Chapter IX. A Stubborn Defense.
 

A half-dozen or so of Sir Ralph Willoughby's troopers declared that now their lord was dead they would fight no further, and straightway rode off through the village and across the ford. The rest, however, seeing that a brave fight against odds was about to commence, declared their willingness to put themselves under Harry's orders. They were at once dismounted and scattered along the line of defenses. After the Roundhead cannon had fired a few shots their cavalry charged, thinking to ride into the village. But the moment Sir Ralph's troopers had re-entered it Harry had heaped up across the road a quantity of young trees and bushes which he had cut in readiness. Not a shot was fired until the horsemen reached this obstacle, and then so heavy a fire was poured upon them, as they dismounted and tried to pull it asunder, that, with a loss of many men, they were forced to retreat.

The infantry now advanced, and a severe fight began. Harry's eighty men, sheltered behind their walls, inflicted heavy damage upon the enemy, who, however, pressed on stoutly, one column reaching the obstruction across the road, and laboring to destroy it. All the horses, with the exception of twenty, had been sent across the ford, and when Harry saw that in spite of the efforts of his men the enemy were destroying the abattis, he mounted twenty men upon these horses, placing Jacob at their head. Then he drew off as many defenders from other points as he could, and bade these charge their pistols and blunderbusses to the mouth with balls. As the enemy effected a breach in the abattis and streamed in, Jacob with his horse galloped down upon them at full speed. The reserve poured the fire of their heavily loaded pieces upon the mass still outside, and then aided Jacob's horse by falling suddenly on those within. So great was the effect that the enemy were driven back, and the column retired, the breach in the abattis being hastily filled up, before the cavalry, who were waiting the opportunity, could charge down upon it.

In the meantime, however, the enemy were forcing their way in at other points, and Harry gave word for the outside line of houses to be fired. The thatched roofs speedily were in flames, and as the wind was blowing from the river dense clouds of smoke rolled down upon the assailants. It was now only the intervals between the houses which had to be defended, and for an hour the stubborn resistance continued, the Royalist troops defending each house with its inclosure to the last, and firing them as they retreated, their own loss being trifling in comparison with that which they inflicted upon their assailants.

At last the whole of the defenders were gathered in and round the mill. This was defended from attack by the mill stream, which separated it from the village, and which was crossed only by the road leading down to the ford. The bridge was a wooden one, and this had been already partly sawn away. As soon as the last of the defenders crossed the remainder of the bridge was chopped down. Along the line of the stream Harry had erected a defense, breast high, of sacks of wheat from the mill. The enemy, as they straggled out through the burning village, paused, on seeing the strong posilion which yet remained to be carried. The mill stream was rapid and deep, and the approaches swept by the fire from the mill. There was a pause, and then the cannon were brought up and fire opened upon the mill, the musketry keeping up an incessant rattle from every wall and clump of bushes.

The mill was built of wood, and the cannon shot went through and through it. But Harry directed his men to place rows of sacks along each floor facing the enemy, and lying down behind these to fire through holes pierced in the planks. For half an hour the cannonade continued, and then the enemy were seen advancing, carrying beams and the trunks of small trees, to make a bridge across the stream. Had Harry's men been armed with muskets it would have been next to impossible for the enemy to succeed in doing this in the face of their fire. But the fire of their short weapons was wild and uncertain, except at short distances. Very many of the Roundheads fell, but others pressed forward bravely, and succeeded in throwing their beams across the stream. By this time Harry had led out all his force from the mill, and a desperate fight took place at the bridge. The enemy lined the opposite bank in such force that none of the defenders could show their heads above the barricade of sacks, and Harry came to the conclusion that further resistance was vain. He ordered Jacob to take all the men with the exception of ten and to retire at once across the ford. He himself with the remainder would defend the bridge till they were fairly across, and would then rush over and join them as he might.

With a heavy heart Jacob was preparing to obey this order, when he heard a loud cheer, and saw Prince Rupert, heading a large body of horse, dash into the river on the other side. The enemy saw him too. There was an instant cessation of their fire, and before Prince Rupert had gained the bank the Roundheads were already in full retreat for Reading. The bridge was hastily repaired, and the prince pursued for some distance, chasing their cavalry well-nigh into Reading. Their infantry, however, held together, and regained that town in safety.

