know.
The next minute he was gone.
Agnes, sweet-heart! demanded Dorothy that evening, in the sugary
style which she only used when she was in a particularly tormenting
mood, prithee do me to wit of the name of thy dear friend, Master
Black Friar? I beheld him and thee in so sweet converse at the Cross,
it caused me to sigh that I had no such a friend as he. I pray thee
lovingly of his goodly name?
The answers which Dorothy usually received from Agnes to questions
of this kind were as short as civility permitted.
Master John Laurence, said she.
And how long hast been of his cognisance, sweeting? demanded
Dorothy, with more honey on her tongue than ever.
I have wist him some six weeks, said Agnes.
Six weeks! woe worth the day! cried Dorothy, putting on an aspect
of sentimental sorrow. And thou never spakest word, when thou wist how
dear all we do love thee, and the least we might do for joy of thy
finding a new friend were to have the great bell rung at Paul's! Agnes,
my fairest one, this is to entreat us but evil.
Agnes held her peace. She never felt any doubt of the exceedingly
low price to be set upon Dorothy's affections towards her.
Is he a priest, darling? inquired Dorothy in her most coaxing
Ay, replied Agnes as curtly as before.
Good lack, how delightsome! exclaimed Dorothy, clasping her hands
in mock rapture. Do, of thy sweet gentlehood, bring me of his
cognisance. But to think what it were to have a priest thy friend, and
alway get absolution without no trouble at all!
But about the last thing which Agnes had any intention of doing was
to introduce Dorothy to John Laurence.
After that interview at the Cross, Agnes often met the Black Friar.
Sometimes he passed her with a simple blessing in answer to her
reverence; but more frequently he stopped her, and inquired into her
spiritual welfare. She had many a difficulty in which to ask his
counsel; many a trouble in which it was a relief to seek (and always to
find) his sympathy. He was the only friend she had who spoke the
language of Canaan. And it was far less as a priest than as a friend
that Agnes regarded him. He was as different from old Father Dan, the
Cordelier, as Mistress Flint differed from Mistress Winter. Agnes never
knew, when preparing for one of those abhorred periodical interviews
with the Cordelier, what he might say to her, or rather, what he might
not say. She shrank with horror from his inquisitive questioning, and
not much less from his petty humiliating penances. Father Dan's remedy
for angry words was to fast for a week on bread and water; for pride,
to lick a cross in the dust of the church floor; for envy and
covetousness, the administration of a cat-o'-nine-tails on the
shoulders. The Black Friar, on the contrary, led Agnes out of herself
altogether. He had only one topic, of infinite variety, for it was
Jesus Christ. Only once had Agnes asked him whether he would recommend
her to administer the discipline to herself, as a cure for discontent
If thy shoulders be discontented, why, by all means, answered
Friar Laurence, with his grave smile; but if it be thine heart that
murmureth, wherefore chastise thy shoulders?
Agnes never put the question again, and never had recourse to the
discipline. Of fasting, poor girl, she had already too much for her
bodily profit, without any adventitious use of it. And when she began
to pray in reality, the rosary was very soon dropped. When a man's
heart is in earnest, to keep count of his words is not possible.
Meanwhile, in the outer world, the downward progress was very rapid.
One after another the Protestant Bishops were committed to prison, and
the chief preachers shared their fate. The first mass was sung at Saint
Bartholomew's on the eleventh of August, when the people were ready to
tear the officiating priest in pieces; but by the twenty-fourth of the
same month it was heard in other churches in London, and the hearers
were becoming reconciled to the innovation. The once powerful Duke of
Northumberland was beheaded on Tower Hill, notwithstanding his
profession of Popery at the last hour; the married priests were
deprived; the French Protestant residents were banished; the altar was
replaced in Saint Paul's; the Latin services, processions, palms,
ashes, candles, holy bread, holy water, and all the rest of the rubbish
swept away at the Reformation, came back one by one. That portion of
the populace which had no particular religion was well pleased enough
with these changes. The shows and the music were agreeable to them, and
the Gospel sermons which they displaced had not been agreeable.
Some tell us in the present day that young people must be attracted
to church, and that if music and pageant be not given them, their
attendance is not likely to be secured. But what have we gained by thus
going down to the Philistines to sharpen our weapons? Are these young
people attracted to any thing but the music and the pageant? They are
quite clever enough to realise the inconsistency of the man who serves
them with bread in the pulpit, while he hands out husks from the
How many of us mean what we say, when the familiar words fall from
our lips, I believe in the Holy Ghost? Should we think it necessary,
if we really did so, to add all these condiments and spices to the pure
Bread of Life? Would it not be easier to discern the real flavour of
the heavenly ambrosia, if we might have it served without Italian
And is there to be no thought taken for those who are won to Christ
already? to whom He is in Himself the all-sufficient attraction, and
these veils and gewgaws are but annoyances, or at least superfluities?
Where is the building up of the saints, the edifying of the Body of
Christ? Once was it said to Peter, Feed My lambs; but twice Feed My
sheep. How is it that so many are satisfied with a state of things in
which the sheep of Christ are starved and disgusted for the sake of the
lambs, or in many cases rather for the sake of those who are not in the
fold at all?
