The Brown Mask
Percy J. Brebner
Part 6 out of 6
"And it comes sooner than you expected," said Watson. "The road is safe,
and you are to go to-night."
"Yes, now. Mr. Crosby will already be waiting on the road which leads
down to the river. I am to see you safely there."
"But to-night? Are you sure there is no mistake?"
"Quite sure. We must go at once."
Barbara went quickly into the inner room, and in a few moments returned
closely wrapped in an ample cloak.
"Draw the hood down over your head," said Watson. "The less left for
prying eyes to see the better. You have the papers signed by Judge
"One word, madam. No one will hinder us in this house. At the door into
the street turn to the right. I shall walk close behind you. Do not
hurry. Do not stop if anyone should speak to you, and do not answer
them. Walk forward as if I had nothing to do with you."
"Pardon, but the hood does not quite hide your hair. Such hair might
betray you if we should meet enemies to-night, for I never saw its
Barbara readjusted the hood, and wondered if Gilbert Crosby admired her
hair as this trooper did.
Watson opened the door, and they went down the passage together. Two men
on the top of the stairs stood aside to let them pass; the street door
was open, and Barbara turned to the right, walking alone, the soldier
close behind her.
It was a narrow street, and dark, only a light gleaming out here and
there from an unshuttered window; but there were many people abroad,
whispering together, and Barbara heard sobbing, once coming through an
open window, once from a woman who passed her quickly.
"Twenty-nine," she heard one man say in hoarse tones, "the first fruits
of this bloody vengeance."
"Curse him! May hell reward him," said his companion.
Barbara shuddered as she passed on, although she did not realise what
the words meant.
Then a man stood in her path for a moment.
"A fine night, mistress," he cried. "Twenty-nine of them by the
roadside, the chains creaking and the moonlight touching the white
faces. Never such a thing in Dorchester before. A damned judge, but what
a show!" And then, with a laugh, he ran past her. The voice and the
laughter were those of a maniac.
Barbara knew now. Judge Jeffreys had commenced his work. Must she pass
those hideous signs of it?
"Turn to the right," said Watson behind her.
She turned, as she was told, into a quieter street, and hurried a
little. To be free from this horrible place, it was her only thought.
Before she had gone far the houses began to straggle; she was at the
edge of the town. The moon was just rising, and by its misty light
Barbara saw that the open country was before her. A little further on,
the road began to dip, and there, in the shadow of a belt of trees,
stood a carriage. There were no gibbets with their twenty-nine victims
along this road; that sight she was spared.
Watson came to a standstill.
"Mr. Crosby waits, madam. Good fortune go with you."
"Thank you," she said, and pressed some coins into the man's hand. "Some
day, perhaps, I may thank you better."
The soldier saluted as she went forward, watching her, but not following
The post-boy was already in his place, and it was evident that the
horses were impatient to be gone. A groom stood beside the carriage.
"Mr. Crosby is here, madam," the man said as he opened the door. "There
is no time to lose."
Barbara entered the coach quickly, and literally fell into the arms of
the man who was awaiting her, for as the door was shut the horses
The hood had fallen from her fair hair as she turned and leaned towards
him, and at this moment there was no doubt in her mind which way she
would choose. Then with a cry she shrank back into the corner of the
coach. It was not Gilbert Crosby beside her, but Lord Rosmore!
OUT OF DORCHESTER
Watson went back into Dorchester humming the chorus of a tavern song. It
mattered not to him that twenty-nine rebels swung on their gibbets, but
it was an intense relief to him that Mistress Barbara Lanison was safely
out of the town. He doubted whether he could have seen her condemned in
silence, and to speak might have meant that he would speedily swing by
the roadside, so he was glad for himself as well as for her. Watson was
totally unconscious that he had helped to deliver his prisoner into the
hands of Lord Rosmore. He had received definite instructions to see that
she safely reached the coach in which Gilbert Crosby was awaiting her;
he was not to attend her to the door of the coach lest the post-boy and
groom should become suspicious, but to wait and see that she drove away
in safety. These instructions he had fulfilled to the letter, and glad
to have been concerned in such a happy escape, he went back singing.
From first to last Lord Rosmore had carefully matured his scheme. He had
entrusted Watson with one part of it, Sayers with another, and drew a
veil over the whole by openly showing and avowing his love for Harriet
Payne. He might have enemies in the town, but what power had they? Fear
closed Judge Marriott's mouth; the fiddler, Martin Fairley, had vanished
into some hole to hide himself; Crosby was waiting patiently for the
fulfilment of his promise; and Sydney Fellowes, who, to his surprise, he
learnt was also in Dorchester, could do little against him. Still, it is
ever the little weaknesses which are the danger-points in great
enterprises, and Rosmore realised that Fellowes' presence in Dorchester
might bring all his plans to the ground. Great was his satisfaction,
therefore, when Barbara entered the coach and the horses started on
At that moment Fellowes was listening to Martin Fairley's account of his
visit to Aylingford. Martin had entered the town half an hour before,
and had gone straight to Fellowes' lodging. During his absence the
meeting-place at "The Anchor" in West Street might have been discovered,
and Martin could not afford to run any risk to-night. To both men it
seemed evident that Crosby's reliance in Rosmore's promise was futile.
It was possible, even probable, that Sir John Lanison might not know all
Rosmore's plans, or might not have told everything he knew, but all
faith in Rosmore must fall like a building of cards.
"That road to the river must be watched, Fellowes," said Martin.
"I'll go at once."
"And I will get to 'The Anchor' and see Crosby."
They were leaving the house when a woman met them, inquiring for Mr.
"What do you want with him?" Martin asked.
"Ah, you are the fiddler, but you are a coward." And Harriet Payne's
cloak fell apart as she turned to Fellowes. "Are you Mr. Crosby's
Martin gave him a quick sign.
"Yes. Is he in danger? Come in and tell me."
"Did you know that he was to have escaped from Dorchester with Mistress
Lanison to-morrow night?" said Harriet as Fellowes closed the door.
"He's fooled--fooled from first to last. She has gone to-night. She left
Dorchester, not an hour ago, with Lord Rosmore. He has lied to her and
to me," and the girl's eyes blazed with fury as she spoke.
"Gone! Willingly, do you mean?"
"Willingly!" exclaimed the girl. "She hates him; she was wiser than I
was. I loved him. She is in his power to-night."
