The Children of the New Forest/Chapter XXIII
The next morning, before they had quitted their beds, a messenger arrived with letters from General Middleton, and from him they found that the king's army had encamped on the evening before not six miles from Portlake. As they hastily dressed themselves, Chaloner proposed to Edward that a little alteration in his dress would be necessary; and taking him to a wardrobe in which had been put aside some suits of his own, worn when he was a younger and slighter-made man than he now was, he requested Edward to make use of them. Edward, who was aware that Chaloner was right in his proposal, selected two suits of colours which pleased him most; and dressing in one, and changing his hat for one more befitting his new attire, was transformed into a handsome Cavalier. As soon as they had broken their fast they took leave of the old ladies, and, mounting their horses, set off for the camp. An hour's ride brought them to the outposts; and communicating with the officer on duty, they were conducted by an orderly to the tent of General Middleton, who received Chaloner with great warmth as an old friend, and was very courteous to Edward as soon as he heard that he was the son of Colonel Beverley.
"I have wanted you, Chaloner," said Middleton; "we are raising a troop of horse; the Duke of Buckingham commands it, but Massey will be the real leader of it; you have influence in this county, and will, I have no doubt, bring us many good hands."
"Where is the Earl of Derby?"
"Joined us this morning; we have marched so quick that we have not had time to pick our adherents up."
"And General Lesley?"
"Is by no means in good spirits: why I know not. We have too many ministers with his army, that is certain, and they do harm; but we cannot help ourselves. His majesty must be visible by this time; if you are ready I will introduce you; and when that is done we will talk matters over."
General Middleton then walked with them to the house in which the king had taken up his quarters for the night; and after a few minutes' waiting in the anteroom they were admitted into his presence.
"Allow me, your majesty," said General Middleton, after the first salutations, "to present to you Major Chaloner, whose father's name is not unknown to you."
"On the contrary, well-known to us," replied the king, "as a loyal and faithful subject, whose loss we must deplore. I have no doubt that his son inherits his courage and his fidelity."
The king held out his hand, and Chaloner bent his knee and kissed it.
"And now, your majesty will be surprised that I should present to you one of a house supposed to be extinct -- the eldest son of Colonel Beverley."
"Indeed!" replied his majesty; "I heard that all his family perished at the ruthless burning of Arnwood. I hold myself fortunate, as a king, that even one son of so loyal and brave a gentleman as Colonel Beverley has escaped. You are welcome, young sir -- most welcome to us; you must be near us; the very name of Beverley will be pleasing to our ears by night or day."
Edward knelt down and kissed his majesty's hand, and the king said --
"What can we do for a Beverley? let us know, that we may show our feelings towards his father's memory?"
"All I request is, that your majesty will allow me to be near you in the hour of danger," replied Edward.
"A right Beverley reply," said the king, "and so we shall see to it, Middleton."
After a few more courteous words from his majesty they withdrew; but General Middleton was recalled by the king for a minute or two to receive his commands. When he rejoined Edward and Chaloner, he said to Edward --
"I have orders to send in for his majesty's signature your commission as captain of horse, and attached to the king's personal staff; it is a high compliment to the memory of your father, sir, and, I may add, your own personal appearance. Chaloner will see to your uniforms and accoutrements; you are well mounted, I believe you have no time to lose, as we march to-morrow for Warrington, in Cheshire."
"Has anything been heard of the Parliamentary army?"
"Yes; they are on the march towards London by the Yorkshire road, intending to cut us off if they can. And now, gentlemen, farewell; for I have no idle time, I assure you."
