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- The Pigeon Pie - 3/16 -
very well for Rose, but when some really important matter came, that would be his time for distinguishing himself.
In the meantime Charles II. had been invited to Scotland, and had brought with him, as an attendant, Edmund Woodley, the eldest son. As soon as he was known to have entered England, some of the loyal gentlemen of the neighbourhood of Forest Lea went to join the King, and among their followers went Farmer Ewins, who had fought bravely in the former war under Edmund Mowbray, several other of the men of the village, and lastly, Diggory Stokes, Lady Woodley's serving man, who had lately shown symptoms of discontent with his place, and fancied that as a soldier he might fare better, make his fortune, and come home prosperously to marry his sweetheart, Deborah.
Walter ran down to the village at full speed. He first bent his steps towards the "Half-Moon," the little public-house, where news was sure to be met with. As he came towards it, however, he heard the loud sound of a man's voice going steadily on as if with some discourse. "Some preachment," said he to himself: "they've got a thorough-going Roundhead, I can hear his twang through his nose! Shall I go in or not?"
While he was asking himself this question, an old peasant in a round frock came towards him.
"Hollo, Will!" shouted Walter, "what prick-eared rogue have you got there?"
"Hush, hush, Master Walter!" said the old man, taking off his hat very respectfully. "Best take care what you say, there be plenty of red-coats about. There's one of them now preaching away in marvellous pied words. It is downright shocking to hear the Bible hollaed out after that sort, so I came away. Don't you go nigh him, sir, 'specially with your hat set on in that--"
"Never mind my hat," said Walter, impatiently, "it is no business of yours, and I'll wear it as I please in spite of old Noll and all his crew."
For his forefathers' sake, and for the love of his mother and sister, the good village people bore with Walter's haughtiness and discourtesy far more than was good for him, and the old man did not show how much he was hurt by his rough reception of his good advice. Walter was not reminded that he ought to rise up before the hoary head, and reverence the old man, and went on hastily, "But tell me, Will, what do you hear of the battle?"
"The battle, sir! why, they say it is lost. That's what the fellow there is preaching about."
"And where was it? Did you hear? Don't you know?"
"Don't be so hasty, don't ye, sir!" said the old slow-spoken man, growing confused. "Where was it? At some town--some town, they said, but I don't know rightly the name of it."
"And the King? Who was it? Not Cromwell? Had Lord Derby joined?" cried Walter, hurrying on his questions so as to puzzle and confuse the old man more and more, till at last he grew angry at getting no explanation, and vowed it was no use to talk to such an old fool. At that moment a sound as of feet and horses came along the road. "'Tis the soldiers!" said Walter.
"Ay, sir, best get out of sight."
Walter thought so too, and, springing over a hedge, ran off into a neighbouring wood, resolving to take a turn, and come back by the longer way to the house, so as to avoid the road. He walked across the wood, looking up at the ripening nuts, and now and then springing up to reach one, telling himself all the time that it was untrue, and that the King could not, and should not be defeated. The wood grew less thick after a time, and ended in low brushwood, upon an open common. Just as Walter was coming to this place, he saw an unusual sight: a man and a horse crossing the down. Slowly and wearily they came, the horse drooping its head and stumbling in its pace, as though worn out with fatigue, but he saw that it was a war-horse, and the saddle and other equipments were such as he well remembered in the royal army long ago. The rider wore buff coat, cuirass, gauntlets guarded with steel, sword, and pistols, and Walter's first impulse was to avoid him; but on giving a second glance, he changed his mind, for though there was neither scarf, plume, nor any badge of party, the long locks, the set of the hat, and the general air of the soldier were not those of a rebel. He must be a cavalier, but, alas! far unlike the triumphant cavaliers whom Walter had hoped to receive, for he was covered with dust and blood, as if he had fought and ridden hard. Walter sprung forward to meet him, and saw that he was a young man, with dark eyes and hair, looking very pale and exhausted, and both he and his horse seemed hardly able to stir a step further.
"Young sir," said the stranger, "what place is this? Am I near Forest Lea?"
