once a soldier
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by Andrew Lee Hart




“God speakes to me in the sunlight on the lawn / but there is rottenness in apples and quinces / in stagnant ponds and unloving hearts”. Orlando Figges (1622-?)


One inan old font


I thought that Yorkshire would be a fit punishment for my sins; the bleak Northern winds and her harsh people, and yet there is God’s beautie here too, and to my surprise I am happy, happier than when I was a soldier fighting the cavaliers and happier than when I was a much quoted poet living in London under the reign of Cromwell. Perhaps all I wanted was peace and anonymity, rather than to turn the world upside down.


And yet, despite my content, this a house of sorrow; My Lady, has a dark look of miserie that draws me to her, with pity and even with love, my humanity more important than my religion. I rarely see Her, have never even heard Her speak, I am only an undergardener after all, and it is best that people pay me no attention, but sometimes she appears amongst the flowers of the garden, arm-in-arm with her mother-in-law, both mourning Her Lord, a Cavalier, who died fighting in the late war.  The mother-in-law looks stern and composed, but My Lady overflows with emotion, tears never far away, and the other servants too mourn for a man who died on a battlefield many miles away.


Once I was tending the herbs and I heard a noise, a woman talking, begging, all restraint gone.

“Why did you leave me, I am helpless without you.”

There was weeping, as if it would never stop, but no voice replied, except perhaps in her head, and I fled quietly before I was seen where I was not wanted. Perhaps it was a maid, who had been betrayed by her lover, but the voice was refined, despite the emotion being expressed, and I was glad that I had not seen My Lady so distraught.


The Head Gardener, Ramsbotham, is a garrulous man but one who knows how to look after a garden, and when he is not talking about “phantoms”, the wickedness of Cromwell and myriad other things, is kindly and knowledgeable. And he allows me my peace; he does not question me about my history but rather accepts that I am here, and so long as I work hard and listen to his chatter, he is content.


The King looked pale as he was led out. I was there, close by, as he stumbled forward in the winter cold, and for a moment our eyes met, and was that laughter in his eye, as if the whole thing were a jest, and only we two could see it? I tried to hold his eye, to try to understand but he had moved on, and then I forced myself to watch as he knelt to pray and then the sword came down and there was a groan from the crowd. As the crowd drifted away, I felt disquiet and a doubting that all this was really G-d’s will; where was the Christian Love and common humanity that our leaders and ministers had talked about?


When I fought and afterwards watched crows pick at the dead, I felt that it was for the better cause, and one I was prepared to be a martyr for. We prayed before battle and gave thanks to God afterwards; this was truly a religious war, for the soul of blessed England. Even when my older brother Edwin died at the siege of Nottingham, killed by a musket ball in the chest, my sadness was tempered by the thought that he had died a righteous death. But watching a king beheaded in front of a confused mob was not Holie or right, and I could not justify it in my heart.


After the crowd had dispersed my friend Adrian Scrope, wanted me to go to his house.

“Come Mister Figges, enough of your poetry and hymns, let us talk about these momentous things.  The future is ours.”

But I put him off and walked away until I came to the Thames, and stood deep in thought, my cloke around my face to protect me from the smell of effluence and I shed a tear although I am not sure for whom. And then I made my way to my rooms and once there I wrote a poem called “Mortalitie” and that is how I passed my time as the new era came upon us, a world that I thought would last forever, but proved to be just for the shortest of breaths.


Mistress Browne, the Cook, sometimes asks me about London; she lived there as a child and still has the accent which stands out amongst the rough Yorkshire voices of the rest of the servants. That we are both outsiders has created a freemasonry between us, made us perhaps friends, although I am careful not to tell her too much about my past. I wrote her some verses once, the only poetry I have written since coming to Yorkshire, and she blushed and put them close to her bosom and promised she would read them, they were just a trifling thing, a description of rain upon the moor which surrounds the house, but I hope that she read them and thought of me.


“Did you ever see the old King” she asked, her eyes looking straight at me, her fair hand briefly on my shoulder. She craved to hear of the world that she had left behind.

“I was a recluse, I lived quietly; I saw him in passing but never close by.”

“Oh Mr Figges did you not yearn for glamour and excitement? I saw him as a child; fair and beautiful and he looked at me and smiled.”

“Who could not but smile on one so fair?”

She laughed gaily as if she were still a young woman and fled into the kitchen, and I watched her, aroused despite myself.