In February, 1554, a great commotion was caused in the City and
suburbs by the insurrection of Wyatt, which had for its object to
arrest the Queen's projected marriage with Prince Philip of Spain. The
Londoners did not show themselves particularly valiant on this
occasion, and the doughty Doctor Westonone of the most active and
prominent of the Popish clergysang mass to them with a full suit of
armour under his vestments. The Duke of Suffolk, whose sad fate it was
to be perpetually getting himself into trouble in the present, for fear
of calamities which might never occur in the future, ran away in terror
lest he should be suspected of complicity with the rebellion; a
proceeding which of course roused suspicion instantly, and sealed not
only his own fate, but that of his daughter, Lady Jane Grey. The latter
was beheaded on the twelfth of February, the former on the
twenty-third. For weeks the prisons were full, and the gallows
perpetually at work. The Londoners were in so excited and frightened a
stateis it any marvel?that when the phenomena of a mock sun and an
inverted rainbow occurred on the fifteenth, they were terrified beyond
measure. There was enough to terrify them on the earth, without
troubling themselves about the sky. No man's property, liberty, or life
was safe for a moment unless he were a devout servant of holy Church;
and even in that case he held them by a frail tenure, for private spite
might accuse him of heresy, and then for him there was little hope of
mercy. One after another, the few who had hitherto remained staunch
either fled from England, fell from the faith, or suffered at the
These being the awkward circumstances of the case, Mistress Winter
thought it desirable not only to gild Saint Thomas, but to put on a
cloak of piety. The garment was cheap. It was not difficult to attend
evensong as well as matins, and that every day instead of once in the
week; the drama performed in the Cathedral was very pretty, the music
pleasant to hear, the scent of the incense agreeable. It was easy to be
extremely cordial to Father Dan, and to express intense subservience to
his orders. This kind of religion was no inconvenient bridler of the
tongue, nor did it in the least interfere with the pride of the natural
heart. Humiliation is one thing, and humility is quite another.
Dorothy began seriously to consider whether she should take the
veil. Her disposition was a mixture of the satirical and the
sentimental. There would be a good deal of eclat about the
proceeding. It was pleasant to be regarded as holier than other people.
Nevertheless there were drawbacks; for Dorothy was not fond of hard
scrubbing, and was uncommonly fond of venison and barberry pie. And she
had a suspicion that rather more scrubbing than venison generally fell
to the lot of the holy sisters of Saint Clare. But the idea of the
implicit obedience to authority which would in that case be required of
her decided Dorothy to remain in the world. She thought there was
more hope of managing a husband than a lady abbess.
Nearly two years had passed away since Agnes had first heard Friar
Laurence preach at Saint Paul's Cross, and once more Corpus Christi had
come round. Since that time she had grown much in the spiritual life,
though she had received no outward help beyond those rare Sunday
readings, and her occasional interviews with the Friar. Though Corpus
Christi was still uncertainly kept, it naturally fell in with
Mistress Winter's new policy of veneered piety to be exceedingly
respectful to all fasts and festivals. Accordingly she gave a grand
banquet to some dozen acquaintances, and sent Agnes about her business.
There was likely to be reading on a holy day, and Agnes bent her steps
towards the Cathedral; but finding when she reached it that it was a
little too early, she sat down on the steps of the Cross to wait. There
was no one about; for most of those who cared to keep the feast did not
care to hear sermons or Bible-readings; and Agnes was thinking so
intently as hardly to be conscious whether she was alone or not.
Good morrow, friend! said a voice beside her; and John Laurence
sat down a little way from her on the steps.
Good morrow, Father, answered Agnes.
Agnes, I would seek thy counsel.
Agnes looked up in astonishment. He seek her counsel! Was it not she
who had always sought his?
Good lack, Father! she exclaimed in her surprise.
John Laurence leaned his head thoughtfully on his hand, and made no
further communication for some seconds.
I know a Black Friar, Agnes, he said, speaking slowly, as if
weighing each word, who seeth no cause, neither in God's Word, neither
in common reason, wherefore priests should not be wedded men, as thou
wist that many, these ten years past, have been. But he is yet loth to
break his mind unto the maid, seeing that many perils do now seem to
lie in the way of wedded priests, and he cannot tell if it were well
done or no, that he should speak unto her. If penalty fell on him,
being thus wed, it should not leave her scatheless. Tell me, now, how
thinkest thou? should he do well to break his mind, or no? A maid may
judge better than a man how a maid should take it.
I would think, Father, answered the astonished Agnes, that a maid
which did truly love any man should not suffer uncertain sorrow to
stand betwixt her and him.
Yet how, if it were certain?
Nay, nor so neither.
Go to! Put it this case were thine own. Shouldst thou be afeared to
wed with a priest?
Agnes did not quite like such a home question. Yet she replied
calmly, without any idea of the other question which was coming.
Methinks, no; not if I truly loved him.
And couldst thou truly loveme, Agnes?
For an instant Agnes gave no answer. She had as little expected to
have that question asked her as she had expected to be created a
Say sooth, if thou shouldst be feared, said John Laurence; and the
faint suspicion of pain in his tone unloosed her lips at once.
Afraid! Afraid to leave all her dreary past behind her, and to begin
a new life, with her cup of gladness full to the very brim? John
Laurence was satisfied with his answer. But, for the first time, not
one word of reading or comment reached Agnes's mind in an intelligible
May be, my gracious Lady, your good Ladyship should like your
palfrey called! were the words that greeted Agnes when she made her
reappearance in Mistress Winter's kitchen, having certainly been more
forgetful than usual of the flight of time. Or, may be, it might
please your honourableness to turn your goodly eyes upon the clock, and
behold whether it be meet time for a decent maid to come home of a
feast-day even? By my troth, I would wager thou hadst been to
Westminster and hadst danced a galliardo in the Queen's Grace's hall,
did I not know that none with 's eyes in 's head should e'er so much as
look on thee. Thou idle doltish gadabout! Dost think I keep thee in
board and lodgment and raiment for to go a-gossiping with every idle
companion thou mayest meet? Whither hast been, thou dawdlesome patch?
Up to no good, I warrant thee!
I have been to Paul's, Mistress, an' it like you, was all that
Soothly, it liketh me well, sweeting! Alisting some fat pickpurse
friar, with his oily words, belike?
I have been a-talking with a friend, said Agnes boldly.
Marry come up! So my sweet young damosel hath made friends, quotha!
Prithee, was it my Lady's Grace of Suffolk thou wentest forth to see,
or my Lady of Norfolk, trow? Did she give thee a ride o' her velvet
pillion, bestudded with gold?
