Micah Clarke, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Chapter 18

Of Master Stephen Timewell, Mayor of Taunton

Within the town-hall all was bustle and turmoil. At one side behind a low table covered with green baize sat two scriveners with great rolls of paper in front of them. A long line of citizens passed slowly before them, each in turn putting down a roll or bag of coins which was duly noted by the receivers. A square iron-bound chest stood by their side, into which the money was thrown, and we noted as we passed that it was half full of gold pieces. We could not but mark that many of the givers were men whose threadbare doublets and pinched faces showed that the wealth which they were dashing down so readily must have been hoarded up for such a purpose, at the cost of scanty fare and hard living. Most of them accompanied their gift by a few words of prayer, or by some pithy text anent the treasure which rusteth not, or the lending to the Lord. The town clerk stood by the table giving forth the vouchers for each sum, and the constant clack of his tongue filled the hall, as he read aloud the names and amounts, with his own remarks between.

‘Abraham Willis,’ he shouted as we entered; ‘put him down twenty-six pounds and ten shillings. You shall receive ten per centum upon this earth, Master Willis, and I warrant that it shall not be forgotten hereafter. John Standish, two pounds. William Simons, two guineas. Stand-fast Healing, forty-five pounds. That is a rare blow which you have struck into the ribs of Prelacy, good Master Healing. Solomon Warren, five guineas. James White, five shillings — the widow’s mite, James! Thomas Bakewell, ten pounds. Nay, Master Bakewell, surely out of three farms on the banks of Tone, and grazing land in the fattest part of Athelney, you can spare more than this for the good cause. We shall doubtless see you again. Alderman Smithson, ninety pounds. Aha! There is a slap for the scarlet woman! A few more such and her throne shall be a ducking-stool. We shall break her down, worthy Master Smithson, even as Jehu, the son of Nimshi, broke down the house of Baal.’ So he babbled on with praise, precept, and rebuke, though the grave and solemn burghers took little notice of his empty clamour.

At the other side of the hall were several long wooden drinking-troughs, which were used for the storing of pikes and scythes. Special messengers and tithing-men had been sent out to scour the country for arms, who, as they returned, placed their prizes here under the care of the armourer-general. Besides the common weapons of the peasants there was a puncheon half full of pistols and petronels, together with a good number of muskets, screw-guns, snaphances, birding-pieces, and carbines, with a dozen bell-mouthed brass blunderbusses, and a few old-fashioned wall-pieces, such as sakers and culverins taken from the manor-houses of the county. From the walls and the lumber-rooms of these old dwellings many other arms had been brought to light which were doubtless esteemed as things of price by our forefathers, but which would seem strange to your eyes in these days, when a musket may be fired once in every two minutes, and will carry a ball to a distance of four hundred paces. There were halberds, battle-axes, morning stars, brown bills, maces, and ancient coats of chain mail, which might even now save a man from sword stroke or pike thrust.

In the midst of the coming and the going stood Master Timewell, the Mayor, ordering all things like a skilful and provident commander. I could understand the trust and love which his townsmen had for him, as I watched him labouring with all the wisdom of an old man and the blithesomeness of a young one. He was hard at work as we approached in trying the lock of a falconet; but perceiving us, he came forward and saluted us with much kindliness.

‘I have heard much of ye,’ said he; ‘how ye caused the faithful to gather to a head, and so beat off the horsemen of the usurper. It will not be the last time, I trust, that ye shall see their backs. I hear, Colonel Saxon, that ye have seen much service abroad.’

‘I have been the humble tool of Providence in much good work,’ said Saxon, with a bow. ‘I have fought with the Swedes against the Brandenburgers, and again with the Brandenburgers against the Swedes, my time and conditions with the latter having been duly carried out. I have afterwards in the Bavarian service fought against Swedes and Brandenburgers combined, besides having undergone the great wars on the Danube against the Turk, and two campaigns with the Messieurs in the Palatinate, which latter might be better termed holiday-making than fighting.’

‘A soldierly record in very truth,’ cried the Mayor, stroking his white beard. ‘I hear that you are also powerfully borne onwards in prayer and song. You are, I perceive, one of the old breed of ‘44, Colonel — the men who were in the saddle all day, and on their knees half the night. When shall we see the like of them again? A few such broken wrecks as I are left, with the fire of our youth all burned out and nought left but the ashes of lethargy and lukewarmness.’

‘Nay, nay,’ said Saxon, ‘your position and present business will scarce jump with the modesty of your words. But here are young men who will find the fire if their elders bring the brains. This is Captain Micah Clarke, and Captain Lockarby, and Captain the Honourable Sir Gervas Jerome, who have all come far to draw their swords for the downtrodden faith.’

‘Taunton welcomes ye, young sirs,’ said the Mayor, looking a trifle askance, as I thought, at the baronet, who had drawn out his pocket-mirror, and was engaged in the brushing of his eyebrows. ‘I trust that during your stay in this town ye will all four take up your abode with me. ’Tis a homely roof and simple fare, but a soldier’s wants are few. And now, Colonel, I would fain have your advice as to these three drakes, whether if rehooped they may be deemed fit for service; and also as to these demi-cannons, which were used in the old Parliamentary days, and may yet have a word to say in the people’s cause.’

