For Faith and Freedom
While thus abroad we walked – 'twas in the forenoon, after Humphrey's visit – Sir Christopher, his grandfather, dressed in his best coat and his gold-laced hat, which he commonly kept for church, and accompanied by Madam, walked from the Manor House through the village till they came to our cottage. Then, with great ceremony, they entered, Sir Christopher bowing low and Madam dropping a deep courtesy to my mother, who sat humbly at her wheel.
'Madam,' said Sir Christopher, 'we would, with your permission, say a few words with the learned Dr. Eykin and yourself.'
My father, who had now returned and was in his room, came forth when he was called. His face had recovered something of its serenity, but his eyes were still troubled. Madam sat down, but Sir Christopher and my father stood.
'Sir,' said his Honour, 'I will proceed straight to the point. My grandson desires to marry your daughter Alice. Robin is a good lad – not a scholar if you will – for his religion, the root of the matter is in him; for the goodness of his heart I will answer; for his habit of life, he hath, so far as we can learn, acquired no vile vices of the city – he doth neither drink nor gamble, nor waste his health and strength in riotous living; and for his means they are my own. All that I have will be his. 'Tis no great estate, but 'twill serve him as it hath served me. Sir, the boy's mother and I have come to ask your daughter in marriage. We know her worth, and we are right well satisfied that our boy hath made so good and wise a choice.'
'They were marrying and giving in marriage when the Flood came; they will be marrying and giving in marriage in the Great Day of the Lord,' said my father.
'Yes, gossip; but that is no reason why they should not now be marrying and giving in marriage.'
'You ask my consent?' said my father. 'This surprises me. The child is too young: she is not yet of marriageable age' —
'Husband, she is nigh upon her twentieth birthday!'
'I thought she had been but twelve or thereabouts! My consent? Why, Sir Christopher, in the eyes of the world this is great condescension on your part to take a penniless girl. I looked, I suppose, to the marriage of my daughter some time – perhaps to a farmer – yet – yet, we are told that a virtuous woman hath a price far above rubies; and that it is she who buildeth up the house, and we are nowhere told that she must bring her husband a purse of gold. Sir Christopher, it would be the blackest ingratitude in us to deny you, even if this thing were (which I say not) against the mind of our daughter.'
'It is not – it is not,' said my mother.
'Wherefore, seeing that the young man is a good man as youths go, though in the matter of the Latin syntax he hath yet much to learn; and that his heart is disposed towards religion, I am right glad that he should take our girl to wife.'
'Bravely said!' cried Sir Christopher. 'Hands upon it, man! And we will have a merry wedding. But to-day I bid you both to come and feast with us. We will have holiday and rejoicing.'
'Yes,' said my father, 'we will feast; though to-morrow comes the Deluge.' I know now what he meant, but at that time we knew not, and it seemed to his Honour a poor way of rejoicing at the return of the boys and the betrothal of his daughter thus to be foretelling woes. 'The Vision of the Plumb-line is before mine eyes,' my father went on. 'Is the land able to bear all this? We talk of feasting and of marriages. Yet a few days, or perhaps already – But we will rejoice together, my old friend and benefactor, we will rejoice together.' With these strange words he turned and went back to his room, and after some tears with my mother, Madam went home and Sir Christopher with her. But in honour to the day he kept on his best coat.
Robin suffered me to go home, but only that I might put on my best frock (I had but two) and make my hair straight, which had been blown into curls, as was the way with my hair. And then, learning from my mother with the utmost satisfaction what had passed, he led me by the hand, as if I were already his bride, and so to the Manor House, where first Sir Christopher saluted me with great kindness, calling me his dear granddaughter, and saying that next to Robin's safe return he asked for nothing more than to see me Robin's wife. And Madam kissed me, with tears in her eyes, and said that she could desire nothing better for her son, and that she was sure I should do my best endeavours to make the boy happy. Then Humphrey, as quietly as if he had not also asked me to be his wife, kissed my hand, and wished me joy; and Mr. Boscorel also kissed me, and declared that Robin ought to be the happiest dog on earth. And so we sat down to our feast.
The conversation at dinner was graver than the occasion demanded. For though our travellers continually answered questions about the foreign lands and peoples they had seen, yet the subject returned always to the condition of the country, and to what would happen.
After dinner we sat in the garden, and the gentlemen began to talk of Right Divine and of Non-Resistance, and here it seemed to me as if Mr. Boscorel was looking on as from an eminence apart. For when he had once stated the texts and arguments upon which the High Church party do mostly rely, he retired and made no further objections, listening in silence while my father held forth upon the duty of rising against wicked princes. At last, however, being challenged to reply by Humphrey, Mr. Boscorel thus made answer:
'The doctrine that subjects may or may not rebel against their Sovereign is one which I regard with interest so long as it remains a question of logic and argument only. Unfortunately, the times are such that we may be called upon to make a practical application of it: in which case there may follow once more civil war, with hard knocks on both sides, and much loss of things temporal. Wherefore to my learned brother's arguments, which I admit to be plausible, I will, for the present, offer no reply, except to pray Heaven that the occasion may not arise of converting a disputed doctrine into a rule of conduct.'