For Faith and Freedom
Poor Barnaby! at the sight of a Latin Grammar he would feel sick. He would willingly have taken a flogging every day – to be sure, that generally happened to him – in order to escape his lessons and be off to the fields and woods.
It was the sight of his rueful face – yet never sad except at lessons – which made my mother sigh when she saw him dull but patient over his book. Had he stayed at home I know not what could have been done with him, seeing that to become a preacher of the Gospel was beyond even the power of prayer (the Lord having clearly expressed His will in this matter). He would have had to clap on a leathern apron, and become a wheelwright or blacksmith; nothing better than an honest trade was possible for him.
But (whether happily or not) a strange whim seized the boy when he was fourteen years of age. He would go to sea. How he came to think of the sea I know not; he had never seen the sea; there were no sailors in the village; there was no talk of the sea. Perhaps Humphrey, who read many books, told him of the great doings of our sailors on the Spanish Main and elsewhere. Perhaps some of the clothiers' men, who are a roving and unsettled crew, had been sailors – some, I know, had been soldiers under Oliver. However, this matters not, Barnaby must needs become a sailor.
When first he broke this resolution, which he did secretly, to my mother, she began to weep and lament, because everybody knows how dreadful is the life of a sailor, and how full of dangers. She begged him to put the thought out of his head, and to apply himself again to his books.
'Mother,' he said, 'it is no use. What comes in at one ear goes out at the other. Nothing sticks: I shall never be a scholar.'
'Then, my son, learn an honest trade.'
'What? Become the village cobbler – or the blacksmith? Go hat in hand to his Honour, when my father should have been a Bishop, and my mother is a gentlewoman? That will I not. I will go and be a sailor. All sailors are gentlemen. I shall rise and become first mate, and then second captain, and lastly, captain in command. Who knows? I may go and fight the Spaniard, if I am lucky.'
'Oh, my son, canst thou not stay at home and go to church, and consider the condition of thine immortal soul? Of sailors it is well known that their language is made up of profane oaths, and that they are all profligates and drunkards. Consider, my son' – my mother laid her hand upon his arm – 'what were Heaven to me, if I have not my dear children with me as well as my husband? How could I praise the Lord if I were thinking of my son who was not with me, but – ah! Heaven forbid the thought!'
Barnaby made no reply. What could he say in answer to my mother's tears? Yet I think she must have understood very well that her son, having got this resolution into his head, would never give it up.
'Oh!' she said, 'when thou wast a little baby in my arms, Barnaby – who art now so big and strong' – she looked at him with the wonder and admiration that women feel when their sons grow big and stout – 'I prayed that God would accept thee as an offering for His service. Thou art vowed unto the Lord, my son, as much as Samuel. Do you think he complained of his lessons? What would have happened, think you, to Samuel if he had taken off his ephod and declared that he would serve no longer at the altar, but must take spear and shield, and go to fight the Amalekite?'
Said Barnaby, in reply, speaking from an unregenerate heart, 'Mother, had I been Samuel, to wear an ephod and to learn the Latin syntax every day, I should have done that. Ay! I would have done it, even if I knew that at the first skirmish an arrow would pierce my heart.'
It was after a great flogging, on account of the passive voice or some wrestling with the syntax, that Barnaby plucked up courage to tell his father what he wished to do.
'With my consent,' said my father, sternly, 'thou shalt never become a sailor. As soon would I send thee to become a buffoon in a playhouse. Never dare to speak of it again.'
Barnaby hung his head and said nothing.
Then my mother, who knew his obstinate disposition, took him to Sir Christopher, who chid him roundly, telling him that there was work for him on land, else he would have been born beside the coast, where the lads take naturally to the sea: that being, as he was, only an ignorant boy, and landborn, he could not know the dangers which he would encounter: that some ships are cast away on desert islands, where the survivors remain in misery until they die, and some on lands where savages devour them, and some are dragged down by calamaries and other dreadful monsters, and some are burned at sea, their crews having to choose miserably between burning and drowning, and some are taken by the enemy, and the sailors clapped into dungeons and tortured by the Accursed Inquisition.
Many more things did Sir Christopher set forth, showing the miserable life and the wretched end of the sailor. But Barnaby never changed countenance, and though my mother bade him note this and mark that, and take heed unto his Honour's words, his face showed no melting. 'Twas always an obstinate lad; nay it was his obstinacy alone which kept him from his learning. Otherwise he might perhaps have become as great a scholar as Humphrey.
'Sir,' he said, when Sir Christopher had no other word to say, 'with submission, I would still choose to be a sailor, if I could.'
In the end he obtained his wish. That is to say, since no one would help him towards it, he helped himself. And this, I think, is the only way in which men do ever get what they want.
