eBook PDFWhat's this?
eBook ePubWhat's this?
This brilliantly entertaining novel is a fictionalization of the true story of Charles I...
This brilliantly entertaining novel is a fictionalization of the true story of Charles II (May 29, 1630 – February 6, 1685), charting his daring flight to France after the Battle of Worcester, where Cromwell and his Protestant forces defeated the Catholic king. For six weeks, Charles’ life was in danger as he hid in the English countryside, disguised as a servant, unable to find a way across heavily guarded borders. His loyal courtiers were appalled by the ease and glee with which he adopted his new humble identity, insisting on chatting and even drinking with ostlers and houseboys. Two young women were instrumental in his eventual escape and one of them became a lifelong friend of the exiled king.
About the Author
Georgette HeyerThe late Georgette Heyer was a very private woman. Her historical novels have charmed and delighted millions of readers for decades, though she rarely reached out to the public to discuss her works or private life. She was born in Wimbledon in August 1902. She wrote her first novel, The Black Moth, at the age of seventeen to amuse her convalescent brother; it was published in 1921 and became an instant success. Heyer published 56 books over the next 53 years, until her death from lung cancer in 1974. Heyer's large volume of works included Regency romances, mysteries and historical fiction. Known as the Queen of Regency romance, Heyer was legendary for her research, historical accuracy and her extraordinary plots and characterizations. Her last book, My Lord John, was published posthumously in 1975. She was married to George Ronald Rougier, a barrister, and they had one son, Richard.
Table of Contents
Two: White-Ladies -
Three: A Very Rainy Day-
Four: ‘Who Goes There?’ -
Five: Royal Oak -
Six: The Sum Of One Thousand Pounds-
Seven: The Weight Of Three Kingdoms-
Eight: ‘Soldiers, Soldiers Are Coming!’-
Nine: ‘That Rogue Charles Stewart’-
Ten: A Poor Tenant’s Son-
Eleven: ‘I Know It Is My Liege’-
Twelve: ‘Frank, Frank, How Dost Thou?’-
Thirteen: ‘Though The Crown Should Hang Upon A Bush’-
Fourteen: A Prying Knave-
Fifteen: ‘Take Notice Of Him To Be A Tall Man’-
Sixteen: ‘I Know We Are Pursued’-
Seventeen: A Very Hot Conflict -
Eighteen: Cæsar’s Man-
Nineteen: Guests At Heale -
Twenty: ‘I Must Endeavour’-
Twenty-one: Brother Roundhead-
Twenty-two: ‘I Know Him Well’-
‘The Crowning Mercy’
From the time of the King’s ascending the cathedral tower, which he had done early in the morning, to observe the disposition of Crom...
‘The Crowning Mercy’
From the time of the King’s ascending the cathedral tower, which he had done early in the morning, to observe the disposition of Cromwell’s forces, the day had been dull, heavy with autumnal mists, as gloomy as General Leslie’s face.
‘Look well?’ Leslie had said, weeks before, as sour as a lemon. ‘Ay, the army may look well, but it won’t fight.’
But the King had led the Highlanders out through the Sidbury Gate, with the best of his infantry, and the handful of English Cavaliers who pressed close about his person, and they had fought so well that Cromwell’s Ironsides had been flung back at the foot of Red Hill. A charge of massed cavalry then might have won the day, but no cavalry came trotting up to support the infantry. Three thousand Scottish horse, under David Leslie, stayed motionless in the rear, while the foot soldiers, their ammunition expended, fought with halberds and the butt-ends of their muskets until forced to give way before Cromwell’s reserves.
In Worcester, the citizens ran for shelter into their shuttered houses, for the battle was closing in on the town. To the south, Fleetwood had forced the passage of the Teme at Powick Bridge; West of the Severn, beyond Pitchcroft meadow, General Dalyell’s brigade of Scots, with no heart in them for a losing fight on alien soil, began to lay down their arms; while on the main front the Fort Royal was being attacked. Guns barked and thundered; the atmosphere was acrid with smoke, through which confused, struggling forms loomed and faded as the ragged battle pressed nearer and nearer to the town.
