John Enderby

John Enderby

JOHN ENDERBY GILBERT PARKER For a moment Charles seemed thoughtful as though Enderby's reasons appealed to him but Lord Rippingdale had now the chance which for ten years he had invited and he would not let it pass. "The honour which his Majesty offers my good Lincolnshire squire is more to your children than the few loaves and fishes which you might leave them. We all know how miserly John Enderby has grown." Lord Rippingdale had touched the tenderest spot in the King's mind. His vanity was no less than his impecuniosity and this was the third time in one day he had been defeated in his efforts to confer an honour and exact a price beyond all reason for that honour. The gentlemen he had sought had found business elsewhere and were not to be seen when his messengers called at their estates. It was not the King's way to give anything for nothing. Some of these gentlemen had been benefited by the draining of the Holland fens which the King had undertaken reserving a stout portion of the land for himself; but John Enderby benefited nothing for his estates lay further north and near the sea not far from the town of Mablethorpe. He had paid all the taxes which the King had levied and had not murmured beyond his own threshold. He spoke his mind with candour and to him the King was still a man to whom the truth was to be told with directness which was the highest honour one man might show another. "Rank treason!" repeated Lord Rippingdale loudly. "Enderby has been in bad company your Majesty. If you are not wholly with the King you are against him. 'He that is not with me is against me and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.'" A sudden anger seized the King and turning he set foot in the stirrup muttering something to himself which boded no good for John Enderby. A gentleman held the stirrup while he mounted and with Lord Rippingdale beside him in the saddle he turned and spoke to Enderby. Self-will and resentment were in his tone. "Knight of Enderby we have made you" he said "and Knight of Enderby you shall remain. Look to it that you pay the fees for the accolade." "Your Majesty" said Enderby reaching out his hand in protest "I will not have this greatness you would thrust upon me. Did your Majesty need and speak to me as one gentleman to another in his need then would I part with the last inch of my land; but to barter my estate for a gift that I have no heart nor use for--your Majesty I cannot do it." The hand of the King twisted in his bridle-rein and his body stiffened in anger. "See to it my Lord Rippingdale" he said "that our knight here pays to the last penny for the courtesy of the accolade. You shall levy upon his estate." "We are both gentlemen your Majesty and my rights within the law are no less than your Majesty's" said Enderby stoutly. "The gentleman forgets that the King is the fountain of all law" said Lord Rippingdale obliquely to the King. "We will make one new statute for this stubborn knight" said Charles; "even a writ of outlawry. His estates shall be confiscate to the Crown. Go seek a King and country better suited to your tastes our rebel Knight of Enderby." "I am still an Enderby of Enderby and a man of Lincolnshire your Majesty" answered the squire as the King rode towards Boston church where presently he should pray after this fashion with his subjects there assembled: "Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favour to behold our most gracious sovereign King Charles. Endue him plenteously with Heavenly gifts; grant him in health and wealth long to live; strengthen him that he may vanquish and overcome all his enemies; and finally after this life he may attain everlasting joy and felicity." With a heavy heart Enderby turned homewards; that is towards Mablethorpe upon the coast which lies between Saltfleet Haven and Skegness two ports that are places of mark in the history of the kingdom as all the world knows. He had never been so vexed in his life. It was not so much anger against the King for he had great reverence for the monarchy of England; but against Lord Rippingdale his mind was violent. Years before in a quarrel between the Earl of Lindsey and Lord Rippingdale upon a public matter which Parliament settled afterwards he had sided with the Earl of Lindsey. The two Earls had been reconciled afterwards but Lord Rippingdale had never forgiven Enderby. In Enderby's brain ideas worked somewhat heavily; but to-day his slumberous strength was infused with a spirit of action and the warmth of a pervasive idea. There was no darkness in his thoughts but his pulse beat heavily and he could hear the veins throbbing under his ear impetuously. Once or twice as he rode on in the declining afternoon he muttered to himself. Now it was: "My Lord Rippingdale indeed!" or "Not even for a King!" or "Sir John Enderby forsooth! Sir John Enderby forsooth!" Once again he spoke reining in his horse beside a tall cross at four corners near Stickford