Chapter XII. An Escape from Prison.
 

There was no sadder or more gloomy face among the officers of the Parliament than that of Herbert Rippinghall--sad, not from the sour asceticism which distinguished the great portion of these officers, but from his regrets over the struggle in which he was taking a part. While Harry Furness saw much to find fault with in the conduct of many of his fellows, and in the obstinacy with which the king refused to grant concessions which might up to this time have restored peace to the land, Herbert, on his side, was shocked at the violence and excessive demands on the part of the Parliament, and at the rank hypocrisy which he saw everywhere around him. Both lads still considered that the balance of justice was on the side upon which they fought. But both, Herbert perhaps because more thoughtful, therefore more strongly, saw that the faults upon one side balanced those upon the other. Herbert had not taken up the sword willingly, as Harry had done. He was by disposition far less prone to adventure and more given to sober thought, and the violence of his father and the bigoted opinions which he held had repelled him from rather than attracted him toward the principles which he advocated. When, however, the summons came from his father to join him at Reading, with the rest of the hands employed in the business, he did not hesitate. He still hoped that the pacific party in Parliament would overcome the more violent, and that the tyranny of a small minority toward which the country appeared to be drifting would be nipped in the bud.

The divisions, indeed, in the Parliament were far greater than in the councils of the king. Between the Independents and the Presbyterians a wide gulf existed. The latter party, which was much the more numerous in Parliament, and which had moreover the countenance and alliance of the Scotch Presbyterians, viewed with the greatest jealousy the increasing arrogance of the Independents and of the military party. They became alarmed when they saw that they were rapidly drifting from the rule of the king to that of Cromwell, and that while they themselves would be satisfied with ample concessions and a certain amount of toleration, the Independents were working for much more than this. Upon the Presbyterian side, Lord Essex was regarded as their champion with the army, as against Cromwell, Fairfax, and Ireton. So strong did the feeling become that it was moved in the Commons "that no member of either House should, during the war, enjoy or execute any office or command, civil or military." A long and furious debate followed; but the ordinance was passed by the Lower House, and went up to the Lords, and was finally passed by them.

Now, however, occurred an episode which added greatly to the religious hatred prevailing between the two parties, and shocked many of the adherents of the Parliament by the wanton bigotry which it displayed. Archbishop Laud had now lain for four years in prison, and by an ordinance of Parliament, voted by only seven lords, he was condemned for high treason, and was beheaded on the 10th of January. This cruel and unnecessary murder showed only too plainly that the toleration which the Dissenters had clamored for meant only toleration for themselves, and intolerance toward all others; and a further example of this was given by the passing of an ordinance forbidding the use of the Liturgy of the Church of England in any place of worship in the country.

Rendered nervous by the increasing power of the Independents, the majority in Parliament now determined to open fresh negotiations with the king, and these offered a fairer prospect of peace than any which had hitherto preceded them. Commissioners were appointed by Parliament and by the king, and these met at Uxbridge, a truce being made for twenty days. Had the king been endowed with any sense of the danger of his position, or any desire to treat in a straightforward and honest manner with his opponents, peace might now have been secured. But the unfortunate monarch was seeking to cajole his foes rather than to treat with them, and his own papers, afterward discovered, show too plainly that the concessions which he offered were meant only to be kept so long as it might please him. The twenty precious days were frittered away in disputes. The king would grant one day concessions which he would revoke the next. The victories which Montrose was gaining in the north had roused his hopes, and the evil advice of his wife and Prince Rupert, and the earnest remontrances which he received from Montrose against surrendering to the demands of Parliament, overpowered the advice of his wiser counselors. At the end of twenty days the negotiations ceased, and the commissioners of Parliament returned to London, convinced that there was no hope of obtaining a permanent peace with a man so vacillating and insincere as the king.

Herbert had been with his father at Uxbridge, as the regiment of foot to which he belonged was on guard here, and it was with a heavy heart that he returned to London, convinced that the war must go on, but forboding as great a disaster to the country in the despotism which he saw the Independents would finally establish as in the despotism of King Charles.

There was a general gloom in the city when the news of the unsuccessful termination of the negotiations became known. The vast majority of the people were eagerly desirous of peace. The two years which the war had already lasted had brought nothing save ruin to trade and general disaster, and the great body of the public who were not tinged with the intense fanaticism of the Independents, and who did not view all pleasure and enjoyment in life as sinful, longed for the merry old days when Englishmen might smile without being accused of sin, and when life was not passed solely in prayer and exhortation. Several small riots had broken out in London; but these were promptly suppressed. Among the 'prentice boys, especially, did the spirit of revolt against the gloomy asceticism of the time prevail, and there can be little doubt that if at this period, or for a long time subsequent, the king could have appeared suddenly in the city at the head of a few score troops, he would have been welcomed with acclamation, and the great body of the citizens would have rallied round him.

