Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 8/The Hampdens - Part 1



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Now you have seen the sea!” said Richard Knightley to his young bride, as they stood looking abroad from a point of the Cornish coast, at sunset, one bright April evening of 1635. “Now you have seen the sea at last!”

“At last!” repeated the young bride who, at seventeen, felt as if she had been longing to see the sea for an immeasurable length of years. Aware that her husband looked to her for an opinion on the spectacle, she observed:

“It is very beautiful; but—”

“But not so grand as you had imagined. That is what I felt when my father took me to the coast, to see the company sail for the Plantations.”

“That was from Plymouth.”

“Yes; but my father came hither on a visit to Sir John Eliot; and we saw much of the coast as we travelled. I grew more afraid of the great ocean as I saw more of it, in winds and on cloudy days; and, being little better than a child then, I suffered under a torture of fear in hearing my father and Sir John Eliot discourse of the lot of those who went to the Plantations, and of the expediency of others following, if the times should grow too hard for honest men. Every night, after hearing these discoursings, I made a venture to pray that my father’s mind might be turned from carrying me away over the wide sea.”

“I thank God that it was!” the young wife whispered. “I was but a young child then; and if you had gone away—”

“We might yet have been married,” said Richard Knightley, smiling. “If Sir Richard Knightley and Sir John Eliot had emigrated, Mr. Hampden would not have been left behind. You and I should have understood each other on the voyage, and have been betrothed and married in some wild forest conventicle in Massachusetts; and we should now be looking forward to troubles from Indian chiefs, instead of our headstrong King. I should have been an office-bearer in the nearest township; and my Margaret would have had to spend her days in the dairy and at the spinning-wheel, instead of tending her flower garden at Fawsley. How would you have liked to entertain squaws, instead of the ladies of Northamptonshire squires?”

Margaret shuddered. She would have been glad to be satisfied that her father would not even yet go to America. She knew that her husband had no such thought: but she was one of a family of nine; and the remotest hint of a family separation so complete and final always clouded her countenance and her spirits. Her husband comforted her with the assurance that such an emigration became more improbable from year to year; and that there were certain circumstances in her father’s position now which made it evident that his duty would lie in England henceforth.

Margaret revived all the more rapidly for what she now saw. At that part of the horizon where the twilight and its mists seemed to have settled most darkly, a golden star rose up from the waters. It was the first spark of the moon; and as she showed her broad disk, the heaving of the sea-line against it delighted Margaret. She had never seen anything like it before.

She could have sat for hours watching the progress of the moon’s trail upon the sea,—gradual as the movement of the hand on the clock-face: but Richard and she had agreed to visit the ruins of the Priory by moonlight; and Richard held out his hand to lift her from the grass on which they were sitting.

As they turned to go, Margaret said that she now understood the mournful vehemence of her father’s regrets that his friend Eliot could not breathe one breath of Cornish air, when he was pining in the Tower.

“To think,” she exclaimed, “that he might have been living now,—might have been playing the host to us, in health and strength, if his friends could have obtained for him either a trial or release! I well remember seeing the bitter tears that were wrung from my father, when he strove for this, and when the cold answers came which told him that all his efforts were in vain.”

“He knew what such durance was,” Richard observed. “My father says that Mr. Hampden has never been the same man since that he was before the bolt of the Gate House prison was shot behind him.”

“I do not know,” said Margaret. “I cannot remember so far back. But how he could be in any way better than he is now, who would undertake to say?”

“It is only that he is of a graver countenance than was his wont; and perhaps that his strength of eye and of limb is less eminent. Ah! Margaret, we can understand now his affection for this spot, and his plan for our coming hither when we married.”

“I believe he often dreams of Port Eliot, and the Priory, and the sea,” said Margaret. “And he well may,” she observed, as she paused, and turned for another view of the bay, and the dim lines of the opposite coast, and the moonlit open sea. “That ship—you see it in the shadow yonder,—should be between us and the moon’s trail; and then it would be like the pictures. Pictures of the sea seem always to have a ship in the middle.”

“I wonder,” Richard observed, “why that vessel is so deep in the shadow. It looks dangerous to hug the land in that way: but I suppose she has a reason.”

“And we,” said Margaret, “have a reason for making better speed. My aunt will be sending searchers down to the sands, to see if we have fallen from the rocks.”

“She thinks we are at the Priory ruins, my dear. Hark! It seems as if she had sent our whole party there, to look for us.”

