Unaccustomed though

“So! Now am I in prison. Well, I had as lief be elsewhere,” muttered
Barbara when she awoke after her first night in gaol, and proceeded
philosophically to take stock of her surroundings, which she had been
too weary to notice on the previous night.

She was not confined in the regular gaol of the town; for nigh two
months past that had been filled to overflowing. Those arrested within
the last few weeks, together with the unfortunates sent on from Exeter
in the van of the dread-inspiring Jeffreys, were lodged in convenient
sheds and storehouses, situated in various parts of the town; bare,
dreary places with little or no suitable accommodation for the wretches
herded within their walls, but affording enough shelter in the opinion
of the authorities for rebels during the short interval which must
elapse before their trial.

The building wherein Barbara awoke was a large wooden shed, originally a
storehouse for wool, some few bales of which still remained piled in the
corners. A large door closely guarded and windows high in the roof were
the only means of egress, and no provision for the accommodation of the
inmates had been made beyond a few straw pallet-beds for the women
prisoners, roughly screened from the rest of the shed by a dilapidated
piece of sacking. Even in the most hopeless moments since her arrest
Barbara had calculated on nothing so dismal as this.

She had slept late after the fatigues of the previous day, and when at
length she awoke, the other occupants of her corner had already risen,
and passed beyond the partition into the shed.

Barbara seated herself on the edge of her bed and stared forlornly at
the bare wall opposite.

“Well! Many better women have been in worse plights, there is not a
doubt. I must e’en comfort myself with that,” was her verdict after
musing some minutes upon her situation. “Now let me see. Rupert would
say that the duty of every woman under every circumstance is to look her
fairest, but there seemeth little scope for that maxim here, and I see
not wherein lies the vantage of tending one’s looks when here is no
mirror to show the result. However, for lack of other advice I’ll e’en
follow Rupert’s.”

Having come to this laudable conclusion, Barbara opened her bundle and
proceeded to arrange her curls, and make such improvements in her toilet
as the scanty means at her disposal allowed. This done she drew aside
the partition and stepped into the room beyond.

It was a curious sight that met her eyes. The shed was totally
destitute of furniture, unless as such might be designated the few bales
of wool and some bundles of straw, used by the prisoners
indiscriminately as couch, chair, or table.

The place served as lodging for about fifty prisoners, many of whom had
been from two to three weeks in captivity. The majority of them were
rough, ignorant peasants, who, having faithfully followed their leaders
into a quarrel which they themselves but half comprehended, now awaited
their doom with that same half-puzzled, stolid patience and dogged
courage which had helped them already to face death on the fatal field
of Sedgemoor.

There were some, too, of the yeoman class, some of the richer townsfolk,
and here and there a noncomformist divine, but save perhaps in a certain
intelligence and eagerness of expression, there was nothing to
distinguish the man of learning or station from the poorest peasant.
All alike were dirty, ragged, and dishevelled; unshaven, unwashed, with
ill-kempt beards and hair. Existence in such a prison, following in
many cases upon days of homeless wanderings, had wrought this levelling
effect upon them all. Their money, what little they once possessed, was
long ago exhausted. They could pay their gaolers for neither books,
amusements, nor drink. They talked little; what was there to talk of?
For the most part they were plunged in the deepest apathy. They had
fought, they had failed; now they awaited what was to come in silence.
They showed no fear, no despair, no hope, only a great patience.

Barbara gazed on the scene with the utmost astonishment and indignation.
Were these men, indeed, the same wild enthusiasts who a while ago had so
eagerly cheered Monmouth through the streets of Taunton? Aye, and not
only cheered him, but aided him loyally, leaving work, home, wife,
children, and all, that they might follow him and strike a blow for the
Cause. Were these indeed those who, armed but with stake or scythe, had
made such a gallant stand against the best disciplined troops of the
country; those who (men were forced to confess) would but for an
accident, undoubtedly have won an unprecedented victory? Could these
indeed be the same? She stared with anger and scorn at their silence,
their apathy, their unkempt looks. Her ardent young nature had no
understanding of this submission to the Inevitable; she had not yet
learned that an Inevitable might exist.

