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ANCASHIRE, of all the English counties, has the greatest
rainfall. That is why I left it, exclaiming, like many another whom climate has exiled-
Why a home deny
Consequently, I sought a quiet nook in a sunny part of the Midlands, and became curate-in-charge of a sleepy country parish called L-and N-, picturesquely situated on the winding bank of one of our best-known rivers.
The road between the two hamlets L- and N-, of which the parish consisted, was really a lane, narrow, uneven and winding, bordered by closely-planted and very high elms, which met and interlaced at the top. It has been known for many generations as the King's Lane, and is so named in the most recent Ordnance Survey. This lane opened towards N
upon a common which formed the entrance to that place, and on one side whereof was my abode.
The house in which I lodged had originally been a farmhouse, but the land had all been sold except a garden and a paddock. The lower portion was of hewn stone, taken from a monastic tithe-barn which had been pulled down in Henry VIII.'s time. The chimneys, also of stone, were built out, and high up one could see beautiful bits of mouldings. By the entrance-gate were horsing-steps made up of old carved stones, and, above them, fixed in the wall, was a quaintly-twisted iron hook.
The house stood endwise to the common, and faced southward into an old-fashioned garden, at the bottom of which ran the highroad from the county-town. Its occupants were three old maiden ladies and their old bachelor brother, who had all seen better days, when farming was profitable. On my first visit the three sisters stood in a row, and introduced themselves to me with a curtsey—“We be three old maids." “Sometimes very useful people,” added the rheumatic member of the trio. Certainly they were very clean, very
pleasant and attentive, and full of old-world manners, accomplishments and reminiscences. They did not keep a servant ; the youngest sister did the housework. The brother, who attended to the garden and outdoor jobs, wore a very apparent wig, and had a picturesque grey beard of noticeable length. He was not often to be seen, and when I did meet him, he was taciturn and sententious. Slow of expression, scant of words, but quick in arriving at a logical conclusion, it was necessary to be very attentive in order to keep up a conversation with him.
In the entrance-hall was an old oil portrait of a young man. One night, when I thought I was the last in the house to retire to rest, I stood, lamp in hand, looking at this picture, before mounting the stairs. Almost without my noticing him, Mr. Frederick was at my side. “Who?”
“I don't know," I said.
“Would you know him if you did see him?” He looked solemn and oracular, but he said no more, and I went to bed.
The house was irregular, portions of it having been built at different times. This irregularity was most apparent inside, upstairs, and at the back. But my bedroom was a large, low, square room in the front, with a wide casement-window looking down the garden and towards the two roads.
It was a still night, after a dry, cool day, and though there was no moon, it was not very dark. About two o'clock in the morning I gradually awoke and became conscious of hearing the sounds of several horses galloping rapidly. I jumped out of bed, drew aside the window-curtain, and saw three horsemen, not quite close together, tearing round the corner from below, and coming towards the house. As they passed our entrance-gate I, of course, lost sight of them, and I was just about to return to bed when I saw six more horsemen, two in advance of the rest, coming from the same direction. Suddenly the sharp “crack” of shots was heard, but these last six men slackened not their pace and were soon also out of sight. One curious thing was that the sounds of all the horses' feet seemed to cease instantly after they were out of my sight. I thought the whole thing strange, but stiil not altogether unaccountable; possibly mounted poachers pursued by mounted gamekeepers ; or highwaymen, or burglars, or some private quarrel.
The next morning was bright and warm, and I was downstairs early. I found, however, that the whole household had been down
much earlier, and there were signs of some unusual occurrence. I met Mr. Frederick in the hall, a very rare thing at that hour, and I suppose my looks must have shown curiosity, for he said, “EFair," E- being our nearest market-town.
The three ladies, it seems, were in the habit of going to Eevery year on the fair-day, under the time-honoured pretext of doing some necessary shopping, but really to visit an ancient cousin to whom they were under some obligation. By nine o'clock accordingly they had departed, and Mr. Frederick and I were left alone for the whole day.
After breakfast I strolled outside. I could see no trace of my horsemen. The road had been much trodden, but there were no fresh marks on the grass or among the furze-bushes on the common. Turning back to the house I saw that Mr. Frederick had been watching me. He met me at the gate. “Did you see him last night?”
“Well, I thought I saw nine horsemen last night, but I must have been dreaming."
