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- The Children of the New Forest - 2/64 -
intended only for Malignants, but for those who serve diligently. After we have examined the dell which thou speakest of, we will direct our horses' heads toward Arnwood."
"Who knows but what the man Charles may be concealed in the Malignant's house?" observed another.
"In the day I should say no," replied the leader; "but in the night the Cavaliers like to have a roof over their heads; and, therefore, at night, and not before, will we proceed thither."
"I have searched many of their abodes," observed another, "but search is almost in vain. What with their spring panels, and secret doors, their false ceilings, and double walls, one may ferret forever, and find nothing."
"Yes," replied the leader, "their abodes are full of these popish abominations; but there is one way which is sure; and if the man Charles be concealed in any house, I venture to say that I will find him. Fire and smoke will bring him forth; and to every Malignant's house within twenty miles will I apply the torch; but it must be at night, for we are not sure of his being housed during the day. James Southwold, thou knowest well the mansion of Arnwood?"
"I know well my way to all the offices below--the buttery, the cellar, and the kitchen; but I can not say that I have ever been into the apartments of the upper house."
"That it needeth not; if thou canst direct us to the lower entrance it will be sufficient."
"That can I, Master Ingram," replied Southwold, "and to where the best ale used to be found."
"Enough, Southwold, enough; our work must be done, and diligently. Now, my men, tighten your girths; we will just ride to the dell: if it conceals not whom we seek, it shall conceal us till night, and then the country shall be lighted up with the flames of Arnwood, while we surround the house and prevent escape. Levelers, to horse!"
The troopers sprung upon their saddles, and went off at a hard trot, Southwold leading the way. Jacob remained among the fern until they were out of sight, and then rose up. He looked for a short time in the direction in which the troopers had gone, stooped down again to take up his gun, and then said, "There's providence in this; yes, and there's providence in my not having my dog with me, for he would not have remained quiet for so long a time. Who would ever have thought that James Southwold would have turned a traitor! more than traitor, for he is now ready to bite the hand that has fed him, to burn the house that has ever welcomed him. This is a bad world, and I thank Heaven that I have lived in the woods. But there is no time to lose;" and the old forester threw his gun over his shoulder, and hastened away in the direction of his own cottage.
"And so the king has escaped," thought Jacob, as he went along, "and he may be in the forest! Who knows but he may be at Arnwood, for he must hardly know where to go for shelter? I must haste and see Miss Judith immediately. 'Levelers, to horse!' the fellow said. What's a Leveler?" thought Jacob.
As perhaps my readers may ask the same question, they must know that a large proportion of the Parliamentary army had at this time assumed the name of Levelers, in consequence of having taken up the opinion that every man should be on an equality, and property should be equally divided. The hatred of these people to any one above them in rank or property, especially toward those of the king's party, which mostly consisted of men of rank and property, was unbounded, and they were merciless and cruel to the highest degree, throwing off much of that fanatical bearing and language which had before distinguished the Puritans. Cromwell had great difficulty in eventually putting them down, which he did at last accomplish by hanging and slaughtering many. Of this Jacob knew nothing; all he knew was, that Arnwood was to be burned down that night, and that it would be necessary to remove the family. As for obtaining assistance to oppose the troopers, that he knew to be impossible. As he thought of what must take place, he thanked God for having allowed him to gain the knowledge of what was to happen, and hastened on his way. He had been about eight miles from Arnwood when he had concealed himself in the fern. Jacob first went to his cottage to deposit his gun, saddled his forest pony, and set off for Arnwood. In less than two hours the old man was at the door of the mansion; it was then about three o'clock in the afternoon, and being in the month of November, there was not so much as two hours of daylight remaining. "I shall have a difficult job with the stiff old lady," thought Jacob, as be rung the bell; "I don't believe that she would rise out of her high chair for old Noll and his whole army at his back. But we shall see."
