The Brown Mask
Percy J. Brebner
Part 3 out of 6
ladies turn to glance after and desire that he should wear their favour.
Only one fair maid heeds him not, and ever the knight's eyes look
towards her. Whenever he draws his sword, or sets his lance in rest, he
whispers her name; for him she is the one woman in all the world. And
suddenly there comes to her the knowledge of his worth; I know not how
it comes, but she understands, and then--The dream ends then, yet
to-night it seems to linger for an instant. This dark stair leads to
some beautiful palace. You are the woman of the dream, the most
beautiful woman in the world; and for just a moment I stand a valiant
knight--your knight--and welcome you to all I possess."
His voice was little above a whisper. She could not see his face, but in
the dark her hand was raised and lips touched it.
"After all, it's a narrow winding stair, and leads to a meagre chamber
where lives a poor fellow who loves his fiddle. Come."
The room was in darkness, but Martin guided her to a chair.
"Wait; we will have candles, four of them to-night, and we will pretend
we keep high festival. See, mistress, how bright the room is; there are
scarcely any dark shadows in it at all."
She turned to look, and then a little cry came from her parted lips.
Before her, his eyes fixed upon her, stood the man who had come to her
rescue at Newgate.
"You see, mistress, I did not forget," said Martin; and, taking up his
fiddle from a table, he went out, closing the door softly behind him.
There came a little cadence of notes--the laugh of the fiddle. Somehow
there was the sound of wailing rather than of laughter in it to-night.
THE FUGITIVE AT AYLINGFORD
Barbara Lanison suddenly remembered how much she had thought of the man
who stood before her. For the first time she realised that not a day had
passed but those grey eyes had seemed to look into hers, even as they
did now; that the hours were few into which his image had not come. This
meeting was so unexpected, she was so entirely unprepared for it, that
she was taken at a disadvantage. It seemed to her that this man must
surely know how much he had been in her thoughts, must be reading her
like an open book. Her eyes fell, and the colour rushed into her cheeks.
"Why has Martin gone?" she said, turning to the door to recall him, and
whatever sense of confusion she experienced, there was a dignity in her
movement, and a tone of annoyance in her voice, which showed Crosby that
she was proud, and seemed to prove that just now she was angry as well.
"Won't you at least let me thank you for your help?" he asked, taking a
step towards her.
"It was nothing," she answered. "By chance I learnt your name, by chance
I heard you were in danger, and I sent you a warning. I was in your
debt, and I like to pay what I owe."
"You have done that with interest."
"Tell me, why are you here?" she asked.
"Indeed, madam, to answer that question I have need of Martin, too, for
he brought me."
"I do not understand, Mr. Crosby--you are Mr. Gilbert Crosby, are you
"Yes; and I do not understand, either," he answered. "I have been under
the guidance of Fate and a fiddler, and it would appear that the
fiddler, at any rate, has played some trick with me, for I do assure you
that he made me suppose he was doing your bidding in bringing me here."
"We call him 'Mad Martin,'" she said with a little laugh. "Will you tell
me his tale? It should be interesting, though I fear it must greatly
have misled you."
She turned from the door as she spoke, and sat down by the table.
Perhaps it was as well Martin had gone, for there was no guessing what
he had told this stranger, nor how far he might call upon her to support
his action were he asked suddenly for an explanation.
"It would also be interesting to me to learn who you are, and where I
am," said Crosby with a smile.
"You do not know? You have forgotten?" Barbara exclaimed.
"I have not so poor a memory as that," he answered, "and will you deem
it presumptuous in me when I say that I hoped it might be you who had
rendered me this service? I did not know until Martin lit those candles
and you turned towards me. Within a few hours of my seeing you at
Newgate I was called away from London. I had no opportunity of making
inquiry about you."
"There was no reason why you should," she answered.
"You did not forbid me to do so."
"Indeed, no. I had small chance to do that," Barbara returned. "You
disappeared so quickly and mysteriously."
"I had seen you to your friends--why should I wait?"
"If for nothing else, to be thanked. I wondered whether you had
recognised an enemy in the neighbourhood of my aunt's coach."
He laughed, but whether at the suggestion, or at her method of trying to
draw a confession from him, it was impossible to tell.
"Did you see the highwayman and thank him, as you proposed?" Barbara
"I did, and now it seems he was not this famous Galloping Hermit, after
For a moment she was silent, recollecting that she had speculated
whether this man himself might not be the wearer of the brown mask.
"I am Barbara Lanison," she said suddenly, "niece to Sir John Lanison of
"Am I in Aylingford Abbey?" Crosby asked.
"A queer little corner of it appropriated by Martin Fairley. You seem
"Indeed, I am. I have passed through many surprises during the last few
hours, not the least of them being that this is Aylingford, and that you
are astonished to see me."
"Perhaps it would be well to tell me your story before Martin returns.
You must not forget that he is half a madman, and sometimes talks
Crosby told her the manner of his escape from Lenfield, as he had told
it to Fairley; and if Barbara Lanison did not so obviously disbelieve it
as the fiddler had done, her eyes were full of questioning. He explained
how "The Jolly Farmers" had been searched, and how he and Martin had
ridden away together in the night.
"He told me that he had been bidden by a woman to bring me into a place
of safety, and he brought me here. He would tell me nothing more."
"He did not even try and picture the woman for you?"
"Only his fiddle could do that, he declared."
"You see how foolish he is," said Barbara.
"I do not find any great sign of folly in that," Crosby answered.
"I was thinking of your journey, sir. I told Martin to find you if he
could and warn you; that was all I bid him do."
"And my coming has displeased you," said Crosby. "I will go on the
instant if it be your will."
"No, no; it is my will that you tell me the remainder of the story."
"There is no more to tell."
"You have not told me who the man was who helped you to escape from your
manor at Lenfield," said Barbara.
"He desired me not to speak of him, and I must keep faith."
"Yet he told you of Martin."
"He spoke only of a fiddler," said Crosby.
"Have I no means of persuading you to tell me his name?" she said,
leaning a little across the table towards him, with a look of pleading
in her eyes. Most men would have found the temptation difficult to
"I do not think you would try any means to make a man break his
promise," Crosby said.
The grey eyes looked straight into hers, and the voice had that little
tone of sternness in it which she had noted that day at Newgate.
"Perhaps not," she said; "but it is provoking. To have a nameless
partner in such an affair as this is to have more mystery than I care
"Did you ever hear of a Mr. Sydney Fellowes?"
"So you have told me after all," she said, disappointment in her voice.
He was not the strong man she supposed him to be--merely one a woman
could cajole at her ease. She was too disappointed in him to realise at
once how strange it was that he should speak of Sydney Fellowes.
"No, this is another friend," he answered quietly, conscious of what was
passing in her mind.
"I know Mr. Fellowes," Barbara said, her brow clearing. "Not many days
since he was here at the Abbey."
"He came to see me, but since I was away from home he left a letter
warning me that I had enemies. He, too, had been commissioned by someone
to warn me."
"Not by me," said Barbara. "Surely you must have been acting unwisely,
Mr. Crosby, to have so many enemies?"
"It is the number of my friends which astonishes me more," he returned.
"I am wondering what it was you heard about me which made you send to
"It concerned the Duke of Monmouth, and was not to your credit," Barbara
"Yet you have helped me."
"I did not believe what was said. Besides, I was in your debt."
"These are times when one must speak with caution if one would dwell in
safety," said Crosby. "Whoever accused me of being a supporter of the
Duke of Monmouth spoke falsely, yet it is possible that he believed
himself justified. I went to see Monmouth at Bridgwater."
"With a hope that I might persuade him to turn back from certain ruin,
and so mitigate the misery which he must bring upon the West Country. My
pity was rather for the simple peasants than for Monmouth, perhaps; but
I know the Duke well, and in the past have been his close friend. You
see, your informant may have had some reason for his accusation."
"Then you are for King James?" questioned Barbara. She could not help
remembering that the man before her had been classed with those cowards
who will betray friends and foes alike so that their own purposes are
served and their own safety secured. Was Gilbert Crosby almost
confessing to as much?
"I stand apart, taking neither side," he answered. "Believe me, Mistress
Lanison, I am only one of many in England to-day who do the same. They
are loyal subjects so long as the King remains true to his coronation
"I suppose some might call them cowards and time-servers," she said. She
was not deeply learned in politics, and was inclined to let the personal
qualities of a man make her hero, no matter which side he fought for. To
stand aside and take no part at all always seemed to her rather
cowardly. It appeared such an easy way out of a difficulty.
"Some undoubtedly do call them so," Crosby admitted with a shrug of his
shoulders, "and perhaps the fact that they are able to hear the
accusation and remain unmoved proves them brave men. Still, I feel
something like a coward to-night."
"I am wondering whether I ought to have left Lenfield. It is probable
that, had I remained, I should have been arrested, perhaps hanged on the
nearest tree without trial or question; but, since I am free, my
presence in the West might do something to help these poor folk who will
most certainly suffer bitterly for the rebellion."
"What can you do?"
"Truly, I do not know. Assist a few miserable wretches to escape from a
brutal soldiery, perhaps--that is all I can think of; but I may see
other ways of helping once I am back again. Cannot you advise me? A
woman often sees more clearly than a man."
