Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 9/Son Christopher - Part 2

SON CHRISTOPHER.

AN HISTORIETTE. BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.

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CHAPTER III. RESTORATION DAY.

O, father!” cried David Battiscombe to the Squire, rushing into the supper-room, on a fine May evening, “may not Tony and I ride the downs to-morrow after the bustards?”

“There will be such a hunt!” Tony exclaimed. “All the fellows that have horses are going; and every greyhound for twenty miles round will be there. You will let us go, father?”

The Squire looked them in the face a minute before he replied, with the question,

“Can you tell me the day of the month?”

“No,—not I,” said David. “M. Florien used to keep count of such things for us. Since he went we have never known where we were; and that is the reason why Mr. Defoe, and even Joanna there, made game of me on All Fools’ Day. Let us ask Nurse, Tony; she has a story ready for every day of the year.”

“Stay, my son; do not go,” said his mother. “This day is the 28th of May.”

“O, the fast!” cried the boys, dolefully. “Of all days, that Restoration Day should be fixed on for the bustard-hunt!”

“It is done on purpose,” Arabella observed. “There is always something of the sort on Restoration Day, to make it as gay as a fair. It was on the 29th that they caught and baited the Charmouth witch.”

“And last year,” said Tony, “they went after the pair of fen-eagles that frightened the fishermen so. It is very hard that there are hunts just when we cannot go. I suppose,” and the boy flushed up with daring, “I suppose we may not go?”

“My son, it is our fast-day,” said his mother. “For every feast-day that the loose world’s people make, God’s people are constrained to have a fast.”

“I think there are more every year,” Tony observed. “I wonder what it will come to.”

“I will tell you what the Lord’s people think it will come to,” said the Squire, drawing Tony towards him, and putting his arm over the boy’s shoulder. “If I keep my sons from the pleasures which are natural to their age and station, I am bound to satisfy them with the reason why.”

“This is private family conversation, my sons, understand,” said Mrs. Battiscombe.

“No fear of their being indiscreet,” their father averred. “You see, lads, there have been four generations of the family of Stuart governing, or claiming to govern, this kingdom, and corrupting its religion more and more. And there have been four generations of the Lord’s people who have striven to cause the true religion to prevail. The season has arrived when men generally are persuaded that the end is at hand; and in these times all faithful men and women, and their sons and daughters, are more than ever bound to bear a clear and true testimony.”

“But why should there be an end very soon?”

“Because,—I will trust my boys as Christians in their own persons,—because the royal race has become more prone to the wrong, and the chosen people to the right. The third Stuart was a concealed Catholic: the fourth is an open one: the scandal can go no further; and at the next change we shall have a Protestant king. Why do you ask ‘When?’ The times and seasons rest with God: but King James is old: we shall need all our patience while he lives: but those who are steadfast shall have their reward at length.”

“David’s thoughts are among the bustards,” Judith remarked. “He does not see why he should not go coursing on the downs, because King James is a Papist.”

“O yes, I do,” David declared. “To-morrow is a great feast of the Tories: and we are not Tories.”

“There is something more,” said the mother. “These gatherings on Restoration Day, on pretence of making holiday, are used to test the people, all over the country. All who are not present are marked down as disloyal, though it is not true that all who are present are loyal. There are cowardly conformists; and we should not wish our sons to be registered as such.”

This satisfied the lads entirely. But their sisters were troubled; they did not like the word disloyal. In their family service the life of the King was daily prayed for, in order to his conversion: and nobody had been more indignant than their father at the late conspiracy to murder the Stuart princes. They believed he would lay down his very life to bring the King and Court to the true Light.

“I would,” said their father: “but this would be considered anything but loyalty by the King and Court. Now, my sons, you see?”

“O! yes; we cannot go to-morrow.” It was impossible to say this very cheerfully.

“But we will all go another day,” their father promised. “If the run to-morrow finishes those bustards, there are more beyond Farmer Lecky’s. There is a wild bull, too, in the waste which will certainly have to be looked to before Restoration Day comes round again.”

Little Joanna ran in to announce that she heard the horses, for which she had been listening from the summer-house.

