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Title: Mistress Spitfire - A Plain Account of Certain Episodes in the History of Richard Coope, Gent., and of His Cousin, Mistress Alison French, at the Time of the Revolution, 1642-1644
Author: J. S. (Joseph Smith) Fletcher, - To be updated
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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MISTRESS SPITFIRE


      *      *      *      *      *      *

By the same Author.

WHERE HIGHWAYS CROSS.


  “His study of the first and only love of a middle-aged man who,
  for forty years, has lived only in his work and his thoughts,
  has no touch of conventionality, but is a singularly truthful
  and vivid rendering of the late, sudden, and almost convulsive
  blossoming of a supreme passion.”--_Daily Chronicle._

  “I very much doubt whether the story of a middle-aged man’s
  first and last love has ever been told with more of truth and
  tenderness than are found here.”--_The New Age._

  “A charming idyll. Thoroughly original, and cleverly worked
  out.”--_Guardian._


LONDON: J. M. DENT & Co.

      *      *      *      *      *      *


[Illustration: “Good day to you Master Poltroon!” says she]


MISTRESS SPITFIRE

A Plain Account of Certain Episodes in the History of RICHARD COOPE,
GENT., and of his Cousin, MISTRESS ALISON FRENCH, at the Time of the
Revolution, 1642-1644

Revised and Edited from the Original Ms. by

J. S. FLETCHER

Author of
“When Charles the First Was King,” etc.



[Illustration]

London
J. M. Dent & Co.
Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co.
1897

Second Edition

All Rights Reserved



                               _To_

                         MY FRIEND LIZZIE



  _The Frontispiece to this book is by Mr J. Walter West, and the
        Map has been specially drawn by Mr Lewis Kaberry._



CONTENTS


                                                                PAGE

                             CHAPTER I

  OF CERTAIN EVENTS WHICH HAPPENED AT EAST HARDWICK MANOR
      HOUSE, AUGUST 27-28, 1642                                    1

                            CHAPTER II

  OF MY MEETING WITH MY KINSMAN, ANTHONY DACRE, AT THE WAYSIDE
      INN--OF MY FURTHER ADVENTURES, MY DISINHERITANCE BY SIR
      NICHOLAS, AND MY DOINGS WITH THE PARLIAMENTARIANS--AND OF
      MY EMPLOYMENT ON AN IMPORTANT MISSION BY GENERAL OLIVER
      CROMWELL                                                    42

                            CHAPTER III

  OF MY SECOND MEETING WITH ANTHONY DACRE, AND ITS RESULTS--AND
      OF MY SERIOUS QUANDARY AS TO WHICH OF TWO DUTIES MUST
      FIRST BE PERFORMED                                          77

                            CHAPTER IV

  OF VARIOUS EVENTS OF IMPORTANCE WHICH TOOK PLACE DURING
      ONE NIGHT, AND CAUSED US CONSIDERABLE UNEASINESS AND
      OTHER EMOTIONS                                             103

                             CHAPTER V

  OF MY RECONCILIATION WITH SIR NICHOLAS, OF HIS LAST WISH,
      AND OF HIS DEATH AND OUR OWN SORE STRAITS                  143

                            CHAPTER VI

  OF MY REMARKABLE ADVENTURES WITH GREGORY AND OUR FORTUNATE
      DISCOVERY, OF SIR NICHOLAS’S BURIAL IN HIS OWN HOUSE,
      AND OF MY FLIGHT WITH MISTRESS ALISON                      177

                            CHAPTER VII

  OF OUR ADVENTURES UNDER THE BRIDGE AND THE PRIVATIONS WE
      THERE ENDURED, AND OF MY INTERVIEW WITH FAIRFAX AND ITS
      SAD RESULTS                                                207

                           CHAPTER VIII

  OF MY SURPRISING DELIVERANCE FROM DEATH, MY LAST MEETING
      WITH ANTHONY DACRE, AND OF CERTAIN NOTABLE PASSAGES
       ’TWIXT MISTRESS ALISON AND MYSELF                         235

[Illustration]



Chapter I

Of certain Events which happened at East Hardwick Manor House,
August 27-28, 1642.


I.

At seven of the clock I turned away from the window, where, for a
full hour, I had stood flattening my nose against the pane in a
vain attempt to see something of interest in the dripping garden
or the dank meadows outside. Sir Nicholas moved in his deep chair
by the fire and then groaned, his old enemy catching him afresh
and tweaking his great toe. Seeing that his pain had awakened him
I went over and stood at his side. I saw the firelight glint on
his frosted hair, and it woke in me some sleeping memory of a by
gone winter. Yet then it was August, and had been a bright one,
but that day we had suffered from a heavy rain which came with the
dawn and kept pouring itself upon us without ceasing, so that no
man putting his nose out o’ doors could have said with certainty
whether he sniffed April or November in the air. As for me, I was
heartily sick of it and everything, and when my uncle’s silvery
hair reminded me of winter I thought regretfully of the previous
Christmas and of Mistress Catherine and the mistletoe that then
hung over the very spot where I now stood watching Sir Nicholas
making wry faces at his foot.

“Plague!” says he, “Plague on this toe of mine! Let me counsel
thee, nephew--but what o’clock is it? God’s body! I must ha’ slept,
gout or no gout, why, I must ha’ slept an hour.”

“An hour and a half, sir, by the clock,” says I. “But, by the time
that I have watched at the window, a year, at the least.”

“Ha! Dull, eh? Why, nephew, I make little doubt that thou hast
employed thyself in some fashion that was not altogether--the
devil fly away with my toe!--not altogether without amusement. Thy
thoughts, now--what, when I was thy age I could ha’ mused by the
day together on something pleasant. Ha! I mind me of a day that I
passed under a beech tree--I was then in love--I cut her name and
mine--they were enclosed in a heart, and through the thicker part
of it I carved an arrow. Cupid, eh, nephew?--and--and----”

“But I, sir,” says I, “have no maiden to think of, seeing that none
thinks of me.”

“Why,” says he, with an arch look in his eyes, “that’s but a poor
reason, Dick, for God’s faith, there are many men think of maidens
that never think of them! Is there--plague take it, nephew! sit
thee down like a Christian rather than stand lolling there on
one leg like a dancing Frenchman. Is there, I say, no little
pastry-cook’s wench in all Oxford that thou hast not set eyes on
since Easter, and thought softly of? Ha, Dick, I mind me----”

But in the midst of his memories the pain in his toe seized him
so violently that he screamed to me to fetch Barbara, who came
leisurely from the housekeeper’s room, and bade me go forth and
leave her with him, which I was not loth to do. And being heartily
wearied and sick of the rain, and my poor uncle’s gout, and the
house, which I had kept all day, I threw my cloak about me and
lounged into the porch, and stood there, one shoulder against the
wall, staring at the raindrops which pattered in the courtyard, and
made a musical tinkle in every pool.

But there was naught in the courtyard or in the land beyond it
likely to rouse me out of that dullness of spirit into which I was
fast falling. The walls were dripping wet, there were rivulets of
shiny water in the road outside, and across that lay the fields,
as befogged and gray with the long day’s weeping as ever I saw
them in autumn. ’Twas still early in the evening--the previous
night I had seen the top of Pomfret church as I leaned against
that door at the same hour--but already there was in the air a
misty darkness accompanied by a chilling cold that searched its way
through my thick cloak. I half regretted that I had not set out
that morning for Doncaster, where I had promised to spend a day or
two with my college friend, Matthew Richardson. ’Twould have been
a wet ride thither, certainly, but what matter when I should have
had good company and profitable conversation at the end of it?
When Sir Nicholas had a touch of the gout he was neither company
nor conversation for any man save in the way of quarrelling, and
therefore I had kept away from him most of that day, striving to
amuse myself with such books as he possessed in his justice room,
or with the old guns and muskets that stood in racks on his walls.
I never could abide a wet day in a country house--in a town house
it makes little difference, I think, for there are diversions and
amusements of one sort and another, let alone a man’s occupation,
but in the country I am minded to be abroad, on foot or on
horseback, and to be kept inside by a day’s rain is exceeding
irksome to me. So I stood in the porch feeling in no very good
humour that August evening, and still the rain continued to fall.

There were, perhaps, more matters than one to trouble me that
night. Here was I, Richard Coope, a young man of one-and-twenty
years, at that time a scholar of Pembroke College in the University
of Oxford, destined by my uncle, Sir Nicholas, to be one thing,
while I myself mightily desired to be another. Because my father,
John Coope, died young, leaving me no fortune, Sir Nicholas had
taken me in hand, kindly enough, and had charged himself with my
up-bringing and education. He was minded to send me to the bar, for
something had persuaded him that I should at least become Lord High
Chancellor, and add new glory to the family name. And that had been
well enow, had I myself possessed the least liking for the quips
and quiddities of the law, which, as a matter of fact, I hated
like poison. My taste was for other matters--wholly and first of
all for the finer things in literature, such as a rare book or
tract, a copy of elegant rhymes, or a page or so of prose that was
worth the third reading. I had made verses myself in hours which
should have been devoted to what the folk called serious business;
and though there were often great law-books propped before me, my
eyes took in little of their contents, so long as a broadsheet of
ballads or such-like intercepted their gaze. After that--and ’twas
a taste that no man need be ashamed of, I take it--I cared for
naught so much as the sights and sounds of country life, and the
peaceful occupations that are their accompaniment. What I desired
for myself was that Sir Nicholas should let me live my own life
in his old house, and leave me his estate when he died, so that
I, like him, might be a country gentleman, and want for naught.
I never could see any objection to that notion--it was not as if
I cared for great riches, or had any desire to rise to perilous
heights in the world. My uncle, ’tis true, was not a rich man, as
some would count riches; but there was his Manor House, with its
comfortable surroundings and a thousand pounds a year wherewith
to maintain it in quiet dignity; and there was none to whom he
could leave it but me and my cousin, Mistress Alison French, who
was already provided for, seeing that her own father was alive
and a well-to-do man. To my thinking, the life of a country
gentleman would suit me well--I should breed cattle and sheep, and
occasionally compose a set of well-turned verses after the fashion
of Sidney, whom I admired greatly, and more than all, I should have
the scent of hawthorn blossoms and of the brown soil, instead of
the stink of those musty parchments which I never could abide.

Now, Sir Nicholas and I had talked these matters over that
morning, and we had differed, as we always did--at least, upon
this particular question. He was all for what he called my
advancement--I was for a quiet life after my own fashion.

“’Slife!” said he, after hearing my notions for the twentieth time;
“to hear thee talk, boy, one would think that all the life and
energy had gone out of us Coopes. And, beshrew me, so it has, for
thou and I are the last of the lot, and I am too old to lift finger
again.”

“I am willing enough to lift finger, sir,” I answered. “You would
not find me wanting if occasion arose to fasten up the doors and
stand a siege----”

“Why, faith,” said he, “and that may come ere long, in these times.”

“But in the law, to which you destined me, there is precious little
lifting of fingers save with a goose’s quill in them,” said I.
“Every man to his taste, sir; ’tis a saying that I learnt from
yourself.”

He looked at me meditatively.

“First and last,” said he, “I have laid out as much as a thousand
pound upon thee, Dick.”

“Sir,” I said, “you have never doubted my gratitude.”

“Thou art a good lad,” he answered. “I have not. But a thousand
pound--’tis a great sum to be thrown away. I think, Dick, the law
must occupy thee. What man, a Coope can achieve aught that he sets
his mind to! Thy father, now, was Registrar to the Archbishop--I
make no doubt he would have been Vicar-General and Chancellor of
the Diocese if death had not removed him. As for thee, with all the
advantages I have given thee, thou should’st at least become Lord
Chief-Justice. ‘Lord Chief-Justice Coope’--’tis a high-sounding
title, though I see no reason why not Lord Chancellor Coope.
However, when that comes I shall be dead and gone. In the days of
thy greatness, Dick, forget not to come here at times. The old
place will make a country house for thee--thou canst turn aside to
it in journeying ’twixt London and York--’twill be but poor lodging
for a Lord Chancellor, but----”

As I stood watching the rain patter on the flags I remembered
this, and laughed for the first time that day. Sir Nicholas was
so certain of the things of which I was filled with doubt that
his assurance gave me vast entertainment. He had regarded me as
a future Lord Chancellor from my boyhood, and now it was too
late to persuade him that such dignity was beyond my reach and
capabilities. I began to wonder whether it was worth while to
attempt persuasion upon him. In the very nature of things he could
not live many years, being then much beyond three-score: it would
therefore become me to follow his behests while he lived, and study
my own inclinations when he was dead. I think it was the laughter
which woke in me on remembering his prophecies as to my great state
that moved me to this sensible reflection--howbeit, some of my
gloom shifted itself, and I turned inside to make enquiry after my
good relative and see if I could do aught to entertain him until
his bed-time.


II.

Because of the rainy night Barbara had caused a rousing fire to be
lighted in the great kitchen, and near this as I passed through
were grouped the half-dozen serving men and lads whom Sir Nicholas
kept in his employ. Two of them were ancient retainers; the
remainder, lads that helped in the stables and with the cattle,
and led an easy life under the old knight’s rule. Of the two elder
men, one, Gregory, stood behind his master’s chair at meals, and
kept the key of the cellar; the other, Jasper, was half-hind and
half-steward. These two, as I turned into the kitchen, stood a
little apart from the rest, conversing with Barbara. Gregory,
holding in one hand his great bunch of keys and in the other a
flask which he had just brought from the cellar, stood open-mouthed
listening to Jasper; Barbara, her hands on her plump sides, stood
by him, wide-eyed and eager. The lads at the fire watched these
three, and from the scullery door two kitchen wenches peeped
wonderingly at Jasper’s nodding head.

Gregory brought me to a stand with an appealing look.

“Master Richard,” says he, in a whisper, “if so be you’ll pause
a moment, sir--Sir Nicholas is comfortable, thank God--there’s a
little matter----”

“What is it?” says I.

“Jasper has come in from Pomfret, Master Richard,” he says, still
whispering; “with the seven load of wheat a’ went, and has returned
with great news.”

“Exceeding great news,” says Jasper, shaking his head. “And the
wheat, Master Richard, sir----”

“Come,” says I, impatient, “what’s your news, Jasper--out with it,
and let the wheat rest.”

“We were afraid to let the master hear it, Master Richard,” says
Gregory. “’Tis of an upsetting nature----”

“’Tis news of war, Master Richard,” says Jasper, interrupting
him. “The King and the Parliament is going to fight. I heard it
talked of in Pomfret market. They do say that the fighting has
begun--somewhere in the south country, I think--but I was that put
about over the wheat that I didn’t rightly catch all particulars.
But they were certain that it’s war at last, and the castle is to
be garrisoned for the king.”

Now there was naught much to be surprised at in this, for it was
what we had expected for many a long day. We had heard rumours of
it all that month, and it was well known that the country gentlemen
all over the riding were making themselves ready against such time
as the fight ’twixt King and Commons should come to a head. But
now that the final news came to me I felt some little shock, one
reason of which you shall presently understand. Also I felt some
debate within my own mind as to my uncle’s position and safety.
His Manor House of East Hardwick stood within three miles of the
Castle of Pomfret, and I had little doubt that the latter would
eventually become a centre of active operations, in which case the
neighbouring houses of any importance were not unlikely to suffer
at the hands of beleaguering troops. These things I thought of as I
listened to Jasper’s news.

“Say naught to the lads and maidens,” says I. “They’ll only blab it
over the village within the hour. I will mention it to Sir Nicholas
myself----”

“Pray God it bring not another fit of his complaint!” says
Barbara. “’A suffered a terrible twinge after you was gone out,
Master Dick.”

“’Twill be more likely to make him forget it,” I answers, going
towards the door which led into the great hall. But before I could
lay hands on the latch, there came a great stamping of feet in
the porch outside and a loud voice calling for a groom. The lads
tumbled out, with Jasper in their rear, and presently there came
blustering in a great man of loud voice, demanding Sir Nicholas,
and protesting that the night was not fit for a dog to be out in.
He caught sight of me and stared, and came stamping across the
kitchen with a wet hand outstretched.

“That should be young Dick,” says he. “’Tis a long time since I saw
thee, youngster--wast then a lad the height o’ my knee. Art grown a
man now, and hast sinews of thy own, I warrant me.”

“’Tis Sir Jarvis Cutler,” whispered Gregory, as I took the man’s
hand.

“Thou art right, old cock!” says Sir Jarvis. “Gad! I like the
look of thy nose and of the bottle thou carriest. And how does my
old friend Sir Nicholas, young Dick--well and hearty, I hope--for
there’s need of him now, i’faith.”

“I fear that need must still be needy, then, sir,” says I. “My
uncle suffers much at present, and stirs only from his couch to his
chair.”

“’Sdeath!” says he. “’Tis bad news, that--but, what, he will find
a substitute in thee, I doubt not. Hark thee, Dick, I have ridden
hither from Stainborough, and my horse, poor beast, ’tis hard put
to it--we will not to Pomfret to-night--there’s no hurry--see to it
that my horse is cared for--Sir Nicholas, I am sure, will grudge
neither it nor me a night’s lodging. And help me to some dry gear,
lad, that I may go in and see thy uncle--’od’s body, as bad a night
as ever I was out in!”

So I sent Gregory to tell Sir Nicholas of Sir Jarvis Cutler’s
arrival and to prepare food and drink, and I had Sir Jarvis to my
own chamber in order to provide him with dry clothes.

“We are much of a build, thou and I,” says he. “Faith, thou hast
grown mightily o’ late, lad. But thou art more for books than
swords, eh, Dick? Why, so Sir Nicholas gave me to understand,
but in these times there’ll be more sword-work than book-work,
boy--aye, marry!”

“Then the war has broke out, sir?” says I. “We heard something of
it, but our news was scanty.”

“’Tis true enough,” he says, struggling somewhat with his
garments. “Faith, I can give thee an inch or maybe two in the
shoulders, Master Dick. Yes, lad, true enough--His sacred Majesty
hath set up his flag against the rebels and traitors.”

“His Majesty hath set up his flag?” I says. “When and where, sir,
might that be?”

“At Nottingham, lad, five days ago. I myself was there at the time,
and came north with charges and messages enow to fill better heads
than mine. But let us to Sir Nicholas, Dick. I have much to say to
him.”

We found my uncle greatly excited over the arrival of Sir Jarvis,
and giving orders as to food and drink to Gregory, who was laying a
table close to the hearth. He made an effort to rise from his chair
as we entered, but the gout tweaked his toe, and he sat there,
groaning and making wry faces as he stretched out his hand to the
knight.

“Plague on this gout!” says he. “It prevents me from playing
my part, Sir Jarvis, as I should; but you are welcome, indeed.
Gregory, a flask of my Tokay--fine stuff, Sir Jarvis, on such
a night as this. Draw near to the fire, Sir Jarvis. Dick, thy
manners, boy--give Sir Jarvis a seat near me--’tis parlous weather,
Sir Jarvis, and must needs have its effect on them that have crops
out.”

“There are other matters than crops to think of, neighbour,” says
Sir Jarvis. “If crops were all----”

“Ah, you bring us news? We hear rumours o’ things in this quarter,
but unless a neighbour visits us----”

“The King hath declared war against the rebels,” says Sir Jarvis.
“His Majesty set up the Royal Standard at Nottingham five days ago.
I marvel you have not heard it sooner.”

“Jasper heard it in Pomfret this afternoon,” I says. “I was coming
to tell you of it, sir, just as Sir Jarvis arrived.”

“God save His Majesty!” says my uncle. He sat staring at the
blazing logs in the hearth. “It vexes me sore that I cannot lift
sword in his honour. Once upon a time----”

“Aye,” says Sir Jarvis, “the dog cannot always run, neighbour!
Howbeit----”

He addressed himself to the good things which Gregory set before
him. While he ate and drank I slipped away and went to my own
chamber to think over the news which he had brought. For me it bore
a significance which I was not able to explain to either Sir Jarvis
Cutler or my uncle, nor indeed to any one in the Manor House. I
have said that when I heard definite rumour of it from Jasper it
gave me some sort of shock. And the reason was that I now knew the
time for action was at hand. I and others of my way of thinking
had banded ourselves together at Oxford, and had taken oath that
when the moment came for striking a blow for the rights and
liberties of Englishmen we would give in our open adherence to the
Parliamentarians, and do our best to bring to an end the tyrannical
rule under which good men and true citizens had long suffered.
There was scarce one of our society that did not spring from a
Royalist family, even as I myself did, and for that reason we had
been obliged to keep our tongues strictly guarded; saying naught,
though we heard much. We were all young men of a certain turn of
thought, that is to say, our philosophical studies, prosecuted for
the most part according to our own tastes, had led us to favour
republicanism rather than monarchy, and this in spite of the fact
that we were surrounded by every influence likely to make our
opinion tend in the opposite direction. Now, we had resolved that
whenever war should break out, as we felt it must, our theories
should find their practical outcome in taking arms in defence of
the popular cause, and so as soon as I heard the definite news
brought by Sir Jarvis Cutler I knew that ere long there must be
open breach between my uncle and myself. I had hoped that this
might never be, for I knew Sir Nicholas would bitterly resent
what he would term my treachery to the King. However, I could not
take my hand from the plough even had I wished, for I was bound
by a solemn oath. And, indeed, save for Sir Nicholas’s sake I had
no wish to do so, I, like many a young man of those times, being
heartily sick of the cruelties and oppressions under which so many
of my countrymen suffered.

