Authors: Maeve Haran
ALSO BY MAEVE HARAN
Having It All
Scenes from the Sex War
It Takes Two
A Family Affair
All That She Wants
Baby Come Back
The Farmer Wants a Wife
The Froth on the Cappuccion
THE LADY AND THE POET
St. Martin’s Press
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
THE LADY AND THE POET.
Copyright © 2009 by Maeve Haran.
All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.
For information, address St. Martin’s Press,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y.10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The lady and the poet/Maeve Haran. — 1st U.S. ed.
1. Donne, John, 1572–1631—Fiction. 2. London (England)—History—16th century—Fiction. I. Title
PR9199. 4. H3626L33 2009
First published in Great Britain by Pan Books,
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd.
First U.S. Edition: March 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For AG my JD
THE GOOD MORROW
I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then,
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room, an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to others, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest,
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none can slacken, none can die.
THIS IS YOUR
fault, Mistress Elizabeth More!’
I poked my sister awake in the great bed we shared and she smiled at me, her eyes full of sleep and contentment. ‘For the sake of your stupid marriage we must vacate the house today that they may sweeten it.’ I imitated the haughty tones of my grandmother. ‘“I will not have the county’s nobility hold their noses while they relieve themselves in my privy.” So thanks to you, Bett, they are to empty the house of offices and strew herbs and fresh rushes on every floor.’
‘Has Father forgiven me for wanting the marriage here and not in London where Queen Elizabeth might attend?’ Bett reached out her hand and gently pushed a strand of my busy auburn curls back inside my cap. They will never stay there.
I laughed. ‘Oh, he agreed soon enough when Grandfather offered to charge the wedding to his own expense.’
My father, though plentifully rich, is apt to be careful with his money.
Looking across at my sister’s lovely face, which I have woken up to see each morning of my life, I felt a sudden sadness swooping down upon me. She is the one, since our mother’s loss when I was but a maid of tender years, whom I have held closest to my heart.
And yet by temperament we are like distant continents. While I am fire and air, ever ready to argue and dispute when I should be humble, my dearest Bett is earth and water. She is as calm as a chapel in the stillness of the day, and her eyes hold that same clear brightness of
sunlight on the sea. And she is so kind! While my temper is tried by the smallest trifle—the bread with our daily soup being hard, pricking my finger on a needle, my grandmother’s eternal chivvying—Bett is ever sweet and smiling. And when Frances, our youngest sister, although but ten years old, drives me to distraction with her tidying and sermonizing, Bett tells me that it is Frances, not I, who is the model for a good Christian wife and I must hold my peace.
Marriage holds no fears for Bett. She cares nothing that her betrothed, Sir John, is portly and pompous, and that he wants a wife more for her dowry and her docility than her sweetness or her spirit. It does not stir Bett to anger, as it does me, that daughters can be bought and bargained over like cows at a market place, and that the first questions before any betrothal are how large is the marriage portion and how advantageous is the settlement. These things are natural, according to my lady grandmother. What is not natural is love.
My grandmother says love cools, leaving nothing but a burned-out pot that others must clean. Perhaps Bett will be happy then with her husband, who cares more for hawking and hunting than for the joys of a new bride.
The house beneath us began to stir. It was Sunday so there would be no morning prayers, since we go to church. The servants were already stowing away the pallets they had slept on in the Great Hall and lighting the fire before all must leave for worship. Soon the whole house would be busy. Sometimes, I think, with fifty servants, not to mention we five, and passing guests who must be given a bed, there is no nook or cranny in my grandfather’s house where it is possible to be alone.
Even in bed.
As I thought of Bett’s marriage I wondered for a moment what it would be like to climb beneath the covers with a man whose eyes were afire not with thoughts of dowries or of marriage negotiations but with love and desire, and I felt suddenly stirred. Across the pillow Bett looked at me.
‘What a strange smile, Ann. As if you had tasted a ripe peach from our grandfather’s hothouse and the juice was running down your chin.’
I laughed in shyness at the accuracy of her words. ‘What will I do when you have left me, Bett?’
‘You will come often to Camois Court and visit me. It is not so far away. Half a day’s ride, no more, on your sturdy old cob.’
‘Half a day! That sounds like half an eternity!’
I pulled back the curtains of the bed, our private world, as pale light filtered into the big, cold room. We are fortunate, I know, to have our own chamber. Sometimes, when the house is full, five or six must be accommodated here, often sharing a bed with a stranger, the visiting servants abed in the passageways or sleeping on truckles with their master or mistress.
The old manor house of Loseley, near Guildford in the county of Surrey, was built by my great-grandfather, Sir Christopher More, and my grandfather inherited it. My grandfather might have gone on dwelling there, since it was a solid old house, if somewhat lacking in luxuries, but Queen Elizabeth chided him. He needed a fine new house, she said, so that she might come and stay with him on one of her summer progresses.
Queen Elizabeth’s subjects do not need to be told her wishes twice. So my grandfather, Sir William More, built a fine new house using the stone from nearby Waverley Abbey, a Cistercian monastery before the Dissolution. Being a careful man he supervised the building himself at cost of £1,640 19s and 7d and still has the account books to prove it. Yet I think my grandfather regretted his largesse when the Queen and all her retinue of servants and courtiers, three hundred in all, with more than a hundred cartloads of belongings, even with their own hangings and furniture lest ours was not good enough, came to stay three times more. Some gentlemen, I have heard tell, were made bankrupt by the Queen’s visits, with all the food and fine wine her followers insisted upon, and the masques that had to be performed, the musicians provided, and all at the host’s own expense. And each time she came the Queen insisted my grandfather remove us, his family, to another place and lay straw along the roads so that her coach would not jolt her uncomfortably. He must needs take with him, she commanded, any female servant, since she liked not the whiny voices of women. Even when my grandfather pleaded illness the Queen ignored him and moved in anyway, telling him that Loseley must be left cleaner than the last time.