The Children of the New Forest/Chapter XXV
For several days Edward remained at home, anxiously awaiting every news which arrived; expecting every time that the capture of the king would be announced, and, with great joy, finding that hitherto all efforts had been unsuccessful. But there was a question which now arose in Edward's mind, and which was the cause of deep reflection. Since the proposal of sending his sisters away had been started, he felt the great inconvenience of his still representing himself to the Intendant as the grandson of Armitage. His sisters, if sent to the ladies at Portlake, must be sent without the knowledge of the Intendant; and if so, the discovery of their absence would soon take place, as Patience Heatherstone would be constantly going over to the cottage; and he now asked himself the question whether, after all the kindness and confidence which the Intendant had shown him, he was right in any longer concealing from him his birth and parentage. He felt that he was doing the Intendant an injustice in not showing to him that confidence which he deserved.
That he was justified in so doing at first, he felt; but since the joining the king's army, and the events which had followed, he considered that he was treating the Intendant ill, and he now resolved to take the first opportunity of making the confession. But to do it formally, and without some opportunity which might offer, he felt awkward. At last he thought that he would at once make the confession to Patience, under the promise of secrecy. That he might do at once; and, after he had done so, the Intendant could not tax him with want of confidence altogether. He had now analysed his feelings towards Patience; and he felt how dear she had become to him. During the time he was with the army she had seldom been out of his thoughts; and although he was often in the society of well-bred women, he saw not one that, in his opinion, could compare with Patience Heatherstone; but still, what chance had he of supporting a wife? At present, at the age of nineteen, it was preposterous. Thoughts like these ran in his mind, chasing each other, and followed by others as vague and unsatisfactory; and, in the end, Edward came to the conclusion that he was without a penny, and that being known as the heir of Beverley would be to his disadvantage; that he was in love with Patience Heatherstone, and had no chance at present of obtaining her; and that he had done well up to the present time in concealing who he was from the Intendant, who could safely attest that he knew not that he was protecting the son of so noted a Cavalier; and that he would confess to Patience who he was, and give as a reason for not telling her father, that he did not wish to commit him by letting him know who it was that was under his protection. How far the reader may be satisfied with the arguments which Edward was satisfied with, we cannot pretend to say; but Edward was young, and hardly knew how to extricate himself from the cloak which necessity had first compelled him to put on. Edward was already satisfied that he was not quite looked upon with indifference by Patience Heatherstone; and he was not yet certain whether it was not a grateful feeling that she had towards him more than any other; that she believed him to be beneath her in birth, he felt convinced, and therefore she could have no idea that he was Edward Beverley. It was not till several days after he had made up his mind that he had an opportunity of being with her alone, as Clara Ratcliffe was their constant companion. However, one evening Clara went out, and stayed out so long, carelessly wrapped up, that she caught cold; and the following evening she remained at home, leaving Edward and Patience to take their usual walk unaccompanied by her. They had walked for some minutes in silence, when Patience observed --
"You are very grave, Edward, and have been very grave ever since your return; have you anything to vex you beyond the failure of the attempt?"
"Yes, I have, Patience. I have much on my conscience, and do not know how to act. I want an adviser and a friend, and know not where to find one."
"Surely, Edward, my father is your sincere friend, and not a bad adviser."
"I grant it; but the question is between your father and me, and I cannot advise with him for that reason."
"Then advise with me, Edward, if it is not a secret of such moment that it is not to be trusted to a woman: at all events it will be the advice of a sincere friend; you will give me credit for that."
"Yes, and for much more; for I think I shall have good advice, and will therefore accept your offer. I feel, Patience, that although I was justified, on my first acquaintance with your father, in not making known to him a secret of some importance, yet now that he has put such implicit confidence in me, I am doing him and myself an injustice in not making the communication -- that is, as far as confidence in him is concerned, I consider that he has a right to know all, and yet I feel that it would be prudent on my part that he should not know all, as the knowledge might implicate him with those with whom he is at present allied. A secret sometimes is dangerous; and if your father could not say that on his honour he knew not of the secret, it might harm him if the secret became afterwards known. Do you understand me?"