I was now sorry that I had not ridden over to Doncaster that day to
my friend Matthew Richardson, who was one of our society, and acted
as a kind of centre round which the rest of us revolved. I should
have been glad of his counsel--besides which I knew that he would
be in possession of full information as to all that was going on.
It was apparent to me that I should shortly have to declare myself,
for Sir Nicholas would certainly design my assistance for the King,
and that, let come what might, I knew could never be given. So I
sat there some time, wondering what would next happen, and wishing
that things might be so ordered that no breach should occur between
me and my worthy relative. But presently there came a tapping at my
chamber door, and Gregory pushed in his head to inform me that a
man waited my coming in the porch below.

“’A seems to have ridden hard and far,” said Gregory, as we went
down the stair together. “Pray God he ask not a night’s lodging,
Master Dick, for Sir Jarvis’s beast has got our only empty stall,
and the night is too wild to turn one of our own horses into the
fold.”

“’Twill but be some post that brings me a letter,” I answered. “I
shall not invite him to tarry.”

“A mug of ale, sir,” said Gregory. “Maybe he would stay long enough
for that. If you----”

I nodded, and crossing the kitchen shut the door behind me. There
was a lamp hanging in the porch, and by its light I saw the
messenger--a thick-set fellow--standing in the doorway, muffled to
the eyes in his cloak, and holding his horse’s bridle over his arm,
across which the brute thrust a wet nose that sniffed at the light.

“Good-even, friend,” says I, standing before him.

“Good-even, master,” he answers, scanning me very close. “A wet
night and foul ways.”

“Aye,” says I.

“Master Richard Coope, I think?” says he.

“The same, friend,” says I.

He fumbled at his reins and drew the horse nearer to him with a
movement of his hand.

“The sword of the Lord,” he says in a low voice, looking full at me.

“And of Gideon!” says I.

He plunged his free hand into his breast and brought out a packet,
which he presented to me without loss of time.

“That is my duty, master,” says he; “the rest you know as well as
I. I will now go on my ways--there is more to be done to-night, bad
as the weather is.”

He backed his horse from the door. I followed him into the still
falling rain. He had one foot in the stirrup as I spoke to him.

“This is not my house,” I says, speaking low, “but I could get you
food and drink if you have need.”

“None, master,” says he. “At such times as these we must take no
risk for the sake of carnal delights.”

“But is there no answer to this packet?” I says. “Did not they that
sent you----”

“You will answer the message in person, master, I doubt not,” he
says. “Fare you well--the Lord protect you.”

The darkness swallowed him up ere he reached the open door of the
courtyard, but I lingered a moment in the porch and listened to the
sound of his horse’s feet on the road outside. I heard him ride to
the corner. The horse broke into a quick trot: I knew by the sound
that the man was making along the road to Pomfret.

I went back into the house. A stable-lad nodded his head by the
kitchen fire, and Gregory was coming from the cellar with a mug of
ale.

“’Tis for the man without, Master Richard,” says he. “On such a
night----”

“The man is gone,” says I. “He would stay for naught--’tis but a
book he has brought me--drink the ale yourself, Gregory.”

I hastened to my own chamber and broke the seal of the packet,
which bore my name and address in Matthew Richardson’s hand. There
was little writing within for anybody to read, but the lines
signified much to my eyes.

  “That which you wot of,” it ran, “has come to pass, and it now
  behoves us to do what we are resolved upon. Within twenty-four
  hours of your receipt of this, then, you will join me at the
  third milestone on the road between Doncaster and Sheffield.--M.
  R.”

As I finished reading this brief epistle for the second time,
Gregory came tapping at my door again.

“Your uncle is asking for you, Master Richard,” says he. “Sir
Jarvis has finished his supper, and they are talking of the
war--Lord help us all!--though, indeed, it seems as if Sir Nicholas
forgot his pains in discussing of fights and such-like. But I
misdoubt that to-morrow----”

He lighted me down the stair, shaking his grey hair and muttering
to himself. In the great kitchen he left me, and I went over to the
hearth and placed Matthew Richardson’s letter amidst the glowing
cinders. I stood there until I saw it crumble into white ashes.


III.

When I went into the hall, my uncle and Sir Jarvis sat in their
chairs by the hearth, the great screen protecting them from the
draught, and the fire piled up with logs, and glowing so bright
that you had fancied it was a winter’s night rather than an August
evening. On the table between them stood a second flask of Sir
Nicholas’s Tokay, and I observed that in his excitement my good
uncle had filled his own glass and sipped largely from it, which
was a bad thing for his gout, and to be paid for afterwards. Sir
Jarvis Cutler was smoking tobacco from a pipe--a newfangled habit
which I knew my uncle could not abide, but which he evidently
forgave in a guest so much after his own heart.

“Sit thee down, Dick,” says Sir Nicholas. “Od’s body, I wondered
what had got thee. These boys, Sir Jarvis, will for ever be at
their books--pour thyself out a glass of wine, Richard: ’tis vastly
different stuff, I warrant me, to what you find in your common
rooms at Oxford. Sir Jarvis, spare not--there is more where that
came from--if it were not for the gout I would help you to crack
more bottles than one. Nay, Dick, forget thy books and rhymes,
man!--this is no time for a long face.”

“With due respect, neighbour,” says Sir Jarvis, “’tis a time that
will bring long faces enow. But as for books, I agree--’tis rather
a time for swords than words. Thou wilt have to lay aside the pen,
lad,” he says, turning himself to me, “and take up the sword.”

“I trust not, sir,” says I. “I have no mind to see fighting ’twixt
folk of one speech and blood.”

“Why,” says he, “that’s well said from one point o’ view, but
neither here nor there at this present. For fighting there will be,
aye, ’twixt father and son, and brother and cousin.”

“Say, rather,” chimes in Sir Nicholas, “’twixt loyal and disloyal,
faithful and unfaithful. A plague on all rebels, say I!”

“I have been telling thy good uncle, Dick,” says Sir Jarvis,
pressing fresh tobacco into the bowl of his pipe, “of what there
is afoot in these parts amongst those of us that are true to the
King’s Majesty. Now that his Highness hath necessities we must
needs help him with ourselves and our substance. There’s been a
meeting in York, Dick, amongst certain of us--but for his plaguey
gout your good uncle had been there--and we came to a decision--no
hangers back, Sir Nicholas--to do what we could, and that’s our
best. Some have given a hundred pound, some three hundred, some
five--’od’s body! why trouble about the amounts?--each gentleman
has done what he could--it mounts up in some cases to as much as
ten thousand pound. Then men are being enlisted, and are to be
maintained at our charges--a costly business, Sir Nicholas, but one
that must be endured. And now that His Majesty’s flag is raised in
defiance of these traitors, we are forming a garrison for Pomfret
Castle, and it shall go hard with us, but we’ll hold it against
every rebel of them.”

“Tell the lad what names you have amongst you, Sir Jarvis,” says my
uncle. “’Tis a fine list of worthy and gallant gentlemen, and any
man should be proud to join their company.”

“Why, first,” says Sir Jarvis, “there’s Colonel Lowther, that will
govern and command us, and with him Colonel Wheatley and Colonel
Middleton. As for the gentlemen Volunteers, we have formed them
into four divisions. Colonel Grey will lead the first, Sir Richard
Hutton the second, Sir John Ramsden the third, and Sir George
Wentworth the fourth. I myself am second in command to Sir John,
and I warrant thee, Master Dick, we have some pretty fellows with
us, as have all the other captains. Some hundred and thirty gallant
gentlemen we are in all; but we can find room for more, and as thy
worthy uncle is beyond fighting at this moment, why, we will make a
place for thee, his representative.”

“Sir,” says I, “you’re very kind; but I have no mind for wars and
battles. My occupations are of a peaceful nature; if I fight it
must be with pens and parchment for weapons rather than pikes and
swords.”

“’Slife, Dick!” exclaims my uncle, peevishly. “This is no time for
peaceful acts, man.”

“’Twas but this morning you counselled me not to be led astray from
my profession that is to be, sir,” says I; “and I’ve thought things
over, and decided to follow your wise advice. If I am to be Lord
Chancellor, ’tis time I gave more heed to my books.”

“Tut, tut!” says he, still more peevish, for his toe began to tweak
him again. “Since morning, lad, a good many things have happened.
We must needs deny ourselves for the king’s sake, and ’tis my wish
that you should assist our neighbours in keeping Pomfret Castle for
His Majesty. Say no more on’t: Sir Jarvis, fill your glass.”

“I doubt the prospect of war has little charm for thee, Master
Dick,” says Sir Jarvis, eying me in a fashion I had no liking for.

“I am not a soldier,” says I, putting as much ill-humour into my
voice as I could, for I was playing a part, and wished to do it
well. “And I am not minded to engage in brawls----”

“Brawls!” he cries. “’Sdeath, lad, thou hadst best not use that
word before one of His Majesty’s officers! Brawls, quotha! Why,
boy----”

“Fie on thee, Dick!” says my uncle. “Fie! Brawls, indeed! Why,
’tis the most righteous of quarrels into which His Majesty hath
entered. Say no more, Sir Jarvis; the lad hath been bred to papers
and books, but he will fight well enough, I warrant you, when he is
once shown the trick of the thing. I wish I had had thee trained in
fence, Dick; but I never thought there would be occasion for thy
use of it. Sir Jarvis, help yourself to the bottle. Nay, man, be
not sparing--who knows what there may not be in store of hard work
to-morrow? If it were not for this plaguey gout of mine, I would
help you more freely; but, i’faith, friend, I am in sore pain, and
will ask your leave to go to my bed. Dick, play the host to Sir
Jarvis, boy. Spare not the Tokay, Sir Jarvis--Gregory will serve
you.”

Now, when Gregory and Barbara between them had helped my uncle to
his own chamber, Sir Jarvis and I sat before the fire, not over
lively companions. He smoked his tobacco, and from time to time
refilled his glass, and now and then he cast sidelong glances at
me, who watched him out of my eye-corners.

“Thou art not too fond of the king, then, Master Dick?” says he at
last, glancing at me.

“Sir,” says I; “I know no reason why I should discuss His Majesty
with you or any man.”

“Aye,” says he; “I have heard that answer before, and know what it
means, lad. Faith, you may deceive the old knight upstairs, but
not the one that sits with you down below. I have heard there is
disaffection amongst some of you young Oxford sparks--aye, I heard
it a six-month since.”

“’Tis a matter of complete indifference to me, sir,” I says, as
cool as I could.

“’Od’s body, lad!” he exclaims with a sudden fervour. “Thou art
prettily unconcerned about these things, but if I met an enemy to
the king I would run him through as soon as look at him!”

“Would you, sir?” says I.

“Aye, would I!” says he. “Were he my brother, aye, or father, I
would, Master Dick.”

I laid hands on the flask and poured myself out a glassful.

“Here’s your health, sir,” I says, bowing to him.

“I never thought to find thee disaffected,” says he, taking no heed
of my compliment.

“Have you done so, sir?” I asks him.

He favoured me with a hard look.

“Faith!” he says, half muttering to himself, “I don’t find much
enthusiasm in you.”

“You forget, sir,” I answers, “that I am to be a lawyer. ’Tis not
my trade to show my feelings, but rather to conceal them.”

“Be damned to your feelings!” he raps out. “’Slife, man, there
are half the lads in England shouting for one side or t’other
to-night, instead o’ sitting as you do with a face as long as those
parchments you pour over.”

“I am quite agreeable, sir,” says I. “Let them shout--I suppose I
have a right to preserve my voice for the courts of law.”

“Oh, preserve it!” he answers.

“Will you take some more wine, sir?” I says very polite, and
pushing the flask towards him.

He stared at me from under his bushy eyebrows and laid his pipe on
the table.

“No!” he says. He rose and stretched himself on the hearth, his big
body seeming to eclipse the leaping flames. “I’ll to bed,” he says.
“Good-night--and more spunk to you. Master Richard,” and he strode
across the hall to the door.

I jumped up at that.

“By God!” says I, a sudden passion raging within me. “If occasion
should ever serve, Sir Jarvis, you shall see what spunk I have!”

With his hand on the door he turned and looked long at me, as I
leaned forward over the table staring straight into his eyes.

“Aha!” says he at last. “I see how it is--egad, Dick, I thought it
strange if I could not draw thee! Well--well--as I said before,
’twill be house against house, and brother against brother, aye,
and son against father. Good-night to thee, Dick.” He swung through
the door and left it open. I heard his heavy tread on the kitchen
flags, and then the clank of his sword’s heel as it caught each
stair. I stood there in the same attitude until all was still
again. The fire crackled behind me. I suddenly bethought me of
the letter which Matthew Richardson had sent me, and ran out to
the kitchen hearth, half afraid that some scrap of it might have
escaped the flames. The fire had smouldered away; it was all dead
ashes; and before it sat Jasper, his hands folded across his
stomach, fast asleep.


IV.

When I came into the hall next morning it was later than my usual
hour for appearing before my uncle. I had slept ill during the
first part of the night, and kept my bed late in consequence.
During the night the weather had changed, and the sun was now
shining brightly across the meadows and the garden outside our
windows. My uncle, evidently relieved of his pain to some extent,
sat at the table, breaking his fast, but there was no sign of Sir
Jarvis Cutler.

“Thou art late, Dick,” says my uncle as I made my obeisance to him,
“and Sir Jarvis is well on his way to Pomfret if a’ be not there
already. In these times, lad, one must stir one’s self and be up
and about.”

“I trust that your pain is relieved, sir,” says I, feeling glad
that our guest had departed.

“Why,” he answers, stifling a groan, “’tis certainly somewhat
abated, nephew, and I have made shift to walk with a stick from
my own chamber. In these days”--this time the groan came in spite
of his rare fortitude--“a man must not think as much of his own
ills and aches as of his Majesty’s necessities. It behoves me, Sir
Nicholas Coope, knighted by His Majesty’s father, to do my duty,
nephew Dick--even as it behoves thee to do thine.”

“I trust, sir,” says I, “that you will not find me wanting in my
duty to you.”

“I’ve no doubt of that, boy,” says he, with a keen look at me, “but
I wish thou wouldst show a little more enthusiasm for the good
cause. ’Od’s body, mightst ha’ been a crop-eared Anabaptist last
night, by thy long face, instead of a Royalist gentleman!”

“Why, sir,” I rejoins, “to my mind there is no occasion for
rejoicing at the prospect before us. It seems to me time for
weeping and mourning rather than laughing and carousing. I see no
pleasure in watching Englishmen slay Englishmen.”

“Thou art a curious dull dog, Dick,” says my uncle, giving me a
queer look. “’Sdeath, man--why, when I was thy age it would have
rejoiced me to see prospect of a broken head or two. But this is
neither here nor there when there’s business to talk of. Touching
this matter of the garrisoning of Pomfret for the king, Dick, I
have promised Sir Jarvis that thou shalt fill the place which I
should have taken myself. Thou shalt not go empty-handed, either,
lad--thou shalt have a good horse and good money, and a man--Robin
shall attend thee--he has a pretty knowledge of many things that
will be useful to thee. As for the law, it must wait. Tis a pity,
but we must do the king’s behests first of all.”

Now I was by that time in a tight corner, and felt myself fairly
put to it. But into Pomfret Castle I would not go, and so there was
naught for it but to say my say.

“With all respect, sir,” says I, “I humbly venture to disagree with
you. I have no wish to volunteer under Sir Jarvis Cutler, or any
other gentleman. I desire to prosecute my studies, and to further
my own advantage, as you have always desired me to do. I have no
taste for wars, and least of all for a war of this sort. So I beg
you, sir, to permit me to return to my peaceful avocations, and do
what I can with them until such time as peace may be mercifully
vouchsafed to us again.”

Which was all most damnable hypocrisy, seeing that I was as much
filled with desire for war as he himself, and as ardently wishful
that my cause might triumph as he was that his might succeed. But
’twas pardonable, I think, for I did it to avoid giving the old man
more pain than was necessary. If I had told him in so many words
that I was leaving him to join the Parliamentarian army it had
killed him, of a surety; to leave him under the impression that I
was returning to my studies would only disappoint and grieve him.

He stared at me across the table, and I saw the veins swell in his
forehead.

“’Od’s life!” he says. “I believe thou art naught but a tame cock
after all. Do I understand thee, nephew, to refuse service to His
Majesty, and to prefer thy stinking parchments and musty folios to
the sword and pistol?”

“Infinitely, sir,” says I, lying harder than ever.

He got up from the table, gave a deep sigh, and hobbled over to his
chair. I ran forward to help him: he pushed me away testily.

“Leave women’s work to women,” he says, giving me a spiteful look.
“Lord! that thou hadst been a lass, and Alison French a man!”

“I am not the less a man because I am a man of peace, sir,” I
answers, more damnably hypocritical than ever.

“Confound your cool manners!” says he, losing his temper. “’Od’s
body, a pretty fellow you have turned out, setting yourself
against the king’s interests! Now hark thee, nephew--either go to
Sir Jarvis and take service under him as I desire, or else leave
here at once and return to thy books and parchments: I’ll have no
laggards dangling about my hall in time o’ war.”

“Dear sir,” says I. “I was about to ask your permission to return
to Oxford this day. ’Tis still far from term time, but there is a
professor there with whom I am anxious to continue my reading.”

“Aye,” he says, as if to himself. “Aye--oh, return at once! I could
not abide to see thee playing with books when thou shouldst be
practising fence.”

“Then I have your leave, sir?” I asks him, abusing myself inwardly
for my deceit, now as it was for his own sake.

“Oh, take it, nephew,” he answers. “Take it, by all means.” He
turned himself to the fire and tapped his stick impatiently on the
hearth. “I am disappointed in thee, Dick,” he says, presently.
“’Slife, what are all the young men coming to? Had it been Alison,
now--what art loitering there for?” he screams. “Get thee ready,
boy--get thee ready and go--go! We are going to have war and
bloodshed--thou wilt faint if the scullery-wench gets her finger
pricked!”

So it came about that within the hour my horse stood saddled and
bridled in the courtyard and I was ready to depart. I went in to
say farewell to my uncle and found him cold and ceremonious.

“I wish thee a safe journey, nephew,” says he. “When it will be
possible to ask thee to visit me again is more than I can say,
seeing that the times are so troublous. Hold--here is money in this
purse--”

“Dear sir,” says I. “I am already furnished through your
generosity, and shall want for nought yet awhile.”

He stared at me, and then returned the purse to his drawer, from
which he took out a sealed packet.

“You ride south, nephew?” says he, “Be good enough to call at my
brother French’s house as you go towards Doncaster, and deliver
this letter to your cousin.” He put the packet into my hand. He
looked at me narrowly. “By God, Dick!” he says, suddenly, losing
his politeness, “I never thought to see the day when a Coope would
run away from a bit o’ fighting. Get thee gone--get thee gone, boy!”

So I was perforce obliged to ride away from the Manor House leaving
a wrong impression behind me. And yet, of two evils I think I chose
the lesser one, for it was better that my uncle should believe me
a coward, loving the peaceful occupations of art and letters more
than the alarms of war, than that he should know me to be what he
would have termed a renegade, a traitor, an enemy to God, king, and
country. Nay, if he had known the true facts of the case I doubt
if he would have allowed me to leave him at all--he would rather
have sent me under strong guard to Pomfret Castle and bade Colonel
Lowther deal with me for a rebel.

At the top of the hill over against Thorpe village I turned in my
stirrups and looked back at East Hardwick. I saw the roof of the
Manor House beyond the trees, and as I watched I caught the flutter
of gay colours from the pole at its north gable. Sir Nicholas had
caused to be hoisted the royal standard, in defiance, doubtless,
of all the disaffected in those parts. It waved against the light
breeze, and I looked at it again and at the roof beneath it ere I
clapped spurs to my horse and went on towards the Barnsdale woods.

It was then drawing near to eleven o’clock in the forenoon, and
though the roads were heavy because of the previous day’s rain, I
had time enough and to spare, both in doing my uncle’s errand and
in keeping my rendezvous with Matthew Richardson. As for the errand
I had little pleasure in undertaking it, for my cousin Alison
French and myself had never met in all our lives without falling
out. She had the hot quick temper of all the French’s, and was as
ready to give as she was to resent a sharp word. That, indeed, was
the memory which I had retained of her since our last meeting,
which was many years previously, she being then but a chit of a
girl and I a boy of some twelve years. As I rode along I recalled
one little incident in which both had played a part.

“As if,” quoth she, “I cared for a great lubberly boy like you!
Why, there are lads in the village----”

“There are lasses in the village too!” said I, not to be outdone.
“And half-a-dozen of them that are prettier than you.”

