The Brown Mask
Percy J. Brebner
Part 2 out of 6
A naked sword was in Rosmore's hand.
"A woman's honour must be defended," hissed Rosmore.
"Gad! I'll not spoil the play for want of pantomime," cried Fellowes,
still laughing. "Why don't you all laugh at such excellent fooling?"
"There is no laughter in this," said Rosmore, and Fellowes' face grew
"This is real? You mean it?" he said.
"I mean it."
"Devil's whelp that you are!" Fellowes cried. "Between two scoundrels
may God help the least debased."
In an instant there was the ring of steel and the quick flash of the
blades as the light caught them.
Sir John had made a step forward to interfere, but had hesitated and
stopped. No one else moved, and there was silence as steel touched
steel--breathless silence. For a moment Barbara was hardly conscious of
what was happening about her. It seemed only an instant ago that she had
cried out, and now naked swords and the shadow of death. Lord Rosmore's
face looked evil, sinister, devilish. Fellowes was flushed with wine,
unsteady, taken by surprise. There came to Barbara the sudden conviction
that in some manner Fellowes had fallen into a trap. He had insulted
her, but the wine was the cause, and Rosmore had seized the opportunity
for his own ends. She tried to speak, but could not. There was a fierce
lunge, real and deadly meaning in it, an unsteady parry which barely
turned swift death aside, and then a sudden low sound from several
voices, and an excited shuffle of feet. Barbara had rushed forward and
thrown herself between the fighters.
"This is mere trickery," she cried. "You play a coward's part, my lord,
fighting with a drunken man."
"He insulted you--that sufficed for me."
"I did not ask you to punish him," she answered.
She faced Lord Rosmore, shielding Fellowes, who was behind her. Now
Fellowes gently touched her arm.
"Grant me your pardon, Mistress Lanison, and then let me pay the
penalty," he said.
She had thrust out her arm to keep him behind her, when the big door at
the end of the hall opening on to the terrace was flung open, and on the
threshold stood a tall figure, dark and distinct against the moonlit
world beyond. His garments were of nondescript fashion, but his pose was
not without grace. Under one arm he carried a fiddle, and the bow was in
his hand. He raised it and waved it in a sort of benediction.
"Give you greeting, ladies and gentlemen--and news besides. Monmouth has
landed at Lyme, and all the West Country is aflame with rebellion."
The sudden interruption served to relax the tension in the hall. There
was the quick shuffling of feet, as though these men and women had
suddenly been released from some power which had struck them motionless,
and eager faces were turned towards the doorway. Barbara did not move.
Her eyes were still fixed on Lord Rosmore's face, her arm was still
outstretched to prevent a renewal of the fight.
The man stood in the doorway for a moment with his bow raised, pleased,
it seemed, with the sensation he had caused. He had spoken in rather a
high-pitched voice, almost as if his words were set to a monotonous
chant or had a poetic measure in them.
"It is only that mad fool Martin Fairley," said Branksome.
"What is this news?" Sir John asked. His anger seemed to have gone, and
he spoke gently.
"That depends," said Martin, advancing into the hall with a step which
appeared to time itself with some unheard rhythm. "That depends on who
it is who hears it. Good news for those who hate King James; bad for
those who love priests and popery. How can such a mad fool as I am, Sir
Philip Branksome, guess to which side so many gallant gentlemen and fair
ladies may lean?"
There was grace, and some mockery perhaps, in the low bow he made, his
arms wide extended, the fiddle in one hand, the bow in the other; and
then, slowly standing erect again, he appeared to notice Barbara for the
"Drawn swords!" he exclaimed, "and my lady of Aylingford between them.
Another legend for the Abbey in the making--eh, Sir John? I must write a
song upon it, or else Mr. Fellowes shall. If his sword is as facile as
his pen, my Lord Rosmore, 'tis a marvel you are alive."
"This fool annoys me, Sir John. I am not in the mood for jesting."
"That, at least, is good news," said Martin, "for in this Monmouth
affair there is no jest but real fighting to be done. Will you not save
your strength for one side or the other?"
"Peace, Martin," said Sir John. "We must hear more of this news of yours
at once. And you, gentlemen, will you not put up your swords at my
"I drew it to play a dishonourable part," said Fellowes. "I used it to
defend a worthless life. Do you command its sheathing, Mistress Lanison?"
"Yes," and she still looked at Lord Rosmore as she spoke.
"Since Mr. Fellowes has apologised, and you have commanded, I have no
alternative," said Rosmore. "If Mr. Fellowes resents my attitude he may
find a time and an opportunity to force me to a better one."
"Come, Martin, we must hear the whole story," said Sir John, and then he
whispered to Rosmore as they crossed the hall together: "He is certain
to be right, Martin invariably hears news, good or bad, before anyone
"May we all hear it?" asked Mrs. Dearmer.
"Why, surely," Martin Fairley exclaimed. "Monmouth was always
interesting to ladies, and he may, as likely as not, set up his court at
St. James's before another moon is at the full."
They followed Sir John and Lord Rosmore back into the room which they
had left so hurriedly a few moments ago, and as Martin Fairley went in
after them he drew his bow across the strings of his fiddle, sounding
just half a dozen quick notes in a little laughing cadenza.
"He is going to sing his tale to us," said Branksome, rather bored with
the whole proceeding.
"He is quite mad," answered Mrs. Dearmer, "but I fancy Abbot John is
somewhat afraid of him."
The little sequence of notes made Barbara Lanison start, she had heard
it so often. When she was a child Martin had told her fairy tales, and
he constantly finished the story by playing just these notes, a sort of
musical comment to the end of a tale in which prince and princess lived
happily ever afterwards. When he had been thinking out some difficult
point he would play this cadenza as a sign that he had come to a
decision. Once when Barbara had been ill, and got well again, he had
played it two or three times in rapid succession. If he declared he was
busy when Barbara wanted to go to him, he would tell her she might come
when she heard his fiddle laugh, and these notes were the laugh, always
the same notes. They had evidently some meaning for him, and they had
come to have a meaning for Barbara. They were a link between her and
this strange mad friend of hers. When she heard them she always felt
that Martin had something to tell her, or could help her in any
difficulty she was in at the moment.
She started. She was almost unconscious that the people who had
surrounded her just now had gone and closed the door. She was alone in
the hall with Sydney Fellowes, from whom a few moments ago she had cried
out to be delivered.
"Mistress Lanison, I ask your pardon for to-night. Forget it, blot it
out of your memory, if you can. If some day you would deign to set me a
task whereby I might prove my repentance, I swear you shall be humbly
served. Against your will, perhaps, you have picked me out of the
gutter. Please God, I'll keep out of it. Thank you for all you have done
He spoke hurriedly, giving her no opportunity to answer him, and then
turned and left her, going out through the door which opened on to the
terrace, and which still stood open. Had he waited Barbara would not
have answered him, perhaps; she was not thinking of him, but of Martin
Fairley and the laugh of his fiddle. The sound of Fellowes's retreating
footsteps had died into silence before she turned and went out slowly on
to the terrace, closing the door quietly behind her.
The fiddle, with the bow beside it, lay on the table near its master, a
strange master, whose moods were as varying as are those of an April
day. Mad Martin he was called, and he was known and loved in all the
villages for miles round Aylingford. He and his fiddle brought mirth to
many a simple festival, and in time of trouble it was strange how
helpful were the words and presence of this madman. Martin Fairley was
not as other men, the village folk said, he was not sane and ordinary as
they were, he was to be pitied, and must often be treated as a wayward
child. Yet there were times when he seemed to see visions, when the
invisible spirits of that world with which he was in touch whispered
into his ear things of which men knew nothing. He was suddenly endowed
with knowledge above his fellows, and the whole aspect of the man
changed. At such times the villagers were a little afraid of him and
spoke under their breath of magic and the black art. Even Sir John
Lanison was not free from this fear of his strange dependent. He never
spoke roughly to him, never checked him, never questioned his goings and
comings. Sometimes, half-jestingly it seemed, he asked his advice, and
whatever Martin said was always considered. As often as not the advice
given took the form of a parable, and, no matter how absurd it sounded,
Sir John invariably tried to understand its meaning.
Martin Fairley had come to the Abbey one winter's night soon after
Barbara Lanison had been brought there. He had come out of the woods,
struggling against a hurricane of wind across one of the bridges, his
fiddle cuddled in his arms for protection. He had begged for food and
shelter, and then, warm and satisfied, he had played to the company
gathered round the Abbey fire, had told them strange tales, and, with a
light laugh, had declared that he was the second child to come to the
good Sir John Lanison for care and protection, first the little niece,
now the poor fool. Someone told Sir John that there was luck in keeping
such a fool about the place, and whether it was that he believed it, or
really felt pity for the homeless wanderer, Martin Fairley had been
allowed to remain at the Abbey ever since, a willing slave to Barbara
Lanison, an inconsequent person who must not be interfered with. Perhaps
he was twenty years old when he came, strong and lithe of limb then, and
to-day he was hardly changed, older-looking, of course, but still lithe
in his movements. Mentally, his development had been curious. His powers
had both increased and decreased. There were times when he was silent,
depressed, when his mind was a complete blank, and whatever words he
might utter were totally without meaning; but there were other times
when his eyes were alight with intelligence, when his wit was as keen as
a well-tempered blade, and his whole appearance one of resolute energy
and competent action.
He was keen to-night as he told the story of Monmouth's landing.
"Lyme went mad at his coming," he said. "His address was read from the
market cross, and the air rang again with shouts of 'Monmouth! and the
Protestant faith!' As captain-general of that faith has he come, and the
people flock to his blue standard and scatter flowers in his path. The
Whig aristocracy will rise to a man, it is said, and London fly to arms.
The King and his Parliament tremble and turn pale, and the train-bands
of Devon are only awaiting the opportunity to join the Duke. All the
West is in arms."
