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IN THE MOONLIGHT
I have had a dream this evening,
While the white and gold were fleeting,
But I need not, need not tell it.
Where would be the good?
Requiescat in Pace.--JEAN INGELOW.
Anne Woodford sat, on a sultry summer night, by the open window in Archfield House at Fareham, busily engaged over the tail of a kite, while asleep in a cradle in the corner of the room lay a little boy, his apple-blossom cheeks and long flaxen curls lying prone upon his pillow as he had tossed when falling asleep in the heat.
The six years since her return had been eventful. Dr. Woodford had adhered to his view that his oath of allegiance could not be forfeited by James's flight; and he therefore had submitted to be ousted from his preferments, resigning his pleasant prebendal house, and his sea-side home, and embracing poverty for his personal oath's sake, although he was willing to acquiesce in the government of William and Mary, and perhaps to rejoice that others had effected what he would not have thought it right to do.
Things had been softened to him as regarded his flock by the appointment of Mr. Fellowes to Portchester, which was a Crown living, though there had been great demur at thus slipping into a friend's shoes, so that Dr. Woodford had been obliged to asseverate that nothing so much comforted him as leaving the parish in such hands, and that he blamed no man for seeing the question of Divine right as he did in common with the Non-jurors. The appointment opened the way to the marriage with Naomi Darpent, and the pair were happily settled at Portchester.
Dr. Woodford and his niece found a tiny house at Winchester, near the wharf, with the clear Itchen flowing in front and the green hills rising beyond, while in the rear were the ruins of Wolvesey, and the buildings of the Cathedral and College. They retained no servant except black Hans, poor Peregrine's legacy, who was an excellent cook, and capable of all that Anne could not accomplish in her hours of freedom.
It was a fall indeed from her ancient aspirations, though there was still that bud of hope within her heart. The united means of uncle and niece were so scanty that she was fain to offer her services daily at Mesdames Reynaud's still flourishing school, where the freshness of her continental experiences made her very welcome.
Dr. Woodford occasionally assisted some student preparing for the university, but this was not regular occupation, and it was poorly paid, so that it was well that fifty pounds a year went at least three times as far as it would do in the present day. Though his gown and cassock lost their richness and lustre, he was as much respected as ever. Bishop Mews often asked him to Wolvesey, and allowed him to assist the parochial clergy when it was not necessary to utter the royal name, the vergers marshalled him to his own stall at daily prayers, and he had free access to Bishop Morley's Cathedral library.
The Archfield family still took a house in the Close for the winter months, and there a very sober-minded and conventional courtship of Lucy took place by Sir Edmund Nutley, a worthy and well-to-do gentleman settled on the borders of Parkhurst Forest, in the Isle of Wight.
Anne, with the thought of her Charles burning within her heart, was a little scandalised at the course of affairs. Sir Edmund was a highly worthy man, but not in his first youth, and ponderous--a Whig, moreover, and an intimate friend of the masterful governor of the island, Lord Cutts, called the "Salamander." He had seen Miss Archfield before at the winter and spring Quarter Sessions, and though her father was no longer in the Commission of the Peace, the residence at Winchester gave him opportunities, and the chief obstacle seemed to be the party question. He was more in love than was the lady, but she was submissive, and believed that he would be a kind husband. She saw, too, that her parents would be much disappointed and displeased if she made any resistance to so prosperous a settlement, and she was positively glad to be out of reach of Sedley's addresses. Such an entirely unenthusiastic acceptance was the proper thing, and it only remained to provide for Lady Archfield's comfort in the loss of her daughter.
For this the elders turned at once to Anne Woodford. Sir Philip made it his urgent entreaty that the Doctor and his niece would take up their abode with him, and that Anne would share with the grandmother the care of the young Philip, a spirited little fellow who would soon be running wild with the grooms, without the attention that his aunt had bestowed on him.
Dr. Woodford himself was much inclined to accept the office of chaplain to his old friend, who he knew would be far happier for his company; and Anne's heart bounded at the thought of bringing up Charles's child, but that very start of joy made her blush and hesitate, and finally surprise the two old gentlemen by saying, with crimson cheeks--
"Sir, your Honour ought to know what might make you change your mind. There have been passages between Mr. Archfield and me."
Sir Philip laughed. "Ah, the rogue! You were always little sweethearts as children. Why, Anne, you should know better than to heed what a young soldier says."
"No doubt you have other views for your son," said Dr. Woodford, "and I trust that my niece has too much discretion and sense of propriety to think that they can be interfered with on her account."