We were standing in Sir Nicholas’s kitchen-garden at the time,
at a spot where Jasper had recently set down a row of raspberry
canes. She snatched one of them up and began to belabour me soundly
across head and shoulders, caring nothing where the blows fell. I
remembered with a whimsical sense of humour that at first I had not
known what to do, but that at last I had twisted the cane out of
her little hands and broken it across my knee, whereupon she had
burst into tears. In truth, she was a curious creature as a child,
and I had little relish in the prospect of meeting her again, so
I determined that if I came across some trusty servant in Francis
French’s park, I would give him the packet and go on my way.

But as chance would have it, I had hardly just turned out of the
highroad when whom should I light upon but Mistress Alison herself,
going abroad with two great hounds, whom she kept to heel with a
stout whip. Although I had seen naught of her for nine years I knew
her again at once, for there was no mistaking the flash of her
hawk’s eye nor the quick fashion in which she turned it on myself.
But she had forgotten me, and at that I felt some natural pique,
and resented her forgetfulness.

“Mistress Alison French?” says I, drawing rein at her side, and
staring hard at her beauty as I swung my cap to the saddle bow.

“The same, sir,” says she, that quick glance of hers mixed with a
little wonder. “But----” and then she recognised me. “Ah,” says
she, “’tis Dick Coope! So you know me, Dick, although----”

“Although you have grown so monstrous handsome, cousin,” says I, a
little rudely.

“’Tis just because you yourself are a proper-looking man that I did
not recognise you,” she said with a frown. “You were as ungainly a
boy as ever I saw, Master Richard, and I don’t think your manners
are improved even now.”

I said naught, but sat staring at her. She had grown to a divine
tallness, her figure was as plump and ripe as a woman’s should be,
there was a rich colour in her cheeks, and a fine glossiness in her
dark hair that was mighty taking. As for her mouth it was as sweet
a morsel as a man could wish to taste, and I could see that if
her eyes would melt they would put one in such a way as few women
can--they were so full of that swimming roguishness that can become
tender and alluring. Howbeit, she kept them hard enough at that
time.

“And what brings Master Dick here?” asks she, fingering her whip.

“This packet, fair cousin,” says I, and handed her Sir Nicholas’s
letter.

“From my uncle,” she says. “You give me leave to read it, cousin? I
can ill bide delay of any sort.”

“’Tis reward enough,” says I teasingly, “to sit by and gaze on so
much beauty.”

But at that she frowned heavily, and when she cut the silk and was
fairly amongst the crabbed lines within, she frowned still more,
and once I saw her white teeth close on the pretty nether lip and
crush the blood out of it, whereby I guessed that Sir Nicholas had
given her news that was none too sweet. And at last she folds up
the sheet with a rustle and whips it into her breast, and looks at
me with a glance that had made the great Turk himself shake in his
shoes.

“So you prefer books to swords, Master Richard?” says she.

“Did I say so?” says I.

And for very love of sport I laughed mockingly. She drew herself up
to her full height--egad! I had never seen aught so taking!--and
her pretty mouth curled itself, while the rich colour flushed over
her dark cheek.

“Good-day to you, Master Poltroon!” says she.

“Good-day to you, Mistress Spitfire!” says I.

And with mutual consent we turned our backs on one another. But I
laughed long and loud as I trotted away to keep my tryst.



Chapter II

Of my Meeting with my Kinsman, Anthony Dacre, at the Wayside
Inn--of my Further Adventures, my Disinheritance by Sir Nicholas,
and my Doings with the Parliamentarians--and of my Employment on an
Important Mission by General Oliver Cromwell.


I.

It was but little beyond noon when I turned out of Francis French’s
park into the highroad, and I suddenly bethought myself that if I
went immediately to the trysting place I should be as like as not
to cool my heels there for some time ere Matthew Richardson joined
me. His message had required me to meet him within twenty-four
hours, and of the twenty-four there were still some seven or
eight to run. “Faith!” says I to myself, “he might have been more
explicit--does he expect me to sit by the wayside like a tinker who
puts his mare in the hedge-bottom to graze for her supper?” And I
went on somewhat out of humour, and that not altogether because
of Matthew’s thoughtlessness. To tell truth, Mistress Alison’s
last words, though I had laughed at them, had stung me rather
sharply and roused a certain anger in me. Now that I was out of her
presence I felt her scorn more than while I sat watching her. “So
I am to be flouted by every chit of a lass, am I?” says I, with
some bitterness. But on the instant my humour changed, and I fell
to laughter again at the thought of her looks when I paid her back
in her own coin. “What care I?” says I, shaking my bridle reins.
“Here’s for whatever comes next,” and so I cantered forward.

At the joining of the roads against Hickleton, I came to a wayside
inn of so inviting a sort that I involuntarily pulled up my beast
and asked myself whether it were not some time since breakfast.
I then discovered that I was prodigiously hungry, and so made
no more ado, but rode into the yard and handed over my horse to
the hostler, bidding him take good care of it, as it was my sole
dependence for a long journey. The fellow looked at it somewhat
curiously.

“I could swear, master,” says he, “that this is of old Sir
Nicholas Coope’s breeding--we have its marrow in yonder stable at
this moment--’tis a mare that Master Dacre of Foxclough rides--I
never saw two beasts more alike.”

“Aye?” says I. “Why, truly, thou hast a rare eye, lad--but what is
Master Dacre’s mare doing in your stable?”

“Master Dacre’s within,” says he, nodding his head towards the inn.

“Oh!” says I, and stands staring at the door, somewhat nonplussed.
I had not expected to meet any of my kinsfolk just then and scarce
relished the notion. “Come,” says I to myself, “what signifies
Anthony Dacre?--we’re as near strangers as may be,” and I once more
bade the man see to my horse, and walked into the house.

They seemed somewhat quiet inside--there were but two or three
men drinking in the kitchen, and the landlord leaned idly against
the corner of the settle, his hands tucked under the wide apron
that covered his capacious paunch. At sight of me he started
into activity. My eyes cast about them in search of Anthony--the
landlord noted it, and thought I looked for a place worthy of my
condition. “If your honour will but step into the parlour,” says
he, and flings the door open before me. So I slips in, and there
sat Anthony Dacre with a jug of ripe ale before him and some trifle
of food such as a wayside inn affords to chance comers. He gave
me a glance as I stepped within the room, and I saw that he did
not recognise me, which was naught to be surprised at for we had
not met those seven years. For a moment, then, I stood staring at
him, half doubtful whether to make myself known, or to go on my
way without recognising him. Faith! I have since wondered many’s
the time indeed, whether much of what followed might not have been
prevented if I had turned on my heel and left Anthony to refresh
himself in peace.

Now this man Anthony--at that time my senior by some three years,
and as proper a looking man as you might desire to set eyes on--was
the son of old Stephen Dacre of Foxclough House, that was related
to Sir Nicholas Coope by his marriage with Mistress Dorothy, the
old knight’s youngest sister. As for old Stephen and his wife
they were both dead, and all that they had, which was but little,
now lay in Master Anthony’s hands. A poor parcel of land it was,
that manor of Foxclough, the soil being stony in one place and
marshy in another, and old Stephen had done naught to improve
it, but had rather drained its feeble resources in order to keep
up his roystering habits, much to the grief and perturbation of
Sir Nicholas, who was given to frugality, though hospitable as a
gentleman should be. Thus Master Anthony had but little to live
and keep up his small state upon, and since he was well minded to
do as his father and grandfather had done before him and live as
royally as might be, there was naught for him but to curse his
fate and sharpen up his wits to his own betterment. And so far as
his own wits were concerned he saw no better chance, I suppose,
of improving his condition than by courting the society of Sir
Nicholas, and seeking to ingratiate himself in the old knight’s
favour. Thus it was that when we were lads together Anthony was
constantly at the Manor House, and made himself rival to me (though
indeed I knew naught of it at the time, being young and unlearned
in such matters), in my uncle’s affections. But there was something
occurred between them--I never knew what it was--which alienated
them, or, rather, which caused Sir Nicholas to look with disfavour
upon Anthony, and after that the latter never came to the Manor
House that I knew of, nor did my uncle ever speak of him except
to say now and then that Anthony was a real Dacre, and would be a
scapegrace and roysterer all the days of his life.

Until I met Anthony at the inn I had not heard of him for some
two years. It was said that he had gone to the wars, and that
Foxclough--which was a half-ruined barn of a house when old Stephen
died--was closed. Then it was thought that he was dead, or had gone
across seas in search of treasure. Certainly, it had never mattered
a straw to me whether he was dead or alive, here or there. I knew
naught of his secret desires for Sir Nicholas’s land and money, and
it would have made no difference to me if I had known of them. But
since he was a kinsman, and we had been lads together--at which
time, I, as the younger, had somewhat admired him--I made up my
mind to speak to him now that we had met accidentally.

“You have forgotten me, Master Anthony,” says I, standing before
him at the table while the landlord lingered at the door waiting
for my commands.

He paused in the act of lifting his cup to his lips, and stared at
me.

“Why--” says he, “I am somewhat--is it Dick Coope?” he says,
half-recognising me. “Lord! I did not know thee, Dick.”

He stretched out his hand across the table. “Sit down, lad,” says
he. “We will drink a cup together--let me recommend this ale to
thee. But perchance thou wouldst like a flask of----”

“Ale for me,” says I, “It’s all I am like to get for awhile, and
maybe more than I shall get.”

“Oh!” says he, and looks at me curiously. “Aye? Well, every man
knows his situation best, Dick. Let me see, ’tis some time since we
set eyes on each other, I think.”

“Some seven or eight years, I should think,” says I, sitting down
before him at the table.

“Aye, it must be all that,” says he. “And how goes the old knight,
my worshipful uncle--od’s zounds, he and I had a sore difference
the last time we met, Dick. But you’ll know all there is to know of
that, no doubt.”

“Nay,” says I, “I don’t--Sir Nicholas can be as close as any man
when he likes.”

“I should ha’ thought he’d have had no secrets from thee,” says he.
“Art a lucky man, Dick, to be heir to so snug a little property,
and I lay the old knight has a nice warm sum put away in some old
stocking. As for me,” he says, spreading out his hands, “here I
sit, as needy a poor devil as any scare-crow in a road-side field.”

Now I know not what it was that moved me to it, but there was
something in me that morning which prompted me to say all that I
thought, whether it were wise to say it or not. It may be that my
parting with Sir Nicholas, and that last stinging epithet bestowed
upon me by Mistress Alison, had disposed me to seek consolation
from the first person I met; certain it is, that sitting there with
Anthony Dacre, who was well-nigh a stranger to me, I had no more
sense than to tell him all that was in my mind.

“Aye,” says he again, “as needy as any scare-crow, Dick, and maybe
needier, seeing that he wants naught, and I want all.”

“Why?” says I, “I don’t know that you’re alone there, Anthony. Your
estate----”

“A patch of stones and bog,” grumbles he.

“It will feed something,” says I.

“A score miserable cattle,” says he.

“Why,” says I, “but that’s something. Now here I am with naught.”

He looked across the table at me in a sudden surprise, and if I
had kept my wits about me, I should have noticed his quick curious
glance.

“Hast never quarrelled with Sir Nicholas!” says he. “Gadzooks, I
thought thou wert--well, well,” he says, laughing, “then I am not
the only one of his relations to disagree with the old knight, it
seems. But what has parted you, Dick?--I understood you were a sort
of young Sir Nicholas already.”

“’Tis a political difference,” says I, like the fool that I was.

“Hah!” says he. “I can well believe it in these times. And for
which side art thou, Dick?--hark thee,” he says, bending across the
table to me, “I’m not afraid to tell thee, lad, that my sympathies
are all with the Parliament. ’Sdeath, I have been considering this
last week or so whether I won’t join with them--’tis a gentlemanly
occupation, that of arms.”

“’Tis what I am about to adopt,” says I.

“I trust on the right side,” says he.

“I am for the Parliament,” says I, stoutly.

“Aye, and Sir Nicholas is a staunch King and Church man,” he says.
“Well, well--so you differed on that point, eh?”

“Something like it,” says I. “He would have had me go into garrison
at Pomfret Castle under Sir Jarvis Cutler.”

“A man must never give up his principles,” says he. “You stood by
yours, of course, Dick?”

“As you see,” says I, feeling somewhat important, and being
foolishly willing to parade it.

“I fear the old knight will disinherit thee, Dick,” says he,
regarding me closely. “Even as he did me some seven years ago
because I dared to contradict him on some trifling matter. ’Tis a
touchy old cock, and can ill bide opposition from any man.”

“Faith,” says I, “Can he bide it from a woman? He is like to have
it in plenty if I know aught,” I says, the memory of my little
scene with Mistress Alison still fresh in my mind.

“Oh!” says he. “Is he so? And how may that be, Dick?”

“He has sent for Alison French,” says I, draining my cup.

“Our cousin Alison, eh?” says he, still curious. “Aye, he had
always a tender spot in his heart for the lass.”

“Will he preserve it?” says I. “She has the sharpest tongue that
e’er I heard.”

He looked at me with interest. “I ha’nt seen her this two year,”
says he. “She bade fair to be a fine woman.”

“Fine enough,” says I. “But preserve me from her tongue--’tis keen
as a newly-whetted sword.”

“You seem to bear some lively recollection on’t,” says he, looking
at me with amusement. “Well, well--I seem to have come home to
some strange news. But thou art not off, man--sit out another jug
of ale with me.”

“I must be gone,” says I. “I am riding south.”

“And I am for my old ruin of a house,” he answers. “I have not set
eyes on’t this two year, Dick. I must see to it, I doubt--and then
for the wars.”

“Belike we shall meet there,” says I, and shakes him by the hand
and goes out to my horse. As I rode away from the inn I saw him
come to the door and gaze after me. He threw me a wave of his hand
as I turned the corner.


II.

Still in a sore discontent with myself and my recent doings, I
jogged forward through Hickleton and Sprotborough to Warmsworth,
and coming to the trysting-place about four o’clock of the
afternoon, sat me down by the roadside and waited until such time
as my friend Matthew Richardson should make his appearance. As
for my horse, I tied him up to the mile post and bade him crop
the grass within reach to his heart’s content “Yes,” says I,
“eat while thou canst, poor beast--God only knows what cheer we
shall have in the days that are coming!” By which you may perceive
that I had no great joy at the prospect before me. Now this may
seem strange, and yet ’twas not strange, for, as I have told you
before, I had never much inclination for such an active life as a
soldier must needs live, and still less for the privations that
fighting men are necessarily put to. But having put my hand to the
plough--by which I mean, having sworn to embrace, and if need be,
to fight for the popular cause--I was bound in honour not to look
back. And surely my sympathies were all in favour of the cause I
had espoused--it was but a natural sluggishness that made me hanker
after peaceful pursuits at a time when most men were furbishing up
their old weapons with uncommon zeal.

About five o’clock came Matthew Richardson, mounted on a good
horse, and full of enthusiasm and fervour. He greeted me with
warmth, but was somewhat taken aback on perceiving that I was not
armed.

“Why, what?” says he, staring at me. “Is it thus you ride to
war, friend Richard? Where be thy accoutrements, thy armour, thy
greaves, thy sword and spear----”

“You forget,” says I, “that I am escaped from a house where every
weapon is sacred to the cause of the King’s Majesty. ’Tis a marvel
that I have come hither at all.”

“Ah!” says he, “I forgot, ’tis true, that your uncle is a staunch
Royalist. Well, but we must arm thee, Richard, at the first
opportunity. I have friends in Derbyshire,” he says, musingly,
“that will fit thee out, I think. So now to horse and let us
onward.”

“Whither away first?” says I.

“To Northampton, lad. ’Tis there that Essex is gathering the army
in which lies all the hope of England. A brave array it is,” he
says, “judging by all that I hear.”

“I have heard naught of it,” says I, as we jogged along. “Until
last night I did not even know that war had broken out.”

“You are welcome to such news as I have,” says he, and for the
next hour he entertained me with information about the doings
of the Parliamentarians. The Earl of Essex, it seemed, had been
named general-in-chief and had appointed various officers to serve
under him, amongst whom were Kimbolton, Stamford, Holles, Hampden,
Cholmley, and Wharton. Lord Bedford was general of the cavalry, and
had under his command some five thousand men, captained by lords
and commoners, of whom Cromwell was one and Ireton another. “Three
and twenty thousand men, horse and foot, there are,” says Matthew.
“Truly, the oppressor hath need to quail and quake before them!”

“’Tis certainly a goodly array to hear of,” says I.

“Yes,” says he, with enthusiasm, “and ’tis representative of the
will of the people, Dick. Shouldst hear all that I have heard
of the sacrifices that have been made! High and low, rich and
poor--faith, lad! I had not thought that the popular cause had so
many friends. But yesterday comes Geoffery Scales--thou knowest
Geoff?--he will meet us at Mansfield on our way--and tells me
that when he was in London t’other week, there was the wildest
enthusiasm for the Parliament. Why, there has been plate of
gold and silver sent in for melting, and women of fashion have
given their gew-gaws, and the poorer sort their rings and little
ornaments--praise be to God!” he says, with a sudden fervour. “It
rejoiceth my soul exceedingly to perceive so vigorous a feeling in
favour of liberty.”

“Why,” says I, “but is there not an equal feeling on t’other
side, Matthew? It seems to me,” says I, “that for every ounce of
enthusiasm on our side the Royalists can show another, and maybe
more, on theirs.”

“Thou art come out of a Royalist hot-bed,” he says, not over well
pleased. “I trust they have not shaken thy faith at all, Richard?”

“Marry, no,” I says. “I daresay ’tis strong as thine, lad, though
I do not show it in just thy fashion. Thou art a dreamer, a
visionary, a man of fine and airy spirit, friend Matthew, and
thou dost see far into the future, whereas I am slow as an ox at
thought, and mighty sluggish into the bargain. Howbeit, I will
strike as many blows as you like for the good cause.”

“Yes,” says he, his eyes kindling, “and what a cause it is! Thou
callest me a visionary, Dick--why man, ’tis true I have seen the
rarest things in my dreams of what this nation may be, once freed
from the ancient oppression.”

“Aye, and what shall she be, Matthew?” says I. “That is, if our
side wins?”

“If our side wins?” he says angrily, turning hastily upon me. “If
our side wins! Why, man, we are bound to win--wherever yet in the
world’s history was there a popular cause that was not successful
in the end? But to thy question--why, Dick, we shall set aside the
tyrant and all his unholy crew, and after that we shall govern the
nation in justice and righteousness and there will be abiding peace
in the land.”

“The Lord grant it!” says I, with a sigh. “Faith!--’tis precisely
what I desire. Let us press on, Matthew, and hasten its coming.”

So we went forward, joined by one or other of our fellows at
various places along the road. Some of them were enthusiasts like
Matthew Richardson, who believed that they had a heaven-sent
mission to bring about the millennium by resort to arms, others
were like myself, in full sympathy with the wrongs of the nation,
who had come to the sorrowful conclusion that naught but war
would settle matters, and had therefore resolved to join the
Parliamentary forces. Five-and-twenty of us there were altogether,
all students of the ancient University of Oxford, who rode into
Northampton under Matthew Richardson’s command to take service
under Essex, every man bringing his own horse and his own gear, and
each resolved to do his best for the cause.

Now if this were a chronicle of my doings with the Parliamentarian
army I could here set down the history of many things which
happened to me during my service under its flag, for in good sooth
those were stirring times and I saw much of what went on. But this
is a plain account of the most notable passage in my own life and
in that of Alison French, my cousin, and all that I have so far
writ is as it were a prolegomena to the important business of my
story. But since you may know where I was, and what I was occupied
with during the period which elapsed ’twixt my leaving the Manor
House in 1642 and returning to it in 1644, let me tell you that
I was engaged in fighting the battles of the people in no paltry
fashion. Faith! when any man talks to me of the glories of war
I laugh in my sleeve at him for a fool that knows naught of his
subject. I was in Ireton’s troop during those two years, and know
as much of bloody heads, empty bellies, and sleeping out o’ doors,
as the best of them. The marvel is, looking back upon it from the
standpoint of a greybeard, that I endured so much privation and
discomfort, who had all my life been accustomed to gentle living
and soft quarters. But we were young, and young folks, especially
if they have any enthusiasm for a cause, or dogged belief in its
righteousness, will endure a deal. Now I had little enthusiasm,
but much dogged belief, and when I had finally assumed the steel
helmet and mastered the long sword of a trooper, there was in me
a grim determination to fight for the true cause that made me
regardless of either a raw wound or a couch of damp straw.


III.

From the time that I said farewell to Anthony Dacre at the door
of the wayside inn until June of the following year I never
heard aught of my relatives, though they, as it appeared--thanks
to Master Anthony--heard no little of me. I was here and there
with the army under Essex all that autumn and winter of 1642-43,
and truth to tell, we had no very brave times of it. There was
discontent and despondency, and also there was disease and
desertion, and there was the affair at Kingston Bridge where we
let the king escape us in the most childish fashion, and these
matters did us little good, as you may believe. The king was
negotiating, and quibbling, and lying, at Oxford, and nobody was
sorry when spring came and put an end to all the talk and writing.
Essex reunited his army, and there was not a man of us that did not
look forward to the resumption of hostilities. It was Hampden’s
notion that we should immediately invest Oxford, which was at
that time ill calculated to withstand a siege, but Essex thought
differently, and made for Reading, which he reduced after a ten
days’ siege. About the middle of June we approached Oxford and
fixed our headquarters at Thame, within ten miles of the city, and
it was while we lay there that I received news of my relations at
the Manor House.

