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“I am come,” I replied, “ from a distant country ; my place of destination is the castle before me; and my business is with such-a-one, naming my uncle."
I saw the smile go round as I spoke ; and one of the young men replied—“And so you are our old secretary's nephew (my uncle, as I should have said before, held the place of scribe or secretary in his master's family), and I suppose you are come to lend him a hand in his profitable labours. He is a faithful and godly person-that uncle of yours, young man, though some of us perhaps do not give him all the credit for his meritorious conduct which he deserves. You are a happy lad to have such a patron !”
I did not then understand, that irony was a very favourite figure of speech in the castle, and therefore took all this fine oration in favour of my uncle in the very letter, rather than in the spirit, and in consequence replied in all simplicity,—“I was delighted to hear that my venerable kinsman bore so excellent a character, and was held in such high estimation in his Lord's family.” I almost wonder that this was permitted to pass as it did by the saucy grooms, and that it did not provoke any thing more than a renewal of merriment; but my uncle was so much and so universally respected in the family, that scarcely any one dared to speak openly of him with irreverence, and thus I was permitted to pass on-one of the young men pointing out to me the way I should take to the servants' hall. So I went my way, my mind being by this time in a strange state of confusion, yet I did not observe any thing very particular as I got more in among the offices, excepting a number of dogs which came baying and barking unhospitably enough upon me, and several groups of boys playing at pitch and toss, and a loud objurgatory and ranting noise, which proceeded from a kitchen near to which I passed, and where I saw a company of women busy with culinary occupations.* So I came to the door of a great hall which opened into the inner court, and there I perceived several serving-men sitting at a long table, regaling themselves with bacon and flagons. At this door I stood till I was seen by the company within ; and then an elderly man, whom I afterward knew to
*“Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool; ye kill them that are fed, but ye feed not the flock.” Ezek. xxxiv. 3.
be a sort of bailiff, or under-steward, called to me, and asked my business.
“My business, sir," I replied, " is with the secretary ; -Is he within ? might he be spoken with ?"
I observed a sort of sneer again on the face of these men as I spoke, for dull as I was in understanding the true state of things, it was not possible for me, after so many experiences of the same kind, not to remark that the mention of my uncle's name had excited a sneer on the lip of every one before whom I had spoken it.* However, before the bailiff could reply, a young man of a very pleasing appearance, came forward and undertook to lead me whither I wished to go ; whereupon all the others were silent, and I was led through the hall along several passages, such as are commonly seen in large houses, to a door, which, being opened, I saw before me my venerable uncle, seated at a table, with his pen in his hand, writing with much assiduity, and as one deeply interested in his work. As I pronounced my name, and advanced towards him, he hastened to meet and embrace me, calling me his son, and congratulating me on my entrance into the service of the best of masters. “The best of masters !” thought I ;“ what am I to make of this? who is to be my master here, and what sort of fellow-servants am I to have ?" My uncle then gave orders that water should be brought in order that I might be washed,+ serving me with his own hand; and this being done, he caused refreshment to be set before me by the young man spoken of above, for I afterward found this young man, although he had other business in the house, loved my uncle, and had a delight in doing him service; and my uncle encouraged this regard of the young man towards him, often taking occasion to say to him, “ Well, my son, when will your mind be brought to leave your present employments for a better service ?” By which I was made to understand that this youth was in the condition of one who is “halting between two opinions,” but I shall have occasion to speak more largely of him hereafter. So we dined,
* “ Thou makest us a reproach to our neighbours, a scorn and a derision to them that are round about us." Psalm xliv. 13.
“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience towards God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." 1 Peter üi, 21.
after which my uncle fell into a discourse which lasted till bed-time, for I was to have a little chamber within the parlour,* near to another thus situated, which was occupied by the old gentleman himself, and it was my uncle's saying to me, “ You may rest there, Nicodemus, with little interruption from the noise of the family,” that brought me to the point where I needed satisfaction. “My good sir,” I said, “ you speak of the noise of the family, and in truth, what I have seen of this household, as I passed through the offices, but ill accords with what you say of the Master and Lord of these lands; if the Lord is such as you declare him to be, why does he not rule his people with more diligence, and make his law more effective in producing order ?" And then I went on to say how disappointed I had been in finding things so different in my Lord's heritage from what I had been led to suppose from his letter.