"How did you hear the news?" asked Sir John.
"It flies in all directions; you have only to listen."
"We have heard nothing," said Rosmore contemptuously.
"Ah, but these walls are thick," said Martin, "and wine makes people
dull of hearing, while the company of fair ladies breeds disinclination
to hear. Perhaps, too, you were making a noise over your play."
"I am inclined to think it is all a tale," said Branksome. "Before this
we have known you to dream prodigiously, Martin."
"True. I dreamed last night as I lay on a bed of hay in a loft, with my
fiddle for company, that all the gentleman at the Abbey had flown to
fight for Monmouth."
"A stupid dream," said a man who was a Whig, and whose mind was full of
doubt as to what his course of action must be should Monmouth's landing
be a fact.
"And I come back to find two gentlemen fighting in the hall," Martin
went on. "Were you trying to rob King James of a supporter, my lord?"
"No, Martin; I was endeavouring to punish a man for insulting a lady."
"Truly the world is upside down when it falls to your lot to play such a
part as that," was the answer.
"How many men has Monmouth?" asked Sir John, silencing the laugh against
"They come by the hundreds, 'tis a labour to write down their names fast
enough. From the ploughs, from the fields, from the shops they come;
their tools turned into implements of war even as Israel faced the
Philistines long ago. Men cut loose the horses from the carts and turn
them into chargers; labourers bind their scythes to poles and carry
reaping-hooks for swords; the Mendip miners shoulder their picks making
a brave front; and here and there a clerk may wield a ruler for want of
a better weapon. And night and day they drill, march, and countermarch.
The cause is at their heart and no leader need feel shame at such a
"A rabble," said Rosmore.
"A rabble that will not run counts for much, my lord, and Monmouth is no
mean general as those who fought at Bothwell Bridge know well."
"You talk as though you were a messenger from Monmouth himself," said
Rosmore. "Were you a witness of the landing?"
"No, no; my fiddle and I have been to a wedding--besides, I am far too
changeable a fellow to take sides," said Martin. "Were I for Monmouth
to-night, I might wake to-morrow morning and find myself for King James.
I shall make a song of victory so worded that it will serve for either
side. Were I Monmouth's messenger I should have made certain of my
company before telling my news. You may all be for the King; that would
be to send you marching against Monmouth. He does not want such a
messenger as I am. Do you march early to-morrow, Sir John?"
"Not so soon as that, I think, Martin."
"And you, Lord Rosmore?"
"Is it worth while marching at all against such a rabble?" was the
Martin took up his fiddle.
"You, Sir Philip, will hardly leave the ladies, I suppose? Like me, you
are no fighting man."
Sir Philip Branksome chose to consider himself a very great fighting
man, and every acquaintance he had knew it. His angry retort was drowned
in the laughter which assailed him on all sides, and by the time the
laughter had ended Martin Fairley had left the room.
"That madman knows too much," said Rosmore, turning to Sir John. "You
give him too great licence. Had I anything to do with him I should slit
that wagging tongue of his."
"He talks too freely to be dangerous," said Sir John. "His news is
doubtless true, and we--which side do we favour?"
Mrs. Dearmer propounded a question.
"Does it not depend upon which is the good? If popery, then Monmouth and
the Protestants claim us; if Protestantism, then must we die for King
James and all the evil he meditates."
"A fair abbess reminding us of our rules," said Branksome. "Would not
the most wicked course be to do nothing, and then side with the victor?"
"That madman seems to have spoken shrewdly when he said you did not like
fighting," said a girl beside him.
"There is evil to be done whichever side we fight for," said Rosmore. "I
see more personal advantage in fighting for King James, and should
anyone be able to persuade Fellowes to throw in his lot with Monmouth he
will do me a service. The world grows too small to hold us both."
"At least I hope that all my lovers will not fall victims to the
rabble," said Mrs. Dearmer. "Abbot John, you at least must stay at the
Abbey to keep me merry."
* * * * *
Martin Fairley tucked his fiddle under his arm and went quickly down the
terrace. As he approached the doorway leading into the ruined hall a man
came out of the shadows.
"My brother poet!" Martin exclaimed. "You have left the revel early,
"Can you be serious, Martin, and understand me clearly?" asked Fellowes.
"It happens that I am rather serious just now," was the answer.
"Martin, I was a scoundrel to-night," said Fellowes, catching him by the
arm. "I might plead wine as an excuse, but I will not, or love, which I
dare not. All women are to be won, you know the roué's damnable creed. I
was in despair; a few words from a pure woman's lips had convinced me of
my unworthiness, and then I met Rosmore. He ridiculed me; suggested,
even, that my love was returned, goaded me to play the lover wilfully
and as a man who will not be beaten. Then the wine and the sham courage
that is in it drove me on. I sent a lying message, and she came to the
hall yonder. I would not let her go, and she cried out. In a moment they
came hurrying in upon us, Rosmore with them. They would have turned it
to comedy, laughed at her, applauded me; but Rosmore, Martin, drew his
sword to defend her--he had played for the opportunity. Had any other
man but Rosmore faced me I should say nothing, but he is worse even than
I am. You saw the end."
"She was shielding you," said Martin.
"I know. I do not count, but Rosmore desires her, Martin. He thought to
stand high with her by killing me to-night. She must never belong to
Lord Rosmore. She will listen to you, Martin--she always does, she
"Would you make a Cupid's messenger of me, Mr. Fellowes?"
"Fool! I tell you I am nothing. Save her from Rosmore, that is your
mission. My sword, my life are at her service, she knows that, and
probably would not use them, no matter what her peril might be; but you,
some day, might use me on her behalf, without her knowledge. Take this
paper; it is the name of my lodging in town. Keep it. Do you understand?
To-morrow I leave the Abbey."
"To join Monmouth?"
"To try and do what is right," Fellowes answered, "and find a worthy
death, if possible, to atone for an unworthy life."
"A new day will change your mood," said Martin.
"Think so if you will, only keep the paper, and save her from Rosmore."
As he turned away Martin caught his arm.
"There was once a man like you," he said, "a man who loved like you, who
was a scoundrel like you. Suddenly an angel touched him, and in great
pain he turned aside into a rugged, difficult path. At the end of it he
shrank back at the sound of a voice, shrank back until he knew that the
voice spoke words of praise and confidence and honour; and a hand, clean
as men's hands seldom are, grasped his in friendship."
The madman's hand was stretched out to him, and Fellowes took it.
"The eyes of a fool often see into the future," said Martin. "I am
grasping the hand of the man you are to be. I shall keep the paper."
Fellowes went along the terrace without another word, and Martin went to
the deep-set door in the tower by the Nun's Room. It was not locked
to-night, and he climbed the narrow, winding stair quickly.
A dim light was burning in the circular chamber, and as Martin entered
Barbara rose from a chair to meet him. Swiftly he drew the bow across
the fiddle strings.
"The fiddle laughs at your trouble, child."
"It must not be laughed at so easily, Martin. Your news to-night--"
"Was just in time to save a very foolish man from my Lord Rosmore. I can
guess what happened. The one insults you, the other pretends to defend
"And my uncle wishes me to marry him; but that is not the trouble,
"I should have called that trouble enough."
"But listen," said Barbara, "this news of Monmouth's landing distresses
me for a very strange reason."
"Tell me," said Martin.
Barbara told him of the man who had come to her rescue at Newgate, and
repeated all that Lord Rosmore had said of him.
"Do you think he can be such a man as that, Martin?"
"If Lord Rosmore knows him then--"
"If--but does he?"
"Lord Rosmore knows a great many scoundrels, I have been told. What was
the name of this one?"
"He is not a scoundrel, Martin, I am sure, quite sure. A woman
knows--how, I cannot tell, but she does. And then, even if he be a
scoundrel, I would do him a service, if he can be found. That Monmouth
is in England will be an excuse for taking him, even if he is innocent."
"Still you do not tell me his name."
"Gilbert Crosby," said Barbara.
Martin sat in a corner where the shadows fell, and Barbara did not
notice his sudden start of interest.
"Crosby, Crosby," he said slowly. "There are Crosbys in Northamptonshire,
and here in Hampshire, close by the borders of Wilts and Dorset, there
is one; but a Gilbert Crosby--what is he like?"
"I cannot tell. He made me ashamed to be in such a place, and I did not
look much into his face. He had grey eyes, and a voice that was stern
"An excellent picture!" cried Martin. "He should be as easy to find as a
cat in winter time. Cats always go towards the fire, you know, and blink
the dreamy hours away in the warmth of the blaze. Oh, we'll find this
Gilbert Crosby, never fear; and when we find him, what shall we say? Our
Lady of Aylingford is in love. Come with us."
"You are foolish, Martin."
"I was born so, they say, and therefore cannot help it, but, being a
fool, I am convinced that folly is sometimes better than wisdom.
To-night, like a fool, I will dream of this Gilbert Crosby, and learn in
what direction he must be sought for; but now I must be wise and tell
you that the hour grows late and that children should be in bed."
"I fear that childhood, and with it happiness, is being left far behind
me, Martin," Barbara said with a sigh.
She could not see him clearly in the shadows, could not discern the
strange light in his eyes, nor catch the hushed echo to her sigh which
came from her crazy companion.
"No, no; we are all children right to the end," he said suddenly. "There
are moments when we know it and feel it, and, alas! there are times,
too, when we are blind and feel quite old. Open your eyes and you'll
know that childhood has you always by the hand, keeping love and purity
and fair dreams blossoming in your heart. Come, I will take you along
the terrace lest Mr. Fellowes or my Lord Rosmore or--Ah! how many more
are there who would not give half their years and most of their fortune
to stand in the shoes of this fool to-night."
"Do you hear her little fiddle?" and he laid his hand lovingly on the
polished wood for a moment.
