The Children of the New Forest

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Before Jacob is admitted to the presence of Miss Judith Villiers, we must give some account of the establishment at Arnwood. With the exception of one male servant, who officiated in the house and stable as his services might be required, every man of the household of Colonel Beverley had followed the fortunes of their master, and as none had returned, they, in all probability had shared his fate. Three female servants, with the man above mentioned, composed the whole household. Indeed, there was every reason for not increasing the establishment, for the rents were either paid in part, or not paid at all. It was generally supposed that the property, now that the Parliament had gained the day, would be sequestrated, although such was not yet the case; and the tenants were unwilling to pay, to those who were not authorized to receive, the rents which they might be again called upon to make good. Miss Judith Villiers, therefore, found it difficult to maintain the present household; and although she did not tell Jacob Armitage that such was the case, the fact was, that very often the venison which he brought to the mansion was all the meat that was in the larder. The three female servants held the offices of cook, attendant upon Miss Villiers, and housemaid; the children being under the care of no particular servant, and left much to themselves. There had been a chaplain in the house, but he had quitted before the death of Mrs. Beverley, and the vacancy had not been filled up; indeed, it could not well be, for the one who left had not received his salary for many months, and Miss Judith Villiers, expecting every day to be summoned by her relations to bring the children and join them, sat in her high chair waiting for the arrival of this summons, which, from the distracted state of the times, had never come.

As we have before said, the orphans were four in number; the two eldest were boys, and the youngest were girls. Edward, the eldest boy, was between thirteen and fourteen years old; Humphrey, the second, was twelve; Alice, eleven; and Edith, eight. As it is the history of these young persons which we are about to narrate, we shall say little about them at present, except that for many months they had been under little or no restraint, and less attended to. Their companions were Benjamin, the man who remained in the house, and old Jacob Armitage, who passed all the time he could spare with them. Benjamin was rather weak in intellect, and was a source of amusement rather than otherwise. As for the female servants, one was wholly occupied with her attendance on Miss Judith, who was very exacting, and had a high notion of her own consequence. The other two had more than sufficient employment; as, when there is no money to pay with, every thing must be done at home. That, under such circumstances, the boys became boisterous and the little girls became romps, is not to be wondered at: but their having become so was the cause of Miss Judith seldom admitting them into her room. It is true that they were sent for once a day, to ascertain if they were in the house, or in existence, but soon dismissed and left to their own resources. Such was the neglect to which these young orphans was exposed. It must, however, be admitted, that this very neglect made them independent and bold, full of health from constant activity, and more fitted for the change which was so soon to take place.

"Benjamin," said Jacob, as the other came to the door, "I must speak with the old lady."

"Have you brought any venison, Jacob?" said Benjamin, grinning, "else, I reckon, you'll not be over welcome."

"No, I have not; but it is an important business, so send Agatha to her directly."

"I will; and I'll not say any thing about the venison."

In a few minutes, Jacob was ushered up by Agatha into Miss Judith Villiers's apartment. The old lady was about fifty years of age, very prim and starched, sitting in a high-backed chair, with her feet upon a stool, and her hands crossed before her, her black mittens reposing upon her snow-white apron.

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