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form was wrapped in a black Genevan coat, CHAPTER II.
devoid of any other marks of distinction. He
never would have donned the surplice of the THE FOREST CONVENTICLE.
Anglican clergy; for it was an abomination in Ar his feet the extensive gorge lay now his eyes, because it reminded him of Babylon plainly visible. Bordered on all sides by dark
and Antichrist, which were the titles he applied beeches and majestic oaks, it formed a natural to the Roman Catholic Church and the detested church, a cathedral which the power of the Pope. The pale face of the preacher bore disCreator had erected with invisible hands. The tinct traces of profound sufferings and the prismagnificent trees loomed up like imposing on air which he had breathed for a long time. Gothic pillars, and their green tops seemed to But all these persecutions had been unable to be the gigantic organ animated by the Lord's damp his zeal, and no sooner had the faithful breath. The softened rays of the setting sun pastor been released than he had returned to stole through the foliage,as if through painted his anxious flock, ready at any moment to suffer . church-windows, filling the gorge now with a the same martyrdom for the sake of his faith. golden light, now with a purple glow. The soft The Rev. Samuel God-will-be-my-help (such turf was a comfortable carpet, and in its centre was the name which he had assumed in acwelled forth a sparkling spring as a baptismal cordance with the custom of the Puritans of font. The first Christians of England had, per- that time) awaited the conclusion of the psalm haps, celebrated their secret rites at the same which his congregation was singing, when be spot when dangers were still besetting them on delivered one of those impassioned sermons so all sides. To-day their successors were com well calculated to fire the hearts of his audipelled to resort to the same biding-places. The ence, and render them proof against the perwhole life of humanity is but a repetition, and secutions of the government and the bishops. one page of the history of the world often bears Round the pulpit and the preacher stood a most striking resemblance to another. or sat groups of the most different aspect.
A numerous crowd had assembled here to Thomas, who was concealed merely by the worship the Lord in the open air and after their trunk of a tree, was able to distinguish the own fashion. They were Christians, hated and several persons from his stand-point. Most of persecuted by Christians. Their only crime those present were poor people, of lowly conconsisted in their refusal to acknowledge the dition; but among them was to be seen here Episcopal Church of England, and in hasing and there the form of a wealthier farmer or a their creed exclusively on the Bible and its well-to-do commoner. teachings. Hence, they were obliged to repair to It is true, the difference of their costumes this hiding-place; but God Himself had built for was but slight. Nearly all wore plain black them the church which was refused to them by woollen doublets and breeches, white stockman, their king, and the then powerful bishops. ings, and shoes on which rosettes of darkThey had fled hither with their stubborn, im olor ibbons filled he places silver movable courage and faith in God. Men, wo buckles. Their heads were covered with men, and children, lay around in picturesque pointed hats, likewise devoid of any ornagroups. On one side a rude pulpit had been ments. There were no waving plumes, now constructed with gray slabs of slate piled one golden clasps, or bright-colored trimmings, above another. On it stood the worthy preacher such as were required by the ostentatious with silvery hair and beard. His tall, emaciated taste of that period. Their hair was clipped
even and short around their heads. At that and coquetry found even under the most untime, when long and neatly-curled ringlets favorable circumstances a way of skilfully were deemed peculiarly becoming, and were adding here a ribbon, there a pretty little generally worn, the reverse could not but be knot. The small white, close-fitting caps imthe more surprising, and therefore called forth parted even a singularly prepossessing appearthe nickname of “Roundheads," which was ance to many a youthful face, and worldly applied to the members of this denomination feeling cropped out now and then notwithby their enemies. They called themselves standing the semblance of austere piety. children of God, or the chosen people. In Thomas, who possessed a most refined taste full harmony with this sombre simplicity of in such matters, noticed among the young dress was an air of gloomy fanaticism prevail- girls several who might have risked a coming in the whole assembly. Almost all faces parison with his beautiful sister Alice. exhibited the same expression of sullen de The youth made such observations from his fance and self-conscious energy. Sufferings hiding-place only long after the notes of the of every description had aroused their power anthem, which had attracted him so powerof resistance, and the firm conviction of the fully, had died away. After a brief pause, the truth of their principles, and the ultimate vic- preacher was about to begin his sermon. The tory of the good cause, had imparted to them congregation thronged closer round the pulpit, a pride which was not devoid of haughtiness, probably to hear better what the worthy minand which greatly increased the exasperation ister would say to them. Curiosity, and his of their enemies. It was plainly to be seen adventurous spirit, induced Thomas likewise that these strong, heavy-built men submitted to leave his safe hiding-place. He stole, slipto circumstances only with inward rage, and ping along cautiously between the trees, towthat they were waiting impātiently for the day ard the side of the gorge where the pulpit bad of retribution. A close observer might have been erected. This was not noticed by anyread in their faces, besides the marked expres- body, and the first success restored his former sion of piety, an almost savage determination; boldness to the daring youth. He had long and while their lips were singing the psalm wished to hear a sermon from a Puritan with great unction, their eyes shot fire when- preacher, and his merry spirit depicted to him ever the words alluded to the adversaries of the intense enjoyment which he would derive the Lord—a designation which they applied, from the speaker's nasal tone and ridiculous of course, to their own hated enemies.