Across the road before the Sidbury Gate, an ammunition-waggon lay overturned, blocking the entrance to the town. Two of its wheels were cocked up in the air, and the ammunition, spilling over the road, lay in a tangle of horses’ guts. A tall horseman, in dulled and dinted half-armour, came riding up out of the murk and the mist, and was forced to a standstill, his horse’s hooves slipping and stumbling amid the wreckage. Those by the gate caught the flash of a jewel as he alighted heavily, weighed down by his cumbering armour; and a glimpse of a young, harsh face under the brim of his beaver. Then he was hidden momentarily from their sight as some more horsemen surged up in his wake. Voices, sharpened by a sense of emergency, sounded in a confused hubbub; the tall Cavalier broke through the press, and climbed laboriously over the waggon, into the town.
His gloved hands plucked at the straps of his breastplate. ‘Get this gear off me!’ he commanded. His voice was husky with fatigue; he cleared his throat; and, as those who had followed him were slow in obeying, repeated more strongly: ‘Get it off me, I say! You, Will Armourer! Duke, find me a fresh horse!’
Young Armourer tugged at the straps; his fingers were sticky with sweat, and trembling. ‘The day’s lost. They’re closing in on us,’ he muttered. ‘Those damned Scots!’
The scarred breastplate was off, and flung down with a hollow ring on to the cobbles. The King stripped off the cuisses that guarded his thighs, and straightened himself with a gasp of relief. ‘Not lost! Not lost yet!’ he said, but a note of anguish rather than of conviction sounded in his voice. He turned, and seized the bridle of a big grey horse which Marmaduke Darcy had led up, and swung himself into the saddle, and dashed off up the steep street towards the cathedral.
General Leslie’s troopers were drawn up in good order, but showed no disposition to take any part in the battle. The King rode up to where David Leslie stood in conference with some of his officers. The group parted to make way for him; he thrust between two officers mounted on fidgety chargers, and addressed himself hotly to Leslie. What he said only the General heard. A rigid look came into Leslie’s face; he replied clearly: ‘When your Majesty has had my experience of men, you will know when it is useless to expect them to advance.’
‘Your experience!’ the King said in a choking voice. ‘Is this the way you use in Sweden?’
He did not wait to hear the reply, but wheeled about, and, snatching off his plumed hat, rode down the lines of the troopers, allowing them to see his face, and his tossed black lovelocks. ‘Gentlemen, one charge for the King!’ he shouted. ‘Will you let it be said the Scots dared not face Cromwell’s men? Which of you will strike a blow for Charles Stewart? You, Ned Fraser! – you, James Douglas!’
Leslie looked after him not unsympathetically, but shrugged as he heard him calling unavailingly on the men by name to follow him.
‘Fine generalship!’ said a drawling, insolent voice. ‘Admire it, Talbot! Our friend deserves our compliments, oddsblood, he does!’
‘For God’s sake, leave that, Buckingham!’ Talbot said. ‘The rebels are in the town! General Leslie, on your loyalty, I charge you –’
‘The men will not fight!’ Leslie interrupted angrily. ‘You cannot say I did not tell you how it would be! If you have interest with his Majesty, advise him that retreat is the only course left to us!’
A man with a mass of red hair, and a rough, spluttering speech, exclaimed with a strong Scotch accent: ‘Mon, they’re in guid order!’
‘Ay, my Lord Lauderdale! In good order now!’ Leslie retorted. ‘Will you teach me my trade? I tell you, my lords, and you too, your grace! that if you try to make them engage in a fight they’ve no stomach for, there’ll be no order left amongst them!’
Buckingham, to whom his speech seemed principally to have been addressed, merely lifted his arched eyebrows in an expression of disdain. The noise of the fighting by the Sidbury Gate was growing every moment more intense. Talbot exclaimed: ‘My God, are they in? The King must be got away!’
He clapped spurs to his horse as he spoke, and so did not hear Leslie say: ‘Let the King place himself amongst my men. I will engage to carry him safe back to Scotland.’
Talbot, with Lauderdale at his heels, and Armourer, Darcy, and another of the King’s Bedchamber stringing out behind him, caught up with the King, and leaned out of the saddle to seize the grey’s bridle. ‘Sire, you must save yourself!’ he said urgently. ‘They’re breaking in on all sides! There’s no more to do here!’
The King tore his bridle free, and the grey reared up, snorting. ‘Escape? No! But one charge and we may sweep them out of the town! Gentlemen, gentlemen, I implore you –’
‘Sir, Hamilton, Douglas, Forbes are all fallen!’ Talbot cried. ‘You must save yourself!’
