The Pigeon Pie

Author: Charlotte Mary Yonge

Chapter I.

Early in the September of the year 1651 the afternoon sun was shining pleasantly into the dining-hall of Forest Lea House. The sunshine came through a large bay-window, glazed in diamonds, and with long branches of a vine trailing across it, but in parts the glass had been broken and had never been mended. The walls were wainscoted with dark oak, as well as the floor, which shone bright with rubbing, and stag’s antlers projected from them, on which hung a sword in its sheath, one or two odd gauntlets, an old-fashioned helmet, a gun, some bows and arrows, and two of the broad shady hats then in use, one with a drooping black feather, the other plainer and a good deal the worse for wear, both of a small size, as if belonging to a young boy.

An oaken screen crossed the hall, close to the front door, and there was a large open fireplace, a settle on each side under the great yawning chimney, where however at present no fire was burning. Before it was a long dining-table covered towards the upper end with a delicately white cloth, on which stood, however, a few trenchers, plain drinking-horns, and a large old-fashioned black-jack, that is to say, a pitcher formed of leather. An armchair was at the head of the table, and heavy oaken benches along the side.

A little boy of six years old sat astride on the end of one of the benches, round which he had thrown a bridle of plaited rushes, and, with a switch in his other hand, was springing himself up and down, calling out, "Come, Eleanor, come, Lucy; come and ride on a pillion behind me to Worcester, to see King Charles and brother Edmund."

"I’ll come, I am coming!" cried Eleanor, a little girl about a year older, her hair put tightly away under a plain round cap, and she was soon perched sideways behind her brother.

"Oh, fie, Mistress Eleanor; why, you would not ride to the wars?" This was said by a woman of about four or five-and-twenty, tall, thin and spare, with a high colour, sharp black eyes, and a waist which the long stiff stays, laced in front, had pinched in till it was not much bigger than a wasp’s, while her quilted green petticoat, standing out full below it, showed a very trim pair of ankles encased in scarlet stockings, and a pair of bony red arms came forth from the full short sleeves of a sort of white jacket, gathered in at the waist. She was clattering backwards and forwards, removing the dinner things, and talking to the children as she did so in a sharp shrill tone: "Such a racket as you make, to be sure, and how you can have the heart to do so I can’t guess, not I, considering what may be doing this very moment."

"Oh, but Walter says they will all come back again, brother Edmund, and Diggory, and all," said little Eleanor, "and then we shall be merry."

"Yes," said Lucy, who, though two years older, wore the same prim round cap and long frock as her little sister, "then we shall have Edmund here again. You can’t remember him at all, Eleanor and Charlie, for we have not seen him these six years!"

"No," said Deborah, the maid. "Ah! these be weary wars, what won’t let a gentleman live at home in peace, nor his poor servants, who have no call to them."

"For shame, Deb!" cried Lucy; "are not you the King’s own subject?"

But Deborah maundered on, "It is all very well for gentlefolks, but now it had all got quiet again, ’tis mortal hard it should be stirred up afresh, and a poor soul marched off, he don’t know where, to fight with he don’t know who, for he don’t know what."

"He ought to know what!" exclaimed Lucy, growing very angry. "I tell you, Deb, I only wish I was a man! I would take the great twohandled sword, and fight in the very front rank for our Church and our King! You would soon see what a brave cavalier’s daughter—son I mean," said Lucy, getting into a puzzle, "could do."

The more eager Lucy grew, the more unhappy Deborah was, and putting her apron to her eyes, she said in a dismal voice, "Ah! ’tis little poor Diggory wots of kings and cavaliers!"

What Lucy’s indignation would have led her to say next can never be known, for at this moment in bounced a tall slim boy of thirteen, his long curling locks streaming tangled behind him. "Hollo!" he shouted, "what is the matter now? Dainty Deborah in the dumps? Cheer up, my lass! I’ll warrant that doughty Diggory is discreet enough to encounter no more bullets than he can reasonably avoid!"

This made Deborah throw down her apron and reply, with a toss of the head, "None of your nonsense, Master Walter, unless you would have me speak to my lady. Cry for Diggory, indeed!"

"She was really crying for him, Walter," interposed Lucy.

"Mistress Lucy!" exclaimed Deborah, angrily, "the life I lead among you is enough—"

"Not enough to teach you good temper," said Walter. "Do you want a little more?"

