Friends, Though Divided by G. A. Henty
Chapter XVI. The Execution of King Charles.
The news of the failure of the Welsh insurrection and the Scotch invasion, while the risings in Kent and Essex were crushed out, showed Harry Furness that, for the time at least, there was no further fighting to be done. Cromwell, after the defeat of the Scotch, marched with his army to Edinburgh, where he was received with enthusiasm by Argyll and the fanatic section, who were now again restored to power, and recommenced a cruel persecution of all suspected of Royalist opinions. Now that the Scotch had been beaten, and the Royalist rising everywhere crushed out, the Parliament were seized with fear as to the course which Cromwell and his victorious army might pursue. If they had been so arrogant and haughty before, what might not be expected now. Negotiations were at once opened with the king. He was removed from Carisbrook to a good house at Newport. Commissioners came down there, and forty days were spent in prolonged argument, and the commissioners returned to London on the 28th of November with a treaty signed. It was too late. The army stationed at St. Albans sent in a remonstrance to Parliament, calling upon them to bring the king to trial, and stating that if Parliament neglected its duty the army would take the matter into its own hands. This remonstrance caused great excitement in the Commons. No steps were taken upon it however, and the Commons proceeded to discuss the treaty, and voted that the king's concessions were sufficient. On the 29th a body of soldiers went across to the Isle of Wight, surrounded the king's house, seized him and carried him to Hurst Castle. The next day Parliament voted that they would not debate the remonstrance of the army, and in reply the army at Windsor marched on the 2d of December into London. On the 5th the Commons debated all day upon the treaty.
Prynne, formerly one of the stanchest opposers of King Charles, spoke with others strongly in his favor, and it was carried by a hundred and twenty-nine to thirty-eight. The same day some of the leaders of the army met, and determined to expel from the house all those opposed to their interests. On the 7th the Trained Bands of the city were withdrawn from around the House, and Colonel Pride with his regiment of foot surrounded it. As the members arrived forty-one of them were turned back. The same process was repeated on the two following days, until over a hundred members had been arrested. Thus the army performed a revolution such as no English sovereign has dared to carry out. After this it is idle to talk of the Parliament as in any way representing the English people. The representatives who supported the king had long since left it. The whole of the moderate portion of those who had opposed him, that is to say, those who had fought to support the liberties of Englishmen against encroachments by the king, and who formed the majority after the Royalists had retired, were now expelled; there remained only a small body of fanatics devoted to the interests of the army, and determined to crush out all liberties of England under its armed heel. This was the body before whom the king was ere long to undergo the mockery of a trial.
King Charles was taken to Hurst Castle on the 17th of December, and three days later carried to Windsor. On the 2d of January, 1649, the Commons voted that in making war against the Parliament the king had been guilty of treason, and should be tried by a court of a hundred and fifty commissioners. The Peers rejected the bill, and the Commons then voted that neither the assent of the Peers nor the king was necessary for a law passed by themselves.
All the encroachments of King Charles together were as nothing to this usurpation of despotic power.
In consequence of the conduct of the Peers, the number of commissioners was reduced to a hundred and thirty-five; but of these only sixty-nine assembled at the trial. Thus the court which was to try the king consisted only of those who were already pledged to destroy him. Before such a court as this there could be but one end to the trial. When, after deciding upon their sentence, the king was brought in to hear it, the chief commissioner told him that the charges were brought against him in the name of the people of England, when Lady Fairfax from the gallery cried out, "It's a lie! Not one-half of them." Had she said not one hundredth of them, she would have been within the mark.
On the 27th sentence was pronounced. On the 29th the court signed the sentence, which was to be carried out on the following day.
