Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
By Thomas Ellwood (16391713)
From The History of Thomas Ellwood, written by himself
MY father being then in the Commission of the Peace, and going to a Petty Sessions at Watlington, I waited on him thither. And when we came near the town, the coachman, seeing a nearer and easier way (than the common road) through a corn-field, and that it was wide enough for the wheels to run without damaging the corn, turned down there; which being observed by a husbandman who was at plough not far off, he ran to us, and stopping the coach, poured forth a mouthful of complaints, in none of the best language, for driving over the corn. My father mildly answered him, That if there was an offence committed, he must rather impute it to his servant than himself, since he neither directed him to drive that way, nor knew which way he drove. Yet added, That he was going to such an inn at the town, whither, if he came, he would make him full satisfaction for whatsoever damage he had sustained thereby. And so on we went, the man venting his discontent, as he went back, in angry accents. At the town, upon inquiry, we understood that it was a way often used, and without damage, being broad enough; but that it was not the common road, which yet lay not far from it, and was also good enough; wherefore my father bid his man drive home that way.
It was late in the evening when we returned, and very dark; and this quarrelsome man, who had troubled himself and us in the morning, having gotten another lusty fellow like himself to assist him, waylaid us in the night, expecting we would return the same way we came. But when they found we did not, but took the common way, they, angry that they were disappointed, and loth to lose their purpose (which was to put an abuse upon us), coasted over to us in the dark, and laying hold on the horses bridles, stopped them from going on. My father, asking his man what the reason was that he went not on, was answered, That there were two men at the horses heads, who held them back, and would not suffer them to go forward. Whereupon my father, opening the boot, stepped out, and I followed close at his heels. Going up to the place where the men stood, he demanded of them the meaning of this assault. They said, We were upon the corn. We knew by the route we were not on the corn, but in the common way, and told them so; but they told us, They were resolved they would not let us go on any farther, but would make us go back again. My father endeavoured by gentle reasoning to persuade them to forbear, and not run themselves farther into the danger of the law, which they were run too far into already; but they rather derided him for it. Seeing therefore fair means would not work upon them, he spake more roughly to them, charging them to deliver their clubs (for each of them had a great club in his hand, somewhat like those which are called quarterstaves): they thereupon, laughing, told him, They did not bring them thither for that end. Thereupon my father, turning his head to me, said, Tom, disarm them.
I stood ready at his elbow, waiting only for the word of command. For being naturally of a bold spirit, full then of youthful heat, and that, too, heightened by the sense I had, not only of the abuse, but insolent behaviour of those rude fellows, my blood began to boil, and my fingers itched, as the saying is, to be dealing with them. Wherefore, stepping boldly forward to lay hold on the staff of him that was nearest to me, I said, Sirrah, deliver your weapon. He thereupon raised his club, which was big enough to have knocked down an ox, intending no doubt to have knocked me down with it, as probably he would have done, had I not, in the twinkling of an eye, whipped out my rapier, and made a pass upon him. I could not have failed running of him through up to the hilt had he stood his ground, but the sudden and unexpected sight of my bright blade glittering in the dark night, did so amaze and terrify the man, that, slipping aside, he avoided my thrust, and letting his staff sink, betook himself to his heels for safety; which his companion seeing, fled also. I followed the former as fast as I could, but timor addidit alas (fear gave him wings), and made him swiftly fly; so that, although I was accounted very nimble, yet the farther we ran the more ground he gained on me; so that I could not overtake him, which made me think he took shelter under some bush, which he knew where to find, though I did not. Meanwhile, the coachman, who had sufficiently the outside of a man, excused himself from intermeddling under pretence that he durst not leave his horses, and so left me to shift for myself; and I was gone so far beyond my knowledge, that I understood not which way I was to go, till by halloing, and being halloed to again, I was directed where to find my company.
We had easy means to have found out who these men were (the principal of them having been in the daytime at the inn, and both quarrelled with the coachman, and threatened to be even with him when he went back); but since they came off no better in their attempt, my father thought it better not to know them, than to oblige himself to a prosecution of them.
At that time, and for a good while after, I had no regret upon my mind for what I had done, and designed to have done, in this case, but went on in a sort of bravery, resolving to kill, if I could, any man that should make the like attempt or put any affront on us; and for that reason seldom went afterwards upon those public services without a loaded pistol in my pocket. But when it pleased the Lord, in His infinite goodness, to call me out of the spirit and ways of the world, and give me the knowledge of His saving truth, whereby the actions of my fore-past life were set in order before me, a sort of horror seized on me, when I considered how near I had been to the staining of my hands with human blood. And whensoever afterwards I went that way, and indeed as often since as the matter has come into my remembrance, my soul has blessed the Lord for my deliverance, and thanksgivings and praises have arisen in my heart (as now at the relating of it, they do) to Him who preserved and withheld me from shedding mans blood. Which is the reason for which I have given this account of that action, that others may be warned by it.