"To advise well, one must know more," said Barbara. "Of you I know
little, except what I have heard, and, truly, that would give me a poor
opinion of you."
"You have said that you did not believe it."
"Still, you have told me nothing to strengthen that belief," she
returned quickly. "There is something more than merely a woman's
curiosity in this, for, truly, I am set in the midst of difficulties.
Listen! That is Martin on the stairs."
"It is not your will that I leave Aylingford to-night, then?"
"It is poor weather to start upon a journey. Besides, you are Martin's
guest, not mine, and--"
The door opened, and Martin entered.
"It is late, mistress. I must see you along the terrace."
"I had not thought of the time," Barbara said, rising quickly and
folding her cloak round her.
"There are certain hours in life one does not stay to count," Martin
answered, "but they burn candles, for all that. See how much these have
lessened since I lighted them."
"I am glad, Martin, that you have brought your guest to a safe place,"
said Barbara. "Good-night, Mr. Crosby. Perhaps to-morrow you will tell
The door closed, and Crosby was alone. Indeed, there was much more to
tell, but the telling was not all for him to do. What was it Barbara
Lanison had heard of him which had evidently impressed her unfavourably,
although it was perhaps against her will, and who had told her these
things? Then, too, this fiddler must be made to speak clearly, for he
must surely know a great deal.
Martin Fairley quickly returned, and closed and locked the door.
"There must be some explanation between us," said Crosby. "This lady did
not expect me."
"Are you sure of that?"
"She told me so."
"Ah! that is a different matter," Fairley returned sharply. "What kind
of a welcome did you expect? Have you done aught to win a more tender
"I have done much to anger her by coming here," answered Crosby.
"You were not quarrelling when I entered just now. She spoke of
to-morrow. Does a woman leave anything for the morrow if she has no
interest in that morrow? You would make a poor lover, Master Crosby."
"To my knowledge I have not been cast for the part."
"We shall see," said Martin, "It's a poor fire that will not boil a
kettle, and she's a poor woman who cannot make a man love her if she
will. There's to-morrow, and after that you and I may talk a little more
freely, perhaps. For to-night I only want sleep. I can fiddle from dusk
to dawn and forget that I have not closed my eyes, but a night in the
saddle--ah! my poor knees, Master Crosby! I was never meant for a
horseman." And he laughed, the same notes in the laugh as came from the
fiddle when it laughed.
He was half a madman--Barbara Lanison had said so--and Crosby was
convinced that there was little information to be got out of him, either
then or at any other time.
The next morning broke grey and sombre over Aylingford, yet Barbara woke
to find the world brighter and more interesting than she had found it
for a long time; perhaps it had never been quite so bright before. And
yet there were clouds in it, wreaths of doubt which would not clear
away. She must know more of this man Gilbert Crosby before she trusted
him fully--and she wanted to trust him. Martin had told her many things
in the past; she had meant to ask Martin whether she ought to stay at
Aylingford; now she had a desire to take her fears to Gilbert Crosby. He
had seemed so strong that day at Newgate; ever since then she had grown
to believe more and more that he was a man to be relied upon in trouble,
and last night--was she a little disappointed in him?
"I have expected so much," she said to herself. "Perhaps a man is never
all that a woman expects him to be."
She went early to the tower, almost afraid that he might have gone in
the night. He was there, and Martin left them much together that day. In
the afternoon they sat side by side on one of the broken pieces of
masonry in the ruins, while Martin lounged by the door opening on to the
terrace; and there was little of Crosby's life that Barbara had not been
told before the dusk came. She did not question that he had told her the
truth. And much about herself Barbara told him, but not yet of the evil
which hung over Aylingford. She could not tell him that yet, and there
was time enough, for she had advised that he should remain at the Abbey
for a little while.
"I believe your enemies are private ones, and would only use this
rebellion against you as a means to an end," she said. "When it is known
that you took no part with Monmouth you will be free to deal with your
"You are not angry that I came, then?"
"No; and, besides, you may perchance do me a great service."
"How? Only tell me how," he whispered, and there was a new note in his
voice which sent a thrill into her very soul and yet made her shrink
from him a little.
"To-morrow--perhaps to-morrow I will tell you."
So the clouds of doubt were driven away, and yet they returned again as
she sat in her room that evening, for she would not go again to the
tower until to-morrow. Someone might have seen her go in that direction
and wondered why she had spent so many hours in the ruins. She was angry
with herself for allowing such doubts to enter her mind, but, try as she
would, she could not force them out.
There came a knock upon her door presently, and a servant entered to
request that she would go to Sir John.
"He is in his own room," said the servant, "and bid me say that he was
waiting for you."
It was so unusual for her uncle to send for her that Barbara wondered
what had happened to make her immediate presence necessary. Had Sir John
found out that there was a visitor in the tower, and wished to question
her? As she went she endeavoured to make up her mind what she should say
if Gilbert Crosby's presence at Aylingford were the reason she was sent
Sir John's room opened out of the great hall. It was of fair
proportions, panelled from floor to ceiling and lighted by three long
windows with leaded glass and stone mullions. At one end was a huge
fireplace, looking cold and empty in summer-time, and over it, and
elsewhere in the room, branches for candles were fixed in the wall. Only
the candles over the fireplace were lighted to-night, and much of the
room was in shadow. Curtains hung across the entrance door.
"You sent for me," said Barbara as she parted them, and then she
stopped, her hands still grasping the curtains.
Her uncle rose from the writing table beside which he was seated,
although it was evident he had not been writing; but it was not upon him
her eyes were fixed, but upon the man who turned from the fireplace and
bowed low to her.
It was Lord Rosmore!
BARBARA HELPS TO CLOSE A DOOR
There was no doubt in Barbara's mind that the presence of Lord Rosmore
at Aylingford boded no good to the man who was at that moment in the
tower across the ruins. She was to be questioned concerning him. What
was she to say that could be the truth while not harming him?
In Lord Rosmore's mind there was no doubt that the woman before him,
framed by the curtains which she held, was very beautiful, a possession
much to be desired. There was nothing on earth he would not do to make
her his own. It was a vow he had registered before; he registered it
anew as he stood erect and Barbara advanced into the room.
"You are back sooner than I expected from the West, Lord Rosmore," said
"Lord Rosmore comes upon a grave matter," said Sir John, and his face
was serious enough to give his words ample meaning, "a matter that
concerns us all. I fear there are days of trouble in front of us, and I
am too old for such things."
"Your uncle takes too melancholy a view of a circumstance which was
beyond his control," said Rosmore.
"Beyond it--yes, but can I prove that it was so?" asked Sir John.
"There are many ways," said Rosmore. "Sir John, Mistress Barbara, would
have you sent for, although I begged him not to disturb you. I had
mentioned your name--I could hardly help doing so--but with no intention
of dragging you into a matter with which you have really nothing to do."
"Tell her, Rosmore," said Sir John. "She may have more concern in it
than you imagine."
"Rebellion brings many things in its train, Mistress Barbara--the
hunting and punishment of those who rebel, for instance; unfortunately,
some of this hunting has fallen to my lot," said Rosmore, and he had the
air of gently concealing some of the horrors he had witnessed from his
fair listener. "I was commanded to arrest one Gilbert Crosby, of
Lenfield, and it was in speaking of him that I mentioned your name. You
will remember that we spoke of him on one occasion."
"I remember. It was you who told me his name," said Barbara; and,
whatever fears were in her mind, she spoke with absolute indifference.
"As I told you then, he is a man of most contemptible character,"
Rosmore went on, "a cowardly enemy and a dangerous friend. And he is
something more. We surrounded his house at Lenfield; we saw him enter,
and then I rode to the door, demanding to see him. The servant went to
call him, and returned to say she could not find him. A few moments
later he appeared from the direction of the stables, mounted on the most
splendid animal I have ever seen. Cantering across the open park, he
eluded our pursuit by putting his horse at a fence that I should have
sworn was impossible to take had I not seen that animal take it. It was
a marvellous leap, and I grant you this man is no mean horseman; but,
Mistress Barbara, his outward appearance was changed. For the time being
he was no longer Gilbert Crosby, the rebel, but Galloping Hermit, the
highwayman, and wore a brown mask."
"I would I had seen the leap," said Barbara impulsively as a child might
say it; and both men, who knew her love for horses, heard nothing but
genuine excitement in her remark. It concealed her real thoughts. If
this story were true, Gilbert Crosby had deceived her.
"We followed him, but not over the fence," said Rosmore, "and a long,
stern chase began. We had no horse amongst us to match the highwayman's.
He could have left us behind sooner than he did, but he was playing a
cunning game. I divided my men, and whilst some followed him, I and two
stout fellows turned aside with the object of cutting him off when he
doubled on his tracks, as I was convinced he would do."
"You take a great while coming to the point," grumbled Sir John.
"Indeed, uncle, I think Lord Rosmore tells the story most excellently,"
said Barbara. "I am all excitement to know with what success you met."
"We failed to take him," said Rosmore. "There was no choice left but to
let him go, and I admit I was disappointed as I rode through the
village, close to an inn we had searched, on my way to beg a night's
entertainment from my friend, Sir Philip Faulkner. There was some kind
of feast in the village, and in a barn by the roadside there was dancing
going on to the scraping of a fiddle. I have no soul for music, but the
notes of that fiddle haunted my sleep that night and all the next day as
I rode back to Lenfield. At Lenfield I understood why. That little
sequence of notes was familiar to me. You must often have heard it
yourself. I was convinced that the fiddler was none other than Martin
"Martin!" exclaimed Barbara. "Surely he would not be so far afield?"
