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- The Children of the New Forest - 4/64 -
"Leave my presence, Jacob Armitage, and never appear again. Quit the room, and send Agatha here."
"She has left, madam, and so has the cook, and Martha went away behind Benjamin; when I leave, you will be alone."
"They have dared to leave?"
"They dared not stay, madam."
"Leave me, Jacob Armitage, and shut the door when you go out." Jacob still hesitated. "Obey me instantly," said the old lady; and the forester, finding all remonstrance useless, went out, and obeyed her last commands by shutting the door after him.
Jacob found Agatha and the other maid in the court-yard; he took up their packages, and, as he promised, accompanied them to Gossip Allwood, who kept a small ale-house about a mile distant.
"But, mercy on us! what will become of the children?" said Agatha, as they walked along, her fears for herself having up to this time made her utterly forgetful of them. "Poor things! and Martha has left them."
"Yes, indeed; what will become of the dear babes?" said the cook, half crying.
Now Jacob, knowing that the children of such a Malignant as Colonel Beverley would have sorry treatment if discovered, and knowing also that women were not always to be trusted, determined not to tell them how they were disposed of. He therefore replied,
"Who would hurt such young children as those? No, no, they are safe enough; even the troopers would protect them."
"I should hope so," replied Agatha.
"You may be sure of that; no man would hurt babies," replied Jacob. "The troopers will take them with them to Lymington, I suppose. I've no fear for them; it's the proud old lady whom they will be uncivil to."
The conversation here ended, and in due time they arrived at the inn. Jacob had just put the bundles down on the table, when the clattering of horses' hoofs was heard. Shortly afterward, the troopers pulled their horses up at the door, and dismounted. Jacob recognized the party he had met in the forest, and among them Southwold. The troopers called for ale, and remained some time in the house, talking and laughing with the women, especially Agatha, who was a very good- looking girl. Jacob would have retreated quietly, but he found a sentinel posted at the door to prevent the egress of any person. He reseated himself, and while he was listening to the conversation of the troopers he was recognized by Southwold, who accosted him. Jacob did not pretend not to know him, as it would have been useless; and Southwold put many questions to him as to who were resident at Arnwood. Jacob replied that the children were there, and a few servants, and he was about to mention Miss Judith Villiers, when a thought struck him--he might save the old lady.
"You are going to Arnwood, I know," said Jacob, "and I have heard who you are in search of. Well, Southwold, I'll give you a hint. I may be wrong; but if you should fall in with an old lady or something like one when you go to Arnwood, mount her on your crupper and away with her to Lymington as fast as you can ride. You understand me?" Southwold nodded significantly, and squeezed Jacob's hand.
"One word, Jacob Armitage; if I succeed in the capture by your means, it is but fair that you should have something for your hint. Where can I find you the day after to-morrow?"
"I am leaving the country this night, and I must go. I am in trouble, that's the fact; when all is blown over, I will find you out. Don't speak to me any more just now." Southwold again squeezed Jacob's hand, and left him. Shortly afterward the order was given to mount, and the troopers set off.
Armitage followed slowly and unobserved. They arrive at the mansion and surrounded it. Shortly afterward he perceived the glare of torches, and in a quarter of an hour more thick smoke rose up in the dark but clear sky; at last the flames burst forth from the lower windows of the mansion, and soon afterward they lighted up the country round to some distance.
"It is done," thought Jacob; and he turned to bend his hasty steps toward his own cottage, when he heard the galloping of a horse and violent screams; a minute afterward James Southwold passed him with the old lady tied behind him, kicking and struggling as hard as she could. Jacob smiled as he thought that he had by his little stratagem saved the old woman's life, for that Southwold imagined that she was King Charles dressed up as an old woman was evident; and he then returned as fast as he could to the cottage.
In half an hour Jacob had passed through the thick woods which were between the mansion and his own cottage, occasionally looking back, as the flames of the mansion rose higher and higher, throwing their light far and wide. He knocked at the cottage-door; Smoker, a large dog cross-bred between the fox and blood-hound, growled till Jacob spoke to him, and then Edward opened the door.
"My sisters are in bed and fast asleep, Jacob," said Edward, "and Humphrey has been nodding this half hour; had he not better go to bed before we go back?"
"Come out, Master Edward," replied Jacob, "and look." Edward beheld the flames and fierce light between the trees and was silent.
"I told you that it would be so, and you would all have been burned in your beds, for they did not enter the house to see who was in it, but fired it as soon as they had surrounded it."
"And my aunt!" exclaimed Edward, clasping his hands.
"Is safe, Master Edward, and by this time at Lymington."
"We will go to her to-morrow."
"I fear not; you must not risk so much, Master Edward. These Levelers spare nobody, and you had better let it be supposed that you are all burned in the house."
"But my aunt knows the contrary, Jacob."
"Very true; I quite forgot that." And so Jacob had. He expected that the old woman would have been burned, and then nobody would have known of the existence of the children; he forgot, when he planned to save her, that she knew where the children were.
"Well, Master Edward, I will go to Lymington to-morrow and see the old lady; but you must remain here, and take charge of your sisters till I come back, and then we will consider what is to be done. The flames are not so bright as they were."
"No. It is my house that these Roundheads have burned down," said Edward, shaking his fist.
"It was your house, Master Edward, and it was your property, but how long it will be so remains to be seen. I fear that it will be forfeited."
"Wo to the people who dare take possession of it!" cried Edward; "I shall, if I live, be a man one of these days."
"Yes, Master Edward, and then you will reflect more than you do now, and not be rash. Let us go into the cottage, for it's no use remaining out in the cold; the frost is sharp to-night."
Edward slowly followed Jacob into the cottage. His little heart was full. He was a proud boy and a good boy, but the destruction of the mansion had raised up evil thoughts in his heart--hatred to the Covenanters, who had killed his father and now burned the property-- revenge upon them (how he knew not); but his hand was ready to strike, young as he was. He lay down on the bed, but he could not sleep. He turned and turned again, and his brain was teeming with thoughts and plans of vengeance. Had he said his prayers that night he would have been obliged to repeat, "Forgive us as we forgive them who trespass against us." At last, he fell fast asleep, but his dreams were wild, and he often called out during the night and woke his brother and sisters.
The next morning, as soon as Jacob had given the children their breakfast, he set off toward Arnwood. He knew that Benjamin had stated his intention to return with the horse and see what had taken place, and he knew him well enough to feel sure that he would do so. He thought it better to see him if possible, and ascertain the fate of Miss Judith. Jacob arrived at the still smoking ruins of the mansion, and found several people there, mostly residents within a few miles, some attracted by curiosity, others busy in collecting the heavy masses of lead which had been melted from the roof, and appropriating them to their own benefit; but much of it was still too hot to be touched, and they were throwing snow on it to cool it, for it had snowed during the night. At last, Jacob perceived Benjamin on horseback riding leisurely toward him, and immediately went up to him.
"Well, Benjamin, this is a woeful sight. What is the news from Lymington?"
"Lymington is full of troopers, and they are not over-civil," replied Benjamin. "And the old lady--where is she?"
"Ah, that's a sad business," replied Benjamin, "and the poor children, too. Poor Master Edward! he would have made a brave gentleman."
"But the old lady is safe," rejoined Jacob. "Did you see her?"
"Yes, I saw her; they thought she was King Charles--poor old soul."
"But they have found out their mistake by this time?"
"Yes, and James Southwold has found it out too," replied Benjamin; "to think of the old lady breaking his neck!"
"Breaking his neck? You don't say so! How was it?"
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