the King by
The old manor-house of Sir Christopher Burroughs of Stolham,
Norfolk, lay shining in the last rays of the setting sun, on the eve of
May Day 1646. The long range of windows along the front of the building
between the two buttresses flashed with crimson and gold; for the house
faced the south-west, and the brilliant light that shone from the rim
of the blood-red cloud behind which the sun was sinking, glowed deep on
the diamond panes. But the house was lighted within as well as without.
In the large low-ceilinged dining-hall wax candles burned in great
silver sconces, and the cloth was laid for supper. In the upper room
the gleams that came through the spaces between the heavy curtains
showed that there was company there. If any one had gone close to the
porch and listened, he could have heard the sound of voices talking
loudly, and now and then a laugh, or could have seen the shadows of
servants passing to and fro in the buttery just within the great hall;
nay, any one going round the corner of the house where there was an
angle of the wall of the garden, could have heard from an upper window
the sound of a lute playing a slow and stately measure, and if his ears
had been very sharp indeed, he would have detected the light footfalls
of dancers on the polished oaken floor.
It was an exciting time; for King Charles I and his cavaliers and
the army that they commanded had been beaten by Oliver Cromwell and the
soldiers of the Parliament at Naseby, in Northamptonshire, and the King
had lost all his baggage and his letters and papers. After this Charles
had been from place to place with his army, till he reached Oxford,
where his council was staying, and from this town he thought he should
be able either to get to London or to go northward and join the Scotch
But news had just come to Sir Christopher Burroughs that Cromwell
and his general, Fairfax, had marched to Newbury, only a mile from
Oxford; and though the worthy knight of Stolham was not fighting for
the King any more than most of his neighbours in Norfolk were, he was
more on the side of the Royal cause than on that of the Parliament; so
that the report of the King's danger gave him a good deal of anxiety,
and he and his friends and their ladies were talking about it as they
waited for the butler to come and tell them that supper was ready. The
troubles of the times did not always prevent people from eating and
drinking and having merry-makings. The people around Stolham did not
care enough for the Royal cause to give up all pleasures; and some of
themfriends of Sir Christopher toowere more inclined to side with
the Parliament and the Puritan generals, though at present they said
very little about it; and Sir Christopher presently called out,
Well, we met not to talk of politics or of the King's affairs; so
let us to supper, though I cannot but say that I would fain see the
ceasing of this strife, and the King with his own again.
Yes, with his own; but not with that which belongs to his
subjects, said a farmer, who had been fined for not paying the taxes
which the King had ordered to be forced upon the people without the
consent of Parliament.
Come, come, said Dame Burroughs, laughing and taking the farmer's
arm, we women hear enough of such talk every day in the week; but
to-morrow will be May Day, and there will be open house to our friends,
and for the lads and lasses, dancing at the May-pole, and a supper in
the barn. Let us keep English hearts within us even in these dark
times, and make merry as we can.
But methinks the May-pole is no more than a pagan thing, an idol to
encourage to vanity and profane dancing, said a sour-faced man, who
had been standing by the window.
It may have been a pagan custom once, said Sir Christopher; and
the same may be said of preaching from a pulpit; but all depends on the
way of it, and not on the thing itself. As to dancing, it is an old
custom enough; there is Scripture warrant for it perhaps, and it comes
naturally to all young creatures. I'll be bound, now, that our Dick and
his little cousin Cicely are at this moment getting the steps of the
gavotte or the other gambadoes that have come to us from France and
Spain, that they may figure before the company to-morrow.
That are they! said the dame laughing, as a servant opened the
door, and each of Sir Christopher's friends gave a hand to a lady to
lead them down to supper. Hark! don't you hear my kinswoman's lute?
Poor, kind Dorothy, she will play to them for the hour long, and likes
nothing better. I can hear their little feet pit-a-patting; and Dick
would insist on putting on his new fine suit, all brave with Spanish
point and ribbon velvet, and the boy has buckled on a sword, too, while
the little puss, Cicely, not to be backward, is all a prop with a stiff
petticoat and a brocaded fardingale, and has on her little silk cap
with the pearls, just as I have heard the fashion is among the Queen's
French ladies of honour. Hark! there they go, tum-tum-ty,
tum-twenty-tum, tum-twenty-tum! Bless their little hearts!
The sour-faced man made a grimace; for his wife was just before him,
and he could see her feet moving in time to the music as they all went
down into the great hall laughing and talking; nor did the sound of the
music cease till it was shut out by the closing of the door after they
had sat down to supper; and even then it came upon them in gushes of
melody every time a servant opened the door, to bring in another dish
or a flagon of ale or of wine.
They heard it when, supper being nearly over, the butler came in
softly and whispered to Sir Christopher, who, asking them to excuse him
for a moment, went out into the hall.
A horseman was standing there, booted and spurred, and with his
riding whip in his hand, and his steed was snorting, and scraping the
Do you know me again, Sir Christopher? said the man, in a low
Let me bring you to the light, muttered the knight, leading him to
the porch where there was a lantern hanging. To be sure. I have seen
you up at Whitehall and at Oxford, too, and are not likely to forget
His Majesty's Groom of the Chambers. How fares it with our Royal
Why, it stands this way, sir, as I take it, whispered the visitor.
