The Lady Rohesia by Richard Barham
The Lady Rohesia lay on her death-bed!
So said the doctor, and doctors are generally allowed to be judges
in these matters; besides Doctor Butts was the Court Physician: he
carried a crutch-handled staff, with its cross of the blackest
ebony,--raison de plus.
'Is there no hope, Doctor?' said Beatrice Grey.
'Is there no hope?' said Everard Ingoldsby.
'Is there no hope?' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri. He was the Lady
Rohesia's husband;--he spoke the last.
The doctor shook his head. He looked at the disconsolate widower
in posse then at the hour-glass; its waning sand seemed sadly to
shadow forth the sinking pulse of his patient. Dr. Butts was a very
learned man. 'Ars longa, vita brevis!' said Doctor Butts.
'I am very sorry to hear it,' quoth Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
Sir Guy was a brave knight, and a tall; but he was no scholar.
'Alas! my poor sister!' sighed Ingoldsby.
'Alas! my poor mistress!' sobbed Beatrice.
Sir Guy neither sighed nor sobbed; his grief was too deep-seated
for outward manifestation.
'And how long, Doctor--?' The afflicted husband could not finish
Dr. Butts withdrew his hand from the wrist of the dying lady. He
pointed to the horologe; scarcely a quarter of its sand remained in
the upper moiety. Again he shook his head; the eye of the patient
waxed dimmer, the rattling in the throat increased.
'What's become of Father Francis?' whimpered Beatrice.
'The last consolations of the church--' suggested Everard.
A darker shade came over the brow of Sir Guy.
'Where is the Confessor?' continued his grieving
'In the pantry,' cried Marion Hacket pertly, as she tripped
downstairs in search of that venerable ecclesiastic;--'in the pantry,
I warrant me.' The bower-woman was not wont to be in the wrong; in
the pantry was the holy man was discovered,--at his devotions.
'Pax vobiscum,' said Father Francis, as he entered the chamber of
'Vita brevis!' retorted Doctor Butts. He was not a man to be
browbeat out of his Latin,--and by a paltry Friar Minim, too. Had it
been a Bishop, indeed, or even a mitred Abbot,--but a miserable
'Benedicite!' said the Friar
'Ars longa!' returned the Leech.
Doctor Butts adjusted the tassels of his falling band; drew his
short sad-coloured cloak closer around him; and, grasping his
cross-handled walking-staff, stalked majestically out of the
apartment. Father Francis had the field to himself.
The worthy chaplain hastened to administer the last rites of the
church. To all appearance he had little time to lose; as he
concluded, the dismal toll of the passing-bell sounded from the
belfry tower,--little Hubert, the bandy-legged sacristan, was pulling
with all his might. It was a capital contrivance that same
passing-bell,--which of the Urbans or Innocents invented it is a
query; but whoever he was, he deserved well of his country and of
Ah! our ancestors were not such fools, after all, as we, their
degenerate children, conceit them to have been. The passing-bell! a
most solemn warning to imps of every description, is not to be
regarded with impunity; the most impudent Succubus of them all dare
as well dip his claws in holy water as come within the verge of its
sound. Old Nick himself, if he sets any value at all upon his tail,
had best convey himself clean out of hearing, and leave the way open
to Paradise. Little Hubert continued pulling with all his might,--and
St. Peter began to look out for a customer.
The knell seemed to have some effect even upon the Lady Rohesia;
she raised her head slightly; inarticulate sounds issued from her
lips,--inarticulate, that is, to the profaner ears of the laity.
Those of Father Francis, indeed, were sharper; nothing, as he
averred, could be more distinct than the words, 'A thousand marks to
the priory of Saint Mary Rouncival.'
Now the Lady Rohesia Ingoldsby had brought her husband broad lands
and large possessions; much of her ample dowry, too, was at her own
disposal; and nuncupative wills had not yet been abolished by Act of
'Pious soul!' ejaculated Father Francis. 'A thousand marks, she
'If she did, I'll be shot!' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri.
'--A thousand marks!' continued the Confessor, fixing his, cold
grey eye upon the knight, as he went on heedless of the interruption;
'--a thousand marks! and as many Aves and Paters shall be duly
said--as soon as the money is paid down.'
Sir Guy shrank from the monk's gaze; he turned to the window,
gaze, and muttered to himself something that sounded like 'Don't you
wish you may get it?'
The bell continued to toll. Father Francia had quitted the room,
taking with him the remains of the holy oil he had been using for
Extreme Unction. Everard Ingoldsby waited on him down stairs.
'A thousand thanks!' said the latter.
'A thousand marks!' said the friar.
'A thousand devils!' growled Sir Guy de Montgomeri, from the top
of the landing-place.
