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    Ch. 9: Master John Horseleigh, Knight

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    Chapter 9
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    In the earliest and mustiest volume of the Havenpool marriage registers
    (said the thin-faced gentleman) this entry may still be read by any one
    curious enough to decipher the crabbed handwriting of the date. I took a
    copy of it when I was last there; and it runs thus (he had opened his
    pocket-book, and now read aloud the extract; afterwards handing round the
    book to us, wherein we saw transcribed the following)--

    Mastr John Horseleigh, Knyght, of the p'ysshe of Clyffton was maryd to
    Edith the wyffe late off John Stocker, m'chawnte of Havenpool the
    xiiij daje of December be p'vylegge gevyn by our sup'me hedd of the
    chyrche of Ingelonde Kynge Henry the viii th 1539.

    Now, if you turn to the long and elaborate pedigree of the ancient family
    of the Horseleighs of Clyfton Horseleigh, you will find no mention
    whatever of this alliance, notwithstanding the privilege given by the
    Sovereign and head of the Church; the said Sir John being therein
    chronicled as marrying, at a date apparently earlier than the above, the
    daughter and heiress of Richard Phelipson, of Montislope, in Nether
    Wessex, a lady who outlived him, of which marriage there were issue two
    daughters and a son, who succeeded him in his estates. How are we to
    account for these, as it would seem, contemporaneous wives? A strange
    local tradition only can help us, and this can be briefly told.

    One evening in the autumn of the year 1540 or 1541, a young sailor, whose
    Christian name was Roger, but whose surname is not known, landed at his
    native place of Havenpool, on the South Wessex coast, after a voyage in
    the Newfoundland trade, then newly sprung into existence. He returned in
    the ship Primrose with a cargo of 'trayne oyle brought home from the New
    Founde Lande,' to quote from the town records of the date. During his
    absence of two summers and a winter, which made up the term of a
    Newfoundland 'spell,' many unlooked-for changes had occurred within the
    quiet little seaport, some of which closely affected Roger the sailor. At
    the time of his departure his only sister Edith had become the bride of
    one Stocker, a respectable townsman, and part owner of the brig in which
    Roger had sailed; and it was to the house of this couple, his only
    relatives, that the young man directed his steps. On trying the door in
    Quay Street he found it locked, and then observed that the windows were
    boarded up. Inquiring of a bystander, he learnt for the first time of
    the death of his brother-in-law, though that event had taken place nearly
    eighteen months before.

    'And my sister Edith?' asked Roger.

    'She's married again--as they do say, and hath been so these twelve
    months. I don't vouch for the truth o't, though if she isn't she ought
    to be.'

    Roger's face grew dark. He was a man with a considerable reserve of
    strong passion, and he asked his informant what he meant by speaking
    thus.

    The man explained that shortly after the young woman's bereavement a
    stranger had come to the port. He had seen her moping on the quay, had
    been attracted by her youth and loneliness, and in an extraordinarily
    brief wooing had completely fascinated her--had carried her off, and, as
    was reported, had married her. Though he had come by water, he was
    supposed to live no very great distance off by land. They were last
    heard of at Oozewood, in Upper Wessex, at the house of one Wall, a timber-
    merchant, where, he believed, she still had a lodging, though her
    husband, if he were lawfully that much, was but an occasional visitor to
    the place.

    'The stranger?' asked Roger. 'Did you see him? What manner of man was
    he?'

    'I liked him not,' said the other. 'He seemed of that kind that hath
    something to conceal, and as he walked with her he ever and anon turned
    his head and gazed behind him, as if he much feared an unwelcome pursuer.
    But, faith,' continued he, 'it may have been the man's anxiety only. Yet
    did I not like him.'

    'Was he older than my sister?' Roger asked.

    'Ay--much older; from a dozen to a score of years older. A man of some
    position, maybe, playing an amorous game for the pleasure of the hour.
    Who knoweth but that he have a wife already? Many have done the thing
    hereabouts of late.'

