The Children of the New Forest/Chapter XXIV
It was only to Oswald that Edward made known what had occurred; he knew that he was to be trusted. The next day Edward resumed his forester's dress, while another one was preparing for him, and went over to the cottage; where, with the consent of the Intendant, he proposed remaining for a few days. Of course Edward had not failed to acquaint the Intendant with his proposed plans relative to Chaloner and Grenville, and received his consent; at the same time advising that they should gain the other side of the Channel as soon as they possibly could. Edward found them all very anxious for his arrival. Humphrey and Pablo had been to the cottage, which they had found undisturbed since the capture of the robbers, and made everything ready for the reception of the two Cavaliers, as on their first journey they took with them a cart-load of what they knew would be necessary. Chaloner and Grenville appeared to be quite at home already, and not very willing to shift their quarters. They, of course, still retained their troopers' clothes, as they had no other to wear until they could be procured from Lymington; but, as we have before mentioned, they were in no want of money. They, had been amusing the girls and Humphrey with a description of what had occurred during the campaign, and Edward found that he had but little to tell them, as Chaloner had commenced his narrative with an account of his first meeting with Edward when he had been attacked by the highwaymen. As soon as he could get away, Edward went out with Humphrey to have some conversation with him.
"Now, Humphrey, as you have pretty well heard all my adventures since our separation, let me hear what you have been doing."
"I have no such tales of stirring interest to narrate as Chaloner has been doing as your deputy, Edward," replied Humphrey. "All I can say is, that we have had no visitors -- that we have longed for your return -- and that we have not been idle since you quitted us."
"What horses were those in the stable," said Edward, "that you turned out to make room for ours when we arrived?"
Humphrey laughed, and then informed Edward of the manner in which they had succeeded in capturing them.
"Well, you really deserve credit, Humphrey, and certainly were not born to be secluded in this forest."
"I rather think that I have found that I was born for it," replied Humphrey, "although, I must confess, that since you have quitted us I have not felt so contented here as I did before. You have returned, and you have no idea what an alteration I see in you since you have mixed with the world, and have been a party in such stirring scenes."
"Perhaps so, Humphrey," replied Edward; "and yet do you know that, although I so ardently wished to mix with the world, and to follow the wars, I am anything but satisfied with what I have seen of it; and so far from feeling any inclination to return to it I rather feel more inclined to remain here, and remain in quiet and in peace. I have been disappointed, that is the truth. There is a great difference between the world such as we fancy it when we are pining for it, and the world when we actually are placed within the vortex, and perceive the secret springs of men's actions. I have gained a lesson, but not a satisfactory one, Humphrey; it may be told in a very few words. It is a most deceitful and hollow world! and that is all there is to be said."
"What very agreeable, pleasant young men are Masters Chaloner and Grenville," observed Humphrey.
"Chaloner I know well," replied Edward; "he is to be trusted, and he is the only one in whom I have been able to place confidence, and therefore I was most fortunate in falling in with him as I did on my first starting. Grenville I know little about; we met often, it is true, but it was in the presence of the king, being both of us on his staff; at the same time, I must acknowledge that I know nothing against him; and this I do know, which is, that he is brave."
Edward then narrated what had passed between the Intendant and himself since his return; and how well satisfied the Intendant had been with his ruse in returning to him in the dress of a trooper.
"Talking about that, Edward, do you not think it likely that we shall have the troopers down here in search of the king?"
"I wonder you have not had them already," replied Edward.
"And what shall we do if they arrive?"
"That is all prepared for," replied Edward; "although, till you mentioned it, I had quite forgotten it. The Intendant was talking with me on the subject last night, and here is an appointment for you as verderer, signed by him, which you are to use as you may find necessary; and here is another missive, ordering you to receive into your house two of the troopers who may be sent down here, and find them quarters and victuals, but not to be compelled to receive more. Until the search is over, Chaloner and Grenville must retain their accoutrements and remain with us: And, Humphrey, if you have not made any use of the clothes which I left here -- I mean the first dress I had made when I was appointed secretary, and which I thought rather too faded to wear any longer -- I will put it on now, as, should any military come here as scouters to the Intendant, I shall have some authority over them."
