THE TRAP SHUTS
THE tragedies of history seldom run their course with the dramatic economy of conscious art. It is a temptation that must be resisted to speak of Charles as having consciously set before himself, until the last weeks when death stared him visibly in the face, the necessity of his own martyrdom. That the supreme sacrifice might be demanded of him he was well aware; but that it was not to be evaded in any circumstances without treason to his soul and his cause was as yet no more obvious to him than, according to the Quo vadis legend, it had been to the Apostle Peter. In so far as we may judge of the workings of so complex and reserved a mentality, it would seem that whenever the idea of flight was mooted, a certain subconscious back-pull came into play that deprived his efforts of just that all-outness which makes the difference between success and failure in a delicately poised enterprise.
Thus when Berkeley returned from his mission to Windsor and found the King full of thanks and commendation to him for that urgent warning he had sent, he could only ask him why, if His Majesty had so approved of his advice, he had taken no steps to act upon it. But the King insisted that it would be time enough to think of that after these critical negotiations with the Scots had gone through. His loyal gentlemen, who were far more concerned for his life than he was himself, knew how fine he was cutting it, but they could only possess their souls in patience, and see that all was in readiness for the attempt when he gave the word. The Queen, co-operating from her side of the Channel, had caused a vessel to be dispatched that lay ready in Southampton Water, and a small craft was waiting to ferry him over the Solent. The way was still open.
At last the Engagement with the Scots was concluded, and it had plainly become a case of now or never. For the King had had to return his answer to the Commissioners of Parliament who had presented him with that ultimatum of the Four Bills. He must have known that his refusal to sign would, in however courteous terms it was framed, precipitate an open breach with Parliament, and that they would be certain to proceed to measures that would put escape out of the question.