It was the year 1647. The Commons of England had rebelled against King Charles the First. The English Civil War between Cromwell and King Charles lasted for nearly five years. Cromwell triumphed and King Charles was defeated. He was confined as a prisoner at Hampton Court.
King Charles, along with Sir John Berkely Ashburnham and Legg, escaped from Hampton Court. They rode on the horses towards Hampshire which would lead them to the New Forest. Cromwell came to know about the King’s escape. He dispatched his troops in every direction to search for the King.
Looking for the King, the soldiers reached the mansion of Colonel Beverley at Arnwood. Although he was dead, he used to be a soldier in the King’s army and fought against Cromwell. So they thought, the King might be hiding in his home. The soldiers burnt down the home when they could not find the King.
Jacob Armitage, a forester, was an old and attached servant of Beverley’s. He was a man above sixty years of age. He helped the Beverleys’ children escape. Along with the four children, Edward, Alice, Edith and Humphrey, he passed through the thick woods to his cottage. Jacob was the only one to help them as their mother was also not alive
Jacob lay awake the whole night. He felt the great responsibility towards the children. He wanted to make them independent. The next morning, he asked them to call themselves by the name of Armitage, and not that of Beverley. He said, “You must dress like the children of the forest, and you must do as the children of the forest do. We must all work.”
Jacob told Humphrey to look after the pony and the pigs, and do the farms. He would also get water from the spring. Edward would go out with Jacob to hunt. Alice would wash the clothes and clean the house in the morning. At night, she would cook dinner with Humphrey’s assistance. Little Edith was supposed to take care of the fowls, and feed them every morning, and look for the eggs.
Time passed by and the children became simple foresters. They learnt to work in the house and in the forest. Jacob taught Edward how to hunt deer. Humphrey learnt farming. She even tamed a wild cow so that they might have milk.
Edward took charge of the house and with the help of Humphrey’s entrepreneurial spirit, he expanded the
farm. One day, he met Hetherstone, the administrator of the New Forest. Edward got to know that all the foresters now worked for him and not the King.
That night, a fire broke out in Hetherstone’s house. Edward rescued Hetherstone’s beautiful daughter Patience from the fire. Hetherstone thanked Edward and made him his secretary. After the death of Jacob, Edward left the cottage and started living with Hetherstone. But he maintained the pretence of being the grandson of Jacob Armitage.
Six weeks later, Edward received the news of the King’s execution. Being a good man, Hetherstone was also disturbed by the King’s death. Edward promised himself to take revenge of the King’s murder. So, he joined the army. But after the defeat from Cromwell, he returned to the New Forest.
Edward started to work with Hetherstone again. He fell in love with Patience. He told Patience that he loved her. She too loved him but was afraid of her father. One day, Edward went to Hetherstone to confess his love for Patience. But before he could say anything, Hetherstone told him that he had been awarded the old Arnwood estate. He would give it to the man who married Patience.
Edward was very disturbed. Disappointed by Hetherstone’s decision and Patience’s rejection of his love, Edward decided to flee to France. He went to his cottage and told everyone about his plan to join the army in France. Patience was very upset as Edward left without a word to her.
Edward was unaware about what was going on in Hetherstone’s mind. He had already suspected that Edward was the son of Beverley. He told Patience, “I tell you that I had a strong suspicion of it, my dear child, from the noble appearance, which no forest garb could disguise.” He had even planned to give the old Arnwood estate to Edward when he married Patience. Now, Hetherstone’s plans went wrong.
In the meanwhile, Alice and Edith had to leave not only the cottage but also their brothers. They were brought up as aristocratic ladies. Humphrey continued living in the New Forest while Edward worked as a soldier in exile.
Time flew on. Cromwell had died and in the year 1660, Charles II was proclaimed the King. Humphrey took care of the Arnwood estate until it was ascertained to whom it was to belong. He had rebuilt the estate and it was now a princely mansion.
Edward returned to England after nine years. Alice and Edith convinced him to marry Patience. After their marriage, they started living at Arnwood. Humphrey’s love for farming continued and in a few years he purchased his own farms.