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Title: In Taunton town : a story of the rebellion of James Duke of Monmouth in 1685
Author: Everett-Green, Evelyn
Language: English
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IN TAUNTON TOWN.



HISTORICAL TALES

BY

E. Everett-Green.

_In handsome crown 8vo volumes, cloth extra, gilt tops. Price 5s. each._


  IN TAUNTON TOWN. A Story of the Days of the Rebellion of James, Duke of
  Monmouth, in 1685.

  SHUT IN. A Tale of the Wonderful Siege of Antwerp in the Year 1585.

  THE LOST TREASURE OF TREVLYN. A Story of the Days of the Gunpowder Plot.

  IN THE DAYS OF CHIVALRY. A Tale of the Times of the Black Prince.

  LOYAL HEARTS AND TRUE. A Story of the Days of Queen Elizabeth.

  The Church and the King. A Tale of England in the Days of Henry VIII.


_In post 8vo volumes, cloth extra. Price 2s. 6d. each._

  EVIL MAY-DAY. A Story of 1517.

  IN THE WARS OF THE ROSES.

  THE LORD OF DYNEVOR. A Tale of the Times of Edward the First.

  THE SECRET CHAMBER AT CHAD.

_Published by_

T. NELSON AND SONS, London, Edinburgh, and New York



  IN TAUNTON
  TOWN

[Illustration: _JAMES, DUKE OF MONMOUTH._]

  T. NELSON & SONS

  _LONDON, EDINBURGH & NEW YORK_



  _In Taunton Town_

  _A Story of the
  Rebellion of James Duke of Monmouth
  in 1685_

  _By_

  _E. EVERETT-GREEN_

  _Author of_ "_In the Days of Chivalry_," "_The Church and the King_,"
  "_The Lord of Dynevor_," "_Shut In_"
  _&c. &c._

  [Illustration]

  _T. NELSON AND SONS_

  _London, Edinburgh, and New York_

  _1896_



CONTENTS.


  I. THE SNOWE FAMILY,                                9

  II. MY CAREER IS SETTLED,                          25

  III. MY NEW HOME,                                  42

  IV. MY NEW LIFE,                                   59

  V. I GET AMONGST FINE FOLK,                        79

  VI. VISCOUNT VERE,                                 95

  VII. A WINTER OF PLOTS,                           112

  VIII. "LE ROI EST MORT,"                          129

  IX. THE MUTTERING OF THE STORM,                   146

  X. MY RIDE TO LYME,                               163

  XI. OUR DELIVERER,                                180

  XII. BACK TO TAUNTON,                             197

  XIII. THE REVOLT OF TAUNTON,                      214

  XIV. A GLORIOUS DAY,                              230

  XV. THE MAIDS OF TAUNTON,                         250

  XVI. "THE TAUNTON KING,"                          264

  XVII. ON THE WAR-PATH,                            281

  XVIII. IN PERIL IN A STRANGE CITY,                297

  XIX. A BAPTISM OF BLOOD,                          314

  XX. IN SUSPENSE,                                  331

  XXI. BACK AT BRIDGEWATER,                         348

  XXII. FATAL SEDGEMOOR,                            364

  XXIII. TERRIBLE DAYS,                             381

  XXIV. THE PRISONER OF THE CASTLE,                 398

  XXV. JUST IN TIME,                                413

  XXVI. THE TERRIBLE JUDGE,                         430

  XXVII. THE JUDGE'S SENTENCES,                     447

  XXVIII. PEACE AFTER STORM,                        463

  XXIX. MY LORD AND MY LADY,                        478

  XXX. A CHRISTMAS SCENE,                           490

  EPILOGUE,                                         497



IN TAUNTON TOWN.



CHAPTER I.

_THE SNOWE FAMILY._


I certainly never thought when I was young that I should live to write
a book! Scarce do I know how it betides that I have the courage to
make so bold, now that I am well stricken in years, and that my hair
has grown grey. To be sure (if I may say so without laying myself open
to the charge of boasting, a thing abhorrent to me), I have always
been reckoned something of a scholar, notwithstanding that I was
born a farmer's son, and that my father would have been proud could
he but have set his name on paper, as men of his station begin to do
now-a-days, and think little of it. But times have changed since I
was a boy--perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse; who knows?
Anyhow, there is more of learning in the world, for sure, though
whether more of honesty let others be the judge!

And now, how and when am I to begin my tale?

Sitting over the fire and recalling stirring scenes of bygone days,
it seems simple enough to record in writing my memories of those times
when we good folks of the West Country thought we had found a deliverer
who would break from the neck of England the yoke of the hated Papist
tyranny which was being laid upon us (at least so we all feared and
believed) by one whose name is yet spoken in these parts with a curse.
But when one sits to a table with quill and ink-horn beside one, then
it does not appear so simple a task; and inasmuch as I have no skill in
such matters as the writing of chronicles, I must e'en go to work my
own fashion, and if that fashion be a poor one, must ask pardon of all
such as may have the patience or complaisance to read my poor story.

Well, then, it seems that the first thing to do is to state who I am,
and how it came about that I was so mixed up with that brief period of
history which has left such indelible marks in the hearts of the people
of our fair West Country. The former is quickly and easily explained;
the latter will be unfolded as this narrative proceeds.

My father was one Joseph Snowe, a farmer of some substance, and the
eldest of three brothers. He was a man of some importance, being the
owner of Five Gable Farm at Shorthorne; and Shorthorne--as I suppose
all men know--lies midway betwixt Taunton and Bridgewater, two notable
fair towns of our fertile and pleasant county of Somerset.

There was an old saw spoken anent the Snowe family which said that the
men thereof who were not farmers and tillers of the soil were brewers
of malt liquor and the keepers of hostelries. Nor would it become me
to deny with too much eagerness the truth of this saying, seeing that
I myself have been master of an inn these many years, and that I have
brothers who both till the soil and sell and make malt liquor.

But to return to my father and his two brothers. Five Gable Farm had
belonged to the Snowes as far back as we cared to ask questions. It had
passed from father to son for many generations; and since I was the
youngest of six brothers, there seemed little likelihood of its passing
to alien hands for many a day to come.

My father's name was Joseph--as became the eldest of the house; for
Joseph was a great name in the Snowe family. Next to him came Uncle
John, of whom I shall have much to say in these pages; and last of the
three, Uncle Robert, who was a good deal younger than the other pair,
two sisters having been born in between.

Now Uncle John was a big man, as big as father himself, with a loud
voice and a right jovial manner. I doubt not that he found this jovial
address a great source of income to him; for he kept the inn of the
Three Cups in gay Taunton Town, and travellers who paused at his door
to ask the way or quaff a cup of mead on horseback seldom rode onwards
after having had speech of mine host--unless much pressed for time--but
dismounted to taste the good cheer of the house, and more often than
not remained until the morrow beneath the friendly shelter of the
roof-tree. I was to learn all about this in good sooth, as will shortly
be made clear to all.

Uncle Robert had followed the example of Uncle John, or had perhaps
been guided in his choice by the old adage of which I have spoken; for
he too became master of an inn in Bridgewater, by name the Cross Keys.
It was not such a flourishing or important house as the Three Cups in
Taunton, nevertheless it was a comfortable and well-liked place of
rest; and the name of Snowe went far in the district as a warranty for
good cheer and fair charges.

Now it will readily be seen that it was a great matter of advantage to
my father to have two brothers within easy distance of the farm, both
in the inn-keeping line of business. All our spare produce was sent to
one inn or the other, bought readily at fair prices, and often bespoken
for months beforehand. We prided ourselves on the breed of our sheep,
the quality of our beef, the excellence of our smoked hams; and the
fame of all these things made us well known both in Taunton and in
Bridgewater, so that private persons from the neighbourhood would come
craving of mother to spare them of our produce, and these earnings of
hers came in the course of a year to a tidy little sum of money.

But I must not wander on in this fashion, or I shall scarce get my
story told as I have promised. And to pave the way for the tale I am
to tell, I must needs talk for a while about myself, even though this
may savour somewhat of self-conceit and vanity. Not that I have any
cause to be vain of my outward man, as I will incontinently show, for I
have been malformed and somewhat of a hunchback all my life; and if the
word I have used is somewhat too strong, at least it is the one I most
often heard employed towards me when first I mixed with other lads in
Taunton Town. And I may not deny that I had and always have had a stoop
of the neck, and that one of my shoulders is higher than the other,
whilst my stature has always been notably less than that of any of the
men of my name and race.

Now this would be very surprising in a family noted for its tall and
comely sons and daughters, had it not been for the lamentable fact
that in my tender infancy I was overlooked by a witch, or in some sort
bewitched, so that from that day forward I began to grow crooked, and
never attained the grace or stature which my brothers and sisters
inherited as a natural right.

And this misfortune befell me in this wise.

I was but a babe in arms, I think I was nigh upon a year old, and
as fine and comely a child (so at least my mother will have it) as
one need wish to see. She had been out to visit a neighbour, and was
returning across the moor as the dusk was drawing on; and as ill-luck
would have it, her way led her close to the hut where there lived a
witch, who went by the name of Mother Whale--though whether this were
truly her name, or whether witches have rightly any names at all, I
have not knowledge to say. Be that as it may, Mother Whale was so
called by all the country side; and young maids resorted to her to have
their fortunes told, whilst the village swains who dared as much would
purchase from her small bottles in which she had brewed love potions to
win them their sweethearts, or magic draughts to make them strong in
feats of courage or skill. She had worked many notable cures on cattle
and pigs, as well as on human beings, by her charms and simples, and
was held in much repute. Nevertheless men feared her not a little also,
because that she was without doubt possessed of the evil eye; and when
she chose to overlook a man or his possessions, as sure as the sun
shone in the sky some grievous harm would happen to him or to them, as
had been proved times without number--so all the folks of the place
said.

My mother felt a great fear when she found herself nigh to this lonely
hut so near the day's end, for she had an idea that witches who were
fairly friendly and well disposed by day became full of evil purposes
at night (which may or may not be true--I pass no opinion on the
matter), and she was hurrying by in a great fright, when suddenly the
form of the old woman rose from the very ground at her feet.

I have heard my mother tell the story many and many a time; and she
always maintains that there was nothing to conceal the old woman--not
so much as a mound or a tuft of grass--and that she must have sprung
out of the bowels of the earth, for there she suddenly was, standing
full in front of her; and my mother being already somewhat scared, fell
now into such a terrible fright that she dropped me upon a heap of
sharp-pointed stones close by (when I ask her if the old woman might
not have been concealed behind this heap of stones, she always grows
irritable, and tells me not to cavil at her words), and fled for her
very life. But inasmuch as the power of a mother's love is a notable
thing, and will run many a risk sooner than leave a helpless babe in
peril, so it befell that my mother turned back after a while, and even
dared to go boldly up to the very hut itself in search of her offspring.

The door of the hut stood open as she approached, and by the light
of the turf fire she could see what passed within, and a sight was
revealed to her which made her heart stand still and curdled the very
blood in her veins. For the old woman had actually got me laid across
her lap, and was rubbing my back, which was sorely cut and bruised
by the stones, with some preparation of her own; and when my mother
appeared to claim her child, she looked her over with a glance which
made the poor creature shake in her shoes, and chid her severely for
dropping a tender babe and fleeing without so much as a backward glance.

My mother declares that from that day forward she always knew that harm
would come of it; that the witch had overlooked either her or me. And
in truth from that time I grew puny and peaked, and when I began to
walk (which was not till long after a child should do so) it was easy
to see that something was wrong with me. All the place knew that I had
been bewitched, and held Mother Whale responsible, and respected and
feared her the more for it; but for my part I often wonder whether it
was not the fall upon the stones, for Mother Whale was always very good
to me, and in my lonely childhood I found in her one of my chiefest
friends.

For my childhood was lonely. I could not work on the farm like my
brothers. I was sickly and weak until I grew to be ten or twelve years
old. My back would ache for almost nothing, and I was so little use
that I was always pushed on one side, or bidden to run indoors out of
the way. My sisters were kind to me, and would find me little light
household tasks; but the manhood in me revolted from doing "woman's
work," and I suppose that is why I became what the neighbours used to
call a scholar,--which convinced them almost more than anything else
that I had indeed been bewitched.

I could write a long history of the joys opened out before me when
once I had mastered the mysteries of reading, and could cull from
the row of ancient books upon the shelf in the parlour the treasures
they contained. But this would be but tedious reading for others. The
Bible was in itself a perfect storehouse of information, and my mother
encouraged me to read it, thinking that it might prove an antidote to
the poison of witchcraft which she always believed was working within
me. And there were certain godly pamphlets written by persecuted
men of past days, showing forth the evils of Popery, and claiming
for men the rights which Protestants have since won for themselves:
these I was permitted and encouraged to read, and also "Fox's Book of
Martyrs," which had a gruesome fascination for me, the more so as it
was illustrated with many a horrid picture of some martyr enduring
punishment or death. I was brought up in the fervent conviction that
all Papists would like to serve us good Protestants as these martyrs
were being served in my pictures; and not unnaturally I grew up with
a pious horror of the very name of Popery, and shivered from head to
foot when I heard whispers of the Popish inclinations of the King, and
the unconcealed Popery of the Duke of York, who was like to be his
successor--unless, indeed, the Duke of Monmouth should turn out to be
the King's legitimate son, when all danger of a Papist on the throne
would cease at once.

Without therefore pausing to speak of the other books in which I
delighted more than in all these godly writings put together--to wit,
the immortal dramas of the great bard William Shakespeare, and that
marvellous conception of Mr. John Milton's, "Paradise Lost"--I will
pursue the theme just suggested, that of the Protestant Succession, as
men began to call it, meaning the hopes and aspirations of the people
of the country, that if the King died without issue by his Queen, some
way might be found for placing the Duke of Monmouth upon the throne
instead of the dark Duke of York, whom men both feared and hated.

Now it is needless to say much respecting the parentage of the Duke of
Monmouth, for all the world knows that he was the son of Lucy Walters,
a woman of whom little good can be written, and that the King was
always supposed to be his father, and indeed gave to him a father's
affection; so much so that men hoped he would seek to pass an Act of
Parliament excluding the Duke of York from the succession, on account
of his religion, and appointing the Duke of Monmouth to succeed him.

This hope was the more fervent in the minds of the people because there
were many who declared that the Duke was born in lawful wedlock, and
that there was in existence a black box containing all the needful
proofs of this fact. We in the West Country believed in that black box
almost as in an article of faith, and every news-letter that came to
Taunton Town was eagerly opened and scanned in hopes of finding in it
some precious hint with regard to this matter.

But my own interest in the handsome and dashing young Duke was of a
more personal and particular nature than could have been the case
simply from reading books and leaflets and pamphlets, or even from
hearing through our uncles on their visits the talk of the towns.

And it came about in this wise.

I have said before that I was but a puny and sickly child, and that
until I grew to be ten years old I had but little health. This was
indeed my melancholy condition; for in addition to my crooked spine
and lack of muscle, I suffered from time to time from that obscure and
painful malady which used to be known as "King's Evil," and which was
not to be cured by any leech or physician, but only by the touch of the
King's hand, or the hand of his lawful successor. Some indeed declared
that a seventh son could sometimes cure it by touching; but though I
was taken more than once to such, I received no good from the touch.
It was the seventh son of a seventh son in whom the power was said to
lie, and some held that it lay also in the hand of a man who had been
hanged; but my mother would never let me try that touch, and so I went
on enduring the evil until the day of which I am about to write.

I had an aunt in the town of Ilminster, one Betsy Marwell by name, my
mother's sister, and a widow of some substance. She having heard of me
and my malady, sent one day when I was about ten years old, and bid my
mother let me pay a visit to her, for that she knew a great collector
of herbs and simples who had had wonderful success in curing all manner
of maladies that baffled the skill of the leeches; and she would keep
me in her house and doctor me with his preparations, and send me home,
she fondly hoped, in better and sounder health than I had when I came.

I remember well even now that first visit I ever paid away from my own
home, and the excitements of dwelling in a town, and of sitting at
table in a parlour with a carpet laid down in the middle, and eating
with a fork instead of a wooden spoon as I had always done at home. I
remember the grave face and the long beard of the man who came to look
at me, and who bid me take many baths with sundry simples thrown in,
and use certain ointments of his preparation, and who said that in time
I should be sound and whole again.

I abode with my aunt two whole months, and it was during that time that
the wonderful thing happened to me of which I am now about to write.

I had not been long at Ilminster before the whole town was thrown into
joyful excitement by the news that the Duke of Monmouth was about
to make a progress through the county, staying in the houses of such
of the gentry as had accommodation sufficient to receive him and his
suite, and allowing himself to be seen by the people, and approached
by all who desired it. I soon heard that the house of Mr. Speke--White
Lackington by name--was to be one of the places visited. I knew Mr.
Speke by name right well--he and his son-in-law, Mr. Trenchard, being
looked upon in our county as men of great virtue, and stanch to the
Protestant cause, as in very truth they were, and suffered for it
much; and I knew by this time that White Lackington House was but the
distance of a mile or so from Ilminster, and I thought it would go hard
but that I would make shift to see the Duke when he was there, if I
were still with my aunt.

Indeed when the time drew near there was no difficulty about this, for
all the world was agog about the Duke, and preparations were being
made to admit all those who desired to see him to the park of White
Lackington upon a certain day; whilst my aunt Betsy was as eager as any
to see the hero, and before the day arrived she drew me to her side and
spoke to me very earnestly.

First she examined my wounds, and shook her head over them. To be
sure they were better than when I came to her, and some were fast
disappearing; but she was not satisfied with the progress I had made,
and she said to me with grave emphasis,--

"Dicon"--my name, I should say, was Richard, but I was never called
anything but Dicon for many a long year of my life--"Dicon, to-morrow,
if by any hap you can make shift to do so, get near to his Grace the
Duke, and pray of him to lay his hand upon you and touch you for the
King's Evil. If he be, as I hold him, the rightful son of our gracious
King, his touch will be a cure for you such as none other can help you
to. If you can only make shift yourself to touch him in the throng,
it will perchance be enough. But let not this chance slip unused.
Providence, it may be, hath sent it. Let the people but know him for
the true heir to the throne, and not all the Dukes of York ever yet
born shall keep him from his own when the right time comes!"

Whereby it may be seen that my aunt was a woman of spirit, as indeed
she proved herself to be in days to come.

Upon the morrow we, in common with half the good folks of Ilminster,
set forth for White Lackington to see the Duke at our ease. He had
ridden into Ilminster the previous day, to attend divine service in
the church; but although I had been well-nigh squeezed to death in the
press, I had not succeeded in obtaining so much as a sight of him. But
to-day there would be no such crowding and crushing. The wide park land
gave space for us to move at ease, and all would be able to look upon
the face of one whom they loved, perhaps with scarce sufficient cause.

How we huzzahed and shouted, and tossed our caps into the air, when
the party from the great house moved across the sunny gardens and came
toward us! For my part, I had a most excellent view, for I climbed
into the fork of the huge chestnut tree which is one of the notable
objects of interest at White Lackington, and from my perch up there
I beheld the Duke, was able to scan his handsome features, to see the
smiles that lighted his face, and almost to hear the gracious words he
addressed to the people who crowded round him as he moved.

Fortune favoured me that day; for as the throng about him increased,
the Duke took up his position beneath the great chestnut tree, and I
was able to command a fine view of everything that went on.

I was greatly charmed by the gracious manner of the Duke, by his
kindness to all who approached, and by the friendly way in which he
addressed even the humblest who succeeded in reaching him. I was
wondering whether my courage would permit me to drop myself suddenly at
his feet and ask the boon my aunt had desired, when my way was paved in
a curious fashion. A woman suddenly forced her way through the crowd,
threw herself on her knees before the Duke, touched his hand, and as
suddenly disappeared in the throng, before the Duke had time to speak a
single word or ask the meaning of her approach.

"Marry, but that is Elizabeth Parcet," said one of those who stood by;
"the poor soul suffers terribly from the King's Evil. Doubtless she has
touched your Grace with a view to cure herself of her malady."

Now hearing those words, and marking the look upon the Duke's face, I
tarried no longer, but without pausing to think what I was doing or
what I should say, I hastily let myself down from my exalted position,
and fell on my knees before the Duke.

"Touch me, even me also, your Grace!" I cried, clasping my hands
together. "I too am a sufferer from that dread malady, and I would fain
be made whole."

Immediately I felt a hand laid kindly upon me, and my face and hands
were touched by long white fingers such as I had seldom seen in all my
life before.

"There, boy," said a kindly voice which I knew to be the Duke's. "May
thy wish be given thee, and thyself healed of thy malady."

Bowing and blushing, overcome with confusion now that the thing was
done, I made my way out of the crowd, scarce daring to utter the words
of fervent thanks which rose to my lips.

As I went home in triumph that day, I knew within myself that I was
healed, and so I told my aunt and the kind old man who had given me his
simples and herbs, and who listened to my eager tale with a smile on
his lips.

"Ay, lad; ay, lad," he said, nodding his head till his long beard waved
to and fro, "I doubt not that thou wilt be cured. Yet cease not for a
while to use my ointment and simples. They cannot harm thee, and may
give thee strength and health yet."

I promised I would do so, and I kept my word, for that our father had
always bidden us do. But it was the touch of the Duke's hand that cured
me of my malady; that I never doubted at that time, since within a week
of receiving it all my wounds were healed, and at once I began to gain
such strength and power and vigour as I had not known since the day of
my accident. Herbs and simples may have a value of their own--I would
not take upon myself to deny it; but I was cured of the King's Evil by
other means than that, and went to my home rejoicing when the time came
that I had no further need for my good aunt's care or skill.

She shed many tears at parting with me, and bid me not forget her,
and come and see her again some day. This I promised I would do when
occasion served, and I kept my word, as this tale will show. But we
little guessed how and under what circumstances the next visit would be
paid, nor how large a part the gay young Duke who had touched me for my
cure would play in my future life.

At home I was received with wonder and joy. Of course my parents knew
nothing of my adventure at White Lackington, for we did not write
letters to absent friends, as men are beginning to do now. But when
seated at the well-spread supper-table I told them of what had befallen
me, they listened with open eyes and mouths agape, and my father,
bringing his hand heavily down upon the table, cried,--

"That settles the question. The black box could do no more. The Duke
of Monmouth is our rightful King. Hurrah for the Protestant Duke! Down
with the Papists and with the Popish Duke of York!"

And we all echoed these words with acclamation. Our hearts were from
that day forward centred in the Duke.

All this happened in the year 1680, when I was just ten years of age.



CHAPTER II.

_MY CAREER IS SETTLED._


Of the next two years of my life I need say little. They passed in a
fashion that to me was pleasant and easy enough.

I have before explained that I had been a sickly child, and was on this
account spared from those duties about the farm which were required of
my brothers; and I have said something with regard to my acquirements
in the matter of reading, which were then somewhat more rare than they
are like to become as time goes on. My father had a small library of
books which had been bequeathed to him by a distant kinsman, who could
have known but little of his tastes, and in these books I revelled with
a delight past the power of expression. Whilst at my aunt Betsy's house
in Ilminster, I had also acquired the rudiments of the art of writing
and the casting up of accounts and the keeping of books; and when I
returned home, I had no mind to let these things slip from my memory.

Nor was there any need for this, since my father showed no disposition
to make use of me upon the farm, having indeed the full belief that
I had been bewitched, and that I should bring him ill-luck with the
beasts if I went amongst them.

Nor was the belief in my possession of unlawful powers lessened by
an incident which I will forthwith relate, although, truth to tell,
I cannot explain it, nor do I think it to be any proof that there is
aught amiss with me, or ever was. I believe that dumb beasts may be
governed by motives of caprice, even as human beings are, and that they
can take likes and dislikes and act upon them as stubbornly as their
masters.

My father was a breeder and owner of forest ponies, and once in the
year they were collected from the moors, where they used to run wild
during a great part of the year. The foals were branded, the numbers
of the yearlings and two-year-olds counted, and such amongst the rest
as were old enough and strong enough for work were taken up and broken
in, and sold in the neighbourhood at the various fairs to such as were
wanting the like.

Now it chanced that one of the ponies thus driven in and kept for
breaking, soon after my return from Ilminster, was a particularly
handsome animal. He had a coat as black as the raven's wing, and eyes
as large and soft as those of a deer; when he galloped round and round
the field in which he was placed, he seemed scarce to touch the ground,
and his pace was such that none could come anigh him save by artfulness
or coaxing. And he would not suffer so much as a halter to be put upon
him, but tossed his head and was off like a lightning flash, and cared
not whom he overthrew and maimed as he wrested himself away; so that
two of our men had been sorely hurt by him, and the rest began to say
that handsome as he was, and valuable as he would prove could we but
get the mastery over him, yet he had plainly been bewitched, and was
possessed of a devil of malice and wickedness, and to try to tame him
would be but labour thrown away. In good sooth, before long people came
so to fear him that my father had perforce to say reluctantly that he
was past breaking, and must either be sent back to the moor to run wild
all his days, or be shot to rid him of the evil fiend within.

Now when I heard them talk thus I was grieved to the heart, for I
greatly admired the beautiful creature, and had more than once stolen
into the field when none else had been by, and had coaxed him to come
and eat out of my hand, sometimes giving him a bit of bread or a morsel
of sugar that I had reserved from mine own breakfast or midday meal,
and which he came to look for now as his right. He would rub his nose
upon my shoulder, and seemed to like the feel of my hands caressing his
ears and his neck. It seemed to me that I could even make shift to put
a halter upon him if I tried; but I had never dared to do so hitherto,
lest they should say I was spoiling him--it being always thought that I
knew nothing of the ways of beasts or how to manage them.

Nevertheless it was allowed by all that I could ride. Not being gifted
with the strength of the others for walking, I had been suffered to
ride one of the forest ponies from the time I was little more than an
infant. I could ride barebacked across country without a qualm of
fear, and I had little doubt that if once I could make a spring and
place myself upon the back of this unruly pony, I should be able to
master him forthwith.

Well, to make a long story short, and to avoid the appearance of
praising myself, I will only say that when all others had given him
up, I went to the refractory colt and used my methods upon him. There
was no magic in these; that I will swear if need be. But I made the
creature fond of me by gentle caresses and endearing words, and when I
was sure of his affection I was able to do what I would with him. He
scarcely resented the halter when it was put upon him; and though the
first time he felt the bit between his teeth he tossed his head and his
eyes grew red and angry, yet a few kind words and caresses reconciled
him even to this; and he made no plunge or unruly demonstration when
I gently clambered upon his back for the first time, talking all the
while and praising him for his docility. I think he looked upon it as
another form of caress, and he held his tail and head high as he set to
trot with his burden around the field, his long elastic stride seeming
to scorn the earth he trod on, and sending thrills of delight through
his rider; for methought it was like the action of one of those winged
steeds from Phoebus' chariot, of which I had read in one of my books.

Erelong Blackbird--for so I came to call him from his colour and
his easy pace, which always made me think of flying--would carry me
whithersoever I wished, and would follow me about the farm like a dog.
I always looked to him myself within the stable, feeding him with my
own hands, and bringing him water in the pail from the clearest spring.
Indeed not one of the men cared to approach him, even though he was
presently cured of his trick of giving a sly kick to any who passed by.
But there was a look in his eye (so at least they said; I never saw it)
which bespoke the devil within; and some of the men looked askance even
at me, and would whisper, when they saw me tending and caressing my
favourite, that it was plain there was a pair of us. Even my father did
not quite like it, though he made me a present of Blackbird, and was
always rather proud of the conquest I had made.

Certainly the possession of this light-footed steed all mine own (and
he would suffer none else to mount him even when he had grown tame
within stable walls, so that I had the exclusive use of him and all his
great strength) added not a little to my happiness and health during
the two years which followed my visit to Ilminster. With my books and
some food in a wallet at my back, I would start off with the first
freshness of the morning, and ride to one of those favourite solitary
haunts of which Blackbird and I came to have many. Then turning him
loose--for he would always come at a call or a whistle, and indeed
seldom strayed far away, having come to guard me almost as a dog guards
his master--I would set to study might and main at those arts of
caligraphy and calculation which I was so wishful to acquire. Moreover,
I would also declaim aloud from one of my books, reading out the words
loud, and striving to give each its due weight and meaning, as my aunt
Betsy had taught me to do when she made me read to her. And never was
boy happier than I all through the long days of summer and the mild
sunshiny ones of spring and autumn. I was so hardy by this time that
only severe cold drove me within doors; and there was always a warm
corner in the ingle nook where I could sit at ease. As for my sisters,
when they had time to do so, they were glad enough for me to read to
them out of my immortal Shakespeare, explaining as well as I could the
meaning of all I read, and awakening by degrees within them so great a
respect for my learning that I found myself at last in the way of being
quite famous in our parish.

This fame of mine gained for me another advantage, which was the
interest taken in me by our parson, who came sometimes to overlook my
self-imposed tasks, and who of his own accord taught me the axioms
and some of the lore of Euclid, and set my brain all in a ferment to
puzzle out the propositions in the little brown volume he lent me. I
never, however, became a mathematician of any note, since these studies
were destined to be speedily interrupted; but much of the last winter
spent at home was given to the scrawling of lines and circles upon the
hearth-stone with a fragment of charcoal, and my brain certainly grew
in those days, and I was conscious of a widening of my mental horizon
such as it is impossible to explain in words.

But soon a great change came into my life.

It was a beautiful mild day in May. I had been out with Blackbird as
usual, and riding homewards in time for the supper, I saw our uncle
John from Taunton standing in the yard with father.

Our uncle John was a favourite with us all, and I was well pleased to
see him. He had always news to tell of what was going on in the world,
and I had begun to desire to know more of this than was possible in our
quiet life upon the farm. So I threw myself off Blackbird's back with
haste and ran up with my greeting.

"Hey, Dicon lad, but thou hast mended wonderful for the better since I
saw thee last!" cried Uncle John. "We shall make a man of thee yet, I
take it, hunchback or no. What has come to thee, lad?"

"I was touched for the King's Evil by our gracious Duke," I answered
with enthusiasm, "and since I have been whole from that malady, I have
grown in strength and soundness every way. Tell me of the Duke, mine
uncle. Where is he? what does he? and how goes it with him? Will he be
King after his father? When will the black box be opened and the truth
anent him be brought to light?"

My uncle smiled as though he knew more than he would say, but he put
his finger to his lips as if to impose caution.

"Hist, boy, it is not well to wear the heart always on the sleeve. The
days we live in are something too full of peril. There be wheels within
wheels and plots within plots of which we simple country folks know
little. Walk warily, and wait till the right moment comes; that is what
men in these days have to do."

I was disappointed at the caution of the answer; nevertheless my
uncle did tell us something of the movements of the Duke during the
past year. He had made another "progress" through Cheshire and the
more northern portion of the kingdom, and this progress had been very
jealously regarded by the court party. The Duke of York was always
the enemy of Monmouth, as was perhaps natural, and the King, who
loved them both, had often an evil time of it between them. Sometimes
Monmouth seemed in the ascendant, sometimes his black-browed uncle;
and the plots and machinations of scheming courtiers and ambitious
statesmen were without end. I grew bewildered even trying to follow
Uncle John's talk about all these fine nobles, whose names I scarcely
knew. But when he pulled out from his capacious pocket two or three old
"news-letters," as they were then called, and asked if I could read
them, I soon became absorbed in the contents to the exclusion of all
besides; for anything new to read was as an elixir to me. And when our
father and uncle were smoking their pipes, and mother and the girls
washing up and putting away, I began reading loud to them the most
interesting bits of news that I could find, quite unaware that Uncle
John had ceased to talk with father, and was staring at me open-eyed.

At last he broke into speech.

"By the Lord Harry," he exclaimed (a favourite expletive of his), "the
boy reads like a parson! Where did he learn it all?"

"He has always been a scholar," answered mother, with some pride;
"that is what I say to them that pity his crooked back. He has a better
head than the best of them. He will be a fine scholar in time.--Dicon,
go get thy writing-book, and show thine uncle what thou canst do."

Aunt Betsy had given me a neat book full of blank paper, and I had
taken pains to write my best themes and most lengthy calculations and
cipherings into it. I showed it to my uncle with some pride; and as
he turned the leaves I saw him look astonished, impressed, and almost
triumphant, and I wondered not a little what could be in his mind.

"Why, boy," he cried, looking up at me at last, "canst add up rows of
figures like that, and bring the right total at the end?"

"I trow I can, uncle," I replied with some confidence; for by this time
I knew that I could trust myself to get the right answer however long
the sum might be. "Set me down a sum and I will show you. I can reckon
in my head too, and I seldom make an error."

Well, not to be tedious in telling all this--for I find it hard to know
just how much to say and how much to leave unsaid in this history--it
appeared at length that our uncle's inn in Taunton was becoming so well
patronized by all sorts and conditions of men, that he knew not how to
find time to keep his books as well as to entertain his guests; and
since neither his wife nor his daughter had any skill with the pen,
he was looking about him for somebody whom he could trust to relieve
him of those laborious duties of book-keeping which he had hitherto
managed to overtake himself, though at the cost of much time and labour.

Seeing my aptitude at figures, and hearing my fluency at reading aloud,
he had been seized with the idea that I should be valuable to him.

Many and many a time had he wanted the weekly news-letter read aloud to
his customers and guests in an evening; but there was no one with skill
enough to make it intelligible thus read. He could read to himself, but
had no courage to declaim it to others. Then if only he could have my
pen at command during the evening, he could enter easily and rapidly
into his books the outgoings of the day, and have bills made out when
need was without trouble to himself. Like many men of his class, he
had a marvellous memory for figures, and could keep a whole day's
reckoning in his head without effort; but the trouble of writing it
down afterwards was great, and to be spared that labour he would give
much.

Then he was proud that any nephew of his should possess such talents
as I did, and he roundly declared to my father that it would be a sin
and a shame to keep such a boy at a farm, where he could learn nothing
but what he could teach himself. In Taunton there was a free school to
which he would send me by day, to learn all I could there with boys of
my own age; whilst in the evening I should aid him with his books, and
read the news-letter to such as desired to hear it, or amuse the guests
of the better sort by declaiming to them some of those scenes from
Shakespeare or Milton which I had now by heart, and which my mother
made me recite to my uncle to show how clever I was.

It may well be guessed how excited I was whilst this matter was being
discussed over my head. Of course no question was asked of me as to
my own disposition in the matter. It was a thing for my father and
mother to decide as they would; and when my mother argued my lack of
health and strength of body, my uncle laughed at her, and said I was
full strong enough for him; whilst my father remarked that schooling
for a few years would be a grand thing for me, since I should never
make a farmer, lived I all my life on the farm, but that in Taunton
Town I might rise by my wits to some post such as that of clerk, or
schoolmaster, or even parson, and it might be a fine thing for me in
the end.

Uncle John was very liberal in his offer to my parents. He said he
would feed and clothe me, give me a groat from time to time for myself,
and send me regularly to school for the first year at least, and
probably for two years, till I had learned as much as was needful, and
then they would see what my future career should be. Uncle John had no
son to succeed him in the business, only a daughter, who was likely to
wed a son of Mr. Hucker the serge-maker, and that son was more like to
take to serge-making than to inn-keeping. A hint was given that if I
did well and grew to be a help and comfort to my uncle, I might look
even to be his successor in the business. Certainly that would be a
grand opening for one who had always been looked upon as likely to do
badly in life; and before the talk had lasted an hour, it was settled,
to my great satisfaction, that I was to return with my uncle to
Taunton, and remain in his house as an inmate for at least three years.

How eagerly I made my few simple preparations for leaving home; and
how I counted the hours until I and my uncle were to start off for his
home in the town! Ever since my stay in Ilminster I had greatly desired
a town life. I loved my home in a fashion, but it did not satisfy the
cravings of my nature. I felt shut up and out of reach of news there.
I missed the heart-beat of a great nation, of which I had been dimly
conscious when at my aunt's house during the excitement of the Duke's
progress, when so many stirring matters had been discussed daily. I
was sure that stirring times were coming upon us. I gathered it from
my uncle's words, as well as from certain statements made in the
news-letter which I had read. I was conscious that there were things
of great moment going on in the world of which we country folk knew
nothing. I wanted to know more--to be in the thick of the tumult and
the strife. Little knew I how fully my aspirations would be fulfilled
during my residence in Taunton, and how fearful would be the scenes
upon which I was destined to look in days to come!

I was up with the lark upon the following morning; and whilst I was
attending to Blackbird and diligently grooming off from his sleek sides
the last remnants of his winter coat, my uncle came in at the door and
stood looking at me with an air of approval.

"So you know how to groom a horse as well as how to read a book?" he
said. "That is a pretty pony you have there. I never saw a better
made animal. He will be a fine fellow to go, I take it; and a rare
weight-carrier, if my eye does not deceive me. How old is he?"

"Five this spring, and he can go like the wind. He's been broken these
two years; but he will not let any ride him save me. Uncle, may I take
him with me to Taunton? If he goes not with me, he must be turned loose
to forget all his breaking, and be a wild thing again; for he will not
suffer any rider on his back save me only."

Uncle John made me tell all the story of Blackbird's refractory youth
and of my success with him, and at the end gave a cordial assent to my
request to take my favourite with me.

"To be sure, boy, to be sure. You will want something to ride even in
the town. There is many an errand I shall send you now which I have had
to do myself hitherto. You know something of fat beasts and milch cows,
I take it, else you are scarce your father's son; and if you know not
how to drive a bargain yet, Uncle John will soon teach you!"

At that we both laughed, and I felt already as though raised to man's
estate by being thus addressed by my uncle.

The taking of Blackbird to Taunton Town made my departure from home
a matter of much less regret to me; for the distance being less than
seven miles, and Blackbird making nothing of my weight or of that
distance, I could when occasion served pay ready visits to my father's
house, notwithstanding the fact that the road was in evil plight,
as was the fashion with roads then (a matter which time has seen
considerably amended, and may amend even more as coaches seem to grow
more and more in favour), and highwaymen made travelling ofttimes
dangerous, even for such as owned but small worldly wealth.

How well I remember our start on that bright May morning! Blackbird
seemed to partake of my joy, and held his head proudly, whisked his
long tail to and fro, and arched his neck and looked so proud and gay
withal that my uncle kept regarding him with approving eyes, and more
than once remarked, "Thou shouldst teach him to turn a lady's palfrey,
nephew Dicon, and he would put a pretty penny in thy pocket!"

But I thought I preferred the feel of my eager steed between my knees
to any gold in my purse. Blackbird and I had been comrades and friends
too long for the thought of parting with him to have any attractions
for me. I patted his glossy neck, and was glad his exclusive preference
for me would brook no other rider. As we galloped across the moorland
that day, making wide circuits from the road in our exuberance of
spirit, and returning to join my uncle's sober roadster when we had
had our fill of motion and fresh air, he would give an approving nod
and say, "Fine pony that; and you know how to ride, boy. When you go
a-wooing it had better be on horseback. Pity one can't sell the steed!
he would fetch a pretty price. We'll see, we'll see! Maybe he will
learn sense in the air of a town."

I had once spent a night at my uncle John's inn, on the occasion of my
journey to Ilminster. Although living so near to Taunton as we did, I
had never been in the way of going thither. My mother loved not towns
and their ways; and though I had liberty to scour the country round at
will on Blackbird, I was always bidden to keep to the open country,
and never to extend my excursions to either of the towns within reach
of us. So that after we had passed Volis Cross and descended the hill,
the country was almost strange to me, and I eagerly demanded the name
of every house and hamlet we passed, until my attention was completely
absorbed by our entrance into Taunton itself.

That fine town, which will always be the queen of towns to me, was
looking its best and gayest upon that brilliant May evening. The clocks
were chiming six as we rode across the bridge into North Street, and it
seemed to me that there must be something going on; for the town was
plainly _en fête_--the streets decked with garlands, and the people
saluting each other with the gayest of gay greetings, as though all
hearts were in tune for merriment.

"What is it? what does it mean?" I asked of my uncle; and he looked
surprised at the question as he replied,--

"Why, boy, dost live so nigh to Taunton and not know that to-morrow is
the eleventh day of May?"

I certainly knew that, for I had a calendar of mine own, and studied it
with care; but why Taunton should be so joyful on that account I did
not know, and my puzzled face said as much.

"Why, boy," he said again, "thee such a scholar and not to know how
the good folks of Taunton suffered and starved when holding the town
for the Parliament against that villain Goring, who sought to win it
back to its allegiance to a traitor King? Hast never read that page
of history, nor how it was relieved on the eleventh day of May? Well,
that is why we keep the day with garlands and songs and rejoicings,
as thou wilt see to-morrow. Marry, they say that the King likes it
not well, and our Mayor looks sourly on our sports, and threatens us
with penalties if we are thus disloyal to the monarchy. But the people
will e'en go their own way. The King has done his part to gain their
ill-will, as doubtless thou wilt learn in good time. Where are our
stately walls that once held at bay the thousands of a false King's
troops? Where are many of the noble buildings and commodious houses
which once adorned the Eastreech and East Street? He has worked his
will on them. He has destroyed and ravaged at pleasure. But the mind
and the heart and the will of the citizens are not his. If he takes
away our charter (which he did, though we have it again now), he wins
not the love of the people. We give him loyal and liege service, but we
do not give him love and trust."

My uncle's face was rather grim as he spoke thus, and I understood that
I had come to a place where the divine right of kings, in which I had
believed until now, was not greatly regarded. The story of the nation
had not formed one of my studies. I knew little enough of the events of
the past century, albeit my father had lived through the great civil
war, and had seen some fighting, though holding aloof from it himself.
I had not thought much of anything save the position of the Duke of
Monmouth, and the hope that he would one day be King. As I rode through
the streets of Taunton and saw the decorations being put up for the
morrow, I felt indeed that a new life was opening before me, and that I
was now to learn many things which hitherto had been but names to me.



CHAPTER III.


_MY NEW HOME._

  "The eleventh of May was a joyful day,
    When Taunton got relief;
  Which turned our sorrow into joy,
    And eased us of our grief.

  "The Taunton men were valiant then
    In keeping of the town,
  While many of those who were our foes
    Lay gasping on the ground.

  "When Colonel Massey, of the same,
    Did understand aright,
  He, like a man of courage bold,
    Prepared himself to fight.

  "With that our soldiers one and all
    Cast up their caps, and cried,
  'What need we fear what man can do,
    Since God is on our side?'

  "Long time did Goring lie encamped
    Against fair Taunton Town;
  He made a vow to starve us out,
    And batter our castle down.

  "Within our castle did remain
    (A garrison so strong)
  Those likely lads which did unto
    Our Parliament belong.

  "Before daylight appeared in view,
    The news to them was come
  That Goring and his cursèd crew
    Were all dispersed and gone.

  "But who can tell what joy was there,
    And what content of mind
  Was put into the hearts of those
    Who'd been so long confined?

  "Our bread was fourteenpence per pound,
    And all things sold full dear;
  Which made our soldiers make short meals
    And pinch themselves full near.

  "Our beer was eighteenpence per quart
    (As for a truth was told),
  And butter eighteenpence per pound
    To Christians there was sold.

  "The Cavaliers dispersed with fear,
    And forced were to run,
  On the eleventh of May, by break of day,
    Ere rising of the sun."

It was with the words of this song, chanted by a number of voices in
the street below, that I was awakened upon the first morning of my
residence in my new home.

I had slept profoundly, despite the excitements of my arrival; and when
I awoke suddenly, roused by the sound of this unfamiliar chant, it took
me some moments to recollect where I was, and to convince myself that I
was not dreaming still. The moment that memory returned to me I sprang
out of bed, and putting my head out of the open window, tried to obtain
a view of the singers below.

But this I was unable to do, as I might have known had I taken pains to
consider. My room was high up in the quaint old inn, which even in my
youth was accounted an old house. It looked upon the court-yard behind,
where the stables lay, and where hostlers were already passing to and
fro. I remembered well that I had observed this last night, and that I
had also remarked with satisfaction how my window was provided with a
little wooden balcony, of which the house had many. It was in an angle
of the building above the stables, and not in the main block of the
house where the guests were lodged. Near at hand, and at right angles,
rose the walls of another house, which I could see was not a part of
the inn. It did not look so old, and it was more like a gentleman's
private residence, I thought. All the windows were close curtained, and
I could not gather anything as to the character of its inhabitants. It
seemed passing strange to me then that houses should be thus locked
together; and I was calculating with what ease I could make shift by
the aid of a water-pipe to get in at the window of this house were it
left open, and possess myself of anything the room contained, when the
sound of an impatient neigh from the yard below warned me that time
was getting on, and that Blackbird was probably still unfed (for I had
warned the men not to go to him at first, save in my presence), and
that he was asking for his breakfast as plainly as though he could
utter human speech.

I, too, was in a great hurry to be up and doing, and to see some of
the wonders of the town of which I was in future to be a resident. In
a few moments I was dressed (words of the song below still floating up
to me clearly enough, and getting fixed in my memory, as all words with
rhyme and rhythm have a trick of doing), and was ready to try to find
my way down the curious stairways and along the intricate passages I
had traversed last night under the guidance of my cousin Meg. It was
not so easy as I expected, but as yet nobody in that part of the house
was stirring. It was still very early, for all that the sun was shining
brightly; and I had Blackbird fed, and was ready and eager to be out in
the streets before there was any sign of my uncle or aunt to be seen.

However, my impatience was too great to be stayed by any thought of
a rebuke later, and plunging under the archway which led from the
street to the yard, I found myself in the open space where East Street
and Fore Street join, and looked about me with a lively curiosity,
wondering where I should go and what I should do.

The singers were no longer in sight; they had passed on, and the wide
streets were almost empty. But as I stood looking admiringly about me,
a boy of about my own age came swinging along with a parcel under his
arm, whistling the very tune I had heard set to the words I have just
quoted.

I looked curiously at him, and he returned my glance with interest.
No doubt he was familiar with most of the faces of the towns-folk in
these parts, and wondered who I was. Perhaps my crooked back attracted
his notice, but I did not think of that then, and noting that he half
paused as though not unwilling to speak, I wished him good-morning, and
he returned the salutation.

There was something so bright and friendly in his smile as he did so
that I found courage to say, "Are you going somewhere? May I go with
you?"

"Why, yes, if you like," he answered readily. "I am going to my work. I
am apprenticed to Master Simpson of High Street. If you know aught of
Taunton, doubtless you have heard of him."

"But I do not. I only came hither yester-e'en with mine uncle. I am
nephew to John Snowe of the Three Cups yonder. I am to dwell with him,
and go to the Free School here. I would fain know all I can of Taunton
Town. It is a right fair city. I like it well."

"And you have come on a good day!" cried my new friend, with
brightening eyes. "To-night, so soon as the sun be down, we shall light
a great bonfire in Paul's Fields, and all the town will be there to
see. Ah! I would I had lived in the days when Taunton Town held for
the Parliament against King Charles! But it may be even yet that we
may some of us live to see fine doings and hard fighting; for if the
King dies before his brother, and the Papist Duke of York sits upon the
throne--"

The lad paused as if struck by the magnitude of the thought within him,
and I glanced round to be sure we were not overheard, and asked with
keen interest, "Well, and what then?"

"Why, then, methinks there would be hard blows struck for the rightful
heir, the young Duke of Monmouth," answered the boy, with sparkling
eyes. "All Taunton and the West Country would rise for him, as they
rose for the rights of the nation against the King's father. The
poltroons of London may lick the dust before a Papist usurper, but not
we of the free West Country! We will know the reason why before we bow
to a Papist, be he never so much the King's brother!"

The boldness of this boy astonished me greatly, and also his evident
comprehension of the burning questions of the day, with which I myself
was but imperfectly acquainted. My heart always warmed within me at any
mention of the Duke of Monmouth, and I eagerly plunged into the story
of my own miraculous cure at the hands of his Grace--a tale to which my
companion listened with kindling eyes.

"Marry, but thou shalt come with me and tell it to my master!" he said,
as I ended. "If proof were lacking, there it is; for none save a lawful
King or his lawful heir can cure the King's Evil. There will be a ready
welcome for thee at Master Simpson's. He is one that is bound heart and
soul to the cause of the Duke."

"And what is thy name?" I asked, as I willingly allowed myself to be
led whither my comrade would.

"Will Wiseman is my name, and I be apprenticed to Master Simpson, as I
have said. I dwell beneath his roof; but yester-eve I visited my aunt
in the North Street, and tarried with her till dawn. Thou sayest thou
art nephew to Master Snowe of the Three Cups? He is a good man, one of
our Capital Burgesses; and we take it he would be stanch to the good
cause if the time should come for men to declare themselves."

I was considerably impressed by Will's way of talking. It was as though
he were living in a world of which I knew almost nothing; as though he
were looking forward to something definite and expected, whilst to me
the future was absolutely blank and vague. I felt my ignorance so great
that I did not know so much as how to frame questions; but I was saved
the trouble of doing this partly from the eager talk of my companion,
partly from our speedy arrival at our destination. For soon after
we had passed the bend in High Street, where it turns sharp to the
right toward Shuttern, Will paused before a door with a right goodly
sign hanging above it; and after obtaining entrance, began quickly
taking down the shutters, in which office I gave him what assistance I
could, so that soon the bright light of morning was streaming into the
interior of the shop.

So soon as this was the case I stood open-mouthed in admiration and
wonder, for I had never seen so goodly a shop in all my life before.
Master Simpson must be a man of much substance--so much I could see at
a glance--and his wares were beautiful to the eye and delicate to the
touch. There were bales of costly silk set in a mighty pyramid in one
place; and cloths and lawns, and the good serge manufactured in Taunton
Town, disposed with a simple eye to effect, in due order along shelves
and in the large window. And besides all these things, there was an
inner shop, visible through an archway, in which I saw a sight that
made my mouth water; for there were shelves, guarded by wire doors,
in which hundreds of books were arranged in tempting order--books new
and books old--a sight that drew me like a magnet, so that I forgot
Will and his work, forgot the strangeness of the house and my lack of
manners, and went straight to the book-cases and began reading the
names of the volumes one by one, speaking them half aloud without
knowing it.

I was aroused by feeling a strong hand laid upon my shoulder, and by
the sound of a friendly voice in my ear.

"Hey, but we have a scholar here, in good sooth! So thou art nephew to
good Master Snowe, Will tells me; and hast been touched for King's Evil
by our gracious Duke? Now, boy, tell me all about that, and how the
cure was made, and I will give thee a book for thy pains; for it may be
that this cure of thine shall be a notable thing in the annals of the
day that be coming."

The speaker was plainly the master of the house and shop. He was
soberly habited, as became his condition in life; but he had a strong
face as well as a strong hand and voice, and I felt drawn towards him I
scarce knew why, and told him my tale very gladly, with the story of my
own brief and uneventful life to boot.

He listened with attention, nodding his head the while. Heaven forgive
me if I did amiss. I had no thought to deceive him or others, but I
spoke no word of the man of herbs and potions, nor of the ointments I
had been using for my wounds ere ever the Duke's hand touched me. In
good sooth, I had scarce ever thought of him and his simples since.
Never for a moment did I believe that these had had anything to do
with my cure. It is only long since, when I have heard from others how
in nature there be such marvellous cures for human ills to be found
by those who have skill and faith to seek them aright, that I have
wondered if perchance it was the herb baths and ointments, and not the
touch of the Duke's white hand, that made me whole and sound. But in
those days no such thought ever came to me. I had well-nigh forgotten
the kind old man with his long beard, and of him I spoke no word;
only telling how weak and ill I was and had been from childhood, and
how soon after I had besought the Duke to touch me I became sound and
whole, and had no return of the Evil, which none but such a one as he
could cure.

Master Simpson heard me with great satisfaction, and kept his word
right generously, making me the proud and happy possessor of a small
copy of "Æsop's Fables," with the Latin on one side of the page and
the English on the other--a treasure that in those days was even more
costly than it has become now, and which in spite of its shabby binding
was looked upon as of exceeding worth.

"Thou hadst better learn the Latin tongue, an thou hast the chance at
the Free School," said Master Simpson. "Learning is a grand thing, and
will be a mighty power in the days to come. Learn all thou canst, boy,
when thou art young. The time may come when thou wilt not have the
leisure; make the most of that leisure now."

I was well disposed to carry out that sage advice, being greedy after
knowledge, and I almost longed to run away then and there to study my
book, and see if I could make out aught of the strange Latin words.
Even the possession of such a book made me feel almost a scholar. But
I could not refuse the invitation of Master Simpson to come and take
breakfast with him, albeit my uncle and aunt might well be wondering
what had become of me. But, as I reflected, the hostlers would tell him
I had risen and gone abroad, and upon this festive holiday I did not
think I should be chidden for my early walk.

Behind the shop was a pleasant parlour, and behind that again a
kitchen, from whence a savoury odour proceeded. It gave one an appetite
even to scent it, and I was nothing loath to follow the mercer into
that same kitchen, where a goodly fire burned on the hearth, and a
merry-faced young maiden was flitting about setting trenchers on the
table, and humming a gay ditty the while. She made a reverence as we
came in, and her father (for she was none other than the master's
daughter) gave her a blessing; after which he turned him to a portly
dame who was taking a steaming pot from the fire, and bid her
good-morn, telling her my name and state, and how I was come to Taunton
to make a scholar of myself.

From the likeness which showed itself between the pair before me, I
felt assured that they must be brother and sister, as was indeed the
case. Master Simpson was a widower, but his sister kept house for him,
and played a mother's part to the young Eliza, who gave her almost a
daughter's love. It was pleasant to see so much affection between those
of a household, for at home, albeit we all loved each other well, it
was not our fashion to show it; wherefore it seemed pretty to me to
watch the sly caresses which Eliza would bestow upon her father, or
the way in which Mistress Susan's glance softened when she addressed
herself to the maid.

Will Wiseman and a young man who served in the shop, but who spoke no
word and gave himself only to making a right royal meal, sat at table
with us, though somewhat apart; and ever and anon Will would put in a
word when his master turned to him with a question. He plainly heard
and gave heed to everything that passed, with a keen intelligence that
was shown in the glance of his eye and in the ready way in which his
words came when he had occasion to speak. I took a great liking to Will
from the first moment of our acquaintance, and everything I noted about
him increased the good-will I bore him.

We had a merry meal, and I told the story of my cure yet once again
that day. Lizzie's eyes brightened at the tale (Eliza was always called
Lizzie both at home and abroad, since it appeared that there were many
Elizas in the town, and confusion apt to arise), and she clasped her
hands together and cried,--

"Faith, but Miss Blake will greatly rejoice to hear this! I will tell
her forthwith, and I warrant me I shall be high in favour all the
day for the same story. Good Dicon, thou wilt be a rare favourite in
Taunton Town an thou dost uphold here the rights of our well-loved
Duke!"

"Hist, lassie!" answered her father, yet smiling nevertheless. "It
behoves us to talk with care even in Taunton Town. Let not such words
be heard by the Rev. Mr. Axe, nor still less by Mr. Blewer. The Duke
hath his foes as well as his friends within the town. We must not hurt
a good cause by over-zeal ere the right moment comes."

Lizzie laughed, and asked with a pretty, saucy air who would trouble to
take note of the words of such an obscure maiden as herself; and then
she looked at the clock and sprang up, and said she must even go, or
she should be late, and Miss Blake would chide. And I then learned that
Miss Blake was the mistress of the school where this maiden went daily
for instruction, and moreover that it stood adjoining my uncle's inn,
and must indeed be the house I had been wondering about in looking from
my windows on awakening this very morning.

So on understanding this much, I sprang up and asked leave to escort
pretty Lizzie to her school; and soon we were walking along the
garlanded streets, and she was telling me how greatly Miss Blake and
Mrs. Musgrave loved the Duke, and how dear his cause was to the hearts
of the people of Taunton. I also learned that Miss Blake and Mrs.
Musgrave were two ladies of virtue and learning, and that they had each
kept a school for girls in the beginning, but had now joined these two
seminaries into one. Miss Blake took the younger maidens, and Mrs.
Musgrave the elder ones; and my companion chattered so fast about her
companions, telling me their names, ages, and accomplishments with such
fluency, that I was quite bewildered; and the only item of information
which I retained in my head was that there was one, Mary Mead, a
youthful heiress, some years older than any of her companions, who
had been educated by Mrs. Musgrave, and still remained in her charge,
although since she was now of marriageable age it was likely that her
condition in life would speedily be changed.

We parted the best of friends at the door of the seminary, where some
other maidens were assembling, who looked curiously upon me as I took
off my cap and made my best bow to them all. The door of the school was
a few paces round the corner, and the house was of fine proportions.
I well understood as I looked at it--Lizzie and her companions having
now disappeared within--how it was that my room over our stable
buildings approached so nigh to it. I felt a good deal of interest in
the close vicinity of these bright-faced town maidens, who seemed so
different from the country girls I had lived amongst hitherto. Not that
I would disparage mine own sisters and their friends; but there were
a brightness and ease of manner and readiness of wit amongst these
damsels which dazzled and captivated me, and which I had never seen at
home.

When I got back to the inn, I found breakfast well-nigh done; but I
received no chiding for my absence, especially when I said whither
I had been and with whom. Master Simpson was plainly a notable man
of good repute in Taunton, and a friend of mine uncle's to boot. My
uncle, too, was pleased at the gift of the book which I had received,
arguing that Master Simpson must have thought well of my scholarship. I
read him two or three of the fables; whereat he laughed not a little,
and bid me hold myself in readiness to amuse his guests therewith on
another occasion.

I was not to go to school till the following week, and to-day I had
leave to wander whither I would, to see what I could and what I most
desired, and enjoy the merry-making of the town.

My cousin Meg, a fine buxom lass of nigh upon twenty summers, was all
agog to go with me; and I was proud enough to have such a companion. So
after I had helped her with her dishes and so forth, being skilled in
many feminine tasks through helping my mother at home when she and the
girls were pressed, she donned her holiday gown and gayest hood--and
well she became them both, as I failed not to tell her--and I put on my
best clothes, which seemed to me fine enough even if somewhat lacking
in the grace and fashion I saw in some of the towns-folk of the better
sort; and forth we sallied to see the sights of the town, and to enjoy
any revelry that might be going.

The best of the merry-making would be towards evening, when the shops
would close, and the apprentices and shopmen be free to join; but even
now there was plenty to see and to admire. The fine proportions of the
streets and public buildings filled me with a great wonder; and when we
dived down a passage past Huish's Almshouse, and came out in front of
St. Mary's Church, I stood still and silent in speechless admiration,
marvelling at its wondrous beauty and lofty dignity, and asking of
myself whether St. Paul's itself in fair London town could be as goodly
a sight.

It so chanced that service was going on, and nothing would serve me but
that I must go in and hear what it was like. Meg was willing enough to
gratify me: for from being bred a dissenter, like the majority of the
towns-folk, she attended the services of the dissenting flock in Paul's
Meeting Sunday by Sunday; and the offices of the Establishment, which
she was wont to hear stigmatized as "Popish," were quite unfamiliar to
her, and had therefore a certain fascination.

There were two clergymen taking part in the service; and when we were
in the street again, Meg said to me (interrupting my raptures about the
architectural beauties of the place),--

"He with the grey hair peeping from beneath his wig is Mr. Axe. He
is much beloved in Taunton, although men say that he is an enemy
to the Duke of Monmouth, and tells men freely that he can never be
lawful King, but that if the King dies childless, as seems like, we
must submit to see the Duke of York upon the throne--a thing which is
abhorrent to the minds of many. Yet in spite of this he is loved and
trusted. But the other, Mr. Blewer, is hated and feared. I scarce know
why we all think so ill of him, but he hath a cruel face and an evil
eye; and some say that he is the bitter foe of all who follow not the
teachings of the Established Church, whilst there be others who call
him a Papist at heart, and say that when the Duke of York is King (if
ever such a day comes, which Heaven forbid!) he will show what manner
of man he is, and evil will fall upon many in Taunton through him."

"He has a bad face and a cruel mouth," I answered, having studied
his face with a sense of reluctant fascination for which I could
not account as I knelt in the church. Could it have been that some
presentiment of his cruelty stole over me even then? I know not how
that may be, but I do know that though my hair is now grey, and though
I have lived beyond the allotted span of man's days, I cannot even now
think of that miscreant without a tingling of the blood in my veins
such as I seldom experience for aught besides.

That day was a notable one in my life, although it seems like a dream
now. I looked upon the outside of many a noble building--St. James's
Church; Paul's Meeting, which I was to worship in for a time; the
Castle; the Free School, which I was to know right well erelong; and
the Almshouses, which had been erected by the charitable in bygone
years for the benefit of the aged poor.

The town was all bedecked with flags and garlands, and the bands of
singers went about chanting their ditties, receiving rewards from
many of the richer and more prosperous of the towns-folk, as well as
the humbler, who were all so devoted to the cause of what they termed
"liberty and right."

In the evening there was a grand bonfire in Paul's Field, and another
in Priory Fields at the other extremity of the town.

Will Wiseman and I joined forces, and rushed from one to the other,
getting an excellent view of both; and we danced around the fire with
the best of them, and hooted for the Duke of York and the Pope, and
shouted for the King and the Duke of Monmouth, until at last we had no
voice left wherewith to shout more. When the embers burned low, and the
sheriff's officer came to bid the people disperse, we went reluctantly
home with the crowd, talking in friendly whispers of the glorious days
that perhaps were coming, when we should be able to show the metal
of which we were made, and almost ready to wish for the excitements
and horrors of another civil war, if only we might bear a share in its
glory and its danger.

We had heard so many stories from the bystanders who did remember those
days, that our blood was fired, and we ardently longed for a repetition
of such exciting events.

Well, we were destined to see something of bloodshed before many years
had passed over our heads, and one of us was to shed his blood--as he
sincerely longed at that moment to do, but whether in the fashion that
came about it is not for me to say here.

And so ended my first eventful day in Taunton Town.



CHAPTER IV.

_MY NEW LIFE._


If I were to begin to set down in order all the many things that
happened to me without and within the town of Taunton during the early
days of my residence there, I should go far to fill a volume ere ever I
had reached the matters of which it is my intention more particularly
to speak.

So I must strive after all the brevity of a skilled master of the craft
of penmanship and story-telling, and seek to skim the cream from the
surface of events, without wearying the reader with overmuch detail.

Let me say, in the first place, that I was very happy in my new life.
I was kindly treated by my relatives. I made myself useful to my uncle
in many ways, and I was a favourite with his guests, who delighted to
hear the news of the day read to them whilst they smoked their pipes at
ease, and who were all ready to talk with me when the reading was over,
one telling me one bit of public gossip, and another another, till my
mind was quite a storehouse of information, and I was able to talk upon
almost any subject with the air of one who knew something about it.

The reputation for cleverness and knowledge which I soon gained
(though in good sooth it was less knowledge than a good memory that I
possessed) gave me a small standing of mine own in the place, and I had
quite a brisk little business erelong, in writing letters for those who
could not do it for themselves, and getting them passed on by trusty
hands, by means of some of the many visitors who passed to and fro
between our town and other places. My uncle let me keep for myself all
such moneys as I gained in this fashion, and so I was able to take home
to my mother and sisters presents which made them open their eyes wide
in amaze, on the occasions when I mounted Blackbird and rode over to
my former home. I was looked upon now as a person of some importance;
and although only a lad of thirteen summers, I felt as if I should soon
arrive at man's estate.

I had something to suffer at the Free School from the gibes and the
envy of the other boys, who liked not to be surpassed at their books
by the "hunchback clown"--such was their name for me for a time--and
who paid me many an ill turn and played off many a malicious trick,
until at last they wearied of it, or I gradually grew into favour,
I scarce knew which, and I was let alone to go mine own way. But in
spite of all this I was happy in my school hours, for I was learning
every day something new; and if the boys misliked me, the masters took
good heed of me and favoured my thirst after knowledge, so that I was
able to study with zeal and success, and to win the praise of Mr. Axe,
who would come from time to time to hear the boys recite, or to ask
them questions from Scripture or secular history, and who never left
without a word of kindness for me.

I came to revere and love Mr. Axe right well. He was not truly the
Vicar of beauteous St. Mary's Church. The Vicar, in very sooth, was
one Mr. Hart, who was (so it was told me) also Canon of Bristol and
Prebendary of Wells, so that he had but scant time to think of his
duties here. Mr. Axe, however, supplied all that was lacking, and was
greatly beloved by us--as much beloved as Mr. Blewer was mistrusted
and feared: for we would cross the street to avoid coming within the
radius of _his_ basilisk glance; and I for one never saw him without
the feeling that he would prove a cruel foe ere we had seen the last of
him.

Now I had scarce been a month at my uncle's house before a great
excitement befell us, and a great fear fell upon many of our
towns-folk; for it was rumoured that this thing would lose the Duke of
Monmouth his head, and that even if his life were spared he would have
to fly the country, and be no more seen in this land.

And the reason for this rumour, which filled all Somersetshire with
sorrow, was the discovery of a vile plot against the life of the King
and that of the Duke of York, which wicked and slanderous tongues were
eager to charge upon the virtuous and high-minded Duke of Monmouth.

Well do I remember the day when first the news of this infamous plot,
which came to be called the Rye House Plot, reached the good citizens
of Taunton.

It was upon a Sunday morning, and I, together with my uncle and aunt
and his daughter Meg, had started forth for Paul's Meeting, which we
always attended for morning service, when we noted that the people in
the streets had an air of gravity and anxiety which was not usual, and
that all seemed to be asking questions one of another, although none
seemed to be ready with an answer.

Now generally we were the first to hear any news that might reach the
town, because that travellers were wont to put up at the Three Cups
rather than at the other hostelries, which were less beliked than our
house. But to-day there had been none arrival, and my uncle stopped to
ask the first acquaintance he encountered what was the meaning of the
general discomposure.

Now it chanced that this acquaintance was none other than Heywood
Dare--"Old Dare," as he was often called, less perhaps from his actual
years than because he had a son who was also a notable man in his way,
and who had a part to play in the days that were coming.

Now old Dare had a story of his own, and was a great man in Taunton. He
was by trade a goldsmith, and a man of substance to boot; but it was
not his wealth that had gained for him the repute in which he was held,
but his courage and devotion to the cause of liberty and justice.

It was one of the grievances of the times that the King would not
permit Parliament to sit sometimes for long years together. Men
whispered that he received great sums of money from France, which
enabled him to dispense with the summoning of his own loyal subjects
to grant supplies. However that may be, the people were grieved and
wroth that their assembly was not called and permitted to sit, as they
claimed that it had the right to do; and petitions from townships were
constantly sent up to his Majesty imploring him to call together his
Parliament, until the King grew greatly incensed, issued proclamations
forbidding the presentation of these petitions, and threatening with
severe penalties those who went about "getting hands," as it was
termed, to put to these documents. Indeed many barbarous severities
had been put in practice against those who still strove to collect
names for such papers; and curious enough were such documents when they
were drawn up, for three-fourths of those who "set hand" to them could
not write their names, but could only make a mark which was to stand
instead of it.

Now some four years back Old Dare had got up a notable petition, and
it had been signed or marked by half Taunton, and by Bridgewater and
Ilminster and many another fair town. The sturdy old goldsmith pursued
his way to London with it. It was his intention to deliver it to the
King with his own hand; and this intention he carried out, meeting
the King hard by the Houses of Parliament, and presenting his paper
on bended knee. The King took it unsuspecting--for it was a bold man
who would venture to place one of the abhorred petitions in the royal
hands; but on unfolding it he became instantly aware of its nature, and
turning sharply upon the offender, he asked him how he dared to do such
a thing. "Sire," replied the intrepid goldsmith, "my name is Dare!" And
forasmuch as there is always something noble in fearless courage, and
that his Majesty is not without nobility of soul, no hurt was done to
the bold petitioner, albeit no good that I ever heard of came from his
petition.

Well then, to return to my present tale, it was Old Dare whom we
encountered in the street to-day; and when my uncle asked what the coil
was all about, he shook his head and answered,--

"I cannot say with knowledge; but a messenger rode post-haste to the
house of the Mayor but now, and it was plain, by the stains of travel
on him and his horse, that they had been hard pushed to reach the
place. It is something of note, I take it, and something of evil, I
fear." He lowered his voice and said in my uncle's ear (yet I heard
every word, being very keen of hearing), "I fear me it will prove to be
some plot to ruin the Duke and his Council of Six. It may be that they
have been something rash and forward. I fear me we shall hear bad news
ere the day is out."

I knew well what was meant by the Council of Six. The Duke of Monmouth
had some faithful friends, lovers of liberty and constitutional
rule--my Lord of Russell and Mr. Algernon Sydney being of the
number--who met together often to discuss what might be done for a
country beginning once again to groan beneath the yoke of an arbitrary
exercise of the power of the Crown. Representations had been made to
the King, it was said, to summon Parliament, and give to the people
their lawful voice in the government; but this having proved of none
avail, it had been whispered that these men had spoken of another
Great Revolution, such as had cost the King's father his head; and of
course such talk was accounted rank treason in those days, and was like
to cost many a man his life.

Now we of the West Country in general, and of Taunton Town in
particular, knew very well that if any rising or tumult took place, it
would be like enough to be in our neighbourhood; and that, even if we
kept ourselves tranquil, we might get the credit of being turbulent,
and have our rights infringed, even if our charter were not taken
from us, as it had been early in the King's reign, although restored
seventeen years later. Also, we all of us pinned our chiefest hopes of
constitutional government and the Protestant religion on the hoped-for
succession of the Duke of Monmouth; and if he were to be implicated in
a plot which should cost him liberty or life, our hopes would receive
a crushing blow, and nothing lie before us but the succession of a
bigoted Papist and a man of known cruelty and tyranny.

Small wonder was it, therefore, that our faces were grave, and that
we all looked anxiously at our minister, Mr. Vincent, as he mounted
the pulpit a little after the usual time, and looked seriously upon
our upturned faces. He made no attempt at a regular sermon that day,
but after giving thanks for the merciful preservation of his gracious
Majesty the King from a recent and great danger, he proceeded to tell
us that a plot had been laid against the King's life and that of the
Duke of York, and how it was currently rumoured that the Duke of
Monmouth and his friends were concerned in the matter. Arrests had
been made of certain persons, and the Duke had fled and hidden himself.

Mr. Vincent also told us, with great seriousness, that rumour had
already been forward to declare that an insurrection had commenced,
with Taunton as its centre; and counselled us, as we valued the peace
of the realm and our own safety, to avoid any cause of offence, and to
remain perfectly quiet and tranquil. The time might come in the future
when it would be a righteous thing to rise up and strike a blow for
the liberty and the faith of the country, but certainly that day had
not yet come. The King upon the throne was the rightful one; his rule
was on the whole fair and just. There was no quarrel with him. Nothing
would so injure the righteous cause as a revolt against law and order;
nothing would so greatly hurt the cause of the young Duke of Monmouth.
We must show discretion and wisdom at this time, that none might have
cause to look with suspicion upon us.

This wise counsel from one who was a pillar of strength amongst us was
not without due effect. We looked at one another and resolved to abide
by Mr. Vincent's counsel. We knew that our Mayor was a bitter enemy to
all dissenters, and would fasten upon us an indictment of disaffection
if we gave the smallest ground. Indeed he took instant action upon
hearing of the plot, and called some bands of the militia into the
town; and I verily believe that it was with his consent, if not at his
instigation, that a deed was done in the town which made us who called
ourselves dissenters tingle with rage and feel almost ready to raise
the very tumult of which we were altogether innocent in fact.

Now the thing of which I speak was nothing less than the demolishing of
the great chapel called Paul's Meeting, of which I have spoken, and in
which hundreds of citizens met to worship Sunday by Sunday. And this
thing was done, to the great shame of those concerned in it, just when
the excitement which I have mentioned prevailed, notwithstanding that
Mr. Vincent and Mr. Burgess, both of whom preached to us there, were
godly men, and taught us submission to lawful rulers, and spoke no evil
of dignitaries.

The first I knew of this was one evening just before our house
generally closed for the night--it was summer then, and not dark till
ten of the clock--when Will Wiseman came rushing into the yard, all
bursting with excitement, and crying out to me in panting gasps,--

"Dicon, Dicon, come and see! come and see! They are pulling our
meeting-house to pieces, and say they will make such a bonfire of our
pews and pulpit as shall light to bed every dissenter in the county!
Come and see! come and see! I would not go myself till I had told thee!"

Will Wiseman was certain to be in the forefront of everything; but I
had no mind to be left behind. Forthwith we both rushed out from the
yard, and soon the noise of a great tumult fell upon our ears. In the
streets men were gathered together with dark faces and threatening
mien, some talking angrily against the dissenters, who, it was
declared, had been guilty of plotting against the King's life, but many
more holding a stern silence and regarding their enemies with silent
hostility; whilst hoarse cries and shouts rent the air, and grew louder
and more distinct as we drew near to Paul's Meeting.

Once within sight of the building, we saw that it was lighted up from
within; and unable to come near to the door for the surging mob around
it, we climbed up to one of the windows and looked in.

