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How well I remember one pleasant morning in September more than two years ago, I declare! when a merry party of us, English and Americans, met at the counting house of our noble friend, Mr. B , to go from thence to Hampton Court. It was in the city of London that we met. This is entered from the town, which holds most of the parks and palaces of royalty and the nobility, by an old, old gateway, called Temple Bar. When the Queen is to pay a visit to the city, Temple Bar gate is closed, and she must respectfully ask admittance of the lord mayor, and he must graciously present the keys to her before she may come in. The lord mayor is the real king of London, and takes precedence of royalty in all processions in the city, as, for instance, the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington, after it passed Temple Bar. All lord mayors are elected from the board of aldermen; they serve but one year, during which time they live in a very handsome residence, called “The Mansion House,” and ride in a splendid, but rather gaudy and old-fashioned coach something such as you have seen pictures of in the story of Dick Whittington.

Each new sovereign attends, with the court, a grand ball, given by the lord mayor, at Guildhall; on which occasion there is always a magnificent display, both on the part of the aristocracy and the citizens.

Guildhall is a large building, where the aldermen and councilmen meet, to transact business and eat good dinners. In the hall where balls and great banquets are given stand two gigantic painted figures, called Gog and Magog, which are very quaint and odd-looking, and I don’t know how many years old.

“But what,” you will say, “has all this to do with Hampton Court?”

Well, we started from the city, a social, merry party, of five or six; and, after laughing and chatting in a comfortable English railway carriage, for a few minutes, arrived at the station, near the palace.

The old palace of Hampton Court stands on the northern bank of the Thames, about twelve miles west of Hyde Park, and is situated in the parish of Hampton, and county of Middlesex.

In the reign of Henry VIII., when the great prelate, Cardinal Wolsey, was at the height of his power, he leased the old manor and manor-house of the Knights-Hospitallers of Jerusalem, to whom it then belonged, for the purpose of building a palace suitable to his rank and splendor. He erected a structure so magnificent, and so far surpassing any of the royal residences, that he quite overshot his mark, and roused the jealousy of the king, who bluntly asked him what he, a priest, and a butcher’s son, meant by building for himself a palace handsomer than any of his king’s. Then the cunning Cardinal, putting the best face he could on the matter, said that he had only been trying to build a residence worthy of so great and glorious a monarch, and that Hampton Court was at King Henry’s service. The king jumped at the offer, but in return bestowed upon Wolsey the old manor of Richmond, the favorite residence of his father, Henry VII. It was observed, when the great Cardinal was going home, after this interview with his royal master, that he scowled and growled at his followers, and belabored the poor mule that he rode most unmercifully.

So, by gift from Cardinal Wolsey, Hampton Court became the property of the crown.

Edward vi. was born in this palace, and mostly resided here, during his short, but happy reign. Gloomy Queen Mary and her false hearted husband, Philip of Spain, spent their honey-moon, or rather vinegar-moon, here. Queen Elizabeth here gave several great festivals, and her successor, the mean and pedantic James I. held a great religious conference in the privy-chamber, he, the most immoderate of bigots, sitting as moderator. Here he entertained some great French princes at one time, very handsomely; every thing being on a royal scale except the host. Here he lost his wife, Anne of Denmark, a very respectable sort of a woman, much too good for him.

Charles I., with his queen and court, sought refuge at this place from the plague, which was ravaging London. But there was another trouble that came upon him from which he could not escape, even here. Death, with his scythe, passed by the healthful shades of the country palace, but the executioner with his axe was not to be evaded.

The Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, resided sometimes at this palace; but his favorite daughter, Elizabeth, a very lovely woman, died here, and after that, it was the saddest place in all the world to him.

Charles II., with his gay court, which hardly held one honest man, or reputable woman, used to hold revels here; and stubborn James II. resided here now and then, till he was driven by a roused people from throne, palace, and country. William III. was very partial to Hampton Court, and did much to improve and adorn it. His queen here performed prodigious labors in the embroidery line, and kept her maids of honor as hard at work on chair covers and bed curtains as though they were poor seamstresses, toiling for their daily bread.

George II. and Queen Caroline were the last sovereigns who resided at this palace. It is now only occupied by the officers and servants who have charge of it, and some dowagers and poor women of rank, called in England “decayed gentlewomen.” To those ladies the queen allots apartments, and they live very handsomely and comfortably, though I should think they would have rather lonely times, amid the melancholy grandeur and stillness of that deserted old palace.

Over the gateway by which we entered are carved the arms of Cardinal Wolsey, with a Latin inscription, signifying “God is my help,” a lying motto, as his own words afterwards proved; for, when dying in disgrace, he exclaimed, “If I had served my God half as faithfully as I have served my king, He would not have given me over to my enemies in my old age.”

We went up the grand staircase, to the guard-chamber, and from thence passed through several suites of noble rooms, hung with pictures and ancient tapestry, with frescoed ceilings, and carved and gilded cornices. The most interesting among the pictures are portraits of famous people, kings, queens, princes, heroes, and beauties, of whom we read in history.