One of these horses was bringing Elizabeth Bankshope, Christopher’s betrothed; and another bore a relation of hers, very unlike herself: an aged aunt who was on her way to pay visits in Somersetshire, and who used the rare opportunity of taking a journey to see various friends, from point to point, between her home at Winchester and the palace of her old friend, Bishop Ken, at Wells. Lady Alice, as Madam Lisle was called, had lived in close intimacy with the Battiscombe family while her husband was in the Long Parliament, and in the Commission of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth; and if the dangers which scattered their party after the Restoration had kept them asunder, from mutual consideration, they were not the less anxious to meet when favourable opportunities arose. The engagement of Christopher and Elizabeth, which filled the old lady’s heart with joy, was such an occasion. The loyal repute of the Bankshopes was a protection, in these troubled days; and it had really seemed for some time past that the enemy had forgotten the scandal of John Lisle the Republican having been made a lord by the Protector. When the Winchester people called his widow the Lady Alice, it was passed unnoticed as a token of respect to the Lady Bountiful of her neighbourhood. She, for her part, had no enmities in her heart, and was aware of none among all the people she knew; yet she was attached to her own faith, and the customs of her church and party; and this was the reason why she and Elizabeth were arriving this evening   The young niece did not care for losing the festival of Restoration Day; while the aged aunt did desire to avoid the celebration in which her host, as High Sheriff of Dorset, must bear a conspicuous part.

“Do tell me how you fast!” said Elizabeth to her future sisters, when they were in her chamber that night. “Stay, and tell me a little about it; for you know it is all strange to me; and I am afraid of behaving ill, and doing something which may shock your feelings.”

“That is exactly what we feared about your feelings,” Judith answered. “My mother means to offer that you should spend to-morrow . . . .

“O! nowhere but with you! I cannot think of leaving you,” Elizabeth declared; “And I have to learn your ways for another person’s sake; and I am sure he will be pleased that I am here, instead of parading at the games and among the guns in the morning, and dancing at the county ball in the evening.”

“No doubt he will: but I am sure he would be far from wishing that you should feel compelled to listen to such a way of speaking of the last and present kings as is the custom among us in our Restoration Day services.”

“Do you imagine that I and my brother, and our party, like these kings?” exclaimed Elizabeth. “Is it possible that you do not know how we hate them?”

“Hate them! What then are the rejoicings for, to-morrow?”

“I am sure I have no idea. I suppose it is something about the Church; or, that it was: for that is all over now, and the Papists are uppermost. But why on earth should we be thankful for these princes? You know our park,—my brother’s place. Well! those ragged remains of the grand old woods just show what King Charles has been to us. My father cut down his oaks,—to the very last,—and raised all the money he could, and spent none on the estate, that the King might have it all, so that the lawns are mere swamps, and the gardens have gone to ruin, and the house is growing mouldy, and there are not half enough servants, or labourers, or horses, or anything; and my brother has to strain his credit to get the means of keeping up the office of sheriff at all; and, what he and I feel most, I shall carry no fortune to Christopher, who really had a right to expect one——

Here Christopher’s sisters charmed her by a merry laugh; and she laughed, too: but went on.

“Now, pray tell me what reason we have to thank Heaven for the gift of that family! And then,—their manners!”

“We had always heard that the Duke of York was no pattern of courtesy,” Arabella remarked; “but we thought the late King had been so agreeable as to be unquestionably a snare of Satan.”

“We heard,” added Judith,—“and it was from Mr. Baxter, who lived for some time at Court,—that King Charles’s winning ways were the great stumbling block in the course of the Word. Indeed, nobody could resist his wiles.”

“When he chose to be gracious, I suppose,” Elizabeth observed. “But the old servants and devoted supporters of their cause are precisely those whom these Stuarts amuse themselves with insulting. My brother will not allow it to be spoken of publicly, lest it should appear that pique has affected his loyalty: but he has never forgiven the late King a light jest on my father. For my part, I add to this the Duke’s mean way of courting us for our influence when the Exclusion Bill was in question, and his behaving since as if he had never heard our name.”

“How was that?”

