“Mine eyes, mine eyes, run down with water, because the Comforter which should relieve my soul is far from me; my Children are desolate because the enemy prevailed.”Lamentationsi.16.Private Devotions of James Stanley.
Paul’s wound was healing, but Mary did not think it was safe to travel.Dragoons were patrolling west of Preston, cutting off that route to the coast and the Isle of Man.This, in turn, prevented Paul from delivering James’s letter to Charlotte.By now she might have learnt of his death and he thought the letter would give her some comfort.He resolved to wait another day then set out, hoping to find unguarded roads to the east of Preston.He would make for Salmsbury Hall, then travel north with Lancaster as his goal.Here he hoped to find a ship bound for the Isle of Man.
His thoughts were interrupted by an urgent rap on his door.The door opened and in came Mary.‘There are soldiers in the village at Brindle.They are looking for one of Derby’s men who fled after the execution,’ she said a little breathlessly.
‘Eh…, how soon before they come here?’
‘There are a few other farms closer to the village that they will probably search first.But we need to get you hidden.We have a priest hole that’s never been found.’
‘But what about my horse?’
‘We can pass him off as one of ours.He is unsaddled and in the field with our horses.He looks a little grander than a farm hoss, I grant you.If they ask, I can tell them my man has been extravagant of late.Now grab your things and come with me.’
Paul stepped into his boots and picked up his satchel and sword.He followed Mary into the kitchen, thinking that she was going to take him out of the farmhouse to hide in a barn.She stopped in front of the large open fireplace, where a low fire was burning, potage simmering in an iron pan suspended above the heat.
‘Over here,’ she said, beginning to move the pans and cooking utensils hanging on one side of the fireplace.
Paul looked at Mary, puzzled.
‘Crouch down,’ she said.‘Slide yoursel’ round the fire to the back of the fireplace.Then go into the corner.See how the chimney breast opens up at the back?’
Holding his sword and satchel close to his chest, Paul squeezed around the fire.His wounded shoulder grazed the wall and he flinched at the pain.He saw a small recess in the side of the fireplace, but it was sealed with an iron panel.The heat from the fire was making him sweat.
‘Once I’ve pulled the bars out from this side you can lean on the panel and push it out of the way,’ Mary said.‘Get yoursel’ through.You won’t have much space, so put your things at the far end and then turn round and push the panel back.I’ll put the pots and pans back in place.Then I’ll build up the fire.The heat stops anyone from looking too close.’
Paul wondered how small the hidden space was on the other side of the panel.It did look to be a good sized fireplace, which encouraged him.‘Can I take in something to drink?’ he asked.
‘You’ll find a flagon of small beer in there with a reed straw in it, so you can drink without too much noise,’ she replied.‘And I put a loaf in there this morning.Right, you can push now.’
Paul leant his shoulder against the panel.It gave way and he dropped his satchel and sword to his feet, and got his hands around the sides of the panel and pushed it away.The panel was warm but not too hot to touch.He bent down and shuffled himself through the gap.Peering into the darkness he saw a rat scurry out of his way.As his eyes got accustomed to the dark he took in the surroundings.The space was taller than the panel, so he was able to fully stand up.On a small recess in the wall on the left he saw the beer and the bread.He picked up his sword and satchel and put them to the back.
‘Push the panel back into place,’ Mary said, her voice muffled.‘Don’t worry about air.Above the panel there is a small passage which lets in air from the chimney breast.’
As he gripped the panel to move it back into place, Paul caught sight of this small tunnel above his head.
Mary’s voice began to trail off as she gave him one last instruction.‘I’ll tap on the panel when the soldiers arrive.Then you must be as silent as the grave.’
Paul heard Mary putting more logs on the fire and wondered how hot it would get in his hiding place.He set the panel back into place and heard the bars go back in.Settling himself as comfortably as he could, he sat down and waited.Sweat dripped down his back and his stomach tensed in fear.He felt he needed the privy.The Parliamentarians wanted the contents of his satchel; the speech the earl had tried to make at his execution, and more than that the letter that Paul had been entrusted to take to Charlotte.What would they do with him?Arrest and a trial was the best he could hope for.At worst they might string him up from the nearest tree; the last ten years had seen many such deaths in England.He was no more encouraged by the prospect of a trial, if it only served to legalize murder, as he had witnessed with the earl.