Upon his return Prince Rupert expressed his warm admiration at the prolonged and gallant defense which Harry had made, and said that the oldest soldier in the army could not have done better. At Harry's request he promised the villagers that the next day money should be sent out from the king's treasury to make good the losses which they had sustained. Then he left a strong body of horse to hold the village, and directed Harry to ride with him with his troop to Oxford.

"I have a mission for you, Master Furness," he said, as they rode along. "I have already told his majesty how coolly and courageously you conducted yourself in that sore strait in which we were placed together. The king has need of a messenger to Scotland. The mission is a difficult one, and full of danger. It demands coolness and judgment as well as courage. I have told his majesty that, in spite of your youth, you possess these qualities, but the king was inclined to doubt whether you were old enough to be intrusted with such a commission. After to-day's doings he need have no further hesitation. I spoke to your father but yesterday, and he has given consent that you shall go, the more readily, methinks, because the good Cavalier thinks that the morals and ways of many of our young officers to be in no wise edifying for you, and I cannot but say that he is right. What sayest thou?"

Harry expressed his willingness to undertake any mission with which he might be charged. He thought it probable that no great movements would be undertaken in the south for some time, and with a lad's natural love of adventure, was pleased at the thought of change and variety.

The Scots were at this time arranging for a close alliance with the Parliament, which had sent emissaries to Edinburgh to negotiate a Solemn League and Covenant. Sir Henry Vane, who was an Independent, had been forced to accede to the demand of the Scotch Parliament, that the Presbyterian religious system of Scotland should be adopted as that of England, and after much chaffering for terms on both sides, the document was signed, and was to bind those who subscribed it to endeavor, without respect of persons, to extirpate popery and prelacy.

On the 25th of September, nearly a week after the tattle of Newbury, all the members of Parliament still remaining in London assembled in St. Margaret's Church, and signed the Solemn League and Covenant; but even at this moment of enthusiasm the parties were not true to each other. The Scotch expected that Presbyterianism would be introduced into England, and that Episcopacy would be entirely abolished. The English members, however, signed the declaration with the full intent of preserving their own religion, that of a form of Episcopacy, altered much indeed from that of the Church of England, but still differing widely from the Scotch system.

The king had many adherents in Scotland, chief of whom was the Earl of Montrose, a most gallant and loyal nobleman.

Upon the day after the fight in the village the king, on Prince Rupert's recommendation, appointed Harry Furness to bear dispatches to the earl, and as he was going north, Prince Rupert placed Lady Sidmouth and her daughter under his charge to convey to the army of the Earl of Newcastle, under whom her husband was at this time engaged.

Upon asking what force he should take with him the prince said that he had better proceed with his own troop, as an escort to the ladies, as far as the camp of Newcastle, filling up the places of those who had fallen in the skirmishes and fight of Newbury with other men, so as to preserve his full tale of fifty troopers. When he had fulfilled the first part of his mission he was to place his troop at the earl's service until his return, and to proceed in such manner and disguise as might seem best to him.

Harry started for the north in high spirits, feeling very proud of the charge confided to him. Lady Sidmouth and her daughter were placed in a light litter between two horses. Harry took his place beside it. Half the troop, under the command of the lieutenant, rode in front; the other half followed. So they started for the north. It was a long journey, as they were forced to avoid many towns occupied by Roundheads. Upon the fourth day of their journey they suddenly heard the explosion of pistols, and the shouts of men in conflict. Harry ordered his lieutenant to ride forward with half the troop to some rising ground just in front, and there they saw a combat going on between a party of Cavaliers and a force of Roundheads, much superior to them in numbers. Harry joined the lieutenant, and sending back a man with orders to the remaining half of the troop to form a guard round the litter, he headed the advance party, and the twenty-five men rode headlong down into the scene of conflict. It was a sharp fight for a few minutes, and then the accession of strength which the Cavaliers had gained gave them the superiority, and the Roundheads fell back, but in good order.

