“OK, Hilda, are you ready?” I asked. She barked and pirouetted at the front door to indicate going out for a walk on a chilly autumn night was exactly what she was ready to do.
“Alright, sweetheart, we’ll be back.”
“Sure, fine. Tell your ghost friends I said to stop bothering you.”
Jock is not overwhelmingly thrilled about the apparitional visitations I’ve been receiving from well-meaning historic figures. Usually, he is more supportive and worried about my safety, but I think he is starting to feel ignored.
“I think tonight we are meeting Lil’ Dickey,” I offered.
“Sir Richard Attenborough?” Jock asked in surprise. “I didn’t think he had any connection to North Carolina, outside of Chunky Huse, that is.”
Our friend Chunky has had an almost legendary career in the film industry as a key grip. Among the people he worked with and befriended over the years included a man he referred to as “me mate, Lil’ Dickey.” When I first met Chunky, it took me a while to work out the man he was referring to was Sir Richard Attenborough.
“Not the director of ‘Gandhi,’” I answered. “Sir Walter Raleigh’s cousin, Lil’ Dickey—or Sir Richard Grenville.” I paused. “Possibly the antithesis of Attenborough.”
I blew him a kiss as Hilda pulled me through the door. “Hilda, is there a reason you are never bothered by our otherworldly visitors?” I asked. She sniffled at a particularly pungent spot on our neighbors’ fence and ignored me.
We meandered up Princess Street toward the National Cemetery for a while, enjoying the chilly evening air. I was contemplating turning down 18th Street toward the Jewish cemetery when I heard Hilda’s name being called out from a man’s deep voice with a Devonshire accent so thick I can’t reproduce it here. We both turned to see standing behind us, under an oak tree, a very attractive man in a doublet and light armor, with a rapier at his hip.
“Sir Grenville, I presume?” I asked.
“At your service, ladies.” He gave a semi-courtly bow—not quite the debonair manners of Sir Raleigh but quite enjoyable.
“We were thinking of turning toward the cemetery and maybe coming around through Mary Bridgers Park?” I indicated with my left hand.
“By all means, lead the way, if it will make Hilda happy.”
“Well, she does like the park.” I nodded. Hilda wagged her tail delightedly and made it clear this was going to be slow-going, with a lot of stopping and sniffing. I sighed and turned to look at our visitor again. “So to what do we owe the pleasure of your company? Your cousin mentioned you might be dropping by.”
He nodded. “Yes, mmm, did you like Walter? Women seem to. He is, umm, quite charming when he wants to be. Or when he wants something from you.”
“I don’t think he wanted anything from me, except maybe to be the center of attention and show off for a little while. I mean, face it, we are but an audience of two.”
“Ah, but you write for that esteemed publication, encore,” Grenville pointed out.
“Yes, I understand we are very popular in the afterlife. One of the dead presidents called it ‘esteemed’ as well. I hope the Editor Lady is pleased.” I sighed. “OK, so what are we here to talk about tonight?”
“What would you like to talk about?”
“Well, the Roanoke expedition is probably the most pressing matter for modern North Carolinians.”
“You, a book seller and a writer, do not want to talk about Tennyson’s ballad in my honor?”
“Umm, we can. I sort of thought that might be a touchy subject.”
“Because I was betrayed by my cowardly men and died from wounds as a captive rather than as a hero in battle? Why would I be bothered by that?” His voice was heated and aggressive. Clearly 400 years hadn’t done much to assuage his bitterness.
“Well, yes. Umm, it seemed a bit.”
“Forgive me, we can discuss the Roanoke expedition, if you would rather.”
“Well, when your cousin was here, we talked about why he didn’t take the opportunity for escape and instead went to his death. He said that was what a leader would do: not pass the blame on to others.” I paused. “I think he was making a point about our current political situation.”
Grenville nodded. “Yes, well, clearly you have a problem far beyond anything we ever imagined when we tried the early expeditions to Roanoke. Things didn’t really take off over here for a good century after my death. We had our own troubles to sort out with Oliver Cromwell.”
He sighed and looked heavenward.
“But, you know, if we could get through that, I am sure you can find yourself on the other side of this.”
“Is it true Cromwell outlawed Christmas?” I asked. “That doesn’t sound like a particularly good move politically, even if Christmas at that time wasn’t like Christmas now.”
Grenville gave me a sidelong look and answered. “You already know he did or you wouldn’t have asked the question. While we are here, he gestured to the gates of the Jewish cemetery, are you going to bring up that he invited the Jewish people back to England after their over 300 years of banishment?”
We looked each other for a moment. I broke first.
“Yes, you have a point. The same arguments that Cromwell advanced about the Jewish people are still being played out in this day and age, so perhaps not much has changed.”