And then a suitor arrived for my Lady’s hand; Lord Richmond, an obese man who constantly sweats even in the cold of February, and who is barbarous in speech. Mistress Browne is contemptuous.

“My Lady is young enough to want pleasure between the sheets and witty conversation afterwards, not this dullard,” she told me knowingly.  She was abreast of all the gossip from the house and enjoyed relaying it to me and watching my shocked and priggish expression.

“Mr Ramsbotham says that he is rich and has no heirs,” I responded.

“She has money and one so beautiful could do better. Her mother-in-law wants somebody pliant who she can control, that is why Richmond was invited here; she is behind it all, mark my words.”


I watched with dislike as Richmond walked the gardens with a stout stick, short of breath and cross, and then when one of My Lady’s dogs, full of frolic, came too close, Richmond hit it viciously across the back with his stick.

“Off lad” he shouted in coarse accent as the hound whimpered in pain, even the Mother-in-Law flinched briefly whilst My Lady walked back into the house without a backward glance, and I could feel her hatred from the other sides of the gardens and I felt immense pity for her, whilst Richmond oblivious carried on with his walk, swishing his stick viciously, the other dogs watching him nervously.


There were noises in the night; the Maids huddled together for protection, and even in my hut I could hear the occasional shout and cry.

“It is a haunted house” Ramsbotham tells me, “My Lady’s husband was not the first to die before his time. Even long before his death servants left, and one Maid saw something so monstrous that she would never speak of it.  She died within a year, her face turned towards the wall, shaking with fear.”

“The Devil strides amongst us” I murmured knowingly.

“Indeed he does Mr Figges, even now that Cromwell has gone, he is still here.”


“Where did My Lady come from?” I asked him.

“Rutland. Her father owned land, they are a wealthy family, and powerful. I remember her coming up here, so young and My Lord was gentle with her, he was a kind man, and they swiftly married. And within two years he was carrion for crows and her child lay dead within her womb soon after. We thought she too would die, such was her sorrow.”

He patted me on my shoulder, “come on Figges, don’t look so solemn we have work to do, the house will awaken soon.”

And he and I trudged off to tend to the garden, engulfed by the smell of early morning fog, even though there was so little to do in those bleak winter months when Spring seemed so distant.


My Lord Richmond stayed a week and then departed; having hit all the dogs, sworn at all the manservants and kissed all the maids. I had hoped Cromwell would sweep all this corruption away, but whilst the Lord Protector’s head is on a pole outside Westminster Hall and those of us who supported him are either dead or in hiding, these fools continue to thrive as if nothing had changed and as if nothing will. My Lady was well rid of him.



Two in an old font


“The voice said, weep for all that all past/ All flesh is grass, and all godliness long departed.” (Orlando Figges)


“Propagandist for the regicides”, that is what they called me; and it is true my poetry dared to imagine a better world, a commonwealth without oppression and where everyone was equal, and I believe that Fairfax’s men quoted my poetry on the battlefield and when they tore the idols from churches. But once Cromwell rose to power I slowly disappeared from view, my poetry became bitter and cynical, just another ex-soldier melancholy and confused. I had hoped that Cromwell would soon abdicate and usher in a truly democratic state, but alas he wanted power just as much as Charles or James and the others before him, so I could not support him anymore than I could the Kings and Queens who had oppressed the poor and made our religion a mockery.


And then once Charles II came to the throne, the vengeful royalists returned from their extended Grand Tours abroad and started chasing up those they saw responsible for putting God’s Chosen to death. My friend, the reckless Adrian Scrope hung, drawn and quartered at Charing Cross, and even those who fled to Germany at the first sign of trouble, Okey and Bartstead, were dragged back here to appease the Royal fool and his cowardly entourage, and they too were executed in the streets. Afeared that I would be next I fled London; but  in truth I was glad to leave; the corruption of the city made me sicken, with the prostitutes lining the streets, the drunkenness and the mindless rejoicing, as if all godliness and decency had disappeared and wickedness returned but tenfold.


Mistress Browne told me that one of the maids had heard a ghost last night; a woman, weeping and talking.

“Was it My Lady?” I asked.

“Possibly, these young maids take fright at the faintest of sounds, but the house is ancient and creaks. Even I am afeard at night on occasion. And the Mother-in-Law pacing about like a sentinel; does she never sleep?”

“She will not live forever.”