Edward was soon equipped, and now attended upon the king. When they arrived at Warrington they found a body of horse drawn up to oppose their passage onwards. These were charged, and fled with a trifling loss; and as they were known to be commanded by Lambert, one of Cromwell's best generals, there was great exultation in the king's army; but the fact was that Lambert had acted upon Cromwell's orders, which were, to harass and delay the march of the king as much as possible, but not to risk with his small force anything like an engagement. After this skirmish it was considered advisable to send back the Earl of Derby and many other officers of importance into Lancashire, that they might collect the king's adherents in that quarter and in Cheshire. Accordingly the earl, with about two hundred officers and gentlemen, left the army with that intention. It was then considered that it would be advisable to march the army direct to London; but the men were so fatigued with the rapidity of the march up to the present time, and the weather was so warm, that it was decided in the negative; and as Worcester was a town well affected to the king, and the country abounded with provisions, it was resolved that the army should march there, and wait for English reinforcements. This was done; the city opened the gates with every mark of satisfaction, and supplied the army with all that it required. The first bad news which reached them was the dispersion and defeat of the whole of the Earl of Derby's party by a regiment of militia, which had surprised them at Wigan during the night, when they were all asleep, and had no idea that any enemy was near to them. Although attacked at such a disadvantage, they defended themselves till a large portion of them were killed, and the remainder were taken prisoners, and most of them brutally put to death. The Earl of Derby was made a prisoner, but not put to death with the others.
"This is bad news, Chaloner," said Edward.
"Yes; it is more than bad," replied the latter; "we have lost our best officers, who never should have left the army; and now, the consequences of the defeat will be that we shall not have any people coming forward to join us. The winning side is the right side in this world; and there is more evil than that: the Duke of Buckingham has claimed the command of the army, which the king has refused; so that we are beginning to fight among ourselves. General Lesley is evidently dispirited, and thinks bad of the cause. Middleton is the only man who does his duty. Depend upon it we shall have Cromwell upon us before we are aware of it; and we are in a state of sad confusion -- officers quarrelling, men disobedient, much talking, and little doing. Here we have been five days, and the works, which have been proposed to be thrown up as defences, not yet begun."
"I cannot but admire the patience of the king, with so much to harass and annoy him."
"He must be patient, perforce," replied Chaloner; "he plays for a crown, and it is a high stake; but he cannot command the minds of men, although he may the persons. I am no croaker, Beverley; but this I do say, that if we succeed with this army, as it is at present disorganised, we shall perform a miracle."
"We must hope for the best," replied Edward; "common danger may cement those who would otherwise be asunder; and when they have the army of Cromwell before them, they may be induced to forget their private quarrels and jealousies and unite in the good cause."
"I wish I could be of your opinion, Beverley," replied Chaloner; "but I have mixed with the world longer than you have, and I think otherwise."
Several more days passed, during which no defences were thrown up, and the confusion and quarrelling in the army continued to increase, until at last news arrived that Cromwell was within half a day's march of them, and that he had collected all the militia on his route, and was now in numbers nearly double to those in the king's army. All was amazement and confusion -- nothing had been done -- no arrangements had been made -- and Chaloner told Edward that all was lost if immediate steps were not taken.
On the 3rd of October the army of Cromwell appeared in sight Edward had been on horseback, attending the king, for the best part of the night; the disposition of the troops had been made as well as it could; and it was concluded, as Cromwell's army remained quiet, that no attempt would be made on that day. About noon the king returned to his lodging, to take some refreshment after his fatigue. Edward was with him; but before an hour had passed the alarm came that the armies were engaged. The king mounted his horse, which was ready saddled at the door; but before he could ride out of the city he was met and nearly beaten back by the whole body almost of his own cavalry, who came running on with such force that he could not stop them. His majesty called to several of the officers by name, but they paid no attention; and so great was the panic, that both the king, and his staff who attended him, were nearly overthrown and trampled under foot.
Cromwell had passed a large portion of his troops over the river without the knowledge of his opponents, and when the attack was made in so unexpected a quarter a panic ensued. Where General Middleton and the Duke of Hamilton commanded, a very brave resistance was made; but Middleton being wounded, and the Duke of Hamilton having had his leg taken off by a round shot, and many gentlemen having fallen, the troops, deserted by the remainder of the army, at last gave way, and the rout was general, the foot throwing away their muskets before they were discharged.
His majesty rode back into the town and found a body of horse, who had been persuaded by Chaloner to make a stand. "Follow me," said his majesty, "we will see what the enemy are about. I do not think they pursue, and if so, we may yet rally from this foolish panic."
