Mistress Moore rides out the storm
by Barendina Smedley
“We have enough to do to make up ourselves from present and passed times, and the whole stage of things scarce serveth for our instruction”
— Sir Thomas Browne, Hydriotaphia
Mistress Moore was, or so it has been told to me, vexed beyond measure when the world around her changed in ways that she could, try though she might, neither halt nor hinder.
Mistress Moore, for instance, was very much of his late majesty’s party, but in time had advertised to her the sad news of his trial and unlawful murder— or martyrdom, as her cousin Colvile soon came to call it — read out by her husband from the London news-sheets. And before that, back in 1643, in the early days of the great rebellion, she had hoped that those of his late majesty’s party might rely, at least, on the port of Lynn, its mayor, burgesses, merchants and the farmers of its fat hinterlands. But she saw the town’s defences overthrown by the earl of Manchester and his 18,000-odd armed men, some of them camped, at least for a while, within sight of her chamber window, alongside her house, standing even now as it did then, near the brink of the river.
Mistress Moore, though not invariably orthodox in her beliefs, was no lover of radical religion, no Independent nor presbyterian neither. And yet in the church across the river, the tower of which she might also spy from her chamber, the cowed, learned, unhappy minister, who had somehow managed to retain his cure of souls, was no longer allowed to use the Book of Common Prayer, and had been forced to set his communion table down in the nave, where it looked indecorous and offensive, and could no longer order the church bells tolled at funerals.
And then, not least, there was the death of her daughter Martha. Mistress Moore had, of course, like any natural mother, loved her daughter. Quite apart from that, though, she had gone to considerable trouble to see one of her husband’s more sympathetic schemes — Martha’s marriage to young Mr Appleton, who was not only a member of Gray’s Inn but of his majesty’s party too — through to completion.
And yet for all that, her plans were undone. Alas! Miss Martha, though a plump, cheerful, complacent young woman, had died not long after, only 21 summers old, leaving only two infant girls, the younger of whom promptly joined her mother in her narrow berth under the now-empty chancel of the parish church. The coverlet for that cold bed was a black stone slab inscribed with doggrel produced, as ever, by Mistress Moore’s husband, who loved writing bad poetry even more than he loved wine, tobacco and any sort of company, no matter how light or foolish.
Mistress Moore still held one further daughter in reserve.
Dorothy, pretty enough in a wan way like dawn in January, was less robust than her sister had been. The air in those marshy, fenny, flood-washed lands adjoining Lynn was famously insalubrious — worse than the air in Chelsea, which was bad enough.
Mistress Moore’s mother had been brought up in Chelsea, where her father had been a goldsmith banker and a merchant adventurer, a new man, admittedly, but one of some consequence and, by the end of his life, much style. They had lived in what was by far the best house in Chelsea, with a chapel all of their own in the Old Church, filling gradually over time with their funerary monuments. Yet despite that, out of eleven children, only five had survived infancy.
Here in Norfolk, Mistress Moore, herself raised in Surrey then transplanted to Norfolk and now well into her fifth decade of life, had to her credit only two progeny— both of them female, neither of them strong, one of them now dead.
Mistress Moore’s husband, it has to be said, seemed to care very little. When they were babies he had dandled the little creatures on his knee, recited nonsense verse to them, kissed their cheeks and coaxed from them torrents of laughter — then promptly departed to Lynn, or to London, or wherever his business took him. And when Martha died, he was sorry for it, but not so much so that he paused much in his business or his revels which, truth to say, had not lessened but rather increased as the years had passed.
Mr Moore, you see, was himself a lawyer, but not that species who spend much time arguing a case at law, or who trouble much over right and wrong. He was, instead, a florid-faced political person, much addicted to dining with this burgess or that peer, spinning a tale here and hatching an intrigue there, always with a joke on his lips and often with a wine glass clasped in his fleshy fingers.
Sometimes, Mr Moore managed to earn some money this way. Often, he did not, but truth be told, this did not much trouble him. Mr Moore’s father, a sharp-witted old yeoman farmer, had, while he still lived, bought up a great deal of their neighbours’ lands, kept a frugal house, lived with caution and some cunning, and lay buried without any memorial excepting his gift of £5 towards a great tenor bell for the parish. And if there was any secret worth telling in his family’s past, old Mr Moore stayed silent about it. In contrast, his lawyer son’s liberality both of expenditure and of language flowed like high spring tide, unbounded and incontinent, so that few entirely knew where they stood with him, except that it was good cheer to do so.
