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LIFE FOR LIFE
"Follow Light, and do the Right--for man can half-control his doom--
Till you find the deathless Angel seated in the vacant tomb.
Forward, let the stormy moment fly and mingle with the Past.
I that loathed, have come to love him. Love will conquer at the last."
On they had gone in silence for the most part, avoiding villages, but as the morning advanced and they came into more inhabited places, they were not able entirely to avoid meeting labourers going out to work, who stared at Hans's black face with curiosity. The sun was already high when they reached a cross-road whence the massive towers of Carisbrooke were seen above the hedges, and another turn led to Parkhurst. They paused a moment, and Anne was beginning to entreat her escort to leave her to proceed alone, when the sound of horses' feet galloping was heard behind them. Peregrine looked back.
"Ah!" he said. "Ride on as fast as you can towards the castle. You will be all right. I will keep them back. Go, I say."
And as some figures were seen at the end of the road, he pricked the pony with the point of his sword so effectually that it bolted forward, quite beyond Anne's power of checking it, and in a second or two its speed was quickened by shouts and shots behind. Anne felt, but scarcely understood at the moment, a sharp pang and thrill in her left arm, as the steed whirled her round the corner of the lane and full into the midst of a party of gentlemen on horseback coming down from the castle.
"Help! help!" she cried. "Down there."
Attacks by highwaymen were not uncommon experiences, though scarcely at eight o'clock in the morning, or so near a garrison, but the horsemen, having already heard the shots, galloped forward. Perhaps Anne could hardly have turned her pony, but it chose to follow the lead of its fellows, and in a few seconds they were in the midst of a scene of utter confusion. Peregrine was grappling with Burford trying to drag him from his horse. Both fell together, and as the auxiliaries came in sight there was another shot and two more men rode off headlong.
"Follow them!" said a commanding voice. "What have we here?"
The two struggling figures both lay still for a moment or two, but as some of the riders drew them apart Peregrine sat up, though blood was streaming down his breast and arm. "Sir," he said, "I am Peregrine Oakshott, on whose account young Archfield lies under sentence of death. If a magistrate will take my affidavit while I can make it, he will be safe."
Then Anne heard a voice exclaiming: "Oakshott! Nay--why, this is Mistress Woodford! How came she here?" and she knew Sir Edmund Nutley. Still it was Peregrine who answered--
"I captured her, in the hope of marrying her, but that cannot be--I have brought her back in all safety and honour."
"Sir! Sir, indeed he has been very good to me. Pray let him be looked to."
"Let him be carried to the castle," said the commander of the party, a tall man sunburnt to a fiery red. "Is the other alive?"
"Only stunned, my lord, I think and not much hurt," was the answer of an attendant officer; "but here is a poor blackamoor dead."
"Poor Hans! Best so perhaps," murmured Peregrine, as he was lifted. Then in a voice of alarm, "Look to the lady, she is hurt."
"It is nothing," cried she. "O Mr. Oakshott! that this should have happened!"
"My lord, this is the young gentlewoman I told you of, betrothed to poor young Archfield," said Sir Edmund Nutley.
Lord Cutts, for it was indeed William's favoured 'Salamander,' took off his plumed hat in salutation, and both gentlemen perceiving that she too was bleeding, she was solicitously invited to the castle, to be placed under the charge of the lieutenant-governor's wife. She found by this time that she was in a good deal of pain, and thankfully accepted the support Sir Edmund offered her, when he dismounted and walked beside her pony, while explanations passed between them. The weather had prevented any communication with the mainland, so that he was totally ignorant of her capture, and did not know what had become of Mr. Fellowes. He himself had been just starting with Lord Cutts, who was going to join the King for his next campaign, and they were to represent the case to the King. Anne told him in return what she dared to say, but she was becoming so faint and dazed that she was in great fear of not saying what she ought; and indeed she could hardly speak, when after passing under the great gateway, she was lifted off her horse, at the door of the dwelling-house, and helped upstairs to a bedroom, where the wife of the lieutenant-governor, Mrs. Dudley, was very tender over her with essences and strong waters, and a surgeon of the suite almost immediately came to her.
"Oh," she exclaimed, "you should be with Mr. Oakshott."
The surgeon explained that Mr. Oakshott would have nothing done for him till he had fully made and signed his deposition, in case the power should afterwards be wanting.