"Which road did they take?" asked Fellowes.
"That which goes towards the river, afterwards I do not know. If you are
men follow him. Avenge Mistress Lanison and me."
"You have lied before this," said Martin quietly. "With a lie you
brought Mistress Lanison to the West. You played Lord Rosmore's game for
him. How do we know that you are speaking the truth now?"
"I hate him! Love turned to hate--do you know what that means?" said the
girl, turning upon him like some wild animal. "To-night I waited for him
and he did not come. Servants saw me and laughed; then one man, jeering
at me, told me the truth. He has gone with her, and every moment you
waste he is speeding from you. More, to make himself doubly secure, men
will come here at midnight asking for Mr. Crosby. They will pretend to
come from Mistress Lanison, and then capture him. A hasty trial, and
then the gibbet."
"We'll follow," said Martin.
"And kill him--kill him!" said the girl. "And if you have any thought
for a deceived woman, let him know that I sent you."
A few moments later Martin and Fellowes were in the street, talking
eagerly as they went. Martin's head was not barren of schemes to-night.
"You understand, Fellowes. To Crosby first. Tell him everything. Bid him
not spare his horse, nor pass a coach without knowing who rides in it.
Then let him hasten to 'The Jolly Farmers,' Tell him to wait there for
me as he did once before. On no account must he leave it. Then start on
your road, and leave Dorchester behind you as fast as horse can gallop.
One of us shall find Rosmore before the dawn."
* * * * *
Heavy clouds sailed majestically across the face of the moon. Now the
long road lay dimly discernible in the pale misty light, now for a time
it was dark, so that a coach might have driven unawares on to the
greensward, or a stranger stumbled into the ditch by the roadside.
Lonely trees shivered at intervals with a sound like sudden rain, and
from the depths of distant woods came notes of low wailing, as though
sad ghosts mourned in a hushed chorus. Hamlets were asleep, and not a
light shone from wayside dwellings. Yet into a tired man's dreams there
came the rhythmic beat of a horse's hoofs, far distant, then nearer,
nearer, and dying again into silence. A late rider, and with this
half-conscious thought, and an uneasy turning on the pillow perhaps,
sleep again. On another road, beating hoofs suddenly came to the ears of
a wakeful woman; someone escaping in the night, perhaps, and she
murmured a prayer; she had a son who had fought at Sedgemoor. The
grinding of coach wheels on one road, followed by the barking of dogs;
and a woodcutter asleep in his hut, which lay at the edge of a forest
track, was startled by the thud of hoofs, and, springing quickly from
his hard couch, peeped from the door. Nothing to be seen, but certainly
the sound of a horse going quickly away. There was naught in his hut to
bring him a visit from a highwayman.
A man, riding in haste towards Dorchester, with papers and money in his
pocket which might save his son from Judge Jeffreys, halted suddenly.
Meeting him came another galloping horseman, and suddenly the moonlight
"Have you passed a coach upon the road?"
The galloping horseman drew rein, and the anxious father trembled. Horse
and rider might have been of one piece; every movement of man and animal
was perfect, and the man wore the dreaded brown mask.
"No, I have not seen a coach." And the father, remembering vaguely that
this notorious highwayman was said to have helped many to escape from
the West, burst out in pleading. "Oh, sir, have mercy. My son lies a
prisoner in Dorchester, and the money I have may be his salvation."
"Pass on, friend. Good luck go with you." And with a clatter of hoofs the
brown mask rode on.
Galloping Hermit was on the road to-night, but a score of travellers,
carrying all the wealth they possessed, might have passed him in safety.
He was out to stop one coach wherein sat a villain, and a fair woman
whom he loved. Surely she must be shrinking back in her corner, so that
even the hem of her gown might not be soiled by the touch of the man
Lord Rosmore had not attempted to justify himself as the coach started
upon its journey; he had only told her that escape was impossible, that
the post-boy was in his pay and had his instructions. Barbara had called
him a villain through her closed teeth, and then had shrunk into her
corner, drawing the hood of the cloak closely over her head. She
realised that for the moment she was helpless, that her captor was on
his guard, but an opportunity might come presently. The more she
appeared to accept the situation, the less watch was he likely to keep
on her. It was a natural argument, perhaps, but far removed from fact.
Never for an instant did Lord Rosmore cease to watch her. This time he
meant to bend her to his will, if not one way, then another; fair means
had failed, therefore he would use foul. For a long while he was silent,
and then he began to explain why he had acted as he had done. Again he
showed her how impossible a lover was Gilbert Crosby, and he painted the
many crimes of a highwayman in lurid colours. He knew she must have
thought of these things, and he declared that the day would come when
she would thank him for what he had done to-night.
Barbara did not answer him, and there was a long silence as the coach
rolled steadily on.
Then Lord Rosmore ventured to excuse himself. He spoke passionately of
his love for her. His way with women was notorious; seldom had he loved
in vain, and women whose ears had refused to listen to all other lovers
had fallen before his temptations; yet never had woman heard such
burning words as he spoke in the darkness of the coach to Barbara
Lanison. He was commanding and humble by turns, his voice was tremulous
with passion, yet not a word did Barbara speak in answer.
Rosmore lapsed into silence again, and he trembled a little with the
passion that was in him. Love her he certainly did in his own way, and
he bit his lip and clenched his hands, furious at his failure. It took
him some time to control himself.
"There are many reasons why you should marry me," he said presently.
"Some of them I have given, but there are others why you must marry me."
He gave her time to answer, but she neither spoke nor moved. Her
indifference maddened him.
"Your uncle is wholly in my power, you must have guessed that. A word
from me, and this fellow Crosby hangs. Sir John is afraid, and you
cannot suppose that I have left Crosby in Dorchester to go or come as
he likes. He cannot move without my help. I wonder if you realise what
your persistent refusal of me will mean. You may drive me to harsh
measures, and make a devil of me. Thwart me, and I stand at nothing. I
will bring your uncle to the hangman, and Crosby shall rot in chains at
Barbara moved slightly, but she tightly shut her lips that she might not
be tempted to speak. He thought her movement was one of contempt, and
turned upon her savagely.
"And there is yet another way," he hissed, bending towards her. "I swear
to God I will use it rather than let you go. A careless word or two
shall easily suffice to smirch your fair fame. Ah! that has power to
rouse you, has it? I will do it, and for very shame you shall have to
listen to me."
