'It may be so, my friend; yet stretch not forth thine hand until thou art well assured of the Divine Command. The King is dead. Now will my son-in-law ring out the bells for the new King, and we shall pray for him, as we prayed for his brother. It is our duty to pray for all in authority, though to the prayers of a whole nation there seemeth, so far as human reason can perceive, no answer.'
'I for one will pray no more for a King who is a Papist. Rather will I pray daily for his overthrow.'
'King Charles is said to have received a priest before he died. Yet it is worse that the King should be an open than a secret Catholic. Let us be patient, my friend, and await the time.'
So he rode up the village, and presently the bells were set a-ringing, and they clashed as joyously, echoing around the Corton Hills, as if the accession of King James II. was the only thing wanted to make the nation prosperous, happy, and religious.
My father stood at the gate after Sir Christopher left him. The wind was cold, and the twilight was falling, and his cassock was thin, but he remained there motionless, until my mother went out and drew him back to the house by the arm. He went into his own room, but he read no more that day.
In the evening he came forth and sat with us, and while I sat sewing, my mother spinning by the light of the fire, he discoursed, which was unusual with him, upon things and peoples and the best form of government, which he held to be a Commonwealth, with a strong man for President. But he was to hold his power from the people, and was to lay it down frequently, lest he should in his turn be tempted to become a King. And if he were to fall away from righteousness, or to live in open sin, or to be a merry-maker, or to suffer his country to fall from a high place among the nations, he was to be displaced, and be forced to retire. As for the man Charles, now dead, he would become, my father said, an example to all future ages, and a warning of what may happen when the doctrine of Divine Right is generally accepted and acted upon; the King himself being not so much blamed by him as the practice of hereditary rule which caused him to be seated upon the throne, when his true place, my father said, was among the lacqueys and varlets of the palace. 'His brother James,' he added, 'hath now an opportunity such as is given to few – for he may become another Josiah. But I think he will neglect that opportunity,' he concluded; 'yea, even if Hilkiah, the priest, were to bring him a message from Huldah, the prophetess; for he doth belong to a family which, by the Divine displeasure, can never perceive the truth. Let us now read the Word, and wrestle with the Lord in prayer.'
Next we heard that loyal addresses were poured in from all quarters congratulating the King, and promising most submissive obedience. One would have thought that the people were rejoiced at the succession of a Roman Catholic; it was said that the King had promised liberty of conscience unto all; that he claimed that liberty for himself, and that he went to Mass daily and openly.
But many there were who foresaw trouble. Unfortunately, one of them was Sir Christopher, who spoke his mind at all times too fiercely for his safety. Mr. Boscorel, also, was of opinion that civil war would speedily ensue.
'The King's friends,' he said, 'may for a time buy the support of the Nonconformists, and make a show of religious liberty. Thus may they govern for a while. But it is not in the nature of the Roman Catholic priest to countenance religious liberty, or ever to sit down contented with less than all the pie. They must for ever scheme and intrigue for more power. Religious liberty? It means to them the eternal damnation of those who hold themselves free to think for themselves. They would be less than human if they did not try to save the souls of the people by docking their freedom. They must make this country even as Spain or Italy. Is it to be believed that they will suffer the Church to retain her revenues, or the universities to remain out of their control? Nay, will they allow the grammar schools to be in the hands of Protestants? Never! The next generation will be wholly Catholic, unless the present generation send King and priests packing.'
These were treasonable words, but they were uttered in the hall of the Manor House with no other persons present than Sir Christopher and the Rector himself.
'Seeing these things, son-in-law,' said Sir Christopher, 'what becomes of Right Divine? Where is the duty of Non-Resistance?'
'The doctrine of Right Divine,' said Mr. Boscorel, rubbing his nose, 'includes the Divine institution of a Monarchy, which, I confess, is manifestly untenable, because the Lord granted a King to the people only because they clamoured for one. Also, had the institution been of Divine foundation, the Jews would never have been allowed to live under the rule of Judges, Tetrarchs, and Roman Governors.'
'You have not always spoken so plainly,' said Sir Christopher.
'Nay; why be always proclaiming to the world your thoughts and opinions? Besides, even if the doctrine of Non-Resistance were sound, there may be cases in which just laws may be justly set aside. I say not that this is one, as yet. But if there were danger of the ancient superstitions being thrust upon us to the destruction of our souls, I say not that we should meekly sit down. Nay; if a starving man take a loaf of bread, there being no other way possible to save his life, one would not, therefore, hold him a thief. Yet the law remains.'
