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Title: The Follies of Youth
Author: Marjorie Bowen
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1500871h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Aug 2015
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The Follies of Youth

by

Marjorie Bowen

Cover Image

A STORY OF OLD TIMES

ILLUSTRATED BY J. CLARK, R.I.

First published in The Quiver, London, November 1914
This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2015



PART I. — MISTRESS AND MAN

JOHN WINCHCOMBE was arranging the feast for the four suitors of his mistress, Dame Blaunche, the most comely widow in Newbury, and one of the wealthiest people in Gloucestershire; under him was a crowd of serving men, and he drove them hither and thither to strew fresh rushes on the floor, to fix fresh wax candles in the brass holders, to rub up the goblets and platters of silver, to replenish the hearth with great logs and drive away the lazy hounds who hung round the fire.

John was served willingly though but a 'prentice, for in the six years since he came from the ancient town of Winchcombe he had made himself loved and respected by rich and poor. Jack of Newbury they called him in the district; and since his master died, three years before, he had won his way till he was head of all the 'prentices by reason of his great industry and discretion and knowledge of the trade, for his late master was a wealthy clothier, and that was one of the most prosperous and honourable trades in the kingdom, and under Jack the business flourished exceedingly, until it became one of the most considerable in Gloucestershire, which is to say in the whole of England.

His mistress was kind and gracious and had promoted him above all other apprentices, and it might have been supposed that he would feel downcast at the prospect of a new master to set him from his place, for Dame Blaunche had vowed that this week she would be wedded, for good or ill.

Jack, however, looked by no means displeased or sullen, but set about preparing the feast with a good heart, and when it was complete and he had looked to the servitors and seen their gowns were neat and clean, went up to his chamber and attired himself in a sober suit of green with crimson ribbons to it, and a shirt of puckered lawn, and shoes of soft leather, with his hands fairly washed and a perfume in his hair; then down came he to the dining hall with a sprightly step.

There was Dame Blaunche ready attired in a full suit of crimson sprigged with raised flowers in velvet of a blue colour, with sleeves and vest purfled in silver and cords of silver round her waist; older was she than Jack by more than twenty years, but her coif set off her face in comely fashion and she had a comely hand.

On seeing him she fetched a great sigh.

"I had a piteous dream last night, Jack," said she. "Me thought there was a great hog rustling among the looms, and I had my heart in my hand, and it was all bleeding and lo, I made such a sore outcry that it must have wakened you, even in your chamber—"

Never a word said Jack, but smoothed out the wrinkles of his hose over his knee.

"Sure, Jack, you must have heard me?" urged his mistress.

"Not I," answered the 'prentice cheerfully. "Iwas too deep in sleep."

Whereat she drew another sigh.

"How many suitors have I, Jack?"

"There are covers for four," he answered.

"Maybe," said she, "there are suitors of mine who will not sit down to table with me to-night."

"I have no knowledge of them, dame, and four are enough for any woman."

She looked at him plaintively.

"Yet I like not any of them."

"Why, then, live in blessed singleness."

"Yet I will be married to-morrow, come what will."

In a little while the suitors arrived in their best habits and with nosegays in their hats, though this was autumn and flowers hard to find.


Illustration

There was a merchant in hardware, a tailor, a parson, and a tanner.

All four made a goodly supper, and many were the flatteries put upon the widow, which seemed in nowise to cheer her, for all through the supper she was wondrous sad and would not eat a morsel.

Afterwards each in turn renewed their offers, which, however, she declined: the merchant, because he was but a little trader, and she who had been wed to a great would not now take a small; the tanner she told she would like to see with a wife, but that wife could not be herself; the tailor she declared was too late; and the parson was refused because parsons were only newly allowed to marry and she would have none of the first head.

So she got rid of them all, and they departed, making shift to put a good face on it, for it was a sore matter, she being the richest woman for miles around.

When they had gone and the supper was cleared, Dame Blaunche got into the great chair with arms by the fire and said:

"Jack, I have refused them all."

"Well," said he, in no way moved, "belike it was the business they were courting—and had you not been rich you had not been troubled, I doubt."

At that she pursed up her mouth:

"To-morrow I shall be wed, whether or no."

"Why, so you have declared," said he, and went about his duties putting away the silver platters and goblets and dishes.

"Well," said Dame Blaunche, rising, "get up betimes to-morrow, for I would have you carry a link before me into church."

So next day there was Jack in a cape of red fox's fur and boots faced with blue cords, waiting obediently with the link, and down came the dame in a gown all embroidered with vanities, and a great cloak of miniver, and a bunch of herbs in her hand. And so they proceeded to church.

There in the church were priest, clerk, and sexton, but no bridegroom.

"He is late," said the dame.

"So it seemeth," answered Jack.

So there they waited, till the priest grew impatient, and the clerk yawned, and the sexton fell asleep, and yet no bridegroom appeared.

At length Dame Blaunchc became very angry and turned about to her apprentice.

"I will stay no longer," declared she, "so put aside thy link and give me thy hand, for I will be wedded to none other than thee."

