Chapter XIV. Last Attempt to Rescue the King.
 

The king, after London had been overawed by the army, was lodged in Hampton Court. At this time the feeling throughout England was growing stronger and stronger in favor of the re-establishment of the monarchy, It was now a year since, with the fall of Oxford, the civil war had virtually concluded, and people yearned for a settled government and a return to ancient usages and manners. The great majority of that very Parliament which had withstood and conquered Charles were of one mind with the people in general; but England was no longer free to choose for itself. The army had won the victory for the Commons, and was determined to impose its will upon the nation. At this time Cromwell, Ireton, and Fairfax were disposed to an arrangement, but their authority was overshadowed by that of the preachers, who, in their harangues to the troops, denounced these generals as traitors, and then finding that they were likely to lose their influence, and to become obnoxious to both parties, henceforth threw their lot in with the army, and headed it in its struggle with the Parliament. Even yet the long misfortunes which Charles had suffered were insufficient to teach him wisdom. Had he now heartily thrown himself into the hands of the moderate majority in Parliament he might--aided by them and by the Scots, who, seeing that the Independents were ignoring all the obligations which had been undertaken by the Solemn League and government, were now almost openly hostile to the party of the army--have again mounted the throne, amid the joyful acclamations of the whole country. The army would have fought, but Charles, with England at his back, would assuredly have conquered. Unfortunately, the king could not be honest. His sole idea of policy was to set one section of his opponents against the other. He intrigued at once with the generals and with the Parliament, and had the imprudence to write continually to the queen and others, avowing that he was deceiving both. Several of these letters were intercepted, and although desirous of playing off the king against the army, the Commons felt that they could place no trust in him whatever; while the preachers and the army clamored more and more loudly that he should be brought to trial as a traitor.

Harry Furness had, after the fall of Oxford, remained quietly with his father at Furness Hall. Once or twice only had he gone up to London, returning with reports that the people there were becoming more and more desirous of the restoration of the king to his rights. The great majority were heartily sick of the rule of the preachers, with their lengthy exhortations, their sad faces, and their abhorrence of amusement of all kinds. There had been several popular tumults, in which the old cry of "God save the king," had again been raised. The apprentices were ready to join in any movement which might bring back the pleasant times of old. Cavaliers now openly showed themselves in the streets, and London was indeed ripe for an insurrection against the sovereignty which the army had established over the nation. Had the king at this time escaped from Hampton Court, and ridden into London at the head of only twenty gentlemen, and issued a proclamation appealing to the loyalty of the citizens, and promising faithfully to preserve the rights of the people, and to govern constitutionally, he would have been received with acclamation. The majority of Parliament would have declared for him, England would have received the news with delight, and the army alone would not have sufficed to turn the tide against him. Unhappily for Charles, he had no more idea now than at the commencement of the war of governing constitutionally, and instead thinking of trusting himself to the loyalty and affection of his subjects, he was meditating an escape to France. Harry received a letter from one of the king's most attached adherents, who was in waiting upon him at Hampton, begging him to repair there at once, as his majesty desired the aid of a few of those upon whom he could best rely, for an enterprise which he was about to undertake. Harry showed the letter to his father.

"You must do as you will, Harry," the colonel said. "For myself, I stick to my determination to meddle no more in the broils of this kingdom. Could I trust his Majesty, I would lay down my life for him willingly; but I cannot trust him. All the misfortunes which have befallen him, all the blood which has been poured out by loyal men in his cause, all the advice which his best councilors have given him, have been thrown away upon him. He is as lavish with his promises as ever, but all the time he is intending to break them as soon as he gets ample chance. Were he seated upon the throne again to-morrow, he would be as arbitrary as he was upon the day he ascended it. I do not say that I would not far rather see England under the tyranny of one man than under that of an army of ambitious knaves; but the latter cannot last. The king's authority, once riveted again on the necks of the people, might enslave them for generations, but England will never submit long to the yoke of military dictators. The evil is great, but it will right itself in time. But do you do as you like, Harry. You have, I hope, a long life before you, and 'twere best that you chose your own path in it. But think it over, my son. Decide nothing to-night, and in the morning let me know what you have determined."

