Chapter III. A Brawl at Oxford.
 

News in those days traveled but slowly, and England was full of conflicting rumors as to the doings of the two armies. Every one was unsettled. Bodies of men moving to join one or other of the parties kept the country in an uproar, and the Cavaliers, or rather the toughs of the towns calling themselves Cavaliers, brought much odium upon the royal cause by the ill-treatment of harmless citizens, and by raids on inoffensive country people. Later on this conduct was to be reversed and the Royalists were to suffer tenfold the outrages now put upon the Puritans. But there can be no doubt that the conduct of irresponsible ruffians at that time did much to turn the flood of public opinion in many places, where it would otherwise have remained neutral, against the crown.

To Harry the time passed but slowly. He spent his days in Abingdon hearing the latest news, and occasionally rode over to Oxford. This city was throughout the civil war the heart of the Royalist party, and its loss was one of the heaviest blows which befell the crown. Here Harry found none but favorable reports current. Enthusiasm was at its height. The university was even more loyal than the town, and bands of lads smashed the windows of those persons who were supposed to favor the Parliament. More than once Harry saw men pursued through the streets, pelted with stones and mud, and in some cases escaping barely with their lives. Upon one occasion, seeing a person in black garments and of respectable appearance so treated, the boy's indignation was aroused, for he himself, both from his conversations with his friend Herbert, and the talk with his father, was, although enthusiastically Royalist, yet inclined to view with respect those who held opposite opinions.

"Run down that alley!" he exclaimed, pushing his horse between the fugitive and his pursuers.

The man darted down the lane, and Harry placed himself at the entrance, and shouted to the rabble to abstain.

A yell of rage and indignation replied, and a volley of stones was thrown. Harry fearlessly drew his sword, and cut at some of those who were in the foreground. These retaliated with sticks, and Harry was forced backward into the lane. This was too narrow to enable him to turn, his horse, and his position was a critical one. Finding that he was a mark for stones, he leaped from the saddle, thereby disappearing from the sight of those in the ranks behind, and sword in hand, barred the way to the foremost of his assailants. The contest, however, would have been brief had not a party of young students come up the lane, and seeing from Harry's attire that he was a gentleman, and likely to be of Cavalier opinions, they at once, without inquiring the cause of the fray, threw themselves into it, shouting "Gown! gown!" They speedily drove the assailants back out of the lane; but these, reinforced by the great body beyond, were then too strong for them. The shouts of the young men, however, brought up others to their assistance, and a general melee took place, townsmen and gownsmen throwing themselves into the fray without any inquiry as to the circumstances from which it arose. The young students carried swords, which, although contrary to the statutes of the university, were for the time generally adopted. The townspeople were armed with bludgeons, and in some cases with hangers, and the fray was becoming a serious one, when it was abruptly terminated by the arrival of a troop of horse, which happened to be coming into the town to join the royal forces. The officer in command, seeing so desperate a tumult raging, ordered his men to charge into the crowd, and their interference speedily put an end to the fight.

Harry returned to their rooms with some of his protectors and their wounds were bound up, and the circumstances of the fight were talked over. Harry was much blamed by the college men when he said that he had been drawn into the fray by protecting a Puritan. But when his new friends learned that he was as thoroughly Royalist as themselves, and that his father had gone with a troop to Nottingham, they took a more favorable view of his action, but still assured him that it was the height of folly to interfere to protect a rebel from the anger of the townspeople.

"But, methinks," Harry said, "that it were unwise in the extreme to push matters so far here. In Oxford the Royalists have it all their own way, and can, of course, at will assault their Puritan neighbors. But it is different in most other towns. There the Roundheads have the upper hand and might retort by doing ill to the Cavaliers there. Surely it were better to keep these unhappy differences out of private life, and to trust the arbitration of our cause to the arms of our soldiers in the field."

There was a general agreement that this would indeed be the wisest course; but the young fellows were of opinion that hot heads on either side would have their way, and that if the war went on attacks of this kind by the one party on the other must be looked for.

Harry remained for some time with his friends in Christ church, drinking the beer for which the college was famous. Then, mounting his horse, he rode back to Abingdon.

Two days later, as he was proceeding toward the town, he met a man dressed as a preacher.

"Young sir," the latter said, "may I ask if you are Master Furness?"

"I am," the lad replied.

"Then it is to you I am indebted for my rescue from those who assaulted me in the streets of Oxford last week. In the confusion I could not see your face, but I inquired afterward, and was told that my preserver was Master Furness, and have come over to thank you for your courtesy and bravery in thus intervening on behalf of one whom I think you regard as an enemy, for I understand that Sir Henry, your father, has declared for the crown."

