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TIDINGS FROM THE IRON GATES
"He has more cause to be proud. Where is he wounded?"
It was a wet autumn day, when the yellow leaves of the poplars in front of the house were floating down amid the misty rain; Dr. Woodford had gone two days before to consult a book in the Cathedral library, and was probably detained at Winchester by the weather; Lady Archfield was confined to her bed by a sharp attack of rheumatism. Sir Philip was taking his after-dinner doze in his arm- chair; and little Philip was standing by Anne, who was doing her best to keep him from awakening his grandfather, as she partly read, partly romanced, over the high-crowned hatted fishermen in the illustrations to Izaak Walton's Complete Angler.
He had just, caught by the musical sound, made her read to him a second time Marlowe's verses,
'Come live with me and be my love,'
and informed her that his Nana was his love, and that she was to watch him fish in the summer rivers, when the servant who had been sent to meet His Majesty's mail and extract the Weekly Gazette came in, bringing not only that, but a thick, sealed packet, the aspect of which made the boy dance and exclaim, "A packet from my papa! Oh! will he have written an answer to my own letter to him?"
But Sir Philip, who had started up at the opening of the door, had no sooner glanced at the packet than he cried out, "'Tis not his hand!" and when he tried to break the heavy seals and loosen the string, his hands shook so much that he pushed it over to Anne, saying, "You open it; tell me if my boy is dead."
Anne's alarm took the course of speed. She tore off the wrapper, and after one glance said, "No, no, it cannot be the worst; here is something from himself at the end. Here, sir."
"I cannot! I cannot," said the poor old man, as the tears dimmed his spectacles, and he could not adjust them. "Read it, my dear wench, and let me know what I am to tell his poor mother."
And he sank into a chair, holding between his knees his little grandson, who stood gazing with widely-opened blue eyes.
"He sends love, duty, blessing. Oh, he talks of coming home, so do not fear, sir!" cried Anne, a vivid colour on her cheeks.
"But what is it?" asked the father. "Tell me first--the rest after."
"It is in the side--the left side," said Anne, gathering up in her agitation the sense of the crabbed writing as best she could. "They have not extracted the bullet, but when they have, he will do well."
"God grant it! Who writes?"
"Norman Graham of Glendhu--captain in his K. K. Regiment of Volunteer Dragoons. That's his great friend! Oh, sir, he has behaved so gallantly! He got his wound in saving the colours from the Turks, and kept his hands clutched over them as his men carried him out of the battle."
Philip gave another little spring, and his grandfather bade Anne read the letter to him in detail.
It told how the Imperial forces had met a far superior number of Turks at Lippa, and had sustained a terrible defeat, with the loss of their General Veterani, how Captain Archfield had received a scimitar wound in the cheek while trying to save his commander, but had afterwards dashed forward among the enemy, recovered the colours of the regiment, and by a desperate charge of his fellow-soldiers, who were devotedly attached to him, had been borne off the field with a severe wound on the left side. Retreat had been immediately necessary, and he had been taken on an ammunition waggon along rough roads to the fortress called the Iron Gates of Transylvania, whence this letter was written, and sent by the messenger who was to summon the Elector of Saxony to the aid of the remnant of the army. It had not yet been possible to probe the wound, but Charles gave a personal message, begging his parents not to despond but to believe him recovering, so long as they did not see his servant return without him, and he added sundry tender and dutiful messages to his parents, and a blessing to his son, with thanks for the pretty letter he had not been able to answer (but which, his friend said, was lying spread on his pillow, not unstained with blood), and he also told his boy always to love and look up to her who had ever been as a mother to him. Anne could hardly read this, and the scrap in feeble irregular lines she handed to Sir Philip. It was--
With all my heart I entreat pardon for all the errors that have grieved you. I leave you my child to comfort you, and mine own true love, whom yon will cherish. She will cherish you as a daughter, as she will be, with your consent, if God spares me to come home. The love of all my soul to her, my mother, sister, and you."
There was a scrawl for conclusion and signature, and Captain Graham added--
Writing and dictating have greatly exhausted him. He would have said more, but he says the lady can explain much, and he repeats his urgent entreaties that you will take her to your heart as a daughter, and that his son will love and honour her.