Still she did not answer him. Silence had served her well. He had shown
himself to her in all the blackness of his soul. He might kill her, but
there were worse things than death. She would remain silent. And the
coach rolled on, now in darkness, now in the misty light of the moon.
There was a dip in the road that every coach-driver knew, a sudden stiff
descent into a thick wood, the trees arching and mingling their
branches, almost like a lofty green tunnel, and then a sharp ascent.
Drivers usually let their horses go, so that the impetus of the descent
would help to carry them up the opposite incline, for the road was
loose, and, with a full load of passengers, the climb tested the
strength of the best teams. Lonely Bottom it was called, and well named,
for there was no more deserted spot along the road.
The highwayman checked his horse to a walking pace when he came to this
dip, and went slowly down, and slowly climbed the opposite ascent. He
patted the mare's neck, and spoke to her in whispers.
"Well done, my beauty! Unless all the fates are against us we have got
in front of the coach. The glory is yours. I know no other that could
have carried me as you have done to-night. We shall win, lass, and then
you shall take life easier."
The mare seemed to understand as she climbed out of the hollow and
appeared ready to gallop on again; but her rider drew her on the
greensward beside the road, just beyond the wood, and dismounted. He had
no doubt that the coach was behind him. He had come by short cuts across
country, along bridle-paths which shortened the journey. He had not
struck the road long before he met the traveller going towards
Dorchester who said that no coach had passed him. He leaned against the
trunk of a tree, which years ago had been struck and killed by
lightning, and his thoughts were busy as he looked to the priming of his
pistols and made sure that certain papers he carried were secure in a
leathern case, which he slipped back into the pocket of his ample, caped
coat. His plans were mature. His presence there would be a complete
surprise. He could not fail so long as the coach came, and it would
come. Yet, in spite of this conviction, he began to grow anxious and
restless as the time passed slowly and no sound broke the stillness of
the night. It was not the first time he had waited by the roadside
listening for his victim. Excitement he had experienced before to-night,
but never such anxiety, nor such restlessness. To-night's adventure was
a thing apart. A woman's happiness depended on his success, a woman with
a crown of golden hair like an aureole about her, who must even now be
shrinking from the villain in whose company she travelled.
Presently he started. Most men would have discovered no new sound upon
the night air, but his ears were experienced and keen. For a moment he
stood beside the mare, his hand upon her neck, then he sprang lightly to
"The time has come, my hearty. Here is our place, in the shadow."
Out of the silence grew the sound of distant wheels grinding the road,
and the beating of horses' hoofs. A coach travelling rapidly. Each
moment the sounds became more distinct, and then loud as the horses
plunged down the incline into Lonely Bottom. At a gallop they breasted
the climb out, but the clatter of hoofs quickly grew uneven as the
weight told. The post-boy was using the whip vigorously as they drew to
the top, and then the coach suddenly came to a standstill. The window
rattled down, and a head was thrust out.
"Move, and you're a dead man!"
The coach had drawn out of the shadows into the moonlight, and Lord
Rosmore started back, so close was the pistol to his head. He looked
along it, and along the man's extended arm, and into his face, and a
half-smothered cry broke from his lips. He had been caught unawares.
Physically he was no coward, but the sight of the brown mask seemed to
"Open the door and get out. Quickly, or, by heaven, you shall fall out
with a bullet through your brain."
From this man Lord Rosmore knew he could expect no mercy, knew that he
was likely to be as good as his word, and he got out.
"Down with you," said the highwayman to the post-boy. "Take this rope,
and see that you fasten this gentleman securely to that tree yonder. One
loose knot that may give him a chance of escape, and I'll see to it that
you never throw your leg across the back of a horse again."
Covering them with his pistol, he watched this operation performed.
"See that he has no firearms," and the lad hastened to do as he was
The highwayman carefully examined the cord, and made sure that the
captive could not get free without help. Then he went to the door of the
"You are safe, Mistress Lanison."
"Gilbert!" she whispered.
"Pitch anything that belongs to this fellow into the road."
A coat was thrown out.
"Curse you both!" said Rosmore. "By God! if I live you shall pay for
your work to-night!"
"Is he to pay the price, mistress?" said the highwayman. "You know what
you have suffered at his hands. What things have his vile lips
threatened you with to-night? His life is in your hands. Speak, and the
world shall be well rid of him."
"Oh, no, Gilbert, no!"
"I almost wish you had said 'Yes.' Mount!" he called to the post-boy.
A string of oaths came from Lord Rosmore.
"Silence!" the highwayman shouted, but the oaths did not cease. Then a
sharp report rang out upon the night, and a cry came from the captive.
"Oh, Gilbert, you have killed him!"
"That was a cry of fear, mistress. The bullet is in the tree a good four
feet above his head," said the highwayman as he closed the coach door.
"You must travel for the rest of the journey alone, but have no fear. I
ride by the coach to see you into safety. Forward, post-boy! Good-night,
Lord Rosmore. A woman betrayed you, even as you have betrayed many
women. Thank fate that your life lay in the hands of Mistress Lanison,
and not in hers. She would have bid me shoot straight. Good-night."
For a moment the highwayman let his horse paw the ground in front of the
man bound helplessly to the tree. Then he laughed, as a man will who
plays a winning game, and rode after the coach.
THE LEATHER CASE
Her rescue had been so sudden, so unexpected, that it was difficult for
Barbara to realise that she was alone in the coach, that she need no
longer shrink away from a man she hated, that her ears were no more
assailed by threats and vile insinuations. The relief was so intense
that for a little while she revelled in her liberty, and cried a little
for very joy. Why did not the man who had delivered her come to the door
of the coach and talk to her? Not as he had done just now, calling her
Mistress Lanison and seeming not to hear when she had called him
Gilbert, but as he had spoken to her that other night in her prison in
Dorchester. She leaned forward to listen. Yes, he was on the road behind
her, she could hear the steady canter of his horse; why did he not ride
where she could see him? He must know that she would want him close
beside her. Did he know it? He wore the brown mask to-night, and, oh,
the difference it made! With that silken disguise, and with his coat
close fastened at the throat, she would never have recognised him in the
moonlight had she not known who he was. Involuntarily she shuddered a
little at the thought that he was indeed two men, so distinct that even
she, had she not known, would have failed to see her lover in the wearer
of the brown mask. Why did he not come to the window, come as himself,
without that hideous disguise which distressed her and brought so many
horrible fancies and fears into her mind? Should she call to him? She
was much tempted to do so, but surely he knew what was best for her
to-night. There might be other enemies upon the road, she was safer
perhaps in the charge of the brown mask than she would have been had he
ridden beside her as Gilbert Crosby.