"It is in your chest, where you left it, Edward. The girls did propose to make two josephs out of it for winter wear; but they never have thought of it since, or have not had time. By the bye, you have not told me what you think of Alice and Edith after your long absence."
"I think they are both very much grown and very much improved," replied Edward, "but I must confess to you that I think it is high time that they were, if possible, removed from their present homely occupations, and instructed as young ladies should be."
"But how, Edward, is that to be?"
"That I cannot yet tell, and it grieves me that I cannot; but still I see the necessity of it, if ever we are to return to our position in society."
"And are we ever to return?"
"I don't know. I thought little of it before I went away and mixed in society; but since I have been in the world I have been compelled to feel that my dear sisters are not in their sphere, and I have resolved upon trying if I cannot find a more suitable position for them. Had we been successful I should have had no difficulty: but now I hardly know what to do."
"I have not inquired about Mrs Patience, brother; how is she?"
"She is as good and as handsome as ever, and very much grown; indeed, she is becoming quite womanly."
"Oh, I do not perceive any difference in her: I think she is grown, but I hardly observed her. Here comes Chaloner; we will tell him of our arrangements in case we are disturbed by the military parties."
"It is a most excellent arrangement," said Chaloner, when Edward had made the communication; "and it was a lucky day when I first fell in with you, Beverley."
"Not Beverley, I pray you; that name is to be forgotten; it was only revived for the occasion."
"Very true; then, Master Secretary Armitage, I think the arrangement excellent: the only point will be to find out what troops are sent down in this direction, as we must of course belong to some other regiment, and have been pursued from the field of battle. I should think that Lambert's squadrons will not be this way."
"We will soon ascertain that; let your horses be saddled and accoutred, so that should any of them make their appearance the horses may be at the door. It is my opinion that they will be here some time to-day."
"I fear that it will be almost impossible for the king to escape," observed Chaloner.
"I hardly know what to think of his leaving us in that way."
"I have reflected upon it," replied Edward, "and I think it was perhaps prudent: some were to be trusted, and some not; it was impossible to know who were and who were not -- he therefore trusted nobody. Besides, his chance of escape, if quite alone, is greater than if in company."
"And yet I feel a little mortified that he did not trust me," continued Edward; "my life was at his service."
"He could no more read your heart than he could mine or others," observed Chaloner; "and any selection would have been invidious: on the whole, I think he acted wisely, and I trust that it will prove so. One thing is certain, which is, that all is over now, and that for a long while -- we may let our swords rest in their scabbards. Indeed, I am sickened with it, after what I have seen, and would gladly live here with you, and help to till the land -- away from the world and all its vexations. What say you, Edward; will you and your brother take me as a labourer after all is quiet again?"
"You would soon tire of it, Chaloner; you were made for active exertion and bustling in the world."
"Nevertheless, I think, under two such amiable and pretty mistresses, I could stay well contented here: it is almost Arcadian. But still it is selfish for me to talk in this way; indeed, my feelings are contrary to my words."
"How do you mean, Chaloner?"
"To be candid with you, Edward, I was thinking what a pity it is that two such sweet girls as your sisters should be employed here in domestic drudgery, and remain in such an uncultivated state -- if I may be pardoned for speaking so freely -- but I do so because I am convinced that, if in proper hands, they would grace a court; and you must feel that I am right."
"Do you not think that the same feelings have passed in my mind, Chaloner? Indeed, Humphrey will tell you that we were speaking on the same subject but an hour ago. You must, however, be aware of the difficulty I am in: were I in possession of Arnwood and its domain, then indeed -- but that is all over now, and I presume I shall shortly see my own property, whose woods are now in sight of me, made over to some Roundhead, for good services against the Cavaliers at Worcester."