    Having paid a visit to the graves of his relatives, the sailor next day
    went along the straight road which, then a lane, now a highway, conducted
    to the curious little inland town named by the Havenpool man. It is
    unnecessary to describe Oozewood on the South-Avon. It has a railway at
    the present day; but thirty years of steam traffic past its precincts
    have hardly modified its original features. Surrounded by a sort of
    fresh-water lagoon, dividing it from meadows and coppice, its ancient
    thatch and timber houses have barely made way even in the front street
    for the ubiquitous modern brick and slate. It neither increases nor
    diminishes in size; it is difficult to say what the inhabitants find to
    do, for, though trades in woodware are still carried on, there cannot be
    enough of this class of work nowadays to maintain all the householders,
    the forests around having been so greatly thinned and curtailed. At the
    time of this tradition the forests were dense, artificers in wood
    abounded, and the timber trade was brisk. Every house in the town,
    without exception, was of oak framework, filled in with plaster, and
    covered with thatch, the chimney being the only brick portion of the
    structure. Inquiry soon brought Roger the sailor to the door of Wall,
    the timber-dealer referred to, but it was some time before he was able to
    gain admission to the lodging of his sister, the people having plainly
    received directions not to welcome strangers.

    She was sitting in an upper room on one of the lath-backed,
    willow-bottomed 'shepherd's' chairs, made on the spot then as to this
    day, and as they were probably made there in the days of the Heptarchy.
    In her lap was an infant, which she had been suckling, though now it had
    fallen asleep; so had the young mother herself for a few minutes, under
    the drowsing effects of solitude. Hearing footsteps on the stairs, she
    awoke, started up with a glad cry, and ran to the door, opening which she
    met her brother on the threshold.

    'O, this is merry; I didn't expect 'ee!' she said. 'Ah, Roger--I thought
    it was John.' Her tones fell to disappointment.

    The sailor kissed her, looked at her sternly for a few moments, and
    pointing to the infant, said, 'You mean the father of this?'

    'Yes, my husband,' said Edith.

    'I hope so,' he answered.

    'Why, Roger, I'm married--of a truth am I!' she cried.

    'Shame upon 'ee, if true! If not true, worse. Master Stocker was an
    honest man, and ye should have respected his memory longer. Where is thy
    husband?'

    'He comes often. I thought it was he now. Our marriage has to be kept
    secret for a while--it was done privily for certain reasons; but we was
    married at church like honest folk--afore God we were, Roger, six months
    after poor Stocker's death.'

    "Twas too soon,' said Roger.

    'I was living in a house alone; I had nowhere to go to. You were far
    over sea in the New Found Land, and John took me and brought me here.'

    'How often doth he come?' says Roger again.

    'Once or twice weekly,' says she.

    'I wish th' 'dst waited till I returned, dear Edy,' he said. 'It mid be
    you are a wife--I hope so. But, if so, why this mystery? Why this mean
    and cramped lodging in this lonely copse-circled town? Of what standing
    is your husband, and of where?'

    'He is of gentle breeding--his name is John. I am not free to tell his
    family-name. He is said to be of London, for safety' sake; but he really
    lives in the county next adjoining this.'

    'Where in the next county?'

    'I do not know. He has preferred not to tell me, that I may not have the
    secret forced from me, to his and my hurt, by bringing the marriage to
    the ears of his kinsfolk and friends.'

    Her brother's face flushed. 'Our people have been honest townsmen, well-
    reputed for long; why should you readily take such humbling from a
    sojourner of whom th' 'st know nothing?'

    They remained in constrained converse till her quick ear caught a sound,
    for which she might have been waiting--a horse's footfall. 'It is John!'
    said she. 'This is his night--Saturday.'

    'Don't be frightened lest he should find me here!' said Roger. 'I am on
    the point of leaving. I wish not to be a third party. Say nothing at
    all about my visit, if it will incommode you so to do. I will see thee
    before I go afloat again.'

