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“The neighbouring plain with arms is cover'd o'er,
The vale an iron harvest seems to yield,
And every moment nearer shows the war.–Dryden. “The report of the intended attack came to the ears of a young girl, who was zealous for the King. Though of modest character, she had the courage to resolve that she would herself bear the intelligence to Faversham. She stole out of Bridgwater, and made her way to the Royal camp. But that camp was not a place where female innocence could be safe, &c."— Vide Macaulay.
IF sun and moon had any omen for the returned exile, the Fates looked propitious. The sun had made a golden set, and the moon rose full and lustrous over the little town of Bridgewater.
The sky was almost as blue as the azure flags which streamed over the tents of Monmouth's power. It was like noon-day in all the old streets, which were alive with armed men and gossips. Strange, the contrast between the town and country. Sedgemoor was enveloped in a dense fog.
Monmouth's men assembled in the Castle Field. There was a grand solemnity about the gathering. Faversham's troops little dreamed of the danger in which they were carousing. It was a noisy brawling camp. Gaming, immoral songs, drinking, and coarse jests occupied the majority of the soldiers. If Monmouth could have seen the two powers from some eminence, he might have been even more elated than he was. The firm, steady earnestness of his own followers, their enthusiasm, their calm, uncompromising front ; it would have seemed a dead certainty that when they fell upon the tipsy, roystering troopers, the victory would be their own.
As the evening wore away, a cloaked figure was swiftly threading the lanes and crossing the meadows that intervened between Bridgewater and the royal camp; a hooded, cloaked figure, uncertain now and then in its gait, but hurrying on nevertheless, influenced by a firm and settled purpose. Beneath that grey coarse hood was a sweet fair face, set in a cluster of brown and glossy curls. It was like a beautiful vision of the night, the white girlish face looking out from its dark surroundings. The moon seemed to follow the fair creature with jealous watchfulness, but there was a brooding fog ahead which defied the moonbeams.
The fair fugitive was the loyal daughter of a country landowner. Visiting at Bridgewater, she had learnt that a midnight attack on the
king's troops was contemplated. She had struggled hard between maidenly timidity and a sense of loyal duty, ere her courage had overcome all other feelings. The throne was in danger, the monarch whom her father had served was threatened with a secret and stealthy attack, his troops were unprepared for sudden hostilities, the enemy were on foot and armed, her father and her father's house might be involved in the misfortunes of Monmouth's success. Nerved by these feelings, conscious of the importance of her mission, she slipped away in the twilight to warn the king's troops of their danger.
** But that camp was not a place where female innocence could be safe,” says the great historian. It was hard that so heroic an act as that of this unprotected girl's should be requited with insult and outrage. But it is not always in this world that the noble, the good, and the true find their just reward. The miseries of the just, the wretchedness of the virtuous, the poverty of the good, are the strongest arguments in favour of that future state when the great prizes shall be distributed.
Just as Monmouth's army set forth from Bridgewater, the beautiful messenger of the cloak and hood was returning-flying back from the fog-enshrouded camp, frantic with despair, a martyr to her loyalty, a heaven-born witness against the makers of war, an angel with a mission of vengeance.
Conspicuous amongst the volunteers who marched from Bridge water, on that sad and memorable night, was George Donnington. He bore the colours of his regiment, the colours which Mary Grey had embroidered, the silken banner which was to wave over the conquered camp on Sedgemoor. It made George's heart beat wildly to see amongst the crowds of lookers-on Mary Grey still leaning upon the arm of his mother. Perhaps this would be the last time he would see these dearly loved women! It was certain that scores around him were now taking their last silent farewells. Onward moved the peasant army.
Not a drum was beaten, not a trumpet sounded. The moon did not appear to mount more quietly up into the clear blue night than that adventurous army glided on its way. Not an unnecessary word was spoken. Orders were given in whispers. Every man grasped his weapon in silent desperation. They stole on with stealthy foot and bated breath, and the fog came forth from the marsh as if to meet them. The great wet heaps of vapour surrounded and enveloped them, man by man, regiment by regiment,
as if they were some strange weird creation of the night. They disappeared in the earth-clouds like unreal things, bubbles to be seen no more, mystic soldiers of an Eastern tale. The moonbeams left them when the fog received them, but there was a thick reality about that white mist. It wrapped the volunteers in a damp, choking embrace; it ran in trickling streams down their shining weapons ; it even chilled for a time the enthusiasm of fanatics, and confirmed the cowardice of waverers; it dulled the pomp and grandeur of their battalions; it gave a slight uncertainty to their movements; but on they went with that peculiar rushing rustling sound which attends an army on the march ; it was like a steady advancing wind sweeping through a forest, or a brook surging down a mountain gorge.