Agnes thought it would be best to get it over. The storm which must
come might as well fall soon as late. She stood up, and looked the
terrible Mistress Winter in the face.
Please it you, Mistress Winter, I am handfast to wedlock; and he
that shall be mine husband it is that I have talked withal this even.
And having so spoken, Agnes waited quietly for the tempest.
CHAPTER SIX. THE SHADOW BEFORE.
Oh for the faith to grasp Heaven's bright For Ever,
Amid the shadows of earth's Little While!
Sheer amazement kept Mistress Winter silent for one moment after
Agnes had made her startling revelation. That her bondslave should have
dared to dream of freedom was almost too preposterous for belief. And
she was powerless to stop this most insubordinate proceeding; for,
never anticipating such a calamity, and not fond of spending money,
except on herself and her daughters, she had not, as she might have
done, bound Agnes her apprentice. But after that minute of astonished
silence, a thunderstorm such as even Agnes had never before
experienced, burst upon her devoted head. If Mistress Winter might be
believed, no such instance of rebellion, perversity, ingratitude, and
all imaginable wickedness, had ever before occurred since Adam and Eve
quitted Paradise. Agnes was asked to what she expected to come in this
life, and where she expected to go after it. When Mistress Winter
became weary of scolding, which was not soon, Joan took up the tale,
and when she was tired Dorothy succeeded, and as all were gifted with
considerable powers of speech, the ball was kept going until bedtime.
Then Agnes was allowed to creep to her coarse rug and bundle of straw,
feeling herself in peace at last.
Thenceforward there was not much peace left, at least in the
day-time. Having been interrogated as to the name and calling of her
suitor, Agnes was at once dubbed Madam Dominic, my Lady's Grace of
Blackfriars, and various similar titles. Dorothy, clasping her hands in
mock rapture, falsely averred that she had foreseen this delightful
ending to the story, when she caught sight of Agnes and Friar Laurence
talking at the Cross; and proceeded to give an ironical description of
the Friar's personal charms, sufficiently spiced to be very amusing to
her mother and sister, and just sufficiently seasoned with truth to be
exceedingly galling to Agnes. Henceforth she took every opportunity to
play ill-natured practical jokes on the latter. It was not likely that
Agnes would particularly enjoy having shreds of dirty flannel and linen
flung into her lap, with a tittering remark that they would enrich her
trousseau; nor feeling, when she sat at needlework, a rotten egg gently
broken over her head, with the bland intimation that it was to dress
her hair for the wedding; nor the presentation, in solemn form, of torn
and faded ribbons, accompanied by the information that they would
become her sweetly on her bridal. Of all approach to wedding attire
poor Agnes was devoid. She had but two gowns in the worldthe
washed-out linen bed-gown and stuff petticoat in which her work was
generally done, and the well-patched serge which replaced it upon holy
days. But Agnes bore all these outrages with a patience born of long
practice, and nourished by glad hope. It was now May, and it had been
agreed with John Laurence that the twenty-ninth of the following March
was to set her free.
They would gladly have made arrangements for an earlier date, had it
been possible. But John Laurence was not much richer than Agnes
herself, and they had to wait till he thought that he could reasonably
afford to marry. Beside this, it was a most perilous time for a priest
to think of wedlock. Things might change. Hope told that flattering
tale which she is so fond of recapitulating to young peopleoften
most unjustifiably. Who could tell what might happen, if they waited?
Meanwhile, what was happening was not particularly cheering, at
least to the apprehension of the Gospellers. Wyatt's insurrection had
been put down, and its leader beheaded; and its fruitlessness was shown
by the setting out of the Queen's envoys to escort Philip to England,
while Wyatt yet lay in prison waiting for his trial. The Princess
Elizabeth, sent to the Tower in March, on charge of complicity in
Wyatt's evil deedswho will ever know whether it was true?had been
released (at Philip's request, it was said) a few days before Corpus
Christi. Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer lay imprisoned at Oxford, and
under sentence of death. Nearly every day somebody was exhibited in the
pillorywomen as well as menthe most frequent charge being, as it
appears in the diary of that comical speller, Mr Henry Machynspekyng
yll of good Qwen Mare. The difficulty which presents itself to the
present generation is, how else her subjects could well speak of her
proceedings. However, they could have held their peace. Probably the
discreet portion of the community did so.
It may seem a little strange, on the surface, when one considers how
it was that the reign of Mary was felt so galling, that the accession
of Elizabeth was welcomed with such a fever of delight and triumph,
such a sense of relief and freedom, as was undoubtedly the caseand
yet that men bore the former and made no sign, waited for the latter
with indescribable longing, but without any attempt to bring it about.
Perhaps we must attribute this partly to that law-abiding instinct
inherent in the ordinary Englishman: yet I think still more to the fact
that as a rule, at all times, in all respects, the majority of the
nation are indifferent. There were men who died at the stake in defence
of the free Gospel. There were men who kindled those fires, and stamped
out the truth, so far as in them lay. But these, even when put
together, were still a minority. The majority were the watchers who
stood round the stake, and who cared nothing for the cause on either
sidewho went to see a martyrdom as a Spaniard goes to see a
bull-fight, with neither sympathy nor enmity towards the martyr. Of
course, these would be, as to religious profession, what they found it
to their own interest that they should be. The most popular and crowded
of all the Seven Churches is the Church of Laodicea.
Because thou art lukewarm... I will spue thee out of My
It was not without some difficulty that Agnes contrived to enjoy an
occasional, and always short, interview with her betrothed. Such
interviews were generally followed by forced audiences of Dorothy, who
professed an entirely hypocritical interest in the progress of the
love-match, and did her best to make Agnes recount what her lover had
said to her. Agnes, however, was wise enough to keep out of the trap
laid for her, and Dorothy took little by her motion.
