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- The Pigeon Pie - 5/16 -
to see her in her white apron, with her neat dexterous fingers, and nimble quiet step, doing everything in so short a time, and so well, without the least bustle.
She was at length in the hall, laying the white home-spun, home- bleached cloth, and setting the trenchers (all the Mowbray plate had long ago gone in the King's service), wondering anxiously, meantime, what could have become of Walter, with many secret and painful misgivings, though she had been striving to persuade her mother that he was only absent on some freak of his own.
Presently the door which led to the garden was opened, and to her great joy Walter put his head into the room.
"O Walter," she exclaimed, "the battle is lost! but Edmund and the King have both escaped."
"Say you so?" said Walter, smiling. "Here is a gentleman who can give you some news of Edmund."
At the same moment Rose saw her beloved eldest brother enter the room. It would be hard to say which was her first thought, joy or dismay--she had no time to ask herself. Quick as lightning she darted to the door leading to the staircase, bolted it, threw the bar across the fastening of the front entrance, and then, flying to her brother, clung fast round his neck, kissed him on each cheek, and felt his ardent kiss on her brow, as she exclaimed in a frightened whisper, "You must not stay here: there are troopers in the house!"
"Troopers!--quartered on us?" cried Walter.
Rose hastily explained, trembling lest anyone should attempt to enter. Walter paced up and down in despair, vowing that it was a trick to get a spy into the house. Edmund sat down in the large arm- chair with a calm resolute look, saying, "I must surrender, then. Neither I nor my horse can go further without rest. I will yield as a prisoner of war, and well that it is to a man of honour."
"Oh no, no!" cried Rose: "he says Cromwell treats his prisoners as rebels. It would be certain death!"
"What news of the King?" asked Edmund, anxiously.
"Not seen since the flight? but--"
"And Lord Derby, Wilmot--"
"I cannot tell, I heard no names," said Rose, "only that the enemy's cruelties are worse than ever."
Walter stood with his back against the table, gazing at his brother and sister in mute consternation.
"I know!" cried Rose, suddenly: "the out-house in the upper field. No one ever goes up into the loft but ourselves. You know, Walter, where Eleanor found the kittens. Go thither, I will bring Edmund food at night. Oh, consent, Edmund!"
"It will do! it will do!" cried Walter.
"Very well, it may spare my mother," said Edmund; and as footsteps and voices were heard on the stairs, the two brothers hurried off without another word, while Rose, trying to conceal her agitation, undid the door, and admitted her two little sisters, who were asking if they had not heard Walter's voice.
She scarcely attended to them, but, bounding upstairs to her mother's room, flung her arms round her neck, and poured into her ear her precious secret. The tremour, the joy, the fears, the tears, the throbbings of the heart, and earnest prayers, may well be imagined, crowded by the mother and daughter into those few minutes. The plan was quickly arranged. They feared to trust even Deborah; so that the only way that they could provide the food that Edmund so much needed was by Rose and Walter attempting to save all they could at supper, and Rose could steal out when everyone was gone to rest, and carry it to him. Lady Woodley was bent on herself going to her son that night; but Rose prevailed on her to lay aside the intention, as it would have been fatal, in her weak state of health, for her to expose herself to the chills of an autumn night, and, what was with her a much more conclusive reason, Rose was much more likely to be able to slip out unobserved. Rose had an opportunity of explaining all this to Walter, and imploring him to be cautious, before the colonel and his son came down, and the whole party assembled round the supper- table.
Lady Woodley had the eggs and bacon before her; Walter insisted on undertaking the carving of the pigeon-pie, and looked considerably affronted when young Sylvester Enderby offered to take the office, as a more experienced carver. Poor Rose, how her heart beat at every word and look, and how hard she strove to seem perfectly at her ease and unconscious! Walter was in a fume of anxiety and vexation, and could hardly control himself so far as to speak civilly to either of the guests, so that he was no less a cause of fear to his mother and sister than the children, who were unconscious how much depended on discretion.
Young Sylvester Enderby was a fine young man of eighteen, very good- natured, and not at all like a Puritan in appearance or manner. He had hardly yet begun to think for himself, and was merely obeying his father in joining the army with him, without questioning whether it was the right cause or not. He was a kind elder brother at home, and here he was ready to be pleased with the children of the house.
