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Loose Canon

Written by Kirt Lee



The insistent man at the rectory door turned out to be George Andrews, Magistrate, so Bartholomew set aside his complaints about the late hour, lit a candle, and opened the door.

"Good evening, Bartholomew."

"And good evening to you as well, George. What brings you about at such a late hour. Something official?"

"Not at the moment, Reverend. Officially, I'm not here at all until morning. Late morning, I should guess."

That was a rather strange statement for George, who was usually quite straightforward. "I see. And upon what business will you be calling, if I may ask?"

"It would seem that I am to take you into custody for transfer to the Old Bailey in London."

Stranger and stranger. "Old Bailey? London? That seems a bit of a bother for a minor Non-Conformist like myself. By whose order?"


"By order of the king himself, it would appear. A messenger arrived with the papers just before nightfall. And a nice set of documents they are, too. Wax seals. Quality paper. The best handwriting. Bound in red tape. All very proper looking."

Bartholomew was taken aback . . . to say the very least. "Well, I do seem to have come up in the world a bit."

"More than you know. It would seem that His Majesty has a notion that you plot schism."

"Schism? That is preposterous, and you know it, George! Or should."

"Oh, I've little doubt of it, Reverend, but tell it to that messenger. The fellow became quite chatty after his fourth or fifth pint. It would seem there's a larger roundup in progress. Can't say as I have heard some of the names he mentioned, though I do seem to recall the Cromwell fellow in connection with that business about the fens a while back. The messenger seemed to think that some of them were bound for the tower. Alas, I am afraid it's the Old Bailey for you, though. I should not expect us too early, however. The messenger insists on being present himself. The man can certainly put it away, when drinking on someone else's coin. I left him in the care of Old Hollow-Legged Harry, at the inn. That should keep him busy."

"What should I pack for the Bailey?" said Bartholomew's ever-practical wife.

"I would rather your husband were not here at all when we arrive, Anne. Given the messenger's demeanor, I shouldn't be surprised if Bartholomew arrived at London in less than pristine condition. Oh, and the man may be rather disappointed at not being able to take your son John into custody with you."

"What son John? I've no children."

"True, but he insists we take John as well. He was quite adamant on that point. John is named in the papers quite clearly."

Bartholomew considered that for a moment, before realizing that . . . "Oh, how preposterous. Is this about that Thuringian business? What was the name of that place? Grantburg? Grant town? Something like that. Simply preposterous."

"Thuringian business? Preposterous or not, I'd not care to have that fellow escorting me to the Bailey. He brought his own shackles, if you please. Quite fond of them, too, the way he caresses them. It's a long trip, Reverend, and there are more like him at the other end. The man seemed positively crestfallen when I told him you would never put up a fuss over surrendering. That is not to mention the Bailey's involuntary residents with their various maladies of body and soul. I do hope you will be off visiting in the morning. Perhaps we can arrive to learn that you have left for Amsterdam or some such, and we missed you."

"Should I pack for Amsterdam, husband? It might be best to travel light, under the circumstances." Anne had her faraway "making a list" look.

"You'll find friends in Amsterdam, Bartholomew. Perhaps I can find someone to remember that you have gone to London," offered George. "I think I can manage that. Last week might be best."

Bartholomew surrendered. "Pack for Amsterdam, wife."

* * *

As luck would have it, they got to Amsterdam before the siege began . . . if you can call that luck.

As ever, the city enjoyed no lack of ministers, and of many sorts. Doctors were in shorter supply. Bartholomew was an experienced physician, so if he could not serve God in one way, then he would serve Him in another. Anne practiced midwifery, like the good wife of a man both minister and physician.

There was dysentery in this part of the lines. Bartholomew followed his nose, and found the reason easily enough, if the Grantville woman could be credited. He sought out the responsible officer.

"You are aware of the orders regarding latrines, Captain?"

"We've enough holes in the ground."

"You've not, nor are they deep enough." Bartholomew raised his walking stick, and pointed to a mark on it. "This is the proper depth. Did not your father see to your learning of letters, Captain? If not, I can read to you the orders regarding latrines."

"Did your father see to your instruction in the use of shovels, Reverend Doctor? If so, I can offer one."

Bartholomew exploded. The captain erupted. Volleys were exchanged. A truce was signed. Bartholomew found himself supervising some disfavored soldiers in the use of shovels. His insistence regarding the mark on his walking stick caused some surliness. That ended, or at least quieted, when Bartholomew used the stick in its second office, knocking a soldier into his own inadequate excavation.

He made a mental note to come back on the morrow to see that his instructions were followed regarding the usage of the resulting trenches. It had become routine. This lot was new to the lines, or slow to learn, or both. He would next begin on the subject of boiled drinking water. Bathing and laundry might take longer. It was tedious, but satisfying work, befitting Bartholomew's temperament.

The captain had not yielded, however, to Bartholomew's insistence on some kind of screen round the latrine for modesty. He pled nothing with which to construct it. Bartholomew had not expected that victory. He seldom won that one, but it was handy to have some ground to yield.


