Alfred John Church.

With the King at Oxford online

. (page 13 of 14)
Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchWith the King at Oxford → online text (page 13 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


stout staff which I had in my hand, and my brother had not even so
much; and we were also taken unawares, so that I had but time to
strike one blow for my liberty. Even so, being very fleet of foot, I
might have escaped, but could not in honour leave my companion who was
an older man, and of a student's habit, which, as all know, is
ill-fitted for bodily exercise. Hence the fellows laid hold upon us
without much difficulty, and clapping handcuffs upon our hands, and
gags in our mouths, had us at their mercy. They then carried us to a
wherry, and so conveyed us to a ship which lay moored near the farther
bank of the river, about half-a-mile below London Bridge. Being there
arrived, and hoisted on to the deck, they took the gags from our
mouths and lowered us into the hold. That we had company even in this
place was easy to be told, for we heard the snoring of sleepers, and
some round oaths also from someone, over whom, not knowing where we
were, we stumbled; but how many they were and of what sort, we knew
not, it being pitch dark. Thus we disposed ourselves as best we could,
and, after the manner of St. Paul and his shipmates, "wished for the
morning." When it was light, or as much light as the nature of the
place permitted, and we could examine our company, we were not
over-well pleased. There were some thirty in all, as villainous a set
of jail-birds, the most of them, as ever was gathered together. Two or
three, indeed, were as we afterwards learned, of a more honest sort,
but the rest, it was manifest, were the very off-scouring of the
prisons. Says one of them, a tall, stout fellow, that seemed to be a
sort of captain among them:

"Come, friends, tell us how we came to have the honour of your
company. Was it for lifting a purse, or breaking into a house, or
cracking a man's skull?"

Before I could answer he caught sight of my brother's clergyman's
habit, and stirring with his foot one of the company that lay with his
face to the wall, said:

"Parson, here is one of thy cloth; up and bid him welcome to this
meeting of good fellows."

The man raised himself, and turned his face to us, a more wretched
countenance than ever I had seen before.

"I could not have believed," he said, "that there was anyone in the
world so wretched as I; yet, to judge from your habit, you are my
fellow in misery. I have been sent down into this hell upon earth for
no other offence save that I am a priest of the Church of England."

He then went on to tell us his history. He had, like thousands of
others, been dispossessed of his living, and this with such
circumstances of cruelty as cost him the life of his wife, who at the
time of his expulsion was lain-in but a few days before of her first
child. Afterwards, coming to London to see if he could make a
livelihood by teaching, he had been kidnapped, as we had been.

"But what," I inquired of him, "will they do with us?"

"We are bound," said he, "for the plantations. 'Tis a monstrous thing
that innocent men should be so dealt with. I do not say, for I would
not be unjust for all my misery, that they who are in authority know
of these doings. I judge that they do not. But they are careless; they
make no inquiry. It matters not to them if there be some score of
malignants the less to trouble them with their complaints, or to plot
against them; so much the better. Hence the villains who carry on this
business are emboldened to lay their hands upon us. Their occupation
is to find labourers for the plantations in the Indies; and for each
of these that they bring out they receive so many pounds sterling; how
many I know not, but I take it that it is a considerable sum. They
seek their recruits first in the jails. When these are overcrowded,
and they never were crowded more than now, all England being overrun
with disbanded soldiers, they find a plentiful supply. The
magistrates, partly for gain, and partly for humanity's sake, hand
over to them some that had else rotted in prison or stretched the
hangman's rope, but if the tale be short, then they must make it up
elsewhere; nor do they care at all how they come by their
merchandise."

This was dismal hearing, and would have thrown us into despair had we
had more leisure to think of it. As it was, we were fully occupied
with the miseries of our present position. A more deplorable condition
than ours it was scarce possible to conceive. For food we had biscuit,
mouldy and full of weevils, and had it been more eatable, insufficient
in quantity. Salted beef was also given to us, harder than ever I
thought beef could be. Of water we had a sufficient quantity, a great
barrel being set in the hold, over which one of the company, deputed
to that office by his fellows, kept guard. This was the chief
belightening of our lot. In another respect, also, its hardship was
somewhat mitigated. At the first we suffered much from the hideousness
of the oaths and blasphemy and foul language of every kind which we
heard from our companions. Having borne this for a day I resolved
within myself to see whether I could not mend it. With this purpose in
view I said to the captain, as I may call him, "I like not this
talking. Will you please to change it?"

