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For Faith and Freedom
Walter Besant

IN THE VILLAGE

Thus did my father, by his own act and deed, strip himself of all his worldly wealth. Yet, having nothing, he ceased not to put his trust in the Lord, and continued to sit among his books, never asking whence came the food provided for him. I think, indeed, so wrapt was he in thought, that he knew not. As for procuring the daily food, my mother it was who found out the way.

Those who live in other parts of this kingdom do not know what a busy and populous county is that of Somerset. Apart from the shipping and the great trade with Ireland, Spain, and the West Indies carried on from the Port of Bristol, we have our great manufactures of cloth, in which we are surpassed by no country in the world. The town of Taunton alone can boast of eleven hundred looms always at work making Sagathies and Des Roys; there are many looms at Bristol, where they make for the most part Druggets and Cantaloons; and there are great numbers at that rich and populous town of Frome Selwood, where they manufacture the Spanish Medleys. Besides the cloth-workers, we have, in addition, our knitted-stocking trade, which is carried on mostly at Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet. Not only does this flourishing trade make the masters rich and prosperous (it is not uncommon to find a master with his twenty – ay, and his forty – thousand pounds), but it fills all the country with work, so that the towns are frequent, populous, and full of everything that men can want; and the very villages are not like those which may be seen in other parts, poor and squalid, but well-built and comfortable.

Every cottage has its spinning-wheel. The mother, when she is not doing the work of the house, sits at the wheel; the girls, when they have nothing else to do, are made to knit stockings. Every week the master-clothier sends round his men among the villages, their packhorses laden with wool; every week they return, their packs laden with yarn, ready for the loom.

There is no part of England where the people are more prosperous and more contented. Nowhere are there more towns, and all thriving; nowhere are the villages better built; nor can one find anywhere else more beautiful churches. Because the people make good wages they are independent in their manners; they have learned things supposed to be above the station of the humble; most of them in the towns, and many in the villages, are able to read. This enables them to search the Scriptures, and examine into doctrine by the light of their own reason, guided by grace. And to me, the daughter of a Nonconforming preacher, it does not seem wonderful that so many of them should have become stiff and sturdy Nonconformists. This was seen in the year 1685, and, again, three years later, when a greater than Monmouth landed on the western shores.

My mother, then, seeing no hope that her husband would earn, by any work of his own, the daily bread of the household, bravely followed the example of the women in the village. That is to say, she set up her spinning-wheel, and spent all the time that she could spare spinning the wool into yarn; while she taught her little boy first and afterwards her daughter – as soon as I was old enough to manage the needles – to knit stockings. What trade, indeed, could her husband follow save one – and that, by law, prohibited? He could not dig; he could not make anything; he knew not how to buy or sell; he could only study, write, and preach. Therefore, while he sat among his books in one room, she sat over her wheel in the other, working for the master-clothiers of Frome Selwood. It still makes my heart to swell with pity and with love when I think upon my mother, thus spending herself and being spent, working all day, huckstering with the rough pack-horsemen more accustomed to exchange rude jests with the rustics than to talk with gentlewomen. And this she continued to do year after year, cheerful and contented, so that her husband should never feel the pinch of poverty. Love makes us willing slaves.

My father, happily, was not a man whose mind was troubled about food. He paid no heed at all to what he ate, provided that it was sufficient for his needs; he would sup his broth of pork and turnips and bread, after thanks rendered, as if it were the finest dish in the world; and a piece of cold bacon with a hot cabbage would be a feast for him. The cider which he drank was brewed by my mother from her own apples; to him it was as good as if it had been Sherris or Rhenish. I say that he did not even know how his food was provided for him; his mind was at all times occupied with subjects so lofty that he knew not what was done under his very eyes. The hand of God, he said, doth still support His faithful. Doubtless we cannot look back upon those years without owning that we were so supported. But my mother was the Instrument; nay, my father sometimes even compared himself with satisfaction unto the Prophet Elijah, whom the ravens fed beside the brook Cherith, bringing him flesh and bread in the morning and flesh and bread in the evening. I suppose my father thought that his bacon and beans came to him in the same manner.