by the East Fen. Taking off his hat he prayed: "Thou just God do Thou judge between my King and myself. Thou knowest that I have striven as an honest gentleman to do right before all men. When I have seen my sin oh Lord I have repented! Now I have come upon perilous times the gins are set for my feet. Oh Lord establish me in true strength! Not for my sake do I ask that Thou wilt be with me and Thy wisdom comfort me but for the sake of my good children. Wilt Thou spare my life in these troubles until they be well formed; till the lad have the bones of a man and the girl the wise thought of a woman--for she hath no mother to shield and teach her. And if this be a wrong prayer my God forgive it: for I am but a blundering squire whose tongue tells lamely what his heart feels." His head was bowed over his horse's neck his face turned to the cross his eyes were shut and he did not notice the strange and grotesque figure that suddenly appeared from among the low bushes by the fen near by. It was an odd creature perched upon stilts; one of those persons called the stilt-walkers. They were no friends of the King nor of the Earl of Lindsey nor of my Lord Rippingdale for the draining of these fens took from them their means of living. They were messengers postmen and carriers across the wide stretch of country from Spilsby even down to the river Witham and from Boston Deep down to Market Deeping and over to the sea. Since these fens were drained one might travel from Market Deeping to the Wolds without wetting a foot. "Aw'll trooble thee a moment maister" said the peasant. "A stilt- walker beant nowt i' the woorld. Howsome'er aw've a worrd to speak i' thy ear." Enderby reined in his horse and with a nod of complaisance (for he was a man ever kind to the poor and patient with those who fared ill in the world) he waited for the other to speak. "Thoo'rt the great Enderby of Enderby maister" said the peasant ducking his head and then putting on his cap; "aw've known thee sin tha wast no bigger nor a bit grass'opper i' the field. Wilt tha ride long Sir John Enderby and aw'll walk aside thee ma grey nag with thy sorrel." He glanced down humorously at his own long wooden legs. Enderby turned his horse round and proceeded on his way slowly the old man striding along beside him like a stork. "Why do you dub me Knight?" he asked his eyes searching the face of the old man. "Why shouldna aw call thee Knight if the King calls thee Knight? It is the dooty of a common man to call thee Sir John and tak off his hat at saying o' it." His hat came off and he nodded in such an odd way that Enderby burst out into a good honest laugh. "Dooth tha rememba little Tom Dowsby that went hoonting wi' thee when tha wert not yet come to age?" continued the stilt-walker. "Doost tha rememba when for a jest thee and me stopped the lord bishop tha own uncle in the highway at midnight and took his poorse from him and the rich gold chain from his neck? And doost tha rememba that tha would have his apron too for tha said that if it kept a bishop clean wouldna it keep highwaymen clean whose work was not so clean as a bishop's? Sir John Enderby aw loove thee better than the King an' aw loove thee better than my Lord Rippin'dale-ay theere's a sour heart in a goodly body!" John Enderby reined up his horse and looked the stilt-walker in the face. "Are you little Tom Dowsby?" exclaimed he. "Are you that scamp?" He laughed all at once as though he had not a trouble in the world. "And do you keep up your evil practices? Do you still waylay bishops?" "If aw confessed to Heaven or man aw would confess to thee Sir John Enderby; but aw'll confess nowt." "And how know you that I am Sir John Enderby?" "Even in Sleaford town aw kem to know it. Aw stood no further from his Majesty and Lord Rippin'dale than aw stand from you when the pair talked by the Great Boar inn. Where doos tha sleep to-night?" "At Spilsby." "To-night the King sleeps at Sutterby on the Wolds. 'Tis well for thee tha doost not bide wi' his Majesty. Theer aw've done thee a service." "What service have you done me?" "Aw've told thee that tha moost sleep by Spilsby when the King sleeps at Sutterby. Fare-thee-well maister." Doffing his cap once more the stilt-walker suddenly stopped and turning aside made his way with an almost incredible swiftness across the fen taking the ditches with huge grotesque strides. Enderby looked back and watched him for a moment curiously. Suddenly the man's words began to repeat themselves in Enderby's head: "To-night the King sleeps at Sutterby on the Wolds. 