Sometimes the lovers met for a few minutes before or after the
reading in the Cathedral; sometimes there could be a few words as Agnes
carried her pails to and from the Horsepool; once or twice, when
Mistress Winter had barred the door on her for misdemeanour, they
walked to some quiet nook in the fields near Clerkenwell, refreshing
themselves with converse on the one grand subject nearest to both
heartsnearer even than each other. But the readings in the Cathedral
were becoming much fewer than of old. It was a perilous thing to do
now, and John Laurence was a marked man. Not that he feared danger: his
motto was that of the old French knightFais ce que dois, advienne
que pourra! But his brother clergy were afraid lest it should be known
that such compromising proceedings as regular Scripture lessons were
permitted at Saint Paul's. Some from dislike of the Bible-reading, a
few from honest kindly feeling towards the reader, managed to take care
that the lectern was otherwise occupied, during the hour which alone
John Laurence could usually spare from other duties.
At last King Philip landed in England, and his meeting and marriage
with the Queen took place at Winchester. The City and suburbs blazed
with bonfires, and rang with bells; the Te Deum was chanted in
every church; the utmost delight had to be felt, or at any rate
professed, by all who did not wish to be reported as disaffected
persons. On the twelfth of August, the royal bride and bridegroom made
their state entry into London. A heretic had been burnt at Uxbridge
four days previous.
Every house in Cow Lane, imitating every other street in London,
poured forth its members to see the procession. The good folks locked
their doors, and left their houses to take care of themselves. Agnes,
who liked a pretty sight as well as other people, had taken her stand
with the crowd, and was looking out with interest as the first of the
advancing horsemen who opened the procession became visible, when
suddenly she felt a hand upon her own. She looked up into the welcome
face of John Laurence.
Art come to see the sight, John? she asked with a smile.
I am come to see two sights, said he, returning it,but his
smiles were always grave. To wit, the King's and Queen's Graces of the
one hand, and Agnes Stone of the other. Hast a mind for a walk toward
the Clerks' Well, when all be gone by?
With a very good will, she answered.
But the pageant was coming past now, and they exchanged the use of
their tongues for that of their eyes. It was entirely equestrian, and
came over London Bridge, from Suffolk Place, where the King and Queen
had passed the night. Our friends were not prepossessed by the royal
bridegroom, whose low stature, want of beauty, and gloomy expression,
struck them in the same light that they did most Englishmen, as
denoting neither grace nor graciousness. Only two persons are recorded
ever to have loved PhilipQueen Mary herself, and her successor, the
fair and sagacious Elizabeth of France.
Just opposite the place where Agnes and the Friar stood was an
allegorical group, of which one painted figure, supposed to be Henry
the Eighth, was holding out to the Queen an open Bible, inscribed with
the words Verbum Dei. But before night a warning had been
conveyed to the authorities that the Queen was offended with this
representation of her father, and the Bible was painted out so hastily
that the hand of the figure was partly obliterated with it.
When the pageant had gone by, and the crowd had sufficiently
dispersed, John Laurence and Agnes set out for their walk to
Clerkenwell. They found a shady field, in a corner of which they sat
down, and the Friar drew from his pocket a Latin Psalter,the only
form of the Bible with which it was then safe to be caught. From this
he read to Agnes the hundred and seventh Psalm, translating it as he
went on into the only tongue she knew.
And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to the
City of Habitation.
He paused at that seventh verse, and half closing the book, sat
looking thoughtfully into the blue heaven.
Very vaguely did Agnes enter into his deeper thoughts. Her ideas
concerning public events, and possible future dangers, were of a very
misty description. She kept silent a moment. Then, when he did not
speak, she said
By the right way! he said dreamily, rather as if speaking to
himself than to her. And He leads them, too, inportum voluntatis
eorumto the haven of their desire.
That is, Heaven? said Agnes questioningly. Her admiration for his
knowledge and wisdom was high.
That is Heaven, he replied in the same tone as before.
John, what thinkest Heaven shall be like?
Like God! said the Black Friar slowly. Therefore, glorious
wonderfulperfect in every partholysatisfying.
And right fair and beauteous, doubtless, she added, by way of
completing the picture.
That which is perfect must be fair, said John Laurence. He saith
to His Church, `Thou art all fair, My love, and a stain is not in
thee.' That is, to thee, and me, Agnes.
To me? she repeated, in an awe-struck voice. Nay, how so,
trow? I am all o'er a stain with my sins.
The answer was in inspired words. `For perfect wert thou, in My
beauty which I put upon thee, saith the Lord God.'
Agnes sat still, trying to take in the idea.
Hear yet again another His saying to the Church: `Thou hast wounded
Mine heart, My sister-spouse; thou hast wounded Mine heart in one of
thine eyes, and in one chain of thy neck.' Now what is the eye?is it
not a member of the body? Doth not this learn us that every one of
Christ's members hath his proper and peculiar love of Him, that cannot
belong to any other? Yea, more; for the chain of the neck is not a
member, but only the ornament of a member. Wherefore one gracefor the
ornaments of the soul be his gracesone grace of one Christian soul is
enough to delight Christ's heart.
Both were silent for a while, Agnes learning her new lesson.
Mine heart! said John Laurence suddenly, the right way at times
looks like the wrong.
What meanest thou, John? said Agnes, looking into his face, and
startled by its expression of pain.
Dear heart, we know not what lieth afore us. We be so blind, Agnes!
But He knows. It is enough, if we are ready to follow Him. Canst thou
dare follow, as well through the flood and the fire as through the
I cannot tell, she said tremulously. I would try.
There be two staves to lean on in our weariness, he said. The one
is for earth: `Fear not, because I am with thee.' And the other is of
Heaven, but gildeth earth with hope: `Where I am, there shall My
servant be.' There must be glory and sweetness, where is Jesus Christ.
Long years afterwards, Agnes recalled those words.