His Majesty must either fly the country or reach the army of the
Scots, which he has no liking for, or raise the eastern counties and
risk another battle. As it is, we have come safe out of Oxford, where
Fairfax and the arch-rebel Cromwell are closing upon the city, and the
king has ridden behind me after I had trimmed off his pointed beard,
and made him look as much like a servant as is possible to his sainted
person. I left him an hour ago after we had left Deeping, for I came on
here to see if you could receive him, not according to his rank, but as
a plain guest, with the name of Thomas Williams; for there are those
about who might be meddlesome, and His Majesty can only tarry for two
or three days, waiting for a message from the Scots generals, to be
brought by a trusty hand. I had feared that His Majesty would have
overtaken me, for my horse cast a shoe, and came limping along for a
mile or more, till at the smithy yonder by the roadside I found a
Bring my dear friend Mr. Thomas Williams on with you, said Sir
Christopher loudly, as the door opened and a serving man came out; he
shall be welcome for old times' sake when we were at college together,
and tell him I will not have him put up at the inn while there is a bed
and a bottle at Stolham Manor.
Now neither Sir Christopher nor this visitor, who was the King's
Groom of the Chamber, knew that the King, hearing the sound of horsemen
behind him, had ridden past and turned down a bye-road, which all the
same led him to Stolham; still less did they imagine that he was
actually in the old manor house while they were talking there in the
hall; because they had no notion of what had happened in the room where
Mistress Dorothy was twanging the lyre, and the two young cousins were
footing to the tune of Valparaiso Bay.
While the children were in the very midst of a figure and Dick was
snapping his fingers, and Cicely was making the grand chasse,
Mistress Dorothy, glancing up from her music towards the window, had
seen a pale face looking through the pane. She was not a woman to
scream or to faint, for she was a quiet, staid, middle-aged person of
much experience, and had lived in London, where she went to Court more
than once with Sir Christopher and her kinswoman Dame Burroughs; so she
kept on playing, and walked a little nearer to the window. The man who
was outsidefor it was a man, and he had climbed the angle of the
wall, and now sat amidst the ivy close to the window-sillbeckoned to
her, and as she advanced opened the breast of his coat, and showed a
great jewel fastened with a gold chain under his vest.
Another moment, and she had unfastened the window, and he had raised
himself to the sill and come in. He was dressed like a servant,a
groom,for he wore high riding-boots and spurs, and had a cloak
strapped round his waist; he seemed to forget to take off his hat, but
stood still in the middle of the room, as Mistress Dorothy suddenly
knelt before him, and said in a whisper, Children, children, kneel; it
is the King!
Then the visitor removed his hat and showed his high, handsome face.
Dick and Cicely also fell on their knees, but the King said, Rise,
madam; rise, little ones; and pardon my intrusion. I am travelling
secretly, and was on my way hither when I found that I was followed,
and so left my horse at the inn in the next village, and walked on. I
would not that Sir Christopher Burroughs should be summoned, for my
pursuers will ere long be at the gate, and, not finding me here, may
Now Dick Burroughs was as sharp a little blade as could be found
between Stolham and Land's End, and quick as lightning he said, But,
Majesty, if it be no offence, let Cousin Cicely and I go on with our
dancing, for there be some friends of Sir Christopher at supper, and
should they or the servants no longer hear the lute, and think that we
be tired, they may be sent to call us to bed, seeing that to-morrow
will be May Day, and we shall rise early.
And then, Your Majesty, lisped Cicely, if anybody break in and
come up here and see us dancing, they will go away, and you can hide
behind the hangings yonder.
You are a bright lad, and you a loyal little lady, said Charles,
with a grave smile.
There is a horseman coming up the road, said Dick, in a whisper.
Your Majesty had best find a hiding-place, and I will show it you.
Above this room is the turret, and behind the hangings here is a door,
where a ladder goes straight up the wall to take you to the
turret-room, from which you can see far up and down the road. Let me go
first and light Your Majesty, and carry your cloak. Then, taking a
candle from the music stand, he began to mount the steps.
Thou'rt a brave lad, said the King, and I'll follow thee.
And it shall go hard but I'll get thee some supper, your Majesty,
said Dick; but Cis and I must keep on dancing till all the guests be
gone,and you will see who comes and leaves,even if it be till
daybreak, for there is a May moon shining all night.
Now, Mistress Dorothy, now, Cis, cried Dick, when he had come down
and closed door and curtain, music, music, for we must keep on
dancing. The dancing never ceased, but Dick stole to the buttery and
found a pie and a flagon of wine, which he carried with cup, knife, and
napkin, to the King in the turret-room, and then down to dance again,
till his legs ached and poor Cicely began to droop.
There was a knock at the door, and the stumbling of feet upon the
stair, and then the voice of Sir Christopher outside saying, What
warrant ye have to enter this house I know not; but as you take not my
word, look for yourselves.' With that he opened the door, and two men
looked into the room.
Dance up, Cis, whispered Dick, who gave a skip, and pretended to
see nobody. Play a little faster, Mistress Dorothy.
Now, said Sir Christopher, to the two fellows who stood outside,
mayhap you will leave these children to their sport till it is time
for them to go to bed; and with that he shut the door, and the fellows
went lumbering down the stair. It seemed to be hours afterward when Sir
Christopher again appeared. He opened the door suddenly, and he was not
alone. Dame Burroughs was with him and a strange gentleman.
What! not in bed, you naughty rogues! he said, as his eye fell on
Cissy, who was sitting on the floor, her head upon her hands, fast
Dick, lad, what ails thee? For Dick was standing by the hangings
with the sword that he carried half-drawn from the scabbard, and great
black rings round his eyes, and his legs trembling.
Come, Dick, said the knight, this is His Majesty's Groom of the
Chambers, and I would that we knew where our royal master could be
Here he is, said a deep voice from behind the curtain, as the King
drew it aside and stepped into the room. The music ceased, Madame
Dorothy gave a great cry. Charles stooped and caught up Cicely from the
ground in his arms and kissed her.
Come, sweetheart, he said, thou hast danced for the King till
thou art half-dead, but the King will not forget thee. Richard, thou'rt
a brave lad, and thou must come and kiss me, too. If we both live, thou
shalt not repent having served Charles Stuart both with head and feet.