"I wish someone was here to teach you good manners," answered the tormented Deborah. "As if it was not enough for one poor girl to have the work of ten servants on her hands, here must you be mock, mock, jeer, jeer, worrit, worrit, all day long! I had rather be a mark for all the musketeers in the Parliamentary army."

This Deborah always said when she was out of temper, and it therefore made Walter and Lucy laugh the more; but in the midst of their merriment in came a girl of sixteen or seventeen, tall and graceful. Her head was bare, her hair fastened in a knot behind, and in little curls round her face; she had an open bodice of green silk, and a white dress under it, very plain and neat; her step was quick and active, but her large dark eyes had a grave thoughtful look, as if she was one who would naturally have loved to sit still and think, better than to bustle about and be busy. Eleanor ran up to her at once, complaining that Walter was teasing Deborah shamefully. She was going to speak, but Deborah cut her short.

"No Mistress Rose, I will not have even you excuse him, I’ll go and tell my lady how a poor faithful wench is served;" and away she flounced, followed by Rose.

"Will she tell mamma?" asked little Charlie.

"Oh no, Rose will pacify her," said Lucy.

"I am sure I wish she would tell," said Eleanor, a much graver little person than Lucy; "Walter is too bad."

"It is only to save Diggory the trouble of taking a crabstick to her when he returns from the wars," said Walter. "Heigh ho!" and he threw himself on the bench, and drummed on the table. "I wish I was there! I wonder what is doing at Worcester this minute!"

"When will brother Edmund come?" asked Charlie for about the hundredth time.

"When the battle is fought, and the battle is won, and King Charles enjoys his own again! Hurrah!" shouted Walter, jumping up, and beginning to sing -

"For forty years our royal throne Has been his father’s and his own."

Lucy joined in with -

"Nor is there anyone but he With right can there a sharer be."

"How can you make such a noise?" said Eleanor, stopping her ears, by which she provoked Walter to go on roaring into them, while he pulled down her hand -

"For who better may The right sceptre sway Than he whose right it is to reign; Then look for no peace, For the war will never cease Till the King enjoys his own again."

As he came to the last line, Rose returning exclaimed, "Oh, hush, Lucy. Pray don’t, Walter!"

"Ha! Rose turned Roundhead?" cried Walter. "You don’t deserve to hear the good news from Worcester."

"O, what?" cried the girls, eagerly.

"When it comes," said Walter, delighted to have taken in Rose herself; but Rose, going up to him gently, implored him to be quiet, and listen to her.

"All this noisy rejoicing grieves our mother," said she. "If you could but have seen her yesterday evening, when she heard your loyal songs. She sighed, and said, ’Poor fellow, how high his hopes are!’ and then she talked of our father and that evening before the fight at Naseby."

Walter looked grave and said, "I remember! My father lifted me on the table to drink King Charles’s health, and Prince Rupert—I remember his scarlet mantle and white plume—patted my head, and called me his little cavalier."

"We sat apart with mother," said Rose, "and heard the loud cheers and songs till we were half frightened at the noise."

"I can’t recollect all that," said Lucy.

"At least you ought not to forget how our dear father came in with Edmund, and kissed us, and bade mother keep up a good heart. Don’t you remember that, Lucy?"

"I do," said Walter; "it was the last time we ever saw him."

And Walter sat on the table, resting one foot on the bench, while the other dangled down, and leaning his elbow on his knee and his head on his hand; Rose sat on the bench close by him, with Charlie on her lap, and the two little girls pressing close against her, all earnest to hear from her the story of the great fight of Naseby, where they had all been in a farmhouse about a mile from the field of battle.

"I don’t forget how the cannon roared all day," said Lucy.

"Ah! that dismal day!" said Rose. "Then by came our troopers, bloodstained and disorderly, riding so fast that scarcely one waited to tell my mother that the day was lost and she had better fly. But not a step did she stir from the gate, where she stood with you, Charlie, in her arms; she only asked of each as he passed if he had seen my father or Edmund, and ever her cheek grew whiter and whiter. At last came a Parliament officer on horseback—it was Mr. Enderby, who had been a college mate of my father’s, and he told us that my dear father was wounded, and had sent him to fetch her."

"But I never knew where Edmund was then," said Eleanor. "No one ever told me."