"I cannot say that I exactly do; you have a secret that you wish to make known to my father, and you think the knowledge of it may harm him. I cannot imagine what kind of secret that may be."
"Well, I can give you a case in point. Suppose now that I knew that King Charles was hidden in your stable-loft: such might be the case, and your father be ignorant of it, and his assertion of his ignorance would be believed; but if I were to tell your father that the king was there, and it was afterwards discovered, do you not see that by confiding such a secret to him I should do harm, and perhaps bring him into trouble?"
"I perceive now, Edward; do you mean to say that you know where the king is concealed? for if you do, I must beg of you not to let my father know anything about it. As you say, it would put him in a difficult position, and must eventually harm him much. There is a great difference between wishing well to a cause and supporting it in person. My father wishes the king well, I believe, but, at the same time, he will not take an active part, as you have already seen; at the same time, I am convinced that he would never betray the king if he knew where he was. I say, therefore, if that is your secret, keep it from him, for his sake and for mine, Edward, if you regard me."
"You know not how much I regard you, Patience. I saw many high-born women when I was away, but none could I see equal to Patience Heatherstone, in my opinion; and Patience was ever in my thoughts during my long absence."
"I thank you for your kind feelings towards me," replied Patience; "but, Master Armitage, we were talking about your secret."
"Master Armitage!" rejoined Edward; "how well you know how to remind me, by that expression, of my obscure birth and parentage, whenever I am apt to forget the distance which I ought to observe!"
"You are wrong!" replied Patience; "but you flattered me so grossly that I called you Master Armitage to show that I disliked flattery; that was all. I dislike flattery from those who are above me in rank, as well as those who are below me; and I should have done the same to any other person, whatever his condition might be. But forget what I said; I did not mean to vex you, only to punish you for thinking me so silly as to believe such nonsense."
"Your humility may construe that into flattery which was said by me in perfect sincerity and truth -- that I cannot help," replied Edward. "I might have added much more, and yet have been sincere; if you had not reminded me of my not being of gentle birth I might have had the presumption to have told you much more; but I have been rebuked."
Edward finished speaking, and Patience made no reply: they walked on for several moments without exchanging another syllable. At last Patience said --
"I will not say who is wrong, Edward; but this I do know, that the one who first offers the olive-branch after a misunderstanding cannot but be right. I offer it now, and ask you whether we are to quarrel about one little word. Let me ask you, and give me a candid answer: Have I ever been so base as to treat as an inferior one to whom I have been so much obliged?"
"It is I who am in fault, Patience," replied Edward. "I have been dreaming for a long while, pleased with my dreams; and forgetting that they were dreams, and not likely to be realised. I must now speak plainly. I love you, Patience; love you so much that to part from you would be misery -- to know that my love was rejected, as bitter as death. That is the truth, and I can conceal it no longer. Now I admit you have a right to be angry."
"I see no cause for anger, Edward," replied Patience. "I have not thought of you but as a friend and benefactor; it would have been wrong to have done otherwise. I am but a young person, and must be guided by my father. I would not offend him by disobedience. I thank you for your good opinion of me, and yet I wish you had not said what you have."
"Am I to understand from your reply, that if your father raised no objection, my lowly birth would be none in your opinion?"
"Your birth has never come into my head, except when reminded of it by yourself."
"Then, Patience, let me return for the present to what I had to confide to you. I was -- "
"Here comes my father, Edward," said Patience.
"Surely I have done wrong, for I feel afraid to meet him."
Mr Heatherstone now joined them, and said to Edward --
"I have been looking for you; I have news from London which has rejoiced me much. I have at last obtained what I have some time been trying for; and, indeed, I may say that your prudence and boldness in returning home as a trooper, added to your conduct in the forest, has greatly advanced, and ultimately obtained for me my suit. There was some suspense before that; but your conduct has removed it; and now we shall have plenty to do."
They walked to the house, and the Intendant, as soon as he had gained his own room, said to Edward --
"There is a grant to me of a property which I have long solicited for my services -- read it." Edward took up the letter, in which the Parliament informed Mr Heatherstone that his application for the property of Arnwood had been acceded to, and signed by the Commissioners; and that he might take immediate possession. Edward turned pale as he laid the document down on the table.
