<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 >>

For Faith and Freedom
Walter Besant

Oh! many a lovely thing hath earth,
To charm the eye and witch the soul;
Yet one there is of passing worth —
For that one thing I give the whole.

The crowning work, the last thing made,
Creation's masterpiece to be —
Bend o'er yon stream, and, there displayed,
This wondrous thing reflected see.

Behold a face for heaven designed;
See how those eyes thy soul betray —
Love – secret love – there sits enshrined,
And upwards still doth point the way.

When Humphrey went away, he did not, like Benjamin, come blustering and declaring that he would marry me, and that he would break the skull of any other man who dared make love to me – not at all; Humphrey, with tears in his eyes, told me that he was sorry I could not go to Oxford as well; that he was going to lose the sweetest companion in the world; and that he should always love me; and then he kissed me on the forehead, and so departed. Why should he not always love me? I knew very well that he loved me, and that I loved him. Although he was so young, being only seventeen when he was entered at Exeter College, I suppose there never was a young gentleman went to the University of Oxford with so many accomplishments, and so much learning. By my father's testimony he read Greek as if it were his mother tongue, and he wrote and conversed easily in Latin: and you have heard what arts and accomplishments he added to this solid learning. He was elected to a scholarship at his college, that of Exeter, and, after he took his degree as Bachelor of Medicine, he was made a Fellow of All Souls, where Mr. Boscorel himself had also been a Fellow. This election was not only a great distinction for him, but it gave him what a learned young man especially desires – the means of living and of pursuing his studies.

While he was at Oxford he wrote letters to Sir Christopher, to Mr. Boscorel, and to my father (to whom also he sent such new books and pamphlets as he thought would interest him). To me he sent sometimes drawings and sometimes books, but never verses.

Now (to make an end of Humphrey for the present), when he had obtained his fellowship, he asked for and obtained leave of absence and permission to study medicine in those great schools which far surpass, they say, our English schools of medicine. These are that of Montpellier; the yet more famous school of Padua, in Italy; and that of Leyden, whither many Englishmen have resorted for study, notably Mr. Evelyn, whose book called 'Sylva' was in the Rector's library.

He carried on during the whole of this time a correspondence with Mr. Boscorel on the paintings, statues, and architecture to be seen wherever his travels carried him. These letters Mr. Boscorel read aloud, with a map spread before him, discoursing on the history of the place and the chief things to be seen there, before he began to read. Surely there never was a man so much taken up with the fine arts, especially as they were practised by the ancients.

There remains the last of the boys – Robin, Sir Christopher's grandson and heir. I should like this book to be all about Robin – yet one must needs speak of the others. I declare, that from the beginning, there never was a boy more happy, more jolly; never anyone more willing to be always making someone happy. He loved the open air, the wild creatures, the trees, the birds, everything that lives beneath the sky; yet not – like my poor brother Barnaby – a hater of books. He read all the books which told about creatures, or hunting, or country life; and all voyages and travels. A fresh-coloured, wholesome lad, not so grave as Humphrey, nor so rustic as Barnaby, who always seemed to carry with him the scent of woods and fields. He was to Sir Christopher, what Benjamin was to Jacob. Even my father loved him though he was so poor a scholar.

Those who stay at home have homely wits; that is well known: therefore Robin must follow Humphrey to Oxford. He went thither the year after his cousin. I never learned that he obtained a scholarship, or that he was considered one of the younger pillars of that learned and ancient University; or, indeed, that he took a degree at all.

After he left Oxford he must go to London, there to study Justice's Law and fit himself for the duties he would have to fulfil. Also his grandfather would have him acquire some knowledge of the Court and the City, and the ways of the great and the rich. This, too, he did; though he never learned to prefer those ways to the simple customs and habits of his Somerset village.

He, too, like the other two, bade me a tender farewell.

'Poor Alice!' he said, taking both my hands in his, 'what wilt thou do when I am gone?'

Indeed, since Humphrey went away, we had been daily companions; and at the thought of being thus left alone the tears were running down my cheeks.