    Speaking thus he left the room, and descending the staircase let himself
    out by the front door, thinking he might obtain a glimpse of the
    approaching horseman. But that traveller had in the meantime gone
    stealthily round to the back of the homestead, and peering along the
    pinion-end of the house Roger discerned him unbridling and haltering his
    horse with his own hands in the shed there.

    Roger retired to the neighbouring inn called the Black Lamb, and
    meditated. This mysterious method of approach determined him, after all,
    not to leave the place till he had ascertained more definite facts of his
    sister's position--whether she were the deluded victim of the stranger or
    the wife she obviously believed herself to be. Having eaten some supper,
    he left the inn, it being now about eleven o'clock. He first looked into
    the shed, and, finding the horse still standing there, waited
    irresolutely near the door of his sister's lodging. Half an hour
    elapsed, and, while thinking he would climb into a loft hard by for a
    night's rest, there seemed to be a movement within the shutters of the
    sitting-room that his sister occupied. Roger hid himself behind a faggot-
    stack near the back door, rightly divining that his sister's visitor
    would emerge by the way he had entered. The door opened, and the candle
    she held in her hand lighted for a moment the stranger's form, showing it
    to be that of a tall and handsome personage, about forty years of age,
    and apparently of a superior position in life. Edith was assisting him
    to cloak himself, which being done he took leave of her with a kiss and
    left the house. From the door she watched him bridle and saddle his
    horse, and having mounted and waved an adieu to her as she stood candle
    in hand, he turned out of the yard and rode away.

    The horse which bore him was, or seemed to be, a little lame, and Roger
    fancied from this that the rider's journey was not likely to be a long
    one. Being light of foot he followed apace, having no great difficulty
    on such a still night in keeping within earshot some few miles, the
    horseman pausing more than once. In this pursuit Roger discovered the
    rider to choose bridle-tracks and open commons in preference to any high
    road. The distance soon began to prove a more trying one than he had
    bargained for; and when out of breath and in some despair of being able
    to ascertain the man's identity, he perceived an ass standing in the
    starlight under a hayrick, from which the animal was helping itself to
    periodic mouthfuls.

    The story goes that Roger caught the ass, mounted, and again resumed the
    trail of the unconscious horseman, which feat may have been possible to a
    nautical young fellow, though one can hardly understand how a sailor
    would ride such an animal without bridle or saddle, and strange to his
    hands, unless the creature were extraordinarily docile. This question,
    however, is immaterial. Suffice it to say that at dawn the following
    morning Roger beheld his sister's lover or husband entering the gates of
    a large and well-timbered park on the south-western verge of the White
    Hart Forest (as it was then called), now known to everybody as the Vale
    of Blackmoor. Thereupon the sailor discarded his steed, and finding for
    himself an obscurer entrance to the same park a little further on, he
    crossed the grass to reconnoitre.

    He presently perceived amid the trees before him a mansion which, new to
    himself, was one of the best known in the county at that time. Of this
    fine manorial residence hardly a trace now remains; but a manuscript
    dated some years later than the events we are regarding describes it in
    terms from which the imagination may construct a singularly clear and
    vivid picture. This record presents it as consisting of 'a faire yellow
    freestone building, partly two and partly three storeys; a faire halle
    and parlour, both waynscotted; a faire dyning roome and withdrawing
    roome, and many good lodgings; a kitchen adjoyninge backwarde to one end
    of the dwelling-house, with a faire passage from it into the halle,
    parlour, and dyninge roome, and sellars adjoyninge.

    'In the front of the house a square greene court, and a curious gatehouse
    with lodgings in it, standing with the front of the house to the south;
    in a large outer court three stables, a coach-house, a large barne, and a
    stable for oxen and kyne, and all houses necessary.

    'Without the gatehouse, paled in, a large square greene, in which
    standeth a faire chappell; of the south-east side of the greene court,
    towards the river, a large garden.

    'Of the south-west side of the greene court is a large bowling greene,
    with fower mounted walks about it, all walled about with a batteled wall,
    and sett with all sorts of fruit; and out of it into the feildes there
    are large walks under many tall elmes orderly planted.'