There were several merry voices singing about the ruins as the young couple arrived there. The travelling party had been a large one, for it included several bridesmaids,—Knightleys and Hampdens,—and the two Eliots, youths under the guardianship of Mr. Hampden; also cousin Harry Carewe, and his mother, Lady Carewe, who had had time, since she became a widow, to keep a strict and tender watch over the children of her long dead sister, Mrs. Hampden. All the party but Lady Carewe had turned out of the house for a ramble in the grounds before supper; and most of them had met at the Priory ruins, which were indeed the principal object within the park fence.

“O Margaret!” cried her young sister Alice, running up as soon as Margaret appeared in the broad moonlight of the lawn, “did you ever see such a beautiful place as this before?”

“No, dear; I never did,” her sister answered. Whereupon a booted and spurred figure emerged from the nearest arch, and made an obeisance of mock solemnity. It was John Eliot, who professed himself extremely flattered that his humble mansion was honoured with the approbation of his friends.

“It is not the mansion,” Alice unceremoniously declared. She did not care for fine rooms, and great staircases, and galleries full of pictures. It was the green slope towards the sea that was so charming, and the rocks, and the bay, and those beautiful ruins, where one might play hide-and-seek all day long.

“Is Henrietta taking her turn to hide?” Margaret asked. Henrietta, the next in age to Margaret, was in nominal charge of the younger ones; but it seemed as if she had forgotten them, and they her. Nobody could tell where she was; but everybody supposed she was moping by herself somewhere.

“Pensive nun, devout and pure,
Sober, steadfast, and demure,”

a voice said from behind.

“Who said that?” asked John Eliot.

“I myself, at your service,” replied Harry Carewe, coming into the light.

“O yes, we know your voice, Master Harry. What I asked was, where you found that poetry you were making free with.”

“Any body may have knowledge of that poetry who goes to my college,” replied Harry. “There are fellows there who gather up every line that John Milton writes and shows to any of his friends. I repeated that farrago of sweet melancholy to Henrietta weeks ago.”

“Ah! that is the way you won her ear,” John Eliot observed.

“Why should her ear not be won, and by me?” Harry asked, rather hotly.

“But where is she?” her brother-in-law inquired. “Come, Margaret, we will go and seek her in the ruins.”

They were just passing under the great arch when a distant cry, or tumult of cries, brought them back to the party.

“What on earth is that!” cried one and another, as a fearful shouting and screaming arose, far away in the direction of the little town. Henrietta came flying from her hidden seat, terrified by the same sounds. In another minute, the church bells were clanging, and the alarm bell in the market-place rang out half-a-dozen times, and then stopped.

“Something is the matter: let us go home,” said Margaret.

The young men said they would see the damsels safe to the house, and then go and learn whether there was a fire which they could help to put out.

“No, no, Richard!” Margaret was whispering, when a footman came running up, with Lady Carewe’s commands that everybody should return that instant. The house was to be shut up and barricaded; for it was too probable that a band of pirates had landed.

“Pirates! In England!” whispered Margaret to her husband. “What can the man mean?”

“He may be right, my love. Come home!” said Richard; and the whole party returned to the mansion, as if they were racing for sport.

The great door was open before they had mounted the steps. Lady Carewe met them in the hall, prepared to direct their movements.

“The defences of the house are good,” she said. “One of the servants, and one of you young men, will suffice to guard us here. The others will, I am sure, hasten to the town, to learn what the mischief really is, and do their best to mend it. Here are your arms, my dear boys. A draught of wine, and then no delay!”

She handed the wine-cup to John Eliot, saying with a smile that Mr. Knightley should be served last, as he was not going forth. She claimed him to act as garrison. Margaret here seized and kissed her aunt’s hand. Richard remonstrated in favour of Harry,—his mother’s only son: but her mind was made up: she declared that the horses were waiting, and hurried away the three young men, with all the out and indoor-servants that could be mustered.

But for the care that the trembling children required, all who remained behind would have spent the time in looking and listening for signs from the town. Lady Carewe did not insist on even the youngest going to bed. She encouraged them to eat, she let little Lucy and Kitty hide their faces in her bosom; and she roused Nathanael’s spirit by discoursing of the honour to brave men of living in troubled times, if they found out their own proper duty, and did it well. The boy had looked half-anxious and half-frightened while in the hall; but his eyes shone in the firelight as he asked his aunt whether she and all of them were living in troubled times now.

