Chapter 12: New Scenes

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
IT was still dark when I awoke on the following morning, but mother was already moving and indeed was up and dressed. I do not think she had slept at all. She had collected some of our clothes, and a few of our most valued possessions, not the least of which was our treasured but carefully hidden Bible, into three parcels, not too large for us to carry, and as I dressed, mother told me in a few words that before the death of my father Pastor Gosmer had told her that it was very likely that an attempt to take us from her would be made, and had advised her, should any warning be given, to leave everything we could not carry, and bring us to his hut in the thickest part of the forest. He would then act as our guide to a little company, ten or twelve in number, of our fellow Christians who, having been driven from their own village by persecution, were living in great poverty and hardship on some waste land at a distance of nearly twenty miles from our home, and waiting for an opportunity of leaving their native land, and finding in England or Holland liberty to read the word of God.
In order to avoid notice, it would be necessary, mother said, to start before sunrise; so after a hasty meal and prayer we set out. The morning though cold was fine; the snow still lay in drifts, and "ice candles," as we children called them, hung from the leafless boughs of every tree. We had not gone more than a mile or two when the first gleams of day-dawn were seen in the east, and when the sun had fully risen we forgot for a moment our own cares and sorrows as we stood still to gaze upon the beauty of the scene. A robin perched upon a tree near by chirped cheerily away, and other birds added their notes.
We sat down on the trunk of a fallen tree and ate some bread and meat we had brought with us, nor did we forget to throw a few crumbs to the birds who, rendered tame by hunger, came quite close to us. The keen, fresh air and bright morning seemed to have given us new hope and courage, and we went on our way with weary feet but lighter hearts.
We were all very tired when we reached Gosmer's hut; it was a poor place which he had built for himself in the very heart of the forest, still it was a shelter, and in the warmth of the welcome we received we forgot that its floor and walls were of mud. He gave us the best he had to offer, some black bread and goat's milk, and insisted upon our resting during the day; for, as he said, he knew the way to the camp where we should find our brethren so well, that day and night were almost alike to him, and by traveling during the night we were more likely to escape observation. We lay down upon his bed of leaves and straw, and he left us, as he wanted to visit the family of a charcoal burner who lived at a distance of about two miles.
We slept for some hours, and as the short January day drew near its close we heard the sound of wheels; our friend returned telling us that the charcoal burner had willingly lost a day's work that we might continue our journey in his cart. This thoughtful kindness touched us deeply, as we knew that owing to their deep poverty he and his family lived almost entirely upon black bread and roots.
The simple preparations for our journey were soon completed and we all got into the cart. The roads were anything but good, and our progress was very slow. We did not pass through any villages, as Pastor Gosmer thought that if any one should be about at such an early hour it would not be wise to furnish a clue by which our flight could be traced, as we might be followed and overtaken before it would be possible to get us on board a ship. The sun had again risen when we reached our destination.
At first we thought there must have been some mistake, everything was so strangely still and silent; we looked in vain for some sign or sound of human life. But our guide gave a long, low whistle, and after a few moments two men appeared from a cave, the entrance of which was almost hidden by brushwood; it was, I soon afterward learned, used as a sleeping-place by the men of the party. After a few words with our guide they gave us a kind though grave welcome, and led the way over some rough ground to a small hut that had been put up for the women and children, of whom there were several.
A few stools, a long, low table, an iron cooking pot and, a few common plates, bowls and spoons seemed to be all of worldly goods the little party possessed, yet we did not hear a murmur or complaint. We had not been there long before a boy of about fourteen appeared at the door, holding in his hands a couple of rabbits he had taken in a snare in the wood. The pale faces of the children brightened at the sight, and I gathered from a few words whispered by an elderly woman to her neighbor that they considered it an unusual piece of good fortune that they should be able to provide such a plentiful meal for the new-comers and also for the pastor. One woman, who was, I was told, the mother of the boy who had brought the rabbits, impressed me greatly; she seemed so sad, and sat with bowed head and folded hands; she seldom spoke and sheaved no interest in what was passing around her.
Mother went to her and, taking her hand in hers, spoke kindly to her. At first she did not seem to notice, hardly to hear what she was saying, but after a little while she roused herself, and began to tell her story. It was a very sad one. Her husband, who had been the schoolmaster in a neighboring town, was arrested on the charge of heresy, and had died in prison; her two elder sons, who had boldly confessed their faith, had been sent to the galleys; and in haste and fear she had fled with her youngest boy, the only one left to her; but sorrow and hardship had told upon her never strong constitution, and she said she knew her time on earth could not be long.
Meanwhile, preparations for dinner had been going busily on. A rough fireplace of stones had, been built at a short distance from the hut and over this the iron pot was slung, gipsy fashion; and with the addition of some dried herbs and a few potatoes, the gift of a farmer, a savory stew was soon forthcoming.
We slept soundly that night on our beds of dried leaves, and though we had but scanty covering, did not suffer from the cold. The life that for the next three or four months we lived in the lonely, out-of-the-way place was a somewhat strange and silent one. We all learned at times what it was to suffer from cold and hunger, for though daily visits were paid to the traps and snares set in the woods, it was not easy to take birds and rabbits enough to supply the wants of so large a party; and we were often touched by the unselfish kindness with which some one would insist upon his or her share of the scanty meal being eaten by some sickly child or pale-faced woman.
My mother seemed almost to forget her own sorrows in seeking to help and comfort others. She nursed the sick and taught the children. Just as the long, cold winter began to give place to the soft, fresh beauty of the spring, we had another visit from Pastor Gosmer, who told us that he had been able to arrange passages for five of our number-mother, Casper, myself, the youth who brought the rabbits on the first day of our arrival at the camp, and his mother-on board a trading vessel about to sail for an English port. No time was to be lost, as news had reached him that Father Jacques, who was very angry at our flight, had been searching for us everywhere, and if our hiding-place was discovered we might still be taken from mother. There would be some difficulties in getting us to the coast, but once out at sea we should, he hoped, be beyond the reach of danger.
That night we took leave of those to whose kindness we should always remember we owed so much. I cannot give any detailed account of our journey, as we usually traveled by night, and, hiding ourselves in the woods or fields, rested during the day. It was a glad and thankful moment when we found ourselves on board the ship, which we reached only an hour before the time fixed for her to sail. We soon got out to sea, and as we strained our eyes to catch a last glimpse of our native land, we felt that we could never forget HOW THE FAITH WAS KEPT IN BOHEMIA.
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