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   Chapter 14 HUBERT'S RETURN

By What Authority? By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 27770

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

After the sailing of Mr. Drake's expedition, the friends of the adventurers had to wait in patience for several months before news arrived. Then the Elizabeth, under the command of Mr. Winter, which had been separated from Mr. Drake's Pelican in a gale off the south-west coast of America, returned to England, bringing the news of Mr. Doughty's execution for desertion; but of the Pelican herself there was no further news until complaints arrived from the Viceroy of New Spain of Mr. Drake's ravages up the west coast. Then silence again fell for eighteen months.

Anthony had followed the fortunes of the Pelican, in which Hubert had sailed, with a great deal of interest: and it was with real relief that after the burst of joy in London at the news of her safe return to Plymouth with an incalculable amount of plunder, he had word from Lady Maxwell that she hoped he would come down at once to Great Keynes, and help to welcome Hubert home. He was not able to go at once, for his duties detained him; but a couple of days after the Hall had welcomed its new master, Anthony was at the Dower House again with Isabel. He found her extraordinarily bright and vivacious, and was delighted at the change, for he had been troubled the last time he had seen her a few months before, at her silence and listlessness; but her face was radiant now, as she threw herself into his arms at the door, and told him that they were all to go to supper that night at the Hall; and that Hubert had been keeping his best stories on purpose for his return. She showed him, when they got up to his room at last, little things Hubert had given her-carved nuts, a Spanish coin or two, and an ingot of gold-but of which she would say nothing, but only laugh and nod her head.

Hubert, too, when he saw him that evening seemed full of the same sort of half-suppressed happiness that shone out now and again suddenly. There he sat, for hours after supper that night, broader and more sunburnt than ever, with his brilliant eyes glancing round as he talked, and his sinewy man's hand, in the delicate creamy ruff, making little explanatory movements, and drawing a map once or twice in spilled wine on the polished oak; the three ladies sat forward and watched him breathlessly, or leaned back and sighed as each tale ended, and Anthony found himself, too, carried away with enthusiasm again and again, as he looked at this gallant sea-dog in his gold chain and satin and jewels, and listened to his stories.

"It was bitter cold," said Hubert in his strong voice, telling them of Mr. Doughty's death, "on the morning itself: and snow lay on the decks when we rose. Mr. Fletcher had prepared a table in the poop-cabin, with a white cloth and bread and wine; and at nine of the clock we were all assembled where we might see into the cabin: and Mr. Fletcher said the Communion service, and Mr. Drake and Mr. Doughty received the sacrament there at his hands. Some of Mr. Doughty's men had all they could do to keep back their tears; for you know, mother, they were good friends. And then when it was done, we made two lines down the deck to where the block stood by the main-mast; and the two came down together; and they kissed one another there. And Mr. Doughty spoke to the men, and bade them pray for the Queen's Grace with him; and they did. And then he and Mr. Drake put off their doublets, and Mr. Doughty knelt at the block, and said another prayer or two, and then laid his head down, and he was shivering a little with cold, and then, when he gave the sign, Mr. Drake--" and Hubert brought the edge of his hand down sharply, and the glasses rang, and the ladies drew quick hissing breaths; and Lady Maxwell put her hand on her son's arm, as he looked round on all their faces.

Then he told them of the expedition up the west coast, and of the towns they sacked; and the opulent names rolled oddly off his tongue, and seemed to bring a whiff of southern scent into this panelled English room,-Valparaiso, Tarapaca, and Arica-; and of the capture of the Cacafuego off Quibdo; and of the enormous treasure they took, the great golden crucifix with emeralds of the size of pigeon's eggs, and the chests of pearls, and the twenty-six tons of silver, and the wedges of pure gold from the Peruvian galleon, and of the golden falcon from the Chinese trader that they captured south of Guatulco. And he described the search up the coast for the passage eastwards that never existed; and of Drake's superb resolve to return westwards instead, by the Moluccas; and how they stayed at Ternate, south of Celebes, and coasted along Java seeking a passage, and found it in the Sunda straits, and broke out from the treacherous islands into the open sea; crossed to Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope; came up the west coast, touching at Sierra Leone, and so home again along the Spanish and French coasts, to Plymouth Sound and the pealing of Plymouth bells.

And he broke out into something very like eloquence when he spoke of Drake.