CHAPTER SEVEN. SAD TIDINGS.
But of all sad words by tongue or pen,
The saddest are these`It might have been!'
Though the majority of the nation were comparatively indifferent to
the religious changes that had been effected, there were certain
political occurrences which they viewed with less equanimity. One of
these was the vast number of Spaniards brought over by Philip. It was
reckoned doubtless with some exaggerationthat in September, 1554,
three Spaniards might be seen in London to every Englishman. The rumour
ran that five thousand more were on the way. The nation was both vexed
and alarmed. Was England to be reduced, like the Netherlands, to the
condition of a mere outlying province of Spain?
Before eight weeks had run out from the day of Philip's arrival in
London, his hand upon the reins was plainly visible. He had been heard
to say that if he believed a member of his own body to be tainted with
heresy, he would amputate it immediately and without remorse. The
Gospellers were not left quite ignorant of what they might reasonably
It was on a quiet morning in October that Agnes was on her way to
Horsepool, when she was overtaken by Cicely Marvell, carrying a yoke of
water-pails like herself.
Good morrow, Mistress Marvell! said the former. Dear heart! but
you look something troubled belike. Is any sick with you?
Cicely and Agnes were quite aware that their religious sentiments
were alike. It is in the cloudy and dark day that those who fear the
Lord speak often one to another.
Heavy news, my maid! said Cicely in a low voice, and shaking her
head. Yesternight sixty folk were arrest in London for reading of
Poor folk, trow?
All manner, as I do hear.
Neither high nor low, in those days, were safe, if suspicion of
heresy were once roused against them. The higher class were the more
likely to be detected; yet there was a little more hesitation in
bringing them to the stake. But it was easy to see, then as now, that
as a rule it was the poor of this world whom God had chosen to be rich
in faith. For every rich man or titled lady who incurred bodily danger
through faithfulness to the truth, there were at least fifty of those
whom the world regards as nobody.
There was a strange mixture of comedy and tragedy in the events of
those days. The miracle-play alternated with the pillory, and the
sight-seers went from the burning of a heretic in the morning to see
the new athletic games, introduced by the Spaniards, in the afternoon
in Palace Yard. A grand tournament at Court preceded, and a
bear-baiting followed, the humiliating spectacle of the Parliament of
England kneeling at the feet of Cardinal Pole, and abjectly craving
absolution from Rome. One manSir Ralph Bagenallstood out, and stood
up, when all his co-senators were thus prostrate in the dust. He was
religiously a Gallio, not a Gospeller; but he was politically a sturdy
Englishman, and no coward. Strange to say, no harm came to him. Nay, is
it strange, when we read, Them that honour Me, I will honour, and
Whosoever shall lose his life for My sake and the Gospel's, the same
shall save it?
There were no longer any sermons preached at the Cross that a
Gospeller cared to hear. One was forthcoming regularly every Sunday;
but the preachers were Pendleton the renegade, Feckenham the suave, or
Gardiner the man of blood. The uneasy feeling of a section at least of
the populace was shown by frays at Charing Cross, incipient
insurrections in Suffolk, assaults on priests at the altar, and
unaccountable iconoclasms. The image of Becket was twice found broken
by mysterious means; and a cat, tonsured, and arrayed in miniature
vestments, was discovered hanging on the gallows in Cheapside, while
the offer of a large reward failed to reveal the offender.
During this time, Mistress Winter's piety had been blooming in a
wonderful manner. She kept Saint Thomas of Canterbury on a small table,
with a lamp burning before it, and every morning diligently courtesied
to this stock and stone. When her hands were not otherwise busied, a
rosary was pretty sure to be found in them, on which she recounted
Paters and Aves with amazing celerity. The bitterness of her tongue
kept pace with her show of religiousness. Ugly adjectives, and uglier
substantives, were flung at Agnes all the day long, and whether she
deserved reproof or not appeared to make no difference. But though
words and even blows were not spared, Mistress Winter went no further.
Agnes was much too useful to be denounced as a heretic, at least so
long as she remained at her post in Cow Lane. She did all the
unpleasant work in the house, besides filling the convenient offices of
a vent for Joan's temper, and a butt for Dorothy's ridicule. But though
getting rid of her was not to be thought of, words were cheap, however
peppery, and a box on the ear was a great relief to the feelings of the
giver those of the recipient not being taken into account. So Agnes
got plenty of both.
Sweet-heart, how earnest by yonder black eye? anxiously demanded
John Laurence, on the last Sunday afternoon in January, when Agnes and
he were coming back from their favourite stroll towards Clerkenwell.
'Tis nought new, belike, said she with a smile.
Please God, returned he, it shall be ancient matter and by-gone,
He stood still a moment, looking over the crowded chimneys of the
City, just beyond the green field through which they were walking.
Doth the thought e'er come to thy mind, Agnes, asked he, how soon
all things shall be bygones? At the most afore many years,yea, afore
many days, it may be,thou and I shall be away hence from this world.
And even this great city, that doth look thus firm and substantial, ere
long shall not be left thereof one trace. Yea, heaven and earth shall
pass away: but Christ's words shall not pass away.
Agnes listened with interest, but gave no answer beyond a gesture of
I have fallen to think much of late, said the Black Friar, of one
word of His,assuredly not to pass away, nor be forgotten`Whosoever
shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which
is in Heaven.' Verily, it were awful matter, to draw down on a man's
head this public denying of Jesu Christ.
Dear heart! said Agnes, at once sympathetically and deprecatingly.
Ah! he replied, with a sigh of self-distrust: hope is one matter,
and belief another.
Dost fear some ill work, trow? she asked doubtfully.
John Laurence did not answer at once. He spoke after a minute,
dreamily, as if to himself; a habit to which Agnes was now quite
`Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no
more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear
Him, which after that He hath killed hath power to cast into Hell.'
