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- St. George and St. Michael Vol. I - 4/27 -


'I want to know, father, whether, when men differ, a man is bound to take a side.'

'Nay, Richard, but a man is bound NOT to take a side save upon reasons well considered and found good.'

'It may be, father, if you had seen fit to send me to Oxford, I should have been better able to judge now.'

'I had my reasons, son Richard. Readier, perhaps, you might have been, but fitter--no. Tell me what points you have in question.'

'That I can hardly say, sir. I only know there are points at issue betwixt king and parliament which men appear to consider of mightiest consequence. Will you tell me, father, why you have never instructed me in these affairs of church and state? I trust it is not because you count me unworthy of your confidence.'

'Far from it, my son. My silence hath respect to thy hearing and to the judgment yet unawakened in thee. Who would lay in the arms of a child that which must crush him to the earth? Years did I take to meditate ere I resolved, and I know not yet if thou hast in thee the power of meditation.'

'At least, father, I could try to understand, if you would unfold your mind.'

'When you know what the matters at issue are, my son,--that is, when you are able to ask me questions worthy of answer, I shall be ready to answer thee, so far as my judgment will reach.'

'I thank you, father, In the meantime I am as one who knocks, and the door is not opened unto him.'

'Rather art thou as one who loiters on the door-step, and lifts up neither ring nor voice.'

'Surely, sir, I must first know the news.'

'Thou hast ears; keep them open. But at least you know, my son, that on the twelfth day of May last my lord of Strafford lost his head.'

'Who took it from him, sir? King or parliament?'

'Even that might be made a question; but I answer, the High Court of Parliament, my son.'

'Was the judgment a right one or a wrong, sir? Did he deserve the doom?'

'Ah, there you put a question indeed! Many men say RIGHT, and many men say WRONG. One man, I doubt me much, was wrong in the share HE bore therein.'

'Who was he, sir?'

'Nay, nay, I will not forestall thine own judgment. But, in good sooth, I might be more ready to speak my mind, were it not that I greatly doubt some of those who cry loudest for liberty. I fear that had they once the power, they would be the first to trample her under foot. Liberty with some men means MY liberty to do, and THINE to suffer. But all in good time, my son! The dawn is nigh.'

'You will tell me at least, father, what is the bone of contention?'

'My son, where there is contention, a bone shall not fail. It is but a leg-bone now; it will be a rib to-morrow, and by and by doubtless it will be the skull itself.'

'If you care for none of these things, sir, will not master Flowerdew have a hard name for you? I know not what it means, but it sounds of the gallows,' said Richard, looking rather doubtful as to how his father might take it.

'Possibly, my son, I care more for the contention than the bone, for while thieves quarrel honest men go their own ways. But what ignorance I have kept thee in, and yet left thee to bear the reproach of a puritan!' said the father, smiling grimly. 'Thou meanest master Flowerdew would call me a Gallio, and thou takest the Roman proconsul for a gallows-bird! Verily thou art not destined to prolong the renown of thy race for letters. I marvel what thy cousin Thomas would say to the darkness of thy ignorance.'

'See what comes of not sending me to Oxford, sir: I know not who is my cousin Thomas.'

'A man both of learning and wisdom, my son, though I fear me his diet is too strong for the stomach of this degenerate age, while the dressing of his dishes is, on the other hand, too cunningly devised for their liking. But it is no marvel thou shouldest be ignorant of him, being as yet no reader of books. Neither is he a close kinsman, being of the Lincolnshire branch of the Heywoods.'

'Now I know whom you mean, sir; but I thought he was a writer of stage plays, and such things as on all sides I hear called foolish, and mummery.'

'There be among those who call themselves the godly, who will endure no mummery but of their own inventing. Cousin Thomas hath written a multitude of plays, but that he studied at Cambridge, and to good purpose, this book, which I was reading when you entered, bears good witness.'

'What is the book, father?'