"I asked myself the same question," said Rosmore, "and I acted promptly
as well. I have often warned Sir John that there was method in Martin's
madness, and in this case, at any rate, I was right. Yesterday Martin
travelled back towards Aylingford in company with a stranger. Unless I
am in error, that stranger was Gilbert Crosby, otherwise known as
Galloping Hermit, and I have taken care to guard every road of escape
from the Abbey to-night."
"Certainly a wise precaution," said Barbara quietly; "but how does it
"Can you swear that you did not send Martin to bring this fellow to
Aylingford?" said Sir John. "You certainly had some interest in this man
Crosby, and Martin would try and do your bidding if you asked him to
fetch you the moon."
"My interest was surely natural," Barbara answered, "for I assure you I
was in an unpleasant situation at Newgate when this man came to my
rescue--Lord Rosmore has doubtless told you the circumstances--but I
certainly did not send Martin to bring this man to Aylingford."
She laughed lightly as though the mere suggestion were absurd. So far
she could answer honestly, but she dreaded the next question.
"I do not suppose my niece would do such a thing," returned Sir John,
"but the world is hardly likely to have the same faith in her. I warrant
even you have your doubts, Lord Rosmore."
"I assure you, Mistress Barbara, your uncle has no reason to suggest
such a thing," said Rosmore. "As I have said, I am told off for
unpleasant duty, and that duty has brought me to Aylingford to arrest a
rebel, and compels me also to arrest Martin for assisting a rebel."
"Poor Martin! A madman!" said Barbara.
"I have much doubt as to his madness," was the answer, "but you have
only to persist, and those doubts shall vanish. If you desire it, Martin
shall escape--you have my word for that."
Barbara was alert. She was prepared to have traps set for her, and had
no intention of stepping into them if she could help it.
"That is generous of you, Lord Rosmore," she said, thanking him with a
curtsy, "but I would not ask you to neglect your duty."
"Nonsense, child," said Sir John, who seemed irritated by this bandying
of words. "You talk ignorantly. For my part I am most anxious that Lord
Rosmore should not do his whole duty. If he did, he would report
Aylingford Abbey and ourselves suspect. I am most desirous that he
should remember friendship as well as duty--indeed, I have already urged
this upon him."
"That is true, but Sir John is too anxious in this matter."
"You know perfectly well that I am justified in that anxiety," Sir John
returned. "The King is as bitter, even more bitter, against those who
assist rebels than against the rebels themselves. This fool Martin has
brought disaster to our doors, and we have got to meet it promptly. It
is well that you should understand this clearly, Barbara," he went on,
turning to his niece. "No one will believe that Martin has acted
entirely by himself in this matter, and since you have confessed some
interest in this fellow Crosby, you are suspect, let Lord Rosmore hide
the fact as he will."
"Bear me witness, this is your uncle's declaration, not mine," said
"It is a hard fact, that is what concerns us," said Sir John; "and it
becomes necessary to prove beyond question that we are heart and soul
for King James. There is one way that you may easily do so, Barbara. You
will remember a conversation I had with you recently concerning Lord
Rosmore. He wished--"
"I pray you, Sir John, this is not the moment to thrust my wishes upon
"I say it is," was the sharp answer. "I have wit enough to see the
safest road, and to take it. Since it is also a pleasant road, why
should there be any hesitation or delay?"
Rosmore shrugged his shoulders, and with a helpless glance at Barbara
turned to contemplate the great iron dogs in the fireplace, kicking a
log which lay there with some impatience. The conversation had taken a
turn which was not to his liking, it seemed.
"You remember the conversation to which I refer, Barbara?"
"Lord Rosmore has done us the honour to ask your hand in marriage. My
own satisfaction may have made me a little too hasty in telling you. You
were naturally unprepared, and, womanlike, were inclined to resent any
idea of being forced into a marriage. Since then, however, you have had
time to consider the matter. You may guess my own feelings concerning
such an alliance. From the moment Lord Rosmore spoke to me I have seen
nothing but advantage in it. Now, there is an additional reason why your
answer should not be delayed. Affianced to Lord Rosmore, whose whole
interests lie with the King, no one would dare suggest that you had had
the slightest sympathy for a rebel, or that Aylingford had ever
willingly opened its gates to a fugitive from Monmouth's rabble army.
Martin's indiscretion puts you in danger. If by some careless word you
are responsible for that indiscretion, which may very likely be the
case, you are in grave danger. Rosmore is not here alone, and though he
may be silent, other tongues will wag. Is it not so, my lord?"
"I do not wish to bias your niece," Rosmore answered, without turning
from the fireplace.
Barbara was in a hard case. The man in the tower was trapped; Martin,
too, would be arrested. By a word she could save Martin; possibly Lord
Rosmore might be induced to let Crosby also slip through his fingers. If
she consented to marry him she felt that she might persuade him to
anything. The thought brought a quick reaction. If she could persuade
him to anything, he was not a man to trust. Duty should come first, no
matter how insidiously a woman might tempt. She did not trust Rosmore.
She remembered the evil in his face that night in the hall when she had
stood between him and Sydney Fellowes. She remembered Gilbert Crosby;
his grey eyes seemed to look into hers at this moment. He must be
"I think you exaggerate the danger, uncle," she said quietly. "Surely a
madman's folly is not sufficient to condemn us?"
"I have told you the truth. Ask Lord Rosmore."
"Will you tell me, please?"
"Sir John forces my hand," said Rosmore, turning quickly towards her.
For an instant he seemed angry, but his face softened as he looked at
her. "I am torn between love and duty. Sir John speaks truly. Another in
my place to-night, one who had only his duty to consider, would probably
arrest both you and your uncle on suspicion, and you would have to prove
your innocence as best you might. King James is determined to trample
out this rebellion, and even some innocent persons may suffer."
Barbara did not speak when he paused. She had glanced at her uncle and
wondered whether this might be some plot between these two to force her
to this marriage. She distrusted her uncle as much as, if not more than,
she did Lord Rosmore.
"If I consent?" she said.
Rosmore made a step towards her, and Sir John looked up quickly. They
were suddenly as men who had played a desperate game and won.
"I said 'If,'" and she shrank back a little, unconscious how beautiful
she looked in that moment.
"Consent to be my wife, and there is nothing that you can ask me that I
will not do--nothing. Do you understand--nothing?"
"And if I say 'No'?"
Anger came back into Rosmore's face for an instant, but it was gone in a
"Even so I could not do my duty," he said slowly. "I should ask that
another might take my place, and then--"
"Then the heavy hand of the King upon us," said Sir John.
"I must think. You cannot expect me to answer now, at once," said
"Duty may not wait," said Sir John.
"You shall have my answer to-morrow, Lord Rosmore," Barbara said. "I
must have the night to decide. Duty does not compel you to march Mad
Martin from Aylingford to-night."
"I will give you until to-morrow," he answered.
Barbara curtsied low and turned to the door.
Rosmore drew back the curtains for her, and as she passed out whispered:
"I love you, sweetheart. Say 'Yes' to-morrow."
"Will she consent, think you?" Sir John asked as Rosmore came slowly
back across the room.
"I think so; yes, I think so."
"I spoke sufficiently?" questioned Sir John.
"You were excellently diplomatic. Were she a woman easily frightened
there would be no doubt of her answer. Your guests in the Abbey, Sir
John, must not know of my presence here, nor that the place is watched
"You are sure that Martin brought this man Crosby to Aylingford?"
"Why not take him to-night, quietly?" said Sir John. "If he is with
Martin, he is probably in the old tower by the ruins. Is he most rebel
or most highwayman?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because, if he is most highwayman, you might influence Barbara's answer
to-morrow by letting him escape."
"I have thought of it, but--"
"My niece and a highwayman! She may be romantic, my lord, but she is not
"Gad! Sir John, you are lost here in Hampshire; you should be beside the
King to advise him. If we let him go to-morrow, this knight of the road
may easily meet with an accident. In my company it should not be
difficult to find a man or two who can shoot straight. Your niece's
romance might prove inconvenient to me if Galloping Hermit were still in
the land of the living."
"Settle that as you will," said Sir John, "but arrest him to-night."
As soon as the door had closed behind her Barbara crossed the hall
quickly; but she did not return to her own apartments. She had made her
plans while she listened to her uncle and Lord Rosmore. Now, she hurried
along a corridor to a small door opening on to the terrace, hardly ever
used except by herself when she went to talk to Martin in the tower.
Between it and the ruins there was not much of the terrace to travel,
and the shadows were deep. The sharpest eyes might fail to see a moving
figure amongst them. Barbara ran lightly, her skirts gathered from her
feet, and, entering the ruins, went quickly to the tower. The door was
shut, but not locked, and she mounted the winding stairs to Martin's
room. It was in darkness.
"Martin!" she called softly, but there was no answer.
Had Crosby got knowledge of his danger, and gone? Even now he might be
in the hands of his enemies, for were not all the ways of escape watched
to-night? What could she do?