"You must not laugh while I am away. Maybe we'll have a laugh together
when I return, for the moon is too bright to go out on to my roof and
get wisdom from the stars. Come, mistress."
And they went down the narrow, winding stair together.
The day was dying slowly, the west still aglow after the sinking of the
sun. Thin wreaths of mist were rising from the wide, deep trenches, or
"rhines," as the country folk called them, which intersected and drained
this moorland, making cultivation possible where once had been a great
marshy pool with shifting islands here and there, and rush-covered
Silence was over the land, broken now and again by the call of a bird,
and presently by the quick beating of hoofs. A solitary horseman came
rapidly along a road which skirted the edge of the moor. He was dusty
with a long journey, and his horse came to a standstill at the first
tightening of the rein. The rider had been in the saddle since early
morning, and although he had not loitered on his journey, his eyes and
ears had been keenly set all day, and, whenever practicable, he had
chosen by-paths in preference to the main road. His was a mission which
might bring him many dangers, and enemies even amongst those he sought
Before him lay the moorland, growing mistier and a little unreal in the
failing light. To his left, clustering roofs round a church tower, was a
village, so silent that none but the dead might have been its
inhabitants. Not a labourer plodded homewards from his toil in the
fields; not a horse, freed from its harness, grazed in the fields. To
his right, sharply cutting the distant sky-line, rose a tall spire, a
landmark for miles round.
"The end of our journey," he murmured, patting the horse's neck, "and
they won't thank us for coming."
The horse appeared to understand, and started forward again, shaking
himself as though to throw off his weariness. His rider had smiled a
little sadly as he spoke, but now his face was set again, as one who
rides upon an unpleasant mission but is not to be turned aside from
fulfilling it, no matter what the cost may be.
It was not long before he entered Bridgwater, and, had he not known that
it was so, the aspect of the town would have shown him that he was in
the midst of some great event. At no time would he be a man to pass
unnoticed, but here his coming caused excitement. Words of welcome were
flung at him, and anxious questions shouted after him. There was a
feverish eagerness in the atmosphere, and if some faces which he saw at
windows and in doorways had a look of fear in them, they were in the
minority, and were not anxious to invite attention to themselves.
"Duke!" one man exclaimed in answer to the rider's question. "He is no
duke who is at the castle, but a king--King Monmouth. Yesterday, in the
market-place at Taunton, they proclaimed him."
"I had not heard," said the rider.
"Do you come alone?" asked the man.
"Each man counts--may count for much--but you should have ridden in at
the head of a troop. We'd have cracked our throats with roaring a
The rider smiled, and passed on to the castle.
Here was the centre of bustle and excitement, constant coming and going,
hastily given orders, and general clamour. In the castle field was
encamped an army of six thousand men, a rabble truly, and poorly armed,
many having naught but their tools for weapons, but enthusiasts all,
certain of the righteousness of their cause, prepared to die for the
King they had made and whom they trusted and loved. There was order of a
sort, but it seemed strangely like confusion to the horseman as he
dismounted within the courtyard. Here again a welcome met him, but it
was with difficulty he could get a message carried to King Monmouth.
Would he not see Lord Grey who was in charge of the cavalry, or Master
Ferguson who could tell him all he wanted to know--or Buyse, or Wade,
"Monmouth, blockhead--and Monmouth only," was the angry retort. "And
quickly, or you'll suffer for such laggard service."
He spoke with such authority that there was whispered speculation who
this stranger might be. Perhaps he was the first of those nobles who had
promised to draw swords with them in the great cause. A messenger went
quickly, and soon returned. The King would see him at once.
As the stranger entered the chamber where half a dozen men were
gathered, one man rose and came forward to meet him.
"Gilbert Crosby!" he exclaimed. "Never was friend more welcome."
His face, somewhat gloomy a moment before, was suddenly lit with a
brilliant smile, so winning, so full of charming graciousness, that it
was easy to understand the influence such a leader must have over the
army of enthusiasts gathered in the town of Bridgwater. He was a
handsome man, in appearance a born leader of men; and if Gilbert Crosby
understood some of the shortcomings which lay underneath this attractive
exterior, he could not remember them just now. There was the temptation
to offer himself heart and soul to this man and forget the self-imposed
mission on which he had come. He had been brought in contact with
Monmouth some years ago, had begun, perhaps, by pitying, and had ended
by giving him a friendship which was truer and stauncher than any other
he had ever possessed. When, a few years since, Monmouth had been fêted
throughout Somersetshire and Devon, Crosby had been much in his company,
had entertained him modestly at his own manor, and had been at that
sumptuous feast given in honour of the Duke by Thynne of Longleat.
"Gentlemen, this is a very dear friend of mine," said Monmouth, turning
and presenting him to the company, "Mr. Gilbert Crosby of Lenfield
Manor, than whom we could not welcome a better gentleman."
"Pardon, my lord, but--"
"Ye've come to help a great cause," said a long, lean man, bent in the
shoulder, and with lantern jaws which mouthed out his words in the
strongest of Scotch accents. "I'm Ferguson. Ye've heard of me; and I'm
saying it's a fight against the enemies of the Lord ye've come to wage."
"I would not be misunderstood," said Crosby, turning to Monmouth; "I
came to talk with you in private, not to fight."
"I regret to hear you say so," Monmouth answered. "I am rather weary of
advice, but come with me." And then, having taken a few steps towards a
door leading to another room, he stopped. "No, Crosby; friendship must
stand aside for a while. I must have no secrets from these comrades, who
are with me heart and soul in this enterprise."
"That's better--much better," said Ferguson. "Let us hear the man and
his communication. It is no more than the right of those who are bearing
the heat and burden of the day."
"I would urge that our conversation be in private," said Crosby.
"And I would urge otherwise," said Ferguson. "Such a desire for privacy
has the savour of treachery about it."
"Can a man be a traitor to a cause he has never espoused?" Crosby asked
"Is it, then, that ye are afraid to speak before honest men?" Ferguson
demanded roughly, the eruption with which his face was plentifully
covered glowing a fiery red as he thrust his head forward like an angry
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen! I will have no quarrelling," said Monmouth. "I
will go bail for my friend, even though he does not throw in his lot
with us. I warrant he has naught but kindness in his heart for me, and
that kindness has brought him to Bridgwater."
"The gentleman can certainly not be accused of cowardice if he comes to
vilify your friends," said one man. "That requires courage."
"That is true, Grey," said Monmouth. "Speak freely, Crosby, as you would
to me were we alone; or, if you regret coming, keep silent. You shall
sup with us to-night, and to-morrow depart. We will force no man to
raise a hand for us."
"Why make promises until we have heard the man's communication?" growled
Ferguson. "Those who are not for the Lord are for Baal; there is no
"The purpose for which I came shall be fulfilled," said Crosby. "You
gentlemen know nothing of me, nor I of you, except that you stand by the
side of your new-made king. For that I can honour you; on your side,
pray give me credit for honesty."
"Words, words, like sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal," said
"Most assuredly such words, with their specious promises, have had much
to do with this enterprise," Crosby retorted; and then, turning to
Monmouth, he went on earnestly: "You have been deceived by lying agents,
such men as Wildman and Danvers. By this time you must know that London
will not raise a finger nor spend a guinea to help you, and that there
is not a single Whig nobleman who will draw a sword on your behalf."
"You are full of news, sir," sneered Ferguson. "You must be deep in the
councils of our enemies to know so much. And why limit yourself to
Wildman and Danvers when you speak of liars and deceivers? I am
Ferguson--everybody knows me. This is Lord Grey of Wark. Here stands
Fletcher, and Wade and Anthony Buyse. Why not complete your accusation?"
"You are deceived with your master, rather than deceivers," Crosby
answered. "You are prepared to fight for the cause, therefore you stand
apart. You know that what I say is true, my lord." And he turned to
"Finish what you have to say, Crosby."
"Your enterprise is doomed to failure. Here in Somersetshire you are
loved, and a few thousand men, confident that the whole country will
acclaim you, are prepared to lay down their lives for you. The country
is not going to open its arms to you. You can no longer be deceived upon
that point. The train-bands of Wiltshire are mustering, the militia of
Sussex and Oxfordshire are on the road. The Duke of Beaufort supports
the crown, and the undergraduates of Oxford take up arms to oppose you.
Feversham and Churchill march with the regular troops against you, and
your army of yokels must go down like a field of corn before the
"I take it that, had there been no doubt of our success, we should have
had the pleasure of your company," said Ferguson.
"No, you would not. I do not favour the rebellion you are raising, and I
come on a self-imposed embassy to plead with my Lord Monmouth, first
because of my friendship for him, secondly to urge that he will not
fashion a scourge for the back of this simple West-Country folk."
Monmouth's face had grown gloomy. He was too good a soldier not to know
that what Crosby said was true, that his chance of success was of the
feeblest kind. Not a single man of real importance had joined him;
already there was regret that he had left his retreat in Brabant to lead
such a desperate venture, and deep down in his heart, perhaps, he
recognised in Ferguson his evil genius.
"You are a veritable Job's comforter," he said with a forced smile. "You
show us a crowd of difficulties, have you any advice how they may be
"Bid these men with their scythes and reaping-hooks disperse, and then
leave England as quietly as you came."
Such a solution had entered into Monmouth's mind already. It seemed more
feasible now that a friend had spoken it.
"You cannot!" exclaimed Lord Grey. "That would be base ingratitude to
the men who are encamped without these walls. We have called them to
arms, we must stand or fall with them."
"I grant it sounds the more honest advice," said Crosby, "but, my lord,
you have to choose between two evils; I only counsel you to take the
lesser. A few will suffer, doubtless, if you abandon your enterprise,
but if you press on with it the whole of the West Country will be
persecuted. King James does not know how to forgive."