But as there are more than a thousand paintings at Hampton Court, of course I cannot stop to describe any of these, though about many I could tell you very strange and romantic stories.

The most magnificent apartment in the palace, and one of the grandest in the world, is the great hall, which is one hundred and six feet long, forty wide, and sixty high. The roof is beautifully carved and decorated with the royal arms and badges, the walls are hung with costly tapestry, the windows are richly stained, and bear the arms and pedigree of Henry VIII. and his six wives.

From this hall we passed through another splendid apartment, called “the withdrawing room,” down “the queen’s staircase,” into a court, containing a pretty fountain, and from thence into the gardens. These are very fine, but rather too stiffly and formally laid out to suit our modern taste. I remember one narrow, gloomy alley, of boxwood, or yew, called “Queen Mary’s Walk,” after bloody Mary, who used to take her evening exercise here alone, marching slowly up and down in the waning twilight, meditating, I fear, those frightful persécutions, rackings, and burnings of the poor Protestants, and trying to steel her heart against the womanly pity that would creep into it sometimes, in spite of all the admonitions of Cardinal Pole and Bishop Gardiner, and the counsels of her cruel husband.

The greatest curiosity of these gardens is a Hamburg grape-vine, supposed to be the largest in the world. It alone fills a green-house seventy-two feet long and thirty broad. It is itself one hundred and ten feet long; and is thirty inches in circumference, three feet from the ground. It often bears as many as two thousand five hundred bunches.

From the green-house, we walked down to the Thames, and then returned through a beautiful avenue of linden-trees, to the east part of the palace, where there is a fountain and a basin containing gold and silver fish. Then we whiled away another hour in the grounds, the “Labyrinth,” and under the noble chestnut and lime trees in the great avenue, which is more than a mile in length, and then the golden day was over!


A Story of Hampton Court.

Some ten years ago, there resided for a time, in a pleasant suite of apartments at Hampton Court, a young and beautiful gentlewoman, who was greatly beloved by all who knew her, for her goodness and her sweet and winning ways. Lady Mary Hamilton, or “the Lady Mary,” as she was called by the pensioners and retainers there, was the youngest daughter of a poor Scottish nobleman, and the widow of a still poorer young officer. Captain Hamilton, soon after his marriage, was ordered to join the army in Afghanistan and for several months dared danger and death, and endured frightful hardships, in that dreadful war against a treacherous and savage people.

At last, in a skirmish among the mountains, he was seen to fall under the spear-thrust of a fierce Afghan chief, and was reported as “killed,” though his body was never recovered by his victorious comrades. It was supposed that the natives had carried him off in their retreat, to plunder him at leisure.

But the Lady Mary never would give him up as really dead; and though she was very sorrowful and anxious for him, she could not be persuaded to put on a widow’s dress, or cover her soft, brown hair with a widow’s cap. She even refused to receive a widow’s pension, professing always a firm belief that her husband was yet living.

Month after month went by, till two long years had passed, and brought her no word from her beloved George; and still she did not despair.

It was said that she was kept up by happy dreams that her husband often came to her in her sleep, and told her to be of good cheer, and all would yet be well. However that may have been, it is certain that she never wholly lost heart.

The queen kindly offered Lady Mary apartments at Hampton Court, and she gladly accepted, for she was poor, and then, she felt that she should like the melancholy quiet of the old palace far better than the gayety and bustle of the town. And so she came to Hampton Court to live, and “wait for my husband,” she said, smiling sadly, while her friends shook their heads, and whispered among themselves that “the poor dear creature was hardly in her right mind.”

The lonely Lady Mary soon became a great favorite with the guards and servitors at Hampton Court. They all felt for her a tender, respectful pity, and would do any thing in their power to serve her. Being very shy, she never liked to visit the show apartments of the palace, at hours when she might meet strangers. So, the kind porter would often let her go in by herself, and sometimes even give her the keys, that she might stay as long as she pleased in any of the halls or galleries.

She was romantic and poetical, and loved much to visit the grand old hall, on summer evenings, and see the rich sunset light pour in, and then fade softly out through the gorgeous stained windows. Sometimes, she would linger here till the long twilight was over, and the starlight and moonlight struggled through the stained glass, and faintly lit up the hall, silvering over the faded tapestry and banners, glistening on the old arms and armor. Strolling up and down the hall, or seated under one of the great windows, she would think and dream, and try to forget the sorrows of her humble life in remembering the misfortunes of the great and royal ones, who had so often walked where she walked, and sat where she sat.

Once old Roger, the porter, asked her if she were not afraid to stay there, all alone by herself, so late.

“Why, no,” she answered, “what should I be afraid of?”

He shrugged his shoulders, but said no more; I suppose because he did not know what to say, to such a simple, childlike question.

One lovely August evening, the Lady Mary stayed later than usual in “Wolsey’s Hall.”