What a sight it was! There were a hundred men inside, I should think,
armed with hammers and saws and other tools and weapons; and these
were all engaged in hammering, sawing, breaking down, and demolishing
the whole of the woodwork in the chapel; and as fast as some pew, or
great piece of panelling, or any large fragment of pulpit or gallery
was broken off, other men would rush forward and drag it forth from
the door, to carry it away into Paul's Fields, where it was plain that
the great bonfire was to be made. And all the while they worked, they
shouted out threats against their fellow-townsmen, calling out, "Down
with all traitors! Down with the King's enemies! We will have nothing
but the Church and the King!"

Yet many of the fellows now working like furies and shouting out these
words had attended many a service in Paul's Meeting, and were friendly
enough towards us, albeit perhaps not men of much personal godliness.
But they were carried away by the excitement of the moment, and by the
coward fear of getting into trouble with the Mayor should they show
any lack of zeal. Men all over the kingdom were trembling just now in
apprehension of arrest; for informers were going about the country,
and many a lowly as well as many a noble and high personage was flung
into prison on the most trivial charge. To join hands in reviling the
dissenters and calling down blessings upon the King and the Church
seemed the safest way of propitiating the authorities at such a moment;
and this was what our towns-folk were now doing, by demolishing our
chapel, and showing their zeal towards the Court party.

It was all very exciting; and though my heart and Will's swelled
with indignation, we could not help watching till the whole of the
building was stripped. Then we followed in the wake of the shouting
crowd, and soon saw a great pillar of fire rising up from the midst
of the assembled throng. As the great mountain of flame rose higher
and higher, and waved its crown of smoke and sparks up to the roof of
heaven as it seemed, the crowd yelled and shouted and danced around
the pyre, bawling out every kind of folly that came into their heads;
whilst outside the yelling ring, and a little distance away, stood
the stern-faced men who had been wont to worship there, together
with the ministers who had occupied the pulpit, and they looked on
in silence, and gathered sometimes in groups together. Will Wiseman,
who had the faculty of hearing what everybody said without seeming to
listen, whispered to me, "They are saying that they will still meet for
preaching and prayer whatever is done to their meeting-house."

And so indeed it proved, although the Mayor looked stern and dark,
and sometimes uttered hints that sounded almost like a threat against
"conventicles," as he termed them. Indeed he made himself so heartily
misliked amongst the towns-folk, that but for the authority and
protection bestowed by his office, I think some mischief would have
been done him. But though a time of exceeding excitement prevailed for
many weeks, there was no rising in the country; and by-and-by we were
made glad by the tidings that there had been a reconciliation betwixt
the Duke of Monmouth and the King, although Lord William Russell and
Mr. Algernon Sydney ended their lives upon the scaffold.

Not that these men had any complicity in the murder plot against the
King's life. They had souls far above the treachery and meanness
of assassination. But the lesser and more villanous plot of minor
conspirators was grafted upon the larger and wider-reaching intentions
of these champions of liberty and of rule by constitutional rather than
autocratic methods, and they were judged guilty of treason, and were
doomed to death. Some said that the Duke of Monmouth had been led by
promises of restoration to favour to bear witness against his friends.
How that may be I will not say. At this time all Taunton was indignant
at the aspersion cast upon the fair fame of the gallant young Duke, and
the story was indignantly discredited, and by no one more hotly than by
me. Now when my blood is cool, and I have grown wiser and have heard
more of those days, I cannot be so sure of the innocence of the Duke
as I felt then. Men are sorely tempted sometimes, and fall into sin
almost ere they are aware of it. Human nature is weak, and a man may
have many faults and many weaknesses and yet be the idol of the people
for many a long day.

It was at this time that I grew better acquainted with several of the
families in Taunton. I was in great request when the weekly news-letter
came to my uncle's house--he had one of his own as well as that which
was brought to the Mayor; for, as I have said, the Mayor was a bitter
enemy to the dissenting portion of the towns-folk, and that was a
very large section, as the well-filled building, Paul's Meeting, bore
witness Sunday by Sunday.

Foremost amongst my friends I still reckoned Master Simpson and his
family. Will Wiseman was my chosen comrade on all occasions, and Lizzie
was the object of my boyish gallantry, and I continued to think her the
prettiest and most charming maid in all Taunton Town.

But I must not omit to mention others who had a part to play in the
drama that was slowly approaching. Of these I must mention the Herring
family, father and mother, with three daughters, Anne, Susan, and
Grace, all of whom attended Miss Blake's school; and Master John
Hucker, a notable serge-maker, with his daughter Eliza; and the Hewling
family, than which none other was more greatly beloved and esteemed in
the whole of the town.

Mistress Hannah Hewling was mistress of this happy household. She was
a spinster of some thirty years of age, and she played a mother's part
to two virtuous and handsome young men, who were at the time of which
I am now writing aged twenty and seventeen years respectively. This
family had another home in London, where their parents lived, but owned
this house property in Taunton, too, where these two brothers and their
sister lived in the greatest amity and peace. The Hewlings were gentry,
and people of substance, yet so friendly and kindly disposed towards
their towns-folk that we all regarded them as friends. They would stop
to speak a friendly word to any one of us in the street, and many were
the evenings when they would invite some amongst us to their hospitable
house. Sometimes there would be music to enliven us after supper--for
Mistress Hannah played both harp and spinnet right sweetly, whilst
Master Benjamin discoursed eloquent music on the flute, and Master
William could draw strains from his violin that brought tears to the
eyes of the listeners before they well knew it--or failing music, some
one would read aloud from a godly book, or from some history of past
days, and the elder members of the party would be invited to discuss
the subject, whilst the rest of us listened in respectful silence, and
framed our own opinions on what we heard.

It was in this way that I came to understand much of the questions of
the day from the standpoint of those who believed the Duke of Monmouth
to be the champion not of freedom and constitutional rule alone, but
also of the Protestant religion. The things we read about the awful
cruelty and treachery of those who were tainted by the curse of
Popery often made our blood run cold within us; and when it became
increasingly certain that the Duke of York was Papist up to the neck,
and would throw off all disguise when once he ascended the throne, it
was scarce to be marvelled at that we should fix our eyes upon one who
might rise up to be a champion and deliverer, and save us from the
oppression of a tyrant and bigot.

I was heart and soul with all men who held this view, but I noted
often that my uncle would sit mute whilst such talk was going on, and
that he was always slow to commit himself to any open opinion. And
once when I had grown too excited to hold my peace any longer, and had
openly spoken out some of the thoughts that were burning within me,
he had taken me to task afterwards, not sternly indeed, but somewhat
seriously, and had warned me that I had better learn the art of holding
my tongue, and watching the turn of the tide before I launched my bark
upon untried waters.

"But, uncle," I exclaimed eagerly, "surely you are for the Duke?"

"I am for the rightful King of the realm, whoever he be," was the
cautious answer. "It is not given to us to choose our monarch. God sets
Kings upon the throne, and bids us submit ourselves to the powers that
be. That is my principle, and will be my practice; albeit I should
greatly prefer to serve a King of the true faith."

I was puzzled by this way of stating the matter, for it was not after
such cautious fashion that the greater part of our friends talked; but
I began to note as time went by that my uncle was more cautious in many
of his ways than were others, and that he made some small changes in
his methods and habits.

After the Rye House Plot there was great excitement in the country,
and greater efforts than ever were made to force men to attend
public worship in the churches of the Establishment instead of in
meeting-houses of their own. Many such meeting-houses and chapels were
wrecked (like our own) in various places, and the flocks scattered,
so that they could no longer hear their favourite doctrines preached
by their favourite ministers, but must either absent themselves from
public worship or go to church with the orthodox.

Now in St. Mary's Church there was held a grand service of thanksgiving
for the safety of the King and the Duke of York, and the Mayor and
Burgesses all attended in civic pomp. My uncle went, of course, in his
capacity of one of the Capital Burgesses; but rather to our surprise,
he desired that all of us should be present; and from that day forward
he regularly attended the parish church, taking his wife and daughter
and other members of his household. He gave as his reason for this,
that it was right to obey the wishes of the ruling sovereign in so far
as it was possible to do so without violation of the conscience, and
that so long as good Mr. Axe filled the pulpit of St. Mary's, he could
go and hear him with edification and pleasure.

I was quite of that opinion myself, used to the order and liturgy of
the church, and finding the long extempore prayers at Paul's Meeting
less to my liking than the collects set down in the prayer-book. I was
glad to go to church; but I was a little puzzled by my uncle's sudden
zeal for submission and orthodoxy. He said nothing that our friends
could cavil at, and was hearty and warm towards them as ever; but he
seemed to desire to be "all things to all men"--a line of conduct which
I was far too young and hot-headed to understand the use of.

But I must not omit to mention, in dealing with my early experiences
of Taunton, the school next door, and the two kindly gentlewomen who
conducted it.

Meg had once been a scholar there, and kept very friendly relations
with her mistresses. My aunt, too, was very kindly disposed towards
them, and would often send me in with some small delicacy for their
supper; and by-and-by I used to be admitted to the parlour where the
ladies sat, and was sometimes bidden to take a seat and to tell them
some of the gossip of the town. For these gentlewomen seldom stirred
abroad themselves, and all their exercise was taken in the old garden
behind the house, where the pupils walked or played for an hour in the
middle of the day when the weather permitted. As I grew to be better
acquainted with them, I was asked sometimes to read awhile whilst
they plied their needles; and this reading became such a pleasure to
them that by the time the first winter of my stay in Taunton arrived,
I went in about once a week to read the news-letter after it had
been exhausted at the inn, and to tell them all I had gleaned from
travellers or from the talk of the towns-folk upon it.

It was these readings which introduced me first to the notice of fair
Mistress Mary Mead, of whom I had heard upon the very first day of my
sojourn in the town, but of whom I had had no thought till I was months
afterwards brought into her presence.

And I think it behoves me here to explain somewhat of the history of
fair Mistress Mary; for these pages will have a good deal to say of
her, and it may be well that it should be fully understood what manner
of person she was.

Her grandfather had been one of Cromwell's generals--a man stanch to
the side of the Parliament; and he had fallen at the siege of Taunton,
of which mention has been made. His son, Mistress Mary's father, had
been enriched by the spoils of the Cavaliers in their misfortunes,
and had amassed a considerable fortune. This daughter was his only
child, and his wife, who was said to be of a noble royalist family,
died in giving her birth. Sir Thomas Mead--for he had won his spurs of
knighthood--died when his child was ten years old, leaving her to the
guardianship of his friend the Earl of Lonsdale. Sir Thomas had trimmed
his sails with the times, and had welcomed the King back from exile at
the Restoration; but it was always supposed that he had not changed his
views to any notable extent, and that his daughter had been brought up
to glory in the doughty deeds of her grandsire, and to hate and abhor
all undue exercise of royal prerogative, and all indications of Popery.

The girl had been brought up for convenience at the school where the
better towns-folk sent their daughters, Sir Thomas not having yet
learned to hold his head higher than the compeers of his father. When
the child was left an orphan, Lord Lonsdale had summoned her to his
house, and it was supposed that she would remain beneath her guardian's
roof until she married; but some four years later she was suddenly sent
back to the care of Miss Blake and Mrs. Musgrave, not exactly on the
footing of the rest of the scholars, but to remain in their charge as
a member of their household, and to observe the same secluded life as
they did themselves.

Various surmises were afloat with regard to this sudden and unusual
arrangement. Some declared that Mistress Mary's faithful attachment to
her instructors (which was an admitted fact in all quarters) had led to
this step, and that it was her own earnest pleadings which had caused
her to be sent back. Others affirmed that her guardian was alarmed
and displeased by her independence of mind and by her revolutionary
tenets, and had sent her away in disgrace; but that theory was rather
quashed by the improbability of Lord Lonsdale's choosing Miss Blake's
school as the asylum for a refractory maiden, since both the heads of
the establishment were known to be much of the same way of thinking.
The third whisper was that Lord Lonsdale's son, the gallant and dashing
Viscount Vere, had shown such unmistakable signs of falling in love
with his father's ward, that Lord Lonsdale in a great fright (for he
had other views of a more ambitious nature for his son) had sent Mary
away in haste, choosing a place where she was known to have friends
and to be happy, and hoping she would shortly relieve him of all
embarrassment by selecting a husband for herself. But if this was the
case, his choice of a place had hardly been a happy one; for Mistress
Mary led a life of almost nun-like retirement, and had already been
four years with her former mistresses without showing any signs of
entering into bonds of wedlock.

I had heard all these tales and surmises respecting her before ever I
was favoured by the sight of her fair sweet face and graceful form.
But she came to be present often at the readings, and I learned to
think her more exquisitely beautiful every time I saw her. There was
a charm in the steady dark grey eyes, the delicate mobile features,
and the easy grace of her every movement, which my poor pen has no
power to describe. Her voice was low and sweet, the sweetest I have
ever heard, and the rare laugh was like music. Surely had I been a
man, and a comely and gallant one to boot, I should straightway have
fallen in love with sweet Mistress Mary Mead. And I ceased to marvel at
the stories of Viscount Vere; for even as a child she must have been
passing fair, and how could he help loving what was so gracious and so
good?

But I had no suspicion in those early days what I should be called upon
to do for Mistress Mary Mead, nor how great a part I should play in her
life's story.



CHAPTER V.

_I GET AMONGST FINE FOLK._


I have been something remiss all this while in saying no word about
my faithful four-footed friend Blackbird, who had accompanied me to
Taunton, and who remained as constant in his attachment to me there
as he had done at home, notwithstanding all the blandishments and
the praise he received from the hostlers at the inn, and from the
travellers and servants who chanced to note him in the stable. I
could have sold him again and again for a good round sum had I been
so minded, and had he not been so persistent in suffering none other
rider than myself to mount him. Not that I was ever tempted to part
with my comrade; for I was in no need of money, and I found continual
pleasure in the journeys of exploration around Taunton which I made on
Blackbird's back. I came in time to be well acquainted with the whole
of the surrounding country; and very rich and beautiful country it
was, as all men know who are acquainted with our "Queen of the West,"
the name given by Taunton men to their beloved city. And in due time
the possession of Blackbird, and my reputation for riding, brought me
employment of which I had never dreamed before.

I have spoken of beautiful Mistress Mary Mead, whom I came to regard
with a great admiration and reverence. She was like a star in the
firmament of my sky--far, far above me, and yet on whose loveliness
I was ofttimes permitted to gaze, and who would sometimes give me
a kindly smile or a gentle word of praise, which set all my pulses
hammering and the blood tingling in my veins.

But there was better than this in store for me as the dark cold winter
days passed by, and the spring sunshine began to coax forth the shy
flowers in the meadows, and to woo the swelling buds to show their
tender tints of green and gold.

Sweet Mistress Mary had been looking somewhat pale and fragile during
the inclement winter, and when the first heat of coming spring filled
the air, it seemed to make her languid rather than brisk; so the leech
who was called in to see her said that she must take the air without
the fatigue of walking, and, in fine, prescribed horse-exercise for her.

Now in mine uncle's stable was a fair grey palfrey which he had bought
for her good looks, and which carried a lady as carefully and softly
as it is given to steed to do. As soon then as I heard what was spoken
anent Mistress Mary, I set to work to groom and tend Lady Jane (for
so the palfrey was called by us) till her coat shone like satin, and
all the long hair of winter was groomed away. Then I led her round to
Mistress Mary to show her how fair a steed she was; and no sooner had
she seen her than the wish to mount her and ride out into the open
country lanes arose within her heart, and the blood mantled in her
fair cheek, and already the medicine seemed like to work.

Now hanging upon Mistress Mary's hand, as she came to see Lady Jane,
was a younger maiden whose face was well known to me by this time, and
whose rank in life was equal to that of Mistress Mary, and much above
that of those scholars of Miss Blake's who came to her from the town.
Belike it was this that made these twain consort much together, as I
heard from Lizzie that they did. The laughing maid with chestnut curls
and dancing blue eyes was one Mistress Mary Bridges from Bishop's Hull,
a goodly house lying west of Taunton about a mile away or something
over. Mistress Mary was the only girl out of a fine family of boys.
Perchance she was like to grow somewhat too much of a boy herself, for
it was whispered that she could handle a carbine and shoot straight to
the mark, and that she was as bold and fearless as a young lion; so it
may be that for this same cause she was sent to Miss Blake's school, to
be educated with Mistress Mary Mead, who was known for an accomplished
and right gentle lady. During the inclement months of the winter, the
younger Mistress Mary had dwelt beneath the roof of Miss Blake's house;
but I had heard that with the approach of summer she would ride in and
out on her palfrey. And the words that I heard her speak showed me that
this was like enow to be true.

"Ah, Mary," she cried, with her rosy face all aglow, "now we will have
right good times together, thou and I. We will go riding forth whither
we will, when I have my pony in good John Snowe's stable. I will show
thee mine own home, and all the beauteous glades and woods of which I
have told thee. We will ride hither and thither, and be free as air! I
have been but as a caged bird all these weeks. Now we will spread our
wings and fare forth together and see the world. I will be Rosalind,
and thou shalt be Celia! I will protect thee, and we will live the life
of the forest together!" And she laughed so joyous a laugh that I could
scarce forbear to join, albeit I knew my place, and strove to look
unconcerned.

For a few days I heard no more of the matter, and then my uncle
suddenly told me that he had promised I should attend the two
Mistresses Mary three days in the week upon their rides, and that
I must curtail my studies somewhat in order to be able to do this.
Some attendant they must needs have, and to my great satisfaction and
happiness I was told the Mistress Mary Mead herself had said that she
would prefer Dicon Snowe to any other.

Now, although I say it, I think the maidens had made wise choice, for I
doubt me if any other could so well have shown them the country round
Taunton as Blackbird and I. Moreover, knowing what would be wanted by
the courageous and high-spirited ladies, I went out often early upon
Lady Jane, and taught her the tricks of leaping, creeping through
hedges, and overcoming obstacles that Blackbird was famous for; and
since Mistress Mary Bridges' pony was as daring and eager as herself,
there was little that we could not accomplish together when our minds
were set upon it.

I knew my place, I hope, and I was careful to speak no word to my
ladies save such as became their servant; but as we grew acquainted
one with another, they would often draw me into their talk, in that
way which the really high-born have no fear of doing, and discuss with
me many matters in which I was more versed than they. And this I say
without boasting of any learning; for what the ladies desired greatly
to learn was news of those things that were going on in the world about
them, of which little reached them, whilst I was always hearing stories
from the travellers who passed by; and though some told one tale and
some another, so that it was not easy to sift the grain of truth from
the chaff of falsehood, yet one felt to know something as time went on,
and I could tell my ladies many a tale which made them hang upon my
lips as though I spoke words of magic charm.

And ever and again would our talk come back to the Duke of Monmouth,
and the chance of his succeeding to the crown.

Mistress Mary Bridges came of a race that belonged to what men called
the "Court party." At home she heard no good spoken of the Duke
of Monmouth, and told us that her father had many times said with
authority that there was no truth whatsoever in the story of the black
box; that many men believed the Duke of Monmouth to be the son of
Colonel Robert Sydney, and not of the King at all; that her father
always declared him to be much more like "handsome Sydney," as he was
called, than like the King; and that it would be vile sin and shame to
England if any attempt were made to place upon the throne a man upon
whose birth there rested such a stain and slur. His mother, as all the
world knew, had been a vile woman, and the son was like to be little
better than his mother. These things had young Mistress Mary heard her
father say when he was speaking to his wife and others of this matter,
and the daughter had been brought up to look upon the succession of the
Duke as a silly fable, which would never come to aught save empty talk.

Her winter's residence in Taunton, however, had done something to shake
this conviction. Her ardent and romantic nature had caught some of the
fire of Mistress Mary Mead's silent but intense love and enthusiasm for
the Duke; and when I told of my own adventure, spoke of his kindly ways
to the people, his gentleness to me, and the miraculous cure he had
worked upon me, she was still more shaken in her former beliefs, and
looking from one to another of us would say meditatively,--

"Ah! I wonder which is the truth? I would fain believe him the King's
lawful son. That treacherous black-browed Duke of York will be a
terrible tyrant. I would it were any one else to succeed the King! But
my father says we must never do evil that good may come; and to support
an usurper would be that, even should he make the best King afterwards
that the world has ever known!"

But then Mistress Mary Mead's soft eyes would light up with a glow of
wondrous beauty, and she would say softly,--

"But he is no usurper; he is the lawful heir to the throne, and some
day all men will know it! God will light for the righteous cause, and
the truth will be made clear as the noonday. I know it, I know it!
my heart tells it me!" And such a look would come into her face that
all we could do was to gaze at her as though she had been an inspired
prophetess; and the other Mary would throw her arms about her and cry,--

"Now, when thou lookest thus, I cannot but believe every word thou
sayest. I could believe that the angels had revealed these things unto
thee in vision."

And truly I could almost believe the same; for never saw I more perfect
trust and confidence than in the lovely face of Mistress Mary, and I
knew that she was one of those who would gladly lay down her life if
need be in what she held to be a righteous cause.

Now, though I must not linger too long over the story of these pleasant
rides, I must not omit to mention that more than once as we sallied
forth into the lanes and woods we encountered a very gay and dashing
young gallant, who (unless my fancy deceived me) looked long and
earnestly at Mistress Mary, with a strange fixedness in his eyes, as
though he saw something in her aspect that touched him nearly. And this
thing happened more than once, till at last I began to wonder whether
our comings and goings were marked and noted by this same gallant, and
whether he put himself of set purpose in our path.

The first time or two when it happened I doubt if either of my ladies
heeded the passing rider. But there came a day when we met him in a
very straight and narrow way, and had to pass him in single file; and
then it was that a strange thing happened. Young Mistress Mary had
gone in front, and Mistress Mary Bridges followed her--I keeping, as
behoved my position, somewhat in the rear. As Mistress Mary passed by
this horseman, who had drawn rein and pulled his steed well-nigh into
the hedge to let the ladies go by, I saw him put forth a hand and lay
it for a moment on the neck of her palfrey, whilst I was certain that
I heard these words pronounced in a very low tone, "Mary, sweetheart,
hast thou forgotten me?"

I saw her start, and turn her head towards him who had thus addressed
her; and albeit it was little of her face I could see, yet even that
little had flushed, as I saw well, a vivid and beautiful crimson. She
seemed to pause for a moment, as if without knowing it, and I think she
spoke a soft word, though what it was I could not hear. But I saw his
eyes lighten, and his hand seek hers for a moment, and again I heard
him say as they passed each other by, "I will be faithful, I will be
true."

Now all this greatly aroused and interested me; for Mistress Mary Mead
was in very sooth the queen of my heart, and that she should be beloved
by so fair and gallant a gentleman seemed to me most right and fitting.
I knew not this dashing young lord (for such I rightly judged him to
be), but I looked at him well as I passed by, and thought that his
face was a right goodly and honest one, and that if any man deserved
the love of my sweet lady, it would be one such as he. Methought he
gave me a quick and earnest glance as he rode by, but he said no word,
nor did he address either me or Mistress Mary when he met us on other
occasions. Yet methinks there is a language of the eyes which is often
more eloquent than that of the tongue, and I noted that the bloom
returned with wondrous speed to Mistress Mary's pale cheeks, and that
the languor and weakness from which she had been suffering grew less
day by day.

The gay spring-tide flew by as upon wings, and the hot dry summer
followed. There had been something of a drought the previous year, and
again this summer there was great lack of rain, and some of the crops
suffered, although others did well, and all men rejoiced in the brave
sunshine and the way in which the hay was got in and the corn grew and
ripened.

With these summer days, too, came the holidays at the schools. I had no
more studies to prepare for my tutors and masters; nor had I any rides
to take with my ladies, for Miss Blake's house was empty. Mistress Mary
Mead had gone to spend the vacation with her friend at Bishop's Hull,
and I might have felt my time hang heavy, missing their kindly notice
of me, had it not been that another call was made upon my time, and one
which brought me into contact with one in whom I had come to have a
great interest.

I was standing idly in the court-yard one day, watching the comings
and goings of various travellers, and exchanging a word now and again
with one whom I knew, when all of a sudden I woke up to a sense of
keen interest and excitement; for into the yard rode the gallant young
gentleman whom we had so often encountered in our rides, and I at once
went up and held his stirrup for him to dismount, asking him how we
could serve him.

He looked hard at me, and I saw that he knew me instantly.

"Can I have speech with John Snowe?" he asked; and I at once said that
my uncle was within, and would attend him in person. But he still
remained standing beside his horse regarding me steadily; and before he
moved away towards the inn, he remarked with would-be carelessness of
manner, "I have not seen thee abroad of late with thy ladies."

"No, my lord," I answered--for I had made up my mind he could be
nothing less--"the ladies be gone away for a while. They will not
return till the summer has waned."

I thought he looked sorrowful, but he said no more, and turned towards
the inn, bidding me hold his horse till his return, as he should not
be long over his errand. I was curious to know what that errand could
be, and to know the name and rank of the gallant gentleman. I was sure
to find out that from mine uncle, who knew every one, high and low, in
these parts; but my curiosity was gratified sooner than I looked for,
for within five minutes I heard my uncle's voice calling to me to come
in.

Leaving the horse with one of the hostlers, I ran to obey the summons,
and found myself in the best parlour, where the stranger was half
seated upon the table, tapping his riding-boot with his cane as he
talked, my uncle standing respectfully before him, his cap in his hand.
This confirmed my impressions as to the rank of the visitor; for my
uncle by no means capped to every chance traveller, even of the better
sort.

"This is the lad of whom your lordship has heard, Dicon Snowe, my
brother's son," said my uncle as I appeared. "If he will suit your
noble father's purpose, and if it be not for too long a time, we will
make shift to spare him, albeit his place here will not be easy to
fill."

"You shall not be the loser by it, good John," said the young gallant
with a laugh; and I saw that his eyes lighted up with surprise at my
entrance, and I thought that his face looked pleased.

He did not, however, speak openly to me, only giving me a friendly nod
as he said something about "the morrow" to my uncle; and only when he
was gone and we had seen him ride gaily past the windows did I venture
to ask my kinsman, "Who is he? and wherefore has he come? What is it
that he wants of me?"

"That is young Lord Vere--Viscount Vere, if you will--eldest son and
heir to Lord Lonsdale of Court House, West Monkton. Doubtless you have
been near the place sometimes when riding forth with the ladies."

"No," I answered, "Mistress Mary would never ride that way; but I have
seen the house when I have been alone, albeit I knew not who lived in
it. Is it not Lord Lonsdale who is guardian to Mistress Mary Mead?"

"Ay; and some say his son was so smitten by her girlish charms, that
to keep mischief from following she was sent to Miss Blake, and the
Viscount to London and thence to foreign shores, whence he has but
lately returned. But the business that brought him here was to obtain
for his father, my Lord of Lonsdale, the assistance of a reader, who
can beguile his leisure and write his despatches, whilst he recovers
from an inflammation of the eyes which is keeping him a prisoner in
his room. His secretary is away upon some mission, and his lordship
has been doing all himself of late; but his eyes have suddenly become
greatly inflamed and painful, so that he is unable to use them. It has
been told him that I had here a youth who was an excellent reader and
ready likewise with the pen, and he has sent to ask for him to be sent
to Court House for a while. And so I must e'en make shift to spare
thee, boy; for one must give favourable answer when a lord is the suer."

I gathered from what I had heard that it was something more than
courtesy which prompted my uncle to part with me; but I was not
disposed to fall foul of his motives, seeing that I was greatly the
gainer thereby. For, like all young things, I was greedy of change, and
thought that it would be a fine thing to belong for a time to my Lord
of Lonsdale's household--to sit with him in his library and read to him
and pen his despatches. I felt an inch taller as I went from my uncle's
presence to make my simple preparations for leaving on the morrow.
I had been not a little fascinated by the beauty and manly grace of
the Viscount, and the thought that he was the secret lover of sweet
Mistress Mary Mead gave him an added charm in my eyes. Perhaps I should
be able to help those two to a happy termination to their courtship.
Did not the mouse in the fable loose the bonds of the lion? And surely
I might be able to do as much as that!

On the next morning I set forth in great spirits, riding Blackbird, and
carrying a change of apparel in my saddlebag. I knew Court House well,
for I had often seen its chimneys and gables from mine own home, from
which it lay not so very far away by miles, but divided therefrom by a
stretch of swampy land, so that there was no good way of approaching
it. I did not even remember who lived there, though I must surely have
heard. For until I came to dwell in Taunton, I took but small interest
in the affairs of the neighbourhood, save those of the neighbours and
friends amongst whom we lived.

But I was interested enough as I rode up and passed under the archway
to the stables and inferior offices of the house and made known my
errand there. I thought the men looked rather disdainfully at my
crooked back and small stature, but whether they would have been
rude or not I cannot say, for the Viscount chanced to pass that way,
sallying out to see to a favourite horse that was lame; and seeing me
he nodded in his friendly fashion, and calling to an indoor servant, he
bid him conduct me to the Earl without further ado.

So I was taken through one long passage and up a flight of stairs, and
along yet another and a longer passage, and through a door into a hall
of such vast and noble proportions that I would fain have lingered to
look at it, only I was constrained to follow my guide, who turned down
a long corridor lighted by tall narrow windows high up in the wall,
and hung with many a fine picture the likes of which I had never seen
before, until he paused at a massive door sunk in a niche in the wall,
and almost immediately I found myself entering a room almost as large
as a church, with windows filled with lozenges of stained glass bearing
heraldic devices, and with cases of books the very sight of which made
my mouth water and my fingers tingle in the longing desire to know what
was within them.

At the far end of this room, beside a bureau heaped with books and
papers, sat a stately gentleman, soberly but richly clad, and wearing
over his eyes a shade to exclude the light. He held a paper-cutter like
a dagger in his hands, with which he seemed to have been impatiently
toying, and as soon as ever the servant had retired after explaining
his errand, he pointed imperiously to a wooden chair near to the table,
and said, "Sit there, Dicon Snowe, and read to me these letters one by
one. Pause not unless I bid thee. And read thy best and clearest."

I obeyed in some fear and trembling, for I found it a very different
thing to read out written matter to a lord from having to read the
print of book or news-letter to my uncle's guests, or even to Miss
Blake and Mrs. Musgrave. However, I knew that I should only do worse by
letting myself think of this, and by getting frightened at my position;
so I went to my task with what courage I could muster, and soon found
the work so interesting that I forgot all about Lord Lonsdale's rank,
and was as much at home in my task as though I had been in my uncle's
parlour.

I may say without vanity that I pleased my master. I found this out
by degrees as I pursued my avocations under his directions. There was
always a good deal of reading and writing of despatches to be done in
the mornings, and sometimes gentlemen would come in and talk with the
Earl, whilst I sat silent over my task or waited idle for orders. I saw
Sir William Portman frequently, the owner of Orchard Portman, and also
of a fine timbered house in the town; and Sir Ralph Bridges, the father
of Mistress Mary, came sometimes and talked long and earnestly with the
Earl.

I could not hear a great deal of their talk from where I sat in my
recess, and often I had writing to do which engrossed my attention; but
I gathered that the health of the King was beginning to give anxiety
to the Court, that the question of the succession was becoming an
increasingly burning one, and that the power and influence of the Duke
of Monmouth were steadily waning.

This was regarded as very satisfactory by the friends of the Earl, as
I very well saw, although my own heart used to grow heavy within me
as I heard their talk. The Duke was not in England now. He had fled
to Holland, and was sometimes heard of there, sometimes in Brussels.
It was said that he was planning a secret visit to England, to get
speech with the King and seek to regain his favour. All believed the
King to be greatly attached to him, and feared the result of a personal
interview. But all were equally convinced that Charles would never
pass over his brother and rightful heir, or seek to pass any measure
putting Monmouth into the succession. These men of the Court Party
seemed quite secure on this head; but the unpopularity of the Duke of
York in the country, and the strange influence which Monmouth possessed
over the hearts of the people, were sources of danger which they could
not ignore. I heard the matter discussed in all its bearings, and felt
every day to enter into a better understanding of the case; but all
this did not shake my loyalty and love for the Duke one whit, though it
opened my eyes to the knowledge that he would have a harder battle for
his crown (thus I put it to myself) than I had hitherto believed.

In the after-part of the day I generally read other things to the Earl:
history, poetry, learned writings of great men whose names I had never
heard--nothing came amiss to Lord Lonsdale, who was a very learned man;
and he was exceedingly kind in pausing from time to time to make some
explanation which rendered the theme under discussion more intelligible
to me. Of course I never paused to ask a question, but if he stopped
to ask if I understood what I was reading (as he sometimes did),
then I had to answer no, and he would give me a brief but masterly
summary of the matter, and permit me then to ask a question if I did
not understand. So I came to have a great love and reverence for the
Earl, and to feel my mental horizon growing wider round me every day.
I was well treated by the servants of the house, with whom I consorted
at other times; and above all I began to feel an intense and growing
admiration and love for young Lord Vere, who took much notice of me
as the days went by, but of whom I will more fully speak in another
chapter.



CHAPTER VI.

_VISCOUNT VERE._


It may be that what I have now to relate will have something of a
presumptuous sound, seeing that I was a lad of humble birth, and that
my lord the Viscount was heir to a noble name and estate. Nevertheless
truth is truth, be it never so strange, and there be laws of the heart
which follow not the laws of custom and use. Nor was it anything
strange that my heart should go forth to one so handsome, so noble, so
kind of nature, so brave and gallant as the youthful Viscount, Lord
Lonsdale's son; but it always seems passing strange to me when I think
how he made of me a friend and comrade--me, a crook-backed lad of but
fourteen years when first we became acquaint, the son of a farmer, and
nephew to an inn-keeper--one who might never dare to speak such a word
as "friendship" in connection with such an one as my Lord Vere. Yet so
it turned out, and friends we became; and I may e'en write the word
down without shame, albeit in all humility, since to this very day he
speaks of me as friend, and loves to talk over with me those stirring
adventures in which we both bore a part, as you shall hear.

How this strange friendship came about it now behoves me to relate.

I was, as I have explained, installed for a time in Lord Lonsdale's
household, intrusted with the office of reading to him, and of writing
such of his letters as he desired. My duties, however, did not occupy
the whole of my time, and I had many hours of leisure to call mine own.

It was, I think, upon the third day of my stay, and I had found my way
to the stables to look at Blackbird, and to ask whether it would be
deemed right for me to take him out for exercise, when Lord Vere came
into the yard, and seeing me there, cried out in his free and friendly
fashion, "Well met, Dicon; let us ride forth together. I have somewhat
to say to thee; and that pony of thine looks wild for a gallop."

So before a quarter of an hour had passed we were riding through the
great gateway--I following in the wake of the Viscount, as was just and
right, but feeling greatly honoured by being permitted thus to attend
him.

I would fain describe my gallant young lord, only I fear that my poor
pen lacks the skill to bring him before the eye of the reader. It
is easy to speak of handsome, well-cut features, stamped with that
high-bred look that is the birthright of so many of our noble families,
of sunny blue eyes, delicately-arched brows, and a figure full of
grace and power, and skilled in all martial exercises. But these words
sound cold and poor, and do little towards conjuring up the picture of
youthful grace and manhood that was presented in those days by young
Lord Vere. There was a brightness about him which was like nothing so
much as the golden halo round the head of a pictured saint. He seemed
to carry sunshine and light with him. It shone in his eyes, it sparkled
in his smile, it brought light and happiness to the faces of those with
whom he spoke. I have lived long in the world now, and have seen many
men and women whom I have had good cause to love, admire, and revere;
but none amongst these has ever possessed that gracious and brilliant
charm of the Viscount. Never have I felt my heart so stolen away and
enslaved as it was by him. I know what the love is of man to maid,
and how it makes all the world new, and makes a heaven of this earth;
but even this love and glamour is not quite like that which filled my
boyhood's heart when young Lord Vere rode beside me and made of me his
friend. I always think when in Holy Writ I hear how the soul of David
was knit unto the soul of Jonathan, and of how the love of Jonathan
and David is spoken of as a love "passing the love of women," that I
understand the import of these beautiful words better perhaps than
other men may be able to do.

I felt the beginnings of this glamour as I rode after Lord Vere through
the stately park and watched the sunlight playing in his golden curls
and lighting up the bright tints of his riding coat and vest. The
Viscount's hair was so thick and abundant, and curled with such a
natural grace, that he wore no wig, like the greater part of the gentry
in those days; and for my part I think that nothing could have so well
become him as did his own bright hair, although I have heard envious
gallants, who would fain have copied him an they had known how, sneer
at his "maid's face" and floating love-locks.

We had scarce passed beyond the view of the house when Lord Vere reined
in his horse and signed to me to come up beside him; and then with one
quick glance round, as though to assure himself that there were none to
overhear, he said in eager accents, "Dicon lad, I have wanted speech
of thee for a purpose. I prithee tell me all thou knowest about sweet
Mistress Mary Mead."

I was not greatly surprised at the question, albeit it had come
somewhat soon and suddenly. Nor was I loath to speak of Mistress Mary;
and I told my young lord all that I knew of her--how I was favoured
sometimes to read to her with others in Miss Blake's parlour, and how I
had been made her attendant since she had been bidden to take exercise
on her palfrey with young Mistress Mary Bridges.

He listened eagerly, ever and anon putting some quick question anent
her health or the fashion in which she occupied herself; and when I had
told him all that I could, he looked thoughtful for a moment, and then
said, "Boy, dost thou think her happy?"

Truth to tell, I had never seriously considered this question. Mistress
Mary seemed to me as a thing apart, so greatly above my world that
I did not judge of her as I should of others nearer to myself; but
having had the thought suggested, I pondered awhile upon it, and then I
answered,--

"Methinks, perhaps, that she is as one who feels a shadow resting
upon her life. She is ofttimes pensive. She but seldom laughs, and her
smile is sad as well as sweet. I could think of her as one who has some
secret trouble which she is nursing; but I do not speak with knowledge,
my lord, only as my heart prompts me, thinking of her and what I have
noted when in her gentle presence."

Now although I could not doubt that the Viscount greatly loved Mistress
Mary, yet methought his face lighted as if with joy to hear that she
was ofttimes sad. And if at first I was surprised at this, I quickly
began to understand better the reason for this joy.

He rode on for a few minutes in silence, one expression chasing another
over his face; and at last looking earnestly at me, as though he would
read my very soul, he said,--

"Dicon, I must speak to some one, else my heart will break for very
impatience of these bonds of silence. Boy, I like thee. There is that
in thy face which draws me to thee. Canst thou be discreet? canst thou
keep a secret? and wilt thou be true to me if I tell thee more perhaps
of myself than any man knoweth as yet?"

My heart bounded within me at these words. Already it was enslaved by
the charm of this young noble. Even though I had been but three days in
his father's house, I had heard nothing but praise of him, and had come
already to regard him as a bright particular star. To be taken into his
confidence was a favour so far above my merits and so far removed from
anything I had dreamed, that I was bewildered with joy, and could only
breathe forth a hearty and cordial promise that I would be true to the
death, silent as the grave, and the very humble and devoted servant of
the Viscount in any office in which he could employ me and in which I
could serve him.

He looked at me smilingly as I blundered forth my clumsy asseverations,
but I think he read in my eyes that I meant every word that I said; and
when I had finished he held out his hand, and I placed mine within it,
feeling lifted into another sphere by the very touch of those strong
slim fingers.

"There, lad, that is the seal to our comradeship," he said, as he
released my fingers with a strong pressure. "Now I must e'en speak to
thee with some freedom; and yet, perchance, thou hast heard somewhat of
this very matter. Has it ever been told thee that I love Mistress Mary
as a man loves the maiden he would fain seek for his wife?"

"I have heard something of it, my lord," I answered; "albeit I think
that none know rightly whether there be truth in the rumour or no."

"If men say that I love her as never woman was loved yet, they speak in
very sooth no more than the truth," was the impetuous answer, and the
young lord's face flushed with the generous ardour of his love, whilst
his eyes kindled with such a light as methinks no maiden could resist;
but after a brief moment the flush faded, and he smiled at his own
vehemence, and said,--

"Nay, but I must not prate and rant like a hot-headed boy. I have
reached man's estate, and as a man will I woo and win my fair lady. And
thou, good Dicon, shalt help me to this, an thou wilt; for men have
raised barriers betwixt us that be not easily broken down. Not only
have they taken her away and placed her with those who would keep her
from me, but they have taught her to think that her sweet love will
injure me, and that to wed with her would be to do me grievous hurt."

"Is that so?" I asked, marvelling; and walking our horses at a foot's
pace under the green trees, the Viscount told me all his tale.

"Truly I think that from very childhood we loved each other. Thou canst
well guess how sweet a maid she was when she came to us, and how in my
lonely boyhood she seemed to come like a creature of light and air; how
we roved the woods and dells together, and played that we were king and
queen of all the earth; and how we plighted our troth a thousand times,
and never thought of life save as a thing to be shared together.

"I verily believe that, had my mother lived, she would have taken our
part; for Mary was in sooth a daughter to her, and she loved her with a
great and tender love. But she was taken away, and methinks the grief
of that parting changed Mary from child to maiden at an early age. Be
that as it may, when she was not yet fifteen years, and when I was but
eighteen, I could refrain myself no longer, but told her fully and
freely of my love; and she hid her sweet face upon my breast, and said
that she had never known a thought or a wish save to be mine. And so we
plighted our troth standing over my mother's grave, where it was that
her tears had roused within me the resolve to speak at once and for
ever, and to win for myself the right to chase those tears away. Our
troth-plight was the more hallowed to both of us, I know, for that it
was taken in that spot, amid so many memories of her who had been so
infinitely dear to both."

The Viscount paused a moment and turned away his head; and I thought
none the less highly of his manhood that the memory of his departed
mother had brought tears to his eyes. For a moment he paused, and then
he continued his tale, speaking in a graver tone, and with less of
emotion.

"Having thus opened my heart to Mary, the time had come for me to speak
to my father. I went to him without fear, and yet I was aware of some
small misgiving in my heart. Not that I could see how he could, by any
manner of means, find aught amiss with my choice; yet I remembered
how he had from time to time spoken of my marriage, and had seemed to
think that a daughter of our good friend Sir William Portman would
prove to be the lady of my choice. Hitherto I had only smiled when he
spoke thus, and had given the matter scarce another thought, having no
intentions towards marriage till Mary should be older. But I remembered
it as I approached the door of his room that day, and my heart sank
somewhat within me."

"But surely, my lord, your noble father could not have aught but love
for one so sweet as Mistress Mary?" I hazarded.

The Viscount slightly shook his head.

"Thou wilt find as thou growest in wisdom and in years, good Dicon,
that a father may love a fair maid right well, and yet not desire her
for his son's wife; and that he may care little for the lady he desires
to call his daughter-in-law the whiles he is very eager to betroth her
to his son. I was speedily to find that my father would hear not a word
of my troth-plight to Mary. He strove first to laugh; and when I would
not have the matter slighted, he grew stern and hard, told me that he
had other projects for me, and that in these dangerous and perilous
times--for they are more perilous than thou dost well know, Dicon, and
are like to be more so should aught happen to the King--no man could
walk too warily. He said he had chosen a wife for me out of the family
of the Portmans, as, in sooth, I had half believed, and that Mary was
no fit match for me. Some wealth she had, but her lineage was not equal
to mine, and, child though she was, she was deeply tainted by the
disloyalty and rebellious notions of her father. He had watched with
pain the development of the germs of this evil, which had been fostered
by those to whom her education had been intrusted, albeit at that time
he had not known this. In short, he would have none of it. He would
not listen to my pleading. He told me that I was but a boy, and knew
not what was for mine own good; whilst she was a child, and would say
yea to any swain who came a-wooing. And since I was unwilling thus to
be treated, and asserted my manhood and my unchanging devotion in the
finest phrases at my command, he took another line with me, and said
that I must have a chance of seeing other maidens than my Mary; and, in
fine, he told me to make ready to be sent to the King's Court, where it
was full time that I presented myself, and where he intended to send me
forthwith."

"Was not that good news, my lord?" I asked as he paused. "Surely your
lordship must have desired to see the gay world of fashion and the
person of the King's Majesty?"

"I wanted nothing so much then as to bask in the sunshine of Mary's
bright eyes," answered Lord Vere quickly. "Nevertheless, if that might
not be, and if it were needful to prove my constancy, I was willing to
obey my father; and, indeed, I had no choice but to do as I was bid.
Mary herself told me that I must submit myself to my father's will; and
within a week I had bidden her farewell, vowing to be constant to her
for ever, and quickly found myself in London, and welcomed at Court by
many of my father's friends."

"And what is the life of the Court like, my lord?" I ventured to
inquire; but the Viscount laughed and shook his head.

"Ask me that another time, good Dicon, and I will give thee thy fill of
stories of its follies and pleasures and wickedness; but my thoughts
are with my Mary to-day, and I will not sully her name nor her image
by mingling with it any of these polluted memories. I was there some
three months when my father came; and I heard then from him that Mary
had been sent away from Court House to Miss Blake's, or rather to Mrs.
Musgrave's care, in Taunton. My father said that a maid needed the
care of women--which is doubtless true; and that, now my mother was
dead, there was no one here to be a companion to her. I wrote her a
letter when I was able to find a safe messenger; but she was long in
replying, although I begged her to let me hear from her. And when she
did write, it was to tell me that she would not hold me bound by any
of the words I had spoken to her; that, since it would not be for my
happiness or welfare to wed with her, she freely gave me up. She bid
me do my father's will without thought of her; and albeit a spirit of
gentle, sorrowful love breathed in every line of her letter, not a word
of love did it contain, and I understood well that my father had made
her believe it would injure my fortune to mate with her, and that she
was striving to help me to forget, so that I might do that which was
thought by others to forward my fortunes in the world."

"Ah! that was like her--that was like her!" I could not refrain from
exclaiming. "That is what all who know her say of her--that she thinks
always of others, never of herself. That is why all love her so much.
They say of her ofttimes that she is like one of the holy angels, so
full of goodness and purity."

Lord Vere's face kindled, as I soon found it always did at any praise
of Mistress Mary; but he made no direct answer, only going on with his
narrative.

"It was two years before I saw Court House again; but those years had
served only to deepen my love for sweet Mary. Beside the image of her
which I carried always in my heart, other women looked to me like
'painted Jezebels,' as I called them in my thoughts. I never saw one
amongst them who stirred my heart or recalled in anywise the feelings
with which I had regarded my Mary; and when I came back, I was resolved
that I would rid her mind of those false notions which had been
instilled into it by others. But, alas! I was something too impetuous
and outspoken, and my father got wind of my intentions. What steps he
took I know not, but Mary had left Taunton ere ever I was able to ride
over to seek her. All I could learn was that she had been taken away
for the sake of her health, and whither she had gone my father would
not tell me. Kind in all else, he was inexorable about Mary, and soon I
was so seriously beset to pay my addresses to Mistress Julia Portman,
that I was glad to leave Court House once more, and travel abroad
or pay visits at the Court; and only of late have I returned home,
having arrived at man's estate and come into possession of the fortune
bequeathed me by my mother, as fully bent as ever upon winning my Mary
for my wife, albeit I have learned to go to work more warily now, and
to use policy in my methods."

"And does my lord the Earl know that your heart is yet unchanged, my
lord?" I asked eagerly.

"To him I have spoken no word," answered the Viscount gravely. "I trow
he thinks my boyish freak forgotten. What he may have said to Mistress
Mary, or to those who have charge of her, to keep her from me, I know
not. That he still desires an alliance with the Portman family I cannot
doubt, although Mistress Julia is now wed, and it is her younger sister
Edith whose praises are from time to time sounded in my ears. But I
have seen Mary. I have spoken to her, as thou, good Dicon, dost know.
I have read in her sweet eyes that however she may strive to turn from
me, yet her heart is mine as mine is hers. Her words may be few and
cold, but her eyes speak eloquent language. Obstacles and difficulties
may lie in our path; but I will overcome them in the strength of my
love, and Mary shall be mine at last!"

As he spoke, my very heart went out to him in his generous, chivalrous
love; and stretching out my hand and bringing it down upon his
charger's neck in my eagerness, I cried,--

"O my lord, what maid could stand out against such love? And if I can
do aught to help you, I am your very humble and devoted servant ever."

"Good lad, I believe thee," he answered warmly. "There is something in
thy face which draws me to trust thee. I have watched thee oft when
thou hast little known it: for when Mistress Mary rode forth I have
seldom been far away, though not often have I dared to show myself.
I read in thine eyes that thou didst love her. I knew that thou wert
faithful and watchful. And now, tell me true, boy: is she, as my father
would have me believe, one of those who look upon the young Duke of
Monmouth as the coming saviour and deliverer of this nation? And would
she look with aversion and displeasure upon one who (if indeed in days
to come it comes to be a question of fighting) would be forced by duty
and conviction to take up arms upon the other side?"

At that question I felt my face grow grave; for I knew right well
how Mistress Mary's heart was with the Duke of Monmouth, and how she
did indeed regard him as the coming deliverer of the nation, and the
champion of the cause of true religion. Very deep in her heart were
these matters buried. Very sacred in her eyes was the cause of him whom
she often declared to be the embodiment of all that she held dear in
matters appertaining to freedom of government and of faith. Could she
indeed ally herself to one who was banded upon the other side? It would
be a hard struggle betwixt love and duty--that at least I was sure of;
and did she think also that her love would be hurtful to him to whom it
was given, why, then, in very truth I thought that the scale would be
turned against him.

The Viscount's face fell as I spoke to him of these matters, and told
him of the assurance Mistress Mary felt, not only of the integrity of
the Duke, but of his right to rule the kingdom as the legitimate son of
the King; and I saw his face cloud over almost as if with impatience,
as he answered sharply and decisively,--

"Why will people persist in believing a mischievous fable? If the King
had a lawful son, he would be glad and thankful to proclaim him, and
have done with the endless cabals and plots which are making his life
a misery. Why, Dicon, there have been times when he must have been
sorely tempted by his black brother's jealousy and spite, and by his
love for the Duke, to proclaim him his lawful heir. But he has never
done so; nay, more, when it has been almost offered to him--as it was
to the great Eighth Harry--to appoint his own heir and make an end
of these disastrous disputes as to the succession, he has never let
himself be tempted to do this injustice to his brother. Honour has
withheld him, though certainly were Monmouth his lawful son he would
have acted very differently. Some say he is not the King's son at all,
despite the affection between them. I tell you plainly, Dicon, that
he is by no means the hero you good folk of the West Country imagine.
He has many good qualities. He has distinguished himself in the Dutch
wars by many acts of bravery; but he is tainted by the treachery of the
Stuarts--for I will not deny that they are a treacherous race, though
I am a loyal servant to the King. He is a bad husband to his virtuous
Duchess. The vices of his mother are appearing in him; and though he
is a stanch Protestant and a hater of Popery, yet he is not the saint
and the deliverer you enthusiasts believe him. Have a care, Dicon, how
you act if ever this comes to be a question of blows and of fighting;
for the kingdom is _not_ with the bastard Duke. We may not do ill that
good may come, nor fight against our lawful King to set an usurper on
the throne, be he never such a champion of liberty. What followed when
Cromwell was ruler though not called King? A tyranny worse than the
nation had ever groaned under in the King's time. The people had had
their will then, and it ended in their sighing for their rightful King
and bringing him back in triumph. And so it will be again if the Duke
of Monmouth is ever foolish enough to try to claim the throne. I doubt
me if he will ever succeed in winning it, but I am quite certain that
he will never keep it; and there will be evil days then for those who
take his part."

I listened with grave face and sinking heart to words which affected
me more as coming from Lord Vere than they had done when spoken by his
noble father and the other gentlemen. Somehow I had fancied that all
young and generous souls would go out in love towards our idol the
Duke, and to hear him spoken of by Lord Vere in such terms gave me a
curious shock. I could not but tremble to think how Mistress Mary would
take such words--she who had dreamed her dreams about the Duke till he
became to her as the hero of some noble tale, as the stainless knight
of romance going forth in the might of truth and righteousness to tread
down all enemies with lofty courage and devotion.

Methought the Viscount would need all the charm of his grace and the
attraction of their mutual love to approach Mistress Mary with such
words on his lips and such thoughts in his heart; but after all, was
not such love as theirs proof against all difference of opinion in
outward matters? Only to Mistress Mary these things went deep, deep
into her heart, and she could not regard them as mere externals.

This first ride and first talk were by no means the last; and before I
left Court House (with a generous gratuity in my pocket, over and above
the sum paid to my uncle) I felt that, despite the wide difference of
our stations, I knew the heart of the Viscount as nobody in the world
knew it, and that the word "friendship" between us was no mockery.

Heart and soul was I with him in his desire to win speech of Mistress
Mary, and to plead his cause in person; and I took back with me a long
letter written by Lord Vere, which I promised faithfully to deliver
into her own hands, unseen by all the world, so soon as she should be
returned and I could find a way of doing this discreetly.



CHAPTER VII.

_A WINTER OF PLOTS._


I went back to my uncle's house with my head full of romantic stuff
about lovers and love's dreams, and with every intention of working
might and main to bring about the happiness of the two beings in whom
these romantic notions centred--namely, the dashing young Viscount
and sweet Mistress Mary Mead. Not only did I resolve to deliver the
precious letter upon the first possible opportunity, but I also made up
my mind to speak such glowing words of praise anent the writer thereof
as should move the heart of any maiden, still more of one who I was
very certain was predisposed to think kindly of him of whom I should
thus speak. I was little versed in affairs of the heart; yet I had
not read my Shakespeare so earnestly for nothing all these years, and
I felt very sure that the heart of a young maid was not of adamant,
and that the youthful wooing of which the Viscount had told me could
not have failed to make an impression upon the tender and ardent
imagination of Mistress Mary.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the eagerness on my part to set things
in train for a happy consummation, I was destined to disappointment;
for not only had Mistress Mary not returned to Miss Blake's house
when I got back, but I speedily heard that she had accompanied her
young namesake on a visit the latter was paying to some relatives in
the adjoining county of Devon, and that she was not like to return to
Taunton for some months to come. Moreover, I could not learn her exact
whereabouts in Devonshire, only that it was at the other side of the
county, and nigh to Cornwall. There was plainly no chance for me to
pay her a flying visit on Blackbird. I should have to wait until she
returned to her abode in the town. I shrewdly suspected that my Lord
of Lonsdale had had somewhat to do with this journey of hers far away.
Belike he had spoken to his friend Sir Ralph Bridges of his wish to
keep his son from the fascinations of Mistress Mary, and this visit for
her had been arranged between them.

Lord Vere was very sorrowful when he heard what had befallen,
and declared it all part of a plot. But he was resolved that no
machinations on the part of those about them should sunder him from his
Mary, and made up his mind to wait in patience till she returned, and
then see if he could not make shift by hook or by crook to get speech
of her, and plead his cause in person. Meantime he hung much about
Taunton, and improved his acquaintance with that city and with many of
its inhabitants, making himself well beloved by all who saw him for his
gay and winsome ways, and his gracious kindliness of demeanour to his
inferiors. And doubtless this paved the way for what followed later.

I had not been home long before Will Wiseman sought me out, and with an
air of secrecy and importance invited me to come when occasion served
and visit him of an evening at Master Simpson's house.

"There be meetings twice or thrice in the week, Dicon," he whispered,
with his finger on his lips. "Men say that the King cannot live
long--that he has a mortal disease which is slowly consuming him. The
friends of liberty are laying their plans, and are taking counsel
together what it is best to do. They meet at Master Simpson's ofttimes,
and if thou wilt come I will take care thou dost hear all that is said.
Money is being got together, and men are secretly working amongst their
fellows, so that at the right moment the whole county will rise as one
man for the right. Come and hear for thyself; but not a word to thine
uncle. He is too cautious a man to join with the friends of freedom. He
desires to see how the issue will be decided ere he commits himself to
take a side. That is not the stuff of which heroes are made." Will's
eyes flashed with his enthusiasm; and I caught the spirit from him, and
vowed I would come so soon as my duties would permit me.

What Will spoke of mine uncle was too true for me to resent. He was one
of those who desired to embrace the winning side, whichever that side
should be. I knew well that in his heart he favoured the cause of the
Duke of Monmouth; but he was less sanguine than some of his towns-folk
of the chances of the Duke's success, and he had no wish to imperil
his life or his living by any unguarded movement that might cause
him trouble later. He went steadily about his daily business, talking
freely with all who came and went, but always professing that he had
neither time nor knowledge to judge such matters. The making of kings
was no business of his; all he strove after was to obey the laws of the
land, and give his allegiance to the reigning sovereign.

By these methods he succeeded in keeping the confidence and liking of
all men; for a pleasanter companion, and a more hearty man in his ways,
it would be hard to find. If ever he heard me speak an unguarded word
on great matters, he would smite me on the shoulder, and give me a
kindly hint to guard my tongue, lest it should bring me into trouble,
and urge me not to meddle with matters beyond my understanding. But I
could not abide by such prudent counsel, and was all agog to hear what
was the talk of Master Simpson's parlour, whither I repaired whenever I
had the chance.

The men most frequently gathered together there for discussion and
mutual encouragement as the winter drew on were the two Hewling
brothers, of whom mention has been made, and who had wealth and leisure
as well as good-will to expend in the cause; Master Herring and Master
Hucker; a gentleman of the name of Sharpe, who was son to the Rev.
Emmanuel Sharpe, who had once been Vicar of St. Mary Magdalen; and
last, but not least, the two Dares, father and son, who always seemed
of all present the most to incline to bold counsel and resolute action.

I should weary the reader were I to give too much in detail all that
was planned and discussed at these meetings; but as the winter days
drew on, and rumours from London spoke more certainly of the King's
declining health, there was greater and greater desire amongst our
friends to rouse in the minds of the people of the West Country a
resolve to make a stand against Popery and unlawful tyranny. And I
remember well how Heywood Dare stood forth one day and said that
he would straightway go to Holland, find the Duke of Monmouth, and
take counsel with him; whilst those who remained behind were to work
ceaselessly in his interest here: so that when a blow was struck it
might be a heavy and decisive one.

The Duke of Monmouth was now living at the Hague in a sort of
honourable exile. The King had never ceased to regard him with
affection; but the jealousies and dissensions of the Court, and the
hostility of his own brother, had made him decree this thing for the
sake of peace and quietness. It seemed to us that it should have been
the Duke of York who ought to have been sent away; but unluckily we had
no voice in the ruling of these matters. It was the Protestant Duke
who had been forced to quit the country, and it certainly seemed an
excellent thing to establish direct personal relations with him through
the medium of Heywood Dare, a man of so much courage and devotion.

Those who worked amongst the people, sounding them and striving to
kindle within their hearts an enthusiasm for the cause, reported
favourably of the temper of the common people, but said that the
gentry held aloof, and were not to be approached. The influence of
the Earl of Lonsdale, Sir William Portman, and Sir Ralph Bridges was
very great around Taunton, and all these gentlemen were loyal in their
allegiance to what was termed the "Court party."

Sometimes I was called in and questioned about what I had heard at
Court House of the matters appertaining to the Duke, and my reports
were not favourable to our wishes. But I ventured once to hint that I
thought perhaps the young lord, Viscount Vere, might be won over to our
cause; and Mr. Benjamin Hewling was forthwith requested to seek him
out and strive to sound him in the matter. For all those who knew most
about the chances of such a struggle and the fortunes of war--should it
ever come to a passage of arms--declared many times that we must have
men of the better sort to lead and advise our recruits. Undisciplined
soldiers would follow an experienced and gallant captain, when they
would fall away in confusion and fear if they had no one above
themselves to look to. I could well believe that there were hundreds
who would follow the Viscount to danger and death, and fight to the
very last gasp, who would turn tail and run like sheep had they only a
plain townsman at their head.

How Mr. Benjamin Hewling fared on his mission I did not hear at once,
but I thought in my heart that Lord Vere would scarce be adamant to
a cause in which his Mary's heart was so bound up. He despised and
hated the Duke of York--I knew that very well--albeit he declared his
conviction of the necessity of supporting the rightful heir to the
crown be he never so personally unbeloved. But if Mr. Benjamin, with
his silver tongue and gentle ways, or Mistress Mary, with pleading
glances and eloquent words, could make him see the matter differently,
why, then, in him the good cause would have an able recruit; for my
Lord Vere was skilled in every kind of martial exercise, had seen
action abroad, and was of no small personal valour and gallantry.

I not unfrequently saw him in the streets arm in arm with Mr. Hewling,
and I heard of him as being seen within their hospitable doors, whilst
men spoke of the friendship which was growing up between him and the
two brothers, of whom all men thought so well. That they were growing
to be friends was evident enough, but whether the brothers Hewling
would persuade him to look at public matters with their eyes was what
none could say as yet.

Things were in this way at the approach of Christmas, and of that busy
festive season which kept me so close at home that I could scarce
stir abroad in search of amusement or information. There seemed to be
nothing but coming and going from morning till night--the lack of rain,
which still continued even during the winter, making the roads better
for travellers, and the excited state of the country tending to make
men restless and anxious for news.

But what excited me more than the rumours from London or the
preparations for Christmas-tide was the return of Mistress Mary to Miss
Blake's house just before the festive season came.

I did not know that she was back; for the school had broken up for the
recess, and my informant Lizzie, who kept me conversant with what went
on within those walls, had not heard anything of the matter when I was
asked to come and read to the ladies, as I was in the way of doing
from time to time. When therefore I entered the parlour, with my book
beneath my arm and the most recent news-letter in my hand, who should
be there, in her accustomed seat beside the fire, but Mistress Mary
Mead, looking as sweet and lovely as ever, though perhaps a little
pale; and seated beside her, with his hungry, cruel-looking eyes almost
always fixed upon her face, was the Rev. Nicholas Blewer, the man whom
above all others in Taunton Town I feared and hated.

How came he there? and how dared he sit beside Mistress Mary as though
it were his right, and keep his evil eyes so constantly upon her face
as he was doing now? I felt my blood boil in my veins as I saw him, and
I should well have liked to take the knave by the throat and fling him
out at the door. But instead I was forced to sit in my place and read
to him as well as to the rest, and listen to his comments upon the news
of the week--comments which, as I well saw, brought the flush of anger
many times into Mistress Mary's cheek. For Mr. Blewer was a bitter
enemy of those who held for liberty and the Duke; and it was whispered
that at heart he was a Papist, and every whit as cruel as the Duke of
York.

Now I trust that in thus speaking of Mr. Blewer it will not be thought
that I would willingly speak evil of any man called to a holy office,
or that I have any hatred towards the clergy of the Established Church
of the land, for this is far from being the case. I hold that we owe
them all reverence and honour, and, as these pages will show, I account
Mr. Axe a great and noble man, albeit he took our contrary part in the
struggle I am coming to. Yet inasmuch as there are black sheep in every
flock, and as the cassock and surplice do not do away with a man's evil
nature--nay, the very fact that a man of unbridled passions should
blaspheme the name of God and the Holy Ghost by taking upon himself
vows for which he is unfit, makes his office of necessity a mockery and
a stumbling-block--so it always has seemed to me that if an ordained
priest of God is untrue to his calling, he becomes a much worse man
than if he had not mocked God by taking such vows into his lips. At
least I can but say that Mr. Blewer always appeared to me to be an
emissary of the Evil One disguised as a servant of God, and I am sure
that Mistress Mary shrank from him as though he were indeed such an one.

It was a great matter of wonderment to me how he came to be in Miss
Blake's parlour, for I was sure that neither she nor Mrs. Musgrave
had any love for him. These ladies and their pupils (such as resided
beneath their roof) attended service at St. Mary's Church, as it was
considered right and proper to do, and Mr. Axe was revered and beloved
by them. But why this evil-faced Mr. Blewer was admitted was a source
of much perplexity to me, and my perplexity was turned to alarm when
I perceived that upon rising to take his leave he saluted Mistress
Mary's hand with a look which could not well be mistaken, and made as
though he would have gone further and saluted her lips also had she not
drawn herself away with a decision that was not to be mistaken.

I saw an ugly look spring into his eyes at that, and thought his smile
more hideous than a frown would have been.

"Ah well, I must be patient, sweetheart," he said. "We shall learn to
understand each other better in time."

Then, with a bow which included all the ladies, he retired, and I was
almost astonished to see gentle Mistress Mary dash the hand that he had
kissed against the marble mantel-shelf with such force that she must
have bruised the tender skin.

"That odious man!" she cried, with unwonted heat. "Prithee, dear madam,
have pity upon me, and let him come here no more."

"Dear Mary, I like him as little as thou," answered Miss Blake, with a
shake of the head. "I know he is an evil creature. But what can I do,
when your worthy guardian bids me give him access from time to time,
that he may pay his addresses to you, and tells me that he does this
with his approval and consent?"

I almost gasped at this, for I began to see that Mistress Mary was
like to be made the victim of a plot which seemed vile and base to
me, although I was certain that Lord Lonsdale had no idea of acting
unjustly or cruelly. Doubtless he would think Mr. Blewer a suitable
husband for his ward. No one knew aught against him, so far as I
had ever heard, and he had some money, and came of a family as good
as Mistress Mary's. To get her safely and quickly married would, of
course, be the easiest way of keeping her out of the path of his son. I
could not wonder at the turn matters had taken, and yet my heart felt
hot within me as I thought of the Viscount and then recalled the cruel,
wolfish face of Mr. Blewer.

That night, as I reached my room, I stepped out upon the balcony and
eagerly scanned the windows of the house I had just quitted. Once or
twice it had been my hap to see the fair face of Mistress Mary looking
out from a window not very far away; and to-night fortune favoured me,
for I had not been at my post more than a few minutes before a curtain
was drawn aside and a gleam of light shone out. Then quickly a casement
was flung open as if by an impatient hand, and Mistress Mary leaned out
into the clear frosty night as though eager to inhale the fresh cold
air. I thought I heard a sound break from her like a sob or a sigh.
That she was in perplexity and trouble I could not doubt, and I longed
with a longing that would brook no delay to go and comfort her.

I looked into the yard below. All was perfectly quiet and tranquil. I
scanned all the windows of both houses, but no light shone from any
save Mistress Mary's. I stood above her in my balcony, clasping the
letter I had dashed in to fetch in my hand. The next minute I had
hidden it in the breast of my doublet, and was swinging myself like a
monkey from balcony and waterspout to balcony and waterspout, till my
movements attracted her attention, and she gave a little cry of fear.

"Hist, mistress!" I cried in a low voice; "fear not. It is I--Dicon
Snowe. I have somewhat to say to thee, and somewhat to give. Have no
fear; I will reach thee without hurt."

For if my back was crooked, and my legs not of great service for long
walks, I had a length and strength of arm that made amends for much,
and such a transit as this was but child's play to me. I was soon
upon the balcony outside the window by which she stood; but I came no
further, knowing my place better than to intrude upon her.

"Mistress Mary," I said eagerly, "I have a letter for you from my lord
the young Viscount Vere. I have had it these three months, but never
have seen you to deliver it. I sware to him I would not let it leave my
hands till I could place it in yours. Take it and read it; and if there
be any answer, I will make shift to deliver that. For I love my lord as
much as he deserves to be loved by high and low; and since I know his
heart is bound up in love for you, I would fain carry him good tidings."

It was perhaps overbold of me to speak so, but my heart seemed burning
within me; and although Mistress Mary's cheek glowed and she turned
away with her letter, yet I saw the soft light which had come into her
eyes, and I knew that her heart was not cold to him, however she might
have schooled herself to think she must thwart his love.

She read her letter from end to end whilst I stood and watched her,
though since she discreetly turned her back to me I could not see its
effect upon her. Nevertheless, when she turned round I was sure there
were tears upon her cheek, and I did not think that they were tears of
sorrow.

"O Dicon," she said, coming forward towards me with the confidence that
a sister might show to a brother, "Lord Vere says he has told all the
story to thee. What must I say? What must I do when there be so many
things against it, and it will hurt him so with his father if I let him
have his way?"

"Methinks, lady, it will hurt him the more if you be cruel to him," I
answered eagerly; "for his very heart is bound up in this matter, and
he has been faithful all these years."

"I know it, I know it! How can I doubt it, and how could I help loving
him, when he was suffered to be all the world to me in days of yore?
But a maid may not always wed as her heart prompts, and I would suffer
untold woe myself sooner than hurt him. And it has been said to me that
it would hurt him grievously if I were to wed with him; and in very
truth there be many and grievous barriers betwixt us," and she sighed
heavily, whilst a cloud came over her face.

I guessed of what she was thinking, and that it was the different view
they took of the coming strife, and I knew not how to reassure her
here; but I ventured to remark,--

"But Mr. Blewer hates the cause of the Duke and of freedom as my lord
the Viscount never would. Sure it were better to marry a noble foe than
one so cruel and false!"

"Marry Mr. Blewer!" cried Mistress Mary, with a vehemence I scarce
believed her capable of; "sooner would I die than do that! Nay, come
what will, none shall coerce me there. I can live and die a maid, if
Heaven so will it, but I will never wed with yon bad man!"

Right glad was I to hear her speak with such spirit and resolve; for we
of the stronger sex are always half afraid that women may be cajoled or
coerced into anything if only the persecution be determined enough. Yet
I could not get her to intrust me with a letter to Lord Vere, nor yet
with a direct message; only when I said that I would tell him what had
passed betwixt us twain, she did not say me nay.

I had no rest till I had got speech of the Viscount and had told him
all that had passed. His brow darkened ominously as he heard of Mr.
Blewer, and of his own father's support of such a suit.

"He had better have a care how he goads me," I heard him mutter through
his shut teeth; "he may chance to find he has gone too far an he treat
her and me thus."

Then I told of the interview I had had with Mistress Mary, and his face
kindled at the recital. As I finished he burst forth,--

"They have made her think she will injure me by her love. I must see
her myself, and show her the folly of that belief. Dicon lad, thou
art a trusty comrade; thou must do yet one thing more for me. Thou
must show me how I may get secretly to the balcony of my lady's room,
and so have speech with her, no man but thee knowing it. Once face to
face with her, I warrant I will chase away her fears and her doubts.
Thou shalt keep thy watch whilst I speak with her; nor will I enter her
room, but only stand without as thou hast done. But see her I must,
else shipwreck may come of the happiness of two lives. Wilt thou help
me in this, good Dicon?"

I think I would have helped him to whatever he asked with such a look
and smile; but anything so like a repetition of the romantic story of
Romeo and Juliet kindled my ardent enthusiasm and interest. I had very
small doubts myself that Mistress Mary would be at her window again
to-night, half repenting her of her refusal to send a message, and on
the look-out for more news of her lover; therefore as soon as the house
was quiet I showed the Viscount how the transit to the balcony might be
made, and myself stood in another balcony commanding all the windows,
just out of ear-shot, but in full view of the lovers, and ready to give
them any assistance by warning or counsel.

It was a bold scheme, but like many such it won its reward. My lord had
not waited there above ten minutes before the curtains were drawn back,
the casement opened, and then, with a little cry which penetrated even
to my ears, Mistress Mary came face to face with her lover.

I was very happy at the success of this experiment; but I confess I
had time to grow very cold before the casement closed again and my lord
called cautiously to me to join him. I did this without much trouble,
and then showed him how he might reach the ground without danger of
falling. Soon we stood together in the paved court-yard of the inn, and
he grasped my hands in both of his, whilst I could see that his eyes
were shining as brilliantly as stars.

"Dicon," he said, "thou art the best and truest of comrades. I will
never forget thy good offices this night."

And I felt already abundantly rewarded for what I had done.

It was not my place to ask questions, but surely there was no need in
face of my lord's joyous and triumphant bearing. He seemed to tread on
air. He passed his arm through mine, and drew me forth into the street
with him through the arched gateway, which was not closed at night in
quiet times; nor did we pause till we reached the bridge and stood
looking down into the flowing dark waters together.

"I could walk all night for very happiness!" cried the Viscount, with
that exhilaration of spirit which comes from a deep joy. "Can England
itself boast a fairer and more gracious maid than my Mary? Ah, the days
will come when my father will rejoice to welcome her as a daughter!
None could stand long against such sweetness and beauty."

Then, his energies having been spent in pacing awhile through the
frosty night, we turned our steps homewards. I gained ingress by means
of a small side door, the key of which I had in my pocket; and my lord
slept that night at the Three Cups, and rode forth in the morning;
whilst a white hand was waved for a moment from a window above the
yard, and then quickly withdrawn.

The next time that I was able, at Will Wiseman's eager instigation, to
find my way to Master Simpson's when a meeting had gathered there, I
saw Lord Vere enter arm in arm with Mr. Hewling; and Will gave my ribs
a triumphant dig with his elbow as he whispered joyfully,--

"See, we are getting nobles to join us at last. Mr. Hewling has
prevailed with my lord Vere."

I nodded, keeping my own counsel; but I had a shrewd notion that
something else besides the arguments and persuasions of Mr. Hewling had
prevailed to make a convert of the Viscount.



CHAPTER VIII.

"_LE ROI EST MORT._"


"Dicon! Dicon! Come down, lad; come down! The whole town is beside
itself, and we want thine eyes and thy tongue here. Get up and come
down. Lose not a moment! Heaven help us all if the thing be true!"

I was roused from my sleep on a bright February morning by the hearty
tones of my uncle's sonorous voice. I lost not a moment in springing up
and hurrying into my clothes, for there was an urgency in his manner
which betokened that something unwonted was afoot.