The coach rolled steadily on through the night, now in the shadow of
dark woods, now across a stretch of common land where the misty
moonlight seemed to turn the landscape into a dream world, silent and
empty save for the sound of the grinding wheels and the steady beating
of the horses' hoofs. The long monotony of the sound became a lullaby to
the girl, tired in body and mind. Last night, and the night before, she
had slept little; now, with a sense of security, she closed her eyes,
only that she might think the more clearly. There were many things she
must think of. Gilbert Crosby would not easily let her go, this she
knew, and to-morrow, perhaps, she would have to answer his question,
would have to decide which way she would take. The lullaby of the
grinding wheels became softer, more musical; the corner of the coach
seemed to grow more comfortable; once she started slightly, for she
seemed to have stepped suddenly back into her prison in Dorchester, then
she smiled, knowing that she was free, that Lord Rosmore was bound and
helpless, that Gilbert Crosby was near her. The smile remained upon her
lips, but she did not move again. She was asleep. Even the jolting upon
the rougher by-road along which the coach was driven presently did not
rouse her. She did not see the dawn creeping out of the east, she was
not conscious that the highwayman came to the window and looked at her,
that he stopped the coach for a moment, nor did she feel the touch of
gentle hands as he folded her cloak more closely about her lest the
chill breath of the morning air should hurt her.
The dawn came slowly, very slowly, to the man bound securely to the tree
by the roadside. When the sound of the wheels had died away, Lord Rosmore
struggled to free himself, but the post-boy had done his work too well.
Every knot was securely fastened and out of reach. Once or twice he
shouted for help, and the only answer was an echo from the woods. Unless
a chance traveller came along the road he could not get released until
the day broke. It was wasting strength to shout, and he wanted all his
strength to help him through the strain of the night. All his will was
bent on not allowing his cramped position to so weaken him that
to-morrow he would be unable to pursue his enemy. Crosby had outwitted
him for the moment, but to-morrow the game might be in his hands again,
and he must retain his strength to play it. Many a man would have lost
consciousness during the night, but Lord Rosmore's determined spirit and
fierce lust for revenge helped him. He would not allow his limbs to grow
stiff, the cords gave a little, and every few minutes he twisted himself
into a slightly different position. He would not close his weary eyes,
but set his brain to work out a scheme for Crosby's downfall. The coach
would certainly make for the coast presently. Some delay there must be
before reaching it, and further delay before a vessel could be found to
carry the fugitives into safety. Crosby could not possibly be prepared
for what had happened, and time must be wasted in making up his mind how
to use to the best advantage the trick in the game which had fallen to
him. Galloping Hermit, the highwayman, must be cautious how he went, and
caution meant delay at every turn. He would not easily escape.
So the dawn found Lord Rosmore with aching limbs but with a clear brain,
and he looked about him, as far as he was able, wondering from which
direction help would most likely come. On the ground, at a little
distance from him, lay a heavy coat, just as Barbara had thrown it from
the coach last night, and a growling oath came from Rosmore's dry lips.
He wished with all his heart that he had delivered her into Judge
Jeffreys' hands in Dorchester. She would have been just such a delicate
morsel as the loathsome brute would have gloated over. How easily, too,
he might have had Crosby hanged in chains. He had been a fool to let
love influence him. Then his eyes turned slowly to the ground
immediately in front of him. The turf was cut and trampled where the
highwayman had been, by the impatient hoofs of his pawing horse, and
there lay in the very centre of the trampled patch a leather case. It
must have fallen from Crosby's pocket last night. Had the highwayman
unwittingly left behind him a clue that would be his ruin?
The thought excited the helpless man, and he began to listen for coming
succour, and once or twice he shouted, but it was only a feeble sound,
for his throat was parched, and his tongue had swollen in his mouth.
Chance came to his aid at last; a dog bounding from the woods not far
distant saw him, and racing to the tree tore round and round it, barking
furiously, bringing a man out into the open to see what so excited the
animal. The woodman hastened forward.
"Eh, master, but what's been adoing?"
"Highwayman--last night," said Rosmore feebly. Now that help was at hand
his strength seemed to dwindle to nothing.
The man cut the cords so vigorously that Rosmore stumbled forwards and
fell. For an instant he was powerless to move, and then with an effort
he crawled a few inches until his hand touched the leather case.
"The coat," he muttered. "The pocket--a flask."
The liquid revived him, and he drew himself painfully into a sitting
"'Galloping Hermit'--the brown mask--last night," he said.
"The brown mask!" exclaimed the man in a low tone, looking round as if
he expected to see the famous highwayman. "Your horse gone too."
"It was a coach. I want a horse. Where can I get one?"
"Lor', master, you couldn't get into the saddle."
"Where can I get one?" Rosmore repeated, speaking like a man who was
breathless from long running.
"There's the village over yonder, two miles away."
"Lend me your arm. So," and Rosmore drew himself to his feet. "Earn a
guinea or two and help me to the village."
"Can you walk at all?" asked the man.
"The stiffness will go by degrees. Slowly to begin with, that's it. Two
miles, eh? It will be the longest two miles I've ever walked, but it's
early. They won't escape easily. By gad! they shall suffer!"
"Both of them, the man and the woman."
"Curse you, you nearly let me fall," said Rosmore. "Don't talk. I can't
At a little tavern in the village Lord Rosmore ate and drank, and while
he did so he carefully examined the contents of the leather case. There
was a key and several papers closely written upon. Rosmore's eyes
brightened as he read, and the papers trembled in his hand with
excitement. All his thoughts were thrust into one channel, one idea and
purpose took possession of him. Soon after noon he painfully mounted a
horse which the landlord had procured for him and rode slowly away. He
was in no fit condition to take a long journey, so it was fortunate that
he had time to spare and could go quietly. He thought no more of Barbara
Lanison or Gilbert Crosby, he might follow them to-morrow; but to-day,
to-night, he had other work to do, and he laughed softly to himself as
he felt the leather case secure in his pocket. Some tricks in the game
he had lost, but the winning trick was his.