“What think you of this night, Nathanael? At the year’s end I will ask you what you think of this very year. Yes, our country is in trouble; and it will be in days of trouble to come that every brave man will have hard things to do and to bear. Thou art like thy father, my boy, as I see thee now. Only be like thy father when it comes to thy turn to be tried, and we shall have one happiness, whatever comes to pass.”

“I wish there was something that I could do,” the boy sighed, looking round him.

“There is something, at this moment,” the aunt declared. “Learn for us whether anything can be seen or heard from the top of the house. Richard and Margaret are probably on the leads. Find them, and bring us the news. You know the way to the leads?”

“I will find it out,” said the boy, stoutly, while his sisters trembled in the good aunt’s embrace.

Richard and Margaret were silent when Nathanael joined them. The cries from below had struck them dumb. There was not much to be heard now; the lights seemed to be all collected on the beach, and the confusion was subsiding. By the time the boy was turning to go down, the tramp of horses was heard, and Richard hailed from the lea.

“Pirates!” was the reply. “A crew of Turks, the people say. They are off. They were gone before the country could rise.”

When the party were collected round the fire, it was midnight: but nobody thought of going to bed. These pirates had landed at the fishermen’s place, and in the fishermen’s manner; and before the poor people could collect their wits, or consult, the tawny strangers from Tunis had cowed them all. John Eliot told the news, without preface, that they had carried off twenty-six children.

A shriek from the little girls showed him how indiscreet he had been: and he tried to make up for it. He assured them that the pirates were all gone; and if they were not, he would take care of everybody that was under his roof. He was master here, the young gentleman was pleased to say; and every guest of his was as safe as the king himself. However, the ruffians were far enough off by this time. He had himself seen their boats scudding away to their ship; and the ship must be now almost out of sight.

“But they may come back!” said some one.

“This is the last place now that they will ever visit,” John declared. “No devil in hell would come a second time within hearing of the agony of those mothers. I never thought . . . .

Lady Carewe interrupted him by rising, and saying,

“We will pray for all who are in sorrow and in fear:” and then there was silence till the servants came in for worship. A watch was afterwards appointed for the night; and all the rest went to their beds. How much anybody slept was never inquired.

In the morning, John Eliot and his groom rode away for Buckinghamshire,—to inform Mr. Hampden and his friends of the outrage. At Port Eliot all was tumult. Nothing could now be done, or could have been done from the first, in the way of rescue of the poor captives. There was no guard in the bay,—no defence along the coast. The repeated petitions of the Cornish people to Government had been utterly neglected, till they entreated to be allowed to provide for their own defence with the money claimed by the king for the purpose; and this request was treated as insolence and disobedience, if not rank treason.

There was something of what the Court would have called treason going on in the market-place, when Richard Knightley entered it. The gentry and yeomanry from twenty miles round were there; and almost every man of them was in the utmost indignation. Where was the use of paying ship-money, they asked, if there was never a ship there to defend any part of the coast?

The new impositions on cargoes, out and in, the tonnage and poundage, was a greater burden than the commerce of the ports of England would bear; but the answer was, that commerce itself must stop without a guarding of the seas. And how were the seas guarded? Who did not remember the ferment, some months ago, when the Spaniards in the Channel insulted the English flag? And from nothing being done then, the Dutch had been emboldened to capture two rich Indiamen, almost within sight of our own shores. French ships had sailed some way up the Severn, looking out, no doubt, for a good place for their Barbary allies to land for pillage. And, now that ship-money was added to the other taxes, here were the Algerines hovering about the track of our trade. The last ship they seized was worth 260,000l. All that sum gone, for want of defence, just as if the owners had paid nothing for guarding the seas! And now, here was this outrage,—the seizing of twenty-six children . . . .

Then burst forth the question which was stifling every heart;—what could be done about these children? Was it possible that nothing could be done?

Was anything known of the fate of former captives?

Yes; the pirates who ravaged Baltimore, in Ireland, four yean ago, were Turks like these. They were allowed to land their captives, as slaves, at Rochelle; and some travellers in France had seen those victims on their march to Marseilles. They were dusty and footsore, and loaded with chains. These Port Eliot children could not wear chains, nor cross France on foot: but they would be made slaves of. Could no petition obtain from the king some ship to follow these pirates? Could not the case be set before the French court, so as to recover the children from a French port, if the Turks should stop there as usual?

Mr. Knightley gave some shadow of comfort by telling that John Eliot was on his way to inform Mr. Hampden of the case. Several voices cried, that if anybody could obtain ships for pursuit, it was Mr. Hampden. But then arose the question whether there were any ships that could go.

