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Georgette Heyer

BOOK: Georgette Heyer
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Copyright © 1938 by Georgette Heyer
Cover and internal design © 2008 by Sourcebooks, Inc. Cover photo © Bridgeman Art Library
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used ficti tiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Heyer, Georgette, 1902-1974. Royal escape / Georgette Heyer.
p. cm.
"First published in the United Kingdom in 1938 by William Heinemann
Ltd."—T.p. verso.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-1076-1
ISBN-10: 1-4022-1076-0
1. Charles II, King of England, 1630-1685—Fiction. 2. Great Britain— History—Charles II, 1660-1685—Fiction. 3. Great Britain—Kings and rulers—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6015.E795R63 2008 823'.912—dc22

To Norah Perriam

At supper the king was cheerful, not shewing the least sign of
fear or apprehension of any danger, neither then nor at any
time during the whole course of this business, which is no small
wonder, considering that the very thought of his enemies, so
great and so many, so diligent and so much interested in his
ruin was enough, as long as he was within their reach, and as
it were in the very midst of them, to have daunted the stoutest
courage in the world, as if God had opened his eyes as he did
Elisha's servant at his master's request, and he had seen an
heavenly host round about him to guard him, which to us
was invisible, who therefore, though much encouraged by his
undauntedness and the assurance of so good and glorious a
cause, yet were not without secret terrors within ourselves, and
thought every minute a day, a month, till we could see his
sacred person out of their reach.
Colonel Gounter's
Last Act in the Miraculous Story of His
Majesty's Escape.)


'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 dispo sition 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 con fused, struggling forms loomed and faded as the ragged battle pressed nearer and nearer to the town.
  Across the road before the Sidbury Gate, an ammu nition-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 emer gency, 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 breast plate. '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 compli ments, 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, splut tering 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 princi pally 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 demoral ized 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.
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