The Friar walked on for a few seconds with his usual rapidity, and
then suddenly stopped again.
Men think lightly of these things, dear heart, said he. Most men
have a far greater care lest they break a limb, or lose an handful of
gold, than lest they be cast into Hell. Yet see thou how Christ took
the same. And He knew,as we cannot know,what is Hell.
The good Lord keep us! ejaculated Agnes fervently.
Amen! responded the Black Friar. `He shall keep the feet of His
saints.' It is not we that keep ourselves. 'Tis not we that hold Him,
no more than the babe holdeth himself in his mother's arms. And the
mother were more like to leave the babe fall into the fire or the
water, than He to loose hold upon His trustful child.
He was trying to prepare her for what might come. But she was not
Cold though it was, they had a pleasant walk that afternoon. The
time of release was drawing so near, that Agnes felt almost as bright
and glad as if it were already come. At Cow Cross, her betrothed bade
her farewell, saying with his grave smile that he would not come
further, lest it should cost her an extra taunt from Mistress Dorothy.
Agnes was quite satisfied to be saved the small torment in question.
She did not realise how soon the time might come when it would seem to
her a lighter thing to endure Dorothy's ridicule for a calendar year,
than to miss one glimpse of that face.
We recognise such facts as thesewhen they come.
The next day passed over uneventfully. The Tuesday morning rose,
bright, clear, and frosty. Agnes was in spirits perfectly marvellous,
considering what she had to endure. She was making melody in her heart
as she carried her pails to the pump, thinking gladly how short her
time of trial was growing, and how bright her future would be. It
mattered nothing to her that she would have to work as hard as ever;
nothing, that she must live in a single room of a crowded street in the
heart of the City; nothing, that John Laurence was a worn, gaunt man of
more than twice her years, and utterly unattractive in the eyes of the
world; nothing, that the day was bitterly cold, and her thin bed-gown a
very insufficient protection. Everything was rose-colour to her. Had
she not Christ in Heaven, and one honest heart that loved her upon
When Agnes came in sight of the pump, she perceived a little child
sitting crouched upon the step of the trough, and evidently crying. Her
heart was not hard to touch, and setting down her pails she laid her
hand on the boy's shoulder. He had been too much absorbed in his grief
to notice her approach, but when she spoke he looked up, showing the
now tear-stained face of little Will Flint.
Why, Will, my little lad!what matter now?
Will burst into a fresh paroxysm without answering.
Metrusteth thou hast not been an ill lad?
Will shook his curly head.
Nay, what then? Is Mother sick?
Come, tell me what it is. Mayhap we shall find some remedy.
O Mistress Agnes! came with a multitude of sobs.
Nay, then, tell me now! pleaded Agnes.
O Mistress Agnes, they have ta'en him!
Ta'en whom, my lad? Sure, thy little brother Dickon is not stole
No! sobbed Will. But, O Mistress!they've ta'en him to yon ugly
prison, afore those wicked folk, and they call him an hereheretic,
and they say he'll ne'er come out againnay, never!
This was manifestly something serious.
But ta'en whom, Will, dear?not thy father?
Oh nay, nay!the Black Friar.
What Black Friar, Will? Agnes hardly knew her own voice.
Why, our Black FriarFather Laurence. There was only one.
For a minute there was dead silence in replya minute, during which
the rose-colour died out of sky and earth, and the glad music was
changed to funeral bells. Then Agnes rose from her stooping position.
There was only one! she repeated, with a far-away look in her
eyes, which were fixed on the tower of the Cathedral, but saw nothing.
He was so good to me and Dickon! sobbed Will.
Child, wilt do thy best to find out whither they have ta'en him,
and when he is to be had afore the Bishops, and then come and tell me?
Will, occupied in rubbing his eyes with his small sleeve, nodded
assent. Agnes filled her pails mechanically, and carried them home. The
world must go on, if the sun would never rise any more for her.
Early the next morning Will brought her news that the six prisoners,
of whom John Laurence was one, had been taken to the Counter, and that
on the eighth of February they were to appear before Bishop Gardiner at
Winchester Palace, Southwark. Knowing that Mistress Winter would soon
hear of the arrest, if she had not already done so, Agnes made no
attempt to conceal the news. She told it herself, and requested
permission to go and hear the examination.
What, on a brewing-day! cried Mistress Winter. Good sooth, nay!
They be right sure to be put by to another day. If that be not brewing,
nor baking, nor cleaning, nor washing-day, may be thou canst be let go
for an half-hour then.
Prithee, Mistress Sacramentary, don thy velvet gown! spitefully
The hall of the Bishop's Palace was crowded that morning. The six
prisoners were led out in order, according to their social
rank:first, William Hunter, the apprentice-boy of Brentford, only
sixteen years of age; then Thomas Tomkins, the weaver; Stephen Knight,
the barber of Maldon; William Pygot, the butcher of Braintree; John
Laurence, the Black Friar; lastly, Thomas Hawkes, the only one in the
group who wrote himself gentleman. They were such common,
contemptible people, that Gardiner thought them beneath his august
notice, and scornfully referred them to Bonner's jurisdiction. They
were marched at once to the Consistory sitting in Saint Paul's
Chapter-House, whither the crowd followed.
The Consistory demanded of the accused persons
Do ye believe that the body of Christ is in the Sacrament, without
any substance of bread and wine remaining?
The prisoners replied that this doctrine was not agreeable to
Do ye believe that your parents, your sponsors, the King, Queen,
nobility, clergy, and laity of the realm, believing this doctrine, were
true and faithful Christians, or no?
If they so believed, was the answer, they were therein deceived.
Did ye, yourselves, in time past, truly believe the same, or no?
They said, Ay, heretofore; but not now.
Do ye believe that the Spirit of Christ has been, is, and will be,
with the Church, not suffering her to be deceived?
We do so believe, replied the prisoners.