Truth to tell, I was later abed than was my wont, owing to having
aided my Lord Vere to another stolen interview with Mistress Mary
the previous evening, followed by a second stolen interview at Mr.
Hewling's house, where some important letters had been read and
discussed, and where Mr. Speke, from Ilminster, had attended, and had
given an encouraging report of the state of public feeling in his part
of the world.

It was now known all over the country, I suppose, that the King was
grievously ill and like to die; albeit there were many who declared
that he would be given back in answer to the prayers from the
churches. I suppose all men who had any sort of love for their country
or interest in public affairs felt grave anxiety just at this time. For
there could be small doubt that it would go hard but that bloodshed
of some kind there would be, were the Duke of York to succeed to the
throne; and yet there seemed no other to take that place, seeing that
the Duke of Monmouth was an exile, and that he would have to fight for
the crown ere he could hope to wear it. Men who remembered the horrors
of civil war a generation back, the disruption of families, and the
bloodshed and confusion, shook their heads mournfully, and advised any
submission rather than a repetition of such fearsome things; but we of
younger and rasher spirit--we who had never tasted of such horrors,
but looked only on the glory and honour to be reaped in warfare--felt
very differently. I think I, despite my physical deformities, should
have been grieved to the heart had any prophet arisen to say that
there would be no fighting in our days. The martial spirit had seized
upon me. I, in common with others, watched eagerly the marshalling
and exercising of the train-bands and militia whenever they assembled
under their leaders; and although we knew right well that they were
thus mustered and put through their exercises with a view to showing
the towns-folk how useless would be any rising of the rabble, when
these bands could at once be brought out to crush it, yet knowing the
individual men in the ranks, we were certain that half of them at least
were hot in the cause of our Duke, and that if the chance for joining
him arose, they would come over, arms, ammunition, bright-coloured
uniforms, and all.

But I must return to that day when the great news reached Taunton.
I rushed downstairs, finishing my toilet as I did so, to find all
the lower rooms filled with excited folk who had come in from the
streets the moment the news had got wind, and were so crowding round a
travel-stained messenger that it was some time before I could approach
near enough to hear what he was saying. But I did not need to do that
to know what had happened, for the news was in every mouth,--

"The King is dead! the King is dead! God save us all! The Duke of York
is proclaimed King in his stead!"

"The King was poisoned by his brother!" whispered a voice in the crowd.
I know not whence it came; but the word was taken up in the lowest
of tones, and one heard it go surging along accompanied by a sort of
shuddering sigh, as though men half feared to utter the fearful words.
Other wild whispers soon got afloat. Some vowed it was the Queen who
had administered the poison in her intolerant jealousy; others, that
it was the notorious Duchess of Portsmouth; but the favourite and
most lasting impression of those who believed that foul means had
been employed to put the King out of the way, was that his brother
the Duke had contrived to poison him, either through his snuff or in
his food,--and since he was the man of all others to reap advantage
from that death, the opinion flourished and gained ground amongst his
enemies apace.

But crowding round the weary messenger, who had galloped to Taunton
with the news since noon the previous day, we strove to learn from him
every detail of the calamity; and he told his tale again and again.

That the King had been out of health since the fall of the previous
year was a thing known to all the country. Some called it gout, and
said it was a matter of small moment; others shook their heads over
it, and said it showed a break up of the sound constitution which had
hitherto marked the monarch. But although there had been much anxious
discussion as to the succession, men were not really prepared for this
sudden end to the King's life; and when we heard that he had been only
four days actually ill, the end did indeed seem to be sudden.

But the terrible thing to us was the story with which the messenger
said that all London was ringing--namely, that upon his death-bed the
King had been admitted into the Romish Church; that a priest had been
found and brought to him by his brother; and that all the courtiers,
with the exception of the Earls of Feversham and Bath, had been turned
out of the room whilst extreme unction had been administered, and his
Majesty confessed and shrived by the priest found with some difficulty
for the office.

This was indeed grave news; for if the Duke of York had acted thus,
was there any hope but that he would openly profess the Romish faith
when he was set upon the throne? At once a vision of Smithfield fires
rose before the mind's eye of numbers and numbers of those who heard
the story. It seemed to us that with a Papist King, a man notorious for
his cruelty and love of inflicting misery and bloodshed, any sort of
horror was possible. What wonder that faces grew pale, that we looked
at each other in silent amaze, whilst the women wept aloud and gathered
their children into their arms as though to protect them from some
menacing peril!

"And the King himself, what did he say?" was asked in many quarters.
"Did he speak of the Duke--the Duke of Monmouth? Did he say aught of
him and his rights?"

The messenger shook his head as this question reached him. The man was
one who knew our Duke and thought well of him. He was a West Country
fellow himself, and not yet vitiated by the atmosphere of the Court in
which he had lived so long.

"His Majesty called for his other children," said he--meaning, of
course, children born out of lawful wedlock; for, as all men know, the
Queen was childless, to the great grief of the nation--"but of the Duke
of Monmouth no word was spoken. The King did not breathe his name--so,
at least, it is averred. None dared to speak of him, the Duke of York
standing by. Nay, my friends, I fear me there is no hope for England in
that quarter. The Duke of York is King in his brother's stead. But what
we may lawfully do to stand by the laws and the rights of our nation
and our faith, that let every man do to the utmost that is in him.
James may wear the crown and be called King, but we will have no tyrant
forcing us to a faith against which we have fought and triumphed years
ago. He may rule us indeed, but he shall not make of us Papists nor
slaves!"

A muffled cheer went round the room as these words were spoken; but
many were there standing by who did not endorse the first part of the
speech, but cast looks one at another which seemed to say that it would
go hard before they would acknowledge a Papist King!

Then a news-letter was produced, and I was called upon to read it loud
whilst the weary messenger supped. Of course it stopped short before
the death of his Majesty, but it gave an account of the life of the
Court up till the time of the King's seizure; and gay and scandalous,
indeed, did the history of the last Sunday evening read to us quiet and
sober country folks. Women shook their heads as they heard in whose
company the King spent his time, and whispered that death had come as a
judgment from heaven. Yet few eyes were dry as the letter spoke of the
sufferings of the King, and of his fortitude and courage under them.

"After all he was the King, with all his faults and vices," they said;
and we all felt how little there was of kingliness in the dark Duke who
had succeeded him.

I conjured up before my mental vision the picture of the other Duke as
I had seen him a year or two back, his handsome open face, his winning
address, his kindly grace of manner, and his care and love for all his
poorer subjects (for so did I call them even now in my heart). How
could I help trusting in him as the rightful King, when his touch had
made me whole, as only the touch of a true King's hand could do?

I found myself telling the story again almost ere I knew it, and the
messenger, who was working steadily at the platter of good victuals
before him, kept throwing keen glances at me and at the people round,
and making odd sounds the while.

I had hardly finished the reading, and the telling of my well-known
tale, before a little stir in the crowd announced an arrival; and
looking over the heads of the people--for I was set upon a stool to be
better heard and seen--I beheld the cadaverous visage and lantern jaws
of Mr. Blewer. He came in looking to right and left with his sharp,
ferret-like eyes, and his ears seemed to be on the alert to catch any
words that might fall from unwary lips. Something in the sinister
aspect of the man, and in the loathing with which I had come to regard
him, caused the words I was reading to die away upon my lips, and
the sudden silence which fell upon me attracted the attention of all
present to the entrance of the new-comer.

Mr. Blewer was little beloved in Taunton. It was firmly held by many
that he was nothing more nor less than a spy in the interests of the
Duke of York, or the King as we must needs learn to call him; unless,
indeed--but such things are best not spoken too openly. There were only
too many rogues abroad in the world who lived by selling information to
one or other of the different parties at Court, and men were strongly
of the opinion that the Rev. Nicholas was one of these miscreants. His
very appearing so stealthily in our midst at this time of excitement
seemed to augur ill, and the murmur of voices died into silence as he
made his way into the room.

"Have a care, good people, have a care!" he said, with a leering smile
that was uglier than his scowl. "I thought I heard some suspicious
word--some phrases that savoured too much of sedition! Have a care how
you let your unruly member run away with you! There be birds in the air
to carry such words whither ye would not. If God has thought good to
take one monarch to Himself, He has given us another of the same name
and race to set upon the throne. Let us thank Him from our hearts for
this great goodness, and cry aloud in joy and gratitude, 'Long live
King James!'"

As he spoke he lifted his hat and waved it above his head, and all who
wore theirs instinctively uncovered, and many amongst us, led by the
hearty voice of my uncle, strove to raise the shout, "Long live King
James the Second!" But the words seemed to stick in the throats of
many; and Mr. Blewer looked sharply round upon us, saying, with that
evil smile of his,--

"Why, that is but a sorry shout for a new-made King; but perchance your
loyal hearts are too full yet of grief for our noble King Charles to
give a right royal welcome to his successor!"

"Ay, sir," said my uncle; "that is the case with us. We can scarce
yet rejoice in the thought that any other sits in the place of good
King Charles, be he never so great and good a prince. Prosperous and
peaceful has England been beneath his fatherly sway; and sad are we to
learn that he is no more, though I trow that Taunton men will not be
lacking in loving loyalty to his successor."

Many asseverations of this kind were made, and the talk grew animated
and general. Being no longer required to read the news-letter, which
Mr. Blewer had taken into his own hands, I slipped away through the
throng, and found myself face to face with Will Wiseman, who caught me
by the arm and drew me forth into the street with him.

"It has come then, Dicon!" he whispered, evidently in great excitement:
"the King is dead, and another King must sit upon the throne. But
whether King James the Second, as in sooth he will be, will be--"

"Hist, Will, be not so rash!" I exclaimed, drawing him into an entry
and looking nervously round; for I had caught some caution from the
precept and example of my uncle, and I knew that men had paid dear
before now for rash words spoken under stress of excitement. "Take heed
how thou speakest. If Mr. Blewer were to hear thee, it might go ill
with thee in the days to come."

"A pest upon his ugly face and meddlesome, prying ways!" cried Will
hotly; for he hated Mr. Blewer even more than I did, and with some
reason, since that worthy had done many an ill turn to his master, and
had dealt many cuffs and hard words to the lad himself.

Will, as ill-luck would have it, had in his pocket a piece of chalk,
and being gifted with the power of drawing lampoons with a wondrous
ease and dexterity, he solaced himself by drawing upon the wall, as we
stood, two representations of Mr. Blewer, in both of which his hideous
face, lantern jaws, and great cavernous mouth were delineated with more
truth than flattery. In the first of these pictures the clergyman was
represented as preaching from the pulpit, the ungainly action of the
man being hit off with wondrous fidelity. In the other he was portrayed
as being whipped by the hangman at the cart's tail--a fate we had
amused ourselves by prophesying for him sometimes when reckoning upon
the good days which Taunton should enjoy when "King Monmouth" should be
upon the throne. In both pictures his mouth was equally wide open, and
beneath each Will wrote, in rude letters,--

  "THE WORSHIPFUL AND REVEREND MR. NICHOLAS BLEWER
  EXTOLLING THE DIVINE RIGHT OF KINGS."

I doubled myself up with laughter at the clever picture, and a small
crowd of laughing men and boys gathered round to admire. We were
passing comments far from flattering to Mr. Blewer, and Will was
touching up his handiwork so as to make the likeness a little more
frightful, when a sudden scattering of the bystanders and a few words
of whispered warning made us turn suddenly, to see Mr. Blewer himself
regarding us with a baleful light in his eyes, and such a scowl of
malevolence upon his brow that I wished Will's talents anywhere else
at that moment. I drew him away as fast as I could, but not before we
heard the harsh, grating tones of Mr. Blewer's voice following us,--

"Very good, Will Wiseman, very good. It will not be the fault of
Nicholas Blewer if thou dost not taste the discipline of the hangman's
whip before he has done with thee."

"O Will, why didst thou do it?" I asked, in an access of fear and
trembling. "My uncle ever teaches us to speak with respect of
dignitaries, even though they be none of the best. I fear me we were
wrong in this, and shall suffer for it. Mr. Blewer is not a man who
forgives or forgets."

"Let him remember an he pleases--I care not," answered Will, who had a
much higher courage than I, and far more of that reckless daring which
I read of with envy and admiration, but never attained to myself. It
was one of the things I most admired in him, though it sometimes made
me fear that he would get into trouble sooner or later.

We walked back to his home together, talking eagerly of the great
news of the day. Personally, we had no especial regrets for his late
Majesty, and could not but rejoice in the prospect of the coming
strife; for that England would calmly accept James Duke of York as
her King was a thing incomprehensible to us, owing to the element
of faction in which we had been living. We ourselves so thoroughly
believed in the rights of the exiled Monmouth, that we could not credit
or understand that these had never been greatly believed in by the mass
of the nation, and that the King's brother was likely to obtain all the
support of the lovers of established monarchy, as well as of those who,
whilst personally regretting the character of the man, would not be a
party to a measure of exclusion which should keep the true heir from
the throne, or favour a possible usurper.

As days went by the excitement did not lessen. All manner of wild
rumours were flying about; but from my lord the Viscount, who came
daily into Taunton on one errand or another--in hopes, as I knew, of
getting sight or speech of Mistress Mary--I heard the truest tidings.

King James had declared, immediately on succeeding to his new estate,
that he would guard the established religion of the country as the
choicest treasure of his crown; and a thrill of joy and triumph ran
through the country, whilst men swore that the Prince had been sorely
maligned, and that whatever his wife might be, he was no Papist at
heart.

But then, on the very heels of the first good news, came tidings that
the King was going openly to Mass with his wife, that the oratory
chapel fitted up for her was to be thrown open for public worship, that
the Papists all over the country were rejoicing, and that banished
priests and Jesuits were beginning to creep back, certain that good
days were in store for them at last.

Then still more ugly whispers (as some thought) got abroad. The King
had consented to summon a Parliament, having indeed but small choice
in the matter; but it was known in many circles that he had received
a large sum of money from the French King in order to make him almost
independent of that body, and to bribe and corrupt its members when
chosen, that it might be merely an engine for the oppression of the
people at the will of a tyrannical monarch.

It was steps like these that so roused the scorn and ire of Lord Vere.
Had the new monarch been true and upright in his dealings; had he
thrown off the fatal yoke of France, and trusted himself to his loyal
people as the House of Tudor (with all their faults) had ever been able
to do, I think that even the gentle pleadings of Mistress Mary would
scarce have served to turn him back from that loyalty to the crown
which was his as by natural inheritance. But this crooked statecraft
and treacherous dealing roused all the generous indignation and scorn
within him which the young are wont to feel when brought face to face
with what is base and false. His father and the elder men might shrug
their shoulders, and say that these things had to be; that it was part
of the essence of kingcraft; that it was useless to hope for better.
But the Viscount could not take this view of the matter. Perhaps he had
imbibed more of the opinions and feeling of the towns-folk than he well
knew at the time. At any rate, as the days flew by, and we heard more
and more of the methods of the new King, a dark frown would often rest
upon his brow, and he would say with scornful vehemence, "It is shame
that such a man should call himself England's King!"

The dissenters of Taunton--and they were very many--were thrown into
great commotion and wrath at the news of the treatment received at the
hands of Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys by that great and good man Richard
Baxter, who was brought before him to answer for some rash words
spoken in the indignation aroused by the harsh treatment given him for
no other offence than declining to use the Book of Common Prayer in
public worship. We had just before heard with horror of the inhuman
punishment inflicted by the same judge upon Oates and Dangerfield. Not
that we felt sympathy with the vile informers who had brought so many
innocent persons to the block, but that the ribaldry and cruelty of the
judge filled men with horror; and the more so because we knew that this
same judge was likely to come again to the West Country for the autumn
assizes, and that should any luckless dissenter be brought before him
here, he might make up his mind to look for neither justice nor mercy
from such a judge. The account of the insults and brutal language to
which this aged divine and his friends and advocates were subjected by
Lord Jeffreys made the blood boil in the veins of those who read and
those who heard. No jury save one chosen by the miserable Sheriffs of
London, mere tools in the hand of the government, would have dared to
return a verdict of guilty. And when it was known that Jeffreys would
have had the good old man whipped at the cart's tail through London,
had it not been that for once he was overborne by his brethren on the
bench, a sense of horror and loathing arose in the minds of honest
and merciful men, not only against the wicked Judge himself, but
against the King who could smile approval on such a debauched servant,
and actually associate him with Lord Guildford, the Keeper of the
Seals, with the evident intention of promoting him still higher if he
continued to go about his work in the same way.

The elections and the coronation all added to the dismay of the
Protestant party. It was asserted that the King had so greatly
shortened the service that it was most meagre and insufficient, and
that this was plainly due to his Popish reluctance to take part in any
function of the church he had sworn to uphold and revere. His parsimony
was bitterly and scornfully commented upon; for the same spirit of
greed which had made him refuse the usual splendid obsequies to the
late King (so that men spoke of King Charles as having received "the
burial of an ass"), caused him to do away with much of the pageantry of
his own coronation, and greatly was this resented by the people, who
were by no means too friendly towards him from the beginning.

We of Taunton heard these stories with a species of sombre joy. There
was more afoot in the city just now than I knew at the time. My uncle
kept me busily employed reading and telling the news. I still continued
to take the news-letter into Miss Blake's house and read it to the
ladies there. I was often sent errands hither and thither into the
country, and kept more busy than I had ever been before; and though I
was dimly aware that much was seething below the surface in the hearts
of our towns-folk, I was not at all certain whither it was tending.

The elections to which I have alluded took place in May, and the
returns were most wonderfully against our wishes, and in favour of the
Tory and Court party. The King was said to have got just that sort of
packed Parliament which he desired, and would in all probability keep
it all through his reign. This was a heavy blow to some amongst us,
who had hoped that the leaven working through the land would have acted
differently. But at least if disappointed, we knew now what to expect.
Such a Parliament as ours would be little better than a tool in the
hand of a tyrant monarch. Some small protection it might be against the
encroachments of arbitrary power, but so small that it was better to
hope nothing from it.

I must not close this chapter (which I fear has been but a dull one;
only these things have to be made something clear, or what follows
cannot well be understood) without some mention of a piece of work
going on within the walls of Miss Blake's establishment, which was
destined to bring Taunton almost as much fame as anything that happened
within its environs during the stirring days to come.

I had noted that immediately upon the death of the King, whenever I had
gone to read to the ladies in the parlour, they were deeply engrossed
upon some large pieces of silken embroidery work, something different
from anything I had seen in their hands before.

Mistress Mary's was on a large and more gorgeous scale than those of
the others, and it was always the same; whilst Miss Blake's and Mrs.
Musgrave's varied continually, as they seemed to be putting in the
outlines of a pattern which other hands would fill up.

But Mistress Mary's steadily grew and grew, and although always
carefully covered up, yet revealed much gold and crimson raised work,
and altogether began to have such a wonderfully gorgeous effect that I
could not keep my eyes from straying to it again and again as I sat
and talked. Busy as she was, I saw that she noted these glances, and
one day just before I was about to leave she gave me one of her rare
sweet smiles, and said,--

"Come, Dicon, thou needst not eat thine heart out in curiosity. I have
good reason to know that thou art to be trusted. I will show thee my
work." A flush mantled her face as she unpinned and unfolded it, and
she added, with a sudden light in her eyes, "It is a banner for my Lord
of Monmouth, when kind Providence sends him hither as our deliverer."

Then she displayed before my eyes the gorgeous golden-worked banner,
and I saw that the raised letters surmounted by a crown were none other
than these of momentous meaning--J.R.

Nor could I doubt for a moment that their meaning was "Jacobus Rex."



CHAPTER IX.

_THE MUTTERING OF THE STORM._


There was a sense of mystery in the air. Life seemed to be flowing in
its accustomed channels and with its wonted smoothness; but yet there
was an under-current of excitement and unrest which surged through
everything and kept every heart beating with expectancy, every ear
alert to catch the first breath of rumour, every eye eagerly scanning
the faces even of the passer-by in the street, lest haply he might be
the bearer of those tidings which some of us longed and some of us
feared to hear.

Taunton appeared quiet and peaceable. Mr. Bernard Smith, our Mayor, a
man of some force of character, some cruelty of nature, and of known
loyalty to the reigning sovereign, kept a close watch upon us, and let
it be very clearly understood that upon the smallest indication of
disturbance he should call in the train-bands and keep order by strong
methods. He was seconded in his good intentions by the influence of
the country gentlemen round. Sir William Portman often appeared in the
city, and stayed for a few nights in his fine old timbered house, with
its many gables, that is still the pride of Taunton amongst those
who are learned in the matter of domestic architecture. He frequently
appeared in the streets, and when occasion served spoke to the people
in such a way as to encourage them to maintain tranquillity and avoid
giving cause of offence. Lord Lonsdale and Sir Ralph Bridges followed
his example, and were often to be seen in the city, forward to impart
to us any items of news from London likely to be acceptable in our
ears, and striving to rid our minds of some of the many convictions
which recent events had stamped upon them, and especially of that most
favourite one--namely, that King Charles had met his death by poison,
and that this poison had been administered by the hand of his brother.

But there are some impressions quickly made upon the minds of men
which no after labour will efface. We had heard from trusty men of
our own party of the black spots which had appeared upon the King's
body, of the agonies of pain which had convulsed him, of the sleepless
attendance of his dark brother at his bedside, and we thought we
knew better than our Mayor or our nobles. So though we listened in
respectful silence to their words, our hearts remained unconvinced.

We hated the Duke of York (for there were some who would not speak of
him as the King save where prudence compelled) with a deadly hatred,
and prayed day and night for deliverance from his malevolent power.

Now as for my own private concerns at this time, I may speak once again
of those rides taken in attendance upon the two Mistresses Mary, which
began after the inclement winter had passed, and were continued until
the great commotion commenced of which I am about to write.

These rides were a source of the greatest pleasure and satisfaction to
all concerned; for by means of them the Viscount was able to prosecute
his wooing of gentle Mistress Mary, and we were no longer reduced to
the more risky if more romantic method of the balcony meetings.

It was easy for me to let my Lord Vere know when and whither we were
to ride forth. He was backwards and forwards between Court House and
Taunton many times in the week, like most of the gentry round, and I
would make shift to give him the news he wanted. Then upon our next
ride, when we were deep in some woodland dell or away across some
lonely bit of breezy moorland, the Viscount would ride up, saluting the
ladies, and before long the younger Mistress Mary would rein back her
steed and join me, leaving the lovers to pace on in front side by side,
in the loneliness so dear to all in like case.

Mistress Mary Bridges, albeit but a maid of twelve summers, was
wondrous full of life and spirit and imagination. She would talk to me
in a fashion which made me marvel at her high courage and dauntless
nature; and openly did she lament that she was not a man, so that she
might bear a man's part in the struggle which she fully believed was
coming.

She came of a family loyal to the Court party and to the reigning
sovereign; yet she had heard so much of the other side from her
mistresses and comrades in the school, that she might be said scarce to
hold either with one party or the other, and in truth this was what
she openly averred to be her case.

"If I were but a man," she would cry with kindling eyes, "I would have
my own good steed and my own good sword, and I would follow no party,
but always fight on the side of right and virtue. I would gather about
me a band of followers, as did bold Robin Hood of old, and I would be
the champion of truth and liberty and righteousness wherever such were
to be found. I hate that false and cruel King James, who will stoop to
fondle such vile creatures as Jeffreys and Kirke. Yet I love not your
Duke of Monmouth, who can keep a crawling knave like Ferguson in his
counsels, and who leaves his virtuous wife and seeks happiness with
another fair lady. Were I a man I would follow neither, but be a free
lance for the cause of right and liberty!" And the little lady would
toss back her ringlets, whilst her face would flush and kindle till
I would regard her with admiration akin to awe, and think that a man
might well follow such a leader to the death.

But with all her high spirit and courage, she was deeply interested in
the courtship of the Viscount and her dear friend the elder Mistress
Mary, and confided to me that such a gallant lover was worthy of the
prize he had won, though there were few men she had ever seen of whom
she would say as much.

"And I trow they had best be quick and wed, even if it be done in
secret and in haste," she said one day to me, one bright day in the
latter part of May--the last ride (as it turned out, little as we
guessed it then) that we were destined to take together; "for I have
heard tell that my Lord Lonsdale is anxious to push on his son's
marriage with Mistress Edith Portman with all the speed that may be. He
thinks that the alliance would be desirable and strengthening for both
houses; and the lady is more than willing, since the Viscount is the
most gallant youth in these parts. That is why Mr. Nicholas Blewer's
suit has been favoured by Lord Lonsdale. He is afraid what the beauty
of Mary may effect if Lord Vere ever sees her again. He knows nothing
of our rides. He believes his son is forgetting her; but he will not be
easy in his mind till one or both are wed. What vile things men are!"
cried the little lady, with that flash in her eyes which betokened her
headstrong spirit; "they think of naught in the world but their own
advancement and their selfish ends! It was told to me, Dicon, by a wise
woman, who read my fortune in my hand and in the stars when I was but a
tender child, that I should live to slay a man with mine own hands. I
trembled when I heard it, and many a time have I lain awake of a night,
shivering at the thought; but I shiver not now. Verily I believe I
should rejoice to do such a thing were it in a righteous cause. I would
it might be the Rev. Nicholas Blewer!" and the maid clinched her right
hand and shook it towards Taunton, setting her small white teeth with a
ferocity which seemed strange in one so young.

Nor could I greatly marvel at her wrath, for I hated Mr. Blewer as one
hates a poisonous and noxious reptile. He was for ever to be seen
gliding here and there with his evil smile and stealthy step; and I
was certain that he was playing the spy wherever he had the chance.
Well did I know that he came to Miss Blake's as much to seek to learn
what was passing there as to court Mistress Mary. That the ladies knew
or suspected his motive I could not doubt, since in his presence the
silken banners were never brought forth, nor was any word spoken of
the matters so near and dear to our hearts. He himself would strive
to entrap us by seeking to lead us to pass censure on the King or his
officers, but we were all resolved not to be thus ensnared; and if cold
looks and short answers could have driven the creature away, sure Mr.
Blewer would have been long since driven from Miss Blake's parlour.
He would have been denied entrance there had the good ladies dared to
refuse it; but it was a perilous thing in those days to make an enemy
of such a man, and Lord Lonsdale's approval of his courtship made it
difficult to exclude him.

As we rode back into Taunton that day--the Viscount leaving us ere
ever we reached even the outskirts of the place, since he was very
careful never to permit himself to be seen in our company--we were
aware of a subdued tumult going on there. Men and women had gathered
at their doors or had come out into the streets. Faces were grave and
lowering--the faces, that is, of the towns-folk of our fashion of
thinking--and one could see that something had occurred greatly to
disturb the minds of men.

I dared not pause to ask the reason for it. I feared some disaster had
befallen our cause; but my duty to my charges kept me riding close
beside them, and, of course, they could not pause to pick up the gossip
of the streets, though both must have suspected that something unwonted
was afoot. But my curiosity was relieved sooner than I anticipated; for
Will Wiseman darted out from a side street at sight of me, and running
beside Blackbird at a brisk trot, whispered in my ears the news.

"They have thrown Mr. Vincent into prison!" he said. Now Mr. Vincent,
as I have before said, was our minister, and a right godly man, beloved
of all his flock; moreover, he was one of those who inculcated maxims
of moderation, and patience, and submission to lawful authority--one
against whom I am very sure it would be hard to prove either sedition
or any other offence. And as I exclaimed in amaze and wrath, Will
continued, speaking in the same rapid undertone only just audible
through the beat of Blackbird's hoofs, "And they have searched the
post-bags here and at Ilminster, and they say that they have found in
them enough to hang a score of men in Taunton alone. Dicon, I trow
things have gone further than you and I know. The Mayor and Mr. Axe and
the gentry have been closeted together this hour and more. Heaven send
we be not undone! I would give my right hand to know what they have
discovered!"

"I will meet thee anon and hear all I can learn!" I answered in great
excitement; "but let me first home with the ladies. I warrant that Mr.
Blewer has been at the bottom of Mr. Vincent's arrest. He always hated
him with a bitter hatred!"

A fresh shock of surprise awaited us upon our arrival at the Three
Cups; for there before the door, looking impatiently up and down
the street, stood Sir Ralph Bridges, his horse led up and down by a
servant, and several well-stuffed saddle-bags being laid over the
shoulder of the man's steed. So soon as he caught sight of the approach
of his daughter, he stepped forward and hindered her from alighting, as
she was about to do.

"I have come to take thee home, Mary," he said. "Thy place is with thy
mother now. Say an adieu to thy companion, and we will get gone. These
are no days for thee to be in Taunton."

Mistress Mary looked quickly into her father's rather stern and
preoccupied face as though she would fain have asked more. But it was
not for a young daughter to question her father's judgment, and all she
did was to ask falteringly,--

"Shall I not go to and fro, sir, to continue my studies as heretofore?"

For in other years during the summer months she had often ridden to and
fro into the town, as I think I have said, though until to-day she had
remained since Christmas beneath the roof of Miss Blake's house.

"No, child," he answered shortly, though not unkindly; "thou wilt
remain at home with thy mother. Home is thy place in days such as
these."

And in hearing the Knight speak thus, I was more sure, even than when
Will Wiseman had been whispering to me, that some unwonted peril was at
hand.

I saw that Mistress Mary Mead's eyes had kindled as she heard these
words. I read the thought of her heart as well as if it had been spoken
in words. The younger Mistress Mary turned and flung her arms about her
neck ere she slipped from her palfrey, and I heard her whisper in her
friend's ear,--

"It is coming, Mary, it is coming! Heaven send that the cause of right
and truth may be victorious! Come what may, nothing shall sever our
friendship."

Sir Ralph had already mounted, and after saluting Mistress Mary Mead
with courteous good-will, he set spurs to his horse and went clattering
down the Fore Street towards North Street with his daughter beside him.
I escorted Mistress Mary to her own door and assisted her to alight,
and as I did so she said in trembling accents, though it was not fear
that made her voice to shake,--

"Go, Dicon, and learn the truth of all this, and bring me word to my
balcony to-night. My heart tells me that the deliverer is near. There
were fear and anxiety upon the face of Sir Ralph; I am very sure of
that. The servants of the tyrant are trembling already. We are thrice
armed who know our quarrel just."

With that she turned and went quickly indoors, leaving me with my heart
in a flutter of expectation as I led the palfrey to the stable. Will
was already there, unable to keep away, and full of the most intense
excitement as to what had just transpired.

It seemed that Captain William Speke (the only member of the
Speke family who took the contrary side from the master of White
Lackington and head of the family) had made a raid on the post-bags
at Ilminster--having had notice that suspicious signs had been
noted amongst the dissenters of the Western Counties--and had made
discoveries which had caused him to send in all haste to the Mayor to
counsel him to do likewise. All the Taunton letters, however, had been
delivered save eight; but one of these eight, addressed to a certain
Mr. Cooke, a good friend of ours, had proved of so incriminating a
nature that he was at once summoned before the Mayor and magistrates,
and obliged to enter into recognizances for a thousand pounds, and
find sureties three in number for five hundred each. Mr. Simpson, Mr.
Hucker, and Mr. Herring had willingly come forward for this purpose;
and Will told me that they and the Hewlings had gathered in conclave
immediately afterwards, and that one of the brothers Hewling had
already left the town, though upon what errand he did not know.

"And what was in the letter?" I asked eagerly.

"Marry, that I cannot tell you in full. But this much is in all men's
mouths, that it spake of the appearance forthwith in the West of a
certain person, and that all the Court party in London are in a most
dreadful fear and confusion. It is rumoured, too, that in Scotland the
Earl of Argyll is destroying the King's forces right and left. Ah,
Dicon, Dicon! With a Monmouth in the south and an Argyll in the north,
what may not be done in the cause of liberty and right!"

This was news indeed, and all seemed to confirm it. As Will and I
went forth into the streets, we could not but be aware that a great
excitement was reigning. The Mayor was hurrying to and fro, and many of
his Burgesses with him, seeming scarce to know what he was doing, yet
as it were anxious to be everywhere at once to see that the town was
quiet. Mr. Axe was likewise walking the streets, but in calmer fashion,
and he sought everywhere to persuade the people to remain quiet and
orderly. The air was full of whispers and rumours. It was confidently
believed that the Duke was nigh at hand. Some said, indeed, that he had
already landed, and perhaps might be seen at any moment at the head of
a vast army of loving followers marching to the very heart of Taunton.

I knew not what to believe of all we heard; but that more news had
reached Taunton than either Will or I knew was more and more evident.
We made our way to Mr. Simpson's house, to find Lizzie in a great
state of joyful excitement; for she had heard enough to make her quite
confident that the Duke was really coming at last. There had been a
collection made of money amongst her father's friends--that she was
very certain of; and one of the brothers Hewling, she was not sure
which, had ridden off with it to the coast, ready to meet the Duke on
his landing.

Thomas Dare had had a letter from his father several days ago, in which
he had told his son that there had been some trouble in persuading the
Duke to take up arms against his uncle. He had been greatly distressed
at hearing of his father's death, and had declared at first that, since
things were as they were, he should retire into private life, and seek
no more to establish what rights he might justly claim. The Prince
of Orange had counselled him in this, and the only question under
dispute at first was whether the Duke should or should not seek to win
distinction in arms by fighting under the Emperor against the Turks,
or whether he should retire to Sweden with Lady Henrietta Wentworth,
who had followed him into exile, and to whom he considered himself
married in the sight of God, and live there in honourable banishment.
This course of action had been vehemently opposed by Heywood Dare,
who represented to him that all the West Country would rise in his
favour if he would but show himself there. Money and men would flow
in in streams, so Dare declared he had affirmed, and he called upon
his son in strong and eloquent language to do whatever in him lay to
get together men and money and arms, that when their deliverer should
appear he might find there had been no idle boasting on the part of the
citizen of Taunton. This letter had been read with closed doors amongst
a select few some weeks ago, and Thomas Dare had been already absent
from the town almost ever since, beating up recruits, and preparing
the hearts of friends for what might be expected shortly. All this
had been made known to-day to Lizzie by her aunt, and she was as full
of the excitement as we were. She told us now fully and freely of the
seven-and-twenty banners being worked by the hands of the maidens
of the school, and how they hoped to present them in person to the
gallant young Duke when he should appear in triumph at Taunton, as it
was fully believed he would do, and that right quickly.

How our hearts burned within us as we listened! We could not keep
still, nor remain long in one place. We were out in the streets
erelong, eagerly picking up every scrap of news, and finding that
rumours were flying about as thick as hail in a summer storm.

Public indignation was rising hot against the Court and the King. Not
only had the arrest of our Mr. Vincent greatly incensed the towns-folk,
but there came citizens from Ilminster to tell of the attempted arrest
of Mr. John Trenchard at White Lackington House, and how a tumult had
been made, and the Sheriffs forced to run without having secured their
prisoner. Again and again were old grievances raked up--the scandalous
trial of Richard Baxter, not many weeks old; and the notorious cruelty
and tyranny of the King.

"Heaven will fight for us and for Monmouth!" men whispered to each
other. And indeed I think that it was our hearts that were glad and
triumphant, and those of our enemies that were full of fear as the day
waned: for the Mayor looked pale and harassed and full of anxiety, I
thought; whilst as for Mr. Blewer, he was so hooted in the streets when
he showed his ugly face there, that he hastily retired to his lodgings,
and we saw him no more.

"Will," I said, as the sun went down, and we felt so little inclined
for sleep that the very idea of bed was a mockery, "what sayest thou
to a ride across the moorland to-night by moonshine, and a visit to the
witch, to know what she can tell us of what is coming? Methinks I shall
stifle within doors; but Blackbird and Lady Jane will carry us rarely,
and I can loose them, none knowing it, by a little care. Wilt come with
me?"

Will simply jumped at such a proposal. He was as loath to think of
bed as I was, and he could ride a horse barebacked right well--saddle
and stirrups were abominable to him. In the excitement and stir about
the inn, I had no trouble in getting the horses out after nightfall;
and making excuse of fatigue to my uncle, I stole away as if to bed,
but was soon mounted and scudding through the dim lanes by the side
of Will, whilst the moon rose higher and higher in the sky, giving us
abundant light. The good steeds, delighting in the freshness of the
night air, went willingly and easily; and Blackbird, so soon as we had
passed the ridge of the hill and were nearing his old home, became as
playful and skittish as a young kitten.

But it was not homewards that our steps were bent. The farm-house at
such an hour would be fast sleeping, and I had no desire to wake up the
sleepers. It was Mother Whale I desired to find and consult, and unless
she were abroad upon her broomstick, she would like enough be awake at
her fireside concocting her spells and potions; as, indeed, we found to
be the case.

Tethering our horses outside, we lifted the latch and went in, the old
woman not even turning her head as we did so, but speaking our names,
as though she had eyes in the back of her head, and by some occult
magic knew every person who approached.

"Good-even, Dicon Snowe, and thou, lad Will. Have a care, Will, lest
thou repent thy rashness in tears of blood ere the year be done. What
have you come for, boys? What is your errand here? There be fine doings
at Taunton, and will be finer yet. But beware the evil eye that will
overlook it--ay, and thee too, Will, ere this chapter close."

I do not make any effort in these pages to try to give the soft speech
and drawling vowel sounds of our West Country tongue, not having the
skill to spell the same word two ways. I can but follow the model given
me by the Bible and those works of the great poets I have named, and
let those who know the speech of the West figure it for themselves. It
takes a greater skill than I possess to set it down here.

"Mother," I said, "we have come to ask thee to read us that chapter.
How will the day turn? Which Duke will be England's King? We know
that thou canst read the future in the stars, and the cards, and the
crystal. Prithee tell us what will betide, and whether the friends or
the foes of liberty and religion will triumph."

It was a bold question; but I had not come empty-handed, and I slipped
the golden guinea Lord Lonsdale had given me into the witch's palm.
She looked at it with glistening eyes. Money was dear to the heart of
the old woman, and I did not doubt for a moment that I should get my
guinea's worth out of her; for I verily believed that she read the
future as I read the page of an open book.

She bent over the pot, crooning to herself, and seeming to take no heed
of us; but I silenced Will's exclamation of impatience by a warning
sign, for I knew the old woman and her ways, and that nothing was to be
gained by trying to hurry her.

At last the great black cat beside the fire jumped upon her shoulder
and seemed to whisper in her ear. I confess that a tremor ran through
me, for I verily believed that her familiar was speaking to her, and
that we were in the presence of some satanic agency.

A minute or two later she threw her arms above her head, and began
to speak in detached sentences, filling up the pauses by a strange
crooning chant, wordless and unintelligible.

"Blood will be shed--much blood ... but the glory will come first....
A King will rise and a King will fall.... And blood shall run freely,
ay, even as from a slaughter-house. Heads shall be lifted up.... Oh,
they shall be raised on high for all the world to see!... A brave show,
truly! A brave young King.... And he who now sits upon the throne shall
die in exile and disgrace."

That was enough for us. We had heard just the answer we wanted, and the
old woman lapsed into a silence which no questions served to break, so
we bade her good-even, and went forth again into the night.

"The King will die in exile! Dicon, if she be a true witch, we are to
see good days yet," cried Will, dancing in the moonlight like a wild
thing. "Blood and glory, and the rise and fall of Kings! Ah, heaven be
praised that I live in such goodly days! Dicon, Dicon, let us raise a
shout for King Monmouth. Hurrah for the good cause and the King! God
save him and us all!"



CHAPTER X.

_MY RIDE TO LYME._


I returned to find my uncle not a little disturbed in mind.

The Mayor had summoned the Burgesses to meet him in council upon the
morning following my visit to the witch; and my uncle looked harassed
and anxious upon his return, and paced moodily up and down the
passage--a thing most unusual with him--whilst his jovial face looked
more perturbed than I had ever seen it before. My good aunt regarded
him with troubled eyes, wondering if evil had befallen him; and Meg
anxiously whispered in mine ear, asking if I knew what was amiss.
But though I knew that all the town was in a fever of excitement and
expectation, and that it was confidently supposed that the landing of
the Duke was near, I did not know why my uncle should be more disturbed
than other men, nor why his anxiety and fear should be greater.

Towards noon there was a great commotion in the streets, and we heard
the tread of marching footsteps and the sound of horse-hoofs on the
hard road between the houses. Rushing out in great excitement, willing
to believe that the Duke was actually entering the town, I was in time
to see several companies of the militia, in their gay uniforms with
red and yellow facings, marching towards the Cornhill, followed by one
company of horse. But, alas! it was plain to see that they were not
only not led by the Duke, our expected deliverer, but that they had
been brought in to overawe us and keep order in the town, and prevent
us from rising in the cause of the deliverer when he should appear.
They were led by gentlemen of known loyalty, and behind the horsemen
rode Viscount Vere in all the bravery of a semi-military dress. But I
noted that his face wore a clouded expression, and there were stern
lines about his mouth that I had not seen there before. He rode between
his father and one of the Portman family; but I observed that he spoke
to neither, and that he wore an air of aloofness and offence that was
rather strange to see.

"Uncle, the train-bands have come into the town!" I cried in great
excitement, rushing back into the inn. "Didst thou know they were to be
called out?"

"Ay, boy, I knew it," he answered, the cloud still hanging heavy on
his brow; and then, we being alone together for the nonce, he spoke
with more freedom and openness than he had ever shown to me before. "I
tell thee, Dicon, I am in a great strait what to think and how to act.
I would fain keep out of this struggle and strife. What am I to judge
betwixt prince and prince? When the great and learned of the land are
at variance, and know not the truth of the matter, how can a simple
man who has never meddled with high things come to a knowledge of the
truth? I would have none of it could I help it. But the plague of such
times is that men will not let you be. Here is our Mayor on one side
reproaching me with being a dissenter, and lukewarm in the cause of the
King--a matter like to get me into trouble by-and-by should ill befall
this expedition of which all men speak; whilst those of the Duke's side
trust me not, and fall into a sudden silence at sight of me. And should
he win the day, none will have a good word for me with him, nor say
that I was forward in his cause. I am like to get nothing but ill-will
from both sides, and all because I would fain manage my own affairs and
leave those of the nation alone. It is a hard thing that a man should
be so ill thought of simply for attending to his own business, and
meddling not with matters too hard for him."

Sooth to say, and put in that fashion, the case did seem hard. But
mine uncle was something in the position of the ass in the fable with
the two bundles of hay. He had been striving all this while to eat of
both, and yet to make choice of neither; and the consequence was that
he was now in the position of one not trusted by either party, and not
prepared to throw in his lot decidedly with either. By training and
choice he was a dissenter, and would gladly have welcomed the Duke of
Monmouth as England's King. But he was a long-headed and far-sighted
man, and did not think that the power of the reigning sovereign would
be as easily overturned as his townsmen fancied, wherefore he was
fearful of allying himself with them in their designs. He would fain
have rested strictly neutral, and that indeed was his purpose; but it
was more difficult each day to avoid making open declaration on one
side or the other, and he began to see that if the Duke really landed
and marched to the town, it would be increasingly hard to stand aloof
from both parties.

"If only I knew which way the day would turn!" he said, pacing
restlessly up and down. "I tell thee, boy, I would serve the Duke,
and be glad to do so; but I am not ready to be ruined for such as he.
My business and my goods are more to me than all these questions of
kingship and policy. I love not black King James, and I know we may
suffer under his sway; but how do we know that we should do better
under another? And civil war is a more terrible ill and calamity than
a little tyranny and a few unjust imposts. Let well alone, say I; and
nothing very bad has followed King James's accession. I like not the
thought of stirring up strife. Yet if strife must come, I would fain be
found on the right side--if I could but know which that was!"

And by the right side my uncle meant the victorious one, as I very well
knew.

Well, it is not of such stuff that heroes and patriots are made. But
then my worthy uncle never professed to be either; and a man who has
toiled and laboured to get a good business together, and to stand
well with those around him, has many excuses for feeling loath to see
all swept away for what may seem to him a fantasy or a dream. I could
scarce wonder at his words, though I was all for fighting and dying
in a noble cause, and was glad that Heaven had not made of me a man
of substance, who feared the loss of goods more than the grinding
heel of a tyrant usurper. I could afford to feel pity for my uncle's
perplexities. I was sorry for him, and longed to be able to relieve him.

"If I did but know more of the feeling of the country!" he said. "I
hear such contrary reports. Our Mayor tells me that it is but just in
a few places here and there in the land that men are for the Duke,
and that the nation at large will have none of him; whilst others say
they have full information that the widespread discontent is ready
everywhere to burst into a flame, and if the Duke do but land he may
march straight to Whitehall if he will, and by the time he reaches it,
will have all the nation and all London at his back. If that indeed
were so--"

"Uncle!" I cried, struck by a sudden inspiration, "let me fare forth on
Blackbird, and reap what news I can as I go, and bring thee word again.
Let me to the coast, where the Duke, they say, will shortly land, if
he be not landed already; and as I go let me ask news of all men--how
things are going all over the country, and what men are saying, and
what is doing. I am but a lad. I shall not rouse suspicion, and
Blackbird knows not how to tire. Let me go, and I will bring thee word
again, or ever the Duke appear, how the chances of the day seem like to
go. I will talk with men of every degree. Sure I shall gain information
worth the having!"

Now this plan, so congenial to my restlessness and excitement, took
the fancy of my uncle; and he forthwith slapped me on the shoulder,
and said I was a smart lad and a credit to the family, hunchback or
no hunchback. And then he took money from his purse and gave it me,
and bid me see well to Blackbird, and make a start upon the following
morning, the day being now drawing to its close. He was pleased to
think of any plan that might relieve him in some sort of his anxieties.
He could remain for some days longer without committing himself to
either party, and perchance I might reap information for him which
should decide him whether or not openly to embrace the cause of the
Duke, towards which his private leanings were.

It was reported that several persons had already left Taunton, and it
was shrewdly suspected that they were going forth with the prospect of
meeting the Duke. When I went to Master Simpson's shop that evening to
tell Will Wiseman of my plan, I heard the Master Hucker had gone, and
young Dare, and that he believed his own master would not be long in
following.

Will did not know whether any place of landing had been yet settled,
but he had heard a whisper of Lyme more than once; and it seemed a
likely place, being far smaller and less like to be watched than
Weymouth, and much nearer to Taunton, which had the glorious reputation
of being the city most in earnest in its loyal attachment to the noble
Protestant cause.

Lizzie came and joined us, and said she was certain her father
meditated a speedy journey; and hearing that I too was bound for the
coast, she became greatly excited, bid me strive to be amongst the
first to welcome the gracious and noble Duke, and finally took a ribbon
from her neck, and fashioned it into a rosette for my hat. Lizzie and
I, I must explain, had for many a day made a pretence of being lovers,
and I now felt like a knight going forth on his first feat of arms; so
it seemed right and fitting that his lady-love should thus adorn him by
her token, as Lizzie had decorated me.

With the first light of the morrow Blackbird and I rode out of Taunton,
Will Wiseman trotting beside us for the first mile of our journey, and
only wishing that he could be my companion all along.

Glad enough would I have been of his company, but I was not altogether
sorry that this could not be. Will had a vein of rashness and daring
about him that was lacking in me, despite all my brave imaginings; and
on the mission upon which I was bent, discretion was needed almost as
much as valour.

I resolved to ride leisurely to Ilminster this first day, which was the
first day of June 1685. I should learn from my aunt and her friends
what was the feeling in that city. And I meant to join company with all
of my own degree, or those inferior to me, upon the road, and glean
from them all the news that I could.

In particular I was minded to question all those who came from the
Devonshire border. For we knew that the Duke of Albemarle, who was the
King's deputy-lieutenant of that county, and his very loyal general,
was at Exeter with a fine body of train-bands and other troops, and it
was of importance to us of Taunton to know whether he proposed to move
out from that city in our direction. One traveller whom I encountered
at a cross-road, and who lingered awhile to talk with me, declared his
belief that if the Duke were to lead his forces against the person of
the Duke of Monmouth, and his men were to see that loved face in the
opposite ranks, they would all go over as one man to join him; and that
the Duke of Albemarle most likely knew something of the temper of his
soldiers, and would be very careful how he brought them into action
against the Duke of Monmouth. They did very well for keeping the town
and district quiet; but he did not believe they would ever take the
field against the champion of the Protestant religion, and against one
they persisted in looking upon as their late King's lawful son.

This was excellent news, and sent me on my way glad at heart. If this
indeed was the temper of the soldiers against whom the Duke might have
to fight, his march would speedily become the triumphal progress his
friends had foretold.

Shortly after I had parted from this traveller with expressions
of mutual good-will, I heard upon the road behind me the beat of
approaching horse-hoofs. Plainly the rider was either in some
considerable haste, or labouring under the stress of hot emotion, for
he was galloping at a great pace. I pulled on one side of the narrow
track which we called a road, and which at this time of year was
passable enough, and turned in my saddle to look at him, when, lo and
behold, as he approached I saw that it was none other than my young
lord Viscount Vere.

Great was my surprise to see him riding thus alone and in haste, and
with that same clouded look upon his face which I had noted yesterday;
and yet more surprised was I to learn, a few minutes later, what had
brought him here. On seeing me he drew rein, and a smile broke over his
face which was like a ray of sunshine breaking through storm-clouds,
and he gave my shoulder a friendly pat, crying out,--

"Ha, Dicon man, well met! And whither art thou away? Are we travelling
the same road? If so, let us join forces. I am tired of my own company
and my own black thoughts. Tell me whither thou art bound, and what is
thine errand."

I told him all, and he listened to the story of my uncle's perplexities
with his gay smile of amusement; but when I had finished he gave me a
glance of a different sort, and said,--

"Canst guess whither I am bound, good Dicon?"

I shook my head, for I had been wondering all the while whither he
could be going at such a time, when the gentry were all gathered about
the city to strive to keep the peace.

"Marry, to join company with the Duke of Monmouth when he lands!" cried
the Viscount, with a quick flash of the eyes such as bespoke a mind
much disturbed. And upon my uttering an exclamation of surprise, he
broke forth with much heat of manner,--

"Ay, they have driven me to it! They have driven me to it with their
plots and plans and projects! There is but one way of cutting the knot,
and cut it I will at all hazard! My Mary's blessing and sweet approval
go with me and rest upon me! I have done with the old life. The new
may be what it will, but Mary and Mary's weal are bound up in it, and
therefore I fare forth fearlessly. When I return I make her my wife,
be the issue of this venture what it may. I saw her last night, and
had speech of her; and I care for nothing now, so as I win and hold
her love. What is the evil black tyrant James to me that I waste in
his cause my youth and my strength, and lose the lady of my choice?
Rightful monarch he may be, but a vile creature, unworthy the name of
King! I will none of him! I will none of them and their machinations!
Henceforth I am my own man, and I win Mary, or perish in the attempt!"

It took me some time to learn from this excited outburst the truth of
the whole matter, but bit by bit I made it out. Nor could I wonder at
the way in which the young man, badgered and beset, had cut the knot of
his difficulties and perplexities. It seems that some treacherous spy
had reported to Lord Lonsdale that the Viscount had been seen riding
with Mistress Mary Mead in lover-like fashion; that this had so alarmed
and angered him that he and his friends had forthwith put their heads
together; and when Sir William Portman returned from London a few days
back, after having been there for the opening of the Parliament, of
which mention has been made, he brought back with him the marriage
contract, duly drawn up, for an alliance between his daughter and
Viscount Vere, and ever since the young man had had no peace because
this contract must be signed, and the marriage celebrated with what
speed the times would allow.

Now it is not in my young lord's nature to be brutal; and the lady
was as willing and eager for so fair a husband as he was reluctant to
have her. To his father he had spoken roundly, but had been treated
in a high-handed fashion, as though he were but a refractory boy, and
must be reduced to obedience. Yet this is not the treatment which can
succeed with natures like my lord the Viscount's, and he had been put
into a great heat and anger. Last evening there had been a banquet at
Sir William's house in Taunton, and he had been one of the guests. At
the board open allusion had been made to the approaching nuptials of
the Viscount with Mistress Edith, whose bright eyes gave ready and
eager response to the good wishes and gratulations of her friends. Nor
could the gentle and chivalrous young lord speak open despite to the
lady before her kinsfolk, and do insult to her and to his manhood. But
his blood had boiled within him at the intolerable position in which he
had been placed; for he had believed beforehand that the banquet was
for the officers of the train-bands and the gentlemen who had come into
the city to help to maintain order, else he never would have gone.

Being thus trapped, and as it were committed to a match to which he
never could consent, there seemed to him but one way out of the
difficulty, and that was one to which his reckless, defiant mood
inclined him, as well as the knowledge that it would be of all others
the measure most likely to be approved by his own true lady. He knew
that, let him once be accounted as a rebel, the prudent Sir William
would none of him for a husband for his daughter; whilst Mary would
regard him the more tenderly for all he might lose or suffer in the
good cause. Disgusted by the treachery, chicanery, and avarice of the
reigning King, eager after the excitements and the glory of warfare,
and keenly moved by the expected approach of one who was looked upon in
so many quarters as the deliverer of his country, it was small wonder
that the Viscount had flung prudence to the winds, and had resolved
to fling in his lot with the Duke who was about to come to the help
of the perplexed nation. I had no difficulty at all in understanding
and sympathizing with the step; my only regret was that he came alone,
and not with a gay and gallant following such as beseemed his rank and
station.

But he smiled a little grimly as I spoke of this.

"Nay, Dicon lad," he said, "if I be walking into the lion's jaws, I
will e'en walk thither alone, and not bring a luckless following of
poor knaves after me. Heaven alone knows what the issue of this day's
work will be; but all that I have heard on this vexed question tends
to the belief that England will not have your Duke for King, like she
her present monarch never so little! If that be so, there will be lives
lost and heads will fall--it may be mine amongst others. But no other
man shall lose his life through fault of mine. I might have brought a
score, perhaps a hundred gallant followers into the field, but I would
not tempt one to what may be his doom. Let each man choose his own lot
in the struggle. I have chosen mine, but I will be answerable for none
other besides."

This speech was not a very blithe one, and showed me well that the
Viscount had more fears than hopes for the issue of the contest. Yet
having once joined with us, I knew he would never turn back; and I
thought that a few more such gallant leaders as he might turn the
fortunes of any campaign.

We spent that day in company, my lord and I. At the inn where we
baited our horses and refreshed ourselves I passed as his servant, and
we both, in different capacities, gleaned all we could from those we
met. My lord told me afterwards that he saw small indication of any
eagerness on the part of the gentry to flock to the welcome of the Duke
when he should appear. They were all for maintaining law and order and
the tranquillity of the districts in which they lived; but I, on the
other hand, heard from the common people of a great joy and gladness in
the thought of the coming arrival, and everywhere it was whispered that
the soldiers would desert to his standard almost to a man, whilst every
rustic or shopkeeper in country or town would raise a shout for King
Monmouth, and fight for him through thick and thin.

Wherefore I was more hopeful than my lord of the issue of the contest,
and he listened to me with a smile, and said,--

"Ay, ay, good Dicon, believe all thou hearest, and keep up a good
heart; there is nothing like it for making brave soldiers at a pinch.
Thinking the day won beforehand sometimes proves the best way of
winning it at the last."

But I could see that my lord did not think it won yet.

At Ilminster I persuaded him to accept, for one night at least, the
humble hospitality of my aunt's roof. He smilingly thanked me and
accepted, for he was always of a gentle and affable nature towards
his inferiors. Great was the joy of my good aunt, Mrs. Betsy Marwell,
when we rode up to her door and I asked her good offices not only for
myself, but for my lord the Viscount, whose gallant air, brave raiment,
and nodding plumes entirely captivated her from the first moment, and
made her eager to put her whole house at his disposal.

However, he had no following, as he explained to her; and for himself,
he asked permission to join us at the board. This was not what my aunt
would have chosen, since she would have loved to serve him herself
almost on bended knee, I think; but he was allowed his own way when he
asked it with such graceful courtesy. We were soon seated together at
such a supper-table as methinks can only be found in the hospitable
West Country; and my lord was paying his attention to our hostess, and
making her beam and almost blush for pleasure at being so addressed by
a lord, and such a handsome and dashing one to boot; whilst I did ample
justice to the noble repast, and felt proud of my kinswoman and of the
manner in which she had been able to receive us.

My lord acceded to her desire that he would remain with her as long
as business kept him at Ilminster; and he stayed two nights beneath
her roof, winning golden opinions from all who saw him, and leaving us
quite sorrowful upon his departure.

I did not accompany him for two reasons: one being that he did not ask
me, and I feared to force myself upon him against his will; another,
that my aunt was resolved to keep me yet a few days longer. And as I
was every day suffered to ride far afield and to pick up all sorts of
odd but useful bits of information, I was the more willing to do so. It
was quite plain that the Duke could not yet have landed, at any rate
upon this coast, or we should have known it of a certainty ere now. I
was anxious to be there to witness his landing when it did take place;
but I could not well refuse my aunt's request, and so I lingered nigh
upon a week at her house, pleasantly assured that Ilminster was loyal
to the good cause, although perhaps not quite so fervent and warm as
the city of Taunton.

My next halt was at Chard, whither my aunt had sent me with a note to a
trusty friend of her own, who gave me lodging for two nights, and put
me in the way of obtaining all such information as I desired. I could
feel the growing excitement of the people, and I hoped that the Duke
would not tarry much longer. Men are apt to grow faint-hearted or cold
if disappointment and delay fall upon their first ardent longings. It
was now nigh upon fourteen days that we had been expecting tidings of
the landing of the Duke, and still he came not.

Axminster was my next halting-place, and here I found the temper of the
people very hot and eager. There was an Independent chapel there of
some importance, and a martial minister, whose name I cannot recall,
who was fervent in the cause of the Duke, and who had given out that he
himself would lead forth the men of his flock to join the standard of
liberty when it should be set up, and that he would fight to the last
drop of his blood in the righteous cause. I heard here, too, all the
old stories about the poisoning of the King, and the manifold crimes
laid to the charge of James now on the throne. The mind of the people
was inflamed against the sovereign almost more hotly than I had seen it
yet out of Taunton.

One gentleman was known to have store of arms and ammunition in his
house, and it was whispered that upon certain news arriving of the
landing of the Duke, he would arm his sons and his household forthwith,
and any able-bodied men who should desire it, so long as his stores
held out; and that he would then march at the head of this band, and
tender his and their services to his Grace.

I was fast catching the infection of hot partisan spirit, and feeling
more and more certain of the righteousness of our cause and the
certainty of ultimate success. There is a strong impression in the
minds of all communities that if the mass of the nation are in favour
of a cause, that cause will ultimately triumph. I have seen the growth
of this conviction during my long life, and I trow that those who come
after will see its further development. Whether for good or for ill
it is not for me to say, but the people begin to whisper that the
power is theirs, and that the voice of the people is the voice of God.
It was not put so in the days of which I now speak, but the citizens
would lay their heads together and boldly say that they had triumphed
over kings before in a righteous cause, and they would triumph again.
I listened, and I believed them, and sometimes felt as though the day
were well-nigh won.

And in this mood, on one bright evening in June, I found myself riding
into the pretty little sea-board town of Lyme.



CHAPTER XI.

_OUR DELIVERER._


I had seldom been so near the sea as I was now approaching, and for a
moment the boundlessness of the horizon, the sweep of sky and sea, the
outline of coast, and the tranquil beauty of the summer's afternoon,
filled my senses and drew my thoughts temporarily away from the more
personal and exciting matters upon which they had dwelt so long.

But as I sat Blackbird on the brow of the green eminence which
overlooked Lyme, and saw the little town nestling as it were beside the
blue sea, groups of trees giving beauty and variety to its aspect, and
the brooding peace of a cloudless summer's day seeming to rest upon it,
I became aware of a small stir behind me, and turning my head saw that
a party of some twenty rustics, with flushed faces and damp brows, had
come swinging up from below; and as soon as they were within speaking
distance the foremost called out to me, asking me, in the broadest and
softest of Dorset drawl, whether I could tell him where the Duke was to
be found.

"Us have heard that he's coomed," he explained, wiping his brow, and
shifting to the other shoulder the great scythe he carried. Five of his
companions carried scythes, and three or four sickles, whilst the rest
had a miscellaneous assortment of weapons such as bill-hooks and picks.
One had an ancient carbine, which looked better able to slay the person
who fired it than any other; and a tall lad, with the face of one whose
wits were not all under command, brandished with an air of fierce
triumph the broken remnant of what had once been a sword.

"They du tell we that he's coom, and us be going tu join him," panted
the first speaker as the rest came up. "Happen thee may be able tu put
us in the way of finding him. Thee be bound on the same errand, I take
it, young master."

"As for that, I have come to seek the Duke," I answered, forgetting
all else now in the excitement of the news just imparted; "but I knew
not that he had yet landed, nor where. What dost thou know of it, good
fellow?"

"Us heerd tell as he'd landed at Lyme. Us have come out to fight for
un," was all the answer I could get; and being unable to extract more,
and consumed with curiosity to know more of the matter, I wished them
a good journey, and set spurs to Blackbird, heading straight down the
slope of the down and towards Lyme.

I saw in the bay there two or three white-sailed vessels, and this
in itself seemed to give weight to what the men had said. Those
white-winged messengers might have brought our deliverer to us; and
with ever-increasing excitement and eagerness I drew near to the place,
and was more and more certain that rumour had this time not played me
false, but that some unwonted commotion was on foot.

I passed numbers of groups of rustics more or less like my first
friends, all hastening in one direction; and the question on all lips
was not whether the Duke had come, but where he was to be found. That
in itself was significant, and seemed to show that something had really
happened to awake such certainty in the minds of the people; and very
soon this certainty was confirmed by a strange and goodly sight which
presently burst upon my eyes.

Just to the east of the town, and hard by the church which raised its
square tower heavenwards, was a wide expanse of greensward which went
by the name of Church Cliff. Men tell me that since those days a part
of this same cliff has slipped into the sea, and that more is like to
follow. Be that as it may, when I saw it, many long years ago now, it
was a pleasant green plateau, spacious and convenient for the assembly
of a multitude of persons; and to-day it presented an aspect which I
trow it has never done before, and never will again--particularly if it
is like to be engulfed by the hungry waves!

On a small eminence nigh to the church, but not too near for
convenience, fluttered in the light summer breeze a banner or
standard--for I am not learned in the right names of these things. All
I know was that it was planted upon a tall halberd, and floated in the
breeze with a gentle swaying motion. Even from a distance I could see
that there were letters emblazoned upon it; but only later on, when I
was able to come anigh it, was I able to read the device, which ran as
follows: "_Pro Religione et Libertate._" The meaning of that (as I had
occasion to explain to many an unlettered hind ere the day closed) was,
"for religion and liberty," those two precious gifts to men which the
rule of the present monarch so greatly imperilled.

But the standard was not the only thing that took the eye of the
spectator. The field was gay with gathering crowds of people of all
degrees. Hard by the standard stood a group of gentlemen, as I could
see by the colours of their riding coats, and the plumes in their
hats. My heart beat as I scanned them. Could the Duke indeed be one of
these? It looked like it, for it was towards this group that the crowds
were for ever pressing. And plainly there was some order observed in
the method of approach; for there was no jostling or crowding in the
immediate proximity of this small group, but persons from the crowd
seemed to be detached from it and brought up one by one, and then to
melt away into the press again, as though their turn had come and gone.

As I advanced ever nearer and nearer, losing my vantage as I drew more
close, and finding myself gradually drawn into the throng of eager
watchers, I heard men talking one to another, and this was the burden
of their talk:--

"The Duke! the Duke! He is enlisting recruits. All the country is
flocking to him! Heaven be praised, our deliverer is come! Down with
the tyranny of the false usurper! A Monmouth! a Monmouth!"

And this cry was ever and anon taken up by all, and went surging
through the crowd like a mighty thunderclap.

"A Monmouth! a Monmouth! God save the noble Duke! God fight for the
righteous cause! A Monmouth! a Monmouth!"

I caught the enthusiasm of the people, and forgetting all about mine
uncle's errand, the prudence inculcated by him, and the mission on
which I had been sent, I flung my cap into the air and shouted aloud
for the Duke as lustily as any. Then finding that I could not make
shift to get nearer to him on horseback, for the press was very great,
I dismounted and turned Blackbird loose on the greensward, knowing well
that he would let none but me catch him again, though he would come
at my whistle like a dog, and gradually approached to the floating
standard, eager above all things else to look once more upon the face
of the Duke.

Little by little I made my way into the forefront of the crowd, which
had made a ring round the standard and the group near to it, and kept
an orderly and respectful bearing, only breaking out from time to time
into the joyous shouts of which I have made mention. One of such shouts
was being given as I wormed and twisted myself into the foremost ranks,
some good-natured spectators making way for me because that I was small
of stature, and could not otherwise witness what was passing.

"A Monmouth! a Monmouth!" shouted the crowd, tossing caps and waving
kerchiefs. "Down with Popery! Down with tyrants! Down with all
usurpers! A Monmouth! a Monmouth!"

And as the people thus shouted, he who stood in the centre of the gay
group about the standard lifted his plumed hat with a courtly grace and
smiled upon us with a winning kindliness and confidence that made the
populace redouble their shouting; and only after several minutes had
gone by was comparative silence restored, and proceedings went on as
before.

These were simple enough. A man would step forward and ask leave to
enlist in the Duke's army. His name would be asked, and duly inscribed
in a roll which was being kept by a busy scribe. If he had any arms,
he was bidden to one part of the field; if not (as was generally the
case), he was sent to another, and was equipped with some sort of
weapon from the stores brought over by the Duke or obtained for him by
his confederates here.

We believed then that he had arms and ammunition for half England,
should so many flock to his standard, and at least for the equipment
of as many thousand soldiers as he wanted. It was only later on that
we heard that arms had speedily run short, and that scythes stuck upon
poles, and other barbarous makeshifts, had to be substituted for the
regular weapons of true soldiers.

My friends the rustics came up in due course, and were enrolled in the
list; and the Duke had a smile and a pleasant word for each, so that
every man believed himself known and remembered by his Grace, and
every mouth was filled with his praises.

The difficulty seemed to be in getting the names set down fast enough;
and as that fact dawned upon me I plucked up my courage, for being in a
state of great excitement and exhilaration, almost like intoxication,
by the stress of my feelings, I forgot everything but my desire of
winning the approbation of the Duke, and doing somewhat in the good
cause. So I stepped up before him, making a low reverence, without
waiting to be led or bidden by those who were marshalling up the
recruits.

"Well, my good lad, and art thou come to make a soldier in our ranks?"
asked the Duke, with that pleasant smile which had beamed upon me once
before in my life. "Who art thou, boy, and what is thine errand?"

"May it please your Grace, I am the boy whom your gracious touch did
cure of the King's Evil five years agone, and who has never ceased to
bless you for that gracious act. Nature has not been pleased to grant
me the strength or the stature for a soldier, but I can make shift to
wield a pen with any scribe, and would humbly ask that I might help in
this matter of writing down the names."

"Well thought, boy," answered the Duke. "Our worthy scribe there will
be right glad of thy help. There be so many come to join us that his
labours are something severe. Where dost thou hail from, boy, and what
news dost thou bring of the temper of the country?"

For my travel-stained garments, and the dust upon my clothing, showed
that I had come some distance; and though the Duke's smile was full of
light and confidence, methought there was something of anxiety in his
eyes.

"All the people be very eager and forward in the good cause, your
Grace, and rejoice to think you near," I answered. "I myself come from
Taunton, where your friends muster strong. But Axminster and Ilminster
are almost as forward to give you welcome, as you will find when you
pass through them. But Taunton will give you royal honours, and I pray
you tarry not longer than need be ere you set foot in that queen of
cities."

The Duke's face lightened at my answer; and truly I spoke only as
I felt, and I had no thought to tell more than the truth. Looking
round on this crowd of gallant officers and gentlemen, and seeing the
hundreds pressing to join the standard, how could I feel that the Duke
had aught but a triumphal march before him? He rewarded my confidence
by taking me by the hand, and calling me a right brave and honest lad,
whom he should remember in days to come; and then, whilst my hand was
still tingling with the pressure, and my heart leaping for triumph and
joy, I was given a place beside the other scribe, and commenced my
duties as writer of names.

I know not how long I had been writing when a hand was laid upon my
shoulder, and a familiar voice spoke in my ear,--

"Dicon lad, Dicon Snowe, is this the way in which thou dost follow the
behests of thy prudent uncle? Is this how thou dost cater for true news
for him? Is this how thou dost prudently wait the issue of events ere
thou dost declare for one side or the other?"

Looking up quickly--for the enlisting was well-nigh done for the day,
and there were few left to be enrolled--I encountered the gaze of my
lord the Viscount's dark-blue eyes fixed full upon me with a glance
half of reproach, half of humorous amusement.

Truth to tell, I had indeed forgotten my character of scout, and had
flung myself into the very thick of the movement; though the future
alone could say whether men would come to call it by the name of
victorious revolution or seditious rebellion. I had been carried away
by the excitement of the scene and by my personal bias, and I had
thrown to the wind alike the prudence inculcated by my uncle and the
diplomacy I had promised to exercise on his behalf. Nevertheless I had
not betrayed myself, and I had not enlisted as a soldier; for who would
enlist a hunchbacked lad like me? Nor had I even told my name, it not
having been asked of me; so that I was not exactly committed to aught.
Yet I felt a thrill of shame run through me, as though I had in some
sort betrayed trust; and I said to my lord with some humbleness,--

"My uncle shall not suffer aught through any act of mine. I will keep
my pledge to him, and let him know all I can find ere the Duke enters
Taunton; but how may I hold back from him when I see him face to face,
and when you, my lord, are serving with him, whom I would fain follow
to the world's end or to death?"

The Viscount smiled that smile of his which I never quite understood,
but the pressure of his hand upon my shoulder was kindly and friendly.

"It is like enough to be one or the other, wert thou simple enough to
throw in thy lot with me," he said in a low voice. "Exile or death is
like enough to be the fate of those who meddle in this matter."

His voice was only for my ear, and I heard his words with a start of
dismay and incredulity.

"But, good my lord, look on these rolls--look on this list of names! A
few hours have brought all these men flocking to the Duke's standard.
What will not days do, and when all the country side knows that he is
here at last?"

Over the Viscount's face there passed another fleeting smile, and his
eye rested upon my scroll with a strange expression.

"A few hundred ill-armed, undisciplined, untrained rustic hinds, who
know no more of warfare than I of the plough! Dicon, hast thou read thy
history so ill as that thou thinkest England and England's armies can
be subdued by such as these?"

"But, good my lord, the train-bands will desert to the Duke as fast as
they are brought into the field against him," I answered eagerly. "All
men say so; and those I have spoken to have sons or brothers or lovers
in the ranks, and they know what they say. O fear not, my lord; be not
down-hearted. The will of the nation is with the Duke."

"The will of the nation--the hearts of the people!" repeated the
Viscount slowly. "That may be, Dicon, in thy sense, and yet misfortune
may not be far off. Dost know, lad, that except my unworthy self, not
one bearing the name of gentleman has joined the Duke to-day? Even Mr.
Trenchard, who was to have met him with fifteen hundred men, has fled
to France out of the way of peril. We will see what the morrow and the
morrow's morrow bring forth; but methinks if his Grace be wise he will
take to his ships again, and quit the country ere he rouses up the lion
to intercept and destroy him!"

"O my lord," I cried in distress, "not that--not that!"

But he made no direct reply, and we could no longer talk together
where we were, for a great cry was raised, "The Declaration! the
Declaration!" and one whom I may call a herald stood forth before the
people with a printed paper in his hand, and forthwith avowed that he
would read in the ears of the people the Declaration drawn up by the
noble Duke of Monmouth, stating wherefore he had come to England, and
what was his object in so doing.

Now all the people were very attentive to hear this, and held a great
silence; and I listened with the best of them, striving to retain all
in my memory, that I might retail it in Taunton Town when I returned,
and have wherewithal to answer the questions which should be put to me.

I cannot set down all here, for it was very long, and would weary both
reader and writer; but it was a clear exposition of the wrongs that the
people were enduring from an "unlawful and absolute tyranny" foreign to
the constitution and rights of the nation. It stated also the perils
of Popery and Papist plots, reminding us that the burning of London in
the last King's reign was held to have been the work of Papists; that
the Duke of York, now calling himself King, had unlawfully instituted
all manner of Popish idolatries, had set up the Mass, and was about
to persecute with fierce cruelty all those who opposed him or upheld
the true religion of the land. Next, we were reminded how he had done
to death the late King by poison, and mention was made of others also
who had been put from his path by like means; and as these things were
read, the wrath and ire of the people grew so great and terrible that
they broke at last into yells of rage and execrations against the
false usurper on the throne, and some voice raised a shout, which was
instantly taken up by hundreds and thousands,--

"King Monmouth! King Monmouth! We will have no King but him!"

