Friends, Though Divided by G. A. Henty
Chapter VII. In a Hot Place.
Making inquiries, Harry found that his father was living at a house in the college of Brazenose, and thither he made his way. Not a little surprised was the trooper, who was on guard before the door, to recognize his master's son in one of the two lads who, in the clothes of apprentices shrunk with water and stained with mud and travel, presented themselves before him. Harry ascended at once to Sir Henry's room, and the latter was delighted to see him again, for he had often feared that be had acted rashly in sending him to London. Harry briefly told his adventures, and introduced his friend Jacob to his father.
Sir Henry immediately sent for a clothier, and Harry was again made presentable; while a suit of serviceable clothes adapted to the position of a young gentleman of moderate means was obtained for Jacob. Then, accompanied by his son, Sir Henry went to the king's chambers, and informed his majesty of all that had happened. As, from the reports which had reached the king of the temper of the people of London, he had but small hope that anything would come of the attempt that was being made, he felt but little disappointed at hearing of the sudden return of his emissary. Harry was again asked in, and his majesty in a few words expressed to him his satisfaction at the zeal and prudence which he had shown, and at his safe return to court.
On leaving the king Harry awaited anxiously what his father would determine concerning his future, and was delighted when Sir Henry said, "It is now a year once these troubles began, Harry, and you have so far embarked upon them, that I fear you would find it difficult to return to your studies. You have proved yourself possessed of qualities which will enable you to make your way in the world, and I therefore think the time has come when you can take your place in the ranks. I shall ask of the king a commission for you as captain in my regiment, and as one of my officers has been killed you will take his place, and will have the command of a troop."
Harry was delighted at this intimation; and the following day received the king's commission.
A few days afterward he had again to ride over to Furness Hall, which was now shut up, to collect some rents, and as he returned through Abingdon he saw Lucy Rippinghall walking in the streets. Rather proud of his attire as a young cavalier in full arms, Harry dismounted and courteously saluted her.
"I should hardly have known you, Master Furness," she said. "You look so fierce in your iron harness, and so gay with your plumes and ribands. My brother would be glad to see you. My father as you know, is away. Will you not come in for a few minutes?"
Harry, after a few moments' hesitation, assented. Ha longed to see his old friend, and as the latter was still residing at Abingdon, while he himself had already made his mark in the royal cause, he did not fear that any misconstruction could be placed upon his visit to the Puritan's abode. Herbert received him with a glad smile of welcome.
"Ah, Harry," he said, "so you have fairly taken to man's estate. Of course, I think you have done wrong; but we need not argue on that now. I am glad indeed to see you. Lucy," he said, "let supper be served at once."
It was a pleasant meal, and the old friends chatted of their schooldays and boyish pastimes, no allusion being made to the events of the day, save that Herbert said, "I suppose that you know that my father is now a captain in the force of the Commons, and that I am doing my best to keep his business going during his absence."
"I had heard as much," Harry answered. "It is a heavy weight to be placed on your shoulders, Herbert."
"Yes," he said, "I am growing learned in wools, and happily the business is not falling off in my hands."
It was characteristic of the civil war in England that during the whole time of its existence the affairs of the country went on as usual. Business was conducted, life and property were safe, and the laws were enforced just as before. The judges went their circuits undisturbed by the turmoil of the times, acting under the authority alike of the Great Seals of the King and Parliament. Thus evildoers were repressed, crime put down, and the laws of the land administered just as usual, and as if no hostile armies were marching and fighting on the fair fields of England. In most countries during such troubled times, all laws have been at an end, bands of robbers and disbanded soldiers have pillaged and ruined the country, person and property alike have been unsafe, private broils and enmities have broken forth, and each man has carried his life in his hand. Thus, even in Abingdon, standing as it did halfway between the stronghold of the crown at Oxford, and the Parliament army at Reading, things remained quiet and tranquil. Its fairs and markets were held as usual, and the course of business went on unchecked.