'Shall the blood which hath been poured out for the cause of liberty prove to be shed in vain?' asked Sir Christopher.
'Why, Sir,' said the Rector, 'the same question might be asked in France, where the Protestants fought longer and against greater odds than we in this country. Yet the blood of those martyrs hath been shed, so far as man can see, in vain; the Church of Rome is there the conqueror indeed. It is laid upon the Protestants, even upon us, who hold that we are a true branch of the ancient Apostolic Church, to defend ourselves continually against an enemy who is always at unity, always guided by one man, always knows what he wants, and is always working to get it. We, on the other hand, do not know our own minds, and must for ever be quarrelling among ourselves. Nevertheless, the heart of the country is Protestant; and sooner or later the case of conscience may arise whether – the law remaining unchanged – we may not blamelessly break the law.'
That case of conscience was not yet ripe for consideration. There needed first many things – including the martyrdom of saints and innocent men and poor, ignorant rustics – before the country roused herself once more to seize her liberties. Then as to that poor doctrine of Divine Right, they all made a mouthful of it, except only a small and harmless band of Nonjurors.
At the outset, whatever the opinions of the people – who could have been made to rise as one man – the gentry remained loyal. Above all things, they dreaded another civil war.
'We must fain accept the King's professions,' said the Rector. 'If we have misgivings, let us disguise them. Let us rather nourish the hope that they are honestly meant; and let us wait. England will not become another Spain in a single day. Let us wait. The stake is not yet set up in Smithfield, and the Inquisition is not yet established in the country.'
It was in this temper that the King's accession found Sir Christopher. Afterwards, he was accused of having harboured designs against the King from the beginning. That, indeed, was not the case. He had no thought of entering into any such enterprise. Yet he never doubted that in the end there would be an uprising against the rule of the priests. Nor did he doubt that the King would be pushed on by his advisers to one pretension after another for the advancement of his own prerogative and the displacement of the Protestant Church. Nay, he openly predicted that there would be such attempts; and he maintained – such was his wisdom! – that, in the long run, the Protestant faith would be established upon a surer foundation than ever. But as for conspiring or being cognisant of any conspiracy, that was untrue. Why, he was at this time seventy-five years of age – a time when such men as Sir Christopher have continually before their eyes Death and the Judgment.
As for my father, perhaps I am wrong, but in the daily prayers of night and morning, and in the grace before meat, he seemed to find a freer utterance, and to wrestle more vehemently than was his wont on the subject of the Scarlet Woman, offering himself as a willing martyr and confessor, if by the shedding of his blood the great day of her final overthrow might be advanced; yet always humble, not daring to think of himself as anything but an instrument to do the will of his Master. In the end, his death truly helped, with others, to bring a Protestant King to the Throne of these isles. And since we knew him to be so deep a scholar, always reading and learning, and in no sense a man of activity, the thing which he presently did amazed us all. Yet we ought to have known that one who is under the Divine command to preach the Word of God, and hath been silenced by man for more than twenty years, so that the strength of his manhood hath run to waste and is lost – it is a most terrible and grievous thing for a man to be condemned to idleness! – may become like unto one of those burning mountains of which we sometimes read in books of voyages. In him, as in them, the inner fires rage and burn, growing ever stronger and fiercer, until presently they rend asunder the sides of the mountain and burst forth, pouring down liquid fire over the unhappy valleys beneath, with showers of red-hot ashes to destroy and cover up the smiling homesteads and the fertile meadows.
It is true that my father chafed continually at the inaction forced upon him, but his impatience was never so strong as at this time, namely, after the accession of King James. It drove him from his books and out into the fields and lanes, where he walked to and fro waving his long arms, and sometimes crying aloud and shouting in the woods, as if compelled to cry out in order to quench some raging fever or heat of his mind.
About this time, too, I remember, they began to talk of the exiles in Holland. The Duke of Monmouth was there with the Earl of Argyle, and with them a company of firebrands eager to get back to England and their property.
I am certain now that my father (and perhaps through his information, Sir Christopher also) was kept acquainted with the plots and designs that were carried on in the Low Countries. Nay, I am also certain that his informant was none other than Humphrey, who was still in Leyden. I have seen a letter from him, written, as I now understand, in a kind of allegory or parable, in which one thing was said and another meant. Thus, he pretends to speak of Dutch gardening: – 'The gardeners,' he says, 'take infinite pains that their secrets shall not be learned or disclosed. I know, however, that a certain blue tulip much desired by many gardeners in England, will be taken across the water this year, and I hope that by next year the precious bulb may be fully planted in English soil. The preparation of the soil necessary for the favourable reception of the bulb is well known to you, and you will understand how to mix your soil and to add manure and so forth. I myself expect to finish what I have to do in a few weeks, when I shall cross to London, and so ride westwards, and hope to pay my respects to my revered tutor in the month of June next. It may be that I shall come with the tulip, but that is not certain. Many messages have been received offering large sums of money for the bulb, so that it is hoped that the Dutch gardeners will let it go.