There came into my tent one afternoon a tall fellow that first
stared about him with an air of great curiosity, and then enquired
if he spoke to Master Richard Coope.

“You do, master,” says I.

“My name is Stephen Morrel,” says he.

“I never heard on’t before,” I says. “Have you business with me,
Master Morrel?”

He lugged a packet out of his breast and held it towards me so that
I could see the handwriting.

“Do you recognise that fist, Master Coope?” says he.

“Why!” says I. “’Tis my uncle’s.” There was no mistaking the
crabbed up and down strokes. “Sit you down, Master Morrel,” I says,
“Faith! I had no idea that you carried news to me.”

“Why,” says he, “I know naught about the news, Master Coope. But
suffer me,” he says, seating himself, “to give you some account of
the manner in which this packet came into my hands.”

“With the greatest joy in the world,” says I. “But don’t be long in
your story, for I am mighty impatient to read my uncle’s letter.”

“I will waste no words,” says he, settling himself in a fashion
that made me think he intended at least an hour’s discourse. “It
was after this fashion,” he says. “You must know, Master Coope,
that I set out from the North some three weeks ago, bearing
despatches from Sir Thomas Fairfax to the Earl of Essex. ’Tis
a mighty desperate thing, let me tell you, this carrying of
despatches through a lonely country where you may as like as not
be stopped by stray parties of the enemy, or fall across some town
or village that is mad for the King’s Majesty. What do you think,
Master Coope, on that point?”

“Sir,” says I, “I am so exceeding loth to interrupt you that I
shall not trouble you with my thoughts. This packet, now--?”

“Aye, to be sure,” says he, “Well, Master Coope, I progressed
safely through divers difficulties--though, indeed, I had one
adventure twixt Northallerton and York that has elements of danger
in’t--until I had passed the town of Pomfret by some two miles,
when my horse had the ill-fortune to fall and cut its right knee
very severely. As you may believe, this put me in a sad position,
for my orders were imperative. Now as I stood there, wondering what
to do, there came along the road an old gentleman of exceeding
fine presence, and with him the handsomest young gentlewoman that
I have seen this many a day. ‘Sir,’ says I, ‘I am in sore trouble,
and crave your assistance. My horse has cut its knee somewhat
severely--if your stable is at hand suffer me to lead him there
that I may wash and bandage his wound.’ ‘Of a surety!’ says he,
very prompt and polite. But he suddenly looked at me from head to
foot. ‘What art thou?’ he says, with rank suspicion in his eyes.
‘Sir,’ says I, ‘I am an officer in the Parliamentarian forces.’
‘A rebel!’ says he. ‘A renegade! Get thee gone, traitor--expect
no help from me--shouldst hang from yonder oak!’ ‘Sir,’ says I,
‘I entreat you to forget that I am your foe, and beg you only to
remember that I am a gentleman, a Christian, and in need.’”

“Faith!” says I, “you touched him in a sore place there.”

“So I perceived,” says he, “for he immediately straightened himself
up and looked at me very fierce. ‘Hah!’ says he. ‘Bring thy horse
after us--I have forgotten thy first description of thyself, young
man.’ So I walked after him, the young gentlewoman having gone on
before, and presently he turns aside into an ancient courtyard that
lay within the gates of an old manor-house. ‘There,’ says he, ‘take
thy beast into the stable and doctor him--God forbid that I should
not do thee mercy, even if thou art an enemy.’ ‘Sir,’ says I, ‘I am
no enemy to you, but your very much obliged servant.’ ‘Tut, tut,’
says he, and goes into his house. So I made for the stable with my
horse and there put his wound to rights, and felt thankful that I
had fared so well. But my story is wearisome to you, Master Coope?”

“Sir,” says I, “since you introduced my worshipful uncle into it,
it has possessed the keenest interest for me.”

“Well,” he says, “while I was repairing the damage to my beast’s
knee, the old gentleman, your uncle, came to me again and looked
at me with some curiosity. ‘So thou art in good sooth, a rebel?’
says he, at last. ‘Sir,’ says I, ‘I am what you call a rebel, and
you are what I call a rebel.’ ’Tis a mere difference of opinion
between us.’ ‘Hah!’ says he. ‘Well I grieve for thee, young man. Be
advised; go home, and serve the king loyally.’ ‘Sir,’ I says, ‘I
serve a greater Power than the king, and am on its business now.’
At that he walks up and down the stable awhile with his head bent
and his hands behind his back.”

“A favourite position of his,” says I, my thoughts going back to
other times.

“Then he comes back to me and looks me squarely in the face.
‘Art thou by any chance going nigh to the army commanded by the
traitor Essex?’ says he. ‘Sir,’ I says, ‘as between Royalist and
Parliamentarian, no; as between gentleman and gentleman, yes.’ He
takes another turn or two. ‘I have a lad, my nephew, with that
army,’ says he. ‘Wilt thou take a message to him?’ ‘Of a surety,’
says I, ‘if I should chance to come across him.’ ‘I have no certain
news of his whereabouts,’ says he, ‘but if thou canst find him--his
name it is Richard Coope--tell him that--nay,’ he says, ‘why should
not I write him letters with my own hand?’ ‘Why not, indeed?’ says
I. ‘But canst thou tarry?’ says he. ‘Sir,’ says I, ‘I will tarry
an hour to please you.’ Now at that he bustled me into the house
and had me into his hall, where I found the young gentlewoman I
spoke of plying her distaff, and conversing with a man of sinister
countenance, yet handsome withal----”

“Anthony Dacre!” says I.

“That indeed was his name. Well, the old gentleman bids the girl
see to my wants, and faith! she caused to be set up before me
a noble collation, with good wine, but not one word would she
exchange with me of conversation, but was as coldly polite as you
can imagine. However, the man talked with me somewhat freely, and
seemed desirous of hearing something of my business, as to which,
you may be sure, I said naught to him. After a time back comes the
old knight and gives me this packet, whereupon I took my leave. The
sinister-faced man came forth with me. ‘As you are riding towards
Doncaster,’ says he, ‘I will set you on your road for a mile or
two.’ ‘’Tis agreeable,’ says I, and away we rode at an easy pace.
Now within the half-hour we came to a steep bit of road where there
were many trees on either side.”

“’Tis Barnsdale,” says I, mighty interested.

“I don’t know the name,” says he, “but I have lively
recollections of what took place there. This fellow that was riding
at my side suddenly whips out a pistol and presents it at my face.
‘Give me that packet!’ says he. ‘If you value your life, give it
to me on the instant!’ Now I then knew what I was dealing with,
so I made a rapid movement with my horse and suddenly knocked the
pistol out of the fellow’s hand, and had drawn my own ere he could
get at his sword. ‘Softly, good sir,’ says I, and lets him see that
I meant to shoot him at the least sign of resistance. ‘What is
your meaning?’ I says. But he began to scowl and swear, whereupon
I relieved him of his weapons and secured them to my own saddle
bow. ‘I perceive,’ says I, ‘that this packet bears some news for
Master Richard Coope which you have no mind for him to receive.’
‘Now,’ I says, ‘I don’t know where Master Coope is, or if he be
dead or alive, but if the latter I’ll see that this letter reaches
him.’ And with that I left him--‘and here,’ he says, handing me the
packet, ‘is your worshipful uncle’s epistle, Master Richard--and
faith! I think you’ll acknowledge that I had some slight adventures
in carrying it safe to you.’”

And with that he went out of the tent ere I could thank him for his
kindness.


IV.

“Here’s a pretty puzzle!” says I to myself, staring at my uncle’s
letter, and full of wonder as to its contents. “What on earth is
that fellow Anthony up to now that he should try to shoot a man who
happens to be carrying me a packet from Sir Nicholas? Faith!” says
I, cutting the strings, “there seems to be something queer in all
this--let’s see what the good old knight has been minded to write
to me.”

Now Sir Nicholas’s letter ran thus--I transcribe it from the
original, which is strictly preserved with my other family papers:--

  “NEPHEW RICHARD,

  “As Providence will have it there is put into my power to-day
  the chance of holding some communication with you, and I hasten
  to avail myself of the same, and to take my pen in hand to write
  to you, though indeed I have no certain knowledge as to whether
  you be alive or dead. However, if you be alive I trust these
  may reach you, so that haply you may repent of your exceeding
  naughtiness upon hearing my admonition thereon, and be turned
  once more to better ways. Thou art my only brother’s only child,
  and ’tis a sore vexing of the spirit to me that thou shouldst so
  strangely depart from those paths of virtue in which I strove
  to make thee walk. But let me address myself to the immediate
  purpose with which I write to you. It must be done in few words,
  for the messenger is in sore haste to be gone on his evil
  errand. God forgive me for lending assistance to an enemy of the
  king!--’Swounds, I would not have done it, but that he appealed
  to me as a Christian, and that I thought there might be some
  chance of communicating through him with thee, Dick.

  “I understood, nephew, when you left me, that you were there and
  then returning to your studies at Oxford. This was displeasing
  to me, for I had wished you to fight for the King’s Majesty, but
  after all there was naught of absolute evil in your desire or
  your faintheartedness. And yet two days are not gone by after
  your departure when in comes my other nephew, Anthony Dacre,
  whom I had dismissed years ago in your favour, Dick, and tells
  me that he met thee carousing in some wayside inn, and declaring
  thy intention of joining thyself to the rebels. ’Sdeath, it was
  a marvel that I did not there and then run him through with my
  sword! I never heard tell of such a thing as a Coope fighting
  against his sovereign--’tis most marvellous. But he assured me
  in the most solemn fashion that he spake the truth. I trust in
  God, nephew, that he lied, and yet I fear me he did not, for I
  have since heard that thou and Lawyer Richardson’s son, and some
  other of your college friends and acquaintance, have attached
  yourselves to the enemy, being hot-headed young fools. Still I am
  loth to believe aught that I hear against thee, Dick, for a Coope
  should always serve the king whose good pleasure it was to make
  me a knight.

  “I know not whether these will ever reach thee, for I have really
  no knowledge of where thou art, but I now write to inform thee
  that if thou hast indeed joined the rebels all is over between
  thee and me. I trust to hear better news, or at any rate that
  thou wilt repent even at the eleventh hour--I could find it in
  my heart to forgive thee, nephew, even then--and return to thy
  proper place, instead of consorting with a pack of scoundrelly
  crop-eared knaves that would disgrace Tyburn.

  “I would have thee know that Anthony Dacre--whom I like not--is
  for ever pressing his attentions upon Mistress Alison, thy
  cousin, whom I had always meant thee to marry. I cannot tell
  whether the wench favours him or not.

  “I beseech thee, nephew, if these should come to thy hand and
  find thee a rebel, to repent thee of thy naughtiness, and to
  immediately abjure thy errors and return home. I am sore vexed at
  thy froward conduct, and shall visit thee sharply for it, but as
  I am a merciful man and stand in _loco parentis_, as the saying
  is, to thee, I shall also reserve for thee my forgiveness on
  condition that you do henceforward fight on the right side.

  “Anthony Dacre told me that you spoke disrespectfully of me and
  of Alison when he met you at the wayside inn as you was on your
  way to the wars. I should joy to know that in this, as in that
  other matter, A. D. was a liar--as I firmly believe him to be,
  being much inclined that way.

  “How hast thou managed for money? Alas--I wish I knew whether
  these words will ever come under thy notice.

                 “I rest thy affectionate kinsman,

                                           “NICHOLAS COOPE, Knt.”

  _Post-Scriptum._--“The messenger, being still at his meat, I
  open this to tell thee, Dick, that we had yesterday a litter of
  fourteen young pigs from the old sow, and that thy bay mare
  gave us a fine foal about a sen’night ago. The land is looking
  very well hereabouts, and so far we have had none of our stock
  or produce carried off by your rascally Parliamentarians, though
  we have twice contributed liberally to the needs of passing
  regiments of the king’s forces, which, to be sure, was our
  bounden duty. My gout is a deal better--I am in hopes to harness
  myself and go to the wars yet.

  “If all that A. D. says of thee is true, I am minded to cut thee
  off altogether. So no more at this present from thy uncle.”

I laid this letter aside with many diverse feelings. It showed to
me plainly that that precious rascal Anthony had drawn me out as we
sat at the wayside inn, and had forthwith blabbed all I had said
to Sir Nicholas, embellishing his news, doubtless, with a deal of
his own invention and ornament. “If ever there comes a chance,
Master Anthony,” says I, “I’ll pay you for your kindness.” And
yet, going by the letter, was there aught untrue in what Anthony
had evidently told them at the Manor House? It was true that I
had left Sir Nicholas under a false impression; it was true that
I had joined the Parliamentarians; it was true that I had spoken
of Mistress Alison French in a way that was aught but respectful.
“Lord!” says I to myself, “What a position am I placed in by my own
folly.” And yet I was conscious of naught wrong in my conduct. I
had left Sir Nicholas as I did in order to spare his feelings (and
to save him from locking me up, as he surely would have done had he
known my true thoughts), I had joined the Parliamentarians because
I honestly agreed with them; and if I had said aught sharp about
my cousin, why, it was because she had spoke sharply to me. “The
mischief was,” thinks I, “to say aught at all to Anthony--I should
have kept my thoughts to myself.”

Now, I cared naught about Anthony and his lies, or about Alison’s
disdain of me, but I had an honest affection for the old knight,
and felt that I must endeavour to set myself right with him, and
therefore I went about the camp, seeking Stephen Morrel, under the
hope that he was presently to travel North again with despatches.
And finding that he was, I sat down and wrote a long letter to
my uncle, wherein I set out all my conduct, excusing myself in
naught, but putting my own case boldly and in a manful way, and
claiming the right to think for myself in these vexed matters.
Also I assured him of my unfailing love and respect for himself,
and begged him to allow me--these troublous times over--to pay him
my duty in person. All this I wrote and more, and two days later
committed the packet to the care of Morrel, who was riding North
with despatches from Essex to Fairfax. But as ill-luck would have
it my letter was never delivered, for Morrel was taken prisoner by
the Royalists ere he had well got out of Oxfordshire and was shot,
and so Sir Nicholas was left in ignorance of me and my motives for
a long time. Howbeit there came at last a chance for me to put
myself right with him, and it was the seizing of it that led me to
the most important adventure of my life.

Upon the twenty-seventh day of October, 1644, was fought the second
battle of Newbury. Essex was ill, and the army was commanded by
Manchester, who had with him Cromwell as general of the cavalry.
Which of us it was that had the advantage I cannot say--the king
retired upon Oxford, but there was no pursuit of him. Some said
there was a difference of opinion between Manchester and Cromwell,
and as to that I know naught either. What I do know is that on the
following morning I was fetched to Cromwell’s tent, where I found
him sealing a despatch, and conversing with Ireton. He looked me
up and down, with that keen glance of his, which seemed to read a
man’s thoughts on the instant.

“You are a Yorkshireman?” says he.

“I am, sir,” says I.

“I have here a despatch of the strictest importance for Sir Thomas
Fairfax, who is now investing the castle at Pomfret,” says he. “I
think you are the man to carry it.”

“Sir,” says I, “I am at your orders.”

He sat looking at me, his fingers playing drum-taps on the sealed
packet.

“This,” says he, “must not be permitted to fall into the hands of
the enemy. ’Twixt Sheffield and Pomfret they are now in full force.
I think you, as a native of that part, should circumvent them.”

“I’ll undertake that, too,” says I.

“What do you propose?” says he.

“Not to travel like this,” says I, with a glance at my uniform.
“I’ll go as a travelling scholar--I have my old suit at hand.”

“Begone,” says he, and hands over the packet. He kept his thumb
and finger on one corner of it, and looked me squarely in the face.
“If this should fall into the enemy’s hand,” he says, and pauses.
He let the packet go. “You will be on your way in an hour, Master
Coope,” says he, and waves me out.

I was out of the camp in half-an-hour after that, and on my way
northward. I wore my old suit, and out of one pocket stuck a Livy,
and out of the other a Horace. As for the packet for Sir Thomas
Fairfax, it was sewed within the lining of my doublet. I had ridden
a good ten mile before I remembered that my mission would give me
the opportunity of waiting upon Sir Nicholas. That, I think, added
some zest to my adventure, for I was honestly anxious to see the
good old knight once more.

Now, I made good speed in my journey, and met with little hindrance
until the afternoon of the fourth day, when I was brought up by as
unfortunate an accident as a man in my position could encounter.
My horse, which had left Sheffield that morning, seemingly fresh
and fit for the last stage of his journey, suddenly fell dead under
me on the roadside ’twixt Hickleton and Barnsdale, leaving me
staring at him with as rueful thoughts as ever I had in my life. It
was then four o’clock in the afternoon, and by six I had trudged
forward to Barnsdale. There, pausing under the trees, I stood to
catch a glimpse of the Manor House in the distance. I laid my hand
on the packet hidden in my doublet. “That must be delivered ere
nightfall,” says I. But I was dead tired, and by no means certain
as to how my resolution was to be carried out.



Chapter III

Of my Second Meeting with Anthony Dacre, and its Results--and of my
Serious Quandary as to which of two Duties must first be performed.


I.

I was by this time on the threshold, as it were, of my destination,
for only a short seven miles lay ’twixt me and Fairfax’s
headquarters, but seven miles to a weary man is no light thing to
venture on, and the packet which lay in my doublet was of a strict
importance. However, fate being plainly against me, I ceased to
fight with it, and resolved to rest for awhile, leaning against
a beech tree that was damp and black with the November mists,
debating in my mind as to the advisability of doing this or that.

“Faith!” says I to myself at last. “With my knowledge of the
country it shall go hard if I don’t reach Pomfret to-night, and
on a good horse, too. And so let’s see for such means as the
neighbourhood affords.”

As luck would have it the barking of a dog across the fields
reminded me of a farmhouse that stood there. ’Twas a lonely place,
lying a long way back from the road, and so well hidden by great
trees that you might have passed it, going north or south, and
never caught a glimpse of its gables. I had forgotten it quite till
the dog barked. “Egad!” says I, hearing him. “Here’s the very thing
for me. Reuben Trippett’s bay mare will carry me across this seven
miles in a trice, and I’ll take her without as much as a ‘by your
leave,’ if only the stable-door be open.” And without pausing to
reflect upon such questions as to whether Reuben still lived there,
and if the bay mare (which he had lent me more than once in by-gone
days) was still his property. I climbed the hedge at the next
convenient opening, and made my way across the dank meadows towards
the farmhouse.

By this time the night was closing in, very dull and misty, and as
there was no light in Reuben Trippett’s window by which to guide
my steps, I had some little difficulty in finding my way. There
were three fields to cross, and in the middle one I called to mind
a wide stretch of marshy land in which as a lad I had gathered
many a handful of rare butter-bums. “Keep me out o’ that!” says
I to myself, but the words were scarce out of my mouth when into
it I flops, to my sore discomfort, and the sad besmirching of my
breeches. But having met with it--and floundered out on t’other
side after some difficulty--I knew where I was, and so went forward
until at last I saw the farmhouse chimneys make a faint outline
against the grey sky. There was a glint of light through a crack in
the kitchen shutters. “Softly does it,” says I, and I crept along
the wall till the sneck of the fold gate lay in my hand. “Why,
this,” I says, chuckling to myself, “is the rarest adventure”--and
so I was across the rotting straw in the fold and at the
stable-door quicker than a star can shoot. “These cobble-stones,”
thinks I, “must be covered up, or they’ll hear the mare’s feet on
’em”--and I ran across to the tumbril in the middle of the fold and
brought back an armful of straw and spread it carefully over the
stones. “And pray God,” I says, “that old Reuben hears naught, for
his blunderbuss will spread pepper-corns over a good twenty yards!”

The stable door was unlocked--there was naught for me to do but
lift the sneck and enter. Once inside I stood listening. On the
instant I knew that there were no horses there. The place was
cold, damp, evil-smelling, and silent as a dead-house. Now a stable
in which horses have their habitation is warm as one’s own bed at
getting-up time, and so I knew from its very coldness that neither
the bay mare nor any other mare or horse stood ready to hand. And I
was outside again in a moment and standing on the straw that I had
laid down so carefully just before, with my brains busily wondering
what had come to Reuben Trippett, whose stables and byres had
always been full of cattle.

As I stood stroking my chin, I minded me of the chink in the
kitchen window. “I’ll peep within,” says I, “whatever comes of it,”
for I was in the mood for adventures that night. And so, crossing
the fold with cautious steps I approached the window very gingerly,
and put my eye to the crack through which the light streamed. And
seeing that within which interested me more than a little, I kept
it there and took a longer and steadier look.