The King turned his distorted face to the ranks of the Scots. ‘Will you not strike a blow for me?’ he said fiercely. ‘I would rather you would shoot me than let me live to see the consequences of this fatal day!’
The pain in his voice made the Lord Talbot grimace. Lauderdale thrust his horse forward, and in his turn grasped the King’s bridle. ‘Shoot ye?’ he said, between pity and roughness. ‘No, by God, sir, ye’re too precious to this realm! Come awa’!’
A youth on a foaming horse came full-tilt upon them, calling out hoarsely that the Roundheads were in, and the King must fly or be taken. Some of Leslie’s officers, who had tried to exhort the sullen troopers to charge, had gathered about him. The newcomer, another of the King’s Bedchamber, said in jerks that the English horse had rallied in Friars Street, and were holding the rebels in check to secure the King’s retreat. Lauderdale and Talbot almost dragged the King away as the Scottish troopers began to draw off.
The gabled house, which had been the King’s lodging for nearly a fortnight, was situated at the end of New Street, and extended to the Corn Market. The street was narrow, a continuation of Friars Street, which led downhill to the Sidbury Gate. Here, as Mr May had described, a band of English horse, rallying round old Lord Cleveland, Colonel Wogan, Majors Carlis, Massey, and others, was making charge after gallant charge. The street was a shambles, the dead and wounded trampled under sliding, plunging hooves, and blood running in the gutters. The little party escorting the King with difficulty made their way to New Street down one of the lanes that thronged with demoralized Royalist troops, and reached at last the big, half-timbered house at the western end. Here, the King, who had not spoken again after his last appeal to Leslie’s brigade, dismounted, saying hurriedly: ‘I will be with you presently. There is something I must do first.’
Only Talbot caught his words, drowned as they were in the noise of the fighting farther down the street. He shouted: ‘Haste, haste, sir, for God’s love!’
‘Hold my horse!’ the King said, pushing the bridle into his hand. ‘My papers! I must destroy my papers!’
He vanished into the house. Darcy slid out of the saddle, and ran after him, pursued by Lauderdale’s raucous voice bidding him hurry the King.
The uproar in the street seemed to be growing louder, caught and flung back as it was by the two rows of houses; and it soon became apparent to the anxious eyes that watched it that the fight was surging nearer. Reinforcements of Republicans were being poured into the town, and not all the desperate gallantry of the Cavaliers who again and again hurled themselves at the tide of red-coats could avail against the opposing weight of numbers.
Inside the house, the King had reached the room leading out of his bedchamber which served him for closet, and was feverishly searching through the mass of his papers, flinging first one document and then another to Darcy, who crammed them on to the embers of the dying fire. The King was absorbed in his task, but Darcy was sickeningly conscious of the sound of fighting, which soon seemed to be almost under the latticed windows. Once again he begged the King to come away, but Charles paid no heed.
The door leading from the bedchamber on to the landing burst open; a hurried, heavy footstep came across the floor, and in another instant the doorway between the two rooms was blocked by the bulk of Lord Wilmot.
He was out of breath, and dishevelled, his florid, handsome face reddened by exertion; and, without wasting time on ceremony, he grasped the King’s arm. ‘Leave that, sir! In another minute they will be in! Your servants are holding the door! You must come at once!’
‘Yes,’ the King said. ‘Yes, I’ll come. One more, Duke! Blow up the flame!’
The last document flared up the chimney. Darcy scrambled up from his knees, stammering: ‘Your gear – your jewels!’
‘Oh, Duke!’ The King began to laugh.
Wilmot flung open the door, and pushed the King through it. ‘The back way! They wait for you there.’
To judge by the confused din coming up the well of the staircase from the ground-floor, the fight was by this time concentrated about the entrance to the house.
‘Quick, sir! For God’s love, will you be quick?’ Wilmot hissed. He thrust the King towards the narrow backstairs, but suddenly pulled him back again. ‘No, wait! I’ll go first: they may have got round the house by now!’
He pulled his sword out of the scabbard, and went swiftly but cautiously down the twisting stair. The King caught Darcy by the hand, who seemed as though he would remain heroically to guard the rear, and followed him.
Talbot, Lauderdale, Armourer, and Hugh May were all gathered about the back-door, and there was as yet no sign of a Republican soldier to dispute the King’s escape. Talbot fetched a great sigh when he saw the tall, graceful form emerge from the house, and pressed forward immediately, leading the grey horse. ‘Up, sir! Already we’ve stayed too long. Leslie will have marched out through the St Martin’s Gate. We must follow him hard.’