Yet we should sometimes have fared but poorly had it not been for the charity of our friends. Many a fat capon, green goose, side of bacon, and young grunter came to us from the Manor House, with tobacco, which my father loved, and wine to comfort his soul; yea, and clothes for us all, else had we gone barefoot and in rags. In this way was many an ejected Elijah at that time nourished and supported. Fresh meat we should never have tasted, any more than the humblest around us, had it not been for our good friends at the Manor House. Those who live in towns cannot understand how frugal and yet sufficient may be the fare of those who live in the country and have gardens and orchards. Cider was our drink, which we made ourselves; we had some sweet apple-trees, which gave us a stock of russets and pippins for winter use; we had bees (but we sold most of our honey at Sherborne market); our garden grew sallets and onions, beans and the like; skim milk we could have from the Manor House for the fetching; for breakfast we had bread and milk, for dinner bread and soft cheese, with a lettuce or an apple; and bread or bread and butter for supper. For my father there was always kept a piece of bacon or fat pork.

Our house was one of the cottages in the village: it is a stone house (often I sit down to look at it, and to remember those days of humility) with a thick thatch. It had two rooms below and two garrets above. One room was made into a study or library for my father, where also he slept upon a pallet. The other was kitchen, spinning room, parlour, all in one. The door opened upon the garden, and the floor was of stone, so that it was cold. But when Barnaby began to find the use of his hands he procured some boards, which he laid upon the stones, and so we had a wooden floor; and in winter across the door we hung a blanket or rug to keep off the wind.

The walls were whitewashed, and over all my mother had written texts of Scripture with charcoal, so that godly admonition was ever present to our eyes and minds. She also embroidered short texts upon our garments, and I have still the cradle in which I was laid, carved (but I do not know by whose hand) with a verse from the Word of God. My father used himself, and would have us employ, the words of the Bible even for the smaller occasions of daily use; nor would he allow that anything was lawful unless it was sanctioned by the Bible, holding that in the Word was everything necessary or lawful. Did Barnaby go shooting with Sir Christopher and bring home a rabbit? – Lo! David bade the children of Israel teach the use of the bow. Did my mother instruct and amuse me with riddles? – She had the warrant of Scripture for it in the example of Samson. Did she sing Psalms and spiritual songs to while away the time and make her work less irksome and please her little daughter? – In the congregation of Nehemiah there were two hundred forty-and-five singing men and singing women.

My father read and expounded the Bible to us twice a day – morning and evening. Besides the Bible we had few books which we could read. As for my mother, poor soul, she had no time to read. And as for me, when I grew older I borrowed books from the Manor House or Mr. Boscorel. And there were 'Old Mr. Dod's Sayings' and 'Plain Directions by Joseph Large' always on the shelf beside the Bible.

Now, while my father worked in his study and my brother Barnaby either sat over his lesson-book, his hands rammed into his hair, as if determined to lose nothing, not the least scrap of his portion (yet knowing full well that on the morrow there would be not a word left in his poor unlucky noddle, and once more the whip), my mother would sit at her wheel earning the daily bread. And, when I was little, she would tell me, speaking very softly, so as not to disturb the wrestling of her husband with a knotty argument, all the things which you have heard – how my father chose rather poverty than to worship at the altar of Baal; and how two thousand pious ministers, like-minded with himself, left their pulpits and went out into the cold for conscience' sake. So that I was easily led to think that there were no Christian martyrs and confessors more excellent and praiseworthy than these ejected ministers (which still I believe). Then would she tell me further of how they fared, and how the common people do still reverence them. There was the history of John Norman, of Bridgwater; Joseph Chadwick, of Wrenford; Felix Howe, of West Torrington; George Minton, and many others. She also instructed me very early in the history of the Protestant uprising over the best half of Europe, and showed me how, against fearful odds, and after burnings and tortures unspeakable, the good people of Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain won their freedom from the Pope, so that my heart glowed within me to think of the great goodness and mercy which caused me to be born in a Protestant country. And she instructed me, later, in the wickedness of King Charles, whom they now call a martyr, and in the plots of that King, and Laud his Archbishop, and how King and Archbishop were both overthrown and perished when the people arose and would bear no more. In fine, my mother made me, from the beginning, a Puritan. As I remember my mother always, she was pale of cheek and thin, her voice was gentle; yet with her very gentleness she would make the blood to run quick in the veins, and the heart to beat.

