Chapter X. The Commissioner of the Convention.
 

At Kelso Harry procured changes of garments, attiring himself as a Lowland farmer, and his companions as two drovers. They were, as before, mounted; but the costume of English farmers could no longer have been supported by any plausible story. They learned that upon the direct road north they should find many bodies of Scotch troops, and therefore made for the coast. Two days' riding brought them to the little port of Ayton.

After taking their supper in the common room of the hostelry, there was a stir outside, and three men, attired as Puritan preachers, entered the room. Mine host received them with courtesy, but with none of the eager welcome usually displayed to guests; for these gentry, although feared--for their power was very great at the time--were by no means loved, and their orders at a hostelry were not likely to swell the purse of the host. Stalking to an unoccupied table next to that at which Harry and his party were sitting, they took their seats and called for supper.

Harry made a sign to his companions to continue talking together, while he listened attentively to the conversation of the men behind him. He gathered from their talk that they were commissioners proceeding from the Presbyterian Convention in London to discuss with that at Edinburgh upon the points upon which they could come to an agreement for a common basis of terms. Their talk turned principally upon doctrinal questions, upon which Harry's ignorance was entire and absolute; but he saw at once that it would do good service to the king if he could in some way prevent these men continuing upon their journey, and so for a time arrest the progress of the negotiations between the king's enemies in England and Scotland, for at this time the preachers were the paramount authorities in England. It was they who insisted upon terms, they who swayed the councils of the nation, and it was not until Cromwell, after overthrowing the king, overthrew the Parliament, which was for the main part composed of their creatures, that the power of the preachers came to an end. It would, of course, have been easy for Harry and his friends to attack these men during their next day's journey, but this would have involved the necessity of killing them--from which he shrank--for an assault upon three godly men traveling on the high business of the Convention to the Scottish capital would have caused such an outcry that Harry could not hope to continue on his way without the certainty of discovery and arrest.

Signing to his comrades to remain in their seats, he strolled off toward the port, and there entered a public house, which, by its aspect, was frequented by seafaring men. It was a small room that he entered, and contained three or four fishermen, and one whom a certain superiority in dress betokened to be the captain of a vessel. They were talking of the war, and of the probability of the Scottish army taking part in it. The fishermen were all of the popular party; but the captain, who seemed a jovial fellow, shrugged his shoulders over the religious squabbles, and said that, for his part, he wanted nothing but peace.

"Not," he said, "that the present times do not suit are rarely in purse. Men are too busy now to look after the doings of every lugger that passes along the coast, and never were French goods so plentiful or so cheap. Moreover," he said, "I find that not unfrequently passengers want to be carried to Prance or Holland. I ask no questions; I care not whether they go on missions from the Royalists or from the Convention; I take their money; I land them at their destination; no questions are asked. So the times suit me bravely; but for all that I do not like to think of Englishmen and Scotchmen arrayed against their fellows. I cannot see that it matters one jot whether we are predestinate or not predestinate, or whether it is a bishop who governs a certain church or a presbyter. I say let each worship in his own way, and not concern himself about his fellows. If men would but mind their own affairs in religion as they do in business it would be better for us all."

Harry, as he drank the glass of beer he had ordered, had joined occasionally in the conversation, not taking any part, but agreeing chiefly with the sea-captain in his desire for peace.

"I too," he said, "have nothing to grumble at. My beasts fetch good prices for the army, and save that there is a want of hands, I was never doing better. Still I would gladly see peace established."

Presently the fishermen, having finished their liquor, retired, and the captain, looking keenly at Harry, said, "Methinks, young sir, that you are not precisely what you seem!"

"That is so," Harry replied; "I am on business here, It matters not on which side, and it may be that we may strike a bargain together."

"Do you want to cross the channel?" the captain asked, laughing. "You seem young to have put your head in a noose already."

"No," Harry said, "I do not want to cross myself; but I want to send some others across. I suppose that if a passenger or two were placed on board your ship, to be landed in Holland, you would not deem it necessary to question them closely, or to ascertain whether they also were anxious to arrive at that destination?"

"By no means," the captain replied. "Goods consigned to me will be delivered at the port to which they are addressed, and I should consider that with passengers as with goods, I must carry them to the port for which their passage is taken."

"Good," Harry said; "if that is the case, methinks that when you sail--and," he asked, breaking off, "when do you sail?"

"To-morrow morning, if the wind is fair," the captain answered. "But if it would pay me better to stop for a few hours, I might do so."