It had been bad enough, early on. Amputations. Torn flesh. Gut shots. Powder burns. Final prayers. They were all within his training. Then, things had settled down, and Bartholomew faced the inevitable diseases. That was worse. But there was not as much disease as there might have been. The reason for that was the Jefferson woman, Anne, of Grantville.

Like many others, Bartholomew had been outraged by a woman who practiced medicine. Only the very poor or truly desperate had gone to her at first. The rest had learned, soon enough, that she knew her business—and her limits. It was said that among her own people, she did not even qualify as a doctor. A queer folk, these Grantvillers. It was even said that one of their women was an ordained minister, if such a tale could be credited.

"It was said." Bartholomew did not seek that knowledge at first hand. It was not a woman's place to instruct men, so he learned at second hand, from men less fastidious. Much was also said about the famous books that had caused so much trouble, but nothing that told Bartholomew why the king would single out this particular Non-Conformist minister. He hadn't asked, but meant to find out, soon enough.

The siege was easing now. People came and went through the Spanish lines. Bartholomew turned and began walking to the rooms where he and his wife had lived these many months. It would soon be safe enough to leave. He would have his answers in Grantville. He would go to their library, read their books, and by all that was sacred, he would have his answers. What he would do then, he could not say. He would study their medicine and preach, he supposed.

* * *

The young lady behind the desk had a helpful, efficient manner. She was also busy, so Bartholomew had to wait his turn, which did not take long.

"How may I help you?" she asked.

"I would like to read theology," Bartholomew replied. "English Non-Conformism."

"There's quite a bit of call for that," she said. "Especially considering the role it played in the English Civil War. The one that hasn't happened yet, I mean. Maybe it won't. Was there any aspect in particular you are interested in?"

Bartholomew considered a moment. "I should like to read about theologians, please."

"Start with the encyclopedias," she suggested. "There's a waiting list. Do you know how to use them?"

It took Bartholomew some time to get the correct volume, but once he had it, it took only seconds to find his own name. It did not take much longer to learn why he had had to flee his home in the middle of the night. He was pleased with how well he controlled his temper. His research continued for days. He was amused to find that he was remembered as a man who was "plain spoken."

It was no more than the truth, as his wife could attest.

* * *

Bartholomew had intended to begin preaching from a street corner on Sunday morning. He had one picked out. He nearly changed his mind on that, but finally kept to that plan, although with a small detour: He first took Anne to a church. He had wanted to arrive early so as to get a good seat, but decided to wait until just before the service to avoid friendly questions.


Music began. The congregation fell silent. A woman approached the pulpit, in the garb of a minister, just as he had been told she would. Anne started as Bartholomew stood and marched up the aisle. Unsurprisingly, such behavior was not unheard of here. Others had come to this church for ax grinding purposes. Two men in the front pews stood up and faced him, blocking his way.

That was fine. Bartholomew stopped just short of them, never taking his eyes off the woman. There was muttering and rustling in the pews behind and to the sides. Assuming his best "fire and brimstone" voice, he positively boomed.

"I am Bartholomew Wesley, madam. Perhaps you've heard the name."

Silence fell. So did "Reverend" Mary Ellen Jones's jaw. Bartholomew savored the moment, paused for effect, then continued.

"I see you have. Don't worry. I shan't be staying long. I merely wished to drop in and clarify the record."

Reverend Jones's eyebrows shot up, though her jaw remained slack. Bartholomew pressed on. "I wish it to be known that no Wesley of my family, not me, not my yet unborn son John, nor his yet unborn son Samuell, nor his yet unborn sons, John and Charles, would ever countenance the ordination of a woman to preach the gospel."

He paused again, then said, "Good day to you."

Somewhere in the pews, a woman said, "Amen!" That would be Veda Mae Haggerty. Every person in town knew her thoughts. So did every cat. And dog. And . . . well, everyone.

Bartholomew turned and addressed the congregation. "And if any of you wish to hear a true Wesley sermon, delivered by a true Wesley, great-grandfather of this church's very founders, you'll find it just outside those doors." He pointed at those doors, then added, "Now."

He then took his wife's hand, and went out those doors.

Many Ellen recovered enough to briefly reflect on how pissed her husband, Reverend Simon Jones, would be to have missed this. Then she recovered enough to be glad he was not here. If she was ever to be accepted as a minister in her own right in this time and place, then she had to handle this herself. Looked at this way, one might almost wonder if a divine hand had reached out and offered this opportunity. She looked heavenward to ask for strength, and immediately knew what she must do.

Assuming her own pulpit voice, the Reverend Mrs. Jones placed her hands on her hips and spoke.

"Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I have no intention of missing a genuine Wesley sermon, delivered by a genuine Wesley."

And with that, she followed Bartholomew out those same doors.

* * *

Mannington Methodist Church photograph by Iris Barimen.



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