THE Duke and Duchess of Devonshire are in Scotland,” was what the Invalid read reverently and interestedly from the court news.
” Then we can visit Hardwick Hall. How shall we get there? ” asked the Matron.
” By driving,” was the reply of the busy Treasurer. ” The distance is about ten miles. It will cost us about four shillings or less each. We could go by train, but that would not be so pleasant. We should then be obliged to go back over our way here to Ambergate, change there, and then go over the other side of the triangle to Mansfield, wait there for a train to Hardwick, and when we get to the Hardwick station we should still be two miles from the inn. As I have planned it, we can start from here to-morrow at about ten o’clock, and we shall be at Chesterfield in time for luncheon. I have wired to the Hardwick Inn, and the landlord will meet us at Chesterfield and take us over the rest of the road.”
” As you have evidently settled all the plans, we shall be content with your decision,” said the Matron.
Polly’s plans were good. The sun shone for us, the air was neither too warm nor too cool, and we drove away over the moor in a comfortable carriage. The driver complained of the condition of the road, which, to our American eyes, seemed not at all had, for it is a wild district. A lonely farmhouse among desolate-looking fields now and then broke the monotony of the scene. The whole of the moorland was fenced off by stone walls, but furze and bracken were the principal crops we saw until we got to the edge of the plateau beyond the Red Lion Inn. Here the high ground fell away suddenly and a smiling plain appeared, and the road goes down-hill nearly all the way thence until the twisted steeple which distinguishes Chesterfield came in sight.
” They say the devil twisted it,” was what our driver volunteered, in answer to our exclamations.
” It looks like the devil,” murmured our wittiest member, irreverently.
Chesterfield is an ugly town, as ugly as its great church and twisted steeple. There was nothing to interest us there, and rougher-looking men and women we had seen nowhere in the English country.
The road from Chesterfield to Hardwick is a broad highway, leading through the coal-mining district of Scarsdale. It is the only road in our travels on which we saw untidy homes, squalid children, and dreary, flower-less, bare yards before the cottages. Low hills covered with green were in the distance, but nearer to us were chimneys belching forth smoke and flame, great heaps of coal-dust, and villainous-looking tramps. We had forgotten the existence of such creatures in our rural wanderings.
It was a relief when we left the broad high-way for the narrow, wooded road, where Hardwick Hall soon showed itself, its many windows shining upon us from among the trees on the hilltop.
The inn guards one gate of the park. It is as secluded and sequestered as though there were no collieries within a thousand miles. A very old hostelry it is, and belongs to the Duke of Devonshire. The bright little sitting-room and four or five good bedrooms are charmingly furnished in modern style for the guests at the Hall, which is not large. The Duchess of Devonshire sometimes finds it convenient to send the gentlemen of a house-party here to sleep when her own stately bedrooms are quite full.
We were very fortunate to time our arrival when the Hall is vacant; sa the innkeeper’s wife tells us. When the duke is not in residence, his sister, Lady Louisa Egerton, often occupies the house, and then no visitors are allowed to see the delightful interior. We were more than glad, because, next to Haddon, dismantled, old Hardwick, almost untouched since the days of Queen Elizabeth, and full of remembrances of the remarkable woman who built it, is one of the Halls we had most desired to visit.
A curving avenue leads to the Hall from the gate of the inn, but there is a short cut climbing by grassy steps up the steep hillside. The park is dotted thick with ancient oak-trees, their withered branches standing out sad and solemn against the sky. The duke will not allow the leafless boughs to be lopped off. He rightly thinks they suit the ancient park.
Hardwick Hall, ” more windows than wall,” stands surrounded by a courtyard, and isolated from the green lawns of the estate by a high wall resembling the house in its architecture. It is square and solid, with the spearlike ornaments so fashionable in Tudor days decorating the top. The interior of the courtyard is a bright carpet of flowers spread before the noble entrance. The letters E. S., with which the Countess of Shrewsbury ornamented the top of the towers, and which stand out clear against the sky, are repeated by the skill of the gardener in the flower-beds of the courtyard.
