MEETING IN SECRET
FOR a time all went well, but after a few months King James was told that the people of Scrooby were not going to Scrooby church. Everybody knew they were men and women who worshiped God, so they must have meetings somewhere.
One Sabbath morning two strangers came to Scrooby. As they walked through the street they noticed a number of people going into William Brewster’s house.
“I believe they are going there to worship,” said one of the men.
“I think so, too, but we will wait until we are sure,” answered the other.
Far down the road they saw a carriage coming, so they stepped behind a wall. The carriage came slowly on and turned in at Brewster’s gate. In it were John Robinson and his family. The men knew this man was a pastor from the way he was dressed, and so knew that they had found the place where the people were at worship.
A little later they went into the house and up the stairs. There in the chapel they found John Robinson preaching to his people.
The strangers handed him a message from the king and left the room.
After Master Robinson had finished speaking, he read the message. Even the little children felt that this letter meant trouble for those who had come there to worship God.
“My friends,” said their pastor, “King James has ordered us to go to his church and worship according to the laws of England, or not worship at all. He says if we do not obey him we shall be punished.”
What could the good men and women do? They did not believe as the king did, and thought it was not right for them to go to his church. They would not do what they believed to be wrong.
For several minutes all were silent. Then William Bradford spoke.
“This house will be watched every Sabbath,” he said. “This large, pleasant room has been our church home for a long time, but it will not be safe to meet here any more.”
After talking for a while about the best thing to be done, the pastor prayed that God would help and protect them, and all went sadly home.
After some time King James heard that the people were not yet going to the village church, and again he sent his men to Scrooby.
“Watch William Brewster’s house and take every man who goes there on Sunday,” he said.
The next Sunday two soldiers watched that house. They watched the front door and the back door, but not a person did they see. Had the people obeyed the king and gone to the old church? No, indeed! The soldiers were watching the wrong house. If they had been at the other end of the village they might have seen where the people went to worship that morning.
The next Sunday the worshipers met at Doctor Fuller’s and the week after that at Master Allerton’s. Each Sabbath they met in a different house, and each Sabbath the soldiers tried to find them. At last they met only at night, when it was harder for the soldiers to see where they went.
William Brewster was an elder in John Robinson’s church. The pastor did not live in Scrooby, and sometimes he was not able to go to meeting. Then Elder Brewster led the service.
One very dark winter night they again met at Elder Brewster’s house. The last persons to come were Master Chilton and his little daughter. Mary’s face was pale, and her hands trembled as she tried to untie her hood.
” ‘What is the matter, Mary’ asked Mistress Brewster”
“I have had such a fright!” said the child. “There are two soldiers at your gate, Mistress Brewster. Father and I did not see them until we were almost at the bridge. We did not look toward the house but walked right by, as though we were not coming here. When we were sure they were not following us, we went around and came in by the stable gate.”
Elder Brewster looked out of the window. Yes, there were two men walking up and down in front of the house.
“Brewster’s house is dark and still. There is no one there,” said one. “They are obeying the king very well.”
“No doubt they are all asleep, as we ought to be. I am stiff with cold,” answered the other, as they walked away. They would have been much surprised if they had seen the little group on their knees in the dark chapel upstairs.
When the meeting was over they did not all go home at once. The soldiers would notice so many people together and know they had been to some place to worship.
Still King James did not believe the people were obeying him. He thought if these soldiers could not find where the meetings were held, he would send some who could.
FOR CONSCIENCE’ SAKE
UP in the loft of a large barn, John Robinson was teaching his people. He held his Bible in his hand, but he could not see to read it, for only the pale moon lighted the loft. They knew many chapters of the Bible, however, and repeated one softly.
Suddenly they heard voices outside. “I saw two men go into this barn,” said one soldier.
“And I saw a woman and two children,” said another. “I believe they are meeting for worship. Let us find out. Come, men.”
Up in the loft the people heard and trembled. The men tried to hide the women and children in safe places, then turned to face the soldiers.
Up the old stairs they came. “We have found you at last,” they cried. “Come with us.”
So the men were taken away to prison and their families returned to their lonely homes. After a few weeks the prisoners were set free; but still they would not attend the king’s church.
Many times they were put in prison, and some of their homes were burned. They were very, very unhappy.
One day the men of the little church met to talk about their troubles and plan some way to help matters.
“It will never be safe to worship God in our own way here. Even now three of our friends are in prison, and the rest of us may be there by night,” said one.
“I fear we must leave England,” said their pastor, “yet I do not know where we could go to be free. We should be in just as great danger in many other countries.”
“You know I spent several years in Holland, when I was a young man,” said Elder Brewster. “There every one is free to worship as he likes, and so many people come from France, England, and Spain. The Dutch are glad to have honest people from any land make homes in their country.”
Then he told them about the fine free schools in Holland, where they could send their children; and about the fishing fleets, the beautiful cities, and the great silk and woolen mills where they could all find work.
Holland was not very far from England, so it would not cost as much to go there as to some other places. After thinking about it for some time, it was decided that all who could would go to Holland in the autumn.
All summer they quietly planned how to leave England. They dared not speak of it openly for fear the king’s men might hear and put them in prison again, for King James was not willing they should find homes in another country.
When autumn came, the crops had been gathered and sold. The men had sold their horses and cattle, their homes and nearly all of their furniture. Their clothing and a few other things were packed in boxes, and at last they were ready to start on their journey.
It made them very sad to leave England. They loved their country. They loved their green fields and pleasant village and the homes where they had once been so happy.
“We are Pilgrims now,” they said, “and we will wander on until we find a home where we can be free and happy.”