'From H. C.'
The tulip, in a word, was the Duke of Monmouth, and the Dutch gardeners were the Scotch and English exiles then in Holland, and the English gardeners were the Duke's friends, and H. C. was Humphrey Challis.
I think that Sir Christopher must have known of this correspondence, because I now remember that my father would sit with him for many hours looking at a map of England, conversing long and earnestly, and making notes in a book. These notes he made in the Arabic character, which no one but himself could read. I therefore suppose that he was estimating the number of Nonconformists who might be disposed to aid in such an enterprise as Humphrey's 'gardeners' were contemplating.
Robin, who certainly was no conspirator, also wrote a letter from Leyden about this time saying that something was expected, nobody knew what; but that the exiles were meeting constantly, as if something was brewing.
It was about the first week of June that the news came to us of Lord Argyle's landing. This was the beginning. After that, as you will hear, the news came thick and fast; every day something fresh, and something to quicken the most sluggish pulse. To me, at least, it seemed as if the breath of God Himself was poured out upon the country, and that the people were everywhere resolved to banish the accursed thing from their midst. Alas! I was but a simple country maid and I was deceived! The accursed thing was to be driven forth, but not yet. The country party hated the Pope, but they dreaded civil war; and, indeed, there is hardly any excuse for that most dreadful scourge except the salvation of the soul and the safeguarding of liberties. They would gladly welcome a rising, but it must be general and universal. They had for five-and-twenty years been taught the wickedness of rebellion, and now there was no way to secure the Protestant Faith except by rebellion. Unhappily, the rebellion began before the country gentlemen were ready to begin.
BEFORE THE STORM
Before the storm breaks there sometimes falls upon the earth a brief time when the sun shines in splendour from a clear sky, the air is balmy and delightsome, the birds sing in the coppice, and the innocent lambs leap in the meadows. Then, suddenly, dark clouds gather from the north; the wind blows cold; in a minute the sky is black; the lightnings flash, the thunders roll, the wind roars, the hail beats down and strips the orchard of its promise, and silences the birds cowering in the branches, and drives the trembling sheep to take shelter in the hedges. This was to be my case. You shall understand how for a single day – it was no more – I was the happiest girl in all the world.
I may now without any shame confess that I have always loved Robin from my earliest childhood. That was no great wonder seeing what manner of boy he was, and how he was always kind and thoughtful for me. We were at first only brother and sister together, which is natural and reasonable when children grow up together; nor can I tell when or how we ceased to be brother and sister, save that it may have been when Robin kissed me so tenderly at parting, and told me that he should always love me. I do not think that brothers do generally protest love and promise continual affection. Barnaby certainly never declared his love for me, nor did he ever promise to love me all his life. Perhaps, had he remained longer, he might have become as tender as he was good-hearted; but I think that tenderness towards a sister is not in the nature of a boy. I loved Robin, and I loved Humphrey, both as if they were brothers; but one of them ceased to be my brother, while the other, in consequence, remained my brother always.
A girl may be ignorant of the world as I was, and of lovers and their ways as I was, and yet she cannot grow from a child to a woman without knowing that when a young man, who hath promised to love her always, speaks of her in every letter, he means more than common brotherly love. Nor can any woman be indifferent to a man who thus regards her; nor can she think upon love without the desire of being herself loved. Truly, I had always before my eyes the spectacle of that holy love which consecrates every part of life. I mean, in the case of my mother, whose waking and sleeping thoughts were all for her husband, who worked continually and cheerfully with her hands that he might be enabled to study without other work, and gave up her whole life, without grudging – even reckoning it her happiness and her privilege – in order to provide food and shelter for him. It was enough reward for her that he should sometimes lay his hand lovingly upon her head, or turn his eyes with affection to meet hers.
It was in the night of June 12, as I lay in bed, not yet asleep, though it was already past nine o'clock, that I heard the trampling of hoofs crossing the stream and passing our cottage. Had I known who were riding those horses there would have been but little sleep for me that night. But I knew not, and did not suspect, and so, supposing that it was only one of the farmers belated, I closed my eyes, and presently slept until the morning.