The old soldier and the Puritan instantly plunged into a deep and learned disquisition upon the merits of wall-pieces, drakes, demi-culverins, sakers, minions, mortar-pieces, falcons, and pattereroes, concerning all which pieces of ordnance Saxon had strong opinions to offer, fortified by many personal hazards and experiences. He then dwelt upon the merits of fire-arrows and fire-pikes in the attack or defence of places of strength, and had finally begun to descant upon sconces, ‘directis lateribus,’ and upon works, semilunar, rectilineal, horizontal, or orbicular, with so many references to his Imperial Majesty’s lines at Gran, that it seemed that his discourse would never find an end. We slipped away at last, leaving him still discussing the effects produced by the Austrian grenadoes upon a Bavarian brigade of pikes at the battle of Ober-Graustock.

‘Curse me if I like accepting this old fellow’s offer,’ said Sir Gervas, in an undertone. ‘I have heard of these Puritan households. Much grace to little sack, and texts flying about as hard and as jagged as flint stones. To bed at sundown, and a sermon ready if ye do but look kindly at the waiting-wench or hum the refrain of a ditty.’

‘His home may be larger, but it could scarce be stricter than that of my own father,’ I remarked.

‘I’ll warrant that,’ cried Reuben. ‘When we have been a morris-dancing, or having a Saturday night game of “kiss-inthe-ring,” or “parson-has-lost-his-coat,” I have seen Ironside Joe stride past us, and cast a glance at us which hath frozen the smile upon our lips. I warrant that he would have aided Colonel Pride to shoot the bears and hack down the maypoles.’

‘’Twere fratricide for such a man to shoot a bear,’ quoth Sir Gervas, ‘with all respect, friend Clarke, for your honoured progenitor.’

‘No more than for you to shoot at a popinjay,’ I answered, laughing; ‘but as to the Mayor’s offer, we can but go to meat with him now, and should it prove irksome it will be easy for you to plead some excuse, and so get honourably quit of it. But bear in mind, Sir Gervas, that such households are in very truth different to any with which you are acquainted, so curb your tongue or offence may come of it. Should I cry “hem!” or cough, it will be a sign to you that you had best beware.’

‘Agreed, young Solomon!’ cried he. ‘It is, indeed, well to have a pilot like yourself who knows these godly waters. For my own part, I should never know how near I was to the shoals. But our friends have finished the battle of Ober what’s its name, and are coming towards us. I trust, worthy Mr. Mayor, that your difficulties have been resolved?’

‘They are, sir,’ replied the Puritan. ‘I have been much edified by your Colonel’s discourse, and I have little doubt that by serving under him ye will profit much by his ripe experience.’

‘Very like, sir, very like,’ said Sir Gervas carelessly.

‘But it is nigh one o’clock,’ the Mayor continued, ‘our frail flesh cries aloud for meat and drink. I beg that ye will do me the favour to accompany me to my humble dwelling, where we shall find the household board already dressed.’

With these words he led the way out of the hall and paced slowly down Fore Street, the people falling back to right and to left as he passed, and raising their caps to do him reverence. Here and there, as he pointed out to us, arrangements had been made for barring the road with strong chains to prevent any sudden rush of cavalry. In places, too, at the corner of a house, a hole had been knocked in the masonry through which peeped the dark muzzle of a carronade or wall-piece. These precautions were the more necessary as several bodies of the Royal Horse, besides the one which we had repulsed, were known to be within the Deane, and the town, deprived of its ramparts, was open to an incursion from any daring commander.

The chief magistrate’s house was a squat square-faced stone building within a court which opened on to East Street. The peaked oak door, spangled with broad iron nails, had a gloomy and surly aspect, but the hall within was lightful and airy, with a bright polished cedar planking, and high panelling of some dark-grained wood which gave forth a pleasant smell as of violets. A broad night of steps rose up from the farther end of the hall, down which as we entered a young sweet-faced maid came tripping, with an old dame behind her, who bore in her hands a pile of fresh napery. At the sight of us the elder one retreated up the stairs again, whilst the younger came flying down three steps at a time, threw her arms round the old Mayor’s neck, and kissed him fondly, looking hard into his face the while, as a mother gazes into that of a child with whom she fears that aught may have gone amiss.

‘Weary again, daddy, weary again,’ she said, shaking her head anxiously, with a small white hand upon each of his shoulders. ‘Indeed, and indeed, thy spirit is greater than thy strength.’

‘Nay, nay, lass,’ said he, passing his hand fondly over her rich brown hair. The workman must toil until the hour of rest is rung. This, gentlemen, is my granddaughter Ruth, the sole relic of my family and the light of mine old age. The whole grove hath been cut down, and only the oldest oak and the youngest sapling left. These cavaliers, little one, have come from afar to serve the cause, and they have done us the honour to accept of our poor hospitality.’