Have you, pursued Bonner, being infamed to me as heretics, not
been a good space in my house, and been there fed, and instructed by
those desirous of your soul's welfareand yet you refuse this belief?
The accused admitted all this.
Will ye now conform?
In no whit, until it be proved by Holy Scripture, came the
If not, demanded the Bishop, what grounds have you to maintain
your opinion? Who is of the same opinion? What conference have ye had
therein with any? What comfort and relief had you from any, and their
names and dwelling-places? [Note 1.]
This was a deliberate request that they would accuse their friends
and teachers. But the prisoners did not respond.
We have no ground but the truth, they said, which we were taught
by Doctor Taylor, of Hadleigh, and such other.
Since Taylor of Hadleigh was already burnt to ashes, this admission
could do him no harm.
The accused persons were then remanded until nine o'clock the next
morning, and advised in the meantime to bethink them what they would
It was Cicely Marvell who told all this in a low voice to Agnes
Stone, as they stood together under a tree in the meadow behind Cow
Keep a good heart, dear maid! said Cicely encouragingly. May be
it shall be better than we might fear. `The Lord is very pitiful, and
of tender mercy.'
But Agnes shook her head. To such a trial she at least anticipated
no other end than death. Too well she knew that, like the Master whose
servant John Laurence was, for envy they had delivered him.
Perhaps, too, her spirituality was of a higher type than that of
Cicely. She recognised that the Lord's tender mercy lies not in sparing
pain to His chosen, but in being with them when they pass through the
purifying waters, and bearing them in His arms through the fire which
is to consume their earthliness, but not themselves. His is a love
which will inflict the pain that is to purify, and tenderly comfort the
sufferer as he passes through it.
Agnes hardly knew how she passed that Friday evening. Her usual
duties were all done; but she went through them with eyes that saw not,
with deafened ears on which Mistress Winter's abuse fell pointless, for
which Dorothy's sarcasms had no meaning. God was in Heaven, and John
Laurence and his persecutors were on earth: beyond this there was to
her nobody and nothing. The vexations for which she used to care were
such mere insignificant pin-pricks that it was impossible even to
notice them now.
So the Friday evening, and the sleepless night, wore away: and the
Saturday morning broke.
Note 1. These questions, in point of wording, are very much
CHAPTER EIGHT. THE CROWN OF LIFE.
Welcome scaffold for precious Christ.
Reverend James Renwick.
It so happened that the 9th of February, to which the prisoners had
been remanded, was not a day devoted to baking, brewing, cleaning, or
washing, in the household of Mistress Winter; who, not in complimentary
language, gave Agnes her permission to spend half-an-hour in the
Already, before the sitting of the Consistory, Bishop Bonner had
sent, first for Pygot and Knight, and afterwards for Tomkins and
Hunter, into his great chamber, and asked them if they were willing
to recant. They all refused, not being persuaded in their consciences
that the doctrines propounded to them were true. These four were then
brought into the Consistory, and a paper was offered them to sign,
containing a synopsis of their belief. The statement appears to have
been a fair and true definition of their creed, for all four attached
their names to it without hesitation.
It was just at this time that Agnes entered the Chapter-house, as
these prisoners were being removed, and John Laurence was brought
Pray you, come hither to me, said Bonner, with a show of
friendliness, due to his prisoner's priesthood.
Calmly enough, to outward show, Agnes looked on his face as he came
up to the Bishop,that face so plain and uncomely to other eyes, so
dear and beautiful to hers. There would be time enough for weeping
hereafter, in that dreary future, of which the vista seemed to stretch
before her in illimitable desert: but now she could afford to lose no
tone of that yoke, no moment of the time permitted for gazing on that
face. She might never see him again until they should stand together
before the throne of God.
John Laurence answered every question asked of him calmly and
firmly. He admitted that he was a priest, eighteen years in orders, and
sometime a Black Friar professed. But Bonner's spies had told him more
than this; and it was not his wont to omit the wringing of a heretic's
Art thou not ensured unto a maid in way of marriage?
I am so, my Lord, said John Laurence.
Didst thou truly propose to wed with her?
By God's leave, I did.
And Agnes Stone, standing in the crowd, heard herself thus confessed
before God and mana confession which, she full well knew, stamped him
who made it, in the eyes of these his judges, with indelible disgrace.
And what is thine opinion on the Sacrament? inquired Bonner in a
It is a remembrance of Christ's body.
Then what sayest thou of them which believe, as we do, that it
is Christ's body?
I say that they are deceived.
Thinkest thou that all do err which believe not as thou dost? said
Bonner with his usual bluster.
I do say so, my Lord, was the determined answer.
Once more the prisoners were remanded, but only until afternoon.
Agnes did not dare to stay. She had ascertained from Cicely Marvell,
whom she saw in the crowd, that prisoners' friends were often permitted
a farewell interview between sentence and execution; and if she meant
to apply for that, she must not risk Mistress Winter's anger by
remaining now. Cicely promised to bring her news of the sentence.
Lo' you now! here cometh my fair Lady Dominica! was Dorothy's
salutation, as Agnes re-entered the kitchen. What news, sweet Mistress
Blackfriars? Is thy goodly sweet-heart consecrate Lord Bishop of
Duneery, or shall he but be Master Doctor Dean of Foolscap?
Agnes vouchsafed no answer.
Woe betide us! here is Madam Gospeller hath lost her tongue! cried
Dorothy. Do but give me to wit, prithee, sweetest Sacramentary! So
dear love I all Black Friars, I may never sleep till I know.
They be yet again remanded, replied Agnes dreamily.
Though she felt sure what the end would be, it was impossible to
realise it. Surely all that was passing must be some dreadful dream,
from which she would presently awake, perhaps in the little bed which
used to be hers in her aunt's pretty cottage, and find that all the
past, for eight years, had been a groundless vision.