On his return to Oxford Harry learned that the king, with a portion of the army, was to set out at once for Gloucester, to compel that city, which had declared for the Commons, to open its gates. With a force of thirteen thousand men the king moved upon Gloucester. When he arrived outside its walls, on the 10th of August, he sent a summons to the town to surrender, offering pardon to the inhabitants, and demanding an answer within two hours. Clarendon has described how the answer was returned. "Within less than the time described, together with a trumpeter, returned two citizens from the town with lean, pale, sharp, and bad visages, indeed, faces so strange and unusual, and in such a garb and posture, that at once made the most severe countenances merry, and the most cheerful heart sad, for it was impossible such ambassadors could bring less than a defiance. The men, without any circumstance of duty or good manners, in a pert, shrill, undismayed accent, said that they brought an answer from the godly city of Gloucester to the king, and were so ready to give insolent and seditious answers to any questions, as if their business were chiefly to provoke the king to violate his own safe-conduct." The answers which these strange messengers brought was that the inhabitants and soldiers kept the city for the use of his majesty, but conceived themselves "only bound to obey the commands of his majesty signified by both houses of Parliament." Setting fire to the houses outside their walls, the men of Gloucester prepared for a resolute resistance. The walls were strong and well defended, and the king did not possess artillery sufficient to make breaches therein, and dreading the great loss which an assault upon the walls would inflict upon his army, he determined to starve the city into submission. The inhabitants, although reduced to sore straits, yet relying upon assistance coming to them, held out, and their hopes were not disappointed, as Essex, at the head of a great army, was sent from London to relieve the place. Upon his approach, the king and his councilors, deciding that a battle could not be fought with advantage, drew off from the town, and gave up the siege.
Both armies now moved in the direction of London; but Prince Rupert, hearing that a small body of Parliament horse were besieging the house of Sir James Strangford, an adherent of the crown, took with him fifty horse, and rode away to raise the siege, being ever fond of dashing exploits in the fashion of the knights of old. The body which he chose to accompany him was the troop commanded by Harry Furness, whose gayety of manner and lightness of heart had rendered him a favorite with the prince. The besieged house was situated near Hereford; and at the end of a long day's march Prince Rupert, coming in sight of the Roundheads, charged them with such fury that they were overthrown with scarce any resistance, and fled in all directions. Having effected his object, the prince now rode to Worcester, where he slept, and thence by a long day's march to a village where he again halted for the night.
An hour after his arrival, a messenger came in from Lady Sidmouth, the wife of Sir Henry Sidmouth, asking him to ride over and take up his abode for the night at her house. Bidding Harry accompany him, the prince rode off, leaving the troop under the charge of Harry's lieutenant, Jacob, who had proved himself an active soldier, and had been appointed to that rank at Gloucester. The house was a massive structure of the reign of Henry VIII.; but being built at a time when the castellated abodes were going out of fashion, was not capable of standing a siege, and had not indeed been put in any posture of defense. Sir Henry was with the king, and only a few retainers remained in the house. Prince Rupert was received at the entrance by Lady Sidmouth, who had at her side her daughter, a girl of fourteen, whom Harry thought the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. The prince alighted, and doffing his broad plumed hat, kissed the lady's hand, and conducted her into the house again, Harry doing the same to her daughter.
"You must pardon a rough reception," the lady said to the prince. "Had I had notice of your coming, I would have endeavored to receive you in a manner more befitting; but hearing from one of my retainers, who happened to be in the village when you arrived, of your coming, I thought that the accommodation--poor as it is--would be better than that which you could obtain there."
Prince Rupert replied gayly, and in a few minutes they were seated at supper. The conversation was lightly kept up, when suddenly a tremendous crash was heard, shouts of alarm were raised, and a retainer rushed into the hall, saying that the place was attacked by a force of Roundheads.
"Defense is hopeless," the lady said, as Prince Rupert and Harry drew their swords. "There are but five or six old men here, and the door appears to be already yielding. There is a secret chamber here where you can defy their search."
Prince Rupert, dreading above all things to be taken prisoner, and seeing that resistance would be, as their hostess said, vain, followed her into an adjoining room hung with arras. Lifting this, she showed a large stone. Beneath it, on the floor was a tile, in no way differing from the others. She pressed it, and the stone, which was but slight, turned on a hinge, and disclosed an iron door. This she opened with a spring, showing a small room within, with a ladder leading to another above.
"Mount that," she said. "You will find in the chamber above a large stone. Pull the ladder up with you and lower the stone, which exactly fits into the opening. Even should they discover this chamber, they will not suspect that another lies above it."
Prince Rupert, taking a light from her hands, hastily mounted, followed by Harry, and pulled the steps after him, just as they heard the iron door close. It needed the united strength of the prince and Harry to lift the stone, which was a large one, with an iron ring in the center, and to place it in the cavity. Having done this, they looked round. The room was about eight feet long by six wide, and lighted by a long narrow loophole extending from the ground to the roof. They deemed from its appearance that it was built in one of the turrets of the building.