‘Ye are come in good time, gentlemen,’ she answered, looking us straight in the eyes with a kindly smile as a sister might greet her brothers. ‘The household is gathered round the table and the meal is ready.’

‘But not more ready than we,’ cried the stout old burgher. ‘Do thou conduct our guests to their places, whilst I seek my room and doff these robes of office, with my chain and tippet, ere I break my fast.’

Following our fair guide we passed into a very large and lofty room, the walls of which were wainscoted with carved oak, and hung at either end with tapestry. The floor was tesselated after the French fashion, and plentifully strewn with skins and rugs. At one end of the apartment stood a great white marble fireplace, like a small room in itself, fitted up, as was the ancient custom, with an iron stand in the centre, and with broad stone benches in the recess on either side. Lines of hooks above the chimneypiece had been used, as I surmise, to support arms, for the wealthy merchants of England were wont to keep enough in their houses to at least equip their apprentices and craftsmen. They had now, however, been removed, nor was there any token of the troublous times save a single heap of pikes and halberds piled together in a corner.

Down the centre of this room there ran a long and massive table, which was surrounded by thirty or forty people, the greater part of whom were men. They were on their feet as we entered, and a grave-faced man at the farther end was drawling forth an interminable grace, which began as a thanksgiving for food, but wandered away into questions of Church and State, and finally ended in a supplication for Israel now in arms to do battle for the Lord. While this was proceeding we stood in a group by the door with our caps doffed, and spent our time in observing the company more closely than we could have done with courtesy had their eyes not been cast down and their thoughts elsewhere.

They were of all ages, from greybeards down to lads scarce out of their teens, all with the same solemn and austere expression of countenance, and clad in the same homely and sombre garb. Save their wide white collars and cuffs, not a string of any colour lessened the sad severity of their attire. Their black coats and doublets were cut straight and close, and their cordovan leather shoes, which in the days of our youth were usually the seat of some little ornament, were uniformly square toed and tied with sad-coloured ribbon. Most of them wore plain sword-belts of untanned hide, but the weapons themselves, with their broad felt hats and black cloaks, were laid under the benches or placed upon the settles which lined the walls. They stood with their hands clasped and their heads bent, listening to the untimely address, and occasionally by some groan or exclamation testifying that the preacher’s words had moved them.

The overgrown grace came at last to an end, when the company sat silently down, and proceeded without pause or ceremony to attack the great joints which smoked before them. Our young hostess led us to the end of the table, where a high carded chair with a black cushion upon it marked the position of the master of the house. Mistress Timewell seated herself upon the right of the Mayor’s place, with Sir Gervas beside her, while the post of honour upon the left was assigned to Saxon. On my left sat Lockarby, whose eyes I observed had been fixed in undisguised and all-absorbing admiration upon the Puritan maiden from the first moment that he had seen her. The table was of no great breadth, so that we could talk across in spite of the clatter of plates and dishes, the bustle of servants, and the deep murmur of voices.

‘This is my father’s household,’ said our hostess, addressing herself to Saxon. ‘There is not one of them who is not in his employ. He hath many apprentices in the wool trade. We sit down forty to meat every day in the year.’

‘And to right good fare, too,’ quoth Saxon, glancing down the table. ‘Salmon, ribs of beef, loin of mutton, veal, pasties — what could man wish for more? Plenty of good home-brewed, too, to wash it down. If worthy Master Timewell can arrange that the army be victualled after the same fashion, I for one shell be beholden to him. A cup of dirty water and a charred morsel cooked on a ramrod over the camp fire are like to take the place of these toothsome dainties.’

‘Is it not best to have faith?’ said the Puritan maiden. ‘Shall not the Almighty feed His soldiers even as Elisha was fed in the wilderness and Hagar in the desert?’

‘Aye,’ exclaimed a lanky-haired, swarthy young man who sat upon the right of Sir Gervas, ‘he will provide for us, even as the stream of water gushed forth out of dry places, even as the quails and the manna lay thick upon barren soil.’

‘So I trust, young sir,’ quoth Saxon, ‘but we must none the less arrange a victual-train, with a staff of wains, duly numbered, and an intendant over each, after the German fashion. Such things should not be left to chance.’

Pretty Mistress Timewell glanced up with a half startled look at this remark, as though shocked at the want of faith implied in it. Her thoughts might have taken the form of words had not her father entered the room at the moment, the whole company rising and bowing to him as he advanced to his seat.

‘Be seated, friends,’ said he, with a wave of his hand; ‘we are a homely folk, Colonel Saxon, and the old-time virtue of respect for our elders has not entirely forsaken us. I trust, Ruth,’ he continued, ‘that thou hast seen to the wants of our guests.’

We all protested that we had never received such attention and hospitality.

‘’Tis well, ’tis well,’ said the good wool-worker. ‘But your plates are clear and your glasses empty. William, look to it! A good workman is ever a good trencherman. If a ‘prentice of mine cannot clean his platter, I know that I shall get little from him with carder and teazel. Thew and sinew need building up. A slice from that round of beef, William! Touching that same battle of Ober-Graustock, Colonel, what part was played in the fray by that regiment of Pandour horse, in which, as I understand, thou didst hold a commission?’

