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- The Children of the New Forest - 3/64 -
"I hardly know, madam; there is my cottage; it is but a poor place, and not fit for one like you."
"So I should presume, Jacob Armitage, neither shall I accept your offer. It would ill befit the dignity of a Villiers to be frightened out of her abode by a party of rude soldiers. Happen what will, I shall not stir from this--no, not even from this chair. Neither do I consider the danger so great as you suppose. Let Benjamin saddle, and be prepared to ride over to Lymington immediately. I will give him a letter to the magistrate there, who will send us protection."
"But, madam, the children can not remain here. I will not leave them here. I promised the colonel--"
"Will the children be in more danger than I shall be, Jacob Armitage?" replied the old lady, stiffly. "They dare not ill-treat me--they may force the buttery and drink the ale--they may make merry with that and the venison which you have brought with you, I presume, but they will hardly venture to insult a lady of the House of Villiers."
"I fear they will venture any thing, madam. At all events, they will frighten the children, and for one night they will be better in my cottage."
"Well, then, be it so; take them to your cottage, and take Martha to attend upon the Miss Beverleys. Go down now. and desire Agatha to come to me, and Benjamin to saddle as fast as he can."
Jacob left the room, satisfied with the permission to remove the children. He knew that it was useless to argue with Miss Judith, who was immovable when once she had declared her intentions. He was debating in his own mind whether he should acquaint the servants with the threatened danger; but he had no occasion to do so, for Agatha had remained at the door while Jacob was communicating the intelligence, and as soon as he had arrived at that portion of it by which she learned that the mansion was to be burned down that night, had run off to the kitchen to communicate the intelligence to the other servants.
"I'll not stay to be burned to death," exclaimed the cook, as Jacob came in. "Well, Mr. Armitage, this is pretty news you have brought. What does my lady say!"
"She desires that Benjamin saddles immediately, to carry a letter to Lymington; and you, Agatha, are to go up stairs to her."
"But what does she mean to do? Where are we to go?" exclaimed Agatha.
"Miss Judith intends to remain where she is."
"Then she will remain alone, for me," exclaimed the housemaid, who was admired by Benjamin. "Its bad enough to have little victuals and no wages, but as for being burned to death--Benjamin, put a pillion behind your saddle, and I'll go to Lymington with you. I won't be long in getting my bundle."
Benjamin, who was in the kitchen with the maids at the time that Jacob entered, made a sign significant of consent, and went away to the stable. Agatha went up to her mistress in a state of great perturbation, and the cook also hurried away to her bedroom.
"They'll all leave her," thought Jacob; "well, my duty is plain; I'll not leave the children in the house." Jacob then went in search of them, and found them playing in the garden. He called the two boys to him, and told them to follow him.
"Now, Mr. Edward," said he, "you must prove yourself your father's own son. We must leave this house immediately; come up with me to your rooms, and help me to pack up yours and your sisters' clothes, for we must go to my cottage this night. There is no time to be lost."
"But why, Jacob; I must know why?"
"Because the Parliamentary troopers will burn it down this night."
"Burn it down! Why, the house is mine, is it not? Who dares to burn down this house?"
"They will dare it, and will do it."
"But we will fight them, Jacob; we can bolt and bar; I can fire a gun, and hit too, as you know; then there's Benjamin and you."
"And what can you and two men do against a troop of horse, my dear boy? If we could defend the place against them, Jacob Armitage would be the first; but it is impossible, my dear boy. Recollect your sisters. Would you have them burned to death, or shot by these wretches? No, no, Mr. Edward; you must do as I say, and lose no time. Let us pack up what will be most useful, and load White Billy with the bundles; then you must all come to the cottage with me, and we will make it out how we can."
"That will be jolly!" said Humphrey; "come, Edward."
But Edward Beverley required more persuasion to abandon the house; at last, old Jacob prevailed, and the clothes were put up in bundles as fast as they could collect them.
"Your aunt said Martha was to go with your sisters, but I doubt if she will," observed Jacob, "and I think we shall have no room for her, for the cottage is small enough."
"Oh no, we don't want her," said Humphrey; "Alice always dresses Edith and herself too, ever since mamma died."
"Now we will carry down the bundles, and you make them fast on the pony while I go for your sisters."
"But where does aunt Judith go?" inquired Edward.
"She will not leave the house, Master Edward; she intends to stay and speak to the troopers."
"And so an old woman like her remains to face the enemy, while I run away from them!" replied Edward. "I will not go."
"Well, Master Edward," replied Jacob, "you must do as you please; but it will be cruel to leave your sisters here; they and Humphrey must come with me, and I can not manage to get them to the cottage without you go with us; it is not far, and you can return in a very short time."
To this Edward consented. The pony was soon loaded, and the little girls, who were still playing in the garden, were called in by Humphrey. They were told that they were going to pass the night in the cottage, and were delighted at the idea.
"Now, Master Edward," said Jacob, "will you take your sisters by the hand and lead them to the cottage? Here is the key of the door; Master Humphrey can lead the pony; and Master Edward," continued Jacob, taking him aside, "I'll tell you one thing which I will not mention before your brother and sisters: the troopers are all about the New Forest, for King Charles has escaped, and they are seeking for him. You must not, therefore, leave your brother and sisters till I return. Lock the cottage-door as soon as it is dark. You know where to get a light, over the cupboard; and my gun is loaded, and hangs above the mantlepiece. You must do your best if they attempt to force an entrance; but above all, promise me not to leave them till I return. I will remain here to see what I can do with your aunt, and when I come back we can then decide how to act."
This latter ruse of Jacob's succeeded. Edward promised that he would not leave his sisters, and it wanted but a few minutes of twilight when the little party quitted the mansion of Arnwood. As they went out of the gates they were passed by Benjamin, who was trotting away with Martha behind him on a pillion, holding a bundle as large as herself. Not a word was exchanged, and Benjamin and Martha were soon out of sight.
"Why, where can Martha be going?" said Alice. "Will she be back when we come home to-morrow?"
Edward made no reply, but Humphrey said, "Well, she has taken plenty of clothes in that huge bundle for one night, at least."
Jacob, as soon as he had seen the children on their way, returned to the kitchen, where he found Agatha and the cook collecting their property, evidently bent upon a hasty retreat.
"Have you seen Miss Judith, Agatha?"
"Yes; and she told me that she should remain, and that I should stand behind her chair that she might receive the troopers with dignity; but I don't admire the plan. They might leave her alone, but I am sure that they will be rude to me."
"When did Benjamin say he would be back?"
"He don't intend coming back. He said he would not, at all events, till to-morrow morning, and then he would ride out this way, to ascertain if the report was false or true. But Martha has gone with him."
"I wish I could persuade the old lady to leave the house," said Jacob, thoughtfully. "I fear they will not pay her the respect that she calculates upon. Go up, Agatha, and say I wish to speak with her."
"No, not I; I must be off, for it is dark already."
"And where are you going, then?"
"To Gossip Allwood's. It's a good mile, and I have to carry my things."
"Well, Agatha, if you'll take me up to the old lady, I'll carry your things for you."
Agatha consented, and as soon as she had taken up the lamp, for it was now quite dark, Jacob was once more introduced.
"I wish, madam," said Jacob, "you would be persuaded to leave the house for this night."
"Jacob Armitage, leave this house I will not, if it were filled with troopers; I have said so."
"No more, sir; you are too forward," replied the old lady, haughtily.
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