'What is it, then?' we both cried.

'Horse upon the march,' quoth Saxon. 'It may be our friends of Salisbury, who have made a long day's journey; or, as I am inclined to think, it may be some other body of the King's horse. They are far distant, and what we see is but the sun shining on their casques; yet they are bound for this very village, if I mistake not. It would be wisest to avoid entering it, lest the rustics set them upon our track. Let us skirt it and push on for Bruton, where we may spare time for bite and sup.'

'Alas, alas! for our dinners!' cried Reuben ruefully. 'I have fallen away until my body rattles about, inside this shell of armour, like a pea in a pod. However, lads, it is all for the Protestant faith.'

'One more good stretch to Bruton, and we may rest in peace,' said Saxon. 'It is ill dining when a dragoon may be served up as a grace after meat. Our horses are still fresh, and we should he there in little over an hour.'

We pushed on our way accordingly, passing at a safe distance from Mere, which is the village where the second Charles did conceal himself after the battle of Worcester. The road beyond was much crowded by peasants, who were making their way out of Somersetshire, and by farmers' waggons, which were taking loads of food to the West, ready to turn a few guineas either from the King's men or from the rebels. We questioned many as to the news from the war, but though we were now on the outskirts of the disturbed country, we could gain no clear account of how matters stood, save that all agreed that the rising was on the increase. The country through which we rode was a beautiful one, consisting of low swelling hills, well tilled and watered by numerous streamlets. Crossing over the river Brue by a good stone bridge, we at last reached the small country town for which we had been making, which lies embowered in the midst of a broad expanse of fertile meadows, orchards, and sheep-walks. From the rising ground by the town we looked back over the plain without seeing any traces of the troopers. We learned, too, from an old woman of the place, that though a troop of the Wiltshire Yeomanry had passed through the day before, there were no soldiers quartered at present in the neighbourhood. Thus assured we rode boldly into the town, and soon found our way to the principal inn. I have some dim remembrance of an ancient church upon an eminence, and of a quaint stone cross within the market-place, but assuredly, of all the recollections which I retain of Bruton there is none so pleasing as that of the buxom landlady's face, and of the steaming dishes which she lost no time in setting before us.

Chapter XIII.

Of Sir Gervas Jerome, Knight Banneret of the County of Surrey

The inn was very full of company, being occupied not only by many Government agents and couriers on their way to and from the seat of the rising, but also by all the local gossips, who gathered there to exchange news and consume Dame Hobson the landlady's home-brewed. In spite, however, of this stress of custom and the consequent uproar, the hostess conducted us into her own private room, where we could consume her excellent cheer in peace and quietness. This favour was due, I think, to a little sly manoeuvring and a few whispered words from Saxon, who amongst other accomplishments which he had picked up during his chequered career had a pleasing knack of establishing friendly relations with the fair sex, irrespective of age, size, or character. Gentle and simple, Church and Dissent, Whig and Tory, if they did but wear a petticoat our comrade never failed, in spite of his fifty years, to make his way into their good graces by the help of his voluble tongue mid assured manner.

'We are your grateful servants, mistress,' said he, when the smoking joint and the batter pudding had been placed upon the table. 'We have robbed you of your room. Will you not honour us so far as to sit down with us and share our repast?'

'Nay, kind sir,' said the portly dame, much flattered by the proposal; 'it is not for me to sit with gentles like yourselves.'

'Beauty has a claim which persons of quality, and above all cavalieros of the sword, are the first to acknowledge,' cried Saxon, with his little twinkling eyes fixed in admiration upon her buxom countenance. 'Nay, by my troth, you shall not leave us.

Micah Clarke Page 62

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