"To-morrow night, if you will wait till then," Harry said, "I will place three passengers on board, and will pay you your own sum to land them at Flushing, or any other place across the water to which you may be bound. I will take care that they will make no complaints whatever, or address any remonstrance to you, until after you have fairly put to sea. And then, naturally, you will feel yourself unable to alter the course of your ship."

"But," the captain observed, "I must be assured that these passengers who are so anxious to cross the water are not men whose absence might cause any great bother. I am a simple man, earning my living as honestly as the times will allow me to do, and I wish not to embroil myself with the great parties of the State."

"There may be an inquiry," Harry replied; "but methinks it will soon drop. They are three preachers of London, who are on their way to dispute concerning points of religion with the divines in Scotland. The result of their disputation may perchance be that an accord may be arrived at between the divines of London and Edinburgh; and in that case, I doubt not that the army now lying at Dundee would move south, and that the civil war would therefore become more extended and cruel than ever."

The captain laughed.

"I am not fond of blackbirds on board my ship," he said. "They are ever of ill omen on the sea. But I will risk it for so good a cause. It is their pestilent religious disputes which have stirred up the nations to war, and I doubt not that even should some time elapse before these gentlemen can again hold forth in England, there are plenty of others to supply their place."

An agreement was speedily arrived at as to the terms of passage, for Harry was well provided with money, having drawn at Kelso from an agent devoted to the Royal cause, upon whom he had letters of credit.

The next morning early Harry went to a carter in the town, and hired a cart for the day, leaving a deposit for its safe return at night. Then, mounting their horses, the three Royalists rode off just as the preachers were going forth from the inn. The latter continued their course at the grave pace suitable to their calling and occupation, conversing vigorously upon the points of doctrine which they intended to urge upon their fellows at Edinburgh. Suddenly, just where the road emerged from a wood on to a common, three men dashed out, and fell upon them. The preachers roared lustily for mercy, and invoked the vengeance of the Parliament upon those who ventured to interfere with them.

"We are charged," one said, "with a mission to the Convention at Edinburgh, and it is as much as your heads are worth to interfere with us."

"Natheless," Harry said, "we must even risk our heads. You must follow us into the wood, or we shall be under the necessity of 'blowing out your brains.'"

Much crestfallen, the preachers followed their captors into the wood. There they were despoiled of their hats and doublets, tied securely by cords, gagged, and placed, in spite of their remonstrances and struggles, in three huge sacks.

At midnight the Annette was lying alongside the wharf at Ayton, when a cart drove up. Three men alighted from it, and one hailed the captain, who was standing on deck.

"I have brought the three parcels thou wottest of," he said. "They will need each two strong men to carry them on board."

The captain, with two sailors, ascended to the quay.

"What have we here?" said one of the sailors; "there is some live creature in this sack."

"It is a young calf," Harry said; "when you are well out to sea you can give it air."

The men laughed, for having frequently had passengers to cross to the Continent, they shrewdly guessed at the truth; and the captain had already told them that the delay of a day would put some money into each of their pockets. Having seen the three sacks deposited on the deck of the ship, when the sails were immediately hoisted, and the Annette glided away on her course seaward, the cart was driven round to the house where it had been hired. The stipulated price was paid, the deposit returned, and the hirer then departed.

Riding toward Edinburgh, Harry agreed with his comrades that as he, as the apparent leader of the party, would be the more likely to be suspected and arrested, it would be better for the documents of which they were the carriers, as well as the papers found upon the persons of the Puritans, to be intrusted to the charge of Jacob and William Long. Harry charged them, in the event of anything happening to him, to pay no heed to him whatever, but to separate from him and mix with the crowd, and then to make their way, as best they might, to the Earl of Montrose.

"It matters nothing," he said, "my being arrested, They can prove nothing against me, as I shall have no papers on my body, while it is all-important that you should get off. The most that they can do to me is to send me to London, and a term of imprisonment as a malignant is the worst that will befall me."

The next day they entered the town by the Canongate, and were surprised and amused at the busy scene passing there. Riding to an inn, they put up their horses and dismounted. Harry purposed to remain there for three or four days to learn the temper of the people.

The next morning he strolled out into the streets, followed at some little distance by Jacob and William Long, He had not the least fear of being recognized, and for the time gave himself up thoroughly to the amusement of the moment. He had not proceeded far, however, when he ran full tilt against a man in a black garb, who, gazing at him, at once shouted out at the top of his voice, "Seize this man, he is a malignant and a spy," and to his horror Harry discovered the small preacher with whom he had twice already been at loggerheads, and who, it seems, had been dispatched as a member of a previous commission by his party in London.

