What matter if the man can throw me, or I him?'
'What matter? Why, the honour of Havant,' quoth he. 'Is that no matter? But you are right,' he continued, draining off his horn. 'What is all this village life with its small successes to such as you? You are as much out of your place as a vintage wine at a harvest supper. The whole of broad England, and not the streets of Havant, is the fit stage for a man of your kidney. What have you to do with the beating of skins and the tanning of leather?'
'My father would have you go forth as a knight-errant, Micah,' said Reuben, laughing. 'You might chance to get your own skin beaten and your own leather tanned.'
'Who ever knew so long a tongue in so short a body?' cried the innkeeper. 'But in good sooth, Master Micah, I am in sober earnest when I say that you are indeed wasting the years of your youth, when life is sparkling and clear, and that you will regret it when you have come to the flat and flavourless dregs of old age.'
'There spoke the brewer,' said Reuben; 'but indeed, Micah, my father is right, for all that he hath such a hops-and-water manner of putting it.'
'I will think over it,' I answered, and with a nod to the kindly couple proceeded on my way.
Zachariah Palmer was planing a plank as I passed. Looking up he bade me good-morrow.
'I have a book for you, lad,' he said.
'I have but now finished the "Comus,"' I answered, for he had lent me John Milton's poem. 'But what is this new book, daddy?'
'It is by the learned Locke, and treateth of states and statecraft. It is but a small thing, but if wisdom could show in the scales it would weigh down many a library. You shall have it when I have finished it, to-morrow mayhap or the day after. A good man is Master Locke. Is he not at this moment a wanderer in the Lowlands, rather than bow his knee to what his conscience approved not of?'
'There are many good men among the exiles, are there not?' said I.
'The pick of the country,' he answered. 'Ill fares the land that drives the highest and bravest of its citizens away from it. The day is coming, I fear, when every man will have to choose betwixt his beliefs and his freedom. I am an old man, Micah boy, but I may live long enough to see strange things in this once Protestant kingdom.'
'But if these exiles had their way,' I objected, 'they would place Monmouth upon the throne, and so unjustly alter the succession.'
'Nay, nay,' old Zachary answered, laying down his plane. 'If they use Monmouth's name, it is but to strengthen their cause, and to show that they have a leader of repute. Were James driven from the throne, the Commons of England in Parliament assembled would be called upon to name his successor. There are men at Monmouth's back who would not stir unless this were so.'
'Then, daddy,' said I, 'since I can trust you, and since you will tell me what you do really think, would it be well, if Monmouth's standard be raised, that I should join it?'
The carpenter stroked his white beard and pondered for a while. 'It is a pregnant question,' he said at last, 'and yet methinks that there is but one answer to it, especially for your father's son. Should an end be put to James's rule, it is not too late to preserve the nation in its old faith; but if the disease is allowed to spread, it may be that even the tyrant's removal would not prevent his evil seed from sprouting. I hold, therefore, that should the exiles make such an attempt, it is the duty of every man who values liberty of conscience to rally round them. And you, my son, the pride of the village, what better use could you make of your strength than to devote it to helping to relieve your country of this insupportable yoke? It is treasonable and dangerous counsel--counsel which might lead to a short shrift and a, bloody death--but, as the Lord liveth, if you were child of mine I should say the same.'
So spoke the old carpenter with a voice which trembled with earnestness, and went to work upon his plank once more, while I, with a few words of gratitude, went on my way pondering over what he had said to me.