"It is too late to turn back," said Monmouth. "Grey is right. These men
look to me to lead them to victory. I will make the attempt. I have
sworn it on the Holy Book."
Crosby bowed his head and was silent. He could not deny that Monmouth's
attitude was that of an honest man.
"And what becomes of this gentleman who is so ready to help our enemies
by giving us advice?" asked Ferguson.
"To-night he sups with us, to-morrow he departs," Monmouth answered.
"Is that wise? He has seen us in our stronghold, he has counted our
numbers, he has knowledge of our weakness. He would be safer shut in
this castle, safer still were he turned loose to the mercies of those
men who are encamped yonder. I would make short work of all spies."
"The gentleman is honest, but gives bad advice," said Grey.
"I'm thinking we shall find him in the ranks of our enemies on the day
of battle," Ferguson retorted.
"Even so, he departs in peace to-morrow," said Monmouth.
"I fight neither for you nor against you," Crosby answered. "Presently
I may try to do something to help these peasants in their need, which
will surely come. If in your hour of need, my Lord Monmouth, you should
think there is safety at Lenfield Manor, I will do my best to find you
a hiding-place there."
"If I enter Lenfield Manor I trust it will not be as a fugitive from my
enemies," said Monmouth. "Now, gentlemen, to supper."
Gilbert Crosby had hardly expected anything else but failure, yet he was
disappointed. Had he seen Monmouth privately he might have been able to
persuade him better. Some honesty there might be in Monmouth's use of
the Protestant faith to further his cause, but it was probably of very
secondary consideration, while with those about him, and who were
responsible for his actions, it was merely a tool to be used so long as
it proved useful. With the peasantry who had flocked to the blue
standard it was everything, and it was chiefly on their account that
Crosby had journeyed to Bridgwater. He would have saved Monmouth if he
could, but after all, Monmouth aspired to a throne and must take the
risks; the people, on the other hand, had nothing to win and everything
to lose, and, although Crosby would not take up arms with them, he was
quite ready to sacrifice himself on their behalf. He was of that stock
which had bred the Pyms and Hampdens of the Civil War. At the
Restoration his father had retired to his Manor of Lenfield and had
mixed no more in politics. Possibly the Restoration was for the general
good of the country rather than the rule of that rabid section of the
Puritans which had caricatured the original spirit in which an appeal to
arms had been made, but Thomas Crosby remained a Puritan, and distrusted
the Stuarts as much as he had ever done. In this atmosphere Gilbert
Crosby had grown to manhood, and since his father's death five years ago
had been master of Lenfield. If he were less of a Puritan than his
father, he was just as opposed to all forms of popery, and had been
quite sensible of the danger which must arise on the accession of James.
He had been active amongst those who were firmly determined to struggle
against the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England, but he had
lent himself to no underhand plots against the King, and, although
conscious that there existed an undercurrent of intrigue in favour of
the Duke of Monmouth, neither he nor those with whom he was associated
had expected Monmouth's landing. It was natural, perhaps, that men like
Wildman and Danvers should believe that such an invasion would force the
hands of all those who clung to the Protestant faith, but the body to
which Crosby belonged looked to the Prince of Orange as leader should
open rebellion become necessary; they might be at one with the
West-Country peasantry in religion, but they were not likely to help the
son of Lucy Walters to his father's throne. Gilbert Crosby was prepared
to be his friend, but he was not prepared to be his subject.
He had retired to his room and locked the door. He was to start early in
the morning, and had taken leave of Monmouth, who had striven to appear
in high spirits during supper. His forced gaiety had not deceived
Crosby, whose heart was heavy as he paced the room thoughtfully for a
time. Disaster was in the air, and Monmouth was but the shuttlecock of
"I wish I could help him," he sighed, and then he drew from his neck a
white ribbon. The ends were knotted together so that he could suspend it
round his neck under his clothing, and it had rested there day and night
ever since he had picked it up. He folded it in his hands and kissed it;
so he had done every night, and there had come to him a vision--a
hurrying crowd of men and women, careless of everything but pleasure and
excitement, and a young girl shrinking back against the wall, strangely
out of place there, and alone.
"I wonder whether we shall ever meet again, and, if we do, whether I
shall have the courage to show you the ribbon you dropped," he murmured.
He had slipped the ribbon round his neck again when there was a hasty
knock at the door, and when he opened it Lord Grey entered the room
"I am glad to see you have not retired, Mr. Crosby. King Monmouth is
afraid for you. Ferguson, a good man but a fanatic, is set upon
detaining you at Bridgwater--has, perhaps, more sinister designs. He
plots on his own account in this matter to take you in the morning, so
you must needs leave to-night."
"I would rather stay and settle the score with Ferguson," said Crosby.
"One man, while Ferguson has a dozen enthusiasts at his back! It is
impossible. Besides, Monmouth commands, and, in Bridgwater at least, his
word is law."
"I will go," Crosby answered.
Grey led the way down numerous small passages and short flights of
narrow steps until a small door was reached.
"Your horse is here, but I will walk with you through the town. We can
understand men coming in, we do not understand men going out."
"I have already said I should prefer to stay and face Ferguson in the
morning," Crosby returned.
"His rage will be wonderful to behold, but you must not be there to see
it. He will fling texts of damnation after you, which, had they power to
kill, would certainly prevent you reaching the end of your journey. His
knowledge of such passages in the Bible is wonderful."
They passed through the town quietly. It was sleeping.
"Farewell, Mr. Crosby. I wish you could have remained with us."
"And I wish that you had never been persuaded to try so mad a venture,"
"The issue lies still in the balance," Grey returned.
So Gilbert Crosby rode away from Bridgwater, and the mist was thick over
SEDGEMOOR AND AFTERWARDS
Lentfield Manor, on the borders of Dorsetshire, was a square house set
against a background of woods, with an expanse of park land in front of
it. There was no particular beauty about it; indeed, it had a dreary
look, and evidences of economy were not wanting. Thomas Crosby, never at
any time to be reckoned a wealthy man, had expended much in the cause of
the Parliament, and had left his son Gilbert a comparatively poor man.
Within, the house was spacious and comfortable, with many a hiding-place
in it which had been turned to account before now, and, if the furniture
had grown shabby and showed its age unmistakably, Gilbert had become so
accustomed to it that he hardly noticed its deficiencies. Lenfield was
the home he loved, and this fact touched it, and everything in it and
about it, with magical colours. Lately he had had visions of a fair
woman descending the low, broad stairs, smiling at him as she came; in
fancy he had seen her flitting from room to room, filling them with
laughter and sunshine. So much power had a length of white ribbon which
had once belonged to such a woman.
Crosby returned to Lenfield by many by-roads, more careful, even, than
he had been when riding towards Bridgwater. Once he had turned aside to
avoid a band of militiamen, for he had no desire to be questioned. This
insurrection in the West would bring suspicion on many an innocent
person, and Thomas Crosby had been so well known a Puritan that it would
be well for his son to be found at home when he was inquired for. If
King James persisted in his struggle for popery, there was a much
greater rebellion than Monmouth's to come, infinitely more far-reaching.
In that outburst Gilbert Crosby intended to play his part, but until
then he would safeguard himself as much as possible. There would be
refugees from Monmouth's ragged army presently, he must help them if he
could, but he would play no part in active rebellion.
An old man, who had been servant to the Crosbys when Gilbert was born,
met him in the hall.
"I've been anxious, Master Gilbert," he said, "very anxious indeed, and
the Lord be praised that you've returned in safety. I began to fear you
might have ridden West to join Monmouth."
"Why should you think that, Golding?"
"When one is anxious one thinks of all the worst things that could
"It seems that they fight in a good cause, Golding."
"Don't let a soul hear you say so, Master Gilbert. They've arrested two
hundred or more in London already, honest merchants many of them, and
they say the gaol at Oxford is full of prisoners. No Puritan is really
safe in these days."
"You've heard far more than I have, Golding. Who has brought you such
"A gentleman who came to see you yesterday," the man answered. "He
called me a round-headed old scoundrel, but I think there was no malice
"Who was he?"
"He gave no name, but he wrote you a letter. I told him you were in
London, and that I was hourly expecting your return."
"I did not say I had ridden to London," said Crosby.
"No, Master Gilbert, but he asked me where you were, and I thought it
best to be definite."
"Where is this mysterious stranger's letter?"
Gilbert Crosby looked at the writing on the outside, which told him
nothing. The contents mystified him, and he had no knowledge of the man
who signed it.
"Sir," he read, "I have waited for you, having broken my journey to the
West against these rebels on purpose to see you. This I have done, at
some hazard to myself, at the bidding of one who honours me with
commands. Since I cannot see you I must needs write, a dangerous
proceeding, but your servant seems honest. Know then, sir, that you have
enemies, men who will seek to find occasion to accuse you of disloyalty,
and they may well find an easy opportunity now that Monmouth has landed.
You are likely to be accused of helping his venture, and will know how
best to secure yourself against such an accusation. For myself I know
nothing of your aims, but the person who commands me believes you
incapable of a base action, and would do you a service. This manor of
yours is too near the West to be a safe place for you with an enemy so
bent on your overthrow, and I am commanded to suggest that, for the
present, you go to London and give no occasion for suspicion. The trust
I have in my employer in this matter compels me to urge you to take heed
of this letter, and moreover to offer you my help if at any time I can
be of service to you.--Yours most obediently, Sydney Fellowes."
"The danger I can understand," Crosby murmured, having read the letter a
second time; "the meaning of this gentleman's warning is beyond my
comprehension. I have no knowledge of him, and who can the person be who
"May I inquire if the communication is serious, Master Gilbert?" Golding
"No, no, a kindly message from a man who would do me a service," Crosby
answered. "If I am inquired for, Golding, at any time, or by anyone,
show no hesitation, but bring them to me at once; we have nothing to
hide at Lenfield," and then, when the old man had gone, he added, "at
present, at any rate."