Very near, outside the enclosure, are the ivy-grown ruins of the house in which the builder of the present Hall was born. It is the old Hardwick Hall, the dwelling-place of Elizabeth’s ancestors, and which she dismantled and tore down in order to get materials for the more modern structure. The Countess of Shrewsbury not only had the building mania, but she was filled with dread of death should she cease erecting walls. A soothsayer had told her that when she stopped building she would stop living, and, strange to say, she died when the frost of winter once kept her workmen idle. To be sure, she was then at the ripe age of eighty-seven.
” Quite a proper age to die,” observed the Invalid.
Hardwick Hall was built at the time when Mary, Queen of Scots, was detained at Chats-worth, but it was not finished until after her execution. One of the chambers is furnished with hangings said to be embroidered by that unhappy captive, and the bed and other objects in the apartment are purported to have been used by her. They may have been re-moved here from the Chatsworth House. Possibly the chamber might have been pre-pared before the Hall was finished. It is certain that Mary often rode over here with the countess while the building was in progress. In the entrance-hall of Hardwick there is a marble statue of Mary and a screen which is pointed out as a specimen of her needlework.
This hall is adorned with a fine mantelpiece of the (parget) raised stucco, so popular in Elizabeth’s day. All over the mansion there are examples of the very best style of this kind of ornamentation. In the great hall appear the Hardwick arms supported by two stags, while in the presence-chamber there is a wonderful parget frieze. It represents a hunt of Diana and her nymphs. Not only are there stags, but all sorts of astonishing animals, known and unknown, lingering under marvellous trees until the huntress shall choose to pursue them. This splendid work is coloured, and extends all around a room which is sixty-five feet long. Great square bay-’ windows break the design on one side. But, wherever it is possible to find space between them, a tree fifteen feet high spreads its branches over an elephant about the size of a stag, or the eager huntress is seen, surrounded by her dogs, pictured quite as big as the elephants.
Throughout the mansion the furniture of the period when the Hall was first used as a dwelling is still preserved, and the chairs and tables are all fine specimens of the taste of the days of Queen Elizabeth.
The great picture-gallery extends the whole length of the front, one hundred and sixty-six feet. The windows in this gallery are said to contain twenty-seven thousand. panes of glass.
” How ever do they get them washed?” asked our practical housekeeper, the Matron. That feat is evidently accomplished. They were clean and shining enough for us to see that the portraits were hung over the superb old tapestry as if it were the commonest of wall-paper.
” Do you suppose Queen Elizabeth gave her portrait to everybody at her court?” queried the Invalid, as she studied attentively a picture of that overdressed virgin.
” No, Queen Elizabeth was not so extravagant,” answered Polly, promptly. ” She took, she did not give. She allowed her subjects to order portraits of her from the great artists, and she kindly consented to sit. Thus did she patronize art.” How Polly knew all this Elizabethan gossip, we did not question. Polly knows everything, that we do not dispute.
The memory of the unfortunate Arabella Stuart is inseparably connected with Hard-wick Hall. The Countess of Shrewsbury was her grandmother. Arabella’s mother was the most amiable of daughters, and it was by force of maternal ambition that she was married to a younger brother of Lord Darnley, and a possible heir to the Scottish crown. This prince, who had been sadly neglected all during his youth, was on his way to Scotland, where his mother, who had married in England, was taking him to get a wife. The party got no farther than Hardwick Hall. Bess made their sojourn so pleasant that she captured the young man for her own daughter, and in 1575 little Arabella Stuart was born.
Her life here with her grandmother was far from pleasant. Queen Elizabeth had been perfectly beside herself with rage when Bess married her daughter, Elizabeth Cavendish, to one of the Stuarts, and it was only after many attempts that the queen had taken her subject again into partial favour. When Arabella was born, the queen especially stipulated that the child should never be allowed to marry.
Little Arabella was painted as a child here at Hardwick, and her picture hangs with the other notabilities in the long gallery.
” Bess may have been able to build lovely houses, but she certainly did not know how to dress this unfortunate baby,” declared the Invalid.
