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The Quest of the 'Golden Hope': A Seventeenth Century Story of Adventure By Percy F. Westerman Characters: 9789

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Of the Fugitive from Sedgemoor

Well do I, Clifford Hammond, remember the 10th day of July in the year of grace 1685. Rebellion, though some would have it 'twas justifiable invasion, had appeared in the land. Monmouth had landed in Dorset, and had raised an army. How he fared, the men of Hampshire knew not as yet, though there were many who prayed for the successful issue of his venture.

Little did I think, living on the borders of the New Forest, that the outbreak in the West would affect the welfare of our house. Yet it did, though, I must confess, indirectly; for had it not been for the routing of the rebels at Sedgemoor, the voyage of the Golden Hope would not have been undertaken, nor would I be able to relate the desperate adventures of her crew in gaining the object of the expedition. But I am forestalling my story.

Our family, the Hammonds of Brockenhurst, had lived within the bounds of the Forest for centuries, as witness the name of Geoffroi Hammond, who served with distinction at the taking of the Great Christopher in the sea-fight of Sluys; or of Thomas Hammond, who fought at Agincourt: but I would make it plain that the Hammonds of Brockenhurst have no connection with the rebel Colonel Hammond--though, to his credit be it said, he treated His Majesty King Charles the Martyr, during his captivity in the Isle of Wight, with far more courtesy than did his brother officers.

My father, Captain Richard Hammond--"Foul-weather Dick", as he was affectionately dubbed in the fleet--had had an adventurous career both ashore and afloat. Beginning with the fatal fight at Naseby when he was but a young cornet of horse of barely twenty years of age, he had fought Dutch, Algerines, and, sad to relate, his fellow-countrymen; but for the last ten years he had retired from the King's service, and had settled down to a quiet country life in his native Hampshire.

Thanks to his father's devotion to his sovereign, the exchequer of the Hammond family had been sadly depleted. During the ever-to-be-abhorred Rebellion, plate, jewels, money, all went, and 'twas fortunate that our lands had not been confiscated by the Commonwealth. My father had to rely upon the unkept promises of His Majesty King Charles II as a reward for the sacrifices of our house towards the royal cause; nevertheless, the meagre pay of a sea captain in the King's fleet, together with the income from the shore estate, sufficed to keep us in comparative ease.

My father married late in life. His spouse, the daughter of Sir Digby Tall (a baronet as impecunious as the majority of his class at this time), died within three years of their union, leaving two children.

At the time my story opens I, Clifford Hammond, was sixteen years of age, my sister Constance being eighteen months my junior. She was a tall, sprightly girl, with fresh complexion, blue eyes, and rich golden hair, being, 'twas said, the image of her mother in her youth.

No one would readily have taken Constance and me for sister and brother, for I was olive-featured, with straight, dark-brown hair and grey eyes; tall in stature, yet inclined to slenderness.

On the particular morning to which I have referred, Constance and I had gone into Lyndhurst to give orders to a carrier respecting the purchase of a certain article at Southampton. What the nature of the purchase was we did not at the time know, although every month, summer and winter, year in and year out, my father had a similar package brought in by the regular carrier. Here I may mention that my sire, in spite of his sixty odd years, was a wonderfully well-preserved man, his dark-brown locks (for he scorned to wear a peruke) being innocent of any trace of grey hairs. Yet I call to mind the occasion, when I was yet a child of tender years, upon which my father had perforce to attend the Verderers' Court at Lyndhurst with his hair of a rusty, iron-grey hue. That was about the time that Giles Shearing's wain was upset at Redbridge, and many a housewife in Lyndhurst and Brockenhurst who relied on the Southampton carrier had to go short-handed. I no longer wonder at the coincidence.

As we left Lyndhurst town on our return journey, I leading a shaggy Forest pony on which my sister, holding the required purchase, was perched, a troop of horse came riding with loose rein and hot spur through the quiet High Street.

They were fierce-looking fellows, with bronzed features, begrimed with sweat and dust; upturned moustachios, and flowing locks. They wore red frock-coats trimmed with white facings, the skirts buttoned back to enable them to sit the better in the saddle; dark-green breeches, long riding-boots of buff leather, and broad-brimmed beaver hats, looped up on one side. All were armed with a broadsword and a pair of pistols, while not a few carried snaphances in a bucket at the right side of the saddle, or sl

ung across their backs.