"That was a narrow escape, Master Harry," the prince said. "It would have been right bad news for my royal uncle if I had been caught here like a rat in a trap. I wonder we heard nothing of a Roundhead force in this neighborhood. I suppose that they must have been stationed at some place further north, and that the news of our passing reached them. I trust that they have no suspicion that we are in the house; but I fear, from this sudden attack upon an undefended building, that some spy from the village must have taken word to them."
Lady Sidmouth had just time to return to the hall when the doors gave way, and a body of Roundheads burst into the room. They had drawn swords in their hands, and evidently expected an attack. They looked round with surprise at seeing only Lady Sidmouth and her daughter.
"Where is the malignant Rupert?" the leader exclaimed. "We have sure news that he rode, attended by an officer only, hither, and that he was seen to enter your house."
"If you want Prince Rupert, you must find him," the lady said calmly. "I say not that he has not been here; but I tell you that he is now beyond your reach."
"He has not escaped," the officer said, "for the house is surrounded. Now, madam, I insist upon your telling me where you have hidden him."
"I have already told you, sir, that he is beyond your reach, and nothing that you can do will wring any further explanation from me."
The officer hesitated. For a moment he advanced a step toward her, with a menacing gesture. But, heated as the passions of men were, no violence was done to women, and with a fierce exclamation he ordered his troopers to search the house. For a quarter of an hour they ransacked it high and low, overturned every article of furniture, pulling down the arras, and tapping the walls with the hilts of their swords.
"Take these two ladies away," he said to his lieutenant, "and ride with them at once to Storton. They will have to answer for having harbored the prince."
The ladies were immediately taken off, placed on pillions behind two troopers, and carried away to Storton. In the meantime the search went on, and presently the hollow sound given by the slab in the wall was noticed. The spring could not be discovered, but crowbars and hammers being brought, the slab of stone was presently shivered. The discovery of the iron door behind it further heightened their suspicion that the place of concealment was found. The door, after a prolonged resistance, was battered in. But the Roundheads were filled with fury, on entering, to discover only a small, bare cell, with no signs of occupation whatever. The search was now prolonged in other directions; but, becoming convinced that it was useless, and that the place of concealment was too cunningly devised to admit of discovery, the captain ordered the furniture to be piled together, and setting light to it and the arras in several places, withdrew his men from the house, saying that if a rat would not come out of his hole, he must be smoked in it.
The prince and Harry from their place of concealment had heard the sound of blows against the doors below.
"They have found the way we have gone," the prince said, "but I think not that their scent is keen enough to trace us up here. If they do so, we will sell our lives dearly, for I will not be taken prisoner, and sooner or later our troop will hear of the Roundheads' attack, and will come to our rescue."
They heard the fall of the iron door, and the exclamations and cries with which the Roundheads broke into the room below. Then faintly they heard the sound of voices, and muffled knocks, as they tried the walls. Then all was silent again.
"The hounds are thrown off the scent," the prince said. "It will need a clever huntsman to put them on it. What will they do next, I wonder?"
Some time passed, and then Harry exclaimed:
"I perceive a smell of something burning, your royal highness."
"Peste! methinks I do also," the prince said. "I had not thought of that. If these rascals have set fire to the place we shall be roasted alive here."
A slight wreath of smoke was seen curling up through the crevice of the tightly-fitting stone.
"We will leap out, and die sword in hand," the prince said; and seizing the ring, he and Harry pulled at it. Ere they raised the stone an inch, a volume of dense smoke poured up, and they at once dropped it into its place again, feeling that their retreat was cut off. The prince put his sword in its scabbard.
"We must die, my lad," he said. "A strange death, too, to be roasted in a trap. But after all, whether by that or the thrust of a Roundhead sword makes little difference in the end. I would fain have fallen in the field, though."
"Perhaps," Harry suggested, "the fire may not reach us here. The walls are very thick, and the chamber below is empty."
The prince shook his head.
"The heat of the fire in a house like this will crack stone walls," he said.
He then took off his cloak and threw it over the stone, dressing it down tightly to prevent the smoke from curling in. Through the loophole they could now hear a roar, and crackling sounds, and a sudden glow lit up the country.