“O! it was only (for my brother would not be pleased that I should speak of it) that when Theodore went up with the deputation to congratulate him on his accession, the new King pretended not to know who he was,—never to have heard the name. I suppose Mr. Baxter would be surprised to hear of such manners, considering that he was familiar with the charming Christian courtesy of the Roundheads.”

“Are you in earnest?” adked the sisters.

“Certainly. Where in all England are there finer manners than you see in a person now in this very house?”

“Lady Alice?”

“Yes,—Aunt Alice. While our party, with the princes at their head, have been tormenting the Roundheads till it is astonishing that there is not another rebellion, see how the oppressed party have borne themselves. Mr. Baxter himself has been shut up in a horrible prison . . . . But you did not tell me why he went to Court, nor why he left it.”

“He went, as a very young man, by the advice of his friends, with the notion of getting a living, and perhaps saving the souls of some of the courtiers.”

“What reason had he to suppose they had any souls?—But I should not say such things. I see you are shocked, and I beg your pardon. He got no living, I suppose?”

“No; and he has sought mercy ever since for perilling his own soul for the chance of saving any he was less nearly concerned with.”

“Was it not a generous act?” asked Elizabeth. “To me it seems so. He came away when he found his mistake, did he?”

“The immediate occasion was a prank of some fine gentlemen. They were going down to Newmarket, and stopped at an inn, where a crowd gathered to see their cavalcade. They drank too much——

“Of course.”

“And then they came out on the balcony to make game of the Roundheads. It was not that which made Mr. Baxter order his horse and ride away, though he had no place to go to. They came out in their shirt-sleeves, and turned up their eyes, and pretended to preach,—making the mob shout with laughter at the most solemn and holy things.”

“Ah, that is their way! There have been some of those Cavaliers who ventured upon such jests under Aunt Alice’s very roof.”

“How came such people there?”

“In the only way in which they could have found entrance. If they had made sure of a welcome as noblemen and the King’s friends, they would have had no word of encouragement from her. But it was in the days of their adversity; and they came hungry, and ragged, and penniless, and with pursuers on their track. Then her doors opened to them; and she concealed them for hours, or days, or weeks, as might be. She allowed no jesting on holy things; but she crossed them as little as she could while they were so humbled. At present, their party insults most the weakest of their victims. This is what I mean by the difference in their manners. I have seen so much of the practice of hurting the feelings of religious people that I dread doing it myself,—and to-morrow especially. Do tell me how you fast.”

“Oh, you will see for yourself. There is nothing formal here. Just do what seems to you right at the moment, and you will not offend anybody.”

So far from offending, Elizabeth won upon the goodwill of the family before the morning meal was over.

As soon as she looked abroad from her window, on rising, she saw that there was no work going on in the grounds, and that the servants were in their Sunday clothes. Though the bells were ringing out from the church tower, and some blowing of trumpets was heard down in the town, the children of the house were walking up and down the verandah, with their arms over each other’s shoulders. No green boughs were on the gates, no garlands on the house front, no sprigs of oak in the boys’ hats. Elizabeth was thus prepared for the disclosure made in the morning devotions,—that this was the anniversary of a great calamity to the Reformed Church, and to the cause of the Reformation; and that, as the calamity had lately become more heavy and threatening, by the accession of a Romish king, it was truly a day of humiliation to the most advanced Reformers.

One member of the family was, however, in a mood of high exhilaration. Joanna had had a present thus early on this dismal day. When she came to the breakfast-table, she had a book in her hand; and this explained her timid glance at her father.

“Come hither, child!” said the Lady Alice, “I have told thy father that I have brought thee a book. Come and show it him.”

The Squire’s grave face looked graver still when he found it was a story-book, and that his little daughter was already full of the earliest adventures in it. But Madam Lisle’s opinion had much weight with him; and when he found that the intent was holy, and the story about holy things, he made no remonstrance. The case seemed quite altered when he further learned that the writer was a sufferer for the Cause, being even then in Bedford jail, using every occasion for testifying, even as he had testified in his book. The oddest thing was, that Elizabeth was the person in the whole house best acquainted with the name of John Bunyan. In fact, she had a strong wish to read a book which had spread all over the country, but which she had hardly hoped to lay hands on. It was not a book which could be permitted at the High Sheriff’s.