This much I noticed as they tore onwards with undiminished pace through the narrow street, till they were lost to view in a cloud of dust on the Southampton Road.

"There's some news for Cap'n Hammond, Master Clifford!" shouted Chambers the blacksmith from across the way. "They say as how Duke Monmouth's been beaten, and half his army cut to pieces. Those redcoats are Cornbury's Dragoons, and they are hot on the track of the Hampshire rebels. Heaven help the Mayor of Lymington and the score of men he sent to the West!"

Young as I was, I realized that it was a case of woe to the vanquished. Although our county had not taken up the cause of the rebel Duke to any thing like the extent of Dorset, Somerset, and Wiltshire, several of the towns in the western division of Hampshire had sent small contingents to aid Monmouth's cause, and Lymington had been the chief offender in this respect. Fortunately for us, Brockenhurst had held aloof, though the villagers were none too kindly disposed towards King James's measures.

We hastened on our homeward journey, eager to convey the momentous news to my father. For the first half of the way the road ran between dense masses of trees, intersected by shady glades, in which the leaves of last year still littered the ground. Ever and anon a herd of fallow deer would dash across the highway, or a troop of Forest ponies would scamper betwixt the trees, fearing in every human being a possible master. Pigs also roamed in great numbers, for though it was the time of fence month[1] within the Forest, so lax had the jurisdiction of the Verderers' Court become that the commoners paid less heed to the regulations than they had for years past.

At length we emerged from the forest and gained the rolling expanse of heath, where, to right and left, as far as the eye could reach, the heather and the gorse gleamed in the bright sunshine like a sea of purple and gold.

"See, there's a man riding as fast as his horse can carry him!" exclaimed Constance, pointing down the bridle path that, running between Ring wood and Beaulieu, crosses the highway near the place where we were.

"Aye, he seems in a mighty hurry," I replied, shading my eyes from the glare.

"Perchance 'tis another of those horse soldiers?"

"Nay, he wears no red coat," I answered, reassuring her; but though I did not mention it, I perceived two men riding a long distance behind the first horseman as if in pursuit, and, unless my eyes deceived me, they were dragoons.

"Let us hasten," urged Constance, as if filled with some forebodings, though she was usually a strong-minded girl.

"He'll not molest us," said I. "He is too intent on his errand, I trow."

Nearer and nearer came the fugitive--for fugitive he was--till I could distinguish his features. Then my heart gave a sudden bound, for I recognized the man: it was Jeremy Miles, a master mariner of Lymington, and one of the townsfolk who had gone west to join the rebel standard.

Constance knew him also, for she exclaimed, "'Tis Captain Miles! And see, Clifford, there are soldiers after him!"

Something compelled me to stop and await the arrival of the fugitive, and, holding the pony's bridle by one hand, I assisted Constance to dismount.

As we stood we were hidden from the bridle path by a gorse-covered bank that, being but breast high, was sufficiently low to enable us to command the track on which the horsemen were riding without being seen by them until they gained the highway.

Not for one moment did I expect to be in danger, for Miles was riding strongly and evidently holding his own, while 'twas unlikely that the troopers, keen on his pursuit, would draw rein to molest a boy and a girl.

The fugitive was now crossing the white dusty road within twenty paces of us, when suddenly his horse sank under him, throwing its rider headlong to the ground. But before the expiring animal gave a last convulsive shudder, Miles had sprung to his feet and was looking dazedly towards his pursuers, now but a mile behind.

"Captain Miles!" I shouted, urging my pony forward. "Captain Miles! Take Trotter and ride him across the heath."

"Why, 'tis Master Hammond!" he exclaimed. "Nay, lad, that beast would not ship a crew like me: But they'll have their work cut out to take me. Come, young sir, I'll trouble you to give a hand with my mare, if you will."

Together, with Constance helping us, we dragged the body of the animal off the road, and hid it in a slight depression behind some furze bushes. Then hurriedly we strove to conceal the tell-tale tracks on the dusty road.

The dragoons were now only a bare quarter-mile away.

[1] The period between the 20th June and the 20th July, during which time the ancient right of "Pannage", i.e. turning out pigs to feed on acorns and beech-mast, within the New Forest was withheld.

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