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- The Children of the New Forest - 6/64 -
children; they searched thoroughly, and then came back to the front room.
"It's no use remaining here," said one of the troopers. "Shall we be off! I'm tired and hungry with the ride."
"So am I, and there's something that smells well." said another. "What's this, my good man?" continued he, taking off the lid of the pot.
"My dinner for a week," replied Jacob. "I have no one to cook for me now, and can't light a fire every day."
"Well, you appear to live well, if you have such a mess as that every day in the week. I should like to try a spoonful or two."
"And welcome, sir," replied Jacob; "I will cook some more for myself."
The troopers took him at his word; they sat down to the table, and very soon the whole contents of the kettle had disappeared. Having satisfied themselves, they got up, told him that his rations were so good that they hoped to call again; and, laughing heartily, they mounted their horses, and rode away.
"Well," said Jacob, "they are very welcome to the dinner; I little thought to get off so cheap." As soon as they were out of sight, Jacob called to Edward and the children to get up again, which they soon did. Alice put on Edith's frock, Humphrey put on his jacket, and Edward pulled off the hunting-shirt.
"They're gone now," said Jacob, coming in from the door.
"And our dinners are gone," said Humphrey, looking at the empty pot and dirty platters.
"Yes; but we can cook another, and that will be more play you know," said Jacob. "Edward, go for the water; Humphrey, cut the onions; Alice, wash the potatoes; and Edith, help every body, while I cut up some more meat."
"I hope it will be as good," observed Humphrey; "that other did smell so nice!"
"Quite as good, if not better; for we shall improve by practice, and we shall have a better appetite to eat it with," said Jacob.
"Nasty men eat our dinner," said Edith. "Shan't have any more. Eat this ourselves."
And so they did as soon as it was cooked; but they were very hungry before they sat down.
"This is jolly!" said Humphrey with his mouth full.
"Yes, Master Humphrey. I doubt if King Charles eats so good a dinner this day. Mr. Edward, you are very grave and silent."
"Yes, I am, Jacob. Have I not cause? Oh, if I could but have mauled those troopers!" "But you could not; so you must make the best of it. They say that every dog has his day, and who knows but King Charles may be on the throne again!"
There were no more visits to the cottage that day, and they all went to bed, and slept soundly.
The next morning, Jacob, who was most anxious to learn the news, saddled the pony, having first given his injunctions to Edward how to behave in case any troopers should come to the cottage. He told him to pretend that the children were in bed with the small-pox, as they had done the day before. Jacob then traveled to Gossip Allwood's, and he there learned that King Charles had been taken prisoner, and was at the Isle of Wight, and that the troopers were all going back to London as fast as they came. Feeling that there was now no more danger to be apprehended from them, Jacob set off as fast as he could for Lymington. He went to one shop and purchased two peasant dresses which he thought would fit the two boys, and at another he bought similar apparel for the two girls. Then, with several other ready-made articles, and some other things which were required for the household, he made a large package, which he put upon the pony, and, taking the bridle, set off home, and arrived in time to superintend the cooking of the dinner, which was this day venison-steaks fried in a pan, and boiled potatoes.
When dinner was over, he opened his bundle, and told the little ones that, now they were to live in a cottage, they ought to wear cottage clothes, and that he had bought them some to put on, which they might rove about the woods in, and not mind tearing them. Alice and Edith went into the bedroom, and Alice dressed Edith and herself, and came out quite pleased with their change of dress. Humphrey and Edward put theirs on in the sitting-room, and they all fitted pretty well, and certainly were very becoming to the children.
"Now, recollect, you are all my grandchildren," said Jacob; "for I shall no longer call you Miss and Master--that we never do in a cottage. You understand me, Edward, of course?" added Jacob.
Edward nodded his head; and Jacob telling the children that they might now go out of the cottage and play, they all set off, quite delighted with clothes which procured them their liberty.