It happened one evening that there passed through the village a man with a pipe and tabor, on which he played so movingly that all the people turned out to listen. For my own part I was with my mother, yet I ran to the garden-gate and leaned my head over, drawn by the sound of the music. Presently the boys and girls began to take hands together and to dance. I dare not say that to dance is sinful, because David danced. But it was so regarded by my father, so that when he passed by them, on his way home from taking the air, and actually saw his own son Barnaby in the middle of the dancers, footing it merrily with them all, joyfully leading one girl up and the other down at John come and kiss me now, he was seized with a mighty wrath, and, catching his son sharply by the ear, led him out of the throng and so home. For that evening Barnaby went supperless to bed, with the promise of such a flogging in the morning as would cause him to remember for the rest of his life the sinfulness of dancing. Never had I seen my father so angry. I trembled before his wrathful eyes. But Barnaby faced him with steady looks, making answer none, yet not showing the least repentance or fear. I thought it was because a flogging had no terrors for him. The event proved that I was wrong; that was not the reason: he had resolved to run away, and when we awoke in the morning he was gone. He had crept down-stairs in the night; he had taken half a loaf of bread and a great cantle of soft cheese, and had gone away. He had not gone for fear of the rod: he had run away with design to go to sea. Perhaps he had gone to Bristol; perhaps to Plymouth; perhaps to Lyme. My mother wept, and my father sighed; and for ten years more we neither saw nor heard anything of Barnaby, not even whether he was dead or living.
BENJAMIN, LORD CHANCELLOR
Summer follows winter and winter summer, in due course, turning children into young men and maidens, changing school into work, and play into love, and love into marriage, and so onwards to the churchyard, where we all presently lie, hopeful of Heaven's mercy, whether Mr. Boscorel did stand beside our open grave in his white surplice, or my father in his black gown.
Barnaby was gone; the other three grew tall, and would still be talking of the lives before them. Girls do never look forward to the future with the eagerness and joy of boys. To the dullest boy it seems a fine thing to be master of his own actions, even if that liberty lead to whipping-post, pillory, or gallows. To boys of ambition and imagination the gifts of Fortune show like the splendid visions of a prophet. They think that earthly fame will satisfy the soul. Perhaps women see these glories and their true worth with clearer eye as not desiring them. And truly it seems a small thing, after a life spent in arduous toil, and with one foot already in the grave, to obtain fortune, rank, or title.
Benjamin and Humphrey were lads of ambition. To both, but in fields which lay far apart, the best life seemed to be that which is spent among men on the ant-hill where all are driving or being driven, loading each other with burdens intolerable, or with wealth or with honours, and then dying and being forgotten in a moment – which we call London. In the kindly country one stands apart and sees the vanity of human wishes. Teat the ambition of Humphrey, it must be confessed, was noble, because it was not for his own advancement, but for the good of mankind.
'I shall stay at home,' said Robin. 'You two may go if you please. Perhaps you will like the noise of London, where a man cannot hear himself speak, they say, for the roaring of the crowd, the ringing of the bells, and the rumbling of the carts. As for me, what is good enough for my grandfather will be surely good enough for me.'
It should, indeed, be good enough for anybody to spend his days after the manner of Sir Christopher, administering justice for the villagers, with the weekly ordinary at Sherborne for company, the green fields and his garden for pleasure and for exercise, and the welfare of his soul for prayer. Robin, besides, loved to go forth with hawk and gun; to snare the wild creatures; to hunt the otter and the fox; to bait the badger, and trap the stoat and weasel; to course the hares. But cities and crowds, even if they should be shouting in his honour, did never draw him, even after he had seen them. Nor was he ever tempted to believe any manner of life more full of delight and more consistent with the end of man's creation than the rural life, the air of the fields, the following of the plough for the men, and the spinning-wheel for the women.
'I shall be a lawyer,' said Benjamin, puffing out his cheeks and squaring his shoulders. 'Very well, then, I say I shall be a great lawyer. What? None of your pettifogging tribe for me: I shall step to the front, and stay there. What? Someone must have the prizes and the promotion. There are always places falling vacant and honours to be given away: they shall be given to me. Why not to me as well as another?'
'Well,' said Robin, 'you are strong enough to take them, willy-nilly.'
'I am strong enough,' he replied, with conviction. 'First, I shall be called to the Outer Bar, where I shall plead in stuff – I saw them at Exeter last 'Sizes. Next, I shall be summoned to become King's Counsel, when I shall flaunt it in silk. Who but I?' Then he seemed to grow actually three inches taller, so great is the power of imagination. He was already six feet in height, his shoulders broad, and his face red and fiery, so that now he looked very big and tall. 'Then my Inn will make me a Bencher, and I shall sit at the high table in term-time. And the attorneys shall run after me and fight with each other for my services in Court, so that in every great case I shall be heard thundering before the jury, and making the witnesses perjure themselves with terror – for which they will be afterwards flogged. I shall belong to the King's party – none of your canting Whigs for me. When the high treason cases come on, I shall be the counsel for the Crown. That is the high road to advancement.'
'This is very well, so far,' said Robin, laughing. 'Ben is too modest, however. He does not get on fast enough.'