'Why, Sweetheart,' he said, 'to think that I should ever make thee cry – I who desire nothing but to make thee always laugh and be happy! What wilt thou do? Go often to my mother. She loves thee as if thou wert her own daughter. Go and talk to her concerning me. It pleaseth the poor soul to be still talking of her son. And forget not my grandfather; play backgammon with him; fill his pipe for him; sing to the spinnet for him; talk to him about Humphrey and me. And forget not Mr. Boscorel, my uncle. The poor man looks as melancholy since Humphrey went away as a turtle robbed of her nest. I saw him yesterday opening one of his drawers full of medals, and he sighed over them fit to break his heart. He sighed for Humphrey, not for Ben. Well, child, what more? Take Lance' – 'twas his dog – 'for a run every day; make George Sparrow keep an eye upon the stream for otters; and – there are a thousand things, but I will write them down. Have patience with the dear old man when he will be still talking about me.'

'Patience, Robin,' I said. 'Why, we all love to talk about thee.'

'Do you all love to talk about me? Dost thou, too, Alice? Oh, my dear, my dear!' Here he took me in his arms and kissed me on the lips. 'Dost thou also love to talk about me? Why, my dear, I shall think of nothing but of thee. Because – oh, my dear! – I love thee with all my heart.'

Well, I was still so foolish that I understood nothing more than that we all loved him, and he loved us all.

'Alice, I will write letters to thee. I will put them in the packet for my mother. Thus thou wilt understand that I am always thinking of thee.'

He was as good as his word. But the letters were so full of the things he was doing and seeing, that it was quite clear that his mind had plenty of room for more than one object. To be sure, I should have been foolish, indeed, had I desired that his letters should tell me that he was always thinking about me, when he should have been attending to his business.

After a year in London, his grandfather thought that he should travel. Therefore, he went abroad and joined Humphrey at Montpellier, and with him rode northwards to Leyden, where he sojourned while his cousin attended the lectures of that famous school.

CHAPTER VIII.

A ROYAL PROGRESS

When all the boys were gone the time was quiet, indeed, for those who were left behind. My mother's wheel went spinning still, but I think that some kindness on the part of Mr. Boscorel as well as Sir Christopher caused her weekly tale of yarn to be of less importance. And as for me, not only would she never suffer me to sit at the spinning-wheel, but there was so much request of me (to replace the boys) that I was nearly all the day either with Sir Christopher, or with Madam, or with Mr. Boscorel.

Up to the year 1680, or thereabouts, I paid no more attention to political matters than any young woman with no knowledge may be supposed to give. Yet, of course, I was on the side of liberty, both civil and religious. How should that be otherwise, my father being such as he was, muzzled for all these years, the work of his life prevented and destroyed?

It was in that year, however, that I became a most zealous partisan and lover of the Protestant cause in the way that I am about to relate.

Everybody knows that there is no part of Great Britain (not even Scotland) where the Protestant religion hath supporters more stout and staunch than Somerset and Devonshire. I hope I shall not be accused of disloyalty to Queen Anne, under whom we now flourish and are happy, when I say that in the West of England we had grown – I know not how – to regard the late misguided Duke of Monmouth as the champion of the Protestant faith. When, therefore, the Duke came into the West of England in the year 1680, five years before his rebellion, he was everywhere received with acclamations and by crowds who gathered round him to witness their loyalty to the Protestant faith. They came also to gaze upon the gallant commander who had defeated both the French and the Dutch, and was said (but erroneously) to be as wise as he was brave, and as religious as he was beautiful to look upon. As for his wisdom, those who knew him best have since assured the world that he had little or none, his judgment being always swayed and determined for him by crafty and subtle persons seeking their own interests. And as for his religion, whatever may have been his profession, good works were wanting – as is now very well known. But at that time, and among our people, the wicked ways of Courts were only half understood. And there can be no doubt that, whether he was wise or religious, the show of affection with which the Duke was received upon this journey, turned his head and caused him to think that these people would rally round him if he called upon them. And I suppose that there is nothing which more delights a Prince than to believe that his friends are ready even to lay down their lives in his behalf.

