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The arrival of Roger Williams in Salem has spread along a grapevine of sympathetic ears; the unfriendlies so far either locked out by ignorance of or apathy to the news.”As by general consent, and as in all moments of general interest which called for a common meeting ground, the steps of the people turned towards the wooden house where this beloved, if misguided, pastor had so often met them in public worship.” So that's where they find gathered at the beginning of Chapter 4, in a standing-room-only audience with this controversial man, all united in earnestness of cause and attentiveness...with one notable exception. A flashily dressed young man whose “indolence” set him off from the crowd wasn't listening so much as indulging in a little people-watching, his eyes roaming the crowd and eventually landing on...well, you tell me. What's the title of this book, after all? Mistress Salome's Two-Fisted Tales of Puritan Herbalism? Didn't think so.

“It were hard to find fault with that face,” he said to himself, “though it be a picture but poorly framed. It would not disgrace the laces and brocades of Whitehall. In truth,” he continued to muse, “these colonial beauties, while they have lost something of the vigorous bloom and superb outline of our English dames, have already won in their place, whether from the sharp climate or the thin air of theological discourse, a certain delicate pallor and springlike grace of form that it would not be hard to make a fashion even among people of taste. This young Puritan now, though she be no Venus nor Juno, might pose not inaptly as a Flora or a Psyche — but what have we here ? Verily, the lion of controversy hath begun to roar!” and his handsome eyes, with their drooping eyelids and lashes, turned from Content's cheek, which would certainly have flushed an indignant red at his comparisons, had she been cognizant of their levity, to the reading desk where from the midst of a group of men Roger Williams' voice rose in clarion tones. (pp. 65-6)

Befitting a man reaching beyond the standards of the time, this definitely doesn't sound like a standard sermon. I certainly don't remember hecklers when I went to church, such as the intense man who debates points of doctrine from the crowd with Williams, but I'm not entirely convinced that's a bad thing, since at least they're engaging with his message. Fortunately, the man in the crowd is feeding Williams arguments that he can answer, so let's not ring the bell on this match just yet. The topic Master Scowlyface is reacting to is (surprise) keeping the church out of civil law...specifically, Williams' contention that it shouldn't be the duty of the court to (for example) repress heresy. His counterpoint: why should the “broken cistern” of a secular judge to hold water over us? Williams picks up the ball and runs with it from here.

“Yea, if we be not taught of the Lord — if the teaching come not to our souls, that is, and not through the lips of another.”

“Pause, lest you lead some into error!” cried the former speaker. “Would you speak to us of a covenant of grace, and of an inward light, and of such matters as lead to anarchy and unseemliness?”

“Nay, nay, but I would remember that there be diversity of gifts,” said Williams, his eyes glowing with the excitement of argument so dear to his soul. “Were you a stranger without the Bay, it is to a doctor of physic, or to a pilot that you would trust the conduct of your ship and the life of those within it?” He paused a moment and then went swiftly on. “Verily, I say it would be to the man who knoweth the rocks and the shoals from previous knowledge and experience, rather than to that mayhap better man who hath studied the wants of human bodies but after a different fashion. It hath been proved in older civilizations than is ours, that a magistrate may be a godly man and but an indifferent guardian of the public weal. There are ' differences of administration' and 'diversities of operations' and ' to one is given the word of wisdom and to another faith —'”

“Yea,” interrupted his opponent; “but let us try the spirits whether they be of God — else do we cut loose from all that we have come hither to establish."

“Yea,” assented Williams, in his turn; “but let us not try those spirits by the law of man, but by the divining rod of our own consciences.” (pp. 67-8)

The crowd was getting uncomfortable, if not restless. It was too much, too soon, and even Content felt that the Williams' aggressiveness was driving a wedge between the man and the people that he loved. It was while glancing around to take the temperature of the room that she first locked onto the bemused eyes of Lord Cheeky McDouchingham. “Her eyes were held an instant by his, in a surprised curiosity, before she withdrew them, while her tinge of color grew into a deeper crimson at her own folly.”

The debate rages on, Roger Williams displaying why he won Controversialist of the Year more often than he would World's Greatest Grandpa. Meanwhile, Caleb Cradock's face grows sadder, and McDouchingham looks like he's about to ask an usher for a beer and a chili dog, only adding to Constant's irritation. If he struck a nerve with some over the church-and-state material, what Williams says next goes straight to the bone: “No more right […] than have ye a right to the lands that ye have taken well nigh by force from those to whom they were divinely given, and who are even now learning to acknowledge the Giver.”

His stance on giving fair value for the land to its natives (as he did with Providence), rather than a government just grabbing it from the unwashed savages, was a major bone of contention with Williams. This crowd can't believe he's going there again, since they felt the issue had been settled through their blood, sweat, and tears, and I can't be the only one who flashes to 21st century Israel at this point. Archer enters to the murmurs of discontent that follows, while Williams is building to a crescendo: “'And if our God be our God, then is the land not ours save by honest purchase and Christian charity!' he thundered. 'Was it the God of the Christian who led the council of your united colonies to yield the friend of Roger Williams to the tomahawk of his foes? Upon their heads be the blood of Miantonomoh!'” Ouch. Forget about going to the bone, that's a drill right through the marrow.

It's at this point that Caleb Cradock interjects “Beware lest you speak treason!”, which pulls his friend's rhetoric in just a bit, and that's the cue for the snotty interloper at the back of the room to open his smartass mouth.