"Never was such a captain," he cried, "with his little stiff beard and his obstinate eyes. I have seen him stand on the poop, when the arrows were like hail on the deck, with one finger in the ring round his neck,-so": and Hubert thrust a tanned finger into a link of his chain, and lifted his chin, "just making little signs to the steersman, with his hand behind his back, to bring the ship nearer to the Spaniard; as cool, I tell you, as cool as if he were playing merelles. Oh! and then when we boarded, out came his finger from his ring; and there was none that struck so true and fierce; and all in silence too, without an oath or a cry or a word; except maybe to give an order. But he was very sharp with all that angered him. When we sighted the Madre di Dios, I ran into his cabin to tell him of it, without saluting, so full was my head of the chase. And he looked at me like ice; and then roared at me to know where my manners were, and bade me go out and enter again properly, before he would hear my news; and then I heard him rating the man that stood at his door for letting me pass in that state. At his dinner, too, which he took alone, there were always trumpets to blow, as when her Grace dines. When he laughed it seemed as if he did it with a grave face. There was a piece of grand fooling when we got out from among those weary Indian islands; where the great crabs be, and flies that burn in the dark, as I told you. Mr. Fletcher, the minister, played the coward one night when we ran aground; and bade us think of our sins and our immortal souls, instead of urging us to be smart about the ship; and he did it, too, not as Mr. Drake might do, but in such a melancholy voice as if we were all at our last hour; so when we were free of our trouble, and out on the main again, we were all called by the drum to the forecastle, and there Mr. Drake sat on a sea-chest as solemn as a judge, so that not a man durst laugh, with a pair of pantoufles in his hand; and Mr. Fletcher was brought before him, trying to smile as if 'twas a jest for him too, between two guards; and there he was arraigned; and the witnesses were called; and Tom Moore said how he was tapped on the shoulder by Mr. Fletcher as he was getting a pick from the hold; and how he was as white as a ghost and bade him think on Mr. Doughty, how there was no mercy for him when he needed it, and so there would be none for us-and then other witnesses came, and then Mr. Fletcher tried to make his defence, saying how it was the part of a minister to bid men think on their souls; but 'twas no good. Mr. Drake declared him guilty; and sentenced him to be kept in irons till he repented of that his cowardice; and then, which was the cream of the joke, since the prisoner was a minister, Mr. Drake declared him excommunicate, and cut off from the Church of God, and given over to the devil. And he was put in irons, too, for a while; so 'twas not all a joke."

"And what is Mr. Drake doing now?" asked Lady Maxwell.

"Oh! Drake is in London," said Hubert. "Ah! yes, and you must all come to Deptford when her Grace is going to be there. Anthony, lad, you'll come?"

Anthony said he would certainly do his best; and Isabel put out her hand to her brother, and beamed at him; and then turned to look at Hubert again.

"And what are you to do next?" asked Mistress Margaret.

"Well," he said, "I am to go to Plymouth again presently, to help to get the treasure out of the ships; and I must be there, too, for the spring and summer, for Drake wants me to help him with his new expedition."

"But you are not going with him again, my son?" said his mother quickly.

Hubert put out his hand to her.

"No, no," he said, "I have written to tell him I cannot. I must take my father's place here. He will understand"; and he gave one swift glance at Isabel, and her eyes fell.

Anthony was obliged to return to Lambeth after a day or two, and he carried with him a heart full of admiration and enthusiasm for his friend. He had wondered once or twice, too, as his eyes fell on Isabel, whether there was anything in what Mistress Corbet had said; but he dared not speak to her, and still less to Hubert, unless his confidence was first sought.

The visit to Deptford, which took place a week or two later, gave an additional spurt to Anthony's nationalism. London was all on fire at the return of the buccaneers, and as Anthony rode down the south bank of the river from Lambeth to join the others at the inn, the three miles of river beyond London Bridge were an inspiriting sight in the bright winter sunshine, crowded with craft of all kinds, bright with bunting, that were making their way down to the naval triumph. The road, too, was thick with vehicles and pedestrians.

It was still early when he met his party at the inn, and Hubert took them immediately to see the Pelican that was drawn up in a little creek on the south bank. Mistress Margaret had not come, so the four went together all over the ship that had been for these years the perilous home of this sunburnt lad they all loved so well. Hubert pointed out Drake's own cabin at the poop, with its stern-windows, where the last sacrament of the two friends had been celebrated; and where Drake himself had eaten in royal fashion to the sound of trumpets and slept with all-night sentries at his door. He showed them too his own cabin, where he had lived with three more officers, and the upper poop-deck where Drake would sit hour after hour with his spy-glass, ranging the horizons for treasure-ships. And he showed them, too, the high forecastle, and the men's quarters; and Isabel fingered delicately the touch-holes of the very guns that had roared and snapped so fiercely at the Dons; and they peered down into the dark empty hold where the treasure-chests had lain, and up at the three masts and the rigging that had borne so long the swift wings of the Pelican. And they heard the hiss and rattle of the ropes as Hubert ordered a man to run up a flag to show them how it was done; and they smelled the strange tarry briny smell of a sea-going ship.

