Thomas Saunders was running. Wig askew, sweat glistening on his fleshy face, he dashed up the steps of the church. Boots thundering on the stone floor, he sprinted past the pew that his well-covered bottom had polished over the last quarter of a century.
As he rounded the corner into the bell-tower he tore off his coat with scant regard for the labours of his tailor. Leaping like a man of half his girth and a quarter of his bank-balance he seized the bell-rope and swung.
The news had arrived just a quarter of an hour ago. The messenger, hot from the furious ride from London, had ridden straight to the house of Mr Saunders, merchant and church-warden. Hearing the clatter of hooves outside, the gentleman of the house had left his boiled egg unfinished and opened the front door himself.
‘Wilberforce… The slavery bill…’ The rider spoke in short gasps.
‘Yes, yes. What happened, man?’ Saunders resisted the temptation to shake the other by his lapels.
‘You won… Large majority.’
Satisfaction spread over the church-warden’s face. ‘Martha!’ He bellowed to the housemaid. ‘Fetch a drink for my guest, and tell Robert to see to his horse.’
The girl arrived in time to behold the master, hatless, running out of the door like an errand-boy.
As he swung on the bell-rope, Thomas Saunders gave grateful thanks to God. The aberration was over. The world was once more as God had ordained it to be. And he must spread the news; must let the whole city know that all was well.
Each peal of the bell told the joyful news:
Clang - Our trade is safe.
Clang - The plantations can continue.
Clang - The abolitionists are defeated.
Based on the true events at St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol, 1791, after the defeat of William Wilberforce’s first bill for the abolition of slavery.
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