Was this cry raised spontaneously at this point, or had it been begun
by some person for the sake of effect? At the time I never thought
of such a thing, but later on I have wondered whether some agent of
the treacherous Ferguson may not have been primed to the part. For
the words which followed seemed to fall almost too aptly on our ears,
although we none of us felt it at the time. I can repeat this paragraph
by heart to-day, having studied it from the Declaration itself, which
was once in my hands, though soon it was death and dishonour to have a
copy of it in one's keeping:--

"And forasmuch as the said James, Duke of Monmouth, the now Head
and General of the Protestant forces of this kingdom, assembled in
pursuance of the ends aforesaid, hath been and still is believed to
have a legitimate and legal right to the crowns of England, France,
Scotland, and Ireland, with the dominions thereunto belonging, of
which he doubts not in the least to give the world full satisfaction
notwithstanding the means used by the late King, his father, upon
Popish motives, and at the instigation of the said James, Duke of
York, to weaken and obscure it,--the said James, Duke of Monmouth,
from the generousness of his own nature, and the love he bears to
these nations (whose welfare and settlement he infinitely prefers to
whatsoever may concern himself), doth not at present insist upon his
title, but leaves the determination thereof to the wisdom, justice,
and authority of a Parliament legally chosen, and acting with freedom;
and in the meantime doth profess and declare, by all that is sacred,
that he will, in conjunction with the people of England, employ all the
abilities bestowed upon him by God and nature for the re-establishment
and preservation of the Protestant Reformed Religion in these kingdoms,
and for restoring the subjects of the same to a free exercise thereof,
in opposition to Popery, and the consequences of it, tyranny and
slavery. To the obtaining of which ends he doth hereby promise and
oblige himself to the people of England to consent unto and promote
the passing into laws all the methods aforesaid, that it may never
more be in the power of any single person on the throne to deprive
the subjects of their rights, or subvert the fundamental laws of the
Government designed for their preservation."

Was it wonderful that such words as these raised our enthusiasm and joy
to the greatest height? No more packed Parliaments subservient to the
will of the King, instead of breathing forth the will of the nation!
No more pandering to France, and receiving bribes from her for the
perverting and corrupting of English ministers! No more Mass! No more
idolatry! No more absolutism and oppression and tyranny!

Oh, how the people cheered and flung their hats into the air! Was it
wonderful that we shouted aloud for "King Monmouth! King Monmouth!"

Who had drawn up that Declaration? I afterwards heard it was the Rev.
Robert Ferguson, the man who was ever in the Duke's counsels now,
and who was foremost in the cause, and eager to counsel boldness and
advance.

Long afterwards I heard it whispered that he was one of those crawling
creatures who, to make their own skins safe, play false to their own
friends, by giving secret intelligence to the other side, and therefore
are bold to urge rash counsel on others. What the truth of this may be
I know not. I can only say that Ferguson had the face of a villain, and
that I marvelled to see the Duke take so much heed to him.

But I must not omit to mention my other acquaintances and friends whom
I saw in the muster about the Duke. Young Mr. William Hewling was
there, and Masters Hucker and Herring, both looking very soldier-like
in their trappings, and now bearing the commission of captains of the
Duke's forces. I quickly distinguished, too, the fine face of Heywood
Dare, which I had not seen for some while. He was paymaster of the
forces, and seemed much in the confidence of the Duke. His son was
ensign to Captain Goodenough, and both gave me a nod and a smile when
they saw me.

Besides the Viscount, known to my readers, there was no man of rank
in this assembly save Lord Grey, who was in command of the cavalry,
and had solicited the assistance of Viscount Vere. Many harsh things
have since been spoken of Lord Grey, and methinks he lacked skill and
courage in action, as will be seen anon; but he was faithful to the
cause of the Duke, and I like not to hear him railed upon.

So soon as I could get away after hearing the Declaration read, I
hastened to the town-hall, where the recruits were all taken when
enrolled to be provided with arms, and put through certain martial
exercises in preparation for what might lie before them. The Mayor
of Lyme had fled, we heard, to the Duke of Albemarle at Exeter, with
news of what was passing. Another gentleman, Mr. Dassell, who had
striven to induce the authorities to fire upon the vessels of the Duke
before he landed, had started off, it was said, for London. We began
to understand that we must make the best of our time before the enemy
came upon us; but it was needful that the recruits should be trained
at least how to carry their arms, and how to obey the word of command,
ere they were brought into the field and set in array against trained
soldiers.

Thursday evening and Friday were thus spent, my lord the Viscount being
one of the most forward and ready to assist in these matters.

In the counsels of the Duke he seemed to take but little part, but he
was ready to do his utmost in showing the raw rustics how to shoulder
a pike or aim a carbine. And sometimes he would step aside and speak
a few words to me (for I could not keep away from the Bowling Green,
where these things were going on), and he would say with something of
sternness in his aspect,--

"At least the honest rogues shall not be shot down like sheep, or
butchered as if in the shambles. They shall learn all that can be
taught them in a few days."

But as more and more men kept pouring in, it became evident that arms
were giving out, and that all sorts of shifts would have to be resorted
to to put them into the field at all. True, we were cheered by the
sight of many small companies of armed militiamen deserting to the
Duke, and making gay and martial-looking those companies which were
forming with all possible speed.

We began to speak of the Blue Regiment, the White Regiment, the Yellow
Regiment, according to the prevailing colour of the militia uniform. No
enemy appeared against us. No news came of anything but loyal support.
It was said by scouts from Devonshire that the Duke of Albemarle was
approaching, but that his soldiers were deserting in great numbers--a
fact of which we had the best testimony--and that he was more than
half afraid to bring the rest against us, lest they should go over in a
mass to our Duke.

All faces brightened at this news. We cheered and huzzahed till the
welkin rang. Even the Viscount's smile was a little more free and full,
and he clapped me on the shoulder and said,--

"Perchance I have been a false prophet after all, lad. At least thou
canst bear back good tidings to Taunton and to Mistress Mary. The
issue of the day is yet to come, but at least so far the auguries seem
happy. Let us live in the present, and leave the future to take care of
itself."



CHAPTER XII.

_BACK TO TAUNTON._


Had I been free, had I had none else to think of, had I not been bound
in honour to my uncle, nothing would have held me back from openly
espousing the cause of the Duke, and seeking if I might not at least
enrol myself in some capacity amongst his followers. I would have
implored the Viscount to let me serve him in the capacity of groom or
valet, so that I might be with him, and follow the fortunes of war.

But I knew that until I had fulfilled the task intrusted to me I was
not mine own master; and yet I felt the fire burning so hot within me,
as I saw the muster of this goodly array and the martial aspect of the
town, that I felt my only safety lay in flight, and that I must tear
myself away before I took some step which would be disloyal to mine
uncle, and a breach of the trust he had reposed in me.

I thought of all this as I lay in a narrow bed in an attic, counting
myself lucky to have so much as a straw pallet to rest my weary bones
upon--for weary I was with the excitements of the day; and the town
was so full of recruits that numbers of these had to camp in the open
field or in yards and barns. This was no great hardship whilst the dry
warm weather lasted; and all men were so wrought up by the thought
of the coming deliverance from Popery and tyranny, that nothing was
counted a grievance in the good cause.

On Saturday morning I woke betimes, and after turning over all
things in my mind, I resolved that I must not linger longer where
I was, but make my way back that day as far as my aunt's house at
Ilminster--according to promise--and then on to Taunton on Monday. The
Duke, I had heard, would not leave Lyme before Monday, so I should be
at home in good time to give notice of his approach.

But I felt that I could not leave without one more look at the Duke;
and, moreover, I bethought me that my lord the Viscount might desire to
send some letter or message to Mistress Mary: in fine, I had a hundred
good reasons for not hastening away, as it might have been wise to do.

I took as good a breakfast as I could get at such a busy time, and
putting the saddle on Blackbird, sallied forth in the brave sunshine to
find the Viscount, and to pick up as much information as I could as to
the plans and route of the Duke.

Now, although I think that this was not very well resolved on my
part, I have never regretted it; for it enabled me to witness a most
extraordinary and lamentable occurrence, which did much to damp the joy
which was in all our hearts, and to send me on my way a sadder and
a wiser man. But yet, I ween, there is something in our nature which
makes us eager to see all that is to be seen, whether the sight be of
sorrow or terror or joy; and therefore, when I approached the place
where the Duke's standard had been set up, and saw that some sort of
a tumult was going on about and around it, I pressed the more eagerly
forward, and soon made my way (thinking less of my manners than of my
eagerness and curiosity) into the innermost circle.

I have spoken many times of Old Dare, as he is still called in Taunton
Town, where his memory is kept green, and of his forwardness in the
cause of liberty and of the Duke; and how that he was always first
to be on the spot when there was any fighting and any struggle for
freedom. He had spent most of the time since landing in scouring the
country for horses for the Duke, and had come in late the previous
evening with some forty good beasts--the one he had purchased for
himself being a very fine animal.

All this I did not know at the time, but heard it afterwards. What
I did see when I approached was that one of the Duke's captains,
whose name I had been told was Fletcher (I have not spoken of all
the captains, fearing to confuse the reader with so many new names),
was seated upon a fine horse, ready equipped, as it appeared, for a
journey, and that Old Dare stood beside him with his hand upon the
bridle, speaking loud words in a very angry manner.

Now it had been said to me that the Scotchman Fletcher was one of
the few men about the Duke who really understood the art of war, and
that he was the most valuable man we had on our side; so that I was
astonished to hear high words passing between him and Old Dare, and to
observe that the altercation was fast growing into a serious quarrel.

But even then I was little enough prepared for what my eyes witnessed.
Scarce had I come into full sight and hearing of the disputants, before
Dare raised his hand in a threatening manner, as though he would have
struck his adversary with the cane in his hand; whereupon Captain
Fletcher, roused to a great wrath, drew forth his pistol and shot Old
Dare dead as he stood.

I could scarce believe my eyes. A mist seemed to swim before them as
I saw the gallant figure totter and sway, and fall helplessly to the
ground. Instantly all was commotion and alarm. The Scottish gentleman
turned in his saddle and addressed those about him in loud tones,--

"Gentlemen, I call you to witness that the fault is none of mine. No
man of honour could suffer himself to be insulted as that fellow was
insulting me. I appeal to any gentleman who saw and heard all. Could I
have done other than I did?"

A clamour and tumult at once arose of such magnitude that I was glad to
back away out of the forefront of the commotion, and trust to chance to
pick up later the gist of the matter. But whilst the crowd surged round
the body of Old Dare on the ground, and round his slayer, yet mounted
upon the fine charger over which the dispute had appeared to arise,
Captain Thomas Dare came hurrying up at the head of his levies, and all
were crying in loud and angry tones,--

"Vengeance! vengeance! Shall the murderer of Dare go free? Let
him be taken before the Duke! Let justice be done upon him!
Vengeance--vengeance--vengeance!"

The Duke was already upon the scene, a very troubled and anxious look
on his face, as was indeed no wonder, seeing that the day had begun
thus badly. There was a great and increasing tumult around him, and I
could not tear myself away, although I could hear nothing of what was
going on.

After a long time, I saw Captain Fletcher being escorted to the shore
by a body of officers and troops, followed by a storm of execrations
and hootings. He held his head proudly, and looked indifferent and
scornful. I knew not whether he were going to instant death, or what
had been decreed by the Duke; but as I pressed forward to look, and
strove to learn the truth from those who stood by, I chanced upon my
lord the Viscount, who was looking very grave and anxious.

"A bad omen, Dicon," he said as I rode up to him; "a bad beginning
when we turn our arms against one another. Nay, I know not where the
blame most lay. It was Dare's charger, but Fletcher had taken it in
the service of the Duke, the better to perform the duty intrusted to
him. It was not matter enough to cause the spilling of blood. And yet
it has lost us two of our best men. Dare lies weltering in his blood,
and Fletcher has been taken on board the frigate to save him from
the fury of the people. He will be carried to foreign shores by the
sailing-master, and we have lost the best officer we have amongst us."

I was distressed and grieved at the news, yet full of mine own plans
and projects too. I desired (as we do desire such things--I know not
why) to carry the news of this disaster to Taunton myself, albeit it
would be sorrowful tidings there, for Old Dare was greatly beloved and
respected; and my lord encouraged me to leave Lyme and return to my
uncle with the news. He sent messages to Mistress Mary, and trusted
soon to see her; but all through his discourse I felt that there ran
a thread of warning and disquietude. He cautioned me to avoid getting
myself too deeply implicated with the cause of the Duke, reminding me
that those were safest who stood aloof and took no open share in the
quarrel. I could well see that he himself had great doubts about the
triumphant march to London of which our mouths and hearts were full. He
had been driven himself by several goading motives to take up arms in
the Duke's cause, but he was wishful to warn others from following him
too blindly.

I rode away from Lyme thoughtfully enough; yet all I saw that day
tended to raise my spirits. From all parts men were pouring in to join
the Duke. I met them in companies of two or three, up to a dozen or
twenty, all bent upon the same errand, and hungry to gain news from one
who had seen the Duke and knew what was happening at Lyme. Then there
was another sign which gave me food for pleasant speculation: at many
cross-roads the authorities had posted constables to turn back the
people who should be faring forth in the direction of Lyme. But these
worthies were themselves all for the Duke; and though they stopped many
travellers and asked whither they were bound, and so forth, yet, so
soon as they heard, they wished them good journey, and so let them go,
and then laughed between themselves as though it were all an excellent
joke.

I made friends with many of these good fellows as I journeyed, and
heard from them how all the country was for the Duke; and indeed I
could make certain of this myself from the numbers of persons going to
join him, many of them being clad in the gay uniform of the militia.
My heart grew light as I journeyed, and by the time I had reached
Ilminster and my aunt's house there, I had forgotten all my doubts and
fears. She received me joyfully, and that evening and the next day I
was beset by eager men and women all agog to hear my tale, and ready to
dance for joy at hearing that the Duke would pass through their city
shortly, on his way to Taunton.

Already they began to hang their windows with bright stuffs, and the
town took quite a festive aspect before I left on Monday morning.
Children were scouring the fields and woods for green boughs to make
arches, and posies to crown staffs. It seemed to me that the Duke
had nothing but a triumphal march before him, unless indeed, as some
averred, the Duke of Albemarle was on the march eastward from Exeter
to try to intercept him before he reached the heart of the Western
loyalists.

One thing I must not omit to mention regarding my brief stay at my
aunt's house. Of course she had many questions to ask about the
Viscount, who had so won upon her a day or two before; and in speaking
of him, I could not but say that I feared he was not so hopeful as to
the success of the Duke as we were, and that I sometimes fancied he
himself looked forward to a death upon the scaffold. At that my aunt
looked very grave and troubled; yet both she and I saw that were the
Duke to be defeated, it was likely enough examples would be made of
the leaders and men of most mark and young Viscount Vere might be one
chosen to expiate his rebellious act (as it would then be termed) upon
the scaffold.

But such a thought filled us both with great dismay; for I loved the
Viscount with a love I cannot hope to express in words. And suddenly my
aunt rose and took a lighted taper, and said (it was now dark and late
at night, and all her household was abed, we having sat up talking long
after all others had gone),--

"Dicon, come with me. I will show thee a certain thing; and if the
day should come when it can serve thee or thy good lord the young
Viscount, remember--and I will not fail either him or thee!"

As I followed my aunt, in great curiosity as to what this speech could
mean, she led me up and up through the house into a great attic in the
roof, whither walking was difficult because of crossed timber beams and
chests stored with household goods; and suddenly stooping down in one
corner, she made a curious clicking sound--I could not see how--and
then, to my astonishment and momentary fear, seemed to sink into the
floor, for soon only her head was visible to me.

"Come quietly after me, Dicon," she said; and then I saw that she was
pushing herself down through a narrow aperture from which a rickety
ladder led somewhere below. Following her through this trap-door--for
such it must be, though cunningly hidden, as I saw afterwards--I
by-and-by found my hand taken by hers and myself conducted through such
strange narrow places as I had never been in before, till we came out
at last into a small but not incommodious chamber, where stood a bed
and a chair or two and a small table. And then I divined that I was
looking upon one of those secret hidden chambers that were ofttimes to
be found in ancient houses, contrived as places of safety for hunted
priests or monks or Lollards, as the case might be.

My aunt put her lantern on the table, and said in a low voice,--

"I will make provision for an inmate, lest the day go against us; and
if thou, Dicon, or the Viscount should come to trouble and be forced
to fly, fear not to come hither, and I will shelter you. For myself I
have no fears. I am a quiet woman, and take no part in great matters,
and all of my towns-folk think well of me. I shall not be disturbed.
But I will gladly give shelter to some hunted friend of the Duke's if
it be needed. Not a soul in the town knows aught of this chamber. I
trow I could keep any man safe for a month here, and none guess at his
presence."

I was too much resolved to see nothing but triumph for the Duke to
believe that we should ever need such shelter as this; yet I was
interested in the chamber, and thankful to my good aunt for her
kindness in thus promising me help for myself or my lord should it be
needed.

On Monday morning, the fifteenth day of June, I started off with the
first of the light to take to Taunton the news of the approach of the
Duke. A messenger had come in overnight to say that the Duke would be
leaving Lyme that morning, and unless delayed by any encounter with
the forces of the Duke of Albemarle, which were said to be advancing
towards Axminster, might be looked for at Ilminster perhaps by the
evening, or at any rate on Tuesday. So I felt there was no time to be
lost in getting to Taunton; and as Blackbird seemed of the same way of
thinking, and went his best and fleetest, it was only high noon before
we arrived at the outskirts of the town, to see in a moment that the
whole place was in a ferment of excitement.

Had I once allowed myself to be stopped and questioned, had it once
been known that I came from Lyme with tidings direct, I should never
have been suffered to pass on my way, so clamorous were all the people
after news. But as I was sure that this would be so, I kept my mouth
shut, and put Blackbird to a hand-gallop, never drawing rein till I had
him safe within the yard of the Three Cups itself.

At sound of the horse's feet my uncle came hurrying out, and almost
fell on my neck in his transport of joy.

"Ah, Dicon lad, how I have watched and longed for thee! Come in, come
in! I made sure some ill had befallen thee. Now tell me all--tell
me all! The whole place is full of rumours, and never heard I such
contrary tales. Our prisons are full of country yokels and farmers,
caught in the act of going to Lyme to join the forces of the Duke.
They tell us here that he will never reach Taunton; that the Duke of
Albemarle will meet and rout him ere the day be done. Tell me, boy,
what news dost thou bring? for faith I am half afraid to stir hand or
foot, lest I find myself in some horrible trouble."

Well, I told my story as plain as I could, neither making light of such
perils as I had heard of, nor yet failing to report how forward were
all the country folks in the cause of the Duke. My uncle listened, and
his face did not lose its look of perplexity; but after I had told my
tale, I was eager to know, on my side, what had happened at Taunton
during my absence, and my cousin Meg coming in and exclaiming at sight
of me, I quickly got from her the news, whilst my uncle went out to
confer with those of his friends who were still left in the town.

Meg told me that the public feeling was rising higher and higher for
the Duke, and that soon after I had left Sir Edward Phillips and
Colonel Lutterell had come in with several companies of soldiers to
keep the town quiet. But on Saturday the latter had marched away with
the most part of the troops to join the Duke of Albemarle at Chard or
Axminster, and strive to intercept the advance of the Duke, and cut to
pieces his army, thus quelling the rebellion at a blow.

Now this had been very grievous news for the people of Taunton, who
knew not whether their beloved Duke might not be forced to fly or ever
he had come to them as deliverer and saviour. The magistrates now had
charge of the town, and were holding the people in check from any sort
of rising, both by their authority and through the doubts entertained
of the result of the engagement between the forces of the two Dukes.

When I told Meg how many and great were the forces pouring in to the
Duke's standard, and how he was surrounded by so gallant a band of
officers and gentlemen, and how the militia were deserting to him from
every quarter, she took courage and heart again; and others coming
in to hear my news, also thought well of it, and ere nightfall a new
feeling had spread through the town, whilst whispers were abroad that
it would be an easy thing in the absence of the soldiers to make a
general rising, surprise the guard, overawe the magistrates, and seize
and hold Taunton for the Duke.

But as yet it was only a whisper, and no man dared to speak aloud of
such a thing. Order still prevailed, although I felt that the city was
like to the hot crust over the crater of a volcano, and that at any
moment a tongue of flame might spring forth, and the whole aspect be
changed to seething heat and violent eruption.

As I was sitting at table satisfying my hunger after so much talking,
and telling those who stood by of the death of Dare--a thing which
caused much grief and heart-burning in the minds of his townsmen--my
uncle came behind me and said that Lord Lonsdale had come in. After
hearing that I had been to Lyme, he had asked to have speech with me;
and I rose at once, and found him in the small parlour where guests of
the better sort were entertained.

Now although my Lord Lonsdale had not played the part of a good father
(in my humble opinion at least) to his son, and though he was known as
a determined enemy of the Duke, yet to me he had always shown himself
kind and gracious, and I was grieved to see the look of pain and
anxiety upon his handsome face.

"Dicon Snowe," he said, as I appeared, "it has been told me that thou
hast ridden scout for Taunton, and hast been as far as Lyme, and seen
the following of the Duke of Monmouth. Tell me truly, boy, hast thou
seen aught of my son? He has vanished no man knows where since the
first day of the month, and all that I can hear of him is that he was
seen riding south, as though he would make for the coast. I have been
consumed with fear lest the foolish boy has run himself into deadly
peril. Tell me, Dicon, hast thou seen him? and what was he doing?"

What could I say? I am a bad hand at lying even to my foes, and to lie
to one who had ever treated me well would have been a disgrace. I could
but tell my lord the truth--that his son the Viscount, goaded by fears
of being forced to wed a lady for whom he had no love, had broken the
yoke the best way he could, and so he had joined himself to the Duke,
his heart not being truly in the cause; and he was now doing all that
one man may do to drill the raw recruits, and make soldiers out of men
used only to the plough. Having so begun, he would, I was convinced,
see this matter through to the end; nor would any misfortune that
befell the Duke draw him from the standard, so long as that standard
floated over the plains of England.

Whilst I spoke in the finest words I could pick, my lord wrung his
hands together and lamented openly the folly of the "boy," as he called
him, the hot-headed rashness of youth, and the fearful peril into which
he had run himself through his reckless impatience. I was sorry for
the distracted father, who plainly feared his son's head would pay the
penalty; but my sympathies were all the while with the gallant young
Viscount. Nor did I think the cause lost, as the Earl plainly did,
although prudence caused me to be silent on that point, and to express
no opinion. My journey to Lyme was not thought to be an incriminating
thing. Even the Mayor, Mr. Smith, who came to see me and ask questions,
rather praised than blamed me for thus faring forth after news. I
think I sent that worthy away with a flea in his ear. For I spoke of
all the brave sights I had seen, and how joyful the cities were at
thought of the approach of the Duke; and I think he wished himself
anywhere but in charge of Taunton Town, with the citizens all in a
ferment, and the soldiers drawn off elsewhere.

But my day's work was not done until I had seen Mistress Mary and given
her her lover's messages; and so soon as I could shake myself free of
the crowds that kept coming to hear the news afresh, I stood at the
door of Miss Blake's parlour and sued for admittance.

I was welcomed almost with tears when it was known where I had been,
and both Mrs. Musgrave and Mistress Mary were summoned to hear my tale,
which did not grow less through repetition.

Oh how Mistress Mary's eyes did kindle and glow when I spoke to her of
the Viscount, and how he had joined himself to the Duke, and was in
command of a fine company of horse-soldiers under Earl Grey! If she
had never loved him before, I think she would have loved him then on
hearing what he had done, and knowing that for love of herself he had
thus thrown all else to the winds and joined the Duke's standard. As it
was, loving him heart and soul before, her heart could scarce hold all
the joy and gladness that my words aroused; and when I whispered in her
ears the messages with which I was charged, her beautiful eyes kindled
and flashed, and she clasped her hands together as though hardly
knowing how to keep back the words that sprang burning hot to her lips.

In this house there was no fear as to the result.

"God will fight for the right," said Miss Blake solemnly. "He will
succour the oppressed in the time of need, and will not suffer His
cause to be trampled in the dust."

Then she went out of the room for a brief time, and returned bearing
a great burden, which Mistress Mary hastened to help her to undo, and
before my dazzled eyes was then displayed the result of those weeks and
months of patient toil.

Twenty-seven banners, or colours, as it was the fashion to call them,
were spread out before my admiring gaze. The rich materials had been
provided by the secret gifts of many wealthy inhabitants of Taunton,
but the beautiful needlework had been done by Miss Blake's pupils
under her own eyes; and Mistress Mary's banner--the most beautiful and
the boldest of all, as I have said elsewhere--was her own work every
stitch, and she had purchased with her own money all the materials to
boot.

"When the King-Duke comes to his loyal city of Taunton," said Miss
Blake with pardonable pride, as she folded the colours once again and
laid them by in order, "a right royal welcome shall not be lacking him,
shall it, Mary my dear?"

And Mary's eyes kindled and glowed and her cheeks flushed as she
lightly passed her hands over the great raised letters J.R. worked upon
her banner, and looked up to answer,--

"Nay; and if they call Taunton the 'Queen of the West,' it is but right
that the Queen should be ready with royal honours for her King."

Well was it that such words as these were spoken with closed doors! Yet
methinks these women had such courage and devotion that they would have
spoken them aloud for all the world to hear had there been any cause.

After I had said good-night to these ladies, I found myself so tired
out with the labours and excitements of the day, that I must needs find
my way to my bed; and in spite of all the stir and tumult which reached
me from the street below, I slept well and soundly, unconscious of
what was passing, until daybreak on the following morning, when I was
awakened by such a noise and commotion as would have aroused even the
Seven Sleepers.

But the account of that memorable day and the rise of Taunton I must
keep for a fresh chapter.



CHAPTER XIII.

_THE REVOLT OF TAUNTON._


I woke with a start from a deep sleep, to find that already a new day
had dawned, and to hear in the streets below the sound of trampling
feet and the hum of a multitude of voices.

Springing out of bed and commencing to dress myself in a great hurry,
I heard steps approaching along the passage, and my uncle came quickly
in, looking haggard and dishevelled, as indeed he well might, not
having been in bed or asleep for two nights.

"Heaven save us all!" he cried, in a state of genuine alarm. "All
the soldiers have been called out. They say the Duke of Albemarle's
forces have been overthrown, and that the Duke of Monmouth will be
here by noon. Others say that the Duke of Monmouth's army is in full
flight, and that the soldiers have been called out to help to cut them
to pieces and drive them into the sea, so that not one of them shall
remain alive by this time to-morrow. God save us all! What is a man to
think or do, with such frightful news pouring in, and none knowing the
truth of it!" and my uncle groaned aloud.

Now when I went to bed about ten o'clock the town had been quiet
enough, as I have said. The regular soldiers had most of them gone,
but several bands of the militia were still there, and these were
quite sufficient to overawe the citizens; for they were not at all
disposed to desert to the enemy, like those bands in other places of
which I have spoken, and the magistrates and the Mayor had taken every
precaution that the city should be kept tranquil.

But with the first light of dawn flying scouts kept hurrying in with
news that there had been a battle between the two Dukes, and now
the whole town was up and astir in the wildest excitement. My uncle
could not learn the truth from anybody. The Mayor and magistrates
tried hard to persuade the people that the Duke of Albemarle was
triumphing, and that he had called upon the militia to finish the good
work his soldiers had begun; but the tale told by flying soldiers who
made their way into the city from Colonel Lutterell's regiment was
very different. They declared that the train-bands under the Duke
of Albemarle had given way everywhere before the Duke of Monmouth's
troops. The engagement had been more or less in the dark and between
hedges. The accounts were so confused that it was hard to tell what
was the truth of the matter; but at any rate there were confusion and
panic everywhere, and all lovers of order were alarmed, striving hard
to quiet the tumultuous citizens and get them to return to their houses
instead of running wildly about the streets adding rumour to rumour,
till none could tell where the truth might lie.

All through that day this state of wild excitement lasted. Mr. Axe was
to be seen in all parts of the town trying to persuade the populace
to be orderly and quiet; but when towards evening the news came that
the Duke--our Duke, the Duke of Monmouth himself--was in full march
for Taunton, there was no keeping down the tumultuous happiness of
the people. They cheered, they laughed, they shouted, they sang. When
Mr. Nicholas Blewer appeared in the streets (he had been forward in
spreading rumours that the Duke was overthrown, and in striving to set
the people against him by threats of fearful penalties to be dealt
to all traitors), he was so hooted and hustled that he was forced to
fly almost for his life; whilst Will Wiseman led a hooting crowd of
half-mad apprentice boys after him, and drove him ignominiously into
his lodging.

But yet we dared not do more than raise our voices for the Duke when no
magistrate was by: for there were still bands of militia in the town,
despite the fact that continually companies were marching forth by one
route or another; and guards were set everywhere, whilst the constables
were busy keeping order, though not quite with that air of authority
and certainty that they had shown before; and Mr. Axe and the Mayor
worked hand in hand to keep order in the city.

There was no going to bed for me that night. I felt that a crisis was
at hand--as indeed proved to be the case; and I sat with Will in a
nook in the Cornhill, which was always like to be the centre of any
disturbance.

Quiet seemed to have been restored at dark; but that quiet did not
last long, for at midnight the roll of the drums began again, and we
started to our feet, to become quickly aware that the last of the
troops were being marched out of the town. By one or two o'clock in
the morning there was not a soldier left, only the guard and the
constables; and these, if the truth were known, in a great fright for
their own safety.

"The soldiers have gone! the soldiers have gone!" cried Will,
in a fever of excitement; and forthwith he went from house to
house, knocking cautiously at doors, which flew open without any
delay--plainly showing that the inhabitants were not asleep or abed
that night; and I followed his example, till from all quarters men
began pouring into the street, and the first dawn of the midsummer
morning saw all the Cornhill full of people, looking into each other's
faces as though asking what should be done next.

I know not who spoke the word first. It is always hard to say when
the explosion comes whose hand set light to the gunpowder. For some
while it had become known that no militia band was in the town, that
the soldiers had gone, that none remained now to impose order upon the
citizens. The town was practically in their own hands; they could do
what they would.

Then there arose first a low whisper, just a rustle through the moving
mass of humanity, but the whisper that became a shout, and the shout
that became a yell, and was taken up and passed on, till every throat
was vociferating the one word,--

"Arms! arms! arms!"

Now in the tower of St. Mary Magdalene's Church a quantity of arms and
ammunition had been stored in case of emergency, and this fact was well
known to the crowd. Accordingly a movement was made in the direction
of the church, although the doors were known to be very strong; and
we still had reverence for sacred buildings, whilst contemning the
idolatrous usages of Popery.

But the blood of the citizens was up, and a trifle was not to stay
them. Will Wiseman had, as usual, managed to get into the forefront of
the crowd, and as they halted beside the church, wondering how to get
at the stores, he cried out boldly,--

"Help me up, good people; hoist me on your shoulders. Let me but get
footing on yonder ledge, and I'll get the window open and throw you out
the arms as fast as you can catch them!"

A shout was the answer, and in another minute I saw the bold Will
swarming up to the leads of the church roof, followed by first one
and then another active man or lad. To wrench open the windows, to
get at the store of arms, to pass them to those below until nothing
remained within the tower, was but the work of an hour. By six o'clock
every capable citizen of Taunton was armed and equipped. Those who
had horses were already talking of going forth to meet the Duke and
escort him to the loyal town. Women were hanging their windows with
the costliest stuff their stores contained; children were going forth,
as from Ilminster a few days before, to get flowers for garlands and
green boughs for arches. We laughed aloud in the joy of our hearts. We
shouted for the Duke till our throats were sore. Every flying scout who
came into the city brought some fresh tale of disaster to the King's
forces, and of triumph to the Duke's. Our Mayor had not shown his face
since dawn. It was supposed that he and the magistrates, and those of
the Burgesses who could not bring themselves to declare for the Duke,
were hiding away in fear of the anger of the people, and the possible
punishment the new King (as some of us boldly called him) might inflict
upon them for their resistance.

Mr. Axe, indeed, came towards us, to try to speak in the name of order
and authority; but an excited citizen marched up to him with a musket,
and exclaiming, "We will not hear you! the town is ours!" looked so
threatening in his aspect that the clergyman quietly retired.

And then the cry broke out,--

"Loose the prisoners! Release Mr. Vincent! Have out the loyal knaves,
who will raise a shout for the Duke!"

No sooner said than done. The prison was broken open by the mob. Mr.
Vincent appeared before our eyes carried high on the shoulders of the
wildly-cheering crowd.

"A Monmouth! a Monmouth! Down with Popery! Down with tyranny! A
Protestant King for England! A Monmouth! a Monmouth!"

There was no resisting that sort of shout; we joined in it almost to
a man. Even my uncle, who took no open part in these proceedings,
remembering perhaps that as Capital Burgess he was expected to be on
the side of law and order, could not refrain from adding a cheer as
the procession went by. The crowd, despite the efforts of Mr. Vincent
to free himself from their well-meant attentions, insisted on carrying
him in triumph through all the main thoroughfares, shouting themselves
hoarse the while; whilst other inferior prisoners were treated to
as much ale and sack as they could drink, and were listened to with
admiration and delight as they told the tale of their capture. We were
assured by this time that all England would declare for the Duke, and
that he would make Taunton his capital in the West, and perhaps even
allow himself to be crowned here (so fast did our imaginations and our
tongues outrun reason and sense); that his enemies would fly before
him, and be scattered as we heard the forces of the Duke of Albemarle
had already been. In our great joy we were like men intoxicated, and
every sense was strained to catch the first tread of approaching
horsemen, which should betoken the coming of the deliverer.

Toward four o'clock that same afternoon a mighty shout was raised: "He
comes! he comes! The Duke! the Duke!" And men began rushing wildly
towards the road from the south, by which approach to the town from the
coast might be expected.

Will Wiseman was at the head of the rushing crowd, and as I tried
vainly to keep up with his flying feet, he cried that from the tower
of St. Mary's a scout had seen the approach of a band of horsemen; and
that was quite enough to rouse the shouts which were echoing down the
streets, and to send the whole populace flying forth in one direction.

Although outrun by Will and the foremost of the crowd, I yet reached
the limit of the town before the horsemen came up.

Right gallantly did the little cavalcade approach us; yet when they
were near enough for us to distinguish faces, we saw that the leader
was not the Duke himself, but our good friend and townsman John Hucker,
now appearing in all the bravery of his military dress--a Captain in
right of the Duke's commission, and bearing himself right gallantly, so
that we all looked at him in admiration and amaze.

He drew rein at sight of such a crowd of friends, and his honest face
beamed with pleasure.

"Good news, my friends, good news!" he cried. "His Grace the Duke is on
his way, and will be here to-morrow with his victorious army, which has
put to flight at Axminster all the army of the Duke of Albemarle. We
are to march straight to Bristol and secure that for the Duke, and then
we look that all the country shall have risen in his favour. London
will be the next place. The King and the Court are quaking and shaking.
They dare not bring men into the field against us, lest they all desert
to the Duke's standard. The stars in their courses are fighting for the
righteous cause. Citizens, be ready with a loyal welcome to-morrow for
the noble Duke--the future King of England!"

Oh how we did shout and cheer and laugh and weep! This brave message
seemed to infuse new life into us. We on our side pressed round Captain
Hucker, to tell him how we had risen for the Duke, and gained the
mastery of the town in defiance of guard and Mayor and magistrates. We
no longer trembled to think of our audacity and the consequences it
might lead to. We were full of triumphant gladness; and our townsman
promised that the whole story should be told to the Duke, that he might
know and appreciate the loving loyalty and devotion of the men of
Taunton.

Captain Hucker, however, had private matters to attend to, when he had
given us his first good news, and was able to leave his soldiers in our
care and ride to his own home.

I think I have said before that Master Hucker--as we had hitherto
called him--was a great serge-maker of the town of Taunton. He had his
mills in the fair valley of the river Tone hard by the town, and he
had a fine house within the city, where he lived with his wife and his
daughter Eliza, who was one of the maidens of Miss Blake's school, and
had been engaged upon that goodly task of working the colours for the
Duke's army.

Captain Hucker now hastened home; and as it chanced that he passed me
on the way, he asked news of mine uncle and the rest of our household,
and by me sent him a message to ask if he could supply him with any of
those notable wines which he was known to keep in his cellar, and which
commanded a price higher than men cared to give save on very especial
occasions.

"For, Dicon," added Captain Hucker, "thou mayest tell thine uncle that
the Duke of Monmouth has graciously promised to be my guest during the
days of his stay in Taunton. My poor house is to be honoured as the
resting-place of His Grace, and thou wilt see how it beseems me to
have the wherewithal for his entertainment. And listen again, Dicon."
The Captain leaned from his saddle-bow with a beaming face, though he
spoke in a very low and cautious tone. "It behoves us to give a right
royal reception to the Duke; for although he enters Taunton but as Duke
of Monmouth, yet (if I do not greatly err) it will be as King of all
England that he will quit it."

And while I stood open-mouthed in amazement, not seeing how this thing
could come so speedily, Captain Hucker laughed and nodded and rode on,
only calling back to me not to forget about the wine, and to bring him
word in a short space what mine uncle could do for him.

King of all England! The words rang bravely in my ears, but I could
scarce credit them myself. To think that fortune's wheel should bring
to pass that I had seen and spoken to a King, and had held his hand in
mine even for a moment!

I went with my message to my uncle, who forthwith started off to
Captain Hucker's house to see and speak with him face to face.
Doubtless he wished to learn from him other matters than the amount of
wine to be delivered. As for me, I made my way to Master Simpson's; for
I had seen his face amongst the horsemen who had ridden into Taunton,
and I knew that he would tell us everything that had befallen, and not
send me away from sharing the narrative.

He was in the garden behind the house and shop--a right pleasant
place, where I had spent many a happy hour with Will and Lizzie. They
were with him in the arbour, filling his glass with the mead he loved
best, and heaping his plate with such viands as they thought he best
relished. He was both thirsty and hungry, as was natural after the
day's march, but he was talking all the while nevertheless; and when
Lizzie saw me she darted forth and dragged me within the pleasant
arbour, exclaiming,--

"Now come and hear all father's tale. Oh, why was I not born a lad,
that I might have ridden forth beside him, and joined in the glorious
victory!"

But her father fondly stroked her bright hair, and said,--

"Nay, nay, my maid, but thou hast done thy share at home; and the
maidens' work shall never be forgotten in Taunton Town.--Well, Dicon,
so thou didst find thy way safe home? Thou didst miss the fight at
Axminster, and the rout of the King's general there. Ah! it was a
goodly sight to see. If all battles end as speedily and as merrily, I
care not how many of them we fight."

He told us all the details of that skirmishing fight in the lanes--how
so many of their adversaries had deserted to them, and how it was
supposed that the Duke of Albemarle had drawn off the rest in fear lest
all his army should melt away before his eyes.

"Why did you not pursue them, father," cried Lizzie, "and kill all who
would not join you? That is what I should have done. I would not have
left alive one soldier or officer who could hurt us afterwards. I would
have scattered and slain even as the angel of the Lord we read of in
the Bible. Now the Duke of Albemarle will gather his men and bring them
up again perchance. I would not have left him even the remnant of an
army."

"Well done, little general!" cried the father, looking well pleased
at Lizzie's martial ardour; and then growing a little more grave, he
added, "I have heard others say that that is what we should have done.
Lord Vere was very urgent to pursue and scatter the band; but Lord
Grey was against it, and his word prevailed. I am not a soldier born;
my duty is to obey my superior. Yet if mine opinion had been asked,
I would have said, as my maid here says, that it were better to rout
and disperse the band than give it time and opportunity to re-form and
harass us as we move."

"I have heard a whisper that my Lord Grey is but a sorry soldier," I
ventured to remark in a low tone; for it is not for us citizens to
condemn our betters. "Did not men say that at Bridport he fled scarce
striking a blow, and left the infantry to be cut to pieces; and no
thanks to him that Colonel Wade got them together and brought them safe
off? That is a story one man told me. I prithee what be the truth of
it, Master Simpson?"

He laughed a little uneasily.

"Oh, as for that little skirmish at Bridport, we take none account of
it, being but a small affair," he answered. "We sent to surprise the
militia there, and we gained possession of the town right speedily.
But there was some blundering and misunderstanding betwixt the
officers; Colonel Venner was wounded; and the cavalry under my Lord
Grey galloped back to Lyme. But no great harm was done. Colonel Wade
brought his men back in good order. They say small skirmishes like
that accompany all warfare, but are of small note in the course of the
campaign."

"I would the Duke would give my lord the Viscount the command of the
horse," I said. "He would not gallop away from the scene of action, and
leave the foot-soldiers to their fate."

Master Simpson shook his head at my temerity in thus speaking, yet
he could not but say that he thought the Viscount would make the
better leader; then we fell to talking of the death of Dare, and the
unfortunate loss of two such good men as himself and Fletcher. For it
had been found impossible to use Fletcher any more in the West Country,
and the sailing-master of the frigate had weighed anchor and taken him
off elsewhere. Thus one of the best soldiers was lost to us; and, as
we all very well knew, out of those who went in the ranks by the brave
names of colonels, captains, and ensigns, scarce more than two or three
had been trained in arms or had seen service.

But on a day like this we were not disposed to let grave and despondent
thoughts gain the upper hand. The victorious Duke was on his way to
the town, and all Taunton was decking itself for the reception on the
morrow.

Master Simpson said he must see what he could do to brighten up his
house, and went to take counsel with his sister; whilst Will and
Lizzie and I went forth together and paraded the streets, watching the
erection of triumphal arches, the decking of windows and balconies, and
listening to the joyful cries and shouts of the people, as they ever
and anon let their spirits get the upper hand, and broke forth into
song and cheering.

Lizzie was anxious to see her schoolmistress and take her all the news,
so I escorted her thither, and we passed inside together, to find the
house all in commotion. The town girls had not gathered for schooling
upon such a day of excitement. No study could be thought of at a time
like this, yet never had there been a busier day in Miss Blake's
establishment.

If every window and balcony in the town was to be decorated, how much
was it incumbent upon her to get done before the glorious morrow! All
the resident pupils and the two mistresses were working might and main,
and at once Lizzie and I were pressed into the service; and as our
fingers moved our tongues wagged, and such a clatter as we made amongst
us you would scarce believe.

Mistress Mary was there, of course--the most skilful of all, and with
her whole heart in the work. Yet she found time to come up to me and
ask in a whisper,--

"Has _he_ come in to-day?"

"No," I answered; "he comes with the Duke to-morrow. You will see him
then, Mistress Mary." And her cheek kindled and glowed; yet there was a
sorrowful look in her eyes also, and I noted it the more because upon
such a day as this I should have thought nobody could have had aught
but thoughts of joy and triumph.

As we were decorating a window together later on, and nobody else
chanced to be by, I ventured to ask respectfully,--

"Is aught amiss, fair mistress?"

She looked at me, and suddenly the tears sprang to her eyes. She
clasped her hands together, letting her wreath fall to the ground.

"O Dicon," she exclaimed, in a passionate way quite foreign to her
usual calm, "how will this end--how will it end? Ah, if I only knew
that ill and hurt would not come from it!"

"Why, Mistress Mary," I said in surprise, "you have been ever most
forward to prophesy victory, even when things looked dark; and now,
when all the world is full of confidence and hope, are you to fear and
doubt?"

"Dicon," she said in a low tone, "I had a dream last night--a dream
of terror and dread. And yesterday my guardian came to me and said
terrible words."

"What did he say?" I ventured to ask.

"He said that I had tempted his son to his own undoing; that I had put
a halter round his neck, and had led him to his ruin. He said that
none but women and fools could believe that aught could come of this
rebellion--that was his word--save a rapid downfall, to be followed, if
the King is of the temper he has shown himself ever, by a fearful and
exemplary vengeance. He said things which made me shake for very fear,
and he spoke with a certainty that rang like a knell in mine ears. And
then I had such a frightful dream of dreadful deaths upon the scaffold,
the hideous form of the executioner, the crowds of faces, the horror
and the agony. And above all, I seemed to see _his_ face looking
reproach upon me, and his voice saying in my heart, if not in my ears,
'It was for thy sake I did it, Mary. I am dying now by thy act.' Oh, it
was terrible, terrible, terrible! I have scarce been able to enjoy this
day for the thought of it."

I confess I did not like that dream. I had known before of such that
had proved much too terribly true. Also it reminded me unpleasantly of
Mother Whale's prediction about much blood and little glory, which had
always borne a sinister sound in my ears ever since I had heard it. But
then had she not said that the King should die in exile? And if that
should indeed be true, why need we fear the rest?

However, to Mistress Mary I strove to make light of the dream, and
spoke to her of the prognostications we were hearing on all sides
of the triumphal march lying before the Duke; so I think I left her
comforted. Nor could any person loving the Duke fail to be glad and
happy that night, for we all knew him to be close at hand, and looked
to see him bravely welcomed on the morrow by all Taunton Town.



CHAPTER XIV.

A GLORIOUS DAY.


I had slept soundly and well upon the night preceding that glorious and
memorable eighteenth of June, despite all the excitements of the day;
for the previous night I had not troubled my bed, and nature will claim
her dues, be the moment never so full of stress and emotion.

But though I slept soundly and well, I awoke betimes; and I was not
astir before others, for I heard the sound of songs and glad voices in
the streets before I left my room. Below in mine uncle's inn all was
life and bustle, for the country folks were pouring in from far and
near to witness the arrival of the Duke; and every hostelry was taxed
to the limit of its resources to find even sitting room for the merry
company, to say nothing of food for man and beast.

I had never seen our stables so crowded with beasts, and we had to
tether them in the yard beside heaps of fragrant grass and hay. My
uncle's face was wreathed in smiles, and he welcomed every comer with
his wonted heartiness. For the time being he was carried away by the
stream of popular enthusiasm; and although still carefully refraining
from taking any overt part in the day's proceedings, was ready to
give welcome to all comers, and was perhaps glad to be tied by the
exigencies of business within the doors of his house, so that did he
wish it never so much, he could not make shift to leave it, be it the
King himself who was coming to the town that day.

We knew that the Duke had slept at Ilminster the past night, and
therefore that he could not be here very early, since a march of
sixteen miles is not made without considerable loss of time with an
army of some thousands of men.

But then there was enough to do, in order to receive that army with
hospitality, to keep us all busy, and I would I could describe the
appearance presented by Paul's Field and the meadows adjoining,
where we guessed the soldiers would encamp; for every citizen,
however humble, had some small contribution to make towards the
accommodation of the good Duke's army and the hospitable welcome of his
followers, and the place looked like a great fair with its tents and
roughly-knocked-up sheds, and its supplies of provision for man and
beast hastily contributed by the eager towns-folk.

As for the number of horses in the place that day, I never saw the
like. Everybody who had a horse, or could by any means obtain one,
had it ready to ride forth later on to meet the Duke. I could have
sold Blackbird a dozen times over for thrice his value would he but
have suffered any other rider to mount him. As it was, several yeomen
and gentlemen would not be satisfied without making trial of their
prowess; but although one or two contrived by dint of excellent
horsemanship to maintain a seat upon his back for a while, yet none
after that trial desired to conclude any bargain, and Blackbird
remained in mine own keeping, as I was sure from the first he would do.

Towards noon the horsemen began to gather and ride out along the
Ilminster road, and I perforce went with them, though I could ill be
spared from the inn; but mine uncle saw that my heart was no longer in
my task, and good-naturedly bid me go forth to see the show.

Almost needless to say that there in the forefront of the
riders--albeit with none but his own feet to carry him--was Will
Wiseman; and so soon as he saw me he came to my side, and I gave him
hold of my stirrup leather, as we had many times done before when I
rode forth, and he ran beside me gallantly, as untired as the horse.

"The witch is not right, Dicon," he cried more than once; "for come
what may in the future, is not this glory enow to satisfy the heart of
man? Didst ever see town so bedecked as Taunton is this day? And there
will be yet more to follow on the morrow!"

For Will and I knew what gay show had been devised for the morrow, and
how it would be one that would rouse the enthusiasm of the town to the
highest pitch. And Will (who had a wonderful gift for hearing news
before anybody else) whispered to me that there would be other brave
shows ere the Duke left the Queen city of the West; but when I asked
him what he meant, he only laid his finger on his lips and whispered,--

"Hist, Dicon! This be not the time or place to speak of such things.
But dost thou think that England will be content to follow a Duke,
even though he be the son of a King? We want a King and not a Duke to
reign over us. How can men flock to the standard of a Duke, when there
is a King upon the throne? We must have a King, too, else all will be
confusion and mischance."

This word from Will confirmed what I had heard yesterday about the
Duke's leaving the town as King. I confess I was perplexed how such a
thing could be, the more so as in the Declaration which I had heard
read he had spoken of not insisting upon his title as yet, and only
doing so at the request of Parliament. But then I had read enough
history to be very well aware that no Prince could always adhere to the
resolves laid down at the first. The tide of popular sentiment often
carries them beyond the bound originally set; and it might be very
true, as Will whispered, that the title of Duke would not be sufficient
to content the ardent followers who had flocked to the banner of one
whom they hoped to see reigning as England's King.

All this was very exciting, and stirred my pulses not a little. At
last my longings were gratified. I was living in times that were truly
historic. I was going forth to meet the champion and deliverer of
the people. What could heart of man wish more? I should see him and
behold his triumphal entry into the city. I should have lived in days
which would go down to posterity as the days of a great epoch in our
country's story.

Presently the cries and shouts of those in advance of us told us that
the Duke and his army had been sighted. The cloud of dust which the
horse-hoofs of our advance-guard raised kept us for a time from a view
of what they saw; but presently the cloud subsided. All of us drew
away right and left upon the turf, leaving the road track clear for
the coming vanguard; and in another minute cheers and shouts began to
rend the air, and we all tossed up our caps, crying lustily, "God save
the Duke! God save the Duke! God be with your Grace! A Monmouth! a
Monmouth!"

And one voice was boldly raised to cry, "God save the rightful King!"

The Duke came forward, riding a fine horse with all the grace and manly
skill which helped to make him a King amongst men. His face was bright
with smiles, he held his head-piece in his hand, and bowed right and
left as he passed through the ranks of shouting, cheering citizens and
country folk, all come out to do him honour.

Beside him rode a body-guard of some forty or fifty gentlemen, well
mounted and equipped; and amongst these I soon singled out my lord the
Viscount, whose gallant bearing and golden locks made him conspicuous
even amongst so many gay riders. He saw me too, and gave me a smile and
a nod. But he kept his place near to the Duke, and we who had come out
to welcome him escorted that gallant band at a short distance, the main
body of the horse following about a quarter of a mile behind, and the
infantry, waggons, and guns (of which there were very few) bringing up
the rear half a mile away, and proceeding much more leisurely.

Will had set off running towards the city like a hare so soon as he had
really set eyes upon the Duke and had heard from my lips that it was
truly he. Therefore on our approach to the city we were surrounded by
such a crowd as I surely think no man amongst us had ever seen before.
Hundreds of children lined the roadway into the town, flinging posies
and garlands before the feet of the Duke's horse. A band of minstrels
welcomed him with strains of martial music; and whilst women wept aloud
and called aloud upon him as their saviour and deliverer, men shouted
his name and made the welkin ring with their cries, till one would have
thought the whole place had gone mad with joy.

So thronged were the streets that it was difficult for the Duke to make
his way along them, and the many pauses which had to be made rendered
it easy for the people to press round him, kiss his hands and shower
blessings of every sort upon him. This gave him opportunity to reply to
them by smiles and gentle words, such as he was very ready with. And he
won all hearts by his gracious demeanour, by the beauty of his person,
and by the kingly grace of his deportment.

The procession wound slowly up the High Street towards the Cornhill,
and when the open space was reached, the Duke's company moved towards
the right in the direction of Fore Street, thus approaching somewhat
nearly to the Three Cups Inn, and also to that house where Miss Blake
held her school. I think it was by arrangement that the Duke had been
thus slowly urged along Fore Street; for as he approached the corner a
sudden silence fell upon the crowd, whilst all eyes were turned upon a
certain gaily-draped balcony; and immediately there appeared upon it a
crowd of white-robed maidens, and to the accompaniment of the band of
minstrels their voices were raised in a sweet strain.

They sang several stanzas of some poem, which I afterwards heard had
been culled from the writings of Dryden, and which, it was whispered
to me, had been obtained with some difficulty and set to music by the
organist of St. Mary's Church. Only one verse remains in my memory, and
very appropriate did those words sound as they were chanted forth by
the white-robed throng:--

  "Thee, saviour, thee, the nation's vows confess,
  And never satisfied with seeing, bless;
  Swift unbespoken pomps thy steps proclaim,
  And stammering babes are taught to lisp thy name."

The Duke listened to the song with bared head, and at its close made a
graceful reverence to the young maidens, who retreated from the public
gaze so soon as their part had been performed. I saw the Viscount's
eyes fixed upon the balcony; and I had well been able to distinguish
Mistress Mary's rich voice leading the carol, and giving strength and
power to the strain. That she had seen her lover I did not doubt. His
face showed that the magic language of love had been exchanged between
them as they stood so near to one another.

But there were graver matters on hand than mere songs of praise and
shouts of welcome and devotion. A little stir in the crowd betokened
the setting up of the standard in the centre of the Cornhill; and then
a herald stood forward, and demanded that the city magistrates should
instantly be summoned to attend the reading of the Declaration which
would forthwith be made.

Eager partisans ran hither and thither to summon these dignitaries, and
no doubt they looked upon discretion as the better part of valour, for
a certain number of them shortly appeared. Some said that Mr. Bernard
Smith, our Mayor, was also present; but of that I cannot be sure, since
I did not see him myself, and I can never be certain that what report
spoke was the truth.

I have spoken before of that Declaration, and need not more
particularly refer to it here, save to remind you how gratefully
would those fair promises of toleration and justice fall upon the
ears of our citizens who had seen the demolition of their chapel and
meeting-places, and had for years been constrained either to go to
church against their desire or conviction, or to meet privily to hear
the Word preached to them after their own fashion, whilst they were
subject to many and grievous penalties for doing even this.

Every clause of the Declaration, then, was received with shouts and
cries of joy. The long indictment against the present King fell like
music on the ears of those who had regarded him from the first with
fear and hatred. Enthusiasm was stirred to its highest pitch by the
terms of this long document; and the people crowded so close about
the herald, that I was glad to get out of the press, lest I should be
trodden underfoot and suffocated.

After the Declaration had been read aloud in the ears of the people,
a copy of it was affixed in one or two places about the town, where
all who could might read it for themselves; and then a proclamation
was read which gave great joy to all the people, showing as it did
the gentle temper of the Duke, and his anxiety that justice and mercy
should always be done in his name.

This proclamation set forth that whereas, to the great reproach and
scandal of the good cause, and contrary to the commands and wishes
of the Duke, certain lewd and dissolute persons had, under cover of
a pretence of zeal, been guilty of acts of pillage and robbery, and
in especial had taken horses from the good and peaceable country folk
without payment, it is strictly charged that no such acts be committed
any more; and that if any person in the future be robbed of aught he
possesses, he is invited straightway to repair to the camp, and to lay
complaint before the Duke, when justice shall at once be done.

This proclamation gave great satisfaction to all those who could
remember, or who had heard stories of the cruel depredations inflicted
formerly by the soldiery in times of war, when redress was practically
impossible. I will not go so far as to say that this proclamation had
the desired effect of putting a stop to all such depredations; but at
least it was evidence of the temper and the wishes of the Duke, and
was received with loud acclamations of joy and affection by the people.

By this time the day had fast waned; and although the sun was still
high in the sky, being nearly at the summer solstice, yet the Duke and
his party were fatigued by their long march in the heat, and by the
fervour of their reception. So when Captain Hucker came forward to say
that he had all in readiness at his house for the entertainment of the
Duke and some of his officers, whilst others were to be received by
substantial citizens with whom they would find abundant good cheer, the
party was glad enough to betake itself to rest and refreshment; and the
good folks from the outlying districts, who had ridden in to see and
welcome the Duke, now hastened away to get their horses, and to leave
the crowded town.

I heard Captain Hucker invite the Viscount to the hospitality of his
house; but his invitation was courteously declined, Lord Vere saying
quietly that he had business of his own to see to.

I guessed that that business had somewhat to do with Mistress Mary, nor
was I surprised when presently he came and linked his arm in mine (in
that friendly fashion he was not ashamed to show even in the eyes of
the citizens who knew his rank and my humble birth) and said,--

"Good Dicon, thinkest thou thine uncle can find me a bed to-night? I
have not slept in one since leaving Lyme, indeed since reaching Lyme.
I would sooner lie in his house than in any other to-night, for I must
have speech with Mistress Mary to-day if such a thing be possible; and
I trow that I shall gain it best through thy good offices."

I knew my uncle would be glad enough to have Lord Vere as his guest.
Lord Lonsdale's son was greatly beloved in Taunton, and to harbour him
would not be like to do any man hurt, since Lord Lonsdale was known
for a very loyal servant of King James, and most like would use such
influence on behalf of his son (supposing that evil days fell upon this
expedition, which Heaven forfend) that he would escape the penalty of
his rashness. My uncle did not desire to hold too sullenly aloof from
all the hospitalities offered to the Duke's followers, neither did he
wish too deeply to embroil himself with the rising. So that he was
very well pleased when I brought back my lord the Viscount, and at
once allotted to him the best bed-chamber, and set before him the best
viands left in the house after all the feeding and feasting of the day.

I waited on my lord, and when he had appeased the worst of his hunger,
he made me sit down and make a meal myself of the fragments; which I
was nothing loath to do, having scarce broken my fast since morning,
for the excitement and bustle of the day. As I ate he sat thoughtfully
toying with some fruit, and at the last asked suddenly,--

"Dicon, is it true that there be many colours worked by the maidens
yonder that will be presented to-morrow to the Duke?"

"I trow so, good my lord," I answered, with secret triumph in my
heart. "I have heard and seen somewhat of it."

"And will Mistress Mary Mead be amongst those who will present them?"

"Truly I believe it, my lord. Her banner is the best and most beautiful
of all, and every stitch her own. Is it like that upon such a day she
would be more backward than others?"

My lord's face was very grave and anxious.

"Dicon, I would have speech with her this night. Canst thou obtain it
for me? There may be more peril than she wots of in this thing. I would
save her from it if it might be. Can I make shift to see her?"

"Why, yes, my lord; I see no great difficulty about it," I answered. "I
am always welcome when I go in with news of the day's doing; and after
such a day as this I shall be tenfold more welcome. And if you will
condescend to accompany me to the house--any gallant Captain of the
Duke's forces will be welcomed with honour by Miss Blake. I doubt not
that by this she is in Mistress Mary's secret; and whilst I tell all my
news to her, you can get speech with Mistress Mary in another part of
the room. I see no trouble about it on such a day as this. All Taunton
is on the tip-toe of expectation. None bearing news will be denied
entrance at such a time."

"Good," answered my lord, rising to his feet: "I will but arrange my
dress and wash away these stains of dust, and present myself to Miss
Blake, and gain speech of Mistress Mary if it may be."

How gallant and beautiful my lord the Viscount looked when he came down
from his sleeping-chamber a few minutes later my poor pen cannot well
say. I felt that such a lover might well win the heart of any maid; and
I pretty well knew by this time that Miss Blake was in the secret of
Mistress Mary's amours, and that she would do everything in her power
to bring about the happy union of two such loyal and loving hearts. Any
man serving in the army of the Duke would win her regard and respect;
and the personal charm of the Viscount could not fail to make itself
felt, whilst the romantic story of his love for Mistress Mary, and the
sacrifice into which it had led him, could not but touch the heart of
any woman, be she never so hard to please. Wherefore I was very sure
that Viscount Vere would receive a warm welcome in the parlour of the
ladies.

Nor was I deceived in this. The serving-maid, with a flushed and
smiling face, admitted us at once into the familiar room, bright with
the last flush of day; and there was Mistress Mary still in her white
robes, and the two mistresses flushed and exultant, eager after news
and ready with the warmest welcome for me, and with words of deep
respect and most sincere good-will for my lord, whose appearance in my
wake put them quite into a flutter, and caused Mistress Mary's cheeks
to glow as though the sunset sky had been reflected in them.

She remained in the deep window seat, and for a while my lord spoke
with the other ladies; but presently he made his way across to where
his mistress sat, and we at the other end spoke of many things. I told
all I had seen of the meeting of the Duke outside the city, and of his
gallant entrance therein.

What the lovers spoke of at first I know not. I heard the low tone of
Mistress Mary's voice, but not the words, and I guessed that she might
be speaking of those fears and anxieties which she had named to me.
However, of this I cannot speak certainly. What I can answer for is
that presently the Viscount raised his voice so that we all could hear,
and said, rather to Miss Blake than to any other,--

"Ladies, I hear that you are to take a bold step to-morrow. Have you
bethought you what the consequences may be should the issue of this
revolt be other than the well-wishers of the Duke desire?"

"My lord," answered Miss Blake, with an air of unconscious dignity,
"we frail human creatures have naught to do with results; those are in
the hands of Him who cannot do amiss. Our part is to do our duty, and
show forth our love and service in the cause of right and truth and
virtue. This we are resolved to do, and no fear of results will serve
to fright us from our appointed task. You men can go forth and fight
in the righteous cause. There is little that we poor women can do, yet
that little shall not be lacking. You would not, gallant sir, strive to
deter us from taking our small share in this noble struggle?"

One of the Viscount's strange smiles hovered over his beautiful face.
"Madam," he said, with a bow, "after such words as those, mine sound
but poor and mean and faint-hearted. But you know that I love Mistress
Mary, and that I would lay down my life to keep her from harm. I know
more of the forces at the King's disposal than the country folks here
seem to do, and my fears are therefore greater, and my hopes less
strong, than those which fill the breasts of the citizens of Taunton.
If ill betide this rising, there will be evil days to follow; and those
who are most known to have taken a part in it will be subject to most
danger. I have no right to counsel you, madam; but I have that claim
upon Mary which bids me warn her what she is doing. If she carries
forth her banner to-morrow, it may be that some hurt she little thinks
of now will fall upon her."

"And if it does, what then?" asked Mistress Mary, raising her head, and
looking so beautiful in her generous enthusiasm that I could only hold
my breath and gaze at her speechlessly. "Dost think, my lord, that it
is only men who are willing to suffer and to die in a noble cause? Nay,
in so thinking thou dost greatly err, thou dost greatly wrong us women.
I would gladly lay down my life for the cause to which I am pledged,
the cause of truth and liberty and righteousness." She turned her eyes
full upon him as she spoke, and then suddenly the light in them, which
had been proud and even tinged with a noble scorn, suddenly softened,
and she laid her hand gently upon his arm, speaking her next words in a
different key, and with a tenderness that I can never hope to make you
hear. "Reginald," she said softly, and in a moment his hand had sought
and covered hers, and I think they both forgot just then that there
were any beside to hear what they said, "thinkest thou that I would
draw back from any cause to which thou hadst pledged thyself? Thinkest
thou that I fear any peril that thou too dost share? Hast thou not
taken up arms in the same good cause? and if peril threaten me, it will
threaten thee also. Shall I fear to share anything with thee? Thou dost
know me wondrous little an thou thinkest that. Together we will live,
or together we will die. What matters it so that we be always together?"

As she spoke these last words, he raised the hand he held and pressed
it to his lips. She did not strive to withdraw it; and we averted our
eyes, that we might not seem to see too much of what is infinitely
sacred--that mystery of human love which is the mainspring of all the
great actions done in the world. There were tears in Miss Blake's eyes,
and Mrs. Musgrave was wiping hers furtively. In a low whisper one of
them said to the other,--

"Was ever love so true and beautiful? My Lord Lonsdale may rage as he
likes an it reaches his ears, it would be sin and shame to strive to
part two such hearts. Heaven has made them for one another. What God
has joined together, let not man strive to put asunder."

Just at this moment there was a little stir outside the door. It was
opened rather suddenly and hastily, and the serving-maid put in her
head and exclaimed in half-angry, half-frightened tones,--

"It is no fault of mine, mistress; he will come in."

And the next minute we saw before us in the gathering twilight the lank
figure and evil face of Mr. Nicholas Blewer.

Now Miss Blake had ever hated and distrusted this man, and of late
days, gaining courage from the approach of the Duke, she had dared to
deny him entrance into her house. But I suppose he had to-day found the
maid gossiping in the streets, as maids will do in times of excitement,
and so had forced his way in, and now stood looking round upon us all
with an evil smile upon his cruel face.

In our part of the room there was not much light; but Mistress Mary and
her gallant lover sat together on the window seat where the western
light shone in upon them, and her white dress and his festal suit of
white and blue caught the last of the evening glow, and seemed to stand
out against the window like a picture. I saw the sudden change which
came over Mr. Blewer's face as he saw who was with Mistress Mary; and
there was something in the tones of his voice that made me long to
spring at his throat and throttle him then and there, so full was it of
covert malice and bitter hostility.

"I trust I do not intrude. I could not deny myself the pleasure of
seeing you all so happy after this strange day's masquerade. Doubtless
it has seemed to you like the dawn of a new day. But, dear ladies, it
were well to remember that all that glitters is not gold. Be not too
sure that your millennium has already come. There be strange chances
and changes in the fortunes of war.--My sweet young mistress, I must
caution you not to be over-rash in the zeal with which you welcome this
new Prince Absalom."

He looked straight at Mistress Mary as he spoke these words, and
approached as if he would take her hand; but she suddenly rose and
slipped it within my lord's arm, and, looking full at Mr. Blewer with a
scorn both in face and voice which I think could not well be surpassed,
said simply,--

"With my affairs, sir, you have no concern. I never wish to see
your face again, nor to hear the sound of your voice. You have been
forbidden this house, and you are here only by a trick. Go! I have
nothing to say to you. I distrust and I despise you. There! you have my
last word."

"Go, sir!" said Miss Blake, taking up the gauntlet so boldly thrown
down; "you have ever been a false friend and a spy in this house. Go!
and never darken our door again."

He turned fiercely upon her, his face hideous in its cruel passion.
"You threaten me, madam! Have a care, else in the days to come you may
bitterly repent the slights you have put upon me. My turn will come all
too soon for you; see if it does not!--And as for you, proud minx--"
wheeling back towards Mistress Mary with flaming eyes. But that was the
last word he spoke in that room. My lord the Viscount sprang forward,
and stood before him with such a noble anger and scorn in his face
that the coward shrank back in affright, as though he feared a blow.
But the Viscount's hand was never raised against him.

"Sir," he said, "you are protected by your sacred calling, little as
you are worthy of it, and by the presence of ladies. But utter one more
word of threatening, and you will be flung into the streets like the
craven cur you are. You with impunity thought to insult and intimidate
defenceless women. You have made a mistake, and out of this house you
go at the bidding of its mistress without more ado. There is the door,
sir. If you do not desire to go forth faster than you came in, go! I
shall not speak twice."

Mr. Blewer's eyes seemed to flash baleful fire, but he did not pause
or hesitate; he was gone before we had time to draw three breaths. The
little maid was heard to slam and bolt the door behind him, but came to
say that it was awful to hear him swearing on the other side.

"He will do us grievous hurt if he ever can," said Mrs. Musgrave,
looking pale.

"He would have done that in any case," answered Miss Blake calmly; "he
was always a wolf in sheep's clothing.--My Lord Vere, I give you great
thanks for your action in this matter. It is only a coward who dares to
threaten women. You showed him in all his cowardice as it was meet it
should be shown him. Methinks he will come here no more, and that Mary
will be safe from his persecution. That is a good step gained."

"But he will be an implacable foe to you, Reginald," breathed Mistress
Mary, softly and timorously, so quickly do the moods of women change.
"Oh, I trust he will never have power to harm you!"

"He will harm us all if he can," answered my lord quietly; "but we will
not begin to fear him yet. Perchance he may find his own fate one of
these days. It may not be given to him to hurt us. And now, ladies, I
must wish you adieu. On the morrow, doubtless, we shall meet. We are
embarked together upon a somewhat perilous voyage. God grant that we
come at last to a fair haven!"

He took Mary in his arms and kissed her before us all, as though he
felt it might be the last time. She clung to him half sobbing, half
laughing, from excess of joy and sorrow mingled. The next minute we
were once more in the streets, and I found myself saying in my heart,
"I would that evil man had not come to mar the harmony of our evening.
I would that so untoward a thing had not happened."



CHAPTER XV.

_THE MAIDS OF TAUNTON._


I dreamed somewhat uneasy dreams all that night, and woke with a sense
of oppression on my spirit; but the bright sunshine streaming in at
the windows, the air of bustle and gaiety in the streets, the stir
and activity of the house, and above all the feeling that my lord the
Viscount was at hand to be waited on and considered, all served to put
me into a happier frame of mind. As soon as I had performed some of my
rougher duties, and seen to Blackbird and the other horses--for the men
were as busy as ever with persons arriving to see the events of the
day--I got myself into my holiday doublet as on yesterday, and went
down to see if I could help the Viscount at his toilet.

But he was already up and out of his room, and I found him sitting in
the parlour at breakfast, and my uncle standing beside him, talking
earnestly with him. As I entered I heard these words spoken,--

"Thou hadst best go on as thou hast done hitherto, good Master
Inn-Keeper. None can say that thou art slack in serving those who come
from the Duke; but there is no need to put thyself forward in this
matter. The less a man meddles in these affairs the better it often is
for him. Do thy business with diligence, but make no profession, and
do nothing to draw attention upon thyself. So thou mayest be safe in
troubled days. The keeper of an inn is better placed than many; for
none can well lay to his charge the sin of harbouring and entertaining
rebels. A man must abide by his calling; and it were unreasonable
to expect him to inquire into the business and opinions of all who
come and go. Guard a discreet silence on these vexed questions,
and walk warily as thou hast done hitherto, and thou mayest safely
weather the coming storm. And keep an eye upon that nephew of thine,
that he adventure himself not too nearly amongst the rebels. He has
more courage than discretion, that lad; and it is sometimes safer to
cultivate prudence rather than bravery."

But as I came in at that moment and both saw me, the Viscount stopped
speaking, and smiled; whilst my uncle gave me a knowing look and went
out, leaving me to finish waiting on the guest.

My lord, however, said nothing to me of what he and my uncle had been
discussing, but finished his meal in some haste, saying that he must
go to Captain Hucker's house to see the Duke, and learn what the
day's duties were to be. I could gather from hints dropped by my lord
that he thought the Duke was wrong in not pushing more resolutely
forward whilst there was no enemy in his path. In lingering first at
one place and then at another he was giving the enemy a better chance
of mustering against him before he had made himself master of one
important stronghold.

We men of Taunton thought much of our town; but, as the Viscount
pointed out to me, it was useless for a garrison, since its walls and
fortifications had been demolished. Bristol now would be a valuable
place, and it was said that it would open its gates at once to the
Duke; but unless he moved thither somewhat quicker, it was like enough
that Lord Feversham might bring up his troops and intercept the Duke's
on the way.

"If Fletcher had been with us, we should not be lingering thus," quoth
my lord, as he girded on his sword and put on a plumed hat to-day
instead of any head-piece; "but my lord Grey is all for tarrying and
prudence, and methinks that this prudence will end in disaster erelong."

So the Viscount went off down the street on foot, followed by the
admiring glances and the reverences of all the people. He replied to
these very courteously; but I was grieved that all the brave show at
Taunton and the welcome received did not make him more hopeful of the
result of the great rising. However, there was but little time to
think of these things, for already a mighty muster of towns-folk was
assembling about the open space at our corner, and I well knew for what
purpose they had thus assembled, and was in no mind not to be in the
foremost rank of the spectators.

Will Wiseman came pushing towards me at the last moment, wriggling
himself through the crowd like an eel, till he stood flushed and
panting by my side.

"I would have come earlier," he said, "only I was called upon by so
many to read them the Declarations of the Duke, which can be seen and
read by all who know how. I have been at it this past hour. They be
never satisfied, these good folks. As fast as one lot goes, another
comes up to hear. But I say, Dicon, what has happened to our good
friend and preacher Mr. Blewer? He is as yellow as a guinea this
morning, as though all the gall in his nature had got into his face. I
never saw a more spiteful and evil countenance in all my life. He came
down the street, the people hooting him, albeit without offering him
any indignity; and I asked him as he passed if it would please him to
hear the Duke's Declaration, since I had not seen him at the reading
in the Cornhill yesterday. He gave me such a look as would have turned
milk sour in the pans, and he told me I should rue the day that I had
chosen to insult him. He is an evil hound, and methinks he must be
possessed of a devil. When the Duke comes into his own, I hope he will
rid the country of such pestilent knaves. I would hang every one such
at the cross-roads in chains, to be a warning and example to their
fellows."

I whispered to Will the story of last night; to which he listened with
infinite relish, and slapped his thigh in ecstasy to think how Mr.
Blewer had been ejected from Miss Blake's house by the Viscount.

"Marry, but he will do him an ill turn if he can," he remarked, more
gravely, at the end. "Dicon, I almost wish I might make an end of that
vile man. I verily believe he will do one of us a hurt else."

But I shook my head. I could not counsel Will to commit a crime, even
to save ourselves from possible peril. Perhaps he would meet the due
reward of his evil ways without any act of ours.

