Chapter IV. Breaking Prison.
 

Harry's place of confinement was a cell leading off a guardroom of the Train Bands. Occasionally the door was left open, as some five or six men were always there, and Harry could see through the open door the citizens of London training at arms. Several preachers were in the habit of coming each day to discourse to those on guard, and so while away the time, and upon these occasions the door was generally left open, in order that the prisoner might be edified by the sermons. Upon one occasion the preacher, a small, sallow-visaged man, looked into the cell at the termination of his discourse, and seeing Harry asleep on his truckle bed, awoke him, and lectured him severely on the wickedness of allowing such precious opportunities to pass. After this he made a point of coming in each day when he had addressed the guard, and of offering up a long and very tedious prayer on behalf of the young reprobate. These preachings and prayings nearly drove Harry out of his mind. Confinement was bad enough; but confinement tempered by a course of continual sermons, delivered mostly through the nose, was a terrible infliction. At last the thought presented itself to him that he might manage to effect his escape in the garb of the preacher. He thought the details over and over in his mind, and at last determined at any rate to attempt to carry them into execution.

One day he noticed, when the door opened for the entry of the preacher, that a parade of unusual magnitude was being held in the drill yard, some officer of importance having come down to inspect the Train Band. There were but four men left in the guardroom and these were occupied in gazing out of the window. The preacher came direct into the cell, as his audience in the guardroom for once were not disposed to listen to him, and shutting the door behind him, he addressed a few words of exhortation to Harry, and then, closing his eyes, began a long prayer. When he was fairly under way, Harry sprang upon him, grasping him by the throat with both hands, and forced him back upon the bed. The little preacher was too much surprised to offer the smallest resistance, and Harry, who had drawn out the cords used in supporting the sacking of the bed, bound him hand and foot, keeping, while he did so, the pillow across his face, and his weight on the top of the pillow, thereby nearly putting a stop to the preacher's prayers and exhortations for all time. Having safely bound him, and finding that he did not struggle in the least, Harry removed the pillow, and was horrified to see his prisoner black in the face. He had, however, no time for regret or inquiry how far the man had gone, and stuffing a handkerchief into his mouth, to prevent his giving any alarm should he recover breath enough to do so, Harry placed his high steeple hat upon his head, his Geneva bands round his throat, and his long black mantle over his shoulders. He then opened the door and walked quietly forth. The guards were too much occupied with the proceedings in the parade ground to do more than glance round, as the apparent preacher departed. Harry strode with a long and very stiff step, and with his figure bolt upright, to the gate of the parade ground, and then passing through the crowd who were standing there gaping at the proceedings within, he issued forth a free man.

For awhile he walked at a brisk pace, and then, feeling secure from pursuit, slackened his speed; keeping westward through the city, he passed along the Strand and out into the country beyond. He wore his beaver well down over his eyes, and walked with his head down as if meditating deeply, in order to prevent any passers-by from observing the youthfulness of his face. When he arrived at the village of Chelsea, he saw, in front of a gentleman's house, a horse hitched up to a hook placed there for that purpose. Conceiving that for a long journey four legs are much more useful than two, and that when he got beyond the confines of London he should attract less suspicion upon a horse than if striding alone along the road, he took the liberty of mounting it and riding off. When he had gone a short distance he heard loud shouts; but thinking these in no way to concern him, he rode on the faster, and was soon beyond the sound of the voices. He now took a northerly direction, traveled through Kensington, and then keeping east of Acton, where he knew that some Parliament troops were quartered, he rode for the village of Harrow. He was aware that the Royalists had fallen back to Oxford, and that the Parliament troops were at Reading. He therefore made to the northwest, intending to circuit round and so reach Oxford. He did not venture to go to an inn, for although, as a rule, the keepers of these places were, being jovial men, in no way affected toward the Commons, yet he feared meeting there persons who might question and detain him. He obtained some provision at a small village shop, in which he saw a buxom woman standing behind her counter. She appeared vastly surprised when he entered and asked for a manchet of bread, for the contrast between his ruddy countenance and his Puritan hat and bands was so striking that they could not fail to be noticed. The good woman looked indeed too astonished to be able to attend to Harry's request, and he was obliged to say, "Mother, time presses, and I care not to be caught loitering here."

Divining at once that he was acting a part, and probably endeavoring to escape the pursuit of the Commons, the good woman at once served him with bread and some slices of ham, and putting these in the wallets of the saddle, he rode on.