"Who are you," said he, "that pretend to order our behaviour? As you
like it not, you can depart whither you will or can."

"Captain," said I, for so we called him, though he had never been more
than a captain of thieves, "I would choose, if it may be, to be your
friend rather than your foe. And you too, if you are wise, will choose
the same. But I make this condition of peace, that there be no foul
language or oaths; which in this narrow space, reach to ears for which
doubtless they are not intended."

At this one of the captain's friends, a fellow of the sort that love
always to play jackal to a lion, brake rudely in upon me with, "I know
not whether your ears be daintier than other men's; but certainly they
are longer."

I had resolved to have the matter out, if need were, with the captain
himself, and did not doubt but that, being expert in manly exercises,
and sound in health and wind, I should get the better of him.
Nevertheless I would willingly have avoided such a conflict, knowing
that it might leave ill-blood behind. So when this rude fellow
interrupted me I saw an occasion of showing my strength which might
serve my purpose better than giving the captain actual experience of
it. Turning, therefore, upon the fellow I caught him by the collar of
his coat, and held him out for some space of time at arm's length,
which, as all who have tried such an action know, is no easy matter.
When I put the man down, the captain stretched out his hand to me and
said:

"You are right, good sir, we will be friends rather than foes, and you
shall have your way in this matter of talking. And hark ye, my
friends," he said turning to the others; "he that speaks an ill word
hereafter in this place must reckon with me."

This habit of foul speaking, like other ill habits, is not broken in a
day, and the captain himself, who indeed had been wont to garnish his
speech with as strange a variety of oaths as ever were heard from
mortal tongue, was a frequent offender. But he was not, therefore, the
less severe upon others; and before long there was a visible
amendment. Then, again, we two and the two or three others of the
better sort of whom I have already written, used our best endeavours
to put something more edifying in the place of the thieves' stories
with which these poor wretches were accustomed to entertain each
other. They were, as may be readily supposed, wholly ignorant of all
that it concerned them as Englishmen to know of the history of this
realm; of gallant deeds that have been done by our countrymen on sea
and land they had not so much as heard. Yet they listened eagerly
enough to stories of such things, and were never wearied of hearing
the tale of King Alfred fighting against the Danes, and of Harold, at
whose defeat by the Conqueror they murmured loudly, and of the Black
Prince at Cressy and Poictiers. With such narratives we kept them
quiet and orderly, and my brother in particular, who had a most
pleasant voice, gained such a mastery over them that when he proposed
that they should say a few prayers with him both morning and evening,
there was not a man to say him "Nay," and indeed at the end of a
week's time he had a most respectful congregation.

How long we remained in this condition I cannot exactly say, for night
and day were scarce to be distinguished in that place; but I consider
it to have been as much as six weeks. That we were journeying south we
knew from the heat, which had much increased so that the place was
scarce endurable. We had indeed besought the men that brought us our
provisions (which they lowered from above) that they would give us
some more air, but had besought in vain, and were even thinking of
getting by force what was then cruelly denied, when there happened
that which made our schemes superfluous.

One night the wind began to rise (hitherto we had had extraordinary
fine weather), and increased so much that we were tossed about in a
most dangerous fashion. The seams of the ship also began to open, and
to let in water, so that our condition became almost intolerable. The
next day the hatches were opened, as they had never been opened before
since our coming down on board, and a ladder was let down into the
hold. "Come," cried one from above, "unless you would die like rats in
a hole." We needed no second bidding, and indeed for the last two
hours the water had been increasing upon us in most threatening
fashion. No sooner had we reached the deck than we saw that the ship
was lower in the water than promised well for her safety. And, indeed,
what with the lowering sky and the waves, that were like mountains on
every side of us, the prospect was gloomy, and it seemed that we had
recovered our liberty only that we might perish. Nevertheless, we
thought it better to die in the open air and in the light, even as
Ajax the Greater prays to Jupiter, "Slay me, so it be in the light."
Says the man that had let down the ladder, whom we now found to be the
mate, "Come, my friends, if you would see land again; set your hands
to the pumps." This we did with a good will and with such strength as
was still left us by our imprisonment and scanty diet. For a time we
lost rather than gained, and it seemed as if our days were numbered;
but as it grew towards evening, the wind abated and the sea fell, so
that it brake not over the ship as before. By good fortune also the
carpenter discovered the principal leak and repaired it, so that about
an hour after sunset, by which time indeed we were well nigh spent
with labour, we had respite from pumping, and ate the supper which the
mate had caused to be prepared for us. 'Twas no very luxurious
banquet, but 'twas royal fare to us, and we feasted with as good an
appetite as ever men had in this world. While we sat at meal the mate
told us what had happened.