Mr Moore had not minded much either, it seems, about the breaking of the siege of Lynn, or these late insurrections more generally, nor indeed about his late majesty’s trial and murder. His dining companions changed a little, but that was all. He made much of new men and committee-men like Major Spensley and Edward Walpole, or in London, those who clung onto the coat-tails of the Lord Protector. He discovered the most sturdy and enduring of the town burgesses, and did as they did. By which I mean, viz., blowing with the breeze, carried along by it like a ship tossed in a storm upon the high seas.
Unlike his wife, Mistress Moore, Mr Moore was happy, more or less, to let the ship be driven where it list, so long as it stayed afloat, whereas he sometimes suspected that Mistress Moore would rather see their ship driven onto the rocks, rather than find shelter in some unworthy haven.
* * *
Mistress Moore was not a witch.
It is true that she had been taught some things by her mother, who had learned these from her own mother, who in turn had been taught them by the Portuguese maid of a lady who once been a personage of considerable weightiness at court. And it is also true that, in order to augment this inherited knowledge, Mistress Moore sometimes studied books, printed pamphlets and hand-written accounts of witchcraft cases collected by Mr Moore in the course of his work. For in explaining what witches had done and what they ought not to have done, these documents sometimes proffered fruitful hints regarding how, if one for some reason wished to become a witch, one might first set about it. Mistress Moore, an educated woman as was the custom in her family, would leaf through these books when her husband was absent, drawing there inspiration if not exactly instruction.
And yet Mistress Moore was not a witch. All other objections aside, her attempts to conjure spirits did not prosper. She had no familiars unto herself, but only a few cats of the ordinary sort. Although she might have welcomed the arrival of a tall man, nay a dark one too, proposing to make some covenant with her, he did not arrive. When she lay with her husband, no demons joined their coupling, nor afterwards did she fly through the damp night air, invisible and free, journeying to dark assignations. And if a coven met nearby, perchance at the crossroads so very near her own door, her neighbours neglected to invite her to join it.
Mistress Moore had, admittedly, tried to do some of these things, and also others. Viz., during the siege of Lynn early on in the great rebellion, she had gazed out upon the Parliamentary forces outside her window, drawn up to break the siege, and had projected to fix them in their places, like so many statues. But her projecting had no effect. And when his late majesty was on trial in Westminster, Mistress Moore laboured mightily to ensure that the grim, uncourteous and contemptible judges would somehow be turned and hence would restore their prisoner to his divinely-annointed place. Alas! Here again she laboured in vain.
Now and again, she enjoyed a success. Once, for instance, she petitioned the spirits of the air to rain down thunder and such on a neighbour who had in some way offended her, and sure enough, a few months later, no small multitude of tiles came away from the neighbour’s barn roof in sharp spring gale. She had further petitioned that another neighbour might die, and eventually, this came to pass — although those who are sceptics in such things might observe that the plague was running high at the time, taking with it many others from her little village, no excepting two of her own servants, the curate, and indeed that rare thing, a neighbour whose company pleased her. She also sometimes had minor successes at healing sick or injured folk, admittedly not more so than most learned women did who had recourse to hot water, clean cloth, a garden of herbs and a little common sense. But many of the other things for which she laboured, such as her husband’s temperance, the restoration of the monarchy and the return of the Book of Common Prayer to their parish church, seemed for quite a long season most unlikely to succeed.
Nor, it must be said, had Mistress Moore been able to keep her own daughter Martha from dying in the bright summer of her youth, which should be enough to convince any reasonable man that she had no powers nor had made any covenants that ran counters to the laws appointed by God or by man.
* * *
Latterly, however, it was less to great affairs of state and their correct disposal than to her daughter Dorothy that Mistress Moore’s thoughts continually turned.
Miss Martha, while she had lived, had been esteemed by all who knew her a tractable, conformable person. As I have related, her father had procured for her a suitable young lawyer at Gray’s Inn. After a brief and uncomfortable meeting over Rhennish wine and new cherries in the panelled room in the house by the river — wherein Mr Moore and young Mr Appleton traded jests about the assizes recently gone, Mistress Moore watched Miss Martha and Miss Martha, red-cheeked and seemingly deprived of speech, watched the tips of her own plump fingers and said nothing at all — she had placidly assented to the fate set out for her by her parents, her breeding and her sex. And the sum of this was, few years, what we have already seen, viz., two babies, one of them dead, and a grave in the chancel of the parish church with a bad poem writ upon it.
