A Lost Leader A Tale of Restoration Days
Astbury found himself looking into the black muzzle of a great horse pistol.
Frontispiece] [page 102.
A LOST LEADER
A TALE OF RESTORATION DAYS.
"And I but think and speak and do
As my dead fathers move me to."
R. L. STEVENSON.
ILLUSTRATED BY HAROLD PIFFARD
PUBLISHED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE GENERAL LITERATURE
SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE,
NORTHUMBERLAND AVENUE, W.C.;
43, QUEEN VICTORIA STREET, E.C.
BRIGHTON: 129, NORTH STREET.
NEW YORK: E. & J. B. YOUNG AND CO.
Prologue—"Under which King?"
I. Vae Victis!
II. A Noble Enemy
III. The End of a Regicide
IV. The Pleasant Isle of AvŤs
V. Hidden Worth
VI. An Old Acquaintance
VII. Fate at Work
VIII. The Queen returns to Hunstanton
IX. A Precious Thing discovered late
XI. A Candid Minister
XII. The Ghost of Hunstanton Place
XIII. A Visionary
XIV. Fate's Sequel
A LOST LEADER.
"UNDER WHICH KING?"
One December evening, in the year 1648,the little town of Farnham showedunusual signs of life. Troopers weredismounting and leading their horses awayto their stables, or were lounging at the doors of thehouses where they were quartered, and a crowd ofcurious country folk and villagers gathered to stareat them, and even to put questions to the moreaffable-looking of the steel-coated soldiers.
The press was greatest round the entrance of ahouse of the better class that stood back from thestreet with all the dignity that a flagged forecourtand a couple of high brick gate-pillars could lend it.
There the sentries, who were stationed at thedoor, had some ado to keep back the curious throng,and many a sturdy country farmer shouldered hisway into the house in the wake of his squire to catcha glimpse of his king, the ill-fated King Charles, whowas to rest that night at Farnham on his last journeyfrom the prison at Hurst Castle to the scaffold atWhitehall.
"Be there no chance of seeing his blessed Majestythis even, Master Clarke?" whispered an old woman,clutching the arm of a good-natured neighbour.
"No, dame, no, he be a-going to his supper, folkssay, and they won't let none into his parlour butgentry, save these here lobsters as go where theyplease, and hold themselves as good as gentlefolk,rot 'em!"
These uncomplimentary remarks were not said ina loud enough tone for the sentry to overhear, butthey gave great satisfaction to the old woman whonodded agreement, and wiped her eyes with herapron.
"Do'e think now they'll let us get a sight on himin the morning?" she quavered.
"Ay, ay, they can scarce stop it; he must needspass out this way to come to his horse. But I reckonthey must feel mighty vexed to see how the folkpress to get a sight on him, God bless him."
"God bless him, and bring him safe out of theirwicked hands," echoed the old woman, as she turnedto hobble home.
Within the house, the hall and passages werethronged with servants and visitors, most of whommade no secret of their loyal sorrow at seeing theirking brought among them as a prisoner. The officerswho formed the escort appeared, however, to troublevery little about the sentiments of the crowd, andfrom good nature or contempt went about their ownaffairs, allowing the country squires and their wivesto show their loyal devotion in any fashion theypleased.
In the panelled dining-parlour the supper-tablestood ready, prepared for one guest only, but theroom was as yet only lit by the fading gleams of thewinter sunset and the dancing flames of the fire. Thegroup of officers and visitors who were gatheredround the hearth, spoke to each other in low tonesas they glanced with looks of curiosity, and evencovert amusement, at two gentlemen who stood inthe recessed window, in earnest talk.
But a boy who stood near the door watched allwith no amusement in his face. He stood erect,grave, watching with his serious untroubled childisheyes the great things that were passing before him.A bright, eager boy, whose brown hands one wouldthink fitter to hold a top than to caress the hilt of hisnew sword; a boy young enough to be proud of hisposition, proud of his soldier's dress; to whom lifewas a very interesting but a very simple matter. Helooked with a child's awe at the two men in thewindow, and they were worthy of his gaze. Theslender, slightly bowed figure in the velvet coat andblue ribbon, with soft curls that flowed from beneatha plumed hat, the sad eyes, the regular features onlymarred by a look of weakness and almost peevishnessabout the mouth; the boy had seen them all oftenenough in pictures, but to-day he stood for the firsttime in the presence of a king, of King Charles theFirst of England.
Before the king stood an equally picturesquepersonage, although at first sight you hardly noticedthe features or colouring that went to make up thegallant figure of the man. It was the erect, proudbearing, the vivid life, the eagerness of a high-strungnature, now controlled by the courtesy due to hiscompanion. His buff coat and crimson sash werelike those worn by the boy, and the velvet cap hecarried in his hand left uncovered curls as brown;but instead of the childish calm of the boy's hazeleyes, the older man's glance now flashed with thefire of an eagle, now glowed with the exaltedenthusiasm of a poet. It was no wonder that the boywatched him with a look of dog-like adoration thatscarcely spared a glance for the king himself. YoungDick's king stood before him in truth, and his namewas not Charles Stuart but Thomas Harrison.