"We had, you must know," he said, "but one boat, and that would
contain but two parts of the crew. Well, when it appeared this morning
that the ship could hardly swim much longer, and there seemed no sign
of the weather abating, the captain contrived that the carpenter and I
and three more of us should go below, if we might chance to find any
of the leaks. And while we were gone, he and the others lowered the
boat, which was already fitted and provisioned, and so departed. A
villain I knew him to be, but had not thought him capable of such
wickedness. But I reckon that he has made a mistake, for all his
cunning. I had ten times sooner be here, things being as they are,
than in the boat with him."

And indeed the mate was right, for the captain and the rest of the
crew were never heard of more.

The next day the sea was as calm as though it were a pond, and the sky
without a cloud. I asked the mate whereabouts, in his judgment, we
were. "God only knows," he said. "The Captain took the reckoning, and
he has the instruments with him, for I cannot find them. But I
remember him to have said the day before the storm that we were about
four hundred miles from our journey's end. But I reckon that we must
now be more than that, the wind for the last day having blown very
strongly from the west."

"What then," said I, "would you have us do?"

"I think that we had best sail westward, for, even if we have been
driven back two hundred miles or more, the nearest land must still lie
in that quarter. We will rig up a jury mast" (for both the ship's
masts had been lost in the storm), "and sail as best we may; but I
must confess that my great hope is in falling in with some ship that
may help us."

But we were not yet past all our troubles. That rascal, whom I have
called the "captain," and some of his fellows, having found where the
spirits were kept, brake open the place, and helped themselves to the
liquor. Inflamed by drinking, they conceived the plan (first hatched,
I believe, in the brain of the fellow with whom I had the passage of
arms before described) of making themselves masters of the ship and
taking to the trade of buccaneers or pirates, between whom, I take it,
there is no great distinction. Accordingly they seize the mate in his
bed, to which, after I know not how many days' toil and watching, he
had betaken himself for a few hours' rest, bring over the remainder of
the crew to their side by threats and promises, and clap those of the
company whom they had no hope of persuading into the hold again.

I must confess that at this ill turn of fortune I began to despair,
but found comfort where I had least expected it. For now the poor
parson, of whose doleful countenance I have before written, plays the
part of a St. Paul.

"Be of good cheer," says he, "for I am persuaded that He who has
helped us so far will not now desert us. I was as downcast as you now
are; and God sent you to cheer me up. Let me do the same office now
for you, for I have learnt that to despair is nothing less than a sin
against God."

And sure enough the good man was in the right. We had not been in our
prison more than three or four hours when we overheard a loud noise as
of talking and tramping of feet overhead, and not long after, to our
great joy, saw the hatches thrown open, and were released from our
duress. What had happened may be briefly told.

The mutineers had scarce made themselves masters of the ship when
there hove in sight a strange sail, which, by great good fortune, or,
I should rather say, by God's kind providence, was a Dutch man-of-war.
She was heading right for us, and the villains, having but a poor
pretence of mast and sail, had no chance of escape. The Dutchman
seeing a vessel in distress, as was evident from our appearance, sends
one of his officers on board. The villains speak him fair, and tell a
plausible tale, which, but for the carpenter, might have deceived him.
But the carpenter, who had given in to the mutineers only for fear of
his life, whispers in the officer's ear that he had best inquire
further. And so the whole truth comes out.

The mutineers, having some bold fellows among them, would, I doubt
not, have made a fight for the mastery, but were so ill-armed that
they durst not venture. To make my story short, when the Dutch captain
came on board and had heard how matters stood, he came to this
conclusion.