    Then follows a description of the orchards and gardens; the servants'
    offices, brewhouse, bakehouse, dairy, pigeon-houses, and corn-mill; the
    river and its abundance of fish; the warren, the coppices, the walks;
    ending thus--

    'And all the country north of the house, open champaign, sandy feildes,
    very dry and pleasant for all kindes of recreation, huntinge, and
    hawkinge, and profitble for tillage . . . The house hath a large prospect
    east, south, and west, over a very large and pleasant vale . . . is
    seated from the good markett towns of Sherton Abbas three miles, and Ivel
    a mile, that plentifully yield all manner of provision; and within twelve
    miles of the south sea.'

    It was on the grass before this seductive and picturesque structure that
    the sailor stood at gaze under the elms in the dim dawn of Sunday
    morning, and saw to his surprise his sister's lover and horse vanish
    within the court of the building.

    Perplexed and weary, Roger slowly retreated, more than ever convinced
    that something was wrong in his sister's position. He crossed the
    bowling green to the avenue of elms, and, bent on further research, was
    about to climb into one of these, when, looking below, he saw a heap of
    hay apparently for horses or deer. Into this he crept, and, having eaten
    a crust of bread which he had hastily thrust into his pocket at the inn,
    he curled up and fell asleep, the hay forming a comfortable bed, and
    quite covering him over.

    He slept soundly and long, and was awakened by the sound of a bell. On
    peering from the hay he found the time had advanced to full day; the sun
    was shining brightly. The bell was that of the 'faire chappell' on the
    green outside the gatehouse, and it was calling to matins. Presently the
    priest crossed the green to a little side-door in the chancel, and then
    from the gateway of the mansion emerged the household, the tall man whom
    Roger had seen with his sister on the previous night, on his arm being a
    portly dame, and, running beside the pair, two little girls and a boy.
    These all entered the chapel, and the bell having ceased and the environs
    become clear, the sailor crept out from his hiding.

    He sauntered towards the chapel, the opening words of the service being
    audible within. While standing by the porch he saw a belated servitor
    approaching from the kitchen-court to attend the service also. Roger
    carelessly accosted him, and asked, as an idle wanderer, the name of the
    family he had just seen cross over from the mansion.

    'Od zounds! if ye modden be a stranger here in very truth, goodman. That
    wer Sir John and his dame, and his children Elizabeth, Mary, and John.'

    'I be from foreign parts. Sir John what d'ye call'n?'

    'Master John Horseleigh, Knight, who had a'most as much lond by
    inheritance of his mother as 'a had by his father, and likewise some by
    his wife. Why, bain't his arms dree goolden horses' heads, and idden his
    lady the daughter of Master Richard Phelipson, of Montislope, in Nether
    Wessex, known to us all?'

    'It mid be so, and yet it mid not. However, th' 'lt miss thy prayers for
    such an honest knight's welfare, and I have to traipse seaward many
    miles.'

    He went onward, and as he walked continued saying to himself, 'Now to
    that poor wronged fool Edy. The fond thing! I thought it; 'twas too
    quick--she was ever amorous. What's to become of her! God wot! How be
    I going to face her with the news, and how be I to hold it from her? To
    bring this disgrace on my father's honoured name, a double-tongued
    knave!' He turned and shook his fist at the chapel and all in it, and
    resumed his way.

    Perhaps it was owing to the perplexity of his mind that, instead of
    returning by the direct road towards his sister's obscure lodging in the
    next county, he followed the highway to Casterbridge, some fifteen miles
    off, where he remained drinking hard all that afternoon and evening, and
    where he lay that and two or three succeeding nights, wandering thence
    along the Anglebury road to some village that way, and lying the Friday
    night after at his native place of Havenpool. The sight of the familiar
    objects there seems to have stirred him anew to action, and the next
    morning he was observed pursuing the way to Oozewood that he had followed
    on the Saturday previous, reckoning, no doubt, that Saturday night would,
    as before, be a time for finding Sir John with his sister again.