gestures; for, in accordance with the uniThis austere and repulsive impression was versal belief of the Episcopalians, he thought somewhat softened by the presence of the every Puritan minister must preach in that women and children. Even among the former, style. there were not wanting sombre forms, with After the usual murmuring and hemming, hard, disagreeable features; the majority, how- which are heard in all large assemblies on such ever, and particularly the younger generation occasions, had died away, the Rev. Samuel among them, were distinguished for a certain God - will - be-my-help commenced speaking, mild enthusiasm, which lent an additional | amidst a silence so profound, that the rustling charm to their generally fresh and beautiful of the foliage in the breeze and the bubbling faces. Their dress, too, notwithstanding its of the spring were distinctly to be heard. The Puritanie simplicity, was not so monotonous men looked grave and gloomy, and even the and sombre as that of the men. Female vanity female part of the congregation manifested
unusual attention. It was evident that these | flicted more or less upon us all; but the sun will people yearned sincerely for the Word of God, sooner deviate from his course, and rise in the for the sake of which they had come from dis- west instead of the east, than we should prove tant parts of the country, and were incurring recreant to the Lord and His commandments. the greatest dangers.
He will not forsake His faithful believers, but “People of Israel, listen to me," said the raise them from the dust to greater splendor. minister, in a low, tremulous voice, which, Only a brief space of time, and all Israel will during the progress of the sermon, became rise as one man, and wreak vengeance on his louder and louder. “Your enemies are in- tormentors. I tell you, and the Lord speaketh creasing from day to day, and the number of out of my mouth, the day will soon dawn your adversaries is legion; but fear not, for when the children of God shall enter the New the Lord is with you. He will be your pro Jerusalem. Then the chosen people will tector, and strike down your adversaries with rejoice exceedingly, and the impious wretches the strength of His arm. A king has arisen will tremble on account of their ruthlessness. in our midst worse than Pharaoh, who op Therefore, be glad and hopeful, bear new burpressed the chosen people, and imposed the dens with patience, until the moment comes most laborious services on them; but we still when you may throw them off. But we will likewise have a Moses, who will strike him not await the day of retribution in vain idledown with the keen edge of his sword, and ness. Let the peasant grind his scythe, for bury him and his whole host in the deep bed the harvest is drawing nigh; let the warrior of the sea. Bear with patience the sufferings whet his sword for the bloody work which is which you have to endure, and resist the in store for us. Up, up, my people; prepare temptations to which you are exposed; for for the day of retribution; arm your hands, the plagues of Egypt will come upon the and unfurl your holy standard !” tyrant and his evil advisers. He is intent on The preacher paused again, exhausted by compelling you to worship the foreign idols, his effort. His fragile body was no longer sufand bend your knees after the fashion of ficient for the fiery zeal of this soul, exasperRome. His bishops are strutting about in ated by all sorts of sufferings and persecutions. unholy vestments, and smell of superstition He tried to gather fresh strength, in order to and idolatry. Woe to them! They leave un continue in the same violent strain. While he tried no means to induce the pious flock to was speaking, his deep-lying eyes, concealed deviate from the right path. They threaten under the gray shaggy brows, shot fire, and his the true believers with shackles and imprison-emaciated form seemed to grow in size. His ment, and lacerate their backs with sharp words fired the sufficiently prepared and susscourges. Who is there among us that could ceptible hearts of his audience. The whole not bear testimony to their cruel rigor ? " congregation was carried away and plunged into
A low murmur of assent broke the solemn a state of violent excitement. Old and new stillness for a moment. On remembering the wrongs which they had endured rankled in the oppressions which they had undergone, the men breasts of the men, and they remembered with clinched their fists involuntarily, and their gnashing teeth the tortures which they had sufthreatening faces betrayed only too plainly the fered but recently. rage which they restrained with difficulty. Somewhat different was the impression which
“Heavy penalties in person or property," the sermon produced upon the youth who hapcontinued the aged minister, “have been in pened to have fallen among these enthusiasts.