"Edmund lifted up my father when he fell," said Walter, "and was trying to bind his wound; but when Colonel Enderby’s troop was close upon them, my father charged him upon his duty to fly, saying that he should fall into the hands of an old friend, and it was Edmund’s duty to save himself to fight for the King another time."

"So Edmund followed Prince Rupert?" said Eleanor.

"Yes," said Lucy; "you know my father once saved Prince Rupert’s life in the skirmish where his horse was killed, so for his sake the Prince made Edmund his page, and has had him with him in all his voyages and wanderings. But go on about our father, Rose. Did we go to see him?"

"No; Mr. Enderby said he was too far off, so he left a trooper to guard us, and my mother only took her little babe with her. Don’t you remember, Walter, how Eleanor screamed after her, as she rode away on the colonel’s horse; and how we could not comfort the little ones, till they had cried themselves to sleep, poor little things? And in the morning she came back, and told us our dear father was dead! O Walter, how can we look back to that day, and rejoice in a new war? How can you wonder her heart should sink at sounds of joy which have so often ended in tears?"

Walter twisted about and muttered, but he could not resist his sister’s earnest face and tearful eyes, and said something about not making so much noise in the house.

"There’s my own dear brother," said Rose. "And you won’t tease Deborah?"

"That is too much, Rose. It is all the sport I have, to see the faces she makes when I plague her about Diggory. Besides, it serves her right for having such a temper."

"She has not a good temper, poor thing!" said Rose; "but if you would only think how true and honest she is, how hard she toils, and how ill she fares, and yet how steadily she holds to us, you would surely not plague and torment her."

Rose was interrupted by a great outcry, and in rushed Deborah, screaming out, "Lack-a-day! Mistress Rose! O Master Walter! what will become of us? The fight is lost, the King fled, and a whole regiment of red-coats burning and plundering the whole country. Our throats will be cut, every one of them!"

"You’ll have a chance of being a mark for all the musketeers in the Parliament army," said Walter, who even then could not miss a piece of mischief.

"Joking now, Master Walter!" cried Deborah, very much shocked. "That is what I call downright sinful. I hope you’ll be made a mark of yourself, that I do."

The children were running off to tell their mother, when Rose stopped them, and desired to know how Deborah had heard the tidings. It was from two little children from the village who had come to bring a present of some pigeons to my lady. Rose went herself to examine the children, but she could only learn that a packman had come into the village and brought the report that the King had been defeated, and had fled from the field. They knew no more, and Walter pronouncing it to be all a cock-and-bull story of some rascally prick-eared pedlar, declared he would go down to the village and enquire into the rights of it.

These were the saddest times of English history, when the wrong cause had been permitted for a time to triumph, and the true and rightful side was persecuted; and among those who endured affliction for the sake of their Church and their King, none suffered more, or more patiently, than Lady Woodley, or, as she was called in the old English fashion, Dame Mary Woodley, of Forest Lea.

When first the war broke out she was living happily in her pleasant home with her husband and children; but when King Charles raised his standard at Nottingham, all this comfort and happiness had to be given up. Sir Walter Woodley joined the royal army, and it soon became unsafe for his wife and children to remain at home, so that they were forced to go about with him, and suffer all the hardships of the sieges and battles. Lady Woodley was never strong, and her health was very much hurt by all she went through; she was almost always unwell, and if Rose, though then quite a child, had not shown care and sense beyond her years for the little ones, it would be hard to say what would have become of them.

Yet all she endured while dragging about her little babies through the country, with bad or insufficient food, uncomfortable lodgings, pain, weariness and anxiety, would have been as nothing but for the heavy sorrows that came upon her also. First she lost her only brother, Edmund Mowbray, and in the battle of Naseby her husband was killed; besides which there were the sorrows of the whole nation in seeing the King sold, insulted, misused, and finally slain, by his own subjects. After Sir Walter’s death, Lady Woodley went home with her five younger children to her father’s house at Forest Lea; for her husband’s estate, Edmund’s own inheritance, had been seized and sequestrated by the rebels. She was the heiress of Forest Lea since the loss of her brother, but the old Mr. Mowbray, her father, had given almost all his wealth for the royal cause, and had been oppressed by the exactions of the rebels, so that he had nothing to leave his daughter but the desolate old house and a few bare acres of land. For the shelter, however, Lady Woodley was very thankful; and there she lived with her children and a faithful servant, Deborah, whose family had always served the Mowbrays, and who would not desert their daughter now.