The next morning, in riding through the village of Wickham, his career was nearly arrested. Just as he passed a sergeant followed by three or four Parliament soldiers came out from an inn, and seeing Harry riding past, addressed him:

"Sir, will it please you to alight, and to offer up a few words of exhortation and prayer?"

Harry muttered something about pressing business. But in his sudden surprise he had not time to think of assuming either the nasal drone or the scriptural words peculiar to these black-coated gentry. Struck by his tone, the sergeant sprang forward and seized his bridle.

"Whom have we here?" he said; "a lad masquerading in the dress of a preacher. This must be explained, young sir."

"Sergeant," Harry said, "I doubt not that thou art a good fellow, and not one to get a lad in a scrape. I am the son of a London citizen; but he and my mother are at present greatly more occupied with the state of their souls than with the carrying on of their carnal business. Being young, the constant offering up of prayers and exhortations has vexed me almost to desperation, and yesterday, while the good preacher who attends then was in the midst of the third hour of his discourse I stole downstairs, and borrowing his hat and cloak, together with his horse, determined to set out to join my uncle, who is a farmer down in Gloucestershire, and where in sooth the companionship of his daughters--girls of my own age--suits my disposition greatly better than that of the excellent men with whom my father consorts."

The soldiers laughed, and the sergeant, who was not at heart a bad fellow, said:

"I fear, my young sir, that your disposition is a godless one, and that it would have been far better for you to have remained under the ministration of the good man whose hat you are wearing than to have sought the society of your pretty cousins. However, I do not know but that in the unregenerate days of my own youth I might not have attempted an escapade like yours. I trust," he continued, "you are not tainted with the evil doctrines of the adherents of King Charles."

"In truth," Harry said, "I worry not my head with politics. I hear so much of them that I am fairly sick of the subject, and have not yet decided whether the Commons is composed of an assembly of men directly inspired with power for the regeneration of mankind, or whether King Charles be a demon in human shape. Methinks that when I grow old enough to bear arms it will be time enough for me to make up my mind against whom to use them. At present, a clothyard is the stick to which I am most accustomed, and as plows and harrows are greatly more in accord with my disposition, I hope that for a long time I shall not see the interior of a shop again; and I trust that the quarrels which have brought such trouble into this realm, and have well-nigh made my father and mother distraught, will at least favor my sojourn in the country, for I am sure that my father will not venture to traverse England for the sake of bringing me back again."

"I am not sure," the sergeant said, "that my duty would not be to arrest you and to send you back to London. But as, in truth, I have no instructions to hinder travelers, I must even let you go."

With a merry farewell to the group, and a laugh far more in accordance with his years than with the costume which he wore, Harry set spurs to his horse and again rode forward.

He met with no further adventure on the road. When he found by inquiries that he had passed the outposts of the Parliament forces, he joyfully threw the hat, the bands, and cloak into a ditch, for experience had taught him that, however useful as a passport they might be while still within the lines of the troops of the Commons, they would be likely to procure him but scant welcome when he entered those of the Royalists. Round Oxford the royal army were encamped, and Harry speedily discovered that his father was with his troop at his own place. Turning his head again eastward, he rode to Abingdon, and quickly afterward was at the hall.

The shout of welcome which the servitor who opened the door uttered when he saw him speedily brought his father to the entrance, and Sir Henry was overjoyed at seeing the son whom he believed to be in confinement in London. Harry's tale was soon told, and the colonel roared with laughter at the thought of his boy masquerading as a Puritan preacher.

"King Charles himself," he said, "might smile over your story, Harry; and in faith it takes a great deal to call up a smile into his majesty's face, which is, methinks a pity, for he would be more loved, and not less respected, did he, by his appearance and manner, do something to raise the spirits of those around him."

When once seated in the hall Harry inquired of his father what progress had been made since he was taken prisoner, for he had heard nothing from his guards.

"Things are as they were," his father said. "After our unfortunate advance we fell back hither, and for six weeks nothing was done. A fortnight since, on the 2d of January, a petition was brought by deputies from the Common Council of London, asking the king to return to the capital when all disturbance should be suppressed. King Charles, however, knew not that these gentlemen had the power to carry out their promises seeing that the seditious have the upper hand in the capital, and answered them to that effect. His answer was, however, methinks, far less conciliatory and prudent than it might have been, for it boots not to stir up men's minds unnecessarily, and with a few affectionate words the king might have strengthened his party in London. The result, however, was to lead to a fierce debate, in which Pym and Lord Manchester addressed the multitude, and stirred them up to indignation, and I fear that prospects of peace are further away than ever. In other respects there is good and bad news. Yorkshire and Cheshire, Devon and Cornwall, have all declared for the crown; but upon the other hand, in the east the prospects are most gloomy. There, the seven counties, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Herts, Lincoln, and Huntingdon, have joined themselves into an association, and the king's followers dare not lift their heads. At Lichfield, Lord Brook, a fierce opponent of bishops and cathedrals, while besieging a party of Cavaliers who had taken possession of the close, was shot in the eye and killed. These are the only incidents that have taken place."

