HAVING given my orders that Covenant should be saddled and bridled by daybreak, I had gone to my room and was preparing for a long night’s rest, when Sir Gervas, who slept in the same apartment, came dancing in with a bundle of papers waving over his head.
“Three guesses, Clarke!” he cried. “What would you most desire?”
“Letters from Havant,” said I eagerly.
“Right,” he answered, throwing them into my lap. “Three of them, and not a woman’s hand among them. Sink me, if I can understand what you have been doing all your life.
“‘How can youthful heart resign
But you are so lost in your news that you have not observed my transformation.”
“Why, wherever did you get these?” I asked in astonishment, for he was attired in a delicate plum-coloured suit with gold buttons and trimmings, set off by silken hosen and Spanish leather shoes with roses on the instep.
“It smacks more of the court than of the camp,” quoth Sir Gervas, rubbing his hands and glancing down at himself with some satisfaction. “I am also revictualled in the matter of ratafia and orange-flower water, together with two new wigs, a bob and a court, a pound of the Imperial snuff from the sign of the Black Man, a box of De Crepigny’s hair powder, my foxskin muff, and several other necessaries. But I hinder you in your reading.”
“I have seen enough to tell me that all is well at home,” I answered, glancing over my father’s letter. “But how came these things?”
“Some horsemen have come in from Petersfield, bearing them with them. As to my little box, which a fair friend of mine in town packed for me, it was to be forwarded to Bristol, where I am now supposed to be, and should be were it not for my good fortune in meeting your party. It chanced to find its way, however, to the Bruton inn, and the good woman there, whom I had conciliated, found means to send it after me. It is a good rule to go upon, Clarke, in this earthly pilgrimage, always to kiss the landlady. It may seem a small thing, and yet life is made up of small things. I have few fixed principles, I fear, but two there are which I can say from my heart that I never transgress. I always carry a corkscrew, and I never forget to kiss the landlady.”
“From what I have seen of you,” said I, laughing, “I could be warranty that those two duties are ever fulfilled.”
“I have letters, too,” said he, sitting on the side of the bed and turning over a sheaf of papers. “‘Your broken-hearted Araminta.’ Hum! The wench cannot know that I am ruined or her heart would speedily be restored. What’s this? A challenge to match my bird Julius against my Lord Dorchester’s cockerel for a hundred guineas. Faith! I am too busy backing the Monmouth rooster for the champion stakes. Another asking me to chase the stag at Epping. Zounds! had I not cleared off I should have been run down myself, with a pack of bandog bailiffs at my heels. A dunning letter from my clothier. He can afford to lose this bill. He hath had many a long one out of me. An offer of three thousand from little Dicky Chichester. No, no, Dicky, it won’t do. A gentleman can’t live upon his friends. None the less grateful. How now? From Mrs. Butterworth! No money for three weeks! Bailiffs in the house! Now, curse me, if this is not too bad!”
“What is the matter?” I asked, glancing up from my own letters. The baronet’s pale face had taken a tinge of red, and he was striding furiously up and down the bedroom with a letter crumpled up in his hand.
“It is a burning shame, Clarke,” he cried. “Hang it, she shall have my watch. It is by Tompion, of the sign of the Three Crowns in Paul’s Yard, and cost a hundred when new. It should keep her for a few months. Mortimer shall measure swords with me for this. I shall write villain upon him with my rapier’s point.”
“I have never seen you ruffled before,” said I.
“No,” he answered, laughing. “Many have lived with me for years and would give me a certificate for temper. But this is too much. Sir Edward Mortimer is my mother’s younger brother, Clarke, but he is not many years older than myself. A proper, strait-laced, soft-voiced lad he has ever been, and, as a consequence, he throve in the world, and joined land to land after the scriptural fashion. I had befriended him from my purse in the old days, but he soon came to be a richer man than I, for all that he gained he kept, whereas all I got—well, it went off like the smoke of the pipe which you are lighting. When I found that all was up with me I received from Mortimer an advance, which was sufficient to take me according to my wish over to Virginia, together with a horse and a personal outfit. There was some chance, Clarke, of the Jerome acres going to him should aught befall me, so that he was not averse to helping me off to a land of fevers and scalping knives. Nay, never shake your head, my dear country lad, you little know the wiles of the world.”