    He delayed to reach the place till just before sunset. His sister was
    walking in the meadows at the foot of the garden, with a nursemaid who
    carried the baby, and she looked up pensively when he approached. Anxiety
    as to her position had already told upon her once rosy cheeks and lucid
    eyes. But concern for herself and child was displaced for the moment by
    her regard of Roger's worn and haggard face.

    'Why--you are sick, Roger--you are tired! Where have you been these many
    days? Why not keep me company a bit--my husband is much away? And we
    have hardly spoke at all of dear father and of your voyage to the New
    Land. Why did you go away so suddenly? There is a spare chamber at my
    lodging.'

    'Come indoors,' he said. 'We'll talk now--talk a good deal. As for him
    [nodding to the child], better heave him into the river; better for him
    and you!'

    She forced a laugh, as if she tried to see a good joke in the remark, and
    they went silently indoors.

    'A miserable hole!' said Roger, looking round the room.

    'Nay, but 'tis very pretty!'

    'Not after what I've seen. Did he marry 'ee at church in orderly
    fashion?'

    'He did sure--at our church at Havenpool.'

    'But in a privy way?'

    'Ay--because of his friends--it was at night-time.'

    'Ede, ye fond one--for all that he's not thy husband! Th' 'rt not his
    wife; and the child is a bastard. He hath a wife and children of his own
    rank, and bearing his name; and that's Sir John Horseleigh, of Clyfton
    Horseleigh, and not plain Jack, as you think him, and your lawful
    husband. The sacrament of marriage is no safeguard nowadays. The King's
    new-made headship of the Church hath led men to practise these tricks
    lightly.'

    She had turned white. 'That's not true, Roger!' she said. 'You are in
    liquor, my brother, and you know not what you say! Your seafaring years
    have taught 'ee bad things!'

    'Edith--I've seen them; wife and family--all. How canst--'

    They were sitting in the gathered darkness, and at that moment steps were
    heard without. 'Go out this way,' she said. 'It is my husband. He must
    not see thee in this mood. Get away till to-morrow, Roger, as you care
    for me.'

    She pushed her brother through a door leading to the back stairs, and
    almost as soon as it was closed her visitor entered. Roger, however, did
    not retreat down the stairs; he stood and looked through the bobbin-hole.
    If the visitor turned out to be Sir John, he had determined to confront
    him.

    It was the knight. She had struck a light on his entry, and he kissed
    the child, and took Edith tenderly by the shoulders, looking into her
    face.

    'Something's gone awry wi' my dear!' he said. 'What is it? What's the
    matter?'

    'O, Jack!' she cried. 'I have heard such a fearsome rumour--what doth it
    mean? He who told me is my best friend. He must be deceived! But who
    deceived him, and why? Jack, I was just told that you had a wife living
    when you married me, and have her still!'

    'A wife?--H'm.'

    'Yes, and children. Say no, say no!'

    'By God! I have no lawful wife but you; and as for children, many or
    few, they are all bastards, save this one alone!'

    'And that you be Sir John Horseleigh of Clyfton?'

    'I mid be. I have never said so to 'ee.'

    'But Sir John is known to have a lady, and issue of her!'

    The knight looked down. 'How did thy mind get filled with such as this?'
    he asked.

    'One of my kindred came.'

    'A traitor! Why should he mar our life? Ah! you said you had a brother
    at sea--where is he now?'

    'Here!' came from close behind him. And flinging open the door, Roger
    faced the intruder. 'Liar!' he said, 'to call thyself her husband!'

    Sir John fired up, and made a rush at the sailor, who seized him by the
    collar, and in the wrestle they both fell, Roger under. But in a few
    seconds he contrived to extricate his right arm, and drawing from his
    belt a knife which he wore attached to a cord round his neck he opened it
    with his teeth, and struck it into the breast of Sir John stretched above
    him. Edith had during these moments run into the next room to place the
    child in safety, and when she came back the knight was relaxing his hold
    on Roger's throat. He rolled over upon his back and groaned.

