In the earliest and mustiest volume of the Havenpool marriage registers (said the thin-faced gentleman) this entry may still be read by any one curious enough to decipher the crabbed handwriting of the date. I took a copy of it when I was last there; and it runs thus (he had opened his pocket-book, and now read aloud the extract; afterwards handing round the book to us, wherein we saw transcribed the following)–
Mastr John Horseleigh, Knyght, of the p’ysshe of Clyffton was maryd to Edith the wyffe late off John Stocker, m’chawnte of Havenpool the xiiij daje of December be p’vylegge gevyn by our sup’me hedd of the chyrche of Ingelonde Kynge Henry the viii th 1539.
Now, if you turn to the long and elaborate pedigree of the ancient family of the Horseleighs of Clyfton Horseleigh, you will find no mention whatever of this alliance, notwithstanding the privilege given by the Sovereign and head of the Church; the said Sir John being therein chronicled as marrying, at a date apparently earlier than the above, the daughter and heiress of Richard Phelipson, of Montislope, in Nether Wessex, a lady who outlived him, of which marriage there were issue two daughters and a son, who succeeded him in his estates. How are we to account for these, as it would seem, contemporaneous wives? A strange local tradition only can help us, and this can be briefly told.
One evening in the autumn of the year 1540 or 1541, a young sailor, whose Christian name was Roger, but whose surname is not known, landed at his native place of Havenpool, on the South Wessex coast, after a voyage in the Newfoundland trade, then newly sprung into existence. He returned in the ship Primrose with a cargo of ‘trayne oyle brought home from the New Founde Lande,’ to quote from the town records of the date. During his absence of two summers and a winter, which made up the term of a Newfoundland ‘spell,’ many unlooked-for changes had occurred within the quiet little seaport, some of which closely affected Roger the sailor. At the time of his departure his only sister Edith had become the bride of one Stocker, a respectable townsman, and part owner of the brig in which Roger had sailed; and it was to the house of this couple, his only relatives, that the young man directed his steps. On trying the door in Quay Street he found it locked, and then observed that the windows were boarded up. Inquiring of a bystander, he learnt for the first time of the death of his brother-in-law, though that event had taken place nearly eighteen months before.
‘And my sister Edith?’ asked Roger.
‘She’s married again–as they do say, and hath been so these twelve months. I don’t vouch for the truth o’t, though if she isn’t she ought to be.’
Roger’s face grew dark. He was a man with a considerable reserve of strong passion, and he asked his informant what he meant by speaking thus.
The man explained that shortly after the young woman’s bereavement a stranger had come to the port. He had seen her moping on the quay, had been attracted by her youth and loneliness, and in an extraordinarily brief wooing had completely fascinated her–had carried her off, and, as was reported, had married her. Though he had come by water, he was supposed to live no very great distance off by land. They were last heard of at Oozewood, in Upper Wessex, at the house of one Wall, a timber- merchant, where, he believed, she still had a lodging, though her husband, if he were lawfully that much, was but an occasional visitor to the place.
‘The stranger?’ asked Roger. ‘Did you see him? What manner of man was he?’
‘I liked him not,’ said the other. ‘He seemed of that kind that hath something to conceal, and as he walked with her he ever and anon turned his head and gazed behind him, as if he much feared an unwelcome pursuer. But, faith,’ continued he, ‘it may have been the man’s anxiety only. Yet did I not like him.’