"You are not tired?" Anthony said to his sister, as they walked back to the inn from which they were to see the spectacle. She shook her head happily; and Anthony, looking at her, once more questioned himself whether Mistress Corbet were right or not.

When they had settled down at last to their window, the crowds were gathering thicker every moment about the entrance to the ship, which lay in the creek perhaps a hundred yards from the inn, and on the road along which the Queen was to come from Greenwich. Anthony felt his whole heart go out in sympathy to these joyous shouting folk beneath, who were here to celebrate the gallant pluck of a little bearded man and his followers, who for the moment stood for England, and in whose presence just now the Queen herself must take second place. Even the quacks and salesmen who were busy in their booths all round used patriotism to push their bargains.

"Spanish ointment, Spanish ointment!" bellowed a red-faced herbalist in a doctor's gown, just below the window. "The Dons know what's best for wounds and knocks after Frankie Drake's visit"; and the crowd laughed and bought up his boxes. And another drove a roaring business in green glass beads, reported to be the exact size of the emeralds taken from the Cacafuego; and others sold little models of the Pelican, warranted to frighten away Dons and all other kinds of devils from the house that possessed one. Isabel laughed with pleasure, and sent Anthony down to buy one for her.

But perhaps more than all else the sight of the seamen themselves stirred his heart. Most of them, officers as well as men, were dressed with absurd extravagance, for the prize-money, even after the deduction of the Queen's lion-share, had been immense, but beneath their plumed and jewel-buckled caps, brown faces looked out, alert and capable, with tight lips and bright, puckered eyes, with something of the terrier in their expression. There they swaggered along with a slight roll in their walk, by ones or twos, through the crowd that formed lanes to let them pass, and surged along in their wake, shouting after them and clapping them on the back. Anthony watched them eagerly as they made their way from all directions to where the Pelican lay; for it was close on noon. Then from far away came the boom of the Tower guns, and then the nearer crash of those that guarded the dockyard; and last the deafening roar of the Pelican broadside; and then the smoke rose and drifted in a heavy veil in the keen frosty air over the cheering crowds. When it lifted again, there was the flash of gold and colour from the Greenwich road, and the high braying of the trumpets pierced the roaring welcome of the people. But the watchers at the win

dows could see no more over the heads of the crowd than the plumes of the royal carriage, as the Queen dismounted, and a momentary glimpse of her figure and the group round her as she passed on to the deck of the Pelican and went immediately below to the banquet, while the parish church bells pealed a welcome.

Lady Maxwell insisted that Isabel should now dine, as there would be no more to be seen till the Queen should come up on deck again.

Of the actual ceremony of the knighting of Mr. Drake they had a very fair view, though the figures were little and far away. The first intimation they had that the banquet was over was the sight of the scarlet-clad yeomen emerging one by one up the little hatchway that led below. The halberdiers lined the decks already, with their weapons flashing in long curved lines; and by the time that the trumpets began to sound to show that the Queen was on her way from below, the decks were one dense mass of colour and steel, with a lane left to the foot of the poop-stairs by which she would ascend. Then at last the two figures appeared, the Queen radiant in cloth of gold, and Mr. Drake, alert and brisk, in his Court suit and sword. There was silence from the crowd as the adventurer knelt before the Queen, and Anthony held his breath with excitement as he caught the flash of the slender sword that an officer had put into the Queen's hand; and then an inconceivable noise broke out as Sir Francis Drake stood up. The crowd was one open mouth, shouting, the church bells burst into peals overhead, answered by the roll of drums from the deck and the blare of trumpets; and then the whole din sank into nothingness for a moment under the heart-shaking crash of the ship's broadside, echoed instantly by the deeper roar of the dockyard guns, and answered after a moment or two from far away by the dull boom from the Tower. And Anthony leaned yet further from the window and added his voice to the tumult.

As he rode back alone to Lambeth, after parting with the others at London Bridge, for they intended to go down home again that night, he was glowing with national zeal. He had seen not only royalty and magnificence but an apotheosis of character that day. There in the little trim figure with the curly hair kneeling before the Queen was England at its best-England that sent two ships against an empire; and it was the Church that claimed Sir Francis Drake as a son, and indeed a devoted one, in a sense, that Anthony himself was serving here at Lambeth, and for which he felt a real and fervent enthusiasm.

He was surprised a couple of days later to receive a note in Lady Maxwell's handwriting, brought up by a special messenger from the Hall.