"Edward," replied Chaloner, "I have this to say to you, and I can say it because you know that I am indebted to you for my life, and that is a debt that nothing can cancel: If at any time you determine upon removing your sisters from this, recollect my maiden aunts at Portlake. They cannot be in better hands, and they cannot be in the hands of any person who will more religiously do their duty towards them, and be pleased with the trust confided to them. They are rich, in spite of exactions; but in these times women are not fined and plundered as men are, and they have been well able to afford all that has been taken from them, and all that they have voluntarily given to the assistance of our party. They are alone, and I really believe that nothing would make them more happy than to have the care of the two sisters of Edward Beverley -- be sure of that. But I will be more sure of it, if you will find means of sending to them a letter, which I shall write to them. I tell you that you will do them a favour, and that if you do not accept the offer, you will sacrifice your sisters' welfare to your own pride, -- which I do not think you would do."
"Most certainly I will not do that," replied Edward; "and I am fully sensible of your kind offer; but I can say no more until I hear what your good aunts may reply to your letter. You mistake me much, Chaloner, if you think that any sense of obligation would prevent me from seeing my sisters removed from a position so unworthy of them, but which circumstances have driven them to. That we are paupers is undeniable; but I never shall forget that my sisters are the daughters of Colonel Beverley."
"I am delighted with your reply, Edward, and I fear not that of my good aunts. It will be a great happiness to me when I am wandering abroad to know that your sisters are under their roof, and are being educated as they ought to be."
"What's the matter, Pablo?" said Humphrey to the former, who came running, out of breath.
"Soldiers," said Pablo; "plenty of them, gallop this way -- gallop every way."
"Now, Chaloner, we must get ourselves out of this scrape; and I trust that afterwards all will be well," said Edward. "Bring the horses out to the door; and, Chaloner, you and Grenville must wait within: bring my horse out also, as it will appear as if I had just ridden over. I must in to change my dress. Humphrey, keep a look-out and let us know when they come."
Chaloner and Edward went in, and Edward put on his dress of secretary. Shortly afterwards a party of cavalry were seen galloping towards the cottage. They soon arrived there, and pulled up their horses. An officer who headed them addressed Humphrey in a haughty tone, and asked him who he was.
"I am one of the verderers of the forest, sir," replied Humphrey respectfully.
"And whose cottage is that? and who have you there?"
"The cottage is mine, sir; two of the horses at the door belong to two troopers who have come in quest of those who fled from Worcester; the other horse belongs to the secretary of the Intendant of the forest, Mr Heatherstone, who has come over with directions from the Intendant as to the capture of the rebels."
At this moment Edward came out and saluted the officer.
"This is the secretary, sir, Master Armitage," said Humphrey, falling back.
Edward saluted the officer, and said --
"Mr Heatherstone, the Intendant, has sent me over here to make arrangements for the capture of the rebels. This man is ordered to lodge two troopers as long as they are considered necessary to remain; and I have directions to tell any officer whom I may meet that Mr Heatherstone and his verderers will take good care that none of the rebels are harboured in this direction; and that it will be better that the troops scour the southern edge of the forest, as it is certain that the fugitives will try all that they can to embark for France."
"What regiment do the troopers belong to that you have here?"
"I believe to Lambert's troop, sir; but they shall come out and answer for themselves. Tell those men to come out," said Edward to Humphrey.
"Yes, sir; but they are hard to wake, for they have ridden from Worcester; but I will rouse them."
"Nay, I cannot wait," replied the officer. "I know none of Lambert's troops, and they have no information to give."
"Could you not take them with you, sir, and leave two of your men instead of them; for they are troublesome people to a poor man, and devour everything?" said Humphrey submissively.
"No, no," replied the officer, laughing, "we all know Lambert's people -- a friend or enemy is much the same to them. I have no power over them, and you must make the best of it. -- Forward! men," continued the officer, saluting Edward as he passed on: and in a minute or two they were far in the distance.