"Show us thy new sword, Dick," whispered a youngcornet, whose laughing eyes danced in veryunpuritanical fashion.
Dick moved forward, and the firelight gleamed onthe slender blade as he held it out.
"By my faith, a rare bit of steel! And how manyking's men hast thou skewered with it?"
"None, sir," answered Dick, seriously. "My unclehath only let me use the foils hitherto."
"Wise uncle!" laughed the other. "He wouldnot expose even our deadliest enemies to the blowof such a paladin. But, hark 'ee, Dick, dost knowthe king hath sent for thine uncle to make him a duke?"
"No, no," broke in another young soldier, "'tis nota duke; he is to be sworn of the king's privy council,and have the Garter."
Dick looked gravely at the laughing speaker.
"It would be good if the king would make UncleTom a councillor," he said.
"Well said, boy," chimed in an older man. "Ifhis Majesty took Major Harrison's counsel, our causewere won; but the stars will go withershins ere thatcome to pass."
The faces of the younger men changed, and oneanswered soberly enough—
"You say too true, captain."
Their voices were subdued lest they should reachthe king's ears; but, respectful as was the bearingof all the members of the group by the fire, theyclearly split into two halves: on the one hand, theofficers of the escort who were teasing the boy,and on the other, a group of gentlemen, somewearing the conventional ribbons and laces of acavalier, others in the rough cloth of country wear,stained with the mud of country lanes, while themaster and mistress of the house moved from oneguest to another, evidently nervous at the doubtfulhonour that such a royal visit had brought to theirroof.
The lady turned to one of the king's gentlemen-in-waitingwith a whispered word—
"I scarce hoped, Mr. Herbert, to see his Majestyin such pleasant spirits, for methinks his conditioncould scarce be more dolorous."
"Faith, madam," answered Mr. Herbert, "he bearseach new change of fortune with the dignity of aking and the resignation of a saint. But I make nodoubt that the sight of these your loyal neighbourswhom you have called in, and the very blessings ofthe poor folk in the street, are somewhat of a balmto his heart, also I cannot deny that thosegentlemen"—looking over at the officers—"have used usvery civilly during the day's ride; methinks hisMajesty finds himself more at ease with them thanwith those crop-eared parliament men and theirpreachers."
"I marvel, nevertheless, to see his Majesty expendhis gracious word on such a rebel as that MajorHarrison. We have heard strange and horriblethings concerning him, and that he has even dared toplot against his Majesty's most sacred life!"
"'Tis for that reason, madam, that the king madean occasion to speak with him," answeredMr. Herbert. "He was pleased to say, to-day, whenMajor Harrison was riding behind him, that hisaspect was good, and not as it had been representedto him, and I am assured that his Majesty did desiresome discussion with him to try what his sentimentsmay truly be."
They stood in silence watching the strange interviewbetween the royal prisoner and his republicanguardian; but no word of the conversation reachedtheir ears, till, in answer to some word of the king's,Harrison said very vehemently—
"Sir, I abhor the very thought of it."
The king's sad face brightened with a look ofsurprise and pleasure, and his manner towards thesoldier took on an indescribable air of gracious dignity.But Harrison's expression did not respond; he continuedto speak with grave, almost severe earnestness,and the surprise with which the king heard himquickly froze into a look of offence, and then abruptlyhis Majesty dismissed Major Harrison with a slightinclination of his head, and came forward to thesupper-table; while Harrison, with a silent greetingto his friends by the fire, called Dick, and left theroom.
Their horses were in waiting outside, and for a fewminutes they rode in silence through the gatheringtwilight towards their lodging. Then Major Harrisonspoke.
"Dick! the king even now asked me whether wedo intend to murder him."
"To murder him?" echoed the boy, in horror.
"Ay, to murder him. There are some here thathave whispered him that we wait to slay him privily,as we go to London! I told him, Dick, I did abhorthe very thought of it." An indignant sincerityrang in his voice. "Nevertheless, I told him roundlythat the law is equal for great and small, and justicehath no respect of persons. The blood of Englishmenhath been poured out like water at the wordof this man, it crieth out against him unto God; theCause needeth not the aid of any secret assassin;he shall render his account in public unto the highcourt of Parliament."
"But what can the parliament do to the king?"asked the boy, lowering his voice, as if the verystones in the road might cry out against the thoughthe did not venture to speak plainly.
"Do justice," said Harrison, with a sudden firein his voice that made the boy's blood leap inresponse. "Justice in the name of the Lord to whomkings and peoples are but dust in the balance. TheLord hath owned us by marvellous victories, and theCause is His, His day of reckoning is at hand, andCharles Stuart shall answer unto Him and His saintsfor the men he hath slain."
"But can they—dare they—touch the king? He isnot as other men," hazarded the boy.
"Ay, will they," replied Harrison, sternly. "Andif they hang back, the army will see to it that thework is done. In the face of the sun, in the eyesof all the world, shall the great deed be accomplished."
"The deed?" whispered the boy, with dilated eyes,"the judgment?"
"The execution," answered Harrison, solemnly,dropping his right hand on his thigh, and turningin his saddle, till he faced directly towards his nephewriding beside him. "And, Dick, if it be so ordained,and the people of England do justice on their king,thou shalt stand by my side, and share in