‘O God!’ burst from the King. ‘Flight! I must rally them. They shall follow me!’
Talbot, who had a bitter disbelief in the rallying power of men who had retreated, leaving their King to the mercy of his enemies, was silent; but Lauderdale said bluffly: ‘Ay, we’ll rally them, never fear! But ye’ll need to catch them first, I’m thinking. On with ye, sir!’
The King set spurs to his horse; the little party closed in about him, and, trotting briskly, made its way along the narrow streets to the St Martin’s Gate.
The struggle was now concentrated about Castle Hill, which was still held by Rothes and Sir William Hamilton; and in Friars Street, where the Cavaliers were being driven back with terrible loss towards the Key. As the King’s party rode westward, the noise of the fighting became muffled in the distance. No Republican troops appeared to oppose the King’s passage; and at six o’clock, in fast-gathering dusk, he galloped out through the St Martin’s Gate on to the Wolverhampton Road.
A mile beyond the town, at Barbon’s Bridge, Leslie had succeeded in halting his brigade. With this imposing force of horsemen were also a number of English Cavaliers, who, finding the Scots horse retreating, and the King gone, had escaped in some confusion from the town. When the King rode up, a troop was hurriedly forming under Buckingham to break back into the town, and carry the King out of it in the teeth of his enemies. His arrival brought such a sense of relief to his friends that it was greeted with something like a cheer. He paid no more heed to it than to the salutation of Buckingham, who rode up to him at once, a dozen questions on his lips. A hand motioned that beautiful young man out of the way; the King’s eyes were fixed on Leslie’s face. He said, with the good-humour that never wholly deserted him: ‘You have them well together, General! It is not too late. A surprise attack now –’
‘I have them together, as your Majesty perceives,’ Leslie interrupted. ‘But I can keep them together only in retrograde movement. I must earnestly beseech your Majesty to abandon any thought of renewing hostilities.’
‘Did you say renewing?’ asked Buckingham, honeysweet.
Leslie ignored him, keeping his gaze on the King. ‘Believe me, I feel for your Majesty, but I should be failing in my duty to your person were I to counsel anything but retreat.’
Those near the King saw his hand tighten on the bridle. For a moment he did not speak, but after a pause he said in a low voice that was unsteady with some suppressed emotion: ‘Do you know – do they know – that there are men back there in Worcester fighting to cover this shameful retreat?’
Leslie gave an infinitesimal shrug. ‘The men you speak of are not Scots, sir,’ he said dryly. ‘These know that, at least.’
‘Then you will do nothing?’ The King’s voice rose slightly. ‘You are their General! They know you; they trust you! One word from you – the word you will not give, it seems –’
‘I will give no order I cannot compel my men to obey, sir.’
The King uttered an impatient exclamation, and wheeled his horse about. Once more he showed himself to the troopers, calling on them by name, cajoling, almost imploring. It was useless; even this temporary halt was not to their liking; and men were already deserting from the ranks.
‘This is not to be borne!’ Talbot said under his breath, his heart wrung by the sight of the young King’s despair.
His muttered words reached Lord Derby’s ears. A flush had mounted to Derby’s cheeks; his lofty brow was frowning; his eyes alight with contempt and a sense of outrage. ‘It is not to be borne!’ he echoed. ‘Scottish scum!’ He drove his spurs suddenly into his horse’s flanks, and leaped forward after the King.
Buckingham would have followed, but found his way blocked by Talbot. ‘Let be, my lord!’ Talbot said. ‘You can do no good there.’
Buckingham checked, but said with a scowl: ‘Had I been given the command, these poltroons should have shown a different front!’
‘It is useless to hark back to past grievances,’ Talbot replied, curbing a little natural exasperation. The volatile Duke, though only twenty-four years old, and quite inexperienced in war, had been sulking for days because the King had refused to give the command of the army to him. He had been brought up with Charles, almost like a brother, and enjoyed, besides the gifts of beauty, grace and wit, a greater share of the King’s confidence than Talbot thought he deserved. He often presumed on his position and the King’s easy temper, but though he looked sulky now, and for a moment obstinate, he did not push past Talbot, but sat flicking his embroidered gloves against his high boot, and looking angrily in Leslie’s direction.