From the time when Harry Furness left Brentwood at the end of August until the king was brought to London, he had lived quietly at Southampton. He feared to return home, and chose this port as his residence, in order that he might, if necessary, cross into France at short notice. When the news came that the king had been brought up from Windsor, Harry and his friends at once rode to London, Every one was so absorbed in the great trial about to take place that Harry had little fear of attracting attention or of being molested should any one recognize in the young gentleman in sober attire the rustic who had led the rising in the spring. To London, too, came many other Cavaliers from all parts of the country, eager to see if something might not be attempted to rescue the king. Throughout London the consternation was great at the usurpation by the remnant of the Commons of all the rights of the Three Estates, and still more, at the trial of the king. The army, however, lay in and about London, and, with Cromwell at its head, it would, the people felt, easily crush out any attempt at a rising in the city. Within a few hours of his arrival in London, Harry saw that there was no hope from any effort in this direction, and that the only possible chance of saving the king was by his arranging for his escape. His majesty, on his arrival from Windsor, had been lodged in St. James' Palace, and as this was completely surrounded by the Roundhead troops, there was no chance of effecting an invasion thence. The only possible plan appeared to be a sudden attack upon his guards on his way to execution.
Harry gathered round him a party of thirty Cavaliers, all men ready like himself to sacrifice their lives for the king. Their plan was to gather near Whitehall, where the execution was to take place, to burst through the soldiers lining the way, to cut down the guards, and carry the king to a boat in readiness behind Whitehall, This was to convey him across to Lambeth, where fleet horses were to be stationed, which would take him down to the Essex coast.
The plan was a desperate one, but it might possibly have succeeded, could the Cavaliers have gained the position which they wished. The whole of the army was, however, placed in the streets and passages leading to Whitehall, and between that place and the city the cavalry were drawn up, preventing any from coming in or going out. When they found that this was the case, the Cavaliers in despair mounted their horses, and rode into the country, with their hearts filled with grief and rage.
On the 30th, an hour after the king's execution, proclamation was made that whoever should proclaim a new king would be deemed a traitor, and a week later, the Commons, now reduced to a hundred members, formally abolished the House of Peers. A little later Lord Capel, Lord Holland, and the Duke of Hamilton were executed.
Had the king effected his escape, Harry Furness had determined to return to Abingdon and live quietly at home, believing that now the army had grasped all power, and crushed all opposition, it was probable that they would abstain from exciting further popular animosity by the persecution of those who had fought against them. The fury, however, excited in his mind by the murder of the king after the mockery of a trial, determined him to fight to the last, wherever a rising might be offered, however hopeless a success that rising might appear. He would not, however, suffer Jacob and William Long any longer to follow his fortunes, although they earnestly pleaded to do so. "I have no hope of success," he said. "I am ready to die, but I will not bring you to that strait. I have written to my father begging him, Jacob, to receive you as his friend and companion, and to do what he can, William, to assist you in whatever mode of life your wishes may hereafter lead you to adopt. But come with me you shall not."
Not without tears did Harry's faithful companions yield themselves to his will, and set out for Abingdon, while he, with eight or ten comrades as determined as himself, kept on west until they arrived at Bristol, where they took ship and crossed to Ireland. They landed at Waterford, and journeyed north until they reached the army, with which the Marquis of Ormonde was besieging Dublin. Nothing that Harry had seen of war in England prepared him in any way for the horrors which he beheld in Ireland. The great mass of the people there were at that time but a few degrees advanced above savages, and they carried on their war with a brutal cruelty and bloodshed which could now only be rivaled in the center of Africa. Between the Protestants and the English and Scotch settlers on the one hand, and the wild peasantry on the other, a war of something like extermination went on. Wholesale massacres took place, at which men, women, and children were indiscriminately butchered, the ferocity shown being as great upon one side as the other. In fact, beyond the possession of a few large towns, Ireland had no claim whatever to be considered a civilized country. As Harry and his comrades rode from Waterford they beheld everywhere ruined fields and burned houses; and on joining the army of the Marquis of Ormonde, Harry felt even more strongly than before the hopelessness of the struggle on which he was engaged. These bands of wild, half-clad kernes, armed with pike and billhook, might be brave indeed, but could do nothing against the disciplined soldiers of the Parliament. There were with Ormonde, indeed, better troops than these. Some of the companies were formed of English and Welsh Royalists. Others had been raised by the Catholic gentry of the west, and into these some sort of order and discipline had been introduced. The army, moreover, was deficient in artillery, and not more than one-third of the footmen carried firearms. Harry was, a day or two after reaching the camp of Lord Ormonde, sent off to the West to drill some of the newly-raised levies there. It was now six years since he had begun to take an active part in the war, and he was between twenty-one and twenty-two. His life of active exertion had strengthened his muscles, broadened his frame, and given a strength and vigor to his tall and powerful figure.