And now the clocks were striking ten, and all other sounds were merged
in the silence of expectancy, as upon the last stroke the door of Miss
Blake's house opened slowly, and straightway there marched forth first
the two schoolmistresses, clad in such a fashion as was appropriate
to their years and calling; and after them more than a score of young
maidens, all in white, headed by beauteous Mistress Mary; and each of
these damsels bore in her hand one of the colours wrought by their
united skill. Now at sight of this goodly procession the people broke
into loud cheering, for the thing was one in which almost all had had
a share; and though the dainty needlework was the handiwork of the
maidens, yet the wherewithal had been found by the towns-folk, and the
colours were borne by their own daughters and sisters and kinswomen: so
that it was no wonder the whole place had turned out to see, nor that
the appearance of the white-robed procession should be hailed with such
a shout of welcome.

Miss Blake came first, and she carried no colour, but a small and
curiously-bound Bible, and a naked sword with a finely-tempered blade
and a hilt set with gems. Mrs. Musgrave waited till all the damsels
had filed out, and took up her place in the rear. She carried nothing;
and the seven-and-twenty colours were borne by seven-and-twenty young
maidens, amongst whom were Lizzie Simpson, who looked blooming and
intensely happy, Eliza Hucker, and the Herring sisters, and many others
whose names I knew, albeit I will not set them down here, as they have
no part in my story.

Mistress Mary was by many years older than these other damsels, most
of whom were not aged more than ten or twelve years. She walked alone
at the head of the procession, just behind Miss Blake, whilst the
others followed in pairs behind her. Mistress Mary's dress was of some
soft silken texture, very daintily and dexterously garnished with fair
embroidery in silver. She wore a flowing veil over her beautiful hair,
and upon her feet were dainty shoes of white embossed leather with
silver buckles. Amongst many fair and graceful maidens she was fairest
of all in her wondrous grace and dignity, and the golden banner that
she held took all eyes; for not only were its size and workmanship more
imposing than the rest, but the device of the crown and the letters
J.R. drew forth first the wonder and then the rapturous cheers of the
spectators, as Will Wiseman shouted out, "J.R.--Jacobus Rex. Long
live our new King James!" And although the people were half afraid to
take up the cry themselves, yet they shouted might and main as the
white-robed throng moved onwards, and following close in their wake,
escorted them up to the door of Captain Hucker's house, where it was
well seen that their coming was expected.

Gay as were all the houses in Taunton that day, it seemed as though the
climax of welcome had been reached here. Flags floated from all the
windows. Every window-frame was wreathed with garlands or greenery. The
balconies were hung with crimson cloth. There was a great triumphal
arch over the door, and to-day there had been laid down in the street
before the porch one of those great carpets which were beginning now
to be brought by merchants from the East, and which were said to cost
fabulous sums of money, and scarce to be seen save in the houses of the
nobility.

This carpet, however, made a little island as it were, upon which the
crowd did not dare to set foot, but stood respectfully round to witness
the proceedings in which such keen interest was taken.

Upon the approach of the ladies, the Duke appeared upon the top of the
flight of steps leading up to the door, and with him were assembled a
number of his officers and gentlemen, who stood behind him, but in view
of the spectators. Miss Blake stepped forward with her book and her
sword, and her maidens arranged themselves with simple and unconscious
grace in a semicircle round her.

I would that my memory would serve me as well in recording the speech
of the lady as it does in presenting before my mind's eye the spectacle
of so much youth and beauty and virtue all gathered together to do
honour to the champion of a noble cause. But although I know that the
speech lacked neither in grace of diction nor in skill of delivery,
all that I can remember of it was that Miss Blake besought the Duke's
acceptance from his loyal town of Taunton of these colours for his
army, telling him that every stitch had been set with a prayer for his
success or an aspiration for the cause of liberty. And then when the
maidens had waved their banners, and the crowd had raised such a shout
as must I think have been heard a mile away, she proceeded to present
the sword and the Bible, saying that it was for the sake of the true
faith and liberty to read the Word of God and study it each in the way
which was most acceptable and comprehensible that they welcomed him
here to-day as a messenger from on high. She also added that with the
sword he was begged to defend the Bible, so that his loyal subjects
and followers might enjoy the blessings of peace, and cease to tremble
before the ever-increasing faction of Popery, which had been raising
its hydra head menacingly ever since the new King had sat upon the
throne.

There was another tremendous outburst of cheering at that, and the Duke
appeared transported by enthusiasm and ardour.

Making a step forward, he met the lady half-way up the flight, and
taking from her hands (which he proceeded to kiss with courtly
reverence) the sword and the book, he held both up before the eyes of
the people and proclaimed in a loud voice,--

"Brave men and my very good friends and citizens of Taunton, I stand
here amongst you pledged to a noble cause; and these two gifts which
have been placed in my hands are fitting emblems of the work which
shall be done, God helping the righteous cause. With this sword will I
fight for the liberties of all subjects of this realm. I come now into
the field with the set purpose to defend the truths contained in this
book, and to seal it with my blood should there be occasion for it."

At the sound of these brave words women broke into weeping and
blessing, and men into lusty shouts and cheers.

"God save the Duke! God bless and protect our noble Duke! A Monmouth! a
Monmouth!" shouted the crowd.

The Duke bowed his thanks, saluted the lady once again, and pressing
to his heart the book, gave it reverently into the keeping of one from
the house, who carried it indoors. At the same time the Duke's charger
was brought up just beyond the ring of white-robed maidens; and still
holding the sword in his hand, he sprang gallantly upon its back,
whilst at the same time his gentlemen stepped down and presented each
his hand to one of the maidens, who remained standing with the colours
as before.

Lord Grey was the first, and he gave his hand to Miss Blake, who was,
in spite of her years, a personable lady, with much grace of bearing,
and with fine eyes and good features. Lord Vere followed next, as his
rank warranted, and gave his hand to Mistress Mary, whose face was dyed
with a beautiful blush. Other gentlemen and officers followed, and each
led by the hand one of the smiling maids, all of whom looked brimming
over with joy and pride at the grandeur of their escort, and the brave
show that was being made.

The procession having thus re-formed, and being headed by the gallant
Duke, who kept his horse at a foot's pace, and paraded slowly onward,
so that the crowd might drink its fill of the gay spectacle, proceeded
leisurely onwards through the streets in the direction of the meadows
where the troops had encamped for the night; and when we arrived there
we found them all drawn up in companies, presenting, in spite of all
drawbacks in the matter of arms and accoutrements, a right goodly and
imposing show.

Colonel Wade had seen to this part of it, and had taken care to have in
the foremost rank those men who were possessed of uniforms and proper
arms, so that to our unaccustomed eyes the whole rank and file of the
great army (for to us it looked mighty indeed) was as grand and as gay
as the band of gentlemen surrounding the person of His Grace.

Three thousand men had come with the Duke to Taunton; but I think
that five thousand must have already assembled beneath his banner in
those meadows. I know that when he marched forth a couple of days
later, it was with an army seven thousand strong. Every hour fresh men
were pouring in, the militia deserting to him as fast as opportunity
permitted. Truly it was an inspiriting and invigorating sight that
greeted our eyes as we reached the meadow in the wake of the gallant
procession of chivalry and beauty; and when the Duke rode from rank
to rank, allotting the colours, and telling his soldiers the story
of how they had been made and presented, the shouts and cheers that
rang forth will scarce be forgotten by any that heard them; and the
maidens received a right gallant thanksgiving from the soldiers, albeit
somewhat noisily expressed.

A great concourse had gathered from far and near to behold the
spectacle, and as I moved about the field my eyes were attracted by
the flutter of a white kerchief. Looking more attentively at the owner
of it (for it appeared to me to be waved with a purpose, and that to
catch my eye), I saw beneath the closely-drawn hood, which almost hid
her features, the bright eyes of Mistress Mary Bridges, albeit she was
dressed in so homely a fashion, with a long grey cloak covering her
gown, that, seated on a pillion as she was, behind a stout fellow who
looked like a countryman, I should never have known her had it not been
that I looked at her very closely.

Seeing that she had caught my eye, she waved her kerchief again, and I
made my way up to her side as fast as I could.

"Mistress Mary," I whispered, wonderingly, for I knew her father to be
a stanch supporter of the King in London, "how come you hither?"

"Hist, Dicon, thou wilt not betray me! I knew not how to keep away when
all the world said there was such a brave show to be seen here, and
I knew well what it all betided. I felt that I must see somewhat of
it. I must see the Duke with mine own eyes, else I should never rest
satisfied; and so I sallied forth in my long cloak and hood, and found
my good foster-father going to the town. I made him take me up behind,
and here I be. Dicon, the Duke is a right gallant gentleman, and I
marvel not that the people love him. I would fain raise a shout for him
myself. But yet I fear me that ill will come out of this day's gallant
show. Dicon, I would whisper something in thine ear."

I came yet nearer still, and Mistress Mary leaned down to speak so that
none could hear what was said.

"Dicon," she whispered, "when I hear them talk at home of what is
like to follow this rising of the people if the King's troops are
victorious, as my father says they will be anon, my heart is heavy with
fear for those I have come to love in this town, and above all for my
beautiful and beloved Mary Mead. Dicon, thou knowest that her banner
is, of all others, like to give offence. It may be that she will be in
greater peril than the rest. But be the peril what it may, I will give
my right hand sooner than harm shall befall her. Dicon, thou lovest
Mary, dost thou not?"

"I would lay down my life to save her!" I answered, with sudden energy.
"Twice over would I give my life--once for love of her, and once for
the love I bear my lord the Viscount, whose heart is bound up with
hers."

Little Mistress Mary eyed me with approval. She too thought of the
Viscount almost as I did, and regarded him as a very proper lover for
her beloved friend.

"Dicon," she went on in a low tone, speaking in my ear, "thou dost know
my home at Bishop's Hull, on the road to Wellington?"

"Yes, Mistress, I know it."

"Dost thou know the lane which leads into a thick wood, and a very
marshy tract some two furlongs before you reach the gate to the house?"

"Yes; I have seen it, but never pursued it."

"My foster-parents have a cottage in that copse, so cunningly hidden,
and so surrounded by the marshy land, that none save those who know the
rights of the way can reach it save with great trouble and difficulty.
I lived in that cottage for three years, my parents being absent, and
my good foster-mother as good as a mother to me. I know every foot of
the ground. My foster-mother will do anything that I ask her; and if
peril should ever menace my Mary, take her thither without delay. She
will be as safe hidden there as though the earth had opened to swallow
her up. I have spoken to her of it, and she is ready and willing. No
human foot ever invades the environs of their cottage, and the good
folks themselves are retainers of my father, and safe from all chance
of harm. Remember that Mary will be safe there, should harm come of
this, should hurt menace her. It is in part to tell thee as much, and
to give thee this charge, that I have made such shift to come hither
to-day."

"Let me come back with you, Mistress Mary, and see the place," I
answered her eagerly, for after the look I had seen upon Mr. Blewer's
face only yesterday, I did truly think that Mistress Mary might stand
in need of an asylum of refuge, even did the political storm pass by
without hurting her; and the notion pleased the little lady well. I
was on foot, but the distance was not great; and though the worthy
countryman had to go into the city on his master's errand (he had not
come to see the show, but had seen it, as it were, by an accident),
he was glad to put his young mistress in my charge (the Snowes were
well known and trusted throughout the countryside), and get her safe
out of the throng. So when he had set her down a hundred yards away
from the outskirts of the press, he bid us adieu and rode for the town;
whilst Mistress Mary and I made our way by by-paths to the thick copse
standing in the marsh (now almost dry after the long drought), and
I was shown by what way the cottage could be approached even in the
wettest season. We were made welcome to a homely dinner by Mistress
Mary's foster-mother, who listened eagerly to all my tale of the Duke
and the reception he had had, and promised to care for and hide and
befriend Mistress Mary Mead, should ever the time come when she needed
help.



CHAPTER XVI.

"_THE TAUNTON KING._"


Now although everything had looked so bright and gay since the arrival
of the Duke at Taunton, and though his reception had been so cordial,
and we unlettered folk began to think the cause already won, yet
there were signs which to better-informed minds were ominous and
discouraging; and it was noticed even by ourselves that from time to
time a look of sadness would cloud the Duke's face, whilst for a few
moments he would be lost in thought, and only rouse himself by an
effort to respond to the joyous cheering of the crowd.

And not to be further tedious, I may as well state at once what was
the main cause of this anxiety, and why it was that even thus early a
presage of coming disaster seemed to fall upon the Duke.

When first it had been put into his mind to invade England in the cause
of liberty and justice, he had strenuously refused, saying that he had
had enough of the strife of factions, and that since his father had
left him no charge, he would henceforth remain as he was, a private
gentleman, leading a private life in some foreign city. But he had
been persuaded that half England would join his standard if he did
but show himself, that it was his duty to assert his rights and stand
forth as the champion of the rights of the people; and when the Earl
of Argyll had sailed for Scotland to stir up a rebellion there, he had
promised to follow to England in a few days, and gather round him there
all who would join the cause of liberty and Protestantism.

Nevertheless he had passed his word to the Earl that he came not
as King, but as the supporter of the Commonwealth, and that it was
some such form of government that he should establish were he to be
successful. It will be remembered that in the Declaration made first
at Lyme, and afterwards read in other places, it was fully stated that
he did not insist upon his title as yet, but left that matter to be
decided by a Parliament fairly chosen from the people; although he
declared that he was a legitimate son of the late King, and could prove
as much should need arise.

Directly upon his landing, as I have been told, there were those about
him who desired that he should cause himself to be proclaimed King;
but he refused, saying that it was contrary to his pledges and to his
Declaration--which no man could deny.

But many days had now passed, and instead of the whole of the West
Country flocking to him in a body, only the humbler amongst the
people had come forward. Not one single gentleman with a following
of servants and retainers had placed himself under his standard.
The Viscount was the only man of rank who had joined him since his
landing, and he came alone and unattended, in defiance of his father's
wishes and conviction, and more from personal desire to be quit of the
perplexities of his position than from sympathy for the cause. Rustics
and yokels came flocking in, as has been shown, and the militiamen
likewise by hundreds. But it was too significant a fact that the gentry
stood absolutely aloof; and even Mr. Trenchard, who had made brave
promises beforehand, and who was known to be forward in the cause of
liberty, had betaken himself suddenly to France--a thing which had
caused the Duke not a little discomfort and sorrow.

Soon after his landing, two messengers had come in hot haste from
London with the news that things were ripe for a revolt there, and that
Colonel Danvers was only waiting for the signal of the insurrection in
the West to raise the whole city in the Duke's favour. This, together
with the expectation, everywhere rife, that Cheshire was on the point
of breaking into open rebellion, had cheered his spirits greatly,
as had also the brave reception he had met on his route to Taunton.
But nothing more had been heard of the rising in London. Many of his
followers, who best knew the character of the man, told him plainly
that Colonel Danvers was a time-server and hypocrite, and that no
reliance could be placed upon him; whilst as day after day went by and
still no men of any mark came forward, every person about him began to
feel that matters were growing serious.

I have to explain all this at some length in order to make it to be
understood why, after his declaration to the contrary, the Duke at
last permitted himself to be proclaimed King, to the great joy of the
citizens of Taunton, who had desired it from the very first.

It was urged upon him vehemently now that the reason why the
gentlemen stood aloof from his cause, even whilst heartily hating
and distrusting the reigning King, was partly because they hated the
name of Commonwealth even more, and would not take up arms in any
cause that did not promise the continuance of the monarchical system;
partly because, as things were now, there was too much peril for his
followers, and that in case of disaster they were all dead men.

Now at first sight it may seem strange that such should be the case.
One might naturally suppose that the peril would be greater to those
who followed him (in the case of defeat) if he had proclaimed himself
King; but men who understood the law said that this was not so. And
they further explained their words to the unlettered by telling us
that there was a statute made in the reign of King Henry the Seventh
(who, it will be remembered, obtained his crown by force of arms)
sheltering all those persons who should obey a king who was king _de
facto_, as it was termed, even though he should not be a king _de
juro_. And I understand by this that a king _de facto_ is one who,
like the Duke, comes with a great following, and for the time being
proclaiming himself king, and being obeyed as one, does exercise royal
prerogative, although in law he may be no monarch, and may never live
to wear a crown. If therefore those who obey such a king could shelter
themselves behind this statute, it would naturally give men courage
to join the standard. For instead of being considered mere rebels
following an obscure insurrection, they would be following one who was
for the time being their king.

This is what was argued upon one side, whilst others said that if the
Duke once took such a step he would make the breach between himself
and his uncle irreconcilable, and seal his own doom in case misfortune
attended him. But the Duke answered to such words that for himself he
cared nothing, that his desire in all things was to do what was right
and best for his followers, and that he would abide by the counsel of
the majority of his advisers.

There were other matters to discuss also to-day in the council of war
which was held after the grand spectacle of the giving of the colours
which I have described. It was now known that the Duke of Albemarle
was following hard after the rebel army, and that he was either at
Wellington or not far away. Scouts had even come in to say he was
marching upon Taunton, but that had proved untrue. The question arose
as to whether the Duke's army should march back and give battle to
him as early as possible, or march on towards Bristol, which, if once
captured, would be a weighty prize in the hands of the party; for it
would give him a basis of operations which he never could have so long
as no garrison town was in his hands.

Whether what was decided was wise or the reverse, I cannot say, having
no knowledge of such matters; but I was told by the Viscount that
evening, when he returned to his quarters from the council, that it
had been decided to march in a northerly direction, and that probably
the move would be made on Sunday. It was now Friday night, and when I
asked why not to-morrow, since time seemed of much importance in these
matters, one of his curious smiles passed over the Viscount's face, and
he replied significantly.

"To-morrow is needed for another matter. To-morrow will give to us a
new King James."

Then, with a thrill of intense excitement, I realized what was about
to happen, and I quickly ran out into the streets to spread the news.
It was known already in many quarters, and the town was alive with
citizens all crowding together and talking of the coming event. Nothing
but approval reigned in Taunton. We were proud to think that our
town would be honoured by being the one in which the new King should
be first proclaimed. Mistress Mary Mead's banner, although her own
workmanship and design, did but reflect in its legend the feelings and
opinions of the citizens.

All night long the good folks were up, renewing the wreaths in their
windows, and adding to the festive appearance of their city. And when
soon after break of day the heralds went about giving notice that
all loyal subjects were invited to attend at the Market Cross in the
Cornhill to the proclamation to be made, the press of people gathering
there was almost greater than even upon the day previous; whilst the
windows which gave upon the place were crowded to suffocation, and the
city seemed again to have gone mad with joy.

Several magistrates were there as on Thursday, wearing their gowns,
and striving to conduct themselves in such a fashion as should give no
cause of offence to either side. I believe they were forced out of fear
to be present, lest they should be torn to pieces by the populace; but
it was against the grain with many to appear, and as soon as they were
able they withdrew, and hid themselves in their houses so long as the
new King remained in the city.

The Duke was mounted upon his charger, and surrounded by his small band
of gentlemen, as usual. His face was pale, I thought, and although he
returned the vociferous salutations of the crowd with his usual courtly
grace, I thought there was an air of anxiety and restlessness about
him, and in my heart I doubted if he himself desired this honour which
was thrust upon him.

Places of honour near to the Duke and his _cortége_ had been reserved
for Miss Blake and her white-robed maidens, who appeared once more
before the eyes of Taunton. I noted that Viscount Vere shifted his
position a little so that he stood very close to Mistress Mary Mead,
and I think that they had some minutes of conversation together from
time to time. At any rate their eyes must often have met, and I suppose
that the language of the eyes is often full of eloquence, and says as
much as the tongue can do.

After a great blowing of trumpets and the usual preliminaries, the
proclamation was read in loud tones by Mr. Tyley, who stood upon the
steps of the Market Cross to do so; and whilst he read a deep silence
fell upon the listening crowd, who drank in every word with eager
avidity:--

 "Whereas, upon the decease of our Sovereign Lord Charles the Second,
 the right of succession to the Crown of England, Scotland, France, and
 Ireland, with the dominions and territories thereunto belonging, did
 legally descend and devolve upon the most illustrious and high-born
 Prince James Duke of Monmouth, son and heir apparent to the said King
 Charles; but James Duke of York (taking advantage of the absence of
 the said James Duke of Monmouth beyond the seas) did first cause the
 said late King to be poisoned, and immediately thereupon did usurp
 and invade the Crown, and doth continue so to do: We therefore, the
 noblemen, gentlemen, and commons at present assembled, in the names of
 ourselves and of all the loyal and Protestant noblemen, gentlemen, and
 commons of England, in pursuance of our duty and allegiance, and for
 the delivering of the Kingdom from Popery, tyranny, and oppression,
 do recognize, publish, and proclaim the said high and mighty Prince
 James Duke of Monmouth our lawful and rightful Sovereign and King, by
 the name of James the Second, by the Grace of God King of England,
 Scotland, France, and Ireland, Defender of the Faith.

  GOD SAVE THE KING.

  Proclaimed at Taunton, the twentieth day of June 1685."

What cheers and shouts went up from the people as the last words were
read!

"God save the King!"--"God save the King!" Men shouted themselves
hoarse, women fell a-weeping, and thanked God aloud amid their tears
for sending them such a deliverer. Children, held aloft in their
fathers' arms, flung posies and wreaths at the feet of the newly-made
King; whilst Miss Blake, at the head of her pupils, stepped forward to
claim the privilege of being first to kiss the hand of royalty.

All the maidens followed in turn, and the King, after permitting each
to kiss his hand, saluted them upon the cheek, as was the custom of the
day, though from royalty a marvellous condescension. Then after the
white-robed procession of virgins had retired within their own doors,
followed by the cheers and good wishes of the people, the Duke was
beset by a loving crowd of men and women, all desiring to kiss his hand
and do homage to him; whilst from the church towers the bells pealed
forth, and that very day in the evening service he was prayed for as
King. Mothers with children afflicted by the King's Evil brought them
to him to be touched, and I heard that many were thus cured in a few
days, though I speak from hearsay and not of mine own knowledge, having
more to think of than the matter of the children.

Our hearts were made glad to-day likewise by the arrival of Colonel
Basset, one of Cromwell's captains, who came in with a company that he
himself had raised. This looked indeed as though good were to come out
of this step; yet men said that the Colonel looked ill pleased when he
heard of the proclamation just made, being far more in favour himself
of the setting up of a Commonwealth.

Thus it may well be seen how hard it is to please all men; and every
step gives offence in some quarters, however it may be desired in
others.

Another man of some note who joined the Duke here was one Colonel
Perrot, from Southwark near London. Men whispered of him that he had
been concerned in that extraordinary attempt of Blood's upon the crown
and regalia; but as I know not the details of that story, and as it
has no concern with the present narrative, I will say no more of it.
Colonel Perrot was warmly welcomed, and thought to be an addition to
our staff of officers; of which, indeed, we stood in need, so many
thousands of common people having flocked to the standard at Taunton.

And now the Duke, being proclaimed King, and so acknowledged throughout
the town, sent forth almost at once other proclamations which were
eagerly read by the people. The first set a sum of money upon the
head of the usurping James of York; the second declared the present
Parliament a seditious assembly; a third commanded all men to refrain
from paying any taxes levied by the Duke of York; and a fourth declared
the Duke of Albemarle and many others rebels, and authorized all loyal
subjects to wage war upon them till they were destroyed.

Each proclamation was received with enthusiasm and joy by the people,
and Will Wiseman was kept busy until his voice gave out in reading them
to all who desired to hear. Such bold words seemed to augur success;
and as we said one to another, the Duke would not make such sounding
phrases, nor breathe forth such threatenings and slaughter, did he not
know himself prepared to carry on the war to a successful issue.

It was soon known also that our King had sent letters both to the Duke
of Albemarle and to Lord Churchill commanding them to lay down their
arms; and we did not doubt that this would greatly perturb and alarm
those generals, who must be by this time finding out the temper of the
people, and how little they could depend upon their soldiers to fight
against their new King.

But the day was not to be one of entire joy and triumph, for as evening
drew on there began to be some fresh commotion in the streets; and
running forth to see what it might mean, I found people looking scared
and grave, whilst women began to cry out,--

"The Duke of Albemarle is coming! We shall be destroyed! Our town
will be demolished! There will be a terrible and bloody battle ere
nightfall. God have mercy on us all!"

And amongst these cries I heard several whisper, as though half ashamed
of their own words, as well indeed they might be,--

"Would to Heaven he had not come! We had at least peace before. Now no
man can say what will become of us!"

In a state of some alarm and more indignation--for it seemed to me a
coward trick thus to speak because the hour of danger might be near;
but then women have no stomach for fighting, and perhaps mean not
the half of what they say--I ran towards the field where the army was
encamped, thinking I should get the news soonest there. As I did so I
met my lord the Viscount coming towards the town, looking grave and
thoughtful, but with no haste or urgency in his manner; and when his
eye fell on me he paused and smiled.

"Is there to be a battle, my lord?" I cried, panting in my haste. "In
the town they say the Duke's army is upon us. The people seem in a
sudden fright. Hath aught of hurt befallen?"

"Nothing of grave moment," answered the Viscount. "A few men of
ours have been killed not far from Chard, whither they had gone to
reconnoitre. They were fallen upon by a body of the enemy's horse, and
some were killed, whilst the rest rode back thither post-haste. But
the Duke and Lord Churchill are generals of no mean valour, and their
close proximity to the town has decided the Duke--nay, I must now say
the King" (and a smile passed over his face that was beyond my power to
read)--"to leave Taunton on the morrow, and seek to reach Bristol as
soon as possible. If we can find entrance there and make it our own,
all may go well for the time; but if we fail in that, it were better to
face our enemies now at once, than go forward with them hanging on our
rear, and Lord Feversham and Colonel Kirke in front."

"But, my lord, how can we fail, with all the country flocking to the
King's standard?"

"My good Dicon," answered the Viscount, "dost thou not know that
already we have exhausted our supply of arms, and the recruits who
would fain join our muster have perforce to be sent back, because we
have nothing wherewith to equip them? Hast not heard yet that one of
our frigates sailed away with Colonel Fletcher, after the mischance at
Lyme, and that the other two have been seized upon by our enemies, and
such arms as they contained have all been lost to us? If gentlemen with
armed retainers will now join us, they will be gladly welcomed; but for
unarmed country yokels--why, we have enough and to spare of such. We
are now forced to send them back to their own homes; nor do I think the
cause loses much by so doing. It is not with such forces as these that
the kingdoms of the world are won."

"But others will join now that the Duke is made King!" I cried eagerly,
having heard some of the reasons for that step.

"We shall see," answered the Viscount, with his peculiar smile. "At
present it seemeth to me that we have succeeded in disgusting the
advocates of Commonwealth and republican opinion without winning those
whom we have sought."

"But, my lord, it is but a few hours."

"Right, Dicon. I speak not from what has happened---or not happened--in
these few hours, but from my own knowledge of the world I come from.
A King proclaimed in Taunton forsooth--at the head of five thousand
scythe-armed rustics! A wondrous thing indeed! A right royal personage!
Dicon, Dicon, methinks the Duke of Monmouth might have won some
following, for men are deeply discontented with the rule of the tyrant
James; but they will not raise a finger for a puppet-king--the King of
a rabble of low-born knaves and varlets! I speak not these words of
scorn of mine own self; I do but rehearse what will be the words in the
mouths of those gentlemen from whom such brave things are expected.
Ferguson, Wade, Hucker--they know no better; but my Lord Grey should
have lifted his voice against it. It is a blunder we can never repair
now; but methinks it will be the death-blow to the cause."

"My lord, my lord, say not so! All Taunton is rejoicing. All Taunton
will stand by His Majesty to the death!"

"Is that so, Dicon? thou wilt see erelong. I think it would not take
much misfortune to turn Taunton back to her grudging loyalty to the
present King."

"O my lord, Taunton has ever been true to the cause of liberty!"

"Ay, but not to the cause of monarchy. There is the rub. The King
is now pledged to rule as a monarch; and methinks Taunton has been
dreaming all this while of a Commonwealth."

"But, my lord, think how they greeted the King to-day!"

"True, carried away by love for him, and the excitement of the hour.
Well, Dicon, thou mayest know thy towns-folk better than I do. Yet I
misdoubt me if Taunton will long lift her voice for her new-made King;
and I would that there had been less of pageant within her boundaries,
and that it had been some other place which had given him such royal
honours. I would that those colours had never been worked and presented
in Taunton, and that my Mary had had no hand in the matter."

"Dost think harm will come to her, my lord?" I asked anxiously.

"If this rebellion, or revolution, or what you good folks choose to
call it, come to naught, I verily believe that a signal vengeance will
be taken by the outraged monarch; and if so, the town of Taunton, thou
mayest be sure, will be one to win for herself the first place in the
royal disfavour. Dicon, hast thou ever seen the Lord Chief-Justice
Jeffreys? He came on circuit not so long since in the West. Didst thou
see him then?"

"No, my lord," I answered, slightly shivering at the name of one
who was held in terror and execration by all dissenters in the West
of England. "It so chanced that when he came I was on a visit to my
father's farm. I heard of him when he had gone."

"Dicon," said the Viscount gravely, "if thou hadst seen that man, thou
wouldst have felt that thou hadst seen the devil incarnate. If ever
the spirit of a devil looked out of human eyes, it does so from the
eyes of that man. And, Dicon, he stands high in the King's favour. If
a cruel and bloody piece of work has to be done, it will be my Lord
Chief-Justice Jeffreys who will be sent to do it. When I think that
my peerless Mary may in the days to come be brought face to face with
that monster, my blood freezes in my veins with horror. Dicon, I am too
deeply implicated now to be of use to her, and she may need a protector
in the days to come." He broke off suddenly, biting his lips, as
though to subdue an inward agitation, and then he suddenly began again,
"Boy, I think that thou dost love me?"

"My lord, I would die for you if I might save you from peril!" And in
truth I meant what I said, for it is easy to think and speak of death
when the peril is far off. It is another matter when it seems to be
looking you in the face; but then I did not know that, and spoke in all
sincerity.

My lord smiled, and put his hand for a moment on my shoulder--a thing
which sent the blood tingling through my veins.

"I ask none such sacrifice as that, good Dicon," he said. "My life is
of none such great value; yet I believe in thy good-will, boy, and I
thank thee for it. Thou lovest me, I know well, and methinks that thou
dost love my gentle lady too?"

"My lord, I would die for her too," I answered, not able to think of
any other way of expressing the devotion I felt.

"Good," he answered; "to die in such sweet service would not, methinks,
be hard. Yet I would not have thee die, good Dicon, but live to serve
and perchance to save her. Boy, I lay this charge upon thee; and if
thou lovest me thou wilt perform it faithfully, in so far as it may be
possible. When the issue of this insurrection is known, and if that
issue be disaster to this new King's cause, and that peril threaten
Taunton and Mary, and I am unable to help or succour her, then do thou
watch over her with all such care and diligence as is possible to thee.
Guard her from harm if such a thing may be; and strive at all risk
to save her from the evil power of Mr. Blewer, if he should seek (as
is like enough) to advantage himself by the winning of her hand and
her fortune when there be none to defend her from him. It may not be
possible, Dicon, that thou canst do this; yet thou hast a shrewd wit,
and thou livest so nigh at hand that thou mayest be able to contrive
what another could not do. Wilt thou at least take this charge from me,
and seek to fulfil it by every means in thy power?"

And with a heart swelling with pride and devotion I answered, "I will,
my lord."



CHAPTER XVII.

_ON THE WAR-PATH._


"Uncle, I cannot help it! I will do nothing to injure any who bear my
name! I will change that name if needs be--but I must go! I cannot
stay behind, knowing nothing of what is happening save what the voice
of rumour whispers. I must see and know for myself. None shall be hurt
through me. But prithee let me go. It may be that I will be able to
send thee word of things that thou wouldst fain know. Hinder me not,
good uncle, for needs must that I fare forth with the King!"

My uncle regarded me reflectively and gravely, as I poured forth these
words early upon the Sunday morning that had so little of Sabbath
stillness in the air. I had been up and about already, although the day
was yet young. I had heard that the camp was to be broken up forthwith,
and a march made towards Bridgewater. The thought of seeing the King
and all his soldiers march away, and of remaining behind in the city a
prey to all sorts of fancied terrors, and in suspense as to what might
be happening elsewhere, seemed intolerable to me. The fever of war had
got into my blood, and though I knew I could never be a soldier, I felt
that I must needs see war, or I should die of disappointment.

Perhaps my uncle felt sympathy with me; more possibly he thought that
such a hot partisan of the new-made King was more of a peril to him
in his house than following upon the path of the soldiers in that mob
which always waits upon the steps of an army. There few would know
or take note of me. Here I was known by pretty well every one in the
city. If I was resolved upon throwing in my lot with the army, I might
be in less peril myself and cause less danger to others there than
in the town of Taunton. So after steadily regarding me for a while,
and revolving the matter slowly in his mind, after his fashion, he
answered,--

"Well, well, well, a wilful lad will go his own way. Thou must e'en
choose thine own path, Dicon. I will not keep thee here against thy
will, but I counsel thee not to run into greater danger than needs must
be. We may all be in peril of our lives for all I know ere this matter
be settled; and where the greater danger lies Heaven knows and not I.
Wherefore take thine own way, but use all prudence and caution. Thou
hast a good head of thine own, and quick wits when thou dost use them
aright. See that thou walkest as warily as may be in the perilous days
that be like to fall upon us."

"I will be careful, I will be wary," I answered eagerly. And in great
excitement and joy at having so easily won my uncle's good-will, I ran
to tell Meg and Will Wiseman, and then to groom and feed Blackbird,
and decide what to take with me in my saddle-bags; for I knew little as
to what might lie before me, but desired to be at charges with no man,
and to pay for everything that I might need.

Meg, whose heart was almost as much in the cause as mine, gave me some
crown pieces out of her store for my needs, and my aunt did the like.
I had money of mine own too, and some of this I took; yet I would not
dip too deeply into my hoard, because I had a feeling that I must
keep it for other needs than mine own. Should evil days fall upon us,
and should I have cause to keep the pledge I had made to my lord the
Viscount, I might need the golden guineas I had earned bit by bit by my
letter-writing, and so forth, and had stored away so carefully these
two past years in a secret receptacle of mine own. The silver coins
I took with me, but the golden guineas I left where they were. A few
groats would go far to keep me; to say nothing of shillings and crowns,
of which I had many. But gold might prove a peril, and I would none of
it.

Out into the streets I went next, to find the citizens in hot
discussion together, and not all of them well pleased at what was
doing. There were many amongst them who had confidently hoped that
before the Duke left he would have raised up fortifications around the
city, have built up the ancient walls, and left there a garrison to
keep and defend the place for him.

Colonel Hucker was the centre of this group, and he was speaking warmly
in favour of this thing.

"What use to the cause is a city without walls?" he was asking. "Why,
if we march out to-day, the Duke of Albemarle can march in to-morrow,
and none can let or hinder him!" [And in very truth that was just what
did happen, for the new King's army left on Sunday afternoon, and
the Duke of Albemarle was in the city on Tuesday, albeit he made no
long stay, but continued his pursuit of our army towards the north.]
"What we want is to leave behind us garrisoned cities holding for his
Majesty. If one King can pull down fortifications, surely another can
build them up! Taunton has held her own gallantly in times of war, and
has stood notable sieges in a good cause; nor has the temper of her
citizens changed. Give her but walls and towers and a few good soldiers
to lead and direct her citizens, and she would hold out as gallantly as
ever. What do you say, fellow-townsmen? Shall not Taunton be restored
to her former glories? Can she not do even as she did before?"

"Ay, ay; that she can."--"Give us walls and soldiers, and we will show
the usurping tyrant what Taunton can do."--"Where is the King? Let him
but give the word, and every man among us will become for the nonce a
stonemason, that we may begin to build our walls afresh!"

Such were the cries of the citizens, and such their enthusiasm in the
cause. There is nothing so catching as the martial fever, except it
be the panic which sometimes sets in afterwards. But though the zeal
of the city was great, the young King could not be brought to see the
matter as Colonel Hucker sought to show it him. He said there was no
time to build walls--which was true enough--and that he could not spare
men to garrison it if it were fortified even in a most hasty and rapid
way.

Colonel Hucker, who had looked to be made captain of the garrison and
Keeper of the City, was not a little disappointed, and all Taunton with
him; but there was too much right on the King's side for us to urge the
matter beyond a certain point; and as the Viscount said to me, as we
rode out at last towards Bridgewater,--

"If we can once secure Bristol, there we shall have a fortified city
at our command forthwith. That is the task we should set ourselves to
do without delay. Would that we were already before its walls! These
delays will be the undoing of us, I fear. Already has the King in
London had ten days in which to muster and send forces out west. Had we
been quicker, we might have had a fortress of our own already. Heaven
send there be no more such tardiness!"

My Lord Vere was one of those men who seem to be soldiers born. He had
not had the training and experience of some of the others, including
our new King himself, yet it seemed to me that if his counsels had but
been followed from the first we should have been marching to victory
now, and making the usurper shake upon his tottering throne. As we rode
along I could not but tell my lord of the witch we had visited, and of
what she had told us. I hoped that it might give him more heart (for I
knew by many signs that he thought the enterprise well-nigh desperate),
but he only gave me one of his curious smiles.

"A wise woman truly, Dicon, to foresee more blood than glory in this
undertaking."

"Nay, but, good my lord, she said that the usurper would die in exile.
How may that be, if our gracious King be not victorious?"

"It may be that thou wilt live to see such a thing one day, Dicon,"
answered my lord, "and yet not see King Monmouth on the throne. Knowest
thou not that there be men who have already fixed their eyes upon the
Prince of Orange, husband to the King's daughter, as a possible saviour
and deliverer? The witch knows more of such things, I trow, than thou
dost, boy, in spite of all thy learning."

"The witch hath a familiar who tells her what the future will bring
forth," I answered quickly, for I liked not to hear my learning
compared with that of an ignorant old woman, who would be nothing
without her familiar. And at that my lord smiled again, but said
nothing; and indeed I forgot the whole matter next moment, for we saw
approaching us from behind, in hot haste, Lord Lonsdale himself, whose
face wore a look of such anxiety and pain that I was quite sorry for
him.

Now it so chanced that the Viscount was not with his company at this
time. He had been detained by some duty which the King had set him to
do, and had not been able to leave the camp so soon as the soldiers.
This was the reason why, when he came riding after us a little later,
he had drawn rein upon seeing me on the outskirts of the crowd of
followers, and had paused to ask what I did there, and to gently chide
me for my folly in leaving a safe shelter for the uncertainties of war.

It was whilst we were riding together thus in the rear, having by this
time left behind the crowd who pressed after us on foot--Will Wiseman
amongst them, to see the last of us--that we heard the sound of these
hasty pursuing horse-hoofs, and turning round beheld Lord Lonsdale
riding apace after us. I thought the Viscount's face changed and
hardened slightly as he saw his father; but he drew rein and waited
till he came up.

"My son, my son," began Lord Lonsdale, in whose face and voice anger
and anxious fear seemed to be struggling together, "what madness, what
folly is this? A son of mine to be in arms with a rebel Duke, daring to
lay claim to the crown of England! Vere, Vere, you are not like these
ignorant rustics whom any one can delude by a specious tale. You know
that England will never submit to see a base-born King sitting upon the
throne. Be the present King never so much the tyrant, he rules by his
hereditary right; and you know that this young Duke has no more chance
of being England's King than thou hast thyself. Boy, thou canst not
look me in the face and tell me that thy heart is in the cause! I know
thee too well for that!"

Lord Vere made no attempt to meet this challenge, although he looked
his father unflinchingly in the face for all that.

"Sir," he said, in a low, resolute voice, "your remonstrances come too
late. I have unsheathed my sword in the cause, be it a good or an evil
one; and honour forbids me to sheathe it again until that cause is
either lost or won. You know well who and what drove me forth to break
a bondage that had become unendurable. If I give you pain now, it is
only because you have driven me to it!"

"Boy, boy, what folly is this! Why didst thou not tell me how thine
heart was bound up in that maid?"

"I told you many times, sir, that my heart was so bound up with Mary
Mead's that death itself would be preferable to life without her. I
said all that a man could say, and my reward was that I was made by
strategy to appear in public as the plighted husband of Mistress Edith
Portman. It was your hand that severed the bond of mutual confidence
which once existed between us. I have no more to say. I follow in the
steps of one to whom I have done homage as King."

"Vere, Vere, Vere!" cried the agitated father, almost in tears, as it
seemed to me, his face pale with agitation, "only come back with me,
only give up this mad folly, and thou shalt wed the girl when thou
willest. I will say no word against it. Anything is better than that
thou shouldst put a halter round thine own neck. Come but back with me,
and all shall be as thou desirest!"

There was sadness now in the Viscount's face--sadness and even a little
bitterness--but no sign of wavering.

"Sir, it is too late," he answered. "Hadst thou spoken those words but
ten short days ago, I would gladly have followed thee home, and given
to thee a sweeter daughter than son has ever given to father yet. But
it is too late now. Mine honour is pledged, and not even for the sake
of my duty towards you nor my love towards the lady can I lay aside
that honour and break my plighted word. Nay, were I to do so my lady
would be the first to cry shame upon me. She is a soldier's daughter,
and holds honour in more esteem than life itself. A deserter from the
cause so near her heart would find no favour with her. She might have
let love win the day had I not taken up arms for this young King--"

"King!" breathed Lord Lonsdale, in a tone only just audible, but full
of bitter scorn; "knowest thou what he is called--he and his army--by
all loyal and honest folk? 'King Scott and his vagabonds' is the name
he goes by. My son, my son, to think thou shouldst be following such an
one as he!"

The Viscount's face wore a look half sad and half bitter--like his
voice when he spoke.

"Yes, it seemeth strange sometimes even to me; but there be strange
shifts in a man's life, and a Viscount may sometimes come to be ranked
amongst vagabonds. Father," and here his tone changed and became
softer, "believe me, I am not ungrateful for your care and thought for
me, and it pains me to give you pain. But I cannot go back now. I would
things had been different with me; but since they are not--since I have
been driven to this step--I cannot and I will not draw back. If you
lose your only son by a traitor's death, it will be a grievous sorrow
to you, I wot well. But even if things go ill with us, there will be
many that may hope to escape with life. Perchance I will be one of
these. For my Mary's sake as well as yours I shall make a battle for my
life."

Lord Lonsdale would have stayed to reason longer, but his son shook his
head as though to say that argument was useless, as indeed it was when
both father and son thought really alike upon the question, and only
a sense of honour bound Lord Vere to the cause he never professed to
believe in with his heart or soul.

"Farewell, father," he said softly, and put out his hand; but the Earl
drew back with a look of such pain as I shall not soon forget.

"I may not touch the hand of a rebel," he said; and so father and son
parted with more bitterness and sorrow than I like to think of even now.

My lord was very grave and silent for a long time after this, as indeed
he well might be, but presently rode on ahead of me to join the army.

As for me, I could please myself what I did and what pace I travelled
at. The infantry had gone on in advance that morning, and had covered
the distance well. I thought that they would reach Bridgewater easily
by nightfall, and I decided that for my part I would stop for the night
at my own home and tell all the news there.

I was a little depressed by what I had heard between Lord Lonsdale and
his son, and perhaps it had slightly damped my enthusiasm in the cause.
I began to see that war could be a very hideous and evil thing, and I
almost found it in my heart to wish that the Viscount had consented to
return with his father, and marry Mistress Mary Mead forthwith, thus
saving both (as I trusted it would) from all future perils. I knew that
I loved and honoured him for his words, and for ranking honour above
life and happiness, and I well knew that could Mistress Mary have been
there she would have upheld him with all the earnestness and enthusiasm
of her nature. I was resolved that she should one day hear the story,
and know what a noble heart she had won; but just for the moment I was
sorrowful and sad, and I thought that the welcomes of my family would
prove a pleasant diversion for my grief.

Nor was I mistaken. I found all the house in a great stir, my mother
more hot and bustling and excited than I had ever seen her; for it
seemed that the Duke (I find it hard to say King as I should; wherefore
I think in the future I will still call him the Duke, although for many
days we all of us gave him the royal title, and were proud and glad
to do so) and his company had paused at the farmstead, and had asked
refreshment there. His handsome face and courteous ways had won all
hearts. My mother and sisters could talk of nothing but his beauty and
grace. They had refused all payment for what they had set before him,
and he had kissed my mother ere leaving, and set her all in a flutter
of excitement. To have been kissed by a King was an honour which none
of her friends or relations had ever received. She felt lifted into a
region beyond that of her daily life.

I was pounced upon for news, and made to talk the whole of the day and
far into the night--a thing very foreign to our home ways--so that
when at last I gained my couch I slept as soundly as a dormouse, and
was ashamed to find the sun high in the sky when I awoke.

Although my parents and brothers and sisters intermeddled not with such
troublous matters as the rightful succession of Kings, and so forth,
their hearts were all for the gallant young Duke, and I received a
handsome addition to my small stock of money from my father, who bid
me good-speed on my journey and a safe and prosperous return. All the
country side in these parts believed that the cause of the Duke would
be crowned with glory and success; and it was amusing to hear their
stories as to how they had evaded giving any help, and put hindrances
in the way of those who were on the royal side, but how they did
everything to speed the cause of the Duke.

Blackbird was somewhat heavily laden as we started forth to
Bridgewater, for my mother was in sore fear lest I should not find
enough to eat on the road, and she would fain have hung all manner
of things around my saddle, had I not declared that I should be the
laughing-stock of all the army.

Then with many adieus I rode off, and was not long in finding my way to
Bridgewater, where, as I have before stated, I had another uncle with
whom I was familiarly acquainted.

It really seemed to me as I rode into the town that Bridgewater had
striven to outdo Taunton in the welcome she gave the Duke. I heard that
already he had been proclaimed King there; that the proclamation had
been read in great state, the magistrates in their gowns standing by,
and, as I also heard, not unwillingly either. Flags were flying, and
windows and balconies were decked as in our town, whilst the faces of
the people looked as gay and happy as though no such thing as doubt or
fear existed.

I made my way with all speed to my uncle's house, which I found as busy
as was like to be on such a day. My kinsfolk had scarce time to give
me a welcome; but I set about making myself of use to them, and in so
doing picked up many a piece of news of a welcome nature.

It seemed that although the recruits were still of the lower class
of the people, much money had been collected for the cause in this
place, and that the Duke and his officers were in better spirits on
that account, and also because of the warmth with which they had been
welcomed.

The citizens and common people were beginning to think scorn of those
above them, who showed themselves so backward in the good cause, and to
whisper amongst themselves upon the subject.

"We wonder the gentlemen come not in," they began to say. "But we will
show them that we can do the work without them; and then when we are
the masters we will have their estates!"

That evening, as I wandered through the streets of Bridgewater,
I suddenly met Lord Vere walking rapidly and hurriedly, with a
preoccupied look upon his face. Seeing him thus thoughtful, I was
drawing aside--for I feared to presume upon that kindness which he had
ever shown me--when he suddenly saw me and paused.

"Ha, Dicon!" he said, "I was just wondering where thou wert to be
found. I want speech with thee, boy."

I was at his side in a moment, eager and flattered by his words.

"The matter is this, Dicon," continued my lord, speaking rapidly and in
a low voice:--"Thou knowest enough of matters in the camp to understand
that it is of the greatest moment for us to win Bristol. If we fail
there, I see naught for it but to be destroyed between the two armies
which are marching upon us--the Duke of Albemarle in our rear, and Lord
Feversham and perchance Lord Churchill (for there are contrary reports
brought in daily and hourly) in front, or marching from the eastward.
We hear that the people of Bristol are anxiously awaiting us; but even
of this there seems no certainty, for they say, too, that the Duke of
Beaufort with a large body of troops has recently come into the city
to hold it for the King--the King in London, Dicon--and that we shall
find it a tough nut to crack. All agree in saying that if once we can
get possession of it we shall find arms and money and provision in
abundance, and shall have achieved the first step towards a lasting
success. But the question is whether we may find entrance there, and if
so what will be the wisest plan of attack; and there be few men here
who know the city and have friends therein who may be trusted."

"They say Colonel Wade is from Bristol," I remarked; and the Viscount
nodded assent.

"He is; but he cannot be spared from the counsels of the Duke. In fine,
Dicon, what I have offered to do is to ride alone, or with but one
trusty servant at most, into Bristol myself, to see certain men of the
city with whom I have some acquaintance, and to learn how matters be
there. I am then to return and advise the Duke what he should do; for
never was man so beset before with counsellors all advocating different
views, and sure never had general such a strange company of captains
under him, scarce a man of them trained to war, and some scarce knowing
how to handle arms!"

"You are going to Bristol then, my lord?"

"Yes: I shall start with the first light of dawn to-morrow, which will
be shortly after three o'clock; and I have sought thee, Dicon, to know
if thou wilt be mine esquire for the nonce and ride with me. That black
pony of thine will carry thee bravely and well, as I know; and there be
few of the steeds our men have of which I could say the same. Thou hast
no air of martial valour to raise suspicion. I shall but appear like a
traveller upon the road with my servant behind me. I think we shall not
be in danger's way till our errand is done, and--"

"My lord, I would follow you to the world's end, be the dangers never
so great!" I cried, my heart swelling with pride that he had made
choice of me out of all the company in that great army. "I have been
longing this many a day to do some service either for you or for our
gracious young King. Let me go with you. I will serve you as no servant
would, and lay down my life for you if need be."

He smiled at my protestation, and answered kindly,--

"I trust that may not be needful, good Dicon; but if thou wilt thou
shalt serve me in this thing. Canst meet me then here in this spot by
three of the clock to-morrow morning? Good! I shall look for thee.
See to thy steed to-night, for we must travel with all speed. I shall
strive to reach Bristol to-morrow, and as early in the day as the
distance will permit."

"I will not fail you, my lord," I answered proudly, my heart beating
high within me. "And shall we return to the army when you have
fulfilled your errand? Shall we see the fight when the foe is before
us?"

"Truly I think we shall, Dicon," answered my lord with a smile. "The
enemy seems in small haste to attack us; but whether that be a good or
an evil sign I wot not. Yes, boy, I mean to be in the thick of that
fight whenever it does take place;" and his eyes shone for a moment
from beneath their bent brows with the battle light which the thought
of action brings into the faces of all true soldiers. "I too would bear
my share in that fight, as I see thou wouldst too. But I doubt not we
shall be in time for that. It is not fighting, it is this delay, these
pageants and proclamations, which sicken me. Would we were intrenched
before Bristol now, doing and daring all, instead of trusting that
some great thing will come to us. Well, boy, thou and I will see what
is like to be our fate in that city. To-morrow before sunrising; and
Heaven give us a good journey!"



CHAPTER XVIII.

_IN PERIL IN A STRANGE CITY._


Of our long day's ride from Bridgewater to Bristol I do not purpose
to speak in detail, being anxious to get on to more stirring scenes;
and yet it was upon this day that I began to understand somewhat more
clearly the nature of the enterprise on which we were embarked, and to
see that the progress of the Duke was not much longer to be a march of
unmixed triumph.

As we pursued our journey, sometimes along the roads, sometimes across
open tracts of country, where Blackbird's cleverness and sagacity gave
us great help in picking our way, we encountered bands of stern-faced
men riding along with an air of purpose--men clad in such armour as
was worn by regular soldiers, and showing in their air and bearing a
martial bravery which was greatly lacking in the ranks I had lately
seen.

These men looked at us with sharp glances as they passed; but our
appearance was so harmless that nothing was said to us of a disquieting
character. Sometimes we were asked if we had seen aught of "King
Scott's army;" and though the gibe in the voice of the questioner made
my cheek flame, my lord would answer quietly enough that he believed it
to be encamped somewhere near to Bridgewater.

Once we journeyed some little distance with a party of these men. The
commanding officer rode with the Viscount in front, and a couple of the
troopers, who were greatly taken by Blackbird, and would fain know his
history, came and rode beside me. I learned from them that they were on
the way to Bristol to join the garrison there. They had been sent by
the Duke of Albemarle, who was advancing upon Taunton, but had had to
make a wide circuit to avoid the army of "King Scott" at Bridgewater,
and were glad to fall in with travellers upon the waste of moorland,
being but little acquainted with the country.

I asked them why they spoke of the Duke of Monmouth as "King Scott;"
and they laughed, and said that he had forfeited his right to the
title of Duke by his act of high treason. They told me that since his
marriage, when quite a lad, he had taken the name of his noble wife,
wanting one of his own, and that that name was Scott. They jeered and
gibed at him and his feeble insurrection in a fashion that made my
heart beat fast with mingled wrath and fear, and kept me in constant
dread of betraying myself by some unguarded word. But for my lord's
sake I strove for patience and discretion; and being accounted but a
boy, and a hunchback to boot, I misdoubt if any words of mine would
have been taken seriously by the troopers who rode for a time with us.

Still I was glad when they left us; and though my lord's face was the
graver after they had gone, he did not tell me aught that had passed
betwixt him and the captain. Indeed a heavy rain began falling soon,
which, though sorely needed by the country after the long drought, was
not a pleasant thing for travellers, and made us wrap ourselves in our
mantles and draw our hats over our brows, and so pick our way with care
and pains.

It had long been dark, and the rain was pouring down steadily and
pitilessly, and our good horses were growing weary and jaded before the
lights of Bristol flashed through the night, cheering us into a better
pace than we had been able to get out of the horses for the past hour.
The road too became better, and our hearts revived within us; but still
I can remember little of our arrival at that great city, I was so dazed
and wearied and confused by the long journey and the strangeness of
everything about me.

There were a halt and a parley at the gate ere we got in, but my
lord seemed to have no great trouble in obtaining entrance; and soon
we found ourselves at a snug little hostelry, where there was good
accommodation to be had for both man and beast, and where we were soon
seated at a table set before a grand fire, the damp rising in clouds
from our wet garments as we buckled to over our trenchers and ate as
only men do who have fasted many hours, and travelled far to boot.

Our host waited himself upon us, many of his people having already gone
to bed, and he was full of the rebellion, and the excitement prevailing
in the city. He was very cautious for a while in telling us what was
the feeling within the walls; but my lord had a way with him which
quickly won the confidence of those with whom he spoke, and by-and-by
I woke up from the doze into which I had fallen to find our host
whispering many things to my lord with an air of eager secrecy. He said
that the people were very discontented with the present King and with
the Parliament, with the way in which justice was administered, and,
above all, with the spirit of persecution which was springing up.

"If the Duke had but landed here or marched here straight," continued
the man, in a husky whisper, "the town would have been his almost
without the striking of a blow. But now His Grace of Beaufort has come
in with the regulars, and they say the Earl of Feversham is close at
hand, and may be looked for to-morrow or the next day. What can the
citizens do when the iron hand of the army is at their throat? If only
he had come sooner!"

Interesting as all this was to me, I was too weary to listen to more,
and in fact was taken with such a fit of shivering that my teeth
chattered in my head, and it was with much difficulty that I dragged
myself up the stairs to bed, pulled off my wet clothes, and crept in
there. My lord came himself to see me, and brought me a hot spiced
posset, which, as soon as I had drunk it, sent me off into a sounder
sleep than I think I ever slept before; for when I awoke again I found
that the next day had slipped quite away, and that it was evening of
Tuesday, and I had lain abed like a log when I had meant to be up and
about after any business my lord might give me to do.

I arose in a great shame, and finding my clothes dried and brushed by
my bedside, I dressed with what speed I might, and went below.

The room was filled with people of the lower sort, all talking together
in excitement and heat. I sat in a corner and ate a piece of bread
whilst I listened to all that was being said, and strove to gain
knowledge of what had happened during the day.

One thing I heard which troubled me much. Lord Feversham had
entered the city with a large body of troops--two hundred and fifty
horse-guards, as I learned later. But there was more than this; for I
heard, too, that the bridge over the great river Severn had been broken
down by the Earl's men at Keynsham, so that it should be impossible for
the Duke of Monmouth's army to approach the city.

This was very bad news for me, and, as it seemed, for the people also.
In this place, at least, there was no hesitation as to which rule
was preferred--that of the Popish King on the throne, or that of the
champion of liberty and Protestantism come to wage war upon him. If men
spoke with bated breath of the coming deliverer, it was not because
they were half-hearted in the cause; and here and there a voice would
be raised to ask why, if all the citizens were agreed, the soldiers
could not be outnumbered and overawed? why the will of the people
should not prevail over some few thousands of hired mercenaries, who at
heart most like did not love the King better than the towns-folk?

These high sounding-words were taken up and passed from mouth to mouth;
but yet I could see that none knew how concerted action amongst the
citizens could be begun now that the town was guarded by soldiers and
a close watch set about the walls and even in the streets. Yet as the
night drew on other men kept dropping in, and it was whispered that the
Duke of Monmouth was after all approaching; that some of the horse had
already reached Pensford; that another day might bring them beneath the
walls of Bristol; and that then would be the moment for all the city to
rise.

I listened with beating heart and straining ears to all this, wondering
what the truth of it might be, and if indeed the city would open
its gate to our new-made King. Presently I ventured to enter into
conversation with some of those nearest to me, and told how I had been
in Taunton when Monmouth had been proclaimed King. This excited great
interest in the minds of those about, and I was made to tell the story
out aloud, whilst the people listened with mouths agape, and I could
see by their eager faces how they longed to see him proclaimed here in
Bristol.

Presently, however, some soldiers came marching in and ordered wine.
They looked about upon the people with an air of suspicion and severity
which quickly changed the aspect of the assembly. First one group and
then another broke up and went out, and in a short time there were
scarce half-a-dozen persons left.

"Your good customers seem mightily afraid of a buff jerkin and a
musket, landlord," remarked one of the soldiers as he drained his
goblet. "Have a care that you harbour not seditious malcontents in your
house, or it may chance to go ill with you one of these days."

And then the soldiers clattered out, having probably done what they
came to do; whilst the landlord's face, which had been pale and
submissive in presence of the troopers, grew dark with fear and hatred.

"Those cursed soldiers!" he hissed beneath his breath. "A man goes in
fear of his life and his property when the city is beset with them."

"Heaven send us a speedy deliverer!" breathed another, with clinched
hand and frowning brows. "All the city would rise to greet him, I
verily believe--soldiers or no soldiers!"

Late at night the Viscount came in, and told me something of how his
day had been spent. It was quite true that the citizens were as much
in favour of the Duke here as in the other places where we had seen
the welcome they gave him. But the presence of a strong garrison and
a determined Commander put a very different face upon the matter in
this fortified town. The garrison had possession of the walls and
citadel, and could turn their arms upon the towns-people as well as
upon the foe if there were any tumult or rising. Some were in favour
of stirring up a revolt within the walls so soon as the Duke should be
without, engaging the soldiers in defence of their gates and ramparts;
but men who knew as much of war as the Viscount were doubtful whether
such a rising would be attended with success. There was something in
the presence of regular troops which acted as an effectual check to
burgher risings. A panic quickly set in at the sight of cold steel and
the remorseless action of trained soldiery. Forty years of peace had
weakened the warlike traditions of the past generation who remembered
the civil war.

"Citizens talk, and speak great swelling words, but too often they run
like sheep at the first sight of pike and musket," said my lord; and
when I remembered how the crowd in this very room had dispersed like a
mist before the handful of troopers who had come into their midst, just
after having spoken such great things of defying the army, I could not
but think that he was in the right.

Next day I too wandered about the streets of the great city, full of
curiosity and amaze at what I saw. I had never been within a fortified
town, and the frowning walls and gateways struck me with awe and
amaze, as did also the great quays and wharfs where vessels larger
than any I had ever seen lay at anchor. And nothing would content me
but that I must go aboard of one, which I did through the kindness of
a sailing-master with whom I got into talk; and I spent two wonderful
hours amongst the shipping, both hearing tell of the wonders of the
deep, and learning something of the desire amongst seafaring men for
a better King upon the throne, and the hope that the Duke of Monmouth
would "come into his own."

I asked whether, if there were to be fighting around Bristol, there
were any ships that would help the cause of the Duke by firing upon, or
in any way injuring, the soldiers; but he did not seem to think that
there were any vessels in the harbour that could be trusted to do any
good that way. There had been a close watch kept on all vessels coming
into the river, and some had been sent to the right-about, and not
suffered to make the harbour.

Towards sundown I retraced my way towards the hostelry where we were
lodging, when I was suddenly brought up short by a most unwelcome
sight. I was aware that a pair of dark sinister eyes were steadily
regarding me; and looking to see whose they might be, I encountered the
malevolent gaze of the Rev. Mr. Blewer, whom I believed to be far away
in Taunton.

I can scarce say why it was that this gaze troubled me so, but I felt a
sensation as though some person had walked over my grave (as the saying
is); and I was not made any more comfortable by seeing that Mr. Blewer
immediately beckoned to a sentry who was standing near and pointed me
out to him, though what words he spoke I could not hear.

I found myself trembling all over as I walked onwards, and I railed at
myself for proving nothing but a coward. I was relieved when I got in
to find the Viscount there before me, to whom I told what I had seen.

But he only smiled, and said,--

"I am well pleased that that pestilent fellow is far away from Taunton
and from Mary. I doubt if he would gain speech of her now were he never
so near; but I would sooner he were anywhere else than there."

"But can he do hurt to me or to you, my lord?" I asked, rather
anxiously; and was answered by a smile of amusement.

"It is like enough he might if he set himself to it; but we shall not
be here much longer. I have found out all I came to discover; and if it
be true, as men say, that the Duke will be at Pensford to-night with
his whole army, we will join him early and give him the intelligence
he seeks. Thou hadst best go to thy bed early, Dicon, for this may be
the last night for many that thou wilt have a bed to sleep in. Are our
horses in fettle for the road to-morrow? We must be astir right early,
and leave the city with the dawn."

"The horses are as well as ever they were, my lord; they have been shod
afresh, and well fared and cared for. They will carry us another fifty
miles to-morrow if needs be."

"Nay, it will be but a short way we need take them; but perchance they,
like ourselves, will fare only badly for a while. Time will show--time
will show. Get thee to bed now, Dicon, and be ready for the start
to-morrow."

I went to bed, little dreaming of any further adventure that night; and
I suppose I had slept for some hours, when I was awakened by such a
tumult in the street below as made me spring up in a sudden fright, and
I heard men shouting out in every key and tone,--

"The Duke! the Duke! He has come! he has come! God be praised! Our
deliverer is here!"

Although there was no moon in the sky, in which the rain-clouds still
hung heavily, albeit it was not raining that night, my room was almost
as light as day with a red glare that spoke of fire. I was up and into
my clothes faster than I can write all this down, and I dashed across
to my lord's room, to find it already empty--he having been still up
and dressed when the first shout was raised, so that he was in the
streets before me.

Down I rushed, all the household being awake and alarmed, and the door
standing open like half the doors in the town, as I hurried along not
knowing whither I went, but only agog for news.

The people were all running and shouting, and the great palpitating
glare in the sky lighted the whole city, and gave a weird brilliance to
the strange scene. All the time the streets were echoing to the cry,--

"The Duke! the Duke! To arms, citizens, to arms! The Duke has come!
Down with tyranny and Popery! Down with the usurper! A Monmouth! a
Monmouth for the people!"

"Where is he? What has happened? Where is the Duke?" I asked, first of
one and then of another. At first none heeded me, but others taking up
the question, we began to get answers bit by bit.

"He is here! He is coming! That is the beacon light to bring him!
Perchance he is beneath the walls! He may be entering the city even
now! Hark! is not that the sound of arms? He is coming! he is coming!
Heaven be praised, our deliverer is at hand!"

The people seemed to have gone well-nigh mad. I never saw such a sight
in my life as the streets of this city with all the men and women
swarming out, shouting, weeping, crying, praying, and the great red
cloud swaying over us in the black sky, and at last the steady tramp
of mailed troopers swinging along down the wide thoroughfare.

"The soldiers! the soldiers! Pray Heaven it be the Duke's men!"
shrieked the women. But the next moment the cry went up, "The King's
troops! the King's troops! Have a care, citizens! Hist! hist!"

They came swinging along with their great pikes menacingly pointed at
the crowds, which dispersed and fled before them; whilst at intervals a
halt was called, and a voice from their midst rang out in a threatening
word of warning,--

"To your beds, citizens; to your homes and your beds. The Duke of
Beaufort makes it known through all the city, that if there be any
rising this night for the rebel Duke of Monmouth, he will fire the town
about your ears in a hundred places at once. Take your choice, men of
Bristol, take your choice. Either disperse in quiet to your homes, or
see yourselves, your houses, and your children burned before your eyes!"

A horrified silence fell upon the people as these words were heard; and
only one woman dared to raise her voice to ask, "But where is the Duke
of Monmouth?"

"Ten miles away if a step, woman, and with a swollen river without
bridge 'twixt him and Bristol.--To your homes and your beds, good
people, if you wish to save yourselves and your city to-night."

Away swung the soldiers, to give their dread message in other places;
and away to their homes scuttled the cowed citizens, led by their
trembling wives; whilst news came that there were twenty companies of
foot drawn up in Redcliffe Mead, ready at a moment's notice to march
through the streets and fire the rebellious city if it should prove
troublesome. Another report said that the fire was in the river; that
a ship there had caught light either by accident or by design; and
that had it not been high tide, with plenty of water in the harbour,
so that other vessels could sheer off, there might have been a fearful
destruction amongst the craft lying there.

"Some miscreant of the Monmouth faction did the damage," said one party
of soldiers parading the streets to keep and enforce order. "Spies from
the rebel camp have been seen prowling about the streets to-day, and
along the wharfs. Let us but catch them, and their heads will adorn the
city gate by the time the day dawns."

At these words I shrank into the shadow of a doorway, with my heart
thumping against my ribs as though it would burst out of them. I did
not doubt for a moment that I was reckoned as one of these spies, and
perhaps my lord for another. If Mr. Blewer had seen him he would not
forget it, and would take advantage of any incident to raise a tumult
against him. I realized the fact that we stood in no small jeopardy so
long as we remained in Bristol; and my first thought was to seek the
shelter of the hostelry, to get ready our horses, and then strive by
what method we could best escape from those environing walls. It was
a terrible thing to think of having to pass the sentries if we were
under suspicion. But I trusted that my lord, who knew the city and had
friends there, would have some plan for escape; and to go home and
await him there seemed the best and wisest course to pursue.

I wished the streets had been a little more full now--that the
citizens had not been so easily cowed and scared back to their homes;
then I should have had a better chance of slipping through the crowd
and making my way unseen. Still, as it was, one of the sides of the
street was in deep shadow, and I was flitting warily along in it, when
suddenly I heard a sound in front like that of shouting and pursuit.
The next moment round the corner, as if with wings to his feet, came
my lord the Viscount, hatless, and with his doublet half torn off his
back, his breath coming in deep gasps, his hair streaming in the wind,
looking like a golden cloud where the red firelight touched it.

The moment I saw that sight, before the pursuers had rounded the
corner, I sprang out upon him, as one who joined the hue and cry. I
felt as though every muscle in my body had suddenly turned to steel. I
seized him by the hand, and darted with him down a narrow entry that I
had noted that day in coming up from the river.

"My lord, my lord! this way, this way!" I gasped in his ear, not
knowing whither we were speeding, but perceiving that we were in a
labyrinth of small back streets which might baffle pursuit for a time.
We fled onwards, although I was certain that I had heard a hoarse cry
raised from behind,--

"There goes the other of them! Now we shall have them both! After
them! they cannot escape! After them, men! ten pounds to the man that
brings them, dead or alive!"

I do not think my lord heard, his breath was coming in such deep and
laboured gasps. He let me turn and double whither I would; and I think
that I had the greater skill to baffle pursuit, having a more lively
fear in my heart, perhaps, and knowing something of the ways of wild
things when running for their lives.

But still I could hear cries and shouts following us, and that word of
evil omen, "The spies! the spies!" and I wondered whether we should
be able to escape them after all, when we suddenly dived down a dark
entry, and were brought up short by a house that stood at the end,
blocking all egress, and as it were enclosing us in a trap.

"Heaven help us, we are lost!" I cried in despair, realizing that to
return the way we had come would probably throw us into the very arms
of our pursuers, who had scattered hither and thither, and could be
heard coming nearer and nearer. My lord spoke no word, being indeed
past speech, but I saw his hand go to the hilt of his sword, which he
still wore, and I knew that he at least would sell his life dearly. But
then all of a sudden a door behind us opened cautiously, and a woman
looked out.

"Come in, come in quick!" she said. "This way! along this passage--mind
the holes in the floor--and up yon stair. Go up and up and up to the
top, and out upon the leads. There's an open trap; but ye can shut
and bolt it, and give yourselves a few moments' grace. There's a
mile of leads up there, and spouts and gutters leading from place to
place. I'll keep them here in parley as long as I can. Hide yourselves
somewhere in the holes or behind the chimney-stacks. Men have hidden
away there before now and escaped. If ye be from Monmouth's army, ye
shall not die in Bristol town if Jenny can save you."

"Heaven reward you!" I cried, as I darted along the passage and up the
stairs, my lord after me; but he paused to ask the woman if she ran
no risk herself ere he would go (which shows the difference there is
between gentle blood and blood like mine; for I thought only of my own
skin, whilst he had thought to spare for her), and I heard her words
come clear and mocking,--

"They shan't hurt me--nay, not a bit of it! I'm too well known for
that. Not a man of them would lay a hand on old Jenny; and I'll say I
was knocked down by a pair of insolent, swaggering fellows, who have
made their way out of yon window at the back. Some will go up to the
leads for all that, but some will stay below and search the courts
behind. I know the ways of them; and if there be but two or three to
follow you, slay them one by one as they slip and scramble over the
roofs. Oh, it is rare sport, it is rare sport! I have seen the likes of
it before."

The woman's uncouth speech and mocking laugh baffle description. I
almost shuddered at her words whilst hurrying up the rotten stairs and
pushing open the trap-door at the top. The next minute we were both out
in the free air upon the leads, with the fading glow of the fire very
near at hand; and we bolted down the trap and made it as firm as we
could before we spoke a word.

"At least we have a chance of our lives now, Dicon," said my lord; "and
if we have to lay them down, we will at least sell them as dearly as
may be."

He drew his sword half out of its sheath, and his eyes glittered in the
glow of the fire. I felt a curious thrill run through me as I heard and
saw him, and I felt that to-night I was to receive my baptism of blood.



CHAPTER XIX.

_A BAPTISM OF BLOOD._


For the moment we were safe, but only for the moment. From what the old
woman had said, we knew that our pursuers would soon be after us; and
there was another peril of which I had not thought till my lord's voice
spoke in my ear,--

"If the woman has played us false, we may be in a trap from which there
is no escape. But at least it was certain death to remain there."

I felt a cold shudder run through me as I said,--

"I do not think she was tricking us, my lord."

And he answered in the same low voice,--

"Neither do I; but such things have been before. We must be on our
guard. Walk warily, Dicon. These leaden roofs are treacherous. Yet what
a labyrinth they form. Methinks we can baffle pursuit yet! See, lad! we
are not far from the river. It may be we shall make shift to find our
way out from the city by water. Canst swim, Dicon?"

"Ay, verily; better than I can run."

"Good; yet thou didst run manfully just now with those hell-hounds
after us. Dicon, thou knowest that our enemy Mr. Blewer is in the town?"

"Ay, my lord."

"It was he who set them on at me for a spy. He thought to have rid
himself thus easily of a rival and a foe. It may be he will do so even
yet; but if I die to-night, I sell my life dear!"

He spoke through his shut teeth, and I felt the strange quiver, that
was half like fear and half like exultation, run down my spine again.
All this while we were rapidly picking our way along the leads and
roofs, lighted by the glow of the burning ship upon the river, which
I had no time to stay and look at, as I fain would have done; for
the question of life and death was paramount with us, and it was
no moment for pausing to admire the blood-red river like a flaming
mirror, nor the strange fantastic shadows cast by the leaping flames.
We were glad of the light for making our own way amongst the leads and
chimney-stacks and along narrow parapets, where a false step would have
been destruction; but all the while our ears were strained for the
sound of hammering and pursuing footsteps, and we knew that as soon as
we heard them we must crouch down in some of the many deep niches and
hiding-places of that strange region, else would the brilliant light
lead to our instant discovery.

All the while we moved my lord kept casting his eyes hither and
thither, and at last I heard him exclaim,--

"Hist, Dicon! they are after us. And here is the very place for us.
In with thee, boy! There is room for thee, I trow. I will follow and
guard the entrance. He shall pay dear who seeks to hale us thence."

My lord spoke through his shut teeth, and I was quaking all over as
I looked about, yet could see nothing like a hiding-place. But the
Viscount's eyes had been sharper than mine, and the next moment he
pushed me gently but firmly into a narrow, narrow niche between two
great chimney-stacks--a long black crevice filled with masonry at
the farther end, looking like a mere slit in the wall, and in which,
unless I had tried, I would not have believed that I or any other
man could stand. But the crevice widened a little after I had pushed
myself into it; and it was in the deepest of deep shadow, for the
dark chimney-stacks rose high above our heads, and the narrow, narrow
aperture by which we had squeezed ourselves in faced away from the
river, so that not a single shaft of light crept into our retreat.

