Royal fugitive’s night at Ludchurch?
The following account was one of the stories and legends of the hills and dales of North Staffordshire, collected by Mr M. A. Cope and written specially by him for the Leek Post and Times many years ago. The account is as follows:
Prince Charles (Bonnie Prince Charlie) looked down at the man who acknowledged him, and as he rose to his feet, explained that, in his opinion, life was useless unless it had definite aim, yet he could not lose his honour, nor yield to his foe without any effort at all, this life, he thought, was not his to lose. He belonged to his people and for their sakes, had to strive to attain his objectives, or die in the attempt.
He hoped that it would never be said of him, that he failed through lack of courage. It was not because of a love of power that he placed the lives of his men at stake, for he had made his vows before coming to England, and they had to be kept to the letter.
The latter parts of his remarks were addressed more to himself, than to de Trafford, and he mentally answered his own conversation, and the Squire, noting his companion’s pensive mood did not interupt the flow of words.
Scarce but an hour ago, his Highness continued, word had reached him that his foe were but within a few miles of him, and to avoid a battle he had taken to a different road, and so arrived at Swythamley. Even so, he was not sure that a clash of arms, at that point, could be avoided. He himself, would, as long as he was able, prevent such a tragedy.
He thought, suggested de Trafford, that if his highness were to take a near cut across the hills, led by some trusted guide, to a place where he might meet his men again, such a battle would be avoided. He could , he added, leave his men in charge of one whom he knew full well he could trust to observe his every wish.
Prince Charles declined the offer. His men were his friends, and said he, with them he would live or die, but at that moment at his side appeared his trusted lieutenant, who had overheard de Trafford’s words. The plan, he said, was sound. By adopting it they might save their men, for certainly they were in no condition to fight, tired as they were by their long weary march.
It was agreed, after some deliberation, that such a course should be adopted, and presently, the pale moon above, revealed three figures emerge from the wood, and take the upland road, across the moor for about two miles towards the spot, where a few hours earlier, the Squire had made his awful leap across the chasm of Ludchurch.
Now, as he marched along, with flapping cloak and broad brimmed hat, he might have been taken for a guerilla chief. Along the rugged path they hurried, until at last it dwindled into nothing and so, as once again the moon peeped out from behind the angry clouds, they made their way across the trackless moor.
Above, the stars shone bright against the blackness of ther sky, and they, and they alone, saw the little party halt before a leafless tree. The guide stepped forward, and seemed to disappear within its trunk. The others followed through the hollow wood.
There, a lighted lantern bid them welcome, and their leader, with light tread, showed them their beds, of skins and heather. This, the Luddites home, was unknown, save but to a few. Here, safe from foes, they could rest awhile, and the Squire bid his Princely guest repose, while he himself lay down, and soon gave himself up to the magic of a gentle sleep. Here too, Prince Charles lay his head, using his tartan as a pillow. A fugitive in a land where he was heir, on a couch that all but the poorest would despise. He was certain but of the present, what the morrow would bring, no one knew. So wearied out with bodily and mental fatigue, he slept, in that spot where many an ancient vigil had been kept, where persecuted by his fellows, the Luddites had sought the cavern for a hiding place.
Now nature had set her seal upon the recumbent forms, yet through that mantle there crept, fleeting figures from the past. Prince Charles dreamt, and in his dreams saw things that were, and things which might have been. The life he once had led and the life he now knew instead.
Restless as he slept, the Prince stirred and, with final effort woke, to hear the wind, whistling up the hill, and chafing the heather as it whipped across the ground. The lantern glimmered palely and its light shed but a fraction of illunination around the cave. Strange shadows leapt about, fantastic as the flame flickered with the wind.
Slowly, like a ghost, there appeared before his eye, a figure. First, the ghostly outline, incomplete. Two shadowy arms, in attitude so still. Thrilled by the sight, Charles lay upon his couch and waited for what might be. The outline seated itself upon a mossy seat and then the glimmering light, showed to him, beneath long and flowing tresses the face of a maiden, a face which was so fair, that it caused him to catch his breath. When she turned her gaze, full upon him, and her face revealed, her eye caressed him.
The Prince looked wistfully at his visitor, and as he gazed from over the moor there came, the shrill crow of the cock, heralding the dawn, and informed the Royal fugitive that now, his fair visitant must also go, away, into the distance she glided. As she passed him by, Charles stretched forth his hands, but, ignoring him, the vision moved on, and into the dimness of the morning, vanished from his sight.
The Prince now knew his ghostly guest, Flora MacDonald, who always appeared before him when his trouble was greatest. Now his soothed nerves, relieved of their burden, gave him peace and so, refreshed from all that might lie ahead, he rose, and stretched himself, rubbing the last remnants of sleep from his eyes.
At the sound of the movement, the Squire too, rose, and after a word or two, called to the guide. Prince Charles ate a crust, and taking down a deep draught of mountain air shook hands with de Trafford, and led by his guide, made off into the distance, pausing to look back at the black mouth of the cave, where he had known rest and met his vision of the night. Strengthened by what had passed, he drew himself erect, and hurried off, to the road beneath the Roaches, where he knew he could meet his men, and carry on the march which held for him, victory or defeat.