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Tidings of Mrs. Bat's-eyes

by Searchwell
From the July 1869 Sword and Trowel


A   FEW years after Christian had crossed the river, having gotten a warrant from the Lord of pilgrims, to go to the City of Destruction, and fetch thence divers of his rebellious servants, I went thither and tarried therein, dwelling in a tent by the wayside; the reason whereof being that it is forbidden the king's messengers in any wise to become citizens of so evil a city, but they are commanded to abide as strangers and sojourners, being aliens in the town, and not burgesses of it.
    Now it came into my mind that I would search out and enquire for those ancient inhabitants of this city, who lived in the days of Christian and his wife Christiana, the fame of whose pilgrimage hath gone abroad unto the ends of the earth, if perchance any of them should be yet alive. It was my hap to light upon one Mistress Talkative, the wife of him who joined company with Christian and Faithful, just before they came to Vanity Fair. She is somewhat aged, and withered in her limbs, but in her mouth and cheeks she looketh like a young maiden, and certainly she hath lost none of her power of speech, but is withal so glib with her talk, that the selfsame which Christian said of her husband is true of her, she will beguile with her tongue twenty of them that know her not. She dwelleth still in the old house in Prating Row, and like her husband, she is something more comely at a distance than at hand. From this woman I learned the history, pedigree, age, marriage, character, health, wealth, temper, repute, and dealings of so many of her neighbors as I asked after, and many more besides; and moreover she desired to tell me of their children, their lovers, their eating, drinking, clothing, and such like; and if I could have borne to hear her, I dare affirm, she would fain have told me their very hearts, and inward and secret thoughts, for these escaped not the reach of her tongue.
    She seemeth to be as the bird, which uttereth that which is spoken in the bed-chamber, but withal she is an arrant liar and twister of the truth, whensoever she hath an ill-will to any of her neighbors. From her I took words as men take apples which they pare before they eat; or as eggs, the one half of which are rotten, and therefore need testing before they be eaten; and indeed, when I had winnowed her talk, and blown away nine parts out of ten as worthless chaff, there was great plenty left, even good measure, pressed down, and running over, which if I had been so inclined, would have even smothered me in its heaps. She is a woman of some use to such a stranger to the town as I am, for she knoweth every house, and keepeth a register of every one that lodgeth in it; so that one needeth not to knock at a peradventure at any door to seek one whom he desireth to know of, but hath only to ask of her; and let the place be in the darkest lane, or winding alley, straightway she saith, "Yea, I know it right well;" and she beginneth some history concerning the dwellers in it.
    At my first sight of her she was sitting at the door of her house, taking the air in the cool of the evening with two or three gossips, whose names none need enquire after, seeing that the less that is known of them the better for the peace of one's mind. Seeing me to be a newcomer to the town, she saluted me of her own accord, hoping to gather some new thing at my mouth; but withal in a few moments she had forgotten to seek news of me, being so pleased with the sound of her own tongue and taken up with the desire of telling me concerning her acquaintance and kinsfolk. She told me that she remembered Christiana well, and that she was a decent woman, who would take a dish of tea and be merry with her neighbors, till she took up with the melancholy, peevish tempers of her husband, and must needs follow him in his mad pilgrimage. "One would have thought," said she, "that one fool was enough in a family; but, no doubt it runneth in the blood, for that woman was quite crazed after her husband's death. They tell me there is a book written concerning her, but they that lived near her, and ought to know, could tell a many things of her that for my part I should not care to utter, for I hate all backbiting and tale-bearing. This much, however, I do know, she was as unmannerly and haughty towards me as her husband was to my dear spouse who hath lately departed, who was as fair-speaking and good-natured a gentleman as ever talked; and, moreover, a very religious man, and one who could argue and dispute like the best of pilgrims. I was with her neighbors when they called in to see Christiana in her fits, and a more notable company of women cannot be found within the walls of this city, but the willful woman would have none of them, and went her ways like one bewildered, befooled with her own obstinacy."
    When Mistress Talkative waited a second to take breath, I made speed to ask her whether she knew one Mrs. Bat's-eyes, who was of those who would have kept Christiana from seeking the Celestial City. "Ay, ay," said she," I know her well enough; she is as good a woman as will be met with in a day's march, and she is a great lady too, only Bat's-eyes is not now her name, for she is married into a rich family of great title and repute. Her first husband was so weak in the eyes as not to be able to see anything in the sunlight, and once upon a time, walking abroad at noon with the blind priest of his own parish, that is to say the parish of St. Elymas the Great, they both fell into a ditch, and the poor man perished in the mire. A very fine funeral sermon there was preached for him from the text, 'I will give thee the treasures of darkness.' Now it was so, that her husband being dead, the widow had many suitors, and among the rest one Sir Herod Hatelight, who was of the honorable jury that condemned that scandalous fellow, Faithful. He being a personable man, and having large estates in Blindmanshire, commended himself much to the widow, and the more so because they both agreed to love darkness rather than light, and delighted much with thick curtains and dark shutters to keep out every beam of sunshine from their chambers. She liveth at this day in the finest square of this city, and her husband is an alderman, and was not long ago mayor of the town; a rare hater of your canting pilgrims, I warrant you, though the times are so altered that he cannot dispatch them out of the way as he once did, and the more's the pity."