I drew a gasping breath of relief as I found myself at the far end of
the niche, with ample room to turn round and move my arms; and I said
to my lord, "Surely we are safe now." And he made answer, "Unless they
know the place, perchance we are; but even so it will go hard to oust
us. Methinks I could hold the entrance against a score of enemies, and
run every one of them through as he approached."

And in truth only one man could approach the place at a time, as I
saw very well; and it made me think of the story I had read in Roman
history of the passage of the bridge that was kept by Horatius and his
two supporters. The Viscount was to me as great a hero as any in the
pages of history or romance, and well could I picture him holding this
place against the onslaught of a hundred foes.

But the next minute all thoughts save those of a personal nature were
lost in the overwhelming trembling fear which assailed me as I heard
the sound of hurried tramping all along the leads, voices calling one
to the other, and brutal threats shouted out to the accompaniment of
brutal laughter.

Although the heavy masonry in which I was enclosed hindered me from
catching every word, yet I could well follow the drift of what was
said, and well did I understand that a long rope and a short shrift was
the best we could hope for were we caught. Once I heard a soldier in
passing say to his comrade,--

"The clergyman promised a liberal reward to whatever man would show him
the head of the dainty gentleman. We'll have him and get the reward.
I'll run him through with my own sword--I've no pity on a spy."

All the place seemed alive with searching soldiers, shouting one to
another--sometimes bawling out that they were here or there, sometimes
cursing loudly at having been deceived by a shadow. Some declared they
saw them getting down by a spout, and a rush would be made to this side
or that. Others vowed they had got away from this block altogether, and
would be found elsewhere; and they would fall to cursing this region of
house-roofs and chimneys, which it seemed had favoured the escape of
fugitives before now, as indeed the old woman had implied.

I cowered against the wall, quaking in every limb. I must needs tell
the truth, even if I am dubbed coward for it. Sometimes the voices were
so near that it seemed as though we must be discovered; then again they
would move further off, and I began to breathe once more, till some
fresh footstep again brought my heart into my mouth. I felt then as if
anything would be better than to be trapped like this without hope of
escape; but when the footstep had passed by again, I felt thankful for
the protection of the friendly niche, which plainly was not known to
the soldiers.

Gradually the sounds of pursuit died away. Voices angry and
disappointed called one to another that we must have taken to the lower
roofs, or that old Jenny had been right in saying we had got out by a
window, and had not taken to the leads at all. Cursing and swearing,
the men appeared to draw off, and I was just about to approach nearer
to my lord, who had remained all this while close to the entrance of
our retreat, his drawn sword in his hand, when I was deterred by the
sound of a new footfall coming steadily onwards. This footfall did not
pass by our niche, and against the lightness of the sky beyond I saw
outlined a tall martial figure, and knew that this last soldier had
noticed this chink in the masonry, and was speculating about it as he
passed by.

"A likely place," I heard him mutter, "but an ugly one to enter alone.
Where are the rest? Have all gone? A pretty search they have made. I
will call them back."

Thump, thump, thump went my heart against my ribs. In spite of its
clangour I heard a sound which I knew was just the beginning of a shout
that would have the effect of bringing the scattered searchers all
rushing back to this place. But one slight hoarse note was all that was
uttered. With a quick rush my lord had sprung out, sword in hand. There
followed for two or three seconds the sound of clashing blades, another
effort at a call, and then the thud of a heavy fall, and a gurgling
noise, which I shall never forget to my dying day. In the dead silence
which followed I heard my lord speaking in a low voice.

"You can come out, Dicon; I think all is safe now."

I came out trembling and giddy. There upon the leads, run through the
heart by a swift sword-thrust from my lord, lay the man who had been a
second or two before full of strength and life. His glazing eyes were
upturned to the sky; his tall form lay so still that I could not bear
to look at it. I had never seen a man killed before, and the horror
of the thing was stronger upon me at that moment than the relief of
our escape. My lord was binding with his scarf a gash upon his wrist.
That sight brought me out of my stupor, and I asked leave to help him,
though my hands trembled, and I was clumsy at fastening the knot. I saw
my lord look at me with something of a smile upon his pale, resolute
face.

"Warfare is a grim thing, Dicon. Thou hast scarce the stomach for it
yet. But, boy, thou wilt see grimmer things yet, I take it, if thou
dost hold to thy purpose of following the Duke's army. Such things
as these are scarce the beginning of horrors. Come now, we must not
linger here. I reckon we shall be safer to seek old Jenny in the house
now than to linger longer on these leads, where soldiers may be posted
watching and spying. Go cautiously, Dicon, and keep in the shadow.
Belike the woman will not be far off."

This surmise proved a true one, and before we had retraced our steps we
saw the creeping form of old Jenny coming towards us.

"Hist!" she whispered; "ye have done well to hide and outwit them. Ye
are safer here now than anywhere. How many did ye slay? Only one? I
would it had been a score! Better luck to ye next time! Now, follow me,
and I'll take ye safe to the water-side, and put ye in a boat that'll
land ye further up the river, where ye may find your way to the Duke.
Tell him that all loyal folks in the city will rise for him if he will
but bring his army to the walls. Who cares if the soldiers do fire
the city? Fire means plunder! Who cares for danger where plunder is
to be had? We'll fling the cursed soldiers into the flames they have
kindled, to roast there as they deserve; and for us there will be
plunder--plunder--plunder!" and the old hag waved her arms wildly over
her head, and looked the very embodiment of some fury breathing out
curses and threatenings of coming doom.

"The Duke shall hear all that I have learned," answered my lord, "and
he shall know that we owe our lives to you, my good woman. But set not
your heart too much upon seeing him here; for Bristol with its present
garrison will be a hard nut to crack, and the Duke has few guns, and
fewer men who know how to handle them."

The woman had wrapped us each in a heavy cloak, which disguised the
cut of our garments, and bidding us follow her, she glided through
the house once more and out into the street, where it was now very
dark. She passed us, I scarce know how, through a little postern door
giving upon the river, where, at the sound of a whistle, a boat quickly
appeared out of the darkness, and she held a parley with the man who
held the oars.

"He will take ye as far as a mile beyond the walls," she said, "and
ye will give him a gold piece for his pains. They say the Duke is at
Keynsham, building up the bridge. Ye'll find him there right enow."

"But our horses, our horses!" I said anxiously, being loath indeed to
part from Blackbird. And when old Jenny learned where the nags and our
belongings were to be found, she nodded her head many times, and said
at last,--

"If they be at honest Job Candy's, I'll get them thence directly it is
dawn, and bring them to ye by the wood ye'll see on your right when ye
leave the boat. Never fear, sirs; old Jenny never fails to keep her
word. Farewell to you, and a good voyage. I'll see ye again before many
hours have passed."

She slipped away into the darkness, ignoring the outstretched hand of
my lord, which would have pressed a golden guinea upon her.

"Don't linger, sir," said the gruff voice of the boatman; and the next
moment we were speeding up stream with the last of the flood-tide, the
man being anxious to land us at the appointed spot before the strong
ebb should make his task a hard one.

I had never been on so wondrous wide a river, and looked about me with
awe as the boat flitted along in the shadows. The burning ship farther
down towards the mouth of the great tidal stream had drawn all traffic
away from the upper reaches. Ships had weighed anchor and sheered away
into the wider reaches, to make sure of escape should the fire spread;
whilst small craft had gone to help the burning vessel, and left this
part of the river quiet and lonely. The fire was still burning, but
not fiercely. The ship looked like a phantom one of glowing flame,
reflected double in the sullen water, and illumining the other vessels
in the river with a sombre brilliance. I had never seen such a sight
in my life before, and could not take my eyes off it. When at last we
rounded a bend in the river which hid the fire from view, I saw the
first faint tinge of red stealing into the eastern sky, and knew that
another day had dawned, and that we were alive to welcome it, as once I
had scarce believed we should be.

The walls of the city seemed to be slowly sinking behind us. The tide
grew slack, and began to turn. Our boatman looked over his shoulder and
pointed towards a wooded hill not far from the left bank of the river,
which was on our right hand as we sat facing him in the stern; and we
gathered from his uncouth words that he was about to land us there, and
that we were to wait in the wood for Jenny and our horses.

Ten minutes later we stepped ashore, and the Viscount gave the man
his appointed dole, together with words of thanks and courtesy, which
seemed almost thrown away on such a fellow. It was beginning then to
get light, and I saw that my lord's face was ashy pale, and that the
bandage we had made for his arm was soaked through with blood.

It seemed that our rough boatman had noted as much as that, for he
gave me a look, and then jerked his thumb in a certain direction; and
following the direction of his glance, I saw a little wreath of smoke
curling up through the trees, and gathered that we should find some
sort of a dwelling-place there.

Nor was I disappointed, for when my lord had dragged his faltering
steps a few furlongs, we came in sight of a thatched cabin belonging to
a woman; and when I knocked at the door and asked admittance, saying
that we had been forced to fly from Bristol by the King's soldiers, and
were on our way to the Duke's army, we were welcomed with open arms.

The wood fire on the hearth was made bright and cheery with faggots
from the store; and albeit there was nothing in the house but rye bread
and milk, and a little hard cheese, yet the milk, made hot, brought the
colour back to my lord's wan cheek; and we soon stanched his wound,
which was not deep, and bound it up afresh, so that it hindered him but
little in the use of his arm.

We were both somewhat spent by our night's peril and fatigue, and I
quickly fell asleep by the fire, and slept for several hours without
once waking. When I did open my eyes, it was to find the rain pouring
down, the fire in the cabin burning cheerily, and my lord sitting at
the table with his head resting on his hand, lost in serious reflection.

As I started up he smiled at me kindly. His face was still pale, but he
was not otherwise changed.

"Awake, boy," he said, "and ready for a march? Old Jenny has not failed
us; and our horses are in the shed hard by, refreshed by their rest in
the city. The good folks here declare the army to be no further than
Keynsham; and say that the bridge was mended yesterday, and that the
Duke will be passing over to the Gloucester side of the river to-day.
We had better join him as soon as may be, if indeed thou wouldest not
rather go home than see more of the perils of war."

I felt that I had not distinguished myself in my first adventure, and
my face burned with shame, although I knew my lord had no thought of
mocking me. I stood up and said resolutely,--

"If you are going back, my lord, I go with you."

"I have no choice," he answered gravely; "I am pledged to the cause.
I have my company to lead into action. But the case is different with
thee, Dicon; bethink thee well."

"I have thought of everything, my lord," I answered. "I go not back
unless it be with you."

"Thou art an obstinate lad, Dicon," said my lord, with a smile; "yet I
like thee the better for thy stubbornness. Then if thy mind is made up,
let us forth without loss of time. If we wait for the skies to smile
again, we may have long to tarry."

We had soon thanked and rewarded and said farewell to our hosts, and
were in the saddle once more. Travelling was becoming bad by reason of
the persistent rain, albeit the land sorely needed it. I wondered how
it had fared with our soldiers, and whether the cold and the wet had
damped at all their martial ardour.

It was but some seven miles, I take it, from where we started to the
bridge at Keynsham, or Cansham as some write it; and long before we
reached the spot we knew that the army was nigh at hand, because all
the people of the scattered villages were going forth to see, and we
saw horsemen scouring the country in search of provisions wherewith
to feed the men. Sheep and oxen were being driven towards the camp,
and though in the main payment was made for what was taken, yet there
were some amongst the farmers and peasants whose faces were dark and
lowering, and who muttered that a bad King was better than an army on
the march.

The bridge over the river at Keynsham, which the enemy had broken down,
had been repaired by Captain Tyler with skill and despatch; already
the Duke and his gentlemen had passed over it, and the rest of the
army was following when we got up. Pressing on after the Duke's party,
we were not long in coming up with it. Then I fell into the rear, and
mingled with the men: whilst my lord went straight to His Grace, and
was welcomed very graciously, as I heard.

The news which I brought from the city, despite the favourable
feeling of the common people, did not seem to the soldiers to be very
encouraging. They shook their heads when they heard of the Duke of
Beaufort's threat, and more than one veteran who had seen something of
war in Holland, from which country they had come over with the Duke,
said that in a walled and garrisoned city the towns-folk were helpless
as sheep if the soldiers kept true to their leaders; and so far as we
had heard, there had been no disaffection amongst the regular troops.
It was only the militiamen that deserted to the Duke.

Later on word came that the Duke had been very sad on hearing the news
brought by my lord the Viscount, and had been heard to exclaim,--

"God forbid that I should be accessory to the ruin of my friends, or
that for any consideration I should subject so great a city to the
double calamity of sword and fire!" And although many amongst us loved
him the better for his gracious care of his people, yet the veterans
shook their heads, and whispered together that thoughts like these
would be the ruin of any cause, and that by no such arguments had the
victories of the world been won.

Still there was talk of an attack upon Bristol that very night; and
since now they were so near to that city, it was suggested that the
troops should fall back upon Keynsham, rather as though they were
retreating, but still encamping upon this side the river, should wait
for nightfall and then march rapidly upon the city and seek to surprise
it. Now this was right good news to the more warlike portion of the
army, who had longed all the while to make a bold stroke. I, too, was
rejoiced to hear it, for methought that if the townsmen did but arise
as one man and attack the garrison in the rear, whilst we engaged them
in front, surely the place must yield; and if our Duke were but master
of Bristol, arms and treasure and stores of all kinds he would have
in abundance, as well as a walled city, and a seaport to boot, whence
supplies could be brought from his friends in Holland, who we were
assured were working for him there.

Having no post or occupation of mine own, I wandered here and there as
I would, watching the men take up their quarters as if for the night,
and always ready to do any errand for my lord, if he should desire it.
His company of horse was posted in the rear, to guard it from attack;
and as the evening began to fall wet and murky and cheerless, I chanced
to be standing beside him, both of us being mounted, when a scout came
rushing breathlessly out of the town, crying lustily,--

"To horse! to horse! the enemy is upon us!"

In a moment all was confusion and dismay--all save the demeanour of my
lord himself, which was perfectly calm and intrepid.

"Steady, men, steady!" he kept crying, as his troopers gathered round
him; and as they fell into line, inspired and controlled by the
calmness of their leader, he asked a few questions of the scout, and
was told that two companies of the enemy had come charging into the
town, and would be upon us almost at once.

And, indeed, whilst we were speaking, there came to our ears the
sound of on-coming horse-hoofs, and the next minute the Viscount had
shouted,--

"Stand to your arms, men! Be ready! Charge!"

In a moment his horse sprang forward, and Blackbird after him. I had
no manner of business in the action, not being armed with anything but
a poniard in my belt, and knowing nothing of warfare; but where the
Viscount's horse went Blackbird must needs follow, nor had I then the
will to check him. Behind us thundered the men, following their gallant
young captain as almost all Englishmen will follow their leader if
he be brave and resolute. They were but country yokels for the most
part, who had seen nothing of fighting, and who knew nothing of the
tactics of war; but they set their teeth and lowered their weapons, and
followed the dashing charge of their leader.

What happened next I know not. It seemed as though, with some frightful
shock, I was hurled against a solid rock. Sparks danced before my eyes.
There was a sound of singing in my ears; and then another sound--that
of the rattle of musketry. And at that sound I felt Blackbird rear
up on his hind legs as though he would fall over backwards; but he
righted himself, and then, with a swiftness and skill with which I
could scarce have credited him, he dashed off through the heaving mass
of combatants. How he did it I know not to this day; but with the sound
of musket shots and the clash of swords in our ears, he galloped off as
though for dear life as hard as hoofs could take him.

So bewildered and breathless was I that it was long ere I could check
him. I felt all the while like one in a dream, and knew not whether
the thing were true or no, nor, if it were, whether I had received
some grievous hurt in that first fierce onslaught. But gradually as
I succeeded in pulling up my foaming horse, I came to the conclusion
that I was sound and whole, and was grievously ashamed at having been
thus carried out of the battle by my terrified and refractory steed.
But Blackbird had never been in such a terrible scene, nor had he ever
heard fire-arms save at a distance, and then it was hard to hold him. I
could not wonder that he had served me so; yet I was grievously ashamed
that I had seen none of the fighting, and had left my lord the Viscount
in such a fashion.

But as I urged the reluctant Blackbird back whence he had come, I saw
that he was not the only horse who had been seized with a like panic at
the rattle of musketry. Horses--some with riders and some without--were
careering wildly about in extremity of terror, and quite unmanageable;
whilst, to my display and terror, I speedily singled out from amongst
these the fine charger ridden by my lord, who so soon as he saw his
friend and comrade of the past days, came and ranged himself beside
Blackbird, as though ready for another charge.

My heart was full of fear and woe as I saw this, for I knew that
Bucephalus had no fear of fire, that he had been trained to such
scenes, and that to see him thus riderless betokened some hurt to my
lord.

Already it seemed as though the brief tide of battle was turned back.
I saw a compact body of horsemen, looking like the enemy, riding fast
away. Later I discovered that they had taken us for friends at first,
and had been riding to join us, when they suddenly found out their
mistake, and had been compelled to meet and repel our charge before
they could re-form and retreat. Had our horses and soldiers been
trained, we should have made prisoners of the whole company; as it was,
only a few prisoners were made. The rest galloped off in safety; but
they left lying on the ground as one dead the gallant young captain who
had led the charge against them; and with a cry of fear and horror, I
saw my lord stretched out upon the miry earth, looking as still and
rigid as the soldier on the leads at dawn that day, who had been struck
dead by a blow from my lord's sword.



CHAPTER XX.

_IN SUSPENSE._


With a lamentable cry I flung myself from Blackbird's back, and knelt
beside my lord's prostrate figure; and almost at once there was a crowd
about us, and presently I heard a voice speaking in tones of authority,
"Make way, men, make way! Here is the surgeon!"

The next moment somebody else was kneeling beside me, and I saw the
grave, clever face of Mr. Oliver, one of the Duke's surgeons.

"Is he dead? is he dead?" I moaned; for I felt all the courage and life
taken out of me at sight of that white still face.

"Killed! not a bit of it, boy. It is but a swoon from loss of blood.
Here, let me get to him to stanch the bleeding, else he may bleed to
death!" and the surgeon's busy hands moved to and fro, whilst the flow
of life-blood was quickly checked. But over and above the deep gash
in the shoulder from which the crimson stream flowed, the bone of the
sword-arm had been shattered by a musket-ball; and Mr. Oliver, as he
drew forth the bullet and proceeded to swathe up the injured limb,
shook his head with the remark,--

"This will be the last of your fighting for some time to come, my good
sir. The cause will be lost or won without your aid before you can
cross saddle or wield weapon again."

The Viscount heard not a word, being still sunk in deep
unconsciousness; but a voice above us said in sorrowful accents,--

"And so I lose another of those very few who know the art of war. Soon
I shall have not a soldier left!"

Raising my eyes, I saw our Duke looking down upon my lord's white face
with eyes full of compassion and regret.

"To lose such a soldier in so small an affray! and he one of the very
few who had the art to command his men!" said the Duke again. And I
loved him the more for his words and his look, seeing that he, too,
loved my lord right well.

"It is greatly to be regretted, sire," answered the surgeon, who was
now adjusting the torn doublet, and looking about as though to know
what next was to be done with the patient. "Lord Vere is a heavy loss
to us; but he must be well tended and have care and nursing, or it may
go hard with him after such a hurt. He has not that iron frame which a
soldier needs. He is an instrument something too finely tempered for
such rough and ready warfare.--Boy," he said, looking straight at me,
"art thou his servant? I have seen thee ofttimes beside him. Where can
we carry him, so that he shall be well tended whilst he lies helpless
and sick?"

"His father's house would surely be his best asylum," said the Duke;
but I shook my head doubtfully.

"I misdoubt me if my lord would go there. His father has cast him off
for joining your Majesty. But if I could get him taken back as far as
Bridgewater, I could there get him all he needs, and he would be well
cared for and tended."

"He will need that," said the surgeon, with his hand upon the wrist of
my lord. "He will probably fall into a fever from his wounds. But, boy,
let not any leech take more blood from him on that account. He has lost
more already than he can spare. See that further loss is spared him, if
thou be with him. A little more, and they would drain the life from him
altogether--as has been done before now!"

"I will see to it," I answered eagerly, vowing in my heart that nobody
should do a thing for my lord that I could do myself. He seemed all
at once to have become my charge. My heart swelled with happiness
in feeling this, and yet sank at the thought of the many perils and
difficulties which lay before me. How was I to get him all those long
miles back to Bridgewater? and if I could not get him there, how could
I tend him and care for him in a strange place, from which all stores
had been taken to feed the army, and amidst strangers who would pay
little heed to my prayers, and to whom my lord's life would be of no
moment?

"I pray you, sir, stay with him but a brief time, and I will see
where I can take him," I petitioned of the doctor; and he nodded,
being in fact still busy over his patient, striving to restore him to
consciousness after his long swoon. We had carried him beneath a group
of fir trees, where the ground was soft and dry; and his cloak had been
rolled up for a pillow beneath his head.

Leaving him there in good hands, I made my way to the rear of the army,
where the baggage-waggons and guns were, and where I was sure I had
seen a familiar face not long since--the face of a farmer from the
neighbourhood of Bridgewater with whom I was acquainted, and who was,
as I well knew, a kindly man, and a person of substance and importance.
I had seen him in Bridgewater, too, and he had told me there that he
was bringing six of his men to join the Duke, as well as two loads
of provisions for the army. He had shown me one of his waggons--and
waggons were not then so common as they are becoming now--and he was
mighty proud of it. It was laden with provender for man and beast, and
was to follow the army till the corn was all gone. It came into my head
that if that waggon were to be returning empty now, I might get my
lord conveyed as far as Bridgewater therein; and once at Bridgewater I
should be amongst his friends and mine, and could get him tendance and
comfort without fear of rebuff.

And not to make too long a story of it, I found the farmer, and the
empty waggon too; and not only did he enter into my plans for my lord,
but he said he would come back himself with us, which was a mighty
comfort to me. He had seen enough of fighting--for there had been
skirmishes all along the road these past days--to see that he was not
made for a soldier. He had been somewhat scurvily treated by some of
the officers, and though still loyal to the cause, he was weary of the
long wet marches. He wanted to be at home again, to see how matters
were going there. His ardour for a personal share in the campaign had
considerably dwindled, and the whisper which was going round that it
would not be long before the King's army was upon them four thousand
strong, in which case a real engagement would become inevitable,
added very much to his desire to find himself amongst more peaceable
surroundings.

So he threw himself with great zeal into my plans for the Viscount.
Together we collected moss in great quantities, and made a deep bed of
it on the floor of the waggon; nor were we content till we had piled
it up two feet high, so that it made the softest of beds for a wounded
man. It was rather damp, to be sure; but the farmer's sacks were spread
in great numbers upon the top, and we were both proud of our handiwork
before it was done. There was some trouble in getting the two strong
horses which had drawn the waggon; for horses were greatly needed by
the army, and it was easier to bring them in than to take them away
again. But by using the Duke's name, and by my making over my lord's
charger, which I knew he would not want for many a week to come, and
which was of real use in battle, we succeeded at last in getting our
horses and yoking them to the waggon. The farmer had kept victuals
enough for the journey, and we were resolved to start at once, and take
a little-trodden route, so as to avoid the bands of soldiers hanging
about the rear of the Duke's army, and perhaps by the morning to be
clear of them.

Whilst thus bustling about in the camp, I heard news that I thought
augured ill for the success of the Duke's arms. Since the capture of a
few troopers of the enemy, with whom we had engaged not long since, in
the engagement which had cost the Viscount so dear, it had been decided
not to march on Bristol to-night. The Duke had heard that there was
an army of four thousand men close at hand, and he was afraid that he
should be attacked before and behind if he pursued his intention, and
be discomfited altogether. He spoke now of turning aside to Bath, and
trying to obtain possession of that place. For my part, I grieved to
think that he should not seize upon the more important city, and one
which was so well disposed towards him and so full of stores and all
things that he needed. But I was no soldier, and moreover I had other
matters to think of; and by the time we had reached the Viscount once
more with our waggon, I had almost ceased to think of the Duke or the
army, or indeed of anything in the world except my lord.

His eyes were half open now, and he gave me a feeble smile as I
approached; but his voice was so weak that I was frightened, and had
much ado to keep back my tears. I began to wonder whether we should
ever get him to Bridgewater alive; but both the surgeon and the farmer
were inclined to laugh at my fears, and to tell me I should make but a
sorry soldier if I were so disconcerted at the sight of a little blood.

They both approved the plan of carrying him to Bridgewater, out of the
immediate tide of battle. As for himself, he was so spent with pain and
loss of blood that he could scarce take note of our words, and let us
do with him what we would. He had lost much blood in the morning before
this second wound laid him low; and I never saw living man look more
like death than he did when at last he lay upon the couch we had made
for him, wrapped up in his cloak and mine against the sharpness of the
night air.

The surgeon looked at him thoughtfully.

"Take him gently, take him gently, and give him frequently to drink of
this cordial. Get him away out of this harassed country, where nothing
can be had save the bare necessaries of life. Get him to some quiet
place where he can be tended and watched. He should do well then; but
he lacks the toughness of fibre which a soldier needs. He is all fire
and force, but the body is not seasoned. He has the soul of a soldier,
but the frame of a girl."

I was rather indignant at the last words, albeit there was some truth
in them; for my lord looked almost like some fair young maiden with his
white face and golden hair, as he lay with closed eyes upon his couch.
It was too much like the marble face of some sculptured monument not to
awaken a sense of pain within me; but I fiercely held back my fears,
and declared that I would save him yet--for Mistress Mary.

As we journeyed slowly through the summer night--and the night was fair
and starlight, though the ground was heavy with the recent rain--I
mused much of Mistress Mary, wondering how matters were going with her,
and whether I should be able to see and speak with her when I was as
near as Bridgewater, and whether perchance I might so contrive that she
should have sight and speech of my lord.

I rode Blackbird close behind the waggon for the most part, and when we
halted I strove to give the cordial to my lord, and to get him to take
food; but this he could not be persuaded to do, and sometimes seemed so
sunk in mists of weakness as to know neither me nor what was happening
to him.

That long journey, which we accomplished safely in two days and three
nights, seems always like a dream to me. We met with no mishap. We saw
no soldiers or foes. The country people were kind, and brought us milk
for my lord whenever we passed a village or farmstead, and listened
with wondering eyes to our tale. I was just absorbed in striving to
keep my lord alive till we could get him proper help and tendance. He
lay almost like one dead, save when the pain of his wound would rouse
him, if the road were more rough and bad than usual. Then he would
strive to raise himself and ease his pain, and would sometimes speak
my name in a tone of gentle fondness when I sought to do aught for his
comfort. But the fever was ofttimes upon him too, and he would lie
back with his lips moving and his eyes seeing things invisible to us;
and at such times he would seem to be in converse with Mistress Mary
or with the Duke, or commanding his men in some sudden attack of the
enemy. It was often hard to keep him from rising and hurting himself;
and night and day I had to watch him, afraid to close my eyes lest he
should be wanting something or doing himself a mischief.

Right glad was I when at last, upon the evening of the second day, the
sight of the familiar walls and chimneys of Bridgewater rose up before
my weary eyes. My lord was lying like one dead in the cart, sunk in a
deep unconsciousness, and I verily began to fear that he would die ere
ever we could reach the town.

I took him straight to my uncle Robert's house--the Cross Keys Inn, as
it was called--and there we met such a welcome as cheered my heart and
took a load of anxiety from my mind.

All Bridgewater was agog for news of the army, and any follower of the
Duke's was welcomed with the greatest love and kindliness. There was
something in the beauty of my lord that appealed to all hearts at first
sight of him; moreover, in Bridgewater he was well known and well loved
for his own sake, and the people were ready to make an idol of him
forthwith when they understood that he had given up everything to join
the Duke, and that he had met his grievous wound in the good cause.

He was carried forthwith to the best bed-chamber in my uncle's house,
and before long all the leeches in the town had gathered round him, and
I was in the greatest fear lest they should want to use their lancets
upon him--for such was the custom for almost every malady--and I had to
repeat the words of Mr. Oliver many times over; but having done so, I
saw that they would prevail.

The doctors looked at each other and nodded and shook their heads: one
said that there might be something in the argument, whilst another said
that an army surgeon ought to know what he was talking of. A third,
the eldest, remarked that perhaps a sound sleep would be the best
thing for the patient, and that he had a potion which would probably
induce a long and sweet sleep, and he said he would at least try that
before resorting to any other methods. All having agreed to this, the
potion was given, and soon the furrows of pain smoothed themselves
from my lord's brow, and he sank into a sleep very different from
the trance-like condition in which he had lain often for half a day
together in the waggon, and which seemed to me like a harbinger of
coming life.

As soon as this was so I stretched myself on a couch at the foot of the
bed and slept also; and I think never was sleep so sound or sweet as
mine that Saturday night.

During the week which I spent in Bridgewater many things happened, and
I scarce know in what order to tell them, nor which will seem of most
moment to the reader. Perhaps that which at that time seemed of most
moment to me--namely, that I succeeded in getting Mistress Mary Mead
to ride out with me one day from Taunton, and spend a few hours beside
my lord. Such a thing might not have been so easy to compass but for
the excitement and stir prevailing at this time in both towns. It was a
period of intense suspense. We knew not from day to day what news would
be brought in. We heard all manner of rumours of which no man knew
the origin. Sometimes we heard that the Duke's army had been cut to
pieces and was in full flight; at others, that he had obtained a mighty
victory over the King's forces, and was in full march for London, which
was ready to receive him with open arms. One flying scout declared that
there had been a fight at Philip's Norton, that at the first experience
of real warfare the Duke's army had begun to melt, and that thousands
had departed to their own homes. Another report said that Mr. Adlam
from Wiltshire, with a great body of horse, was on his way to effect a
junction with the Duke; whilst the club-men, ten thousand strong, had
gathered somewhere upon Pedwell Plain, and had sent a message to the
Duke promising to join him.

Perhaps some may not know what manner of men these club-men were; and
indeed their proffer of assistance came to almost nothing in the end.
I have heard that the club-men had their origin in the days of the
civil war, when the people, finding themselves robbed and plundered by
two rival armies without hope of redress or compensation, resolved to
defend themselves from such attacks, and refuse to allow their property
to be taken from them by either party. The men thus banded together
were armed with clubs, and went by the name of club-men. Whether they
were ever much of a power I know not, but from my boyhood I had heard
them spoken of in the country; and now it was said that they were up
and in arms, and ready to join the Duke in considerable numbers.

Another and a very disquieting rumour also reached us during this week,
which was that the King had issued a manifesto to those engaged in the
service of the Duke, to say that if within certain dates they should
quit the Duke's army and join that of the King, they should be pardoned
their rebellion, and be safe from all punishment. This promise, it was
said, had had the effect of inducing many to quit the Duke's army;
and so disheartened had our young uncrowned monarch become (so the
voice of rumour said) with these desertions, and the failure of the
Bristol project, and the slackness of the gentry to join him, that he
had seriously spoken of flying with his officers to some neighbouring
seaport and taking ship for Holland, leaving his army to avail
themselves of the King's promise of clemency, and be safe from further
harm.

You may guess what a ferment was stirred up in men's minds by all these
contrary and disquieting rumours. Bridgewater and Taunton were all in
a tumult from morning till night, waiting for fresh news, discussing
what had last been brought, and sending messengers to and fro to seek
tidings and ask their neighbours what they had heard. It was thus
easier than it would have been at any other time to ride unnoticed
from place to place. By the time Thursday came my lord began to show
real traces of amendment. He was as weak as a sick child, and could
scarce lift his head from the pillow, and at present he asked nothing
of the news of the day, seeming too weak to wish to be disturbed. But
the fever had left him, and the good soup and possets which my aunt
made for him were bringing back his strength little by little; and so
I felt that I might safely leave him for a day, and go to Taunton to
seek tidings of my relations there, and, if possible, to gain speech of
Mistress Mary and tell her of her lover.

All Taunton was in a fever of excitement when I arrived; and I heard
that news had been brought thither that the Duke's army was actually
in retreat, that no help had come from Wiltshire, that Argyll had been
defeated in Scotland, that the army was deserting fast on all sides,
and that the Duke, in great depression of spirits, was falling back
upon those cities which had welcomed him at first. Also a messenger had
come in with the notice of the King's promise to deserters from the
cause, and a great tumult had been thereby stirred up, none knowing
what effect such a manifesto might have upon the soldiers.

But what I chiefly noted was the change in the feelings of the Taunton
citizens. They who had been so forward to welcome him at first were now
talking together at street corners, and the words that I heard were
such as these:--

"Let him not come back hither! Let him not return to Taunton! We gave
him all we had last time. We plundered ourselves to furnish him. We
have no more to offer. We shall be undone by a second visitation! Let
him not come hither again. Let us send word whilst there is yet time
that we want no second visit!"

What a change from the Taunton of a fortnight ago! I could scarce
believe my ears. Well indeed has it been written that there is no
confidence to be placed in any child of man! When I reached my uncle's
house, I found the tone of his talk quite altered. Without openly
asserting enmity to the Duke, he spoke in a way which made me certain
that his heart had turned against him in the hour of adversity. Since
no capture of Bristol had been made, and no rising amongst the gentry
had followed the proclamation of the Duke's title to the throne, doubt
and despondency had fallen upon Taunton; and my uncle, ever prone to
sail with the wind, was amongst the first to listen with respect to Mr.
Axe's persuasions and the arguments of the Mayor and magistrates, and
avow himself on the side of law and order. He was sincerely relieved
to find that I had been so little with the army, and that I was now
at Bridgewater in quite a humble capacity as body servant to my lord.
He advised me to dissuade my lord from mixing himself up any more in
what he now termed a rebellion; and I was able to answer that I thought
this would be an impossibility in the future, for my lord was like to
be a long while healing of his wounds; whilst, if things did not take
a turn, the Duke would scarce be here in arms more than a short time
longer.

But I was very sad to find Taunton so changed: for I loved the Duke,
and still cherished bright dreams of what England would be like living
under the righteous sway of such a King. I thought I would go to Miss
Blake's without delay, and give my account of my lord to her and
Mistress Mary. I had scarce put into form my hope that she would come
back with me and see him, and yet such was the case; for scarce had she
fully comprehended that he lay in Bridgewater sick and wounded--wounded
in the righteous cause--than she went up to Miss Blake, who was
listening with tears of sympathy in her eyes, and said,--

"Prithee, dear madam, take me to him! I must see him, my gallant love,
who has gotten this hurt in the good cause which, for love of me, he
embraced. Ah! dear lady, the days be long and the way is short! Dicon
will find us horses to take us. Prithee, take me there, dear madam, and
I will bless thee to the last hour of my life!"

I know not what heart could have resisted Mistress Mary's sweet
pleading; certainly not that of Miss Blake, who was as full of romance
and enthusiasm as any girl, and whose loyalty towards the Duke had
never failed nor faltered through good report or evil report. That is
the way, I think, with women. Love is with them an instinct, and it is
far more faithful and lasting than with men, who reason and think and
weigh matters again and again in the balance. It mattered not to them
that the cause was beginning to look gloomy, that some even went so
far as to say it was lost. They loved and trusted just the same, and
believed that right would be done at last; and since the Viscount had
got his grievous wound in the righteous cause, and Mistress Mary must
needs see him, her good friend rode forth willingly with her that day,
and we reached Bridgewater before the sun had begun to get low in the
sky.

As I have said, there was too much astir just then, too much coming
and going, and talking and discussing, for the doings of quiet people
to excite much comment. We rode forth without meeting any questions,
and at Bridgewater, where the ladies were not known, no one paid any
heed to us. The town was full of excitement because it was said that
both the army of the Duke and the army of the King were drawing near,
and some thought there would be a battle nigh against the town; whilst
others averred that only the Duke was coming, and that he had already
routed his foes. Any way, there was so much stir in the streets that
none paused to look at us; and soon we alighted at my uncle's inn,
whilst my aunt came forth to welcome the strangers, and listened in
smiling amaze as I whispered my story in her ear.

"Nay, but thou hast brought him the best medicine of all, Dicon!" she
exclaimed at the close; and when she had taken the visitors to the
parlour, and had seen Mistress Mary without her riding-hood, her heart
was more than won, and nothing was good enough for her. She bustled
about to get the table set, whilst I went to my lord's room, and found
him lately wakened from a sweet sleep, and looking more like himself
than he had done since he was first laid low.

I did not tell him that Mistress Mary had come; I only told him that
I had been to Taunton, and that I had seen and spoken with her. Even
that word brought a flush of colour to the wan cheek--the first I had
seen; and as he lay looking at me whilst I told of her, and tried to
remember some of her words, the door behind us opened softly, and a
light footstep crossed the floor.

The next moment I saw such a light leap into my lord's face that I knew
in a moment who had come in.

"Mary--my Mary!" he cried, and would have lifted himself but that she
came swiftly forward and laid her hand upon him to restrain him.

"Reginald," she said softly, "you have gotten your wound for my sake. I
must needs come to help to heal it."

"It is healed already at sight of thee, sweetheart!" he said; and then
I rose and stole forth from the chamber, for I felt that it was no
longer any place for me.



CHAPTER XXI.

_BACK AT BRIDGEWATER._


"The Duke back in the town--here!" cried my lord, and he half rose from
his pillows in his excitement; whilst Miss Blake and Mistress Mary, who
were sitting together near to the pleasant oriel window, started up,
and Mistress Mary exclaimed,--

"Sure I thought that I heard the sound of a distant tumult but now.
Dicon, Dicon! art sure of it? What has brought him hither again? not
misfortune? Say it is not misfortune!"

"Mistress, I know not the rights of it yet," I answered, breathless
with the haste with which I had rushed back with the news. "All I can
say is that he is here, and his army is fast following; that all the
town is gone out to meet him, and that the streets are full of people
all talking and welcoming him. There is no cloud on their faces. They
are as glad and as loving as when he entered last. I stayed to ask
nothing, but fled back with the news. I saw him riding bravely amidst
his officers, and I missed no familiar face. If some of his soldiers
have deserted him, I think his captains are stanch."

"Back at Bridgewater!" repeated my lord, who had sunk again upon his
pillows, being indeed too feeble to sit up. "That is strange! Is it a
retreat, or but a piece of strategy? Dicon, go forth and ask more, and
come and tell us again. Where are the Wiltshire horse of which we have
heard? Ask that, good Dicon. And how about the march upon London? Has
that, too, been abandoned? Does the Duke think his work is done when
but a few ungarrisoned towns in the West stand for his cause?"

"Dear love, be not dismayed," said Mistress Mary, rising and coming
towards him with that light in her eyes which I knew so well. "What
does it matter to God whether deliverance is wrought by many or by few?
He is the God of battles. He fights ever upon the rightful side. Why
need our hearts quake or feel fear? All will be well. The Lord will
arise, and His enemies will be scattered!"

I saw a strange smile cross the Viscount's face as Mistress Mary spoke
these words in that full, sweet voice of hers that was like music in
his ears. He did not answer, but put out his uninjured hand, and she
came and laid hers upon it. Then they looked into each other's eyes,
and I think that all thoughts of the Duke or of coming warfare passed
out of the minds of both. I have lived to see something of the power of
love in human lives, but I think I never saw such beautiful and perfect
love as that which existed between my lord and fair Mistress Mary. From
the time, only a day and a half now, since she had first appeared
beside him, he had made a wonderful advance on the road to recovery;
and Miss Blake had, of her own accord, offered to stay for a few days
at the inn, that Mistress Mary might help to nurse her lover back
to health and strength. Just now the whole country was so disturbed
that the movements of private individuals were not like to attract
notice. Lord Lonsdale had gone to London, Mr. Blewer was away none knew
whither. There was nobody to note the absence of Mistress Mary from
her accustomed home; and if any asked for her, he would be content on
knowing that she was away with Miss Blake upon a visit. Her guardian,
the only person who could interfere, was at a safe distance, and there
was no schooling going on at such a time of excitement. Many parents
had removed their daughters in affright at the turn affairs were
taking, and at the prominent way in which Miss Blake and her pupils had
come forward on the occasion of the proclamation of the kingship of the
Duke. So it was easy for both to be absent just now; and it was the
best of medicines for my lord to see the sweet face of Mistress Mary
beside him, and to be ministered to by her gentle hands. I was never
afraid to leave him now, and just at this exciting time was glad of my
liberty.

I rushed forthwith into the streets again, and soon found my way to the
soldiers' quarters, where they were being bountifully done to by the
loyal towns-folk. There was nothing of dismay or fear in their aspect,
and they told us of a gallant victory they had won at Philip's Norton
over the enemy. I never had a very clear idea of what that battle was
like, for some said one thing and some another; but it was plain our
army had discomfited that of the false King, and that after some sharp
fighting, and a good deal of cannonading which had made great noise but
done little hurt, the rival army had drawn off in retreat, leaving our
bold fellows masters of the field.

Why they had not then marched forward instead of retreating backward is
a matter I have never fully understood. I think the men themselves did
not know. Some said that they had not enough horse to cross Salisbury
Plain, since Mr. Adlam had not brought his promised troop; and others,
that the Duke was still thinking of a retrograde move upon Bristol.
But however that may have been, the men were very bold of aspect and
full of martial ardour. They admitted that there had been a good many
desertions after the fight at Philip's Norton. Numbers of poor yokels,
who had never seen war before, and had been scared by the guns and
disheartened by the hardships of the wet marches and lack of food,
had deserted to their homes upon finding themselves so near. But the
stouter-hearted fellows who remained laughed at the poor spirit of
these comrades, and vowed themselves better off without them. Mistress
Mary, when she heard, looked at her lover with one of her radiant
glances, and said,--

"Is it not like that sifting of Gideon's little band? All who were
faint-hearted were to go to their own homes. In a holy cause we want
none but those whose hearts are set upon the noble end, and who know
not a thought of faltering and fear. Oh, I am glad there has been such
a sifting! I think that God will never work with unworthy instruments.
Dear love, how I would that thou couldst go forth with them again!
Yet I will not even repine at that, since thy hurt was gotten in a
righteous cause, and I have the sweet task of ministering to thee."

Such sweet words and looks went far to reconcile my lord to the fret
and weariness of sickness. I think he scarce felt the pain of his
wounds when Mistress Mary was by; and if his nights were sometimes
restless and full of feverish visions of disquiet (for my lord always
felt that ill would come of this thing), by day his lady's presence
would chase these visions away, and give him that rest of body and mind
which his state so greatly needed.

The next day, Saturday, completed the week which we had spent at
Bridgewater, and certainly a great change for the better had taken
place in my lord's condition. He was so much stronger that I sometimes
thought he would ask speech of some of his brothers in arms, now in the
town once more; but he never did. And it may be that this thing was the
saving of him in the days which quickly followed, for I do not think
his presence in the town was ever really known. Men had so much to
think of in those days that faces and names slipped out of their minds,
and there was such coming and going that none could rightly say who was
here and who was not. We had not thought to keep my lord's presence a
secret, yet I verily believe the thing remained hidden from knowledge.
He lay in a large chamber well out of the way of the noise of the inn,
and Mistress Mary took the charge of him, with Miss Blake to help
her, and in all the excitement and stir in the place that quiet upper
chamber and its occupant were well-nigh forgotten.

Saturday was a day of rejoicing to the town. It was said that help was
at hand, though none knew exactly from whence it was coming. A report
that eight thousand troops from France had been landed to quell the
insurrection in the West was proved to be untrue. Messengers had been
sent out from the Duke in various directions, and the people believed
that great things would come of it. The march upon London was still
eagerly spoken of, and it was in all men's mouths that news was daily
looked for of a rising there; whilst lower whispers declared that there
was a plot on foot to stab the usurping King in Whitehall, and that
Colonel Danvers had declared he believed it would soon be done, the
people being so incensed against him, and that then the Duke would only
have to march boldly forward to find himself King of all the realm.

The temper of the soldiers was so loyal and fervent that all the
Taunton men were permitted to go home to see their wives that day,
on the promise of returning on the morrow; and that promise they
faithfully fulfilled. And I trust that Taunton felt something ashamed
of its panic of a few days since when tidings reached it of the bravery
of the Duke's army, and the successes it had gained.

My lord heard all this with great quietness, and it was Mistress Mary's
eyes that kindled and glowed and flashed as I came in and out with
news. Not that any plot for assassination found favour in her pure
eyes; but she said with grave severity of mien,--

"A man does but reap that which he sows. If ever monarch has sowed evil
and cruelty and injustice, it is he who now sits upon England's throne.
God is in heaven, judging right; and if He send him a quick retribution
in this life, it may be that he will find pardon in the world to come."

Sunday dawned fair and clear, and we had no thoughts of what a day it
would be for us. I had heard that the Rev. Robert Ferguson, of whom
mention has been made, who was one of the Duke's chiefest advisers and
the chaplain to the army, was to preach to the soldiers upon the Castle
Green that morning; and I was very anxious to hear him, albeit I had
taken a great dislike to the man from some words dropped anent him by
my lord, who made no secret of his distrust of the fellow. He had been
hoping to preach at Taunton in St. Mary Magdalene's Church two Sundays
before, had it not been decided to move from that city upon that day.
He had even made a raid on Mr. Harte's house in Taunton, where he
seldom was to be found, since he lived at his Cathedral residence, and
left Mr. Axe in charge there, and had robbed him of a gown in which to
enter the pulpit. But the sermon had after all never been preached, and
now we were to hear it in Bridgewater.

I remember little of the discourse save the text, which was received
with a murmur of approbation when it was spoken, though afterwards I
remember that I thought of it with a certain thrill of dismay,--"The
Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall
know; if it be IN REBELLION, or if in transgression against
the Lord (save us not this day)."

Mistress Mary was with me, and listened to every word, and went back
to her lover with a new light in her eyes and colour on her cheek. I
fear I looked more at the people than at the preacher, and that his
eloquence was lost upon me. But men said that he had preached a fine
sermon; and when I heard Mistress Mary quote pieces of it to my lord,
I thought it sounded finer and better and purer than it had come from
his lips. I think my lord felt the same, for he presently said with a
smile,--

"I think that thou couldst convert me to anything, sweet Mary; but I
fear the reverend gentleman's remarks would have found but little echo
in mine heart. A man must be true to himself and his cause ere he can
look for others to trust him; and if treachery was ever written upon
any face, it is written on the face of that man."

"But he will not betray the cause?" asked Mistress Mary, breathlessly.

"May be not. He has more to hope from the Duke than from any other man
or any other cause. Self-interest may keep him stanch; but such a man
as that would sell himself anywhere to the highest bidder. I misdoubt
me now that he is not half a spy."

Leaving Mistress Mary and my lord to talk these things over together,
I strolled into the sunny street, for to-day was bright and fine; and
hardly had I gone a few furlongs before I was met by a fellow whose
face and name were known to me--one Richard Godfrey, servant to a
gentleman of the neighbouring village of Chedzoy. He was hot with the
haste with which he had come, and on seeing me he cried out,--

"Hi, Dicon lad! dost know where the Duke of Monmouth--the King--is to
be seen?"

At first I thought him jesting, and answered with a jest; but he
quickly made me understand that he really meant what he said.

"My master has sent me," he said, "to tell the Duke that the King's
army has encamped not six miles away on the plain of Sedgemoor. We saw
them from the church tower this morn, and he sent me to spy out their
numbers, and to bring speedy news thereof to the Duke here. There be
several thousand lying there, close to the village of Weston Zoyland on
Penzoy Pound--thou knowest the place, Dicon. But they be drinking and
revelling, and have no thought, as it seems, of attack. Bring me to the
Duke, and let me tell him all. So is my master's will."

After hearing this, I lost not a moment in conducting the messenger to
the Duke's quarters; and, as good fortune would have it, we met him
coming forth with several of his officers, all of whom were speaking
of a move that day, though whether upon London, or whether into
Gloucestershire, we humble folks did not know.

Upon hearing Godfrey's message great excitement prevailed, and a rapid
move was made towards the church tower, from whence, by the aid of
spy-glasses, we could descry the position of the enemy, and see that
our messenger had brought us true tidings.

Now instantly there came into the minds of the Duke's counsellors
the desire to make a sudden attack by night upon the careless and
unsuspecting foe. We could not see whether they had intrenched
themselves or no, but Godfrey said he would go again and bring us word,
and then guide us over the plain of Sedgemoor by night; for there were
various rhines--as we call the deep water-drains which intersect it--to
be crossed, and only those familiar with the district knew the places
where these were fordable.

Meantime the waggons were loaded up, the soldiers were drawn up and
fed, and preparations made for a march out so soon as the evening
should be come. The soldiers returning from Taunton, whither they had
gone to see their wives or friends, found that they were to be led into
battle that very night, to cut to pieces (as we fondly hoped) the whole
army of the Earl of Feversham!

The greatest joy and enthusiasm prevailed. The men who had seen the
King's troops draw off from Philip's Norton, and who had never met any
serious check, despite the fact that they had not been led to the walls
of Bristol, or been called upon for any very great achievement, felt
confident of winning a great victory over a sleeping and careless army.
When Godfrey returned with the news that the enemy was not intrenched,
that the greatest carelessness prevailed, that officers and men were
drinking themselves drunk, and that Lord Feversham was at Chedzoy
with one of his bodies of horse, the men huzzahed aloud, and tossed
their caps into the air. Visions of easy victory, a routed army, and
abundance of plunder rose up before their eyes, and they only clamoured
to be led against the foe as fast as they could travel.

Godfrey was our leader. He advised the Duke not to take the direct
route to Weston Zoyland, because the Earl had placed bodies of horse
to guard that road; and we must also make a circuit to avoid Chedzoy,
where more dragoons had been posted. Our way lay along the Eastern
Causeway, as the lane is called, as far as Peasy Farm, and then bearing
round to the south, we should march straight down upon them, leaving
Chedzoy on our right.

How shall I describe the brave show that our army made marching forth
in the bright sunshine of that July evening?--the horsemen with my
Lord Grey (the Duke would not divide the cavalry, as some wished him
to do, though, had my lord the Viscount been there, methinks he would
have put one half under his charge); then the foot-soldiers, the
Blue, the White, the Red, the Green, the Yellow regiments, as well as
the independent company from Lyme; and behind these the waggons of
artillery and the four field-pieces. Never had I seen a more gallant
sight; and I could no more keep away from following than a bee can
tear himself from a flower. Blackbird was as eager as I, and as much
excited; and I rode ahead beside Godfrey, and let him ease himself by
resting a hand on Blackbird's neck as we went.

At first we did not hasten, for we wanted the darkness to fall before
we emerged from the shelter of the lanes upon the open moor. And as
we wended our way through the gathering dusk, we talked of the great
things that would follow this coming victory, and how, when once the
King's army had dispersed before us, we should march unimpeded to
London to set the crown upon the royal victor's head.

The march of a great host is a more tedious matter than one would
believe who has not seen it, and darkness had fallen before we reached
the moor. This was what we wanted; but the darkness was bewildering
too, and the crossing of the two great rhines which lay in our path
became more difficult than had been supposed. Indeed Godfrey lost his
way altogether for a time, so that some have said he betrayed us and
the cause, and have spoken much ill of him. But I am well assured that
such was not so, for I was hard by him all that strange journey, and I
am very sure that he did his best to lead us by the right road.

The troops, as you may guess, were thrown somewhat into disorder by
the passing of these fords; and now believing that the rival army lay
before us without intrenchment or defence of any kind, and being hot
and eager for the struggle, the men marched very fast, and so increased
the disorder in their ranks.

After passing the second rhine, we were (according to Godfrey) not more
than a mile from the enemy; and here the Duke halted, and I heard that
the cavalry were ordered to advance, followed by the guns, and that the
foot were to get into rank and follow to support the horse so soon as
the first charge had been made.

And how shall I describe that battle, fought in the darkness of a
summer night, about which so many stories are told that one's brain
reels with the effort of trying to understand and piece together all
that is spoken concerning it? Perhaps I had better content myself with
telling as far as I can remember what I myself saw and heard, though my
recollections are indistinct, and so mixed with the tales afterwards
heard that sometimes I scarce know what it was I saw in person, and
what it was that was afterwards told me.

But at least I know that when the horse had started I followed behind
them on Blackbird, too eager to feel fear, and resolved, should a
splendid and victorious charge be made, to be the first to carry back
the news of it to the Duke, who remained with the infantry.

Up till now we believed that our approach had been unknown to the
carelessly-guarded army; but we knew that it could not remain unknown
much longer. The horse were charging straight upon the camp, when
suddenly there came a halt, some angry and dismayed exclamations, and
the sudden accidental discharge of a pistol. Who fired the shot has
never been known; it was believed to have been an accident, caused by
the dismay which seized the horse on finding that a deep rhine--the Old
Bussex Rhine--of which Godfrey seemed to know nothing lay between them
and the camp on Penzoy Pound.

Immediately confusion reigned, but the word was given to skirt along
and find a ford. In the darkness and disorder I knew little of what
passed; but the whole place was astir--sentries were calling, the
rattle of arms was heard, when suddenly I heard a shout which told me
that our men were across the rhine. Next moment the darkness was lit up
by a flash of fire, whilst the terrible roll of musketry rang through
the night air. These volleys were repeated again and again; yet it
seemed but a few minutes before I was almost carried off my feet by the
return of our horsemen, who came galloping back in confusion and dismay.

"What has happened?" I cried breathlessly, as Blackbird was carried
along by the backward rush of the snorting horses, terrified at the
flash and smell and noise of fire-arms, so that their riders could not
control them even had they desired to lead them again against the foe.

Then one said one thing and one another; but all agreed that we
were betrayed, that the cause was lost, that the enemy was securely
intrenched behind a deep fosse, and that those of the horse who had
crossed it would never come back alive.

At that methinks some spirit not mine own possessed me, for I fell into
a kind of fury, and called out to those about me,--

"Men, if you be men and not cowards, follow me for the sake of
England's honour, and strike one blow for freedom and the Duke, if we
die for it!"

Then pulling up Blackbird, and making him wheel round sorely against
his will, I seized an axe from the belt of one of the men near to
me, and galloped furiously back toward the camp, where the battle was
raging hotly.

I know not how many came with me; some twenty or thirty, I think. I
trow I must surely have been mad at that moment; but I cared not what
befell me, so that I struck but one blow for the cause I loved. And
I think that the fury of my spirit entered into Blackbird, for he no
longer feared to face the flash of fire nor the rattle of the muskets,
and even the boom of the great field-pieces only made him gallop the
more willingly. I think it was his instinct that led us to the place
where the rhine could be crossed, or else he leaped clean over it. For
the next minute I and some score of followers were charging through the
enemy's camp, scattering right and left all who opposed us, and for the
moment spreading confusion in our train.

"King Monmouth! King Monmouth!" I shouted at the top of my voice, as I
waved my axe about my head, feeling that I could slay the veriest giant
as though he had been a child; and indeed I did cut down more than one
adversary who aimed a blow at me as I swept past.

"Down with all usurpers! Death to all traitors and Papists! King
Monmouth! King Monmouth for England!"

Shouting these words, and charging through the camp like furies, I and
my few followers dashed on madly, whilst behind us we heard the tide
of battle raging, and knew not how the day would turn. Suddenly we
were brought to a halt by a shock the like of which I had never felt
before. We had flung ourselves in the darkness upon a compact mass of
horsemen, drawn up in Weston Zoyland by the Earl of Feversham himself
(as I heard later), and about to start forth to the relief of those in
front.

"Down with the traitors! No quarter!" I heard shouted, as the awful
shock brought Blackbird to a standstill, flinging him back on his
haunches, and nearly knocking the breath out of my body.

I remember setting my teeth and trying to pray; for I was assured that
my last hour had now come, and was surprised that I felt no fear,
being yet full of the overmastering fury which had first possessed me
when I saw the flight of Lord Grey's horse. But quicker than lightning
Blackbird had recovered himself; and wheeling round with that dexterous
agility of which he was such a master, he was off through the darkness
like a flash, whither I knew not. I heard a rattle behind me; there
was a whizzing and singing in my ears. The right arm, with which I was
still holding my axe, dropped numb to my side, although I felt no pain.
A sort of mist came round me. The sound of the battle reached my ears
like a continuous hum. I found myself thinking that I was in church,
and that the organ was playing; then I remember nothing more for what
seemed to me an immense time, and woke to find myself lying in a ditch
with Blackbird above me, and the clear light of a summer's morning
breaking slowly in the east.

Where was I? what had happened? and what meant all that noise of crying
and shouting, groaning and shrieking, which assailed my ears?



CHAPTER XXII.

_FATAL SEDGEMOOR._


Was I alive or dead, sleeping or waking? Was all this tumult part of
a horrid dream? or was I in the midst of unknown and undreamed of
horrors? With a sense of strange suffocation I strove to rise, but was
unable to do so. I was lying in a dry ditch, and Blackbird was on the
top of me, not crushing me by his weight, but so placed that I could
not do more than lift my head and look about me.

Day had broken, the long low shafts of light fell across the plain, and
I saw, as in a dream, the figures of men in hot pursuit one of another.
I saw men smitten down by their fellows, falling sometimes without a
groan, sometimes with shrieks of agony. I saw worse things than that
too; for even as I lay and watched, scarce knowing who I was nor where
I had got, nor what this fearful sight could mean, I saw fierce-faced
men with bloody swords striding amongst ghastly heaps of writhing
human forms, and dealing awful blows here and there with remorseless
fury, sometimes even laughing at the suppliant cries and groans of
the wounded wretches, but only driving home more fiercely their gory
blades, with a brutal oath or the exclamation, "There goes another
traitor!"

As I watched with that awful fascination which a scene of horror
always inspires, shivering and shuddering lest my own turn should come
next, sense and memory returned to me. I remembered the events of the
previous night--the strange dark march to Sedgemoor, the attack in
the dead of night, the rout, the fierce irresponsible onset that I
had made, and the roar of battle which had been in my ears when I was
smitten down, I knew not when nor how.

But now the battle was over. Now there was nothing but an awful carnage
that was not warfare but a shambles. And I lay and watched it, and
tried to pray to God to spare me, or to give me courage to die; and I
kept asking in my heart how the battle had gone, though I knew all too
well by the sights I saw.

For they were not our men who were marching to and fro upon the bloody
field, slaying without pity all whom they could find. They wore the
dress of the regular army; they had the mien and air of practised
soldiers. They challenged one another in the name of the King, and they
shouted, "Down with all rebels! down with Scott's vagabonds!" as they
sent poor half-armed, wounded rustics to their last account.

I verily believed that Blackbird saved my life that day; I will say
how anon. As I lay in the ditch, wondering whether he too were dead,
and whether I should ever be able to rise and stand on my feet again,
or whether I should be despatched by the sword-thrust of one of these
bloody men, a groan close at hand told me that I was not alone, and I
spoke low, asking who was there.

"A wounded soldier," was the answer. "I thought that all were dead here
in this ditch save me. Art thou from Monmouth's following?"

"I came to see the battle. I am no soldier, but only a lad untrained
to arms. Who art thou? And how came the battle to be lost? Surely we
outnumbered the foe; and we took them unawares in the darkness."

"It was those accursed horsemen," groaned my unseen companion, who lay
behind me in the ditch. "We always said that my Lord Grey would ruin
any cause. Had the horse but stood their ground even without striking
a blow, we would have won the battle without them. Curse upon those
cowards who taught them to flee! A plague upon Lord Grey and his
poltroons!"

"What did he do? what did he do?" I asked, in great excitement and
indignation.

"Do? why, fled like a coward after the first charge; and though we of
the infantry came up rank after rank and fired for hours, and would
have stood firm and won the battle for the Duke yet if we had had
ammunition, those cursed horsemen charged back into the rear and cried
that all was lost; so the waggons made off, and the rear ranks took
fright, and all fled helter-skelter as they could. As for us, we stood
firm, and fired all our ammunition; and when all was done, and no
waggons came up, and we kept calling, 'Ammunition, ammunition! for the
Lord's sake ammunition!' and none was brought us, we had to lay aside
our muskets and take our pikes. And when at last the enemy's horse
formed and charged, we were broken to pieces, and fled; and they came
and cut us down like sheep. A curse upon those horsemen who lost us the
battle!"

The poor fellow did not speak all this in one breath as I have written
it down, but in gasps and disjointed fragments; and I found he had
heard a part from other fugitives, who had fled with him, but had
become confused, as he was himself in the darkness, and had lost
themselves upon the moor, wounded and faint, and had been struck down
by the weapons of the pursuing soldiers.

"Where is the Duke?" I asked; and the answer came with another groan,--

"Fled--fled with my Lord Grey, long before we had ceased firing, and
when we would have won him the battle yet if the horse had returned
and the waggons come up. Ah me! ah me! it is not hard to die in a good
cause; but it is hard to be deserted by those who should be our leaders
and commanders when the battle is still being fought."

It was very terrible to lie there and hear all this, and picture that
gallant stand of the untrained foot on the edge of the rhine; and to
know that whilst they were firing, firing, firing, and throwing death
and confusion into the enemy's ranks, they had been deserted by the
Duke, and left to their fate by the cavalry and the rest of the army.
I could well understand that it might not be all the fault of my
Lord Grey, that the untrained horses might soon become unmanageable
in the darkness and the tumult, and that a rout was due more to that
than to the cowardice of their riders; but still they need not have
communicated panic to the rear of the army. They should have encouraged
and not discouraged the fellows behind. But what boots it to muse or to
speak thus? The battle was lost; the Duke was fled; and now what lay
before those who had embraced his cause?

I was soon to see something of that all too near. Steps were heard
approaching, and a brutal laugh sounded so close above my head that I
shut my eyes and set my teeth, believing verily that my last hour had
come.

"Here is another of them," cried a voice. "A militiaman too--a deserter
to the rebels! Let us take him to the Earl to be hanged, as an example
to all loyal folks."

"Get up, you hound!" cried another voice; and I heard the sound of a
blow or kick, followed by a groan from the voice of the man who had
talked to me.

"I cannot," he said faintly; "I am sore wounded. Have mercy, sirs."

"Mercy for a rebel cur! You and your fellows will soon see what the
mercy of the gracious King is like. Get up, you hound!"

Another blow, another groan, and then the first voice said,--

"Never mind him; he's not worth the trouble. Kill him, and come away."

The next moment a sickening sound reached my ears, as a sword was
buried in the unhappy man's body, and he expired with a gurgling groan.

A cold sweat broke out over me. My head fell back, and my eyes closed.
I felt the horse above move slightly, and his head seemed to come down
upon mine. For a moment I thought I should be suffocated, and almost
cried aloud; but fear held me mute, and almost at once the steps passed
on. Then I felt another movement of Blackbird's, and presently his
whole body moved, there was a struggle and a quiver, and he rose and
stood upon his feet, looking down at me, and touching my face with his
velvet nose, caressing me in his silent fashion, as though he would ask
how I fared.

I had thought him dead all this while. But he was only exhausted, and I
verily believe some instinct of self-preservation and the preservation
of his master had kept him perfectly still and quiet all this while;
for it was not till the field at this part was deserted of soldiers
that he rose to his feet. And when I struggled upon mine I was alone
with the dead, and nothing but the reddened earth and heaps of slain to
say how the conflict had sped.

I felt all my limbs, but found none of them broken. I had a wound on
both sides of my arm, where a ball had passed through it; and the
effusion of blood must have made me faint, and then have stopped. I
bound the wound with a kerchief and slipped it under my sleeve, that
I might not look like a wounded man. I washed my face and hands in
a ditch, and rearranged my disordered habiliments. My plain leather
doublet and gaiters did not tell tales, and Blackbird's glossy coat
was soon restored to order by a little careful grooming. I had lost my
cap; but there were many lying about the field, and I found a plain one
suited to my appearance, and put it on, with a shudder as I thought
that its owner was probably lying cold in the sleep of death.

Having done all this, I mounted Blackbird, and began to pick my way
across the plain in the direction that I saw by the sun must lead me
back to Bridgewater. I knew that I was liable to be caught and slain at
any moment if I met a party of soldiers who suspected me; but I was too
dazed with horrors to feel anything but a sort of numb desire to save
myself if possible. If I did perish, I did perish. There was certainly
nothing else to be done than to try to get back home.

As I picked my way across the plain, Blackbird snorting and turning
aside again and again from heaps of corpses, I suddenly became aware
of a strange sight. Across the plain in front of me there came at
lightning speed a wild young horse galloping madly. A rope was round
his neck, and the other end of the rope was tied round the neck of a
fine-looking young man, who was stripped of almost all his clothing.
And fast as the horse ran, the man kept pace with him step for step;
till just as they reached one of the great rhines of which I have
spoken, the horse tripped, and fell exhausted, and the man upon him.

Behind came a number of horsemen, galloping as hard as they could, with
much shouting and laughing. Curiosity got the better of prudence, and
I rode up and asked what was going on.

"Marry, it is the Earl's sport," cried the fellow I had addressed. "Yon
man was to purchase his life by running with the horse. It was told my
lord that he could run with any steed, and he was promised his life if
he proved it true. Verily it was a brave run. The horse fell before the
man. He has earned his ransom well. Why are they bringing him back?"

For the runner had been taken by two troopers, and, panting and
exhausted, was being led back in the direction in which all were now
moving.

"Where take they him now?" I asked, looking with curiosity and awe into
the face of a gallant-looking soldier, whose arms and accoutrements and
mien pronounced him to be a leader and general.

"To the camp at Weston, I suppose," answered my informant. "We are
about to hang a batch of rebels. Thou hadst better come and see the
fun, boy. There will be rare times for the country now! First they
will have military vengeance from my lord the Earl of Feversham, him
yonder with the stern brow and eagle eyes, and from Colonel Kirke and
his Lambs, of whom doubtless thou hast heard; and when these have done
their part, the Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys will come down and do his
office. And a rare time you good rebel folks will have when he comes.
Ho! ho! ho!"

The laugh which followed made my blood run cold; but I dared not refuse
to follow the band, lest I should draw suspicion upon myself. It did
not appear that anybody so far had troubled to waste a thought upon me.
My youth and my hunched back preserved me from suspicion.

The camp at Weston Zoyland presented a strange and animated appearance.
Already the news of the defeat and flight of the Duke had reached far
and wide, and farmers and gentlemen anxious to propitiate the victors
had come crowding out with hogsheads of beer and wine and provisions
of all sorts for the soldiers, together with loyal expressions of
good-will, and every appearance of delight at the termination of the
ill-starred rebellion. Mirth, revelry, and cruelty were reigning
rampant; and there were nigh upon a score of trembling prisoners only
waiting the word of the Earl to be hanged upon the great oak tree,
still known as the Bussex Oak, and called by the peasants "Hangman's
Oak."

"String him up with the rest!" cried Lord Feversham, pointing to
the man who had won his race, and whose life had been promised to
him as the reward; and in spite of his pleading and remonstrance he
was dragged off to the tree with the rest. A great fellow with a
horrid-looking knife came forward from the group of soldiers, and I
knew that his office was to dismember the miserable wretches, probably
before they were quite dead, that their heads and quarters might be
nailed up in high places, a terror and a warning to others.

But I could not stay to see it done. A sickening horror possessed me. I
turned Blackbird's head, and dug my heels into his sides; and unnoticed
in the crowd and in the midst of so much revelry and excitement, I
galloped off along the near road into Bridgewater, which I reached
faint and exhausted some time not long after noon on Tuesday morning.

What a changed place it was from the one I had quitted on the Sunday
evening! Then all had been hope and brightness and enthusiasm; now a
look of blank terror was seen stamped upon all faces. The people went
about as if afraid each man to look at his neighbour; and in many
houses the shutters were shut and the windows all shrouded, because the
families had fled from the expected vengeance, and were striving to put
the sea between themselves and their remorseless enemies.

In the market-place there were still drawn up some bodies of troops,
which had fled there with the horsemen on hearing that the Duke had
taken flight and deserted his army. Colonel Hucker was there with
his troop, and I sometimes think that even then if the Duke had but
remained, something might yet have been done to retrieve the fortunes
of the day.

It has been reported of Colonel Hucker that he betrayed the cause of
the Duke on Sedgemoor, first by firing the pistol which gave the alarm
to the foe, and then by flying with his men before defeat had become a
fact; but those who thus speak do him an injustice, for he never sought
to save himself. It is true that had Taunton been fortified he would
have been made governor, and he was anxious that this should be done;
but his disappointment on that score never made him disloyal to the
cause, as was proved by the fact that he sealed it with his blood,
when he had ample opportunity to make good his escape had he been so
minded.

The news which I brought of the hangings and massacres on Sedgemoor
added to the terror and despair of the people. The bands of soldiers
melted away, the poor wretches fearing for their lives, as well they
might; and Bridgewater was left defenceless to the fury of the avenger.

All that day, men were at work all along the road betwixt Weston and
the city, erecting a row of ghastly gibbets; and before two days had
passed, every one of these gibbets bore a horrid burden of human
forms--some hung in chains, to remain there for months and years, the
last being not removed until the landing of William of Orange.

I think that when I brought the evil tidings to Mistress Mary and my
lord, I gave her a blow from which she found it hard to recover. I well
remember the white face and wild eyes she turned towards me, and the
way in which she wrung her slim white hands together, looking first at
me and then at my lord, as she cried out,--

"I brought him into this--and the cause is lost! God has not been on
our side. And perhaps he will even have to die for it. And the fault is
mine! the fault is mine!"

Then she put her hands before her face, and we saw the tears forcing
themselves through her fingers; and my lord rose up on his elbow and
said,--

"Mary, sweetheart, come hither to me!"

She came weeping, and kneeling down beside his bed she prayed,--

"Reginald, canst thou forgive me?"

"Nay, I have nothing to forgive, sweetheart. And, dearest, if the
cause be good, it is none the less so for being unfortunate. If I have
taken up arms for liberty and right, and God sees not fit to crown
those efforts of ours with victory, it is not that the cause is not
rightful, nor that He will desert the right, but that His time is not
yet, or that He has other means in store by which to work. Be not
faint-hearted, be not cast down. All this has drawn us but close and
closer to one another. I would not have it otherwise; and thou dost
know well, sweetheart, that I was never very sure of present victory. I
did not enter the cause with blinded eyes; and if I have to lay down my
life, as many will, I shall die happy in knowing that thy love has been
mine, and that thou wilt be loving me and praying for me to the last."

"Ah, Reginald, talk not so! I cannot bear it, I cannot bear it! Thou
shalt not die--thou must not die! it will break my heart!"

"Mistress Mary," I cried suddenly, "methinks indeed that my lord
shall not die. Let him but rest here in secret, none knowing where he
is, till he be able to take horse again, and I will convey him to a
safe asylum, where he may lie hid until the hue and cry be past." And
then I told them of the secret chamber in my aunt's house, and how
she had promised to hide my lord there if ever he should need a safe
hiding-place from his foes.

Mistress Mary's face lightened and brightened as she listened, and my
lord smiled too, and gave me a look which reminded me of the charge he
had given me to care for Mistress Mary likewise should peril threaten
her.

None knew in the days that must follow who would escape and who would
suffer. I might be in no small peril myself, for I had been with the
Duke's army again and again; and though I think that none knew how I
had borne arms in that last battle and had charged so madly into the
enemy's ranks, yet I knew not that I might not be accused of other
crimes, and have to suffer for my love and loyalty in the cause of the
Duke. My youth and hunched back had many times saved me from suspicion,
but it might well cause me to be known and noticed where others would
escape. As I thought of these things I trembled for myself; but in
times of common danger it is strange how quickly one forgets the
pressure of fear and personal peril. One grows used to it and ceases to
think of it; and indeed we had too much to think of in the days which
followed, too much of present horror to see, to have thought to spare
for possible horrors to come.

"Colonel Kirke is coming! Colonel Kirke is coming! He and his Lambs are
on their way!" cried the terrified towns-people on that well-remembered
Tuesday afternoon, and they all fled to their houses, as though
afraid to look upon the face of the conqueror, although they could
not but crowd to the windows to see him and his soldiers bringing in
waggon-loads of prisoners and miserable wounded wretches, who were to
be hanged and quartered at leisure.

And I must not here omit to mention the noble and godly labours of our
good Bishop Ken, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, who came amongst us at
this time, and himself went amongst the prisoners, the sick, and the
wounded, striving to prepare them for their fate, and doing all that
man can do both to ease their condition in their prisons, and to win
from the stern military tyrant grace and pardon for numbers who would
otherwise have perished. Nor were his labours in vain, for he gained
pardon and freedom for many; and many others were brought to peace and
repentance before they met their end, so that they were able to lay
down their lives cheerfully and with a good courage.

But to return to my story and Mistress Mary, of whom I must now write.
I stood with her at an upper window of the inn to see the soldiers
enter, and as evil fate would have it, there amongst them, riding not
far behind Colonel Kirke, was the Rev. Nicholas Blewer; and it so
chanced that his evil eyes, roving restlessly about as they were wont
to do, glanced upward in passing at our window, and fixed themselves
upon the face of Mistress Mary.

She did not see him, and resisted when I would have pulled her back, so
that he saw her plainly; and I saw an evil light flash into his eyes,
and knew that some plan had instantly formed itself in his cunning
brain against my sweet mistress.