The fasting was scarcely perceptible, for the young people were desired to eat of what was set before them; and the children, while growing, were never allowed to fast at all. The grace was long and solemn, but the conversation was cheerful. It was expected that nobody should go beyond the gate this day; and that nobody should appear at any window when the procession went by. Beyond this there was no restraint. What prayers there might be in closets when the door was shut, there was no knowing; but in the sitting-rooms and the grounds the day was like a bright spring Sunday. So it seemed up to the time of the passage of the procession.

With the first sound of the trumpets and the shouts approaching from below, the family retired to the back-rooms, so as to see nothing of the really pretty spectacle of the oak houghs and garlands of spring flowers, and the flags, or of the platform on which figures represented King Charles and his brother, led by the hand by a bishop and a very grand nobleman, the group being completed by a donkey in a skull-cap, gown, and bands, and the devil in the mask and dress of the Protector, who was overthrown and trampled upon every two or three minutes. The mayor and corporation led the way with great zeal; and it was decidedly the voice of Mr. Gregory Alford, the mayor, which called a halt before the Squire’s gate.

It seemed a long halt to those who heard the jeering laughs of the crowd, and were aware that the merriment was provoked by insults to themselves; but the composure of the elders had its effect on the young people, and their agitation showed itself at last only in the general exclamation—“There! they are gone!”—when the cavalcade had accomplished turning round in the narrow road, and the rough music had died away down the hill. When Nurse came in to say that nobody was in sight, mother, daughters, and guests went forth into the shrubbery, and the boys to the bowling-green to refresh their spirits. There they quietly walked, sat in the sun, played, put a bunch of white lilac in Madam Lisle’s stomacher, and played ball with Guelder-roses, little imagining what was going on within doors.

When they went into the house they found a party of constables, and very ill-behaved constables, in possession. They must have watched the moment of the household being out of doors to demand entrance. They at once obtained it, as they would have done at any other hour. Their object was to search for a traitor, of whom they had information that he was hidden in the mansion. After having gone over the whole house, looking behind all the curtains, and under all the beds, and knocking down a good deal of plaster and dust by hammering with a mallet at the ceilings and the walls, from the cellar to the rafters, they condescended to answer the question—who it was that they were in search of. They were charged to arrest one Emmanuel Florien, who stood accused of treason.

“What! our tutor?” exclaimed the boys.

“You hear!” the leader of the party observed to his subordinates, very ominously.

“Why, Mr. Markland!” said Anthony, “that is no news to you. You know our tutor very well. We bought my last fishing-rod at your shop; and you yourself showed M. Florien what you called the cupboard in the butt-end.”

“You hear him called the tutor,” repeated the solemn Mr. Markland. “We shall find out next what he has taught these young plotters. The main point is, however, where the fellow is.”

This was what nobody in the house could tell. M. Florien had gone abroad in February, as for a temporary absence. He had written a few lines on his landing in France—

Where was that letter?

It was in the Squire’s desk; and, being produced, was found to tell nothing but that the writer had had a safe voyage. There was something in the look of it which persuaded Mr. Markland and his posse that M. Florien was now in the house; and again they went all over it, making a most vexatious disorder wherever they went, and ransacking every hole and corner for papers. All the clothes of the family were left on the floor, with the bedding on the top of them; the men grew cross, and became mischievous,—broke the mirrors, spoiled David’s new knife by trying to wrench open a lock, though the key was proffered, and were on the point of opening and reading a packet of letters found in Elizabeth’s dressing-box, when she quietly observed that those letters were the property of the High Sheriff of Dorsetshire, when they dropped the packet as if it had burned their fingers. Finally, they turned upon poor little Joanna, who was sitting on a low stool, reading her new book, with her hands at her ears. She was startled by one of the constables taking the volume from her knees and handing it to his superior, as desired.

‘The Pilgrim’s Progress.’ Hum! I doubt about this book, Candler. Here, you are a ready reader. Is not this some mischief about the Pope? I do not know what his Majesty would say to that.”

After some consultation, the decree was given forth that the book had a dangerous appearance and must be detained, at least till something could be learned about it.

