CHAPTER VII. THE ROYAL OAK OF BOSCOBEL.
They went on very well till they began to approach the branch stream where they had met with their adventure with the miller. They could not cross this stream by the bridge without going by the mill again, which they were both afraid to do. The king proposed that they should go a little way below, and ford the stream. Richard was afraid to attempt this, as he could not swim; and as the night was dark, and the current rapid, there would be imminent danger of their getting beyond their depth. Charles said that he could swim, and that he would, accordingly, go first and try the water. They groped their way down, therefore, to the bank, and Charles, leaving his guide upon the land, waded in, and soon disappeared from view as he receded from the shore. He returned, however, after a short time, in safety, and reported the passage practicable, as the water was only three or four feet deep; so, taking Richard by the hand, he led him into the stream. It was a dismal and dangerous undertaking, wading thus through a deep and rapid current in darkness and cold, but they succeeded in passing safely over.
They reached Boscobel before the morning dawned, and Richard, when they arrived, left the king in the wood while he went toward the house to reconnoiter, and see if all was safe. He found within an officer of the king's army, a certain Colonel Carlis, who had fled from Worcester some time after the king had left the field, and, being acquainted with the situation of Boscobel, had sought refuge there; William Penderel, who had remained in charge of Boscobel, having received and secreted him when he arrived.
Richard and William brought Colonel Carlis out into the wood to see the king. They found him sitting upon the ground at the foot of a tree, entirely exhausted. He was worn out with hardship and fatigue. They took him to the house. They brought him to the fire, and gave him some food. The colonel drew off his majesty's heavy peasant shoes and coarse stockings. They were soaked with water and full of gravel. The colonel bathed his feet, which were sadly swollen and blistered, and, as there were no other shoes in the house which would answer for him to wear, Dame Penderel warmed and dried those which the colonel had taken off, by filling them with hot ashes from the fire, and then put them on again.
The king continued to enjoy such sort of comforts as these during the night, but when the morning drew near it became necessary to look out for some place of concealment. The Penderels thought that no place within the house would be safe, for there was danger every hour of the arrival of a band of soldiers, who would not fail to search the mansion most effectually in every part. There was the wood near by, which was very secluded and solitary; but still they feared that, in case of a search, the wood would be explored as effectually as the dwelling. Under these circumstances, Carlis was looking around, perplexed and uncertain, not knowing what to do, when he perceived some scattered oaks standing by themselves in a field not far from the house, one of which seemed to be so full and dense in its foliage as to afford some hope of concealment there. The tree, it seems, had been headed down once or twice, and this pruning had had the effect, usual in such cases, of making the branches spread and grow very thick and full. The colonel thought that though, in making a search for fugitives, men might very naturally explore a thicket or a grove, they would not probably think of examining a detached and solitary tree; he proposed, accordingly, that the king and himself should climb up into this spreading oak, and conceal themselves for the day among its branches.
The king consented to this plan. They took some provisions, therefore, as soon as the day began to dawn, and something to answer the purpose of a cushion, and proceeded to the tree. By the help of William and Richard the king and the colonel climbed up, and established themselves in the top. The colonel placed the cushion for the king on the best support among the limbs that he could find. The bread and cheese, and a small bottle of beer, which Richard and William had brought for their day's supplies, they suspended to a branch within their reach. The colonel then seated himself a little above the king, in such a manner that the monarch's head could rest conveniently in his lap, and in as easy a position as it was possible, under such circumstances, to attain. Richard and William, then, after surveying the place of retreat all around from below, in order to be sure that the concealment afforded by the foliage was every where complete, went away, promising to keep faithful watch during the day and to return in the evening. All things being thus arranged in the oak, the colonel bade his majesty to close his eyes and go to sleep, saying that he would take good care that he did not fall. The king followed his directions, and slept safely for many hours.