Yet Dorothy's torturing pin-pricks were real enough. All day long
she persisted in worrying Agnes by pretended sympathyso patently
pretended that it was excessively annoying. The towel was snatched from
her as she was washing her hands, with an entreaty that Dorothy might
take that trouble for her; the mop was hidden where she could not find
it, with an assurance that it would but increase the bitterness of her
sorrow to discover it; invisible strings were stretched across the
kitchen where she was sure to fall over them,in order, as Dorothy
tenderly intimated, to turn her thoughts from the painful anxiety which
she must be enduring. It seemed to Agnes as if night and certainty
would never come. Yet how could she wish it, when she felt so sure what
the awful certainty would be? The hours wore on; the dark came at last;
and when the night had fairly set in, Cicely Marvell's soft tap was
heard on Mistress Winter's door. Agnes opened it herself. Dorothy had
indeed rushed to do it, but fortunately Agnes contrived to reach it
before her. It was evident that Cicely was loth to tell her terrible
news, though Dorothy begged her, over Agnes' shoulder, to relieve her
heartrending suspense. Was it from one faint throb of womanly feeling
in her usually hard heart, that Mistress Winter, in sharp tones,
summoned Dorothy within, and left Agnes to hear the news alone?
Speak, Mistress Marvell, said Agnes, in that preternaturally calm
manner which she had worn from the first. It is death.
Ay, poor Agnes! It is death by fire.
And in the meantime?
They lie in Newgate. He shall be taken to Colchester to suffer,
being he was there born, the 28th of this March.
Then he dieth on the 29th?
He was to die on the very day they had fixed for their marriage. To
what had Agnes been looking forward so joyfully during those past
When the prisoners had reappeared before Bonner in the afternoon,
they were asked, for the last time, if they would recant their heresy.
We are not heretics, they replied; the contrary is heresy.
Then, on these six contumacious men, was passed in due form the
sentence of death.
Each was to suffer at the place of his birth: Thomas Tomkins in
Smithfield, on the 16th of March; William Hunter, the poor
apprentice-boy, at Brentford, on the twenty-sixth; William Pygot at
Braintree, and Stephen Knight at Maldon, on the twenty-eighth.
It was only one interview with the prisoner for which Agnes dared to
hope, and she waited for it until the day before he was to be degraded
from his priestly office. Mistress Winter's momentary sympathy, if it
had existed, was over, and she grumbled a good deal when Agnes
preferred her request for a few hours' leave of absence. But she
granted the boon at last.
It will be the last time, said Agnes quietly.
No more meetings at Paul's Cross,no more summer walks to
Clerkenwell,no more readings from the Cathedral lectern! Instead of
that, for him the chariot of fire, and then the King's welcome home,
the white robe, and the palm of victory, and the crown of life. And for
her,ah! what? It might be a forty years' wandering in the Wilderness
of Sinai, with the River of Jordan at its close, ere she could come to
the shore of the Promised Land. Yet the Promised Land was sure, as was
A strange specimen of human nature was Alexander, the keeper of
Newgate prison: a man who could request Bishop Bonner to burn some more
heretics because the cells were inconveniently crowded, and then, after
a good supper, sit down and play the fiddle. He was extremely fond of
music, though it scarcely exercised a soothing influence in his
exceedingly savage breast.
Happily for Agnes, this gentleman happened to be in a good temper
when she presented herself at his gates. He admitted her into the great
hall, and after a short delay took her down to the low damp cell where
condemned prisoners were confined. There she found John Laurence.
They were both very calm,these two, to each of whom in that hour's
last meeting the bitterness of death was passing. Each tried to be
brave for the other's sake; each strengthened the other's hand in God.
This is scarce what we looked for, sweet-heart, said the Black
Friar. We had gathered a fair dish of honey, but our good Master saw
it should harm us, and appointed us in the stead thereof a dish of
wormwood. Neither is all the honey gone from us, for it is sweet to
suffer for His sake.
I am glad thou hast stood firm, said Agnes quietly.
Thou shalt have the bitterer portion, my poor heart! Yet it is for
no long season. We must meet soon, in our Father's House.
Truly. And the time may be very short, she answered.
And canst thou give me up, mine Agnes, for Christ's sake? For mark
thou, that which is wrenched away is not given.
She looked up with fixed, tearless eyes.
Ay, John. I can give thee up for Christ's sake. But I could not for
So they partedfor the last time. For when they should meet again
in the Father's House, they would part no more for ever.
Not for any other! Is there no special tenderness in the heart of
the loving Saviour, for those who have given up that one thing which
would not, could not, be resigned for any sake but His?
The next day there was the bitter mockery of degradation. Every
vestment of the priesthood was put upon the martyr; one by one they
were torn from him with curses. The crown of his head, where the
tonsure had been cut, was defaced; the anointed head and hands were
roughly scraped, to deprive them of the sacred unction. But the unction
from the Holy One was beyond their reach.
Then came the journey to Colchester, and, lastly, the auto da fe. Not able to go, his legs sore worn with heavy irons, as also his body
weakened by evil keeping, John Laurence was borne in a chair to his
chariot of fire. We are told that at this martyrdom there were seen
little children running round the stake, crying, Lord, strengthen Thy
servant, and keep Thy promise! God did keep His promise, and
strengthened His servant.
It was soon over; and they had no more that they could do.
There were martyr-crowns for such men as John Laurence. But were
there none for women such as Agnes Stone, whose martyrdom lasted, not
an hour, but a lifetime,who laid on the Lord's altar, not their
lives, but all that made life precious?
We are not told what became of her. Nor does it much matter. Rather
than sketch a fancy future for such a life as hers, let us remember the
true end, when that life was over. For three hundred years, more or
less, these two, who gave each other up for Christ, have been given
back by Christ to each other: together they have followed the Lamb
whithersoever He goeth; the Lord has been their everlasting light, and
the days of their mourning have been ended.