Miss Dorothy was a different proposition. Truth to tell, this gentle and melancholy young woman had already met her true love.
He was a Dutchman, a prisoner decked out not as a bridegroom but rather in the white kersey garments in which such prisoners were dressed, being marched from Lynn down to the embanking works somewhere beyond the Bedford Level. A fellow prisoner had smote him on the shoulder with a turving spade and cut him badly. It happening that the official surgeon who should have dealt with the matter was drunk, the Dutchman was brought to Mistress Moore, she being nearby and known to understand a moeity of such things, who then bandaged him up as best she could, this thin weathered man with the sea-green eyes, who looked like a sailor but in fact came from a noble family born far from the sea. And all the while Miss Dorothy, still only a girl, stood by, holding for her mother a pewter dish of clear water soon red with blood as Mistress Moore washed out her cloths and bandages. But as she stood by, Miss Dorothy gazed at the prisoner, and he at her. And while not a word passed between them, when it came to pass that the prisoner died of fever a few weeks hence — this being no surprise, so insalubrious was that wet fen — his sad shade, clothed all in white kersey, journeyed back to the house by the river, walking upon the brink at dusk and at dawn, paying court to Miss Dorothy, who for years now had been the faithful and earnest lover of her dead Dutchman.
None of this, however, figured greatly in Mistress Moore’s calculations, in which her daughter’s views carried little enough weight. Mistress Moore loved her remaining daughter, of course, not least because to the extent that any blood ran through the veins of this pale creature, it was the blood of her own family, the Jacksons, and more particularly, her mother’s family, the Lawrences. And for that reason, it behooved Mistress Moore greatly that Dorothy should to marry, and should marry well. And by marrying well, I mean that she should marry gentleman, an episcopalian and a royalist.
So it was that Mistress Moore used such powers as she had at her disposal to conjure up a husband for her remaining daughter.
* * *
Summer that year had reached its zenith and then passed it, so that overnight, all that was once fruitful abundance was now being translated into decrepitude and putrescence. The tansy grown by Mistress Moore in her herb garden near the brink of the river sprawled over onto the brick paths. The last of the plums, fallen from the trees, crawled with maggots. August was dying. The year was 1658.
Mr Moore had brought home with him to house by the river a guest. Perchance there was some great matter being heard at Lynn, or only an ordinary meeting of the Corporation or a gaol delivery. It is of no importance. When first advised of this Mistress Moore was slightly wroth— another mouth to feed, another bibulous lawyer to keep her husband sitting up far into the late hours of the night, in front of the fire in the oak panelled room, smoking and drinking — until it came to her all of a sudden that her own projecting had, this one time of all others, brought forth fruit.
Robert Wright, the visitor, was a tall man, handsome and strong. He wore his dark hair long and curled, in the cavalier fashion. He seized Mistress Moore’s hand and kissed it warmly, in the old manner, as if he had learned it at court, although he can have been no more than twenty-four years old, so it was hard to know how he had come by such pretty old-fashioned manners.
He was a gentleman, albeit only a second son, yet his his people were the principal family of a pleasant enough village in east Suffolk. His parents were known to be of his late Majesty’s party. Mr Wright was a member of Lincoln’s Inn. From his occasional genteel oaths any fool could see that he was no presbyterian, nor independent either.
Mr Wright was ambitious. Mistress Moore apprehended this immediately. He had no fear of any of them, nor of anything else. He was merry and blithe and knew his business.
Mistress Moore felt herself falling under his spell.
* * *
Mr Moore and Mr Wright sat up late, smoking their pipes and drinking sack, lounging in front of the fire in the oak panelled room, long after the ladies had retired to their chambers. The fire (for the nights had turned cold these past few days) cast shadows all about, catching on all those little things that signalled what sort of house this was — the piles of papers, the new book by that Norwich physician touching on some business concerning an urn, the mirror clasped in its gilt frame, the family crest on the bottle from which the sack was poured, a lute, cards, a small painting in oils depicting a mythological scene of the sort that included bare breasts and buttocks and that would not have been tolerated in any truly godly Roundhead household, which in fact was Mistress Moore’s entire purpose in displaying it, now that displaying a portrait of his late Majesty was deemed impolitic.