“Give him credit for the best until the worst is proved,” said I, sitting up in bed smoking, with my letters littered about in front of me.
“The worst is proved,” said Sir Gervas, with a darkening face. “I have, as I said, done Mortimer some turns which he might remember, though it did not become me to remind him of them. This Mistress Butterworth is mine old wet-nurse, and it hath been the custom of the family to provide for her. I could not bear the thought that in the ruin of my fortune she should lose the paltry guinea or so a week which stood between her and hunger. My only request to Mortimer, therefore, made on the score of old friendship, was that he should continue this pittance, I promising that should I prosper I would return whatever he should disburse. The mean-hearted villain wrung my hand and swore that it should be so. How vile a thing is human nature, Clarke! For the sake of this paltry sum he, a rich man, hath broken his pledge, and left this poor woman to starve. But he shall answer to me for it. He thinks that I am on the Atlantic. If I march back to London with these brave boys I shall disturb the tenor of his sainted existence. Meanwhile I shall trust to sun-dials, and off goes my watch to Mother Butterworth. Bless her ample bosoms! I have tried many liquors, but I dare bet that the first was the most healthy. But how of your own letters? You have been frowning and smiling like an April day.”
“There is one from my father, with a few words attached from my mother,” said I. “The second is from an old friend of mine, Zachariah Palmer, the village carpenter. The third is from Solomon Sprent, a retired seaman, for whom I have an affection and respect.”
“You have a rare trio of newsmen. I would I knew your father, Clarke, he must, from what you say, be a stout bit of British oak. I spoke even now of your knowing little of the world, but indeed it may be that in your village you can see mankind without the varnish, and so come to learn more of the good of human nature. Varnish or none, the bad will ever peep through. Now this carpenter and seaman show themselves no doubt for what they are. A man might know my friends of the court for a lifetime, and never come upon their real selves, nor would it perhaps repay the search when you had come across it. Sink me, but I wax philosophical, which is the old refuge of the ruined man. Give me a tub, and I shall set up in the Piazza of Covent Garden, and be the Diogenes of London. I would not be wealthy again, Micah! How goes the old lilt?—
“‘Our money shall never indite us
That last would make a good motto for an almshouse.”
“You will have Sir Stephen up,” said I warningly, for he was carolling away at the pitch of his lungs.
“Never fear! He and his ’prentices were all at the broad-sword exercise in the hall as I came by. It is worth something to see the old fellow stamp, and swing his sword, and cry, ‘Ha!’ on the down-cut. Mistress Ruth and friend Lockarby are in the tapestried room, she spinning and he reading aloud one of those entertaining volumes which she would have me read. Methinks she hath taken his conversion in hand, which may end in his converting her from a maid into a wife. And so you go to the Duke of Beaufort! Well, I would that I could travel with you, but Saxon will not hear of it, and my musqueteers must be my first care. God send you safe back! Where is my jasmine powder and the patch-box? Read me your letters if there be aught in them of interest. I have been splitting a flask with our gallant Colonel at his inn, and he hath told me enough of your home at Havant to make me wish to know more.”
“This one is somewhat grave,” said I.
“Nay, I am in the humour for grave things. Have at it, if it contain the whole Platonic philosophy.”
“’Tis from the venerable carpenter who hath for many years been my adviser and friend. He is one who is religious without being sectarian, philosophic without being a partisan, and loving without being weak.”
“A paragon, truly!” exclaimed Sir Gervas, who was busy with his eyebrow brush.
“This is what he saith,” I continued, and proceeded to read the very letter which I now read to you.
“‘Having heard from your father, my dear lad, that there was some chance of being able to send a letter to you, I have written this, and am now sending it under the charge of the worthy John Packingham, of Chichester, who is bound for the West. I trust that you are now safe with Monmouth’s army, and that you have received honourable appointment therein. I doubt not that you will find among your comrades some who are extreme sectaries, and others who are scoffers and disbelievers. Be advised by me, friend, and avoid both the one and the other. For the zealot is a man who not only defends his own right of worship, wherein he hath justice, but wishes to impose upon the consciences of others, by which he falls into the very error against which he fights. The mere brainless scoffer is, on the other hand, lower than the beast of the field, since he lacks the animal’s self-respect and humble resignation.’”