“It jars somewhat on the ears of a loyal subject,” interrupted a clear voice which seemed not to raise itself above its natural tone, but which was distinctly audible in the growing confusion of the crowded room, “that the names of your magistrates are so often upon the lips of this worshipful assembly. If there be differences concerning the holding of your lands, as one might judge from the late eloquence so abounding in most recondite allusion,” and he smiled slightly, “is it not to the owner of these lands of Massachusetts Bay that such difficulties should be referred ? Methinks your holdings be of his Majesty King Charles the First,” and his slow glance, with its flavor of impertinence, travelled about the room, while he struck lightly his embroidered gloves one against the other — as if to speak to these provincials it were not necessary to intermit even so slight an occupation. Archer had left Cradock's side and was making his way towards Content, when these words arrested his attention. He stopped in the middle of the crowded room, and across the heads of the seated company, and between the figures of those who stood about, the glances of the two young men met with the flash of crossing swords, and while they held each other for an instant, the speaker's grasp tightened on his glove, holding it suddenly still, and then, unhurriedly, his eyes passed on, dwelt curiously on Cradock, and finally rested on Williams and those nearest him. A silence tense with meaning, though no throb of impatience was audible through it, fell upon the assembly. Content had not turned her head to identify the speaker. She knew as well as if the voice had repeatedly sounded in her ears that it came from the haughty lips of the young man whose attitude she blindly resented from the first.

“Surely I am not mistaken in thinking that his Majesty has not resigned his over-lordship to these—“ the supercilious tones hesitated a moment, — “to these giants of theology that sit upon the bench of the magistracy, judging souls and bodies.”

His words had roused a keen resentment, he had touched a chord it were well for English supremacy not to set vibrating too harshly; but these men were not children to be baited by a boy with an assumption of authority. It was Cradock who spoke, while Archer went on to Content's side, holding back the retort that had sprung to his young lips.

“It is not a thing to be forgotten either by us or thee,” he said with calm dignity, “that our charter is from the hand of a king. But neither is it,” and the company held its breath as his voice grew sterner and weightier, his eyes fixed upon the slender handsome man who leaned forward, a plumed hat swinging lightly in his hand, apparently unconscious of the tide that was rising in the breasts of those about him, “neither is it a thing to be set aside, that we be freemen and not serfs; and while our consciences approve, we have no appeal to make to a more distant tribunal save in a cause, yet unforeseen, that must needs go beyond our own doors — into the presence of the King of England.” The company breathed freer, it was not a disloyal answer; but neither could it be said to positively invoke the excellent discretion and unswerving justice of the first Charles.

“An appeal to the king!” muttered the antagonist of Williams, under his breath. “Who is this young blade who is in such haste to hide him under the ermine?”

“I know not,” answered his neighbor, in the same tone; “and if the royal mantle be long enough to sweep across yonder sea, it may knock down a spire or two ! It behooves us to be careful,” and they exchanged looks of a certain austere humor. (pp. 73-6)

And the saucy lad releases the debate, such as it was, back to the people who were taking at seriously. Mwa-ha-ha! I am such a saucy lad babbling on in my finery! But I am a lad at leisure and must unknot the monotony with due speed! Whiskey for my men and beer for my horses! Maybe he put a coy finger to his pursed lips while the Puritans stared at him like he just landed from another planet...and parked his spaceship on somebody's mule. Third side of the triangle? Well, he's obviously not going away after making a scene like that.

Since news moved slowly in those days, nobody present was aware that Charles the First had lost an appeal to the axe a few months before. Having the king's ear doesn't do much if it's separated from the rest of his body.

Archer tells Content at this point that her father asked him to take her out of the meeting house, since their business could take at least another hour. The events she had just witnessed were still buzzing around in her head like a nest of yellowjackets—Roger Williams, the neigbors, the douchebag with the lace cuffs...everything. Once they were well into the open air, it all came spilling out.

“He is two men!” she exclaimed after a few moments in the clear buoyant air, and she spoke with an accent of irritation. “And it lies not beyond the wit of a maid to denote which is the more winning.”

“Nay, I pray thee,” said Archer, whose single-eyed conscientiousness was apt to lead him into an unfortunate choice of times and seasons for differing with Content, “then were he double-faced — which even no enemy had ever ground for saying of Mr. Williams.”

“And why not double-faced, if two-souled?” she persisted. “And that he be two-souled, I do contend. It was one soul that looked from his eyes upon little Timothy and the Apostle Eliot, and another that saw his old flock come with warm hearts to greet him, and a warm hand-grasp ready for him — those who stood by him in times of trouble, alas ! — and yet held out to them naught but the — the stone — of old differences.”

It were well that Caleb Cradock's ears were safely shut into the meeting-house, while his daughter spoke of the stone instead of the lifegiving bread of religious discussion! As for Archer, it was not the first time that he had been staggered by her eloquence.

“He held his own, I warrant me,” he observed. His craven avoidance of the point at issue met with the check it deserved.

“His own? Yea, verily — it be ever his own that he is holding! I would he held that something hath been committed to other saints as well! If his own be ever the good thing he would have us believe, let him share it with those about him.”

This species of logic dazzled, if it did not convince. Archer realized anew the unwisdom of provoking an argument. Nevertheless the curves of Content's lips were ameliorating.

“Would ye have them accuse him of Antinomianism,” he ventured, having picked up most of the scraps of the conversation he had not heard from the bystanders, “and have him keep silence?”

Content paused and faced him. The spring air waved the soft hair about her low forehead, a thrush sang from an elm.

“I am aweary of Antinomianism!” she exclaimed.

And the heavens fell not. (pp. 78-80)

Which is probably supposed to mean more than it does now, but we're at the chapter break...let it go, let it go.

Hmm, this entry wasn't exactly slopping over with wall-to-wall hilarity. Maybe I'm taken by the idea that, unlike Dave's last choice, things are actually happening in this story. It may not be art, but it's artful.

Next: The sound of reticence giving way. And no, I don't mean mine. Trust me, it'll make more sense when you read it.


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