Entering the house he fastened the front door, and followed me into the parlour. “The women-folk are away,” he said. He then drew away from the wall a large sofa of the high-backed doubleended sort. The room was wainscotted all round to a height of three and a half feet from the floor. Taking from his pocket a small screw-driver, and going down upon his knees, he removed a few inches of the wainscot. This revealed the head of a long iron bolt, which he withdrew. He motioned me to follow him into the hall ; here he turned upward in one piece two of the steps in the staircase, which the removal of the bolt had thus set free. Lighting a lamp he asked me to follow him down a steep flight of stone steps. At the bottom, on our right hand, was a small heavy door, and as he unlocked it I noticed that it had been strongly made and fitted with great exactness. I perceived a faint earthy smell, and found we were in a small cellar about ten feet by five, in which we could just stand upright.
Resting on three rough oak trestles was a large coffin, covered with scarlet cloth much discoloured. Fastened to the lid by pins was a piece of paper, yellow with age. Mr. Frederick held the lamp, and I read, in a large antique hand :
“ye Body of His Most Sacred
He only said “Come.” We left the cellar, and he relocked the door, returned the movable steps, replaced the bolt, and put the parlour back into its usual state. Then he gave me the following relation :
On September 3, 1651, King Charles fled from Worcester with two faithful companions, and made his way due cast, hoping to gain some place on the coast, and so escape over the sea. Riding in silence, and avoiding the great high roads, they judged at length that they were free from immediate pursuit. About half-way between Worcester and E- they stopped at an inn to obtain food and information. Whether they had been careless, or too sanguine, certainly soon after leaving the inn they found they were being rapidly gained upon by six horsemen. On turning the corner at the bottom of our garden, the King, seeing on either side a stretch of common covered with tall dense furze-bushes, gave the word to “scatter." He took the left, by our garden-fence, one of his companions went straight forward, the other took to the right. In a few seconds the two foremost of the pursuers turned the corner and fired without drawing rein. This, it will be seen, was the subject of my vision of the preceding night, a vision faithfully reproduced every 3rd September since 1651.
Mr. Francis Purdy, the direct ancestor of my Mr. Frederick, was then the owner and occupier of the house and farm. He was a staunch Royalist, and one of his sons was fighting that very day at Worcester on the King's side. The father had feared all along that this attempt would end in disaster. Anxious for the earliest, or any intelligence, on one pretence or another he contrived to spend most of the night round about the premises. Thus it happened that he saw the three horsemen separate as they reached the common, saw the six pursuers, and heard the shots. What effect these last produced he did not then know, and was afraid to show himself too soon.
But with the first streak of daylight he was on the common, looking among the bushes. Behind a thick clump of furze, down at the bottom of a dry ditch, and close to his own fence, he found a horse and its rider, both dead. A hurried examination showed that the horse had been struck by a bullet sideways through the head, but there was no wound visible upon the dead man. The most likely thing was that the horse, on being struck, had pitched forward suddenly and thrown its rider over its head and broken his neck.
Meanwhile, Mr. Purdy's son, weary and hungry, had arrived at the house, a fugitive from the same luckless fight. The two together at once dragged the horse into the orchard and buried it there.
But the man? Even if Mr. Purdy's son had not known his features, his apparel and the things upon his person left no doubt as to his identity. It was indeed the King. What was to be done? The royal cause was completely lost. No Royalist returned to make inquiries. The Purdys had no acquaintances among persons of position, and they were themselves “suspects.”
First, they gathered sufficient sheet-lead from the roofs and cisterns about the house, and having carefully replaced everything they had found upon the royal corpse, they soldered it up in a rough fashion, it is true, but effectively, in this improvised case. Then they caused a strong outer coffin of oak to be made by one of their labourers who had been brought up as a cartwright. The curtains of their best parlour furnished the scarlet cloth. Last of all, having prepared the cellar for its royal occupant, the body of the King they there entombed.
But not unceremoniously. The ejected vicar of the parish was in hiding, in humble quarters not far away. He was communicated with, and not without tears he read the burial-service of the Church of England over the deceased King, with none but the two Purdys for fellow-mourners.
The secret had been carefully kept, and was handed down from father to son, but to no other. Mr. Frederick, being the last male of his race, judged it proper to confide it to me as the parish-priest pro tem.
The reader, who, like myself, has been carefully trained in the faith of Messrs. Hume and Smollett and our other accepted historians, can easily judge of my breathless bewilderment.
Who could he be, then, whose return was so enthusiastically welcomed, who sat on the throne from 1660 to 1685, whose reign, after all, brightened English life as that of the Merry Monarch? Where were the watchfui guardians of the royal succession ?
I put these and many such questions to Mr. Frederick. But in reply he only referred me to the coffin in the cellar. Whether one of the King's fellow-fugitives saw him fall and passed himself off for his royal master, whether it suited the policy of the royal party at the time to conceal the irreparable loss they had sustained, he could not say. Neither can I.
But that the Purdys were all pledged to the truth of the statement he had made, he assured me in the most solemn manner.
c. T. W. ROUBLE.