During the following days Crosby did not move abroad, did not leave the
grounds of the manor except to walk into the village and gather any news
he might. It was meagre enough, and was always to the effect that
Monmouth was hard pressed. It was sadly told, too, for in the village
the sympathy was with the Duke.
Doubtless through the length and breadth of the land there was sympathy,
but it had little power to help. It did not bring arms to the rebel
camp; it did not bring the men Monmouth had expected to fly to his
standard. He knew, no one better, that with such an army as he possessed
there could be no real success. His one hope was that, by holding out
and perchance by driving back the enemy in some skirmish which might get
magnified into an important engagement, the men he so longed for--the
great body of the Whigs--would be persuaded to flock to him. He did not
let go this hope even after Crosby's visit to Bridgwater. The one thing
he could not afford was to be inactive, so he marched to Glastonbury,
then to Wells, then to Shepton Mallet, harassed the whole way by a
handful of troops under Churchill, drenched by continuous and heavy
rain. Then he turned to seize Bristol, but, checked at Keynsham, he
turned towards Wiltshire. Bath shut its gates against him, and at Philip
Norton Feversham was close upon his heels. For one wild moment he
contemplated an advance on London, but fell back on Wells, and from
there returned to Bridgwater. Ten days of constant marching had wearied
an army ill-prepared for such toil, and nothing had been accomplished.
This was the news that filtered through to Lenfield, and Crosby waited
for the great disaster which he knew must come.
Feversham, with the King's forces, lay encamped on Sedgemoor, and with
him were some of the very men who had fought with Monmouth at Bothwell
Bridge. As Monmouth surveyed the position of the enemy from the top of
Bridgwater Church there leapt into his heart a wild hope that these men
might desert and fight by his side in the day of battle. A desperate
courage came to him. Feversham was not a general to inspire trust in his
men; it was said that the camp was full of drunkenness. With drunken
soldiers to command even Churchill might find ill-armed but enthusiastic
peasants too much for him. The time to strike had come. Heaven itself
lent aid to the rebels, for the night brought a thick fog over Sedgemoor
as Monmouth left Bridgwater for the last time. Not a drum beat to the
attack, not a shot was fired; only the word "Soho" was whispered that
men might recognise their friends in the darkness.
Two of the broad trenches which intersected the moor, and where the fog
was thickest, were crossed in silence, but there was a third, protecting
the camp, of which Monmouth knew nothing. The check brought confusion,
and some man in his excitement fired a pistol. The battle had begun, and
although the camp was taken by surprise, and drink made many heavy
sleepers, the drums beat quickly to arms and the peasant warriors had
little advantage. Grey's motley cavalry was scattered in a moment, and
Lord Rosmore, who was amongst those who charged upon them, laughed
aloud. This was a rabble, not an army.
But while darkness lasted the peasants did not lose heart. Monmouth was
in the midst of them, fighting with them, pike in hand. He might know
that the battle was lost, might long for some friendly enemy to deal him
his death blow. His enterprise would fail, but his end would be
glorious. Men fell on every side of him, while he remained untouched,
and ever the light grew stronger in the east. The light meant defeat;
Monmouth knew it. Death would not come to him, and life suddenly seemed
precious. They still fought, these soldiers of his; the scythes were red
with blood; the Mendip miners still faced the enemy, and were cut down
as they stood; and Monmouth in his flight turned for a moment to look
back, and shuddered. His courage was gone. Fear took hold of him, and,
hiding the blue riband and his George, he galloped away with Grey and
Buyse, first towards the Bristol Channel, and then, turning, made
towards Hampshire. He remembered that Gilbert Crosby had promised to
find him a hiding-place, and if he could reach Lenfield he might be
safe. The pursuers followed hard after him, Lord Rosmore amongst them,
and he, too, thought of Lenfield Manor and Gilbert Crosby.
No news reached the village on the Sunday or the Monday. Crosby waited
anxiously. The last he had heard was that Feversham was on Sedgemoor and
that a battle was imminent. He walked through the woods to the high
road, and if he saw a peasant whose face was unfamiliar, waited for him
lest he should prove a fugitive and bring news. On Tuesday Lenfield knew
that Sedgemoor had been fought and lost, and that Monmouth was a
fugitive. In which direction he had fled was not known, but Crosby
hazarded a guess and rode some distance towards Cranbourne Chase.
"Be careful, Master Gilbert," Golding whispered. "They've arrested men
on less suspicion than you're giving occasion for."
Crosby was quite aware of this, but he had made a promise. He had not
been prepared to fight for a rebellious Monmouth, but he was prepared to
risk much now that he was defeated and a fugitive. Still, he went
carefully, not seeking danger, and soon had reason to be convinced that
Monmouth had fled in the direction of Lenfield. Men of the Somerset
Militia were beating the country, and Crosby barely escaped falling in
When he returned to the Manor at nightfall Golding was full of news.
Lord Grey of Wark had been taken that morning, but Monmouth was still at
"But he is surrounded, Master Gilbert; there is no escape for him."
"No one has been to the Manor?" Crosby asked.
"No; but there have been scouts in the neighbourhood all day. Luke the
blacksmith saw them and told me. They don't expect Monmouth to come to
Lenfield, do they, Master Gilbert?"
"It seems certain that he has come in this direction, Golding."
"Then stay you at home, Master Gilbert," pleaded the old man.
"Nonsense. The presence of a few militia-men in the neighbourhood is no
cause for fear. Tell them to let me have my horse at dawn."
Crosby did not sleep that night. Monmouth might come under cover of the
darkness, and he waited and listened through the long hours. At break of
day he was in the saddle again, but did not ride far afield. He hardly
left his own land, and it was evident that Lenfield was surrounded. In
the afternoon he returned home, unconscious that Monmouth had been taken
during the morning, found in a ditch clad in a shepherd's dress, and was
already on his way to Ringwood.
"Monmouth is taken," whispered Golding as Crosby dismounted.
"How do you know that? Who told you?"
"A man who came two hours ago. He is waiting."
"Is he a friend, do you think, Golding?"
"I do not know," Golding answered. "He said he would wait until you
came, and then demanded to be taken to the stables, where he tended his
own horse. A masterful man, Master Gilbert, but whether a friend or an
enemy who can tell?"
"We will soon see," said Crosby; and as he turned to go to this stranger
Golding laid a hand on his arm.
"If there is danger, Master Gilbert, call. I have lost some strength
with the passing of years, but I have never lost my ability to shoot
straight," and he just showed him the butt of a pistol in the pocket of
Crosby patted him on the shoulder and went to his persistent and
uninvited guest, wondering whether Monmouth were really taken, whether
this might not be he.
Men still surrounded Lenfield. It was whispered amongst them that,
although Monmouth was a prisoner, there was another important traitor
yet to capture. They had been told so by Lord Rosmore, under whose
command they were. Now they were ordered to draw in closer, and to take
anyone who attempted to escape.
"Capture him if possible, but, if not, shoot him down," was Rosmore's
command. Then, with a dozen men, he rode across the stretch of park land
to the front entrance of the Manor. He made no attempt to surround it in
such a manner that those within might take alarm. His men were in the
woods, escape was impossible.
There was some little delay in answering his summons, and then a servant
came to the door.
"Is your master, Mr. Gilbert Crosby, within?"
"I think he is asleep, sir; but will you be pleased to enter?"
The girl looked innocent enough, but Lord Rosmore was too well versed in
artifice not to be cautious.
"My horse is restive, as you see. Will you request your master to come
out and speak with me for a moment?"
The girl curtsied and departed with her message, leaving the door open.
"He suspects nothing," Rosmore whispered to a man beside him.
"I am not so certain," was the answer, "since the door is left so
invitingly open. It would be natural to enter, and an ambush might await
us within. That girl was over simple to be natural, it seemed to me."
"Keep watch upon the windows above, some of you," said Rosmore in a low
tone. "If this is a well-baited trap we are not such fools as to walk
The girl reappeared and came across the hall.
"I cannot find my master," she said. "He will be in the gardens
somewhere. Will you not come in and wait?"
For a moment Rosmore hesitated, and then dismounted. He called to two or
three men to come with him.
"If you see him coming tell him we are within," he said to the others.
"Now, my girl, we will see if we can find your master," and he caught
her roughly by the arm. "Where is he hiding, eh?"
"Yes, pretty innocence; and unless you tell me quickly I shall have to
bare these shoulders of yours and see what the taste of a whip can
At that moment there was a shout from the men without, and Rosmore
rushed back to them. A horseman had suddenly ridden from the stables at
the far end of the house.
"Where's that scoundrel Rosmore?" he cried. "He would take Crosby of
Lenfield, would he? Well, now is his chance; and in taking him he will
capture an even more notorious person, whom, rumour says, he has long
desired to meet."
"Now I know!" Rosmore exclaimed as he flung himself into the saddle.
"After him, and shout, all of you, to put the men in the woods on the
The horseman turned and galloped across the park in a slanting
"Don't ride too close, Rosmore," he shouted over his shoulder, "for I
seldom miss the mark I aim at."
He suddenly altered his course. It was deftly done, and served to gain
him a few yards on his pursuers.
"To the right and left to cut him off!" cried Rosmore. "We have him. The
chase is over before it has well begun."
Well might he say so, for the fugitive was galloping straight towards a
stiff fence that few horses would face and few horsemen would hazard
their necks over.
He turned again and laughed, but rode straight on. The next moment, with
inches to spare, the gallant animal had cleared the fence and dropped
into the wood beyond.
A cry of wonder came from the men who were following him, a curse from
Lord Rosmore, for the rider was the highwayman Galloping Hermit, and
wore the brown mask.
