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CHAPTER VI
A.D. 1847-1850
GRAVITY AND FUN

Though verging now on her thirtieth year, Charlotte Tucker was still unknown to the public as an Author. If the initials A. L. O. E. existed in her mind as a future possibility, they had at least not yet appeared upon any printed page.

From time to time, however, her pen was busy; still in the old line of comic or tragic plays, for home amusement. In 1847 she wrote The Castle of Sternalt; a Tragedy in Two Acts; belonging to the Cavalier and Roundhead period of England’s history. In that same year she also accomplished Grimhaggard Hall; a Farce in Two Acts—not historical, but highly comic. After which came apparently a gap of two or three years; and in 1850 she wrote, Who Was The Witch? a Drama in Three Acts—historical again, belonging to the days of the Saxons and of King Harold, half comic, half tragic.

It does not appear from these three plays that her gift in the dramatic line had made any marked advance during the ten years or more which had elapsed since first she launched out in this direction. Probably an entirely different mode of life from hers, a less sheltered existence, a more extensive knowledge of human nature in its countless phases, is an absolute necessity to such development. There is in them much latent power, however[72] unequal and undeveloped, whether it be of the grave or of the sparkling and humorous description. The following quotation from the Castle of Sternalt will give an idea of her tragic style at that period. Ravensby, the hero, is a Cavalier, imprisoned and condemned to death on a false charge of murder.

ACT IV.—SCENE I.
A DUNGEON.
Ravensby.
‘Th’ intensity of grief destroys itself.
The torturer beholds his Victim stretched
Unconscious, pain itself o’ercome by pain.
Fate dooms me now to death; last punishment
Which mortal can inflict,—and yet I feel
There’s mercy in the doom. Thus to live on
Were lingering martyrdom; it were to die
By inches, drain my heart’s blood drop by drop.
One flash ends all! O Clara, when my soul
Hath ceased to suffer, can it cease to love?
Methinks, when quitting Earth, ’twill still retain
Her image, who was more than Earth to me!
It is a portion of my being, twined
With every thought and feeling; thou wilt weep,
My Clara; thou canst not believe him false
To faith and friends, who is so true to thee.
Gazing into the uncorrupted depths
Of thy pure feelings, thou wilt judge of mine.
When all denounced me, thou wert still my friend
When all forget, thou wilt remember still!
Enter Agnes.
Agnes, aside.
I ne’er have feared the eye of mortal man,
Why should I shrink from his?
Rav. Who comes to break
The prisoner’s solitude?
Agn. One who would be
The prisoner’s friend.
Rav. I have no friend—save one.
[73]
Agn. Can he speak thus who hath so long espoused
The Royal cause, and served that cause so well?
Who, girt with honours, well deserved, hath stood
One in a noble Brotherhood of Fame!
Where are the Cavaliers who fought with thee
In battle, side by side, who with thee shared
The feast, and drained the wine-cup to your King?
Where are they now? what, gone? not one remains,
T’assert thy innocence, or shield thee from
An ignominious death. Friends! out upon them!
They mock the name; it were not thus, if thou
Hadst drawn thy gallant sword with those who wear
No chains but those of Virtue, those who own
No earthly Monarch, and uphold no power
But that of Liberty; whose friendship lasts
Not only when the red wine sparkles high,
And revelry and song profane the night;
If such had been thy comrades and thy friends,
Thou hadst not been forsaken thus.
Rav. No more!
Agn. The gate thou hast defended with thy blood,
To-morrow casts thee forth, led out to die;
And the proud towers coldly will look down
Upon the closing scene; for hearts more hard
And more impregnable decree thy doom.
Thou diest a traitor’s death;—but wert thou ours,
Then ev’ry bush around the fatal spot
Should hold an armed defender, ev’ry knoll
Conceal an ambushed friend, and at a word
A wall of steel should bristle round thy breast;
Then swords should clash with swords, and they who came
To shed thy blood lie weltering in their own.
If thou wert ours—and yet thou mayst be ours,——
Rav. Cease, for I know thee, Temptress; words like these
Betray the fair false lips from which they flow.
Thou’rt Agnes, own it,—Gasper Tarlton’s love.
Agn. Agnes I am, not Gasper Tarlton’s love.
The thistledown that floats upon the breeze,
The thorny weed which from my path I spurn,
The insect which I crush beneath my tread,
Are not to me more insignificant,
More worthless—than the Slave whom thou hast named.
[74]
Rav. Thank Heaven! then my last doubt melts away;
He yet is true, yet faithful to his King;
My sacrifice will not be made for nought.
Maid, he is honoured in thy hate!
Agn. And thou——
Rav. Leave me.
Agn. To perish!
Rav. Thou canst not defend.
Agn. I could,—yes, I could arm in thy behalf
A thousand gallant hands, might I but say,
‘The injured will on the oppressor turn,
Unite the love of freedom with revenge,
A thousand-fold repay the debt he owes
To your brave confidence; in Ravensby
Ye will destroy a foe and win a friend!’
Could I speak thus——
Rav. Thy sex protects thee, Maid,
Or thou shouldst learn the meed of treason. Hence!
Agn. From other lips such words I had not borne.
Why should I thus urge life upon thee,—why
Seek to preserve thee in thine own despite?
O thou art worthy of a nobler cause;
I see in thee one who can nobly dare,
Firmly resolve, and boldly execute;—
And what a bright career before thee lies——
Rav. A brief one,—from the dungeon to the tomb.
Agn. To die a Traitor in the eyes of men.
Rav. Better than live a villain in my own.
Depart, and leave me to my fate. Away!
Agn. O brave and glorious! I will tempt no more.
My pride is humbled. I have found a soul
That soars beyond mine own. I would not rob
Thy pinion of one plume. I watch thy flight
With kindling emulation. O for power
To follow it, that I above this sphere
Might rise; companion, not unworthy thee!
Rav. A step approaches.
Agn. None must see me here. [Retires into shade.]