It was dark when he reached the woods which lay on the opposite bank of
the stream below Aylingford. He tethered his horse to a tree and went on
foot towards one of the bridges which led to the terrace, and there he
waited, leaning against the stone wall, looking at the house. Lights
shone from a few of the windows, but the Abbey did not look as if it
were full of guests. There was, perhaps, the more need to exercise
caution. The balmy air of the night might tempt visitors on to the
terrace if the play did not prove exciting, and if the talk became stale
and wearisome. So Rosmore waited. He did not intend to enter the house,
and a little delay was of no consequence. Only one man besides himself
could know the secret which the leather case held, and that other man
was far away from Aylingford.
Most of the windows in the Abbey were dark when Rosmore crossed the
bridge to the terrace and walked lightly towards the ruins, careful to
let the shadows hide him as much as possible. Entering the ruins, he
drew the case from his pocket and took out the key. By Martin's tower he
stood for a moment to listen, but no sound came to startle him, and he
fitted the key into the lock. The door opened easily, and Rosmore
entered, closing it again and locking it on the inside. Gently as he did
it, the sound echoed weirdly up the winding stairs. The door at the top,
and that of Martin's room, hung broken on their hinges. Nothing had been
done to them since the night they were forced open in the attempt to
capture Gilbert Crosby; nor did it appear that Martin had occupied his
room since then. The piece of candle was still upon the shelf, fastened
to it with its own grease, and Lord Rosmore lit it. Then he drew the
papers from the case, and turned to one portion of the writing. He had
already studied it carefully, but he read it once again, and, bending
down to the hearth, felt eagerly along the coping which surrounded it.
His fingers touched a slight projection, which he pressed inwards and
downwards. It moved a little, but some few moments elapsed before he
succeeded in making the exact motion necessary, when the front portion
of the hearth was depressed and slid back silently.--Taking the piece of
candle in his hand, Rosmore stepped into the opening and went cautiously
down the narrow twisting stairs, without attempting to shut the secret
entrance. The instructions contained in the leather case were exact,
even to a rough calculation of the value of the treasure hidden below
the Abbey ruins. Rosmore came at last to a wide chamber, bare wall on
one side, but on the other three sides were a series of arches, some of
them framing recesses merely which were not uniform in depth, some of
them forming entrances into other rooms. The corner arch at the further
end was the one mentioned in the papers, and Rosmore went slowly across
the stone floor, the feeble light of the candle casting weird shadows
about him. For the first time the eeriness of the place forced itself
upon him. These stone walls must have sheltered many a secret besides
the one he had come to solve. Unholy deeds might well have happened
here, and into his memory came crowding many a legend he had heard of
Aylingford Abbey. Phantoms of the past might yet haunt these dark
places, and to the man breaking into this silence alone ghosts were easy
to believe in. Phantoms of the present might be there, too, for to-day
vice was the ruling spirit of the Abbey, and there were those who
declared that evil might take shape and in an appointed hour deal out
punishment to its votaries.
Rosmore found an effort necessary to retain his courage as he went
towards the opposite corner. The light, held above his head, fell
quivering into the recess there, and touched a great oak coffer,
massively made, and heavily bound with iron. It was exactly as the
papers said, and therein lay the treasure, gold and jewels--the wealth
of the Indies, as the writing called it. He stood for a moment looking
at the recess, and then, as he took a hasty step forward, he started,
and a sharp hiss of indrawn breath came from his lips. A sudden sound
had struck upon his ear, a grating noise, then silence, then light
footsteps. In a moment Rosmore had blown out the candle, his one idea
being to hide himself; fear caught him, the darkness was so great. Who
was it? What was it coming towards him with those stealthy steps? Nearer
they came, and from one of the arches a faint glimmer of light, as
though the old walls were growing luminous, and a man carrying a lantern
entered the chamber and stood there, raising the lantern above his head.
It was Sir John Lanison. A little sigh of relief escaped from Rosmore.
He had only flesh and blood to deal with, a man full of foolish
superstition. He, too, must have come seeking treasure, but which way
had he come, and how had he found the courage to embark on such an
adventure? Must two participate in this treasure after all! No, however
great it might be, Rosmore wanted it all. He would not share it with any
man. A word growled in the darkness would terrify the superstitious Sir
John; he would flee as though ten thousand devils were at his heels, or
perchance the sudden terror might kill him. The alternative did not
trouble Lord Rosmore, and he smiled as Sir John came slowly towards him,
holding the lantern close to the floor that he might not step into some
hole. As the light came close to his motionless figure, Rosmore uttered
a low cry, weird enough to startle the bravest man. It may have startled
Sir John, but he did not shriek out in fear nor turn to flee. He raised
the lantern sharply, and it hardly trembled in his hand.
"Rosmore!" he exclaimed.
Rosmore was so taken back by this strange courage that he did not answer
at once, and the two men stood with the raised lantern lighting both
* * * * *
When Martin Fairley had left him down in the Nun's Room, Sir John had
been terrified. He had shouted for help to no purpose, and he was not
released until early on the following morning. How he came to be there
he did not explain. He went to his own room, and gave instructions that
he was not to be disturbed. Once alone, his mind became active, and he
shook himself free from his fear. Wealth was within his grasp. That
Martin had run away and left him did not shake his belief. Martin was a
madman, not responsible for his actions from one moment to another, but
in his trance he had seen this treasure, therefore it was there, Sir
John argued. More, the entrance to it lay behind the Nun's hard couch;
only a stone slab blocked the entrance. Greed took the place of fear,
and it may be that Sir John was a little off his mental balance, and
forgot to think of fear. He was certainly cunning enough to make plans
and to carry them out secretly. He left his room unseen, and the Abbey
by a small door seldom used; and, having secured a pick and a length of
rope while the stable men were at their dinner, he went to the Nun's
Room. He would chance anyone coming into the ruins and hearing him at
work, and nobody did come. He fastened the rope round a piece of fallen
masonry which was firmly embedded in the ground and lowered himself. He
worked all the afternoon, and the stone slab was loose before he climbed
out of the Nun's Room again. Then he went back and mixed with his guests
for an hour or two, so that they might not grow anxious about him and
come to look for him. Escaping from them with an excuse that he could
not play to-night, and must retire early, he went again to the ruins and
resumed his work by the light of a lantern. He had succeeded in gaining
an entrance, the hidden treasure was a fact; his one idea was to get
possession of it, and, absorbed in this thought, other sensations were
dormant for the time being. He was so savage that anyone else should
know the secret that he forgot to be afraid. When the lantern showed him
who his rival was, there was no need to be afraid, for Lord Rosmore
would assume that they could be partners in this as they had been in
much else, and Sir John smiled, for he intended to free himself from
such a partnership. He had a pistol with him, and since Rosmore had
evidently come to the Abbey secretly, no one would be likely to look for
"There are evidently two ways to the treasure, Sir John?" said Rosmore
after a pause.