'Tis well for thee tha doost not bide wi' his Majesty." Presently a dozen vague ideas began to take form. The man had come to warn him not to join the King at Sutterby. There was some plot against Charles! These stiltwalkers were tools in the hands of the King's foes who were growing more powerful every day. He would sleep to-night not at Spilsby but at Sutterby. He was a loyal subject; no harm that he could prevent should come to the King. Before you come to Sutterby on the Wolds as you travel north to the fenland there is a combe through which the highway passes and a stream which has on one side many rocks and boulders and on the other a sort of hedge of trees and shrubs. It was here that the enemies of the King that is some stilt-walkers with two dishonourable gentlemen who had suffered from the King's oppressions placed themselves to way lay his Majesty. Lord Rippingdale had published it abroad that the King's route was towards Horncastle but at Stickney by the fens the royal party separated most of the company passing on to Horncastle while Charles Lord Rippingdale and two other cavaliers proceeded on a secret visit to a gentleman at Louth. It was dark when the King and his company came to the combe. Lord Rippingdale suggested to his Majesty that one of the gentlemen should ride ahead to guard against surprise or ambush but the King laughed and said that his shire of Lincoln bred no brigands and he rode on. He was in the coach with a gentleman beside him and Lord Rippingdale rode upon the right. Almost as the hoofs of the leaders plunged into the stream there came the whinny of a horse from among the boulders. Alarmed the coachman whipped up his team and Lord Rippingdale clapped his hand upon his sword. Even as he did it two men sprang out from among the rocks seized the horses' heads and a dozen others swarmed round all masked and armed and calling upon the King's party to surrender and to deliver up their valuables. One ruffian made to seize the bridle of Lord Rippingdale's horse but my lord's sword severed the fellow's hand at the wrist. "Villain" he shouted "do you know whom you attack?" For answer shots rang out; and as the King's gentlemen gathered close to the coach to defend him the King himself opened the door and stepped out. As he did so a stilt struck him on the head. Its owner had aimed it at Lord Rippingdale; but as my lord's horse plunged it missed him and struck the King fair upon the crown of the head. He swayed groaned and fell back into the open door of the coach. Lord Rippingdale was at once beside him sword drawn and fighting gallantly. "Scoundrels" he cried "will you kill your King?" "We will have the money which the King carries" cried one of his assailants. "The price of three knighthoods and the taxes of two shires we will have." One of the King's gentlemen had fallen and another was wounded. Lord Rippingdale was hard pressed but in what seemed the last extremity of the King and his party there came a shout from the other side of the stream: "God save the King! For the King! For the King!" A dozen horsemen splashed their way across the stream and with swords and pistols drove through the King's assailants and surrounded his coach. The ruffians made an attempt to rally and resist the onset but presently broke and ran pursued by a half-dozen of his Majesty's defenders. Five of the assailants were killed and several were wounded. As Lord Rippingdale turned to Charles to raise him the coach-door was opened upon the other side a light was thrust in and over the unconscious body of the King my lord recognised John Enderby. "His Majesty"--began John Enderby. "His Majesty is better" replied Lord Rippingdale as the King's eyes half opened. "You lead these gentlemen? This should bring you a barony--Sir John" my lord added half graciously half satirically; for the honest truth of this man's nature vexed him. "The King will thank you." "John Enderby wants no reward for being a loyal subject my lord" answered Enderby. Then with another glance at the King in which he knew that his Majesty was recovered he took off his hat bowed and mounting his horse rode away without a word. At Sutterby the gentlemen received gracious thanks of the King who had been here delivered from the first act of violence made against him in his reign. Of the part which Enderby had played Lord Rippingdale said no more to the King than this: "Sir John Enderby was of these gentlemen who saved your Majesty's life. Might it not seem to your Majesty that--" "Was he of them?" interrupted the King kindly; then all at once out of his hurt vanity and narrow self-will he added petulantly: "When he hath paid for the accolade of his knighthood then will we welcome him to us and make him Baron of Enderby." Next day when Enderby entered the great iron gates of the grounds of Enderby House the bell was ringing for noon. The house was long and low with a fine tower in the centre and two wings ran back forming the court-yard which would have been entirely inclosed had the stables moved up to complete the square. When Enderby came out into the broad sweep of grass and lawn flanked on either side by commendable trees the sun shining brightly the rooks flying overhead and the smell of ripe summer in the air he drew up his horse and sat looking before him. "To lose it! To lose it!" he said and a frown gathered upon his forehead. Even as he looked the figure