To this many voices replied. The sums paid for shipmoney were very large. Some London citizens had paid in one lump three or four hundred pounds; and there was no security against the call being repeated at any time. Every lodger in London was charged from ten to forty shillings: and the kingdom at large was reckoned to have yielded 700,000l. by this tax alone. After all, there was no sign of guarding the seas. The citizens were not allowed to fulfil the original order, to provide a ship in fair trim for this or that district. At best, this would have been an arbitrary charge: but it was insufferable that the money should be extorted, instead of the ship, and that the seas should be unguarded after all.

One after another of these quiet country squires and yeomen for the first time breathed doubts whether such things should be submitted to. The anguish of the mothers, whose wailings came upon the wind, moved not only the hearts but the tempers of the citizens. Was it possible that the King did not know what was done in his name? Some turned their eyes on Knightley, who might have been in London lately, and who was, at all events, the son-in-law of Mr. Hampden.

“Is it possible,” Richard asked, “that the King should be unaware, while Mr. Hampden is withstanding him to the face about this very tax?”

The stir among the squires, and then, by degrees, among the crowd, astonished him. He observed to those next him that one might think it was news to the people that Mr. Hampden was refusing to pay shipmoney. He learned that it was news; and the anxiety was so great to hear the fact, and how it had happened, that Richard soon found himself addressing a crowd of several hundreds, so eager to hear that a sudden silence prevailed in the market-place. A voice called out to him from the thick of the throng, desiring him to speak freely, as there were none but friends present; and this brought out, on the other hand, several kindly cautions to beware what he said, as there might be treachery in the invitation to open his heart.

Richard replied that everybody was welcome to all he had to tell, which was known to the whole kingdom, except such by-places as this Cornish coast. His tidings were simply that his father-in-law, and several other Buckinghamshire gentlemen, had declined paying this tax half a-year ago, and that Mr. Hampden meant to stand by his refusal, in order that one case might ascertain the law for all.

Loud cheers arose at this announcement, stopped at last only by the wish to hear the how, the when, and the why of the whole story.

“It is easily told,” Richard observed, as he mounted another step of the market cross on which he was standing. “I will tell you the story in a moment, if you will take it into your hearts as I speak it. Mr. Hampden may have to suffer a great deal on account of his refusal to pay. The charge is only a few shillings; but the expenses may be thousands of pounds; and, to a man who has nine children, that must always be a matter of importance. But he is in a worse peril than that. He may have to go to prison again; and no man knows better the miseries of such an imprisonment as he may have to endure. I need not tell you Cornish men what it is to lie hidden for years in the damps and dreariness of the Tower, or the Gate House. You remember how long and vainly you waited for a sight of your own great neighbour who never more came home to the Priory, because he had stood up against the forced loan in the last parliament. Year by year you hoped to see his face again,—and when rumour said he was ill, you drew from your sorrow the hope that he would be released, and would come to be restored by his beloved Cornish air.”

“Aye, we did!” exclaimed a voice; and then a hundred echoed it—“Aye, we did! we did! But we never saw him. Some people do not believe that he is dead. They think he will come down some day. Is it sure that he is dead?”

“It is too sure; but the doubt is not wonderful, seeing that his oppressors have been afraid to let his dead body out of their keeping. You have not been allowed to lay him in his family grave with honour. You did ask it—”

“Aye, we did!”

“Family, neighbours, friends, all asked it; and what was the answer? An order to the Lieutenant of the Tower to bury the body within the walls. So prison damps rest on his grave, in some corner of that dismal place, instead of this spring sunshine on the breezy hillside. Mr. Hampden was very dear to him, as you know by his being now guardian to John and Edmund Eliot. Mr. Hampden has lost some of the brightness of his own life in prison; he has felt in his heart every torment that afflicted his friend: yet he has now offered himself for the trial of this case of ship-money, which is really and truly the same cause under another name. He believes that many citizens will follow the course of refusing to enable the King to do without parliaments; but if no one but himself were to make the venture, he would still do it, for love of the liberties of England.”

A hundred voices vowed that, with such a man to lead, there would be half England to follow. But how did he do it?