"And we have found them," was the answer. "It is lucky that no one else
forestalled us. The treasure first. We may count it, and tell each other
how we found it afterwards."
Lord Rosmore turned to the recess, and Sir John went eagerly forward
with the lantern. The exact position of the treasure he had not known,
but catching sight of the iron-bound box, he determined that no one
should share its contents with him. He set down the lantern.
"The key in the lock!" he exclaimed. "It was foolish to leave it in the
"Who would come to this infernal tomb?" said Rosmore.
"Two of us have come," said Sir John, as he turned the key and raised
the heavy lid.
A few crumpled pieces of paper, one or two torn pieces of cloth, an
empty canvas bag, half of a broken jewel case, and in one corner the
glitter of two or three links of a gold chain. This was all the great
"You forgot that bit of chain when you removed the treasure, Sir John,"
said Rosmore, pointing to it.
"Liar! Robber! Where is it?"
Rosmore laughed; perhaps he was unconscious that he did so.
The empty chest seemed to have paralysed his brain for a moment. He
could not think. He could not devise a scheme for forcing the truth from
Sir John had only one idea--revenge. This man had robbed him. The
treasure was gone, but the thief was before him. With an oath he sprang
forward, there was a flash in Rosmore's face, and a report which echoed
back from every side sharply. The bullet missed its mark, chipping the
stone wall behind. Then the two men were locked together in a silent,
deadly struggle. Lord Rosmore was the stronger and the younger man, but
he had not recovered from the cramped position in which he had spent the
long hours of last night, and perhaps Sir John was mad and had something
of a madman's strength. Neither could throw the other off, nor gain the
advantage. Fingers found throats, and gripped and pressed inwards with
deadly meaning. Never a word was spoken. The lamp was overturned and
went out, each man holding to his adversary the tighter lest he should
escape in the darkness. Shuffling feet and gasping breaths, then a heavy
fall, then silence.
* * * * *
Daylight crept down into the Nun's Room and into Martin's room, with its
gaping hearth, but no one came out through the hole behind the Nun's
hard bed, nor climbed the narrow stairs into the tower room. The day
passed, and the night, and another dawn came. The door of the tower was
still locked on the inside, and the rope was still hanging into the
sunken room. That morning the rope was seen when the ruins were
searched, and presently two of the guests climbed down and entered the
underground chamber, carrying lanterns and walking carefully.
Sir John Lanison and Lord Rosmore were both dead. Both faces were
discoloured and told of a horrible struggle. It looked as if Rosmore had
succumbed first, for he lay on his back, his arms flung out. Sir John
was lying partly across his body; it seemed as though his fingers had
just relaxed their hold on Rosmore's throat.
Why this awful tragedy? One of the guests noticed the iron-bound chest,
and, looking in, saw the broken gold chain gleaming in the lantern
"A treasure!" he exclaimed, holding it up. "All that is left of it!"
Then they looked at the dead men, so suggestive in their ghastly
attitude, and they thought they understood. Those old monks, thinking
perhaps that they would one day return to their old home, must certainly
have buried a treasure under the walls of Aylingford.
The door of "The Jolly Farmers" had only just been opened to the
business of a new day when Gilbert Crosby came by a narrow track through
the woods on to the road. His horse was jaded, and bore evidences of
having been hard ridden.
At the inn door Crosby dismounted, and the landlord came hurrying out
to welcome his early visitor. He looked at the horse, and then shouted
towards the stables.
"It's evident you are going no further on that animal at present. Shall
I hide him in the place I have in the woods yonder? Have you given them
the slip, or are they close upon your heels?"
"There is no need to hide him," said Crosby, as he entered the inn. "It
would seem that you remember me."
"Aye, faces have a way of sticking in my memory. I had to conceal you
one night when you came inquiring for a fiddler."
"This morning I am come to look for him again."
"His appointment?" asked the landlord.
"Then you may wait contentedly. I never knew him to fail. If he failed I
should say he had met his death on the way. Death is the only thing that
would stand between his promise and its fulfilment. Come into the inner
room. We might get other early visitors, and the door in the wall might
"And food--what about food at this early hour? I am well-nigh starving."
"I'll see to that, and I take it that a draught of my best ale will take
the dust out o' your throat pleasantly. That beast of yours has done a
long spell from stable to stable, I warrant."
"From Dorchester," said Crosby.
"And that's a place you're well out of, since Jeffreys must be there by
Crosby nodded, and the landlord drew the ale and busied himself with
ordering his guest's breakfast.
Crosby had but half appeased his hunger when the sound of wheels was
upon the road. As he hurried out the landlord stopped him.
"Carefully, sir. Better let me see who it is."
"Quickly, then! It is a coach, and I must know who rides in it."
The tired horses came to a halt before the door, and by the coach was a
horseman, the dust of a long journey upon his horse, upon his clothes,
even upon the brown mask which concealed his face. Then the window of
the coach was lowered, and a head was thrust out, a head shining with
golden curls which the hood did not wholly conceal. Only a few minutes
ago Barbara had roused from her long sleep, startled for a little space
that the walls of her prison at Dorchester were not about her. The
knowledge that she was free, that she had escaped from Lord Rosmore,
quickly brought the colour to her cheeks, and her eyes were bright and
full of questions as she looked at the man in the mask.
She turned with a sharp little cry of bewilderment. The landlord,
standing at the inn doorway, had been thrust aside, and Gilbert Crosby
was beside her. He lifted her from the coach, yet even when he had set
her on the ground he did not release her.
"Gilbert, I do not understand--I thought--" and her eyes turned towards
the masked horseman.