Foreseeing that the siege of Dublin was not likely to be successful, Harry accepted his commission to the West with pleasure. He felt already that with all his devotion to the Royalist cause he could not wish that the siege of Dublin should be successful; for he saw that the vast proportion of the besieging army were animated by no sense of loyalty, by no interest in the constitutional question at stake, but simply with a blind hatred of the Protestant population of Dublin, and that the capture of the city would probably be followed by the indiscriminate slaughter of its inhabitants.
He set out on his journey, furnished with letters from Ormonde to several influential gentlemen in Galway. The roads at first were fairly good, but accustomed to the comfortable inns in England, Harry found the resting-places along the road execrable. He was amused of an evening by the eagerness with which the people came round and asked for news from Dublin. In all parts of England the little sheets which then did service as newspapers carried news of the events which were taking place. It is true that none of the country population could read or write; but the alehouses served as centers of news. The village clerk, or, perhaps, the squire's bailiff, could read, as could probably the landlord, and thus the news spread quickly round the country. In Ireland news traveled only from mouth to mouth, often becoming strangely distorted on the way.
Harry was greatly struck by the bareness of the fields and the poverty of the country; and as he journeyed further west the country became still wilder and more lonely. It was seldom now that he met any one who could speak English, and as the road was often little more than a track, he had great difficulty in keeping his way, and regretted that he had not hired a servant knowing the country before leaving the army. He generally, however, was able to obtain a guide from village to village. The loneliness of the way, the wretchedness of the people, the absence of the brightness and comfort so characteristic of English life, made the journey an oppressive one, and Harry was glad when, five days after leaving Dublin, he approached the end of his ride. Upon this day he had taken no guide, being told that the road was clear and unmistakable as far as Galway.
He had not traveled many hours when a heavy mist set in, accompanied by a keen and driving rain, in his face. With his head bent down, Harry rode along, paying less attention than usual to his way. The mist grew thicker and thicker. The horse no longer proceeded at a brisk pace, and presently came to a stop. Harry dismounted, and discovered that he had left the road, Turning his horse's head, and taking the reins over his arm, he tried to retrace his steps.
For an hour he walked along, the conviction growing every moment that he was hopelessly lost. The ground was now soft and miry and was covered with tussocks of coarse grass, between which the soil was black and oozy. The horse floundered on for some distance, but with such increasing difficulty that, upon reaching a space of comparatively solid ground, Harry decided to take him no further.
The cold rain chilled him to the bone, and after awhile he determined to try and make his way forward on foot, in hopes of finding, if not a human habitation, some walls or bushes where he could obtain shelter until the weather cleared. He fastened the reins to a small shrub, took off the saddle and laid it on the grass, spread the horse rug over the animal to protect it as far as possible, and then started on his way. He had heard of Irish bogs extending for many miles, and deep enough to engulf men and animals who might stray among them, and he felt that his position was a serious one.
He blamed himself now for not having halted immediately he perceived that he had missed the road. The only guide that he had as to the direction he should take was the wind. On his way it had been in his face, and he determined now to keep it at his back, not because that was probably the way to safety, but because he could see more easily where he was going, and he thought by continuing steadily in one direction he might at last gain firm ground. His view extended but a few yards round him, and he soon found that his plan of proceeding in a straight line was impracticable. Often quagmires of black ooze, or spaces covered with light grass, which were, he found, still more treacherous, barred his way, and he was compelled to make considerable detours to the right or left in order to pass them. Sometimes widths of sluggish water were met with. For a long time Harry continued his way, leaping lightly from tuft to tuft, where the grass grew thickest, sometimes wading knee-deep in the slush and feeling carefully every foot lest he should get to a depth whence he should be unable to extricate himself. Every now and then he shouted at the top of his voice, in hopes that he might be heard by some human being. For hours he struggled on. He was now exhausted with his efforts, and the thickening darkness told him that day was fading. From the time he had left his horse he had met with no bush of sufficient height to afford him the slightest shelter.