"The flames are bursting through the windows," Harry said. "They will bring our troop down ere long."
"The troop will do us no good," Prince Rupert replied. "All the king's army could not rescue us. But at least it would be a satisfaction before we die to see these crop-eared knaves defeated."
Minute after minute passed, and a broad glare of light illumined the whole country round. Through the slit they could see the Roundheads keeping guard round the house in readiness to cut off any one who might seek to make his escape, while at a short distance off they had drawn up the main body of the force. Presently, coming along the road at a rapid trot, they saw a body of horse.
"There are our men," the prince exclaimed.
The Roundheads had seen them too. A trumpet was sounded, and the men on guard round the house leaped to their horses, and joined the main body, just as the Cavaliers charged upon them. The Roundheads fought stoutly; but the charge of the Cavaliers was irresistible. Furious at the sight of the house in flames, and ignorant of the fate which had befallen their prince and their master's son, they burst upon the Roundheads with a force which the latter were unable to withstand. For four or five minutes the fight continued, and then such of the Roundheads as were able clapped spurs to their horses and galloped off, hotly pursued by the Cavaliers. The pursuit was a short one. Several of the Cavaliers were gathered at the spot where the conflict had taken place, and were, apparently, questioning a wounded man. Then the trumpeter who was with them sounded the recall, and in a few minutes the Royalist troops came riding back. They could see Jacob pointing to the burning building and gesticulating with his arms. Then a party dashed up to the house, and were lost to sight.
The prince and Harry both shouted at the top of their voices, but the roar of the flames and the crash of falling beams deadened the sound. The heat had by this time become intense. They had gradually divested themselves of their clothing, and were bathed in perspiration.
"This heat is terrific," Prince Rupert said. "I did not think the human frame could stand so great a heat. Methinks that water would boil were it placed here."
This was indeed the case--the human frame, as is now well known, being capable of sustaining a heat considerably above that of boiling water. The walls were now so hot that the hand could not be borne upon them for an instant.
"My feet are burning!" the prince exclaimed, "Reach down that ladder from the wall."
They laid the ladder on the ground and stood upon it, thus avoiding any contact with the hot stone.
"If this goes on," Prince Rupert said, with a laugh; "there will be nothing but our swords left. We are melting away fast, like candles before a fire. Truly I do not think that there was so much water in a man as has floated down from me during the last half-hour."
Harry was so placed that he could command a sight through the loophole, and he exclaimed, "They are riding away!"
This was indeed the case. The whole building was now one vast furnace, and having from the first no hope that their friends, if there, could have survived, they had, hearing that Lady Sidmouth and her daughter had been taken to Storton, determined to ride thither to take them from the hands of the Roundheads, and to learn from them the fate of their leaders.
Another two hours passed. The heat was still tremendous, but they could not feel that it was increasing. Once or twice they heard terrific crashes, as portions of the wall fell. They would long since have been roasted, were it not for the cool air which flowed in through the long loophole, and keeping up a circulation in the chamber, lowered the temperature of the air within it. At the end of the two hours Harry gave a shout.
"They are coming back."
The light had now sunk to a quiet red glow, so that beyond the fact that a party was approaching, nothing could be seen. They rode, however, directly toward the turret, and then, when they halted, Harry saw the figures of two ladies who were pointing toward the loophole. Harry now stepped from the ladder on to the door and shouted at the top of his voice through the loophole. The reply came back in a joyous shout.
"We are being roasted alive," Harry cried. "Get ladders as quickly as possible, with crowbars, and break down the wall."
Men were seen to ride off in several directions instantly, and for the first time a ray of hope illumined, the minds of the prince and Harry that they might be saved. Half an hour later long ladders tied together were placed against the wall, and Jacob speedily made his appearance at the loophole.
"All access is impossible from the other side," he said, "for the place where the house stood is a red-hot furnace, Most of the walls have fallen. We had no hope of finding you alive."
"We are roasting slowly," Harry cried. "In Heaven's name bring us some water."
Soon a bottle of water was passed in through the loophole, and then three or four ladders being placed in position, the men outside began with crowbars and pickaxes to enlarge the loophole sufficiently for the prisoners to escape. It took three hours' hard work, at the end of which time the aperture was sufficiently wide to allow them to emerge, and utterly exhausted and feeling, as the prince said, "baked to a turn," they made their way down the ladder, being helped on either side by the men, for they themselves were too exhausted to maintain their feet.