There was naught in that kitchen (which I remembered as being well
stocked with house stuff of all sorts) in the way of plenishing
but a rickety table, a mouldering settle, and a crazy chair. The
lath and plaster hung from the ceiling and walls in strips--’twas
plain to me that old Reuben was either gathered to his fathers
and sleeping quiet in Badsworth churchyard, or gone elsewhere.
Nevertheless, there was human life in the place, and it was the
form under which it came that surprised me. Three men sat on
the settle, and a fourth leaned against the jamb of the black,
empty fire-place, the fifth sat on the broken chair with his back
to the window through which I peered. One of the three on the
settle I recognised for Jack Bargery, as villainous a rogue as
all Osgoldcross, either Upper or Lower, could show, the men on
each side of him and the fellow leaning against the jamb I had no
knowledge of. But the figure in the chair, and mark you, I saw
nought of it but the back, which made a black mass against the
light of the candle burning on the table, seemed somewhat familiar
to me and set some memories itching in my brain. And then a sudden
turn of the man’s head brought it all back to me, and I knew him at
once for my precious kinsman, Anthony Dacre.

“Ho-ho!” thinks I to myself. “Here’s a pretty meeting by
candle-light. What may these five sweet gentlemen be about?” I
says. And because my curiosity was aroused I straight forgot
everything, Cromwell’s despatch and all, in a rare desire to hear
what the fellows were talking of. But ’twas no good straining
my ear, for there was a thick pane of dullish glass ’twixt me
and them, and I could make naught out, though I heard a mumbling
sound, and saw their jaws move now and then. And just because ’twas
Anthony Dacre that seemed to be doing all the talking, the others
only putting in an occasional yea or nay, my curiosity warmed to
boiling point and must needs be satisfied. So for the second time
that night I began to cast about for means.

Now, in the old times, I knew every inch of the land round about my
uncle’s estate, and the farmsteads were as familiar to me as the
pump in our own stable-yard. I remembered, as I stood with my eye
to the crack in the shutter, that in the rear of Reuben Trippett’s
kitchen there was a lattice at which the maids used to hand in the
milk-pails from the byre. ’Twas a matter of thin strips of lath,
and in the daytime was left swinging as the wind liked, but in the
night a shutter came down over it, and was secured by a bolt. If
the shutter, by any good or ill luck,--I cared not which it might
properly be called,--had been left up when the house was deserted,
I should be able from the byre to hear every word spoken in the
kitchen as well as if I had been inside. So, remembering this, I
stole round the corner of the house to the byre, all agog to hear
what mischief Master Dacre, that scamp Bargery, and t’other three
were compassing. That it was mischief I never doubted for a moment;
there was not an honest pair of eyes amongst the four that I had
seen, and I remembered Anthony’s for more years than I could then
call to mind.

The byre, like the stable, was cold and empty. I warrant me
there had been no cows in it for a twelve-month. I had grown
somewhat heated by my adventures in the bog, and the chill stuck
to my bones and made me shiver. One glance at the far end of the
mistal, however, helped me to forget cold and everything. They had
forgotten to put down the shutter when they left the old house, and
the lattice window made dim bars of shadow against the swimming
light of the candle. There was naught left to me but to steal
gently along the slimy walls of the byre (ugh! I can feel the damp
of them now, and snuff their fetid odour, which then came thick
and heavy to my nostrils) until I came to the lattice. And since
I dared not venture to stick my head before it, lest the fellows
within should catch sight of me, I got as near to the window frame
as I dared, and listened with more attention than I had ever given,
I think, to aught before.

Anthony Dacre was speaking when I put my ear as close to the latch
as I dared, but he had evidently come to the tail of his sentence,
and I could make little sense of it.

“Fair or foul,” says he, to wind up; “fair or foul.”

“And more foul than fair, I warrant me,” thinks I. “A deal more o’
the foul than the fair, Master Anthony, if I know aught o’ thee.”
And I composed myself to hear somewhat more.

I heard a shuffling of feet on the kitchen floor, as if each man
nudged his neighbour’s knee.

“Come,” says Anthony; “is there ne’er a tongue amongst the lot o’
you?”

The man Bargery spoke--I knew his voice, too.

“Why,” says he, “’tis like this: what use is speaking till we know
Master Dacre’s plans? Or are we as soldiers that march under sealed
orders?”

“Ah!” says another; “well put.”

“Why,” says Anthony, “I see no objection to telling you all that’s
in my mind--why not? The main object’s in your knowledge already;
’tis the details that you’re curious about, eh?”

“There might be cutting of throats, and such like,” said another.
“’Tis best we should know. Forewarned is forearmed, so they say.”

“Listen, then,” says Anthony. “Faith, I think you’ll say ’tis as
pretty a bit o’ contrivance as was ever devised. Sir Nicholas,
as you know, has made himself something beyond obnoxious to the
Parliamentarians, and I saw a rare chance in that. So this morning
I goes to Fairfax in his camp, and professes my devotion to the
Parliament, and then spins him a long yarn about Sir Nicholas Coope
and his efforts to keep the king’s flag flying over his old barn of
a house. And, ’sdeath, lads! I played my cards so well that I got
a warrant from him to apprehend my worthy relative, and take him
before Fairfax. Here ’tis--there’s Fairfax’s own seal and fist.”

I heard a murmuring growl from the four men, and the shuffle of
their feet as they drew near to the table to inspect the paper.

“But----” says Bargery.

“When I’ve finished,” says Anthony Dacre. “Now, here’s my plan:
we shall go, the five of us, and apprehend Sir Nicholas, and thus
get admission to the house, the door o’ which my pretty mistress
keeps so persistently shut in my face. If the old knight calls up
his fellows, we must give them as many tastes of cold steel as will
suffice for their supper. I have little fear of trouble in that
quarter, however.”

“There are four stout men i’ the house,” says Bargery, “and as many
arms as would set up a troop.”

“What are four men to five, with Fairfax’s warrant behind them? And
thy four men--zounds, there is but old Gregory, and ancient Jasper,
and two lads that cannot tell the difference ’twixt a musket and
Sir Nicholas’s cane! Besides, we go in peace--leave it to me to
make fair professions. I look not for any fighting--nevertheless,
’tis as well to be prepared. But hark ye, lads, I have a second
paper from Fairfax that I set more store by than the first. Look at
that for a piece o’ rare generalship.”

I heard the shuffle of their feet again as the men approached the
table, and a murmuring as if none of the four could read over well.
“’Tis such a crabbed fist,” says Bargery at last, and they shuffled
back to the hearth and the settle.

“But plain enough for all I want,” says Anthony. “’Tis a safe
conduct, lads, granted at the request of Master Anthony Dacre to
Mistress Alison French, so that she may pass through any opposition
of the Parliamentary troops to her father’s house. Now ye see my
plan, eh? We shall go to the old knight and arrest him, but I shall
be so full of concern and care for my cousin that I shall tell ’em
great tales of my procuring this favour for her lest she should
experience discomfort.”

“But,” says Bargery, “they tell me that she sets great store by the
old man, and she’ll therefore let it count heavy against you that
you come to hale him out o’ the house.”

“And I thought o’ that, too,” says Anthony. “And so I arranged
that two of Fairfax’s troopers should accompany us to the house. We
shall, therefore, be seven to four if it comes to fighting. Now,
hark ye, lads, this is the whole manner of it. At nine o’clock
to-night we meet the troopers at the corner of Hardwick village.
They, Bargery there, and myself, go to the Manor House, and seek
admission--t’other three o’ you wait me in the lane that leads past
Hundhill. We gain admission, and I, very sorrowful, crave private
audience of Sir Nicholas. I tell him how it grieves me that he and
I should think differently on these matters of state, but that I am
at least an honest man. Then I go on to say that I have learnt in
the camp that Fairfax has issued a warrant against him, and that
being personally much concerned because of it, I am come with the
troopers myself to see that no indignity is offered him. Eh, you
follow my notions?”

“Excellent!” says Bargery. “I see the reason on’t.”

“Then I brings out my safe conduct for Mistress Alison,” continues
Anthony, “and offers her myself and three o’ my own men as escort
along the road. Once the old knight is off to Fairfax’s camp, she
will set out with me and you three that have waited for us, towards
Doncaster. And as for the rest,” he says, with a laugh, “why, I
need say naught of it. And now, lads, we’ll make arrangements for
our meeting.”

Then there was a silence, and I wondered what they were doing, and
whether I had best not slip away ere they came out of the house.
But I think the four men must have been staring at each other, each
wanting to say something that was on his mind. For presently one of
them, a fellow with as hoarse a voice as ever I heard, growls out,
“And our pay, Master Dacre; ye han’t said e’er a word o’ that.” At
that I pricked up my ears. “Ha, ha!” says I. “Now there’s a chance
for honest men.” But as luck would have it there was no falling
out amongst these rogues, for Anthony promised to satisfy their
demands, and presently they talked of parting. Thereat I stole away
from the hatch and into the fields. The night had come on as black
as a dog’s throat, and I found it hard work to make my way back to
the road, but, faith! I had so much to think of that I never once
stayed to consider the whereabouts of the marshy ground. And it was
most likely, because I never remembered it, that I missed it and
went sailing along in the darkness, comfortable enough--for I never
thought of the discomfort--until I found myself in the hedge which
separated me from the road. That I had not perceived, but I forgave
it, for all that it had run various thorns into tender parts o’ my
body. And so I climbed over it--having hurried alongside it till I
found a post and rails--and stood on the road, once more wondering
what to do next.

“Here’s a pretty coil!” says I. “Egad, Master Anthony, I used
to trounce thee in the old days--why did I not give thee such a
trouncing that thou hadst never needed more?”

But what was the good of that? The thing was to do--not to stand
there thinking. But as thought goes before action--at least with
wise men--I gave two minutes to it. And this is what I thought:
First, it was plain that my rascally kinsman, Anthony Dacre, whom
I there and then prayed God to utterly confound, meditated some
serious injury to Mistress Alison French, and was minded to stop
at naught, not even the seizure of Sir Nicholas himself by force,
in order to compass his evil intentions. Second: There was nobody
but myself who, knowing his plans, could warn my uncle and cousin
of their danger. Third: I had a packet from Cromwell to Fairfax
in my breast, which I was in honour bound to deliver as quickly
as I might. Fourth: It seemed but a Christian-like thing to stay
at my uncle’s house and tell him and Alison of that villain
Anthony’s notions concerning them. Fifth: What was I going to
do?--go straight on to Fairfax’s camp, or proceed to the Manor
House? Sixth: Why the dickens should I interfere on behalf of Sir
Nicholas (who had misunderstood me) or of my cousin Alison (who
had--to my face, too!--called me a poltroon). Seventh: I hated
Anthony Dacre, and would give much to circumvent him. Eighth:
Blood is a deal thicker than water. Ninth: If I made haste I could
inform Sir Nicholas, speak a word of warning in my cousin’s ear,
and go forward to Pomfret before nine o’clock. And tenth: Soldier
of the Parliamentary army as I was, and faithful to the cause of
the people, and to the special trust that their leaders had reposed
in me, I would see Parliament, people, Cromwell, Fairfax, and
everything, damned before Anthony Dacre should have his will of an
old man and an innocent girl!

“But God send,” says I to myself, “that there be no need of it!”
And I set off along the road at a round pace. The night seemed to
grow darker, and there is something in me--and there was a deal
more of it in those days--that cannot abear darkness, but I trotted
along, being pretty sound in wind and limb, keeping my ears open
for any noise, until I came to the cross roads, having Thorpe on
one side o’ me and Wentbridge on t’other. And here a notion struck
me, for which I thanked God many a time in the days to come. There
were two brothers, John and Humphrey Stirk, yeomen, exceeding true
and honest fellows, that lived in their farmhouse at Thorpe, and
farmed their own bit of land--egad! they were the very men to do
a good deed! I had played with ’em many a time when we were lads
together, and so had little Alison, and I knew that they would put
themselves out of the way to serve either her or me. The thought
of them came into my mind as I trotted up to the cross roads, and
so I never stopped in my run but turned the corner to the left
and went forward to their house. There was a light in the kitchen
window--and so I was within, half-breathless, holding a hand of
each, and looking from one honest pair of eyes to another.

“God save us!” says Humphrey. “’Tis Master Dick!” “We thought you
was at the wars,” says Jack. “And, faith, you look as if you had
been!” “Natheless,” says Humphrey, “we’re glad to see you home
again--and sit you down, Master Dick,” says he.

But there was no thought of sitting down in my mind. And in a few
words I had told them sufficient of what I knew, and had begged
their assistance. “Willing enough,” says Humphrey. As for Jack,
he says naught, but goes to the wall and takes down his musket.
“There’s powder and shot,” says Humphrey, “in the cupboard,” and he
lays hands on his own musket, that stood in the corner. “Let’s have
enow of both, brother,” he says, and Jack nods his head. “Trust
me,” says Jack. “’Tis but poor work to go fowling with a single
charge.”

And so within five minutes of seeing their lighted window I was
back in the road again, with one on each side of me, and all three
of us making our way towards my uncle’s house. “Anthony,” I
says to myself, “will have a greeting that he recks not of.” And
I laughed at the thought of it. But my laughter died away quick
when I reflected upon everything. In good sooth, chance, fate, or
Providence, had put me in as tight a corner as a man could wish to
be out of.


III.

As we hurried along the road I made up my mind as to my course
of action. I would go to the Manor House and warn my uncle and
Alison of their danger, and leave with them John and Humphrey
as a bodyguard. That done I would make my way across the fields
and through Carleton to Fairfax’s camp before Pomfret. I would
tell him of my wayside adventure, and beg his protection for Sir
Nicholas and my cousin, and straightway return to East Hardwick.
My credentials were from Cromwell himself--I felt assured that
Fairfax would grant any request I made to him. One thing, however,
was certain--I could not, although it was my strict duty to do so,
go forward to Pomfret without giving my relations warning of their
danger.

Neither John nor Humphrey were lads of many words, and so there
was little talk between us till we came to the Manor House. It
stood gaunt and gloomy against the sky, and dark as the night was,
I saw the king’s flag still flapping against the staff above the
gable. There was a faint light in one or two of the windows that
overlooked the garden, but in the courtyard everything was dark.
The great door was fast, and the stone lions above it seemed to
threaten us as we tried the latch. But there were holes in the wall
that had served me for stepping-stones to the top many a time, and
within a minute we were on t’other side and making softly for the
house door. It was some minutes before any response came to our
knock, but at last we heard the shuffle of feet within, and then
Jasper’s voice asking who we were. Now we were not minded to shout
and bawl so that folk in the street could hear us, if any were
about, so I put my lips to the great keyhole and calling Jasper
by name, whispered to him my own. I heard him utter some sound
of great surprise, but he began to undo the bolts and bars, and
presently held the door open a few inches and looked out at us from
over his lanthorn. “The Lord ha’ mercy!” says he, “I thought it
must be your spirit, Master Richard. And is that John and Humphrey
Stirk that’s with you? But we thought you was at the wars and----”

“Let’s in, Jasper,” says I, pushing my way past him with John and
Humphrey close at my heels. “And hark ye, Jasper, bolt and bar the
door again--is every door and shutter secure for the night?”

“Lor-a-massy, Master Dick, is there aught wrong? Yes, indeed,
Master Dick, everything is fast for we’re abiding in parlous times
and never know who’s about. But----”

“Go round the house, Jasper,” says I. “Say naught to anybody, but
go round and see that all’s fast. Bolt, bar, and chain--we may
have to stand a siege this night. And now let’s within--where is
Mistress Alison?” But ere he could answer me the door into the
great kitchen opened, and Mistress Alison herself stood before us.
She carried a lamp in one hand and held it up as she stopped on the
threshold to look at us. Faith, I shall never forget her as she was
at that moment, looking as proud and impatient as only a woman of
her sort can!

“Who----?” she says, staring from Jasper to us, with a haughty
interrogation in her eyes and the curve of her mouth. “Ah!” she
says, suddenly recognising me. “Mr Richard Coope,” she says, and
stares straight into my eyes with a contempt that brought the blood
to my face.

“Mistress,” says I, hurriedly, “this is no time for talk nor for
quarrels. By chance or providence I have learned that Sir Nicholas
and yourself are in great peril, and I have come here to warn you
of it, and have brought John and Humphrey to protect you.”

“Indeed,” says she. But she stood there in the doorway making no
offer to permit us into the kitchen.

“Let me see my uncle,” says I. “He must be warned of his peril at
once.”

“Your uncle is in his bed, sir,” she answers, still keeping her
place. “He is ill, and is not to be disturbed by anyone.”

“Then let me see you within, mistress, that I may tell you my
news,” says I.

“You can tell it to me here, sir,” she says.

“Then, by God, I won’t!” I raps out, losing my temper under her
provocation. “Look you, cousin, I am perilling myself to serve
you, and you treat me like a dog! Is it mannerly to keep me and my
friends standing here as if we were beggars?”

I saw the colour flash into her cheeks at that, and she stepped
back into the kitchen with a motion to us to follow. As we came
into the glare of the lights I noticed, though it was no time for
thinking of such matters, that her beauty was of the rarest sort
and had deepened since I had last set eyes on it. She stood by the
fire, one hand resting on the back of a chair, the other still
holding the lamp--faith! ’twas the prettiest sight to see her thus
with her fine gown and the dainty slippers peeping from beneath it,
and her face turned to me with the scorn still lingering in the
delicate lines of her mouth.

“Now, sir?” says she.

But I glanced at the lads who waited in one corner. “What we have
to say is private,” says I. “Is there no more private room in
the house than this?” I says. But she would take no hint, only
she nodded her head to the serving-lads and they slunk into the
scullery.

“Madam,” says I, “you seem to forget that I am Sir Nicholas’s
nephew and a gentleman.”

She turned and looked me from head to foot and from foot to head.
“A renegade!” she says, and looks straight into my eyes. “Your
news, sir! I have no time to waste in bandying compliments or
exchanging opinions.”

“Faith, madam,” says I, “but you’ve no objection to applying
epithets. But renegade or no, I am here to serve you and my uncle,
and so I’ll tell you all about it,” and I straightway proceeded
to give her a faithful account of all that I had overheard in the
kitchen at Reuben Trippett’s old farmstead. She heard me without a
sign or a word, save that when I mentioned Anthony Dacre’s name her
lip curled with a rare scorn (’sdeath, I wish he had been there to
see it!) and her white fingers closed tighter over the rail of the
chair. But when she had heard me to the end, and I had told her my
plans for their protection, she did not soften a whit, but looked
at me with the same cold, hard dislike.

“I thank you, sir,” says she, very icily. “It was the act of a
gentleman to warn us.” She seemed to melt there somewhat. “And
now I will not trouble you to delay your departure longer”--she
hardened again--“we are in no need of assistance.”

“Nay,” says I, “but that’s just what you are in need of, mistress!
’Tis foolish to belittle your danger--Anthony Dacre----”

“I have no fear of him,” says she, very contemptuous, in her own
high manner. “And as for Fairfax’s troopers, they will not gain
admittance to the house. I myself will see to the bolts and bars.”

“But,” says I, “’tis not a matter of bolts and bars that will
prevent them. Bethink you, they will force an entrance and seize
Sir Nicholas.”

“He is ill in his bed,” says she. “They cannot move him.”

“They will stop at naught,” says I. “Come, cousin, be advised. Let
John and Humphrey stay with you, and allow me to return as quickly
as I can. ’Tis what my uncle would do.”

“I am able to think for myself, sir,” says she. “And I have come
to my own opinion in the matter. And so I thank you for your good
offices and decline your further help.”

And there she stood, still looking disdainfully at me, as if I had
been some upstart that had dared to address her. “Here’s a pretty
coil!” says I, and looks at John and Humphrey. “By your leave,
madam,” I says, and pulls my two companions aside. “What shall
we do?” I says. “If we leave this spirited lass to have her own
way there will be mischief. What do you advise?” And we all three
looked at each other.

“Why,” says John at last, “I should pay no manner of heed to her.”

“Nor me,” says Humphrey.

“’Tis a man’s job,” says John.

“Aye,” says Humphrey.

“If I were you, Master Dick,” says John, “I should call in Jasper
and Gregory and the lads, tell ’em the trouble, and take counsel
for defending the house. As for me and Humphrey,” he says, “here we
stay while need be.”

“Well said,” says Humphrey.

But I was half afraid as I turned to Mistress Alison.

“Madam,” says I, very respectful, “I am sorry to do aught against
your will, but I have taken counsel with my friends here, and for
your own sake and for my uncle’s, I cannot agree to your wishes.
And so, mistress, you must be pleased to leave this matter in my
hands to settle as I please.”

“What,” she says, “you dare----”

“Madam,” says I. “No daring about it. You will please to regard
me as master in this house, my uncle being a-bed, and leave me to
do what I think good. John and Humphrey,” I says, “get the men
together, and let us set the matter before them,” and as they made
for the scullery I turned and gave her a long stare. She flushed
crimson from neck to forehead, and looked at me with a sudden rage.

“How dare you!” she says. “How dare you!”

“Cousin,” says I. “I dare aught. I know what you think of me, and
for that I neither care nor fret. But when it comes to a contest
’twixt us I am not going to be beaten by a woman. And so I’ll let
you see which of us two is the stronger. Faith!” I says, “’tis for
your own good. Renegade as I am, I’m perilling my neck to save you.”

She stood looking at me with more wonder than I had ever seen in a
woman’s eyes. “I am mistress here,” says she at last.

