KING MONMOUTH’S council was assembled at the time of my coming, and my entrance caused the utmost surprise and joy, as they had just heard news of my sore danger. Even the royal presence could not prevent several members, among whom were the old Mayor and the two soldiers of fortune, from springing to their feet and shaking me warmly by the hand. Monmouth himself said a few gracious words, and requested that I should be seated at the board with the others.
“You have earned the right to be of our council,” said he; “and lest there should be a jealousy amongst other captains that you should come among us, I do hereby confer upon you the special title of Scout-master, which, though it entail few if any duties in the present state of our force, will yet give you precedence over your fellows. We had heard that your greeting from Beaufort was of the roughest, and that you were in sore straits in his dungeons. But you have happily come yourself on the very heels of him who bore the tidings. Tell us then from the beginning how things have fared with you.”
I should have wished to have limited my story to Beaufort and his message, but as the council seemed to be intent upon hearing a full account of my journey, I told in as short and simple speech as I could the various passages which had befallen me—the ambuscado of the smugglers, the cave, the capture of the gauger, the journey in the lugger, the acquaintance with Farmer Brown, my being cast into prison, with the manner of my release and the message wherewith I had been commissioned. To all of this the council hearkened with the uttermost attention, while a muttered oath ever and anon from a courtier or a groan and prayer from a Puritan showed how keenly they followed the various phases of my fortunes. Above all, they gave the greatest heed to Beaufort’s words, and stopped me more than once when I appeared to be passing over any saying or event before they had due time to weigh it. When I at last finished they all sat speechless, looking into each other’s faces and waiting for an expression of opinion.
“On my word,” said Monmouth at last, “this is a young Ulysses, though his Odyssey doth but take three days in the acting. Scudery might not be so dull were she to take a hint from these smugglers’ caves and sliding panels. How say you, Grey?”
“He hath indeed had his share of adventure,” the nobleman answered, “and hath also performed his mission like a fearless and zealous messenger. You say that Beaufort gave you nought in writing?”
“Not a word, my lord,” I replied.
“And his private message was that he wished us well, and would join us if we were in his country?”
“That was the effect, my lord.”
“Yet in his council, as I understand, he did utter bitter things against us, putting affronts upon the King, and making light of his just claims upon the fealty of his nobility?”
“He did,” I answered.
“He would fain stand upon both sides of the hedge at once,” said King Monmouth. “Such a man is very like to find himself on neither side, but in the very heart of the briars. It may be as well, however, that we should move his way, so as to give him the chance of declaring himself.”
“In any case, as your Majesty remembers,” said Saxon, “we had determined to march Bristolwards and attempt the town.”
“The works are being strengthened,” said I, “and there are five thousand of the Gloucestershire train-bands assembled within. I saw the labourers at work upon the ramparts as I passed.”
“If we gain Beaufort we shall gain the town,” quoth Sir Stephen Timewell. “There are already a strong body of godly and honest folk therein, who would rejoice to see a Protestant army within their gates. Should we have to beleaguer it we may count upon some help from within.”
“Hegel und blitzen!” exclaimed the German soldier, with an impatience which even the presence of the King could not keep in bounds; “how can we talk of sieges and leaguers when we have not a breaching-piece in the army?”
“The Lard will find us the breaching-pieces,” cried Ferguson, in his strange, nasal voice. “Did the Lard no breach the too’ers o’ Jericho withoot the aid o’ gunpooder? Did the Lard no raise up the man Robert Ferguson and presairve him through five-and-thairty indictments and twa-and-twenty proclamations o’ the godless? What is there He canna do? Hosannah! Hosannah!”
“The Doctor is right,” said a square-faced, leather-skinned English Independent. “We talk too much o’ carnal means and worldly chances, without leaning upon that heavenly goodwill which should be to us as a staff on stony and broken paths. Yes, gentlemen,” he continued, raising his voice and glancing across the table at some of the courtiers, “ye may sneer at words of piety, but I say that it is you and those like you who will bring down God’s anger upon this army.”
“And I say so too,” cried another sectary fiercely.
“And I,” “And I,” shouted several, with Saxon, I think, among them.
“Is it your wish, your Majesty, that we should be insulted at your very council board?” cried one of the courtiers, springing to his feet with a flushed face. “How long are we to be subject to this insolence because we have the religion of a gentleman, and prefer to practise it in the privacy of our hearts rather than at the street corners with these pharisees?”
“Speak not against God’s saints,” cried a Puritan, in a loud stern voice. “There is a voice within me which tells me that it were better to strike thee dead—yea, even in the presence of the King—than to allow thee to revile those who have been born again.”
Several had sprung to their feet on either side. Hands were laid upon sword-hilts, and glances as stern and as deadly as rapier thrusts were flashing backwards and forwards; but the more neutral and reasonable members of the council succeeded in restoring peace, and in persuading the angry disputants to resume their seats.
