The Counsellor and the Carver

From that great confusion—for nothing can be broken up, whether lawful or unlawful, without a vast amount of dust, and many people grumbling, and mourning for the good old times, when all the world was happiness, and every man a gentleman, and the sun himself far brighter than since the brassy idol upon which he shone was broken—from all this loss of ancient landmarks (as unrobbed men began to call our clearance of those murderers) we returned on the following day, almost as full of anxiety as we were of triumph. In the first place, what could we possibly do with all these women and children, thrown on our hands as one might say, with none to protect and care for them? Again how should we answer to the justices of the peace, or perhaps even to Lord Jeffreys, for having, without even a warrant, taken the law into our own hands, and abated our nuisance so forcibly? And then, what was to be done with the spoil, which was of great value; though the diamond necklace came not to public light? For we saw a mighty host of claimants already leaping up for booty. Every man who had ever been robbed, expected usury on his loss; the lords of the manors demanded the whole; and so did the King’s Commissioner of revenue at Porlock; and so did the men who had fought our battle; while even the parsons, both Bowden and Powell, and another who had no parish in it, threatened us with the just wrath of the Church, unless each had tithes of the whole of it.

Now this was not as it ought to be; and it seemed as if by burning the nest of robbers, we had but hatched their eggs; until being made sole guardian of the captured treasure (by reason of my known honesty) I hit upon a plan, which gave very little satisfaction; yet carried this advantage, that the grumblers argued against one another and for the most part came to blows; which renewed their goodwill to me, as being abused by the adversary.

And my plan was no more than this—not to pay a farthing to lord of manor, parson, or even King’s Commissioner, but after making good some of the recent and proven losses—where the men could not afford to lose—to pay the residue (which might be worth some fifty thousand pounds) into the Exchequer at Westminster; and then let all the claimants file what wills they pleased in Chancery.

Now this was a very noble device, for the mere name of Chancery, and the high repute of the fees therein, and low repute of the lawyers, and the comfortable knowledge that the woolsack itself is the golden fleece, absorbing gold for ever, if the standard be but pure; consideration of these things staved off at once the lords of the manors, and all the little farmers, and even those whom most I feared; videlicet, the parsons. And the King’s Commissioner was compelled to profess himself contented, although of all he was most aggrieved; for his pickings would have been goodly.

Moreover, by this plan I made—although I never thought of that—a mighty friend worth all the enemies, whom the loss of money moved. The first man now in the kingdom (by virtue perhaps of energy, rather than of excellence) was the great Lord Jeffreys, appointed the head of the Equity, as well as the law of the realm, for his kindness in hanging five hundred people, without the mere brief of trial. Nine out of ten of these people were innocent, it was true; but that proved the merit of the Lord Chief Justice so much the greater for hanging them, as showing what might be expected of him, when he truly got hold of a guilty man. Now the King had seen the force of this argument; and not being without gratitude for a high-seasoned dish of cruelty, had promoted the only man in England, combining the gifts of both butcher and cook.

Nevertheless, I do beg you all to believe of me—and I think that, after following me so long, you must believe it—that I did not even know at the time of Lord Jeffreys’s high promotion. Not that my knowledge of this would have led me to act otherwise in the matter; for my object was to pay into an office, and not to any official; neither if I had known the fact, could I have seen its bearing upon the receipt of my money. For the King’s Exchequer is, meseemeth, of the Common Law; while Chancery is of Equity, and well named for its many chances. But the true result of the thing was this—Lord Jeffreys being now head of the law, and almost head of the kingdom, got possession of that money, and was kindly pleased with it.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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