She stood for a few moments undecided how to act. She must not be found
there by her uncle or Lord Rosmore who might seek her there if by chance
they discovered that she had not returned to her own rooms. Almost
certainly they would have her watched to-night. Yet she must stay to
warn Martin and Gilbert Crosby, if by chance they were still ignorant of
their danger. It would never do for them to be caught in the tower, from
which there was no hope of escape.
There was a small landing outside the room. At the top of the winding
stairs there was a door, fastened back by a clamp, and Barbara had never
known this door to be shut. Another winding stair led to the flat roof
of the tower, where Martin often spent hours, reading the future in the
stars, he said. She went to the roof now, but it was empty, and she came
down again quickly. Perhaps they were sitting in the ruins, and had not
heard her. She would go and see. As she descended a sound came to
her--running feet--and through one of the narrow slits which gave a dim
light to the stairs in daytime she discerned two men crossing the ruins.
It was so dark in the tower that she could see them easily. They were
not half-way across when other men came running from the terrace, but
the fugitives could easily have reached the tower and closed the door
upon their pursuers had not one of them caught his foot and fallen. It
was Gilbert Crosby; he did not know every stone as Martin did. He was on
his feet again directly, but the advantage had been lost. Barbara went
down a little farther until she was just hidden by the first bend in the
stairs. There was the sudden clash of steel, and a pistol-shot rang out
upon the night. All was confusion in the doorway just below her. Then
two men came up slowly, and backwards, thrusting downwards as they came,
and more than one groan told that the steel had done its work.
"Be ready to rush when I give the word," Martin whispered; "then, at the
top, make a stand--we must close the door there somehow."
The stairs were too narrow for two men to fight side by side. Martin
was a step or two below his companion, and it was no longer a fiddle bow
which he held in his hand. It was doubtful whether he had ever used his
bow so well as he used a sword to-night.
Barbara leaned down.
"I am here, Mr. Crosby. I came to warn you," she whispered. "I know the
door. Tell Martin."
She went up quickly. The clamp which held the door back at the head of
the stairs was stiff, but with her weight thrown against the woodwork to
ease the pressure she managed to unfasten it. The door creaked loudly as
she drew it forward. Possibly Martin heard the noise, for a moment later
he shouted, and he and Crosby rushed on to the landing.
"Into the room, mistress," Martin whispered, as he swung the door to and
shot the bolt. "It won't hold long, but long enough." Then he followed
them quickly into his room and locked the door.
Two men lay on the narrow stairs grievously hurt, and there was blood
flowing from a cut on the face of another man as he threw himself
against the door at the top, bent on settling a score rather than taking
a rebel. He cursed and called to those below him.
"It is a small matter," said Rosmore. "It shuts us out, but it shuts
"The door will not take much breaking down," said Sir John; "the rot of
years must be in it."
There was some delay while a heavy bar was found with which to attack
the door, and a light to see by. The door at the head of the stairs soon
yielded, but that of the room was another matter. It was of stout oak,
and Sir John seemed to think that Martin might be persuaded to open it.
"Martin! Martin!" he called, knocking as he did so. There was movement
within, but no answer. "Martin! This riot is no concern of yours. Open!
I have a message for you from Mistress Barbara."
Again there was movement within, and someone spoke in a low voice, but
Sir John got no answer.
"Your madman is defiant," said Rosmore. "We shall have to teach him
better manners. We must break in the door, Sir John."
The first blow of the bar fell heavily, and there came a sudden answer,
a quick sequence of notes--the laugh of the fiddle--then silence. Blow
upon blow followed quickly, but there was no answering sound from
"Beat where the lock is," said Rosmore. "It gives there, I think; and be
on the defensive, Sir John. We have certainly one desperate man to deal
with--I think two."
With a crash the lock suddenly gave way, and the door swung open; but no
rush of attack came out of the darkness. One man carried the light in
and held it high above his head. There was no movement, no sound.
The room was empty!
THE WAY OF ESCAPE
"That was warm work while it lasted," said Martin as he locked the door.
"They will easily break the first door, but this, at any rate, is good
stout oak, and will keep them out for a little while. Wait; I will light
"We have no way of escape, so they may take what time they will," said
Crosby, and then, as the candle shed a dim light in the room, he turned
to Barbara. "How can I thank you?--yet I would you were not here. My
coming to Aylingford has brought you grievous trouble."
"There was trouble before you came; it does not seem to me much greater
now," she answered.
"Spoken like a philosopher," said Martin, laying his sword on the table
beside the fiddle and the bow.
"And, truly, Martin, you fight like a soldier," said Barbara.
"The occasion makes the man, mistress. For the moment I was a soldier,
and had forgotten the fiddle bow. But speak low; they will be upon the
landing in a moment, and I would not have them know that you are here.
Did anyone see you come to the ruins?"
"I think not."
"Good! There are more ways than one of cheating an enemy."
"But we are caught here, Martin--here in the tower." And she put a hand
upon the arm of this mad dreamer, as though she would rouse him to
action, and cast an appealing glance at Crosby to add his efforts to
"I know, I know. We are locked in my tower. There is no place like it in
Aylingford Abbey." And Martin sat down on a low stool by the open hearth
and began pushing back the sticks and rubbish which lay there into a
heap, as if it were his intention to light a fire.
"Come, Master Fairley, rise once more to the occasion," said Crosby.
"I'm sitting down to it this time," was the answer. "Riding made my
knees sore, and fighting has put an ache in my back."
"They have not gained the landing yet," urged Crosby. "Is there not a
way to the roof? With a rope we might at least get Mistress Lanison to
the ground in safety."
"Yes, Martin, possibly we might all get down from the roof without being
seen," said Barbara. "But every way of escape from the Abbey is watched
to-night," she went on, turning to Crosby. "Lord Rosmore said so."
"Then we gain little by climbing from the roof if we could do so, which
we cannot," said Fairley. "First, I have no rope; secondly--ah! that
will do for a second reason. They are upon the landing."
As he spoke the door at the head of the stairs crashed open, and there
was a rush of feet without.
"Can you hide Mistress Lanison?" whispered Crosby to Martin, glancing
round the room. "They are not likely to search if you and I open the
door to them."
Barbara started back, perhaps expecting the room door to burst in
suddenly, perhaps to protest that she intended to share the danger,
whatever it might be. Her ankle was suddenly seized and held tightly.
"Have a care, mistress," said Martin in a low tone, and, looking down at
him, Barbara saw that where the hearth-stone had been there was now a
hole. "There is one way that is not watched to-night, I warrant--this
He rose quickly from the stool and touched Crosby's arm.
"Go first. There are steps. Take my sword as well as your own. Then you,
mistress. I come last to shut this up again."
There was a loud knock at the door. "Martin! Martin!"
"Sir John!" he whispered, and held up his finger to command silence.
"Martin! This riot is no concern of yours. Open! I have a message for
you from Mistress Barbara."
"Quickly! They do not know you are here," whispered Martin.
Crosby went down into darkness, and held his hand to Barbara to steady
her. Their heads had sunk below the floor level when the first blow was
struck at the door. Martin had extinguished the candle and seized his
fiddle. With his foot on the steps he drew the bow sharply across the
strings--a little laugh. Then he went down, and at a touch the
hearth-stone came slowly back into its ordinary position.
After going down straight for a little way the stairs began to wind, and
were so narrow that a man had only just room enough to pass. Crosby led
the way carefully, leaning back a little lest Barbara should stumble in
the darkness and fall. From behind, Martin whispered his instructions.
They came presently to a landing which widened out, and here Martin took
"Give me your hand, mistress. Carefully--there are six more steps," and
Martin counted them as he went down. "So, we are now below the floor of
the ruined hall. Mad Martin was not to be caught in a trap so easily."
"And now which way do we go? We are still in the Abbey," said Barbara.
"A man might stay here a long time undiscovered, but that is not my
plan. Mr. Crosby shall be leaving the Abbey behind long before his
enemies have given up hunting for him."
"Martin, I must go too," said Barbara. "There are reasons--many
"Many reasons why you must stay for the present," said Martin. "Trust
me, mistress; it is more dangerous for you to leave the Abbey just now
than to remain."
"You do not understand, Martin. Lord Rosmore--"
"Fairley is right," said Crosby. "We found that the Abbey was watched
to-night. By one of the bridges on the other side of the stream we
overheard two men talking. Cursing their vigil, they declared that
Rosmore was bent on private revenge--that my arrest was of his own
scheming. He has already had some of my servants sent to Dorchester, and
I must ride there without delay to save them."
"But you will be taken."
"Would that be a reason for not going?"
"No," she answered quickly. "No; you must go."
"And you must do nothing to associate yourself with me in any way. It
was a chance that Martin brought me here, more of my contriving than his
--do you understand? All you know of Gilbert Crosby is that he once came
to your assistance at Newgate."
She did not answer immediately. In the darkness Crosby could hear a
little quick intake of her breath and a slight rustle of her gown.
"Does Martin go with you?" she asked after a pause.
"A little way to put him on the road; then I shall return to
Aylingford," Fairley said.
"You must not. It will not be safe for you."
"Never fear, mistress. Lord Rosmore cannot remain here, and no one else
will care a jot whether Mad Martin comes or goes. Come, there must be no
more delay. You must be back in your room if they should chance to call
for you when they return from the ruins. Indeed, you must contrive to
let them know that you are there. You will wait for me, Mr. Crosby. Your
hand once more, mistress."