In a moment a dozen sturdy hands seized him by his collar. Feeling the utter uselessness of resistance, and being afraid that should he attempt to struggle, his friends might be drawn into the matter, Harry quietly proceeded along the street until he reached the city guardhouse, in a cell of which he was thrust.

"One would think," he muttered to himself, "that little preacher is an emissary of Satan himself. Go where I will, this lantern-jawed knave is sure to crop up and I feel convinced that until I have split his skull I shall have no safety. I thought I had freed myself of Mm forever when I got out of London; and here, in the middle of the Scotch capital, he turns up as sharpsighted and as venomous as ever."

An hour or two later Harry was removed under a guard to the city prison, and in the evening the doors were opened and a guard appeared and briefly ordered him to follow. Under the escort of four men he was led through the streets to a large building, and then conducted to a room in which a number of persons, some of them evidently of high rank, were sitting. At the head of the table was a man of sinister aspect. He had red hair and eyebrows, and a foxy, cunning face, and Harry guessed at once that he was in the presence of the Earl of Argyll--a man who, even more than the rest of his treacherous race, was hated and despised by loyal Scotchmen. In all their history, a great portion of the Scottish nobles were ever found ready to take English gold, and to plot against their country. But the Argylls had borne a bad pre-eminence even among these. They had hunted Wallace, had hounded down Bruce, and had ever been prominent in fomenting dissensions in their country; the present earl was probably the coldest and most treacherous of his race.

"We are told," he said sternly to the prisoner, "that you are a follower of the man Charles; that you have been already engaged in plottings among the good citizens of London, and we shrewdly suspect that your presence here bodes no good to the state. What hast thou to say in thy defense?"

"I do not know that I am charged with any offence," Harry said quietly. "I am an English gentleman, who, wishing to avoid the disorders in his own country, has traveled north for peace and quietness. If you have aught to urge against me or any evidence to give, I shall be prepared to confute it. As for the preacher, whose evidence has caused my arrest, he hath simply a grudge against me for a boyish freak, from which he suffered at the time when I made my escape from a guardroom in London, and his accusation against me is solely the result of prejudice."

Harry had already, upon his arrival at the jail, been searched thoroughly, having been stripped, and even the folds and linings of his garments ripped open, to see that they contained no correspondence. Knowing that nothing whatever could have been found against him, unless, indeed, his followers had also fallen into the hands of the Roundheads, Harry was able to assume a position of injured innocence.

"Your tone comports not with your condition," the Earl of Argyll said harshly. "We have found means here to make men of sterner mold than thine speak the truth, and in the interests of the state we shall not hesitate to use them against you also. The torturer here hath instruments which would tear you limb from limb, and, young sir, these will not be spared unless that malapert tongue of thine gives us the information we desire to learn."

"I decline to answer any questions beyond what I have already said," Harry replied firmly. "I tell you that I am an English gentleman traveling here on my own private business, and it were foul wrong for me to be seized and punished upon the suspicion of such a one as that man there;" and he pointed contemptuously to the preacher.

"You will be brought up again in two days," the earl said, "and if by that time you have not made up your mind to confess all, it will go hard with you. Think not that the life of a varlet like you will weigh for one moment in the scale with the safety of the nation, or that any regard for what you may consider in England the usages of war will prevail here."

He waved his hand, and Harry was conducted back to jail, feeling far more uneasy than he had done, for he knew that in Scotland very different manners prevailed to those which characterized the English. In England, throughout the war, no unnecessary bloodshed took place, and up to that time the only persons executed in cold blood had been the two gentlemen convicted of endeavoring to corrupt the Parliament in favor of the king. But in Scotland, where civil broils were constant, blood was ever shed recklessly on both sides; houses were given to the flames; men, women, and children slaughtered; lands laid waste; and all the atrocities which civil war, heightened by religious bigotry, could suggest, perpetrated.

Late that evening, the door of the prison opened, and a preacher was shown into the room.

"I have come," he said in a nasal tone, "misguided young man, to pray you to consider the wickedness of your ways. It is written that the ungodly shall perish, and I would fain lead you from the errors of your way before it is too late."

Harry had started as the speaker began; but he remained immovable until the jailer closed the door.

"Jacob," he exclaimed, "how mad, how imprudent of you! I ordered you specially, if I was arrested, to pay no heed, but to make your way north."

"I know that you did," Jacob said. "But you see you yourself talked of remaining for three days in Edinburgh. Therefore, I knew that there could be no pressing need of my journey north; and hearing some whispers of the intention of the lord president to extract from a certain prisoner the news of a plot with which he was supposed to be connected, I thought it even best to come and see you."