"We will ride to-morrow, Edward, and look it over. I intend to rebuild the house."
Edward made no reply.
"Are you not well?" said the Intendant, with surprise.
"Yes, sir," replied Edward, "I am well, I believe, but I will confess to you that I am disappointed. I did not think that you would have accepted a property from such a source, and so unjustly sequestrated."
"I am sorry, Edward," replied the Intendant, "that I should have fallen in your good opinion; but allow me to observe that you are so far right, that I never would have accepted a property to which there were living claimants; but this is a different case. For instance, the Ratcliffe property belongs to little Clara and is sequestrated. Do you think I would accept it? Never! But here is a property without an heir; the whole family perished in the flames of Arnwood! There is no living claimant! It must be given to somebody, or remain with the Government. This property, therefore, and this property only, out of all sequestrated, I selected; as I felt that, in obtaining it, I did harm to no one. I have been offered others, but have refused them. I would accept of this, and this only; and that is the reason why my applications have hitherto been attended with no success. I trust you believe me, Edward, in what I assert?"
"First answer me one question, Mr Heatherstone. Suppose it were proved that the whole of the family did not, as it is supposed, perish at the conflagration of Arnwood? Suppose a rightful heir to it should at any time appear, would you then resign the property to him?"
"As I hope for heaven, Edward, I would!" replied the Intendant, solemnly raising his eyes upwards as he spoke. "I then should think that I had been an instrument to keep the property out of other hands less scrupulous, and should surrender it as a trust which had been confided to me for the time only."
"With such feelings, Mr Heatherstone, I can now congratulate you upon your having obtained possession of the property," replied Edward.
"And yet I do not deserve so much credit, as there is little chance of my sincerity being put to the test, Edward. There is no doubt that the family all perished; and Arnwood will become the dower of Patience Heatherstone."
Edward's heart beat quick. A moment's thought told him his situation. He had been prevented, by the interruption of Mr Heatherstone, from making his confession to Patience; and now he could not make it to anybody without a rupture with the Intendant, or a compromise, by asking what he so earnestly desired -- the hand of Patience. Mr Heatherstone observing to Edward that he did not look so well, said supper was ready; and that they had better go into the next room. Edward mechanically followed. At supper he was tormented by the incessant inquiries of Clara, as to what was the matter with him. He did not venture to look at Patience, and made a hasty retreat to bed; complaining, as he well might do, of a severe headache.
Edward threw himself on his bed, but to sleep was impossible. He thought of the events of the day over and over again. Had he any reason to believe that Patience returned his affection? No: her reply was too calm, too composed, to make him suppose that; and now that she would be an heiress, there would be no want of pretenders to her hand; and he would lose her and his property at the same time. It was true that the Intendant had declared that he would renounce the property if the true heir appeared, but that was easy to say upon the conviction that no heir would appear; and even if he did renounce it, the Parliament would receive it again, rather than it should fall into the hands of a Beverley. "Oh that I had never left the cottage," thought Edward. "I might then at least have become resigned and contented with my lot. Now I am miserable, and, whichever way I turn, I see no prospect of being otherwise. One thing only I can decide upon, which is, that I will not remain any longer than I can help under this roof. I will go over and consult with Humphrey; and if I can only place my sisters as I want, Humphrey and I will seek our fortunes."
Edward rose at daylight, and, dressing himself, went down and saddled his horse. Desiring Sampson to tell the Intendant that he had gone over to the cottage, and would return by the evening, he rode across the forest, and arrived just as they were sitting down to breakfast. His attempts to be cheerful before his sisters did not succeed, and they were all grieved to see him look so pale and haggard. As soon as breakfast was over Edward made a sign, and he and Humphrey went out.
"What is the matter, my dear brother?" said Humphrey.
"I will tell you all. Listen to me," replied Edward, who then gave him the detail of all that had passed, from the time he had walked out with Patience Heatherstone till he went to bed. "Now, Humphrey, you know all; and what shall I do? Remain there I cannot!"