Before Jacob is admitted to the presence of Miss Judith Villiers, we must give some account of the establishment at Arnwood. With the exception of one male servant, who officiated in the house and stable as his services might be required, every man of the household of Colonel Beverley had followed the fortunes of their master, and as none had returned, they, in all probability had shared his fate. Three female servants, with the man above mentioned, composed the whole household. Indeed, there was every reason for not increasing the establishment, for the rents were either paid in part, or not paid at all. It was generally supposed that the property, now that the Parliament had gained the day, would be sequestrated, although such was not yet the case; and the tenants were unwilling to pay, to those who were not authorized to receive, the rents which they might be again called upon to make good. Miss Judith Villiers, therefore, found it difficult to maintain the present household; and although she did not tell Jacob Armitage that such was the case, the fact was, that very often the venison which he brought to the mansion was all the meat that was in the larder. The three female servants held the offices of cook, attendant upon Miss Villiers, and housemaid; the children being under the care of no particular servant, and left much to themselves. There had been a chaplain in the house, but he had quitted before the death of Mrs. Beverley, and the vacancy had not been filled up; indeed, it could not well be, for the one who left had not received his salary for many months, and Miss Judith Villiers, expecting every day to be summoned by her relations to bring the children and join them, sat in her high chair waiting for the arrival of this summons, which, from the distracted state of the times, had never come.
As we have before said, the orphans were four in number; the two eldest were boys, and the youngest were girls. Edward, the eldest boy, was between thirteen and fourteen years old; Humphrey, the second, was twelve; Alice, eleven; and Edith, eight. As it is the history of these young persons which we are about to narrate, we shall say little about them at present, except that for many months they had been under little or no restraint, and less attended to. Their companions were Benjamin, the man who remained in the house, and old Jacob Armitage, who passed all the time he could spare with them. Benjamin was rather weak in intellect, and was a source of amusement rather than otherwise. As for the female servants, one was wholly occupied with her attendance on Miss Judith, who was very exacting, and had a high notion of her own consequence. The other two had more than sufficient employment; as, when there is no money to pay with, every thing must be done at home. That, under such circumstances, the boys became boisterous and the little girls became romps, is not to be wondered at: but their having become so was the cause of Miss Judith seldom admitting them into her room. It is true that they were sent for once a day, to ascertain if they were in the house, or in existence, but soon dismissed and left to their own resources. Such was the neglect to which these young orphans was exposed. It must, however, be admitted, that this very neglect made them independent and bold, full of health from constant activity, and more fitted for the change which was so soon to take place.
"Benjamin," said Jacob, as the other came to the door, "I must speak with the old lady."
"Have you brought any venison, Jacob?" said Benjamin, grinning, "else, I reckon, you'll not be over welcome."
"No, I have not; but it is an important business, so send Agatha to her directly."
"I will; and I'll not say any thing about the venison."
In a few minutes, Jacob was ushered up by Agatha into Miss Judith Villiers's apartment. The old lady was about fifty years of age, very prim and starched, sitting in a high-backed chair, with her feet upon a stool, and her hands crossed before her, her black mittens reposing upon her snow-white apron.
The old forester made his obeisance.
"You have important business with us, I am told," observed Miss Judith.
"Most important, madam," replied Jacob. "In the first place, it is right that you should be informed that his majesty, King Charles, has escaped from Hampton Court."
"His majesty escaped!" replied the lady.
"Yes; and is supposed to be secreted somewhere in this neighborhood. His majesty is not in this house, madam, I presume?"
"Jacob, his majesty is not in this house: if he were, I would suffer my tongue to be torn out sooner than I would confess it, even to you."
"But I have more for your private ear, madam."
"Agatha, retire; and Agatha, be mindful that you go down stairs, and do not remain outside the door."
Agatha, with this injunction, bounced out of the room, slamming-to the door so as to make Miss Judith start from her seat.
"Ill-mannered girl!" exclaimed Miss Judith. "Now, Jacob Armitage, you may proceed."
Jacob then entered into the detail of what he had overheard that morning, when he fell in with the troopers, concluding with the information, that the mansion would be burned down that very night. He then pointed out the necessity of immediately abandoning the house, as it would be impossible to oppose the troopers.
"And where am I to go to, Jacob?" said Miss Judith, calmly.
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