Her birth and breeding afforded her no comprehension of the stolid
bravery of the peasantry. The farther man is removed from the natural
state, the greater the advance he has made in civilisation, so much the
more does he deem it necessary to hide his emotions beneath an
artificial mask, to seem to be that which he is not. A century later in
the massacres in Paris the victims were for the most part nobles and
gentlemen; they went to their doom bravely, with a smile in their eyes,
a jest upon their lips. In this great Rebellion of the West the victims
were the poorest of the peasantry; they faced their doom no less
bravely, but they faced it gravely, in silence.

Barbara’s family traditions had taught her nothing of this. She had
expected her fellow prisoners to be a company of merry dare-devils such
as her brother Rupert, or Sir Peter Dare, men who laughed at danger,
mocked their gaolers, and turned misfortune, nay, death itself, into a
subject for jest. Men, too, who could fight fiercely and endure bravely
on occasion, yet would scorn to appear serious in any circumstances
(save perchance when discussing the set of a doublet or the colour of a
bow), and who looked upon gravity as a sign of cowardice. Such were the
rebels she knew, the rebels she had dreamed of, gay, careless, defiant
to the end; not such as these, silent, sunk in a helpless submission to
their fate. She could not understand. She looked round upon them in
indignation, her lips curled in scorn.

But while she stood there surveying the scene she had herself been the
subject of observation; presently one of the prisoners approached her
and interrupted her meditations.

“What are you doing in this place, my child?” he asked gently.

The speaker was a small, spare man, with bushy white hair and beard, a
face seamed and lined with age, yet full of kindliness and humour, with
a pair of bright, piercing eyes; a face calculated to win friends or to
daunt foes.

Barbara turned to him at once as to an old friend; his voice invited
confidence.

“I was arrested but yesterday, sir, on a charge of sheltering rebels,
and I am here, as the rest of the company, to await my trial.”

“You are very young, but you have a stout heart,” he said, smiling
kindly.

“Why, sir, I hope so,” answered Barbara cheerfully. “I am Barbara
Winslow of Durford Manor, and no Winslow yet was ever written coward,”
she added proudly, with a scornful glance round the shed.

“Noblesse oblige,” he quoted, smiling at her sadly. “Ah, child, your
strength may seem great, but trust not in it too wholly, lest in the
hour of darkness it prove but a broken reed.”

Barbara was puzzled. “What mean you, sir? Sure, ’tis not sinful to be
brave for a name’s sake.”

“Nay, I say not that,” he answered gently. “There be three qualities
that have power to beget a courage unto death—Faith, Love, and Pride.
But of these three only the courage born of Faith has never been known
to fail. Yet whencesoever it springs, courage is the gift of God and a
blessing to man, and as such must be honoured.”

Barbara looked at him curiously.

“You are a divine, sir, are you not?”

“Yes, I am indeed a servant of the Lord, though for many years I have
been withheld from openly preaching His word. For fifty years I have
lived and worked secretly among the miners of the Mendip Hills, and when
they marched to support the defender of our religion, I followed to give
them the comfort of my words. I thank God that I shall follow them to
the end. Ah, child,” he continued earnestly, “you cannot understand
what it is to be silenced, to be dumb, as ’twere, for twenty-three
years; to be torn to pieces ’twixt the burning in my heart to speak the
Word, the fear in my breast of meeting the punishment. It is worth a
thousand deaths to have had at last this chance of testifying once again
to the truth.”

Barbara looked at him gravely.

“No,” she said, “I do not understand.”

His earnestness vanished. He gave a soft resigned sigh and smiled at
her, as at a child.

“No, you do not understand; you are young and fearless.”

“It should be easy to me to be courageous,” she answered lightly. “I
have nought to fear. ’Tis for me but some few days in prison, and then
perchance a fine. In justice they can do no more.”

He smiled at her a trifle sadly.

“Aye, child, as you say, _in justice_ they could do no more.”

She looked up at him doubtfully, but forbore to question further the
meaning of his words.

“But these folk,” she continued, looking round, “have doubtless more to
fear.”

“There is indeed little hope for them this side the grave,” he answered
calmly, “save for a speedy and merciful death.”

Barbara was startled.

“Surely not so—and yet—I had not thought on’t,” she muttered. “Verily,
sir, if this be true, my scorn was ill-timed, they have courage. They
are but rude peasants, with neither pride of birth nor name to
strengthen their hearts, yet they await death as calmly as any noble.
How comes this?”

“So thou deemest courage a monopoly of gentle folk, eh?” he asked,
laughing softly. “Ah, child, thou art young. But indeed,” he continued
more seriously, “these men have fought in the Lord’s cause, there is no
fear but He will send them strength to fight their battle bravely to the
end.”