"But how have you obtained this garb?" Harry asked; "and how, above all, have you managed to penetrate hither?"

"Truly," Jacob said, "I have undertaken a difficult task in thy behalf, for I have to-night to enter into a disputation with many learned divines, and I dread that more than running the risk of meeting the Earl of Argyll, who, they say, has the face of a fox, and the heart of a devil."

"What mean you?" Harry asked.

"After we saw you dragged off by the townsmen, on being denounced by that little preacher whose hat I spoiled in St. Paul's churchyard, we followed your orders, and made back to our hostelry. There William Long and myself talked the matter over. In the first place, we took all the papers and documents which were concealed about us, and lifting a board in the room, hid them beneath it, so that in case of our arrest they would be safe. As we took out the documents, the commission which we borrowed from the preachers met our eyes, and it struck me that, armed with this, we might be enabled to do you service. I therefore at once purchased cloaks and hats fitting for us as worthy divines from London, and then, riding a mile or two into the country, we changed our garments, and entered the good city of Edinburgh as English divines. We proceeded direct to the house of the chief presbyter, to whom the letters of commission were addressed, and were received by him with open arms. I trust that we played our part rarely, and, in truth, the unctuousness and godliness of William Long passeth belief, and he plays his part well. Looking as he does far older than I--although in these days of clean-shaven faces I can make up rarely for thirty--he assumed the leading part. The presbyter would fain have summoned a number of his divines for a discussion this evening. But we, pleading fatigue, begged him to allow us two days of rest. He has, however, invited a few of his fellows, and we are to wrestle with them this evening in argument. How we shall get out of it I know not, for my head is altogether in ignorance of the points in issue. However, there was, among the documents of the preachers, one setting forth the points in which the practice of the sect in England and Scotland differed, with the heads of the arguments to be used. We have looked through these, and, as well as we could understand the jumble of hard words, have endeavored to master the points at issue, so we shall to-night confine ourselves to a bare exposition of facts, and shall put off answering the arguments of the other side until the drawn battle, which will be fixed for the day after to-morrow. By the way, we accounted for the absence of our colleague by saying that he fell sick on the way."

"But what is the use of all this risk?" Harry asked, laughing at the thought of his two followers discussing theology with the learned divines of the Scotch Church.

"That, in truth," Jacob said, "I do not yet exactly see; but I trust that to-morrow we shall have contrived some plan of getting you out of this prison. I shall return at the same time to-morrow evening."

"How did you get in here?" he asked.

"I had an order from the chief presbyter for entry. Saying that I believed I knew you, and that my words might have some effect in turning you from the evil of your ways, I volunteered to exhort you, and shall give such an account of my mission as will lead them to give me a pass to see you again to-morrow night."

The following evening Jacob again called, this time accompanied by William. They brought with them another dress similar to their own. Their visit was an hour later than upon the preceding evening.

"I learned," Jacob said, "that the guard was changed at eight o'clock, and it is upon this that the success of our scheme depends. William will immediately leave, and as he has been seen to enter by the guards without, and by those at the prison gate, he will pass out without questioning. In half an hour a fresh guard will be placed at both these points, and you and I will march out together, armed with permission for two preachers to pass."

The scheme appeared a hopeful one, and William took his departure after a few minutes, saying to the guards without that he went to fetch a book of reference which he needed to convince the hard-hearted reprobate within. He left the door partly ajar, and the guards without were edified by catching snatches of a discourse of exceeding godliness and unction, delivered by the preacher to the prisoner.

Presently a trampling without informed Harry and Jacob that the guard was being changed, and half an hour later they opened the door, and Jacob, standing for a moment as they went out, addressed a few words of earnest exhortation to the prisoner supposed to be within, adjuring him to bethink himself whether it was better to sacrifice his life in the cause of a wicked king than to purchase his freedom by forsaking the error of his ways, and turning to the true belief. Then, closing the door after him, Jacob strode along, accompanied by Harry, to the guardroom. They passed through the yard of the prison to the gate. There Jacob produced his pass for the entrance and exit of two divines, and the guard, suspecting no evil, at once suffered them to go forth. William had already been to the inn where they stopped, and had told the host that he was charged to examine the chamber where the persons who abode there upon the previous day had stopped. There he had taken the various documents from their hiding-place, and had made his way from the city. Outside the gates he was joined by the others, and all, at a speedy but still dignified pace, made their way to the spot where the horses were concealed, in a little wood in a retired valley. Here they changed their dress, and, making a bonfire of the garments which they had taken off, mounted their Losses, and rode for the north.