But his accents fell unheeded; his brother-in-law and the friar
were gone; he was left alone with his departing lady and Beatrice
Sir Guy de Montgomeri stood pensively at the foot of the bed; his
arms were crossed upon his bosom, his chin was sunk upon his breast;
his eyes were filled with tears; the dim rays of the fading
watchlight gave a darker shade to the furrows on his brow, and a
brighter tint to the little bald patch on the top of his head,--for
Sir Guy was a middle-aged gentleman, tall and portly withal, with a
slight bend in his shoulders, but not that much; his complexion was
somewhat florid--especially about the nose; but his lady was in
extremis, and at this particular moment he was paler than usual.
'Bim! bome!' went the bell. The knight groaned audibly; Beatrice
Grey wiped her eye with her little square apron of lace de Maslines;
there was a moment's pause,--a moment of intense affliction; she let
it fall,--all but one corner, which remained between her finger and
thumb. She looked at Sir Guy; drew the thumb and forefinger of her
other hand slowly along its border, till they reached the opposite
extremity. She sobbed aloud. 'So kind a lady!' said Beatrice
Grey.--'So excellent a wife!' responded Sir Guy.--'So good!' said the
damsel.--'So dear!' said the knight.--'So pious!' said she.--'So
humble!' said he.--'So good to the poor!'--'So capital a
manager!'--'So punctual at matins!'--' Dinner dished to moment!--'So
devout!' said Beatrice.--'So fond of me!' said Sir Guy.--'And of
Father Francis!'--'What the devil do you mean by that?' said Sir Guy
The knight and the maiden had rung their antiphonic changes on the
fine qualities of the departing Lady, like the Strophe and
Antistrophe of a Greek play. The cardinal virtues at once disposed
of, her minor excellences came under review. She would drown a witch,
drink lamb's wool at Christmas, beg Domine Dump's boys a holiday, and
dine upon sprats on Good Friday! A low moan from the subject of these
eulogies seemed to intimate that the enumeration of her good deeds
was not altogether lost on her,--that the parting spirit felt and
rejoiced in the testimony.
'She was too good for earth!' continued Sir Guy.
'Ye-ye-yes!' sobbed Beatrice.
'I did not deserve her!' said the knight.
'No-o-o-o!' cried the damsel.
'Not but that I made her an excellent husband and a kind; but she
is going, and--and--where, or when, or how--shall I get such
'Not in broad England--not in the whole wide world!' responded
Beatrice Grey; 'that is, not just such another!' Her voice still
faltered, but her accents on the whole were more articulate; she
dropped the corner of her apron, and had recourse to her
handkerchief; in fact, her eyes were getting red, and so was the tip
of her nose.
Sir Guy was silent; he gazed for a few moments steadfastly on the
face of his lady. The single word, 'Another!' fell from his lips like
distant echo;--it is not often that the viewless nymph repeats more
than is necessary.
'Bim! bome!' went the bell. Bandy-legged Hubert been toiling for
half an hour; he began to grow tired, and St. Peter fidgety.
'Beatrice Grey!' said Sir Guy de Montgomeri, 'what's to be done?
What's to become of Montgomeri Hall?--and the buttery,--and the
servants?--And what--what's to become of me, Beatrice Grey?'--There
was pathos in his tones, and a solemn pause succeeded. 'I'll turn
monk myself!' said Sir Guy.
'Monk?' said Beatrice.
'I'll be a Carthusianl' repeated the knight, but in a tone less
assured: he relapsed into a reverie.--Shave his head!--he did not so
much mind that,--he was getting rather bald already;--but, beans for
dinner,--and those without butter--and then a horse-hair shirt!
The knight seemed undecided: his eye roamed gloomily around the
apartment; it paused upon different objects, but as if it saw them
not; its sense was shut, and there was no speculation in its glance:
it rested at last upon the fair face of the sympathising damsel at
his side, beautiful in her grief.
Her tears had ceased; but her eyes were cast down, mournfully
fixed upon her delicate little foot, which was beating the
There is no talking to a female when she does not look at you. Sir
Guy turned round--he seated himself on the edge of the bed; and,
placing his hand beneath the chin of the lady, turned up her face in
an angle of fifteen degrees.
'I don't think I shall take the vows, Beatrice; but what's to
become of me? Poor, miserable, old--that is poor, miserable,
middle-aged man that I am!--No one to comfort, no one to care for
me!'--Beatrice's tears flowed afresh, but she opened not her
lips.--"Pon my life,' continued he, 'I don't believe there is a
single creature now would care a button if I were hanged
'Oh! don't say so, Sir Guy!' sighed Beatrice; 'you know
there's--there's Master Everard, and--and Father Francis--'
'Pish!' cried Sir Guy, testily.
'And--there's your favourite old bitch.'
'I am not thinking of old bitches!' quoth Sir Guy de
Another pause ensued: the knight had released her chin, and taken
her hand; it was a pretty little hand, with long taper fingers and
filbert-formed nails, and the softness of the palm said little for
its owner's industry.