'All in good time,' Ben replied. 'I mean to get on as fast as anybody. But I shall follow the beaten road. First, favour with attorneys and those who have suits in the Courts; then the ear of the Judge. I know not how one gets the ear of the Judge' – he looked despondent for a moment, then he held up his head again – 'but I shall find out. Others have found out – why not I? What? I am no fool, am I?'
'Certainly not, Ben. But as yet we stick at King's Counsel.'
'After the ear of the Judge, the favour of the Crown. What do I care who is King? It is the King who hath preferment and place and honours in his gift. Where these are given away, there shall I be found. Next am I made Serjeant-at-Law. Then I am saluted as 'Brother' by the Judges on the Bench, while all the others burst with envy. After that I shall myself be called to the Bench. I am already "my Lord" – why do you laugh, Robin? – and a Knight: Sir Benjamin Boscorel – Sir Benjamin.' Here he puffed out his cheeks again, and swung his shoulders like a very great person indeed.
'Proceed, Sir Benjamin,' said Humphrey, gravely, while Robin laughed.
'When I am a Judge, I promise you I will rate the barristers and storm at the witnesses and admonish the Jury until there shall be no other question in their minds but to find out first what is my will in the case, and then to govern themselves accordingly. I will be myself Judge and jury and all. Oh! I have seen the Judge at last Exeter 'Sizes. He made all to shake in their shoes. I shall not stop there. Chief Baron I shall be, perhaps – but on that point I have not yet made up my mind – and then Lord Chancellor.' He paused to take breath, and looked around him, grandeur and authority upon his brow. 'Lord Chancellor,' he repeated, 'on the Woolsack!'
'You will then,' said Robin, 'be raised to the peerage – first Lord Boscorel; or perhaps, if your Lordship will so honour this poor village, Lord Bradford Orcas' —
'Earl of Sherborne I have chosen for title,' said Benjamin. 'And while I am climbing up the ladder, where wilt thou be, Humphrey? Grovelling in the mud with the poor devils who cannot rise?'
'Nay, I shall have a small ladder of my own, Ben. I find great comfort in the thought that when your Lordship is roaring and bawling with the gout – your noble toe being like a ball of fire, and your illustrious foot swathed in flannel – I shall be called upon to drive away the pain, and you will honour me with the title not only of humble cousin, but also of rescuer and preserver. Will it not be honour enough to cure the Right Honourable the Earl of Sherborne (first of the name), the Lord Chancellor, of his gout, and to restore him to the duties of his great office, so that once more he shall be the dread of evildoers and of all who have to appear before him? As yet, my Lord, your extremities, I perceive, are free from that disease – the result, too often, of that excess in wine which besets the great.'
Here Robin laughed again, and so did Benjamin. Nobody could use finer language than Humphrey, if he pleased.
'A fine ambition!' said Ben. 'To wear a black velvet coat and a great wig; to carry a gold-headed cane; all day long to listen while the patient tells of his gripes and pains; to mix boluses, and to compound nauseous draughts!'
'Well,' Humphrey laughed, 'if you are Lord Chancellor, Ben, you will, I hope, give us good laws, and so make the nation happy and prosperous. While you are doing this, I will be keeping you in health for the good of the country. I say that this is a fine ambition.'
'And Robin, here, will sit in the great chair, and have the rogues haled before him, and order the Head-borough to bring out his cat-o'-nine-tails. In the winter evenings, he will play backgammon, and in the summer, bowls. Then a posset, and to bed. And never any change from year to year. A fine life, truly!'
'Truly, I think it is a very fine life,' said Robin; 'while you make the laws, I will take care that they are obeyed. What better service is there than to cause good laws to be obeyed? Make good laws, my Lord Chancellor, and be thankful that you will have faithful, law-abiding men to carry them out.'
Thus they talked. Presently the time came when the lads must leave the village and go forth to prepare for such course as should be allotted to them, whether it led to greatness or to obscurity.
Benjamin went first, being sixteen years of age and a great fellow, as I have said, broad-shouldered and lusty, with a red face, a strong voice, and a loud laugh. In no respect did he resemble his father, who was delicate in manner and in speech. He was to be entered at Gray's Inn, where, under some counsel learned in the law, he was to read until such time as he should be called.
He came to bid me farewell, which at first, until he frightened me with the things he said, I took kindly of him.
'Child,' he said, 'I am going to London, and, I suppose, I shall not come back to this village for a long time. Nay, were it not for thee, I should not wish to come back at all.'
'Why for me, Ben?'
'Because' – here his red face became redder, and he stammered a little, but not much, for he was ever a lad of confidence – 'because, child, thou art not yet turned twelve, which is young to be hearing of such a thing. Yet a body may as well make things safe. And as for Humphrey or Robin interfering, I will break their heads with my cudgel if they do. Remember that, then.' He shook his finger at me, threatening.
'In what business should they interfere?' I asked.