This was a question on which, as may be imagined, Saxon had much to say, and the pair were soon involved in a heated discussion, in which the experiences of Roundway Down and Marston Moor were balanced against the results of a score of unpronounceable fights in the Styrian Alps and along the Danube. Stephen Timewell in his lusty youth had led first a troop and then a regiment through the wars of the Parliament, from Chalgrove Field to the final battle at Worcester, so that his warlike passages, though less varied and extensive than those of our companion, were enough to enable him to form and hold strong opinions. These were in the main the same as those of the soldier of fortune, but when their ideas differed upon any point, there arose forthwith such a cross-fire of military jargon, such speech of estacados and palisados, such comparisons of light horse and heavy, of pikemen and musqueteers, of Lanzknechte, Leaguers, and on-falls, that the unused ear became bewildered with the babble. At last, on some question of fortification, the Mayor drew his outworks with the spoons and knives, on which Saxon opened his parallels with lines of bread, and pushing them rapidly up with traverses and covered ways, he established himself upon the re-entering angle of the Mayor’s redoubt. This opened up a fresh question as to counter-mines, with the result that the dispute raged with renewed vigour.

Whilst this friendly strife was proceeding between the elders, Sir Gervas Jerome and Mistress Ruth had fallen into conversation at the other side of the table. I have seldom seen, my dear children, so beautiful a face as that of this Puritan damsel; and it was beautiful with that sort of modest and maidenly comeliness where the features derive their sweetness from the sweet soul which shines through them. The perfectly-moulded body appeared to be but the outer expression of the perfect spirit within. Her dark-brown hair swept back from a broad and white forehead, which surmounted a pair of well-marked eyebrows and large blue thoughtful eyes. The whole cast of her features was gentle and dove-like, yet there was a firmness in the mouth and delicate prominence of the chin which might indicate that in times of trouble and danger the little maid would prove to be no unworthy descendant of the Roundhead soldier and Puritan magistrate. I doubt not that where more loud-tongued and assertive dames might be cowed, the Mayor’s soft-voiced daughter would begin to cast off her gentler disposition, and to show the stronger nature which underlay it. It amused me much to listen to the efforts which Sir Gervas made to converse with her, for the damsel and he lived so entirely in two different worlds, that it took all his gallantry and ready wit to keep on ground which would be intelligible to her.

‘No doubt you spend much of your time in reading, Mistress Ruth,’ he remarked. ‘It puzzles me to think what else you can do so far from town?’

‘Town!’ said she in surprise. ‘What is Taunton but a town?’

‘Heaven forbid that I should deny it,’ replied Sir Gervas, ‘more especially in the presence of so many worthy burghers, who have the name of being somewhat jealous of the honour of their native city. Yet the fact remains, fair mistress, that the town of London so far transcends all other towns that it is called, even as I called it just now, the town.’

‘Is it so very large, then?’ she cried, with pretty wonder. ‘But new louses are building in Taunton, outside the old walls, and beyond Shuttern, and some even at the other side of the river. Perhaps in time it may be as large.’

‘If all the folks in Taunton were to be added to London,’ said Sir Gervas, ‘no one there would observe that there had been any increase.’

‘Nay, there you are laughing at me. That is against all reason,’ cried the country maiden.

‘Your grandfather will bear out my words,’ said Sir Gervas. ‘But to return to your reading, I’ll warrant that there is not a page of Scudery and her “Grand Cyrus” which you have not read. You are familiar, doubtless, with every sentiment in Cowley, or Waller, or Dryden?’

‘Who are these?’ she asked. ‘At what church do they preach?’

‘Faith!’ cried the baronet, with a laugh, ‘honest John preaches at the church of Will Unwin, commonly known as Will’s, where many a time it is two in the morning before he comes to the end of his sermon. But why this question? Do you think that no one may put pen to paper unless they have also a right to wear a gown and climb up to a pulpit? I had thought that all of your sex had read Dryden. Pray, what are your own favourite books?’

‘There is Alleine’s “Alarm to the Unconverted,”’ said she. ‘It is a stirring work, and one which hath wrought much good. Hast thou not found it to fructify within thee?’

‘I have not read the book you name,’ Sir Gervas confessed.

‘Not read it?’ she cried, with raised eyebrows. ‘Truly I had thought that every one had read the “Alarm.” What dost thou think, then, of “Faithful Contendings”?’

‘I have not read it.’

‘Or of Baxter’s Sermons?’ she asked.

‘I have not read them.’

‘Of Bull’s “Spirit Cordial,” then?’

‘I have not read it.’

Mistress Ruth Timewell stared at him in undisguised wonder. ‘You may think me ill-bred to say it, sir,’ she remarked, ‘but I cannot but marvel where you have been, or what you have done all your life. Why, the very children in the street have read these books.’