"That's well over," observed Edward. "Chaloner and Grenville are too young-looking and too good-looking for Lambert's villains; and a sight of them might have occasioned suspicion. We must, however, expect more visits. Keep a good look-out, Pablo."
Edward and Humphrey then went in and joined the party inside the cottage, who were in a state of no little suspense during the colloquy outside.
"Why, Alice, dearest, you look quite pale," said Edward, as he came in.
"I feared for our guests, Edward. I'm sure that if they had come into the cottage, Master Chaloner and Master Grenville would never have been believed to be troopers."
"We thank you for the compliment, Mistress Alice," said Chaloner; "but I think, if necessary, I could ruffle and swear with the best, or rather the worst of them. We passed for troopers very well on the road here."
"Yes, but you did not meet any other troopers."
"That's very true, and shows your penetration. I acknowledge that with troopers there would have been more difficulty; but still, among so many thousands there must be many varieties, and it would be an awkward thing for an officer of one troop to arrest upon suspicion the men belonging to another. I think, when we are visited again, I shall sham intoxication -- that will not be very suspicious."
"No, not on either side," replied Edward. "Come, Alice, we will eat what dinner you may have ready for us."
For three or four days the Parliamentary forces continued to scour the forest, and another visit or two was paid to the cottage, but without suspicion being created, in consequence of the presence of Edward, and his explanations. The parties were invariably sent in another direction. Edward wrote to the Intendant, informing him what had occurred, and requesting permission to remain a few days longer at the cottage; and Pablo, who took the letter, returned with one from the Intendant, acquainting him that the king had not vet been taken; and requesting the utmost vigilance on his part to ensure his capture, with directions to search various places, in company with the troopers who had been stationed at the cottage; or if he did not like to leave the cottage, to show the letter to any officer commanding parties in search, that they might act upon the suggestions contained in it. This letter Edward had an opportunity of showing to one or two officers commanding parties, who approached the cottage, and to whom Edward went out to communicate with, thereby preventing their stopping there.
At last, in about a fortnight, there was not a party in the forest, all of them having gone down to the sea-side, to look-out for the fugitives, several of whom were taken.
Humphrey took the cart to Lymington, to procure clothes for Chaloner and Grenville, and it was decided that they should assume those of verderers of the forest, which would enable them to carry a gun. As soon as Humphrey had obtained what was requisite, Chaloner and Grenville were conducted to Clara's cottage, and took possession, -- of course never showing themselves outside the wood which surrounded it. Humphrey lent them Holdfast as a watch dog, and they took leave of Alice and Edith with much regret. Humphrey and Edward accompanied them to their new abode. It was arranged that the horses should remain under the care of Humphrey, as they had no stable at Clara's cottage.
On parting, Chaloner gave Edward the letter for his aunts; and then Edward once more bent his steps towards the Intendant's house, and found himself in the company of Patience and Clara.
Edward narrated to the Intendant all that had occurred, and the Intendant approved of what he had done; strongly advising that Chaloner and Grenville should not attempt to go to the continent till all pursuit was over.
"Here's a letter I have received from the Government, Edward, highly commending my vigilance and activity in pursuit of the fugitives. It appears that the officers you fell in with have written up to state what admirable dispositions we had made. It is a pity, is it not, Edward, that we are compelled to be thus deceitful in this world? Nothing but the times, and the wish to do good, could warrant it. We meet the wicked, and fight them with their own weapons; but although it is treating them as they deserve, our conscience must tell us that it is not right."
"Surely, sir, to save the lives of people who have committed no other fault except loyalty to their king, will warrant our so doing -- at least, I hope so."
"According to the Scriptures, I fear it will not; but it is a difficult question for us to decide. Let us be guided by our own consciences; if they do not reproach us we cannot be far from right."
Edward then produced the letter he had received from Chaloner, requesting that the Intendant would have the kindness to forward it.
"I see," replied the Intendant; "I can forward these through Langton. I presume it is to obtain credit for money. It shall go on Thursday."
The conference was then broken up, and Edward went to see Oswald.