The little girl is represented in a brocade of pink flowers and green leaves. The dress has great, stiff sleeves confined by bracelets at the wrists, and covered with an ugly cape of the same material coming up high about the neck. A hideous pompadour of false red hair crowns her pathetic little face, and on a chain she wears a pendant in the shape of a heart surmounted by a coronet. The device, “Pour parvenir j’endure,” the poor little soul surely never chose for herself, although she lived up to it, alas!
” It sounds like an inspiration of her grand-mamma,” was Polly’s theory, ” and the poor little girl did endure, but her arrival was misery.”
This grandmamma, Bess of Hardwick, had managed before her death to marry four rich husbands, and to persuade them to give her all their possessions, to the exclusion of their own children. She was not beautiful, she was masculine and domineering, although she is said to have been witty. That she was not strong in book-learning is revealed by her ingenious way of spelling ” orcus,” meaning horses. She was a builder, a buyer and seller of estates, a money-lender, a farmer, and a merchant of lead, coals, and timber; she was of masculine understanding and conduct, proud, furious, selfish, and unfeeling. Such was the grandmother with whom the child, who had inherited the affectionate disposition of her mother, was forced to pass all her young days. Arabella was sweet and pliable, but she hated the constant hunting and feasting in which her grandmother delighted. She loved books and learning, read the Greek Testament in the original, and was sentimental and romantic.
” Like most quiet women,” commented the knowing Matron. As none of our party could be dubbed quiet, we therefore agreed with the Matron’s analysis of character.
Arabella’s grandmother was enormously rich, her income at the time of her death being two hundred thousand pounds. Although she strictly forbade ” all superfleuete or waste,” she entertained lavishly, and the unhappy little Arabella had to sit on the dais at the end of the great hall where we entered, and keep still through interminable courses of
First, roast swans, venison, pheasants, pullets, pigeons, and pasty tarts of divers hues and sundry denominations, followed by mighty joints, with veal pies, capons, black cocks, chickens, partridges, and two kinds of bread, marchpane and coarse cheats, a few potatoes, no other vegetables, and ending with sweets, jellies in shape of animals, trees, houses. A great piece of sugar-work representing a fortress, or some such thing; conserves of fruits, gingerbread, marmalade, and numerous comfits.
With this the guests drank ale, mead, and wine, served in silver and sometimes Venice glass, and the feast was eaten in perfect silence.
Arabella’s romantic nature pined for love, and she escaped the vigilance of her guardians by secretly marrying William Seymour. She paid a bitter penalty by imprisonment in the Tower, followed by insanity and death. The room she occupied at Hardwick Hall is hung with tapestry, representing cupids guiding a boat through smooth waters, the attendants on the banks garlanded with oak and ivy, and following the stream.
” Poor Arabella! This was the only smooth water her life ever knew.”
In an adjoining room hangs a portrait of Bess of Hardwick, a sharp-featured lady, with red wig, a black dress, and thick ruff, and a chain of magnificent pearls around her neck.
Her wig is topped by a small black cap and flowing veil.
She died, as the chronicle says, ” continually flattered but seldom deceived, immensely rich, without a friend.” She left, however, this charming dwelling-place, and her descendants have preserved it as a perfect specimen of one of the most delightful treasures of the Elizabethan Age.
The park embraces six hundred and twenty acres of woodland, with broad sweeps of meadow on which graze cattle and deer. There are drives, a lake, and stretches of fine trees. Toward the side where Hardwick Inn lies, close at the foot of the hill, the ground falls from the Hall steeply down to the oak-bordered lake ; but above, where the house stands, is a broad plateau covered by the greater extent of the park.
The fine stables built by Bess of Hardwick are still used by the Duke of Devonshire, who often houses his race-horses here.
Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher, who was afraid of the dark, was a member of the house-hold during the life of Bess of Shrewsbury. He was tutor to her children, and lived nearly all of the ninety-one years of his life at Hard-wick, after he first came there at twenty-one years of age. His portrait hangs in the gallery.
The brightness, the beauty, and the comfort of the apartments at Hardwick so enchanted the Invalid and the Matron that we could scarcely get them back to luncheon at the inn, and they returned for another look at the interior before four o’clock (the closing hour), while Polly and I were wandering under the trees in the park.