“When the writs came down into Buckinghamshire,” Richard said, “those who disputed the King’s right refused to pay. Then new sheriffs were appointed by the King’s authority, and there was a general expectation of some rebuke to the late High Sheriff. Sir Peter Temple accordingly received a writ commanding him to account to his successor for the amount of the ship-money, and to deliver over the former warrant to him. Then the country gentlemen understood that the business would be followed up, and that every man who refused to pay must prepare for consequences. It was in cold weather that the parish meeting was held in which this affair was to be adventured. You may remember what the 11th of last January was on this sunny coast of yours, with mild sea airs to temper the frosts. With us on the Chiltern Hills it was bitterly cold; and the church at Kimble was not a warm place of meeting. Yet it was well filled; and there was a glow in many faces when men’s eyes met, and sufficient heat from their tongues before all was done.”

“And how was it done?”

“The assessors declared the rate, whereof Mr. Hampden’s part was thirty-one shillings and sixpence. Mr. Hampden and the rest, including the parish constables, declined to pay the whole, or any part.”

“Did the constables refuse?”

“They did,—to their honour; and they wrote down their own names in the return, without any shrinking. Before they parted off to their homes, some on and some under the hills, Mr. Hampden told them that having put his name first on the record, he was prepared to take the first place in answering for that record.”

“And has any consequence ensued?” asked several voices. “Has he been called to account? Is the King offended?”

“No doubt the King is offended. He overlooks Mr. Hampden’s open profession that the King and the Government should be abundantly supplied with all that they can need, or honestly desire; but that it must be on the condition that the supplies should be obtained in the safe and sacred way of a parliament, and not by putting the whole nation at the mercy of the King’s or the Queen’s fancy—”

“Aye! the Queen’s!” observed several hearers.

“Or,” continued Richard, “at the mercy of men and women of low repute who obtain monopolies from the royal favour,—the right of selling for their own profit the most necessary articles of use.”

Every one present fully understood this last reference; and the tumult of voices was so great, that Richard supposed his speaking was over for the day. Gentle and simple complained of the cost of living in England now, when all articles of use that could be corrupted were bad, and all dear; and of the pretences made to screw money out of them, or money’s worth. Several told of relations who had had soldiers billeted on them,—the King’s hounds, as these soldiers were called, who hunted the people for their master’s pleasure and interest. Some had been fined because they refused to bow to the altar, in popish fashion; and fined twice over, to escape transportation for refusing this idolatry. A tavern dinner was too costly, now that the meat dressed in taverns was taxed; and the innkeepers were ruined by this, and by the charges on every article, from tobacco pipes up to the choicest wines. The laundresses were ruined, and all families perplexed by the monopoly of soap given to a Romish corporation, who sold for soap a mixture of lime and tallow, which gave sore hands to all the washerwomen, and left the linen fouler than before; the linen also falling into tinder wherever it was touched. The assignment of the old forests of the kingdom to the Queen’s creatures was one of the sorest grievances. Dean Forest had been thus made over to papists, who would take very good care that the Spaniards and French had the range of the seas; and the people of England were not only called upon to pay to the King the cost of ships instead of giving him the ships themselves, but they got no ships at all. The timber which should make them was given away to foreigners, and English children were carried off by pirates, more and more boldly because there were no ships to give chase. This topic brought upon Richard further questions as to what Mr. Hampden would advise.

“He has since been charged,” Richard declared, “with twenty shillings more ship-money, on account of another property; and, from some searchings into the business which we have heard of, we expect that the trial—”

“The trial!” exclaimed some startled people.

“Surely! Of what else have we been speaking? Mr. Hampden will be brought to trial for refusing to pay those last twenty shillings. I shall give him what message you send. What shall it be?”

The messages were very various; but the general sense was the same. It was a message of blessing. Some thanked him; some bade him keep up his heart; some begged to be summoned whenever he thought they could support him; or, as some said, rescue him. To these last Richard replied, that Mr. Hampden was standing up for law and order, and that he desired to be rescued by law only from a peril into which he entered with deliberate intent. Being asked for his opinion, Richard gave it,—that Mr. Hampden would consider those his best friends who best stood up for the law in those evil days. Let every man satisfy himself that this new way of taxing was illegal, and then oppose it. If every citizen refused to pay ship-money, it could not be levied.

“Then there would be something else instead,” the people said.

“Probably, and it would be dealt with in like manner,” Richard supposed.

It was a dreary prospect; but that day there was the best news that had been heard in Cornwall for many a year. The mothers at Port Eliot shut themselves up to bemoan their loss: the gentry and yeomen hastened to mount, and spurred homewards, only stopping at every hamlet to spread the news that Mr. Hampden was going to turn the ship-money into ships which would chase the Dutch and Spaniards and French, and the Barbary pirates from the English shores.