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- Hugh Wynne, Free Quaker - 20/75 -
was aware of a short, neatly built man, who rose from a bench near by. His face was strong, irregular of feature, and for some reason impressed me. I could see even in the indistinct light that he flushed deeply as he got up on his feet. He received instant attention, for he went past me, and, standing in the passageway, was quiet for a moment. He was, I think, not over thirty, and seemed embarrassed at the instant attention he received. For a few minutes he appeared to seek his words, and then, quite suddenly, to find them in eloquent abundance.
"It is not usual," he said, "for disowned members of the society to openly protest. Neither are these our brothers here to-day. Nor, were they with us, are they so skilled with the tongue as to be able to defend themselves against the strong language of Thomas Scattergood or the gentle speech of Arthur Howell. I would say a word for them, and, too, for myself, since nothing is more sure than that I think them right, and know that ye will, before long, cast out me, to whom your worship is sweet and lovely, and the ways of Friends for the most part such as seem to me more acceptable than those of any other Christian society. Whether it be that old memories of persecution, or too great prosperity, have hardened you, I do not know. It does seem to me that ye have put on a severity of dress and life that was not so once, and that undue strictness hath destroyed for us some of the innocent joys of this world. I also find unwholesome and burdensome that inner garment of self-righteousness in which ye clothe yourselves to judge the motives of your fellow-men.
"So far as the law went against such views as you entertained, none did more resist them, in your own way, than did you; but now the English across the seas tell us that the liberty our fathers sought on these shores is to be that which pleases a corrupt and pliant ministry, and not that which is common to men of English blood. Some brave men of our society say, 'Let us make a stand here, lest worse things come. Let us refuse to eat, drink, or wear the articles they assume to tax, whether we will or not.' There is no violence. Believe me, there will be none if we are one throughout the colonies. But if not--if not--if grave old men like you, afraid of this mere shadow of passive resistance, dreading to see trade decay and the fat flanks of prosperity grow lean--if you are wholly with our oppressors, passively with them, or, as some believe, actively, then--then, dear friends, it will be not the shadow, but the substance, of resistance that will fall in blood and ruin on you and on all men--on your easy lives and your accumulated gains.
"Aye, look to it! There is blood on the garments of many a man who sits fearfully at home, and thinks that because he does nothing he will be free of guilt when the great account is called."
On this a rare exception to the tranquillity of Meeting occurred. Daniel Offley, by trade a farrier, rose and broke in, speaking loudly, as one used to lift his voice amid the din of hammers: "Wherefore should this youth bring among us the godless things of worldly men?" His sonorous tones rang out through the partial obscurity, and shook, as I noticed, the scattered spires of the candle flames. "This is no time for foolish men to be heard, where the elders are of a mind. The sense of the Meeting is with us. The weight of the Meeting is with us. The king is a good king, and who are we to resist? Out with those who are not of our ways! Let the hammer fall on the unrighteous, lest the sheep be scattered, and the Shepherd leave them."
At this queer mixture of metaphors I saw the previous speaker smile, as he stood in the aisle. Next I heard the gentle voice of James Pemberton break in on the uncouth speech of the big farrier.
"It is the custom of Friends that all men who feel to be moved to tell us aught shall be heard. Friend Wetherill, we will hear thee to an end." He spoke with the courteous ease of a well-bred gentleman, and the smith sat down.
Friend Wetherill paused a moment, looking to left and right along the lines of deeply interested and motionless faces. Then he continued: "On what you and others do in these days depends what shall come upon us. Let no man deceive you, not even the timid counsel of gray hairs or the wariness of wealth. The guinea fears; the penny fights; and the poor penny is to-day deeply concerned. You take shelter under the law of Christ, to live, as far as possible, at peace with all men. As far as possible? It should at times be felt that Paul's limitation is also a command. Do not resist him who would slay a child or wrong a woman--that is how you read the law of God.
"It is extremes which bring ruin to the best Christian societies, and if the mass of men were with you civil order would cease, and the carefully builded structure of civilisation would perish. You are already undergoing a process of dry decay, and as you dry and dry, you harden and shrink, and see it not. A wild woman has told you to set your camp in order. See to it, my friends; see to it!"
For not less than a minute the speaker remained silent, with bended head, still keeping the wonderfully steady attention of this staid assembly. Very slowly he lifted his face, and now, as he began again, it was with a look of tender sweetness: "It was far back in Second-month, 1771, I began to be encompassed by doubts as to the course Friends were taking. To-day I am assured in spirit that you are wrong in the support you gave, and, let me say, are giving, to an unjust cause. I think I take an innocent liberty to express myself on this occasion, also according to the prospect I have of the matter. There is something due to the king, and something to the cause of the public. When kings deviate from the righteous law of justice in which kings ought to rule, it is the right, aye, and the religious duty, of the people to be plain and honest in letting them know where. I am not a person of such consequence as to dictate; but there is in me and in you a court, to which I confidently appeal. I _have_ appealed to it in prayer, as to what my course shall be, I obey my conscience. Take heed that you do not act rashly."
