Simon Dale

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Language: English
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CHAPTER I

THE CHILD OF PROPHECY

One who was in his day a person of great place and consideration, and has left a name which future generations shall surely repeat so long as the world may last, found no better rule for a man's life than that he should incline his mind to move in Charity, rest in Providence, and turn upon the poles of Truth. This condition, says he, is Heaven upon Earth; and although what touches truth may better befit the philosopher who uttered it than the vulgar and unlearned, for whom perhaps it is a counsel too high and therefore dangerous, what comes before should surely be graven by each of us on the walls of our hearts. For any man who lived in the days that I have seen must have found much need of trust in Providence, and by no whit the less of charity for men. In such trust and charity I have striven to write: in the like I pray you to read.

I, Simon Dale, was born on the seventh day of the seventh month in the year of Our Lord sixteen-hundred-and-forty-seven. The date was good in that the Divine Number was thrice found in it, but evil in that it fell on a time of sore trouble both for the nation and for our own house; when men had begun to go about saying that if the King would not keep his promises it was likely that he would keep his head as little; when they who had fought for freedom were suspecting that victory had brought new tyrants; when the Vicar was put out of his cure; and my father, having trusted the King first, the Parliament afterwards, and at last neither the one nor the other, had lost the greater part of his substance, and fallen from wealth to straitened means: such is the common reward of an honest patriotism wedded to an open mind. However, the date, good or bad, was none of my doing, nor indeed, folks whispered, much of my parents' either, seeing that destiny overruled the affair, and Betty Nasroth, the wise woman, announced its imminence more than a year beforehand. For she predicted the birth, on the very day whereon I came into the world, within a mile of the parish church, of a male child who—and the utterance certainly had a lofty sound about it—should love where the King loved, know what the King hid, and drink of the King's cup. Now, inasmuch as none lived within the limits named by Betty Nasroth, save on the one side sundry humble labourers, whose progeny could expect no such fate, and on the other my Lord and Lady Quinton, who were wedded but a month before my birthday, the prophecy was fully as pointed as it had any need to be, and caused to my parents no small questionings. It was the third clause or term of the prediction that gave most concern alike to my mother and to my father; to my mother, because, although of discreet mind and a sound Churchwoman, she was from her earliest years a Rechabite, and had never heard of a King who drank water; and to my father by reason of his decayed estate, which made it impossible for him to contrive how properly to fit me for my predestined company. "A man should not drink the King's wine without giving the King as good," my father reflected ruefully. Meanwhile I, troubling not at all about the matter, was content to prove Betty right in point of the date, and, leaving the rest to the future, achieved this triumph for her most punctually. Whatsoever may await a man on his way through the world, he can hardly begin life better than by keeping his faith with a lady.

She was a strange old woman, this Betty Nasroth, and would likely enough have fared badly in the time of the King's father. Now there was bigger game than witches afoot, and nothing worse befell her than the scowls of her neighbours and the frightened mockery of children. She made free reply with curses and dark mutterings, but me she loved as being the child of her vision, and all the more because, encountering her as I rode in my mother's arms, I did not cry, but held out my hands, crowing and struggling to get to her; whereat suddenly, and to my mother's great terror, she exclaimed: "Thou see'st, Satan!" and fell to weeping, a thing which, as every woman in the parish knew, a person absolutely possessed by the Evil One can by no means accomplish (unless, indeed, a bare three drops squeezed from the left eye may usurp the name of tears)....