Just as he was thinking whether he had not better stop where he was, and sit down on the firmest tuft he could find and wait for morning, when perhaps the rainstorm might cease and enable him to see where he was, he heard, and at no very great distance, the sudden bray of a donkey. He turned at once in the direction of the sound, with renewed hopes, giving a loud shout as he did so. Again and again he raised his voice, and presently heard an answering shout. He called again, and in reply heard some shouts in Irish, probably questions, but to these he could give no answer. Shouting occasionally, he made his way toward the voice, but the bog seemed more difficult and treacherous than ever, and at last he reached a spot where further advance seemed absolutely impossible. It was now nearly dark, and Harry was about to sit down in despair, when suddenly a voice sounded close to him. He answered again, and immediately a barefooted boy sprang to his side from behind. The boy stood astonished at Harry's appearance. The latter was splashed and smeared from head to foot with black mire, for he had several times fallen. His broad hat drooped a sodden mass over his shoulders, the dripping feather adding to its forlorn appearance. His high riding boots were gone, having long since been abandoned in the tenacious ooze in which they had stuck; his ringlets fell in wisps on his shoulder.
After staring at him for a minute, the boy said something in Irish. Harry shook his head.
His guide then motioned him to follow him. For some time it seemed to Harry that he was retracing his steps. Then they turned, and by what seemed a long detour, at last reached firmer ground. A minute or two later they were walking along a path, and presently stopped before the door of a cabin, by which two men were standing. They exchanged a word or two with the boy, and then motioned to Harry to enter. A peat fire Was burning on the hearth, and a woman, whose age Harry from her aspect thought must be enormous, was crouched on a low stool beside it. He threw off his riding cloak and knelt by her, and held his hands over the fire to restore the circulation. One of the men lighted a candle formed of rushes dipped in tallow. Harry paid no heed to them until he felt the warmth returning to his limbs. Then he rose to his feet and addressed them in English. They shook their heads. Perceiving how wet he was one of them drew a bottle from under the thatch, and pouring some of its contents into a wooden cup offered it to him. Harry put it to his lips. At first it seemed that he was drinking a mixture of liquid fire and smoke, and the first swallow nearly choked him. However he persevered, and soon felt the blood coursing more rapidly in his veins. Finding the impossibilty of conversing, he again sat down by the fire and waited the course of events. He had observed that as he entered his young guide had, in obedience probably to the orders of one of the men, darted away into the mist.
The minutes passed slowly, and not a word was spoken in the cottage. An hour went by, and then a tramp of feet was heard, and, accompanied by the boy, eight or ten men entered. All carried pikes. Between them and the men already in the hut an eager conversation took place. Harry felt far from easy. The aspect of the men was wild in the extreme. Their hair was long and unkempt, and fell in straggling masses over their shoulders. Presently one, who appeared to be the leader, approached Harry, who had now risen to his feet, and crossed himself on the forehead and breast. Harry understood by the action that he inquired if he was a Catholic, and in reply shook his head.
An angry murmur ran through the men. Harry repressed his inclination to place his hand on his pistols, which he had on alighting from his horse taken from the holsters and placed in his belt. He felt that even with these and his sword, he should be no match for the men around him. Then he bethought of the letters of which he was a bearer. Taking them from his pocket he held them out. "Ormonde," he said, looking at the men.
No gleam of intelligence brightened their faces at the word.
Then he said "Butler," the Irish family name of the earl. Two or three of the men spoke together, and Harry thought that there was some comprehension of his meaning. Then he read aloud the addresses of the letters, and the exclamations which followed each named showed that these were familiar to the men. A lively conversation took place between them, and the leader presently approached and held out his hand.
"Thomas Blake, Killicuddery," he said. This was the address of one of the letters, and Harry at once gave it him. It was handed to the boy, with a few words of instruction. The lad at once left the hut. The men seemed to think that for the time there was nothing more to be done, laid their pikes against the wall, and assumed, Harry thought, a more friendly aspect. He reciprocated their action, by unbuckling his belt and laying aside his sword and pistols. Fresh peats were piled on the fire, another candle was lit, and the party prepared to make themselves comfortable. The bottle and wooden cup were again produced, and the owner of the hut offered some black bread to his visitor.