‘In truth, such works come little in our way in London,’ Sir Gervas answered. ‘A play of George Etherege’s, or a jingle of Sir John Suckling’s is lighter, though mayhap less wholesome food for the mind. A man in London may keep pace with the world of letters without much reading, for what with the gossip of the coffee-houses and the news-letters that fall in his way, and the babble of poets or wits at the assemblies, with mayhap an evening or two in the week at the playhouse, with Vanbrugh or Farquhar, one can never part company for long with the muses. Then, after the play, if a man is in no humour for a turn of luck at the green table at the Groom Porter’s, he may stroll down to the Coca Tree if he be a Tory, or to St. James’s if he be a Whig, and it is ten to one if the talk turn not upon the turning of alcaics, or the contest between blank verse or rhyme. Then one may, after an arriere supper, drop into Will’s or Slaughter’s and find Old John, with Tickell and Congreve and the rest of them, hard at work on the dramatic unities, or poetical justice, or some such matter. I confess that my own tastes lay little in that line, for about that hour I was likely to be worse employed with wine-flask, dice-box, or —’

‘Hem! hem!’ cried I warningly, for several of the Puritans were listening with faces which expressed anything but approval.

‘What you say of London is of much interest to me,’ said the Puritan maiden, ‘though these names and places have little meaning to my ignorant ears. You did speak, however, of the playhouse. Surely no worthy man goes near those sinks of iniquity, the baited traps of the Evil One? Has not the good and sanctified Master Bull declared from the pulpit that they are the gathering-place of the froward, the chosen haunts of the perverse Assyrians, as dangerous to the soul as any of those Papal steeple-houses wherein the creature is sacrilegiously confounded with the Creator?’

‘Well and truly spoken, Mistress Timewell,’ cried the lean young Puritan upon the right, who had been an attentive listener to the whole conversation. ‘There is more evil in such houses than even in the cities of the plain. I doubt not that the wrath of the Lord will descend upon them, and destroy them, and wreck them utterly, together with the dissolute men and abandoned women who frequent them.’

‘Your strong opinions, friend,’ said Sir Gervas quietly, ‘are borne out doubtless by your full knowledge of the subject. How often, prythee, have you been in these playhouses which you are so ready to decry?’

‘I thank the Lord that I have never been so far tempted from the straight path as to set foot within one,’ the Puritan answered, ‘nor have I ever been in that great sewer which is called London. I trust, however, that I with others of the faithful may find our way thither with our tucks at our sides ere this business is finished, when we shall not be content, I’ll warrant, with shutting these homes of vice, as Cromwell did, but we shall not leave one stone upon another, and shall sow the spot with salt, that it may be a hissing and a byword amongst the people.’

‘You are right, John Derrick,’ said the Mayor, who had overheard the latter part of his remarks. ‘Yet methinks that a lower tone and a more backward manner would become you better when you are speaking with your master’s guests. Touching these same playhouses, Colonel, when we have carried the upper hand this time, we shall not allow the old tares to check the new wheat. We know what fruit these places have borne in the days of Charles, the Gwynnes, the Palmers, and the whole base crew of foul lecherous parasites. Have you ever been in London, Captain Clarke?’

‘Nay, sir; I am country born and bred.’

‘The better man you,’ said our host. ‘I have been there twice. The first time was in the days of the Rump, when Lambert brought in his division to overawe the Commons. I was then quartered at the sign of the Four Crosses in Southwark, then kept by a worthy man, one John Dolman, with whom I had much edifying speech concerning predestination. All was quiet and sober then, I promise you, and you might have walked from Westminster to the Tower in the dead of the night without hearing aught save the murmur of prayer and the chanting of hymns. Not a ruffler or a wench was in the streets after dark, nor any one save staid citizens upon their business, or the halberdiers of the watch. The second visit which I made was over this business of the levelling of the ramparts, when I and neighbour Foster, the glover, were sent at the head of a deputation from this town to the Privy Council of Charles. Who could have credited that a few years would have made such a change? Every evil thing that had been stamped underground had spawned and festered until its vermin brood flooded the streets, and the godly wore themselves driven to shun the light of day. Apollyon had indeed triumphed for a while. A quiet man could not walk the highways without being elbowed into the kennel by swaggering swashbucklers, or accosted by painted hussies. Padders and michers, laced cloaks, jingling spurs, slashed boots, tall plumes, bullies and pimps, oaths and blasphemies — I promise you hell was waxing fat. Even in the solitude of one’s coach one was not free from the robber.’

‘How that, sir?’ asked Reuben.

‘Why marry, in this wise. As I was the sufferer I have the best right to tell the tale. Ye must know that after our reception — which was cold enough, for we were about as welcome to the Privy Council as the hearth-tax man is to the village housewife — we were asked, more as I guess from derision than from courtesy, to the evening levee at Buckingham Palace. We would both fain have been excused from going but we feared that our refusal might give undue offence, and so hinder the success of our mission. My homespun garments ware somewhat rough for such an occasion, yet I determined to appear in them, with the addition of a new black baize waistcoat faced with silk, and a good periwig, for which I gave three pounds ten shillings in the Haymarket.’

The young Puritan opposite turned up his eyes and murmured something about ‘sacrificing to Dagon,’ which fortunately for him was inaudible to the high-spirited old man.