How have I seen the boys spring to their feet when she has talked with them of the great civil war and the Revolution! But always soft and gentle; her blue eyes never flashing; no wrath in her heart; but the truth, which often causeth righteous anger, always upon her tongue.

One day, I remember, when I was a little girl playing in the garden, Mr. Boscorel walked down the village in his great silken gown, which seemed always new, his lace ruffs, and his white bands, looking like a Bishop at least, and walking delicately, holding up his gown to keep it from the dust and mud. When he spoke it was in a soft voice and a mincing speech, not like our plain Somersetshire way. He stopped at our gate, and looked down the garden. It was a summer day, the doors and windows of the cottage were open; at our window sat my father bending over his books, in his rusty gown and black cap, thin and lank; at the door sat my mother at her wheel.

'Child,' said the Rector, 'take heed thou never forget in thine age the thing which thou seest daily in thy childhood.'

I knew not what he meant.

'Read and mark,' he said; 'yea, little Alice, learn by heart what the Wise Man hath said of the good woman: "She layeth her hands to the spindle … she maketh fine linen and selleth it … she eateth not the bread of idleness… Let her works praise her in the gates."'

CHAPTER III.

THE BOYS

The family of Challis, of Bradford Orcas, is well known; here there has always been a Challis from time immemorial. They are said to have been on the land before the time of the Conqueror. But because they have never been a great family, like the Mohuns of Dunster, but only modest gentle-folk with some four or five hundred pounds a year, they have not suffered, like those great houses, from the civil wars, which, when they raged in the land, brought in their train so many attainders, sequestrations, beheadings, imprisonments, and fines. Whether the Barons fought, or whether Cavaliers and Roundheads, the Challises remained at Bradford Orcas.

Since the land is theirs and the village, it is reasonable that they should have done everything that has been done for the place. One of them built the church, but I know not when; another built the tower; another gave the peal of bells. He who reigned here in the time of Henry VII., built the Manor House; another built the mill; the monuments in the church are all put up to the memory of Challises dead and gone; there is one, a very stately tomb, which figures, to the life, Sir William Challis (who died in the time of Queen Elizabeth), carved in marble, and coloured, kneeling at a desk; opposite to him is his second wife, Grace, also kneeling. Behind the husband are three boys, on their knees, and behind the wife are three girls. Apart from this group is the effigy of Filipa, Sir Christopher's first wife, with four daughters kneeling behind her. I was always sorry for Filipa, thus separated and cut off from the society of her husband. There are brasses on the floor with figures of other Challises, and tablets in the wall, and the Challis coat-of-arms is everywhere, cut in lozenges, and painted in wood, and shining in the east window. It seemed to me, in my young days, that it was the grandest thing in the world to be a Challis.

In this family there was a laudable practice with the younger sons, that they stayed not at home, as is too often their custom, leading indolent lives without ambition or fortune, but they sallied forth and sought fortune in trade, or in the Law, or in the Church, or in foreign service – wherever fortune is to be honourably won – so that, though I daresay some have proved dead and dry branches, others have put forth flowers and fruit abundantly, forming new and vigorous trees sprung from the ancient root. Thus, some have become judges: and some bishops: and some great merchants: some have crossed the ocean and are now settled in the Plantations: some have attained rank and estates in the service of the Low Countries. Thus, Sir Christopher's brother Humphrey went to London and became a Levant merchant and adventurer, rising to great honour and becoming alderman. I doubt not that he would have been made Lord Mayor but for his untimely death. And as for his wealth, which was rumoured to be so great – but you shall hear of this in due time.