For some weeks no event of importance occurred. On the 22d of February the queen, who had been absent on the Continent selling her jewels and endeavoring to raise a force, landed at Burlington, with four ships, having succeeded in evading the ships of war which the Commons had dispatched to cut her off, under the command of Admiral Batten. That night, however, the Parliament fleet arrived off the place, and opened fire upon the ships and village. The queen was in a house near the shore, and the balls struck in all directions round. She was forced to get up, throw on a few clothes, and retire on foot to some distance from the village to the shelter of a ditch, where she sat for two hours, the balls sometimes striking dust over them, and singing round in all directions. It was a question whether the small force which the queen brought with her was not rather a hindrance than an assistance to the royal cause, for the Earl of Newcastle, who had been sent to escort her to York, was authorized by the king to raise men for the service, without examining their consciences, that is to say, to receive Catholics as well as Protestants. The Parliament took advantage of this to style his army the Catholic Army, and this, and some tamperings with the Papists in Ireland, increased the popular belief that the king leaned toward Roman Catholicism, and thus heightened the feelings against him, and embittered the religious as well as the political quarrel.

Toward the end of March commissioners from the Parliament, under the Earl of Northumberland, came to Oxford with propositions to treat. It is questionable whether the offers of the Commons were sincere. But Charles, by his vacillation and hesitation, by yielding one day and retracting the next, gave them the opportunity of asserting, with some show of reason, that he was wholly insincere, and could not be trusted; and so the commission was recalled, and the war went on again.

On the 15th of April Parliament formally declared the negotiations to be at an end, and on that day Essex marched with his army to the siege of Reading. The place was fortified, and had a resolute garrison; but by some gross oversight no provisions or stores had been collected, and after an unsuccessful attempt to relieve the town, when the Royalist forces failed to carry the bridge at Caversham, they fell back upon Wallingford, and Reading surrendered. Meanwhile skirmishes were going on all over the country. Sir William Waller was successful against the Royalists in the south and west. In the north Lord Newcastle was opposed to Fairfax, and the result was doubtful; while in Cornwall the Royalists had gained a battle over the Parliament men under Lord Stamford.

Meanwhile, the king was endeavoring to create a party in the Parliament, and Lady Aubigny was intrusted with the negotiations. The plot was, however, discovered. Several members of Parliament were arrested, and two executed by orders of the Parliament.

Early in June Colonel Furness and his troop were called into Oxford, as it was considered probable that some expeditions would be undertaken, and on the 17th of that month Prince Rupert formed up his horse and sallied out against the outlying pickets and small troops of the Parliament. Several of these he surprised and cut up, and on the morning of the 19th reached Chalgrove Field, near Thame. Hampden was in command of a detachment of Parliamentary troops in this neighborhood, and sending word to Essex, who lay near, to come up to his assistance, attacked Prince Rupert's force. His men, however, could not stand against the charge of the Royalists. They were completely defeated, and Hampden, one of the noblest characters of his age, was shot through the shoulder. He managed to keep his horse, and ride across country to Thame, where he hoped to obtain medical assistance. After six days of pain he died there, and thus England lost the only man who could, in the days that were to come, have moderated, and perhaps defeated, the ambition of Cromwell.

Essex arrived upon the scene of battle a few minutes after the defeat of Hampden's force, and Prince Rupert fell back, and crossing the Thames returned to Oxford, having inflicted much damage upon the enemy.

Shortly after this event, one of the serving men rushed in to Harry with the news that a strong band of Parliament horse were within three or four miles of the place, and were approaching. Harry at once sent for the steward, and a dozen men were summoned in all haste. On their arrival they set to work to strip the hall of its most valued furniture. The pictures were taken down from the walls, the silver and plate tumbled into chests, the arms and armor worn by generations of the Furnesses removed from the armory, the choicest articles of furniture of a portable character put into carts, together with some twenty casks of the choicest wine in the cellars, and in four hours only the heavier furniture, the chairs and tables, buffets and heavy sideboards remained in their places.