‘It was but a worldly vanity,’ quoth the Mayor; ‘for, with all deference, Sir Gervas Jerome, a man’s own hair arranged with some taste, and with perhaps a sprinkling of powder, is to my mind the fittest ornament to his head. It is the contents and not the case which availeth. Having donned this frippery, good Master Foster and I hired a calash and drove to the Palace. We were deep in grave and, I trust, profitable converse speeding through the endless streets, when of a sudden I felt a sharp tug at my head, and my hat fluttered down on to my knees. I raised my hands, and lo! they came upon my bare pate. The wig had vanished. We were rolling down Fleet Street at the moment, and there was no one in the calash save neighbour Foster, who sat as astounded as I. We looked high and low, on the seats and beneath them, but not a sign of the periwig was there. It was gone utterly and without a trace.’

‘Whither then?’ we asked with one voice.

‘That was the question which we set ourselves to solve. For a moment I do assure ye that we bethought us that it might be a judgment upon us for our attention to such carnal follies. Then it crossed my mind that it might be the doing of some malicious sprite, as the Drummer of Tedworth, or those who occasioned the disturbances no very long time since at the old Gast House at Little Burton here in Somersetshire. [Note F. Appendix.] With this thought we hallooed to the coachman, and told him what had occurred to us. The fellow came down from his perch, and having heard our story, he burst straightway into much foul language, and walking round to the back of his calash, showed us that a slit had been made in the leather wherewith it was fashioned. Through this the thief had thrust his hand and had drawn my wig through the hole, resting the while on the crossbar of the coach. It was no uncommon thing, he said, and the wig-snatchers were a numerous body who waited beside the peruke-maker’s shops, and when they saw a customer come forth with a purchase which was worth their pains they would follow him, and, should he chance to drive, deprive him of it in this fashion. Be that as it may, I never saw my wig again, and had to purchase another before I could venture into the royal presence.’

‘A strange adventure truly,’ exclaimed Saxon. ‘How fared it with you for the remainder of the evening?’

‘But scurvily, for Charles’s face, which was black enough at all times, was blackest of all to us; nor was his brother the Papist more complaisant. They had but brought us there that they might dazzle us with their glitter and gee-gaws, in order that we might bear a fine report of them back to the West with us. There were supple-backed courtiers, and strutting nobles, and hussies with their shoulders bare, who should for all their high birth have been sent to Bridewell as readily as any poor girl who ever walked at the cart’s tail. Then there were the gentlemen of the chamber, with cinnamon and plum-coloured coats, and a brave show of gold lace and silk and ostrich feather. Neighbour Foster and I felt as two crows might do who have wandered among the peacocks. Yet we bare in mind in whose image we were fashioned, and we carried ourselves, I trust, as independent English burghers. His Grace of Buckingham had his flout at us, and Rochester sneered, and the women simpered; but we stood four square, my friend and I, discussing, as I well remember, the most precious doctrines of election and reprobation, without giving much heed either to those who mocked us, or to the gamesters upon our left, or to the dancers upon our right. So we stood throughout the evening, until, finding that they could get little sport from us, my Lord Clarendon, the Chancellor, gave us the word to retire, which we did at our leisure after saluting the King and the company.’

‘Nay, that I should never have done!’ cried the young Puritan, who had listened intently to his elder’s narrative. ‘Would it not have been more fitting to have raised up your hands and called down vengeance upon them, as the holy man of old did upon the wicked cities?’

‘More fitting, quotha!’ said the Mayor impatiently. ‘It is most fitting that youth should be silent until his opinion is asked on such matters. God’s wrath comes with leaden feet, but it strikes with iron hands. In His own good time He has judged when the cup of these men’s iniquities is overflowing. It is not for us to instruct Him. Curses have, as the wise man said, a habit of coming home to roost. Bear that in mind, Master John Derrick, and be not too liberal with them.’

The young apprentice, for such he was, bowed his head sullenly to the rebuke, whilst the Mayor, after a short pause, resumed his story.

‘Being a fine night,’ said he, ‘we chose to walk back to our lodgings; but never shall I forget the wicked scenes wherewith we were encountered on the way. Good Master Bunyan, of Elstow, might have added some pages to his account of Vanity Fair had he been with us. The women, be-patched, be-ruddled, and brazen; the men swaggering, roistering, cursing — the brawling, the drabbing, and the drunkenness! It was a fit kingdom to be ruled over by such a court. At last we had made our way to more quiet streets, and were hoping that our adventures were at an end, when of a sudden there came a rush of half-drunken cavaliers from a side street, who set upon the passers-by with their swords, as though we had fallen into an ambuscade of savages in some Paynim country. They were, as I surmise, of the same breed as those of whom the excellent John Milton wrote: “The sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.” Alas! my memory is not what it was, for at one time I could say by rote whole books of that noble and godly poem.’

‘And, pray, how fared ye with these rufflers, sir?’ I asked.