Agnes in the end confesses herself guilty of the crime for which he is condemned to death;—in time to save his[75] name from lasting disgrace, though not in time to save his life.

Who Was The Witch? though in parts amusing enough, is hardly so good as the others. Modern English puns sit oddly upon a background of pre-medi?val Saxon history. Grimhaggard Hall is perhaps one of A. L. O. E.’s most comic and laughable jeux-d’esprit, over which one can picture the family as enjoying many a hearty laugh. The perpetual play upon words, and the almost rollicking fun and nonsense of the whole, remind one of her earlier effort, The Pretender, already given at length; though the later-written farce is in some respects scarcely equal to the girlish achievement. Both these plays illustrate well the frisky and frolicsome side of a character which was in some respects not only intensely serious, but absolutely stern. Charlotte Tucker’s was truly a many-sided nature.

Whether at this time she had already begun to write anything in the shape of children’s story-books does not appear. It is by no means unlikely, since the date of her first appearance in print was now fast drawing near.

The chief characters in Grimhaggard Hall are—Mr. Cramp; Mr. Scull, an artist; Mr. Wriggle, a tutor; Miss Cob; and Nellie, daughter of Mr. Cramp.

ACT I.
Library in Grimhaggard Hall. Nellie and Mr. Wriggle.

Nellie. O my dear old Tutor, I shall be so sorry to lose you! I wish that my good Father had kept to his old plan, and instead of sending Bob to College had kept both you and him here. This house is so intolerably dull. When you are gone I shall sit looking at the old stones in the old wall, till I petrify into one myself. Why, the very spiders’ webs look as though there were no business doing in them, and not a fly nor even a broom would call at the door! Heigh-ho!

[76]

Wrig. You forget, honoured Madam, the governess, Miss Cob, who is expected here to-morrow.

Nell. A governess; the horror! then I hear that she is an oddity; so absent; very learned though, and extremely well-informed. I am rather old for a governess; I was seventeen last March. It would have been quite a different thing to have gone on with my studies here with you and Bob. Do you know that, without vanity, I consider that I have made amazing progress during the month that you have been here?

Wrig. In Geography, Madam, for instance. Let me have the honour of recalling to your oblivious memory that only yesterday you forgot the situation of Guinea.

Nell. Nonsense! I said that it was on the Gold Coast, and wished I had it in my own pocket.

Wrig. I have remarked with regret, if you will permit me to say it, an aversion to consulting the Atlas, which——

Nell. Keep me from you and your atlas! Atlas carried the world, and you would burden me with the Atlas. I hardly consider myself competent yet to carry the whole globe on my poor little shoulders. I should like to know what is the use of knowing the situation of this place and that place, to one who never has the satisfaction of seeing any place at all beyond the walls of our stupid garden. I wish that the cross old gentleman who bequeathed my father Grimhaggard Hall, had lived to repent it, that I do! I would rather live in the narrowest lane in the City than be cooped up here like a toad in a block. I’ve no fancy to be a Penelope,—stitch, stitch, stitch!

Wrig. Penelope was a distinguished ornament to her sex.

Nell. O dear Tutor, I know that she was a duck of a queen, but distinguished for nothing but her web-feat.

Wrig. The resource of literature remains to you, Madam, which was never open to her. I would again venture to draw your attention to the subject of Geography.

Nell. O no more of that, I beg, my dear Mr. Wriggle. I know that Ham and Sandwich are in the kitchen, China in the cupboard, and Madeira in the cellar. That is enough for me. I regard Geography simply in reference to utility. I’m quite a utilitarian by principle. You know that the greatest navigator was a Cook; I dare say that he discovered Chili, Cayenne, and Cura?oa. Now do you know, my wise old Tutor, in spite of your white hair and all your learning, I think that I could puzzle you.

[77]

Wrig. It would be difficult, Madam, to place a limit to your powers.

Nell. Tell me, why is Botany Bay called Botany Bay?

Wrig. I am not, I must own, aware from what the name is derived. Probably the Botanist has there discovered some new and curious specimens of plants.

Nell. O you must have come from Dunse or the Scilly Isles. Botany Bay is called Botany Bay, because blossoms of the birch and sprigs of the gallows-tree are transplanted there without their leaves.

Wrig. I see! I see! Ha, ha!

Nell. I wonder if Miss Cob will understand a joke,—if she will ever perpetrate a pun. Do you know I fancy her such a prim old quiz? I should like to know whether she will play at chess with Papa, or teach me the guitar, as you do. Do you think that she will endure this house?

Wrig. The total want of all society, except that which the walls of Grimhaggard Hall have the honour constantly to enclose, may perhaps have an effect upon the lady’s spirits not altogether ............
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