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- The Pigeon Pie - 10/16 -
The officer sat down in the arm-chair, and without replying to Lady Woodley, ordered a soldier to bring the boy before him, and spoke thus:- "Hear me, son of an ungodly seed. So merciful are the lessons of the light that thou contemnest, that I will even yet overlook and forgive the violence wherewith thou didst threaten my life, so thou wilt turn again, and confess where thou hast hidden the bloody-minded traitor."
"This house harbours no traitor," answered Walter, undauntedly.
"If thou art too hardened to confess," continued the officer, frowning, and speaking slowly and sternly, as he kept his eyes steadily fixed on Walter, "if thou wilt not reveal his hiding-place, I lead thee hence to abide the penalty of attempted murder."
"I am quite ready," answered Walter, returning frown for frown, and not betraying how his heart throbbed.
The officer signed to the soldier, who roughly dragged him aside by the cord that tied his hands, cutting them severely, though he disdained to show any sign of pain.
"Young maiden," continued the rebel, turning to Rose, "what sayest thou? Wilt thou see thy brother led away to death, when the breath of thy mouth might save him?"
Poor Rose turned as pale as death, but her answer was steady: "I will say nothing."
"Little ones, then," said the officer, fiercely, "speak, or you shall taste the rod. Do you know where your brother is?"
"No--no," sobbed Lucy; and her mother added, "They know nothing, sir."
"It is loss of time to stand parleying with women and children," said the officer, rising. "Here," to one of his men, "keep the door. Let none quit the chamber, and mark the children's talk. The rest with me. Where is the fellow that brought the tidings?"
Diggory, who had slunk out of sight, was pushed forward by two of the soldiers, and at the same time there was a loud scream from Deborah. "Oh! Diggory, is it you? Oh! my Lady, my Lady, forgive me! I meant no harm! Oh! who would have thought it?" And in an agony of distress, she threw her apron over her face, and, sinking on the bench, rocked herself to and fro, sobbing violently.
In the meantime, the officer and his men, all but the sentinel, had left the room to search for the fugitive, leaving Lady Woodley sitting exhausted and terrified in her chair, the little ones clinging around her, Walter standing opposite, with his hands bound; Rose stood by him, her arm round his neck, proud of his firmness, but in dreadful terror for him, and in such suspense for Edmund, that her whole being seemed absorbed in agonised prayer. Deborah's sobs, and the children's frightened weeping, were all the sounds that could be heard; Rose was obliged to attempt to soothe them, but her first kind word to Deborah produced a fresh burst of violent weeping, and then a loud lamentation: "Oh! the rogue--the rogue. If I could have dreamt it!"
"What has she done?" exclaimed Walter, impatiently. "Come, stop your crying. What have you done, Deb?"
"I thought--Oh! if I had known what was in the villain!" continued Deborah, "I'd sooner have bit out my tongue than have said one word to him about the pigeon pie."
"Pigeon pie!" repeated Rose.
Lucy now gave a cry, for she was, with all her faults, a truth- telling child. "Mother! mother! I told Deb about the pigeon pie! Oh, what have I done? Was it for Edmund? Is Edmund here?"
And to increase the danger and perplexity, the other two children exclaimed together, "Is Edmund here?"
"Hush, hush, my dears, be quiet; I cannot answer you now," whispered Lady Woodley, trying to silence them by caresses, and looking with terror at the rigid, stern guard, who, instead of remaining at the door where he had been posted, had come close up to them, and sat himself down at the end of the table, as if to catch every word they uttered.