So Anne submitted to the dressing of her hurt, which was only a flesh wound, the bone being happily untouched. Both the surgeon and Mrs. Dudley urged her going to bed immediately, but she was unwilling to put herself out of reach; and indeed the dressing was scarcely finished before Sir Edmund Nutley knocked at the door to ask whether she could admit him.
"Lord Cutts is very desirous of speaking with you, if you are able," he said. "Here has this other fellow come round, declaring that Oakshott is the Pilpignon who was in the Barclay Plot, and besides, the prime leader of the Black Gang, of whom we have heard so much."
"The traitor!" cried Anne. "Poor Mr. Oakshott was resolved not to betray him! How is he--Mr. Oakshott, I mean?"
"The surgeon has him in his hands. We will send another from Portsmouth, but it looks like a bad case. He made his confession bravely, though evidently in terrible suffering, seeming to keep up by force of will till he had totally exonerated Archfield and signed the deposition, and then he fainted, so that I thought him dead, but I fear he has more to go through. Can you come to the hall, or shall I bring Lord Cutts to you? We must hasten in starting that we may bring the news to Winchester to-night."
Anne much preferred going to the hall, though she felt weak enough to be very glad to lean on Sir Edmund's arm.
Lord Cutts, William's high-spirited and daring officer, received her with the utmost courtesy and kindness, inquired after her hurt, and lamented having to trouble her, but said that though he would not detain her long, her testimony was important, and he begged to hear what had happened to her.
She gave the account of her capture and journey as shortly as she could.
"Whither was she taken?"
She paused. "I promised Mr. Oakshott for the sake of others--" she said.
"You need have no scruples on that score," said Lord Cutts. "Burford hopes to get off for the murder by turning King's evidence, and has told all."
"Yes," added Sir Edmund; "and poor Oakshott managed to say, 'Tell her she need keep nothing back. It is all up.'"
So Anne answered all the questions put to her, and they were the fewer both out of consideration for her condition, and because the governor wanted to take advantage of the tide to embark on the Medina.
In a very few hours the Archfields would have no more fears. Anne longed to go with Sir Edmund, but she was in no state for a ride, and could not be a drag. Sir Edmund said that either his wife would come to her at once and take her to Parkhurst, or else her uncle would be sure to come for her. She would be the guest of Major and Mrs. Dudley, who lived in the castle, the actual Lord Warden only visiting it from time to time; and though Major Dudley was a stern man, both were very kind to her.
As a Whig, Major Dudley knew the Oakshott family, and was willing to extend his hospitality even to the long-lost Peregrine. The Lord Warden, who was evidently very favourably impressed, saying that there was no need at present to treat him as a prisoner, but that every attention should be paid to him, as indeed he was evidently a dying man. Burford and another of his associates were to be carried off, handcuffed, with the escort to Winchester jail, but before the departure, the soldiers who had been sent to the Chine returned baffled; the place was entirely deserted, and Barclay had escaped.
Anne allowed herself to be put to bed, being indeed completely exhausted, and scarcely able to think of anything but the one blessed certainty that Charles was safe, and freed from all stigma. When, after the pain in her arm lulled enough to allow her to sleep, she had had a few hours' rest, she inquired for Peregrine, she heard that for many hours the surgeon had been trying to extract the balls, and that they considered that the second shot had made his case hopeless, as it was in the body. He was so much exhausted as to be almost unconscious; but the next morning, when Anne, against the persuasions of her hostess, had risen and been dressed, though still feeling weak and shaken, she received a message, begging her to do him the great kindness of visiting him.
Deadly pale, almost gray, as he looked, lying so propped with pillows as to relieve his shattered shoulder, his face had a strange look of peace, almost of relief, and he smiled at her as she entered. He held out the hand he could use, and his first word was of inquiry after her hurt.
"That is nothing--it will soon be well; I wish it were the same with you."
"Nay, I had rather cheat the hangman. I told those doctors yesterday that they were giving themselves and me a great deal of useless trouble. The villains, as I told you, could not believe we should not betray them, and meant to make an end of us all. It's best as it is. My poor faithful Hans would never have had another happy moment."
"But you must be better, Peregrine," for his voice, though low, was steady.