Madam Lisle looked amused, and requested Mr. Markland to turn to the title-page, where she showed him the words “Tenth edition.” She had to explain that the first bookseller he saw could satisfy him that this was a work known all over England. There was nothing new to be discovered in it now.

While pondering over this, the officer was roused by the sight of the name in the title-page. “Bunyan!” what Bunyan? He had heard of a low fellow,—a pestilent traitor of that name,—a tinker or a cobbler, or something of that sort, who was tied by the leg at last,—a prisoner in Bedford jail.

Candler thought it could not be the same; for the writer of the famous book was a preacher, and had crowds to hear him every Sunday, and often in the week time.

Madam Lisle explained the case. The author, the prisoner, and the preacher were the same man. John Bunyan was trusted to go forth and preach, and return to his prison. This strange story so quickened Mr. Markland’s curiosity, that he pocketed the book.

The sympathetic mother saw how overwhelming this affliction was to Joanna, and that a burst of grief was coming. Holding up a finger in admonition, she drew her child towards her, and said something which induced her to stifle her sobs in her mother’s bosom.

“Never mind! my little lass,” her father said to her. “You have read enough for to-day. You shall tell me the story to-night; and to-morrow we will get the book, if it is in Lyme.”

“It is in all bookshops,” Madam Lisle repeated. But Joanna could not comprehend how she should pass the rest of this day without the book,—poor Christian was in such terrible danger, just where she was interrupted.

There was much to be done, however, before the day was over. Officers were to remain in the house; and therefore some of the family must leave it. The object of the spies could hardly be to catch M. Florien, in the absence of all evidence of his being in England: and it probably was—the common device of the time for plaguing Puritans—to detect the family in some breach of the Conventicle Act, by the presence of more persons than five at a religious service. The practice of the house was to have one service for five in the house, and another, conducted by the parents and the elder daughters in turn, for the servants in the summer-house. In patrolling the road, or in spying about the premises, the constables had now and then heard the voice of prayer, or a psalm, from the summer-house. Now there was hope that the visitors from Winchester and Dorchester would swell the attendance beyond the legal number; and this was, no doubt, the reason why the officers of justice were to remain.

The service of God must not be given up for a mere inconvenience. The children and nurse and one elder sister must be sent to the refuge, for such case made and provided. Five miles off, upon the down, stood Malachi Dunn’s farm-house,—a well defended stone house, with rooms fitted up for the reception of friends in trouble. An hour before sunset a carrier’s cart drove up to the door of Battiscombe House; and the children, Judith, and Nurse were ready to start. It might be hoped that it was only for a few days. The Squire whispered to Joanna that he would be sure to ride over with the book, as soon as he could get it. The child’s red eyes began to overflow again; and Madam Lisle kindly observed that we all have our first hard cross; and this seemed to be Joanna’s.

“Let me say a word to you, my children,” said the Squire, after a moment’s thought.

All listened eagerly; and, when they saw that he wished not to be overheard, they gathered round him, leaning on his shoulders and his knees, and kneeling before him. Elizabeth bent forward, and the old lady put her hand behind her ear.

“This has been a trying day for most of us,” said the Squire. “My little daughter here is not the only one who has had her cross to bear. Our guests have had their visit spoiled; the elder has been agitated and alarmed, I fear——

“Trouble not thyself for me,” said Madam Lisle, smiling. “At the far end of life there is nothing to fear in this world; and, fond as we old people are of repose, a day of mere disturbance is not worth remembering the next morning.”

“You see, my children! Which of us has been so calm this day as the frailest in body? Then, there is our guest Elizabeth,—instead of the jollity of a Restoration Day at home, there has been something worse than an execution for debt for her to witness.”

“Surely you are not pitying me!” exclaimed Elizabeth, blushing and laughing. “I hold it a great advantage to obtain an insight so early into the way of life that I—that Christopher——

“That you render yourself liable to for Christopher’s sake,” said Christopher’s mother, with a kiss which deepened the blush on the dimpled cheek of her future daughter.