Wilmot, who had ridden after Derby, came back to join the knot of gentlemen gathered round Talbot. Talbot saw the glint of a tear on his cheek, and moved forward to meet him. ‘It’s a sleeveless errand, Harry: they won’t fight, and every moment that we linger here puts him in danger!’
‘He’s distracted,’ Wilmot said. ‘I have never known him like this before.’
‘Small wonder. This is a crushing defeat. I dare not think on the consequences.’
Wilmot sighed, but said, pursuing his own train of thought: ‘To get him out of the country! There will be a price on his head. Oh, my God, what to do, Talbot? What to do to save that unhappy boy?’
Talbot was unable to answer, for the King had ridden up beside Lord Derby. In the gloom of twilight it was hard to see his face, half-hidden by the sweep of his hat-brim. He did not speak; nor, when an order rang out, and the brigade began to move northwards again, did he glance towards the ranks of the troopers. He reined in his horse at the side of the road, and remained motionless in the saddle, seeming to heed neither the steady trot of the squadrons passing him, nor the anxious consultation being held by his friends.
The last of the squadrons had not passed when the thunder of hooves approaching from the south sent hands instinctively to sword-hilts. But the oncoming cavalry was not riding in the orderly formation of Cromwell’s victorious troops; the hoof-beats were irregular, approaching at full gallop; in another minute the King’s party was lost to view in a sudden swirl of Cavalier horse, and the evening became loud with voices, sharp questions and disjointed answers tossed to and fro in almost indistinguishable babel.
The troop numbered from fifty to sixty horsemen, who had fought their way out of the town, after the wild turmoil in Friars Street. So great was the confusion in Worcester that the officers could give the King no very sure account of those of his followers who were missing from their ranks. The Roundheads were in possession of the town, but it was thought that the Scots lords were still holding out on Castle Hill, a position sufficiently impregnable to enable them to surrender upon terms. The English defence at the Town Hall had been overcome; someone had seen the Duke of Hamilton carried, mortally wounded, into the Commandery. Of Cleveland, Wogan, Carlis, Hornyhold, Slaughter, all engaged in the cavalry skirmish to secure the King’s retreat, there was no news. At the end it had been each man for himself; nor, in the dusk and the appalling mêlée, had it been possible to discover who yet lived, and who lay dead in the reeking streets.
A sob broke from the King; he said wildly: ‘We must go back, I tell you! I will not bear this flight! Better dead! Better dead!’
His words brought about a momentary silence. It was broken by Colonel Blague, who said bluntly: ‘The day is lost, sir. We can do but one thing more.’
The King’s eyes lifted eagerly to his face. ‘What more?’
‘We can preserve your person, sir, and that, God helping us, we will do.’
‘My person!’ the King exclaimed, with an impatient jerk of his head.
Derby’s cool voice interposed. ‘Your person, sir, which is to say, our honour. There can be no turning back. Your Majesty knows it as surely as I do.’
The King turned from him. ‘George! Harry!’ he said imploringly.
‘Oh, sir, my Lord Derby is of course right: no question!’ Buckingham replied.
Wilmot pushed up to the King’s horse, and laid a hand over the ungloved one grasping the bridle. ‘Alas, sir, think! What will become of us if you fall into Cromwell’s hands? All is not lost while you live. Believe me, believe me, my dear master, the worst disaster that can now befall us who love you, and look to you to lead us again, is your death or your capture!’
The hand was rigid under his, but after a moment the King said in a quieter voice: ‘You must forgive me, gentlemen: in truth, I am not myself. Let us go on.’
The last of the Scottish cavalry had ridden by; the King started after the diminishing squadrons, riding soberly, his cloak drawn round him, and his hat pulled low over his brow. The Lords Talbot and Wilmot joined him, riding one on either side of him; Buckingham, Lauderdale, and the Gentlemen of his Bedchamber closed in behind; and the remainder of the escort fell into some kind of order in the rear.
Leslie, who had waited to confer with the King and his advisers, ranged alongside the Earl of Derby, and began in his dry, rather expressionless voice to explain the course he thought it proper to pursue. This consisted of an immediate retreat into Scotland, which, little though it might commend itself to one of Derby’s proud temper, did indeed seem to be the only thing left to do. Both Buckingham and Lauderdale, who had pressed up close behind the King’s companions, accorded the plan their approval, but the King, over whose apparently unattending head the discussion was held, did not utter a word, but rode on, jostled sometimes by the horses on either side of him, but aloof from their riders, his despair a barrier not even Buckingham cared to break through.