When the Parliament commissioners reached London Fairfax received his commission as sole general of the army. The military services of Cromwell were of such, importance that Fairfax and his officers urged that an exception should be made to the ordinance in his case, and that he should be temporarily appointed lieutenant-general and chief commander of horse. The moderate party yielded to the demand of the Independents. The Earls of Essex, Manchester, and Denbigh gave in their resignations. Many of the more moderate advisers of Charles also retired to their estates, despairing of a conflict in which the king's obstinacy admitted of no hope of a favorable termination. They, too, had, as much perhaps as the members of the recalcitrant Parliament, hoped for reforms; but it was clear that the king would never consent to reign except as an absolute monarch, and for this they were unprepared. The violent party among the Cavaliers now ruled supreme in the councils of Charles. For a short time the royal cause seemed in the ascendant. Leicester had been taken by storm, Taunton was besieged, Fairfax was surrounding Oxford, but was doing nothing against the town. On the 5th of June he was ordered to raise the siege, and to go to the Midland counties after the royal army. On the 13th Fairfax and Cromwell joined their forces, and pursued the king, whom they overtook the next day near Naseby.

Herbert had accompanied the army of Fairfax, and seeing the number and resolution of the troops, he hoped that a victory might be gained which would terminate for good and all this disastrous conflict. The ground round Naseby is chiefly moorland. The king's army was drawn up a mile from Market Harborough. Prince Rupert commanded the left wing, Sir Marmaduke Langdale the right, Lord Ashley the main body. Fairfax commanded the center of the Roundheads, with General Skippon under him. Cromwell commanded the right and Ireton the left. Rupert had hurried on with his horse in advance, and coming upon the Roundheads, at once engaged them. So sudden was the attack that neither party had formed its lines for battle, and the artillery was in the rear. Between the armies lay a wide level known as Broadmoor. It was across this that Rupert had ridden, and charging up the hill on the other side, fell upon the left wing of Fairfax. Cromwell, upon the other hand, from the extreme right charged down the hill upon Langdale's squadrons. Prince Rupert, as usual, carried all before him. Shouting his battle cry, "Queen Mary," he fell upon Ireton's left wing, and drove them from the field, chasing them back to Naseby, where, as usual, he lost time in capturing the enemy's baggage. Cromwell, with his Ironsides, upon the other hand, had broken Langdale's horse and driven them from the field. In the center the fight was hot. The king's foot had come up the hill and poured volley after volley into the parliament ranks. Hand to hand the infantry were fighting, and gradually the Roundheads were giving way. But now, as at Marston, Cromwell, keeping his Ironsides well in hand, returned from the defeat of Langdale's horse, and fell upon the rear of the Royalists. Fairfax rallied his men as he saw the horse coming up to his assistance. Rupert's troopers were far from the field, and a panic seizing the king's reserve of horse, who had they charged might have won the day, the Earl of Carnewarth, taking hold of King Charles' horse, forced him from the field, and the battle ended, with the complete defeat of the royal troops, before Rupert returned to the field of battle.

The Royalists lost in killed and prisoners five thousand men, their twelve guns, and all their baggage train, and what was of even greater importance, the king's private cabinet, which contained documents which did more to precipitate his ruin even than the defeat of his army. Here were found letters proving that while he had professed his desire to treat, he had no intention of giving way in the slightest degree. Here were copies of letters to foreign princes asking for aid, and to the Papists in Ireland, promising all kinds of concessions if they would rise in his favor. Not only did the publication of this correspondence and of the private letters between the king and queen add to the indignation of the Commons and to their determination to fight to the bitterest end, but it disgusted and alienated a vast number of Royalists who had hitherto believed in the king and trusted to his royal word.

Among the prisoners taken at Naseby was Harry Furness, whose troop had been with Langdale's horse, and who, his charger having been shot, had fallen upon the field, his head being cut by the sweep of the sword of a Roundhead soldier, who struck at him as he was lying on the ground. Soon after the battle, when it became known what prisoners had been taken, he was visited by his friend Herbert.

"We are changing sides, Herbert," Harry said, with a faint smile. "The last time we met you were nigh falling into the hands of the Royalists, now I have altogether fallen into yours."

"Yes, and unfortunately," Herbert said, "I cannot repeat your act of generosity. However, Harry, I trust that with this great battle the war is nearly over, and that all prisoners now taken will speedily be released. At any rate, I need not assure you that you will have my aid and assistance in any matter."