That goodly following of his household which you have seen enter the church on Farewell Sunday, was shortly afterwards broken into by death. There fell upon the village (I think it was in the year 1665) the scourge of a putrid fever, of which there died, besides numbers of the village folk, Madam herself – the honoured wife of Sir Christopher – Humphrey his son, and Madam Patience Boscorel, his daughter. There were left to Sir Christopher, therefore, only his daughter-in-law and his grandsons Robin and Benjamin. And in that year his household was increased by the arrival of his grand-nephew Humphrey. This child was the grandson of Sir Christopher's brother, the Turkey or Levant merchant of whom I have spoken. He was rich and prosperous: his ships sailed out every year laden with I know not what, and returned with figs, dates, spices, gums, silks, and all kinds of precious commodities from Eastern parts. It is, I have been told, a profitable trade, but subject to terrible dangers from Moorish pirates, who must be bravely fought and beaten off, otherwise ship and cargo will be taken, and captain and crew driven into slavery. Mr. Challis dwelt in Thames-street, close to Tower-hill. It is said that he lived here in great splendour, as befits a rich merchant who is also an Alderman.

Now, in the year 1665, as is very well known, a great plague broke out in the city. There were living in the house in Thames-street the Alderman, his wife, his son, his son's wife, a daughter, and his grandson, little Humphrey. On the first outbreak of the pestilence they took counsel together and resolved that the child should be first sent away to be out of danger, and that they would follow if the plague spread.

This was done, and a sober man, one of their porters or warehousemen, carried the child with his nurse all the way from London to Bradford Orcas. Alas! Before the boy reached his great-uncle, the house in Thames-street was attacked by the plague, and everyone therein perished. Thus was poor little Humphrey deprived of his parents. I know not who were his guardians or trustees, or what steps, if any, were taken to inquire into the Alderman's estate; but when, next year, the Great Fire of London destroyed the house in Thames-street, with so many others, all the estate, whatever it had been, vanished, and could no more be traced. There must have been large moneys owing. It is certain that he had ventures in ships. It has been supposed that he owned many houses in the City, but they were destroyed and their very sites forgotten, and no deeds or papers, or any proof of ownership, were left. Moreover, there was nobody charged with inquiring into this orphan's affairs. Therefore, in the general confusion, nothing at all was saved out of what had been a goodly property, and the child Humphrey was left without a guinea in the world. Thus unstable is Fortune.

I know not whether Humphrey received a fall in his infancy, or whether he was born with his deformity, but the poor lad grew up with a crooked figure, one shoulder being higher than the other, and his legs short, so that he looked as if his arms were too long for him. We, who saw him thus every day, paid no heed, nor did he suffer from any of those cruel gibes and taunts which are often passed upon lads thus afflicted. As he was by nature or misfortune debarred from the rough sports which pleased his cousins, the boy gave himself up to reading and study, and to music. His manner of speech was soft and gentle; his voice was always sweet, and afterwards became strong as well, so that I have never heard a better singer. His face – ah! my brother Humphrey, what a lovely face was thine! All goodness, surely, was stamped upon that face. Never, never, did an unworthy thought defile that candid soul, or a bad action cast a cloud upon that brow!

As for Robin, Sir Christopher's grandson, I think he was always what he is still, namely, one of a joyous heart and a cheerful countenance. As a boy, he laughed continually, would sing more willingly than read, would play rather than work, loved to course and shoot and ride better than to learn Latin grammar, and would readily off coat and fight with any who invited him. Yet not a fool or a clown, but always a gentleman in manners, and one who read such things as behove a country gentleman, and scrupulous as to the point of honour. Such as he is still such he was always. And of a comely presence, with a rosy cheek and bright eyes, and the strength of a young David, as well as his ruddy and goodly countenance. The name of David, I am told, means 'darling.' Therefore ought my Robin to have been named David. There were two other boys – Barnaby, my brother, who was six years older than myself, and, therefore, always to me a great boy; and Benjamin, the son of the Rev. Mr. Boscorel – the Rector. Barnaby grew up so broad and strong that at twelve he would have passed easily for seventeen; his square shoulders, deep chest, and big limbs made him like a bull for strength. Yet he was shorter than most, and looked shorter than he was by reason of his great breadth. He was always exercising his strength; he would toss the hay with the haymakers, and carry the corn for the reapers, and thresh with the flail, and guide the plough. He loved to climb great trees, and fell to them with an axe. Everybody in the village admired his wonderful strength. Unfortunately, he loved not books, and could never learn anything, so that when, by dint of great application and many repetitions, he had learned a little piece of a Latin verb, he straightway forgot it in the night, and so, next day, there was another flogging. But that he heeded little. He was five years older than Robin, and taught him all his woodcraft – where to find pheasants' eggs, how to catch squirrels, how to trap weasels and stoats, how to hunt the otter, how to make a goldfinch whistle and a raven talk – never was there such a master of that wisdom which doth not advance a man in the world.