Mr Moore was glad of the company. He was glad in part, of course, because like his wife, Mr Moore was not insensible of the need to find a suitable husband for his one remaining daughter, and because for once Mr Moore and his wife could agree that this handsome young man, in whom Mr Moore saw more than a shadow of his own younger self, was a better candidate than most. In fairness, too, Mr Wright was remarkably good company — witty, worldly, amusing yet also easily amused, which is always a pleasing quality.
But the other reason Mr Moore was glad of the late night company is that too often — more and more often, as the years passed, and always more urgently in these late summer nights when the dark was visibly closing in earlier every evening — whether he sat up alone at his books or retired to the airless dark of his chamber and the heavy-curtained bed he shared with a generally unwelcoming Mistress Moore, or even when he slept and dreamed, he saw before him a woman’s face. He saw the face of Grace Wright.
Oddly, in the wholesome light of day, when he tried to remember what she had looked like, everything about her became elusive. But then at night, in those terrible moments when she stood before him, he could see her more clearly than he ever saw a living being — her brown hair fallen away from her lace cap, the colour drained from her cheeks — and, worst of all, those terrible, burning, pale, reproachful eyes.
Mr Moore shuddered, thinking of it — and then noticed that Mr Wright, his suave young guest, had asked him a question.
‘I beg your pardon, sir. My mind was in another place.’
‘Pardon granted, sir, and that with gladness! I know that your business in Westminster, being weighty, weighs upon you. It is right that it were so. I was simply asking, sir, whether you ever knew that rogue Matthew Hopkins, or whether you were already away when he came to Lynn?’
Mr Moore gave an inward start, although he disguised it by pretending he was simply rising to refill Mr Wright’s empty glass, which also gave him a moment in which to frame the means of his equivocation.
‘Aye and nay, sir. I was present for those assizes and the gaol delivery, but I cannot say I knew the rogue, other than to hear his weak little voice and his bark of a cough, and to wonder that the mayor and burgesses should think it fit to pay so him so much for doing so very little. And then of course shortly thereafter he died.’
‘Do you believe in witches, sir?’
‘I was there at the hanging,’ continued Mr Moore, irrelevantly, as if he had not heard Mr Wright’s rather jocular question. ‘Of the nine charged, the jury let six of them off. The seventh went mad in gaol. I was there at the hanging. The hanging of the one, that is not the other poor wretch. It was in the Tuesday Market Place, on such a wild and stormy morning, with such a chill, just as the plague had come back. But I was there. Not for the other wretch — she was called Lee, from memory. No, for the hanging of the one called Wright. Your namesake, sir!’ And here Mr Moore laughed but something went awry with the laugh, perhaps due to the damp in the night air, for in the end it sounded more like a sob.
Mr Wright thought Mr Moore far gone with drink, and was a little surprised, but did not greatly mind, and laughed too. ‘Wrong ones always, these Wrights,’ he said, as if he had not trotted out the same line a thousand times before, which of course he had. ‘But do you believe in witches, sir?’
Mr Moore drank more sack. ‘Well, I was in no way astonished that the jury threw out the charges against the rest, for there was no evidence more than a few old goodwives, simple and silly, who hated their neighbour and who had the temper to watch her being clawed and pawed and pricked and prodded by that rogue, that sickly dying rogue who looked himself more cursed and craven than the lot of them. Aye, I was at the gaol delivery, and at the hanging too. The first one, not the second. It was so cold, that morning. I feel the chill of it now.’ And with that, Mr Wright noticed that Mr Moore was, quite genuinely, although sat in front of a roaring fire and wearing a good wool robe trimmed with marten, actually shivering.
Young Mr Wright sat silently for a little while. During the course of the evening he had resolved to marry Miss Dorothy. She was thin and pale and sad, true, but balanced against that was the fact that her mother, at least, was still remarkably well-connected in London and Surrey, her father almost worryingly acceptable in Roundhead circles both at Lynn and at court, and — not to be forgotten — that the girl herself came with something like £1,000 in rich Norfolk farmland. Also, Mr Wright knew perfectly well that on the assize circuit a handsome young lawyer was never short of company. Things always went well for Mr Wright these days, almost uncannily so.