"The ship, which was but a rotten craft before, and is now damaged by
the storm beyond repair, I shall take leave to scuttle. As for the
villains they would but meet with their proper deserts were I to leave
them to sink with her, or hang them from my yard-arm. But I care not
to have their blood upon my soul. Yet I should be doing but an
ill-turn to mankind were I to take them back to Europe. It seems to
me, therefore, the best course to leave them on some uninhabited
island, of which there is more than one in these seas, where they may
earn their bread by tilling the soil, or, if it please them better,
cut each other's throats. As for you, gentlemen, I shall be happy to
give you a passage back to Holland, to which country I am now bound."

And this he did. Never was a more courteous host, or guests who were
better pleased with their entertainment. I had much talk with the good
man during the voyage, which, the wind being often light and baffling,
occupied near upon two months, and among other things related to him
the story of my life. And this, by his counsel, I have now written
down.




EPILOGUE.


ROTTERDAM, May 1st, 1660.

'Tis about eleven years since I wrote in this book of how I had been
with the King at Oxford, and of other things which grew out of the
same. And now, if anyone should desire to know how I and others of
whom mention has been made in this writing have since fared, I will in
a very few words here set it forth.

Being brought to Holland after my escape from the kidnappers, as
related in the chapter last written, and seeking some means of earning
my bread, I chanced to meet with a certain merchant of Rotterdam,
Richard Daunt by name, who, having satisfied himself that I was a man
of decent conversation and sufficient scholarship, would have me come
to him as a tutor to his sons. "And you shall find," he said, "others
of our nation at Rotterdam, who will gladly put their children in your
charge." To this I was willing enough to hearken, nor have I ever
repented that I did so, having found in Master Daunt and his fellows
at Rotterdam, as good friends as a man could desire to have.

About a year after my going to Rotterdam, the charge of minister to
the congregation of English merchants in that city fell vacant, by the
cession of Master Richard Chalfont, some time Fellow of Lincoln
College, by whose good word, many of the congregation also favouring,
I had from the Committee the promise of the succession, if only I
could obtain Holy Orders. This agreed well with what had always been
my desire, and I determined to seek Orders from some Bishop in
England, if only one could be found able and willing to give them; for
this, in the distress of the times, could not be with certainty
counted upon. I knew of none in England from whom I could get better
information and advice than Master Ellgood. To him, therefore, I
resolved to resort, not, it will readily be believed without the
thought present in my mind of seeing again my dear Cicely; for it had
been long understood that we were to be married so soon as I had
reasonable prospect of maintaining a wife. Master Ellgood behaved
himself most friendly to me. When I asked him about the obtaining of
Orders, he said:

"'Tis not impossible. My Lord of Oxford, or, to speak more agreeably
with the spirit of the times, Dr. Robert Skinner, has licence to give
them, or, I should rather say, having friends among them that are in
power, is winked at in so doing."

Hearing this, I expounded to the good man my hopes and plans, which he
encouraged, knowing that I had for a long time cherished this design.

"The charge at Rotterdam," said I, "is worth eighty pounds by the
year; and I can add as much more by the teaching of English boys in
that city, for which employment I shall have ample time. If then I can
satisfy the bishop of my fitness (of which I have a good hope), after
having received Orders from him, I will ask you to give me your
daughter Cicely in marriage."

"I like not," said he, "that a priest should marry, nor can I give my
consent that he should marry a daughter of mine."

'Twas as if a thunderbolt had fallen upon me when I heard him say
these words. Cicely, too, for she was present at our conference, grew
suddenly pale.

"Nay, my good sir," I said, "how can that be? Does not St. Paul say
that a bishop should be 'the husband of one wife'?"

"I am not so careless a student of holy Scripture," answered he, "as
to have overlooked that text. Yet, having studied Christian antiquity
with all the diligence that I could use, I could never find one
instance in which a priest (to which I take the word 'bishop' to be
here equal) has contracted matrimony. But that married men have been
ordained priests and deacons I know full well, and this, which indeed
is the custom of the Greek Church, I take to be the apostle's meaning.
So, then, if you are willing to marry my daughter before ordination, I
refuse not my consent, but rather give it, and my blessing with it,
most willingly."