Now, before Barnaby's birth, his mother, after the manner of Hannah, gave him solemnly unto the Lord all the days of his life, and, after his birth, her husband, after the manner of Elkanah, said: 'Do what seemeth thee good; only the Lord establish his word.' He was, therefore, to become a minister, like his father before him. Alas! poor Barnaby could not even learn the Latin verbs, and his heart, it was found, as he grew older, was wholly set upon the things of this world. Wherefore, my mother prayed for him daily while she sat at her work, that his heart might be turned, and that he might get understanding.

As for the fourth of the boys, Benjamin Boscorel, he was about two years younger than Barnaby, a boy who, for want of a mother, and because his father was careless of him, grew up rough and coarse in manners and in speech, and boastful of his powers. To hear Ben talk you would think that all the boys of his school (the grammar school of Sherborne) were heroes; that the Latin taught was of a quality superior to that which Robin and Humphrey learnt of my father; and that when he himself went out into the world, the superiority of his parts would be immediately perceived and acknowledged.

Those who watch boys at play together – girls more early learn to govern themselves and to conceal their thoughts, if not their tempers – may, after a manner, predict the future character of every one. There is the man who wants all for himself, and still wants more, and will take all and yield nothing, save on compulsion, and cares not a straw about his neighbour – such was Benjamin, as a boy. There is the man who gives all generously – such was Robin. There is, again, the man whose mind is raised above the petty cares of the multitude, and dwells apart, occupied with great thoughts – such was Humphrey. Lastly, there is the man who can act but cannot think; who is born to be led; who is full of courage and of strength, and leaves all to his commander, captain, or master – such was Barnaby.

As I think of these lads it seems as if the kind of man into which each would grow must have been stamped upon their foreheads. Perhaps to the elders this prognostic was easy to read.

They suffered me to play with them or to watch them at play. When the boys went off to the woods I went with them. I watched them set their traps – I ran when they ran. And then, as now, I loved Robin and Humphrey. But I could not endure – no; not even the touch of him – Benjamin, with the loud laugh and the braggart voice, who laughed at me because I was a girl and could not fight. The time came when he did not laugh at me because I was a girl. And oh! to think – only to think – of the time that came after that!

CHAPTER IV.

