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- The Pigeon Pie - 6/16 -
You need not be afraid of these gentlemen. Where are the rest?"
"Slain, every man of them, an't please your ladyship."
"And your master, Mr. Woodley?"
"Down, too, an't please your ladyship."
Lucy screamed aloud; Eleanor ran to her mother, and hid her face in her lap; Charles sat staring, with great round frightened eyes. Very distressing it was to be obliged to leave the poor children in such grief and alarm, when it was plain all the time that Diggory was an arrant coward, who had fancied more deaths and dangers than were real, and was describing more than he had even thought he beheld, in order to make himself into a hero instead of a runaway. Moreover, Lady Woodley and Rose had to put on a show of grief, lest they should betray that they were better informed; and they were in agonies lest Walter's fury at the falsehoods should be as apparent to their guests as it was to themselves.
"Are you sure of what you say, Diggory?" said Lady Woodley.
"Sure as that I stand here, my lady. There was sword and shot and smoke all round. I stood it all till Farmer Ewins was cut down a- one-side of me, ma'am, and Master Edmund, more's the pity, with his brains scattered here and there on the banks of the river."
There was another cry among the children, and Walter made such a violent gesture, that Rose, covering her face with her handkerchief, whispered to him, "Walter dear, take care." Walter relieved his mind by returning, "Oh that I could cudgel the rogue soundly!"
At the same time Colonel Enderby turned to their mother, saying, "Take comfort, madam, this fellow's tale carries discredit on the face of it. Let me examine him, with your permission. Where did you last see your master?"
"I know none of your places, sir," answered Diggory, sullenly.
Colonel Enderby spoke sternly and peremptorily. "In the town, or in the fields? Answer me that, sirrah. In the field on the bank of the river?"
"There you left your ranks, you rogue; that was the way you lost sight of your master!" said the colonel. Then, turning to Lady Woodley, as Diggory slunk off, "Your ladyship need not be alarmed. An hour after the encounter, in which he pretends to have seen your son slain, I saw him in full health and soundness."
"A cowardly villain!" cried Walter, delighted to let out some of his indignation. "I knew he was not speaking a word of truth."
The children cheered up in a moment; but Lady Woodley was not sorry to make this agitating scene an excuse for retiring with all her children. Lucy and Eleanor were quite comforted, and convinced that Edmund must be safe; but poor little Charlie had been so dreadfully frightened by the horrors of Diggory's description, that after Rose had put him to bed he kept on starting up in his sleep, half waking, and sobbing about brother Edmund's brains.
Rose was obliged to go to him and soothe him. She longed to assure the poor little fellow that dear Edmund was perfectly safe, well, and near at hand; but the secret was too important to be trusted to one so young, so she could only coax and comfort him, and tell him they all thought it was not true, and Edmund would come back again.
"Sister," said Charlie, "may I say my prayers again for him?"
"Yes, do, dear Charlie," said Rose; "and say a prayer for King Charles too, that he may be safe from the wicked man."
So little Charlie knelt by Rose, with his hands joined, and his little bare legs folded together, and said his prayer: and did not his sister's heart go with him? Then she kissed him, covered him up warmly, and repeated to him in her soft voice the ninety-first Psalm: "Whoso dwelleth under the defence of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
By the time it was ended, the little boy was fast asleep, and the faithful loyal girl felt her failing heart cheered and strengthened for whatever might be before her, sure that she, her mother, her brother, and her King, were under the shadow of the Almighty wings.
In a very strong fit of restlessness did little Mistress Lucy Woodley go to bed in Rose's room that night. She was quite comforted on Edmund's account, for she had discernment enough to see that her mother and sister did not believe Diggory's dreadful narration; and she had been so unsettled and excited by Mr. Sylvester Enderby's notice, and by the way in which she had allowed her high spirits to get the better of her discretion, as well as by the sudden change from terror to joy, that when first she went to Rose's room she could not attend to her prayers, and next she could not go to sleep.