"There is a friend of mine," she wrote, "to come to Lambeth House presently, he tells me, to be kept a day or two in ward before he is sent to Wisbeach. He is a Catholic, named Mr. Henry Buxton, who showed me great love during the sorrow of my dear husband's death; and I write to you to show kindness to him, and to get him a good bed, and all that may comfort him: for I know not whether Lambeth Prison is easy or hard; but I hope perhaps that since my Lord Archbishop is a prisoner himself he has pity on such as are so too; and so my pains be in vain. However, if you will see Mr. Buxton at least, and have some talk with him, and show him this letter, it will cheer him perhaps to see a friend's face."

Anthony of course made inquiries at once, and found that Mr. Buxton was to arrive on the following afternoon. It was the custom to send prisoners occasionally to Lambeth, more particularly those more distinguished, or who, it was hoped, could be persuaded to friendly conference. Mr. Buxton, however, was thought to be incorrigible, and was only sent there because there was some delay in the preparations for his reception at Wisbeach, which since the previous year had been used as an overflow prison for Papists.

On the evening of the next day, which was Friday, Anthony went straight out from the Hall after supper to the gateway prison, and found Mr. Buxton at a fish supper in the little prison in the outer part of the eastern tower. He introduced himself, but found it necessary to show Lady Maxwell's letter before the prisoner was satisfied as to his identity.

"You must pardon me, Mr. Norris," he said, when he had read the letter and asked a question or two, "but we poor Papists are bound to be shy. Why, in this very room," he went on, pointing to the inner corner away from the door, and smiling, "for aught I know a man sits now to hear us."

Anthony was considerably astonished to see this stranger point so confidently to the hiding-hole, where indeed the warder used to sit sometimes behind a brick partition, to listen to the talk of the prisoners; and showed his surprise.

"Ah, Mr. Norris," the other said, "we Papists are bound to be well informed; or else where were our lives? But come, sir, let us sit down."

Anthony apologised for interrupting him at his supper, and offered to come again, but Mr. Buxton begged him not to leave, as he had nearly finished. So Anthony sat down, and observed the prison and the prisoner. It was fairly well provided with necessaries: a good straw bed lay in one corner on trestles; and washing utensils stood at the further wall; and there was an oil lamp that hung high up from an iron pin. The prisoner's luggage lay still half unpacked on the floor, and a row of pegs held a hat and a cloak. Mr. Buxton himself was a dark-haired man with a short beard and merry bright eyes; and was dressed soberly as a gentleman; and behaved himself with courtesy and assurance. But it was a queer place with this flickering lamp, thought Anthony, for a gentleman to be eating his supper in. When Mr. Buxton had finished his dish of roach and a tankard of ale, he looked up at Anthony, smiling.

"My lord knows the ways of Catholics, then," he said, pointing to the bones on his plate.

Anthony explained that the Protestants observed the Friday abstinence, too.

"Ah yes," said the other, "I was forgetting the Queen's late injunctions. Let us see; how did it run? 'The same is not required for any liking of Papish Superstitions or Ceremonies (is it?) hitherto used, which utterly are to be detested of all Christian folk'; (no, the last word or two is a gloss), 'but only to maintain the mariners in this land, and to set men a-fishing.' That is the sense of it, is it not, sir? You fast, that is, not for heavenly reasons, which were a foolish and Papish thing to do; but for earthly reasons, which is a reasonable and Protestant thing to do."

Anthony might have taken this assault a little amiss, if he had not seen a laughing light in his companion's eyes; and remembered, too, that imprisonment is apt to breed a little bitterness. So he smiled back at him. Then soon they fell to talking of Lady Maxwell and Great Keynes, where it seemed that Mr. Buxton had stayed more than once.

"I knew Sir Nicholas well," he said, "God rest his soul. It seems to me he is one of those whose life continually gave the lie to men who say that a Catholic can be no true Englishman. There never beat a more loyal heart than his."

Anthony agreed; but asked if it were not true that Catholics were in difficulties sometimes as to the proper authority to be obeyed-the Pope or the Prince.

"It is true," said the other, "or it might be. Yet the principle is clear, Date C?sari quae sunt C?saris. The difficulty lies but in the application of the maxim."

"But with us," said Anthony-"Church of England folk,-there hardly can be ever any such difficulty; for the Prince of the State is the Governor of the Church as well."

"I take your point," said Mr. Buxton. "You mean that a National Church is better, for that spiritual and temporal authorities are then at one."