“How can it be God’s cause when it hath failed?” asked Barbara bluntly.

“Failed, child? What mean you?”

“Why, call you not this failure?” she asked, glancing round.

“This! In good sooth, no; this is but the beginning of success, only
the times were unripe for rebellion, the leaders were unworthy of the
cause. Think you these men will die in vain? In God’s name I tell you,
no. A cause strengthened by such devotion cannot but succeed; for every
drop of blood shed to-day there will spring up seeds of justice and
resolution in the hearts of the survivors which shall blossom forth into
a mighty power. I shall not see it, but thou mayest, for the day is not
far off when justice, toleration and true religion shall once more
flourish in this kingdom. Failure! Never! We are but the necessary
martyrs, the runners of success. The cause of justice was never yet won
save by a path of blood and tears.”

His enthusiasm communicated itself to Barbara. Her face glowed with
eagerness; at that moment she had resolution to face block or scaffold
that she also might die for the Cause.

“Ah!” she cried, “this is the courage of which you spoke, the courage
born of Faith.”

He bowed his head in assent, and there was silence between them while
Barbara pondered on his words. Presently she continued:

“And the third, the courage of Love? What mean you by that?” she asked.

Instantly his face was transfigured by a smile of great tenderness.

“I will show you,” he answered gently. “Look.”

Barbara followed the direction of his eyes. In a far corner of the
shed, apart from the rest of the prisoners, sat a man and a woman. She
lay in the circle of his arm, her head dropped back upon his shoulder,
and oblivious to all around them they sat gazing in one another’s eyes.
Pale, ragged and unkempt, as were all the prisoners, yet beautiful in
each other’s eyes, and transfigured by the light of perfect happiness,
by the glory of their love.

“It is their wedding-day,” he continued softly. “I married them at
seven o’clock this morning.”

“But who are they?” asked Barbara in bewilderment.

“He is the son of the squire of Hardon, and an officer in Monmouth’s
army; she, the daughter of a rich cloth-maker of Taunton, who joined the
army and met his death at Sedgemoor. He lodged in her father’s house
when the army was first quartered here. Later, she was attainted a
rebel, and they met again, in prison. See now how mighty is love, that
it will even force its way into such a desert as this. They have lived
here together for three weeks as in a Paradise, and yesterday, feeling
the time of separation draw near, they besought me to join them forever
in God’s sight, as man and wife. I know not whether I rightly
consented, yet who could refuse?”

“And the future?” whispered Barbara eagerly.

He shook his head.

“She has money, the charge against her is but slight, her friends will
buy her freedom. But for him, an officer in the rebel army, there can
be little doubt—— Is it not wonderful?” he continued softly, as though
to himself. “Thus they sit hour by hour. Hopes and fears alike have
faded in the great light of their love, and for to-day at least they
live as in the Garden of Eden, where there is neither past nor future;
nought but the present and themselves.”

Barbara gazed silently at the couple, until suddenly a great sense of
loneliness overcame her, and her eyes darkened with a mist of tears.
She turned to her companion with a pathetic gesture of helplessness.

“Alas! ere I came here I had believed myself so strong, so fearless.
And here I find all others are brave, and I but a helpless fool.”

There was something bewitching in this sudden confession of weakness,
and her companion’s face softened for an instant as he looked at her.
Then he laughed, and his laughter was wise, for it stung her pride, and
recalled her former resolution.

“In truth, this discovery is to be deeply regretted, Mistress Winslow,”
he answered lightly, “seeing I had hoped to enlist the services of one
so stout-hearted in the work of cheering the weary hours of some of our
unfortunate comrades.”

“My services! Why, what think you I can do?” asked Barbara eagerly.
“Wouldest have me clamber on a bale of wool and harangue these men upon
the duty and virtue of courage?” she added merrily.

“Nay, that were hardly woman’s work. And ’tis not for men your help is
needed.”

“For whom, then?”

“There is a poor girl, she is scarce more than a child, who was brought
hither yesterday with her younger sister. They were among those maids
of Taunton who presented to the Duke his banners, and for this innocent
action they have been arrested. I think, indeed, there is little fear
for them; they have rich friends, people of influence, who can save them
at a price. But the poor child is fragile. Terror hath gripped her by
the heart, and if she be not roused and cheered ’tis to be feared her
brain may give way.”

“Take me to her, I will try.”

