Suitable Devotion

Now Kickums was not like Winnie, any more than a man is like a woman; and so he had not followed my fortunes, except at his own distance. No doubt but what he felt a certain interest in me; but his interest was not devotion; and man might go his way and be hanged, rather than horse would meet hardship. Therefore, seeing things to be bad, and his master involved in trouble, what did this horse do but start for the ease and comfort of Plover’s Barrows, and the plentiful ration of oats abiding in his own manger. For this I do not blame him. It is the manner of mankind.

But I could not help being very uneasy at the thought of my mother’s discomfort and worry, when she should spy this good horse coming home, without any master, or rider, and I almost hoped that he might be caught (although he was worth at least twenty pounds) by some of the King’s troopers, rather than find his way home, and spread distress among our people. Yet, knowing his nature, I doubted if any could catch, or catching would keep him.

Jeremy Stickles assured me, as we took the road to Bridgwater, that the only chance for my life (if I still refused to fly) was to obtain an order forthwith, for my despatch to London, as a suspected person indeed, but not found in open rebellion, and believed to be under the patronage of the great Lord Jeffreys. ‘For,’ said he, ‘in a few hours time you would fall into the hands of Lord Feversham, who has won this fight, without seeing it, and who has returned to bed again, to have his breakfast more comfortably. Now he may not be quite so savage perhaps as Colonel Kirke, nor find so much sport in gibbeting; but he is equally pitiless, and his price no doubt would be higher.’

‘I will pay no price whatever,’ I answered, ‘neither will I fly. An hour agone I would have fled for the sake of my mother, and the farm. But now that I have been taken prisoner, and my name is known, if I fly, the farm is forfeited; and my mother and sister must starve. Moreover, I have done no harm; I have borne no weapons against the King, nor desired the success of his enemies. I like not that the son of a bona- roba should be King of England; neither do I count the Papists any worse than we are. If they have aught to try me for, I will stand my trial.’

‘Then to London thou must go, my son. There is no such thing as trial here: we hang the good folk without it, which saves them much anxiety. But quicken thy step, good John; I have influence with Lord Churchill, and we must contrive to see him, ere the foreigner falls to work again. Lord Churchill is a man of sense, and imprisons nothing but his money.’

We were lucky enough to find this nobleman, who has since become so famous by his foreign victories. He received us with great civility; and looked at me with much interest, being a tall and fine young man himself, but not to compare with me in size, although far better favoured. I liked his face well enough, but thought there was something false about it. He put me a few keen questions, such as a man not assured of honesty might have found hard to answer; and he stood in a very upright attitude, making the most of his figure.

I saw nothing to be proud of, at the moment, in this interview; but since the great Duke of Marlborough rose to the top of glory, I have tried to remember more about him than my conscience quite backs up. How should I know that this man would be foremost of our kingdom in five-and-twenty years or so; and not knowing, why should I heed him, except for my own pocket? Nevertheless, I have been so cross- questioned—far worse than by young Lord Churchill—about His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, and what he said to me, and what I said then, and how His Grace replied to that, and whether he smiled like another man, or screwed up his lips like a button (as our parish tailor said of him), and whether I knew from the turn of his nose that no Frenchman could stand before him: all these inquiries have worried me so, ever since the Battle of Blenheim, that if tailors would only print upon waistcoats, I would give double price for a vest bearing this inscription, ‘No information can be given about the Duke of Marlborough.’

Now this good Lord Churchill—for one might call him good, by comparison with the very bad people around him—granted without any long hesitation the order for my safe deliverance to the Court of King’s Bench at Westminster; and Stickles, who had to report in London, was empowered to convey me, and

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