"I acted," Harry said, "simply on the impulse of humanity, and hold it mean and cowardly for a number of men to fall upon one."

"We are," the preacher continued, "at the beginning only of our troubles, and the time may come when I, Zachariah Stubbs, may be able to return to you the good service which you have done me. Believe me, young sir, the feeling throughout England is strong for the Commons, and that it will not be crushed out, as some men suppose, even should the king's men gain a great victory over Essex--which, methinks, is not likely. There are tens of thousands throughout the country who are now content to remain quiet at home, who would assuredly draw the sword and go forth to battle, should they consider their cause in danger. The good work has begun, and the sword will not be sheathed until the oppressor is laid low."

"We should differ who the oppressor is," Harry replied coldly. "I myself am young to discuss these matters, but my father and those who think with him consider that the oppression is at present on the side of the Commons, and of those whose religious views you share. While pretending to wish to be free, you endeavor to bind others beneath your tyranny. While wishing to worship in your way unmolested, you molest those who wish to worship in theirs. However, I thank you for your offer, that should the time come your good services will be at my disposal. As you say, the issue of the conflict is dark, and it may be, though I trust it will not, that some day you may, if you will, return the light service which I rendered you."

"You will not forget my name?" the preacher said--"Zachariah Stubbs, a humble instrument of the Lord, and a preacher in the Independent chapel at Oxford. Thither I cannot return, and am on my way to London, where I have many friends, and where I doubt not a charge will be found for me. I myself belong to the east countries, where the people are strong for the Lord, and I doubt not that some of those I know will come to the front of affairs, in which case my influence may perhaps be of more service than you can suppose at present. Farewell, young sir, and whatever be the issues of this struggle, I trust that you may safely emerge from them."

The man lifted his broad black hat, and went on his way, and Harry rode forward, smiling a little to himself at the promise given him.

The time passed slowly, and all kinds of rumors filled the land. At length beacon fires were seen to blaze upon the hills, and, as it was known that the Puritans had arranged with Essex that the news of a victory was so to be conveyed to London, the hearts of the Royalists sank, for they feared that disaster had befallen their cause. The next day, however, horsemen of the Parliament galloping through the country proclaimed that they had been defeated; but it was not till next day that the true state of affairs became known. Then the news came that the battle had indeed been a drawn one.

On the 26th of October Charles marched with his army into Oxford. So complete was the ignorance of the inhabitants as to the movements of the armies that at Abingdon the news of his coming was unknown, and Harry was astonished on the morning of the 27th at hearing a great trampling of horsemen. Looking out, he beheld his father at the head of the troop, approaching the house. With a shout of joy the lad rushed downstairs and met his father at the entrance.

"I did not look to be back so soon, Harry," Sir Henry said, as he alighted from his horse. "We arrived at Oxford last night, and I am sent on with my troop to see that no Parliament bands are lurking in the neighborhood."

Before entering the house the colonel dismissed his troop, telling them that until the afternoon they could return to their homes, but must then re-assemble and hold themselves in readiness to advance, should he receive further orders. Then, accompanied by his officers, he entered the house. Breakfast was speedily prepared, and when this was done justice to Sir Henry proceeded to relate to Harry, who was burning with impatience to hear his news, the story of the battle of Edgehill.

