The Children of the New Forest/Chapter XXVI
Our readers may think that Humphrey was very unkind; but it was to avoid being questioned by Clara, who was evidently sent for the purpose, that he was so harsh. At the same time it must be admitted that Mr Heatherstone having obtained possession of Arnwood, rankled no doubt in the minds of both the brothers, and every act now, on the part of him or his family, was viewed in a false medium. But our feelings are not always at our control, and Edward was naturally impetuous, and Humphrey so much attached, and so much alarmed at his brother's danger, that he was even more excited. The blow fell doubly heavy, as it appeared that at the very same time Patience had rejected his brother and taken possession of their property, which had been held by the family for centuries. What made the case more annoying was, that explanation, if there was any to offer on either side, was, under present circumstances, almost impossible.
Soon after Clara left him Humphrey returned to his brother's room. He found him awake, and talking to Oswald. Ardently pressing his brother's hand, Edward said --
"My dear Humphrey, I shall soon be well now, and able, I trust, to quit this house. What I fear is, that some explanation will be asked for by the Intendant, not only relative to my sisters having left us, but also upon other points. This is what I wish to avoid, without giving offence. I do not think that the Intendant is so much to blame in having obtained my property, as he does not know that a Beverley existed, but I cannot bear to have any further intimacy with him, especially after what has taken place between me and his daughter. What I have to request is, that you will never quit this room while I am still here, unless you are relieved by Oswald; so that the Intendant or anybody else may have no opportunity of having any private communication with me, or forcing me to listen to what they may have to say. I made this known to Oswald before you came in."
"Depend upon it, it shall be so, Edward; for I am of your opinion. Clara came to me just now, and I had much trouble, and was compelled to be harsh, to get rid of her importunity."
When the surgeon called, he pronounced Edward out of danger, and that his attendance would be no longer necessary. Edward felt the truth of this. All that he required was strength; and that he trusted in a few days to obtain.
Oswald was sent over to the cottage to ascertain how Pablo was going on by himself. He found that everything was correct, and that Pablo, although he felt proud of his responsibility, was very anxious for Humphrey's return, as he found himself very lonely. During Oswald's absence on this day, Humphrey never quitted the room and although the Intendant came up several times he never could find an opportunity of speaking to Edward, which he evidently wished to do.
To inquiries made as to how he was, Edward always complained of great weakness, for a reason which will soon be understood. Several days elapsed, and Edward had often been out of bed during the night, when not likely to be intruded upon, and he now felt himself strong enough to be removed; and his object was to leave the Intendant's house without his knowledge, so as to avoid any explanation.
One evening Pablo came over with the horses after it was dark. Oswald put them into the stable; and the morning proving fine and clear, a little before break of day Edward came softly downstairs with Humphrey, and, mounting the horses, set off for the cottage, without any one in the Intendant's house being aware of their departure.
It must not be supposed, however, that Edward took this step without some degree of consideration as to the feelings of the Intendant. On the contrary, he left a letter with Oswald, to be delivered after his departure, in which he thanked the Intendant sincerely for all the kindness and compassion he had shown towards him assured him of his gratitude and kind feelings towards him and his daughter, but said that circumstances had occurred of which no explanation could be given without great pain to all parties, which rendered it advisable that he should take such an apparently unkind step as to leave without bidding them farewell in person; that he was about to embark immediately for the continent, to seek his fortune in the wars; and that he wished all prosperity to the family, which would ever have his kindest wishes and remembrances.
"Humphrey," said Edward, after they had ridden about two miles across the forest, and the sun had risen in an unclouded sky, "I feel like an emancipated slave. Thank God! my sickness has cured me of all my complaints, and all I want now is active employment. And now, Humphrey, Chaloner and Grenville are not a little tired of being inured up in their cottage, and I am as anxious as they are to be off. What will you do? Will you join us, or will you remain at the cottage?"
"I have reflected upon it, Edward, and I have come to the determination of remaining at the cottage. You will find it expensive enough to support one where you are going, and you must appear as a Beverley should do. We have plenty of money saved to equip you, and maintain you well for a year or so; but after that you may require more. Leave me here. I can make money, now that the farm is well stocked; and I have no doubt that I shall be able to send over a trifle every year to support the honour of the family. Besides, I do not wish to leave this for another reason. I want to know what is going on, and watch the motions of the Intendant and the heiress of Arnwood. I also do not wish to leave the country until I know how my sisters get on with the Ladies Conynghame: it is my duty to watch over them. I have made up my mind, so do not attempt to dissuade me."
"I shall not, my dear Humphrey, as I think you have decided properly; but I beg you will not think of laying by money for me -- a very little will suffice for my wants."
"Not so, good brother; you must and shall, if I can help you, ruffle it with the best. You will be better received if you do; for, though poverty is no sin, as the saying is, it is scouted as sin should be, while sins are winked at. You know that I require no money, and therefore you must and shall, if you love me, take it all."