Making a hurried excuse to leave the room, I went straight to my lord
and Miss Blake, who were together in his sick-chamber, the elder lady
having altogether refused to see the sight of the enemy's entrance into
the town. To them I told what I had seen, and at once both declared
that Mary must at once leave Bridgewater and return to her home in
Taunton.

Amidst her own towns-people, where the name of her guardian, Lord
Lonsdale, was known and respected, she would be as safe as any person
could be at such a time; but here in Bridgewater, with an army fresh
from plunder and slaughter close at hand, in a public-house where
entrance could be denied to none, and where nobody knew or had any
care for her, she was not safe for a day. She must therefore depart
instantly, before Mr. Blewer would believe it possible to accomplish
the flight, and never rest till she was safe beneath the roof of Miss
Blake's house, which the citizens of Taunton would not permit to be
invaded without due and sufficient reason. Mr. Blewer had no friends in
that city. He would not be able to effect there (where he was known and
distrusted) what he might be able to in this place.

"And, Dicon," said my lord, when Miss Blake had gone to make instant
preparation for departure, "come not back to Bridgewater; but remain at
Taunton, watching over Mistress Mary--"

"But, my lord, you need my care and tendance."

"I can do without it if needs be, good Dicon. I have been thinking
I would rather thou wert otherwise occupied than with me since the
defeat on Sedgemoor has put my head in peril." Then as I was about to
protest, he silenced me with one of those movements of his hand which
I knew so well, and continued, speaking quietly: "Go to Taunton, and
remain there. I am for the present safe; and more than that none can
say for himself. I can pay for the tendance thou hast hitherto given
me. And thou must be beside Mistress Mary, to see if any peril threaten
her, and convey her away if it do to that cottage where her friend
and companion will hide her till the storm be past. Wert thou here I
should fret myself into a fever thinking her being carried off by yon
miscreant; but if thou art close at hand and on the watch, I shall feel
that she has a protector."

I could say no more. Indeed I so loved both my lord and Mistress Mary
that I knew not which stood first in my heart, albeit it was to the
service of my lord that I was pledged. But if he dismissed me on any
mission, it was but for me to obey; and forthwith I went down to the
stables to prepare the horses, and before half an hour had passed we
were riding forth together, Miss Blake and Mistress Mary wearing their
riding-hoods drawn deeply over their faces, and I riding just behind
them, as though I were their servant--as indeed I was.

All the town had gathered to see the entry of the soldiers--all the
people, that is, who dared to leave their houses; people of the poorer
sort, to whom a show was a show, be the cause never so evil.

The streets were almost deserted as we rode through them, and Mistress
Mary's head was bent low. She was weeping to herself, as I well knew,
thinking, doubtless, of her joyful entry into the town a few days
before, full of hope for the cause, and happy in thinking of seeing my
lord again, even though he lay sorely wounded.

Now she had bidden him adieu. She was parted from him, and in such a
time as this none dared to say when and how they would meet again. He
was in sore peril, and she in something of danger herself, though I
know not if she guessed it. He might well be arraigned for treason,
being found in arms against his sovereign. She was the object of
vengeful love of a bad man, who would seek to win her by foul means,
and having possession of her and her fortune, proceed to break her
heart by his cruelty. In sooth, I scarce knew whose peril was the
greater; and right glad was I to reach the shelter of Taunton Town
with my fair charge, having seen and heard nothing of pursuit, and
having plainly given the slip to the cunning Nicholas left behind in
Bridgewater.



CHAPTER XXIII.

_TERRIBLE DAYS._


How is it possible for me to make any understand the unspeakable
horror of the days that followed? Were I even gifted like the great
Shakespeare himself, methinks I should scarce succeed in drawing a
picture of those days and nights of fear, which were prolonged till men
became almost dead to a sense of the peril in which they stood, until
some fresh panic and new report set all hearts quivering with fresh
affright.

Soldiers were scouring the country. Miserable fugitives from the army
taken in barns and ditches and cabins were either hung up then and
there by the soldiers, or brought before the officers to be judged and
condemned by them. And these fared even worse than those butchered by
the troopers, for they received the horrible sentence of traitors, and
had their hearts torn out before their faces or ever the breath had
quite left them, and their members and heads dispersed throughout the
country to be exposed to public view.

How well do I remember seeing the first consignment of these ghastly
trophies passing along the road, and the inn-keepers and such like
being forced to nail them up before their doors as a warning and terror
to the village. Sometimes the air was rendered foul and pestilential
for miles by the hanging corpses and horrid trophies. Women kept within
their doors for weeks together, being so filled with horror at the
sight; and the whole country was filled with stories of marvellous
hairbreadth escapes, or of captures of innocent persons, who were
treated with the same cruelty as those who had been in arms--the
soldiers scarce taking the trouble to listen to their protests, and
brutally telling them that since so many deserving death had escaped,
they must needs die in their stead.

What fearful days to fall upon England, who had called herself a free
country, and whose people had always believed that the innocent were
protected from violence by the strong arm of the law! Alas! we were
soon to find that the most fearful things of all were enacted by those
who came in the name of Justice and Law.

I forget exactly what day it was that news reached us that the Duke
had been captured, and was now on his way to London, where, as all men
said, nothing could save him from the wrath of the King. Some said that
had he not proclaimed himself King he might have had a chance for his
life, but that having done this he had nothing to hope, and would end
his life upon the scaffold.

Yet there were numbers of people who declared that he had got off
safe to Holland in disguise, and that he who was on his way to London
was not the Duke himself, but some follower whose outward aspect was
very like, and who had changed clothes with the Duke and allowed
himself to be taken, that his lord might safely escape and live in
retirement for a while, and then appear again in his kingdom and fight
more successfully for his crown. This belief was held by hundreds and
thousands of people in our western counties for years and years, and
I remember how long it was before the expectation of again seeing the
Duke died out. Some maintained to the end of their lives that he still
lived, and that he would have come again to save England had not the
tyrant monarch been forced to fly, whilst the just William of Orange
ruled (with and in right of his wife) in his stead.

But we in Taunton had other things more near and personal to think of
than whether or not it was the Duke who was taken. The bloody victors
were at our very gates, and none in the town knew who would escape when
once inquisition for blood was about to be made. Was it not in Taunton
that the Duke had been proclaimed King? Was it not in Taunton that
he had received such royal honours, and such help in money and men?
Were not many of his leading officers Taunton men? And if such signal
vengeance had been taken already on the innocent rabble, who had acted
ignorantly, how should the citizens of Taunton hope to escape?

Well do I remember that Thursday morning when we heard the people in
the streets shouting out,--

"Colonel Kirke is coming! Colonel Kirke is coming! God have mercy upon
us! Kirke and his Lambs are on their way!"

I rushed out into the streets to hear the news, and even as I did so
I met a horseman riding into the yard of the inn, as though he came
from the army. But I stayed not to ask news of him, for the people were
crying out that twenty men were to be hanged in the city that day, and
that Master John Mason was of that number.

All the town was in a terror and tumult, for Master John Mason was
a man of most excellent repute, and though he had taken arms in the
Duke's cause, he had only fought at Sedgemoor; and that he of all men
should be a victim was a thing not to be borne.

At our inn, so near to the open Cornhill, all was hurry and confusion;
for Colonel Kirke and his officers were to lodge there, and a banquet
was to be prepared for them at the very hour at which the victims
were to be slain. The town stood aghast at the horror of the thing,
and awful stories were whispered of Kirke during his governorship of
Tangiers. Some believed that he had caused miserable Jews to be burned
alive there; but others said that he had not burned them himself, but
had sent them to the Inquisition in Spain to be burned there--which
seemed not much better. His soldiers were called Lambs, but whether in
derision because of their fierceness, or (as some said) because when in
Tangiers their banner bore the sign of a lamb, I cannot tell. But at
least at the thought of their coming all men's hearts shook with fear,
whilst the ladies of the town resolved that they would so petition for
the life of Master Mason that even Colonel Kirke would not have the
heart to slay him.

There was one, Mistress Elizabeth Rowe, a beautiful and godly matron,
blending the graces of youth with the dignity and softness of maturity,
and well known to every resident in Taunton. There was also a legend
in that city, that a "white woman or woman in white" could always
obtain pardon for a condemned criminal; and good Mistress Elizabeth
declared that she would be that woman, and that she would intercede for
the life of Master Mason. On hearing that there was great joy, for it
seemed to all as though not even the bloody Colonel Kirke could resist
so much goodness and beauty; and as we toiled at our preparations for
the ghastly feast, we spoke in whispers of the appeal to be made, and
wondered whether it would succeed.

What a terrible day that was! The memory of it is yet as clear before
my mind as when it was but a week old.

It was afternoon when we heard the sound of martial music, fifes and
drums, and the marching of many feet. All Taunton rushed to window and
balcony to look out, and beheld the dark-faced Colonel riding along at
the head of his troops. What a difference from the last triumphal entry
into Taunton, when all the town was decked with boughs and garlands,
and every face beamed with joy! Now almost all faces were grey with
fear and grief. Hardly a citizen but trembled for his liberty or
life, or for that of some near and dear one. The few voices raised in
acclamation as the Colonel rode through the streets sounded hollow and
faint. The drums and fifes and martial strains of their own men kept
the silence from being too ominous.

At the Three Cups all was hurry and confusion. A great banquet was
being prepared in the long upper chamber with the balcony which looked
up the Fore Street and towards the Cornhill. But we scarce dared look
out of the window ourselves, for just outside, a little to the right,
where the space was wide and free, soldiers were hastily setting up a
scaffold and gibbet. Close beside this gibbet had halted a cart filled
with groaning and wounded prisoners, amongst whom was good Master
Mason; and a whisper had already run through the crowd that they were
to be hanged and dismembered that very day as an accompaniment to the
Colonel's banquet.

I am proud to say that no Somersetshire man could be found to do the
hideous work of executioner here. The Colonel had had to send for the
executioner from Exeter to do his horrid work. This functionary, whose
gigantic frame and scowling face were enough to inspire terror in the
hearts of all beholders, was already preparing for his bloody task.
He had a great axe and two or three sharp long butcher's knives laid
out before him, and he was calling to the people to bring faggots and
billets for the making of a great fire.

We knew not for what the fire was intended, but we were to know all too
soon.

Sounds of revelry and mirth soon arose from the upper chamber where the
Colonel and his officers were feasting. Little recked those fierce men
of the horror and terror and agony that reigned in Taunton. They had
come to punish rebellion, and to strike terror into the hearts of all
who had been concerned in this thing; and Taunton above all places had
been most deeply implicated.

How shall I speak of the horrors of that day? When the carouse was
at its height, the Colonel, inflamed with wine, appeared upon the
balcony, and his half-drunk officers with him, and gave the signal to
the executioner to commence his task. Already a row of twenty gibbets
had been erected, and the twenty white and wounded prisoners upon the
carts had been set in order beside them. Master John Mason, whom all
Taunton knew and loved, was kneeling devoutly, praying for himself and
his fellow-sufferers, and heeding nothing of what was passing. Some of
those near to him followed his words with tears and ejaculations, and
most of these were calm and resigned; though some, seeing their dear
ones weeping in the crowd, could not keep back their own tears, though
all striving to face death bravely.

Then before our eyes in that upper balcony appeared a white-robed
figure, and those of us--there were not many--who were in the secret of
the petition held our breath to listen, whilst good Mistress Elizabeth
upon her knees pleaded for the life of the righteous citizen. Now I was
very near to the balcony, being, in fact, just under it, and the parley
lasted so long that I feared respite, even if granted, would come too
late; for the halters were about the necks of all the prisoners, and
the cart was about to be pushed away from under their feet.

Suddenly I heard a harsh voice above me saying, "It is granted, madam;"
and then in another tone the same voice said, "Go you, Bushe, and see
to it. Tell the executioner to cut the fellow down."

The next moment one of the younger officers came swaggering half drunk
from the inn door, and went up to the executioner and spoke to him.
There was a brief parley, and he cut one of the halters through. A man
leaped from the cart and dashed away in the crowd, and immediately the
rest were swung into the air, and remained hanging betwixt heaven and
earth.

"Give them music to their dancing!" cried the voice of the Colonel, as
the legs of the dying men twitched and moved in their last agony; and
the drums and pipes struck up a jubilant strain, which was continued
all through the final scenes of that horrid spectacle.

Why did I wait and watch? In truth, I was paralyzed by the awful horror
of it. One by one the dead or half-dead wretches were cut down, the
fierce executioner cleft the senseless trunks asunder by a blow of his
axe, and seizing the heart of the victim, tore it from his body and
flung it into the fire, exclaiming as he did so, "There goes the heart
of a traitor;" and at each repetition of the words the martial music
struck up again, as though some jubilant and joyful thing were being
done.

Yet after all good Master Mason perished with the rest. The Lieutenant
Bushe sent by his Colonel to save the prisoner had not the least idea
of which one the lady had spoken, and on reaching the gallows had said
to the executioner, "Cut down that fellow." "Which fellow?" had been
the question, since twenty were there, and Bushe had no idea which
it was. Master Mason, absorbed in his prayers, took no heed of what
had been passing in the balcony; but another man had seen the whole,
and when the executioner and lieutenant paused in doubt what to do,
he looked up and said that he was the man for whom the lady in white
had pleaded. So the executioner cut the rope, and he sprang away and
vanished in the crowd, as we saw; and in the confusion it was not known
till afterwards that good Master Mason had perished, although his life
had been granted to him at the instance of Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe.

Such things are too often done in the bloody days of war.

Twenty victims (save one) perished that day, and thirty upon the day
following, each time the Colonel holding a great feast, and turning
off on the second occasion ten victims with each of his three great
toasts--one for the King, one for the Queen, and one for "the great
Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys, who is shortly coming to finish the work
that I have just begun."

As those words were heard, a shudder and a shiver passed through
all who heard them, and a groan went up that was not altogether a
groan of compassion for the last of the batch of victims who were
being butchered in cold blood almost in sight of the revellers. We
all knew what terrible days would follow the appearance of the Lord
Chief-Justice amongst us. We had heard enough of his ferocity and
brutality before now; what would it be like when we were forced to
drink to the dregs the cup of his wrath?

Acts of singular ferocity and brutality were daily perpetrated under
our very eyes. One man was hanged whilst in a dying state, unable to
move hand or foot, scarce living when he was swung into space. Another
was hanged three times, and three times cut down to ask if he repented
of his crime; but he boldly answered that were he to have his life
given him to live again, he would do just the same. He was at last
hanged in chains, and left upon the gallows, like several more, till
the coming of William of Orange.

But amongst all these tales of brutality and horror, I must not omit to
mention one incident which reflects credit if not honour upon the cruel
and bloodthirsty Colonel Kirke; and this thing I was witness of with
mine own eyes, so I can testify the truth of it right well.

In spite of all the horrors of that time, business went on at mine
uncle's house as before; and it so chanced that whilst the Colonel was
in the town, and his soldiers more or less ravaging the whole country
side, an order arrived from Bishop's Hull (the home of Mistress Mary
Bridges) to send thither a hogshead of beer without loss of time.

Now with the Colonel and his officers quartered in our house, we were
not a little pressed in those days; and my uncle not knowing how to
get this hogshead sent, I asked if I might not take the cart and
drive it over. I had two reasons for this. One was that I desired if
possible to get speech with young Mistress Mary about Mistress Mary
Mead; another was that I sometimes felt as though I should go mad with
the fear and horror of the sights of Taunton Town. For day by day and
all day long the black-browed executioner, and an assistant whom the
townsmen called "Tom Boilman," were engaged in boiling in pitch the
quarters of the victims of the rebellion; and the whole place reeked of
the awful brew, and turned me sick with horror every time I passed that
way. I felt I must get out into the green fields, if only for a few
hours. I had been too busy to be spared all this while; but this errand
was in my uncle's service, and I went gladly.

It was not a long journey to Bishop's Hull; but the cart travelled at a
slow pace, and I did not hurry the horse. It was a relief to leave the
streets of the city and the careworn faces of the inhabitants behind,
and to see the smiling meadows and innocent, careless life of bird and
beast, unshadowed by the horrors that had fallen upon the land.

But one could not forget even here that a reign of terror ruled. Bands
of soldiers still scoured the country, seeking after fugitives; and in
almost every principal house in the country round men were quartered,
to keep watch both upon the inhabitants and upon any flying to them for
succour.

I knew that there had been soldiers living at free quarters at Bishop's
Hull, and doubtless it was for these that the ale was needed. I drove
my cart into the great yard of the house, and delivered its contents
to the servants there. But being anxious to obtain speech of Mistress
Mary, I did not immediately go away, but tied up the horse to a ring,
and entered into talk with the men of the place.

Sir Ralph was away, I heard. He had been summoned to meet the Duke of
Albemarle, it was thought, or Lord Churchill, and before he left he had
arranged for the removal of the soldiers who had lived for some time in
his house. But to-day some of these had come back and demanded their
old quarters, and some perplexity reigned in the place as to what was
to be done with them. There was confusion in the house, and one of the
servants to whom I spoke, asking news of Mistress Mary, answered,--

"Methinks she is somewhere in the great hall. Go in, lad, and fear not.
There be too many coming and going to-day for thy appearance to be
noted. Go seek her for thyself; I have no time to go with thee."

And in truth every servant about the place seemed flying hither and
thither. I followed the command given me, and made my way towards the
hall of the house, coming upon a scene as strange as any it has been my
lot to witness.

Seated in a high-backed chair beside the great empty hearth, that was
in this summer season decked with green boughs and great spikes of
foxglove--Mistress Mary's hand in every inch of it--was the stately
lady of the house, surrounded by some frightened-looking maidens, who
were gathered together behind her chair, and seemed to be shrinking in
terror from something or somebody. As I advanced a few steps further
into the hall, I saw that it was half filled by swaggering and tipsy
soldiers, who appeared to be clamouring for something which the lady of
the house was not willing to grant, and whose scowling and angry looks
were the cause of the fright in the faces of the maids.

A few paces away from her mother, standing at the other side of the
hearth, her slight, strong figure drawn to its full height, her face
in a quiver of anger and scorn, was little Mistress Mary, such a
light in her eyes as I had never seen there before, her hands locked
together, and her whole figure instinct with suppressed passion. What
had passed before I know not. I think the men had been demanding free
quarters again, and that the lady had been telling them that they had
been withdrawn by their officer, and that they had no right to come
again in such a fashion, or to take that tone with her in absence of
her husband, the master of the house and a loyal servant to the King.
However that may have been, I can answer at least for what happened
next; for as I appeared upon the scene, one great tipsy fellow, who
seemed to be the foremost of the band, came lurching forward, and
offered so great and gross an insult to the stately lady sitting there,
that my pen refuses to put it on paper. But mark what followed. Almost
ere the words had passed the fellow's lips, with a bound like that of
a young tiger Mistress Mary had sprung forward; and ere any man of us
knew or guessed what she was about to do, she had seized the fellow's
sword from its sheath, and had run it through his heart as he stood,
so that he fell dead at her feet without a groan. A deep silence fell
upon us all as we saw this deed; and Mistress Mary, her face as white
as death, but with her eyes still flaming fire, faced round upon the
rest of the soldiers and said, pointing first to the corpse and then to
the door,--

"Take him, and go!"

Mechanically the men obeyed her; but some half-dozen, more sober than
the rest, lingered behind and said, firmly but respectfully,--

"Mistress, you must answer for this deed before the Colonel. You must
come with us at once."

"I am ready," answered Mistress Mary, with heroic firmness. "The sooner
the better; I fear none of you!"

And indeed she spoke no more than the truth. And never have I seen a
more dauntless mien than was carried by that brave child as she rode
beside her mother into Taunton that day, guarded by a band of soldiers,
and followed by me in my cart; for I felt I must see the end of this
thing, and bear my testimony, if I might be heard, when the tale was
told to the fierce Colonel.

He was, as was usual at that hour of the day, in his room at the
Three Cups; and upon hearing that a prisoner had been brought to be
tried by court-martial, he at once summoned his officers to the long
banqueting-room and ordered the prisoner before him.

When his eyes fell upon the tender maiden, not more than twelve years
old, with the dauntless mien and steady eyes, his face changed and even
softened as I had never thought that face could do; and he sternly
asked his men why they had brought a woman before him, and she scarce
more than a child.

When he heard that it was a military offence with which she stood
charged, he bent upon her a searching look, and commanded that all
should be told him. Then the men who had brought her told the tale, not
indeed extenuating the offence of their dead fellow, but putting the
case fairly enough. There was no need for me to speak; there was no
need for Mistress Mary to defend herself. When the Colonel heard the
words which had been addressed to the dignified matron standing just
behind her brave young daughter, and recognized in her the wife of one
of the King's loyal supporters, and the mistress of a house where much
kindness and hospitality had been shown to His Majesty's soldiers, his
face took an expression of mingled sternness and approval which it is
hard to describe; and he said, looking round upon the men who stood
by,--

"Where is the sword with which the deed was done?"

One of the men had chanced to bring it, and it was handed to the
Colonel. The stain of blood was yet upon it, although it had been wiped
clean from blood-drops. The Colonel took it and rose up in his seat. He
made a low bow to Mistress Mary, and handed the sword to her.

"Mistress Mary Bridges," he said, "you are acquitted of the crime laid
to your charge. The action you performed was not only pardonable; it
was legitimate and noble, and does you every honour. Would that there
were more such women in this land to become the mothers of a soldier
race! Take this sword, fair maiden, take it and keep it; and let it
pass down in times to come to other Mary Bridges of your name and race.
May your house never want such a Mary as you have shown yourself, to
act with such courage and resolution in the hour of need.--Madam,
farewell!" (this to Lady Bridges). "A brave mother makes a braver
daughter. Guard well your child, and honour her as she deserves to be
honoured. A maid who will risk her life for her mother's protection is
one to grow up the pride and glory of her house.---Mistress Mary, I
salute you. Farewell; I could almost wish that you had been born a boy,
that I might have numbered you among my own picked soldiers!"

And stooping his dark head the Colonel saluted Mistress Mary on the
cheek, and bending low before her, as did also all his officers, saw
her pass from the room, holding the sword in her hands.

A burst of cheering greeted her as she appeared in the streets clasping
the trophy of victory. Her face was flushed now, and her eyes sparkling
betwixt excitement, triumph, and tears. Her mother's face was quivering
now that the peril was past as it had never quivered whilst her
daughter stood arraigned before the fierce Colonel.

"Dicon, Dicon, I cannot face all these people with my sword!" cried
Mistress Mary, a girlish shrinking suddenly possessing her, showing
that she was still a maid, though she could act with the courage of a
man when need was. "Take me to Miss Blake's! Take me to Mistress Mary;
I must see her ere I go back!"

Lady Bridges was willing enough to get out of the cheering crowd,
and quickly we found ourselves beneath the shelter of the next roof.
Mistress Mary, hearing the tumult, came down the stairs to see what it
meant; and the younger Mary, rushing into her arms, and dropping the
sword upon the floor, cried out, betwixt laughter and tears,--

"Mary, Mary, I have done it! I have slain, with mine own hands, one of
your Duke's foes!"



CHAPTER XXIV.

_THE PRISONER OF THE CASTLE._


I scarce know how many days had passed after these things before there
happened that which was to me more terrible than all.

The military executions in Taunton were over. Many soldiers remained,
but the people ceased to go in terror of their lives--for the moment.
An awful sense of coming judgment hung over us. None knew who would
be arrested for complicity in the plot, and haled before the terrible
judge who was coming shortly. But for the moment there was a slight
lull, and the wheels of life revolved just a little more in their
accustomed grooves.

Sorrow and mourning and fear prevailed in too many homes, however.
Master Hucker was a prisoner awaiting his trial. Master Simpson had
fled none knew whither, and his sister feared him dead. Both the gentle
brothers Hewling had been taken, and were in London for the time being,
though it was said that they would be sent down to Taunton to be tried.
More homes than I can mention here were desolated by the events which I
have been striving to record, and I felt almost heart-broken now when
I went to my friends the Simpsons; for Lizzie's face was pale and
tearful, and even gay Will Wiseman, ever of a joyous courage in olden
days, looked gloomy and troubled. He had loved his master well, and was
faithfully serving him now in his absence, and acting almost like a son
to good Mistress Simpson, the sister. But they lived in daily fear of
hearing of his arrest; and sometimes Lizzie, weeping with my arm about
her--for we were like brother and sister in love--would say,--

"Sometimes I think I would almost rejoice to hear that he were dead! It
is such a fearful thing to think that he may even now be brought before
that terrible judge who is coming, and have to suffer the awful death
of traitor. Oh, if we only knew him safe--even if it were in the safety
of a soldier's death!"

For the prisons were filling fast with fugitives and suspected persons,
and none knew who might be the next to be haled off, there to linger
until the Special Commission headed by Judge Jeffreys sat to judge and
condemn those who had been concerned in this matter. Many judged those
happy who had met a soldier's death, or had been hanged by the soldiers
in the first onset. To linger in suspense in a dismal dungeon, often
laden with irons, and subjected to cruel privations, only to be brought
at last before that merciless man in whose hands the issues of life and
death were to rest, seemed harder than a short shrift and a long rope
at the hands of Kirke and his men. I know I often thought (shivering
lest I might be recognized and sent to prison) that if that were so
with me, I should live to wish I had perished on the fatal field of
Sedgemoor. But my uncle stood high in favour. No word had been breathed
against him. Colonel Kirke had called him an honest knave, and a credit
to his trade; and the Snowes had always held a good repute in the town
for loyalty and order, wherefore I was let alone.

But to return to the point from which I started, how may I tell the
grief and terror I was thrown into by a sight I saw during the days of
that lull which came betwixt the departure of Colonel Kirke and the
arrival of Lord Chief-Justice Jeffreys?

I was coming through the streets toward my home, when I perceived a
small knot of soldiers, who seemed to be bringing in a prisoner in
their midst. Now this had become so common a sight that I might not
greatly have heeded it, had it not been that I saw Mr. Blewer riding
with the soldiers, his face wearing its most evil smile of malevolent
triumph.

At that sight I looked again at the party, and as I did so my heart
stood still within me. There in the midst of the soldiers, partly
held and partly tied upon his horse--for he was almost fainting from
sickness and his wounds--was none other than my lord the Viscount;
and the party were heading straight for the Castle, into which they
presently disappeared with their captive.

I had followed, speechless and like one in a dream; but when the portal
closed behind them and I was left standing without, I heard a voice in
my ear saying in accents of mock sorrow,--

"Alas, good Dicon, that one so young and fair and highly born should be
a rebel! The best grace the young lord can hope to win from the great
Lord Justice is the axe instead of the halter. His would be a pretty
head to set up over the gateway here! Alack! what will Mistress Mary
say? Methinks she had a maid's passing fancy for the fair face of our
young warrior."

The speaker was Mr. Blewer. With a sense of sickening loathing I
turned away from the man and rushed homewards, putting the saddle upon
Blackbird as quickly as I could, and scarce drawing rein till I stood
before the house of my uncle Robert in Bridgewater.

I found my aunt in tears, and I had no need to put a question before
she burst out with the tale.

"Dicon, we could not help it. We breathed no word of his being here;
and when the soldiers had done their hanging and had gone--at least
some of them, and the rest were more for carousing and feasting than
anything else--we felt able to breathe once more. But there was an
evil-faced man for ever prying about, habited like a clergyman, but
with little of the nature that befits that office. He asked so many
questions from one or another about a maiden he had seen here, that
we could not hide from him that Mistress Mary Mead had been a guest
here for a while; but not a word did we breathe of the young lord
upstairs--I give you my word we did not!"

"I am sure of it, good aunt; I know you had learned to love him right
well. None could fail to do so who came into his presence."

"Indeed thou speakest sooth, Dicon," she answered. "I waited on and
tended him myself; and never have I seen a gentler and more perfect
gentleman, so patient, so grateful, so anxious to avoid giving any
trouble--as though we grudged what we did for him--and he paying for
all like a prince! I loved him as a son, if I may say it. And yet that
evil man, by hook or by crook, and by dint of ceaseless spying and
prying, got scent of his being here; and to-day there came a troop of
soldiers with an order to search the house for a rebel who was known to
be sheltering here in disguise. Dicon, when that befell us, what could
we do? To have resisted would not have saved the poor young gentleman,
but would have brought all the rest of us to the gallows."

Her tears broke forth afresh, and I could almost have joined with her
in weeping, had it not been that my heart so burned within me in hot
indignation against the miscreant who had spied and betrayed us. As it
was, the tears would not come to my relief, and all I said was,--

"Did he come with them?"

"Ay, he did! They knew not the face of the young lord; and even when
the monster had found him, they would scarce have taken him, so weak
and ill as he yet was, as white as a lily, and not able to rise. But
yon brutal minister--whom I would I could see beneath the hangman's
hands!--he swore at them that they were traitors and rebels themselves
an they took him not. So he was forced to rise and dress, and was set
upon a horse, though no more fit than a new-born babe; and whether
they get him to Taunton alive the Lord only knows! Oh may He take a
speedy and a bloody vengeance for all the deeds of blood and horror
that have been committed in this city in these last days!"

But I could not linger to listen even to sentiments so congenial. I had
learned what I had come to learn, and now possessing myself of all my
lord's property, and of a considerable sum of money which my good aunt
was keeping for him--he had contrived to get supplies sent him before I
left--I took horse again, Blackbird having been well fed and as willing
as ever, and was in Taunton once again ere set of sun.

What to do next I knew not. At home I was resolved I would not breathe
a word of this matter. Mine uncle was striving to forget all other
feelings in the one of loyalty to the powers that be. From him I
should get nothing but a warning to have nothing to do with rebels and
prisoners. From his own point of view he might be right, but I could
not rest so long as my lord lay in durance vile, and with nothing
before him but the mercy of a judge who was pledged to show no mercy.

Yet I was so distracted by sorrow and fear that I could think of
nothing alone; and after tossing upon my bed that night in a restless
misery, I suddenly came to a resolve.

"Mistress Mary will counsel me!" I cried, sitting up and pressing my
hands to my hot brow; and even as I took the resolution to see her so
soon as the day should have come, I grew calmer and more hopeful, and
was able to snatch a few hours of much-needed sleep before I had to
rise to my day's work.

Miss Blake's maidens had some of them come back to her, but there
was little of regularity in the hours kept, and many pupils had been
altogether removed by cautious parents. I was a welcome guest now
whenever I appeared within those doors, and my request to-day to see
Mistress Mary at once soon brought her down to me into the little
parlour, her eyes full of anxious questioning.

I fear me I broke the evil tidings to her but clumsily, for she went so
white that I feared she would swoon away; but recovering herself with
all speed, she clasped her hands together and cried,--

"Dicon, we must save him, we must save him! It was I who led him into
this peril and strait. Thou and I together, good Dicon, must win his
release. Dicon, he must be got out of yon Castle! He must not stand
before that relentless judge! We must save him! we must save him!"

"Mistress, I will die to save him if I can," I answered; but she gave
me one of her own beautiful smiles as she answered,--

"Nay, good lad, thou must live to save him. Dicon, there is no time to
be lost. We must think what can be done!"

It was this that I had come for, and greatly was I surprised by the
ready wit and shrewdness displayed by Mistress Mary when we sat down to
talk. Methinks she must have spent many hours thinking and pondering
upon such chances as these, for she seemed to have a plan already in
her head, and she quickly set it before me.

"Dicon, by what thou sayest, I think that they will not dare to cast my
dear lord into a dungeon, sick as he is. He is known in Taunton, and
the soldiers and keepers there are not monsters like Colonel Kirke's
Lambs. Our towns-folk are humane men, and a soldier is but a man after
all though he follow a bloody trade. And then money, Dicon, will unlock
many a door, and it has pleased Providence to make me rich."

"I have money, too, laid aside." I answered eagerly, "and every penny
of it shall go towards freeing my lord!"

Again she smiled sweetly, but checked me by her gesture,--

"Nay, faithful Dicon, thy money will not be wanted for this; but thy
shrewdness, thy cleverness, thy good-will, shall serve us instead.
Thou art under no suspicion, therefore go boldly to the Castle and
ask leave to bring to my lord such things as he needs. Prisoners, as
thou knowest, live at their own charges, and thou canst represent
thyself as sent by his friends with the things needful for him. Then
by bribes thou canst win leave to take these things to him thyself.
This carnage and slaughter has sickened men's souls within them, and
they are readier now to listen to the promptings of mercy than they
were awhile back. Make friends with him who has charge of my lord; make
him see that it will serve his purpose best to let thee come and go at
will. Doubtless with one weak and ill as my lord, there will be more of
mercy and less of strict watch kept than where the prisoner is hale and
strong. Be it thine, Dicon, to do all this; and having thus done, come
yet again to me and bring me word, and we will talk of what shall be
the next step."

I left the house with many a golden guinea of Mistress Mary's in my
pouch, for she would have none even of my lord's money for this; she
would do it all herself. And forthwith did I set myself to the task I
had before me, rejoicing that I was able to find so good an excuse for
my first visit to the Castle. For it came into my head (my wits being
sharpened by all this) to ask my aunt if she could not spare a pair of
good fat capons for the Governor there. And this being thought a happy
notion by mine uncle, who was, as I knew, all in a fever to keep in
the good graces of the authorities, I was quickly laden with a basket
containing various good things, and amongst them a bottle of rare good
wine, which, however, never found its way to the Governor's table.

For before I got to the Castle I took and hid this bottle about my
person; and when I had delivered my message and my load, I began
talking first to the porter and then to one and another of the guards
who came and went, and who were willing enough to stop and chat about
what was going on in the town, and how soon the trials were likely to
begin; until at last I came across the man who had the keeping of my
lord the Viscount, and him I asked to speak aside for a moment.

He had a little slip of a place at the end of a long corridor, where he
kept watch; and when I produced my bottle of wine, his eyes sparkled,
and we were friends at once. He told me of the prisoners he had in his
charge, and of Lord Vere, who had been brought in wounded and sick
but the day before. He asked me if I thought His father would send him
those things that he needed, as it would go ill with him if he had
not some care; and when I (concealing my exultation under a mask of
indifference) said I would ask, and also asked if I might see Lord Vere
and learn from him what he chiefly needed, the man made no objection at
all, but led me along the passage to a certain door which he opened.
I went in with my finger upon my lips, which sign my lord instantly
perceived, and spoke not as though he had any special knowledge of me,
though most people in the place knew my name by this time.

He answered my questions, and told me what he most needed. I asked if
his wound were severe, and he answered that it was mending, though the
ride yesterday had inflamed it and brought back some of the fever.
But he looked less feeble than I had feared; and I took great heart
at seeing that he was not in a dungeon, but in a small and fairly
commodious chamber. The warder told me that the dungeons were full; and
I told him I was sure I could get him money from my lord's friends if
he could make shift to keep him there. The man winked at that, and said
that so long as he was sick he would not be moved; and I winked back
and said he had better keep him sick, and he would get money.

Next day I was there again with such things as my lord had asked for.
I did not seek to go into the room that time, feigning no especial
interest in him, but stayed chatting with the warder, and I gave him a
broad crown piece as an earnest of more to follow if the prisoner were
well looked after. Next day I brought some things I professed to have
forgotten, and another bottle of wine for the man; and this time he bid
me go in to see how well he had cared for the patient, that I might
tell the same to his friends. And as he was anxious to finish the wine
before his fellow came to relieve guard, he locked me for a short while
into the room with my lord; and I spent every moment in eager talk, and
in examining the place, that I might know whether there was any hope of
getting him safe away out of it when he was strong enough for flight.

I soon saw that this little chamber was in the south side of the
building, a little to the left of the gateway as you stand facing it,
and situated about half-way betwixt that and the round tower at the
corner. From the window, which was heavily barred, there was a drop
of perhaps forty feet into the enclosure behind the wall which lay
all round the Castle. But this wall was neither very high nor very
closely guarded; and I had a wild hope that it might not prove an
insurmountable difficulty if once we were free of the Castle itself. A
dark night would have to be chosen, and many things would have to be
thought of first; but I did not despair either of bribing the jailer to
secrecy, or of making him an accomplice in the flight. Then let us but
once get quit of the Castle, and I knew of a safe place of retreat for
my lord till all hue and cry should be over.

Days and even weeks flew by all too fast for us; for my lord recovered
but slowly, and until he was sound once more it would be hopeless to
think of such a thing as escape. A long ride of twelve miles into
Ilminster was the first use he must make of his liberty; and if he had
not strength to accomplish that, what use to get him out of prison?
July had merged itself into August, and August was waning towards
September, and men spoke with shuddering dread of the coming Great
Assize, when the fate of all prisoners would be settled, and yet only
by very, very slow degrees had my lord struggled back to health; and
even now, for lack of air and his wonted exercise, he was wan and white
and thin, albeit now able to leave his bed, and walk to and fro for an
hour together in his chamber.

Meantime with the jailer I had become great friends, and he was quite
fond of my lord likewise; moreover, he whispered to me that the
Governor was greatly interested in the young man, that he was very
friendly with Lord Lonsdale (who had been in London all this while,
and had not sent a message to his son), and that he was very sure he
would be glad, and indulgent to those concerned, if the young nobleman
should make good his escape before the bloody work of Jeffreys should
commence. The warder told me this with bated breath, and a look in his
eyes which gave me my cue; so I told him that I knew I could get him
twenty guineas forthwith from one who loved the Viscount, and twenty
more if the thing should succeed, to help me to get him safe out of the
Castle before the Judge should come.

At this the man's eyes glistened, and he said that I might count upon
him. He would have done it for less, seeing that the young lord was
so gentle and kind to all, but for that sum he would take care that
nothing miscarried; and I went to Mistress Mary triumphantly with my
news.

But I found her less exultant than I was myself when she knew all; and
she said with anxious eyes,--

"To get him safe out of the Castle is much, good Dicon, but it is not
all. The city is full of soldiers, and these be not kindly men such
as they in the Castle. Some are Colonel Kirke's Lambs, and others the
fierce soldiers of Lord Feversham. They watch with terrible sharpness
those who come and go, and they keep watch by night as well as by day.
Two riders faring forth at any hour of the night will scarce get clear
of Taunton streets; and to be caught and taken back to prison will be
worse than to wait there for what may betide."

I listened aghast to Mistress Mary, recognizing at once the truth of
her words, and feeling my heart sink into my very shoes. All this
while I had never thought of aught but getting my lord safe out of the
Castle; and now, when this seemed to be a thing possible at last, I was
confronted by another and perhaps a worse danger.

"Could he not be hidden away?" I asked.

"Mr. Blewer would find out he was escaped, and raise all Taunton after
him," answered Mistress Mary, "and such places as thou or I know,
Dicon, would first be searched."

She was silent then a great while, and I had no heart to speak; but
suddenly she raised her head and looked me full in the face with
shining eyes.

"Dicon," she said, "I see how it must be done!"

"Oh how, fair Mistress?"

"It must be done, not in the dead of night, but at break of day. He
must ride forth with thee when the town is beginning to stir."

"Mistress Mary," I cried aghast, "all the town will know him!"

She smiled, and touched my hand with her slim white fingers.

"Foolish boy!" she said softly; and then after a pause for thought she
added, "Dicon, wilt do as I say?"

"To the death, Mistress!"

"Then at sunrising to-morrow morning be at this door with Blackbird and
Lady Jane, and we will forth into the fresh morning air together. Then
will I tell thee more."

"I will not fail you, Mistress," I said; and I went home in a great
perplexity.

With the first grey light of dawn I was before the house with the
horses, and Mistress Mary came forth clad in a long grey riding-dress
and a grey cloak and hood. This hood she wore drawn well over her face,
as indeed it was the fashion of maidens to go in the streets, with so
many bold soldiers swaggering about.

We rode quietly down the roads, the soldiers looking at us, and
sometimes challenging us; but there being naught about us to excite
remark or suspicion, we were suffered to go on our way.

We rode some miles almost in silence, and as we were returning Mistress
Mary said, "Dost understand, Dicon?"

"No, Mistress, not yet."

"Come every day at dawn for me so. We ride forth thus day by day till
every sentry in Taunton knows us. Then some morning there shall another
rider sally forth with thee in this grey habit and cloak, and this
hood well drawn over his brows. He shall ride this steed and on this
saddle--though his own good horse shall be waiting at some appointed
place. And who will seek to stop you then, or even give a passing
glance? Say, good Dicon, dost thou see light now?"



CHAPTER XXV.

_JUST IN TIME._


Days fled by apace. Mistress Mary and I continued our daily morning
ride till every sentry and guard within the place must have seen us.
Often we were stopped and questioned at first, or looked at with
suspicion; but by degrees less and less notice was taken of us, and at
last we came and went unmolested, and we knew our object was gained.

Meantime my lord steadily regained his strength, but not so fast as
our impatience wished. We were ever in fear lest something should go
wrong, lest something should happen to remove our friendly warder from
the charge of my lord; and every day as it passed was crowded with
anxieties and terrors.

These terrors were not lessened by what was happening all around us.

Every day arrests were made of persons suddenly accused of favouring
the rebellion of the Duke. The Bridewell by Tone Bridge was crowded to
suffocation with helpless, hapless prisoners awaiting the coming of the
merciless Judge; and one day, to my horror and amaze, I heard from the
weeping Lizzie Simpson that Will Wiseman had been haled off to prison
that very day, she was certain at the instance of that wicked man the
Rev. Nicholas Blewer!

I might well tremble with fear on hearing that news; for if Will's
youth did not protect him from the malice of his enemy or the penalty
of the law, neither would mine protect me; and the rancour of Mr.
Blewer against me might be, for all I knew, as great as it had always
been against Will since that unlucky drawing of his. I shook in my
shoes as I heard the news, and I said to myself in breathless gasps,--

"Suppose they came and took me--before my lord was safe!"

Already the implacable Judge Jeffreys had reached Winchester, and with
shuddering horror and many deep-toned execrations we heard of his vile
and inhuman treatment of the noble and innocent old Lady Lisle. If an
aged and honoured matron of high birth and spotless character could be
ruthlessly condemned to a fiery death, and a reluctant jury bullied and
coerced into passing a verdict against her, what could we of Taunton
hope? A thrill of terror and horror ran through the whole place, and
every face one saw was white and stern and set.

I went that very day to take my lord some provisions and other things,
and to see if the flight might not be made that very night; and when I
had crossed the moat and made my way into the Castle, where I was well
known by this time, the friendly jailer beckoned me aside into his
little narrow room, and whispered some news in my ear.

"Some prisoners are to be removed to-night from the Castle to the
other prison," he said. "They must have more space here now that the
Assize is coming so near, and there be so many to be lodged here. I
have orders to remove my lord elsewhere--not to Bridewell, but to
some underground place here, whence we might never be able to get him
out. But I will make shift to bring him forth with the rest of the
prisoners who are to be taken away; and then, boy, thou must be ready
to hide him somewhere for the night, and get him forth from the town at
daybreak. He will not be missed from the Castle till I give the alarm
on the morrow--and I will take care to do that none too soon--and at
the Bridewell he is not expected, so there will be no question as to
him there. Thou must lie in waiting beside the deep recess nigh to the
bridge; and when we pass towards the prison, I will see that in the
darkness my lord is pushed out of the line and into thy keeping. Have
the maid's hood and habit to throw over him forthwith; and then get him
safe away to some friendly place of shelter till you can ride forth
without fear from the town in the early morning light."

I listened with all my ears, my heart beating joyfully, for the detail
of my lord's flight from the Castle had always been full of difficulty
even with this man's ready help. My lord was weak, and unable for great
efforts, and there were the outer wall and the moat to be crossed;
and save by swimming one scarce knew how that last transit was to be
made at such an hour of the night as we must choose. We had waited and
hoped for some favourable conjunction of circumstances; but none had
as yet arisen, and the guards were often changed at the gates, so that
overtures of friendship commenced and carried on for a time became so
much labour lost when the next change was made.

Now, however, came this happy chance, only just a short while before
the dreaded day of the Judge's entrance.

How my heart beat as I posted myself in the appointed place that
evening after dark! The night favoured us, for it closed in very
gloomy and wet, the rain falling softly and steadily from low-hanging
clouds that quite obscured any faint light from moon or stars. In my
hiding-place it was as dark as pitch; and I crouched against the wall
for shelter, straining my ears as the minutes passed by for the sound
of approaching tramp of feet, my heart often growing sick within me as
I waited and watched, in fear lest some fresh fiat had gone forth and
the change of the prisoners' habitation had been given up.

In my anxiety to be in time I was much too soon, and the time of
waiting seemed well-nigh interminable. I had almost resolved to come
forth and wend my way to the Castle for news, when I heard in the
distance a measured tramp of feet, and drew back once more with a sense
of sickening expectation for the procession to pass.

Nearer and nearer came the tread of many feet. I heard the voices of
the guard as they uttered maledictions on the weather and on the dirty
and uneven state of parts of the road. I crouched in my hiding-place
and held my breath. They were close beside me; they were already
passing! Oh, had this plan failed? where was my lord?

"Hist, Dicon, be ready!" It seemed as though the whisper was in the
air. A second body of men passed me. I could hear, but could see
nothing. In a moment I felt a figure slip beside me in the embrasure,
and with a great throb of heart I whispered,--

"My lord! my lord!"

"It is I, Dicon," answered the well-known voice, though the tone was
very low, and methought sorrowful. But I said no word, only hasted to
get the grey habit and cloak and hood arranged in the darkness; and by
the time that was done every sound had died into silence, and nothing
but the murmur of the river and the plash of the rain fell upon our
listening ears.

"Come, my lord," I said, and took his hand, and together we glided out
of our hiding-place and began retracing our way through the streets. It
was late, and the towns-folk were in bed. The prisoners had been moved
only after the hour for the city to be asleep. Perhaps the Governor
feared some attempt at rescue, perhaps some moving and heart-rending
scene on the part of friends or relatives. At any rate, his orders had
been given for a night move; and to this, and to the clever management
of our friendly jailer, we owed my lord's escape from those grim walls.

He let me lead him whither I would; and I had his place of hiding all
arranged. My low knock at a side door was instantly answered; and the
next moment the door closed upon us, a ray of light streamed out upon
the little group gathered in that place, and my lord passing his hand
across his eyes, spoke for the first time in the exclamation,--

"Mary! Mary!"

For it was Mistress Mary who was standing before him, and Miss Blake
who held the lantern and gazed with eager joy upon the rescued captive.
It was to the house of this brave and generous lady that I had brought
my lord, and that by her own desire.

"It will be safer so," she had said when I told her of the plan. "Come
to the little side door. None will hear or see you; and then when the
morrow comes, and my lord fares forth disguised as Mistress Mary going
for her morning ride, it will be best that he should sally forth from
this door. Bring him hither then, Dicon. Let the children see each
other once again; for in these perilous times there is no telling, when
we once are sundered, when we may meet again."

This was almost the first knowledge I had that Miss Blake looked upon
her own position as one of peril. But I read in her eyes then that she
did; and yet she was willing to harbour a fugitive beneath her roof,
knowing that for such an offence Lady Lisle had but just been condemned
to be burnt alive!

I think that weak women are often braver than men. All honour to the
lady who opened her doors to us that night!

I could not, however, linger. I wished not to arouse suspicion by
my movements, and I slipped away and into the inn and up to my room
without meeting a soul. My uncle did not trouble much about my comings
and goings, and I knew how to go in and out at will, even when the
doors were closed. But there was little sleep for me that night. I
tossed and turned upon my bed, thinking of every sort of mishap that
might occur to hinder my lord's flight; and with the very earliest of
the dawn, when there was scarce light to dress myself by, I arose, and
was soon in the stable feeding the horses and wondering how I should
feel when next I performed that office here, and whether I should ever
return to Taunton save as a prisoner, to await my trial with the rest.

I dare not go much before my usual time to fetch my charge from Miss
Blake's house, else might our unwonted promptitude excite remark. It
was a clear, bright September morning, and the sun was beginning to
rise in the east when at last I stood before the door and knocked,
feeling all the while as though my own heart were knocking at my ribs
loud enough to be heard by all the town.

The door opened, a veiled and muffled figure came out, and but for the
extra height--and Mistress Mary was taller for a woman than my lord for
a man, so that the discrepancy was not so very great--I should never
have guessed but that it was my lady herself. In another minute we had
commenced our ride through the yet quiet streets, few persons being
about save the sentries, who scarce cast a glance upon us as we moved
leisurely along; and indeed, now that he was sitting the horse woman
fashion, it would take a clever pair of eyes to detect any difference
from my companion of every day. And with each turning passed my heart
leaped up within me, for safety seemed to be already gained, and once
free of Taunton--

But there my meditations came to a sudden end, my heart seemed to stop
beating till my head felt like to burst, and a mist swam before my
eyes; for there half a street ahead of us, but standing still as if
for us to come up, was Mr. Blewer, mounted on a horse, and looking at
us with such an ugly leer in his eyes that I felt as though he already
knew all, and that we were undone.

There was shadow still in the street, and my lord wore the hood drawn
right over his face, as Mistress Mary was wont to wear it. Nothing
could be seen of his face at such an hour; but what if the cunning foe
had divined our plan, and insisted on looking beneath?

"My lord, my lord, have a care," I whispered, "or we are undone! Mr.
Blewer is about to address us."

That was all I had time to say. Already we were approaching the waiting
horseman; and he, making a sweeping bow with his hat, and giving one of
his most hideous smiles, reined alongside my lord's horse and said,--

"Fair Mistress Mary, I have seen thee pass up and down these streets
these many days with thy faithful servant. Methought thou wouldst not
disdain another escort, and the temptation to join thee was too strong
for flesh and blood to resist. Say, sweet mistress, hast thou no kind
word for me? Knowest thou not yet how deep is the devotion of thy poor
servant and humble suitor?"

There was no answer from the veiled figure, only the head was drawn
up with a haughty gesture, so like that of Mistress Mary when angered
that I could have smiled had I dared. I breathed a little more freely.
I saw that no suspicion had entered yet the evil mind of this man. He
believed that he was addressing Mistress Mary; and I racked my brains
to think of any means whereby this delusion could be kept up, and our
most unwelcome attendant dismissed without his suspicions being aroused.

Giving him a look and a wink, as though I had something to say to him,
I drew his attention off for a moment from the one he supposed to be
Mistress Mary. Having done so, I dropped behind; and he, after speaking
once more to the silent figure beside him, and receiving no answer,
looked back at me, and on receiving a nod, fell behind too; whilst the
grey-clad figure rode on ahead, as though glad to be rid of us both.

May Heaven pardon me for my falsehood that day! I have learned, since
I have come to think seriously upon such matters, that it is wrong to
seek to meet evil by evil, and that to be false in order to outwit the
cunning of others, or to stoop to evil practices to secure good ends,
is a thing abominable in the eyes of God, albeit there is too much of
it mixed up in the things of this world. But I was then only a lad.
I felt that I would risk all I possessed in this world and the next
for the safety of my lord; and I had not been taught to look with
abhorrence upon all crooked ways. Wherefore I had rapidly turned over
in my mind how best I could deceive the miscreant who rode beside me,
and I spoke to him false words without a qualm of conscience.

"Sir," I said, in a whisper that bespoke good fellowship, "if you
really would wed with Mistress Mary, you would do well to wait three
more days till my Lord Lonsdale be come back to his house. I have heard
that he will then summon Mistress Mary home to him there, thinking
Taunton no safe place for her when once the inquisition of blood
begins. Then let her once be there, safe in his care, and I am sure he
will welcome any godly man who comes to woo and wed her. Mistress Mary
has said as much herself. I sometimes think her heart is failing her,
and that she will soon be willing to save herself from peril by doing
her guardian's will, and wedding with the husband he has chosen."

Mr. Blewer's eyes sparkled greedily. Sometimes I wonder that he
believed me, knowing, as he must certainly have done, of the way in
which I had been mixed up with the cause of the Duke and with my
lord. But then, again, mine uncle had given it out all through the
place (although I knew it not at the time) that I had gone forth as a
spy, and that my mission was to send him news of the movements of the
rebels--and there was enough truth in this to bear out his words; and
since he himself had gained a character for trimming his sails to the
prevailing winds, it was not altogether unlikely that I, his kinsman,
should have caught the trick from him. Also a man is always prone to
believe that which accords with his desires.

Wherefore Mr. Blewer looked eagerly at me, and asked in a yet lower
whisper, and with an air of confidence and good-will,--

"Then thou thinkest, good Dicon, that her heart is already inclining
towards me?"

"I think it will incline more and more if you, good sir, will hold
aloof for a while, and let her feel her loneliness. My lord the
Viscount, for whom she had a maid's fancy, is in prison, and like to
die, as all men say, if not of his wounds, yet by the hand of the
executioner; and all those whom she most loves are in prison or in
peril. Doubtless she will soon feel the need of some strong man's
arm to lean upon. Only try her not too soon. Let her first feel her
guardian's displeasure. Let him first set before her the peril in
which she stands for her handiwork, and meddling in the matter of
those banners and colours. Afterwards she may incline the more to one
who seeks her in her hour of trouble and desertion. But seem to come
to her then as a deliverer. Trouble her not now, whilst her heart is
still proud, and she is still buoyed up with false hopes. Let her hear
a little more of the work of the Judge, which has but now commenced.
Methinks that will bring her to her senses."

"Boy, thou dost talk like a philosopher and a student of women. Whence
dost thou get such wisdom at thy years?"

"Nay, good sir, it is not wisdom; it is but knowing something of the
whimsies of maids from having sisters at home who are as contrary as
the winds of heaven. And now, an it please you, sir, I must join my
lady; but if you will wait for another day, I think your suit will be
the better forwarded."

Mr. Blewer looked first at me and then at the figure in front as though
in deliberation; but at last, to my infinite relief, he reined in his
horse and said,--

"So be it, Dicon; thou mayest be right. And I will make my lady answer
for this pride and haughtiness in days to come."

So then he turned and rode back whence he had come, whilst I joined my
lord; and we soon left Taunton behind, and knew that for the present
our perils were over.

Three miles away, at a little obscure farm-house, I had a horse ready
for my lord. All that had been settled days ago, none knowing what
sudden change might cause us to make our attempt without much warning.
I intended, however, to take Lady Jane the whole way, and to let my
lord ride woman fashion into Ilminster in the dusk, cloaked and hooded
as before; for there were soldiers on the watch in every town, and we
should be far less like to draw notice upon ourselves thus than if my
lord rode openly into the city, where his face might like enough be
known.

So we had a very gentle and easy day, stopping long at the lonely farm
to rest; and I wondered at his silence and sadness, since our journey
had so far been crowned with success. But he smiled when I asked him,
and made answer,--

"My sadness is not for myself, good lad; thanks to thy courage and
quickness and my Mary's devotion, all has gone well with me. But I
cannot forget those poor, simple fellow-prisoners of mine, who went
with me from the Castle but yesterday, and who may so soon be called
upon to die a terrible death. They have been so much less guilty than
I. They followed like sheep where they were led. In their simple souls
was no thought but of victory and an easy triumph for a rightful King.
And they must die like sheep; whilst I, who knew better the two sides
of the picture, and who rebelled against the reigning sovereign with
open eyes--I am to escape all consequences, whilst others suffer the
full penalty of the law. I cannot but be sad. I could weep tears of
blood. Were it not for my Mary's sake, methinks I would even now give
myself up, and die with the rest."

I loved him for his gentle words, but I sought to comfort him too.

"It would not help them for you to die, my lord."

"No, else would I die for them," he said.

The day passed in short journeys and frequent halts, chiefly at places
where I knew the people and was sure of a welcome. The last halt we
made was but three miles from Ilminster; and there we abode till the
dusk fell and we could ride into the town under cover of the evening
shadows, yet not so late as to attract notice or remark.

My lord donned the grey habit once again, and leaving his own horse
at the farm till I should fetch it thence, took Lady Jane and the side
saddle, and so rode through the gathering twilight into Ilminster.
There I was hailed by one or two friends, all anxious for news of
relatives and friends in Taunton. I showed no haste nor anxiety in
holding parley with them; and when one asked me who was my companion,
I answered at once that it was a maid on her way to her friends at
Lyme, and that I had promised her a bed at my aunt's house, whither her
friends would fetch her on the morrow.

And thus talking and explaining we rode through the streets, till we
alighted at my aunt's door.

Right gladly did she receive me, and right kindly did she greet my
companion, whom she took at the first to be a maid, until I whispered a
word in her ear, and got a squeeze of the hand in reply. But so long as
her servants were about the place, she made as though my lord were in
truth a maid, and only when we were alone together in the guest-chamber
did she permit herself to welcome him as his own self.

The secret chamber was ready, and with some pride and pleasure she took
us up, and showed us all the arrangements made for the comfort of the
fugitive.

"If it be but changing one prison for another, my lord," she said as
he would have thanked her, only that she put his words aside, "I will
answer for it that you shall lack nothing here; and that so soon as
this cruel and wicked Judge has gone, and peace settles down once more
upon this unhappy land, its doors will open for you, and you will
go forth to your friends, whilst I shall have known the honour and
pleasure of saving the life of Lord Lonsdale's son."

"Madam," said my lord, "words are all too poor as a medium of thanks.
But tell me, are you sure that no hurt can fall upon you for this good
deed? If peril were to threaten you for this act of charity to me, I
would sooner go forth into the street now, and give myself into the
hands of the guard to do with me as they would."

"Hoots, my lord, talk not so wildly!" answered my aunt, giving him a
motherly pat on the shoulder. "There is not a soul in this house that
knows of this chamber here. Not a soul in the town wishes me ill, or
would speak a word to trouble me. We will soon contrive, Dicon and I,
that the household believes the maid who entered my doors leaves again
on the morrow. Go to bed, laddie, go to bed--that is the only place you
are fit for--and leave Dicon and me to settle all the rest. He shall
bring you a supper before long that will be better than prison fare;
and then to rest and get sound and strong is all you will have to think
of this many a day."

I waited on my lord, and soon saw him betwixt the fine woven sheets of
my good aunt's spinning, on a bed so soft that he said it was enough to
send him to sleep of itself. Indeed after he had partaken of the good
cheer prepared for him, he quickly sank to sleep, feeling that at least
no prison walls enclosed him, and that if he were not yet a free man,
he was on the way to freedom. The terrible days that were threatening
Taunton would not touch him.

My aunt and I sat far up in the night talking in low tones of the
fearful things that were everywhere happening. Every fresh person one
saw in those days had some new story of horror to unfold. Ilminster
had its tale of citizens languishing in different jails till the Judge
should pass sentence upon them; and every house had its cause of fear,
or at best was saddened by the shadow which had fallen upon others.

With the first light of day I was up, and had brought round Lady Jane,
saddled for the maid; and out to me came my aunt, robed in the grey
hood and habit--for her figure being tall and spare, none who saw her
would know any difference; and the neighbours beginning to open their
windows nodded to me and wished me a good journey, whilst they spoke
kindly to my companion, whom they took to be a girl in a humble walk in
life, and who gave them a low-toned answer of thanks.

Then we started, I leading the horse by the bridle; and only when clear
of the town did my aunt dismount from her unaccustomed perch, take
from the bundle she carried her own head-gear and cloak, and, leaving
me to dispose of Lady Jane as I would, made her way back by another
route to the town, and was seen in the market as usual making her daily
purchases.

As for me, I took Lady Jane to the farm where Lord Vere's horse was
stabled, and then made my way back to Ilminster. I remained one more
night with my aunt, saw that my lord had all he needed for comfort,
and was well pleased with his surroundings; and then taking Blackbird
on the following morning I rode him back to Taunton, leaving the other
horses with the farmer till I could reclaim them with safety.

I got back to Taunton to give the other twenty guineas to the kindly
jailer, and to be in time for the terrible pageant which was to take
place now within its environs.



CHAPTER XXVI.

_THE TERRIBLE JUDGE._


"Dicon, my father says he has heard that that terrible man will have up
Miss Blake and the Taunton maids who made and presented the colours.
Heaven alone knows what fearful thing will happen to them then! Dicon,
let me have speech with Mary! She must be got away; she must be hidden
till the storm be overpast! I have an hour to spare, whilst my father
has business with Sir William. Dicon, dost thou know that Lord Jeffreys
abides with him in his house here in the town? But he has sent all his
women folk to Orchard Portman. He will not let them meet yon wicked and
terrible man. Methinks a King who can use such instruments is little
fit for his place! Dicon," lowering her voice to a whisper, her eyes
flashing with a noble indignation as she spoke, "dost thou know what
is said?--that if only this monster in human shape slays enough men
here in the West to satisfy that bloody tyrant his master, he is to
be rewarded with the great seal of the Chancellor! Truly the people
had right on their side when they rebelled against such a tyrant; only
they needed one to lead them whose title was above reproach, and who
came not under false pretences. Surely the day will come when such a
champion will arise, and England will free herself from the hateful
yoke of an unjust, an illegal, and a cruel tyranny."

The speaker was Mistress Mary Bridges, and since her heroic act, of
which I have already spoken, she had become an idol of the people
of Taunton and a companion to her father such as she had never been
before. She had ridden in with him that day, and now was all eagerness
to see Mistress Mary Mead; but when she returned to the inn-yard after
her visit was paid, it was with a grave face and anxious mien.

"Dicon, I have argued and entreated in vain. She will not fly! She will
not leave Miss Blake to meet the storm alone. Her pupils are nearly all
of them fled. Some few remain in Taunton, but many are conveyed away
I know not whither. Mary says that she had as much to do with those
banners as Miss Blake, and she will not flee and leave her. She says
were all to be done again she would do as she has done. She has no
fear. She is not afraid even of the wicked Jeffreys. She will stay and
confront him, and will not let herself be hidden. But, O Dicon, though
I love her the more for her courage, I fear that ill will come of it!"

"What can they do to her?" I asked with a shudder. "They will not kill
her?"

"Oh no, no!" answered Mary. "I asked my father just now, and he said
that the penalty for such an offence was not like to be more than
a heavy fine. Even that monster would not dare to condemn a maid
to worse than that. But it is the being brought before him, being
subjected to his brutal words and looks, his hideous jibes and his
inhuman threats. O Dicon, the stories of yon man in other places make
my blood run cold! To think of Mary exposed to his baleful glance. But
she knows no fear; she will not let Miss Blake bear it alone."

"It is like her!" I answered, with warm admiration. "And, Mistress
Mary, I will watch over her all I can; and if there be need later, will
take her to the cottage in the marsh, where she will be safe."

"Ay, she will be safe there; and truly after these rains it is few who
could find the way thither. Dicon, let not Lord Lonsdale take her to
his house. They say he will not return till after the trials. He is in
a great fear for his son, but has been told that the Viscount is not
numbered amongst the prisoners. There has been some error or mistake.
He was taken, as many aver; but he has either died of his wounds or
else has escaped in the confusion--no man clearly knows which. Lord
Lonsdale went to Court to seek to win his pardon from the King should
he be brought up for trial and condemned; and he remains there till the
Judge has gone, having a special messenger here to bring him instant
word if his son should be arraigned. But he himself stays where he
is till all peril is past. Then he will come back, and if I mistake
me not, his first act will be to wed Mistress Mary Mead to some man
of known loyalty, both as a protection to herself and as a means of
keeping her away from his son, should the Viscount ever return. Dicon,
guard her from that an thou canst. I trow that my lord will return one
day to claim her, and she must be free to wed him."

I promised young Mistress Mary to use all heed and diligence; and then
I watched her ride away with her father, who came to find her, and
thought that two such noble Marys did not live in all the world as the
two who honoured me with their confidence.

But all Taunton was in a tremble, and within the town there
was that state of things best described by the words of the
prophet--"lamentation, and mourning, and woe."

The great Assize Hall in the Castle was being prepared for the coming
tribunal, and I must needs go to see. It is a very fine hall, as all
men of Taunton know, a hundred and twenty feet long and thirty wide;
and when Taunton was under the Bishop of Winchester's ecclesiastical
jurisdiction, his court used also to be held here. So that still over
the porch were the two keys and the sword, the arms of the Bishop of
Winchester, together with the three bugle horns which were the private
coat of Bishop Horn, who no doubt was a great personage when the place
was built or repaired. Four cherubs occupy the corners, and within the
surrounding garter are the two mottoes, "Honi soit qui mal y pense,"
and "Crux et Vanitas."

Over the two strong arches of the inner gateway stood the grand-jury
room, soon to be occupied by the trembling jury, who, badgered by the
wicked Judge, feared to return any verdict save that of Guilty, however
insufficient the evidence against the unhappy prisoner. We had heard
already how the monster had raved and foamed with fury at any other
verdict, and had driven the unhappy men away again and again, until
he had terrified them into submission. To begin with, the juries were
selected by the Sheriffs; and since the Sheriffs were all loyal King's
men, they had chosen men all in favour of the King's policy. But even
so, they could not altogether throw to the winds all sense of justice
and right; and yet if they dared to give any verdict save that which
the merciless Judge indicated, they went almost in terror of their own
lives. To such a pass had things come under this Special Commission,
instituted by James the Second and conducted according to his own heart
by his chosen tools!

The great Assize Hall was being hung with crimson cloth in honour of
the important occasion. Methought the colour something ominous of what
was coming; but it was said that Lord Jeffreys always looked to be
received with due honour. I had a great and lively curiosity to see
this wicked man, and as I was known to one or more of the custodians of
the place, I was promised entrance that afternoon, when his charge to
the jury was to be given; though after that, when the trials themselves
came on, I must take my chance with the rest of the people. The place
would be thronged to suffocation, and if I wished for entrance I must
seek it at the doors with the others.

I did very much wish to be present, but knew not whether I should
achieve my desire. But at least I was there in a fairly good place that
afternoon, when I knew that the great and wicked Judge had arrived, and
that he was to address the jury at once, so that the business of the
day could commence upon the morrow.

How my heart beat when at last he came, with his brothers of the bench
in attendance, who seemed of no account beside that great burly figure
with those extraordinary eyes, and that bloated face seamed and lined
by passion and drink till it was more like the face of a devil than
of a man. Although I had heard much of Judge Jeffreys, never had I
pictured such a monster in human shape as I beheld that day, as the
western light, level and clear, illumined the great hall and made
plain all the persons assembled there. It was as if the devil himself
looked out from those eyes; and in the loud rasping tones of the voice,
full of fierce invective coupled with brutal taunts and threats, it
was impossible to conceive that there spoke the voice of a monarch's
servant. Oaths of the most blasphemous description fell from his lips,
mingled with such ribald jests as made one's blood run cold. What was
the nature of the charge I cannot tell, for I seemed to hear nothing
but taunts and threats and profane jests all jumbled together in one
hideous medley. No wonder the jurymen stood huddled together, as if
only longing to be out of reach of those basilisk eyes. No wonder that
amongst the crowd assembled to hear those who had relations or friends
amongst the prisoners felt their hearts sink within them. That all
the men declared the Judge to be drunk seemed small consolation. We
had heard before this that it was his habit to be more or less drunk
whilst performing his duties. Possibly in the morning he might be
something more sober; but there were those who averred that he was
even more to be dreaded sober than drunk. In either case he was a devil
incarnate. About that there were no two opinions. And it was passed
quickly through the town that the only chance a prisoner had was to
plead guilty, and so save the court the trouble of trying him. Those
who did this were condemned to death in a mass; but many were respited.
It was said that the Judge had openly declared he would hang every man
who dared to plead "not guilty," and that these would be at once hung
up, whilst those who pleaded "guilty" would be respited for a time,
and possibly escape the final penalty of the law. This was the Judge's
artifice for shortening his bloody work, and it invariably put him in a
tempest of passion when prisoners dared to plead "not guilty."

Do as I would, I could not get into court upon the first day of the
trials; and I ran down to Master Simpson's house to see how things were
going there, and if aught had been heard of Master Simpson himself.
Here I found Miss Hannah Hewling mingling her tears with those of
Lizzie and her aunt; for her brother Benjamin was awaiting his trial
now at Taunton, and the gentle William, only nineteen years old and so
full of sweetness and piety, had already been done to death at Lyme, in
spite of all the favour brought to bear on his behalf.

Amid her tears Miss Hannah read to us a letter he had penned to her
just before he suffered. "I am going to launch into eternity," he
wrote, "and, I hope and trust, into the arms of my blessed Redeemer,
to whom I commit you and all my dear relations." And as he was going
to the place of execution, he repeated to one of his comrades some of
the beautiful words contained in the fourteenth chapter of St. John's
Gospel; and then he added, "Here is a sweet promise for us, 'I will
not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.' Christ will be with us
to the last." And to another who bid him farewell he said, "Farewell
till we meet in heaven. Presently I shall be with Christ. Oh, I would
not change conditions with any in this world! I would not stay behind
for ten thousand worlds." And to a friend who came to comfort him at
the end--not one of the condemned--the friend who had given all these
particulars to Miss Hannah, he said, "Pray remember my dear love to
my brother and sister, and tell them I desire they would comfort
themselves that I am gone to Christ; and we shall quickly meet in the
glorious Mount Zion above."

And so greatly were the officers who carried out the mandate of the
Court touched by his piety and sweetness and gentleness that some wept,
and others declared that had the Chief-Justice himself been there he
could not have let him die. So though no mandate had been given to
that effect, yet the body of the pious youth was given to the people
of Lyme for Christian burial, and was laid in the grave by a number of
young maidens of that place, who had heard the story of his faith and
resignation, and took this Christian office upon themselves.

It could not but comfort the sister's heart to hear all this, though
her tears fell fast as she told the tale. Her heart was sore troubled
too for the brother yet living; but her parents in London had sent her
large sums of money, and it was hoped that the Judge might be bribed
into showing mercy, even though he had condemned the prisoner in court.

Upon the day when Master Benjamin Hewling was to be tried, I was
resolved that I would be there, and would find room too for Miss Hannah
and for Lizzie as well. Money would always do much, and of this there
was no lack; and I went beforehand to the keepers of the doors, and
got a promise that if I would come very early, and keep very quiet
when admitted, they would see that we got smuggled in before the crowd
came thronging and surging in. And this in fact was done; and though
afterwards we were well-nigh suffocated by the press, still we were
placed where we could see and hear. I was the more glad of this because
I heard a whisper that this would be the last day, and that the case of
the Maids of Taunton would come before the Judge at the close of the
more bloody proceedings, and also that of Will Wiseman, the accusation
against whom was only the reading of the Declarations of the Duke to
the populace; his other daring acts seeming not to have become known to
Mr. Blewer, who, we felt certain, was his accuser.

How my heart quaked when I saw the Judge's terrible countenance beneath
its wig of office! The red robes were scarcely more red than the
inflamed visage, and the eyes rolled from side to side with a sullen
fury that was almost more terrible than the ferocity of their gleam
when first I had seen them.

The scenes I saw that day will never be effaced from my memory. I would
that I had the skill to tell the tale as it should be told, but I can
but state a few bald facts. Let the reader fill up the outline as he
will.

Let me speak of the trial of Mr. Simon Hamling--or Hamlyn, as men
indifferently call him. He was a worthy citizen of Taunton, who had
borne a good repute there for long; but had for the last three years
of his life lived some three miles out of the town, and come to and
fro on business. When he heard that the Duke had come, he went to the
town to speak to his son, to advise him to have nothing to do with this
matter of the rising; as he expressed it in his defence, "That as he
expected his blessing and countenance, he should not at all concern
himself in the matter, but submit himself to the will of God in all
things;" and having so delivered himself he went home, and was never
in the town again whilst the Duke was there, save that he came to buy
some provision for his house, as was his custom, on the Saturday. But
he was a dissenter, and the Mayor owed him a grudge. When nothing could
be proved against him as having been concerned in the rebellion, the
Judge fell into such a rage as I have never seen in my life before, so
that all the court quaked and trembled, and he bawled out, "The rascal
is a dissenter! I can smell 'em forty miles!" and forthwith foaming at
the mouth he bid the jury find him guilty, which to their shame they
did; and sentence of death was accordingly passed upon him. Hearing
which the Mayor, being smitten with shame and remorse, strove to get
the sentence reversed; but the Lord Jeffreys turned upon him with one
of his awful oaths, and cried, "You have brought him on; if he be
innocent, his blood be upon you!" and immediately called for the next
prisoner, which was Mr. Benjamin Hewling.

In such a mood as the Judge was now in all saw that the poor young
gentleman had no chance. Many stood forward to try to bear witness
to his blameless character, but were yelled down by the Judge, who
would hear nothing. The prisoner had been in arms in the rebellion,
and should die the traitor's death. Then enraged by the dauntless and
dignified bearing of the young man, his judge stormed and cursed and
raged at him, and made the horrid words of the sentence tenfold more
horrid by the way he flung it at him, till half the women in the place
fell weeping, and Miss Hannah drooped her head and for a minute quite
swooned away.

But the spirit of her brothers possessed her too, and she recovered
herself, and was able to make her way out of the court holding Lizzie's
hand. I must needs stay to see how Will Wiseman fared, and to hear what
befell with regard to the Maids of Taunton, as they were beginning to
be called by the world. Several cases came between, all of which were
treated in the same brutal fashion by the Lord Jeffreys; and when one
thought of the pious and blameless lives many of these men had lived,
their godliness and honesty of purpose, and their piety and sweetness
of disposition, it seemed a strange thing to see them arraigned before
this drunken and blasphemous judge, and feel that he had the power,
in despite of the clearest evidence, to doom them to a frightful and
hideous death.