of a girl appeared in the great doorway. Catching sight of the horseman she clapped her hands and waved them delightedly. Enderby's face cleared as the sun breaks through a mass of clouds and lightens all the landscape. The slumberous eyes glowed the square head came up. In five minutes he had dismounted at the great stone steps and was clasping his daughter in his arms. "Felicity my dear daughter!" he said tenderly and gravely. She threw back her head with a gaiety which bespoke the bubbling laughter in her heart and said: "Booh! to thy solemn voice. Oh thou great bear dost thou love me with tears in thine eyes?" She took his hand and drew him inside the house where laying aside his hat and gloves and sword they passed into the great library. "Come now tell me all the places thou hast visited" she said perching herself on his arm-chair. He told her and she counted them off one by one upon her fingers. "That is ninety miles of travel thou hast had. What is the most pleasing thing thou hast seen?" "It was in Stickford by the fen" he answered after a perplexed pause. "There was an old man upon the roadside with his head bowed in his hands. Some lads were making sport of him for he seemed so woe-begone and old. Two cavaliers of the King came by. One of them stopped and drove the lads away then going to the old man he said: 'Friend what is thy trouble?' The old man raised his melancholy face and answered: 'Aw'm afeared sir.' 'What fear you?' inquired the young gentleman. 'I fear ma wife sir' replied the old man. At that the other cavalier sat back in his saddle and guffawed merrily. 'Well Dick' said he to his friend 'that is the worst fear in this world. Ah Dick thou hast ne'er been married!' 'Why do you fear your wife?' asked Dick. 'Aw've been robbed of ma horse and saddle and twelve skeins o' wool. Aw'm lost aw'm ruined and shall raise ma head nevermore. To ma wife aw shall ne'er return.' 'Tut tut man' said Dick 'get back to your wife. You are master of your own house; you rule the roost. What is a wife? A wife's a woman. You are a man. You are bigger and stronger your bones are harder. Get home and wear a furious face and batter in the door and say: "What ho thou huzzy!" Why man fear you the wife of your bosom?' The old man raised his head and said: 'Tha doost not know ma wife or tha wouldst not speak like that.' At that Dick laughed and said: 'Fellow I do pity thee;' and taking the old man by the shoulders he lifted him on his own horse and took him to the village fair. There he bought him twelve skeins of wool and sent him on his way rejoicing with a horse worth five times his own." With her chin in her hands the girl had listened intently to the story. When it was finished she said: "What didst thou say was the gentleman's name?" "His friend called him Dick. He is a poor knight one Sir Richard Mowbray of Leicester called at Court and elsewhere Happy Dick Mowbray for they do say a happier and braver heart never wore the King's uniform." "Indeed I should like to know that Sir Richard Mowbray. And tell me now who is the greatest person thou hast seen in thy absence?" "I saw the King--at Boston town." "The King! The King!" Her eyes lightened her hands clapped merrily. "What did he say to thee? Now now there is that dark light in thine eyes again. I will not have it so!" With her thumbs she daintily drew down the eyelids and opened them again. "There that's better. Now what did the King say to thee?" "He said to me that I should be Sir John Enderby of Enderby." "A knight! A knight! He made thee a knight?" she asked gaily. She slipped from his knee and courtesied before him then seeing the heaviness of his look she added: "Booh Sir John Enderby why dost thou look so grave? Is knighthood so big a burden thou dost groan under it?" "Come here my lass" he said gently. "Thou art young but day by day thy wisdom grows and I can trust thee. It is better thou shouldst know from my own lips the peril this knighthood brings than that trouble should suddenly fall and thou be unprepared." Drawing her closely to him he told her the story of his meeting with the King; of Lord Rippingdale; of the King's threat to levy upon his estates and to issue a writ of outlawry against him. For a moment the girl trembled and Enderby felt her hands grow cold in his own for she had a quick and sensitive nature and passionate intelligence and imagination. "Father" she cried pantingly indignantly "the King would make thee an outlaw would seize upon thy estates because thou wouldst not pay the price of a paltry knighthood!" Suddenly her face flushed the blood came back with a rush and she stood upon her feet. "I would follow thee to the world's end rather than that thou shouldst pay one penny for that honour. The King offered thee knighthood? Why two hundred years before the King was born an Enderby was promised an earldom. Why shouldst thou take a knighthood now? Thou didst right thou didst right." Her fingers clasped in eager emphasis. ...