“And what, my nephew," replied the old gentleman, “ what did I lead you to believe in the letter of invitation which I sent you? Did I promise you present enjoyment, or a deliverance from present trouble? I held out to you, indeed, the assurance that your future welfare should be secured for you, and that in the long run the privilege of this service should be past all count or calculation, for “faithful is he that has called you;' but I promised no present exemption from pain. Reconsider ihe letter,” he added, “ if you have it with you, and if the master seems to fail in aught that he hath already promised, then count me a liar and unfaithful, and one who has not rightly interpreted the message which he gave me to deliver; for I am only as a hinge or joint in this affair, and if the door turneth not well on the hinge, then is the hinge rusty, and good only to be cast away. Yet I trust I have not so done my Lord's errand, as to have led you into an error, Nicodemus. I rather fear that the desires of your heart have deceived you, and that you have not yet been brought to consider all things of little importance in comparison with your well-being at a future period; but such are not the true servants of the lord, for they count the present things of little value, and desire only to be prepared to meet him with joy when he shall return to his house.”+
* “ Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” Psalm xxxì, 20,
7“ Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excel. While my uncle thus spake to me, I turned to the letter in question, and conned every word of it, and wondered how I had been led to see the promise of present prosperity and advancement in any part thereof; and no doubt my altered looks betrayed my feelings on this second perusal, for as I closed the letter, and put it back into my breast, my uncle remarked, “You see, nephew, that I have said nothing in that epistle respecting present enjoyment, any further than as proceeding from that peace of mind which every man must experience when he feels that his future concerns are provided for, by one that is wiser than himself, and one in whom he may have perfect dependence. Such is my master; I have lived in his service these many years, and never have I seen one confounded who has put his trust in him."* “But, sir,” I said, “you only perplex me the more by what you say. Is not this fair estate, with this castle, and its parks, and fields, and all that appertain thereunto, belonging to your master ? and if so, why can he not, and does he not, provide for the present, as well as the future comfort of his people ? for I am told that he is not here, and has not been here this many a day, and that those whom he has left in charge lord it over his possessions, and manage every thing their own way. Now pardon me, my esteemed uncle, but the truth is this, that I do not understand how it can be consistent with a good master to act thus towards his people; for thus much have I gathered on my way, that the steward who rules here under the master is more thought of than the master himself; and that everybody thinks it right to pay court to the housekeeper, although she is not even a country-woman of my Lord.”
“Neither have you heard one word more than the truth,” replied my uncle, “as it respects the assumption of the intendant, and the honour paid to the houselency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord : for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Phil. iii. 8.
*“Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after ; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire into his temple. For in the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion : in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me: he shall set me up upon a rock." Psalm xxvii. 3,5.
keeper; for I can tell you much more than what you have heard : and yet with all this, you have not got the right end of the clew.” And then my uncle went on to state how the matter really lay. “This' estate," said he, “ from time immemorial, has been the property of the Lord; the letters of my Lord, which you have been called into this service to copy and disseminate among , the people, speak in language most beautiful of the early times in which our Lord ruled with undisturbed sway in these lands. This place was at that time as a garden of delights : there was nothing therein but what was very good ;* and the Lord was as a brother and a friend to the inhabitants of the land, walking with them in the shade of their woods, and speaking with them face to face. But they rebelled against him, and admitted one into their hearts and affections who had been his enemy from the beginning it and he beguiled them with lies and deceit, for he is a liar, and the father of lies; and they rebelled against the Lord, and sold themselves to the enemy, and were as persons lost and undone for ever; and thus time went on, and their case appeared to be without hope, and there is no doubt but that the enemy triumphed and counted on this land and the people residing thereon as his own for ever. Nevertheless the Lord had not forgotten them, neither had the King who is the Father of the Lord; for our Lord is a King's son, nay a King himself, and the King of kings, being one in power, authority, and majesty with his Father, although, according to the old feudal laws, it behooved him to do his Father homage, nay, and himself homage too, for this his inferior principality, which he purchased from the enemy under this charter, to wit, that he was to become a servant, and, as it were, a vassal to his own princely authority. But, as I was saying," continued my uncle, “the Father of our Lord, viz. the King of kings, as we find in the letters of which I spoke before, had ever borne in mind the afflic. tions of the miserable people of this land, and had prepared a ransom for them which was to be paid by his Son; and in order for the payment of which, it behooved
* "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Gen. i. 31.
t" He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John ü. 8.