"We reached Shrewsbury, as I wrote you," he said, "and stayed there twenty days, and during that time the army swelled and many nobles and gentlemen joined us. We were, however, it must be owned, but a motley throng. The foot soldiers, indeed, were mostly armed with muskets; but many had only sticks and cudgels. On the 12th we moved to Wolverhampton, and so on through Birmingham and Kenilworth. We saw nothing of the rebels till we met at Edgecot, a little hamlet near Banbury, where we took post on a hill, the rebels being opposite to us. It must be owned," Sir Henry went on, "that things here did not promise well. There were dissensions between Prince Rupert, who commanded the cavalry, and Lord Lindsey, the general in chief, who is able and of great courage, but hot-headed and fiery. In the morning it was determined to engage, as Essex's forces had not all come up, and the king's troops were at least as numerous as those of the enemy. We saw little of the fighting, for at the commencement of the battle we got word to charge upon the enemy's left. We made but short work of them, and drove them headlong from the field, chasing them in great disorder for three miles, and taking much plunder in Kineton among the Parliament baggage-wagons. Thinking that the fight was over, we then prepared to ride back. When we came to the field we found that all was changed. The main body of the Roundheads had pressed hotly upon ours and had driven them back. Lord Lindsey himself, who had gone into the battle at the head of the pikemen carrying a pike himself like a common soldier, had been mortally wounded and taken prisoner, and grievous slaughter had been inflicted. The king's standard itself had been taken, but this had been happily recovered, for two Royalist officers, putting on orange scarfs, rode into the middle of the Roundheads, and pretending that they were sent by Essex, demanded the flag from his secretary, to whom it had been intrusted. The scrivener gave it up, and the officers, seizing it, rode through the enemy and recovered their ranks. There was much confusion and no little angry discussion in the camp that night, the footmen accusing the horsemen of having deserted them, and the horsemen grumbling at the foot, because they had not done their work as well as themselves. In the morning the two armies still faced each other, neither being willing to budge a foot, although neither cared to renew the battle. The rest of the Parliamentary forces had arrived, and they might have struck us a heavy blow had they been minded, for there was much discouragement in our ranks. Lord Essex, however, after waiting a day and burying his dead, drew off from the field, and we, remaining there, were able to claim the victory, which, however, my son, was one of a kind which was scarce worth winning. It was a sad sight to see so many men stretched stark and dead, and these killed, not in fighting with a foreign foe, but with other Englishmen. It made us all mightily sad, and if at that moment Lord Essex had had full power from the Parliament to treat, methinks that the quarrel could have been settled, all being mightily sick of such kind of fighting."

"What is going to be done now, father?" Harry asked.

"We are going to move forward toward London. Essex is moving parallel with us, and will try to get there first. From what we hear from our friends in the city, there are great numbers of moderate men will be glad to see the king back, and to agree to make an end of this direful business. The zealots and preachers will of course oppose them. But when we arrive, we trust that our countenance will enable our friends to make a good front, and to overcome the opposition of the Puritans. We expect that in a few days we shall meet with offers to treat. But whether or no, I hope that the king will soon be lodged again in his palace at Whitehall."

"And do you think that there will be any fighting, sir?"

"I think not. I sincerely hope not," the colonel said.

"Then if you think that there will only be a peaceable entry, will you not let me ride with you? It will be a brave sight to see the king enter London again; one to tell of all one's life."

The colonel made no reply for a minute or two.

"Well, Harry, I will not say you nay," he said at length. "Scenes of broils and civil war are not for lads of your age. But, as you say, it would be a thing to talk of to old age how you rode after the king when he entered London in state. But mind, if there be fighting, you must rein back and keep out of it."

Harry was overjoyed with the permission, for in truth time had hung heavily on his hands since the colonel had ridden away. His companionship with Herbert had ceased, for although the lads pressed hands warmly when they met in Abingdon, both felt that while any day might bring news of the triumph of one party or the other, it was impossible that they could hold any warm intercourse with each other. The school was closed, for the boys of course took sides, and so much ill-will was caused that it was felt best to put a stop to it by closing the doors. Harry therefore had been left entirely upon his own resources, and although he had ridden about among the tenants and, so far as he could, supplied his father's place, the time often hung heavy on his hands, especially during the long hours of the evening. After thanking his father for his kindness, he rushed wildly off to order his horse to be prepared for him to accompany the troop, to re-burnish the arms which he had already chosen as fitting him from the armory, and to make what few preparations were necessary for the journey.

It was some days, however, before any move was made. The king was occupied in raising money, being sorely crippled by want of funds, as well as of arms and munitions of war. At the beginning of November the advance was made, Sir Henry with his troop joining Prince Rupert, and advancing through Reading without opposition as far as Maidenhead, where he fixed his quarters. Two days later he learned that Essex had arrived with his army in London. On the 11th King Charles was at Colnbrook. Here he received a deputation from the Houses of Parliament, who proposed that the king should pause in his advance until committees of both Houses should attend him with propositions "for the removal of these bloody distempers and distractions." The king received the deputation favorably, and said that he would stop at Windsor, and there receive the propositions which might be sent him.

Unfortunately, however, the hopes which were now entertained that peace would be restored, were dashed to the ground by an action which was ascribed by the Royalists to the hotheadedness of Prince Rupert, but which the king's enemies affirmed was due to the duplicity of his majesty himself. On this point there is no evidence. But it is certain that the advance made after this deputation had been received rendered all further negotiation impossible, as it inspired the Commons with the greatest distrust, and enabled the violent portion always to feign a doubt of the king's word, and great fears as to the keeping of any terms which might be made, and so to act upon the timid and wavering. The very day after the deputation had left, bearing the news to London of the king's readiness to treat, and inspiring all there with hope of peace, Prince Rupert, taking advantage of a very thick mist, marched his cavalry to within half a mile of the town of Brentford before his advance was discovered, designing to surprise the train of artillery at Hammersmith and to push on and seize the Commons and the city.