“Come, then. Her sister is beside her, but the poor child is very young
and can do but little. It may be that you will be able to cheer her.”

Barbara gathered up her dainty skirts and followed her companion. As
she passed along she was greeted by many a look of surprise and
admiration, but so intent was she upon her errand she scarce noted the
interest she aroused.

They found the two ill-fated children—they were both little
more—crouched against the wall in the darkest corner of the shed. Near
them sat a poor peasant woman weeping bitterly, while a second woman
offered rough attempts at comfort. Close beside the latter was a thin,
elderly woman, with the severe mouth and narrow forehead of a fanatic,
who stared straight before her, muttering rapidly to herself, oblivious
to her surroundings. These few, with Barbara and the young bride, were
the only female prisoners in the shed.

Barbara paused a moment, surveying the group curiously, then she
advanced slowly towards the two sisters. The elder of the two was scarce
sixteen, fragile and pale. She crouched beside the wall, her chin sunk
on her breast, silent, immovable, but when Barbara, touched her on the
shoulder she raised her head suddenly, and displayed a face so frozen
with despair and eyes so wild with terror that the girl was horrified.
In an instant all other considerations vanished before the great pity
and tenderness that filled her heart.

“My poor, poor child,” she exclaimed gently, “what have they done to
thee? Nay, look not thus, none shall hurt thee, I promise it. See, I
will sit thus beside thee. Come, now thou art safe and hast nought to
fear.”

She sank down beside her, drew the child close and encircled her
tenderly with her strong young arms.

The bright face, cheery smile, and gentle voice, all tended to excite
confidence, as did also the firm pressure of human touch. The child
gazed at her for a few moments in doubt and bewilderment, then suddenly
clung to her fiercely and burst into wild tears.

“Oh! they will kill me,” she sobbed. “Do not let them. Do not let them
take me away.”

“No, no, they shall not, I swear they shall not harm thee,” answered
Barbara soothingly, though with more rashness than conviction. “Only
look cheerily, sweetheart, and be brave and all will be well.”

“Will you take me home? Prithee, take me home,” she begged, sobbing.

“Nay, we must bide here for a day or two, but what of that? It will not
harm you, and ’tis for a great cause. Bethink you of the saints, of the
martyrs; they suffered even death without fear. Bethink you, childie,
how many women have striven and suffered manfully for their cause, and
be you courageous and proud to suffer thus little for yours.”

“Tell me of those women,” whispered the younger child, creeping near to
their new-found protector. She was stronger; she did not suffer as did
her sister, but her poor puzzled brain could not understand why this
imprisonment had befallen them; she grasped eagerly at the reference to
martyrs. ’Tis easier to be brave in paths which others have trod before
us.

So Barbara settled herself between the two children and bent all her
efforts to recollecting and relating to the best effect every tale of
heroism she had ever read, heard, or imagined, incidents culled from the
histories of many nations, from romances, ballads, and legends. From her
earliest childhood she had loved to listen to all such tales of prowess
and brave endurance; her store seemed unlimited, she had a clear memory,
and above all, she possessed that rarest of all gifts, the art of
story-telling.

The two children were soon listening with deep interest. She raised her
voice, that beautiful voice, not the least of her many charms, and
presently the woman sitting near them ceased her sobbing to listen; some
of the men even raised themselves from their lethargic musings and drew
near, so that she became in time the centre of a large group of
prisoners. Cheered with this success, Barbara braced herself to an
increased effort. She related story after story of the heroes of many
countries and times, stories of love and tenderness, of fierce passions,
of high devotion to a worthy cause, till her audience were infected with
the enthusiasm and followed her words with startling eagerness. For a
time prison walls faded away, trial, punishment, death were forgotten,
they lived again in the past.

It is a wonderful power, the art of story-telling, and is given to few,
especially among Western peoples, but it is a power which, when combined
with the magnetism of a beautiful presence, is irresistible.

Thus intermittently for several hours Barbara continued, and to her
hearers the long day passed quickly, until late in the afternoon the
pealing of bells and a roll of drums were heard from without. These
sounds betokened, as some guessed, the expected arrival of the king’s
judges. On the morrow, therefore, would commence the Assize trial,
which was to decide for each whether he, too, was destined to follow in
the footsteps of the long line of martyrs and heroes who had suffered
and died in the cause of freedom.

