Sunday, 23 August 2009
In the year of our Lord 1586 I Nicholas Hilliard, husband of Alice met a strange woman who was called Lady Flora Spenser. She came into my shop and asked if I was the limner Hilliard of whom she had much noising about at Court. I answered a little bitterly I confess that I was, but that I held no annuity from Her Majesty as member of the Court. At this Lady Spenser smiled and answered that there were other things more important.
"Do you know of scryers and fortune-tellers?" asked she.
I answered with some hauteur that I did not, nor did I care to. She laughed then, a light short laugh that for some reason delighted me, but the cat had fled.
"Then let me scry for you Hilliard and tell you this. Long after you are dead, you will be known still. Master Shakespeare whose name all London rings with will also be much remembered. And my scrying is no mischief-making I assure you," she said quietly and with a sobriety that assured me that she did not lie.
"Well," says I, "I'd lief as had present money than future fame, I'm sure. Fame will not pay for food nor clothes."
"I wish you to paint a portrait miniature of me for a jewel to wear. I wish also that you will accept the payment I shall choose to give you with good grace and even with sincere thanks. If you will accept these terms, I shall assure you that you will not go hungry nor unclad, nor shall fair Alice," says she.
I confess that had any other lordling or lady dared me in this fashion I should have turned them out. Yet, there was something about Lady Spenser that made me willing to accept her terms. I knew not what, but I was sure that I should not have reason to regret doing so. It was not the deep rich warmth of her red hair, nor the bright green of her eyes - nor was it the almost shifting quality of her face. She seemed by turns to have red hair, then tawny, then dark. Her eyes were one moment green, then blue then brown, then gold. I accepted the commission and she gave me 10 pounds for materials. It was most generous and I thanked her sincerely for it. Then I sat her down and drew her face a little while. I struggled at first but soon had two different drawings of her. I thanked her for her time and gave her a day to return and collect the framed miniature.
It was autumn then, almost winter and I had begun it with a mild chill. Still I worked on the portrait, for when should I eat otherwise and I had a wife to support also. I got two portraits from her one face, that face that was as impermanent as the sea. I made up the frames and sent Alice out for supplies for the workshop. She went out well wrapped and when she returned she gave me a message that had been given her by a gentleman. You may imagine that I was not well-pleased at this, but I said little and Alice very kindly made me a posset to warm me. The message said that I was to meet with John Dee at the Crown and Anchor by Southwark. Alice it seems had told him that I was not in a fit condition to leave home, but he said that he had most important news and besides he was familiar with Her Majesty. I dressed warmly and went out with a bodkin at my hip and my good Spanish blade.
At the Crown and Anchor I found myself shivering and brought good brandy to warm my bones, though it seemed to me then that I should never be warm. John Dee was sitting alone in a chamber he had purchased for the purpose. He bid me well met and asked me if I had yet met a Lady Spenser.
"By God's Body I have been commissioned by her for a portrait, sir," says I.
Dee smiled grimly and asked what I knew of the faeries. I knew little, I am a goldsmith and painter by trade, not a scholar of the arcane. He told me he had reason to believe that Lady Spenser was a faerie, if not the Queen of the faeries. I took a little brandy against the cold and laughed softly, but Dee did not laugh. He took my jacket and reached for the crucifix my mother had given me as a boy. It was of gold and most neatly made by my faith. He frowned at it and gave me one of steel, the which he said would protect me against the faeries.
"In faith sirra, I expect no malice from my Lady Spenser. She has commissioned a portrait jewel of me, what harm is there in that?" I asked.
Dee bid me wear the steel cross and I said that for his sake I would for it was little to me. He thanked me and left. I bought a game pie and finished my brandy. I took the pie home for Alice's and mine own supper. I was exceeding cold and did shiver with an ague through the night, until I believed I was like to die. I did not die, but rose with the sun and finished the work. At that moment, I collapsed and should have been there upon the floor all day if not for my dear wife who called Master Andrews in from the forge at the end of the street. He it was who took me up to my bed and laid me gently there. Still I felt weak as a child and did not seem like to wake. In my sleeping state, it seemed that I saw Lady Spenser who looked troubled upon me. But in my dream she seemed pale and ill herself. She wore a long green robe and mantle about her slimness and her green eyes flashed like very emeralds. Her hair was a blaze of fiery red and she seemed somehow taller and more beautiful.
"I will come to you Hilliard the Limner and you shall not die," she said.
Then the dream faded and I slept deeply and without any other dreams to trouble my sleep. When I awoke, a fine quilt lay upon me. I felt warm and protected and safe. Beside me in a chair sat Lady Spenser a troubled look on her face.
"Where is Alice?" I asked for I wished no other woman but my wife at my bedside.
"She sleeps my dear Nicholas and I shall comfort you now," she said.
I frowned but briefly for she suddenly began to change. She arose from the chair and seemed to grow taller, filling the chamber. Her hair blazed fiery red - as red as the fires of hell I methought but she smiled most tenderly and her green eyes were filled with a warm healthy kindness as I had never thought to see from any other than my own mother, may she be blessed.
"Alice has the steel cross, Nicholas. Dee is wrong about me, for I mean you no harm. On the contrary I mean to do you well, for I am most fond of you Nicholas," she said gently.
You may believe me grateful to hear it, being as I was with an ague and too weak to defend myself even had I been able. She began to speak strange words to me:
"Rhubarb and Ginger, Blackbird, Scottie Christmas, Crafted with Pride in USA, French Connection, In the Beginning, Civil War Legacy, Lauren's Flowers for the Quilterye, Promenade Free Spirit. Matters of the Heart, England, The Old Stourbridge Village Collection, Judies Indigo Collection, Antique Scrapbook, Antique Colour," she said.
As she spoke these words, few of which I understood the meaning of, a cradling warmth filled my body and there was the gentle and tender scent of herbs that seemed to revive and refresh me. I found I could not move and she lay down beside me then, holding me in her arms as one holds a fretful child. I wanted to struggle not wishing to be unfaithful to Alice, but I slept again instead. Later when I awoke it was as if from a deep and comforting dream. Alice brought me wine and I drank it, pulling her to me, feeling her clean coolness against the fresh warmth of me. She placed her hands to my shoulders and I kissed her softly.
"I am well again Alice and I feel as if I shall never be sick again," says I.
"Lady Spenser assured me you would not husband, for which I am grateful," answers she.
I clasped her around her little waist then and laughed aloud for the sheer joy of her presence and my good health. I went down to break my fast then but as I arose in my nightshirt I saw the quilt and frowned. I asked Alice where it was from and she said that Lady Spenser had brought it as a gift for us both. She had told Alice that we were to sleep under it and keep it safe for it would keep us well. I was not sure of it, but Alice was insistent. It seems that like Mr Dee she too believed in the faeries and was sure that Lady Spenser was a faerie.
"The quilt is a gift from the faeries husband and it is unwise to reject one of their gifts given in kindness," quoth she.
From that day forth, we did use the quilt and aside from the delight of Alice bearing us two healthy children, we did well. Alice survived childbirth as did the children. In 1599 I was granted an annuity from the Crown and it brought me much prosperity. I told my children that I would pass the quilt on to whoever had children first, for they would have need of it. As to Lady Spenser I never saw her again, though she did write to me and I to her thanking her for her gift.