    The only witness of the scene save the three concerned was the nursemaid,
    who had brought in the child on its father's arrival. She stated
    afterwards that nobody suspected Sir John had received his death wound;
    yet it was so, though he did not die for a long while, meaning thereby an
    hour or two; that Mistress Edith continually endeavoured to staunch the
    blood, calling her brother Roger a wretch, and ordering him to get
    himself gone; on which order he acted, after a gloomy pause, by opening
    the window, and letting himself down by the sill to the ground.

    It was then that Sir John, in difficult accents, made his dying
    declaration to the nurse and Edith, and, later, the apothecary; which was
    to this purport, that the Dame Horseleigh who passed as his wife at
    Clyfton, and who had borne him three children, was in truth and deed,
    though unconsciously, the wife of another man. Sir John had married her
    several years before, in the face of the whole county, as the widow of
    one Decimus Strong, who had disappeared shortly after her union with him,
    having adventured to the North to join the revolt of the Nobles, and on
    that revolt being quelled retreated across the sea. Two years ago,
    having discovered this man to be still living in France, and not wishing
    to disturb the mind and happiness of her who believed herself his wife,
    yet wishing for legitimate issue, Sir John had informed the King of the
    facts, who had encouraged him to wed honestly, though secretly, the young
    merchant's widow at Havenpool; she being, therefore, his lawful wife, and
    she only. That to avoid all scandal and hubbub he had purposed to let
    things remain as they were till fair opportunity should arise of making
    the true case known with least pain to all parties concerned, but that,
    having been thus suspected and attacked by his own brother-in-law, his
    zest for such schemes and for all things had died out in him, and he only
    wished to commend his soul to God.

    That night, while the owls were hooting from the forest that encircled
    the sleeping townlet, and the South-Avon was gurgling through the wooden
    piles of the bridge, Sir John died there in the arms of his wife. She
    concealed nothing of the cause of her husband's death save the subject of
    the quarrel, which she felt it would be premature to announce just then,
    and until proof of her status should be forthcoming. But before a month
    had passed, it happened, to her inexpressible sorrow, that the child of
    this clandestine union fell sick and died. From that hour all interest
    in the name and fame of the Horseleighs forsook the younger of the twain
    who called themselves wives of Sir John, and, being careless about her
    own fame, she took no steps to assert her claims, her legal position
    having, indeed, grown hateful to her in her horror at the tragedy. And
    Sir William Byrt, the curate who had married her to her husband, being an
    old man and feeble, was not disinclined to leave the embers unstirred of
    such a fiery matter as this, and to assist her in letting established
    things stand. Therefore, Edith retired with the nurse, her only
    companion and friend, to her native town, where she lived in absolute
    obscurity till her death in middle age. Her brother was never seen again
    in England.

    A strangely corroborative sequel to the story remains to be told. Shortly
    after the death of Sir John Horseleigh, a soldier of fortune returned
    from the Continent, called on Dame Horseleigh the fictitious, living in
    widowed state at Clyfton Horseleigh, and, after a singularly brief
    courtship, married her. The tradition at Havenpool and elsewhere has
    ever been that this man was already her husband, Decimus Strong, who
    remarried her for appearance' sake only.

    The illegitimate son of this lady by Sir John succeeded to the estates
    and honours, and his son after him, there being nobody on the alert to
    investigate their pretensions. Little difference would it have made to
    the present generation, however, had there been such a one, for the
    family in all its branches, lawful and unlawful, has been extinct these
    many score years, the last representative but one being killed at the
    siege of Sherton Castle, while attacking in the service of the
    Parliament, and the other being outlawed later in the same century for a
    debt of ten pounds, and dying in the county jail. The mansion house and
    its appurtenances were, as I have previously stated, destroyed, excepting
    one small wing, which now forms part of a farmhouse, and is visible as
    you pass along the railway from Casterbridge to Ivel. The outline of the
    old bowling-green is also distinctly to be seen.

    This, then, is the reason why the only lawful marriage of Sir John, as
    recorded in the obscure register at Havenpool, does not appear in the
    pedigree of the house of Horseleigh.

    Spring 1893.
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