"There's no living with what I have here," he said, laying his hand on his side; "and--I dreamt of your mother last night." With the words there was a look of gladness exceeding.
"Ah! the Evil Angel is gone!"
"I want your prayers that he may not come back at the last." Then, as she clasped her hands, and her lips moved, he added, "There were some things I could only say to you. If they don't treat my body as that of an attainted traitor, let me lie at your mother's feet. Don't disturb the big Scot for me, but let me rest at last near her. Then tell Robin 'tis not out of want of regard for him that I have not bequeathed Pilpignon to him, but he could do no good with a French estate full of Papists; and there's a poor loyal fellow, living ruined at Paris--a Catholic too--with a wife and children half starved, to whom it will do more good."
"I meant to ask--Shall a priest be sent for? Surely Major Dudley would consent."
"I don't know. I have not loved such priests lately. I had rather die as near your mother as may be."
"Miss Woodford," said a voice at the door, and going to it, Anne found herself clasped in her uncle's arms. With very few words she led him to the bedside, and the first thing he said was "God bless you, Peregrine, for what you have done."
Again Peregrine's face lighted up, but fell again when he was told of the Portsmouth surgeon's arrival at the same time, saying with one of his strange looks that it was odd sort of mercy to try to cure a man for Jack Ketch, but that he should baffle them yet.
"Do not set your mind on that," said Dr. Woodford, "for Lord Cutts was so much pleased with you that he would do his utmost on your behalf."
"Much good that would do me," said poor Peregrine, setting his teeth as his tormentor came in.
Meantime, in Mrs. Dudley's parlour, while that good lady was assisting the surgeon at the dressing, Anne and her uncle exchanged information. Mr. Fellowes had arrived on foot at about noon, with his servant, having only been released after two hours by a traveller, and having been deprived both of money and horses, so that he could not proceed on his journey; besides that he had given the alarm about the abduction, and raised the hue and cry at the villages on his way. There had been great distress, riding and searching, and the knowledge had been kept from poor Charles Archfield in his prison. Mr. Fellowes had gone on to London as soon as possible, and Dr. Woodford had just returned from a fruitless attempt to trace his niece, when Sir Edmund Nutley and Lord Cutts appeared, with the joyful tidings, which, however, could be hardly understood.
Nothing, Dr. Woodford said, could be more thorough than the vindication of Charles Archfield. Peregrine had fully stated that the young man had merely interposed to prevent the pursuit of Anne Woodford, that it was he himself who had made the first attack, and that his opponent had been forced to fight in self-defence. Lord Cutts had not only shown his affidavit to Sir Philip, but had paid a visit to the Colonel himself in his prison, had complimented him highly on his services in the Imperial army, only regretting that they had not been on behalf of his own country, and had assured him of equal, if not superior rank, in the British army if he would join it on the liberation that he might reckon upon in the course of a very few days.
"How did you work on the unhappy young man to bring about this blessed change?" asked the Doctor.
"Oh, sir, I do not think it was myself. It was first the mercy of the Almighty, and then my blessed mother's holy memory working on him, revived by the sight of myself. I cannot describe to you how gentle, and courteous, and respectful he was to me all along, though I am sure those dreadful men mocked at him for it. Do you know whether his father has heard?"
"Robert Oakshott is gone in search of him. He had set off to beat up the country, good old man, to obtain signatures to the petition in favour of our prisoner, and Robert expected to find him with Mr. Chute at the Vine. It is much to that young man's credit, niece, he was so eager to see his brother that he longed to come with me himself; but he thought that the shock to his father would be so great that he ought to bear the tidings himself. And what do you think his good wife is about? Perhaps you did not know that Sedley Archfield brought away jail fever with him, and Mrs. Oakshott, feeling that she was the cause by her hasty action, has taken lodgings for him in Winchester, and is nursing him like a sister. No. You need not fear for your colonel, my dear maid. Sedley caught the infection because he neither was, nor wished to be, secluded from the rest of the prisoners, some of whom were, I fear, only too congenial society to him. But now tell me the story of your own deliverance, which seems to me nothing short of miraculous."