There was a final postscript--
The surgeon thinks him better for having disburthened his mind.
"My child," said Sir Philip, with a long sigh, looking up at Anne, who had gathered the boy into her arms, and was hiding her face against his little awe-struck head, "my child, have you read?"
"No," faltered Anne.
"Read then." And as she would have taken it, he suddenly drew her into his embrace and kissed her as the eyes of both overflowed. "My poor girl!" he said, "this is as hard to you as to us! Oh, my brave boy!" and he let her lay her head on his shoulder and held her hand as they wept together, while little Phil stared for a moment or two at so strange a sight and then burst out with a great cry--
"You shall not cry! you shall not! my papa is not dead!" and he stamped his little foot. "No, he isn't. He will get well; the letter said so, and I will go and tell grandmamma."
The need of stopping this roused them both; Sir Philip, heavily groaning, went away to break the tidings to his wife, and Anne went down on her knees on the hearth to caress the boy, and help him to understand his father's state and realise the valorous deeds that would always be a crown to him, and which already made the little fellow's eye flash and his fair head go higher.
By and by she was sent for to Lady Archfield's room, and there she had again to share the grief and the fears and try to dwell on the glory and the hopes. When in a calmer moment the parents interrogated her on what had passed with Charles, it was not in the spirit of doubt and censure, but rather as dwelling on all that was to be told of one whom alike they loved, and finally Sir Philip said, "I see, dear child, I would not believe how far it had gone before, though you tried to tell me. Whatever betide, you have won a daughter's place."
It was true that naturally a far more distinguished match would have been sought for the heir, and he could hardly have carried out his purpose without more opposition than under their present feelings, his parents supposed themselves likely to make, but they really loved Anne enough to have yielded at last; and Lady Nutley, coming home with a fuller knowledge of her brother's heart, prevented any reaction, and Anne was allowed full sympathies as a betrothed maiden, in the wearing anxiety that continued in the absence of all intelligence. On the principle of doing everything to please him, she was even encouraged to write to Charles in the packet in which he was almost implored to recover, though all felt doubts whether he were alive even while the letters were in hand, and this doubt lasted long and long. It was all very well to say that as long as the servant did not return his master must be safe--perhaps himself on the way home; but the journey from Transylvania was so long, and there were so many difficulties in the way of an Englishman, that there was little security in this assurance. And so the winter set in while the suspense lasted; and still Dr. Woodford spoke Charles's name in the intercessions in the panelled household chapel, and his mother and Anne prayed together and separately, and his little son morning and evening entreated God to "Bless papa, and make him well, and bring him home."
Thus passed more than six weeks, during which Sir Philip's attention was somewhat diverted from domestic anxieties by an uninvited visit to Portchester from Mr. Charnock, who had once been a college mate of Mr. Fellowes, and came professing anxiety, after all these years, to renew the friendship which had been broken when they took different sides on the election of Dr. Hough to the Presidency of Magdalen College. From his quarters at the Rectory Mr. Charnock had gone over to Fareham, and sounded Sir Philip on the practicability of a Jacobite rising, and whether he and his people would join it. The old gentleman was much distressed, his age would not permit him to exert himself in either cause, and he had been too much disturbed by James's proceedings to feel desirous of his restoration, though his loyal heart would not permit of his opposing it, and he had never overtly acknowledged William of Orange as his sovereign.
He could only reply that in the present state of his family he neither could nor would undertake anything, and he urgently pleaded against any insurrection that could occasion a civil war.
There was reason to think that Sedley had no hesitation in promising to use all his influence over his uncle's tenants, and considerably magnifying their extremely small regard to him--nay, probably, dwelling on his own expectations.
At any rate, even when Charnock was gone, Sedley continued to talk big of the coming changes and his own distinguished part in them. Indeed one very trying effect of the continued alarm about Charles was that he took to haunting the place, and report declared that he had talked loudly and coarsely of his cousin's death and his uncle's dotage, and of his soon being called in to manage the property for the little heir--insomuch that Sir Edmund Nutley thought it expedient to let him know that Charles, on going on active service soon after he had come of age, had sent home a will, making his son, who was a young gentleman of very considerable property on his mother's side, ward to his grandfather first, and then to Sir Edmund Nutley himself and to Dr. Woodford.
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