"You arrived just in time, sir," the leader of the party engaged said. "I am Master John Chillingworth, and am marching to Hardley House, which the Puritans are about to besiege. There is no time to delay, for see you not on yonder hill the gleam of pikes? That is the enemy's footmen. It is only an advanced party of their horse with which we have had this affair. You cannot go forward in this direction. There is a strong body of Roundheads lying a few miles to the north."

Harry rode back to Lady Sidmouth, and after a consultation with her and with Master Chillingworth, they decided to throw themselves into Hardley House, where the addition of strength which they brought might enable them to beat off the Roundheads, and then to proceed on their way. They learned indeed from a peasant that several bodies of Roundheads were advancing from various directions, and that Hardley House was strong and well defended. Of the choice of evils, therefore, they thought this to be the lightest, and, after an hour's hard riding, they arrived before its walls. It was an old castellated building, with bastions and walls capable of standing a siege. The party were gladly received by the master, Sir Francis Burdett, who had placed his castle in a posture of defense, but was short of men. Upon the news of the approach of the enemy he had hastily driven a number of cattle into the yard, and had stores of provisions sufficient to stand a siege for some time.

In a short time the Parliament force, consisting of five hundred footmen and two hundred horse, appeared before the castle, and summoned it to surrender. Sir Francis refused to do so, and fired a gun in token of defiance. Soon a train was seen approaching in the distance, and four guns were dragged by the enemy to a point of high ground near the castle. Here the Roundheads began to throw up a battery, but were mightily inconvenienced while doing so by the guns of the castle, which shot briskly against them. Working at night, however, in two days they completed the battery, which, on the third morning, opened fire upon the castle. The guns were much heavier than those upon the walls, and the shot, directed at a curtain between two towers, battered the stone sorely. The Parliament footmen were drawn back a space from the walls so as to avoid the fire of muskets from the defenders. There were in all in the castle about two hundred men, one hundred having been collected before the arrival of the troops of horse. These determined upon making a desperate resistance when the wall should give way, which would, they doubted not, be upon the following day. Everything that could be done was tried to hinder the destruction made by the enemy's shot. Numbers of sacks were filled with earth, and lowered from the walls above so as to hang in regular order before it, and so break the force of the shot. This had some effect, but gradually the wall crumbled beneath the blows of the missiles from the Roundhead guns.

"We are useless here, save as footmen," Harry said that night to his host. "There is a postern gate, is there not, behind the castle? Methinks that if we could get out in the dark unobserved, and form close to the walls, so that their pickets lying around might not suspect us of purposing to issue forth, we might, when daylight dawned, make an attack upon their guns, and if we could spike these the assault would probably cease."

The attempt was determined upon. The Roundhead infantry were disposed behind as well as in front of the castle, so as to prevent the escape of the besieged; but the camp was at a distance of some four hundred yards. The chains of the drawbridge across the moat were oiled, as were the bolts of the doors, and at three in the morning the gate was opened, and the drawbridge lowered across the moat. A thick layer of sacks was then placed upon the drawbridge. The horses' hoofs were also muffled with sacking, and then, one by one, the horses were led out, the drawbridge was drawn up again, and all was quiet. No sound or motion in the Puritan camp betrayed that their exit was observed, and they could hear the challenges of the circuit of sentries passed from man to man.

When the first streak of dawn was seen in the east the troop mounted their horses, and remained quiet until the light should be sufficient to enable them to see the nature of the ground over which they would have to pass. This they would be able to do before they themselves were observed, standing as they were close under the shadow of the walls of the castle. As soon as it was sufficiently light the trumpets sounded, and with a burst they dashed across the country. Heeding not the bugle calls in the camp of the Puritan infantry, they rode straight at the guns. These were six hundred yards distant, and before the artillerymen could awake to their danger, the Royalists were upon them. Those that stood were cut down, and in a minute the guns were spiked. Then the cavalry swept round, and as the Puritan horse hastily formed up, they charged them. Although but half their numbers, they had the superiority in the surprise at which they took their foes, and in the fact of the latter being but half armed, not having had time to put on their breastplates. The combat was a short one, and in a few minutes the Puritans were flying in all directions. The pikemen were now approaching on either side in compact bodies, and against these Harry knew that his horsemen could do nothing. He therefore drew them off from the castle, and during the day circled round and round the place, seizing several carts of provisions destined for the wants of the infantry, and holding them in a sort of leaguer.