He could not laugh at it as he had expected at arms toward him; already Thomas, who awoke first, for his own position was too alarming for only now to a full sense of his dangerous posithat, and the bearing of the whole assembly tion, had put his hand on the hilt of his sword, was too grave and stern. A mixture of sym- in order, need be, to repel violence by viopathy and repugnance captivated him in spite lence, even though without any prospect of of himself. The son of the Lord President of success; when, all at once, a vigorous gentleWales had been educated in the strictest prin- man of distinguished and almost chivalrous ciples of loyalty and attachment to his king and bearing, ordered the excited crowd to be still. the Episcopal Church of England, and he The preacher, too, being prevented by the sudshared, moreover, the prejudices of his age, den uproar from resuming the thread of his and of most of the members of his class, sermon, had descended from the pulpit and against the votaries of Puritanism. Their aus- hastened to the scene of the disturbance as tere, morose bearing, and their simple, sombre quickly as his infirmity permitted. costume were looked upon as hypocrisy, and “Who is this youth, and wbat does he want were by no means calculated to enlist the sym- here?" asked the before-mentioned gentleman, pathies of merry youths and overbearing cour- who seemed to exercise a certain authority tiers. The seditious words of the preacher over the Puritans. wounded his loyal feelings; nevertheless, he “A spy who has watched us and intends to could not deny that what he heard and saw betray us,” cried the men on all sides. exhibited a certain dignity and simple gran “You lie !” replied Thomas, courageously. deur. He was fascinated in spite of himself, “ An accident has brought me hither and made and disregarded the requirements of caution, me a witness of your meeting. What should so far as to give up his reserve, and approach your cant and sanctimonious doings concern gradually closer and closer to the circle of the me otherwise ? I care not so much as that audience. While the worthy minister was about them.” speaking, his sermon engrossed the attention “Hear the impious rascal !" roared the fuof the congregation so exclusively, that they rious crowd. “Down with the wretch, down overlooked the appearance of the young new with the son of Belial!" comer. It was only during the pause now en The imprudent words which the rash youth suing that the immediate bystanders perceived had uttered had aggravated his danger materihim. The presence of a stranger, whose rich ally. Vainly did the aged minister and his and striking dress, and defiant bearing, seemed companion endeavor to allay the fury of the to indicate that he was an impudent intruder excited congregation. Some of the men laid and an enemy of the children of God, was suf- their hands upon Thomas, who, with quick deficient to infiame still further the excitement termination, now unsheathed his sword. Howalready prevailing among the Puritans. The ever, before he had been able to make a danrage and hatred of the assembly had suddenly gerous use of his weapon, it had already been found a definite target. The rash youth was wrested from his hand. Thus disarmed, the immediately surrounded by a threatening youth was exposed to the wrath of his exascrowd; wild and distrustful glances met him, perated adversaries. He stamped angrily with and loud imprecations burst forth in whatever his foot, and his impotent rage drew a tear from direction he tried to turn. The universal exas his eye. Thus he stood, with glowing cheeks peration increased from second to second. Al- and defiant face, in the midst of the crowd. ready some of the men had stretched out their | The women, too, had hastened to the spot, and
were now contemplating, with a mixture of I request you once more, sir, to give compassion and anxiety, the handsome youth, me your name.” who seemed to them by no means so danger “I shall not do so before you have told me ous as he did to the rude and distrustful yours."
This bold reply excited another outburst of The sight of the flashing blade, which fortu- indignation among the Puritans, and it renately had done no further harm, had filled quired all the authority of their leader to quiet them with increased rage. The imprecations | the exasperated men. After he had succeeded and threats levelled at the intruder became in so doing, he turned with a smile to the rash more violent from minute to minute. Only the youth. presence of the worthy minister and the other “I do not know," he replied, “why I should gentleman protected Thomas from corporal conceal my name from you. It is Overton.” injuries. After reëstablishing some degree of “Overton, Sir John Overton !” exclaimed order, these two held a brief consultation. the youth, in surprise. “ Your name is not They spoke in a low whisper of the entirely unknown to me. If I am not mistaken, I unexpected incident which, to them also, have heard it mentioned repeatedly, and with seemed fraught with danger. While this con- great respect, at my father's house. You are, sultation was going on, the congregation ob- therefore, a cavalier like myself.” served a grave and measured attitude toward “Now you will certainly not hesitate to the prisoner, whose arms were held by two comply with my request, and will no longer strong men, for the purpose of rendering it im- conceal your name from me.” possible for him to escape or offer further re “My name is Thomas Egerton." sistance.
" Son of the Lord President of Wales." After a short pause, during which Thomas “And I can bear witness that the young had bad an opportunity to indulge in not over man tells you the truth,” interposed a deep, pleasant reflections upon the predicament in grave voice, which issued from the mouth of a which he was placed, the gentleman wbo gloomy-looking old man. seemed to be leader or elder of the congrega Thomas turned his eyes involuntarily to the tion approached and addressed him.
side where stood the speaker, whom he had “You have intruded in a manner entirely not bitherto noticed in the crowd. He likeuncalled for into this asylum,” he said to the wise now recognized the old man, by whose youth, with calm dignity. “ Our safety re- side was standing a lovely young girl in the quires me to put to you some questions which costume of the rural population. Her blue you will answer frankly and truthfully. Above eyes met the dark ones of the youth, and a all things give me your name.”
sudden blush suffused the fine and highly-ex"I do not know with what right you dare pressive face of the beautiful girl. No one in subject me to a regular examination,” replied the assembly took any notice of this brief Thomas, whose defiant spirit was not broken, intermezzo, and yet it was a significant meetbut rather strengthened by the danger. ing after a long separation. The features of
“Our right is the right of the stronger, and the young girl awakened many feelings and we make the same use of it to-day as our ad- reminiscences in the soul of the youth. Lucy versaries. Take the advice of an older and Henderson (that was the name of the old more experienced man, and do not aggravate man's daughter) had been Alice's foster-sister your position by such untimely supercilious. I and the playmate of her brothers while they