His majesty, followed by Edward, Chaloner, and several of his personal staff, then galloped out to reconnoitre; but to his mortification he found that the troops had not followed him, but gone out of the town by the other gate, and that the enemy's cavalry in pursuit were actually in the town. Under such circumstances, by the advice of Chaloner and Edward, his majesty withdrew, and turning his horse's head he made all haste to leave Worcester. After several hours' riding, the king found himself in company of about 4000 of the cavalry who had so disgracefully fled; but they were still so panic-struck that he could put no confidence in them, and having advised with those about him he resolved to quit them. This he did without mentioning his intentions to any of his staff, not even Chaloner or Edward, leaving at night with two of his servants, whom he dismissed as soon as it was daylight, considering that his chance of escape would be greater if he was quite alone.
It was not till next morning that the troops discovered that the king had left them, and then they determined to separate, and as the major portion were from Scotland to make what haste they could back to that country. And now Chaloner and Edward consulted as to their plans.
"It appears to me," said Edward, laughing, "that the danger of this campaign of ours will consist in getting back again to our own homes; for I can most safely assert that I have not as yet struck a blow for the king."
"That is true enough, Beverley. When do you purpose going back to the New Forest? I think, if you will permit me, I will accompany you," said Chaloner. "All the pursuit will be to the northward to intercept and overtake the retreat into Scotland. I cannot therefore go to Lancashire; and indeed, as they know that I am out, they will be looking for me everywhere."
"Then come with me," said Edward; "I will find you protection till you can decide what to do. Let us ride on away from this, and we will talk over the matter as we go; but depend upon it, the farther south we get the safer we shall be; but still not safe, unless we can change our costume. There will be a strict search for the king to the south, as they will presume that he will try to get safe to France. Hark! what is that? I heard the report of arms. Let us ride up this hill and see what is going on."
They did so, and perceived that there was a skirmish between a party of Cavaliers and some of the Parliamentary cavalry at about a quarter of a mile distant.
"Come, Chaloner, let us at all events have one blow," said Edward.
"Agreed," replied Chaloner, spurring his horse; and down they went at full speed, and in a minute were in the mêlée, coming on the rear of the Parliamentary troops.
This sudden attack from behind decided the affair. The Parliamentary troopers, thinking that there were more than two coming upon them, made off after another minute's combat, leaving five or six of their men on the ground.
"Thanks, Chaloner thanks, Beverley!" said a voice, which they immediately recognised. It was that of one of the king's pages. "These fellows with me were just about to run if you had not come to our aid. I will remain with them no longer, but join you if you will permit me."
"At all events remain here till they go away -- I will send them off."
"My lads, you must all separate, or there will be no chance of escape. No more than two should ride together. Depend upon it we shall have more of the troops here directly."
The men, about fifteen in number, who had been in company with Grenville, considered that Chaloner's advice was good, and without ceremony set off with their horses' heads to the northward, leaving Chaloner, Edward, and Grenville together on the field of the affray. A dozen men were lying on the ground, either dead or severely wounded; seven of them were of the king's party, and the other five of the Parliamentary troops.
"Now what I propose," said Edward, "is this, -- let us do what we can for those who are wounded, and then strip off the dresses and accoutrements of those Parliamentary dragoons who are dead, and dress ourselves in them, accoutrements and all. We can then pass through the country in safety, as we shall be supposed to be one of the parties looking for the king."
"That is a good idea," replied Chaloner, "and the sooner it is done the better."
"Well," said Edward, wiping his sword, which he still held drawn, and then sheathing it, "I will take the spoils of this fellow nearest to me: he fell by my hand, and I am entitled to them by all the laws of war and chivalry; but first let us dismount and look to the wounded."
They tied their horses to a tree, and having given what assistance they could to the wounded men, they proceeded to strip three of the Parliamentary troopers; and then, laying aside their own habiliments, they dressed themselves in the uniform of the enemy, and mounting their horses made all haste from the place. Having gained about twelve miles, they pulled up and rode at a more leisurely pace. It was now eight o'clock in the evening, but still not very dark; they therefore rode on another five miles, till they came to a small village, where they dismounted at an ale-house, and put their horses into the stable.
"We must be insolent and brutal in our manners, or we shall be suspected."
"Very true," said Grenville, giving the ostler a kick and telling him to bestir himself if he did not want his ears cropped.