"Passages!" repeated Sir Philip thoughtfully. "Mistress Anne, how much do you mean by that? Surely there is no promise between you?"
"No, sir," said Anne; "I would not give any; but when we parted in Flanders he asked me to--to wait for him, and I feel that you ought to know it."
"Oh, I understand!" said the baronet. "It was only natural to an old friend in a foreign land, and you have too much sense to dwell on a young man's folly, though it was an honourable scruple that made you tell me, my dear maid. But he is not come or coming yet, more's the pity, so there is no need to think about it at present."
Anne's cheeks did not look as if she had attained that wisdom; but her conscience was clear, since she had told the fact, and the father did not choose to take it seriously. To say how she herself loved Charles would have been undignified and nothing to the purpose, since her feelings were not what would be regarded, and there was no need to mention her full and entire purpose to wed no one else. Time enough for that if the proposal were made.
So the uncle and niece entered on their new life, with some loss of independence, and to the Doctor a greater loss in the neighbourhood of the Cathedral and its library; for after the first year or two, as Lady Archfield grew rheumatic, and Sir Philip had his old friend to play backgammon and read the Weekly Gazette, they became unwilling to make the move to Winchester, and generally stayed at home all the winter.
Before this, however, Princess Anne had been at the King's House at Winchester for a short time; and Lady Archfield paid due respects to her, with Anne in attendance. With the royal faculty of remembering everybody, the Princess recognised her namesake, gave her hand to be kissed, and was extremely gracious. She was at the moment in the height of a quarrel with her sister, and far from delighted with the present regime. She sent for Miss Woodford, and, to Anne's surprise, laughed over her own escape from the Cockpit, adding, "You would not come, child. You were in the right on't. There's no gratitude among them! Had I known how I should be served I would never have stirred a foot! So 'twas you that carried off the child! Tell me what he is like."
And she extracted by questions all that Anne could tell her of the life at St. Germain, and the appearance of her little half-brother. It was impossible to tell whether she asked from affectionate remorse or gossiping interest, but she ended by inquiring whether her father's god-daughter were content with her position, or desired one--if there were a vacancy--in her own household, where she might get a good husband.
Anne declined courteously and respectfully, and was forced to hint at an engagement which she could not divulge. She had heard Charles's expressions of delight at the arrangement which gave his boy to her tender care, warming her heart.
Lady Archfield had fits of talking of finding a good husband for Anne Woodford among the Cathedral clergy, but the maiden was so necessary to her, and so entirely a mother to little Philip, that she soon let the idea drop. Perhaps it was periodically revived, when, about three times a year, there arrived a letter from Charles. He wrote in good spirits, evidently enjoying his campaigns, and with no lack of pleasant companions, English, Scotch, and Irish Jacobites, with whom he lived in warm friendship and wholesome emulation. He won promotion, and the county Member actually came out of his way to tell Sir Philip what he had heard from the Imperial ambassador of young Archfield's distinguished services at the battle of Salankamen, only regretting that he was not fighting under King William's colours. Little Philip pranced about cutting off Turks' heads in the form of poppies, 'like papa,' for whose safety Anne taught him to pray night and morning.
Pride in his son's exploits was a compensation to the father, who declared them to be better than vegetating over the sheepfolds, like Robert Oakshott, or than idling at Portsmouth, like Sedley Archfield.
That young man's regiment had been ordered to Ireland during the campaign that followed the battle of Boyne Water. He had suddenly returned from thence, cashiered: by his own story, the victim of the enmity of the Dutch General Ginkel; according to another version, on account of brutal excesses towards the natives and insolence to his commanding officer. Courts-martial had only just been introduced, and Sir Philip could believe in a Whig invention doing injustice to a member of a loyal family, so that his doors were open to his nephew, and Sedley haunted them whenever he had no other resource; but he spent most of his time between Newmarket and other sporting centres, and contrived to get a sort of maintenance by bets at races, cock-fights, and bull-baitings, and by extensive gambling. Evil reports of him came from time to time, but Sir Philip was loth to think ill of the son of his brother, or to forbode that as his grandson grew older, such influence might be dangerous.
In his uncle's presence Sedley was on his good behaviour; but if he caught Miss Woodford without that protection, he attempted rude compliments, and when repelled by her dignified look and manner, sneered at the airs of my lady's waiting-woman, and demanded how long she meant to mope after Charley, who would never look so low. "She need not be so ungracious to a poor soldier. She might have to put up with worse."