“Not while I am master,” says I, coolly. “And as I have but a
short ten minutes wherein to be master I shall exact the strictest
obedience. Dare but to question one of my orders, madam, and I
shall have you locked in your chamber.” And with that I gave her a
look that was meant to be as hard as one of her own, and marched
forward to meet old Gregory, who was coming in with the others.
But ere I could speak to him in runs one of the lads to say that
four men on horseback were asking admission at the courtyard door.
“They’re here!” says John Stirk. And so there I was caged, with
Cromwell’s despatch in my doublet that should by that time have
been delivered to Fairfax. “Present needs first!” says I, and I
settled down to the business of the moment.



Chapter IV

Of Various Events of Importance which took place during one night,
and caused us considerable Uneasiness and other Emotions.


I.

As they began to knock at the door, at first with a certain
gentleness, but afterwards in as peremptory a manner as if the
king himself had waited without, I turned to my cousin again, and
again favoured her with a hard look. She stared at me with a rising
indignation in her eyes, but I saw a questioning look in them that
nerved me to preserve my stern attitude.

“Mistress,” says I, “the enemy is at our gate, and we must perforce
parley with him. There is no one amongst us better fitted to that
task than yourself. And so, mistress,” I says, still keeping my
eyes on hers, “I must ask you to take your orders from me after
this fashion. First----”

But here she broke in upon me, standing very straight, and holding
her head very high, and looking me up and down as if I had been
some country lout that had dared to address her.

“Master Richard Coope,” says she, “I take no man’s orders, and
yours least of all. Your orders!” she says, with fine scorn.
“_Your_ orders!”

“Nay, mistress,” says I, “we do but waste time. Do not let us waste
more in explanations. You will not only take my orders, but what is
more, you will do them. What! will you oppose your girlish whims
and fancies to Sir Nicholas’s good estate?”

“Insolent!” says she, her pretty face all aflame. “_You_ to
speak--I must be dreaming or going mad,” she says, suddenly.

“Why,” says I, “’tis a pity indeed if you are, cousin, for we have
no time to listen to dreams or to deal with mad folk, nor with
mutineers either,” says I, putting on my sternest air again, “so
come, mistress, let us to business----”

“Prithee, madam,” says old Barbara, “do what Master Richard asks of
you, else we shall all be murdered in cold blood. Thank the Lord,
say I, that Master Richard should happen in on the nick o’ time,”
she says, “a man is a rare comfortable thing to have in a house at
times like these.”

But Mistress Alison gives her a cold stare and looks at me. “What
is it that you wish, sir?” she says. “Since I am in your power----”

“Nay, cousin,” says I, forgetting all my stern manner in a trice,
“it is to serve you that--but come, accompany me and John here
to the chamber over the door; I wish you to speak with these men
through the window. And believe me,” I says, lowering my voice as
she walked at my side, “I am deeply grieved to give you so much
trouble, but ’tis necessary for both my uncle’s sake and your own.
And so----”

“Nay, sir,” says she. “Spare me fine speeches, I pray you. You have
taken the affairs of this house into your own hands, and since I am
only a woman you compel me to do what I should not do if I were a
man. Pray you insult me not as well as injure me.”

“Oh,” says I, “if you will so mischievously pervert things,
mistress, why----”

But we had come to the little casement overlooking the courtyard.
In the darkness we could but barely see the men on horseback below
us. Three of them remained a little distance away and held the
horse of the fourth, the crown of whose hat we perceived outside
the porch beneath us. He was knocking at the door, this time very
loudly. “Stand back,” says I to John, and drew back myself into the
middle of the room. “Now, cousin,” I says, “open the casement, and
ask who is there, and demand his business.”

“You must put words into my mouth, then, sir,” says she, fumbling
at the latch.

“You have wit enough of your own, cousin,” I answers her. “Use it
with your accustomed sharpness, I pray.”

And to that she made no answer, but I could fancy that her eyes
flashed in the darkness, and that she bit her lips for pure
vexation. However she opened the window and leant out. “Who are you
that knock honest folk up at this hour?” she cries. “And what is
your business that you bring a troop of men into the courtyard?”

“Ah!” says Anthony Dacre from below. “Cousin, ’tis I--I am glad to
find you here--I had feared you might have returned home. Prithee,
come down and unbar the door, cousin--I have important news for
you.”

“I can hear it quite well here,” says she.

“Why,” says he, “I can’t stand here and bawl it at the top o’ my
voice, cousin.”

“My ears are very quick,” she answers. “I daresay I shall hear it
if you whisper it.”

“But ’tis of the last importance,” he says, “and besides, I have
friends with me.”

“So I perceive,” she says, coolly. “And neither you nor they are
coming within the house. So you better tell me your business at
once, Master Dacre.”

I heard him smother an oath. “Ah!” says he. “So you are still as
vixenish as ever, fair cousin? But we are coming into the house,
and so you had best be civil to us while we are without, lest----”

“Spare your threats,” she says scornfully. “I care no more for
them than for your civility. And so, if you will not tell me your
business I shall shut the window.”

“Oh,” says he. “Pretty treatment indeed! Then let me tell you,
mistress, that here are with me certain troopers from Fairfax’s
regiment who carry a warrant for Sir Nicholas’s arrest. What do
you think to that, eh? Gadzooks, I came here to see that the old
knight suffered no hurt or inconvenience, and that yourself was
protected, and you treat me like a thief! Come, cousin, ’tis a sad
business, but war is a strange matter. You had best open the door
at once--these troopers are not used to be kept waiting.”

“Then let them go whence they came,” she says. “They will wait
here long enough if they don’t.”

“Then you will not open?” he says, uneasily, and as if he could not
believe his ears.

“I said so once,” she answers.

“Why, then,” says he. “I am sorry for you, cousin. I can do naught
to help you if you continue in your obstinacy. These troopers will
break in upon you, and----”

“Oh,” she says, “a truce to your talk, Master Dacre. Let me say
a word to you,” she says. “Now listen; if you and your precious
companions dare to lay a finger on door or window of this house
we will shoot you for the vermin that you are--and so now we
understand each other, Master Anthony Dacre,” says she, and slams
the casement in his face.

“Bravo, cousin!” says I. “Bravo! There was no need to give
orders--your own----”

“Oh,” says she, “spare your breath, sir. I spoke for myself, not
for you.”

“Ah!” says I. “Was it indeed so? Then perhaps, mistress, you will
be good enough to show me where those arms are with which you are
going to exterminate the vermin in the courtyard? For I doubt not,
in spite of all your brave words, that they will attack the house,
and in that case we had best be prepared to make good your promise.”

And by that time, being returned to the great kitchen, I called
everybody together, men and women, and held a council of war.
And first of all we looked to the arms. In the hall there was
a sufficiency of muskets and fowling-pieces, ranged in racks,
together with numerous pistols, most of which were in bad need of
cleaning. It turned out that Jasper and one of the lads had lately
cast a quantity of bullets, and that three small kegs of gunpowder
had been brought in but the week previous. We were therefore fairly
ammunitioned, and I immediately armed every man amongst us with a
gun, a powder horn, and twenty bullets, bidding each to shoot so
straight, if need arose, that not a shot should be wasted. And this
done, I proceeded to take a rapid survey of our position, and to
consider how we might best turn it to account.

Now, my uncle’s house was one of those ancient buildings which
stand on three sides of a square, and the courtyard was enclosed on
all but one side--the north--where it was separated by a high wall
and wide gateway from the road. There was a great advantage to us
in this, for the only door which opened from the courtyard to the
house was that at which Alison had parleyed with Anthony Dacre, and
as it stood exactly in the centre of the inner side, it could be
commanded from the windows of the other sides of the square. It was
a strong door of stout oak, liberally studded with great nails, and
secured by as many bolts and chains as there are Sundays in a year,
and we now further strengthened it by dragging a great table into
the porch and driving it between the door and the wall. This done,
there was naught but to post two of my small army in such positions
as would command a view of the door from without. Fortunately for
us, there were on the ground floor, looking into the courtyard,
but two windows, and both of these I instantly secured in such a
fashion that nothing but a battering-ram could have broken through
them. On the next floor there were more windows, and at two of
these, one on each side the courtyard, I stationed Gregory and
Jasper, with orders to fire on anyone approaching the door that
stood full in their view. These two were favourably placed, for
they could keep the wall of the house between themselves and the
enemy, and at the same time point their pieces through a broken
pane of the windows.

Of the safety of the door which gave access from the courtyard
to the house I had little fear; but there were three other doors
which caused me some uneasiness. To the front of the house, looking
towards Barnsdale and the south, there was a great door which
opened into my uncle’s flower-garden; on the right hand, opening
out of the room in which he kept his dried herbs, was a smaller
one through which he often passed to walk along a sheltered path;
on the left-hand, opening out of the scullery, there was a door
into the stable-yard. Now Anthony Dacre knew all these doors as
well as I did, and would obviously select the weakest for his
point of attack. The first thing to do, then, was to strengthen
each of them. To this we at once set to work, bringing down great
bedsteads, heavy chests, and whatever loose wood we could find in
the house, and piling it up in such a fashion that if pressure
were brought to bear on it from without, it would but drive our
barricades tighter against the stout walls within. But this done, a
great difficulty presented itself to my mind--all these doors being
flush with the several walls in which they were built how could I
place my men where they might command them? I had found that easy
in the case of the courtyard door, because two sides of the house
overlooked it, but it was impossible as regarded the other three
doors, and all I could do was to post men at the corner windows of
the second floor with orders to fire on the enemy if they appeared
to be approaching the doors with mischievous intent.

Now, as to the windows--I suppose that when they built these old
houses (my uncle had often boasted to me that his was erected in
the days of I forget which Henry) they had always in their minds
the fear of a siege, and so the windows on the ground floor were
as few as could well be, and each was supplied with exceeding
strong bolts and bars that closed over stout shutters of oak. I
saw to it that each was further barricaded and strengthened by the
piling up against it of the heaviest furniture in each room--and
when that was done there appeared to be no more that we could do
towards making the old house stronger than it was. So now I took a
survey of my arrangements, and found that they worked after this
fashion: Gregory and Jasper were posted at upper windows on each
side of the courtyard, commanding the porch-door; John and Humphrey
Stirk were at windows looking out into the front garden; the two
oldest lads, Peter and Benjamin, were stationed at a window which
overlooked the stable-yard; and the third lad, Walter, being very
young, I ordered to run from one post to the other, supplying them
with ammunition, or bringing them food or drink, as need required.
The window overlooking the door which opened into the west garden
I reserved to myself, feeling that an occasional surveillance of
it would suffice. To Barbara and one of her maids I gave charge of
the commissariat arrangements, and bade her stint none of my little
army, having previously satisfied myself that there was provender
in the house sufficient to last us six weeks. As for my fair cousin
I requested her to attend upon Sir Nicholas, and to employ the
other maid’s time in the like direction.

And now, all these matters being attended to--and it had taken some
little time, I promise you!--and the enemy being still debating
matters amongst themselves in the courtyard--I had taken occasional
observations of them through the window above the porch--I suddenly
turned dead tired and sat me down on the settle in the kitchen,
feeling curiously faint and hungry. I had sent an ample ration and
a mug of ale to each of my men, but I myself had tasted neither
bite nor sup for I know not how many hours. “Alack, Barbara, old
lass!” says I, thinking there was nobody but herself and myself in
the kitchen, “times are altered since I was last here! If my poor
uncle had been on his legs instead of in his bed, I should ha’ been
invited to eat and drink--faith, I ha’ touched naught since----”

But at the word Mistress Alison steps out o’ the gloom, and in
the glare of the firelight I saw her cheek aflame with the rarest
crimson. “I crave your pardon, cousin!” says she--’egad, ’twas the
first time she had so styled me since I entered the house--“I have
forgotten my duty because of all this trouble. Barbara, see that
Master Coope is served--nay,” she says, “I will see to it myself,”
and she bustles about, and brings me meat and drink, and sets it
with her own fair hands on the table before me. “Cousin,” says I,
looking hard at her, “I thank you. I am sorry,” I says, and then
stops, not knowing what more, nor what I had meant, to say. “But I
thank you,” I says. “Indeed, I am both hungry and thirsty.”

“I am sorry, too,” she says--but she did not look at me, her
eyes being fixed on the fire--“I should have invited you to
eat.” She stood there, lingering, and still she would not look
at me. “I fear,” she says at last, and faith, there was a still
brighter crimson in her cheeks, “I fear I have been somewhat
hasty--and--and--I thank you for--for what you are doing for Sir
Nicholas, cousin Richard,”--and suddenly she turned, and gave me
one shamefaced sort o’ look, and fled up the stairs.

Heigh-ho! I believe it was then that I fell in love with thee, my
sweet! Lord! what a colour, and what eyes she had!


II.

Being now considerably refreshed, and having reviewed my situation
as I sat at meat, with the result that I made up my mind to attend
to the business of the moment, and leave all thoughts of the future
until such time as they must perforce be settled with, I arose from
the table and went the round of my men, whom I found very vigilant
and ready to discharge their several duties when need arose. It
was then close on midnight and we had been invaded for nearly two
hours, but so far, the enemy had remained quiescent, and had not
so much as re-demanded our submission. He continued very peaceful,
and appeared to have temporarily withdrawn his forces. When I
reached the window at which I had posted Gregory, I found that
the courtyard was empty, and that all was so still and peaceful,
save for the sighing of a somewhat angry wind, that no one would
have guessed we were withstanding a siege. But there was naught to
reassure us in that.

“What are they after, think you?” says I, as I peered over
Gregory’s shoulder into the darkness without. “They seem to have
drawn off altogether at this present moment.”

“I warrant me they are not far away,” says he. “They put their
heads together and talked awhile after Mistress French had spoken
with them out of the window, and then they wheeled about and passed
the gate. And it’s my firm opinion, Master Richard,” he says, “that
at this moment they’re foddering their horses in our stables,
though being appointed to stand here,” he says, “I can’t decide
that matter for myself.”

“I’ll go round to the east side o’ the house,” says I, and set off
along the corridors to the window at which I had stationed Peter
and Benjamin. “Now, lads,” says I, coming up to them, “any signs of
the enemy?”

“They’re in the stables, Master Richard,” says Peter. “We watched
them come in at the gate from the lane an hour ago. First, there
was four came together, and then three more followed after them.
And they’ve turned out our horses,” says he, pointing to some
dark shapes that stood disconsolate enough in the middle of the
stable-yard, “and put their own beasts in the stalls.”

The door of the stable stood opposite the window at which we were
watching. It was one of those doors that have two halves, and the
upper one they had left open, so that we had an excellent view into
the stable. They had lighted the lanthorn that hung from the roof,
and I could just see the candle that swealed and sputtered in it.
Now and then, one or other of Anthony’s gang passed and repassed
the square of light. They were evidently making their cattle
comfortable on my uncle’s provender, and the thought of it raised
within me a roguish desire, such as a lad might have felt, to spoil
their sport. The swinging lanthorn and its glare of yellow light
gave me a thought. “Isn’t Master John Stirk a famous hand with his
gun?” says I to the lads. “I have surely heard something o’ the
sort in bygone times,” I says. “A rare hand, surely,” says Peter.
“A’ can hit----”

But I was hurrying along the corridor towards the post at which I
had stationed John and Humphrey. I passed near my uncle’s chamber
on the way, and from a little distance saw Mistress Alison with her
hand on the latch of the door. She bore a bowl of some sick man’s
slop or other, and had no eyes for me, so I went on to find the two
brothers leaning against the wall by the garden window, and gazing
in silence into the gloom outside. “All’s well here,” says John, as
I came up. “We heard footsteps on the path once, but ’tis a good
hour ago, and they must ha’ withdrawn for awhile.”

“They are in the stables,” says I, “foddering their beasts on Sir
Nicholas’s corn, no doubt. And since all’s quiet at present,” I
says, “come you with me, John--I lay Humphrey will guard your post
for a moment,” and I led him back to where Peter and Benjamin stood
staring at the light in the stable. “You are a good marksman, they
tell me,” I says. “Can you hit that lanthorn, do you think?”

“Aye,” he says, fingering his musket, “but not so well from here
as from below. There’s a little window in the scullery, Master
Richard, that I ha’ sometimes made use of to talk with the maids. I
could hit it from that.”

“Come on,” I says, and we went downstairs. “We will give these
rascals a lesson,” says I, as we turned into the scullery. “Now,
John, mark the candle, and out she goes.”

He opened the little window--’twas no more than a pane of dull
glass a foot square--and pushed out the barrel of his musket. On
the instant the explosion followed, and the light in the stable
disappeared. We heard the crash of the lanthorn as it was driven
against the wall, and the sudden stamping and kicking of frightened
horses.

“’Tis as dark as the grave,” says John, closing the window
carefully. “Let ’em feel their way to the corn-bins,” he says, and
we turned to go to our several posts again.

However, before we were at the head of the great staircase there
came new developments, which rather startled me and gave a
different turn to affairs. The silence of the night--which had
seemed twice as deep since John Stirk discharged his piece--was
suddenly broken by what appeared to be a regular fusilade, and
at the same moment a loud crashing of glass and splintering of
woodwork gave us notice that at last we were under fire. Close upon
their noise followed a shrill scream from the corridor where we had
left Peter and Benjamin.

“Somebody’s hit!” says I, and we ran along the passages. Ere we had
taken many steps our feet grated on broken glass or kicked against
fragments of woodwork. At the corner of the corridor leading to
Sir Nicholas’s room stood Mistress Alison, holding a lamp above
her head and gazing towards us with anxious looks, “No lights!”
roars I. “Go back, cousin--you give them a chance to see us,”
and I hurried Peter and Benjamin along the passage into an inner
chamber, where we might strike a light without danger. “I’m hit
somewhere,” says Peter. “I can feel the blood running.” But it was
only a deep scratch that he had got in his cheek, from which the
blood ran pretty freely into his neckcloth. “Off you go to Barbara
for a clout,” says I, and went back with John and Benjamin to the
corridor. The night air was blowing in raw and cold, for all the
window was shot away. “It’s a lucky thing we wasn’t in front on’t,
Master Richard,” says Benjamin. “They must ha’ fired all their
pieces at it.”

There was no great harm done by this first brush, though I was
somewhat regretful when I saw the wreck that I had not allowed
our enemies to burn their candle unmolested. However, they made
no attempt to relight the lanthorn, and as we could see naught of
them in the stable-yard, I made Benjamin fetch a great mattress
from the nearest sleeping chamber, and with this we blocked up the
open casement as well as we could. But we had no sooner got it
into place than new matters called for my attention. A door opened
suddenly and we heard a scuffle of voices, first Mistress Alison’s,
then Sir Nicholas’s, thin, piping, but exceeding angry. “Here’s
more to do!” says I, and set off for my uncle’s room, followed by
John Stirk. “This,” says I to myself, “will be harder work than
fighting,” but I went boldly within the chamber. The old knight,
startled, doubtless, by the firing, had got himself out of bed
and now sat on the side, furious because my cousin endeavoured to
persuade him to return to his pillows.

“What the murrain!” says he. “’Od’s wounds, wench, am I a child to
be--’od’s death,” he says, suddenly catching sight o’ me, “nephew
Dick, as I live! So we are in the hands of the rebels, Alison?
Faith, I never thought to see a nephew o’ mine assault me in my own
house!”

“Sir,” says I, “I am here to defend you, and I present you with my
very humble duty.”

But something seemed to twitch his poor old face as I spoke, and he
fell back on his bed. “Oh,” says my cousin, “leave us, sir, leave
us, and send Barbara to me quick!” And so John and I bundled out of
the chamber, sore bewildered.


III.

During the remaining hours of that night our enemies gave us
no more trouble than the mere observing of their movements. It
appeared to me from what I could make out, as I went from one
man to another, that they remained in the stable, and were of an
uncommon quietness. “Hatching their plans, no doubt,” says I, and
was not unthankful that things wore their present complexion. I had
no great love of fighting in the dark, and I considered, moreover,
that our chances were better in the daytime, when we could use our
eyes to some advantage, than in such a night as that when we could
scarce see aught at twenty yards’ distance. However, though they
made no further motion towards attacking us, I saw to it that a
strict watch was kept, and moved from post to post constantly, lest
any of my sentinels should forget themselves and fall asleep. So
the night passed, and in a somewhat sombre and melancholy fashion,
for there was a mournful wind without, and in my uncle’s chamber
the old man himself lay grievously sick and in constant need of
Mistress Alison’s ministrations.

About six o’clock in the morning, a grey light being then apparent
in the eastward heaven above Went Hill, I found John and Humphrey
Stirk with their chins resting on their muskets, and their mouths
as wide agape as young blackbirds are when the old bird comes home
with a worm in her beak. “Ha!” says I. “By your faces, lads, ’tis
high time you were relieved. Away with you to the kitchen, and bid
Barbara see to food and drink for you while I keep guard. We are
ill-mannered, but you shall have an hour’s relief while there’s a
chance,” I says, bundling them off, and feeling that it were scurvy
behaviour to treat volunteers less considerately. So they thanked
me and withdrew, and having been on my legs all night I sat me
down near the window and stared at the grey sky outside. “Faith!”
says I, yawning, “here’s a pretty state of things that I have come
into. Look upon thyself, Dick,” I says, “as a dead man, over whom
they have already said ‘Ashes to ashes.’ For thou wilt certainly be
shot if thou stayest here, and hanged if thou dost escape. However,
there’s no use in repining nor in reflecting. Shot or hanged, what
matter a century hence?”

