At the fall of their leader his comrades turned and fled through the hedge, but the gallant fellow, wounded and bleeding, still showed fight, and would assuredly have been knocked upon the head for his pains had I not picked him up and thrown him into the waggon, where he had the good sense to lie quiet until the skirmish was at an end. Of the dozen who broke through, not more than four escaped, and several others lay dead or wounded upon the other side of the hedge, impaled by scythe-blades or knocked off their horses by stones. Altogether nine of the dragoons were slain and fourteen wounded, while we retained seven unscathed prisoners, ten horses fit for service, and a score or so of carbines, with good store of match, powder, and ball. The remainder of the troop fired a single, straggling, irregular volley, and then galloped away down the cross-road, disappearing amongst the trees from which they had emerged.

All this, however, had not been accomplished without severe loss upon our side. Three men had been killed and six wounded, one of them very seriously, by the musketry fire. Five had been cut down when the flanking party broke their way in, and only one of these could be expected to recover. In addition to this, one man had lost his life through the bursting of an ancient petronel, and another had his arm broken by the kick of a horse. Our total losses, therefore, were eight killed and the same wounded, which could not but be regarded as a very moderate number when we consider the fierceness of the skirmish, and the superiority of our enemy both in discipline and in equipment.

So elated were the peasants by their victory, that those who had secured horses were clamorous to be allowed to follow the dragoons, the more so as Sir Gervas Jerome and Reuben were both eager to lead them. Decimus Saxon refused, however, to listen to any such scheme, nor did he show more favour to the Reverend Joshua Pettigrue's proposal, that he should in his capacity as pastor mount immediately upon the waggon, and improve the occasion by a few words of healing and unction.

'It is true, good Master Pettigrue, that we owe much praise and much outpouring, and much sweet and holy contending, for this blessing which hath come upon Israel,' said he, 'but the time hath not yet arrived. There is an hour for prayer and an hour for labour. Hark ye, friend'-- to one of the prisoners--'to what regiment do you belong?'

'It is not for me to reply to your questions,' the man answered sulkily.

Nay, then, we'll try if a string round your scalp and a few twists of a drumstick will make you find your tongue,' said Saxon, pushing his face up to that of the prisoner, and staring into his eyes with so savage an expression that the man shrank away affrighted.

'It is a troop of the second dragoon regiment,' he said.

'Where is the regiment itself?'

'We left it on the Ilchester and Langport road.'

'You hear,' said our leader. 'We have not a moment to spare, or we may have the whole crew about our ears. Put our dead and wounded in the carts, and we can harness two of these chargers to them. We shall not be in safety until we are in Taunton town.'

Even Master Joshua saw that the matter was too pressing to permit of any spiritual exercises. The wounded men were lifted into the waggon and laid upon the bedding, while our dead were placed in the cart which had defended our rear. The peasants who owned these, far from making any objection to this disposal of their property, assisted us in every way, tightening girths and buckling traces. Within an hour of the ending of the skirmish we found ourselves pursuing our way once more, and looking back through the twilight at the scattered black dots upon the white road, where the bodies of the dragoons marked the scene of our victory.

Chapter XVI.

Of our Coming to Taunton

The purple shadows of evening had fallen over the countryside, and the sun had sunk behind the distant Quantock and Brendon Hills, as our rude column of rustic infantry plodded through Curry Rivell, Wrantage, and Henlade.

Micah Clarke Page 79

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