Slaughter in the Marshes

We rattled away at a merry pace, out of the town of Dulverton; my horse being gaily fed, and myself quite fit again for going. Of course I was puzzled about Cousin Ruth; for her behaviour was not at all such as I had expected; and indeed I had hoped for a far more loving and moving farewell than I got from her. But I said to myself, ‘It is useless ever to count upon what a woman will do; and I think that I must have vexed her, almost as much as she vexed me. And now to see what comes of it.’ So I put my horse across the moorland; and he threw his chest out bravely.

Now if I tried to set down at length all the things that happened to me, upon this adventure, every in and out, and up and down, and to and fro, that occupied me, together with the things I saw, and the things I heard of, however much the wiser people might applaud my narrative, it is likely enough that idle readers might exclaim, ‘What ails this man? Knows he not that men of parts and of real understanding, have told us all we care to hear of that miserable business. Let him keep to his farm, and his bacon, and his wrestling, and constant feeding.’

Fearing to meet with such rebuffs (which after my death would vex me), I will try to set down only what is needful for my story, and the clearing of my character, and the good name of our parish. But the manner in which I was bandied about, by false information, from pillar to post, or at other times driven quite out of my way by the presence of the King’s soldiers, may be known by the names of the following towns, to which I was sent in succession, Bath, Frome, Wells, Wincanton, Glastonbury, Shepton, Bradford, Axbridge, Somerton, and Bridgwater.

This last place I reached on a Sunday night, the fourth or fifth of July, I think—or it might be the sixth, for that matter; inasmuch as I had been too much worried to get the day of the month at church. Only I know that my horse and myself were glad to come to a decent place, where meat and corn could be had for money; and being quite weary of wandering about, we hoped to rest there a little.

Of this, however, we found no chance, for the town was full of the good Duke’s soldiers; if men may be called so, the half of whom had never been drilled, nor had fired a gun. And it was rumoured among them, that the ‘popish army,’ as they called it, was to be attacked that very night, and with God’s assistance beaten. However, by this time I had been taught to pay little attention to rumours; and having sought vainly for Tom Faggus among these poor rustic warriors, I took to my hostel; and went to bed, being as weary as weary can be.

Falling asleep immediately, I took heed of nothing; although the town was all alive, and lights had come glancing, as I lay down, and shouts making echo all round my room. But all I did was to bolt the door; not an inch would I budge, unless the house, and even my bed, were on fire. And so for several hours I lay, in the depth of the deepest slumber, without even a dream on its surface; until I was roused and awakened at last by a pushing, and pulling, and pinching, and a plucking of hair out by the roots. And at length, being able to open mine eyes, I saw the old landlady, with a candle, heavily wondering at me.

‘Can’t you let me alone?’ I grumbled. ‘I have paid for my bed, mistress; and I won’t get up for any one.’

‘Would to God, young man,’ she answered, shaking me as hard as ever, ‘that the popish soldiers may sleep this night, only half as strong as thou dost! Fie on thee, fie on thee! Get up, and go fight; we can hear the battle already; and a man of thy size mought stop a cannon.’

‘I would rather stop a-bed,’ said I; ‘what have I to do with fighting? I am for King James, if any.’

‘Then thou mayest even stop a-bed,’ the old woman muttered sulkily. ‘A would never have laboured half an hour to awake a Papisher. But hearken you one thing, young man; Zummerzett thou art, by thy brogue; or at least by thy understanding of it; no Zummerzett maid will look at thee, in spite of thy size and stature, unless thou strikest a blow this night.’

‘I lack no Zummerzett maid, mistress: I have a fairer than your brown things; and for her alone would I strike a blow.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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