‘They beset us, and some few other honest citizens who were wending their ways homewards, and waving their naked swords they called upon us to lay down our arms and pay homage. “To whom?” I asked. They pointed to one of their number who was more gaudily dressed and somewhat drunker than the rest. “This is our most sovereign liege,” they cried. “Sovereign over whom?” I asked. “Over the Tityre Tus,” they answered. “Oh, most barbarous and cuckoldy citizen, do you not recognise that you have fallen into the hands of that most noble order?” “This is not your real monarch,” said I, “for he is down beneath us chained in the pit, where some day he will gather his dutiful subjects around him.” “Lo, he hath spoken treason!” they cried, on which, without much more ado, they set upon us with sword and dagger. Neighbour Foster and I placed our backs against a wall, and with our cloaks round our left arms we made play with our tucks, and managed to put in one or two of the old Wigan Lane raspers. In particular, friend Foster pinked the King in such wise that his Majesty ran howling down the street like a gored bull-pup. We were beset by numbers, however, and might have ended our mission then and there had not the watch appeared upon the scene, struck up our weapons with their halberds, and so arrested the whole party. Whilst the fray lasted the burghers from the adjoining houses were pouring water upon us, as though we were cats on the tiles, which, though it did not cool our ardour in the fight, left us in a scurvy and unsavoury condition. In this guise we were dragged to the round-house, where we spent the night amidst bullies, thieves, and orange wenches, to whom I am proud to say that both neighbour Foster and myself spoke some words of joy and comfort. In the morning we were released, and forthwith shook the dust of London from our feet; nor do I ever wish to return thither, unless it be at the head of our Somersetshire regiments, to see King Monmouth don the crown which he had wrested in fair fight from the Popish perverter.’

As Master Stephen Timewell ended his tale a general shuffling and rising announced the conclusion of the meal. The company filed slowly out in order of seniority, all wearing the same gloomy and earnest expression, with grave gait and downcast eyes. These Puritan ways were, it is true, familiar to me from childhood, yet I had never before seen a large household conforming to them, or marked their effect upon so many young men.

‘You shall bide behind for a while,’ said the Mayor, as we were about to follow the others. ‘William, do you bring a flask of the old green sealed sack. These creature comforts I do not produce before my lads, for beef and honest malt is the fittest food for such. On occasion, however, I am of Paul’s opinion, that a flagon of wine among friends is no bad thing for mind or for body. You can away now, sweetheart, if you have aught to engage you.’

‘Do you go out again?’ asked Mistress Ruth.

‘Presently, to the town-hall. The survey of arms is not yet complete.’

‘I shall have your robes ready, and also the rooms of our guests,’ she answered, and so, with a bright smile to us, tripped away upon her duty.

‘I would that I could order our town as that maiden orders this house,’ said the Mayor. ‘There is not a want that is not supplied before it is felt. She reads my thoughts and acts upon them ere my lips have time to form them. If I have still strength to spend in the public service, it is because my private life is full of restful peace. Do not fear the sack, sirs. It cometh from Brooke and Hellier’s of Abchurch Lane, and may be relied upon.’

‘Which showeth that one good thing cometh out of London,’ remarked Sir Gervas.

‘Aye, truly,’ said the old man, smiling. ‘But what think ye of my young men, sir? They must needs be of a very different class to any with whom you are acquainted, if, as I understand, you have frequented court circles.’

‘Why, marry, they are good enough young men, no doubt,’ Sir Gervas answered lightly. ‘Methinks, however, that there is a want of sap about them. It is not blood, but sour buttermilk that flows in their veins.’

‘Nay, nay,’ the Mayor responded warmly. ‘There you do them an injustice. Their passions and feelings are under control, as the skilful rider keeps his horse in hand; but they are as surely there as is the speed and endurance of the animal. Did you observe the godly youth who sat upon your right, whom I had occasion to reprove more than once for over-zeal? He is a fit example of how a man may take the upper hand of his feelings, and keep them in control.’

‘And how has he done so?’ I asked.

‘Why, between friends,’ quoth the Mayor, ‘it was but last Lady-day that he asked the hand of my granddaughter Ruth in marriage. His time is nearly served, and his father, Sam Derrick, is an honourable craftsman, so that the match would have been no unfitting one. The maiden turned against him, however — young girls will have their fancies — and the matter came to an end. Yet here he dwells under the same roof-tree, at her elbow from morn to night, with never a sign of that passion which can scarce have died out so soon. Twice my wool warehouse hath been nigh burned to the ground since then, and twice he hath headed those who fought the flames. There are not many whose suit hath been rejected who would bear themselves in so resigned and patient a fashion.’

‘I am prepared to find that your judgment is the correct one,’ said Sir Gervas Jerome. ‘I have learned to distrust too hasty dislikes, and bear in mind that couplet of John Dryden —

“Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow.
He who would search for pearls must dive below.”’

‘Or worthy Dr. Samuel Butler,’ said Saxon, ‘who, in his immortal poem of “Hudibras,” says —

“The fool can only see the skin:
The wise man tries to peep within.”’

‘I wonder, Colonel Saxon,’ said our host severely, ‘that you should speak favourably of that licentious poem, which is composed, as I have heard, for the sole purpose of casting ridicule upon the godly. I should as soon have expected to hear you praise the wicked and foolish work of Hobbes, with his mischievous thesis, “A Deo rex, a rege lex.”’