"If Patience Heatherstone had professed regard for you," replied Humphrey, "the affair would have been simple enough. Her father could have no objections to the match; and he would at the same time have acquitted his conscience as to the retaining of the property: but you say she showed none."
"She told me very calmly that she was sorry that I had said what I did."
"But do women always mean what they say, brother?" said Humphrey.
"She does, at all events," replied Edward; "she is truth itself. No, I cannot deceive myself. She feels a deep debt of gratitude for the service I rendered her; and that prevented her from being more harsh in her reply than what she was."
"But if she knew that you were Edward Beverley, do you not think it would make a difference in her?"
"And if it did, it would be too humiliating to think that I was only married for my rank and station."
"But, considering you of mean birth, may she not have checked those feelings which she considered under the circumstances improper to indulge?"
"Where there is such a sense of propriety there can be little affection."
"I know nothing about these things, Edward," replied Humphrey; "but I have been told that a woman's heart is not easily read; or if I have not been told it, I have read it or dreamt it. What do you propose to do?"
"What I fear you will not approve of, Humphrey; it is to break up our establishment altogether. If the answer is favourable from the Misses Conynghame, my sisters shall go to them; but that we had agreed upon already. Then for myself -- I intend to go abroad, resume my name, and obtain employment in some foreign service. I will trust to the king for assisting me to that."
"That is the worst part of it, Edward; but if your peace of mind depends upon it, I will not oppose it."
"You, Humphrey, may come with me and share my fortunes, or do what you think more preferable."
"I think then, Edward, that I shall not decide rashly. I must have remained here with Pablo, if my sisters had gone to the Ladies Conynghame and you had remained with the Intendant; I shall, therefore, till I hear from you, remain where I am, and I shall be able to observe what is going on here, and let you know."
"Be it so," replied Edward; "let me only see my sisters well placed, and I shall be off the next day. It is misery to remain there now."
After some more conversation Edward mounted his horse and returned to the Intendant's. He did not arrive till late, for supper was on the table. The Intendant gave him a letter for Master Chaloner, which was enclosed in one from Mr Langton; -- and further informed Edward that news had arrived of the king having made his escape to France.
"Thank God for that I" exclaimed Edward. "With your leave, sir, I will to-morrow deliver this letter to the party to whom it is addressed, as I know it to be of consequence."
The Intendant having given his consent, Edward retired without having exchanged a word with Patience or Clara beyond the usual civilities of the table.
The following morning Edward, who had not slept an hour during the night, set off for Clara's cottage, and found Chaloner and Grenville still in bed. At the sound of his voice the door was opened, and he gave Chaloner the letter; the latter read it and then handed it to Edward. The Misses Conynghame were delighted at the idea of receiving the two daughters of Colonel Beverley, and would treat them as their own; they requested that they might be sent to London immediately, where the coach would meet them to convey them down to Lancashire. They begged to be kindly remembered to Captain Beverley, and to assure him that his sisters should be well cared for.
"I am much indebted to you, Chaloner," said Edward; "I will send my brother off with my sisters as soon as possible. You will soon think of returning to France; and if you will permit me, I will accompany you."
"You, Edward! that will be delightful; but you had no idea of the kind when last we met. What has induced you to alter your mind?"
"I will tell you by and by; I do not think I shall be here again for some days. I must be a great deal at the cottage when Humphrey is away; for Pablo will have a great charge upon him -- what with the dairy, and horses, and breed of goats, and other things -- more than he can attend to; but as soon as Humphrey returns, I will come to you and make preparations for our departure. Till then farewell, both of you. We must see to provision you for three weeks or a month before Humphrey starts."
Edward bade them a hearty farewell, and then rode to the cottage.
Although Alice and Edith had been somewhat prepared for leaving the cottage, yet the time was so very uncertain, that the blow fell heavy upon them. They were to leave their brothers, whom they loved so dearly, to go to strangers; and when they understood that they were to leave in two days, and that they should not see Edward again, their grief was very great; but Edward reasoned with Alice and consoled her, although with Edith it was a more difficult task. She not only lamented her brothers, but her cow, her pony, and her kids; all the dumb animals were friends and favourites of Edith; and even the idea of parting with Pablo was the cause of a fresh burst of tears. Having made every arrangement with Humphrey, Edward once more took his leave, promising to come over and assist Pablo as soon as he could.