The neighbours in the village loved, and were sorry for, their lady, and used to send her little presents; there was a large garden in which Diggory Stokes, who had also served her father, raised vegetables for her use; the cow wandered in the deserted park, and so they contrived to find food; while all the work of the house was done by Rose and Deborah. Rose was her mother’s great comfort, nursing her, cheering her, taking care of the little ones, teaching them, working for them, and making light of all her exertions. Everyone in the village loved Rose Woodley, for everyone had in some way been helped or cheered by her. Her mother was only sometimes afraid she worked too hard, and would try her strength too much; but she was always bright and cheerful, and when the day’s work was done no one was more gay and lively and ready for play with the little ones.

Rose had more trial than anyone knew with Deborah. Deborah was as faithful as possible, and bore a great deal for the sake of her mistress, worked hard day and night, had little to eat and no wages, yet lived on with them rather than forsake her dear lady and the children. One thing, however, Deborah would not do, and that was to learn to rule her tongue and her temper. She did not know, nor do many excellent servants, how much trial and discomfort she gave to those she loved so earnestly, by her constant bursting out into hasty words whenever she was vexed—her grumbling about whatever she disliked, and her ill-judged scolding of the children. Servants in those days were allowed to speak more freely to their masters and mistresses than at present, so that Deborah had more opportunity of making such speeches, and it was Rose’s continual work to try to keep her temper from being fretted, or Lady Woodley from being teased with her complaints. Rose was very forbearing, and but for this there would have been little peace in the house.

Walter was thirteen, an age when it is not easy to keep boys in order, unless they will do so for themselves. Though a brave generous boy, he was often unruly and inconsiderate, apt not to obey, and to do what he knew to be unkind or wrong, just for the sake of present amusement. He was thus his mother’s great anxiety, for she knew that she was not fit either to teach or to restrain him, and she feared that his present wild disobedient ways might hurt his character for ever, and lead to dispositions which would in time swallow up all the good about him, and make him what he would now tremble to think of.

She used to talk of her anxieties to Doctor Bathurst, the good old clergyman who had been driven away from his parish, but used to come in secret to help, teach, and use his ministry for the faithful ones of his flock. He would tell her that while she did her best for her son, she must trust the rest to his FATHER above, and she might do so hopefully, since it had been in His own cause that the boy had been made fatherless. Then he would speak to Walter, showing him how wrong and how cruel were his overbearing, disobedient ways. Walter was grieved, and resolved to improve and become steadier, that he might be a comfort and blessing to his mother; but in his love of fun and mischief he was apt to forget himself, and then drove away what might have been in time repentance and improvement, by fancying he did no harm. Teasing Deborah served her right, he would tell himself, she was so ill-tempered and foolish; Diggory was a clod, and would do nothing without scolding; it was a good joke to tease Charlie; Eleanor was a vexatious little thing, and he would not be ordered by her; so he went his own way, and taught the merry chattering Lucy to be very nearly as bad as himself, neglected his duties, set a bad example, tormented a faithful servant, and seriously distressed his mother. Give him some great cause, he thought, and he would be the first and the best, bring back the King, protect his mother and sisters, and perform glorious deeds, such as would make his name be remembered for ever. Then it would be seen what he was worth; in the meantime he lived a dull life, with nothing to do, and he must have some fun. It did not signify if he was not particular about little things, they were women’s affairs, and all very well for Rose, but when some really important matter came, that would be his time for distinguishing himself.

In the meantime Charles II. had been invited to Scotland, and had brought with him, as an attendant, Edmund Woodley, the eldest son. As soon as he was known to have entered England, some of the loyal gentlemen of the neighbourhood of Forest Lea went to join the King, and among their followers went Farmer Ewins, who had fought bravely in the former war under Edmund Mowbray, several other of the men of the village, and lastly, Diggory Stokes, Lady Woodley’s serving man, who had lately shown symptoms of discontent with his place, and fancied that as a soldier he might fare better, make his fortune, and come home prosperously to marry his sweetheart, Deborah.


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Chicago: Charlotte Mary Yonge, "Chapter I.," The Pigeon Pie, ed. Altemus, Henry and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in The Pigeon Pie Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Yonge, Charlotte Mary. "Chapter I." The Pigeon Pie, edited by Altemus, Henry, and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in The Pigeon Pie, Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Yonge, CM, 'Chapter I.' in The Pigeon Pie, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Pigeon Pie. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from