She stretched out her arm, and her hand was taken, but it was not Martin
who took it.
"Thank you for all you have done for me," whispered Crosby. "It is more
than you have knowledge of; as yet, it is almost beyond my own
comprehension. There will come happier times--quickly, I trust--then I
may thank you better. Then, I would have you remember something more of
Gilbert Crosby than that he came to you that day in Newgate."
Then lips were pressed upon her hand, homage and reverence in the touch.
"I shall think of you and pray for you," she answered.
"I am waiting, mistress," said Martin. "I am here; your hand is
difficult to find in the darkness."
It was the other arm Barbara stretched out, and so for an instant she
stood, both hands firmly held, linked to these two men.
Martin led the way quickly, and certainly, as one who had made the
journey often and knew every step of it. At first there was a faint echo
of their footfalls, speaking of a wide space about them, but they were
soon in a passage which became gradually narrower, then they began to
ascend, for a little way by a sharp incline, and afterwards by a winding
"Martin," Barbara said suddenly, "I am in real danger. Lord Rosmore
wishes to marry me. To-night he gave me his word that you should go
free, and I think I could persuade him to let Mr. Crosby escape, if I
consent to be his wife. I have until to-morrow morning to give him an
"To-morrow morning he will have no prisoners to bargain with," Fairley
"Nevertheless, he will want an answer. If he does not get the answer he
wants, I am likely to be accused of helping rebels."
"Is that what he threatens? You are not a woman to be frightened by
threats. You must meet deceit with deceit. Answer neither 'Yea' nor
'Nay' for a while. He will wait if you let him suppose your answer may
"My uncle is insistent," said Barbara.
"Should you be pressed in such a fashion that there is no escape,
mistress, say this to Sir John: 'It is a sacred trust; God requite you
if you fail in it. When she is of age, give her that which is hers. She
is free.' Tell him that these words were spoken to you out of the
darkness, and then there followed a single word spoken low--'Beware!'
Can you remember them? They must be exact. It is true you have heard
them out of the darkness, and you will not say that Mad Martin spoke
"And then, Martin?"
"He will be afraid of you; but do not speak the words unless you are
obliged. Let me hear you repeat them."
Barbara said them carefully and correctly.
"Good," said Martin. "You are armed with a weapon that can hardly fail,
and you shall not be left long to fight the battle alone. Courage,
mistress; there comes an end to the blackest hours, and surely into
yours there has penetrated a beam of light. Is it not so?"
"Another step. So. Pass on, mistress, and good-night."
Barbara's foot suddenly pressed a soft rug instead of the hard stone of
the stairs; it was still dark, but not black as it had been; there was a
faint stirring of the air about her, and then a scarcely audible sound
behind her, which for a moment had no meaning for her. Then she saw the
dim outline of a window above, and to her right, at some little
distance, a narrow line of light. She was in the corridor out of which
her own apartments opened, and behind her was the panelled wall!
She went quickly to her room. The candles were burning as she had left
them when bidden to go to her uncle. How swiftly the moments had passed
since then, yet how much had happened in them! A kiss was still burning
on her hand, and she raised the hand to her lips, blushing and accusing
herself of folly as she did so. Then she threw the casement wide open
and leaned out to listen.
A murmur of sound came from the ruins. Had they forced the door and
found the room empty? It was certain that there were men in the ruins.
Suddenly there came another sound, the clatter of horses' hoofs on the
stones of the courtyard. Were these new arrivals at the Abbey, or were
men mounting in haste to scour the country for the fugitives? She must
know, and yet Martin had said that she must let them understand that she
was in her own room to-night.
There were quick footsteps below her window.
"I think they must be along the terrace, sir," said a servant; "both my
master and Lord Rosmore."
"I thought it was a haunted spot which no one cared for after dark," was
the answer in a voice which sounded familiar to Barbara.
"So it is, sir, but to-night there's something afoot which--" And then
they passed out of Barbara's hearing. She leaned out of the window,
looking towards the ruins, and saw a man with a torch come out on to the
terrace. He shouted, and two or three other men joined him. The servant
and the visitor went forward quickly, and entered the ruins as the
shouting ceased. Still Barbara did not move; they must know she was in
her room, Martin had said--and Mad Martin had proved himself wondrous
wise and clever to-night. So she waited, and the moments were
leaden-footed. Presently three men came from the ruins and along the
terrace. Barbara heard her uncle's voice.
"What is it?" she said, leaning down. "I am afraid."
All three men stopped and looked up. The new arrival was Sydney
"I am frightened at so much stir at this time of the night," she said.
"It is nothing, Barbara," said Sir John.
They had seen her. She need remain in her room no longer, and she flew
along the corridor and down the stairs in time to meet them as they
entered the hall.
Fellowes bowed low to her. His dress was dusty. He had evidently ridden
"Dare I hope that you have repented, and that to-morrow seems too long
to wait?" said Rosmore.
"There has been such riot I have had no time to think of other matters.
What does it mean, uncle?"
"That Mr. Fellowes has ridden from Lord Feversham, commanding Rosmore's
presence in Dorsetshire."
"So unless we capture this rebel of ours to-night, Mistress Lanison, I
shall have to leave some of my men to do it," said Rosmore. "I must
depart to-morrow morning, and you must--you will give me my answer
before I go?"
"It is news to me that Crosby of Lenfield has been named as a rebel,"
"It was news to me until I had my commands," said Rosmore.
"Lord Feversham bid me tell you to return with all the men you could
muster. I do not envy you your employment. Kirke's lambs are already too
busy for my liking."
"You go no further to-night, Mr. Fellowes?" said Sir John.
"Yes, towards London. I bear despatches to the King at Whitehall. I have
accomplished one part of my errand; I must hasten to complete the other.
A stirrup cup as you suggested, Sir John, and then to horse. Good-night,
Fellowes and her uncle moved away, leaving Barbara with Rosmore.
"You may sleep late to-morrow if you will give me my answer to-night,"
"I cannot force love, Lord Rosmore; I will not say 'Yes' without it."
"It shall dawn with the speaking of one little word."
"Wait until you return," pleaded Barbara. "How do I know that you will
not take Martin to-night, and be unable to free him to-morrow."
"You have my word."
"Your word against my love; it is too unequal a bargain. If you ride
with my promise to-morrow, you must leave Martin with me. He has been my
mad playfellow ever since I can remember."
"You have my word," said Rosmore, "it must suffice."
"And to all my pleading you only answer with threats," said Barbara.
"Indeed, my lord, that is a rough path to a woman's heart. There is
still the night for me, and for you; I pray that you will have chosen
another road before the morning."
She turned and left him, all the coquette that was in her displayed to
win him to a better mood. She had little hope of succeeding, but she was
very sure that he should ride away with no promise of hers. There was
another, by this time rapidly leaving Aylingford behind him she hoped,
who bore with him, not her promise, he had not asked for that, but her
thoughts and her prayers. If these were any shield from danger, surely
he went in safety.
It was quite evident to Barbara that neither her uncle nor Lord Rosmore
intended her to know what had happened that night; what line they would
take to-morrow she could not guess, but she had already hinted to Lord
Rosmore that in exchange for her promise he must leave Martin free at
the Abbey with her. This he could not do if Martin and Gilbert Crosby
had got away safely, and she believed they had done so.
Barbara could not sleep. The most fantastic happenings seemed possible
through the long hours of wakefulness. Martin might see his companion
far enough upon the road to render his capture unlikely, and then return
at once. If he came before Lord Rosmore departed, what excuse would be
left her for not fulfilling her part of the bargain? Towards morning
this fear began to dwarf all others, and an intense longing to be
certain that Martin had not returned took possession of her. She was
always an early riser; there would be no reason for comment if she were
found upon the terrace soon after the sun had risen. She would have no
need to find an excuse, because her habit was well known.
It was a silent and beautiful world into which she stepped. The Abbey
was still asleep, no sound came from the servants' quarters at present,
nor the clink of a pail-handle from the stables. If they were waking in
the village yonder, they were welcoming the new day in silence.
Barbara's footfall on the stone flags of the terrace rang strangely loud
in the morning air, and she went slowly, pausing to look across the
woods and down into the stream. Hidden men might still be watching, or
someone, whose night had been as wakeful as her own, might see her from
one of the windows. She must act as though she had no thought beyond the
full enjoyment of the early morning. Slowly, and with many pauses, she
made her way towards the ruins, and passed in after standing at the door
absorbed in contemplation of the beauty of the scene about her. She
hummed the tune of a little ballad to herself, and sat down on the first
convenient piece of fallen masonry. If men were watching this place she
would give them ample opportunity to ask what her business there might
be. Not a movement, not a sound disturbed her. The door into the tower
stood open; she wondered what had become of the men who had groaned last
night, and must have fallen on the narrow stairs; and she shuddered a
little at the thought of some hastily contrived grave, quite close to
her, perchance. She had no intention of entering the tower, only to show
herself in the ruins; surely if Martin were in hiding there he would
contrive some means to let her know. Still humming the ballad, slightly
louder than before, she went a little farther into the ruins, and
stopped by a piece of fallen stone-work which had constantly afforded
her a resting-place. It was here that Gilbert Crosby had caught his foot
and stumbled last night as he and Martin had run from their pursuers; it
was just here that the swords had first clashed, and the men had run
eagerly together upon their prey; here, probably, a little later, Sydney
Fellowes had given Lord Feversham's message to Lord Rosmore. Barbara
would go no further. If men were watching they should see that she had
no intention of entering the tower.