About five o clock, or a little before that time, I awoke, the sun having already arisen, and being now well up above the hills. I therefore arose softly, leaving my mother asleep still, and, having dressed quickly, and prayed a little, I crept down the stairs. In the house there was such a stillness that I could even hear the regular breathing of my father as he slept upon his pallet among his books; it was chill and damp (as is the custom in the early morning) in the room where he lived and worked. Yet, when I threw open door and shutter and looked outside, the air was full of warmth and refreshment; as for the birds, they had long since left their nests, and now were busy looking for their breakfast; the larks were singing overhead, and the bees already humming and droning. Who would lie abed when he could get up and enjoy the beauty of the morning? When I had breathed a while, with pleasure and satisfaction, the soft air, which was laden with the scent of flowers and of hay, I went indoors again and swept and dusted the room. Then I opened the cupboard, and considered the provision for breakfast. For my father there would be a slice of cold bacon with a good crust of home-made bread (better bread or sweeter was nowhere to be had) and a cup of cider, warming to the spirits and good, for one who is no longer young, against any rawness of the morning air. For my mother and myself there would be, as soon as our neighbours' cows were milked, a cup of warm milk and bread soaked in it. 'Tis a breakfast good for a grown person as well as for a child, and it costs us nothing but the trouble of going to take it.
When I had swept the room and laid everything in its place I went into the garden, hoe in hand, to weed the beds and trim the borders. The garden was not very big, it is true, but it produced many things useful for us; notably onions and sallet, besides many herbs good for the house, for it was a fertile strip of ground and planted in every part of it. Now, such was the beauty of the morning and the softness of the air that I presently forgot the work about which I had come into the garden, and sat down in the shade upon a bench, suffering my thoughts to wander hither and thither. Much have I always pitied those poor folk in towns who can never escape from the noise and clatter of tongues and sit somewhere in the sunshine or the shade, while the cattle low in the meadows and the summer air makes the leaves to rustle, and thus alone suffer their thoughts to wander here and there. Every morning when I arose was this spectacle of Nature's gladness presented to my eyes, but not every morning could my spirit (which sometimes crawls, as if fearing the light of day and the face of the sun) rise to meet and greet it, and to feel it calling aloud for a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. For, indeed, this is a beautiful world, if we could always (which we cannot for the earthliness of our natures) suffer its loveliness to sink into our hearts. I know not what I thought this morning; but I remember, while I considered the birds, which neither reap nor sow, nor take any thought of to-morrow, yet are daily fed by Heaven, that the words were whispered in mine ear: 'Are ye not much better than they?' And this, without doubt, prepared my heart for what should follow.
While I sat thinking of I know not what, there came footsteps – quick footsteps – along the road; and I knew those footsteps, and sprang to my feet, and ran to the garden-gate, crying, 'Robin! – it is Robin!'
Yes; it was Robin.
He seized me by both hands, looking in my face curiously and eagerly.
'Alice!' he said, drawing a deep breath, 'Oh! but what hath happened to thee?'
'What should happen, Robin?'
'Oh! Thou art changed, Alice! I left thee almost a child, and now – now – I thought to catch thee in my arms – a sweet rustic nymph – and now – fain must I go upon my knees to a goddess.'
'Robin!' Who, indeed, would have expected such language from Robin!
'Alice,' he said, still gazing upon me with a kind of wonder which made me blush, 'do you remember when we parted four years ago – the words we said? As for me, I have never forgotten them. I was to think of thee always; I was to love thee always. Truly I may say that there is never a day but thou hast been in my mind. But not like this' – He continued to look upon me as upon some strange creature, so that I began to be frightened and turned away.
'Nay, Alice, forgive me. I am one who is dazzled by the splendour of the sun. Forgive me; I cannot speak. I thought of a village beauty, rosy-cheeked, sweet and wholesome as an August quarander, and I find' —
'Robin – not a goddess.'
'Well, then, a woman tall and stately, and more beautiful than words can say.'
'Nay, Robin, you do but flatter. That is not like the old Robin I remember and' – I should have added 'loved,' but the word stuck.
'I swear, sweet saint – if I may swear – nay, then I do affirm, that I do not flatter. Hear me tell a plain tale. I have travelled far since last I saw thee; I have seen the great ladies of the Court both of St. James's and of the Louvre; I have seen the famous beauties of Provence, and the black-eyed witches of Italy; but nowhere have I seen a woman half so fair.'