SIR CHRISTOPHER

At the mere remembrance of Sir Christopher, I am fain to lay down my pen and to weep, as for one whose goodness was unsurpassed, and whose end was undeserved. Good works, I know, are rags, and men cannot deserve the mercy of God by any merits of their own; but a good man – a man whose heart is full of justice, mercy, virtue, and truth – is so rare a creature, that when there is found such a one, his salvation seems assured. Is it not wonderful that there are among us so many good Christians, but so few good men? I am, indeed, in private duty bound to acknowledge Sir Christopher's goodness to me and to mine. He was, as I have said, the mainstay of our household. Had we depended wholly on my mother's work, we should sometimes have fared miserably indeed. Nay, he did more. Though a Justice of the Peace, he invited my father every Sunday evening to the Manor House for spiritual conversation, not only for his own profit, but knowing that to expound was to my father the breath of his nostrils, so that if he could not expound he must die. In person, Sir Christopher was tall; after the fashion (which I love) of the days when he was a young man he wore his own hair, which, being now white and long, became his venerable face much better than any wig – white, black, or brown. He was generally dressed, as became his station of simple country gentleman, in a plush coat with silver buttons, and for the most part he wore boots, being of an active habit and always walking about his fields or in his gardens among his flowers and his fruit-trees. He was so good a sportsman that with his rod, his gun, and his hawk he provided his table with everything except beef, mutton, and pork. In religion he inclined to Independency, being above all things an upholder of private judgment; in politics, he denied the Divine right, and openly said that a Challis might be a King as well as a Stuart; he abhorred the Pope and all his works; and though he was now for a Monarchy, he would have the King's own power limited by the Parliament. In his manners he was grave and dignified; not austere, but one who loved a cheerful companion. He rode once a week, on market day, to Sherborne, where he dined with his brother Justices, hearing and discussing the news, though news comes but slowly from London to these parts – it was fourteen days after the landing of the King in the year 1660 that the bells of Sherborne Minster rang for that event. Sometimes a copy of the London Gazette came down by the Exeter coach, or some of the company had lately passed a night where the coach stopped, and conversed with travellers from London and heard the news. For the rest of the week, his Honour was at home. For the most part he sat in the hall. In the middle stands the great oak table where all the household sit at meals together. There was little difference between the dishes served above and those below the salt, save that those above had each a glass of strong ale or of wine after dinner and supper. One side of the hall was hung with arras worked with representations of herbs, beasts and birds. On the other side was the great chimney, where in the winter a noble fire was kept up all day long. On either side of it hung fox skins, otter skins, pole-cat skins, with fishing-rods, stags' heads, horns and other trophies of the chase. At the end was a screen covered with old coats of mail, helmets, bucklers, lances, pikes, pistols, guns with match-locks, and a trophy of swords arranged in form of a star. Below the cornice hung a row of leathern jerkins, black and dusty, which had formerly been worn in place of armour by the common sort. In the oriel window was a sloping desk, having on one side the Bible and on the other Foxe's 'Book of Martyrs.' Below was a shelf with other books, such as Vincent Wing's Almanack, King Charles's 'Golden Rules,' 'Glanville on Apparitions,' the 'Complete Justice,' and the 'Book of Farriery.' There was also in the hall a great side-board, covered with Turkey work, pewter, brass, and fine linen. In the cupboard below was his Honour's plate, reported to be worth a great deal of money.

Sir Christopher sat in a high chair, curiously carved, with arms and a triangular seat. It had belonged to the family for many generations. Within reach of the chair was the tobacco-jar, his pipe, and his favourite book – namely, 'The Gentleman's Academie: or the Book of St. Albans, being a Work on Hunting, Hawking, and Armorie,' by Dame Juliana Berners, who wrote it two hundred and fifty years ago. Sir Christopher loved especially to read aloud that chapter in which it is proved that the distinction between gentleman and churl began soon after the Creation, when Cain proved himself a churl, and Seth was created Gentleman and Esquire or Armiger by Adam, his father. This distinction was renewed after the Flood by Noah himself, a gentleman by lineal descent from Seth. In the case of his sons, Ham was the churl, and the other two were the gentlemen. I have sometimes thought that, according to this author, all of us who are descended from Shem or Japhet should be gentlemen, in which case there would be no churl in Great Britain at all. But certainly there are many; so that, to my poor thinking, Dame Juliana Berners must be wrong.

There is, in addition to the great hall, the best parlour. But as this was never wanted, the door of it was never opened except at cleaning time. Then, to be sure, one saw a room furnished very grand, with chairs in Turkey work, and hung round with family portraits. The men were clad in armour, as if they had all been soldiers or commanders; the women were mostly dressed as shepherdesses, with crooks in their hands and flowing robes. In the garden was a long bowling green, where in summer Sir Christopher took great pleasure in that ancient game: below the garden was a broad fishpond, made by damming the stream: above and below the pond there were trout, and in the pond were carp and jack. A part of the garden was laid out for flowers, a part for the still-room, and a part for fruit. I have never seen anywhere a better ordered garden for the still-room. Everything grew therein that the housewife wants: sweet cicely, rosemary, burnet, sweet basil, chives, dill, clary, angelica, lipwort, tarragon, thyme and mint; there were, as Lord Bacon, in his 'Essay on Gardens,' would have, 'whole alleys of them to have the pleasure when you walk or tread.' There were thick hedges to keep off the east wind in spring, so that one would enjoy the sun when that cold wind was blowing. But in Somerset that wind hath not the bitterness that it possesses along the eastern shores of the land.