They entered the ale-house, and soon found out they were held in great terror. They ordered everything of the best to be produced, and threatened to set fire to the house if it was not; they turned the man and his wife out of their bed, and all three went to sleep in it; and, in short, they behaved in such an arbitrary manner that nobody doubted that they were Cromwell's men. In the morning they set off again, by Chaloner's advice paying for nothing that they had ordered, although they had all of them plenty of money. They now rode fast, inquiring at the places which they passed through whether any fugitives had been seen, and if they came to a town, inquiring, before they entered, whether there were any Parliamentary troops. So well did they manage, that after four days they had gained the skirts of the New Forest, and concealed themselves in a thicket till night-time, when Edward proposed that he should conduct his fellow-travellers to the cottage, where he would leave them till his plans were arranged.
Edward had already arranged his plans. His great object was to ward off any suspicion of where he had been, and of course any idea that the Intendant had been a party to his acts; and the fortunate change of his dress enabled him now to do so with success. He had decided to conduct his two friends to the cottage that night, and the next morning to ride over in his Parliamentary costume to the Intendant's house, and bring the first news of the success of Cromwell and the defeat at Worcester; by which stratagem it would appear as if he had been with the Parliamentary, and not with the Royalist army.
As they had travelled along, they found that the news of Cromwell's success had not yet arrived: in those times there was not the rapidity of communication that we now have, and Edward thought it very probable that he would be the first to communicate the intelligence to the Intendant and those who resided near him.
As soon as it was dusk the three travellers left their retreat, and, guided by Edward, soon arrived at the cottage. Their appearance at first created no little consternation, for Humphrey and Pablo happened to be in the yard when they heard the clattering of the swords and accoutrements, and through the gloom observed, as they advanced, that the party were troopers. At first Humphrey was for running on and barring the door, but, on a second reflection, he felt that he could not do a more imprudent thing, if there was danger; and he therefore contented himself with hastily imparting the intelligence to his sisters, and then remaining at the threshold to meet the coming of the parties. The voice of Edward calling him by name dissipated all alarm, and in another minute he was in the arms of his brother and sisters.
"First let us take our horses to the stable, Humphrey," said Edward, after the first greeting was over, "and then we will come and partake of anything that Alice can prepare for us, for we have not fared over well for the last three days."
Accompanied by Humphrey and Pablo, they all went to the stables, and turned out the ponies to make room for the horses; and as soon as they were all fed and littered down they returned to the cottage, and Chaloner and Grenville were introduced. Supper was soon on the table, and they were too hungry to talk while they were eating, so but little information was gleaned from them that night. However, previous to Alice and Edith leaving the room to prepare beds for the newcomers, Humphrey ascertained that all was lost, and that they had escaped from the field. When the beds were ready, Chaloner and Grenville retired, and then Edward remained half an hour with Humphrey, to communicate to him what had passed. Of course he could not enter into detail; but told him that he would get information from their new guests after he had left, which he must do early in the morning.
"And now, Humphrey, my advice is this: My two friends cannot remain in this cottage, for many reasons; but we have the key of Clara's cottage, and they can take up their lodging there, and we can supply them with all they want until they find means of going abroad, which is their intention. I must be off to the Intendant's to-morrow, and the day after I will come over to you. In the meantime our guests can remain here, while you and Pablo prepare the cottage for them; and when I return everything shall be settled, and we will conduct them to it. I do not think there is much danger of their being discovered while they remain there, certainly not so much as if they were here; for we must expect parties of troops in every direction now, as they were when the king's father made his escape from Hampton Court. And now to bed, my good brother; and call me early, for I much fear that I shall not wake up, if you do not."
The brothers then parted for the night.
The next morning, long before their guests were awake, Edward had been called by Humphrey, and found Pablo at the door with his horse. Edward, who had put on his Parliamentary accoutrements, bade a hasty farewell to them, and set off across the forest to the house of the Intendant, where he arrived before they had left their bedrooms. The first person he encountered was, very fortunately, Oswald, who was at his cottage-door. Edward beckoned to him, being then about one hundred yards off; but Oswald did not recognise him at first, and advanced towards him in a very leisurely manner, to ascertain what the trooper might wish to inquire. But Edward called him Oswald, and that was sufficient. In few words Edward told him how all was lost, and how he had escaped by changing clothes with one of the enemy.