But my heart beat with a more personal interest when I saw the
familiar face of Will Wiseman in the prisoner's place. He had grown
thin and white during his captivity; for the prisons were crowded and
unwholesome, and the prisoners were but poorly fed. I had done what I
could for him; but I had not succeeded in seeing him, nor could I be
sure that the things I took him from the Simpsons' house ever reached
him aright.

Jeffreys glared at poor Will as though he would have done him to death
on the very spot; but Will looked at him back without any sign of
fear--though, unless he were double and treble as brave as I, he must
surely have been in a sad affright. And then the witnesses suborned
by wicked Mr. Blewer, who had by this time edged himself very near to
the judges, and was looking on with cruel malice in his eyes, came
forward and bore testimony to the fact that Will had read the different
Declarations of the Duke to the people who wished to hear them; and
thankful indeed was I that none came to tell how he had led the assault
upon the arms in the church tower, for I was not sure that that would
not have been a hanging matter. I thought they could not do much to
poor Will for such a small thing as this; but Jeffreys was licking his
cruel lips, and his face had that smile upon it which was almost worse
than his scowl, and he cried out in his husky, rasping tones,--

"A young rogue, but a veritable villain! He must be taught to curb
that mischievous tongue of his! Pity the good old plan of boring it
through with a hot iron is out of fashion now! Never mind; we will
find a cure nevertheless. What does the wise man say? 'Spare the rod
and spoil the child.' Well, we will not do that. The rod shall not be
spared. I give sentence that the prisoner, William Wiseman, be whipped
through every market town in Somerset.--Executioner, warm him well. The
weather is growing sharp. See that he take not cold in the open air.
He will needs be shorn of his clothing. Warm his back for him! warm
it well!" And doubling himself up in brutal laughter at his jest, the
Judge signed for the prisoner to be removed.

My heart went out in pity and rage; but to myself I kept repeating, "My
hoard of guineas--my golden hoard is still almost untouched. Sure it
can win for poor Will an abatement of his punishment. The executioner
at least will not be as brutal as the Judge."

When I came to myself, after having been wrapped in thought for I
know not how long, I felt a curious thrill going through the court;
and there I saw Miss Blake and Mary Mead standing side by side before
the wicked Judge, who was regarding them with a face of curiosity and
malevolent interest.

"And where be the other fair maidens?" he asked, looking at a paper
before him.

The usher of the court replied that only Miss Blake had been summoned;
that the pupils could be found when necessary, but that they were taken
by their parents, and were scattered here and there, save Mistress
Mary Mead, who had claimed to accompany Miss Blake.

The names of twenty or more maids were read out as having been
concerned in the making and the presenting of the colours; and much
ribald jesting was indulged in on the part of the Judge, who, however,
seemed in not so evil a humour as heretofore. Whilst the proceedings
were going on, I observed with uneasiness that Mr. Blewer edged himself
up to Lord Jeffreys; and my uneasiness did not decrease when I saw
them laughing together as if on very friendly terms, and keep throwing
glances in the direction of Mistress Mary, who stood white and calm and
collected beside her more agitated mistress. I think perhaps she had
never looked so beautiful as she did then in her devotion and courage;
and I hated to see the eyes of those two bad men scanning her at their
evil pleasure.

After a while the Judge took up the word again, and said that for the
high misdemeanour of Miss Blake and all the persons named upon the list
which had been read, a fine would be laid upon them by the court; but
that this fine should be the Christmas Box of the Maids of Honour of
her Majesty the Queen, and that they should levy it upon the Taunton
Maids at their will and pleasure. How the sentence was worded I cannot
remember, but that was the substance of it. The Taunton Maids were to
remain at large, but to be given (as it were) to the Maids of Honour
for a Christmas Box; and they were to have liberty to exact as much
money as could be wrung from the parents and guardians of the maids.
But after having so disposed of the irresponsible culprits, the Judge
turned with a heavy frown upon Miss Blake, and thundered out that as
she had been the planner and contriver of all this, and knew what she
was doing, which the young maids did not, she was condemned to be
imprisoned in Dorchester jail at the King's pleasure, where doubtless
she would come to repent her of her evil ways.

Then whilst poor Miss Blake turned pale and seemed about to swoon, and
the women in the court who had known her for long fell a-weeping, the
Judge turned his evil eyes upon Mistress Mary and said,--

"As for you, young Mistress, who are old enough to know better, yet
have been led into evil practices by those about you, I will pass over
your misdemeanour in this matter but lightly. You shall pay your share
of the fine imposed; but for the rest, your imprisonment shall not be
in any jail--that were something too hard for youth and beauty. Yet
inasmuch as you have proved stubborn and rebellious, and are not fit to
be custodian of your own fortune nor of your own person, we give you
here in troth-plight to good Mr. Nicholas Blewer, a godly and a loyal
subject; and he will guide and teach and admonish you, and train you to
be a submissive wife and a good subject. To-morrow we will see you wed
ere we leave the town,--And so, ladies, farewell!"

I listened aghast. My eyes turned helplessly from the evil face of the
Judge to the triumphant one of Master Blewer, wreathed in smiles that
turned me sick; and then to the cold, calm visage of Mistress Mary,
who seemed scarce to take in the meaning of these terrible words.
After standing for a minute, gazing as if horror-struck at the Judge,
she suddenly pulled her hood over her face, and went out walking
unsteadily, so that many thought her weeping.

But I knew better: Mistress Mary's spirit was one that rose under
stress of peril when that of another would have sunk. I was near to a
door, and I pushed my way out and fought my way through all sorts of
places where I had no business, till I found myself at her side. Her
face was as white as death; but she grasped me by the hand when she saw
me, and said, in a low, strained voice,--

"Take me somewhere, Dicon, before _he_ can get out!"

"Come with me!" I said, rapidly reviewing the situation, and striving
to know what to do; and as we passed out together, I heard people
saying one to another, "She is ill! she is stricken to death!" "The
evil visage of that man has killed her!"

"Yes," I cried, seizing my opportunity, "she is ill--she is very ill.
She is stricken with a fever. I must take her to those who can tend
her.--Lean on me, Mistress Mary; I will take care of you."

She obeyed me mechanically. I do not think she either heard or saw.
There was a stunned look upon her face, as though somehow the soul had
gone out of it. I knew that her mind was working inwardly all the more
keenly and intensely; but to others it looked indeed as though she
had been stricken for death, so ashen grey was her face, so fixed and
irresponsive her eyes.

She put her hand upon my arm, and by many by-ways and alleys I led
her away, none following, as all interest was still centred in the
doings of the court. Still I was resolved to baffle all pursuit; and
since poor Miss Blake was committed to prison, there was no safety for
Mistress Mary beneath the accustomed roof.

So I took her straight to the Simpsons' house, where Lizzie welcomed
her with open arms; and after I had whispered long in her ear, a look
of keen intelligence beamed over her face, and she whispered back in
eager accents,--

"Trust us, good Dicon. We would do more than that for sweet Mistress
Mary to save her from such a fate!"



CHAPTER XXVII.

_THE JUDGE'S SENTENCES._


And what then was our plan? If, reader, you will trouble yourself so
far as to read the annals of Taunton for this time, and especially the
part of it which refers to the Taunton Maids, you will find it set down
that there was one maid who appeared in court besides Miss Blake; and
that the terrible looks of the bloody Judge struck such terror into
her heart, that she pulled her hood over her face and fell a-weeping,
and so left the court; and that so great was her fright that she went
home and sank down in a swoon, and was dead of sheer terror before the
sun had set. And if you will seek amongst the graves in the churchyard
here, you will find one that bears the name of Mary Mead; and you
will be told by the sexton that it is the grave of the fairest of the
Taunton Maids, who worked the most beautiful of all the banners that
were given to the Duke of Monmouth by Taunton Town, and who fell sick
upon the very day on which she had borne herself so bravely in court
before the wicked Judge Jeffreys, and died and was buried, though she
was to have been wed on the very day of her funeral.

The story says that it was to a handsome young Viscount that she was to
have given her hand, and claims sympathy for the maid on that account;
but those who remember the real scene know better than that, although
there are but few who know that Mary Mead does not lie in that grave,
but that therein lies only a coffin filled with books and stones;
whilst she--but I must not get on too fast with my story.

In the confusion and excitement of the town at this time, and the
universal fear and indignation inspired by these trials, it was so
easy to arrange the thing. A coffin was brought to the Simpsons' house
that very night, for a maid stricken with a fever; and after it was
filled with heavy substances, the lid was screwed down, and an order
for burial was easy to obtain. For all had heard the story of Mary
Mead in court, and how she had been stricken as it were for death upon
receiving her sentence from the Judge, so that none were surprised
to hear how sudden the end had been; and since Mr. Blewer had drunk
himself drunk with Lord Jeffreys that night, as a fitting preparation
for his nuptials with a pure and virtuous maiden on the morrow, even he
did not trouble us with any inquiry. Then as all men had a wholesome
horror of fever, the coffin was promptly screwed down, and all made
ready for the burying before the dawn of the day.

God forgive us if we did amiss; but those were hard and cruel days, and
poor persecuted folks were driven sometimes to sore straits if they
were to escape worse than death. I, at least, felt no qualm at that
time, whatever falsehood I told to stand betwixt Mistress Mary and the
peril of being wedded to that wicked man, who would make of her fair
young life a veritable hell upon earth. For her sweet sake, let alone
for my lord's, I would have done more than I did. As I say again, God
forgive us our sin; for sin we did, albeit I scarce know now how I
should act were such a thing to come into my life once more.

So whilst all Taunton slept after the excitement of that day, and in
prospect of the near excitements of the coming executions, Mistress
Mary and I slipped from the town on foot, and by unfrequented routes;
and before the first streak of coming day appeared in the east, I
had piloted her through the marshy tract of ground nigh to Bishop's
Hull, and had left her, exhausted but in peace, with the kindly
cottage folks, who had had their instructions from their well-loved
foster-child, and who received this other Mistress Mary with open arms.

Indeed the story of the scene in the Assize Hall roused within them
feelings of the keenest indignation. They would have done much more
than was asked of them to save a victim of wicked Judge Jeffreys from
the fate he had assigned her. They lived near enough to Taunton to know
somewhat of Mr. Blewer and his evil report; and when I sallied forth
again at break of day, it was to feel that no surer place of refuge
could have been found for Mistress Mary, and no more loving guardians.

But there was plenty of work awaiting me still. I knew not the day
nor the hour when Will's punishment would commence; and it was needful
that I should see and bribe the hangman, that he laid the stripes but
lightly on my poor comrade's back, despite the charge of the Judge.
The execution of the prisoners condemned to death was fixed for the
thirtieth of the month--only a few days distant; but Will might be
whipped at any time, and if I knew Mr. Blewer aright, he would seek
the pleasure of seeing it done right speedily. Well did I know that
it was his spite alone which had caused Will to be arrested. And the
only marvel was that I had escaped his rancour, the more so that
I had deceived him about Mistress Mary and Lord Lonsdale's speedy
coming. But perhaps he had thought that I spoke in good faith, and was
myself deceived. At least he doubtless saw his way to a more speedy
and triumphant accomplishment of his wishes by gaining the ear of
the wicked Judge, and therefore laid his plans accordingly, caring
nothing for the guardian's consent, now that he had the mandate of the
Chief-Justice.

I reached the town again before daylight, and found Master Simpson's
house straitly shut up. For already it had been whispered abroad that
Mistress Mary had died of the plague--the report having been set afoot
by the gossip of the excited maid-servant, who had seen the grey and
rigid face of the maiden as she was brought in, and hearing almost
at once that she had died, ran forth in a great fright to her own
relations, and declared that she had seen a dark spot on the brow of
the lady; and in a short while it was being whispered about that the
plague had suddenly stricken her and carried her off--which was thought
only too possible in those days.

Nothing could have turned out better for our purpose, albeit we had
not ourselves set the rumour afloat, nor did we hear anything of it
till that morning, when a mandate reached the household from the Mayor,
ordering instant burial for the body, and that none should come forth
from that house till leave was given from him.

Luckily for me I was away when that mandate came, so I escaped the
imprisonment which Lizzie and her aunt suffered for fourteen days, very
willingly. And this saved them from any questioning or trouble from Mr.
Blewer, who did not dare to came anigh the house; and though they say
he raved and raged horribly at the ill turn fate had done him, he did
not suspect for a moment that any trick had been played upon him. He,
like all Taunton, believed in the death of the maid; and only when no
more signs of the plague appeared in the house or the place did men say
it was most like to have been a virulent fever, caught perhaps in court
from some prisoner from the fetid jail, or engendered by the fright of
being brought face to face with the Judge.

As for me, being unable to obtain entrance to the Simpsons' house, I
went straight home and took from my store several golden guineas; and
then I made my way to the Bridewell, to seek speech with the hangman,
and see if I could bribe him to treat Will but lightly and mercifully.

Whilst I was passing through the streets I saw a great crowd gathered.
Coming hastily to the edge of it, I asked what was going on, and was
told that Mistress Hannah Hewling had been waiting outside a certain
house where Lord Jeffreys was known to be, to petition him on coming
out for a respite of her brother's sentence; for she verily believed
that such interest would be made by their parents and friends in London
town, that if he could but be respited a few days his pardon would be
assured.

I heard a woman's voice in the midst of the crowd raised in imploring
tones, and I heard the brutal laugh of the wicked Judge--that malicious
laugh I had heard so often of late, and which seemed the most evil
thing about that most evil man. Then suddenly the crowd parted with
cries of, "Have a care! have a care!" and I saw that the Judge had
stepped into his coach, and that the prancing horses were just starting.

But even then Mistress Hannah would not cease her pleading. She hung
upon the coach, still rending the air with her cries, and offering--I
think it was a thousand pounds for just two days' respite. But Jeffreys
looked forth from the window, his eyes scintillating with passion, and
he cried out to his coachman,--

"Whip her off! whip her off! Cut her hands to pieces! I will not be
badgered thus!"

And the man, who seemed to be a worthy fellow of such a master, took
his heavy whip and lashed at the poor lady's white hands as they still
clung to the coach; and the people started forward and caught her as
she fell away, half fainting with pain and anguish. And methinks if
the Judge could but have heard the curses with which he was followed as
he drove away, he would scarce have felt comfortable for the rest of
the day.

Now it so chanced that Mother Whale was in Taunton that day, and she
was standing in the crowd when this thing happened; and suddenly
tossing her withered arms into the air, she burst into a torrent of
execration that sounded almost like words of prophecy. The people stood
agape with a stern joy as she hurled her maledictions upon him, and
screamed after him that his turn would one day come--that he should
himself be a fugitive from mankind, and should sue for the mercy which
should be refused him, and should perish miserably at last like the
wretched brute beast that he was!

Then all the people cried, "Amen! Amen!" and Mother Whale was taken
into many houses that day and treated sumptuously; but she would add
nothing to the words she had spoken, nor say how and when they would be
fulfilled. All Taunton, however, was whispering that a frightful fate
would follow this monster, and a stern satisfaction was upon the faces
of those who heard and those who told the news.

So many interruptions on the way hindered my errand, and I was but
just in time. Poor Will was to be whipped through the streets of the
town this very day; but the fellow who had charge of the whipping was
known to me, and had small relish for the office, seeing that Will was
a favourite with all who knew him, and had won golden opinions in
the prison by his wit and cheerfulness, and the way he had served and
entertained his fellow-prisoners, keeping up their courage and making
light of hardships.

It needed little of my gold to win the promised leniency.

"I would not lay a finger on the lad if I could help it!" said the
man; "but were I to put the office on another, the poor fellow might
fare worse. He is a right brave and good lad. I would it were yon
black-coated knave of a parson that I had under my lash! I would not
spare him. I would warm his shoulders well, and give them a red jacket
to boot that he should carry for long enough!"

Mr. Blewer was not beloved in Taunton, and his spite towards Will had
long been known.

Will came out looking pale, as he had done in court yesterday, but
resolute and fearless for all that. His eyes lighted at sight of me,
and he gave the hand I held out to him a hearty squeeze.

"It's all for the good cause, Dicon," he said. "Art not thou ashamed to
speak with one who is to be tied to the cart's tail yonder?"

"Ashamed of thee, Will? I would I were half the man that thou art!" And
then coming a little nearer, I whispered in his ear,--

"He will make thy punishment as light as he can, Will; and after the
Judge be safely gone back out of the West, men say that prisoners will
have little to fear. The Mayors and people of the towns will have none
of his brutal sentences carried out. Thou wilt not be sent from town to
town as he said."

Will gave a nod, but could say no more; for the executioner had come
to tie him to the cart, and Mr. Blewer came hurrying up that he might
witness the pain and shame of the boy he hated. But this was too much
for the crowd. Whether or not this man was a friend of the dreaded
Judge who had not yet left the town, the crowd was not to be quelled.
A storm of groans and hisses arose at sight of him; women shook their
fists in his face, and children took up stones, and would have cast
them at him but for the restraining hands of their mothers. One great
brawny blacksmith came forward with his hammer in his hand and stood
right in front of the white-faced poltroon, who was looking this way
and that, as though he knew not whether to fly or to hurl threats and
defiance at the mob.

"Look you here, sir," said the man, speaking loud enough for everybody
to hear. "You'd better watch this thing from somewhere else than the
public streets, if you don't want the coat, which you're a disgrace
to, to be torn off your back! I tell you, sir, that it would not take
more than a few words from some amongst us to get you stripped and set
where that poor lad is now; and there's not a man amongst us but would
be glad to lay lashes on your back--ay, and we would too, if once our
blood was up. So if you value a sound skin, go while there is yet time!
Taunton Town is not trodden so much in the dust yet that she cannot
rise in revolt against a monster like you!"

Yells, hisses, and groans filled the air, and Mr. Blewer's face turned
from white to purple, and again faded to an ashen grey. If ever man
looked cowed and beaten, he did then. But he took the hint, and made
off as fast as his legs would carry him; and I verily believe had it
been any other time--had the sense of fear inspired by recent events
not been still strong upon the people--that he would have been pounced
upon then and there, and whipped at the cart's tail through the streets
of Taunton by the infuriated populace.

As it was, it was poor Will who was whipped, though the lashes were but
lightly laid on; and I think the boy scarce felt the pain in the sense
of triumph at the discomfiture of his foe, and in the encouragement
and sympathy of his townsmen. I walked beside him all the way, and he
looked at me every now and then with a smile. All sense of shame--which
to some natures is the bitterest part of such a punishment--was saved
him; for he was regarded by the people as a sufferer in a noble cause,
and as a youthful martyr might have been in days of old. Women wept and
blessed him; men called out brave words of praise and encouragement. He
held his head up to the very last; and though he sometimes winced and
shrank, he did not utter a cry the whole way through the town and back.

But alas, alas! we had only raised in the breast of his implacable foe
a spirit of hostility which would not be satisfied without a speedy
vengeance. As we entered the yard of the prison again, there was Mr.
Blewer waiting for us; and as he cast a scrutinizing glance upon poor
Will's back lined with blue wales, he uttered a snort of contempt and
anger, and turned upon the executioner with an air of stern displeasure.

Will was led away by the jailer, who treated him kindly enough; but the
hangman was detained by Mr. Blewer, who said severely,--

"Why, fellow, what do you mean by carrying out my lord's sentences
in such a fashion? He straitly charged you not to spare the rod; and
you have not only spared it, but have scarce let him feel it! I tell
you, fellow, the Judge's mandates are not thus to be set aside. I will
report the matter to him, and see what he says!"

And at that the fellow broke out in a great passion, as well indeed he
might.

"Sir," he cried, "men talk with horror of the cruelties of the Popish
Priests; but commend me to a Church of England Priest for downright
cruelty! You are like the country Justices who will not believe that a
man is burnt in the hand unless they can see a hole through it! Shame
upon you, sir. You would not dare to speak thus were the citizens of
Taunton here to listen!"

Mr. Blewer's face expressed all sorts of evil emotions. He raised the
cane he held in his hand and slightly threatened the man with it.

"Have a care, fellow! have a care how you speak, or you may chance to
get a taste of your own rope's end one of these days!"

"I would I could give you a taste of it!" muttered the man as he walked
off in a rage; and as I followed him to get speech if it were possible
of Will, he broke out again and cried, "I verily believe the whole
place has gone mad. Men seem to be drunk with blood. Surely this is
like the great whore of the Scriptures who is drunk with the blood of
saints and martyrs! The King and his ministers will have a deal to
answer for when the books come to be opened at the Day of Judgment!"

My heart swells even now with indignation when I think of the rest of
this story. What passed betwixt Mr. Blewer and that wicked Judge I know
not, nor can any man tell, but (although I knew it not till after the
evil deed had been done--whereby I was saved some suffering) a mandate
was sent down that very day to the keeper of the prison, saying that
the boy Wiseman was to be whipped again upon the morrow; and that
another man was to be chosen for the office, that the sentence of the
Judge might be adequately carried out! And this thing was done in the
prison-yard--for methinks the keeper of the prison was afraid to do it
in the open streets--and the poor lad was so cruelly whipped that they
say the bones of his back were laid bare. And it was in almost a dying
state that he was carried back to the prison, where he fell into high
fever, and might well have died had not news come of it to our ears,
and had we not procured for him a separate room, where he could have
ease and quiet, and such good nourishment and tendance as his state
demanded.

But when I saw him first he knew me not; and though I came day after
day, he lay in a death-like stupor, muttering to himself, but speaking
no word that any might understand, and only moaning a little when his
wounds were dressed by the godly woman whose services we had bespoken
for him.

"Never weep for him, Dicon," said the good woman to me, as my tears
fell fast at his sad state. "Methinks the Lord will yet raise him up.
And this fever is a merciful thing for him, for it dulls his pains,
and he knows naught of his sufferings: it would be far worse were he
himself. We will get his wounds partly healed before he comes to feel
them. He takes his broth and milk, and he gets a sort of rest by day,
though he is wakeful and feverish at night. Yet I can see that he makes
progress day by day. He is a bold lad and full of spirit. He will be a
sound and whole man yet, please God."

So I received comfort, though my heart was still full of rage and
grief; and methinks Mr. Blewer would have been well-nigh torn in pieces
in Taunton streets had he dared to show himself there, but he took
himself off to Wells when the Judge moved thither, and for a short time
we saw him no more.

There was one more terrible day for Taunton upon the last of this month
of September, when the bloody sentences of death were executed upon the
prisoners condemned to die there--nineteen in number.

Great numbers of other prisoners, who were condemned on pleading guilty
in a body, did not suffer death, but were sold by the Judge to various
persons, who either extorted from their friends a ransom for them, or
in the case of meaner persons, whose friends had no money, shipped them
off to the plantations to be sold there, where it was said that they
fetched about ten pounds a head. Great numbers of these unfortunate men
perished on the outward voyage; but some reached there alive, and of
these some very few returned in after years to their country and their
friends. I have myself spoken with more than one such, who has told me
moving stories of the sufferings they underwent first in the vessels
which conveyed them to these torrid zones, and afterwards at the hands
of cruel task-masters. But of this I cannot more particularly speak
now. It belongs not to my story, save to account for the fact that
whilst so many, many hundreds, and even thousands, were condemned to
death, the greater number of these were not executed, but were treated
in this manner.

I will not describe further the horrid side of the execution of our
friends and fellow-citizens of Taunton; but I will speak of their
bravery, their resignation, and the words and bearing of them, which
made even their enemies say afterwards, "If you want to learn how to
die, go to the young men of Taunton to learn."

No respite of his sentence had come for Mr. Benjamin Hewling, and he
was one of the most courageous and steadfast of them all. Of those to
die with him whom I have named in these pages were Master (or Captain)
John Hucker and Mr. William Jenkyns. The only favour that their friends
could obtain for some amongst these was the right to bury them in the
churchyard after death. To save his corpse from dismemberment, Miss
Hannah Hewling had to pay the thousand pounds she had offered for the
life of her brother; and there were a few others who gained this
privilege also, though upon what terms I have never heard. Surely this
Western Assize must have been a fortune in itself for Lord Jeffreys. It
was told us afterwards that he bought a fine property on the proceeds
of the bribes received and the sale of prisoners living or dead.
Methinks that such a house as that must surely have been haunted by the
shades of many an innocent sufferer!

When the prisoners were brought forth from the Castle by the Sheriffs,
and the sledge brought which was to convey them to the place of
execution--the Cornhill, where already a large fire had been lighted,
so that those who were to be dismembered and their hearts burned might
see the flames beforehand--they came forth looking calm and glad,
and speaking brave words of comfort both to one another and to their
friends, Mr. Benjamin Hewling being (like his younger brother) most
sweet and tender in his fashion of speaking, so that tears ran down
all faces. But the Sheriffs hurried them upon the sledge, grudging to
them even the last words and embraces of their friends; and then the
procession started. But a very strange thing then happened: the horses
kept stopping short and refusing to draw the sledge, and they snorted
and shrank back, and broke out in a sweat, as horses will do when
greatly frightened. And all men marvelled at it, and whispered one to
another that sure the Angel of the Lord stood with a drawn sword in
his hand to keep back His servants from their bloody doom. I believe
indeed that this was so; for I, who was mounted on Blackbird, that I
might see above the heads of the crowd, felt him shake and grow rigid
beneath me, as though he too saw some strange sight. At last the Mayor
and Sheriffs had themselves to come forward and actually pull and force
the horses onwards, although to the very last they resisted, and showed
every sign of terror and reluctance.

Upon the scaffold the prisoners embraced each other and joined in
prayer; but they were rudely interrupted by the Sheriff, who doubtless
feared some breaking forth on the part of the people.

"May we not pray a while ere we are brought before our Maker?" asked
one; whereupon the Sheriff answered by a rough question,--

"Will you pray for the King?"

"I pray for all men," was the answer; and having thus prayed, he
further asked if they might sing a Psalm.

"It must be with the ropes about your necks then," answered the Sheriff
brutally; but with a smile they consented joyfully to this.

Sure never was Psalm so sweetly or strangely sung as the twenty-third
of David that day by our brothers just with their last breath. So
touched were all by the scene, that it seemed as though all the town
had come forth to bear to their graves those for whom this favour had
been purchased; and as we stood to see the earth thrown upon them, we
broke ourselves into the words of the same Psalm, and felt indeed that
the valley of death had had no terrors for those who walked with the
staff of the Lord in their hands, and were comforted by His presence
even there.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

_PEACE AFTER STORM._


The Judge was gone; the prisons were emptying fast; men began to
breathe again after their long terror; those who had fled their homes,
and had been living in hiding in terror of their lives, came out once
more, and appeared to gladden the hearts of their friends. It was said
that a general pardon would now be issued to all those who had not
suffered, and that the terrible time was over at last. The King, we
heard, had been excellently well pleased by what his Lord Chief-Justice
had done in the West, and soon rewarded him with the Chancellorship, as
had always been believed. I think perhaps it was the knowledge of these
things which went far to stir the hearts of the people against their
sovereign, and to pave the way three years later for the bloodless
revolution which set a Protestant and a Constitutional ruler upon the
throne in place of the Papist tyrant. I sometimes think that had we of
the West Country had more patience, and had we waited till the time was
ripe, we might have been called patriots and saviours of our country
instead of rebels and traitors, to be massacred and hanged by the
hundred. But then, again, I have learned to doubt whether the Duke of
Monmouth would ever have been received by the nation, or have made a
wise ruler had he been so received. Men who best understand him and the
matter say that he could never have made good his title to the throne,
that he was not born in wedlock, and that the people would never have
suffered a sovereign with a stain upon his birth. Queen Mary with her
good husband proved a kind and a wise ruler, and beneath her gentle
sway peace, order, liberty, and prosperity were quickly restored; and
yet there be men who even now talk as though the Duke or his son might
yet come back to put forward a claim, and many declare that he never
died upon the scaffold, but that he was personated to the very last by
a devoted follower.

All this is looking ahead. In the days of which I speak we had no
knowledge of the good times to come. We breathed indeed, feeling that
the iron hand of military and judicial vengeance was relaxed from our
throat; but it seemed to us then as if the bloody James were seated all
the more firmly upon his throne.

And now what shall I tell next of all the events that followed in such
quick succession? Perhaps whilst my mind is upon the subject I will
speak of Mr. Blewer and the vengeance which fell upon him for his
cruelty to a Taunton boy.

I have mentioned before good Bishop Ken, who did so much to ease the
condition of prisoners, and who was beloved throughout all his diocese.
He came to visit Taunton not long after these things had happened;
and going into the prison, he found poor Will in a sad state still,
although greatly better than he had been.

It chanced, as luck would have it, that I was with him when the Bishop
came; for Will's case had excited much comment in the town, and he was
permitted to see his friends and enjoy many small privileges, which
indeed his state demanded. And after the kindly Bishop had spoken to
the boy, and had prayed beside him a beautiful prayer, he asked me
how he came into so sad a state. Then I told him everything I knew,
striving to hold my wrath in check, as was due to my superior, but
scarce able to keep it from breaking out when I spoke of Mr. Blewer.

I thought that the Lord Bishop's face grew stern as he listened, and I
hoped that some punishment might fall upon the man who was a disgrace
to the sacred calling he had embraced; and in truth I was not mistaken
in this, as I will proceed to tell.

I think it was the next day that the Bishop and Mr. Axe were walking
together through the town, and talking of many things--Mr. Axe, as I
have many times said, being a reverend and godly man, well thought of
by all, a loyal servant to the King, and a lover of order, but always
on the side of mercy and justice.

Well, as these walked and talked there came towards them Mr. Blewer,
mincing and bowing, and plainly resolved to gain the notice of the Lord
Bishop; for he had an eye to promotion to some office in the Church,
and trusted that he might gain the good-will of this good man, and so
be appointed to some living. As he approached, the Bishop looked at
him, asking his companion who the person was who evidently desired to
attract his notice. Mr. Axe replied with some brevity and coldness that
his name was Mr. Blewer, and that he had been living for some time in
Taunton, appointed by Mr. Harte to assist in the services of St. Mary's
Church.

At the sound of that name the Bishop's fine face became very stern; and
as Mr. Blewer came up with mincing steps and hat in hand, believing
that the Bishop had paused to permit his approach, he fixed his eyes
upon him, and spoke in a tone that all the bystanders could hear.

"Mr. Blewer," he said, "I have heard of you before. Indeed I have had
it in my thoughts to summon you to my presence."

"My lord, you do me too much honour!" was the delighted answer, as the
creature stood bowing and mincing before the Bishop, his evil face
wearing its expression of submissive adulation, such as had been seen
upon it in presence of the Lord Chief-Justice. "It is very true that I
have done all in my poor power in the cause of law and righteousness
during these troubled days, but I had scarce hoped that my poor
services would have reached the ears of my gracious lord."

"Sir," answered the good Bishop, with gathering sternness, "the less
you speak of righteousness the better, for there has been little of
it in your conduct during these troubled days. Sir, think you that at
a time when every man calling himself the servant of God should have
been straining every nerve in the cause of mercy and tenderness,
it is for the clergy to disgrace themselves by acts of selfishness,
rapacity, and barbarity which make all honest men shudder and breathe
forth curses? Nay, sir, answer me not. It is for me to speak and for
you to listen. I have heard of you, Mr. Blewer. I have heard how you
persecuted an innocent maiden, and how you cajoled and bribed a certain
high personage to grant you her hand in marriage, not for any love you
bore her--for you had openly boasted that you would rid yourself of
her in a year's time--but because she had money, which you desired to
possess; and how she was only saved from your malice by the merciful
hand of death. Sir, you are as guilty of that sweet and tender maiden's
death as though you had slain her with your own hands. Small wonder
that the very thought of being placed for life in such cruel hands
caused that deadly fever of which she quickly died. I blush with shame
to think that one who has dared to take upon himself the sacred calling
and the holy office of the priesthood could ever thus disgrace both
himself and his calling!"

"My lord, my lord, you have been misinformed. Some enemy has been
wickedly slandering me. Alas! in this evil town a godly man has but too
many foes. I swear that I loved the maid--that I would have made her
the best of husbands. My lord, I have been cruelly maligned. There is
no man in Taunton with a tenderer heart than mine. God be my witness
that I speak the truth!"

The Bishop raised his hand in stern displeasure. "Sir," he said, "take
not that Holy Name to profane it by falsehood. Can a man who will
drink himself drunk with the Lord Jeffreys and his boon companions,
and join with him in profane swearing and ribald jesting--can he be a
fit spouse for a godly and a pure maid, to whom evil is but a name?
Mr. Blewer, think not to deceive me by false swearing; I know too
much of you and of your practices. And as though it was not enough to
seek to wreck the life of this maiden, you must seek also to do to
death in a most cruel and barbarous manner a lad whose only fault has
been a boyish lack of discretion. Sir, my blood tingles in my veins
at the thought of this thing. Were our prisons not crowded enough
with men taken in the very act of rebellion, that you must needs lay
an accusation against a young lad of excellent character for a mere
indiscretion, and get him also incarcerated in those filthy dens,
to languish there for weeks? And having done this, and having borne
witness which gained for the poor child a whipping far in excess of his
fault, what fiend possessed you to carry a tale to the Judge in his
cups, and gain for the boy such handling that his life has barely been
saved by the exertions of his friends and the leniency of the prison
authorities, themselves ashamed of such a deed? Man, man, I almost
forget myself in anger as I think of this thing. You calling yourself
a priest and servant of the Most High God, a minister of His children,
a messenger of peace and righteousness--you to show yourself such a
monster of cruelty that the blood curdles at the tale of your deeds!
Go, sir; let me never see you again. And do not dare ever to pollute
a pulpit, or perform any holy office in the diocese over which I
reign, lest I take upon myself to excommunicate you, as in the good old
days of ecclesiastical discipline would have been done for a far less
offence than yours!"

And the good Bishop walked on with a stern face, leaving the miscreant
he had so worthily lashed with his tongue cowering and shivering with
rage and fear, his face livid with passion and disappointment, and
his hands nervously clutching at the cane he carried, as though in an
instinctive longing to lay it about the shoulders of some innocent
victim.

Not daring to follow, or to say another word to the good Bishop, who
was known to be a most tender-hearted man, and whose scathing rebuke
was therefore far more telling than it would have been in the lips of
the military Bishop Mew, who had actually taken the field in person,
the wretched creature lingered staring after the retreating figures
until they had turned the next corner, and then, gnashing his teeth in
impotent shame and rage, he turned towards his own lodgings, and made
as though he would have retired thither.

But he was not destined to attain this shelter so speedily as he had
thought. A crowd had gathered in the street to hear the Bishop's
reprimand, and murmurs of applause and approval had greeted every
scathing rebuke. The very fact that the Bishop had not scrupled to
speak thus in public to a clergyman showed how greatly his indignation
had been aroused; and as the evil creature turned to leave the scene of
his humiliation, he found himself suddenly confronted by the brawny
blacksmith who had given him a taste of his tongue on another occasion.

"Ho, ho, Sir Priest! so the good Lord Bishop is not a friend to
drunkenness and debauchery and savage cruelty! And so the discipline of
the Church is relaxed, is it, and its evil servants cannot be touched?
Sure that must be a sore matter of regret to so righteous a man as
good Mr. Blewer.--Friends," and here he turned his face with a not too
pleasant grin upon it towards the crowd now pressing closely round,
"since the good gentleman here is debarred from the discipline of the
Church, suppose we good citizens give him a taste of such discipline as
our town cudgels can bestow."

A yell of delight answered this suggestion, and a hundred staffs were
immediately waved in the air. Mr. Blewer's face turned a livid green
tint, and he looked at his tormentor with a sickly smile, fumbling in
his pocket the while.

"Very good, very good, my merry friend. Thou art quite a wag in thy
way," he gasped in his coward terror at the ring of fierce faces around
him. "An excellent jest in truth, and one which I will myself tell to
the good Bishop when I go to clear myself in his sight of the slanders
he has heard against me. All friends of the people have enemies who
malign them, and so it has been with me. Here, my good fellow, take
that, and bid your friends disperse. I am a man of peace; let us have
no unseemly disturbance here in the streets."

He would have pressed a golden guinea into the blacksmith's hand, but
that honest rogue turned away with an expression of scorn and disgust.

"Thy money perish with thee!" he cried, in a great access of wrath; and
bringing down his heavy staff upon the shoulders of the luckless Mr.
Blewer, he shouted out, "Take that, thou coward and craven monster of
cruelty! take that and that, and think of Will Wiseman! Would I could
break every bone in that wretched body of thine!"

With a yell of pain and terror, and an agonized cry for the
watch--which, however, never came--the wretched man sprang away and
hurled himself through the crowd, every man of which, who was armed
with a stick, hit him a blow as he passed, and every woman snatched
at his coat or scratched his face, till his clothing was half torn
off his back, and his face was running down with blood; and every one
who struck him called out in savage accents, "Remember Will Wiseman!"
or, "Take that for Will's sake!" or some phrase like that, till the
wretched man must have wished from the very ground of his heart that
he had let Will Wiseman alone. And when I heard the story, and how Mr.
Blewer had been beaten almost into a jelly ere he reached the shelter
of his house, I felt indeed that Will had been avenged, and that God
had wrought vengeance even by the hands of the lawless and violent men.

Nor was any notice taken of this outrage by the authorities. I think
both the Mayor and the magistrates felt that Mr. Blewer had only met
his due. The rebuke of the Bishop was known to them, and there was no
desire to take up the cudgels for a creature of such evil notoriety.
All the town was sick of bloodshed and confusion, and was breathing
once more in the hope of quieter days to come. To raise an inquiry and
to punish the ringleaders of the mob would only stir the city into
anger and even rebellion once again. So Mr. Blewer made his plaint
in vain, and got no redress; and it was said of him that he went to
Bristol as soon as he was able to travel, and drunk himself to death
there before the year was ended; but of this I know nothing certain. I
never saw the miserable creature again, and I can only think it very
like him to come to such an end after the disappointments and the
violent usage he had received.

The news of this discomfiture of his enemy, and of the vengeance taken
upon him by the citizens, did much to hearten up poor Will after his
long illness. I told him the story myself as he lay on his pallet bed
upon his face--for his poor back was still all raw, and it would be
long before his wounds would be healed. But the old spirit was coming
back into my comrade, and I saw his eyes glow and flash just in the old
way.

"O good Jem Truslove, good Jem Truslove! methinks I can see and hear
him! O Dicon, it were a thousand pities I was not there to see it with
mine own eyes! Had it been somebody else, how I would have thrashed him
mine own self! So they made him remember Will Wiseman, did they? Ah,
it was good of them! it was indeed a kindly act! Dicon, methinks after
all he may have done me a good turn yet, for all that he meant to have
killed me: for the Governor was here yesterday after thou hadst gone,
and he told me that so soon as I could be moved I was free to go back
to my friends; that my sentence had terminated, and that he was sorry I
had been so roughly handled. Now that that monster of a Judge is gone,
men are ashamed to think what he made them do. They are sick to death
of bloodshed and cruelty, and would fain save all his victims from the
fate he desired for them."

This indeed was very true. The Bloody Assizes, as men began to call
them, had produced an indelible impression all over this West Country.
The gentry, who had been all along against the rising for the Duke, and
had joined hands with the party of order, on seeing the horrible and
bloody vengeance taken upon the wretched inhabitants of their towns and
villages, experienced a revulsion of feeling, and a great hatred of the
King who could rejoice in and applaud such wholesale slaughter. They
had believed that the ringleaders would of necessity suffer death--that
was a necessary consequence of such an act of rebellion; but after the
Duke had been beheaded, and after the rising had been so completely
quelled, it was said by all moderate and merciful men that but a slight
punishment should be inflicted upon the mass of lesser prisoners, who
had been led away by ignorance and enthusiasm misplaced, and were like
sheep following one another they knew not whither.

The sending down of the bloodiest and most iniquitous Judge upon
the bench with authority to massacre wholesale, and the unbridled
ferocity with which he had carried out his bloody task, had thoroughly
displeased and disgusted all moderate and merciful men; and the
honours heaped upon the bloody wretch by his admiring sovereign on his
return had added to the universal execration in which he was held. All
mercy that was possible was therefore fearlessly shown now to those
who had escaped the peril of the law, or lay under some sentence like
that of Will Wiseman. Other men--ay, and women too--had been condemned
to be whipped through various places at intervals; but the magistrates
took it upon themselves to release them after a very small part of the
punishment had been inflicted. A sense of peace and security settled
down upon a region so long rent by faction and fear. The citizens felt
that the gentry were at heart with them in their indignation against
the King, and in their desire after purer government; and although at
the moment there was no thought of any fresh rising, the people began
to whisper that a deliverer would come some day, and that the oppressed
nation would turn as one man, and hurl the bloody tyrant from his
throne.

So although there was mourning and woe in too many homes in Taunton,
yet there was rejoicing in others; and amongst these latter was the
house of Master Simpson, which was gladdened by the return of the
master, on the very day when poor Will Wiseman had been got back, after
having been so long away and suffered so much.

I had brought him back myself in a coach which my uncle had sent from
our inn; and I had made him comfortable upon a couch, and Lizzie and
her aunt were hanging over him and asking him all manner of questions,
and making as much of him as though he had indeed been their brother
and nephew, when we were startled by a heavy footfall up the flagged
garden walk (for the impulse of fear was still strong within us, and
we were easily alarmed at any unexpected sound), and Lizzie suddenly
uttered a little scream of ecstasy, and the next moment had sprung
right into her father's arms.

Oh, what a clatter of tongues and clamour of voices there was,
everybody speaking at once, and nobody able to listen till the first
joyful excitement had passed!

Master Simpson--he would never let himself be called Captain again--had
a long story to tell us of his narrow escapes from the bands of
soldiers after the fatal field of Sedgemoor. He had been amongst those
who had made such a gallant stand upon the edge of the rhine, and had
fired volley after volley into the surprised and disordered ranks of
the enemy long after the Duke had fled at the instance of Lord Grey,
and in fact until every round of ammunition had been used. He confirmed
the story told me by the poor soldier in the ditch, that if the
ammunition-waggons had but come up, and the cavalry had but re-formed
even at a distance and shown something of a front, the day might easily
have been ours. He spoke bitterly of Lord Grey, and declared that if
Lord Vere had been there things would have gone very differently. But
I have often thought since that Lord Grey was scarce as much to blame
as our people always said. I doubt whether the untrained horses would
have stood the sound of firing had their riders been never so stout
of heart. It is a long time before the mettlesome creatures can be
made to understand that they must face the flash of fire-arms and the
terrible noise and smell. Sometimes it takes two years before a horse
is seasoned; and these animals had been but a few weeks at most with
the army, and had only smelt powder once or twice before.

Yet if the horses would not stand, their riders should have sent on the
ammunition as fast as possible, instead of spreading dismay through
the rear of the army and keeping back both the waggons and the rest of
the foot. There was nothing to excuse the confusion which their rout
created in the rear of the army. But what boots it to talk of these
matters now? The day was lost, and Master Simpson, slightly wounded
and greatly exhausted, had crawled into a ditch to hide himself, and
was passed over by the soldiers in their first search. Afterwards he
got up and slunk away in an opposite direction from Bridgewater, and
received much kindness at a woodman's hut, where the people took care
of him for several days, and where he healed him of his wound. Then
fearing to remain so near to the scene of Colonel Kirke's activity, he
fled towards Philip's Norton, knowing the country from having traversed
it before but recently; and many narrow escapes did he have of falling
into the hands of the soldiers. But fortune favoured him, and he
escaped each time, though once he was up hiding in the rafters of an
old barn, whilst the soldiers were eating and sleeping on the ground
beneath him; and he almost gave himself up for lost once, when the beam
creaked beneath his weight, and somebody called out, "Is anybody up
there? Speak, man, or I fire!"

He did not, however, speak, nor did the soldier fire. The men laughed,
and the officer swore at them for waking him up; and so they settled to
their slumbers again.

That was the nearest shave he had, but many were his perils; and
Lizzie sat holding his hand, and looking into his face with eyes full
of terror and ecstasy; whilst the aunt bustled about to get the best
supper the town could produce upon a sudden, and Master Simpson turned
to Will and made him tell all his history.

He shook his head, and his face looked stern as he heard of the cruel
Judge; but it brightened as he heard how Mr. Blewer had been served,
and said, rubbing his hands together,--

"Good lads of Taunton, good brother citizens, would I had been there to
add a sounding blow to theirs! Would that we could serve the Judge the
same! Would that he might be at the mercy of the West Country lads some
day!"

"Somehow," said Will slowly, as he lay white and thin upon his couch, a
strange light coming slowly into his eyes as he spoke--"somehow I seem
to think that I shall have my turn some day even with Judge Jeffreys! I
think that I shall avenge upon him the wrongs of our people before he
lays down his wicked life!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

_MY LORD AND MY LADY._


I have spoken of other matters first; but it must not be thought that
the affairs of Mistress Mary and my lord had been forgotten all this
time.

Both, however, were in safe hiding; and until the wicked Judge had left
for London, and till peace and tranquillity had settled down upon our
distracted country, it was better that they should remain there. No
one knew exactly what turn might be taken by affairs from day to day;
and especially until Mr. Blewer had left Taunton, I was in continual
anxiety as to Mistress Mary's safety, being haunted by a fear that he
would get wind somehow of the trick played upon him, and discover the
maid in her hiding-place.

Not that I thought now he could do aught to molest her, for all the
place was hot against him; but the Judge's words were that he had
liberty to wed the maid, and who could tell what steps he might not
take in order to obtain possession of her once more?

So Mistress Mary lay in hiding, whilst her towns-folk talked of her as
dead; and so the days slipped by. I heard also good news of my lord
at Ilminster, when I rode Blackbird across to ask for him. I had but
a short while to stay; but I saw him for a few minutes, and told him
that Mistress Mary was safe, albeit I gave him not the whole history
of her peril, fearing that he would incontinently come forth from his
hiding-place to defend her, and perhaps put both their lives in peril
thereby.

For the pardon, although talked of, had not yet reached us; and it was
scarce safe for one of my lord's rank to show himself openly, though
others might venture to do so, as Master Simpson had done.

I think it was two days after this visit that Mistress Mary Bridges
sent for me on some excuse about her pony--for I had chosen one for her
not long since, and had helped to break it in. When I arrived she took
me into the paddock, dismissing all others; and whilst we stood there
seeming to be talking of the pony, who came and stood beside us, she
began, in her quick, eager fashion,--

"Dicon, what are we to do next?"

I knew what she meant, and I had asked myself the question many a time
before, but I had never found the answer. Mistress Mary continued, in
her quick, imperious fashion,--

"Mary cannot stay where she is much longer. It is no fit place for her
when the winter days come. Only those born in the marshes can live
there, and they ofttimes suffer from ague and marsh fever. Mary cannot
stand it much longer. But where can she go? Mary Mead is dead. I know
not whether she would suffer some penalty--or her friends--if she came
to life again; and Lord Lonsdale hath her money, for he is her heir.
And how can we get it back for her without telling all? And I fear Lord
Lonsdale. He is not like my father; and he is a King's man every inch.
What are we to do for her next, Dicon? Methinks that thou and I have
this secret to ourselves. Sometimes I half fear at what we have done,
and then again I say that were it to do over again I would do just
the same. But Mary cannot always lie hidden; and how is she to appear
again? That is what is perplexing me. Dicon, what shall we do?"

"Marry her to my lord!" I cried suddenly, struck by an unexpected
inspiration. "So she will be my Lady Vere, and Mistress Mary Mead no
longer. If she has lost one name, let her have another bestowed upon
her. Let her be married to my lord!"

Mistress Mary's eyes brightened like stars.

"Ah, Dicon, a good thought!" she cried, clasping her hands over the
pony's neck; "but how may that be accomplished?"

I was not quite so ready with an answer; but after a pause I said,--

"Mistress Mary, suppose you tell your lady mother all, and ask for her
advice; and I will think over a notion which has but just now entered
my head. Let us meet again upon the third day from this, and speak of
what we have done. If you could get Mistress Mary safely to Ilminster
in a secret fashion, perchance the rest might be managed; but until the
pardon be issued, my lord cannot openly show himself, for he does not
know that his own father might not give him up to justice, so grieved
and wroth was he at seeing his son in arms against the King."

"Ah no; he is not so bad as that!" answered Mistress Mary. "And men
talk very differently of the King from what they did a few weeks back.
He has lost many of his friends, and will likely lose more."

"Then things will be all the better for us and our plans, Mistress," I
said; and after some more conversation of no especial moment, I left
her and returned to Taunton full of my own plan, which was indeed one
of much boldness, seeing how humble mine own birth was, and that it was
something bold of me to think of speaking with the great ones of the
earth.

Yet my idea was nothing less than to strive to win the good Bishop Ken
to stand our friend; and as he had always given me a friendly smile and
nod since the day when he had seen me in the prison, I thought I might
even presume to seek speech of him, since all men said how gentle and
courteous he was to all who approached him, and how he was striving to
bring back peace and prosperity to his distracted diocese.

Moreover, he was still in Taunton at this time; and I had heard it said
that he was shortly going to visit Mr. Speke of White Lackington House,
near to Ilminster, of which mention has been made before. Mr. Speke
had lost a son in the rebellion, executed at Ilminster, and he himself
lay under charges to pay a very heavy fine for his supposed or real
share in the rebellion. The Bishop's visit was one of condolence and
friendship, and was likely to last a week or more. If I could but get
speech of him before he started, I felt hopeful of bringing this matter
of my lord's to a happy conclusion.

Fortune favoured me; for I met the Bishop the very next morning,
walking and meditating quite alone in some of the meadows beside the
stream. I had heard that he had been seen to leave the town, but I
scarce hoped to light upon him thus easily. He gave me a smile and
a nod as usual, and then paused to ask how Will Wiseman fared, and
was pleased to hear that he had been released and taken back to his
master's house, where he was treated now as a son. And when we had
spoken a few minutes of him, and the Bishop would have passed on, I
plucked up my courage and said,--

"My lord, may I speak a word to you concerning something that lies
heavy upon my heart?"

He gave me a quick, keen look, and then motioned me to walk beside him;
and although he was so high and great a man, before whom all men bowed
as he went along the streets, yet I am very sure that he told me as he
walked that he was my servant, and that I need not fear to speak openly
of what was burdening me. And I have thought, both then and since,
that the holier and greater men are, the humbler and gentler they show
themselves. Sure no man could have listened with so much kindliness to
my story had not his heart been as full of the love of God as our good
Bishop's was.

And I told him everything from first to last--all that I have been
laboriously striving to set forth in these pages--all of it, at least,
that in any way concerned my lord and Mistress Mary; and how that
she was living all the while, though held dead by her towns-folk and
acquaintance; and how my lord was in hiding with mine aunt, and that I
believed it was commonly reported that he had died of his wounds in the
prison, though of that I could not speak certainly. But I spoke of the
love those twain had ever borne one another, and how that death would
be more welcome to either than to be sundered through this life; and
at last, with tears starting to my eyes (for I had worked myself up to
a state of great excitement), I stopped short and threw myself at the
Bishop's feet, and cried through my sobs,--

"And, O my lord, if you would but be their friend and marry them, so
that none could sunder them more, they would bless you for ever, and I
trow you never would repent it; and methinks even Lord Lonsdale would
rejoice to have his son given back to him--with so fair and sweet a
bride at his side. He loves Mistress Mary--he always loved her; and
sure to have them both brought back as if from the grave would gladden
any father's heart! O my lord, think of it--think of it, I pray you on
my bended knees!"

"Nay, nay, lad," answered the Bishop, laying a kindly hand upon my
head; "it is to God alone that prayers must be addressed upon our
bended knee. I am thy brother and fellow-servant; no such prayers
should thy lips frame or my ears listen to. Get upon thy feet, lad,
and calm thyself. I can make thee no promise as to what I will or will
not do in this strange case that thou hast laid before me, but I will
at least relieve thy young shoulders from the burden they bear, see
Lord Vere myself, and that right soon, and hear what he has to say of
all this. I knew him as a fair child, and I have some knowledge of his
father. I am deeply interested in thy tale. I say not that all has
been well done; but I will not condemn thee, because thou hast been
sorely tempted, and in these dark days of fear the best and strongest
are ofttimes led to swerve from the straight path of virtue. There,
boy, go home with thee. I would think more of this. And if thou knowest
what becomes of Mistress Mary, let me hear it ere I leave for Ilminster
three days hence."

I raced homewards with a heart wonderfully lightened of the load which
had begun to press sorely upon it. And it was still more lightened when
I next saw Mistress Mary Bridges, who told me that she had whispered
her story of Mary's escape into her mother's ear; and that although
the mother was rather disturbed and uneasy at the daring scheme, she
had not chidden her daughter overmuch, and was helping now to get the
other Mary conveyed away to Ilminster, where her face was not known,
and where she might remain in safe obscurity until something had been
decided. Lady Bridges had a sister living in that town, and was about
to send her daughter to her on a visit, the elder Mary accompanying
her as her maid. It was no longer safe for her to remain amid the
unwholesome marshes, and as soon as Sir Ralph should return from town
the matter was to be laid before him, and he would advise the next step.

My heart bounded with joy when I heard that Ilminster was to be the
place of Mistress Mary's residence; for was not my lord there? and if
he were there and the good Bishop too, what might not happen to bring
all things to a happy conclusion? I did not tell Mistress Mary of my
talk with the Bishop, fearing lest I should stir up hopes which might
not be fulfilled later; but I hugged the knowledge in my heart, and I
thought of little else during the days which followed. My heart was in
Ilminster, but I was kept at Taunton by my work in my uncle's house.
Life was beginning to move in its accustomed grooves again, and I had
my set duties to attend to, and could not rove about almost at will, as
I had done during the months of distraction and excitement during which
life seemed to have entirely changed its conditions. I could run to and
fro in the town, and visit friends there at leisure moments; read or
tell the news to poor Will; and make a little boyish love to Lizzie,
who grew dearer and dearer to me every week. But I could not get off
to Ilminster for some while, and no letter reached me from thence.
Mistress Mary Bridges, as I heard, was still with her aunt; and that
was all I knew.

The house next door stood blank and empty. Poor Miss Blake had died in
prison of jail fever or small-pox (as was severally reported) very soon
after her admission there. Mrs. Musgrave, who had always kept much more
in the background, had now retired, and the school which had obtained
such a sudden notoriety ceased to exist.

The general pardon, so anxiously waited for by the still half-fearful
people, came at last; and we were glad when it did so that Miss Blake
was no longer in this world, for her name had been excepted from it,
and figured upon the list of those whom the King refused to pardon.
The Maids who had presented the colours (or rather their parents and
friends) were still being harried by the Maids of Honour for the
fine-money, and the negotiation was long of settlement. The rapacious
Court ladies demanded seven thousand pounds; but after long wrangling
I believe they were forced to content themselves with less than half.
From time to time I used to hear from the indignant Lizzie that the
matter was still under negotiation; but how it was finally adjusted I
cannot now remember, nor is it of any moment to these pages.

The arrival of the general pardon was the signal for a public holiday.
Bonfires blazed, bells rang joyfully from the church steeples, and I
asked and obtained leave to take myself off and ride to Ilminster to
see how my kinswoman there fared.

All the town was astir and in holiday guise, as Taunton had been when
Blackbird and I rode forth in the morning. Although the wind was sharp
and keen, the sun shone merrily, and all faces looked beaming and
happy. At my aunt's house I saw an appearance of stir and festivity
by no means usual there; and when I stopped at the door and asked for
her, I was told that she was at the church, and that I had best follow
her there. This I was ready to do, for I took it to be some special
thanksgiving service that was going on, and I was willing enough to
add my voice to that of a glad and happy people, relieved from a long
oppression and fear. But when I neared the church, I saw few persons
going in or coming out, and concluded that my aunt must have gone to
repeat her private thanksgivings there.

Nevertheless having come so far, I was not to be turned back, and I
entered the building with bent head and hushed footfall, hearing a
voice at the upper end reciting some office, though the seats about the
lower end of the church were all empty.

Treading cautiously so as not to be heard, I advanced towards the
choir, when I was suddenly arrested by a sight that sent the blood
surging into my head till I felt that I must grasp something solid
or I should surely fall. For the service going on was a wedding. The
bride and the bridegroom were even now joining hands, and speaking
the irrevocable word which made them man and wife. I did not need to
look to recognize the clear tones of my lord's voice, nor the soft
sweetness of Mistress Mary's, nor yet the beautiful mellowness of the
good Bishop's. Yet when the mist had cleared from my eyes, I gazed and
gazed as though I could never satisfy myself. Yes, there was my lord,
looking more beautiful than ever with his golden hair, his deep-blue
eyes, his face still pale from sickness and confinement, but with a
look of restored health, that made my heart bound. And there beside
him, in a long trailing gown of white that gave to her the air and
dignity of an empress, was Mistress Mary Mead--though that name had
but now passed from her keeping for ever--a veil just shading her fair
face, but unable to hide the beautiful features and the glories of the
dark unfathomable eyes.

Close beside her, as being the one who had given her in marriage, was
Sir Ralph Bridges, tall, upright, and soldier-like; whilst clinging
to her mother's hand, sparkling, kindling, brimming over with joyful
excitement, was the younger Mistress Mary, who can henceforth claim
exclusive right to that title; and behind them, some paces distant, my
aunt, looking proud and happy beyond all words; and some score or more
of persons who had heard the romantic story, and were anxious to be
present at the nuptials.

The marriage over, the Bishop gave a fatherly blessing; and soon the
little procession moved down the long aisle to the door, to which I had
now retreated.

As they came out, my lord's eyes suddenly fell upon me, and at once
kindled with such a look as sent the hot blood surging into my face.

"Dicon--it is good Dicon!" he cried, and held out his hand; whilst
over Mistress--I mean the Viscountess Vere's face there flashed such
a sweet, tender smile, that I cherish the memory of it to this very
day. "Good Dicon, my only sorrow to-day was that thou wert not here to
see it," said my lord. "What fairy messenger brought thee here in time
after all?"

I could not reply categorically to the question. My lord in his
white-and-silver suit, his golden locks flowing over his shoulders, the
sunlight streaming upon him, his face full of light and unspeakable
happiness, was a vision so bright and so beautiful that my eyes were
dazzled, and my heart too full for speech. I think they understood, for
the lady smiled at me and then at her husband, and she said in a gentle
tone,--

"We will see him again anon, Reginald.--For the present, good Dicon,
farewell. Come to us again another time."

Bowing low before them as they moved towards the coach that awaited
them, I could only exclaim in a gasping voice,--

"My dear lord! my gracious lady!"



CHAPTER XXX.

_A CHRISTMAS SCENE._


The great dining-hall of Bishop's Hull was wreathed in greenery and
all ablaze with lights. In the gallery overhead a band of musicians
discoursed sweet music, whilst below were assembled a party of gay and
merry guests, gathered round Sir Ralph Bridges' hospitable table; and
the only sorrowful face to be seen at that board was the grave, anxious
countenance of Lord Lonsdale.

I was there, clad in the livery of the house, and waiting at table with
the practised skill which I had learned in my uncle's inn. My heart
was beating fast as I came and went, and caught here and there a word
of the talk passing between the merry guests. Now one gentleman would
relate an anecdote or give us a reminiscence of his youth, or another
would speak to his neighbour, perhaps with bated breath, of some of the
recent events which had made this year so memorable in our part of the
country.

Although it was the eve of Christmas, and the prevailing wish was to
drop care and keep in the background all sorrowful topics, yet it was
impossible altogether to forget or keep in abeyance thoughts so easily
suggested by the passing mention of persons or places.

Moreover, the sight of the sword hanging upon the wall in a conspicuous
position--Mistress Mary's sword--called forth towards the close of the
repast an account of that incident, which had become known far and wide
by this time; and when Sir Ralph told the tale, with pardonable pride
in his bright-faced young daughter, whose rosy countenance glowed half
with pleasure and half with modest shame at all the notice bestowed
upon her, every glass was raised to be drained to her health, and a
cheer went up from many throats in honour of the maid who had not
feared to strike so goodly a blow in defence of her mother.

It was just when this buzz of acclamation was going round that I heard
Lord Lonsdale say mournfully to his host, next to whom he was seated:
"Ah, if my poor boy were living yet, how happy it would have made me
to seek for him the hand of that brave daughter of yours in marriage.
Methinks the maid could soon have learned to love him. I never knew any
whom he had not the power to win by his handsome face and winning ways."

"He was a very goodly youth," answered Sir Ralph, quietly and gravely.
"Have you given up all hopes of seeing him again? Are you assured of
his death?"

"I have ceased to hope now," replied the father, with steady gravity.
"It seems probable that he died of his wounds in the Castle, albeit the
Governor was not informed of the fact, and in the general confusion
of those days was unable to trace whether he had died or been removed
by mistake to the pestilential Bridewell, where he was like to perish
quickly, enfeebled as he was, or whether he made good his escape. For
long I hoped that this last had been the case; and from the day on
which the pardon appeared I have been eagerly looking for tidings of or
from him. His name was not upon the list of exceptions. There was no
fear for him once that was out. If in the land of the living, why does
he give no sign? Alas, alas! I fear there can be no doubt but that he
is dead. And I must bear about with me the life-long remorse of having
driven him to his death."

"Nay, my good friend, how could that be so?"

"I thwarted the lad in the dearest wish of his heart," answered Lord
Lonsdale sadly. "Ah, how often have I mourned that step and its dire
consequences! Thou knowest my ward, Mary Mead, one of the sweetest
maidens that ever walked this earth? Ah, why did I not see things then
as I do now? I loved her as a daughter, and yet I had never thought
of her as a wife for my son, being anxious to ally myself through him
with the Portman family, as you know. And when, as little more than
children, the pair plighted their troth and sought my blessing, I
denied it harshly, and sought to separate them by sending her away to
that place where she learned those lessons which have been her undoing
and that of my poor boy also."

"Ah, I see! Had she remained with you and been wedded early to Lord
Vere, she would have been saved from the influences which worked so
strongly upon her--"

"Ay, and were the cause at last of her death, as well as the cause
of my son's joining the rebels. His heart was not with the Duke of
Monmouth, albeit his soul doubtless swelled within him at the tales of
coward cruelty and tyranny which he heard of his Majesty. After all,
good Sir Ralph, if you and I can foresee a day when perhaps some such
struggle must again be fought, though with another and a more righteous
and legitimate champion, ere this land can be freed from the curse of
tyranny, can we blame so harshly the younger and more ardent souls who
saw in this young Duke a champion of liberty and religion? Had all
England known something more of the temper of the King and the nature
of the tools he employed, and purposes yet more fully to employ, I
sometimes wonder whether more of our class might not have joined issue
with the Duke of Monmouth, in despair of ever serving such a monarch as
the treacherous and unkingly James."

Sir Ralph Bridges bent his head with a look of sternness upon his face;
and I hearing these words, marvelled at the change already creeping
over the minds of the gentry, who but a short time back, in the hour of
his peril, had rallied so gallantly round their monarch, even though
for his own person they held but small love.

Surely the coward cruelty of the King and his officers had done much to
estrange the hearts of his subjects from him.

Then, after a brief pause, Sir Ralph took up the thread of the
discourse.

"And so you did truly love the poor maiden, who was said to drop down
dead, or nigh to dead, at sight of Jeffreys' evil face? You would
not have forbidden her union with your son had things turned out
differently with both?"

"Had my son but been restored to me, he should have chosen his wife
when and as he would. I would have never said him nay, never striven
again to force my will upon his. But indeed I sometimes think that had
he returned to find her dead, he would have never recovered the blow.
His heart has been set on her ever since their childhood. I can see it
now. Would to God I had never thwarted them! The load I have to bear
about with me is well-nigh too heavy for me. The death of both lies at
my door! I shall never see grandchildren sporting at my knees, and the
fair mansion in Devonshire prepared for Vere and his bride will remain
desolate and empty till it passes into the hands of aliens." And Lord
Lonsdale's voice quivered as he spoke, and I thought that there was
even a glint of tear-drops in his eyes.

At this moment Sir Ralph gave me a signal--the signal for which I had
been anxiously waiting all through that long banquet.

Without a moment's delay I crossed the floor, then opened a pair
of folding doors which shut off a smaller apartment within; and
immediately there stepped forth, in all the bravery and beauty of their
wedding garments, my lord the Viscount and his fair young wife, the
latter so changed and transfigured by the few weeks of wedded happiness
that I was startled by the wonderful radiancy of her beauty.

At the same moment the band struck up a measure so full of joy and
triumph that no heart could fail to beat in unison with the glad
strain; and to the accompaniment of this soul-stirring music the
Viscount led forward his bride, and kneeling with her at his father's
feet, said in accents which could reach only the few who stood
nearest,--

"Father, I have come to ask your forgiveness for everything in which I
have failed in filial duty towards you, and also to beg your love and
fatherly blessing for me and for my wife."

Well, they call Lord Lonsdale a proud man, and one whose feelings lie
deep hidden, and perhaps they do in the main. But there are moments
in a man's lifetime when he cannot but show of what his heart is
made--when love will not be hidden, but will force itself through the
crust of pride and reserve and show itself to all the world, no matter
who may be there to see.

The next minute Lord Lonsdale was weeping upon the necks of his
long-lost son and his fair young bride, whilst the guests sprang to
their feet, filled their glasses, and shouted as with one voice, "Long
life and happiness to Lord Vere and his bride! Welcome and happiness
and honour to the bridal pair!"

Yet whilst others shouted and laughed and made the hall ring with their
acclamations and glad congratulations and wondering questions, I turned
aside and wept for joy. For until this happy hour I had not known with
certainty that all would be well; and now that I knew the best, my
heart so swelled with happiness and triumphant gladness that there was
nothing for it but to weep, although never in all my life had I known
such a moment of unalloyed happiness.

But one surprise was yet in store for me, and an honour that I little
deserved; for you who have read these pages will know that I am no
hero, albeit it has been my lot to witness some stirring scenes, and to
find myself sometimes in perilous places. Whilst I wept in my corner I
felt a touch upon my arm, and there was my lord standing before me all
shining in his white and silver; and he took me by the hand and led me
forward and presented me to his father and the company as the person
who had saved his life more than once (though how he made that out I
know not, my head was in such a whirl), and my lady put her hand upon
my shoulder and told how I had served her--but that was not me, but
Mistress Mary Bridges. Then the guests shouted again, and drained a
bumper to my good health; and when I left the hall, it was carrying in
my hands a small but weighty packet, which was placed there by my lady,
but which I was too dazed even to look at then. And only when I got to
my own room in the hall did I find that it was a purse containing five
hundred golden guineas, and that I, Dicon Snowe, at the age of fifteen
and a half years, was made a rich man for life.



EPILOGUE.


My story is done, in so far as I set myself the task of telling the
tale of the ill-fated rising of the Duke of Monmouth. Yet methinks it
will be more complete if I add but a few more words, and tell of how
Will Wiseman revenged himself upon that wicked Judge whose cruelty and
injustice wrought such misery and havoc in the prosperous and happy
homes of the West.

Whilst the King was rousing hatred and anger throughout his realm,
which ended in his being forced to fly the kingdom but four short
years after the events I have related, I was living happily at Master
Simpson's, having elected to join with him in his business (though
later in life I became possessed of the Three Cups Inn, and left the
shop to my eldest son, as being a place of less temptation for a youth
than a house of entertainment), and being at the age of eighteen
betrothed to pretty Lizzie, who loved me in spite of my crooked back,
and has made me the best and most loving of wives.

Will Wiseman remained with us, rising from apprentice to shopman in
due time; and when the kingdom was all in a turmoil of excitement at
the reports flying about as to the flight of the wicked King, and the
landing of his son-in-law, William of Orange, nothing would serve Will
but that he must go up to London to see and hear the news. And since
he had had no holiday for many years, we gladly encouraged him to do
so; and thus it came about that he became, through God's Providence, an
instrument for the punishment of that most wicked of wicked men, Lord
Jeffreys.

Will stayed in the house of a poor scrivener at Wapping, and this man
had the most terrible fear of the great Judge, having been once brought
before him, and having never forgotten the gleam of those rolling eyes
nor the frightful aspect of those bloated features.

All London was in a ferment. The King had fled, so it was said; and
rumour said also that the wicked Chancellor, in awful terror of what
might now befall him, had fled likewise, and that he was about to leave
the kingdom in disguise, hidden away in some coaling-boat.

No one was perhaps more excited than Will by this intelligence; and
when further information was brought by the mate of a coaling-vessel
lying in the river to the effect that the Chancellor (if indeed he
could be so termed seeing that the King had taken over the Great Seal
into his own possession to destroy it) had come on board in disguise,
and was actually lying hidden there till sailing-time next morning,
Will was one of the excited and furious crowd who rushed off to the
Justices of the Peace in that neighbourhood to obtain a warrant for his
arrest.

But the Justices complained that since no specific charge was brought
against Jeffreys, they could not grant this; and perhaps they were, in
truth, still afraid of the man before whom so many of them had trembled
in the days of his power. The people might have been baffled by this
rebuff had it not been for the firmness of Will, who suggested that
they should demand a warrant from the Lords of the Council; and from
these dignitaries, who were still sitting, they obtained a warrant to
arrest him on the charge of high treason, those ministers thinking it
injurious to the welfare of the kingdom that he should be allowed to
leave.

Armed with the warrant, they went on board the coaling-boat, and
searched it through and through, but found no person bearing any
likeness to the Chancellor. The Captain baffled all their inquiries;
and it was only later that they discovered that Jeffreys had indeed
been there, but finding the boat could not sail before morning, had
gone upon another vessel for the night, and thereby nearly saved
himself from his enemies and pursuers.

Nearly--but not quite. Chance, as some would call it; Providence and an
outraged Maker, as we of Taunton maintain, decreed it otherwise.

Will, sorely grieved and disappointed, retired home at dark and went to
bed as usual; but with the morning light restlessness came upon him,
and he felt inaction impossible.

His host, the humble scrivener, was going about his daily duties, and
Will walked with him. Their way led them through an unsavoury lane that
was called Hope Alley, and lay hard by King Edward's Stair at Wapping.
In passing down this alley they saw before them a sign hanging out,
representing a Red Cow, which was the name of a pot-house much
frequented by sailors. Will's glance travelling to this gaudy sign,
suddenly encountered the gaze of a pair of rolling blood-shot eyes
which seemed suddenly and strangely familiar. The next instant he had
recognized, beneath the shade of a tarpaulin hat, the bloated visage of
the terrible Judge last seen by him in the Assize Hall of Taunton.

Grasping the scrivener by the arm and whispering a few hurried words
to him, Will hastened away for the guard; whilst the scrivener entered
the house and the room, where the too reckless fugitive had adventured
himself in order to indulge once more his intemperate love for strong
drink, and found that worthy shrinking back into a corner, his hat
pulled far over his eyes, his face hidden as much as he could hide it
by a pint pot.

In a moment the house was surrounded by a hooting and yelling crowd.
I have heard Will describe the scene a hundred times, and each time I
seem to see it more plainly than the last--the cowering, craven coward
now shivering and shrinking before men whom he had sworn at, raved
at, cursed and brow-beaten, more cowed and terrified than the most
miserable of his victims. And verily that crowd would have torn him
limb from limb or ever the guards had come at him (for, contrary to
the custom of an English mob, this one was bloodthirsty and furious
to an extent which can better be imagined than described), had it not
been for the action of the train-bands, who forced a way through the
hooting mob and got the prisoner safe into a coach, though not before
his clothes were torn half off his back, and he had been wounded by
many a flying stone, and had shrieked aloud for mercy in his agony and
terror.

That very day, after an interview with the Lord Mayor and by his own
desire, he was carried to the Tower, but even so he barely escaped the
fury of the populace; for when it was known that the coach contained
this man so bitterly detested and feared, there were continual and
determined attacks made upon it, and the bloated visage was seen from
time to time appearing first at one window and then at another, whilst
the miserable man clasped his hands and cried aloud for the mercy he
never bestowed upon those who had implored it of him.

And thus he entered the Tower a miserable and despairing captive, only
a little more than three years after that Bloody Assize with which
his name will always be associated. Four months later he perished
miserably, despised and hated by all men; and not even left in peace
to die, but assailed by all sorts of malicious letters and even gifts
which must have made his last days a hell upon earth to him. But enough
of that bad man.

We of the West Country heard with stern satisfaction of his end, in the
bright spring-tide and the happiness we were all feeling in the wise
and just rule of our new Sovereigns. And the tale of how Will Wiseman
was the instrument of his final capture, and thus was the means of
avenging the miseries his hands had inflicted upon so many here, will
always be a favourite one with young and old in Taunton Town.

Men remembered the prognostication of Mother Whale, and how she had
prophesied an evil end for him, even as she had prophesied the exile
of the tyrant monarch. It seemed, indeed, that in spite of all we had
suffered, the Lord had been working on the side of virtue and freedom.
The wicked King was disgraced and driven away; the yet more wicked
Judge had died in the Tower.


THE END.



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