Every morning Sir Christopher sat in his Justice's chair under the helmets and the coats of armour. Sometimes gipsies would be brought before him, charged with stealing poultry or poisoning pigs; or a rogue and vagabond would stray into the parish; these gentry were very speedily whipped out of it. As for our own people, there is nowhere a more quiet and orderly village; quarrels there are with the clothiers' men, who will still try to beat down the value of the women's work, and bickerings sometimes between the women themselves. Sir Christopher was judge for all. Truly he was a patriarch like unto Abraham, and a father to his people. Never was sick man suffered to want for medicines and succour; never was aged man suffered to lack food and fire; did any youth show leanings towards sloth, profligacy, or drunkenness, he was straightway admonished, and that right soundly, so that his back and shoulders would remind him for many days of his sin. By evildoers Sir Christopher was feared as much as he was beloved by all good men and true. This also is proper to one in high station and authority.

In the evening he amused himself in playing backgammon with the boys, or chess with his son-in-law, Mr. Boscorel: but the latter with less pleasure, because he was generally defeated in the game. He greatly delighted in the conversation and society of that learned and ingenious gentleman, though on matters of religion and of politics his son-in-law belonged to the opposite way of thinking.

I do not know why Mr. Boscorel took upon himself holy orders. God forbid that I should speak ill of any in authority, and especially of one who was kind and charitable to all, and refused to become a persecutor of those who desired freedom of conscience and of speech. But if the chief duty of a minister of the Gospel is to preach, then was Mr. Boscorel little better than a dog who cannot bark. He did not preach; that is to say, he could not, like my father, mount the pulpit, Bible in hand, and teach, admonish, argue, and convince without a written word. He read every Sunday morning a brief discourse, which might, perhaps, have instructed Oxford scholars, but would not be understood by the common people. As for arguments on religion, spiritual conversation, or personal experience of grace, he would never suffer such talk in his presence, because it argued private judgment and caused, he said, the growth of spiritual pride. And of those hot Gospellers whose zeal brings them to prison and the pillory, he spoke with contempt. His conversation, I must acknowledge, was full of delight and instruction, if the things which one learned of him were not vanities. He had travelled in Italy and in France, and he loved to talk of poetry, architecture, statuary, medals and coins, antiquities and so forth – things harmless and, perhaps, laudable in themselves, but for a preacher of the Gospel who ought to think of nothing but his sacred calling they are surely superfluities. Or he would talk of the manners and customs of strange countries, and especially of the Pope. This person, whom I have been taught to look upon as from the very nature of his pretensions the most wicked of living men, Mr. Boscorel regarded with as much toleration as he bestowed upon an Independent. Then he would tell us of London and the manners of the great; of the King, whom he had seen, and the Court, seeming to wink at things which one ought to hold in abhorrence. He even told us of the playhouse, which, according to my father, is the most subtle engine ever invented by the Devil for the destruction of souls. Yet Mr. Boscorel sighed to think that he could no longer visit that place of amusement. He loved also music, and played movingly upon the violoncello; and he could make pictures with pen, pencil, or brush. I have some of his paintings still, especially a picture which he drew of Humphrey playing the fiddle, his great eyes looking upwards as if the music was drawing his soul to Heaven. I know not why he painted a halo about his face. Mr. Boscorel also loved poetry, and quoted Shakspeare and Ben Jonson more readily than the Word of God.

In person he was of a goodly countenance, having clear-cut features: a straight nose, rather long; soft eyes, and a gentle voice. He was dainty in his apparel, loving fine clean linen and laced neckerchiefs, but was not a gross feeder; he drank but little wine, but would discourse upon fine wines, such as the Tokay of Hungary, Commandery wine from Cyprus, and the like, and he seemed better pleased to watch the colour of the wine in the glass, and to breathe its perfume, than to drink it. Above all things he hated coarse speech and rude manners. He spoke of men as if he stood on an eminence watching them, and always with pity, as if he belonged to a nobler creation. How could such a man have such a son?

CHAPTER V.