Mr Moore was still talking, it seemed. ‘As you know well, only a few months later, places like St Neots and Ely were turning the wretch away. And good men were writing books exposing his frauds and follies. And quite right too, for what sort of devil could it be that would require the help of some brown-haired little mouse of a woman in a dainty lace cap, unable even to hold her own against Goody This and Gossip That, her own neighbours, but somehow a worthy lieutenant to the Prince of Darkness himself? But what I cannot see even now, sir, nearly a dozen years on, though I have thought on it much since, is why the jury should have convicted her — convicted them — convicted Grace Wright and the other one — Lee, I think it was. And why they should have hanged her. For she was never guilty of any crime, other than to be surrounded by fools and cowards.’ Mr Moore shivered again.
Mr Wright was calculating how much money he could borrow against £1,000 in rich Norfolk farmland.
‘But you haven’t answered your own question, sir. Mr Wright, do you believe in witchcraft? As we all know, and the times lament, you see the world turned upside down, now — so what signifies it what old men in their cups believe? What do you think, sir, who are doubtless less foolish and fond than I am? Do witches exist, or no? Or did we torment and burn and hang those innumerable poor wretches for nothing?’
Mr Wright laughed, easily, charmingly. He was never at a loss for words, which came to him sometimes as if he was being served them by someone else behind the scenes, as it were.
‘What I believe, sir, is that a people who have done away with degree, with laws, with the church established, with all the order and hierarchies ordained by our Lord God himself, will consent to any rogue’s nonsense that comes their way, stupid fond rabble that they be, absent the guidance of their betters. The fault lies not with the pinching and prattling goodwives, those little civil wars they fight amongst themselves for lack of good rule from above, even less with the poor mad bitches and curs strung up at their urging, but rather with the magistrates who let it happen, because they have no more idea how to rule than do the simple goodwives, being not born to it as once was the case, in kinder and happier days. Nay, sir, wait and see. The day will come when the better sort will be restored to their rightful place, and the law to its authority, and those knaves and rogues and soldiers and ignorant hedge-preachers who rule us now all thrown into oblivion. And then when the world is quieter we shall hear only of bickering goodwives and their misdemeanors, and fractious quarrelling neighbours, and we shall have purged ourselves of this fever-fed delusion of witches.’
It may appear that Mr Wright had briefly forgotten that his prospective father-in-law had not, himself, been born a gentleman, and that despite his royalist family connections, he had prospered under the Commonwealth, as had many of his friends. And yet Mr Wright had by no means forgotten this. He simply understood, without the need to say it, something that Mr Moore also understood, which was that Mr Moore, like himself, was a time-server and an equivocator, who would change his tack to suit the weather and the tide, and see no shame in it, either.
Mr Moore was looking silently into the fire. He did not think he would ever be rid of Grace Wright.
Mr Wright, however, had a confidence to share — a sort of keepsake gift for his soon-to-be in-laws — and so he shared it. ’Sir, I beg thee keep this to thy breast, but between you and me and the little cat in the corner, we may not have to wait so long, either. For one who bides in London sent me a communication averring that our esteemed great high Lord Protector may soon follow that path so lately taken by his grandson and namesake, and then by his favourite daughter Claypole — I mean, sir, to the grave. Their regal house is, methinks, constructed on flimsy foundations, and I foresee a strong winds and a high spring tide.’
This made Mr Moore turn. Again, he winced inwardly. Much of his value to the mayor and burgesses of Lynn lay in the intelligence that came his way from London, and yet, for reasons that were hard to understand, this young man seemed always to know more than he did.
Mr Moore should have felt elation at the news of the Lord Protector’s downfall, too, but instead he had only a queasy sense of the ground slipping away under his feet.
In truth, over recent years, a gulf had opened up between him and Mistress Moore regarding how best to navigate the climacteric in which they found themselves. She, like her family, was entirely of his Majesty’s party — all the more so, once he was murdered — and could make no accommodation with those who did not share her resolution. Whereas Mr Moore looked out the window in the morning and saw how the day was, and simply hoped to make the best of what he found in it. So it was that while others had been cashiered, thrown in prison, driven into exile, consigned to house arrest, stripped of their lands and income, driven to despair or worse — and many good and honest men were now dead in their graves for that cause — Mr Moore could still argue the law, still sit amongst the members of the town corporation, could travel to Westminster and wait upon the favour of the new government, could indeed apply for a grant of arms to endorse his gentle status (he expected it to arrive any day now) — could live and thrive in the unexpected warmth of that new sun.