"THE JOLLY FARMERS"
For a few moments the very daring of the leap paralysed the hunters. The
man had surely gone to his death, preferring an end of this sort to the
one that most surely awaited him if he were captured. They had looked to
see horse and rider crash downwards to destruction, or perchance fall
backwards to be crushed and maimed past all healing; but when neither of
these things happened a cry of astonishment, not unmingled with
admiration, burst from a dozen throats. The shouting had brought men
running from the other sides of the house; a few of them were in time to
see the leap accomplished and to realise that Galloping Hermit had been
in their midst; others saw only a straggling group of horsemen at fault,
and looked in vain for the reason of the shouting. Lord Rosmore himself
was too surprised to give orders as quickly as he might have done, and
made up for the delay by swearing roundly at everybody about him.
"Fools! What are you waiting for?" he cried savagely. "There are more
ways into the wood than over that cursed fence."
He turned to one man and gave him quick instructions concerning the
watch to be kept on the Manor House, and then spurred his horse into the
wood after the mounted men who had already started in pursuit.
Either from actual knowledge, or conviction, the highwayman seemed to be
certain that at this spot the woods surrounding Lenfield Manor would not
be so carefully watched, that so stiff a fence would be deemed
sufficient to make escape that way impossible. To the right and left of
it, however, men were sure to be stationed; so, with a soothing word to
his horse, he plunged into the depths of the wood along a narrow track,
as one who knew his way perfectly and was acting on some preconceived
plan. In a small clearing he halted, listening for the sounds of
pursuit, and then pressed forward again until he presently came out upon
the green sward bordering a road. Again he halted to listen, and,
satisfied that the hunters were not too perilously close upon his heels,
he cantered in the direction of the open country which lay to his right.
He was now riding in a direction which made an angle with the way some
of his pursuers had evidently taken; he knew the spot where the two ways
met, and halted again when he reached it. Here a broad glade cut into
the very heart of the wood, and down it came three horsemen at a trot,
looking to right and left as they came, searching for their hidden
quarry. Then they saw him at the end of the glade, and shouted as they
put spurs into their horses. The shouts were answered from other parts
of the wood, and the highwayman smiled underneath his mask as he patted
his horse's neck.
"We'll give them a hopeful chase for a while, my beauty; presently you
shall stretch yourself and leave them behind, but it's a steady canter
for a time. No, no; not even so fast as that. We are well out of pistol
Six men took up the chase, their faces set with grim determination. They
were well mounted, and hopeful of success. They had every incentive to
do their utmost.
"There is a large reward offered for the capture of the wearer of the
brown mask," said Lord Rosmore. "He is, besides, Gilbert Crosby, a
rebel, and, further, I have a private account to settle with him. I
double the reward."
The men nodded. It would be strange if six of them could not compass the
downfall of one. They rode on in silence, sometimes with increased hope
as the distance between them and the highwayman lessened a little,
sometimes with muttered curses when they realised that their horses were
doing as much as they were able.
"I think he tires a little," said one man presently, and Lord Rosmore
saw that they had materially gained upon their quarry.
"Where will this take us?" he asked.
"We should strike the West Road soon," was the answer. "He'll have a
hiding-hole somewhere near it, maybe."
"He is too clever to lead us to it," said Rosmore. "He'll change his
line presently, and we may have to separate. But his horse is tiring,
that is certain. Press forward, lads; if we gain only inches it must
tell in time."
The day was drawing to a close. Evening shadows were beginning to steal
up from behind distant woods. There would be light for a long while yet,
but the chase must end before the shadows grew too deep, or the
highwayman's chances would be many. The road took a wide circle through
a plantation, and then ran straight across a stretch of common land,
gradually mounting upwards to a distant ridge. As they galloped through
the plantation the highwayman was lost sight of for a few moments round
the bend in the road. The hunters pressed their horses forward at the
top of their speed, conscious that in such a place the fugitive might
quite possibly slip away from them; but when they came on to the
straight road he was still in front of them, farther in front of them
than he had been at any time during the chase. The highwayman turned to
look back, and seemed to check his horse a little, but his advantage did
not appear to decrease.
"What a magnificent beast he rides!" exclaimed Rosmore. "We shall have
to separate, and without his knowing it. The opportunity will come
directly. Look! I thought as much."
The highwayman had evidently only tried his horse's power. He was quite
satisfied that he could distance his pursuers when he liked, and thought
that the time had come. He was leaning forward in his saddle now, riding
almost as a trick rider might do, but the effect was great. Possibly he
contrived to shift his weight, for the horse suddenly bounded forward,
breasting the hill to the ridge in splendid fashion. He might have been
at the beginning of the race instead of nearing the end of it.
"Playing with us all the time!" said one man with a curse.
"That pace cannot last," Rosmore returned. "Keep after him. The moment
he is over the ridge, you, Sayers and Watson, come with me. You others
keep after him. He may be headed away from the road, which must lie just
beyond the ridge. Perhaps we shall cut him off, for I have an idea he
means to turn upon his track. Capture, or no capture, there's money for
this day's work."
As the highwayman disappeared over the ridge Lord Rosmore and his two
men turned at right angles from the road and went across the common; the
others continued the pursuit, but going not a whit faster than they were
before. No amount of spurring served to lengthen the stride of their
horses. To follow seemed hopeless, was hopeless unless the unexpected
"Let our horses walk for a few moments," said Rosmore. "You know this
part of the country, Sayers; what should you say our direction is now?"
"I don't know it over-well, my lord, but I should say we've got
Salisbury almost straight behind us and Winchester some miles in that
direction," and the man pointed a little to the right. "I should say
we've been riding pretty well due north from Lenfield."
"Then if the highwayman wanted to make Winchester he would have to cross
us somewhere if we go straight forward?"
"He would, my lord, but since we've been after him he's given no sign of
making for Winchester," Sayers answered.
"An inquiry in that direction may give us some information," said
Rosmore. "I have an idea that the Brown Mask will be seen along the
Winchester Road presently."
"These horses will be no match for his."
"They must carry us a little farther, but the pace may be easy," said
Rosmore, shaking his jaded animal into a trot, and the two men rode side
by side a few paces behind him. Strange to say, failure seemed to have
improved Rosmore's temper rather than aggravated it. He had at least a
score of witnesses to prove who Galloping Hermit was. A girl might be
romantic enough to pity such a man, but it could hardly be that pity
which is akin to love.
"She has the pride of her race in her," he murmured. "I would not have
it otherwise. There are a dozen ways to a woman's heart, and if need be
I will try them all."
The prospect appeared to please him, for he smiled. So for two hours
they rode in the general direction of Winchester.
"This is foolery," whispered Sayers to his companion. "I warrant the
Brown Mask has gone to earth long ago. His lordship has more knowledge
of this way than he pretends, I shouldn't wonder, and knows of a nest
with a pretty bird in it. There may be other birds about to look after
her, Watson. Such kind of hunting is more to my taste than the sort
we've been sweated with to-day."
They were presently traversing a road with a wood on one side and fields
on the other, when a glimmer of light shone in front of them, and the
barking of a dog, catching the sound of the approaching horsemen
probably, awoke the evening echoes. Back against the trees nestled "The
Jolly Farmers," an inn of good repute in this neighbourhood, both for
the quality of its liquor and the amiable temper of its landlord. A
guest had entered not five minutes ago, and was talking to the landlord
in an inner parlour when the barking of the dog interrupted them.
"Horses!" said the landlord. "They follow you so sharply that it is well
to be cautious. This way, sir."
He touched the wall where there certainly was no sign of a door, yet a
door swung open inwards, disclosing a dark and narrow chamber. The guest
entered it without question, and the landlord hurried out to meet the
"You ride late, gentlemen."
"And would sample your liquor, landlord," said Rosmore, dismounting and
bidding his men do the same. "Have the horses looked to."
The landlord called in a stentorian voice, and a lad came running from
the rear of the premises.
"Any other guests to-night, landlord?" Rosmore asked as he passed into
"No, sir, and not much chance of them. They're having a sort of feast in
the village yonder--dancing and such-like; and what business there is
'The Blue Boar' will get--unless, mind you, a pair o' lovers is tempted
to come up this way for the sake o' the walk."
"How far is the village?"
"Three-quarters of a mile by the road, half a mile by the path through
the wood. But, bless you, sir, if the lovers were to come they'd get
their refreshment out o' kisses and not trouble my ale."
"What do you call this place?"
"'The Jolly Farmers,' sir, and I'm called Tom Saunders, very much at
"A poor spot for an inn, surely?" said Rosmore.
"There are better, and there are worse," was the answer. "We're in touch
with the main road, and they are good enough to say that the
entertainment is worth going a little out of the way for."
"No doubt. We will judge for ourselves."
"And, although I blush to mention it, folks have a kind of liking for
Tom Saunders himself. It's often the landlord that makes the inn."
If the landlord blushed, it made no appreciable difference to his rosy
countenance, which grinned good-humouredly as he executed Lord Rosmore's
"Truly, it is good liquor," said Rosmore when he had sampled it. "Do you
get good company to come out of their way to taste it?"
"Ay, sir, at times, and a few soldiers lately. You and your two men here
will be from the West, very like. I've heard of Sedgemoor fight. May one
know the latest news?"
"Who told you of Sedgemoor?"
"I think it was the smith down in the village, or it might 'a been
Boyce, the carpenter; anyway, it was somebody down yonder. They'd heard
it from someone on the road."
"Monmouth is taken," and Rosmore watched the landlord closely as he said
"That'll be good news for King James," was the answer. "Would it be
treason to say I'm sorry for them who've been foolish enough to take up
"Too near it to be wise. Pity of that kind often leads a man to give
help, and that's the worst kind of treason."
"So I've heard say, but I never could understand the rights and wrongs
of the law, nor, for that matter, the lawyers neither. I'd a lawyer here
not many weeks back, and all his learning hadn't taught him to know good
ale when he put his lips to it. What's the good of learning if it can't
teach you that?"