The next day Humphrey was busied in his preparations. They supplied the provisions to Clara's cottage; and when Pablo took them over in the cart, Humphrey rode to Lymington and provided a conveyance to London for the following day. We may as well observe that they set off at the hour appointed, and arrived safely at London in three days. There, at an address given in the letter, they found the coach waiting; and having given his sisters into the charge of an elderly waiting-woman, who had come up in the coach to take charge of them, they quitted him with many tears, and Humphrey hastened back to the New Forest.
On his return he found, to his surprise, that Edward had not called at the cottage as he had promised; and, with a mind foreboding evil, he mounted a horse and set off across the forest to ascertain the cause. As he was close to the Intendant's house he was met by Oswald, who informed him that Edward had been seized with a violent fever, and was in a very dangerous state, having been delirious for three or four days.
Humphrey hastened to dismount, and knocked at the door of the house; it was opened by Sampson, and Humphrey requested to be shown up to his brother's room. He found Edward in the state described by Oswald, and wholly unconscious of his presence; the maid, Phoebe, was by his bedside.
"You may leave," said Humphrey, rather abruptly; "I am his brother."
Phoebe retired, and Humphrey was alone with his brother.
"It was, indeed, an unhappy day when you came to this house," exclaimed Humphrey, as the tears rolled down his cheeks; "my poor, poor Edward."
Edward now began to talk incoherently, and attempted to rise from the bed, but his efforts were unavailing -- he was too weak; but he raved of Patience Heatherstone, and he called himself Edward Beverley more than once, and he talked of his father and of Arnwood.
"If he has raved in this manner," thought Humphrey, "he has not many secrets left to disclose. I will not leave him, and will keep others away if I can."
Humphrey had been sitting an hour with his brother, when the surgeon came to see his patient. He felt his pulse, and asked Humphrey if he was nursing him.
"I am his brother, sir," replied Humphrey.
"Then, my good sir, if you perceive any signs of perspiration -- and I think now that there is a little -- keep the clothes on him and let him perspire freely. If so, his life will be saved."
The surgeon withdrew, saying that he would return again late in the evening.
Humphrey remained for another two hours at the bedside, and then feeling that there was a sign of perspiration, he obeyed the injunctions of the surgeon, and held on the clothes, against all Edward's endeavours to throw them off. For a short time the perspiration was profuse, and the restlessness of Edward subsided into a deep slumber.
"Thank Heaven! there are then hopes."
"Did you say there were hopes?" repeated a voice behind him.
Humphrey turned, and perceived Patience and Clara behind him, who had come in without his observing it.
"Yes," replied Humphrey, looking reproachfully at Patience, "there are hopes, by what the surgeon said to me -- hopes that he may yet be able to quit this house, which he was so unfortunate as to enter."
This was a harsh and rude speech of Humphrey's; but he considered that Patience Heatherstone had been the cause of his brother's dangerous state, and that she had not behaved well to him.
Patience made no reply, but falling down on her knees by the bedside, prayed silently; and Humphrey's heart smote him for what he had said to her. "She cannot be so bad," thought Humphrey, as Patience and Clara quitted the room without the least noise.
Shortly afterwards the Intendant came up into the room, and offered his hand to Humphrey, who pretended not to see it, and did not take it.
"He has got Arnwood; that is enough for him," thought Humphrey; "but my hand in friendship he shall not receive."
The Intendant put his hand within the clothes, and feeling the high perspiration in which Edward was in, said --
"I thank thee, O God! for all Thy mercies, and that Thou hast been pleased to spare this valuable life."
"How are your sisters, Master Humphrey?" said the Intendant; "my daughter bade me inquire. I will send over to them and let them know that your brother is better, if you do not leave this for the cottage yourself after the surgeon has called again."