And yet, as I sat there, I could not help but reflect, though
I can with great honesty say that I did not repine. I think it
must have been my liking for philosophic questionings that made
me reflect in the fashion I did, for, in sooth, all my thoughts
turned to the curious manner in which one small event or trifling
circumstance had led to another, until at last I was landed in a
very quagmire of serious result. But there I flew away at another
tangent, and began to ask myself whether there is any event or
action so trifling or unimportant as not to have any effect on
our happiness or misery. Certainly the events of the twenty-four
hours then drawing to a close had seemed small in themselves, and
were yet productive of results the most serious. If my horse had
not fallen dead by the wayside I should not have stayed to think
under the trees at Barnsdale, and if I had not stayed there I
should not have thought of Reuben Trippett’s farmstead and in due
course gone there, and if I had not gone there I should never have
heard of Anthony Dacre’s plot, and if I had remained in ignorance
of that I should certainly not have been sitting in my uncle’s
manor-house that morning waiting for daybreak, and feeling myself
already a lost man. “Alas!” I sighs, coming at last to a definite
opinion, “’tis most true that no event is so trifling as to be
wholly unimportant. There is naught so sure as that one thing leads
to another--the mischief is that we never know what that other is
going to be.”

I think I had gotten into this state of mind during my patrol of
the house during the night. At first my thoughts had perforce
been directed to the immediate necessities of the hour; but as
things grew quiet, I could not help thinking about my own peculiar
predicament. And the more I thought, the more certain was I of the
result of my present proceedings. “Thou art a dead man!” says I
to myself, shaking my head mournfully. “There is not a shadow of
doubt about that. As dead as if old Tobias had turned his first
shovelful----”

But at that moment--and it was a truly welcome relief, for I was,
indeed, waxing melancholy--the door of my uncle’s chamber opens
gently, and out into the corridor steps Mistress Alison. She shut
the door behind her with a pretty care, and seeing me in the grey
light, came softly in my direction.

“Good morning to you, cousin,” says I, rising from my chair and
approaching her. “I trust my uncle is somewhat recovered by this
time?”

“He sleeps, sir,” says she, still very formal. “He has had but an
ill night, and once I feared he was near to death. But he is now
asleep, and I have left Priscilla watching by him for awhile.”

By this time we stood over against the window, and I saw that her
face was pale with watching, and that much anxiety was on it. She
looked without, and something in the grey skies and dark fields
made her shiver and draw the cloak about her shoulders closer
together.

“You are weary, cousin,” says I. “Will you not seat yourself in
this chair?”

She looked at the chair and at me, but made no offer to take it.

“I was going downstairs,” says she, meditatively, “but----”

“Why,” says I, innocent enough to all outward seeming, “I have
dismissed John and Humphrey for a brief rest, and it would not be
amiss to have some one here besides myself, so that if there is
need, we can give alarm without leaving the post. With the dawn,”
says I, “they will no doubt commence operations against us.”

“I will remain in that case,” she answers, and sat her down in the
chair that I had just left “We must all do our part to defend the
house,” she says, more to herself than to me.

“Aye,” says I.

After that we were for some moments very silent. For my part, I
leaned against the wall watching her. After a time she looked at me
gravely.

“How long will this continue, think you?” she says. “Will it be for
some time, or shall we be relieved speedily?”

“Why,” says I, “I see no prospect of relief, cousin. These fellows
will doubtless be reinforced, and they will then make a desperate
assault upon us. However,” I says, seeing her grow pale at the
thought, “we will hold out as long as we can, and we will do our
best to contrive some way of escape for you and Sir Nicholas.
Faith!” I says, “I don’t see how it’s to be done, seeing that we
are hemmed in; but I’ll talk it over with John and Humphrey--the
three of us may contrive something. As for myself,” I says,
dolefully, my thoughts going back in their original direction, “I
am a dead man already, and so naught that concerns myself matters.”

“A dead man?” she says, staring at me. “What do you mean by
applying such a term to yourself?”

“Why,” says I, “I mean what I say. You see, cousin, I was sent
north with a despatch from Cromwell to Fairfax, and----”

“Sir,” she says, suddenly clothing herself with a great dignity;
“I should prefer to know naught of your rene----” But there she
checked herself. “I think you are loyally serving my uncle,” she
says, “and myself,” she adds, after a pause; “and I--I thank you
for it, Master Coope; but----”

“But I am still a renegade, eh, cousin?” says I, bitterly. “Why, so
I am, I daresay, in your eyes. But, egad! a bit o’ sympathy comes
amiss to no man; and if one may not expect it from a relation--but
I’ll not intrude my confidence upon you,” I says, and I swung round
on my musket, and looked out of the window. I think her eyes must
have followed me, for after a moment she spoke, and when I turned
she was looking at me with some curiosity and concern.

“If you put it in that way,” she says, meditatively, and she looked
at me again. “I should be sorry to appear unkind to--to anyone who
had done me a service,” she says slowly.

“Oh, no thanks, cousin!” says I. “I should have done the same
for any woman. Faith, you did not think that I came here to save
you from insult because you happened to be my mother’s sister’s
daughter?”

Now, beshrew me if I did not see her catch her pretty lips together
between her teeth as if in a sudden vexation!

“I am aware that I am naught to Master Richard Coope,” she says,
cold and icy.

“I should have done it for any woman,” says I. “So no thanks, if
you please, mistress.”

And I looked out of the window again. The dawn was come by that
time, and the east was covered with a broad belt of dun-coloured
light. When I looked round again I could see her face quite plainly
under the hood of her cloak.

“But this danger of yours?” she says, looking at me and then away
from me. “I think I--perhaps it might be well--will you tell me
what it is?” she says, turning her eyes full on mine again.

“Why,” says I, “’tis just this, cousin. I bear a despatch from
Cromwell to Fairfax--here it is, stitched in my doublet. I should
have delivered it last night, and because I have not done so, I
shall certainly be hanged if Fairfax or Cromwell get hold of me.
’Tis a most grave dereliction of duty that cannot be pardoned. I
shall most certainly die for it. So that you see, between being
shot here and hanged before Fairfax’s tent door, I have a pretty
choice; and faith!” I says, “it causes me some concern, for I am
not tired of life, I assure you.”

“And if you had not heard of our danger, you would have delivered
your despatch last night?” she says.

“Why,” I says, “I was horseless; but I should have made shift into
camp somehow.”

“And did you reflect?” she says, rising from her chair and standing
before me, “upon what the consequences would be if you came here to
warn us instead of going forward with your despatch? You knew that
it was a question of our safety against your own----?”

But what else she meant to say--and I scarce knew what she was
anxious to get at--I had no opportunity of learning, for at that
moment there rang out a discharge of musketry from the fold,
answered by the shots from the corridor where Peter and Benjamin
were stationed. “That’s a beginning,” says I, and ran off, leaving
her there without further ceremony.


IV.

I found Peter and Benjamin reloading their pieces near the window
which we had barricaded a few hours previously, and immediately
called on them for news of what had happened. It appeared that as
daylight came they had watched the stable door jealously, and at
last had counted six of our assailants emerge from it with their
muskets. They had gazed up at the window which they had already
shattered, and evidently catching sight of the lads’ faces--for we
had left spaces through which we might observe whatever went on
without--they had discharged their pieces at it. Peter and Benjamin
had discharged theirs in return as their assailants crowded back
within the stable door, but they were doubtful as to whether they
had hit any of them, though Peter thought he had seen one man clap
his hand to his side as he hurried into shelter.

“But they were in and out again like a lot o’ rabbits on a sand
burrow,” says Benjamin. “You saw their fronts and backs within a
minute.”

“Poor sort of fighting,” says I, and bidding them stand to the
post, I went to find John and Humphrey.

It was by that time broad daylight, and I therefore thought it
well to go round the house and see how matters stood with us. I
found all my men at their posts, some of them a little sleepy with
their long vigil, but all keen enough to resent the enemy whenever
he thought fit to attack us. I contrived that every man should be
relieved in turn, and sent those thus discharged from duty to the
kitchen, where Barbara saw to their needs. I satisfied myself that
all our defences were in good order, and that there was little
chance of the besiegers breaking in upon us at any of the weaker
spots in our armour. In fact it seemed to me, after going round the
house for the second time, that unless some extraordinary measures
were adopted against us, there was no reason why we should not hold
our own against a whole troop as long as our provisions lasted.

I was engaged with John Stirk in further strengthening the defence
of the window that opened into the herb-garden, when Peter came
to tell me that a man was waving a flag from the stable door.
“A flag of truce,” says I, and hurried away to observe this new
action. I then saw that the enemy had tied a clout to the shaft of
a fork, and were waving it over the half-door of the stable, with
an evident desire to provoke our attention. “We’ll play the game
fairly,” says I, and hastily improvised a flag, which I bade Peter
thrust out of the window while I went to find Mistress Alison.
“They desire a parley,” says I, “you must play spokeswoman again,
if you please, cousin.”

“I had rather do aught than bandy words with Anthony Dacre,” says
she, following me unwillingly. “Put the words into my mouth, if you
please, Master Richard.”

However, there was no need for her fears on this occasion, for
instead of Anthony Dacre there appeared one of the troopers in
answer to our signal. He came across the fold, carrying his flag of
truce in his right hand, and looking somewhat quizzically at the
barricaded window. “A queer fellow this,” says I, observing him
closely. “We should have some sport with him.”

Mistress Alison looked at me with a little flash in her eyes.
“Sport!” she says, and seemed as if she would have said more. But
the man had by that time come close beneath the window, and stood
looking up at it. He was a tall, gaunt fellow, with as long a face
as ever I saw, and a mouth that seemed to twist itself naturally to
the pronouncing of long words.

“Within there!” say he. “Ye that do suffer investment, and are as
captives in the beleaguered city--does anybody hear me or not?”

“I hear you, sir,” says Mistress Alison, putting her face to the
opening which we had contrived. “What is your wish?”

“Why, mistress,” says he, trying to catch a glimpse of her, “as
for wishes they are casual things, and I have long eschewed them. I
wish naught save to accomplish my duty----”

“I have no time to stand here chattering,” says Mistress Alison.
“Come, your errand!”

“I come as a messenger of peace,” says the fellow. “Know, maiden,
that my name it is Merciful Wiggleskirk, and that my nature is no
less merciful than my name. I am a man of war, and yet my soul
hankers exceedingly after peace----”

“Am I to stand listening to this babbler all day?” says my cousin
to the rest of us. “Come, fellow!” she says sharply. “What is it
that you want?”

“I desire your surrender, mistress,” says he. “There are some of
us”--he cocked his eye in the direction of the stable--“that do
carnally desire the sight and smell of blood, which are matters
that I cannot abide. Therefore, I come, merciful as my name, to bid
you yield yourselves in the interest of peace. Let there be peace
between us, I pray you,” he says, rolling his eyes towards the
window.

“Is that all you have to say, fellow?” asks my cousin.

“Verily, I have spoken, maiden,” says he.

“Then,” she says, “you can go back and say that there will be much
blood--yea, enough to turn your squeamish stomach sick, Master
Merciful Wiggleskirk, unless you and your fellow rascals depart
on the instant. What! you come like thieves and robbers, and then
insult us with your offers of mercy--oh!” she says, “get you within
shelter, lest we fire upon you.”

“Peace, peace!” he says. “Peace, mistress. Woe in me that I
should----”

“Get your musket in order, Peter,” says she in a loud voice.
Whereupon the long-faced man uttered a deep groan and hastened back
to the stable, holding his flag above his head. Mistress Alison
turned away without a word, and I was following her when John Stirk
stopped me.

“Master Dick,” says he, “there’s a thought strikes me that’s worth
meditating upon. They’re all in the stable now, and there is but
one door through which they can come, and this window commands it.
Why should they be allowed to come through that door, Master Dick?
Why,” says he, “shouldn’t they have a taste of besiegement?”

“Faith!” says I, “a rare notion, John. Why did it not strike me
before? However----”

“Humphrey and me,” says he, “posted at this, window will stop any
of them from coming through yonder door.”

“And so you shall,” I says, and gave the necessary orders,
transferring Peter and Benjamin from the window where we stood to
John and Humphrey’s old post over the garden door. And since we now
knew with certainty where all our enemies lay concealed, I withdrew
Gregory and Jasper from the courtyard windows and bade them take
the rest of which, being oldish men, they were somewhat sore in
need. This done, I went back to John and Humphrey, and waited the
next move of the game.

Now, after Merciful Wiggleskirk had returned to the stable there
was for some time no sign of any action on the part of the enemy,
both halves of the door being shut to behind him. But at the end of
an hour, the upper half was swung open, and Jack Bargery’s head and
shoulders appeared. He was evidently in dispute with those inside,
for he appeared to be talking in a loud voice, and shook his head
fiercely as he fumbled at the latch of the lower half of the door.
“There would be little loss to anybody if a bullet found its billet
in his ugly carcase,” says I. “Fire, Humphrey.”

“With good will,” says he, and pulled the trigger.

The fellow at the stable door staggered and clapped his hand to
his shoulder. “Three inches too high,” says Humphrey musingly,
and began to reload his piece. “First blood to us, anyway,” says
John, “and ’twill read them a lesson.” And so it did, for none
of them showed so much as a nose-end at the stable door for the
next six hours. Instead of being bottled ourselves we had bottled
them fairly. And yet, as I knew quite well, we were enjoying but
a temporary respite, for naught could be easier when the darkness
came on, than for one of them to slip away to Pomfret and bring
assistance from Fairfax’s camp. I marvelled more than once that
they had not done this the previous night, but I suppose Anthony
Dacre had considered that matters would go better for him if he
conducted his operations with a small posse instead of a large one,
the command of which would doubtless have been in other hands than
his.

The day wore on in quietness, John and Humphrey keeping a sharp
watch on the stable door. From the time that Jack Bargery had
dropped back with a bullet in his shoulder until late in the
afternoon there was no sign of our assailants. But as it grew
dark, the top half of the door was thrown open again and the flag
once more thrust out. I was on guard at the moment, the brothers
being gone to the kitchen for a bite and sup, and I immediately
despatched a messenger for Alison while I waved our own flag
through the window. It was Merciful Wiggleskirk who once more
appeared, and he came across the ford as Alison answered my summons.

“I fear I must trouble you again, cousin,” says I. “’Tis another
flag of truce. Will you make inquiry of the messenger as to its
meaning?”

She frowned as she put her face to the opening. “Well, fellow?”
says she. “You are come again, eh?”

“On a merciful errand, mistress,” he answered. “In truth, we are
at war, but should our enmity extend to the very animals? I pray
you, mistress, to call a truce while we lead our horses across the
ford to drink at the trough. The poor beasts do thirst exceeding
sore--yea, even as the hart desireth----”

“No blasphemies, fellow,” says she, and turns to me inquiringly.
“What shall I say?” she asks.

“No,” I says. “’Tis but a trick that they may get out of the
stable. Once under cover of the house wall they may go where they
please untouched. In their present position we have them safe so
long as daylight lasts.”

“Yes,” she says, meditatively. “Yes--but--there’s a notion struck
me,” she says, looking at me with a queer expression in her eyes.
“Your danger, Master Richard--I think I see a way out of it. Would
there be any harm if we allowed this man to water his horses, one
at a time, on condition that none of his fellows leave the stable?”

“No great harm in that,” I says, not quite seeing what she aimed
at, but having some faith in her woman’s wit; “but assure him that
if any of the others leave the stable they will be shot.”

She turned to the window. “Listen, fellow,” says she. “You may
bring out the horses yourself, one at a time, and water them at the
trough, but if one of your companions shows his face we shall shoot
him.”

“Agreed, mistress,” says he. “’Tis for the poor animals.”

“And hark ye,” she said, “there is a little window near the
trough--place yourself near it when you come with the horses--I
have something to say to you.”

I saw the man’s face light up with a greedy look, as if he saw some
prospect of gain to himself. “I understand, mistress,” says he, and
hurried off to the stable, while Alison turned to me again.

“I don’t comprehend your meaning, cousin,” I says. “What is your
notion?”

“That you should bribe this trooper to carry your despatch forward
to Fairfax,” says she. “It will but be a day late--and you can
explain the cause of delay--and--and--it may be the saving of your
own neck, Master Richard,” she says.

I stood very still looking at her. “Hah!” says I, at last. “So
you’ve been thinking of that, cousin. Why, that’s kind----”

“Nay,” she says, with a heightened colour, and her eyes that had
wandered away coming back to me, “let us have no misunderstandings,
pray! I could ill bear the thought,” she says, “that any man should
come to his death through rendering me a service. And so if you
think it a wise plan----”

“I’ll try it,” says I, and made haste to summon John and Humphrey
back to their posts. “If any man leaves the stable door except
Wiggleskirk,” I says, “shoot him on the instant,” and with that I
ran down to the little window that opened on the fold just against
the great horse-trough. As I waited there for Wiggleskirk, I cut
the stitches that secured the despatch to my doublet. Then I
bethought me that it might be well to write some explanation of my
conduct, so I hurried to the kitchen and found pen and ink and
hastily wrote a few lines on the back of the paper. “The bearer of
these,” I wrote, “delayed by untoward circumstances, sends them
forward by the only available opportunity.” “That’s all that’s
possible,” says I, and went back to the window.

Wiggleskirk was there, keeping the horse and the pump between
him and the stable. When he caught sight of my face, he started.
“Hist!” says I, “come closer, but make no sound. Hark ye, lad, art
willing to carry something to Fairfax at Pomfret for a handful of
gold pieces?”

“To Fairfax?” he says, with some suspicion. “And what may it be,
master?”

“A despatch from General Cromwell,” says I, “that should have been
delivered last night if I had not been surrounded in this fashion.”

“From Cromwell to Fairfax?” says he, his mouth agape. “Why, that’s
very serious matters, master. A handful of gold, did you say? But
what shall I tell----”

“There’s naught to tell,” says I. “Here’s the despatch, and there’s
the money. Now, will you take it, saying naught to your companions
out there, and asking no questions?”

He looked at the packet, and then at the handful of gold that I
had laid on the window-sill. “Agreed!” says he. He looked curiously
into my face. “As soon as it’s dark,” he says. “Rely on me--though
’faith, I don’t understand----”

“There’s no need that you should,” says I, and shuts the window in
his face. I gave a sigh of relief as I drew the bolts to--I had,
at any rate, thanks to Alison, done something to rid myself of the
despatch and to secure its delivery.



Chapter V

Of my Reconciliation with Sir Nicholas, of his Last Wish, and of
his Death and Our own Sore Straits.


I.

About eight o’clock on that, the second night of our investments,
I sat eating my supper in the parlour, all my men being at their
posts, and everything appearing of a satisfying nature. I had
carefully watched the stable door during the evening, and had
observed that when the darkness was fairly settled down there
came out a man leading a horse which he mounted at the fold-gate.
I made no doubt that this was Merciful Wiggleskirk, and that he
was riding for Pomfret on a double mission. Although I recognised
him for one of them that make a trade of canting hypocrisy I had
reason to believe that he would deliver the despatch to Fairfax.
That, then, was one errand; the other, I took to be the seeking of
reinforcement for Anthony Dacre and his party. But in good sooth,
it troubled me not at all that there was a prospect of our being
attacked in greater force, for I had all along seen that if the
enemy chose to invest us seriously we must ultimately give way to
him. It had been my hope that Anthony would fail to find further
help from Fairfax, or that he would think it dangerous to his own
plans to seek it. Indeed, I was not without hope that the morning
might find us with naught but Anthony and his own rascals to deal
with, for it seemed to me more than likely that if Fairfax made
enquiry in the matter of Merciful Wiggleskirk, he would withdraw
him and the other trooper from Anthony’s service. But whether he
did or not was all one to me, for however things turned I was in a
corner, and saw no way of getting out of it.

As I drained the last dregs of ale from my tankard there came to
my side the lad Walter, that had run about the house on one errand
or another since the siege began, and whom but a moment before I
had sent up to John Stirk with a message. He seemed in haste, and
there was that in his face which made me start to my feet. “’Tis
Mistress French,” says he; “she wishes to see you at Sir Nicholas’s
chamber-door--I heard her say something to Barbara about his
dying,” he says, staring at me.

“Say naught to the other men,” says I, and started for the stairs.
I passed Peter and Benjamin at the garden window. “Keep a good
watch, lads,” I says. “They may attempt something under cover of
the night,” and I turned from them to see my cousin advancing to
meet me. There was no lamp in the corridor, but she held a candle
in her hand, and by its dim light I saw that her face was anxious
and that she had been weeping. “You sent for me, cousin?” says I,
and for the first time since I had entered the house I took her
hand in mine. “I hope my uncle is no worse,” I says. “May I not see
him?”

“He has been asking for you,” she says. “I think--nay, I am
sure--that he is dying. He has been very quiet this long time, and
has said but little. And his mind, somehow, seems so much clearer
than it has been for some days--it frightens me to see how calm he
is.”

