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Historical Tales, Vol. 4 (of 15) by Charles Morris

A fugitive officer from the defeated army


The

prince was grateful even for this sorry shelter, and spent all that day hidden in the hay, feasting on some cold meat which his host had given him. The next night he set out for Richard Penderell's house, Mr. Woolfe having told him that it was not safe to try the Severn, it being closely guarded at all its fords and bridges. On their way they came again near the mill. Not caring to be questioned as before by the suspicious miller, they diverged towards the river.

"Can you swim?" asked Charles of his guide.

"Not I; and the river is a scurvy one."

"I've a mind to try it," said the prince. "It's a small stream at the best, and I may help you over."

They crossed some fields to the river-side, and Charles entered the water, leaving his attendant on the bank. He waded forward, and soon found that the water came but little above his waist.

"Give me your hand," he said, returning. "There's no danger of drowning in this water."

Leading his guide, he soon stood on the safe side of that river the passage of which had given him so many anxious minutes.

Towards morning they reached the house of a Mr. Whitgrave, a Catholic, whom the prince could trust. Here he found in hiding a Major Careless, a fugitive officer from the defeated army. Charles revealed

himself to the major, and held a conference with him, asking him what he had best do.

"It will be very dangerous for you to stay here; the hue and cry is up, and no place is safe from search," said the major. "It is not you alone they are after, but all of our side. There is a great wood near by Boscobel house, but I would not like to venture that, either. The enemy will certainly search there. My advice is that we climb into a great, thick-leaved oak-tree that stands near the woods, but in an open place, where we can see around us."

"Faith, I like your scheme, major," said Charles, briskly. "It is thick enough to hide us, you think?"

"Yes; it was lopped a few years ago, and has grown out again very close and bushy. We will be as safe there as behind a thick-set hedge."

"So let it be, then," said the prince.

Obtaining some food from their host,--bread, cheese, and small beer, enough for the day,--the two fugitives, Charles and Careless, climbed into what has since been known as the "royal oak," and remained there the whole day, looking down in safety on soldiers who were searching the wood for royalist fugitives. From time to time, indeed, parties of search passed under the very tree which bore such royal fruit, and the prince and the major heard their chat with no little amusement.

Charles light-hearted by nature, and a mere boy in years,--he had just passed twenty-one,--was rising above the heavy sense of depression which had hitherto borne him down. His native temperament was beginning to declare itself, and he and the major, couched like squirrels in their leafy covert, laughed quietly to themselves at the baffled searchers, while they ate their bread and cheese with fresh appetites.

When night had fallen they left the tree, and the prince, parting with his late companion, sought a neighboring house where he was promised shelter in one of those hiding-places provided for proscribed priests. Here he found Lord Wilmot, one of the officers who had escaped with him from the fatal field of Worcester, and who had left him at Whiteladies.


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