All this had been the cause of much variance between Mr Moore and his wife — in fact, a more or less entire rift between them — and now Mr Moore saw that, in the end, it had all been for nothing.
* * *
A few nights after — falling upon the anniversary of his majesty’s sad defeat at Worcester, as it happened — such a storm came up as no one in that country had seen for years, although those who lived near Lynn later heard that the winds had been even stronger in the south, where towers and steeples were overthrown, ships sunk and their crews with them, and more houses lost their roof-tiles and thatching than any living person could recollect.
This was not a storm of Mistress Moore’s making, for as we have seen she had no such sure art, but all the same, it blew in three things she had long desired.
For the next day all those who abided in that house by the river learned that the Lord Protector was, indeed, stone cold dead, at which Mistress Moore rejoiced, even though she knew some time would pass before the king, still waiting in the Low Countries, might fully, as that much-rehearsed song would have it, enjoy his own again, and hence until her family, viz., the Jacksons and Lawrences and Colviles, were restored to the general regard that their loyalty, steadfastness and resolution surely had earned for them.
Further, Mr Wright, also seeing which way the wind was blowing, asked Mr Moore for his daughter’s hand in marriage, a petition which was greeted with satisfaction on the part of the older Moores, and no particular reluctance on the part of Dorothy, who cared little one way or the other, so far gone was she in dreaming of her dead Dutchman.
And then Mr Appleton came to visit from their place in Suffolk, and he brought his daughter — Mr and Mrs Moore’s one surviving grandchild — in his company.
Mr Appleton wished to inspect the neat mural tablet he had ordered to be set up in memory of his late wife in the parish church, in what used to be the chapel of St Thomas the Martyr.
Less manifestly, but no less urgently, for he was a careful and provident man, he wished to discuss with his father-in-law the arrangements for Miss Martha Appleton’s inheritance.
When Mistress Moore had last seen her, her sole grandchild had been no more than a babe in arms. Now Martha was seven years old. A prettier, sweeter, more pleasing child could hardly have been imagined. Mistress Moore was enchanted. She saw in the little girl’s features the bold high forehead of the Lawrences and, although she could find few to agree with her in this, in the poppet’s funny button nose the aquiline beak of the Jacksons.
Mistress Moore could be exceedingly high and mighty in her ways, which many held against her, but with little Martha Appleton she was tenderness itself. She sat the small girl in her lap, read with her from big leather-bound books, taught her all sorts of silly little rhymes and songs and stories.
By the time a fortnight had gone and Martha Appleton and her father had to go on their way, back to Suffolk, the girl and her grandmother were boon companions and confidantes — nay, conspirators even.
* * *
The seasons rolled on, the years passed. Other parliaments were summoned, the rightful king sat once again on the throne of his fathers, and the natural order of things was, after that long unhappy unreasonable time, finally restored, thanks be to God.
Meanwhile the fat farmland south of Lynn, the low country flanking that slow river, continued to breed rich crops, abundant sheep, plentiful and easy wealth — but also agues, fevers, slow death. As Mistress Wright (as we must now call her) waxed great with her pregnancy, something else was withering, visibly so, inside her.
Nevertheless at every dawn and dusk, whatever the weather, she could be seen walking by the brink, staring into the half-brackish water as the tide first drove it back from the sea towards the land, then reversed its course and pulled it seaward again, muddy and inscrutable. Or when Mr Wright, sometimes with charming words and sometimes with an edge of roughness, brought her back inside the house by the river, she would retire to her room and slip into an uneasy sleep, wherein she could be heard speaking a language she surely could not have known. Also sometimes there were wet footprints outside her door, howbeit that no one had passed that way.
Mistress Moore apprehended that, once again, matters were turning in a way that was not to her liking. Late one night, with Mr Moore at court and her servants all abed, she attempted to conjure up a vision of the future, to see what lay in store for Dorothy her daughter, for the blood of the Jacksons and the Lawrences. As ever, her family secrets and book-learning and intuitions failed her. No tall dark man came to speak with her. She looked into pewter bowl of clear bright water and saw nothing in it, nothing at all.