'Beatrice,' said the knight, thoughtfully; 'You must be fatigued
with your long watching. Take a seat, my child.'--Sir Guy did not
relinquish her hand; but he sidled along the counterpane, and made
room for his companion between himself and the bed-post.
Now this is a very awkward position for two people to be placed
in, especially when the right hand of the one holds the right hand of
the other:--in such an attitude, what the deuce can the gentleman do
with his left? Sir Guy closed his till it became an absolute fist,
and his knuckles rested on the bed a little in the rear of his
'Another!' repeated Sir Guy, musing; 'if indeed I could find such
another!' He was talking to his thought, but Beatrice Grey answered
'There's Madam Fitzfoozle.'
'A frump!' said Sir Guy.
'Or the Lady Bumbarton.'
'With her hump!' muttered he.
'There's the Dowager--'
'Stop--stop!' said the knight, 'stop one moment!'--He paused; he
was all on the tremble; something seemed rising in his throat; but he
gave a great gulp, and swallowed it. 'Beatrice,' said he, what think
you of--' his voice sank into a most sedutive softness,--'what think
you of--Beatrice Grey?'
The murder was out:--the knight felt infinitely relieved; the
knuckles of his left hand unclosed spontaneously; and the arm he had
felt such a difficulty in disposing of, found itself,--nobody knows
how, encircling the jimp waist of the pretty Beatrice. The young
lady's reply was expressed in three syllables. They were,--'Oh, Sir
Guy!' The words might be somewhat indefinite, but there was no
mistaking the look. Their eyes met; Sir Guy's left arm contracted
itself spasmodically; when the eyes meet,--at least, as theirs
met,--the lips are very apt to follow the example. The knight had
taken one long, loving kiss--nectar and ambrosia! He thought on
Doctor Butts and his repetatur haustus,--a prescription Father
Francis had taken infinite pains to translate for him; he was about
to repeat it, but the dose was interrupted in transitu. Doubtless the
'There's many a slip
'Twixt the cup and the lip,'
hath reference to medicine. Sir Guy's lip was again all but in
conjunction with that of his bride elect. It has been hinted already
that there was a little round polished patch on the summit of the
knight's pericranium, from which his locks had gradually receded; a
sort of oasis,--or rather a Mont Blanc in miniature, rising above the
highest point of vegetation. It was on this little spot, undefended
alike by Art and Nature, that at this interesting moment the blow
descended, such as we must borrow a term from the Sister Island
adequately to describe,--it was a 'Whack!'
Sir Guy started upon his feet; Beatrice Grey started upon hers:
but a single glance to the rear reversed her position,--she fell upon
her knees and screamed.
The knight, too, wheeled about, and beheld a sight which might
have turned a bolder man to stone.--It was She!--the all-but-defunct
Rohesia--there she sat, bolt upright!--her eyes no longer glazed with
the film of impending dissolution, but scintillating like flint and
steel; while in her hand she grasped the bed-staff,--a weapon of
mickle might, as her husband's bloody coxcomb could now well testify.
Words were yet wanting, for the quinzy, which her rage had broken,
still impeded her utterance; but the strength and rapidity of her
gutteral intonations augured well for her future eloquence.
Sir Guy de Montgomeri stood for awhile like a man distraught; this
resurrection--for such it seemed,--had quite overpowered him. 'A
husband ofttimes makes the best physician,' says the proverb; he was
a living personification of its truth. Still it was whispered he had
been content with Dr. Butts; but his lady was restored to bless him
for many years.--Heavens, what a life he led!
The Lady Rohesia mended apace; her quinsy was cured; the bell was
stopped; and little Hubert, the sacristan, kicked out of the
chapelry. St. Peter opened his wicket, and looked out;--there was
nobody there; so he flung-to the gate in a passion, and went back to
his lodge, grumbling at being hoaxed by a runaway ring.
Years rolled on.--The improvement of Lady Rohesia's temper did not
keep pace with that of her health; and one fine morning Sir Guy de
Montgomery was seen to enter the porte-cochère of Durham
House, at that time the town residence of Sir Walter Raleigh. Nothing
more was ever heard of him; but a boat full of adventurers was known
to have dropped down with the tide that evening to Deptford Hope;
where lay the ship the Darling, commanded by Captain Keymis, who
sailed next morning on the Virginia voyage.
A brass plate, some eighteen inches long, may yet be seen in
Denton chancel, let into a broad slab of Bethersden marble; it
represents a lady kneeling, in her wimple and hood; her hands are
clasped in prayer, and beneath is an inscription in the characters of
'Praie for ye sowle of ye Lady Royse.
And for all Christen sowles!'
The date is illegible; but it appears that she survived King Henry
the Eighth, and that the dissolution of monasteries had lost St. Mary
Rouncival her thousand marks.--As for Beatrice Grey, it is well known
that she was alive in 1559, and then had virginity enough left to be
a maid of honour to 'good Queen Bess.'