THE RUNAWAY

Everybody hath heard, and old people still remember, how one Act after the other was passed for the suppression of the Nonconformists, whom the Church of England tried to extirpate, but could not. Had these laws been truly carried into effect, there would have been great suffering among the Dissenters; but, in order to enforce them, every man's hand would have been turned against his neighbour, and this – thank God! – is not possible in Somerset. For example, the Act of Uniformity provided not only for the ejectment of the Nonconforming ministers (which was duly carried out), but also enacted that none of them should take scholars without the license of the Bishop. Yet many of the ejected ministers maintained themselves in this way openly, without the Bishop's license. They were not molested, though they might be threatened by some hot Episcopalian; nor were the Bishops anxious to set the country afire by attempting to enforce this law. One must not take from an honest neighbour, whatever an unjust law may command, his only way of living.

Again, the Act passed two years later punished all persons with fine and imprisonment who attended conventicles. Yet the conventicles continued to be held over the whole country, because it was impossible for the Justices to fine and imprison men with whom they sat at dinner every market-day, with whom they took their punch and tobacco, and whom they knew to be honest and God-fearing folk. Again, how could they fine and imprison their own flesh and blood? Why, in every family there were some who loved the meeting-house better than the steeple-house. Laws have little power when they are against the conscience of the people.

Thirdly, there was an Act prohibiting ministers from residing within five miles of the village or town where they had preached. This was a most cruel and barbarous Act, because it sent the poor ministers away from the help of their friends. Yet how was it regarded? My father, for his part, continued to live at Bradford Orcas without let or hindrance, and so, no doubt, did many more.

Again, another Act was passed giving authority to Justices of the Peace to break open doors and to take in custody persons found assembling for worship. I have heard of disturbances at Taunton, where the Magistrates carried things with a high hand; but I think the people who met to worship after their own fashion were little disturbed. Among the Churchmen were some, no doubt, who remembered the snubs and rubs they had themselves experienced, and the memory may have made them revengeful. All the persecution, it is certain, was not on the side of the Church. There was, for instance, the case of Dr. Walter Raleigh, Dean of Wells, who was clapped into a noisome prison where the plague had broken out. He did not die of that disease, but was done to death in the jail, barbarously, by one David Barrett, shoemaker, who was never punished for the murder, but was afterwards made Constable of the City. There was also the case of the Rev. Dr. Piers, whom I have myself seen, for he lived to a good old age. He was a Prebendary of Wells, and being driven forth, was compelled to turn farmer, and to work with his own hands – digging, hoeing, ploughing, reaping, and threshing – when he should have been in his study. Every week this reverend and learned Doctor of Divinity was to be seen at Ilminster Market, standing beside the pillars with his cart, among the farmers and their wives, selling his apples, cheese, and cabbages.

I say that no doubt many remembered these things. Yet the affection of the people went forth to the Nonconformists and the ejected ministers, as was afterwards but too well proved. I have been speaking of things which happened before my recollection. It was in the year 1665, four years after the Ejection, that I was born. My father would have named me Grace Abounding, but my mother called me Alice, after her own name. I was thus six years younger than my brother Barnaby, and two years younger than Robin and Humphrey.

The first thing that I can recollect is a kind of picture, preserved, so to speak, in my head. At the open door is a woman spinning at the wheel. She is a woman with a pale, grave face; she works diligently, and for the most part in silence; if she speaks, it is to encourage or to admonish a little girl who plays in the garden outside. Her lips move as she works, because she communes with her thoughts all day long. From time to time she turns her head and looks with anxiety into the other room, where sits her husband at his table.

Before him stand three boys. They are Barnaby, Robin, and Humphrey. They are learning Latin. The room is piled with books on shelves and books on the floor. In the corner is a pallet, which is the master's bed by night. I hear the voices of the boys who repeat their lessons, and the admonishing of their master. I can see through the open door the boys themselves. One, a stout and broad lad, is my brother Barnaby: he hangs his head and forgets his lesson, and causes his father to punish him every day. He receives admonition with patience; yet profiteth nothing. The next is Humphrey; he is already a lad of grave and modest carriage, who loves his book and learns diligently. The third is Robin, whose parts are good, were his application equal to his intelligence. He is impatient, and longs for the time when he may close his book and go to play again.

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