"Do you number him amongst your good company?" asked Rosmore.
"I don't, but he'd reckon himself that way."
"You'll be having other company before long asking you to find them
hiding-places. The rebels are being hunted in every direction."
"We're too far away," said the landlord. "Bless you, we're a sight o'
miles from Bridgwater, and most o' these fellows ain't got horses to
carry them. They won't trouble 'The Jolly Farmers,' sir."
"And if they did?"
"The bolts on the door are strong enough to keep them out."
"The bolts, if used, are more likely to keep them out than the
distance," said Rosmore; and, although the landlord still smiled, he was
quite conscious of the doubt expressed concerning the use of the bolts.
Rosmore paused for him to speak, but when he remained silent went on.
"We are searching for a rebel now, one Gilbert Crosby. Do you reckon him
amongst your good company?"
"I might if I had ever heard of him," the landlord answered.
"Who is in the house at this moment?" Rosmore asked.
"A wench in the kitchen, and myself. My daughter is in the village at
the merry-making, and the only other person about the place to-night is
the boy who is looking after your horses."
"I am sorry to inconvenience you, landlord, but I must make a search. If
you're honest you will not mind the inconvenience."
"Mind!" the landlord exclaimed. "I like to see a man do his duty,
whatever that duty may be, and whatever the man's station may be."
"Spoken honestly," said Rosmore. "Watson, you will stay here. Savers,
come with me, and you come, too, landlord."
The search was a thorough one, and although Rosmore keenly watched the
landlord he could discover no sign of fear either in his face or
attitude. Watson had nothing to report when they returned to the
"Tell me, landlord, what persons of quality have you in the near
Saunders mentioned several names, amongst them Sir Peter Faulkner.
"Are we near Sir Peter's? That is good hearing. He will give me a
welcome and good cheer."
"You take the road through the village," said Saunders. "It's less than
five miles to Sir Peter's."
"We'll get on our way, then," said Rosmore. Then he turned quickly upon
the landlord. "Do you know Galloping Hermit, the highwayman?"
"Well, by name. A good many have had the misfortune of meeting him on
the West Road yonder. And, to tell the truth, sir, I believe I've seen
him once--and without the brown mask, too."
"When?" Rosmore asked sharply.
"It may be three, perhaps four, months back. A horseman galloped up to
the door, just at dusk, and called for ale. He did not dismount, and I
took the drink to him myself. There was nothing very noticeable about
him, only that his eyes were sharp and restless, and he held his head a
little sideways as if he were listening. It was the horse that took my
attention rather than the man. It was an animal, sir, you'd not meet the
likes of in a week's journey. When the horse had galloped into the
shadows of the night I said to myself, there goes the highwayman for a
"And you've never seen him since?"
"No, nor shall now, since he was hanged lately at Tyburn."
"That was a mistake, landlord. Galloping Hermit is still alive. I have
seen him to-night."
"Ay, and the horse you describe fits with the animal he was riding."
"I hope your honour was not robbed of much."
"Of nothing, my good friend," laughed Rosmore, "except of the
satisfaction of laying him by the heels."
"Still alive, is he?" said the landlord. "I cannot credit it. Maybe 'tis
someone else who wears the brown mask now, and trades on the other's
"It is not likely, and if it is so he must suffer for the other's sins,"
said Rosmore; but the idea lingered with him as he rode away from the
inn, followed by Watson and Sayers.
As they passed through the village the sound of dancing to the music of
a fiddle came from a large barn by the roadside, and a brisk trade was
being done at an ale-house over the way. Lord Rosmore had small sympathy
with the common folk and their amusements; besides, he was thinking
deeply of the landlord's suggestion. Fate seemed to have thrust certain
cards into his hand to play--cards which seemed to belong to two
separate games, and which, if he could only join them into one, might
bring him victory. How was he to join them? Somewhere there was a card
missing, a link which must be supplied. Did the landlord's suggestion
supply it? As he rode slowly forward the sound of the dancing and
laughter was gradually hushed; only the far-carrying notes of the fiddle
lingered a little longer. Lord Rosmore fancied he heard the notes long
after it was possible for him to do so. Even as Sir Peter welcomed him
presently they seemed to be sounding faintly in his ears.
In the tap-room of "The Jolly Farmers" the landlord sat staring at the
opposite wall for some time. He looked as if he were counting over and
over again the glasses and tankards which hung or stood on shelves
there, and could not get the number to his satisfaction. Once or twice
he turned his head towards the door and listened, but appeared to catch
no sound worthy of investigation. Once he got up and stepped lightly to
the parlour beyond, and looked towards the secret door which he had
opened for his guest, but he did not touch it. Satisfied that no sound
came from that direction, he went back and stared at the glasses and
tankards again. Presently he went to the inn door and looked out at the
night. There was a soft breeze singing along the road, and a multitude
of stars overhead. The breeze carried no other sound besides its own
A good two hours passed after the departure of the horsemen before the
landlord's usual energy returned. Then he went into the inner parlour
and opened the secret door. A few moments elapsed before the guest
stepped out. It seemed as if he were not quite certain of the landlord's
"Well, has he come?" he asked.
"No, but they have gone," the landlord answered. "Three horsemen who had
ridden far looking for a rebel."
"I must thank you for hiding me so securely. For your courtesy I should
tell you my name. I am--"
"Better let me stay in ignorance," said Saunders. "I am in no position
to answer questions then."
"As you will; and, truly, I am on an adventure of which I understand
little and was warned to speak of sparingly. I was to make for this inn
and inquire for a fiddler. How this fiddler fellow is to serve me I do
"Nor I," answered the landlord.
At that moment a little cadence of notes, strangely like a laugh, fell
upon their ears, and there came a fiddler into the tap-room.
"Ale, Master Boniface, ale. I could get well drunk upon the generosity
of your village yonder. See how they rewarded this fiddle of mine for
making them dance." And he held out a handful of small coins. "Ale,
then, and let it be to the brim. Has anyone inquired for a poor fellow
"This gentleman," said the landlord.
The fiddler looked steadily into the eyes of the guest for a moment, as
if he were trying to recall his face, then he bowed.
"Martin Fairley, sir, is very much at your service."
FATE AND THE FIDDLER
The stars were still bright in the deep vault above, the breeze still
had a note of singing in it, but the sound of music and dancing was
hushed in the village, and all the lights were out, when two horsemen
came through a gateway on to the road some five miles away.
Gilbert Crosby found himself in strange company. No sooner had this
queer fiddler learned that search had been made at "The Jolly Farmers"
than he refused to give any information, or listen to any explanation,
until they had put some distance between themselves and the inn. He
hurried out of the house, and in a few minutes returned with the
information that he had two horses waiting in the wood behind. Crosby's
mount was a good enough looking animal which seemed capable of carrying
him far if not fast; his companion's horse was so lean and miserable
that it seemed to bear a resemblance to the fiddle which Fairley had
slung by a string across his back. In spite of its ill-condition Crosby
wondered whether it would not be too much for the musician, who mounted
awkwardly and seemed so intent on keeping his seat that he was not able
to talk. He had grown more accustomed to the animal by the time they
came out on to the high road. They had travelled chiefly at walking
pace, by rough paths, and through woods where the tracks would have been
difficult to find even in the daytime, and impossible at night save to
one who knew them intimately.
"So we strike the road as you declared we should," said Crosby. "You
have great knowledge of the byways in this part of the country, Master
"I have travelled them, usually on foot, for many years," he answered.
"My fiddle and I go and make music in all the villages round about;
almost everybody knows me along the road. Should we be questioned, say
you fell in with me and we continued together for company."
"Trust me. I can keep a quiet tongue," Crosby returned. "Will you tell
me now where we are going, and how it is you interest yourself in me?"
"Better that you should tell me your part of the story first or I may be
giving you stale news."
"Truly, I have little to tell," Crosby said. "I am no rebel, though the
charge might with some show of reason be brought against me. To-day--or
yesterday rather, for it must be long after midnight--my house was
secretly surrounded. My servant told me when I returned in the
afternoon, and informed me also that a man was waiting to see me."
"Who was it?" Fairley asked.
"I must keep faith with him since so far he keeps faith with me. He bid
me say nothing concerning him."
A short ejaculation came from the fiddler. Perhaps his horse gave him
trouble at that moment, but it seemed to Crosby that his companion did
not believe him.
"You doubt what I say?"
"Did I say so?" asked Fairley. "I am used to strange tales, and I have
only heard a part of yours. Finish it, Mr. Crosby."
"The flight from Sedgemoor had let licence loose in the West, and I have
reason to think that I am a victim of private vengeance. Be this as it
may, my visitor had a scheme for my deliverance. He proposed facing the
enemy who had now come to the door, arranged that I should give him a
few minutes' start, and then make my way to the village from the back of
the house. I should find a horse ready for me there, and he told me to
ride to 'The Jolly Farmers,' where I was to await the coming of a
fiddler who would direct me further. He was most insistent on the exact
road I should follow, that I should leave my horse at a certain place in
the village, and reach the inn on foot. My escape was cleverly
"This man did you a service," said Fairley. "I wish I knew his name."
"I cannot tell you. I can tell you nothing further about him; but now
that I have escaped I feel rather as if I were playing a coward's part
by running away."
"Why? You are not a rebel."
"True; yet I count for something in my own neighbourhood and might
stretch out a protecting arm."
"You were caught like a rat in a hole, and would have been powerless;
whereas now you are free to fight your enemies, thanks to your strange
"You speak of him as if you doubted his existence," said Crosby with
"Doubt! I do assure you I am one of those strange fellows who see and
hear things which most folk affirm have no existence. I find doubting a
difficult matter. With ill-luck I might get burnt for a wizard. I
promise you there is more understanding in me than you would give me
credit for, and certainly I should not call such a flight as yours
"I shall be able to judge the better perhaps when I have heard your part
of the tale," said Crosby.