Eleanor and Charles obeyed their mother's command that they should be silent; Rose took Lucy on her lap, let her rest her head on her shoulder, and whispered to her that she should hear and tell all another time, but she must be quiet now, and listen. Deborah kept her apron over her face, and Walter, leaning his shoulder against the wall, stood gazing at them all; and while he was intently watching for every sound that could enable him to judge whether the search was successful or not, at the same time his heart was beating and his head swimming at the threat of the rebel. Was he to die? To be taken away from that bright world, from sunshine, youth, and health, from his mother, and all of them, and be laid, a stiff mangled corpse, in some cold, dark, unregarded grave; his pulses, that beat so fast, all still and silent--senseless, motionless, like the birds he had killed? And that was not all: that other world! To enter on what would last for ever and ever and ever, on a state which he had never dwelt on or realised to himself, filled him with a blank, shuddering awe; and next came a worse, a sickening thought: if his feeling for the bliss of heaven was almost distaste, could he be fit for it? could he dare to hope for it? It was his Judge Whom he was about to meet, and he had been impatient and weary of Bible and Catechism, and Dr. Bathurst's teaching; he had been inattentive and careless at his prayers; he had been disobedient and unruly, violent, and unkind! Such a horror and agony came over the poor boy, so exceeding a dread of death, that he was ready at that moment to struggle to do anything to save himself; but there came the recollection that the price of his rescue must be the betrayal of Edmund. He would almost have spoken at that instant; the next he sickened at the thought. Never, never--he could not, would not; better not live at all than be a traitor! He was too confused and anxious to pray, for he had not taught himself to fix his attention in quiet moments. He would not speak before the rebel soldier; but only looked with an earnest gaze at his sister, who, as their eyes met, understood all it conveyed.
His mother, after the first moment's fright, had reassured herself somewhat on his account; he was so mere a boy that it was not likely that Algernon Sydney, who then commanded at Chichester, would put him to death; a short imprisonment was the worst that was likely to befall him; and though that was enough to fill her with terror and anxiety, it could at that moment be scarcely regarded in comparison with her fears for her eldest son.
A long time passed away, so long, that they began to hope that the enemies might be baffled in their search, in spite of Diggory's intimate knowledge of every nook and corner. They had been once to the shrubbery, and had been heard tramping back to the stable, where they were welcome to search as long as they chose, then to the barn- yard, all over the house from garret to cellar. Was it over? Joy! joy! But the feet were heard turning back to the pleasance, as though to recommence the search, and ten minutes after the steps came nearer. The rebel officer entered the hall first, but, alas! behind him came, guarded by two soldiers, Edmund Woodley himself, his step firm, his head erect, and his hands unbound. His mother sank back in her chair, and he, going straight up to her, knelt on one knee before her, saying, "Mother, dear mother, your blessing. Let me see your face again."
She threw her arms round his neck, "My son! and is it thus we meet?"
"We only meet as we parted," he answered firmly and cheerfully. "Still sufferers in the same good cause; still, I trust, with the same willing hearts."
"Come, sir," said the officer, "I must see you safely bestowed for the night."
"One moment, gentlemen," entreated Lady Woodley. "It is six years since I saw my son, and this may be our last meeting." She led him to the light, and looked earnestly up into his face, saying, with a smile, which had in it much of pride and pleasure, as well as sadness, "How you are altered, Edmund! See, Rose, how brown he is, and how much darker his hair has grown; and does not his moustache make him just like your father?"
"And my little sisters," said Edmund. "Ha! Lucy, I know your little round face."
"Oh," sobbed Lucy, "is it my fault? Can you pardon me? The pigeon pie!"
"What does she mean?" asked Edmund, turning to Rose.
"I saw you take it out at night, Rose," said poor Lucy. "I told Deb!"
"And poor Deborah," added Rose, "from the same thoughtlessness repeated her chatter to Diggory, who has betrayed us."
"The cowardly villain," cried Walter, who had come forward to the group round his brother.
"Hush, Walter," said Edmund. "But what do I see? Your hands bound? You a prisoner?"
"Poor Walter was rash enough to attempt resistance," said his mother.
"So, sir," said Edmund, turning to the rebel captain, "you attach great importance to the struggles of a boy of thirteen!"
"A blow with the butt-end of a fishing-rod is no joke from boy or man," answered the officer.
"When last I served in England," continued the cavalier, "Cromwell's Ironsides did not take notice of children with fishing-rods. You can have no warrant, no order, or whatever you pretend to act by, against him."
"Why--no, sir; but--however, the young gentleman has had a lesson, and I do not care if I do loose his hands. Here, unfasten him. But I cannot permit him to be at large while you are in the house."
"Very well, then, perhaps you will allow him to share my chamber. We have been separated for so many years, and it may be our last meeting."
"So let it be. Since you are pleased to be conformable, sir, I am willing to oblige you," answered the rebel, whose whole demeanour had
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