Harry slept but little that night. When he met his father at breakfast he said:

"I have decided, father. You know that my opinions run with yours as to the folly of the king, and the wrongfulness and unwisdom of his policy. Still he is alone, surrounded by traitors to whose ambition he is an obstacle, and who clamor for his blood. I know not upon what enterprise he may now be bent, but methinks that it must be that he thinks of an escape from the hands of his jailers. If so, he must meditate a flight to France. There he will need faithful followers, who will do their best to make him feel that he is still a king who will cheer his exile and sustain his hopes. It may be that years will pass before England shakes off the iron yoke which Cromwell and his army are placing upon her neck. But, as you say, I am young and can wait. There are countries in Europe where a gentleman can take service in the army, and should aught happen to King Charles there I will enroll myself until these evil days be all passed. I would rather never see England again than live here to be ruled by King Cromwell and his canting Ironsides."

"So be it, my son," the colonel said. "I do not strive to dissuade you, for methinks had I been of your age I should have chosen the same. Should your fortunes lead you abroad, as they likely will, I shall send you a third of my income here. The rest will be ample for me. There will be little feasting or merriment at Furness Hall until the cloud which overshadows England be passed away, and you be again by my side. There is little fear of my being disturbed. Those who laid down their arms when the war ceased were assured of the possession of their property, and as I shall draw sword no more there will be no excuse for the Roundheads to lay hands on Furness Hall. And now, my boy, here are a hundred gold pieces. Use them in the king's service. When I hear that you are abroad I will write to Master Fleming to arrange with his correspondents, whether in France or Holland, as you may chance to be, to pay the money regularly into your hands. You will, I suppose, take Jacob with you?"

"Assuredly I will," Harry said. "He is attached and faithful, and although he cares not very greatly for the King's cause, I know he will follow my fortunes. He is sick to death of the post which I obtained for him after the war, with a scrivener at Oxford. I will also take William Long with me, if he will go. He is a merry fellow, and has a wise head. He and Jacob did marvelously at Edinburgh, when they cozened the preachers, and got me out of the clutches of Argyll. With two such trusty followers I could go through Europe. I will ride over to Oxford at once."

As Harry anticipated, Jacob was delighted at the prospect of abandoning his scrivener's desk.

"I don't believe," he said, when he had learned from Harry that they were going to the king at Hampton, "that aught will come of these plottings. As I told you when we were apprentices together, I love plots, but there are men with whom it is fatal to plot. Such a one, assuredly, is his gracious majesty. For a plot to be successful, all to be concerned in it must know their own minds, and be true as steel to each other. The King never knows his own mind for half an hour together, and, unfortunately, he seems unable to be true to any one. So let it be understood, Master Harry, that I go into this business partly from love of you, who have been truly a most kind friend to me, partly because I love adventure, and hate this scrivener's desk, partly because there is a chance that I may benefit by the change."

Harry bade him procure apparel as a sober retainer in a Puritan family, and join him that night at Furness Hall, as he purposed to set out at daybreak. William Long also agreed at once to follow Harry's fortunes. The old farmer, his father, offered no objection.

"It is right that my son should ride with the heir of Furness Hall," he said. "We have been Furness tenants for centuries, and have ever fought by our lords in battle. Besides, Master Harry, I doubt me whether William will ever settle down here in peace. His elder brother will have the farm after me, so it matters not greatly, but your wars and journeyings have turned his head, and he thinks of arms and steel caps more than of fat beeves or well-tilled fields."

The next morning, soon after daybreak, Harry and his followers left Furness Hall, and arrived the same night at Hampton. Here they put up at a hostelry, and Harry sent a messenger to Lord Ashburnham, who had summoned him, and was in attendance upon the king, to say that he had arrived.

An hour later Lord Ashburnham joined him. "I am glad you have come, Master Furness," he said. "The king needs faithful servants; and it's well that you have come to-day, as I have been ordered by those in power to remove from the king's person. His majesty has lost all hope of coming to an agreement with either party here. At one time it seemed that Cromwell and Ireton were like to have joined him, but a letter of the king's, in which he spoke of them somewhat discourteously, fell into their hands, and they have now given themselves wholly over to the party most furious against the king. Therefore he has resolved to fly. Do you move from hence and take up your quarters at Kingston, where no curious questions are likely to be asked you. I shall take lodgings at Ditton, and shall there await orders from the king. It may be that he will change his mind, but of this Major Legg, who attends him in his bedchamber, will notify us. Our design is to ride to the coast near Southampton and there take ship, and embark for France. It is not likely that we shall be attacked by the way, but as the king may be recognized in any town through which we may pass, it is as well to have half a dozen good swords on which we can rely."