    How much more I might have heard I know not, but this sufficed me; and as I would fain learn more of Mrs. Bat's-eyes, that is now Lady Hatelight, I first would see her husband; and therefore, in due time, I turned my feet towards the court wherein he sat as an alderman and as justice of the peace. His honor—for so they called him, for the men of the City of Destruction are very lavish in giving and taking honor one of another—had haled before him a prisoner whom I at once perceived to be in very truth a son of the famous Evangelist who, in the days of Christian, was employed by my Master in the suburbs of this city. This man, being very valiant for the truth, had dared to preach and teach such as might gather around him in the streets, having chosen out-of-the-way corners, where he did by no means hinder the lawful traffic, or molest those who passed by the way. Nevertheless, certain of the men of the city being angered that he taught the people had laid to his charge that he did obstruct the king's highway, and bawl and shout at so lusty a rate as to disturb the quiet of the city, and create a stir and hubbub whereby the authority of the great prince Beelzebub was much endangered.
    Now, because there sat upon the bench with him one Mr. Smooth-man, who thought it ill to be severe upon such fools and bedlams as he lightly judged the young man Evangelist to be, and as, moreover, the old cage for pilgrims was in a ruinous state, this Hatelight determined within himself to dismiss the prisoner at the bar with a warning and an admonition. Thus spake he, in high wrath and dudgeon, "Sirrah, thou art again brought before us, upon the charge of gathering together a company of lewd fellows of the baser sort, who stand in the ways and places of concourse, hindering those that pass by the ways, and troubling the respectable inhabitants of this ancient and loyal city. Thinkest thou that we will suffer thee to cry aloud in our streets, railing at and reviling the great lords Beelzebub and Apollyon and Legion, with their companions, who are the patrons of our fairs and markets, and by whom we get our wealth? Thy voice is as the roaring of the bulls of Bashan, and thy speech is utterly contemptible. Thou shalt be silenced, and the town shall be in quiet, or it shall cost thee dear. I remember well when such as thou art would have been laid in the stocks, or their tongues cut out. I would that even now I could stop thy fanatical rant by the gallows. The gospel! A pretty gospel! Thou preachest hell and damnation! Who among us ever sought thee or paid thee for thy gospel? We hate it: our old parish religion is good enough for us, and I tell thee plainly we will have none of thy hypocritical cant dinned into our ears. Go about thy business, and keep thyself quiet or I'll teach thee and the fanatics that howl at thy heels, that the law knoweth how to shut your naughty mouths." My Master's young champion was fain to speak and ask a question, and after some ado they gave him audience. He said that he did in no way whatever let or stay the lawful trade of the city, that he had chosen a place wherein there was large room and but few who passed thereby, and therefore he was not guilty as his accusers had falsely witnessed. Moreover, whereas it was alleged that the sound of his voice was so great and terrible as to molest the quiet of the householders, he affirmed that this also was a charge whereof no man could maintain just cause. For he made bold to tell the court that certain musicians who aforetime had created no small noise in Vanity Fair, had been hired to make great sound with drums, bugles, fifes, and horns in a public place of the city, and that, too, on the day which by the laws of a greater prince than Beelzebub was ordained to be a day of rest and worship And whereas these players on instruments, notwithstanding their outrageous din, were by no means seized by the officers and charged with being breakers of the peace, it seemed to be but sorry justice, and even a perverting of fair dealing, that he who used no trumpet, save only his tongue, should be said to disturb the peace of the city. To which Hatelight answered, in a towering rage, "We care nothing concerning thy Sabbath and thy gospel cant. These players on instruments of music are worthy and notable men, and by no means shall they be hindered or evil entreated. They are in the pay of honorable gentlemen, friends of mine own, who do well to spite both thee and thy Lord's day. They ravish the ears of the inhabitants of this city, even as did the multitude of their brethren, who served the great king Nebuchadnezzar, with their flutes, harps, sackbuts, psalteries, and all kinds of music. Knowest thou not that this ancient borough is, always hath been, and always shall be, loyal to Apollyon; and therefore both thou thyself, and thy melancholy doctrines and bedlamite discoursings are an offense to them, a very stink in their nostrils, and a grating in their ears. Sirrah, I take thee to be an arrant knave, and doubtless thou makest a fine market of thy preachments and prayings: I warrant thee thou art well paid, or as the proverb hath it, 'No penny no paternoster.' I'll stop thy music for thee, therefore beware how thou dost defy the law a second time. I hate this gospel and thee also; stand down, and hold thine impudent tongue, or I will make thee rue the day."
    How truly is it written by the wise man of old, "Evil men and transgressors will wax worse and worse!" When men cannot act as they desire, because somewhat is abroad which hindereth them, yet their stomachs are as high as ever against the gospel, and their heart burneth like a flaming oven against the Lord and against his Anointed. Verily the time cometh in which those who labor to quench the light of Israel shall have their own candle put out for ever.