"Just so," said Anthony, beginning to warm to his favourite theme. "The Church is the nation regarded as religious. When England wars on land it is through her army, which is herself under arms; when on sea she embarks in the navy; and in the warfare with spiritual powers, it is through her Church. And surely in this way the Church must always be the Church of the people. The Englishman and the Spaniard are like cat and dog; they like not the same food nor the same kind of coat; I hear that their buildings are not like ours; their language, nay, their faces and minds, are not like ours. Then why should be their prayers and their religion? I quarrel with no foreigner's faith; it is God who made us so."

Anthony stopped, breathless with his unusual eloquence; but it was the subject that lay nearest to his heart at present, and he found no lack of words. The prisoner had watched him with twinkling eyes, nodding his head as if in agreement; and when he had finished his little speech, nodded again in meditative silence.

"It is complete," he answered, "complete. And as a theory would be convincing; and I envy you, Master Norris, for you stand on the top of the wave. That is what England holds. But, my dear sir, Christ our Lord refused such a kingdom as that. My kingdom, He said, is not of this world-is not, that is, ruled by the world's divisions and systems. You have described Babel,-every nation with its own language. But it was to undo Babel and to build one spiritual city that our Saviour came down, and sent the Holy Ghost to make the Church at Pentecost out of Arabians and Medes and Elamites-to break down the partition-walls, as the apostle tells us,-that there be neither Jew nor Greek, barbarian nor Scythian-and to establish one vast kingdom (which for that very reason we name Catholic), to destroy differences between nation and nation, by lifting each to be of the People of God-to pull down Babel, the City of Confusion, and build Jerusalem the City of Peace. Dear God!" cried Mr. Buxton, rising in his excitement, and standing over Anthony, who looked at him astonished and bewildered. "You and your England would parcel out the Kingdom of heaven into national Churches, as you name them-among all the kingdoms of the world; and yet you call yourselves the servants of Him who came to do just the opposite-yes, and who will do it, in spite of you, and make the kingdoms of this world, instead, the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. Why, if each nation is to have her Church, why not each county and each town-yes, and each separate soul, too; for all are different! Nay, nay, Master Norris, you are blinded by the Prince of this world. He is shewing you even now from an high mountain the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them: lift your eyes, dear lad, to the hills from whence cometh your help; those hills higher than the mountain where you stand; and see the new Jerusalem, and the glory of her, coming down from God to dwell with men."

Mr. Buxton stood, his eyes blazing, plainly carried away wholly by enthusiasm; and Anthony, in spite of himself, could not be angry. He moistened his lips once or twice.

"Well, sir; of course I hold with what you say, in one sense; but it is not come yet; and never will, till our Lord comes back to make all plain."

"Not come yet?" cried the other, "Not come yet! Why, what is the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church but that? There you have one visible kingdom, gathered out of every nation and tongue and people, as the apostle said. I have a little estate in France, Master Norris, where I go sometimes; and there are folk in their wooden shoes, talking a different human tongue to me, but, thank God! the same divine one-of contrition and adoration and prayer. There we have the same mass, the same priesthood, the same blessed sacrament and the same Faith, as in my own little oratory at Stanfield. Go to Spain, Africa, Rome, India; wherever Christ is preached; there is the Church as it is here-the City of Peace. And as for you and your Church! with whom do you hold communion?"

This stung Anthony, and he answered impulsively.

"In Geneva and Frankfort, at least, there are folk who speak the same divine tongue, as you call it, as we do; they and we are agreed in matters of faith."

"Indeed," said Mr. Burton sharply, "then what becomes of your Nationalism, and the varied temperaments that you told me God had made?"

Anthony bit his lip; he had overshot his mark. But the other swept on; and as he talked began to step up and down the little room, in a kind of rhapsody.

"Is it possible?" he cried, "that men should be so blind as to prefer the little divided companies they name National Churches-all confusion and denial-to that glorious kingdom that Christ bought with his own dear blood, and has built upon Peter, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail. Yes, I know it is a flattering and a pleasant thought that this little nation should have her own Church; and it is humbling and bitter that England should be called to submit to a foreign potentate in the affairs of faith-Nay, cry they like the Jews of old, not Christ but Barabbas-we will not have this Man to reign over us. And yet this is God's will and not that. Mark me, Mr. Norris, what you hope will never come to be-the Liar will not keep his word-you shall not have that National Church that you desire: as you have dealt, so will it be dealt to you: as you have rejected, so will you be rejected. England herself will cast you off: your religious folk will break into a hundred divisions. Even now your Puritans mock at your prelates-so soon! And if they do thus now, what will they do hereafter? You have cast away Authority, and authority shall forsake you. Behold your house is left unto you desolate."

"Forgive me, Mr. Norris," he added after a pause, "if I have been discourteous, and have forgotten my manners; but-but I would, as the apostle said, that you were altogether as I am, except these bonds."

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