As she sat down she saw close by the stone, half trampled into the loose
dust which surrounded it, a piece of cloth or linen, cut sharply, it
seemed. The work of one of those clashing swords, Barbara thought, as
she stooped and drew it out of the dust, and then a little
half-strangled cry escaped her. It was a piece of coarse silk, brown in
colour. In her hand she held a brown mask!
A WOMAN REBELS
The Abbey awoke earlier than usual this morning. It would be some hours
yet before Mrs. Dearmer, radiant from the hands of her maid, came forth
to face the world and God's good sun, and there were men with heads
racked from last night's deep potations who would still lie abed and
curse their ill-luck; but there was noisy bustle in the stable yards,
the champing of bits and jingling of harness, and in the servants'
quarters a hurrying to and fro with eager haste, and a pungent
atmosphere of cooking food. Lord Rosmore was starting for Dorsetshire
within the hour, and his men were being fed with that liberality for
which the Abbey was famous.
Barbara sat on one of the stone seats let into the wall overlooking the
stream. Lord Rosmore would see her there and come for his answer. She
had no intention of trying to escape the interview; she had no doubt
what answer she would give, yet there was trouble in her heart. The mask
of brown silk which lay concealed in the bosom of her dress struck at
the very roots of her belief in a man's truth and honour. Lord Rosmore
had told her no falsehood, no made-up tale to suit his own purposes as
she supposed, and it was impossible for her not to think less harshly of
him as she saw him come out on to the terrace with her uncle. Sir John,
with some jesting remark, walked slowly in the opposite direction, and
Lord Rosmore came quickly towards her. He bowed low with that grace
which had made him famous amongst men, and which no woman had ever
attempted to deny him. There was not a cloud upon his brow, and a little
smile played at the corners of his mouth as though he had already
received his answer--the answer he desired.
"On such a gracious morning as this am I to be made the happiest man on
whom the sun shines, Mistress Lanison?"
"I asked for a longer time, Lord Rosmore."
"I wish I could give it," he returned. "There is nothing that I would
rather do than stay here to convince you how true and deep my love is;
but, alas! duty calls me away upon no pleasant mission."
"But you will return," said Barbara.
"Not for some weeks, I fear, and in them what may not happen? I would
take my happiness with me--your promise--not wait in anxious doubt."
"Love has not come to me yet; it might come when you return," Barbara
said. "Without love I will not give my promise to any man."
"Love will come," was the answer; "and, besides, love is not the whole
of marriage. There are other reasons often--indeed, almost always--for
giving a promise."
"Is it bargaining, you mean?"
"I would not call it by such a name," said Rosmore. "The alliance which
satisfies parents and guardians, which sends a man and a woman walking
side by side along a worthy road in the world, giving each to each what
the other lacks, a good, useful comradeship which keeps at arm's length
the world's cares, surely this makes a true marriage, and into it,
believe me, love will come."
"It may, Lord Rosmore, but I am not yet persuaded that the road is
worthy, nor that such a comradeship between us could bring good. Believe
me, you will be far wiser to give me time. Wait for your answer until
"I fear to find the bird stolen," he said.
"I am not so desirable a possession as you imagine," she answered, with
an effort to bring an element of banter into the interview.
"You cannot see yourself at this moment, Mistress Lanison, or you would
not say so. I must have your answer. Are there not many, many reasons
why you should give me your promise?"
"You will come to this lower level of bargaining," said Barbara.
"I have no choice."
"I have shown you a wise road to take," she answered; "wait until you
come back from Dorsetshire."
"I cannot wait."
"Then if we bargain, Lord Rosmore, you must remember that there are
always two sides to a bargain. You do not show me Martin Fairley a free
"I can hardly set free a man I have not taken prisoner. Martin and the
highwayman succeeded in getting away from the Abbey last night. Until we
saw you leaning from your window, Sir John was absurd enough to declare
that you must have warned them."
"My uncle seems strangely anxious to make a rebel of me," said Barbara.
"I hold to our bond. Martin Fairley is not here, therefore I give no
promise this morning."
"I do not remember agreeing to such a bargain," said Rosmore.
"It pleases me," said Barbara, "and helps me to forget that you began by
threatening me. I am not a woman to be frightened by a threat."
"Then you will give me no promise?"
"No; but if you persist I will give you an answer, and promise that it
shall be a final one."
"I would spare myself the indignity of a direct repulse," he said, "and
I trust I am man enough not to let love blind my eyes to duty. I am
afraid you must live to regret your decision, but I may yet find means
to do you a service."
He turned and left her, and, calling to Sir John that he must depart
without delay, he left the terrace with her uncle, telling him, Barbara
had no doubt, of the ill-success of his interview.
What was the reason of her uncle's anxiety to force her into this
marriage? Some power Lord Rosmore must surely hold over him. Sir John
was afraid, and since he had not scrupled to suggest that she was in
league with rebels, and in the same breath point out in how dangerous a
position this rebellion placed her, there was no knowing to what lengths
he might not go to achieve his ends.
Later in the day Sir John sent her a courteous message. He did not
demand her presence amongst his guests, but he requested it. Her
continued absence had been much remarked and questioned, and there were
many reasons why these comments should be silenced. Barbara answered
that she would comply with his wishes; and that afternoon found her in
the midst of a party on the terrace, listening to Mrs. Dearmer's coarse
wit and endeavouring not to shudder at her laugh. It seemed quite
evident that Sir John had not suggested to his guests that they should
treat his niece in any special manner, and their conversation was less
reticent than ever.
"You blush very easily," laughed Mrs. Dearmer, "but that pleases the
men. I used to be the same, and devoutly wish I had not lost the art."
"Could you not regain it?" asked Barbara, and the question was followed
by a burst of laughter, more at Mrs. Dearmer's expense than at her
"I'm afraid not. What we gain by experience must be lost in some other
direction. It is merely a question which you prefer, the gain or the
"My adorable madam, you go ill with mathematics," said one man,
laughing. "Pray tell some tale that will again bring the colour to
Mistress Lanison's cheek, for I vow she blushes most divinely."
"At least, sir, the cause can have little connection with heaven," said
"Waste no words on him, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Dearmer. "He has been
so long attached to the opposition that he has forgotten such a place as
heaven exists. Tell me why you have deserted us lately. I held that it
was indisposition, others declared it was temper, and others--can you
guess what the others said?"
"Was it something very unkind?" asked Barbara.
She had walked away with Mrs. Dearmer and one or two others, amongst
them a man named Heriot, to whom Barbara had hardly spoken, but whom she
"They said you had a lover," said Mrs. Dearmer.
"It would have been kinder if they had given me a hundred, wouldn't it?
That would, indeed, have been to praise me mightily and declare me
"You will not find women so generous as that," laughed Heriot. "I
thought there was a more subtle meaning in the declaration. In a hundred
lovers there might be safety, but in one--ah! it is the persistency of
one which reduces the citadel."
"I know many who might persist until they were leaning over their grave,
and then not succeed," said Barbara, "and the citadel would not need to
be very strongly guarded either."
"That should hasten your retreat, Mr. Heriot," said Mrs. Dearmer, and
then she drew Barbara a little farther away. "Tell me, are they right?
Is there a lover?"
"You may deny it if you are questioned," Barbara answered.
"I will. I would not betray such a secret for the world. Does he climb
to your window when the terrace is empty and silent, or is there some
secret door by which he comes and no one ever the wiser?"
"Is that what they say?" asked Barbara.
"Yes, and more," and Mrs. Dearmer put her finger to her lips to warn
Barbara that others were close to them and might not keep her secret so
faithfully as she would.
Barbara did not then understand all that was implied, but within a day
or two she was conscious that her name was being flung from lip to lip
with a laugh and a jest, that, no matter how innocent her words or her
actions might be, an evil meaning was twisted out of them and applauded.
Even her uncle laughed and seemed to agree when Heriot declared that a
woman who was shy in her love affairs was always the most dangerous, and
suggested that Mrs. Dearmer must look to her laurels now that Mistress
Lanison had taken the field against her. To deny the insinuations, or to
resent them, was only to make these men and women coarser, and increase
the laughter and ribaldry, so Barbara decided to stay away again. This
time, however, Sir John did not leave her alone. He sent a peremptory
message demanding her presence.
"Tell Sir John I refuse to come, and if he would know my reason I will
tell him here."
The servant hesitated.
"Sir John is out of temper, mistress. Would it not be better to--"
"You have my answer," said Barbara.
Many minutes had not elapsed before there were quick steps along the
corridor, and Sir John burst into the room. The servant had spoken
mildly when he said his master was out of temper, and Barbara's answer
to his message had made him furious. He slammed the door and faced his
"What is the meaning of this gross impertinence, girl? When I bid you do
a thing you will do it; do you understand me? I have had more than
enough of your vapours."
"And I, sir, more than enough of your guests."
"Do you dare to flout me?" he said with an oath.