Upon which he gave the link to the sexton and obediently gave his hand to his mistress, and so became her husband and master of the finest fortune in Gloucestershire.

Out of church they came, she on his arm.

"Are you grateful, Jack?" she asked. "For I might have had a lord or a rich man."

"Aye," answered he, "you might; but you could not have found a better merchant clothier in the breadth or length of England."

She fell a-laughing, and they went home together and seemed like to be good friends.

That night Jack of Newbury sat at the table where he had been serving yesterday, and chose his own meat and wine and had servants to wait on him, and his wife said to him over the cakes:

"You might have sat thus a year ago had you but spoken."

"I know," he answered; "but I forbore, dame, thinking that if you disclosed your mind first you would have no manner of excuse to cast any reproach at me afterwards."

Now the supper being over, they had music, the dulcimer and harp, and there was dancing in the hall and singing. Dame Blaunche, being ancient, did not move from her chair, but John Winchcombe joined the dancers, and presently his wife, being watchful, saw him give a buxom maid a kiss, and a twinge of jealousy disturbed her mind; but she settled herself, saying: "The follies of youth! the follies of youth!"



PART II. — MASTER AND MAID

JOHN WINCHCOMBE sat in the fair window of his pleasant house in Newbury; he was the most wealthy and princely merchant in the land; he had led one hundred of his own men better armed and clothed than any to Flodden Field, he had entertained the King and Queen at his house, he had declined a knighthood, and his fame was abroad all over the country.

It was thirty years and more since he had married Dame Blaunche, and she was long since laid in a fine marble tomb in Newbury Church.

As he rested now in his carved chair he was a portly figure in a full gown with purple sleeves and a cap of black velvet, and a gold chain and great rings of gold, and fur on his shoes and round the edge of his gown. And before him on a goodly table was a richly gilt beehive, with golden bees clustering about it and decorated with various precious ornaments, to denote the wealth and industry of the clothiers.

Presently there came a maid into the chamber in a homespun dress of frieze and a broom in her hand.


Illustration

Very lowly she bent when she saw him, and would have gone again, but he called her up to him and looked at her kindly.

"Alys," said he, "two years have you been in my house, and I have no better servant than you."

She knew not what to reply to this, but looked on the ground.

"I am minded," added John Winchcombe, "to take a wife again."

"You might have any lady in the land," replied she modestly, "and there is wonder that you have not yet taken a nobleman's daughter to wife, master."

"I want neither nobleman's daughter nor lady," said he, "but a woman well skilled in guiding my house, and I here make choice of you, Alys; and you shall have a wedding which would not shame a king, for as I was married very quietly and strangely before, so I will marry very splendidly now."

So in a month's time John Winchcombe was married to Alys his servant in Newbury Church, where Dame Blaunche had bid him carry the link before her thirty years ago. And all things were appointed with royal cheer, and to the wedding came all the lords, knights, gentlemen and burgesses of Gloucestershire.

The bride wore a gown of sheep's russet and a girdle of fine worsted, her yellow hair hanging down her shoulder curiously plaited and adorned with an ornament of gold.

Two boys, with hide lace and rosemary tied about their silken sleeves, led her to the church, and both were knights' sons, one being heir to Sir John Parry and the other to Sir Francis Hungerford.

And afterwards there was a noble feast held. There was much goodly laughter and merriment, and afterwards dancing.

Now, the bridegroom was too ancient for dancing, as Dame Blaunche had been thirty years ago, and he sat in his great chair with arms and thought of his wealth and his power.

And he looked at his bride with her curious knots of yellow hair and her sweet face, and he thought how she had been given scarcely a choice (even as had been his fortune), and that maybe she irked and pined to be down among the fleet dancers, the young lads and smiling maidens. Then John Winchcombe wished that he was as young as in the days when he had wedded Dame Blaunche, or else that his bride was his own age, and he longed that he too might join in the dance; but he was stiff and heavy with the getting of wealth and prosperity, and long ease and much feasting and fine living.

A sigh he gave, and he turned to his wife, and all his gold chains glittered and clinked as he moved. And there came to his lips the excuse that Dame Blaunchc had made to him thirty years ago:

"Are you not something grateful to me, Alys, that I have made you mistress of all I hold, when I might have had any lady, even one about the Court?"

And this was true indeed, for now the King treated John Winchcombe as friend and had suggested many a match for him.

Alys lifted her eyes very humbly.

"I am grateful indeed," she said; but she looked a little abashed and shy sitting upon the great dais.

John Winchcombe sighed and asked her if she would dance.

Her answer was timid; it seemed she would if she might; and her husband smiled on her, and himself led her down the great hall and gave her as partner to a young 'prentice with rose-coloured ribbons at his wrists.

Then John Winchcombe went back to his seat and became weary and half asleep, and so presently nodded a little under the gorgeous canopy.

Then presently stirring and looking about him he beheld his wife and the young apprentice together under a bower of gilded rosemary, and he was kneeling before her and fastening the latchet of her shoe, and their eyes were fixed merrily on each other.

John Winchcombe sighed, then settled himself to sleep, murmuring: "The follies of youth! The follies of youth!"


THE END

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