“My faith!” cried the Baronet, “the old gentleman hath a rough side to his tongue.”
“‘Let us take religion upon its broadest base, for the truth must be broader than aught which we can conceive. The presence of a table doth prove the existence of a carpenter, and so the presence of a universe proves the existence of a universe Maker, call Him by what name you will. So far the ground is very firm beneath us, without either inspiration, teaching, or any aid whatever. Since, then, there must be a world Maker, let us judge of His nature by His work. We cannot observe the glories of the firmament, its infinite extent, its beauty, and the Divine skill wherewith every plant and animal hath its wants cared for, without seeing that He is full of wisdom, intelligence, and power. We are still, you will perceive, upon solid ground, without having to call to our aid aught save pure reason.
“‘Having got so far, let us inquire to what end the universe was made, and we put upon it. The teaching of all nature shows that it must be to the end of improvement and upward growth, the increase in real virtue, in knowledge, and in wisdom. Nature is a silent preacher which holds forth upon week-days as on Sabbaths. We see the acorn grow into the oak, the egg into the bird, the maggot into the butterfly. Shall we doubt, then, that the human soul, the most precious of all things, is also upon the upward path? And how can the soul progress save through the cultivation of virtue and self-mastery? What other way is there? There is none. We may say with confidence, then, that we are placed here to increase in knowledge and in virtue.
“‘This is the core of all religion, and this much needs no faith in the acceptance. It is as true and as capable of proof as one of those exercises of Euclid which we have gone over together. On this common ground men have raised many different buildings. Christianity, the creed of Mahomet, the creed of the Easterns, have all the same essence. The difference lies in the forms and the details. Let us hold to our own Christian creed, the beautiful, often-professed, and seldom-practised doctrine of love, but let us not despise our fellow-men, for we are all branches from the common root of truth.
“‘Man comes out of darkness into light. He tarries awhile and then passes into darkness again. Micah, lad, the days are passing, mine as well as thine. Let them not be wasted. They are few in number. What says Petrarch? “To him that enters, life seems infinite; to him that departs, nothing.” Let every day, every hour, be spent in furthering the Creator’s end—in getting out whatever power for good there is in you. What is pain, or work, or trouble? The cloud that passes over the sun. But the result of work well done is everything. It is eternal. It lives and waxes stronger through the centuries. Pause not for rest. The rest will come when the hour of work is past.
“‘May God protect and guard you! There is no great news. The Portsmouth garrison hath marched to the West. Sir John Lawson, the magistrate, hath been down here threatening your father and others, but he can do little for want of proofs. Church and Dissent are at each other’s throats as ever. Truly the stern law of Moses is more enduring than the sweet words of Christ. Adieu, my dear lad! All good wishes from your grey-headed friend,
“Od’s fish!” cried Sir Gervas, as I folded up the letter, “I have heard Stillingfleet and Tenison, but I never listened to a better sermon. This is a bishop disguised as a carpenter. The crozier would suit his hand better than the plane. But how of our seaman friend? Is he a tarpaulin theologian—a divine among the tarry-breeks?”
“Solomon Sprent is a very different man, though good enough in his way,” said I. “But you shall judge him from his letter.”
“‘Master Clarke. Sir,—When last we was in company I had run in under the batteries on cutting-out service, while you did stand on and off in the channel and wait signals. Having stopped to refit and to overhaul my prize, which proved to be in proper trim alow and aloft—’”
“What the devil doth he mean?” asked Sir Gervas.
“It is a maid of whom he talks—Phoebe Dawson, the sister of the blacksmith. He hath scarce put foot on land for nigh forty years, and can as a consequence only speak in this sea jargon, though he fancies that he uses as pure King’s English as any man in Hampshire.”
“Proceed, then,” quoth the Baronet.
“‘Having also read her the articles of war, I explained to her the conditions under which we were to sail in company on life’s voyage, namely:
“‘First. She to obey signals without question as soon as received.
“‘Second. She to steer by my reckoning.
“‘Third. She to stand by me as true consort in foul weather, battle, or shipwreck.