The Parliamentary leaders did not allow the grass to grow under their feet after Naseby. Prince Rupert, with considerable force, had marched to Bristol, and Fairfax and Cromwell followed him there. A considerable portion of the prisoners were sent to London, but some were retained with the army. Among these was Harry Furness, whom it was intended to confine with many others in some sure place in the south. Under a guard they were conducted to Reading, where they were for awhile to be kept. Essex and Cromwell advanced to Bristol, which they surrounded; and Prince Rupert, after a brave defense, was forced to capitulate, upon terms similar to those which had been granted by the king to the army of Lord Essex the year before. In his conduct of the siege the prince had certainly not failed. But this misfortune aroused the king's anger more than the faults which had done such evil service on the fields of Naseby and Marston, and he wrote to the prince, ordering him to leave the kingdom at once.

It would have been well had King Charles here ceased the struggle, for the cause of the Royalists was now hopeless. Infatuated to the last, however, and deeming ever that the increasing contentions and ill-will between the two parties in Parliament would finally end by one of them bidding for the Royal support, and agreeing to his terms, the king continued the contest. Here and there isolated affrays took place; risings in Kent and other counties occurring, but being defeated summarily by the vigor of Fairfax and his generals.

The time passed but slowly with Harry at Reading. He and his fellow-prisoners were assigned quarters in a large building, under the guard of a regiment of Parliament troops. Their imprisonment was not rigorous. They were fairly fed and allowed exercise in a large courtyard which adjoined the house. The more reckless spirits sang, jested, wrote scurrilous songs on the Roundheads, and passed the time as cheerfully as might be. Harry, however, with the restlessness of his age, longed for liberty. He knew that Prince Charles was in command of the army in the west, and he longed to join him and try once more the fortunes of battle. The guard set round the building was close and vigilant, and the chances of escape appeared small. Still, Harry thought that if he could escape from an upper window on a dark night he could surely make his way through the line of sentries. He had observed on moonlight nights the exact position which each of these occupied. The intervals were short between them; but it would be quite possible on a dark night for a person to pass noiselessly without being perceived. The watch would have been even more strict than it was, had not the Puritans regarded the struggle as virtually at an end, and were, therefore, less careful as to their prisoners than they would otherwise have been. Harry prepared for escape by tearing up the blankets of his bed and knotting them into ropes. A portion he wrapped round his shoes, so as to walk noiselessly, and taking advantage of a dark, moonless night, when the fog hung thick upon the low land round Reading, he opened his window, threw out his rope, and slipped down to the ground.

So dark was the fog that it was difficult for him to see two paces in advance, and he soon found that the careful observations which he had taken of the place of the sentries would be altogether useless. Still, in the darkness and thickness of the night, he thought that the chance of detection was small. Creeping quietly and noiselessly along, he could hear the constant challenges of the sentries round him. These, excited by the unusual darkness of the night, were unusually vigilant. Harry approached until he was within a few yards of the line, and the voices of the men as they challenged enabled him to ascertain exactly the position of those on the right and left of him. Passing between these, he could see neither, although they were but a few paces on either hand, and he would have got off unobserved had he not suddenly fallen into a deep stream running across his way, and which in the darkness he did not see until he fell into it. At the sound there was an instant challenge, and then a piece was discharged. Harry struggled across the stream, and clambered out on the opposite side. As he did so a number of muskets were fired in his direction by the men who came rushing up to the point of alarm. One ball struck him in the shoulder. The rest whizzed harmlessly by, and at the top of his speed he ran forward.

He was now safe from pursuit, for in the darkness of the night it would have been absolutely impossible to follow him. In a few minutes he ceased running, for when all became quiet behind him, he could no longer tell in what direction he was advancing. So long as he could hear the shouts of the sentries he continued his way, and then, all guidance being lost, he lay down under a hedge and waited for morning. It was still thick and foggy; but wandering aimlessly about for some time, he succeeded at last in striking upon a road, and judging from the side upon which he had entered it in which direction Reading must lie, he took the western way and went forward. The ball had passed only through the fleshy part of his shoulder, missing the bone; and although it caused him much pain, he was able, by wrapping his arm tightly to his body, to proceed. More than once he had to withdraw from the road into the fields beyond, when he heard troops of horse galloping along.