At this, which the good man said not without a certain twinkle in his
eye, Cicely, if she had been pale before, grew red; but was not so
displeased but that when I reached out my hand to hers and took it she
suffered it to remain.

The next day I set out for Launton, where Dr. Skinner had his charge,
in which, indeed, he had not been disturbed. With him I sojourned
three days, and, after being closely examined in my knowledge of
Scripture and other matters with which a clergyman should have some
acquaintance, received from him a promise, which he put in writing for
the satisfaction of Master Ellgood, that he would presently admit me
both to deacon's and priest's orders.

In two weeks time after my return from the bishop my sweet Cicely and
I were married, first by a neighbouring magistrate (for so marriages
were performed at that time), and after by one of the dispossessed
clergy, that was chaplain to one of the gentry in those parts, Master
Ellgood saying that he was still, however worthy, under ecclesiastical
censure, and could perform no spiritual function. And again, in two
weeks more I was ordained deacon by Dr. Skinner, and, being of full
age, because it would not be convenient for me to come again to
England, priest on the day following. I thank my God that he gave me
His two best gifts, a good calling in life, and a good helpmeet.
Verily they are gifts of which I have not repented me for a moment,
though I must confess that I am scarce worthy of them.

My Cicely's father has lived with us since our marriage, busying
himself with books and with good works. John Ellgood has risen to a
high place in the Stadtholder's service.

My brother-in-law has for the last ten years been chaplain to my Lord
Brandon, and has found under his protection both safety and comfort.

It is now, I hear, a settled thing that monarchy shall be restored in
England. I could wish that there were a better report of the new King.
That he will avoid his father's faults, I doubt not, for 'tis his
settled resolve, as has often been heard from his mouth, to die King
of England, and he will not imperil his crown by obstinacy or
self-will. But he is lacking in his father's best virtues, and 'tis
much to be doubted whether England will get much advantage from his
coming back. But God can overrule all things for good, and 'twere lack
of faith to doubt that He will.


THE END.




_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._


THE CHANTRY PRIEST OF BARNET: A Tale of the Two Roses. With Coloured
Illustrations. Price 5s.

STORIES FROM HOMER. With Coloured Illustrations. _Sixteenth Thousand._
Price 5s., cloth.

STORIES FROM VIRGIL. With Coloured Illustrations. _Twelfth Thousand._
Price 5s., cloth.

STORIES FROM THE GREEK TRAGEDIANS. With Coloured Illustrations.
_Eighth Thousand._ Price 5s., cloth.

STORIES OF THE EAST FROM HERODOTUS. With Coloured Illustrations.
_Seventh Thousand._ Price 5s., cloth.

THE STORY OF THE PERSIAN WAR FROM HERODOTUS. With Coloured
Illustrations. _Fourth Thousand._ Price 5s., cloth.

STORIES FROM LIVY. With Coloured Illustrations. _Fourth Thousand._
Price 5s., cloth.

ROMAN LIFE IN THE DAYS OF CICERO. With Coloured Illustrations. _Fourth
Thousand._ Price 5s., cloth.

THE STORY OF THE LAST DAYS OF JERUSALEM FROM JOSEPHUS. With Coloured
Illustrations. _Fourth Thousand._ Price 3s. 6d., cloth.

A TRAVELLER'S TRUE TALE FROM LUCIAN. With Coloured Illustrations.
_Third Thousand._ Price 3s. 6d., cloth.

HEROES AND KINGS. Stories from the Greek. Price 1s. 6d., cloth.


SEELEY & CO., Essex Street, Strand.


_RECENTLY PUBLISHED._

BORDER LANCES: A Romance of the Northern Marches. By the Author of
"Belt and Spur." With Coloured Illustrations. Price 5s., cloth.

STORIES OF THE ITALIAN PAINTERS FROM VASARI. With Coloured
Illustrations. Price 5s., cloth.

BELT AND SPUR. Stories of the Knights of Old. _Fourth Thousand._ With
Sixteen Illuminations. Price 5s., cloth.

THE CITY IN THE SEA. Stories of the Old Venetians. By the Author of
"Belt and Spur." With Coloured Illustrations. Price 5s., cloth.

HORACE WALPOLE AND HIS WORLD. Select passages from his Letters. With
Eight copper-plates after Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13

Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchWith the King at Oxford → online text (page 13 of 14)