What a trifling incident may destroy the most complete plans, how slight an accident is sufficient to upset the grandest scheme! In an unlucky and fatal moment one of Monmouth's volunteer soldiers let off his pistol. It was an accident entirely, the fog was accountable for it; the man ran against a baggage waggon and his piece exploded. The report alarmed Dumbarton's regiment and the royal guards. What that poor girl of the cloak and hood had sacrificed herself for was accomplished by the accidental fall of a trigger in the advancing army. The camp was alarmed, signals were exchanged, the rebels were challenged by the royal troops. Misfortune is a prolific creature. No sooner had one piece of ill-luck come in the way of tire Bridgewater soldiers than another was in attendance. One of Monmouth's scouts had failed to indicate and enumerate the exact locality and number of the ditches which had to be crossed before the royal camp was reached. It was thought that the last of the trenches had been passed, but no sooner was the camp aroused, no sooner were the royal troops on the alert, than the discovery wasannounced that another ditch had yet to be forded ere Monmouth was face to face with the king's army.
Misfortune followed misfortune with terrible rapidity. Dumbarton's regiment and the guards attacked with practised skill and daring. The other regiments speedily enforced them and drove the rebels back. Monmouth's cavalry were put to flight in an amazingly short space of time. The Somersetshire men on foot fought bravely, nevertheless; fought gallantly long after the cavalry had retreated, and their leader had disappeared from the field. They contested the moor with an energy and chivalrous daring worthy of the holiest cause. George Donnington's standard, the silken banner of his love, was ubiquitous. Wherever the fighting was fiercest there waved
George's colours. Again and again the Life Guards charged, only to be hurled back with heavy loss. Rebel and royalist fell together in deadly embraces, to be trampled over by advancing and retreating friends and foes. Yeomen and peasants, farm labourers, and miners, stood shoulder to shoulder with all the firmness and persistency of veteran troops, making terrible havoc with their scythes and pikes, and flails and axes. A cavalry sword in one hand, his tattered standard in the other, George Donnington cleaved his way into the midst of the enemy, supported by bands of sturdy peasants, shouting their old war cry, “God with us.”
At length loud and continued calls for ammunition led to the disheartening discovery that the waggons had been driven off the field. With this news, and the arrival of the enemy's artillery, the peasant army, fighting for an ungrateful and cowardly leader who had deserted them in their need, might well become dispirited. But the men from the dark mines of the Mendips, and the ploughmen from the Somersetshire meadows, were not yet beaten. George Donnington's flag still hung together, and formed a rallying point for broken regiments. In vain had an officer of King James set a price on George's head, urging a body of royal guards to the point where the wellknown colour waved defiantly in the van of desperate bands of peasants and miners. But the strength of the rebels was failing. The artillery was doing its work, and the renewed cavalry charges shattered the ill-armed regiments of Monmouth.
It is not in mortals to command success. George's regiment and George's followers had deserved a better fate than overwhelming defeat; but Fate and the Royal Artillery were against them. Victory would not smile on the pikes and scythes, despite the dark outrage of the camp. Vengeance deigned not to reap her just due in the battle. Success was for Faversham's troops.
In course of time George Donnington's game was played out. last his ragged banner no longer waved above his sturdy friends; his trusty sword ceased to flash amidst the fire and smoke of battle ; his voice no longer cheered wavering troops to renewed attacks : Monmouth's army was routed.
“ When sorrows come, they come not in single spies,
But in battalions !"- Shakspeare.
Crimes are like shadows, seen not in the dark :
Notes them."-Old Play.
How wildly the bells clashed and clamoured, jangling out of tune, and making hideous reverberations! Yet these were the same bells that should have rung for Mary's wedding. They might have tolled for George's death; for tidings were brought to his mother how he fell in the battle, covered with glory. Surely fiends were amongst the bells, swinging on the ropes, and bursting into hideous shapes, with shrieks and yells. Their harsh, brazen tones seemed to tear the very heart strings of Mary Grey and George's mother. Fitting music to accompany that work of death which was going on everywhere around the devoted town!
For days after the battle the search for rebels was continued with malicious activity. The escaped and escaping rebels were hunted from meadow to meadow, from barn to barn, from street to street. Trembling victims were dragged to the slaughter from the arms of loving families, beneath the shadow of sheltering roofs that had known them from childhood.
Plainly attired in deep mourning, Mary Grey was soothing the grief of Mrs. Donnington, whose love for her son George almost amounted to adoration; and whose Puritanism was so severe and strict that she had more than once lectured Mary on her laxity in this respect, and urged George not to marry until the girl had conformed more particularly to the tenets and customs of "the chosen people.” But Mary's sweet and winning ways had almost overcome the mother's scruples; and now the severe old woman began to love Mary, because George had loved her.
A niece of Mrs. Donnington's, a young girl of singularly attractive appearance, was weeping bitterly by the large bay window that looked out upon the fields in front of Mrs. Donnington's house.
“ Thou shouldst laugh," said Mrs. Donnington to the sorrowing girl; and there was a bitter sarcasm in her manner, as if the words came