At that time the country was greatly agitated by anxiety concerning the succession. Those who were nearest the throne knew that King Charles was secretly a Papist. We in the country had not learned that dismal circumstance; yet we knew the religion of the Duke of York. Thousands there were, like Sir Christopher himself, who now lamented the return of the King, considering the disgraces which had fallen upon the country. But what was done could not be undone. They, therefore, asked themselves if the nation would suffer an avowed Papist to ascend a Protestant throne. If not, what should be done? And here, as everybody knows, was opinion divided. For some declared that the Duke of Monmouth, had he his rights, was the lawful heir; and others maintained, on the King's own words, that he was never married to Mistress Lucy Waters. Therefore, they would have the Duke of York's daughter, a Protestant princess, married to William of Orange, proclaimed Queen. The Monmouth party were strong, however, and it was even said – Mr. Henry Clark, minister of Crewkerne, wrote a pamphlet to prove it – that a poor woman, Elizabeth Parcet by name, touched the Duke (he being ignorant of the thing) for King's Evil, and was straightway healed. Sir Christopher laughed at the story, saying that the King himself, whether he was descended from a Scottish Stuart or from King Solomon himself, could no more cure that dreadful disease than the seventh son of a seventh son (as some foolish people believe), or the rubbing of the part affected by the hand of a man that had been hanged (as others do foolishly believe), which is the reason why on the gibbets the hanging corpses are always handless.

It was noised abroad, beforehand, that the Duke was going to ride through the West Country in order to visit his friends. The progress (it was more like a Royal progress than the journey of a private nobleman) began with his visit to Mr. Thomas Thynne, of Longleat House. It is said that his chief reason for going to that house was to connect himself with the obligation of the tenant of Longleat to give the King and his suite a night's lodging when they visited that part of the country. Mr. Thynne, who entertained the Duke on this occasion, was the same who was afterwards murdered in London by Count Konigsmark. They called him 'Tom of Ten Thousand.' The poet Dryden hath written of this progress, in that poem wherein, under the fabled name of Absalom, he figures the Duke: —

He now begins his progress to ordain,
With chariots, horsemen, and a numerous train.
Fame runs before him as the morning star,
And shouts of joy salute him from afar.
Each house receives him as a guardian god,
And consecrates the place of his abode.

It was for his hospitable treatment of the Duke that Mr. Thynne was immediately afterwards deprived of the command of the Wiltshire Militia.

'Son-in-law,' said Sir Christopher, 'I would ride out to meet the Duke in respect to his Protestant professions. As for any pretensions he may have to the succession, I know nothing of them.'

'I will ride with you, Sir,' said the Rector, 'to meet the son of the King. And as for any Protestant professions, I know nothing of them. His Grace still remains, I believe, within the pale of the Church as by law established. Let us all ride out together.'

Seeing that my father also rode with them, it is certain that there were many and diverse reasons why so many thousands gathered together to welcome the Duke. Madam, Robin's mother, out of her kind heart, invited me to accompany her, and gave me a white frock to wear and blue ribbons to put into it.

We made, with our servants, a large party. We were also joined by many of the tenants, with their sons and wives, so that when we came to Ilchester, Sir Christopher was riding at the head of a great company of sixty or more, and very fine they looked, all provided with blue favours in honour of the Duke.

From Bradford Orcas to Ilchester is but six miles as the crow flies, but the ways (which are narrow and foul in winter) do so wind and turn about that they add two miles at least to the distance. Fortunately, the season was summer – namely, August – when the sun is hottest and the earth is dry, so that no one was bogged on the way.