"Hatelight, beware, in vain thou dost essay
To quench the sun which bringeth day;
For as God lives and loveth light,
The hour draws nigh which endeth night."

    Madame Hatelight is a meet companion and fit wife for her lord. She hateth schools and books, especially if they be cheap and teach the ways of godliness. "Why," saith her ladyship, "nothing has gone well since every Tom, Dick, and Harry, hath learned his letters and set up for a scholar. The lower orders respect not their betters as they used to do, and they talk even to admiration, concerning their rights and their souls. The world is at a sorry pass indeed when men prate of their souls; and will not leave such things to their clergy and the gentlefolk, who have understanding and learning. A parcel of noisy fellows set themselves to entice away the people from the old religion, and cry up what they call education. I cannot endure their prating. A set of ploughmen and servants pretend to know better than the parish priests, and say that the common herd are to judge for themselves. Not one single crown will I give to their schools, and their classes, and their missions. By these cometh all manner of evil, for they set men by the ears jangling about matters which are none of their business, and they puff up the vulgar with such conceit that they follow after men who are given to change, and they pull down the old customs, and go about to turn the world upside down." Her ladyship waxeth very wrath if she chanceth to meet a pilgrim, but she herself is wonderfully religious and goeth to a church at the corner of the English street, which hath a door in the Roman Row, for in this church they burn candles, the light whereof suiteth her eyes. She cannot away with the word of God, but she doateth on her Prayer-book, and more especially on those places thereof which tell her that she was made a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven when the priest did bespatter her forehead while yet she was in the arms of her nurse. She loveth a shaven crown and a black hood, and dealeth much in all Roman wares. She weareth a cross though she hateth the religion of him that died on it. A cloud of incense charmeth her. She believeth darkness to be light and the darker the city becometh the happier she is. And truly she has much to please her at this present; for what with the smoke from Mr. Sacramentarian's new forges, and the fogs from the old marshes of unbelief, and the general smother of all sorts of smiths and potters, and especially of the brewers, the city is often dark as pitch, and even at noonday one can hardly see the sun. However, my Master's servants still find out chosen men in this City of Destruction who feel their burden of sin, and therefore are willing to go on pilgrimage, and therefore Hatelight and his spouse are ill at ease; but as for the servants of the Great King, our souls abide in patient waiting, being steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in our Lord's work.
    Much more might I have written, but it may fall to my lot to use my quill hereafter.

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