“‘Fourth. She to run under my guns if assailed by picaroons, privateeros, or garda-costas.
“‘Fifth. Me to keep her in due repair, dry-dock her at intervals, and see that she hath her allowance of coats of paint, streamers, and bunting, as befits a saucy pleasure boat.
“‘Sixth. Me to take no other craft in tow, and if any be now attached, to cut their hawsers.
“‘Seventh. Me to revictual her day by day.
“‘Eighth. Should she chance to spring a leak, or be blown on her beam ends by the winds of misfortune, to stand by her and see her pumped out or righted.
“‘Ninth. To fly the Protestant ensign at the peak during life’s voyage, and to lay our course for the great harbour, in the hope that moorings and ground to swing may be found for two British-built crafts when laid up for eternity.
“‘‘Twas close on eight-bells before these articles were signed and sealed. When I headed after you I could not so much as catch a glimpse of your topsail. Soon after I heard as you had gone a-soldiering, together with that lean, rakish, long-sparred, picaroon-like craft which I have seen of late in the village. I take it unkind of you that you have not so much as dipped ensign to me on leaving. But perchance the tide was favourable, and you could not tarry. Had I not been jury-rigged, with one of my spars shot away, I should have dearly loved to have strapped on my hanger and come with you to smell gunpowder once more. I would do it now, timber-toe and all, were it not for my consort, who might claim it as a breach of the articles, and so sheer off. I must follow the light on her poop until we are fairly joined.
“‘Farewell, mate! In action, take an old sailor’s advice. Keep the weather-gauge and board! Tell that to your admiral on the day of battle. Whisper it in his ear. Say to him, “Keep the weather-gauge and board!” Tell him also to strike quick, strike hard, and keep on striking. That’s the word of Christopher Mings, and a better man has not been launched, though he did climb in through the hawse-pipe.
Sir Gervas had been chuckling to himself during the reading of this epistle, but at the last part we both broke out a-laughing.
“Land or sea, he will have it that battles are fought in ships,” said the Baronet. “You should have had that sage piece of advice for Monmouth’s council to-day. Should he ever ask your opinion it must be, “Keep the weather-gauge and board!’”
“I must to sleep,” said I, laying aside my pipe. “I should be on the road by daybreak.”
“Nay, I prythee, complete your kindness by letting me have a glimpse of your respected parent, the Roundhead.”
“’Tis but a few lines,” I answered. “He was ever short of speech. But if they interest you, you shall hear them.
“‘I am sending this by a godly man, my dear son, to say that I trust that you are bearing yourself as becomes you. In all danger and difficulty trust not to yourself, but ask help from on high. If you are in authority, teach your men to sing psalms when they fall on, as is the good old custom. In action give point rather than edge. A thrust must beat a cut. Your mother and the others send their affection to you. Sir John Lawson hath been down here like a ravening wolf, but could find no proof against me. John Marchbank, of Bedhampton, is cast into prison. Truly Antichrist reigns in the land, but the kingdom of light is at hand. Strike lustily for truth and conscience.
“‘Postscriptum ’(from my mother)—‘I trust that you will remember what I have said concerning your hosen and also the broad linen collars, which you will find in the bag. It is little over a week since you left, yet it seems a year. When cold or wet, take ten drops of Daffy’s elixir in a small glass of strong waters. Should your feet chafe, rub tallow on the inside of your boots. Commend me to Master Saxon and to Master Lockarby, if he be with you. His father was mad at his going, for he hath a great brewing going forward, and none to mind the mash-tub. Ruth hath baked a cake, but the oven hath played her false, and it is lumpy in the inside. A thousand kisses, dear heart, from your loving mother,
“A right sensible couple,” quoth Sir Gervas, who, having completed his toilet, had betaken him to his couch. “I now begin to understand your manufacture, Clarke. I see the threads that are used in the weaving of you. Your father looks to your spiritual wants. Your mother concerns herself with the material. Yet the old carpenter’s preaching is, methinks, more to your taste. You are a rank latitudinarian, man. Sir Stephen would cry fie upon you, and Joshua Pettigrue abjure you! Well, out with the light, for we should both be stirring at cock-crow. That is our religion at present.”
“Early Christians,” I suggested, and we both laughed as we settled down to sleep.