After a long day's walk he arrived near Abingdon, and there made for the hall. Instead of going to the door he made for the windows, and, looking in, saw a number of Roundhead soldiers in the hall, and knew that there was no safety for him. As he glanced in one of the soldiers happened to cast his eyes up, and gave a shout on seeing a figure looking in at the window. Instantly the rest sprang to their feet, and started out to secure the intruder. Harry fled along the road, and soon reached Abingdon. He had at first thought of making for one of his father's farms; but he felt sure that here also Roundhead troops would be quartered. After a moment's hesitation he determined to make for Mr. Rippinghall's. He knew the premises accurately, and thought that he might easily take refuge in the warehouses, in which large quantities of wool were wont to be stored. The streets were deserted, for it was now late at night, and he found his way without interruption to the wool-stapler's. Here he climbed over a wall, made his way into the warehouse, and clambering over a large number of bales, laid himself down next to the wall, secure from any casual observation. Here he went off to sleep, and it was late next day before he opened his eyes. He was nearly uttering an exclamation at the pain which his movement on waking gave to his wounded arm. He, however, repressed it, and it was well he did so, as he heard voices in the warehouse. Men were removing bales of wool, and for some hours this process went on. Harry, being well back, had little fear that he should be disturbed.

The hours passed wearily. He was parched and feverish from the pain of his wound, and was unable to deliberate as to his best course. Sometimes he dozed off into snatches of sleep, and after one of these he found that the warehouse was again silent, and that darkness had set in. He determined to wait at least for another day, and also that he would early in the morning look out from the window before the men entered, in hopes that he might catch sight of his old playfellow, Lucy, who would, he felt sure, bring him some water and refreshment if she were able. Accordingly, in the morning, he took his place so as to command a view of the garden, and presently to his great surprise he saw Herbert, whom he had believed with the army, come out together with Lucy. They had not taken four paces in the garden when their attention was attracted by a tap at the window, and looking up, they were astonished at beholding Harry's pale face there. With an exclamation of surprise they hurried into the warehouse.

"My dear Harry," Herbert exclaimed, "how did you get here? The troops have been searching for you high and low. Your escape from Reading was bruited abroad a few hours after it took place, and the party at the hall having reported seeing some one looking in at the window, there was no doubt felt that you had gained this neighborhood, and a close watch has been kept. All your father's farms have been carefully examined, and their occupants questioned, and the general belief is that you are still hidden somewhere near."

"I got a ball through my shoulder," Harry said, "in making my way through the sentries, and have felt myself unable to travel until I could obtain some food. I thought that I should be safer from search here, and believing you were away in the army, thought that your sister would perhaps be moved by compassion to aid her old playfellow."

"Yes, indeed," the girl said; "I would have done anything for you, Harry. To think of your being hidden so close to us, while we were sleeping quietly. I will at once get you some food, and then you and Herbert can talk over what is best to be done."

So saying she ran into the house, and returned in a few minutes with a bowl of milk and some freshly made cakes, which Harry drank and ate ravenously. In the meantime, he was discussing with Herbert what was the best course to pursue.

"It would not be safe," Herbert said, "for you to try and journey further at present. The search for you is very keen, and it happens, unfortunately, that the officer in command here is the very man whose face you sliced when he came to Furness Hall some two years back. It would be a bad thing for you were you to fall into his hands."

Lucy at first proposed that Harry should be taken into the house, and go at once to bed. She and Herbert would then give out that a friend had arrived from a distance, who was ill, and, waiting upon him themselves, should prevent suspicion being attracted. This, however, Herbert did not think would be safe. It would be asked when the inmate had arrived, and who he was, and why the servants should not, as usual, attend upon him.

"I think," he said, "that if to-night I go forth, having said at dinner in the hearing of the servant that I am expecting a friend from London, you can then join me outside, and return with me. You must crop off those long ringlets of yours, and turn Roundhead for the nonce. I can let you have a sober suit which was made for me when I was in London, and which has not yet been seen by my servants. I can say that you are in bad health, and this will enable you to remain at home, sleeping upon a couch to nurse your shoulder."

"The shoulder is of no consequence," Harry said. "A mere flesh wound like that would not detain me a way from the saddle. It is only the fatigue and loss of blood, together with want of food, which has weakened me."

As no other course presented itself this was followed. Harry remained during the day in his 'place of concealment in the warehouse, and at nightfall went out, and, being joined by Herbert, returned with him to the house. The door was opened by Lucy and he entered unperceived by the domestics. The first operation was to cut off the whole of his hair close to his head. He was then attired in Herbert's clothes, and looked, as Lucy told him, a quiet and decent young gentleman. Then he took his place on a couch in the sitting-room, and Herbert rung for supper, which he had ordered to be prepared for a guest as well as for Lucy and himself.