"I dare anything when you forget what is my due from my guardian. For
some purpose of your own you seem anxious to accuse me of being a rebel,
and drag me into this ribald crew to have my ears assailed with all
manner of indecencies, and to hear my own honour called in question."
"You're a fool, girl."
"Wise enough to determine that either Mrs. Dearmer and her companions
must leave Aylingford, or I shall."
"Curse your impudence!" said Sir John, and before Barbara was aware of
his intention, he had seized her wrist and commenced to drag her towards
the door, "Curse your impudence! We will see who is master at
Aylingford. I shall have what guests I choose, and, by heaven, you shall
treat them as I demand! You may flout Lord Rosmore, but I will see to it
that you obey me."
"You hurt my wrist, sir."
"If it brings you to reason, it is perhaps the easiest way for you," he
retorted. "Guests that are good enough for me shall be good enough for
"And if they say I am a scheming light o' love, you, sir, will no doubt
find means to prove that they are right."
"Gad! your own prudery is doing that. Perhaps I might not have to make
much inquiry to find that they had seen far more than I have. Much might
go on in these rooms and the rest of the Abbey be none the wiser."
Barbara's free hand was suddenly raised to strike him, but she let it
fall to her side again. He held her wrist the tighter, and laughed in
"It is well for you that your daring stops short of that," he sneered.
"Last night I heard words spoken out of the darkness," said Barbara.
"'It is a sacred trust,' said a voice; 'God requite you if you fail in
it. When she is of age give her that which is hers. She is free.
There was magic in the words. Sir John let go her wrist and started
backwards with a curious, muffled sound in his throat. His face was
suddenly white with fear, and his trembling hands were linked together,
straining at each other. Barbara did not move, and in her motionless
attitude and the fixed gaze in her eyes the man seemed to perceive an
"Who spoke them?" he stammered.
"A voice out of the darkness."
"They--they recall--what am I saying? Have your own way to-night; we
shall both talk more calmly to-morrow."
"To-morrow cannot undo to-night, sir. I have decided to ask Lady
Bolsover to let me visit her for a while. Two days ago I received a
letter from her asking me to go to her again."
"I will see. We will talk of it to-morrow."
"There is naught to do, sir, but arrange for my journey to town."
It was almost as one suddenly stricken with a palsy that Sir John left
the room and stumbled along the corridor. As he passed a man drew
hastily back into the shadows, and then went light-footedly to Barbara's
door. She had already locked it. He knocked.
"I have nothing more to say," said Barbara.
The man chanted a little stave in a low voice, and the door flew open.
"You are in trouble, mistress, you need not tell me. Much I overheard,
the rest I can guess. Lord Rosmore has departed. I met him on the road,
at least he passed along the road, and I stood in the wood by the side
to see him pass. Mr. Crosby is already busy in Dorsetshire, and I return
to hear you are going to London."
"Dark hours, indeed," he said, "but there is the beam of light."
"It has gone out. Ah, Martin, you are a dreamer and look at the world
through a veil of cloud, while I am a woman prone to trust too easily.
We are easy to deceive, you and I."
"Yes, dreamer as I am, I have recognised much of the falsehood," said
"You like Mr. Gilbert Crosby?"
"One grows to like a man when you have fought by his side in an awkward
"You would trust him?"
"Don't you?" asked Martin.
"He told me something of himself, but it was told to deceive. I found
that in the ruins, just where he stumbled last night. He dropped it,"
and Barbara held out the brown mask which she had drawn from her dress.
Martin took it and turned it this way and that.
"He did not tell me that he was Galloping Hermit the highwayman," she
"Very strange," said Martin. "Another might have dropped it. Many men
tramped that spot that evening. Sir John, Lord Rosmore, and a dozen
"Yes, and later, Mr. Fellowes," said Barbara. "He came with a despatch
calling Lord Rosmore back into Dorsetshire."
"Might not Mr. Fellowes have dropped it?" Martin asked.
"He might. You may find many possibilities, but not probabilities."
"The famous mask," mused Fairley, "and you find it, mistress. For my
part I have had a kindly thought for the wearer. There are tales about
him which make him different from other highwaymen."
"Yes, Martin, I know, but I had almost--ah! you would not understand."
"I saw the beam of light, and it has now gone out, you say. This wisp of
brown silk has extinguished it. But consider, might there not be some
great purpose for a man taking to the road?"
"There might, Martin."
"I have heard, mistress, of a great noble who wore fool's motley that he
might the better stand between his King and danger. I have heard of one
who lay bound in chains for years that his friend might be saved. Men
have died for others ever since this world was young."
"So Galloping Hermit may have some purpose which, did we but know it,
would make him a hero to crown rather than a scoundrel to hang. His
heart may beat honestly; the eyes which looked from these holes--"
"Were grey, Martin," and there was a catch in Barbara's voice which her
companion was quick to notice.
"Courage, mistress, the beam of light is still shining. We must get rid
"No, give it me. I may see him again and give it to him."
"And perhaps be mistaken after all," said Martin. "The highwayman has
long since provided himself with another mask, so we may destroy this."
"Why keep so dangerous a trifle? See, it burns."
He took the candle and the mask to the hearth, and made sure that no
tell-tale particle of the silk remained.
"Mistress, it is gone. Be wise, forget that you ever found it," and
Martin trampled the ashes into dust.
BARBARA LANISON IN TOWN
Londoners had crowded towards Tower Hill from an early hour, had seized
every point of vantage, or looked down from high windows and roofs upon
that little square of space which was kept clear and strongly guarded.
To a few, perhaps, it was mere sight-seeing, an excitement, a means of
passing a holiday; but to the majority it was a day of mourning, a time
for silence and tears. Ill-fated rebellion was to be followed by the
judicial murder of a popular idol. There had been tales current of this
man's cowardice. He had crawled at the King's feet, begging slavishly
for his life, had been willing to resign honour and liberty, his creed,
and his very manhood so that he might escape the fate awaiting him. He
had begged and petitioned for the intercession of every person who might
have the power to say a word in his favour. He had shown himself a
craven in every possible way, so it was said. This silent crowd,
however, had no certain knowledge of the truth of these rumours; they
might be, probably were, false reports to belittle him in the minds of
the populace. What this waiting multitude remembered was that James,
Duke of Monmouth, was a soldier of distinction and was doomed to die a
martyr for the Protestant faith.
Ten o'clock had sounded some time since, when there was a sudden
movement in the crowd, a backward pressure by the ranks of guards, and a
man, saluting as he passed, walked up that narrow, human lane to the
little square and mounted the scaffold with a firm tread. A great hush
fell, broken only by the sounds of sobbing. This man a coward! Every
look, every action, gave the lie to such an accusation. Two Bishops
stood by him and spoke to him, but their words were inaudible to the
greater part of the crowd; and Ketch, the headsman, stood silently by
the block, a man hated and execrated from the corridors of Whitehall to
the filthiest purlieus of the town.
"I die a Protestant of the Church of England."
These words were clear enough, and against them the Bishops seemed to
protest, but in what words the crowd could not hear, and only those
close about the scaffold heard Monmouth's confession that he was sorry
the rebellion had ever happened, since it had brought ruin on those who
loved him. Then for a while he knelt in prayer, and said "Amen!" even to
the Bishops' petition for a blessing upon the King, but it was
grudgingly said, and after a pause. Why, indeed, should he pray for a
King whose heart was of stone and who was incapable of showing
The silent crowd watched him with bated breath, dimly seeing through
tears that he spoke to the executioner as he ran his finger along the
edge of the axe, and then he laid his head upon the block. The axe fell
once, twice, and again, yet there was not an end.
Then the silence was broken. A wild fury roared from every side.
"Fling Ketch to us!" cried the mob, pressing in upon the guards.
Two more blows were struck by the frightened, cursing headsman. The
martyrdom was accomplished, but the angry and nauseated crowd had gone
mad, and, but for the guards, would have worked their will on Ketch and
perchance on others who had had part in this butchery. It was a raging
crowd, ripe for anything, fiercely lusting to wreak its revenge on
someone; but it was a crowd without a leader. Had a strong man at that
moment assumed command of it, Monmouth's death might have brought
success to the rebellion he had raised. Had a leader been found at that
moment, a short hour might have seen the storming of Whitehall by the
populace, and the King in the hands of his merciless enemies. No strong
man arose, and James was left in peace to plan further vengeance on all
those who had taken part in the rebellion, or shown pity to the
Two days afterwards Barbara Lanison arrived in town, and received a most
cordial welcome from her aunt, Lady Bolsover. She did not pester her
niece for reasons why she had left Aylingford, it was only natural that
any right-minded person would prefer London; nor did Barbara enlighten
her. Before Barbara had been in the house an hour her aunt had given her
a lively account of Monmouth's execution, and the horrors of it lost
nothing in the telling.
"Surely you were not there!" Barbara exclaimed.
"No, I was not. I was tempted to venture, but I decided that it was
wiser to keep away. I should certainly have shown sympathy with the poor
man, and to do so would be dangerous. I assure you, Barbara, all the
news in town lately has concerned this rebellion, and--let me whisper
it, for it comes near treason to say it--half London has been in two
minds whether to cast in its lot with Monmouth or with the King. There
is no denying the fact that the King is not popular, and, to put no fine
point on it, has the temper and cruelty of the devil."
Lady Bolsover was genuinely pleased to have her niece with her again.