“Your mother and I,” continued the Squire, “are not too proud to own that our natural temper rises against insult and intrusion; and we have therefore suffered to-day; and our children no doubt yet more, inasmuch as they are less experienced in conflicts. I was pleased, however, at Anthony, when the roughest of these men demanded of him with menace what his tutor had taught him about the King and the Church. My boy called out to me, ‘Father! need I answer that?’ I told him I should not in his place: and not a word on that subject did the whole party get out of him.”

“Nor out of David either,” Anthony observed.

“Indeed! Then that is better still,” said the Squire, “inasmuch as David is the younger.” And he pressed the boy more closely to him. “But what impresses me the most deeply,” he continued, in a lowered voice, “is, that these vexations are a sign and a token, and a gentle training for graver troubles to come. My children have been accustomed to think that there may be something worse to bear than the deaths of the martyrs, when the world lay in darkness, and the heathen raged. Ah! I see we are of one mind about those things: and it is well that we are. The world is dark and raging about us. Let my children understand and remember why. Satan and Christ are contending for this kingdom and people: and those who side with Christ must not only hold their life in their hand, but do what is harder,—yield up cheerfully the lives which are dearer than their own.”

“Can it possibly come to that, sir?” asked Elizabeth.

“I have no doubt that it will. ‘When?’ At the end of the present reign, if not sooner; and it may be next week, or to-morrow. The spirit of persecution rages over the land, seeking to devour such as ourselves. There will be no more peace and quiet for us till the strife is over.”

“I have beheld,” said Madam Lisle, “the composure with which men have gone to their deaths, young and old alike, because they saw a brighter day coming for those who should live after them. Where that forecast is granted, it seems not to be very difficult to give away one’s life. But there is no saying: and God keep us from presumptuous assurance!”

“Amen!” said those who heard her.

“Our children are not daunted,” the Squire observed to the mother, who was gazing upon their young faces.

“I should not fear for them,” she answered, “if God asked the lives of any of them at an hour like this, when they are wrought up to courage and cheerfulness. ‘God loveth a cheerful giver;’ and there is cheerfulness in their hearts, and His love is on their faces. But how will it be if trials come, one upon another, for months and years, wearing the strength and bearing upon the patience? There are worse punishments than death in the hand of our enemies; and there is meantime a suspense, and a dread, and a vexation of spirit which—which—I would fain see my children spared.”

“They know, however,” said their father, “that there is a rest remaining for the people of God.”

As he rose and hastened away the party of exiles, as they called themselves, there was not a gloomy countenance in the whole company.

 

Before the parents slept, they indulged in some natural mutual congratulations on the promising spirit of their children. Not less gratified were they with the “solidity,” as they termed it, of their daughter elect, whose training had been that of the outside world, and who yet manifested, quite unconsciously, as noble a courage—perhaps as devout a courage—as any child of grace could be blessed with.

“Has this changed thy view in regard to Joanna?” the anxious mother inquired.

She had long had much conflict of mind about this child,—so highly endowed, as she believed, and now so cut off from all chance of cultivation since the departure of the family tutor. Madam Lisle, being inquired of by both parents, had given her opinion. Why this sort of “talent” should be buried, more than any other, she could not see. In her eyes it was no sin, but the contrary, to put young minds under the best instruction that could be had. She was going where some little kinswomen of hers were at a sober and sound school, under a devout and staunch Protestant woman,—a lady whose repute was high. If Joanna’s parents were inclined to give her such an education, the child might travel with Madam Lisle, who would place her at this school at Taunton, on her way to Wells.

“I should like to know thy view in regard to Joanna,” the mother repeated.

“I promised to consider the case, and I will do so,” he replied; “hut I can say nothing till we have sought guidance.”

The parents prayed for direction as to their duty to their child as fervently and as naturally as if the one had not been as spirited a country gentleman as ever led the hunt or commanded the militia; and the other as devoted to the small occupations and interests of life as the praying nun was above them.

“If I were sure that there is no poison of prelacy in that school—,” said the Squire, after they had risen from their knees. “But I fear Bishop Ken has his eye upon it.”

“Bishop Ken’s is not an evil eye, surely,” was the reply. “How much of the poison of prelacy is there in Madam Lisle? And he has looked upon her with the eye of a friend for many a year.”

“That is true.”

And so the matter closed—somewhat hopefully for Joanna.