A Great Man attends to Business

Having seen Lord Russell murdered in the fields of Lincoln’s Inn, or rather having gone to see it, but turned away with a sickness and a bitter flood of tears—for a whiter and a nobler neck never fell before low beast—I strode away towards Westminster, cured of half my indignation at the death of Charles the First. Many people hurried past me, chiefly of the more tender sort, revolting at the butchery. In their ghastly faces, as they turned them back, lest the sight should be coming after them, great sorrow was to be seen, and horror, and pity, and some anger.

In Westminster Hall I found nobody; not even the crowd of crawling varlets, who used to be craving evermore for employment or for payment. I knocked at three doors, one after other, of lobbies going out of it, where I had formerly seen some officers and people pressing in and out, but for my trouble I took nothing, except some thumps from echo. And at last an old man told me that all the lawyers were gone to see the result of their own works, in the fields of Lincoln’s Inn.

However, in a few days’ time, I had better fortune; for the court was sitting and full of business, to clear off the arrears of work, before the lawyers’ holiday. As I was waiting in the hall for a good occasion, a man with horsehair on his head, and a long blue bag in his left hand, touched me gently on the arm, and led me into a quiet place. I followed him very gladly, being confident that he came to me with a message from the Justiciaries. But after taking pains to be sure that none could overhear us, he turned on me suddenly, and asked,—

‘Now, John, how is your dear mother?’

‘Worshipful sir’ I answered him, after recovering from my surprise at his knowledge of our affairs, and kindly interest in them, ‘it is two months now since I have seen her. Would to God that I only knew how she is faring now, and how the business of the farm goes!’

‘Sir, I respect and admire you,’ the old gentleman replied, with a bow very low and genteel; ‘few young court-gallants of our time are so reverent and dutiful. Oh, how I did love my mother!’ Here he turned up his eyes to heaven, in a manner that made me feel for him and yet with a kind of wonder.

‘I am very sorry for you, sir,’ I answered most respectfully, not meaning to trespass on his grief, yet wondering at his mother’s age; for he seemed to be at least threescore; ‘but I am no court-gallant, sir; I am only a farmer’s son, and learning how to farm a little.’

‘Enough, John; quite enough,’ he cried, ‘I can read it in thy countenance. Honesty is written there, and courage and simplicity. But I fear that, in this town of London, thou art apt to be taken in by people of no principle. Ah me! Ah me! The world is bad, and I am too old to improve it.’

Then finding him so good and kind, and anxious to improve the age, I told him almost everything; how much I paid the fellmonger, and all the things I had been to see; and how I longed to get away, before the corn was ripening; yet how (despite of these desires) I felt myself bound to walk up and down, being under a thing called ‘recognisance.’ In short, I told him everything; except the nature of my summons (which I had no right to tell), and that I was out of money.

My tale was told in a little archway, apart from other lawyers; and the other lawyers seemed to me to shift themselves, and to look askew, like sheep through a hurdle, when the rest are feeding.

‘What! Good God!’ my lawyer cried, smiting his breast indignantly with a roll of something learned; ‘in what country do we live? Under what laws are we governed? No case before the court whatever; no primary deposition, so far as we are furnished; not even a King’s writ issued—and here we have a fine young man dragged from his home and adoring mother, during the height of agriculture, at his own cost and charges! I have heard of many grievances; but this the very worst of all. Nothing short of a Royal Commission could be warranty for it. This is not only illegal, sir, but most gravely unconstitutional.’

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