It was agreed that Leslie’s itinerary should be followed, with Newport, in Shropshire, for the first objective. Leslie could not but believe that Cromwell would lose no time in pursuing the remnant of the King’s army, but he trusted that by forced marches they might be able to reach the border before him.
He spurred on to join his own officers, leaving the King’s friends to talk over his advice. The King’s voice, now perfectly under control, but flat-toned, as though drained of vitality by the shattering of his hopes, interrupted the discussion. ‘I will not go back to Scotland.’
The brief sentence surprised the four persons who heard it into a rather stunned silence. After a moment, Buckingham repeated: ‘You will not go back to Scotland?’
‘But – oddsblood, sir, what else remains? You must seek your safety there!’
‘I had rather be hanged.’
He spoke without passion, but so deliberately that it was evident his mind was made up. The crack of a laugh broke from Lauderdale. ‘I warrant ye! But ye are bound to consider your safety, sire – or we for ye, forbye –’
‘I think it absolutely impossible to reach the border. The country will all rise up on us once the news of this day’s defeat is known.’
‘Ay, maybe you’re right at that,’ Lauderdale conceded. ‘But we’ve a matter of three thousand horse with us, I’ll have your Majesty to bear in mind.’
‘Men who deserted me when they were in good order would never stand to me when they have been beaten,’ Charles replied.
Lauderdale found nothing to say. Buckingham, who had no reason to share his master’s loathing of Argyll and his Covenanters, began to expostulate, but was silenced by the King’s saying over his shoulder, with unaccustomed sharpness: ‘Peace, George! My mind is made up. I do not go to Scotland.’
‘Then, by your leave, sir, it is time to call a halt!’ said Talbot. ‘I shall not say you are wrong: indeed, I am with you, but this is a matter for consultation. Mr Lane! Pass the word to halt!’
Lane, one of Talbot’s own levies, went galloping down the ragged line, and in a few minutes the troop was at a standstill, the King, with his attendant lords, and the chief amongst the officers, withdrawn off the road for a hasty council of war.
The light was by this time so dim that it was difficult to distinguish one face from another. The King, taller by half a head than any of those about him, addressed a group of shadows. He said: ‘I have been considering, gentlemen. If we stay together we are enough to attract attention, not enough to withstand assault. All our hope lies in scattering.’
‘Our hope is in your Majesty,’ Derby said. ‘Consider only your own safety, for nothing else is of any moment.’
This courtier-speech seemed to amuse the King. He said, with his irrepressible humour creeping into his voice: ‘Oddsfish, does any man desire to feel a halter about his neck?’
‘So only you were safe!’ Wilmot said, trying to find his hand to kiss.
‘I thank thee, Harry. My Lord Talbot, you are a native of these parts! Tell me, what good hope have I of finding honest friends here who will help me to safety?’
‘The best, sir!’ Talbot answered at once. ‘But you will need to put yourself in some disguise. I too have been considering. Would your Majesty consent to counterfeit a country-fellow?’
‘I will counterfeit what you please, but you will have remarked, my lord, that I have an odd, ugly face. Can you disguise that, think you?’
‘More easily than your inches, sire. Will you be pleased to let us know your mind? What will you do? Where will you go?’
‘To London,’ replied the King, a ring of defiance in his voice.
His decision, as he had foreseen, provoked a storm of censure. To some it seemed the dream of a distracted youth; to others a scheme, sound at core, but impossible to be put into action. Voices out of the dusk implored the King to abandon a notion so fraught with disaster, to trust in Leslie, to consider the difficulties to be met with, to be guided by older and wiser heads.
Talbot only seemed undecided, until Wilmot suddenly said, his light voice jumping a little: ‘I agree with you, sir, and I will go with you.’
Buckingham, whose dare-devilry no man could deny, was nettled, and gave an unkind laugh. Wilmot flushed in the darkness, knowing his own soul’s shrinking, but repeated: ‘I will go with you. In London, they will never think to look for you; and in London you have faithful friends who will transport you back to France.’
‘You amaze me, Wilmot, by God, you do!’ said Buckingham.
‘You should bear in mind, my Lord Duke, that I have the advantage over you of fifteen years’ experience!’ Wilmot flung back at him.
‘Oh, hush!’ the King said. ‘Here is nothing to quarrel about, my good friends. My resolve is taken. Now I am in your hands, my Lord Talbot.’