"That is by no means certain, for my part is as vague as yours," Fairley
answered. "You were in danger, that I knew, but the exact form of it I
was ignorant of. I was instructed to find you and bring you to a place
of safety, and was told that I should meet with you at 'The Jolly
"By this same man, I suppose?"
"No. My instructions came from a woman."
"Yes, and one who is evidently interested in your affairs," Fairley
answered. "Does your memory not serve to remind you of such a woman?"
Crosby did not answer the question. In the darkness of the road before
him he seemed to see a vision.
"What is this woman like?" He did not turn to look at his companion as
he asked the question; he hardly seemed to know that he had spoken.
"I cannot tell you; there are no words," said Fairley, in that curious
monotone which the recital of verse may give, or which constant singing
may leave in a minstrel's ordinary speech. "I cannot tell, but my fiddle
might play her to you in a rhapsody that should set the music in your
soul vibrating. There are women whose image cunning fingers may catch
with brush and pigment and limn it on canvas; there are women whose
image may be traced in burning words so that a vision of her rises
before the reader or the hearer; and there are women whose beauty can
only be told in music--the subtle music that lies in vibrating strings,
music into which a man can pour his whole soul and so make the world
understand. Such a woman is she who bid me find Gilbert Crosby and bring
him into safety."
"I know no such woman," Crosby answered. "It may seem strange to you,
Master Fairley, but women have not entered much into my world. Tell me
this woman's name."
"Nay, I had no instructions to do so."
"Shall I see her at the end of this journey?"
"She hath caprices like all women; how can I tell?"
"At least tell me whither we go."
"If you can read the stars you may know our direction," was the answer.
"Yonder is the Wain and the North Star, and low down eastwards is the
first light of a new day. We may mend our pace a little if only this
poor beast of mine has it in him to do so."
It was no great pace they travelled even when they endeavoured to
hasten. The fiddler's lean nag, either from ill-condition or over-work,
or perchance both, could do little more than amble along, falling back
into a walking pace at every opportunity. Perhaps it was as well, Crosby
thought, for the fiddler seemed strangely uneasy in the saddle, and more
than once apologised for his want of dexterity when he noticed his
companion glance at him.
"He's a sorry beast to my way of thinking, but to his thinking maybe I'm
a sorry rider. Those who have great souls to carry often have poor knees
for the gripping of a saddle."
Crosby did not answer. The vision was still before him on the road, and
he wondered whether Fate and this fiddler were leading him to his
desire. Absorbed in his dream, he let his horse, which had no speed to
boast of, suit his pace to that of the lean nag, and did not trouble to
think how quickly they must be overtaken should there be any pursuit on
the road behind them. So they rode forwards, their faces towards the
growing dawn, and Gilbert Crosby was conscious of a new hope stirring in
his soul, of an indefinable conviction that to-night was a pilgrimage, a
journeying out of the past into the future.
"He rides well surely who rides towards the coming day," said Fairley
suddenly, breaking a long silence. Crosby felt that it was true, and
that his own thoughts had found expression.
* * * * *
The night brought no vision to Barbara Lanison, only a restless turning
to and fro upon her bed and a wild chaos of mingled doubts and fears
which defied all her efforts to bring them into order. There were still
many guests at the Abbey, but she saw little of them except at a
distance. She had begged her uncle to excuse her presence, and he had
merely bowed to her wishes without commenting upon them. He may have
been angry with her, but since she had heard him laughing and jesting
with his companions as they passed through the hall, or went along the
terrace, she concluded that her absence did not greatly trouble him.
There were guests at the Abbey now who hardly knew her, some who did not
know her at all, and she was missed so little by Mrs. Dearmer and her
friends that they no longer troubled to laugh at her. She was as she had
been before her visit to London, only that now she understood more; she
was no longer a child. She had not seen Sydney Fellowes again before his
departure, but she had no anger in her heart against him. He had
insulted her, but it was done under the influence of wine, and in
reality he was perchance more genuinely her friend than any other guest
who frequented the Abbey. Had he not said that this was no home for her?
Lord Rosmore she had seen for a few moments before he had set out to
join the militia marching westward. He was courtly in his manner when he
bid her farewell, declared that she would know presently that he had
only interfered to save her from a scoundrel, and he left her with the
assurance that he was always at her command. Barbara hardly knew whether
he were her friend or foe. Sir Philip Branksome had left Aylingford full
of the doughty deeds which were to be done by him, but it was whispered
that he was still in London, talking loudly in coffee-house and tavern.
Judge Marriott had hurried back to town, thirsting to take a part in
punishing these rebels, but before he went he had made opportunity to
whisper to Barbara: "Should there be a rebel who has a claim on your
sympathy, Mistress Lanison, though he be as black as the devil's dam,
yet he shall go free if you come and look at me to plead for him. Gad!
for the sake of your pretty eyes, I would not injure him though the King
himself stood at my elbow to insist." Barbara could do no less than
thank him, and felt that he was capable of perjuring himself to any
extent to realise his own ends, and wondered if there were any
circumstances which could bring her to plead for mercy to Judge
Mad Martin had gone, too, with his fiddle under his arm. "Folks will
marry for all there is fighting in the West," he had said, "and my
fiddle and I must be there to play for them." He had said no more about
Gilbert Crosby, had probably forgotten by this time that she had ever
mentioned the name with interest. Half dreamer, half madman, what could
he do? With a fiddle-bow for his only weapon he was a poor ally, and yet
he seemed to be the only true friend she possessed.
Barbara was very lonely, and more and more she was persuaded that
Aylingford Abbey was a different place from that which, through all her
childhood until now, she had considered it. Something evil hung like a
veil over its beauty, an evil that must surely touch her if she remained
there. She was impelled to run away from it, yet whither could she go?
Could she explain the evil? Could she put into words what she was afraid
of? The world would laugh at her, even as Mrs. Dearmer did, or label her
a wench of Puritan stock, as her aunt, Lady Bolsover, was inclined to
do. She must talk to Martin, who had taught her so many things; but even
Martin was away fiddling at some festival that rustics might dance.
Barbara was disposed to resent his absence at a time when she wanted him
Yesterday she had heard some guests talking of the fight on Sedgemoor as
they walked to and fro on the terrace below the window. Monmouth was
defeated and flying for his life, and the heavy hand of King James would
certainly fall swiftly on the country folk of the West. Would it fall
upon the man who had come to her rescue at Newgate? Certainly it would
be stretched out against him were he such a man as Lord Rosmore declared
him to be.
Wearied out with much thinking, Barbara fell asleep towards morning, and
the sun was high, flooding the terrace with light and warmth, when she
Later, she went across the ruins to the door in the tower. Martin might
have returned in the night. The door was still locked. It was always
locked when Martin was away from the Abbey, and he took the key with
She went back slowly along the terrace, and, from sheer loneliness, she
was tempted to forsake her solitude and join the guests. There was a
group of them now at the end of the terrace, and Barbara's step had
quickened in that direction when she heard Mrs. Dearmer laugh. She
shuddered, and went no farther. Utter loneliness was far preferable to
that woman's company.
The day seemed to drag more heavily than any which had preceded it.
Surely there had never been such long hours and so many hours in a day
before! The sunshine was out of keeping with her mood, and it was almost
a relief to her when the afternoon became overcast and the haze on the
distant hills spoke of rain. The sound of rain was on the terrace
presently, the stone flags grew dark with the wet, and the woods became
sombre and deeply mysterious. A light still lingered in the west, low
down and angry looking, but the night fell early over the Abbey. Candles
had been burning in Barbara's room for a long time when a faint cadence
of notes struck upon her ear. She knew it well, and the sound gladdened
her so that she laughed as she threw open the window. Her laughter was
like a musical echo of the notes.
"Martin!" she said, leaning from the casement and looking down on the
There was no answer. She looked to right and left, but only the shadows
of the night lay still and unmoving. Had the sound been fancy? She
closed the casement and shivered a little as though she had heard a
ghost; then there came a knock at her door.
She opened it quickly and stood back.
"It is you, then?"
"Did you not hear my fiddle smile? No, it was not a laugh to-night; I
was afraid someone else might hear it. Will you come to the tower? I
like to sit in my own room when I come back from making the folks laugh
and dance and helping them to be happy."
"Well, Martin, have you nothing to tell me?"
Now that he had come back, advice was not what she asked for, but news.
"We always have much to talk of--always--you and I."
"But to-night, Martin, especially to-night. Ah! you have forgotten."
"Very likely," he answered. "I do forget a great many things. But come
to my room in the tower; I may remember when I get there."
"No, Martin, not to-night," she said.
"I may remember," he repeated; "and, besides, why should you be less
kind to me? I always look forward to my own room and you."
There was a tone of sadness in his voice, and she was angry with herself
for occasioning it. Because she was sad, was that a reason why she
should make this poor fellow miserable? Would he not do anything to
serve her which fell within the power of the poor wits God had given
"I will come," she said.
"You must wrap a thick cloak about you," said Martin. "It is raining
She left him for a moment and quickly returned, closely wrapped up.
"Tread lightly," said Martin. "I always like to think that these
evenings when you come to my tower are secret meetings, that the world
must not know of them. I pretend sometimes that we are followed, and
must go warily."
They reached the terrace by a small door, and went quickly through the
ruins to the tower. The door was still locked. Martin had evidently only
just returned to the Abbey, and had not yet entered his tower.
"Give me your hand up the stairs," he said.
"Why, Martin, I must know every turn in them as well as you do," she
"It is my fancy to-night," he said. "Give me your hand. So. I have a
dream of a valiant knight, famous in war and tourney, one whom fine
Back to Full Books