"I have with me," Harry said, "my friend Jacob, who was lieutenant in my troop, and who can wield a sword well, and one of my old troopers, a stout and active lad. You can rely upon them as on me."

Lord Ashburnham stayed but a few minutes with Harry, and then mounted and rode to Ditton, while Harry the same afternoon journeyed on into Kingston, and there took up his lodgings. On the 11th of November, three days after their arrival, Harry received a message from Lord Ashburnham, asking him to ride over to Ditton. At his lodgings there he found Sir John Berkeley. Major Legg shortly after arrived, and told them that the king had determined, when he went into his private room for evening prayer, to slip away, and make for the river side, where they were to be in readiness for him with horses. Harry had brought his followers with him, and had left them at an inn while he visited Lord Ashburnham. William Long at once rode back to Kingston, and there purchased two good horses, with saddles, for the king and Major Legg. At seven in the evening the party mounted, William Long and Jacob each leading a spare horse. Lord Ashburnham and Sir John Berkeley joined them outside the village, and they rode together until, crossing the bridge at Hampton, they stopped on the river bank, at the point arranged, near the palace. Half an hour passed, and then footsteps were heard, and two figures approached. Not a word was spoken until they were near enough to discern their faces.

"Thank God you are here, my Lord Ashburnham," the king said. "Fortune is always so against me that I feared something might occur to detain you. Ha! Master Furness, I am glad to see so faithful a friend."

The king and Major Legg now mounted, and the little party rode off. Their road led through Windsor Forest, then of far greater extent than at present. Through this the king acted as guide. The night was wild and stormy, but the king was well acquainted with the forest, and at daybreak the party, weary and drenched, arrived at Sutton, in Hampshire. Here they found six horses, which Lord Ashburnham had on the previous day sent forward, and mounting these, they again rode on. As the sun rose their spirits revived, and the king entered into conversation with Ashburnham, Berkeley, and Harry as to his plans. The latter was surprised and disappointed to find that so hurriedly had the king finally made up his mind to fly that no ship had been prepared to take him from the coast, and that it was determined that for the time the king should go to the Isle of Wight. The governor of the Isle of Wight was Colonel Hammond, who was connected with both parties. His uncle was chaplain to the king, and he was himself married to a daughter of Hampden. It was arranged that the king and Major Legg should proceed to a house of Lord Southampton at Titchfield, and that Berkeley and Lord Ashburnham should go to the Isle of Wight to Colonel Hammond, to find if he would receive the king. Harry, with his followers, was to proceed to Southampton, and there to procure a ship, which was to be in readiness to embark the king when a message was received from him. Agents of the king had already received orders to have a ship in readiness, and should this be done, it was at once to be brought round to Titchfield.

"This seems to me," Jacob said, as, after separating from the king, they rode to Southampton, "to be but poor plotting. Here has the king been for three months at Hampton Court, and could, had he so chosen, have fixed his flight for any day at his will. A vessel might have been standing on and off the coast, ready to receive him, and he could have ridden down, and embarked immediately he reached the coast. As it is, there is no ship and no arrangement, and for aught he knows he may be a closer prisoner in the Isle of Wight than he was at Hampton, while both parties with whom he has been negotiating will be more furious than ever at finding that he has fooled them. If I could not plot better than this I would stick to a scrivener's desk all my life."

It was late in the afternoon when they rode into Southampton. They found the city in a state of excitement. A messenger had, an hour before, ridden in from London with the news of the king's escape, and with orders from Parliament that no vessel should be allowed to leave the port. Harry then rode to Portsmouth, but there also he was unable to do anything. He heard that in the afternoon the king had crossed over onto the Isle of Wight, and that he had been received by the governor with marks of respect. They, therefore, again returned to Southampton, and there took a boat for Cowes. Leaving his followers there, Harry rode to Newport, and saw the king. The latter said that for the present he had altogether changed his mind about escaping to France, and that Sir John Berkeley would start at once to negotiate with the heads of the army. He begged Harry to go to London, and to send him from time to time sure news of the state of feeling of the populace.