The design might have been successful, for the exploits of Rupert's horse at the battle of Edgehill had struck terror into the minds of the enemy. In the town of Brentford, however, were lodged a regiment of foot, under Hollis, and these prepared manfully to resist. Very valiantly the prince, followed by his horse, charged into the streets of Brentford, where the houses were barricaded by the foot soldiers, who shot boldly against them. Many were killed, and for three hours the contest was resolutely maintained. The streets had been barricaded, and Prince Rupert's men fought at great disadvantage. At length, as evening approached, and the main body of the Cavaliers came up, the Parliament men gave way, and were driven from the town. Many were taken prisoners, and others driven into the river, the greater portion, however, making their way in boats safely down the stream. The delay which their sturdy resistance had made saved the city. Hampden was bringing his men across from Acton. Essex had marched from Chelsea Fields to Turnham Green, and the road was now blocked. After it was dark the Train-Bands advanced, and the Parliament regiments, reinforced by them, pushed on to Brentford again; the Royalists, finding that the place could not be held, fell back to the king's quarters at Hounslow.

The chroniclers describe how wild a scene of confusion reigned in London that evening. Proclamations were issued ordering all men to take up arms; shops were closed, the apprentice boys mustered in the ranks, and citizens poured out like one man to defend the town. They encamped upon the road, and the next day great trains of provisions sent by the wives of the merchants and traders reached them, and as many came out to see the forces, the scene along the road resembled a great fair.

In this fight at Brentford Harry Furness was engaged. The Royalists had anticipated no resistance here, not knowing that Hollis held the place, and Sir Henry did not think of ordering Harry to remain behind. At the moment when it was found that Hollis was in force and the trumpets sounded the charge, the lad was riding in the rear of the troop, talking to one of the officers, and his father could take no step to prevent his joining. Therefore, when the trumpets sounded and the troops started off at full gallop toward the town, Harry, greatly exulting in his good luck, fell in with them and rode down the streets of Brentford. The musketry fire was brisk, and many of the troop rolled from their horses. Presently they were dismounted and ordered to take the houses by storm. With the hilts of their swords they broke in the doors, and there was fierce lighting within.

Harry, who was rather bewildered with the din and turmoil of the fight, did as the rest, and followed two or three of the men into one of the houses, whose door had been broken open. They were assailed as they entered by a fire of musketry from the Parliament men within. Those in front fell, and Harry was knocked down by the butt of a pike.

When he recovered he found himself in a boat drifting down the stream, a prisoner of the Roundheads.

For a long time Harry could hear the sounds of the guns and cannon at Brentford, and looking round at the quiet villages which they passed on the banks, could scarce believe that he had been engaged in a battle and was now a prisoner. But little was said to him. The men were smarting under their defeat and indulged in the bitterest language at the treachery with which, after negotiations had been agreed upon, the advance of the Royalists had been made. They speedily discovered the youth of their captive, and, after telling him brutally that he would probably be hung when he got to London, they paid no further attention to him. The boat was heavily laden, and rowed by two oars, and the journey down was a long one, for the tide met them when at the village of Hammersmith, and they were forced to remain tied up to a tree by the bank until it turned again. This it did not do until far in the night, and the morning was just breaking when they reached London.

It was perhaps well for Harry that they arrived in the dark, for in the excited state of the temper of the citizens, and their anger at the treachery which had been practiced, it might have fared but badly with him. He was marched along the Strand to the city, and was consigned to a lock-up in Finsbury, until it could be settled what should be done to him. In fact, the next day his career was nearly being terminated, for John Lilburn, a captain of the Train Bands, who had been an apprentice and imprisoned for contumacy, had been captured at Brentford, and after being tried for his life, was sentenced to death as a rebel. Essex, however, sent in word to the Royalist camp that for every one of the Parliament officers put to death, he would hang three Royalist prisoners. This threat had its effect, and Harry remained in ignorance of the danger which had threatened him.

The greatest inconvenience which befell him was that he was obliged to listen to all sorts of long harangues upon the part of the Puritan soldiers who were his jailers. These treated him as a misguided lad, and did their best to convert him from the evil of his ways. At last Harry lost his temper, and said that if they wanted to hang him, they might; but that he would rather put up with that than the long sermons which they were in the habit of delivering to him. Indignant at this rejection of their good offices, they left him to himself, and days passed without his receiving any visit save that of the soldier who brought his meals.