"As you will, my dear Humphrey. Now then, let us put our horses to speed, for, if possible, we will to-morrow morning leave the forest."
By this time all search for the fugitives from Worcester had long been over, and there was no difficulty in obtaining the means of embarkation. Early the next morning everything was ready, and Edward, Humphrey, Chaloner, Grenville, and Pablo set off for Southampton, one of the horses carrying the little baggage which they had with them. Edward, as we have before mentioned, with the money he had saved, and the store at the cottage, which had been greatly increased, was well supplied with cash; and that evening they embarked, with their horses, in a small sailing vessel, and, with a favourable light wind, arrived at a small port of France on the following day. Humphrey and Pablo returned to the cottage, we need hardly now say, very much out of spirits at the separation.
"Oh, Massa Humphrey," said Pablo, as they rode along, "Missy Alice and Missy Edith go away -- I wish go with them. Massa Edward go away -- I wish go with him. You stay at cottage -- I wish stay with you. Pablo cannot be in three places."
"No, Pablo; all you can do is to stay where you can be most useful."
"Yes, I know that. You want me at cottage very much. Missy Alice and Edith and Massa Edward no want me; so I stay at cottage."
"Yes, Pablo, we will stay at the cottage, but we can't do everything now. I think we must give up the dairy, now that my sisters are gone. I'll tell you what I have been thinking of, Pablo. We will make a large enclosed place, to coax the ponies into during the winter, pick out as many as we think are good, and sell them at Lymington. That will be better than churning butter."
"Yes, I see; plenty of work for Pablo."
"And plenty for me, too, Pablo; but you know, when the enclosure is once made, it will last for a long while; and we will get the wild cattle into it if we can."
"Yes, I see," said Pablo. "I like that very much; only not like trouble to build place."
"We shan't have much trouble, Pablo: if we fell the trees inside the wood at each side, and let them lie one upon the other, the animals will never break through them."
"That very good idea -- save trouble," said Pablo. "And what you do with cows, suppose no make butter?"
"Keep them, and sell their calves; keep them, to entice the wild cattle into the pen."
"Yes, that good. And turn out old Billy to 'tice ponies into pen," continued Pablo, laughing.
"Yes, we will try it."
We must now return to the Intendant's house. Oswald delivered the letter to the Intendant, who read it with much astonishment.
"Gone! is he actually gone?" said Mr Heatherstone.
"Yes, sir, before daylight this morning."
"And why was I not informed of it?" said Mr Heatherstone; "why have you been a party to this proceeding, being my servant? May I inquire that?"
"I knew Master Edward before I knew you, sir," replied Oswald.
"Then you had better follow him," rejoined the Intendant, in an angry tone.
"Very well, sir," replied Oswald, who quitted the room. "Good Heaven! how all my plans have been frustrated!" exclaimed the Intendant, when he was alone. He then read the letter over more carefully than he had done at first. "'Circumstances had occurred of which no explanation could be given by him.' I do not comprehend that -- I must see Patience."
Mr Heatherstone opened the door, and called to his daughter.
"Patience," said Mr Heatherstone, "Edward has left the house this morning; here is a letter which he has written to me. Read it, and let me know if you can explain some portion of it, which to me is incomprehensible. Sit down and read it attentively."
Patience, who was much agitated, gladly took the seat and perused Edward's letter. When she had done so she let it drop in her lap, and covered all her face, the tears trickling through her fingers. After a time the Intendant said --
"Patience, has anything passed between you and Edward Armitage?"
Patience made no reply, but sobbed aloud. She might not have shown so much emotion, but it must be remembered that for the last three weeks since Edward had spoken to her, and during his subsequent illness, she had been very unhappy. The reserve of Humphrey, the expressions he had made use of, his repulse of Clara, and her not having seen anything of Edward during his illness, added to his sudden and unexpected departure without a word to her, had broken her spirits, and she sank beneath the load of sorrow.
The Intendant left her to recover herself before he again addressed her. When she had ceased sobbing, her father spoke to her in a very kind voice, begging her that she would not conceal anything from him, as it was most important to him that the real facts should be known.
"Now tell me, my child, what passed between Edward and you?"
"He told me, just before you came up to us that evening, that he loved me."
"And what was your reply?"
"I hardly know, my dear father, what it was that I said. I did not like to be unkind to one who saved my life, and I did not choose to say what I thought, because -- because -- because he was of low birth; and how could I give encouragement to the son of a forester without your permission?"
"Then you rejected him?"
"I suppose I did, or that he considered that I did so. He had a secret of importance that he would have confided to me, had you not interrupted us."
