John returns to Business

Now November was upon us, and we had kept Allhallowmass, with roasting of skewered apples (like so many shuttlecocks), and after that the day of Fawkes, as became good Protestants, with merry bonfires and burned batatas, and plenty of good feeding in honour of our religion; and then while we were at wheat-sowing, another visitor arrived.

This was Master Jeremy Stickles, who had been a good friend to me (as described before) in London, and had earned my mother’s gratitude, so far as ever he chose to have it. And he seemed inclined to have it all; for he made our farm-house his headquarters, and kept us quite at his beck and call, going out at any time of the evening, and coming back at any time of the morning, and always expecting us to be ready, whether with horse, or man, or maiden, or fire, or provisions. We knew that he was employed somehow upon the service of the King, and had at different stations certain troopers and orderlies quite at his disposal; also we knew that he never went out, nor even slept in his bedroom, without heavy firearms well loaded, and a sharp sword nigh his hand; and that he held a great commission, under royal signet, requiring all good subjects, all officers of whatever degree, and especially justices of the peace, to aid him to the utmost, with person, beast, and chattel, or to answer it at their peril.

Now Master Jeremy Stickles, of course, knowing well what women are, durst not open to any of them the nature of his instructions. But, after awhile, perceiving that I could be relied upon, and that it was a great discomfort not to have me with him, he took me aside in a lonely place, and told me nearly everything; having bound me first by oath, not to impart to any one, without his own permission, until all was over.

But at this present time of writing, all is over long ago; ay and forgotten too, I ween, except by those who suffered. Therefore may I tell the whole without any breach of confidence. Master Stickles was going forth upon his usual night journey, when he met me coming home, and I said something half in jest, about his zeal and secrecy; upon which he looked all round the yard, and led me to an open space in the clover field adjoining.

‘John,’ he said, ‘you have some right to know the meaning of all this, being trusted as you were by the Lord Chief Justice. But he found you scarcely supple enough, neither gifted with due brains.’

‘Thank God for that same,’ I answered, while he tapped his head, to signify his own much larger allowance. Then he made me bind myself, which in an evil hour I did, to retain his secret; and after that he went on solemnly, and with much importance,—

‘There be some people fit to plot, and others to be plotted against, and others to unravel plots, which is the highest gift of all. This last hath fallen to my share, and a very thankless gift it is, although a rare and choice one. Much of peril too attends it; daring courage and great coolness are as needful for the work as ready wit and spotless honour. Therefore His Majesty’s advisers have chosen me for this high task, and they could not have chosen a better man. Although you have been in London, Jack, much longer than you wished it, you are wholly ignorant, of course, in matters of state, and the public weal.’

‘Well,’ said I, ‘no doubt but I am, and all the better for me. Although I heard a deal of them; for everybody was talking, and ready to come to blows; if only it could be done without danger. But one said this, and one said that; and they talked so much about Birminghams, and Tantivies, and Whigs and Tories, and Protestant flails and such like, that I was only too glad to have my glass and clink my spoon for answer.’

‘Right, John, thou art right as usual. Let the King go his own gait. He hath too many mistresses to be ever England’s master. Nobody need fear him, for he is not like his father: he will have his own way, ‘tis true, but without stopping other folk of theirs: and well he knows what women are, for he never asks them questions. Now heard you much in London town about the Duke of Monmouth?’

‘Not so very much,’ I answered; ‘not half so much as in Devonshire: only that he was a hearty man, and a very handsome one, and now was banished by the Tories; and most people wished he was coming back, instead of the Duke of York, who was trying boots in Scotland.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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