After her own fashion she liked Barbara, and the presence of so
attractive a person in her house was likely to re-establish the number
and importance of her visitors, who, truth to tell, had not been so
assiduous in their attentions since Barbara left her. The good lady was
full of schemes for making the hours pass pleasantly, of course for her
niece's sake, and, having assured herself that Barbara was still
heart-whole, she was prepared to welcome to her house in St. James's all
the eligible men she could entice there.
"I taught you a good deal last time, my dear; I'll see if I cannot get
you married this."
Barbara smiled. She was anxious to please her aunt, and showed no desire
to interfere with Lady Bolsover's schemes. It was such a relief to be
free from the Abbey that Barbara experienced a reaction, and was
inclined to enjoy herself. There were many things she would willingly
forget. The brown mask had been reduced to ashes, but its destruction
had not altered her opinion, nor had Martin succeeded in convincing her
that she had not been grossly deceived. She had been threatened by Lord
Rosmore, she had been insulted by her uncle and the men and women who
were his companions, but, worst of all, she had been deceived by the man
who had for so long occupied her thoughts and whom she had trusted.
The opportunity to forget her troubles in a round of pleasure was soon
forthcoming. At a sign a dozen men were ready to throw themselves at her
feet, and a score more were only restrained by the apparent hopelessness
of their case. She was a queen and her courtiers were many; music and
laughter were the atmosphere about her; her slightest wish immediately
became a command, and she became the standard by which others were
judged. Barbara was young and enjoyed it, as any young girl would. There
were moments when her laughter and merry voice had no trace of trouble
in them, when it would have been difficult to believe that a cloud had
ever hung in her life; but there were other times when her eyes looked
beyond the gay crowd by which she was surrounded, when her attention
could not be fixed, and when her face had sadness in it. She was
conscious of sorrow and tears under all the music and laughter.
Sometimes ugly rumours came, brought by a court gallant, or some young
soldier who had returned from the West. Feversham had been called to
London and loaded with honours, for "winning a battle in bed," as a wit
said, and the brutal Colonel Kirke and his "lambs" were left in
Somersetshire, free to commit any atrocities they pleased. If only half
the stories were true, then had the West Country been turned into a
hell, and Barbara hated the King who allowed such cruelty. She became a
rebel at heart, and for the first time since she had found the mask in
the ruins thought less harshly of Gilbert Crosby. There could be no
reason to excuse his being a highwayman, but at least he had gone West
to give what help he could to the suffering. How had he sped? The
question set Barbara thinking, and, in spite of herself, Gilbert Crosby
was in those thoughts all through a wakeful night.
Barbara saw nothing of Lord Rosmore, whether he was in London or not she
did not hear; but once Sydney Fellowes came to her aunt's, and Barbara
was glad to see him, although she hardly had a word with him. She was
surrounded at the time, and Fellowes made no effort to secure her
attention. He evidently considered himself in disgrace still, although
Barbara had forgiven him, and had ceased to associate him with the evil
which was at Aylingford Abbey.
It was not so easy to dissociate Judge Marriott from Aylingford. He came
constantly to Lady Bolsover's, and on each occasion seemed to consider
himself of more importance. So far as Barbara could judge he knew
nothing of her reason for leaving the Abbey. He asked no questions, but
delivered himself of many clumsy compliments framed to express his
delight that the most charming creature on earth had brought sunshine
again to town. It was impossible to make Judge Marriott understand that
his attentions were not wanted, and Barbara, who had no desire to make
an enemy of him, endured them as best she could. It was from him that
she first heard that Judge Jeffreys was going to the West.
"He takes four other judges with him; I am one of them. Rebellion must
be stamped out by the law. Jeffreys will undoubtedly come to great
honour, and it will be strange if your humble servant, his most intimate
friend, does not pick up some of the crumbs."
"Will the law be as cruel as the soldiers have been?" Barbara asked.
"A dangerous question, Mistress Lanison; I would not ask it of anyone
else were I you. Remember the law deals out justice, not cruelty."
"Yet even justice may be done in a cruel fashion."
"The sufferer always thinks it cruel," said Marriott.
"And often those who look on," Barbara returned.
"I have no doubt that Jeffreys will do his duty and carry out the King's
command. Why should you trouble your pretty head with such matters?"
"There are women who will suffer," she said. "It would be unwomanly not
to think of them."
"And some man, some special man, who interests you, eh, Mistress
"Why should you think so?"
"Because I can read a woman like an open book," laughed Marriott. "Her
thoughts line her face as the print does a page, while the looks in her
eyes are like the notes on the margin."
"You read amiss if you think I am interested in a rebel awaiting
"I will confess that you are more difficult to understand than most
women," said Marriott, "and it is not for want of study on my part. Do
you remember what I said to you on the terrace at Aylingford?"
"Indeed, I have not treasured up all your words," she laughed.
"I swore that if there were a rebel you were interested in, he should go
free at your pleading. I am in the humour to-night to listen very
"There is no special person, Judge Marriott, but I would plead for them
all," she answered. "Be merciful, for it is surely in your power. These
people are ignorant countryfolk, led away by smooth tongues, and never
counting the cost. They are men of the plough and the scythe, with
little thought beyond these things, and they have wives and little
children. Be merciful, Judge Marriott. Think of me, if you will, when
the fate of a woman lies in your hands, and to the day of my death you
shall hold a warm corner in my heart."
"I will, I swear it, and you--"
"Lady Bolsover is beckoning to me," said Barbara, and left him.
It was the day after this conversation with Judge Marriott that Martin
Fairley came to see her for the second time since she had left
Aylingford. To Barbara he seemed strangely out of place in town, the air
he assumed of being exactly like other men ill-suited him, and he seemed
at a loss without his bow and fiddle. His dress, too, was strictly
conventional, and it appeared to affect the manner of his conversation.
He was as a man in bonds.
"In London again, Martin!" Barbara exclaimed.
"To see that you are not in trouble, mistress," he answered, and it
would have been difficult for a stranger to tell whether he was a lover,
or a trusted servant of long standing; there was something of both in
"It is a long way to come."
"It is lonely at the Abbey," he said.
"Do you think you are safe there, Martin? Would it not be better to go
away for a time?"
"Since you are not there, mistress, I lock the door of the tower at
"But Sir John knows you are at the Abbey, and you cannot lock yourself
in the tower all day," said Barbara.
"Your uncle is a little afraid of me. He is superstitious, and unless he
has someone beside him to lend him courage, he will not molest me.
Besides, there have been many festivals where my fiddle was wanted; I
have not been much at the Abbey."
"You have been towards the West?" said Barbara eagerly.
"And you have heard--"
"Yes, mistress. I have heard how they suffer."
"Have you heard aught of Mr. Crosby?"
"Once or twice. I have seen one or two men who have said they escaped
the soldiers by his help. He is doing all a man can do, I think, but for
a fortnight I have heard nothing."
"Do you know that Judge Jeffreys goes West directly?"
"For the Assizes, yes. God help the prisoners! An unjust judge,
mistress, a fawning servant of a brutal and revengeful King."
"Hush, Martin!" Barbara whispered. "It may be dangerous to speak the
As if to prove the warning necessary, there came a knock at the door.
"There is a young woman asking to see you," said the servant. "She would
give no name, but declared you would see her if I said Lenfield."
"Lenfield!" and her eyes met Martin's quickly. "Bring her up at once."
"Mistress, she may talk more freely if she is atone with you," said
Martin. "There is a screen there, may I use it?"
Barbara nodded, and was alone when the woman entered the room.
"You are Mistress Lanison?" she asked, dropping a curtsy.
"My name is Harriet Payne, and I was a servant at Lenfield Manor when my
master, Mr. Gilbert Crosby, escaped. Some of us, Golding the butler and
myself amongst others, were arrested and taken to Dorchester."
"Yes, and then--"
"I cannot tell by what means, but my master procured my release and bid
me go to my home, a little village in Dorsetshire. I cannot tell all the
master has done, but I know that they have tried to catch him for a long
time. He has been helping people to escape, they say. You don't know
what it has been like in the West, mistress."
"Something of it, I know," said Barbara.
"One night Mr. Crosby came to my mother's cottage to see me," the girl
went on. "He told me something of his danger, and said that if anything
happened to him, or if I were in danger, I was to go to Aylingford Abbey
and ask for you; if I could not see you I was to ask for Martin the
"I was soon in trouble, mistress, and went to Aylingford. You were not
there, nor was the fiddler. I was asked what I wanted, but I would not
say. I suppose the servant went to ask his master, for Sir John Lanison
himself came out to me."
"You did not tell him who you were?"
"I just said I was in trouble, and asked where I could find you. He
laughed and said I wasn't the first young woman who had got into
trouble, and he said--"
"You need not repeat it," said Barbara; "it was doubtless something
insulting about me."
"Indeed it was, mistress, but he told me where I should find you."
"I do not know how I am to help you," said Barbara. "What do you want me
"It is not help for myself I want, but for Mr. Crosby. They had followed
him to mother's cottage that night and waited. As he went out they
caught him. He is a prisoner in Dorchester!"
PREPARED FOR SACRIFICE
Harriet Payne had made up her mind that she was the bearer of a lover's
message; she expected her news to have a startling effect upon the woman
she had travelled so far to see, but she was disappointed. There came no
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