Moreover, he deliberately incited Philip to mischief, putting foul words into the little mouth, and likewise giving forbidden food and drink, lauding evil sports, and mocking at obedience to any authority, especially Miss Woodford's. Philip was very fond of his Nana, and in general good and obedient; but what high-spirited boy is proof against the allurements of the only example before him of young manhood, assuring him that it was manly not to mind what the women said, nor to be tied to the apron-strings of his grand-dame's abigail?
The child had this summer thus been actually taken to the outskirts of a bull-fight, whence he had been brought home in great disgrace by Ralph, the old servant who had been charged to look after his out-door amusements, and to ride with him. The grandfather was indeed more shocked at the danger and the vulgarity of the sport than its cruelty, but Philip had received his first flogging, and his cousin had been so sharply rebuked that--to the great relief of Anne and of Lady Archfield--he had not since appeared at Fareham House.
The morrow would be Philip's seventh birthday, a stage which would take him farther out of Anne's power. He was no longer to sleep in her chamber, but in one of his own with Ralph for his protector, and he was to begin Latin with Dr. Woodford. So great was his delight that he had gone to bed all the sooner in order to bring the great day more quickly, and Anne was glad of the opportunity of finishing the kite, which was to be her present, for Ralph to help him fly upon Portsdown Hill.
That great anniversary, so delightful to him, with pony and whip prepared for him--what a day of confusion, distress, and wretchedness did it not recall to his elders? Anne could not choose but recall the time, as she sat alone in the window, looking out over the garden, the moon beginning to rise, and the sunset light still colouring the sky in the north-west, just as it had done when she returned home after the bonfire. The events of that sad morning had faded out of the foreground. The Oakshott family seemed to have resigned themselves to the mystery of Peregrine's fate. Only his mother had declined from the time of his disappearance. When it was ascertained that his uncle had died in Russia, and that nothing had been heard of him there, it seemed to bring on a fresh stage of her illness, and she had expired at last in Martha Browning's arms, her last words being a blessing not only to Robert, but to Peregrine, and a broken entreaty to her husband to forgive the boy, for he might have been better if they had used him well.
Martha was then found to hold out against the idea of his being dead. Little affection and scant civility as she had received from him, her dutiful heart had attached itself to her destined lord, and no doubt her imagination had been excited by his curious abilities, and her compassion by the persecution he suffered at home. At any rate, when, after a proper interval, the Major tried to transfer her to his remaining son, she held out against it for a long interval, until at last, after full three years, the desolation and disorganisation of Oakwood without a mistress, a severe illness of the Major, and the distress of his son, so worked upon her feelings that she consented to the marriage with Robert, and had ever since been the ruling spirit at Oakwood, and a very different one from what had been expected--sensible, kindly, and beneficent, and allowing the young husband more liberty and indulgence than he had ever known before.
The remembrance of Peregrine seemed to have entirely passed away, and Anne had been troubled with no more apparitions, so that though she thought over the strange scene of that terrible morning, the rapid combat, the hasty concealment, the distracted face of the unhappy youth, it was with the thought that time had been a healer, and that Charles might surely now return home. And what then?
She raised her eyes to the open window, and what did she behold in the moonlight streaming full upon the great tree rose below? It was the same face and figure that had three times startled her before, the figure dark and the face very white in the moonlight, but like nothing else, and with that odd, one-sided feather as of old. It had flitted ere she could point its place--gone in a single flash-- but she was greatly startled! Had it come to protest against the scheme she had begun to indulge in on that very night of all nights, or had it merely been her imagination? For nothing was visible, though she leant from the window, no sound was to be heard, though when she tried to complete her work, her hands trembled and the paper rustled, so that Philip showed symptoms of wakening, and she had to defer her task till early morning.
She said nothing of her strange sight, and Phil had a happy successful birthday, flying the kite with a propitious wind, and riding into Portsmouth on his new pony with grandpapa. But there was one strange event. The servants had a holiday, and some of them went into Portsmouth, black Hans, who never returned, being one. The others had lost sight of him, but had not been uneasy, knowing him to be perfectly well able to find his way home; but as he never appeared, the conclusion was that he must have been kidnapped by some ship's crew to serve as a cook. He had not been very happy among the servants at Fareham, who laughed at his black face and Dutch English, and he would probably have gone willingly with Dutchmen; but Anne and her uncle were grieved, and felt as if they had failed in the trust that poor Sir Peregrine had left them.
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