Taking his followers with him, Harry rode to London, disguised as a country trader. He held communication with many leading citizens, as well as with apprentices and others with whom he could get into conversation in the streets and public resorts. He found that the vast majority of the people of London were longing for the overthrow of the rule of the Independents, and for the restoration of the king. The preachers were as busy as ever haranguing people in the streets, and especially at Paul's Cross. In the cathedral of St. Paul's the Independent soldiers had stabled their horses, to the great anger of many moderate people, who were shocked at the manner in which those who had first begun to fight for liberty of conscience now tyrannized over the consciences and insulted the feelings of all others. Harry and his followers mixed among the groups, and aided in inflaming the temper of the people by passing jeering remarks, and loudly questioning the statements of the preachers. These, unaccustomed to interruption, would rapidly lose temper, and they and their partisans would make a rush through the crowd to seize their interrogators. Then the apprentices would interfere, blows would be exchanged, and not unfrequently the fanatics were driven in to take refuge with the troops in St. Paul's. Harry found a small printer of Royalist opinions, and with the assistance of Jacob, strung together many doggerel verses, making a scoff of the sour-faced rulers of England, and calling upon the people not to submit to be tyrannized over by their own paid servants, the army. These verses were then set in type by the printer, and in the evening, taking different ways, they distributed them in the streets to passers-by.

Day by day the feeling in the city rose higher, as the quarrels at Westminster between the Independents, backed by the army and the Presbyterian majority, waxed higher and higher. All this time the king was negotiating with commissioners from the army, and with others sent by the Scots, one day inclining to one party, the next to the other, making promises to both, but intending to observe none, as soon as he could gain his ends.

On Sunday, the 9th of April, Harry and his friends strolled up to Moor Fields to look at the apprentices playing bowls there. Presently from the barracks of the militia hard by a party of soldiers came out, and ordered them to desist, some of the soldiers seizing upon the bowls.

"Now, lads," Harry shouted, "you will not stand that, will you? The London apprentices were not wont to submit to be ridden rough-shod over by troops. Has all spirit been taken out of you by the long-winded sermons of these knaves in steeple hats?"

Some of the soldiers made a rush at Harry. His two friends closed in by him. The two first of the soldiers who arrived were knocked down. Others, however, seized the young men, but the apprentices crowded up, pelted the soldiers with stones, and, by sheer weight, overthrew those who had taken Harry and carried him off. The soldiers soon came pouring out of their barracks, but fleet-footed lads had, at the commencement of the quarrel, run down into the streets, raising the shout of "clubs," and swarms of apprentices came running up. Led by Harry and his followers, who carried heavy sticks, they charged the militia with such fury that these, in spite of their superior arms, were driven back fighting into their barracks. When the gates were shut Harry mounted on a stone and harangued the apprentices--he recalled to them the ancient rights of the city, rights which the most absolute monarchs who had sat upon the throne had not ventured to infringe, that no troops should pass through the streets or be quartered there to restrict the liberties of the citizens. "No king would have ventured so to insult the people of London; why should the crop-haired knaves at Westminster dare to do so? If you had the spirit of your fathers you would not bear it for a moment."

"We will not, we will not," shouted the crowd. "Down with the soldiers!"

At this moment a lad approached at full run to say that the cavalry were coming from St. Paul's. In their enthusiasm the apprentices prepared to resist, but Harry shouted to them:

"Not here in the fields. Scatter now and assemble in the streets. With the chains up, we can beat them there."

The apprentices gave a cheer, and, scattering, made their way from the fields just as the cavalry issued into the open space. Hurrying in all directions, the apprentices carried the news, and soon the streets swarmed with their fellows. They were quickly joined by the watermen--in those days a numerous and powerful body. These were armed with oars and boat-stretchers. The chains which were fastened at night across the ends of the streets were quickly placed in position, and all was prepared to resist the attack of the troops.