Perhaps the being in a different apartment from usual, and the missing her accustomed sleeping companion, Eleanor, had something to do with it, for little Eleanor had a gravity and steadiness about her that was very apt to compose and quiet her in her idlest moods. To- night she lay broad awake, tumbling about on the very hard mattress, stuffed with chaff, wondering how Rose could bear to sleep on it, trying to guess how there could be room for both when her sister came to bed, and nevertheless in a great fidget for her to come. She listened to the howling and moaning of the wind, the creaking of the doors, and the rattling of the boards with which Rose had stopped up the broken panes of her lattice; she rolled from side to side, fancied odd shapes in the dark, and grew so restless and anxious for Rose's coming that she was just ready to jump out of bed and go in the passage to call her when Rose came into the room.
"O Rose, what a time you have been!"
It was no satisfaction to Rose to find the curious little chatter-box so wide awake at this very inconvenient time, but she did not lose her patience, and answered that she had been first with Charlie, and then with their mother.
"And now I hope you are coming to bed. I can't go to sleep without you."
"Oh, but indeed you must, Lucy dear, for I shall not be ready this long time. Look, here is a great rent in Walter's coat, which I must mend, or he won't be fit to be seen to-morrow."
"What shall we have for dinner to-morrow, Rose? What made you eat so much supper to-night?"
"I'll tell you what, Lucy, I am not going to talk to you, or you will lie awake all night, and that will be very bad for you. I shall put my candle out of your sight, and say some Psalms, but I cannot talk."
So Rose began, and, wakeful as Lucy was, she found the low sweet tones lulled her a little. But she did not like this; she had a perverse intention of staying awake till Rose got into bed, so instead of attending to the holy words, she pinched herself, and pulled herself, and kept her eyes staring open, gazing at the flickering shadows cast by the dim home-made rush candle.
She went to sleep for a moment, then started into wakefulness again; Rose had ceased to repeat her Psalms aloud, but was still at her needlework; another doze, another waking. There was some hope of Rose now, for she was kneeling down to say her prayers. Lucy thought they lasted very long, and at her next waking she was just in time to hear the latch of the door closing, and find herself left in darkness. Rose was not in bed, did not answer when she called. Oh, she must be gone to take Walter's coat back to his room. But surely she might have done that in one moment; and how long she was staying! Lucy could bear it no longer, or rather she did not try to bear it, for she was an impetuous, self-willed child, without much control over herself. She jumped out of bed, and stole to the door. A light was just disappearing on the ceiling, as if someone was carrying a candle down stairs; what could it mean? Lucy scampered, pit-pat, with her bare feet along the passage, and came to the top of the stairs in time to peep over and discover Rose silently opening the door of the hall, a large dark cloak hung over her arm, and her head and neck covered by her black silk hood and a thick woollen kerchief, as if she was going out.
Lucy's curiosity knew no bounds. She would not call, for fear she should be sent back to bed, but she was determined to see what her sister could possibly be about. Down the cold stone steps pattered she, and luckily, as she thought, Rose, probably to avoid noise, had only shut to the door, so that the little inquisitive maiden had a chink to peep through, and beheld Rose at a certain oaken corner- cupboard, whence she took out a napkin, and in it she folded what Lucy recognised as the very same three-cornered segment of pie-crust, containing the pigeon that she had last night been accused of devouring. She placed it in a basket, and then proceeded to take a lantern from the cupboard, put in her rushlight, and, thus prepared, advanced to the garden-door, softly opened it, and disappeared.
Lucy, in an extremity of amazement, came forward. The wind howled in moaning gusts, and the rain dashed against the windows; Lucy was chilly and frightened. The fire was not out, and gave a dim light, and she crept towards the window, but a sudden terror came over her; she dashed back, looked again, heard another gust of wind, fell into another panic, rushed back to the stairs, and never stopped till she had tumbled into bed, her teeth chattering, shivering from head to foot with fright and cold, rolled herself up tight in the bed- clothes, and, after suffering excessively from terror and chill, fell sound asleep without seeing her sister return.
Causeless fears pursue those who are not in the right path, and turn from what alone can give them confidence. A sense of protection supports those who walk in innocence, though their way may seem surrounded with perils; and thus, while Lucy trembled in an agony of fright in her warm bed, Rose walked forth with a firm and fearless step through the dark gusty night, heedless of the rain that pattered round her, and the wild wind that snatched at her cloak and gown, and flapped her hood into her eyes.
She was not afraid of fancied terrors, and real perils and anxieties were at this moment lost in the bounding of her young heart at the thought of seeing, touching, speaking to her brother, her dear
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