“I think she will Mr Figges, when you and I and My Lady are rotting in our graves she will still be here, stern and unyielding, harsh and unkind, so unlike her son.”


My Lady’s second suitor was expected on Saturday morning, but Lord Edwin did not arrive until late in the evening; handsome in a foppish sort of way and more My Lady’s age than Richmond had been. Mistress Browne and I watched him stumble from his carriage.

“My dear” he said to the Mother-in-Law and leered at My Lady herself, before losing his footing and falling, his manservant, with barely concealed contempt, helping him up and brushing the gravel from his clothes.

“He is a second cousin I believe” murmured my companion, “he is from My Lady’s own county of Rutland.”

Lord Edwin’s voice was loud, and he was unsteady on his feet as he made his way to the entrance of the Hall, and I wondered if he was in liquor, which would certainly have explained his tardiness.


It was summer and the apples and pears were ripe, and with help I cut them down and brought them into the kitchens where Mistress Browne and her assistants stood over boiling pots of fruit whilst above their heads were the carcases of rabbits and pigs.  The smell and heat overwhelmed me and I sat down and watched Mistress Browne at the centre of her world; calm but strong and perfectly aware of all that was going on, a very Cromwell in the kitchen and I smiled to myself with admiration and possibly love.


Later we walked outside in the kitchen garden and she took my arm as we enjoyed the afternoon sun. I had never married, but a wife would be protection for me and a companion as well as a bedmate, and Mistress Browne would suit me very well.

“My Lord Edwin is clearly the village idiot of the family.”

I smiled, “are you speaking of our betters Mistress Browne?”

“He is always wandering around the house, looking lost and trying not to show it. And oh he is so clumsy; we have a maid who is there just to follow him around to point him in the right direction and clear up his spillages.”

“There are worse things than being a fool.”

“Well Mr Figges, I cannot think of any. You are a sensible man, if only we were a little younger….”

“You do not need to be young to be married.”

“I did not mention marriage Mr Figges, do not presume. But you are too close, always disapproving without saying anything.”

“Sometimes it is best not to be free with speech.”

“But with me Mr Figges? Can you not trust even me?”

“I am sorry” I said quietly, and her hazel eyes searched mine, although I am not sure what she was looking for.

“I did admire the poem you wrote for me. I have it by my bed.”

And with that she left me for her world in the kitchen.


I walked back to my hut; I should really have worked but I felt melancholic and needed to sit by myself. My room was dark and smelt of sweat and unaccountably of pig. In the past I would have written some rhyme, but since coming to Yorkshire I had become a gardener and my past life was gone. It was foolish to weep over Mistress Browne but I did so, and I wept over My Lady who was pursued by knaves and fools and sooner or late would succumb.


I walked the gardens in the evening, it was still warm but with a faint breeze. The perfume of the flowers was pleasing, and slowly I became aware of the sound of a violin plaintive and melodic, coming from the house. I stayed still and listened, entranced by such beauty, and to my surprise realised that the music could only be from Lord Edwin, that clumsy fool who even the servants despised. Alas all too soon the sound stopped and after a moment of contemplation I walked back to my hut and my bed.


Lord Edwin was gone the following morning, My Lady did not see him off, although her Mother-in-Law, looking dark and forbidding in the early morning was there, and he kissed her hand in an apologetic manner. I walked amongst rotten apples and from a window high above I saw a pale face looking down, and I was sure that I could see her eyes dark and endless; containing ageless grief and sadness.



Three in an old font


He was tall, well-dressed and had an air of absolute authority; My Lord Waugh strode towards me, whilst behind him My Lady demanded “where is my gardener?” she sounded nervous and was clearly in thrall to the man who had come to take her heart. She shivered in the January mist. Apparently Lord Waugh had lived abroad after the death of King Charles, but I recognised him from before the war; one of those who had been close to the king, one of his better advisors, and a brave soldier by all accounts.


He looked at me satirically.

“What is your name?” I could smell his scent and his superiority.

“Figges My Lord.”

“There was a poet named Figges, a friend of that traitor Cromwell, a scribbler of nonsense. He fled aboard, or possibly to the North. Is he a relation?  Your twin perhaps?”

My Lady was looking at me for the first time, registering me, but there was little humanity in her look, just contempt and perhaps curiosity.

“A distant relation I believe My Lord.”

“How distant?”

“Very distant.”