‘Leslie must be informed of this,’ Talbot said, and again called up Cornet Lane, and sent him galloping up the road in the wake of the retreating Scots.
Derby said, with distaste vibrating in his voice: ‘Your Majesty has scarcely considered what this project must mean! To put yourself into the guise of a country-fellow will require of you a behaviour which must be wholly against your birth, your breeding, your high estate! Your Majesty does not know – cannot know –’
‘My lord, my dear lord!’ interrupted the King, half-amused, half-soothing, ‘my Majesty is not so nice, believe me!’
‘Sire, you are a King.’
‘I may be a King,’ Charles replied, ‘but I know something of how beggars live.’
This frank allusion to his financial straits made Derby, a nobleman of the old school, stiffen a little.
The King tried to see the faces about him. ‘Well, gentlemen?’
Buckingham yawned audibly. ‘Dear sir, you have told us your mind is made up. We await your commands.’
‘I have only one left to give you. It is that you do now look to yourselves. You can do no more for me, and for what you have done, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, gentlemen. I shall not forget.’
‘So please your Majesty, before we look to ourselves we will see you to some place of safety,’ said Colonel Blague.
‘And where may that be?’ enquired Buckingham.
Derby said reluctantly: ‘If your Majesty is determined on this course, there is a house known to me where you may find safe shelter for a day at least. It stands retired, and is inhabited by a very honest fellow, one of five brothers who harboured me lately, after the defeat of my force at Wigan. My Lord Talbot, you should know it, I think. It is a hunting-lodge called Boscobel, in the parish of Tong in Shropshire, and belongs, they told me, to the Giffards.’
‘I have one of the Giffards with me now,’ said Talbot. ‘But Tong must be forty miles from here!’ He spoke hesitantly, thinking of the King, who had scarcely been out of the saddle since early morning.
‘I like it well,’ Charles said decidedly. ‘Can you lead me, my Lord Derby?’
‘I dare not attempt it, sir. In this darkness, only a native of the country could hope to find his way.’
‘Pass the word for Mr Charles Giffard!’ Talbot commanded.
Before Mr Giffard could come up, Lane had cantered back to them, accompanied by General Leslie, who seemed, from the sound of his voice, to be in no very good temper. He spoke civilly, however, to the King, warning him that delay was dangerous, and begging that he would keep up with the brigade. When he learned that Charles had taken the resolution of separating altogether from the brigade, he was at first thunderstruck, and then coldly furious. He represented to the King in the strongest terms the folly of such a course, and made such an acid allusion to untrustworthy advisers that the hostility hitherto suppressed in the English lords’ breasts flared up, and even some of those who had been most urgent with the King to escape into Scotland now supported his counter-plan.
An acrimonious dispute between Leslie and Buckingham caused the King to remark to the Lord Talbot somewhat bitterly that although he could not get Leslie’s horse to stand by him against the enemy, it seemed he could not get rid of them now, when he had a mind to it.
His voice had a carrying quality, and as he had not lowered it, it easily reached Leslie’s ears. Leslie said, sitting rigidly upright in the saddle: ‘Your Majesty may at least trust my men to carry you into safety!’
‘I had rather trust to my own wits,’ responded Charles.
‘Your Majesty places me in an intolerable position. I am bound by honour to guard your Majesty’s person.’
A melancholy smile crossed the King’s features. As though his eyes, piercing the gloom, had seen it, Leslie said with difficulty: ‘Your Majesty blames me for what no man could have prevented. If my life could be of avail you might take it with my good-will.’
‘But it is of no avail,’ Charles said. ‘I do not go with you to Scotland, General.’
‘I beg that your Majesty will reconsider that most unwise decision,’ Leslie replied, and saluted, and rode off without another word.
The King looked towards the troop he could perceive only as vague shadows in the gathering darkness. ‘Let any who have a mind to try the chances of escape into Scotland, leave me now and follow General Leslie,’ he said clearly.
No one moved. ‘Your Majesty is answered,’ Talbot said.
“In short, "Royal Escape" is just the thing for you if you're into royalty, romance, and adventure. ” - Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society...
“In short, "Royal Escape" is just the thing for you if you're into royalty, romance, and adventure. ” - Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
“Royal Escape, first published in 1938, offers readers a very interesting window into the young life of King Charles II. ” - Book Loons
Length: 8 in
Width: 5.25 in
Weight: 17.36 oz
Page Count: 464 pages