The sunset glory faded and faded away; the twilight deepened and deepened into night; the moon and the stars looked in upon her through the great window. She was weary and sad, and the lonely stillness of that place seemed to suit her; she seemed to feel the calm moonlight in which she sat, bathing her like a soft, soothing flood. She leaned her head against the tapestried wall, closed her eyes, and thought, and thought of the great days and splendid festivals long gone by of kings and queens, brave knights, and beautiful ladies, and when all at once that vast hall was lighted up as though by magic! Music swelled through the arches, and a splendid court came slowly sweeping in! First walked a stout, red-faced man, all velvets and jewels, with a dark, sorrowful-looking lady on his right; and on his left, an elderly man, with a bold, haughty face, and a rich dress of scarlet velvet and ermine.

The Lady Mary recognized these as Henry VIII., Queen Katharine, and Cardinal Wolsey.

They were followed by maids of honor, gentlemen, priests, and pages.

Soon there was a livelier peal of music, and the dance began. The king danced with the most beautiful of the maids of honor, whom he smiled lovingly upon, while the poor queen looked very unhappy. So the Lady Mary knew that this fair maid must be Anne Boleyn.

When the dance ended, the gay court passed out; but again there was music, and another swept in. This was headed by a proud, stately woman, with golden hair, and cold blue eyes. She wore a sparkling diadem; her dress was of stiff brocade, thickly bestrewn with pearls and diamonds, while about her neck was a ruff so prodigious, that it alone would keep everybody at a very respectful distance. On her left, walked a handsome noble, most royally dressed, and behind came a brilliant host of beauties, pages, cavaliers, poets, and statesmen.

The Lady Mary now recognized Queen Elizabeth, the Earl of Essex, and the court.

The queen took her place upon the throne and graciously desired her court to be seated. Before them was a stage; they were to witness a play. The queen signified that she was ready, and the play began. It was “Henry VIII., or the Fall of Wolsey.”

The queen seemed interested, and applauded occasionally, though the actors played badly. They were half frightened to death at appearing in that august place, before her august majesty; all but one, who went through with his part in a quiet, manly way, which did him great credit. This was the author William Shakspeare.

At length the queen, court, and actors all went out, and there came in next, not a court, with music and pomp, but quietly and silently, a dark, sad-looking man, leading two children by the hand. These three walked up and down the hall, several times the man talking to the children, and telling them, it seemed, something very sad, for they cried and clung to him, and then the three passed out, weeping.

The Lady Mary knew these to be Charles I. and his children, whom he had been telling, perhaps, that he might soon be put to death.

Next there came, in stillness also, a stern, haggard-faced man, in a rough, half-military dress, with a sweet delicate-looking lady, in white. She was clinging to his arm, and seemed expostulating with him very earnestly, but he shook his head, yet at the same time he tenderly smoothed her hair, with his strong hand, and playfully pinched her thin cheek, and tried to smile. Then he suddenly turned, and strode out of the hall. The lady stood a moment, looking after him mournfully, and then passed out also.

The Lady Mary knew these two to be Cromwell and his daughter Elizabeth, who often interceded with her father, for political offenders.

Again there was loud music, and again a brilliant court came pouring in. First walked a dark, dissolute-looking young man, very gayly dressed, with long curls dangling about his shoulders, handing carelessly along a pale, dispirited lady, who didn’t seem to find much comfort in the queenly diadem she wore.

The ball began, and soon it was turned into a wild revel. Beautiful, but bold ladies, and reckless looking gentlemen, danced and laughed, sung and feasted, and gamed, and grew merrier and madder every minute.

The Lady Mary became frightened, for she saw that she was in the profligate court of Charles II. She tried to hide behind the tapestry by the window, but a rollicking nobleman, whom she recognized by his portraits as the Earl of Rochester, caught sight of her, and sprang forward, to drag her out into the midst of the hall! She flung his hand off, with a scream, and lo, he, the king, the queen, the court, the lights, every thing vanished!

It was all a dream!

The Lady Mary was alone in the old hall, in the silent night, now darker than before, for a cloud had come over the moon.

She groped her way to the door, unlocked it, and passed into the withdrawing room. At the further end she saw some one coming, she could not see who it was, by the dim starlight, so she asked: “Roger, is that you?”

“No, Mary,” answered a glad, tremulous voice, “it is not Roger it is I George!”

With a wild, joyful cry, the Lady Mary sprang forward, and was clasped in her husband’s arms.

And this was not a dream.

Captain Hamilton had been severely wounded, and taken captive by the Afghans. They had kept him a close prisoner in the mountains, not even permitting him to write a letter to any one, for two years. He had at last been discovered, liberated, and sent home to recover his health, which had suffered somewhat in his hardship and confinement.

On arriving at Hampton Court, whither he had been directed from London, he had been told by old Roger where his wife probably was, as he could not find her in her apartments, and was on his way to the hall, when he met her, as we have seen.

The next time that the Lady Mary visited that old hall, to walk in the moonlight, or muse in her favorite window-seat, it was observed that she did not go alone.