Yet that night, as she slept, Mistress Moore had a dream, and it was a comfort to her. In her dream, Mistress Wright was talking with her dead daughter Martha. Martha, plump and complacent as ever, mentioned as if it was something well-known to them both already that in due course Robert Wright would be elected to parliament, would wear the wig and gown of a lord chief justice of the King’s Bench, and indeed would flourish so vastly in his progeny that his descendants would thrive not only in their own country, not only in Norfolk and Suffolk and London too, but in the New World as well. In an odd detail, the dead Martha was drinking dark liquid from a funny little blue-and-white cup, of a sort that Mistress Moore did not recognise at all.
Dorothy Wright died. So did the child she was carrying.
Dorothy was buried, like her sister, in the church just across the river from the house in which she had lived all her short life. Mr Moore, her father, consoled himself with writing a slightly bathetic poem that was later engraved on the black slate slab that covered her grave. Her funeral service was conducted according to the rite set down in the Book of Common Prayer, which pleased Mistress Moore.
Mr Wright, her husband — or, rather, now her widower — congratulated himself that the terms of their jointure had been such that he could still borrow money on the basis of Dorothy’s inheritance. He then turned his mind to the rather urgent business of finding another rich, armigerous or at least well-connected wife. Needless to say, such a wife soon came to him, easily, as if by a sort of magic.
* * *
And so this story comes to its conclusion — although because it is a story fashioned from the stuff of life, it does not end neatly or entirely, but rather fades away at the edges, like a bowl of water spilled onto the earth.
So perhaps I should also inform you that in 1666 the plague came once again to Lynn, and took Mr Moore with it, although not before he had written yet another long verse, this one his own actual will and testament, a jest so odd and poignant that manuscript copies were passed around his friends and fellow country lawyers for decades afterwards. In this will, he asked to be buried next to his daughter Martha in the chancel of the parish church, which is indeed what happened. And there he lies today — Mr Thomas Moore, gentleman — with his newly-acquired arms hanging nearby in what was once the chapel of St Thomas the Martyr, and all his various weaknesses and evasions happily forgotten.
And I shall tell you also that Mistress Moore, upon the death of her husband, moved away from the village where she had lived so long, away from the house by the river, although not before burning a few books and pamphlets and papers. She packed up her things and travelled over the flat waterlogged fields and went to abide near Wisbech in the household of her cousin Colvile, now old and blind, yet once a brave cavalier who fought for his late majesty at the Battle of Worcester. But when Mistress Moore made her own will, she asked to be buried back in her own parish — in the same grave as her mother, Mistress Jackson, and her brother William Jackson, and under the same gravestone too, with no inscription other than to say that Mrs Martha Jackson and her two children were buried there. And this, too, is indeed what happened.
“Time, which antiquates antiquities, and hath an art to make dust of all things, hath yet spared these minor monuments,” as a wiser author than I once expressed it.
And what of the tall, handsome, heartless, yet so strangely successful Mr Wright?
Mistress Moore lived to see him sitting as member of parliament for the borough of King’s Lynn, knighted and married to the daughter of the late bishop of Ely, although not long enough to see him rise to become, eventually, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, where he surprised the many who thought him wholly venal, incompetent, unfit for office and indeed inexplicably elevated to it, by presiding over the trial of the Seven Bishops (a famous cause in its time) with impartiality and a degree of moral bravery. It was a pity, then, that in 1688, with the coming of the so-called Glorious Revolution, and another sharp change in the weather, my Lord Chief Justice Wright should have been charged with high treason, driven into hiding, discovered hiding in the Old Bailey and summarily committed to Newgate Prison, where he died of gaol fever in while awaiting trial. If his place of burial is known, it is not known to me.
And yet, for all that, Sir Robert Wright’s blood is now diffused among any number of noble and aristocratic families, so numerous and successful and energetic in their adventuring were his progeny. Indeed one of his grandsons ended up as royal governor of the colony of South Carolina in the America — a thing which Mistress Moore could not reasonably have foreseen, any more than she could have imagined the drinking of tea or so much else that has happened since.
And in 1688 Martha Shelton, daughter of Robert Appleton and wife of Maurice Shelton, died sine prole, which was the end of the line of Thomas Moore and his wife Martha.
This, at least, is what has been told to me. But if it is wrong in any respect, or does an injustice to any of the folk mentioned herein, Mistress Moore and all the others, then I beg your indulgence, and theirs too, for truly, I mean no harm by it.