"And now, Patience, I must request you to answer me one question candidly. I do not blame you for your conduct, which was correct under the circumstances. I also had a secret which I perhaps ought to have confided; but I did consider that the confidence and paternal kindness with which I treated Edward would have been sufficient to point out to you that I could not have been very averse to an union -- indeed, the freedom of communication which I allowed between you must have told you so: but your sense of duty and propriety has made you act as you ought to have done, I grant, although contrary to my real wishes."
"Your wishes, my father?" said Patience.
"Yes -- my wishes; there is nothing that I so ardently desired as an union between you and Edward; but I wished you to love him for his own merits."
"I have done so, father," replied Patience, sobbing again, "although I did not tell him so."
The Intendant remained silent for some time, and then said --
"There is no cause for further concealment, Patience; I have only to regret that I was not more explicit sooner. I have long suspected, and have since been satisfied, that Edward Armitage is Edward Beverley, who, with his brother and sisters, were supposed to have been burnt to death at Arnwood."
Patience removed her handkerchief from her face, and looked at her father with astonishment.
"I tell you that I had a strong suspicion of it, my dear child, first, from the noble appearance, which no forest garb could disguise; but what gave me further conviction was, that when at Lymington I happened to fall in with one Benjamin, who had been a servant at Arnwood, and interrogated him closely. He really believed that the children were burnt; it is true that I asked him particularly relative to the appearance of the children -- how many were boys and how many were girls, their ages, etc.; but the strongest proof was, that the names of the four children corresponded with the names of the Children of the Forest, as well as their ages, and I went to the church register and extracted them. Now this was almost amounting to proof; for it was not likely that four children in the forest cottage should have the same ages and names as those of Arnwood. After I had ascertained this point, I engaged Edward, as you know, wishing to secure him; for I was once acquainted with his father, and at all events well acquainted with the Colonel's merits. You remained in the house together, and it was with pleasure that I watched the intimacy between you; and then I exerted myself to get Arnwood restored to him. I could not ask it for him, but I prevented it being given to any other, by laying claim to it myself. Had Edward remained with us, all might have succeeded as I wished; but he would join in the unfortunate insurrection, and I knew it useless to prevent him, so I let him go. I found that he took the name of Beverley during the time he was with the king's army, and when I was last in town I was told so by the commissioners, who wondered where he had come from; but the effect was, that it was now useless for me to request the estate for him, as I had wished to do -- his having served in the royal army rendered it impossible. I therefore claimed it for myself, and succeeded. I had made up my mind that he was attached to you, and you were equally so to him; and as soon as I had the grant sent down, which was on the evening he addressed you, I made known to him that the property was given to me; and I added, on some dry questions being put to me by him, relative to the possibility of there being still existing an heir to the estate, that there was no chance of that, and that you would be the mistress of Arnwood. I threw it out as a hint to him, fancying that, as far as you were concerned, all would go well, and that I would explain to him my knowledge of who he was after he had made known his regard for you."
"Yes, I see it all now," replied Patience; "in one hour he is rejected by me, and in the next he is told that I have obtained possession of his property. No wonder that he is indignant, and looks upon us with scorn. And now he has left us: we have driven him into danger, and may never see him again. Oh, father! I am very, very miserable!"
"We must hope for the best, Patience. It is true that he has gone to the wars, but it does not therefore follow that he is to be killed. You are both very young -- much too young to marry -- and all may be explained. I must see Humphrey, and be candid with him."
"But Alice and Edith, -- where are they gone, father?"
"That I can inform you. I have a letter from Langton on the subject, for I begged him to find out. He says that there are two young ladies of the name of Beverley, who have been placed under the charge of his friends the Ladies Conynghame, who is aunt to Major Chaloner, who has been for some time concealed in the forest. But I have letters to write, my dear Patience. To-morrow, if I live and do well, I will ride over to the cottage to see Humphrey Beverley."
The Intendant kissed his daughter; and she left the room.
Poor Patience! she was glad to be left to herself, and think over this strange communication. For many days she had felt how fond she had been of Edward, much more so than she had believed herself to be. "And now," she thought, "if he really loves me, and hears my father's explanation, he will come back again." By degrees, she recovered her serenity, and employed herself in her quiet domestic duties.
Mr Heatherstone rode over to the cottage the next day, where he found Humphrey busily employed as usual; and, what was very unusual, extremely grave. It was not a pleasant task for Mr Heatherstone to have to explain his conduct to so very young a man as Humphrey; but he felt that he could not be comfortable until the evil impression against him was removed, and he knew that Humphrey had a great deal of sterling good sense. His reception was cool; but when the explanation was made, Humphrey was more than satisfied, as it showed that the Intendant had been their best friend, and that it was from a delicacy on the part of Patience, rather than from any other cause, that the misunderstanding had occurred. Humphrey inquired if he had permission to communicate the substance of their conversation to his brother, and Mr Heatherstone stated that such was his wish and intention when he confided it to Humphrey. It is hardly necessary to say that Humphrey took the earliest opportunity of writing to Edward at the direction which Chaloner had left with him.