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John Enderby   By: (1862-1932)

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JOHN ENDERBY

By Gilbert Parker

I

Of all the good men that Lincolnshire gave to England to make her proud, strong and handsome, none was stronger, prouder and more handsome than John Enderby, whom King Charles made a knight against his will.

"Your gracious Majesty," said John Enderby, when the King was come to Boston town on the business of draining the Holland fen and other matters more important and more secret, "the honour your Majesty would confer is well beyond a poor man like myself, for all Lincolnshire knows that I am driven to many shifts to keep myself above water. Times have been hard these many years, and, craving your Majesty's pardon, our taxes have been heavy."

"Do you refuse knighthood of his Majesty?" asked Lord Rippingdale, with a sneer, patting the neck of his black stallion with a gloved hand.

"The King may command my life, my Lord Rippingdale," was Enderby's reply, "he may take me, body and bones and blood, for his service, but my poor name must remain as it is when his Majesty demands a price for honouring it."

"Treason," said Lord Rippingdale just so much above his breath as the King might hear.

"This in our presence!" said the King, tapping his foot upon the ground, his brows contracting, and the narrow dignity of the divine right lifting his nostrils scornfully.

"No treason, may it please your Majesty," said Enderby, "and it were better to speak boldly to the King's face than to be disloyal behind his back. My estates will not bear the tax which the patent of this knighthood involves. I can serve the country no better as Sir John Enderby than as plain John Enderby, and I can serve my children best by shepherding my shattered fortunes for their sakes."

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... Continue reading book >>




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