We must now describe the cottage of Jacob Armitage, in which the children have in future to dwell. As we said before, it contained a large sitting-room, or kitchen, in which was a spacious hearth and chimney, table, stools, cupboards, and dressers: the two bedrooms which adjoined it were now appropriated, one for Jacob and the other for the two boys; the third, or inner bedroom, was arranged for the two girls, as being more retired and secure. But there were outhouses belonging to it: a stall, in which White Billy, the pony, lived during the winter; a shed and pigsty rudely constructed, with an inclosed yard attached to them; and it had, moreover, a piece of ground of more than an acre, well fenced in to keep out the deer and game, the largest portion of which was cultivated as a garden and potato-ground, and the other, which remained in grass, contained some fine old apple and pear-trees. Such was the domicile; the pony, a few fowls, a sow and two young pigs, and the dog Smoker, were the animals on the establishment. Here Jacob Armitage had been born--for the cottage had been built by his grandfather--but he had not always remained at the cottage. When young, he felt an inclination to see more of the world, and had for several years served in the army. His father and brother had lived in the establishment at Arnwood, and he was constantly there as a boy The chaplain of Arnwood had taken a fancy to him, and taught him to read--writing he had not acquired. As soon as be grew up, he served, as we have said, in the troop commanded by Colonel Beverley's father; and, after his death, Colonel Beverley had procured him the situation of forest ranger, which had been held by his father, who was then alive, but too aged to do duty. Jacob Armitage married a good and devout young woman, with whom he lived several years, when she died, without bringing him any family; after which, his father being also dead, Jacob Armitage had lived alone until the period at which we have commenced this history.
The old forester lay awake the whole of this night, reflecting how he should act relative to the children; he felt the great responsibility that he had incurred, and was alarmed when he considered what might be the consequences if his days were shortened. What would become of them--living in so sequestered a spot that few knew even of its existence--totally shut out from the world, and left to their own resources? He had no fear, if his life was spared, that they would do well; but if he should be called away before they had grown up and were able to help themselves, they might perish. Edward was not fourteen years old; it was true that he was an active, brave boy, and thoughtful for his years; but he had not yet strength or skill sufficient for what would be required. Humphrey, the second, also promised well; but still they were all children. "I must bring them up to be useful--to depend upon themselves; there is not a moment to be lost, and not a moment shall be lost; I will do my best, and trust to God; I ask but two or three years, and by that time I trust that they will be able to do without me. They must commence to-morrow the life of foresters' children."
Acting upon this resolution, Jacob, as soon as the children were dressed, and in the sitting-room, opened his Bible, which he had put on the table, and said:
"My dear children, you know that you must remain in this cottage, that the wicked troopers may not find you out; they killed your father, and if I had not taken you away, they would have burned you in your beds. You must, therefore, live here as my children, and you must call yourselves by the name of Armitage, and not that of Beverley; and you must dress like children of the forest, as you do now, and you must do as children of the forest do--that is, you must do every thing for yourselves, for you can have no servants to wait upon you. We must all work--but you will like to work if you all work together, for then the work will be nothing but play. Now, Edward is the oldest, and he must go out with me in the forest, and I must teach him to kill deer and other game for our support; and when he knows how, then Humphrey shall come out and learn how to shoot."
"Yes," said Humphrey, "I'll soon learn."
"But not yet, Humphrey, for you must do some work in the mean time; you must look after the pony and the pigs, and you must learn to dig in the garden with Edward and me when we do not go out to hunt; and sometimes I shall go by myself, and leave Edward to work with you when there is work to be done. Alice, dear, you must, with Humphrey, light the fire and clean the house in the morning. Humphrey will go to the spring for water, and do all the hard work; and you must learn to wash, my dear Alice--I will show you how; and you must learn to get dinner ready with Humphrey, who will assist you; and to make the beds. And little Edith shall take care of the fowls, and feed them every morning, and look for the eggs--will you, Edith?"
"Yes," replied Edith, "and feed all the little chickens when they are hatched, as I did at Arnwood."
"Yes, dear, and you'll be very useful. Now you know that you can not do all this at once. You will have to try and try again; but very soon you will, and then it will be all play. I must teach you all, and every day you will do it better, till you want no teaching at all. And now, my dear children, as there is no chaplain here, we must read the Bible every morning. Edward can read, I know; can you, Humphrey?"
"Yes, all except the big words."
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