418. THOMAS SPRAT, OF KENT, TANNER.
Illustration -- Sprat escaping pursuit
Unto these afore-rehearsed examples of God's blessed providence towards his servants, may also be added the happy deliverance of Thomas Sprat and William Porrege his companion, now minister; whose story briefly to course over, is this.
This Thomas Sprat had been servant sometime to one Master Brent, a justice, and a heavy persecutor; and therefore, forsaking his master for religion' sake, he went to Calais, from whence he used often with the said William Porrege, for their necessary affairs, to have recourse into England.
It so happened, about the fourth year of Queen Mary's reign, that they, landing upon a time at Dover, and taking their journey together toward Sandwich, suddenly, upon the way, within three miles of Dover, met with the foresaid Master Brent, the two Blachendens, and other gentlemen more, with their servants, to the number of ten or twelve horses: of the which two Blachendens, being both haters and enemies of God's word and people, the one had perfect knowledge of William Porrege; the other had not seen him, but only had heard of his name before.
Thus they, being in the way where this justice with his mates should meet them directly in the face, Thomas Sprat, first espying Master Brent, was sore dismayed, saying to his companion, "Yonder is Master Brent, William Porrege; God have mercy upon us!" "Well," quoth the other, "seeing now there is no remedy, let us go on our way." And so thinking to pass by them, they kept themselves aloof, as it were a score off from them, Thomas Sprat also shadowing his face with his cloak.
Notwithstanding, one of Master Brent's servants advising him better than his master did, "Yonder," said he to his master, "is Thomas Sprat:" at which words they all reined their horses, and called for Thomas Sprat to come to them. "They call you," said William Porrege. "Now here is no remedy but we are taken." And so persuaded him to go to them being called, for that there was no escaping from so many horsemen in those plains and downs, where was no wood near them by a mile, nor hedge neither, but only one, which was a bird-bolt shot off.
All this notwithstanding, Sprat staid, and would not go. Then they called again, sitting still on horseback. "Ah, sirrah," quoth the justice, "why come ye not hither?" And still his companion moved him to go, seeing there was no other shift to flee away. "Nay," said Sprat, "I will not go to them; "and therewithal took to his legs, running to the hedge that was next him. They, seeing that, set spurs to their horses, thinking by and by to have him, and that it was impossible for him to escape their hands; as it was indeed, they being on horseback, and he on foot, had not the Lord miraculously delivered his silly servant from the gaping mouth of the lion ready to devour him. For as God would, so it fell out, that he had got over the hedge, scrawling through the bushes, when they were even at his heels, striking at him with their swords; one of the Blachendens crying cruelly, "Cut off one of his legs!"
Thus Sprat had scarcely recovered the hedge from his enemies, when one of Master Brent's servants, which had been fellow sometime in house with him, followed him in his boots; and certain rode up at one side of the hedge, and certain at the other, to meet him at the upper end.
Now while they were following the chase after Thomas Sprat, only one remained with William Porrege, (who was one of the Blachendens; not he which knew him, but the other,) who began to question with him, not asking what was his name, (as God would,) for then he had been known and taken: but from whence he came, and how he came into Sprat's company, and whither he went? Unto whom he answered and said, From Calais, and that Sprat came over with him in the passage-boat, and they two were going to Sandwich; and so without any more questions he let him depart.
Anon, as he kept along the hedge, one of the horsemen which rode after Sprat, returning back, and meeting with the said William Porrege, demanded the very same questions as the other had done, to whom he made also the like answer as afore; and so departed, taking another contrary way from the meeting of the other horsemen. And thus William Porrege escaped.
Now concerning Thomas Sprat, he being pursued on the one side by horsemen, and on the other side by his own fellow, who followed after him in his boots, crying, "You were as good to tarry, for we will have you, we will have you." Yet, notwithstanding, he kept still on his course, till at length he came to a steep down-hill at the hedge-end, down the which hill he ran from them; for they could not ride down the hill, but must fetch a great compass about. And so this Thomas Sprat ran almost a mile, and (as God would) got into a wood.
By that time he came to the wood, they were even at his heels : but the night drew on, and it began to rain, and so the malice of these persecutors was at an end, the Lord working for his servants, whose name be praised for ever and ever, Amen.
Not long after this, one of the two Blachendens aforesaid, which so cruelly sought the destruction of others, was cruelly murdered by his own servants.