"I know not who you really are, sir," said Crosby. "I know that you are
called 'Galloping Hermit,' I know that I am so deeply your debtor that I
can never hope to repay. At Lenfield a little while ago you saved my
life, to-day you bring me what is more than life."
"And a message," said the highwayman. "Word from a certain fiddler you
expected to find here. He will not come. It has fallen to my lot to
rescue this lady from a scoundrel, and I do not think he will attempt to
follow you. There are horses to be had from the landlord here, and in
half an hour you may be on the road for Southampton. The fiddler bids
you not to wait for him, but, on the road, to stop at a house named 'The
Spanish Galleon,' There you will find a friend who has secured your safe
departure from the country."
"You will not tell me who you are?" said Crosby, whose keen eyes were
trying to penetrate the disguise.
"'Galloping Hermit,' Mr. Crosby."
"While fresh horses are being harnessed, Mistress Lanison will have a
hasty breakfast, at least share the meal with us."
"Daylight is dangerous for me. I ride safely only in the night. A
tankard of ale, landlord, and then for a hiding hole."
Barbara gently put Crosby's arm away from her, and went to the
"Whoever you may be, I thank you from the bottom of my heart," she said.
"You cannot know all that you are to me. You have been constantly in my
thoughts; I will not tell you why, but I have shuddered to think what
must sometimes have happened when you rode in the night. Might not the
brown mask cease to exist? Some day I may be in England again, may be
strong to help if need should come. Take this ring of mine. The man who
brings it to me, though many years should pass between now and then,
shall never ask of me in vain. Burn the mask, sir, and learn that you
are too honest a gentleman for such a trade."
The man took the ring.
"Mistress Lanison, I have stopped my last coach," he said. "It was a
good ending since it saved you from a scoundrel. Do not think too
harshly of the past. It has had more honesty in it than you would
imagine. For love of a woman I took to the road; for love of a woman the
road shall know me no more. Ah, landlord, the ale! To you, mistress, and
to you, Mr. Crosby. May God's blessing be with you to the end."
He drank, and tossing the empty tankard to the landlord, turned his
horse and galloped back along the road.
For half an hour or more the coach stood before the door of "The Jolly
Farmers," and then, with fresh horses, started briskly on its journey to
Southampton. At the inn the landlord had waited upon his guests so
attentively that they could say little to each other, but in the coach
they were alone, shut away with their happiness from all the prying
world. With her golden head upon his shoulder, Barbara told Crosby all
that she had feared, all her doubts. There were so many things to make
her certain that he was "Galloping Hermit."
"I know," he answered. "It has suited my purpose sometimes while I have
been helping men to escape out of the West Country to let my enemies
suppose that I was; but it never occurred to me that you would think so.
Now I understand some of your words which troubled me, hurt me, almost.
Are you content to take the way with me, dearest? I have not forgotten
"Gilbert, I am ashamed now that I ever asked you to make it," she said,
clinging close to him. "Kiss me, and forgive me. I think I should have
gone with you even if you had been 'Galloping Hermit.'"
Awaiting them, and beginning to grow anxious, they found Sydney Fellowes
at "The Spanish Galleon." Crosby was not surprised, although he had half
expected to see Martin Fairley.
As Fellowes bent over her hand, Barbara thanked him.
"Gilbert has told me how much you have done for me," she said. "I have
heard of the triple alliance Surely no woman ever had better friends
"I wish Martin were here," said Crosby.
"We must talk of him presently," said Fellowes. "An hour for rest and
food, then you must be on the road again. I must come with you as far as
Southampton. It is my part to bid you farewell out of this country. I
hope before long it may be my part to welcome you back."
When they had started again, Fellowes took some papers from his pocket.
"These are for you, Mistress Lanison, to read at your leisure. I had
them from Martin Fairley to give to you."
"I wish I could have seen Martin to thank him too."
"That is impossible."
"Impossible! Why? Surely he is not dead?"
"No; yet I do not think you will ever see him again. Have you never
guessed his secret, Mistress Lanison?"
"Nor you, Crosby?"
"Surely Martin cannot be 'Galloping Hermit'!" Barbara exclaimed.
"He is. You will find the whole history in those papers," said Fellowes.
"I knew soon after that night at Aylingford, the night Rosmore and I
fought in the hall. It is a strange history. He came to Aylingford
shortly after you were brought there as a child, a chance derelict it
seemed, and not a little mad at times. But his coming was no chance. He
knew your father, and came to be near you and watch over you. In a sense
Martin was always a dreamer, but he was never a madman. He played a part
to get a lodging within the Abbey, and he has played that part in your
interest ever since. Many things which must have set you wondering at
times you will understand when you read these papers. He soon discovered
what manner of man your uncle was, and the kind of company the Abbey
gave shelter to. It was worse than you have imagined--a whirlpool of
vice and debauchery. Such vice is expensive, and a long run of bad luck
at play might easily bring a man to the verge of ruin. Your uncle came
to the brink of the precipice, his appetite for vice and play still
insatiated. Your fortune was in his keeping, and he used it."
"Then I have nothing!" exclaimed Barbara, turning to Gilbert, "and I
have been thinking and planning that--"
"My dear, your money was nothing to me."
"I know, but--"
"Better let me finish the story, Mistress Lanison," said Fellowes. "In
some way, I cannot tell you how, Lord Rosmore discovered what your uncle
was doing. He therefore obtained a hold over Sir John, which hold he
used for the purpose of forcing himself upon you, meaning to marry you.
I do not doubt that, in a way, he loved you, but he wanted your money
too, for Rosmore has squandered his possessions for years past, and must
be near the end of his tether. Martin declares that it is only money he
"Has he been using my fortune, too?"
"No, except those large sums which he has won from your uncle from time
to time. Possibly, in the firm belief that your money would some day be
his, he may have checked your uncle's recklessness, and he has never let
Sir John know his position. Sir John was usually an unlucky player, in
the long run he invariably lost, and there has hardly been a guest at
the Abbey who has not enriched himself. This fact set Martin Fairley
scheming. He became 'Galloping Hermit,' the notorious wearer of the
brown mask, and plundered travellers with amazing success. It has been
said of him that he never made a mistake, that the plunder he took was
always large. His victims, too, were always those who had bad
reputations; and, one thing more, Mistress Lanison, his victims have
always won largely at Aylingford Abbey. Where Sir John squandered your
fortune, Martin compelled Sir John's guests to disgorge on the high
road. He knew when they were worth robbing. As 'Galloping Hermit' he got
back a considerable part of your fortune--from the very persons who
profited by Sir John's ill use of it. For my part, I cannot call that
robbery. His plunder he stored at the Abbey, somewhere near the Nun's
Room. You and Crosby escaped from Martin's tower one night that way.