Just as the carts were filled news came that the enemy had ridden into Abingdon. Night was now coming on, and the carts at once started with their contents for distant farms, where the plate and wine were to be buried in holes dug in copses, and other places little likely to be searched by the Puritans. The pictures and furniture were stowed away in lofts and covered deeply with hay.

Having seen the furniture sent off, Harry awaited the arrival of the Parliament bands, which he doubted not would be dispatched by the Puritans among the townspeople to the hall. The stables were already empty except for Rollo, Harry's own horse. This he had at once, the alarm being given, sent off to a farm a mile distant from the hall, and with it its saddle, bridle, and his arms, a brace of rare pistols, breast and back pieces, a steel cap with plumes, and his sword. It cost him an effort to part with the last, for he now carried it habitually. But he thought that it might be taken from him, and, moreover, he feared that he might be driven into drawing it, when the consequences might be serious, not only for himself, but for the mansion of which his father had left him in charge.

At nine a servitor came in to say that a party of men were riding up the drive. Harry seated himself in the colonel's armchair, and repeated to himself the determination at which he had arrived of being perfectly calm and collected, and of bearing himself with patience and dignity. Presently he heard the clatter of horses' hoofs in the courtyard, and two minutes later, the tramp of feet in the passage. The door opened, and an officer entered, followed by five or six soldiers.

This man was one of the worst types of Roundhead officers. He was a London draper, whose violent harangues had brought him into notice, and secured for him a commission in the raw levies when they were first raised. Harry rose as he entered.

"You are the son of the man who is master of this house?" the officer said roughly.

"I am his son and representative," Harry said calmly.

"I hear that he is a malignant fighting in the ranks of King Charles."

"My father is a colonel in the army of his gracious majesty the king," Harry said.

"You are an insolent young dog!" the captain exclaimed. "We will teach you manners," and rising from the seat into which he had thrown himself on entering the hall, he struck Harry heavily in the face.

The boy staggered back against the wall; then with a bound he snatched a sword from the hand of one of the troopers, and before the officer had time to recoil or throw up his hands, he smote him with all his force across the face. With a terrible cry the officer fell back, and Harry, throwing down the sword, leaped through the open window into the garden and dashed into the shrubberies, as half a dozen balls from the pistols of the astonished troopers whizzed about his head.

For a few minutes he ran at the top of his speed, as he heard shouts and pistol shots behind him. But he knew that in the darkness strangers would have no chance whatever of overtaking him, and he slackened his pace into a trot. As he ran he took himself to task for not having acted up to his resolution. But the reflection that his father would not disapprove of his having cut down the man who had struck him consoled him, and he kept on his way to the farm where he had left his horse. In other respects, he felt a wild delight at what had happened. There was nothing for him now but to join the Royal army, and his father could hardly object to his taking his place with the regiment.

"I wish I had fifty of them here," he thought to himself; "we would surround the hall, and pay these traitors dearly. As for their captain, I would hang him over the door with my own hands. The cowardly ruffian, to strike an unarmed boy! At any rate I have spoiled his beauty for him, for I pretty nearly cut his face in two, I shall know him by the scar if I ever meet him in battle, and then we will finish the quarrel.

"I shall not be able to see out of my right eye in the morning," he grumbled; "and shall be a nice figure when I ride into Oxford."

As he approached the farm he slackened his speed to a walk; and neared the house very carefully, for he thought it possible that one of the parties of the enemy might already have taken up his quarters there. The silence that reigned, broken by the loud barking of dogs as he came close, proved that no stranger had yet arrived, and he knocked loudly at the door. Presently an upper window was opened, and a woman's voice inquired who he was, and what he wanted.

"I am Harry Furness, Dame Arden," he said. "The Roundheads are at the hall, and I have sliced their captain's face; so I must be away with all speed. Please get the men up, and lose not a moment; I want my arms and horse."

The farmer's wife lost no time in arousing the house, and in a very few minutes all was ready. One man saddled the horse, while another buckled on Harry's breast and back pieces; and with a hearty good-by, and amid many prayers for his safety and speedy return with the king's troops, Harry rode off into the darkness. For awhile he rode cautiously, listening intently lest he might fall into the hands of some of the Roundhead bands. But all was quiet, and after placing another mile or two between himself and Abingdon, he concluded that he was safe, drew Rollo's reins tighter, pressed him with his knees, and started at full gallop for Oxford.