“How now, gentlemen?” cried the King, his face dark with anger, when silence was at last restored. “Is this the extent of my authority that ye should babble and brawl as though my council-chamber were a Fleet Street pot-house? Is this your respect for my person? I tell ye that I would forfeit my just claims for ever, and return to Holland, or devote my sword to the cause of Christianity against the Turk, rather than submit to such indignity. If any man he proved to have stirred up strife amongst the soldiers or commonalty on the score of religion I shall know how to deal with him. Let each preach to his own, but let him not interfere with the flock of his neighbour. As to you, Mr. Bramwell, and you, Mr. Joyce, and you also, Sir Henry Nuttall, we shall hold ye excused from attending these meetings until ye have further notice from us. Ye may now separate, each to your quarters, and to-morrow morning we shall, with the blessing of God, start for the north to see what luck may await our enterprise in those parts.”
The King bowed as a sign that the formal meeting was over, and taking Lord Grey aside, he conversed with him anxiously in a recess. The courtiers, who numbered in their party several English and foreign gentlemen, who had come over together with some Devonshire and Somerset country squires, swaggered out of the room in a body, with much clinking of spurs and clanking of swords. The Puritans drew gravely together and followed after them, walking not with demure and downcast looks, as was their common use, but with grim faces and knitted brows, as the Jews of old may have appeared when, “To your tents, O Israel!” was still ringing in their ears.
Indeed, religious dissension and sectarian heat were in the very air. Outside, on the Castle Green, the voices of preachers rose up like the drone of insects. Every waggon or barrel or chance provision case had been converted into a pulpit, each with its own orator and little knot of eager hearkeners. Here was a russet-coated Taunton volunteer in jackboots and bandolier, holding forth on the justification by works. Further on a grenadier of the militia, with blazing red coat and white cross-belt, was deep in the mystery of the Trinity. In one or two places, where the rude pulpits were too near to each other, the sermons had changed into a hot discussion between the two preachers, in which the audience took part by hums or groans, each applauding the champion whose creed was most in accordance with his own. Through this wild scene, made more striking by the ruddy flickering glare of the camp-fires, I picked my way with a weight at my heart, for I felt how vain it must be to hope for success where such division reigned, Saxon looked on, however, with glistening eyes, and rubbed his hands with satisfaction.
“The leaven is working,” quoth he. “Something will come of all this ferment.”
“I see not what can come of it save disorder and weakness,” I answered.
“Good soldiers will come of it, lad,” said he. “They are all sharpening themselves, each after his own fashion, on the whetstone of religion. This arguing breedeth fanatics, and fanatics are the stuff out of which conquerors are fashioned. Have you not heard how Old Noll’s army divided into Presbyterians, Independents, Ranters, Anabaptists, Fifth Monarchy men, Brownists, and a score of other sects, out of whose strife rose the finest regiments that ever formed line upon a field of battle?
“‘Such as do build their faith upon
You know old Samuel’s couplet. I tell you, I would rather see them thus employed than at their drill, for all their wrangling and jangling.”
“But how of this split in the council?” I asked.
“Ah, that is indeed a graver matter. All creeds may be welded together, but the Puritan and the scoffer are like oil and water. Yet the Puritan is the oil, for he will be ever atop. These courtiers do but stand for themselves, while the others are backed up by the pith and marrow of the army. It is well that we are afoot to-morrow. The King’s troops are, I hear, pouring across Salisbury Plain, but their ordnance and stores are delaying them, for they know well that they must bring all they need, since they can expect little from the goodwill of the country folk. Ah, friend Buyse, wie geht es?”
“Ganz gut,” said the big German, looming up before us through the darkness. “But, sapperment, what a cawing and croaking, like a rookery at sunset! You English are a strange people—yes, donnerwetter, a very strange people! There are no two of you who think alike upon any subject under Himmel! The Cavalier will have his gay coat and his loose word. The Puritan will cut your throat rather than give up his sad-coloured dress and his Bible. ‘King James!’ cry some, ‘King Monmouth!’ say the peasants. ‘King Jesus!’ says the Fifth Monarchy man. ‘No King at all!’ cry Master Wade and a few others who are for a Commonwealth. Since I set foot on the Helderenbergh at Amsterdam, my head hath been in a whirl with trying to understand what it is that ye desire, for before I have got to the end of one man’s tale, and begin to see a little through the finsterniss, another will come with another story, and I am in as evil a case as ever. But, my young Hercules, I am right glad to see you back in safety. I am half in fear to give you my hand now, after your recent treatment of it. I trust that you are none the worse for the danger that you have gone through.”
“Mine eyelids are in truth a little heavy,” I answered. “Save for an hour or two aboard the lugger, and about as long on a prison couch, I have not closed eye since I left the camp.”
“We shall fall in at the second bugle call, about eight of the clock,” said Saxon. “We shall leave you, therefore, that you may restore yourself after your fatigues.” With a parting nod the two old soldiers strode off together down the crowded Fore Street, while I made the best of my way back to the Mayor’s hospitable dwelling, where I had to repeat my story all over again to the assembled household before I was at last suffered to seek my room.