A flash of joy crossed Walter. "Edmund! are you Edmund?" he exclaimed, colouring deeply, and looking up in his face with one quick glance, then casting down his eyes.
"And you are little Walter," returned the cavalier, instantly dismounting, and flinging his arm around his brother; "why, what a fine fellow you are grown! How are my mother and all?"
"Well, quite well!" cried Walter, in a transport of joy. "Oh! how happy she will be! Come, make haste home!"
"Alas! I dare not as yet. I must not enter the house till nightfall, or I should bring danger on you all. Are there any troopers near?"
"Yes, the village is full of the rascals. But what has happened? It is not true that--" He could not bear to say the rest.
"Too true!" said Edmund, leading his tired horse within the shelter of the bushes. "It is all over with us!"
"The battle lost!" said Walter, in a stifled tone; and in all the bitterness of the first disappointment of his youth, he turned away, overcome by a gush of tears and sobs, stamping as he walked up and down, partly with the intensity of his grief, partly with shame at being seen by his brother, in tears.
"Had you set your heart on it so much?" said Edmund, kindly, pleased to see his young brother so ardent a loyalist. "Poor fellow! But at least the King was safe when I parted from him. Come, cheer up, Walter, the right will be uppermost some day or other."
"But, oh, that battle! I had so longed to see old Noll get his deserts," said Walter, "I made so sure. But how did it happen, Edmund?"
"I cannot tell you all now, Walter. You must find me some covert where I can be till night fall. The rebels are hot in pursuit of all the fugitives. I have ridden from Worcester by byroads day and night, and I am fairly spent. I must be off to France or Holland as soon as may be, for my life is not safe a moment here. Cromwell is bitterer than ever against all honest men, but I could not help coming this way, I so much longed to see my mother and all of you."
"You are not wounded?" said Walter, anxiously.
"Nothing to speak of, only a sword-cut on my shoulder, by which I have lost more blood than convenient for such a journey."
"Here, I'll lead your horse; lean on me," said Walter, alarmed at the faint, weary voice in which his brother spoke after the first excitement of the recognition. "I'll show you what Lucy and I call our bower, where no one ever comes but ourselves. There you can rest till night."
"And poor Bayard?" said Edmund.
"I think I could put him into the out-house in the field next to the copse, hide his trappings here, and get him provender from Ewins's farm. Will that do?"
"Excellently. Poor Ewins!--that is a sad story. He fell, fighting bravely by my side, cut down in Sidbury Street in the last charge. Alas! these are evil days!"
"And Diggory Stokes, our own knave?"
"I know nothing of him after the first onset. Rogues and cowards enough were there. Think, Walter, of seeing his Majesty strive in vain to rally them, when the day might yet have been saved, and the traitors hung down their heads, and stood like blocks while he called on them rather to shoot him dead than let him live to see such a day!"
"Oh, had I but been there, to turn them all to shame!"
"There were a few, Walter; Lord Cleveland, Hamilton, Careless, Giffard, and a few more of us, charged down Sidbury Street, and broke into the ranks of the rebels, while the King had time to make off by S. Martin's Gate. Oh, how I longed for a few more! But the King was saved so far; Careless, Giffard, and I came up with him again, and we parted at nightfall. Lord Derby's counsel was that he should seek shelter at Boscobel, and he was to disguise himself, and go thither under Giffard's guidance. Heaven guard him, whatever becomes of us!"
"Amen!" said Walter, earnestly. "And here we are. Here is Lucy's bank of turf, and my throne, and here we will wait till the sun is down."
It was a beautiful green slope, covered with soft grass, short thyme, and cushion-like moss, and overshadowed by a thick, dark yew-tree, shut in by brushwood on all sides, and forming just such a retreat as children love to call their own. Edmund threw himself down at full length on it, laid aside his hat, and passed his hand across his weary forehead. "How quiet!" said he; "but, hark! is that the bubbling of water?" he added, raising himself eagerly.
"Yes, here," said Walter, showing him where, a little further off on the same slope, a little clear spring rose in a natural basin of red earth, fringed along the top with fresh green mosses.
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