The visit of the Portsmouth surgeon only confirmed Peregrine's own impression that it was impossible that he should live, and he was only surviving by the strong vitality in his little, spare, wiry frame. Dr. Woodford, after hearing Anne's story, thought it well to ask him whether he would prefer the ministrations of a Roman Catholic priest; but whether justly or unjustly, Peregrine seemed to impute to that Church the failure to exorcise the malignant spirit which had led him to far worse aberrations than he had confessed to Anne. Though by no means deficient in knowledge or controversian theology, as Dr. Woodford soon found in conversation with him, his real convictions were all as to what personally affected him, and his strong Protestant ingrain education, however he might have disavowed it, no doubt had affected his point of view. He had admired and been strongly influenced by the sight of real devotion and holiness, though as his temptations and hatred of monotony recurred, he had more than once swung back again. Then, however, he had been revolted by the perception of the concessions to popular superstition and the morality of a wicked state of society. His real sense of any religion had been infused by Mrs. Woodford, and to her belongings, and the faith they involved, he was clinging in these last days.
Dr. Woodford could not but be glad that thus it was, not only on the penitent's own account, but on that of the father, who might have lost the comfort of finding him truly repentant in the shock of finding a Popish priest at his bedside. And indeed the contrition seemed to have gathered force in many a past fit of remorse, and now was deep but not unhopeful.
In the evening the father and brother arrived. The Major was now an old man, hale indeed, and with the beauty that a pure, self- restrained life often sheds on an aged man. He was much shaken, and when he came in, with his own white hair on his shoulders, and actually tears in his eyes, the look that passed between them was like nothing but the spirit of the parable so often, but never too often, repeated.
Peregrine, who never perhaps had spent a happy or fearless hour with him, and had dreaded his coming, felt probably for the first time the mysterious sense of home and peace given by the presence of those between whom there is the tie of blood. Not many words passed; he was hardly in a state for them, but from that time, he was never so happy as when his father and brother were beside him; and they seldom left him, the Major sitting day and night by his pillow attending to his wants, or saying words of prayer.
The old man had become much softened, by nothing more perhaps than watching the way in which his daughter-in-law dealt with the manifestations of the Oakshott imp nature in her eldest child.
"If I had understood," he said to Dr. Woodford. "If I had so treated that poor boy, never would he have been as he is now."
"You acted according to your conscience."
"Ah, sir! a man does not grow old without learning that the conscience may be blinded, above all by the spirit of opposition and party."
"I will not say there were no mistakes," said the Doctor; "and yet, sir, the high standard, sound principle, and strong faith he learnt from you and your example have prevailed to bear him through."
The Major answered with a groan, but added, "And yet, even now, stained as he tells me he is, and cut off in the flower of his age, I thank my God and his Saviour, and after Him, you and yours, that I am happier about him than I have been these eight and twenty years."
With no scruple, Major Oakshott threw his heart into the ministrations of Dr. Woodford, which Peregrine declared kept at bay the Evil Angel who more than once seemed to his consciousness to be striving to make him despair, while friend and father brought him back to the one hope.
From time to time Anne visited him for a short interval, always to his joy and gratitude. There was one visit at last which all knew would be the final one, when she shared in his first and last English Communion. As she was about to leave him, he held her hand, and signed to her to bend down to hear him better. "If you can, let good Father Seyton at Douai know that peace is come--the Evil One beaten, thanks to Him who giveth us the victory--and I thank them all there--and ask their prayers."
"I will, I will."
Some one at the door said, "May I come in?"
There was a sunburnt face, a head with long brown hair, a white coat.
"Archfield?" asked Peregrine. "Come, send me away with pardon."
"'Tis yours I need;" and as Charles knelt by the bed the two faces, one all health, the other gray and deathly, were close together. "You have given your life for mine, and given her. How shall I thank you?"
"Make her happy. She deserves it."
Charles clasped her hand with a look that was enough. Then with a strange smile, half sweetness, half the contortion of a mortal pang, the dying man said, "May she kiss me once?"
And when her lips had touched the cold damp brow--
"There--My fourth seven. At last! The change is come. Old-- impish--evil--self left behind. At last! Thanks to Him who treads down Satan under our feet. Thanks! Take her away now."
Charles took her away, scarce knowing where they went,--out into the spring sunshine, on the slopes above the turf bowling-green, where the captive King had beguiled his weary hours. Only then would awe and emotion let them speak, though his arm was round her, her hand in his, and his first words were, as he looked at the scarf that still bore up her arm, "And this is what you have borne for me?"