After a significant pause he nodded to me. “I wasn’t excited about this meeting. The idea that somehow a woman was going to be receptive to our message seemed hard for a man of my time to understand. But I look around at the world you live in and understand it has changed.”
I stared at this handsome ghost in front of me and marveled yet again; were it not for he and his cousin, who both risked so much of their own personal fortunes—and ultimately their lives and the lives of those who believed in their schemes—I wouldn’t live here. I would not have grown up here. It is strange because, philosophically, I disagree with their policies and politics. Yet, I am the direct beneficiary of them.
We both watched Hilda for a few minutes.
“It seems to me you probably had a simpler way of looking at this than I do,” I said slowly.
“How do you mean?” he asked.
“Well,” I blew out a long breath. “You were head of a landed family, with responsibilities to the town, to your fleet and to your family.”
He nodded. “Yes, which I took very seriously. Remember, I served as a soldier and sailor sworn to her majesty, as well as a sheriff.”
“I do, I do remember,” I assured him. “But you also lived in a world where women had no voices or ability to manage property, and where the divine right of Christianity extended not just to kings but to people who were not Christianized, and therefore under the dominion of you and your white, Christian, land-owning men.”
He looked at me for a few moments before he asked, “How is my time so very different from yours? Yes, women have property and ‘voices’ now, as you so euphemistically phrase it, but I remind you the most powerful person in the land when I lived was a woman—whose word could and did take off men’s heads. Frankly, as I look around right now, women aren’t doing very much with their ‘voices.’
“I’ve heard you draw parallels between the laws and regulations the government hands down about women’s bodies and what would happen if men were subjected to the same. I have to tell you: I would cut a man’s throat before I would let him do that to me. What you describe … it is the deepest threat to manhood imaginable. Yet, you women have let it go on unchecked.”
I could feel the hot flush of anger rising in my body, and it took a lot to swallow a retort. At the core of it, he was agreeing with me: Men would not stand for the same treatment if it were pushed onto them. I nodded and looked away for a moment.
“Further, before you start lobbing accusations of the divine right of Christian certainty at me, please, remember I lived in Elizabethan England. A hastily uttered word or the whiff of Popery was enough to get a person arrested. A proved claim could result in a horrible death. Her Majesty was many things, but she and her network of spies were effective. If you did not attend church on Sundays, you would be reported to the authorities.”
“Is it any wonder that, coming from such a world, I could not see the heathens we encountered in the New World as anything but blasphemous thieves?”
“Oh! The bowl! Cup! Chalice!” I exclaimed in agitation.
“Yes, the chalice from my family home. They stole it. We had just met, and that is how … “ He shuddered.
It was a turning point in history; it happened so quickly and no one could have foreseen the consequences. The tribes of people that greeted the Roanoke expedition, with Grenville—Raleigh wasn’t there—took a silver chalice that Grenville had brought from Devon. He accused them and insisted upon its return, which never happened. But let’s just say relations between the two groups only took a downward turn afterward.
“Do you want to talk about the modern spy network?” he asked. “I hear your townsman, Mr. Snowden, did his best to warn you all, but no one seems to hear his call.
I looked up at the moon thinking of the opening of “Richard II” when he banishes Mowbray and Bolingbroke.
“Sun that warms you here shall shine on me,” I murmured.
He smiled at me then. “Yes Bolingbroke did rise and come back from banishment. I somehow doubt Mr. Snowden will.”
I shook my head.
“You are probably right. It is not him so much I worry about, but, yes, more what he warned us about. I mean, I’m a great example. I held out for years against smart phones and then we got a tracker for Hilda. So I got a smart phone to be able to use the tracker. It is a slippery slope.”
He nodded, one arm folded across his chest. “Suddenly, everything you believe, that you stand upon, that you know and that you rightly worry about and even fear—it doesn’t matter because you have made a compromise for your loved ones … for Hilda.”
“That is part of what you are not seeing about my world and your world—how my world birthed your world.”
He held out his arms wide.
“Stop this pitying you have been doing and take some action! You tell me about the actions and the voices of women? I served the queen of England! I know the power women can wield! Take it!”
“How?” I asked him in shock. Raleigh had been far more courtly.
“That,” he let out a dramatic breath, “is so obvious. I cannot believe you, of all people, are asking. You know the answer. I suggest you act upon it! Hilda! Farewell!”
He stalked off behind a tree and was gone.
I looked down at Hilda.
“I think I needed to ask him how to rally the troops more than anything,” I said. “Clearly, I am no good at it, but he clearly is.”
Hilda sniffed at where our guest had stood.
“Or maybe not when you look at his death.” I sighed. “OK, Hilda, time to go home and try to figure out how to apply this lesson. How come they always like you more than me?”