That night, finding that their guns were disabled, their horse defeated, and themselves cut off, the rebel infantry drew off, and gave up the siege of the place. The next morning the cavalry re-entered the castle in triumph, and having received the hearty thanks of Sir Francis Burdett, and leaving with him the troop of Master Chillingworth, who intended to remain there, Harry proceeded on his way north, and reached York without further adventure.

During the ten days that they had journeyed together Lady Sidmouth had been greatly pleased with the attention and character of Harry Furness. He was always cheerful and courteous, without any of that light tone of flippancy which distinguished the young Cavaliers of the period, and her little daughter was charmed with her companion. Harry received the hearty thanks of Sir Henry Sidmouth for the care with which he had conducted his wife through the dangers of the journey, and then, having so far discharged his duty, he left his troop at York, and started for Scotland.

On the way he had discussed with Jacob the measures which he intended to take for his journey north. Jacob had begged earnestly to accompany him, and as Harry deemed that his shrewdness might be of great use, he determined to take him with him, as well as another of his troop. The latter was a merry fellow, named William Long. He was of grave and sober demeanor, and never smiled, even while causing his hearers to be convulsed with laughter. He had a keen sense of humor, was a ready-witted and courageous fellow, and had frequently distinguished himself in the various skirmishes. He was the son of a small tenant of Sir Henry Furness.

His farm was near the hall, and, although three or four years older than Harry, he had as a boy frequently accompanied him when out hawking, and in other amusements. Harry felt that, with two attached and faithful comrades like these, he should he able to make his way through many dangers. At York he had procured for himself and his followers suits of clothes of a grave and sober cut, such as would be worn by yeomen; and here they laid aside their Cavalier garments, and proceeded northward. They traveled quietly forward as far as Durham, and then went west, as Berwick was held for the Parliament. They carried weapons, for at that time none traveled unarmed, and the country through which they had to pass was greatly disturbed, the moss troopers having taken advantage of the disorders of the times to renew the habits of their forefathers, and to make raids upon their southern neighbors, and carry off cattle and horses. They carried with them but little money, a small quantity in their valises, and a few gold pieces concealed about their persons, each choosing a different receptacle, so that in case of pillage some at least might retain sufficient to carry them on their way. Avoiding the large towns, where alone they would be likely to be questioned, they crossed the border, and rode into Scotland.

Upon the day after their crossing the frontier they saw a body of horsemen approaching them. These drew up when they reached them, Harry having previously warned his comrades to offer no resistance, as the party were too strong for them, and his mission was too important to allow the king's cause to be hazarded by any foolish acts of pugnacity.

"Are you for the king or the kirk?" the leader asked.

"Neither for one nor the other," Harry said. "We are peaceable yeomen traveling north to buy cattle, and We meddle not in the disputes of the time." "Have you any news from the south?"

"Nothing," Harry replied. "We come from Durham, and since the news of the battle of Newbury, no tidings have come of importance."

The man looked inquisitively at the horses and valises; but Harry had chosen three stout ponies sufficiently good to carry them, but offering no temptations to pillagers, and the size of the valises promised but little from their contents.

"Since you are riding north to buy cattle," the leader said, "you must have money with you, and money is short with us in these bad times."

"We have not," Harry said; "judging it possible that we might meet with gentlemen who felt the pressure of the times, we have provided ourselves with sufficient only to take us up to Kelso, where dwells our correspondent, who will, we trust, have purchased and collected sufficient cattle for us to take south when we shall learn that a convoy of troops is traveling in this direction, for we would not place temptation in the way of those whom we might meet."

"You are a fellow of some humor," the leader said grimly. "But it is evil jesting on this side of the border."

"I jest not," Harry said. "There is a proverb in Latin, with which doubtless your worship is acquainted, to the effect that an empty traveler may sing before robbers, and, although far from including you and your worshipful following in that category, yet we may be pardoned for feeling somewhat light-hearted, because we are not overburdened with money."

The leader looked savagely at the young man; but seeing that his demeanor and that of his followers was resolute, that they carried pistols at their holsters and heavy swords, and deeming that nothing but hard knocks would come of an attack upon them, he surlily bade his company follow him, and rode on his way again.