‘It is true that I contemn and despise the use which Butler hath made of his satire,’ said Saxon adroitly; ‘yet I may admire the satire itself, just as one may admire a damascened blade without approving of the quarrel in which it is drawn.’

‘These distinctions are, I fear, too subtle for my old brain,’ said the stout old Puritan. ‘This England of ours is divided into two camps, that of God and that of Antichrist. He who is not with us is against us, nor shall any who serve under the devil’s banner have anything from me save my scorn and the sharp edge of my sword.’

‘Well, well,’ said Saxon, filling up his glass, ‘I am no Laodicean or time-server. The cause shall not find me wanting with tongue or with sword.’

‘Of that I am well convinced, my worthy friend,’ the Mayor answered, ‘and if I have spoken over sharply you will hold me excused. But I regret to have evil tidings to announce to you. I have not told the commonalty lest it cast them down, but I know that adversity will be but the whetstone to give your ardour a finer edge. Argyle’s rising has failed, and he and his companions are prisoners in the hands of the man who never knew what pity was.’

We all started in our chairs at this, and looked at one another aghast, save only Sir Gervas Jerome, whose natural serenity was, I am well convinced, proof against any disturbance. For you may remember, my children, that I stated when I first took it in hand to narrate to you these passages of my life, that the hopes of Monmouth’s party rested very much upon the raid which Argyle and the Scottish exiles had made upon Ayrshire, where it was hoped that they would create such a disturbance as would divert a good share of King James’s forces, and so make our march to London less difficult. This was the more confidently expected since Argyle’s own estates lay upon that side of Scotland, where he could raise five thousand swordsmen among his own clansmen. The western counties abounded, too, in fierce zealots who were ready to assert the cause of the Covenant, and who had proved themselves in many a skirmish to be valiant warriors. With the help of the Highlanders and of the Covenanters it seemed certain that Argyle would be able to hold his own, the more so since he took with him to Scotland the English Puritan Rumbold, and many others skilled in warfare. This sudden news of his total defeat and downfall was therefore a heavy blow, since it turned the whole forces of the Government upon ourselves.

‘Have you the news from a trusty source?’ asked Decimus Saxon, after a long silence.

‘It is beyond all doubt or question,’ Master Stephen Timewell answered. ‘Yet I can well understand your surprise, for the Duke had trusty councillors with him. There was Sir Patrick Hume of Polwarth —’

‘All talk and no fight,’ said Saxon.

‘And Richard Rumbold.’

‘All fight and no talk,’ quoth our companion. ‘He should, methinks, have rendered a better account of himself.’

‘Then there was Major Elphinstone.’

‘A bragging fool!’ cried Saxon.’

‘And Sir John Cochrane.’

‘A captious, long-tongued, short-witted sluggard,’ said the soldier of fortune. ‘The expedition was doomed from the first with such men at its head. Yet I had thought that could they have done nought else, they might at least have flung themselves into the mountain country, where these bare-legged caterans could have held their own amid their native clouds and mists. All taken, you say! It is a lesson and a warning to us. I tell you that unless Monmouth infuses more energy into his councils, and thrusts straight for the heart instead of fencing and foining at the extremities, we shall find ourselves as Argyle and Rumbold. What mean these two days wasted at Axminster at a time when every hour is of import? Is he, every time that he brushes a party of militia aside, to stop forty-eight hours and chant “Te Deums” when Churchill and Feversham are, as I know, pushing for the West with every available man, and the Dutch grenadiers are swarming over like rats into a granary?’

‘You are very right, Colonel Saxon,’ the Mayor answered. ‘And I trust that when the King comes here we may stir him up to more prompt action. He has much need of more soldierly advisers, for since Fletcher hath gone there is hardly a man about him who hath been trained to arms.’

‘Well,’ said Saxon moodily, ‘now that Argyle hath gone under we are face to face with James, with nothing but our own good swords to trust to.’

‘To them and to the justice of our cause. How like ye the news, young sirs? Has the wine lost its smack on account of it? Are ye disposed to flinch from the standard of the Lord?’

‘For my own part I shall see the matter through,’ said I.

‘And I shall bide where Micah Clarke bides,’ quoth Reuben Lockarby.

‘And to me,’ said Sir Gervas, ‘it is a matter of indifference, so long as I am in good company and there is something stirring.’

‘In that case,’ said the Mayor, ‘we had best each turn to his own work, and have all ready for the King’s arrival. Until then I trust that ye will honour my humble roof.’

‘I fear that I cannot accept your kindness,’ Saxon answered. ‘When I am in harness I come and go early and late. I shall therefore take up my quarters in the inn, which is not very well furnished with victual, and yet can supply me with the simple fare, which with a black Jack of October and a pipe of Trinidado is all I require.’

As Saxon was firm in this resolution the Mayor forbore to press it upon him, but my two friends gladly joined with me in accepting the worthy wool-worker’s offer, and took up our quarters for the time under his hospitable roof.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/micah/chapter18.html

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:33