The charm cast around them by Barbara was broken, and she finished her
narrative lamely, as her audience grew inattentive and relapsed into
moody restlessness. As the darkening shadows gathered in the wool-shed a
silence fell, the silence of an overhanging doom.

Suddenly and with startling effect the silence was broken by a clear
voice which rang through the room. “Be strong and He shall ’stablish
your hearts, all ye that put your trust in the Lord.”

The words seemed to echo like a battle-clarion, an incentive to lead all
men to victory.

It was Barbara’s friend of the morning, Mr. Hardcastle, the
noncomformist divine.

When other comfort had failed he was at hand to show these untutored
peasants the true source of strength in danger, of consolation in
affliction, the promise of their God. Few and simple were his words,
yet charged with the fervour of belief, they served their purpose well.
Again the courage of Faith strengthened them, the peace of God filled
their hearts, and when at the close of his address he besought all to
sing with him the eighty-sixth psalm, they joined him with a cheerful
heartiness which made the rafters of the barn ring again.

So night drew down upon them, but there was light in their hearts, and
they settled to rest in peace.

Barbara carried off her children to their pallet bed in the corner.
With the darkness the poor child Katherine’s terror had revived
somewhat, and for a time she could not be induced to lie down. But
gradually Barbara soothed her, talking hopefully of her probable return
home on the morrow, and crooning tender child ballads such as her mother
sang. Nature was merciful; clinging to the hand of her protectress she
sank at last to sleep.

Barbara herself lay long awake listening to the heavy breathing of the
sleepers around her and to the dull tramp of the sentries in the street
without.

Sleep! the very thought of it seemed ill-timed with the lives of all
these men at stake, and some way, surely some way was to be found, could
she but think of it, to save them. To her active spirit it seemed past
belief that escape should be impossible; intolerable to think that these
forty or more around her, strong and healthy men, should go quietly to
their deaths without one bid for freedom.

She tossed from side to side upon her mattress, racking her brains to
devise a plan. Had she not wit and cleverness more than common? Sure
she could find some way! But in vain; her thoughts wandered round and
round in a circle, a circle she could not break. At length she sprang
to her feet in desperation.

“’Tis no use,” she exclaimed, “I can think of nothing. But he hath
brains and he cares for their safety, I will go to him. Together surely
we may devise some means of escape.”

Softly she stepped out into the shed, and picked her way carefully among
the sleepers, looking right and left for the face she sought. The
moonlight poured in through the windows high in the room so that her
passage was not difficult. She came at length upon the man she sought,
the Reverend Mr. Hardcastle. Half the night he had spent at the side of
one or another of his weaker comrades, cheering and strengthening each
by his sympathy. Now at last he had found time for repose, and lay
sleeping quietly, his Bible still open at his side. His slumbers were
light, for he awoke at her slightest touch, and raised himself to his
feet, instantly alert.

“What is the matter, child, do you need me?” he cried.

Barbara’s face was pale in the moonlight, her eyes gleamed strangely and
she clutched his arm with desperate eagerness.

“Surely something can be done to save them all,” she cried confusedly.
“It cannot be impossible.”

“What mean you, child?”

“Why, here are fifty brave men, at most but half a dozen guards. Can we
not break prison, rush the door, devise some mode of escape? ’Tis
intolerable to sit here in idleness while the lives of all these are at
stake. ’Tis monstrous. Sure, something can be done!”

“Peace, child,” he answered sternly; “you know nought of the matter. We
be fifty to six, ’tis true, but those six are armed and behind them are
many more. If the door were passed we could not escape the town, or if
perchance we won from the town where could we hide? The royal troops are
everywhere. ’Twere but a hopeless venture which must cost the lives of
all.”

“Yet, sure, ’twere better to venture some effort than to sit thus
helplessly awaiting their fate,” she pleaded impatiently.

“Ah! Mistress Barbara, you have yet to learn that the highest courage
may lie in such waiting. And I charge you, child, say nought of this to
the men. They are nerved now to meet their fate, I will not have them
distressed by false hopes. You have played your part well to-day, your
place is with yon poor children. Go to them now, and leave these men to
me.”

Unaccustomed though she was to contradiction, Barbara was yet too
strongly awed by his air of command to disobey. Reluctantly she turned
away and with a glance of hopeless pity at the sleepers around her,
passed beyond the partition and again took her place beside the weary
children.

So the long night hours passed slowly away and the first morning of the
Bloody Assize of Taunton grew rosy in the east.