Here again, after these calm words, he paused, and then said, with emphatic sternness, "As my last words, let me leave with you the admonition of the great founder of this colony. 'I beseech you,' he says, 'for the sake of Christ, who so sharply prohibited making others suffer for their religion, that you have a care how you exercise power over other men's consciences. My friends, conscience is God's throne in man, and the power of it His prerogative!' These are solemn words. Whether you leave me to live among you, free to do what seems right to me, or drive me forth, who have no wish to go, now and always I shall love you. That love you cannot take away, nor weaken, nor disturb."
I was sorry when the melody of this clear voice ceased. The speaker, wiping the moisture from his brow, stood still, and, covering his face with his hands, was lost in the prayer which I doubt not followed.
A long interval of absence of all sound came after he ceased to speak. No one replied. The matter was closed, a decision reached, and the clerk instructed. I knew enough to feel sure that those manly tones of appeal and remonstrance had failed of their purpose.
At this moment I saw an elderly man on the seat before me rise, and with deliberateness kneel in prayer; or, as Friends say, Israel Sharpless appeared in supplication. At first, as he began to be heard, Friends rose here and there, until all were afoot and all uncovered. The silence and reverent bended heads, and the dim light, affected me as never before. Many turned their backs on the praying man, an odd custom, but common, As he prayed his voice rose until it filled the great room; and of a sudden I started, and broke out in a cold sweat, for this was what I heard:
"O Lord, arise, and let Thine enemies be scattered. Dip me deeper in Jordan. Wash me in the laver of regeneration. Give me courage to wrestle with ill-doers. Let my applications be heard.
"Father of mercy, remember of Thy pity those of the young among us who, being fallen into evil ways, are gone astray. We pray that they who have gambled and drunk and brought to shame and sorrow their elders may be recovered into a better mind, and sin no more. We pray Thee, Almighty Father, that they be led to consider and to repent of deeds of violence, that those among us whom the confusion of the tunes has set against the law and authority of rulers be better counselled; or, if not, strengthen us so to deal with these young men as shall make pure again Thy sheepfold, that they be no longer a means of leading others into wickedness and debauchery." I heard no more. This man was a close friend of my father. I knew but too well that it was I who was thus reproved, and thus put to shame. I looked this way and that, the hot blood in my face, thinking to escape. Custom held me. I caught, as I stared, furtive glances from some of the younger folk. Here and there some sweet, gentle face considered me a moment with pity, or with a curiosity too strong for even the grim discipline of Friends. I stood erect. The prayer went on. Now and then I caught a phrase, but the most part of what he said was lost to me. I looked about me at times with the anguish of a trapped animal.
At last I saw that my gentle-voiced speaker, Wetherill, was, like myself, rigid, with upheld head, and that, with a faint smile on his face, he was looking toward me. Minute after minute passed. Would they never be done with it? I began to wonder what was going on under those bent gray hats and black bonnets. I was far away from penitence or remorse, a bruised and tormented man, helpless, if ever a man was helpless, under the monotonous and silent reproach of some hundreds of people who had condemned me unheard. It did seem as if it never would end.
At last the voice died out. The man rose, and put on his hat. All resumed their seats and their head-coverings. I saw that Friend Scattergood extended a hand to my father, who was, as I have not yet stated, an elder. The grasp was accepted. Elders and overseers, both men and women, rose, and we also. I pushed my way out, rudely, I fear. At the door James Pemberton put out his hand. I looked him full in the face, and turned away from the too inquisitive looks of the younger Friends. I went by my father without a word. He could not have known what pain his method of saving my soul would cost me. That he had been in some way active in the matter I did not doubt, and I knew later that my opinion was but too correct.
Hastening down Front street with an overwhelming desire to be alone, I paused at our own door, and then, late as it was, now close to ten, I unmoored my boat, and was about to push off when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Samuel Wetherill.
"Let me go with thee, my boy," he said. "We should talk a little, thou and I."
I said, "Yes. Thou art the only man I want to see to-night."
There were no more words. The moon was up as I pulled down Dock Creek and out on my friendly river.
"Let thy boat drift," he said. "Perhaps thou art aware, Hugh Wynne, how grieved I was; for I know all that went before. I somehow think that thou hast already done for thyself what these good folk seemed to think was needed. Am I right?"
"Yes," I said.
"Then say no more. James Wilson has spoken of thee often. To be loved of such a man is much. I hear that thou hast been led to think with us, and that, despite those wicked wild oats, thou art a young man of parts and good feelings, thoughtful beyond thy years."
I thanked him almost: in tears; for this kindly judgment was, past belief, the best remedy I could have had.
"I saw thy great suffering; but in a year, in a month, this will seem a
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