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- The Children of the New Forest - 50/64 -
"Yesterday evening, sir."
"And do you purpose any stay?"
"That I can not answer, sir; I must be guided by your advice. I have naught to do here, unless it be to deliver some three or four letters, given me by Mr. Heatherstone."
"It is my opinion, Master Armitage, that the less you are seen in this city the better; there are hundreds employed to find out new-comers, and to discover, from their people, or by other means, for what purpose they may have come; for you must be aware, Master Armitage, that the times are dangerous, and people's minds are various. In attempting to free ourselves from what we considered despotism, we have created for ourselves a worse despotism, and one that is less endurable. It is to be hoped that what has passed will make not only kings but subjects wiser than they have been. Now, what do you propose--to leave this instantly?"
"Certainly, if you think it advisable."
"My advice, then, is to leave London immediately. I will give you letters to some friends of mine in Lancashire and Yorkshire; in either county you can remain unnoticed, and make what preparations you think necessary. But do nothing in haste--consult well, and be guided by them, who will, if it is considered advisable and prudent, join with you in your project. I need say no more. Call upon me to-morrow morning, an hour before noon, and I will have letters ready for you."
Edward rose to depart, and thanked Mr. Langton for his kindness.
"Farewell, Master Armitage," said Langton; "to-morrow, at the eleventh hour!"
Edward then quitted the house, and delivered the other letters of credence; the only one of importance at the moment was the one of credit; the others were to various members of the Parliament, desiring them to know Master Armitage as a confidential friend of the intendant, and, in case of need, to exert their good offices in his behalf. The letter of credit was upon a Hamburgh merchant, who asked Edward if he required money. Edward replied that he did not at present, but that he had business to do for his employer in the north, and might require some when there, if it was possible to obtain it so far from London.
"When do you set out, and to what town do you go?"
"That I can not well tell until to-morrow."
"Call before you leave this, and I will find some means of providing for you as you wish."
Edward then returned to the hotel. Before he went to bed, he told Sampson that he found that he had to leave London on Mr. Heatherstone's affairs, and might be absent some time; he concluded by observing that he did not consider it necessary to take him with him, as he could dispense with his services, and Mr. Heatherstone would be glad to have him back.
"As you wish, sir," replied Sampson. "When am I to go back?"
"You may leave to-morrow as soon as you please. I have no letter to send. You may tell them that I am well, and will write as soon as I have any thing positive to communicate."
Edward then made Sampson a present, and wished him a pleasant journey.
At the hour appointed on the following day, Edward repaired to Mr. Langton, who received him very cordially.
"I am all ready for you, Master Armitage; there is a letter to two Catholic ladies in Lancashire, who will take great care of you; and here is one to a friend of mine in Yorkshire. The ladies live about four miles from the town of Bolton, and my Yorkshire friend in the city of York. You may trust to any of them. And now, farewell; and, if possible, leave London before nightfall--the sooner the better. Where is your servant?"
"He has returned to Master Heatherstone this morning."
"You have done right. Lose no time to leave London; and don't be in a hurry in your future plans. You understand me. If any one accosts you on the road, put no trust in any professions. You, of course, are going down to your relations in the north. Have you pistols?"
"Yes, sir; I have a pair which did belong to the unfortunate Mr. Ratcliffe."
"Then they are good ones, I'll answer for it; no man was more particular about his weapons, or knew how to use them better. Farewell, Master Armitage, and may success attend you!"
Mr. Langton held out his hand to Edward, who respectfully took his leave.
Edward was certain that Mr. Langton would not have advised him to leave London if he had not considered that it was dangerous to remain. He therefore first called upon the Hamburgh merchant, who, upon his explanation, gave him a letter of credit to a friend who resided in the city of York; and then returned to the hotel, packed up his saddle-bags, paid his reckoning, and, mounting his horse, set off on the northern road. As it was late in the afternoon before he was clear of the metropolis, he did not proceed farther than Barnet, where he pulled up at the inn. As soon as he had seen his horse attended to, Edward, with his saddle-bags on his arm, went into the room in the inn where all the travelers congregated. Having procured a bed, and given his saddle-bags into the charge of the hostess, he sat down by the fire, which, although it was warm weather, was nevertheless kept alight.
Edward had made no alteration in the dress which he had worn since he had been received in the house of Mr. Heatherstone. It was plain, although of good materials. He wore a high-crowned hat, and, altogether, would, from his attire, have been taken for one of the Roundhead party. His sword and shoulder-belt were indeed of more gay appearance than those usually worn by the Roundheads; but this was the only difference.
When Edward first entered the room, there were three persons in it, whose appearance was not very prepossessing. They were dressed in what had once been gay attire, but which now exhibited tarnished lace, stains of wine, arid dust from traveling. They eyed him as he entered with his saddle-bags, and one of them said--
"That's a fine horse you were riding, sir. Has he much speed?"
"He has," replied Edward, as he turned away and went into the bar to speak with the hostess, and give his property into her care.
"Going north, sir?" inquired the same person when Edward returned.
"Not exactly," replied Edward, walking to the window to avoid further conversation.
"The Roundhead is on the stilts," observed another of the party.
"Yes," replied the first; "it is easy to see that he has not been accustomed to be addressed by gentlemen; for half a pin I would slit his ears!"
Edward did not choose to reply; he folded his arms and looked at the man with contempt.
The hostess, who had overheard the conversation, now called for her husband, and desired him to go into the room and prevent any further insults to the young gentleman who had just come in. The host, who knew the parties, entered the room, and said--
"Now you'll clear out of this as fast as you can; be off with you, and go to the stables, or I'll send for somebody whom you will not like."
The three men rose and swaggered, but obeyed the host's orders, and left the room.
"I am sorry, young master, that these roisterers should have affronted you, as my wife tells me that they have. I did not know that they were in the house. We can not well refuse to take in their horses; but we know well who they are, and, if you are traveling far, you had better ride in company."
"Thank you for your caution, my good host," replied Edward; "I thought that they were highwaymen, or something of that sort."
"You have made a good guess, sir; but nothing has yet been proved against them, or they would not be here. In these times we have strange customers, and hardly know who we take in. You have a good sword there, sir, I have no doubt; but I trust that you have other arms."
"I have," replied Ed ward, opening his doublet, and showing his pistols.
"That's right, sir. Will you take any thing before you go to bed?"
"Indeed I will, for I am hungry; any thing will do, with a pint of wine."
As soon as he had supped, Edward asked the hostess for his saddle- bags, and went up to his bed.
Early the next morning he rose and went to the stable to see his horse fed. The three men were in the stables, but they did not say any thing to him. Edward returned to the inn, called for breakfast, and as soon as he had finished, took out his pistols to renew the priming. While so occupied, he happened to look up, and perceived one of the men with his face against the window, watching him. "Well, now you see what you have to expect, if you try your trade with me," thought Edward. "I am very glad that you have been spying." Having replaced his pistols, Edward paid his reckoning, and went to the stable, desiring the hostler to saddle his horse and fix on his saddle-bags. As soon as this was done, he mounted and rode off. Before he was well clear of the town, the highwaymen cantered past him on three well-bred active horses. "I presume we shall meet again," thought Edward, who for some time cantered at a gentle pace, and then, as his horse was very fresh,
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