While you have been a prisoner in Dorchester, Martin has been to
Aylingford, and, playing upon Sir John's superstition, showed him one
way of breaking into the secret chamber where a treasure was hidden, and
in exchange heard what Lord Rosmore intended to do with you. You were to
be smuggled back to Aylingford. You will find all the history of his
robberies very clearly stated in those papers, but of the history of the
last few weeks, his rapid movements, his changes of character, his
pretence of poor horsemanship, you will find no mention. Crosby will be
able to tell you much of this. Having rescued you, Martin wanted
completely to secure your safety, and believing that Rosmore's greed was
far greater than his love for you, he conceived a plan which no doubt he
carried out and which I hope was successful. He had carefully placed in
a leather case papers containing his secret, together with the key of
his tower, and full instructions of how his hiding-place was entered.
This case he intended to drop where Rosmore could see it. He believed
that Rosmore would hurry to Aylingford before he made any attempt to
find you. We are close to Southampton, and safe so far, so Martin's idea
of Rosmore may have been a correct one."
"And Martin's money?" asked Barbara.
"Your money," Fellowes corrected. "It was moved from the Abbey some
little time ago, and is hidden at 'The Jolly Farmers.' Since you must be
out of England for a while, Martin thought you might like to give me
instructions concerning it."
"Mad Martin," murmured Barbara.
"Mad. Yes, in one way, perhaps," said Fellowes. "That way you will not
learn from those papers. He was a man, and near him you grew to be a
woman. Poor Martin! He was mad enough to love you."
Barbara put her hand into Crosby's. She remembered what the highwayman
had said that morning, she remembered how she had once stood in the dark
passage under Aylingford, one hand in Gilbert's, one in Martin's; two
men who loved her and had braved so much for her. And then she looked at
Fellowes, whose face was turned from her. He had said nothing of what he
had done, but she remembered that night in the hall.
"Three men; Gilbert and Martin, yes, and you, Mr. Fellowes," she said
softly, putting her other hand into his. "It was a triple alliance, and,
indeed, never was woman better served."
That night Gilbert Crosby and Barbara Lanison left England, and a few
weeks later were married in Holland, in which country they found their
first home together. When, a little later, England rose in revolt
against King James, some of the negotiations with the Prince of Orange
were conducted by Crosby, and he accompanied the Prince when he landed
at Torbay, receiving later a baronetcy for his services. He became of
some importance at the Court of William and Mary, but his happiest hours
were those spent at his manor at Lenfield. There his dreams had
fulfilment. Barbara flitted from room to room, as, in his visions, she
had so often seemed to do; many a time he watched her slowly descending
the broad stairs and held out his arms to her.
Sometimes a shade of sorrow would rest upon her brow.
"I was thinking of Martin," she said, when her husband questioned her.
Martin had never come to Lenfield. Gilbert could find out nothing about
him. There were still highwaymen on the road, but nowadays no one was
ever stopped by "Galloping Hermit" in his brown mask.
"I wonder what became of him," said Barbara; but she never knew.
ALONG THE NORTH ROAD
On the North Road there is a small inn, rather dilapidated and not
attractive to travellers. Its customers are yokels from the neighbouring
village, but occasionally a gentleman may be found warming himself at
the open hearth and drinking the best that the house contains. Such a
gentleman invariably rides a good horse, and is the recipient of
open-mouthed admiration from the yokels. No gentleman but a highwayman
would be there, they believe.
Only one man remained in the bar to-night, a jovial fellow of the farmer
type, a lover of horses by his talk, and he was wont to boast that he
had made the fortune of more than one gentleman of the road by the
animal he had sold him.
"Shut the door, landlord. I'll wait a bit, and have another tankard of
ale. I'm expecting a visitor."
"Who may that be?"
"One you know well enough, but perhaps you haven't seen him for some
In a few minutes there was a sharp knock at the door, and, when the
landlord opened it, there entered a man wearing a brown mask and
carrying a shapeless parcel under his arm.
"'Galloping Hermit!'" exclaimed the landlord, and it was evident that he
was pleased to see his visitor.
"So you got my message," said the highwayman to the farmer.
"Aye, but I doubt if I've got a horse to sell that you would care to
ride. What's become o' that mare o' yourn?"
"She's in the stables--I've just put her there. I want you to take her."
"Buy her? Well, I'll look at her, but buying and selling are two
"Do you suppose I'd sell her?" was the answer. "No; I want you to take
her and keep her--keep her until she dies, and then bury her in the
corner of some quiet field. You're honest, and will do it if you say you
will; and here's gold to pay you well for your trouble. She's done her
work, and the last few days have finished her. She had to help me save a
woman in the West Country, and it's broken her."
"I'll do it," said the farmer. "And you'll be wanting another horse?"
"Not yet. When I do you shall hear from me. Will you take the mare
to-night? If I looked at her again I do not think I could let her go."
"Aye, it's like that with horses, we know," said the sympathetic farmer.
"I'll take her to-night."
The landlord went to the stables with him, and when he returned found
the highwayman standing in deep thought before the fire.
"I'm tired, friend. Is there a hole I can sleep in until daylight?"
"I must start at daybreak."
"What! Without a horse?"
"Yes, and without this," he said, taking off his brown mask, showing the
landlord his features for the first time. "To-night 'Galloping Hermit'
ceases to exist."
He kicked the dying embers into a blaze, and dropped the mask into the
"That's the end of it. Show me this sleeping hole of mine," he said,
taking up his parcel from the floor. "What clothes I leave in it you may
have. I shall not want them any more."
With the dawn a man came out of the inn. He looked at the sky, and up
the road, and down it. Under his arm he carried a fiddle and a bow.
There fell from his lips a little cadence of notes, soft, low, not a
laugh, nor yet a sigh, yet with something of content in it.
"For the love of a woman," he murmured, and then he went along the road
northwards, his figure slowly lessening in the distance until it
vanished over the brow of the hill which the morning sunlight had just
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