"It is all but healed. Don't think of it."
"I shall all my life! Poor fellow, he might well bid me deserve you. I never can. 'Tis to you I owe all. I believe, indeed, the ambassador might have claimed me, but he is so tardy that probably I should have been hanged long before the proper form was ready; and it would have been to exile, and with a tainted name. You have won for me the clearing of name and honour--home, parents and child and all, besides your sweet self."
"And it was not me, but he whom we so despised and dreaded. Had I not been seized, I could only have implored for you."
"I know this, that if you had not been what you are, my boy would have borne a dishonoured name, and we should never have been together as now."
It was in truth their first meeting in freedom and security as lovers; but it could only be in a grave, quiet fashion, under the knowledge that he, to whom their re-union was chiefly owing, was breathing out the life he had sacrificed for them. Thus they only gently and in a low voice went over their past doings and feelings as they walked up and down together, till Dr. Woodford came in the sunset to tell them that the change so longed for had come in peace, and with a smile that told of release from the Evil Angel.
* * * * * * *
Peregrine's wish was fulfilled, and he was buried in Portchester Churchyard at Mrs. Woodford's feet. This time it was Mr. Horncastle, old as he was, who preached the funeral sermon, the In Memoriam of our forefathers; and by special desire of Major Oakshott took for his text, 'At evening time there shall be light.' He spoke, sometimes in a voice broken, as much by feeling as by age, of the childhood blighted by a cruel superstition, and perverted, as he freely made confession, by discipline without comprehension, because no confidence had been sought. Then ensued a tribute of earnest, generous justice to her who had done her best to undo the warp in the boy's nature, and whose blessed influence the young man had owned to the last, through all the temptations, errors, and frenzies of his life. Nor did the good man fail to make this a means of testifying to the entire neighbourhood, who had flocked to hear him, all that might be desirable to be known respecting the conflict at Portchester, actually reading Peregrine's affidavit, as indeed was due to Colonel Archfield, so as to prove that this was no mere pardon, though technically it had so to stand, but actual acquittal. Nor was the struggle with evil at the end forgotten, nor the surrender alike of love and of hatred, as well as of his own life, which had been the final conquest, the decisive passing from darkness to light.
It was a strange sermon according to present ideas, but not to those who had grown up to the semi-political preaching of the century then in its last decade; and it filled many eyes with tears, many hearts with a deeper spirit of that charity which hopeth all things.
* * * * * * *
A month later Charles Archfield and Anne Jacobina Woodford were married at the little parish church of Fareham. Sir Philip insisted on making it a gay and brilliant wedding, in order to demonstrate to the neighbourhood that though the maiden had been his grandson's governess, she was a welcomed and honoured acquisition to the family. Perhaps too he perceived the error of his middle age, when he contrasted that former wedding, the work of worldly conventionality, with the present. In the first, an unformed, undeveloped lad, unable to understand his own true feelings and affections had been passively linked to a shallow, frivolous, ill- trained creature, utterly incapable of growing into a helpmeet for him; whereas the love and trust of the stately-looking pair, in the fresh bloom of manhood and womanhood, had been proved in the furnace of trial, so that the troth they plighted had deep foundation for the past, and bright hope for the future.
Nor was anybody more joyous than little Philip, winning his Nana for a better mother to him than his own could ever have been
It was in a blue velvet coat that Colonel Archfield was married. He had resigned his Austrian commission; and though the 'Salamander,' was empowered to offer him an excellent staff appointment in the English army, he decided to refuse. Sir Philip showed signs of having been aged and shaken by the troubles of the winter, and required his son's assistance in the care of his property, and little Philip was growing up to need a father's hand, so that Charles came to the conclusion that there was no need to cross the old Cavalier's dislike to the new regime, nor to make his mother and wife again suffer the anxieties of knowing him on active service, while his duties lay at home.
Sedley Archfield, after a long illness, owed recovery both in body and mind to Mrs. Oakshott, and by her arrangement finally obtained a fresh commission in a regiment raised for the defence of the possessions of the East India Company. And that the poor changeling was still tenderly remembered might be proved by the fact that when the bells rung for Queen Anne's coronation there was one baby Peregrine at Fareham and another at Oakwood.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
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