'Stay, I will read thee a portion. The greater part is of learning rather than wisdom--the gathered opinions of the wise and good concerning things both high and strange; but I will read thee some verses bearing his own mind, which is indeed worthy to be set down with theirs.'

He read that wonderful poem ending the second Book of the Hierarchy, and having finished it looked at his son.

'I do not understand it, sir,' said Richard.

'I did not expect you would,' returned his father. 'Here, take the book, and read for thyself. If light should dawn upon the page, as thou readest, perhaps thou wilt understand what I now say--that I care but little for the bones concerning which king and parliament contend, but I do care that men--thou and I, my son--should be free to walk in any path whereon it may please God to draw us. Take the book, my son, and read again. But read no farther save with caution, for it dealeth with many things wherein old Thomas is too readily satisfied with hearsay for testimony.'

Richard took the small folio and carried it to his own chamber, where he read and partly understood the poem. But he was not ripe enough either in philosophy or religion for such meditations. Having executed his task, for as such he regarded it, he turned to look through the strange mixture of wisdom and credulity composing the volume. One tale after another, of witch, and demon, and magician, firmly believed and honestly recorded by his worthy relative, drew him on, until he sat forgetful of everything but the world of marvels before him--to none of which, however, did he accord a wider credence than sprung from the interest of the moment. He was roused by a noise of quarrel in the farmyard, towards which his window looked, and, laying aside reading, hastened out to learn the cause.

CHAPTER III.

THE WITCH.

It was a bright Autumn morning. A dry wind had been blowing all night through the shocks, and already some of the farmers had begun to carry to their barns the sheaves which had stood hopelessly dripping the day before. Ere Richard reached the yard, he saw, over the top of the wall, the first load of wheat-sheaves from the harvest-field, standing at the door of the barn, and high-uplifted thereon the figure of Faithful Stopchase, one of the men, a well-known frequenter of puritan assemblies all the country round, who was holding forth, and that with much freedom, in tones that sounded very like vituperation, if not malediction, against some one invisible. He soon found that the object of his wrath was a certain Welshwoman, named Rees, by her neighbours considered objectionable on the ground of witchcraft, against whom this much could with truth be urged, that she was so far from thinking it disreputable, that she took no pains to repudiate the imputation of it. Her dress, had it been judged by eyes of our day, would have been against her, but it was only old-fashioned, not even antiquated: common in Queen Elizabeth's time, it lingered still in remote country places--a gown of dark stuff, made with a long waist and short skirt over a huge farthingale; a ruff which stuck up and out, high and far, from her throat; and a conical Welsh hat invading the heavens. Stopchase, having descried her in the yard, had taken the opportunity of breaking out upon her in language as far removed from that of conventional politeness as his puritanical principles would permit. Doubtless he considered it a rebuking of Satan, but forgot that, although one of the godly, he could hardly on that ground lay claim to larger privilege in the use of bad language than the archangel Michael. For the old woman, although too prudent to reply, she scorned to flee, and stood regarding him fixedly. Richard sought to interfere and check the torrent of abuse, but it had already gathered so much head, that the man seemed even unaware of his attempt. Presently, however, he began to quail in the midst of his storming. The green eyes of the old woman, fixed upon him, seemed to be slowly fascinating him. At length, in the very midst of a volley of scriptural epithets, he fell suddenly silent, turned from her, and, with the fork on which he had been leaning, began to pitch the sheaves into the barn. The moment he turned his back, Goody Rees turned hers, and walked slowly away.

She had scarcely reached the yard gate, however, before the cow-boy, a delighted spectator and auditor of the affair, had loosed the fierce watch-dog, which flew after her. Fortunately Richard saw what took place, but the animal, which was generally chained up, did not heed his recall, and the poor woman had already felt his teeth, when Richard got him by the throat. She looked pale and frightened, but kept her composure wonderfully, and when Richard, who was prejudiced


St. George and St. Michael Vol. I - 4/27

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