The Children of the New Forest
The Children of the New Forest
Edward, having finished his meal, and had a good pull at the jug of ale, which was a liquor he had not tasted for a long while, rose from the table and went out of the back door and found there Oswald Partridge. He accosted him, stating the reason for his coming over to him. "I did not know that Jacob had a grandson; indeed, I never knew that he had a son. Have you been living with him long?"
"More than a year," replied Edward; "before that I was in the household at Arnwood."
"Then you are of the king's side, I presume?" replied Oswald.
"To death," replied Edward, "when the time comes."
"And I am also; that you may suppose, for never would I give a hound to any one that was not. But we had better go to the kennels; dogs may hear, but they can't repeat."
"I little thought to have met any one but you here when I came," said Edward; "and I will now tell you all that passed between me and the new Intendant." Edward then related the conversation.
"You have been bold," said Oswald-"but perhaps it is all the better-I am to retain my situation, and so are two others: but there are many new hands coming in as rangers. I know nothing of them but that they are little fitted for their places; and rail against the king all day long, which I suppose is their chief merit in the eyes of those who appoint them. However, one thing is certain, that if those fellows cannot stalk a deer themselves, they will do all they can to prevent others; so you must be on the alert, for the punishment is severe."
"I fear them not; the only difficulty is, that we shall not be able to find a sale for the venison now," replied Edward.
"Oh, never fear that; I will give you the names of those who will take all your venison off your hands without any risk on your part, except in the killing of it. They will meet you in the park, lay down ready money, and take it away. I don't know, but I have an idea that this new Intendant, or what you may call him, is not so severe as he pretends to be. Indeed, his permitting you to say what he did, and his own words relative to the colonel, convince me that I am right in the opinion that I formed."
"Do you know who he is?"
"Not much about him, but he is a great friend of General Cromwell's, and they say has done good service to the Parliamentary cause; but we shall meet again, for the forest is free, at all events."
"If you come here," continued Oswald, "do not carry your gun, and see that you are not watched home. There are the dogs for your grandfather. Why, how old must you be, for Jacob is not more than sixty, or thereabout?"
"I am fifteen past, nevertheless."
"I should have put you down for eighteen or nineteen at least. You are well grown indeed for that age. Well, nothing like a forest life to turn a boy into a man! Can you stalk a deer?"
"I seldom go out without bringing one down."
"Indeed! That Jacob is a master of his craft is certain. But you are young to have learnt it so soon. Can you tell the slot of a brocket from a stag?"
"Yes, and the slot of a brocket from a doe."
"Better still. We must go out together; and besides, I must know where the old man's cottage is (for I do not exactly); in the first place, because I may want to come to you, and in the next, that I may put others on a false scent.-Do you know the clump of large oaks, which they call the Clump Royal?"
"Yes, I do."
"Will you meet me there the day after to-morrow, at early dawn?"
"If I live and do well."
"That's enough. Take the dogs in the leashes, and go away now."
"Many thanks; but I must not leave the pony; he is in the stable."
The keeper nodded adieu to Edward, who left him to go to the stable for the pony. Edward saddled White Billy, and rode away across the forest with the dogs trotting at the pony's heels.
Edward had much to reflect upon