We started betimes – namely, at six in the morning – because we knew not for certain at what time the Duke would arrive at Ilchester. When we came forth from the Manor House the farmers were already waiting for us, and so, after greetings from his Honour, they fell in and followed. We first took the narrow and rough lane which leads to the high road; but, when we reached it, we found it full of people riding, like ourselves, or trudging, staff in hand, all in the same direction. They were going to gaze upon the Protestant Duke, who, if he had his way, would restore freedom of conscience, and abolish the Acts against the Nonconformists. We rode through Marston Magna, but only the old people and the little children were left there; in the fields the ripe corn stood waiting to be cut; in the farmyards the beasts were standing idle; all the hinds were gone to Ilchester to see the Duke. And I began to fear lest when we got to Ilchester we should be too late. At Marston we left the main road and entered upon a road (call it a track rather than a road) across the country, which is here flat and open. In winter it is miry and boggy, but it was now dry and hard. This path brought us again to the main road in two miles, or thereabouts, and here we were but a mile or so from Ilchester. Now, such a glorious sight as awaited us here I never expected to see. Once again, after five years, I was to see a welcome still more splendid; but nothing can ever efface from my memory that day. For first, the roads, as I have said, were thronged with rustics, and next, when we rode into the town we found it filled with gentlemen most richly dressed, and ladies so beautiful, and with such splendid attire that it dazzled my eyes to look upon them. It was a grand thing to see the gentlemen take off their hats and cry, 'Huzza for brave Sir Christopher!' Everybody knew his opinions, and on what side he had fought in the Civil War. The old man bent his head, and I think that he was pleased with this mark of honour.

The town which, though ancient, is now decayed and hath but few good houses in it, was made glorious with bright-coloured cloths, carpets, flags, and ribbons. There were bands of music; the bells of the church were ringing; the main street was like a fair with booths and stalls, and in the market-place there were benches set up with white canvas covering, where sat ladies in their fine dresses, some of them with naked necks, unseemly to behold. Yet it was pretty to see the long curls lying on their white shoulders. Some of them sat with half-closed eyes, which, I have since learned, is the fashion at Court. Mostly, they wore satin petticoats, and demi-gowns also of satin, furnished with a long train. Our place was beside the old Cross with its gilt ball and vane. The people who filled the streets came from Sherborne, from Bruton, from Shepton, from Glastonbury, from Langport, and from Somerton, and from all the villages round. It was computed that there were twenty thousand of them. Two thousand at least rode out to meet the Duke, and followed after him when he rode through the town. And, oh! the shouting as he drew near, the clashing of the bells, the beating of the drums, the blowing of the horns, the firing of the guns, as if the more noise they made the greater would be the Duke.

Since that day I have not wondered at the power which a Prince hath of drawing men after him, even to the death. Never was heir to the Crown received with such joy and welcome as was this young man, who had no title to the Crown and was base born. Yet, because he was a brave young man, and comely above all other young men, gracious of speech, and ready with a laugh and a joke, and because he was the son of the King, and the reputed champion of the Protestant faith, the people could not shout too loud for him.

The Duke was at this time in the prime of manhood, being thirty-five years of age. 'At that age,' Mr. Boscorel used to say, 'one would desire to remain if the body of clay were immortal. For then the volatile humours of youth have been dissipated. The time of follies has passed; love is regarded with the sober eyes of experience; knowledge has been acquired; skill of eye and hand has been gained, if one is so happy as to be a follower of art and music; wisdom hath been reached, if wisdom is ever to be attained. But wisdom,' he would add, 'is a quality generally lacking at every period of life.'

'When last I saw the Duke,' he told us while we waited, 'was fifteen years ago, in St. James's Park. He was walking with the King, his father, who had his arm about his son's shoulders, and regarded him fondly. At that time he was, indeed, a very David for beauty. I suppose that he hath not kept that singular loveliness which made him the darling of the Court. That, indeed, were not a thing to be desired or expected. He is now the hero of Maestricht, and the Chancellor of Cambridge University.'

And then all hats were pulled off, and the ladies waved their handkerchiefs, and the men shouted, and you would have thought the bells would have pulled the old tower down with the vehemence of their ringing; for the Duke was riding into the town.

He was no longer a beautiful boy, but a man at whose aspect every heart was softened. His enemies, in his presence, could not blame him; his friends, at sight of him, could not praise him, of such singular beauty was he possessed. Softness, gentleness, kindness, and goodwill reigned in his large soft eyes: graciousness sat upon his lips, and all his face seemed to smile as he rode slowly between the lane formed by the crowd on either hand.

What said the Poet Dryden in that same poem of his from which I have already quoted? —

<< 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 >>