Lucy was a high-spirited talkative child, very little used to seeing strangers, and perhaps hardly reined in enough, for her poor mother's weak health had interfered with strict discipline; and as this evening Walter and Rose were both grave and serious under their anxieties, Lucy was less restrained even than usual.
She was a pretty creature, with bright blue eyes, and an arch expression, all the droller under her prim round cap; and Sylvester was a good deal amused with her pert bold little nods and airs. He paid a good deal of attention to her, and she in return grew more forward and chattering. It is what little girls will sometimes do under the pleasure and excitement of the notice of gentlemen, and it makes their friends very uneasy, since the only excuse they can have is in being VERY LITTLE, and it shows a most undesirable want of self-command and love of attention.
In addition to this feeling, Lady Woodley dreaded every word that was spoken, lest it should lead to suspicion, for though she was sure Mr. Enderby would not willingly apprehend her son, yet she could not tell what he might consider his duty to his employers; besides, there were the two soldiers to observe and report, and the discovery that Edmund was at hand might lead to frightful consequences. She tried to converse composedly with him on his family and the old neighbourhood where they had both lived, often interrupting herself to send a look or word of warning to the lower end of the table; but Lucy and Charles were too wild to see or heed her, and grew more and more unrestrained, till at last, to the dismay of her mother, brother, and sister, Charles' voice was heard so loud as to attract everyone's notice, in a shout of wonder and complaint, "Mother, mother, look! Rose has gobbled up a whole pigeon to her own share!"
Rose could not keep herself from blushing violently, as she whispered reprovingly that he must not be rude. Lucy did not mend the matter by saying with an impertinent nod, "Rose does not like to be found out."
"Children," said Lady Woodley, gravely, "I shall send you away if you do not behave discreetly."
"But, mother, Rose is greedy," said Lucy.
"Hold your tongues, little mischief makers!" burst out Walter, who had been boiling over with anxiety and indignation the whole time.
"Walter is cross now," said Lucy, pleased to have produced a sensation, and to have shocked Eleanor, who sat all the time as good, demure, and grave, as if she had been forty years old.
"Pray excuse these children," said Lady Woodley, trying to hide her anxiety under cover of displeasure at them; "no doubt Mrs. Enderby keeps much better order at home. Lucy, Charles, silence at once. Walter, is there no wine?"
"If there is, it is too good for rebels," muttered Walter to himself, as he rose. "Light me, Deborah, and I'll see."
"La! Master Walter," whispered Deborah, "you know there is nothing but the dregs of the old cask of Malmsey, that was drunk up at the old squire's burying."
"Hush, hush, Deb," returned the boy; "fill it up with water, and it will be quite good enough for those who won't drink the King's health."
Deborah gave a half-puzzled smile. "Ye're a madcap, Master Walter! But sure, Sir, the spirit of a wolf must have possessed Mistress Rose--she that eats no supper at all, in general! D'ye think it is wearying about Master Edmund that gives her a craving?"
It might be dangerous, but Walter was so much diverted, that he could not help saying, "I have no doubt it is on his account."
"I know," said Deborah, "that I get so faint at heart that I am forced to be taking something all day long to keep about at all!"
By this time they were re-entering the hall, when there was a sound from the kitchen as of someone calling. Deborah instantly turned, screaming out joyfully, "Bless me! is it you?" and though out of sight, her voice was still heard in its high notes of joy. "You good-for-nothing rogue! are you turned up again like a bad tester, staring into the kitchen like a great oaf, as you be?"
There was a general laugh, and Eleanor said, "That must be Diggory."
"A poor country clown," said Lady Woodley, "whom we sent to join my son's troop. I hope he is in no danger."
"Oh no," said Mr. Enderby; "he has only to return to his plough."
"Hollo there!" shouted Walter. "Come in, Diggory, and show yourself."
In came Diggory, an awkward thick-set fellow, with a shock head of hair, high leathern gaiters, and a buff belt over his rough leathern jerkin. There he stood, pulling his forelock, and looking sheepish.
"Come in, Diggory," said his mistress; "I am glad to see you safe.
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