"My sisters are no longer at the cottage, Mr Heatherstone," replied Humphrey; "they have gone to some friends who have taken charge of them. I saw them safe to London myself, or I should have known of my brother's illness and have been here before this."
"You indeed tell me news, Master Humphrey," replied the Intendant. "With whom, may I ask, are your sisters placed, and in what capacity are they gone?"
This reply of the Intendant's reminded Humphrey that he had somewhat committed himself, as being supposed to be the daughters of a forester, it was not to be thought that they had gone up to be educated; and he therefore replied --
"They found it lonely in the forest, Mr Heatherstone, and wished to see London; so we have taken them there, and put them into the care of those who have promised that they shall be well placed."
The Intendant appeared to be much disturbed and surprised, but he said nothing, and soon afterwards quitted the room. He almost immediately returned with the surgeon, who, as soon as he felt Edward's pulse, declared that the crisis was over, and that when he awoke he would be quite sensible. Having given directions as to the drink of his patient, and some medicine which he was to take, the surgeon then left, stating that he should not call until the next evening, unless he was sent for, as he considered all danger over.
Edward continued in a quiet slumber for the major portion of the night. It was just break of day when he opened his eyes. Humphrey offered him some drink, which Edward took greedily; and seeing Humphrey, said --
"Oh, Humphrey, I had quite forgotten where I was -- I'm so sleepy!" and with these words his head fell on the pillow, and he was again asleep.
When it was broad daylight Oswald came into the room --
"Master Humphrey, they say that all danger is over now, but that you have remained here all night. I will relieve you now, if you let me. Go and take a walk in the fresh air -- it will revive you."
"I will, Oswald, and many thanks. My brother has woke up once, and, I thank God, quite sensible. He will know you when he wakes again, and then do you send for me."
Humphrey left the room, and was glad, after a night of close confinement in a sick-room, to feel the cool morning air fanning his cheeks. He had not been long out of the house before he perceived Clara coming towards him.
"How d'ye do, Humphrey?" said Clara; "and how is your brother this morning?"
"He is better, Clara, and I hope now out of danger."
"But, Humphrey," continued Clara; "when we came into the room last night, what made you say what you did?"
"I do not recollect that I said anything."
"Yes, you did; you said that there were now hopes that your brother would be able soon to quit this house, which he had been so unfortunate as to enter. Do you recollect?"
"I may have said so, Clara," replied Humphrey; "it was only speaking my thoughts aloud."
"But why do you think so, Humphrey? Why has Edward been unfortunate in entering this house? That is what I want to know. Patience cried so much after she left the room because you said that. Why did you say so? You did not think so a short time ago."
"No, my dear Clara, I did not, but I do now, and I cannot give you my reasons; so you must say no more about it."
Clara was silent for a time, and then said --
"Patience tells me that your sisters have gone away from the cottage. You told her father so."
"It is very true, they have gone."
"But why have they gone? What have they gone for? Who is to look after the cows and goats and poultry? Who is to cook your dinner, Humphrey? What can you do without them, and why did you send them away without letting me or Patience know that they were going, so that at least we might have bid them farewell?"
"My dear Clara," replied Humphrey -- who, feeling no little difficulty in replying to all these questions, resolved to cut the matter short by appearing to be angry -- "you know that you are the daughter of a gentleman, and so is Patience Heatherstone. You are both of gentle birth; but my sisters, you know, are only the daughters of a forester, and my brother Edward and I are no better. It does not become Mistress Patience and you to be intimate with such as we are, especially now that Mistress Patience is a great heiress: for her father has obtained the large property of Arnwood, and it will be hers after his death. It is not fit that the heiress of Arnwood should mix herself up with forester's daughters; and as we had friends near Lymington who offered to assist us, and take our sisters under their charge, we thought it better that they should go; for what would become of them, if any accident was to happen to Edward or to me? Now they will be provided for. After they have been taught, they will make very nice tire-women to some lady of quality," added Humphrey, with a sneer. "Don't you think they will, my pretty Clara?"
Clara burst into tears.
"You are very unkind, Humphrey," sobbed she. "You had no right to send away your sisters. I don't believe you -- that's more!" and Clara ran away into the house.