“I hope you are a better gardener than he was a poet.” And then he left, My Lady following in his wake, the Mother-in-Law cast a look at me as she went past; she was less haughty now, as if usurped, and I could see the fear and sadness behind her austere manner, and was that the faintest of smiles she bestowed upon me?


It was the fast to commemorate the death of Charles, the Holy Martyr, and we had all attended the chapel that morning, Lord Waugh looking stern and his eyes watching all the servants and even My Lady, as if to make sure that we were suitably sad and understood the importance of the service. For a few moments he looked directly at me, his eyes hard and there was a flicker of recognition, of that I was sure, and for a moment my heart shrivelled within me.


Much later I stumbled upon the Mother-in-Law standing under a quince tree, staring straight ahead; in the distance there was the sound of Waugh surrounded by servants and My Lady, all in thrall to this force of nature.


“My Lady.”

We stood together, as if communing, she looked solemn in black, but was beautiful and I realised that she was probably only a little older than me.

“Have you ever lost anybody?” she asked after a moment, her voice surprisingly young and kind.

I remembered the king, his neck so pale and clean, and the axe biting into it, and the sound it made, as if cutting a branch or a post.

“Yes My Lady, many years ago.”

“Do you still mourn for them?”

“Sometimes my lady.”

She nodded, as if to herself.  “My son was a fine young man, but now he is all but forgotten, even by his wife who is desperate to marry again.”

She shivered in the cold and I wished that I could show her some gesture of affection but I knew that would be wrong.


“I am sorry My Lady.”

She shrugged slightly.

“Is it true, Were you a supporter of Cromwell?  Did you fight?”

“Yes My Lady, awhile ago, my life is changed, and I am beginning to regret the past.”

“Please don’t, you have nothing to be ashamed of.”

I bowed to her, “will you stay here?” I asked her.

“No. I will go and find somewhere, I have money of my own, I am the last of the family but I will be comfortable….”

She walked away and I wondered if it was the Mother-in-Law, whose cries of anguish scared the maids at night, and why she was the only person I had told of my past.


I was talking to Mistress Browne in the kitchen garden; she looked beautiful in the cold light and smelt of apples and milk. And then there was My Lord Waugh coming towards us, stern and contemptuous as if I was a repulsive thing that he was forced to deal with.

“You worry me Figges, your brother was traitorous, and you are from the same Mother.”

“He was not my brother.”

He slapped me hard so that I stumbled, “the regicides need to be gouged out of Albion and executed every one of them, wherever they are hiding.”

“Better men than you died on both sides.” I told him and looked at him with anger, my fury overwhelming me for the first time since I was a soldier fighting the likes of Waugh and his brethren.


He flushed with rage and reached for his sword, but before he could do so, I pushed him violently, and he fell heavily, grunting as he landed on the frozen ground. I swiftly stood over him, my foot hard on his chest, measuring his worth and finding him wanting and then after a moment I stood aside and watched as he slowly pushed himself to his feet, and with the icy mud clinging to his fine clothes, he stormed back to the house, cursing under his breath, I was perhaps fortunate that he had come out alone.


“Come Mister Figges” Mistress Browne said and kissed me, “I will get the boy to prepare the cart. Knaresborough is not far. Pack your belongings and hurry, you have insulted him and he is Lord of this place, in all but name, and will have his revenge.”

I hurried away, scared at what I had done and yet also with a peculiar feeling of release, as if I had kept my angst hidden away for too long.


The cart was waiting when I left my hut with my bag; already packed ever since My Lady’s suitor had arrived. To my surprise it was not the boy who was sat at the front of the cart.

“What are you doing Mistress Browne?”

She looked beautiful and happy sitting up front with the horsewhip in her hand.

“I would like to go with you Mr Figges; I do not particularly care where to. Companie and kindness are not to be sniffed at, and in truth Orlando I think you need some loving.”

And in truth I did, and for the second time in my life she kissed me on the lips, and I felt her warm against me.

“I always felt there was something hidden about you, I am glad that it is out in the open.” She said as we rode away, “the world is a large place and we can find somewhere safe where we can be happy.”


I looked back at the house, partially hidden in Winter’s darkness, and I thought of the gardens, appearing dead and unloved and hoped for a glorious Spring when all would be beautiful again, and the dead would arise and claim their inheritance.


“The trees will bloom once again, and then the young and old will eat their fruits together in blissful harmonie”. (Orlando Figges).




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