"I am now come to bring the news to the Intendant, Oswald. You understand me, of course?"
"Of course I do, Master Edward, and will take care that it is well-known that you have been fighting by the side of Cromwell all this time. I should recommend you to show yourself in this dress for the remainder of the day, and then every one will be satisfied. Shall I go to the Intendant's before you?"
"No, no, Oswald; the Intendant does not require me to be introduced to him, of course. I must now gallop up to his house and announce myself. Farewell for the present -- I shall see you during the day."
Edward put spurs to his horse, and arrived at the Intendant's at full speed, making no small clattering in the yard below as he went in, much to the surprise of Sampson, who came out to ascertain what was the cause, and who was not a little surprised at perceiving Edward, who threw himself off the horse, and desiring Sampson to take it to the stable, entered the kitchen, and disturbed Phoebe, who was preparing breakfast. Without speaking to her, Edward passed on to the Intendant's room, and knocked.
"Who is there?" said the Intendant.
"Edward Armitage," was the reply, and the door was opened. The Intendant started back at the sight of Edward in the trooper's costume.
"My dear Edward, I am glad to see you in any dress; but this requires explanation. Sit down and tell me all."
"All is soon told, sir," replied Edward, taking off his iron skull-cap, and allowing his hair to fall down on his shoulders.
He then, in few words, stated what had happened, and by what means he had escaped, and the reason why he had kept on the trooper's accoutrements and made his appearance in them.
"You have done very prudently," replied the Intendant, "and you have probably saved me; at all events you have warded off all suspicion, and those who are spies upon me will now have nothing to report except to my favour. Your absence has been commented upon, and made known at high quarters, and suspicion has arisen in consequence. Your return as one of the Parliamentary forces will now put an end to all ill-natured remarks. My dear Edward, you have done me a service. As my secretary, and having been known to have been a follower of the Beverleys, your absence was considered strange, and it was intimated at high quarters that you had gone to join the king's forces, and that with my knowledge and consent. This I have from Langton; and it has in consequence injured me not a little: but now your appearance will make all right again. Now we will first to prayers, and then to breakfast; and after that we will have a more detailed account of what has taken place since your departure. Patience and Clara will not be sorry to recover their companion; but how they will like you in that dress I cannot pretend to say. However, I thank God that you have returned safe to us; and I shall be most happy to see you once more attend in the more peaceful garb of a secretary."
"I will, with your permission, sir, not quit this costume for one day, as it may be as well that I should be seen in it."
"You are right, Edward: for this day retain it; to-morrow you will resume your usual costume. Go down to the parlour; you will find Patience and Clara anxiously waiting for you, I have no doubt. I will join you there in ten minutes."
Edward left the room, and went downstairs. It hardly need be said how joyfully he was received by Patience and Clara. The former, however, expressed her joy in tears -- the latter in wild mirth.
We will pass over the explanations and the narrative of what had occurred, which was given by Edward to Mr Heatherstone in his own room. The Intendant said, as he concluded --
"Edward, you must now perceive that, for the present, nothing more can be done; if it pleases the Lord, the time will come when the monarch will be reseated on his throne; at present, we must bow to the powers that be; and I tell you frankly it is my opinion that Cromwell aims at sovereignty, and will obtain it. Perhaps it may be better that we should suffer the infliction for a time, as for a time only can it be upheld, and it may be the cause of the king being more schooled and more fitted to reign than, by what you have told me in the course of your narrative, he at present appears to be."
"Perhaps so, sir," replied Edward. "I must say that the short campaign I have gone through has very much opened my eyes. I have seen but little true chivalric feeling, and much of interested motives, in those who have joined the king's forces. The army collected was composed of most discordant elements, and were so discontented, so full of jealousy and ill-will, that I am not surprised at the result. One thing is certain, that there must be a much better feeling existing between all parties, before such a man as Cromwell can ever be moved from his position; and, for the present, the cause may be considered as lost."
"You are right, Edward," replied the Intendant; "I would they were better; but, as they are, let us make the best of them. You have now seen enough to have subdued that fiery zeal for the cause which previously occupied your whole thoughts; now let us be prudent, and try if we cannot be happy."