“Why,” says I, wishful to comfort her, “do not lose heart, cousin,
for it may be that he is somewhat better. But let me into his
chamber since he has asked for me.”

She opened the door and motioned me to step within. There was no
more light in the room than came from the logs burning in the
hearth, but I saw that Barbara sat by the bedside, and that my
uncle lay between the sheets very straight and still. “Here’s
Master Richard come to see you, Sir Nicholas,” says Barbara, and
got out of her chair with a sign to me to take it. “A’s failing
fast,” she whispers, as I drew near the bed; “but a’s bent on
seeing thee, Master Dick.”

I took the chair and leaned over towards my uncle’s face. “I hope I
find you somewhat recovered, dear sir,” says I, feeling, as I think
most men feel at such moments, very strange and ignorant of what to
do or say. “Your pain, now--I trust ’tis abated since----”

“Is it Dick?” says he, opening his eyes and trying to turn his head
on the pillow.

“Yes, sir,” says I.

“Ah!” says he, very slow and feeble in his speech. “I hear great
news of thee. We are withstanding a siege, it appears. I could wish
to give thee some advice as to what should be done, nephew.”

“I shall receive it gladly and with much respect, sir,” says I,
“if it be not too much trouble for you to speak with me on these
matters.”

“No trouble,” says he, “no trouble, nephew--in these times we must
lay aside personal----”

But here Mistress Alison steps up to the other side of the bed
and lays her hand on his. “Dear sir,” says she, very gentle and
pitiful--faith! I could not have thought she was the same woman
that had treated me to more than one sharp speech--“you will do
yourself harm to talk so much. If you will but rest----”

“Pish!” says he, in his old peevish fashion. “Let me be, wench.
Dick and me has matters to talk of. Hark ye, Alison, leave us to
ourselves awhile--you women are for ever in the way when there is
business of importance to discuss. See them out of the chamber,
nephew, and come back to thy seat.”

I looked questioningly at Mistress Alison across the bed. She put
the tip of her finger to her lips and nodded towards the door. As I
held it open for her, “I shall remain just without,” she whispers.
“If he seems worse, Master Richard, call me at once.” “Depend upon
me,” says I, and shut the door on her and Barbara, and went back to
the bedside. My uncle had managed to turn his head on the pillow
and he stared hard at me as I approached. “Sit thee down, nephew,”
says he. “’Tis poor work talking of serious matters when women are
about. And how goes the siege, Dick--shall we withstand the enemy?”

“Why, sir,” says I, “I see no reason why we should not. I have
taken care that all our defences are strengthened and that
everything is in proper order.”

“Aye,” he says, “aye. Alison has told me as much--she praised thy
generalship. I could like,” he says, “to know how all this came
about. What led to it, nephew?--these women, they have no talent
for telling a straight tale.”

“Why, sir,” says I, “there’s little to tell”--but I began and told
him how I had chanced to come into possession of Anthony Dacre’s
plot, and of what had befallen us since then. He lay there, very
quiet, listening to what I had to say, and making no more comment
than an occasional curse on Anthony for his villainy. And when I
had finished, “Thou hast done very well, nephew,” says he. “’Twas
well thought of to warn us of our danger. So thou didst join the
rebels, eh?” he says with a straight look at me.

“Yes, sir,” says I. “Since my duty seemed to need it--though,
indeed, I was sorry to do aught that was against your wishes,” I
says, looking straight back at him.

“Well, well,” says he. “I must not reproach thee now, Dick; and,
besides, I have known some good men that have thought as thou
thinkest on these matters. But I wish thou hadst been plain with
me--there was something of the lawyer in thy manner of departing,
nephew,” he says, favouring me with another keen look.

“Why, dear sir,” says I, very loth, as you may conceive, to excite
or vex him, “it was for your own sake that I so behaved myself. And
besides,” I says, “you would have locked me up if I had dared to
proclaim myself.”

“Swounds!” says he, with a spark of the old fire in him, “and so I
would, egad! Well, well, ’tis too late now to kick sleeping dogs,
and I’m pleased with thee, Dick, for thy recent conduct. The lass
Alison seems mighty taken with thee.”

“I was afraid,” says I, “that Mistress Alison looked on me as a
renegade, and could ill abide my presence.”

“Pish!” says he, “’tis a woman’s way. I’ll not deny,” he says,
“that she has had no liking for thee, because the wench is all for
His Majesty, and we love not to have a renegade in the family,
nephew Dick. But thy conduct of the last day or two,” he says, “has
changed her thoughts of thee, an I mistake not. There is a cordial
by thee, lad; give me a drink--I grow somewhat faint.”

“Dear sir,” says I, “I am sure that it is not good for you to talk.
Let me go away, and do you compose yourself to sleep.”

“Faith!” says he, making a wry face as he drank the cordial, “I
shall have sleep enough enow, nephew. Let me talk while I can. What
thinkest thou of thy cousin, Dick?” he says, giving me a sharp
glance.

“Why, sir,” says I, “I think she is the handsomest woman I ever
saw.”

“Ha!” says he. “Thou thinkest so, eh? I have left her all I have,”
he says, still keeping his eyes on mine. “Every acre and every
penny,” says he.

“I am unfeignedly glad to hear it, sir,” says I, “for I am sure she
deserves it.”

“It would ha’ been thine,” he says, “if thou hadst behaved thyself.”

“One must pay for misbehaviour, sir,” says I.

“I am not sure,” says he, plucking at the bedclothes, “that I
should not alter matters if there were a chance.”

“Pray you, sir,” says I, “don’t think of such a thing. I am very
well provided for,” I says. And so I was, seeing that I was pretty
sure to be either shot or hanged within the next few days.

“Well, well,” says he. “But things will turn out well. I wish thee
to marry Alison, nephew Dick.”

“Sir!” says I.

“Swounds!” says he. “Thou art not already married?”

“No, dear sir,” says I.

“Then there is no need for astonishment,” says he. “And, egad, she
is as proper a wench----”

“Sir,” says I. “She is the handsomest woman that ever I saw, but
I fear she is beyond me. And besides,” I says, “I don’t think she
likes me.”

“Pish!” says he. “Thou art but a lad, and therefore knowest naught
of women. There is but one way of wooing, and that is to be
masterful. Let ’em see that you’re master,” he says, with a chuckle
that came very feeble, “and they’re won.”

“Faith!” thinks I. “If that’s so I must ha’ won my fair cousin
already, for I have been masterful enough with her, in all
conscience! I will bear your advice in mind, sir,” I says aloud.

“I would like to see it,” he says, as if to himself. “But my days
are numbered, nephew. Howbeit, if I die before this trouble comes
to an end, I trust to thee to see thy cousin in safety.”

“Sir,” says I. “I will defend her to the best of my power. Trust me
for that,” I says, laying my hand on his own, which was very cold
and white.

“Well,” says he, “that’s a comforting thought to me, Dick, for the
lass has served my old age with much diligence and kindliness,
though, egad,” he says, “she has the devil’s own temper, an you
stroke her the wrong way. But there’s a thing that I want to say to
thee, Dick--bend down to me--ye may both be in need of money ere
long, for things wear a troubled complexion. Hark ye, lad, there
is gold and jewels hidden away under the hearthstone of the room
where my dry herbs are kept. Use them as you think fit,” he says,
“there may be occasion to carry them about your person--there’s
more families than one homeless at this time, and nobody knows what
may happen.”

“Have no fear, sir,” says I.

“Swounds!” says he. “What’s the good o’t? A dying man hath neither
fears nor hopes, nephew. And faith, I think I have maybe talked too
much; call in the women, Dick,--Alison is the rarest nurse.”

So I hastened to the door for my cousin and Barbara, and bade
them enter. Sir Nicholas turned his head to me again. “See to thy
defences, lad,” says he. “Egad, I wish I could be with thee!” But
there his face turned very white, and the women ran to him, so I
softly closed the door and went off to see to my men.


II.

I was in some expectation during the rest of the night that a
reinforcement of the besiegers might after all take place, and that
we should be severely assaulted under cover of the darkness. The
hours went by, however, without anything of this sort happening,
and as it wore towards early morning I made up my mind that the
night was to be utterly peaceful. We had kept such observation
as we could upon the enemy, and it was my firm conviction that
some of them at least had escaped from the stable during the
night and withdrawn to more comfortable quarters. But since we
had no assurance that an assault might not be made upon us at any
moment, I kept the men to their posts, and myself patrolled the
house ceaselessly, only pausing now and then to call at my uncle’s
chamber-door and enquire for his health. About three o’clock in
the morning as I stood at the head of the great staircase resting
myself a brief moment, old Barbara came out of the kitchen and
called my name softly. “What is it?” says I, going down to her
in the darkness, which we preserved strictly, lest the besiegers
should have any profit of our lamps and candles. “Is there aught
afoot, Barbara?”

She beckoned me within the kitchen. “Master Dick,” says she,
pointing to the door that stood open ’twixt us and the scullery,
“there is the curiousest tapping noise on the little window by the
horse trough. Tap-tap-tap, tap, tap, it goes,” she says. “I ha’
listened to it this ten minutes. It must be a sign, Master Dick,”
she says fearfully. “To be sure, the blind in your poor uncle’s
chamber fell this afternoon, but signs may come more than one at a
time, eh, Master Dick? Hark you--why, ’tis there again.”

I stepped lightly towards the scullery door and heard the sound
she spoke of. “Sign or no sign,” says I, “I’ll see what it is,
Barbara,” and I stepped within. But the thought occurring to me
that this might signify some message from Merciful Wiggleskirk I
turned and closed the door. “Best not let in any light from the
kitchen,” says I, “lest the enemy see it.” So I left Barbara there
and went to the little window alone. After a time the tapping came
again. Whereupon, keeping under cover of the wall, I put out my
finger and tapped lightly in response. An answering knock coming
from without, I undid the bolt and spoke. “Who’s there?” says I.
But lest it should be some trick of the enemy I kept closely behind
the wall, for I had no mind to show my face at the window and
receive a bullet in eyes or mouth.

However, as I had conjectured, it was Merciful Wiggleskirk that
stood without “’Tis I, master,” says he, “and I have tapped and
tapped this half-hour. I do naught by halves,” he says, “and I
could not ha’ rested until I had told you how I sped with my
mission.”

“I am beholden to you,” says I. “You delivered the despatch in
safety?”

“It is in the hands of Fairfax himself, master,” says he. “Great
news or small, he knoweth every jot and tittle on’t.”

“That’s well,” says I, much relieved. “I thank you, Master
Wiggleskirk.”

“Why,” says he, “I need naught of that sort, master, for you paid
me excellent well. But I am new come from the camp, and since you
are one of us----”

“What does that mean?” I says.

“I heard that you were of the true political creed,” says he.
“Faith, how could you be aught else, seeing that you carried a
despatch from Cromwell?”

“I perceive your meaning,” says I. “Go on, pray.”

“Why,” he says, dropping his voice to a whisper, “as you are one
of us I thought it well to tell you that ere sunrise there will be
a troop here to reduce this place to submission. I was accompanied
to camp,” he says, “by Master Dacre, who seems to have ingratiated
himself with Colonel Sands, and now you are to be closely invested
and reduced. And, hark ye, Master Coope,” he says, “if I were you I
would----”

What more he would have said was lost to me, for at that moment
Anthony Dacre’s voice called across the fold. “What the murrain,
Wiggleskirk! does it take an hour to water thy beast?” says he,
and we heard his steps on the frosted straw as he came towards us.
I shut the window and the trooper moved away. I caught sight of
his figure and of Anthony Dacre’s outlined against the darkness
beyond, and for a moment was tempted to see whether a bullet from
my pistol could not pick out the right man. But on second thoughts
I refrained, and went back to the kitchen and thence to the upper
storey to resume my patrol, encourage my men, make enquiry after
Sir Nicholas, and wait for daybreak.

Now, when daybreak came there was ample proof that Merciful
Wiggleskirk’s recent statement had been based on truth. The house
was surrounded by troopers, who rode hither and thither as if to
take observation of their position. There was an officer with them
who plainly assumed command--as for Anthony Dacre I saw naught of
him nor of his gang. I went round the posts which I had already
established and exhorted my men to be brave and vigilant. The lads
Peter and Benjamin were somewhat concerned because of the array now
set before them, and so instead of leaving them together I made
Peter exchange places with Humphrey Stirk, thinking that one tried
man and a lad together was better than two untried lads. Gregory
and Jasper I found unconcerned and ready--they had more faith in
our defences, I think, than I had.

Having assured myself that all was in order for the struggle which
I now saw we must quickly engage in, I went to Sir Nicholas’s
chamber to see how he did. He was by that time sinking fast,
having undergone a great change at cockcrow. Alison and Barbara
were in close attendance upon him, and as there was naught that
needed my immediate attention outside I prepared to stay with them
for a little while. But then came John Stirk knocking at the door
and asking if I were within. I joined him in the corridor on the
instant. “The officer,” says he, pointing to the window overlooking
the garden. “He is without there, flying a flag, and demanding to
speak with you, Master Coope.”

“Did he ask for me by name?” says I, mightily surprised. “He must
have meant Sir Nicholas.”

“He said Master Richard Coope,” says John. “There’s a fine lot of
’em without,” he says, as we went towards the garden window, and,
faith, he was right there, as I saw when I looked out. Whether
it was that he wished to make a brave show and frighten us into
resistance, I cannot say, but he had drawn up all his men in the
garden, where their horses’ feet made sad havoc with my uncle’s
trim lawns. The officer himself sat his horse a little in advance
of the rest, and when I appeared at the window was giving some
order to a man who stood at his side bearing a white flag.

I opened the window and leaned out. “You have asked for Richard
Coope, sir,” says I, looking down at the officer. “What is it that
you wish with me?”

“You are Master Richard Coope?” says he, looking at me with some
curiosity.

“The same,” says I.

“I would like to hold parley with you, Master Coope,” says he. “I
am Captain Holdsworth, and am charged with your arrest, and with
that of Sir Nicholas Coope and his niece, Mistress Alison French.
Do you purpose to submit yourselves to me?” says he, as polite as
if he asked me whether I preferred white bread to brown. “Or shall
we be under the necessity of using force?” he says, first cocking
his eye at the brave show of thirty odd troopers behind him, and
then glancing at me with an arch expression.

“Why, sir,” says I, “I fear you will be under the necessity you
speak of, for we have no mind to submit ourselves to you. Why
should we?” I says, giving him back a smile as gracious as his own.

“This is Fairfax’s own hand,” says he, producing a paper, and
pointing to some writing in the corner.

“I am so far away from it that I do not recognise it, sir,” says I.

He put the paper within his doublet. “Can we not talk matters over,
Master Coope?” says he.

“With all the pleasure in the world, sir,” says I. “That is,” I
says, “if you love to discuss matters in so public a fashion.”

He looked round him. “But I don’t,” he says. “Come, Master Coope,
we are gentlemen and can trust each other. I will dismiss my men
to a distance and you shall come down and talk with me--or I will
enter the house and talk with you. I am quite indifferent,” he says.

“Why, sir,” says I, “’tis, I assure you, no easy matter for me to
leave the house or for you to enter it. But if you will dismiss
your forces, or give me your word of honour that you will not
suffer them to molest or hinder me, I will come into the garden and
talk with you right willingly.”

“I will do both, Master Coope,” says he. And therewith he turned
and dismissed his men, bidding them retire into the meadow that lay
beyond the garden. “You have safe conduct out and in,” he says,
looking at me. “I await your coming with eagerness, Master Coope.”

As I passed my uncle’s door Alison came out of his room and laid a
hand on my arm. “Barbara tells me you are going to hold parley with
the enemy,” she says. “You will have no dealings with him in the
way of surrender?” she says, looking at me very hard.

“Surrender?” says I, smiling. “Come, cousin, what do you take me
for?”

“I have better thoughts of you than that,” says she. She turned and
looked at the door that separated us from Sir Nicholas. “He is near
the end,” she says sadly. “Let him die a free man, Richard, even if
the old house is tumbling about his death-bed.”

“Give me your hand on it, cousin,” says I, strangely moved. She put
her hand in mine and looked into my eyes. “I trust you,” she says,
and withdrew her hand, and went back into Sir Nicholas’s chamber.

I called John Stirk to me as I ran down the stairs, and with his
aid I moved sufficient of the barricade that secured the window in
the herb-room to enable me to get out. “Wait there with your musket
until my safe return, John,” says I, and hurried round the corner
of the house into the flower-garden. The officer waited me there,
leaning against his horse. “So we are to talk, sir,” says I, coming
up to him.

“And I am glad of the chance, Master Coope,” says he, frankly.
“This is a strange business, and to tell you the truth, though I
must and shall do my duty as a soldier. I am loth to be mixed up in
it.”

“Sir,” says I, “I am utterly at a loss to understand you.”

“Are you so?” says he. “Look you, Master Coope, how would you
explain such things as these? Three days ago, Fairfax issues
his warrant for the attachment of Sir Nicholas, your uncle,
who has been mighty active of late in vexing and annoying the
Parliamentarian forces now investing Pomfret Castle. In order that
the thing may be done with as little violence as possible to the
old knight’s feelings, he entrusts the warrant to your kinsman,
Master Dacre, who on coming to the house, finds it already prepared
to withstand a siege. Now within twenty-four hours of his sitting
down before it----”

“Or skulking in the stable,” says I, “but I interrupt you, sir,” I
says. “Pray proceed.”

“Within twenty-four hours of its investment,” he says, “you
secretly hand a most important despatch to one of his troopers,
bidding him----”

“Bribing him,” says I.

“Why, of course,” says he, laughing, “but at any rate, he was
to carry it to Fairfax. And so he does, and it proves to be a
despatch from Cromwell, of great moment. And so, naturally, Fairfax
wants to know how you, the bearer, came to be in the house of a
Royalist when you should have been making all speed to him with
the despatch--and since he wants to know, he will know, and that,
Master Coope,” he says, “is why I’m here.”

“Sir,” says I, “if I tell you the exact facts of the case, will you
make Fairfax immediately acquainted with them? For I can assure you
they are somewhat different to the representations made to him by
that fox, Anthony Dacre,” I says, looking hard at him.

“I will indeed fulfill your wish,” he says. “Faith, I thought there
must be some other aspect of the case.”

“You shall see the true one,” I says, and I told him of all that
had chanced since I came to the top of the road at Barnsdale. He
listened attentively. “And a much more likely story than t’other!”
says he, when I had finished. “I will repeat it to a trusty
messenger and send him on to Fairfax at once. But, Master Coope,”
says he, “why not submit yourselves and go with me to Fairfax? Tell
him your tale with your own lips,” he says.

“Why, sir,” says I, “personally, I have no objection to going
before Fairfax. But within the house, my uncle lies dying, and my
cousin is at his bedside, and neither will yield to you except by
force. And while they’re there,” says I, “there I shall stay.”

“Then our negotiations must fall through,” says he, regretfully.
“Is there no chance, Master Coope--for look you, I must do my
duty--Fairfax and Sands are stern men, and I am jealously watched.”

“Sir,” I says, “there is no help for it--we must each do our duty
in our own fashion. Your bullets,” I says, with a glance at the old
walls, “will find something to resist them.”

“Well,” says he, “’tis a pity, Master Coope, but--at least let us
shake hands ere we fight,” he says, and held out his own.

“With all the pleasure in the world,” says I.

“We shall meet again, I think,” he says--and so I left him and
hastened to rejoin John Stirk and make good the window.


III.

As we were now to engage in operations to which those that we had
already gone through were as child’s play, I thought it well to
call all my men together and give them some inkling of what was
about to take place. I had no doubt that Captain Holdsworth and
his troopers would presently attack us with much persistence, but
as my sentinels were already posted to the best advantage, and as
we should mainly have to depend upon the strength of the old house
itself and of the barricades that we had constructed, I reflected
that a few moments given over to friendly consideration of our
position would not be spent amiss. I therefore sent John Stirk to
collect our forces, who presently met me in the great hall, each
man bearing his weapon, and evidently agog with excited interest as
to the result of my parley with the enemy.

“Now, lads,” says I, facing them, “we are at last in for some hot
work. I have parleyed with the leader of the troops outside, and
found him as reasonable a gentleman as ever bestrode a horse, but
as firm in his notions of duty as I trust you and I are. He has
to do his duty, which is to arrest Sir Nicholas, Mistress French,
and myself. We have to do ours, and what that is,” I says, looking
quickly from one face to another, “what that is, lads, you all
know. So there’s naught for it but for him to attack, and for us
to defend. But, lads, since we are all of us volunteers in this
matter, so to speak, tell me whether I have done the right thing
in refusing to submit? Have I done what my uncle would have done
had he been elsewhere than on his death-bed? And have I done what’s
good to all of you? Speak, lads.”

“’Tis what Sir Nicholas had done, and it is good to me,” says
Gregory, grounding his musket with a bang.

“So say I,” says Jasper.

The three lads said naught, being of a shy disposition, but they
nodded their heads and handled their guns, and looked from one to
the other of us. John and Humphrey said “Yes--’tis good,” in one
breath. But so that we might all know what we were after, I spoke
again.

“Now, lads,” says I, “let’s understand matters fairly. We may all
very soon be shot or slain in some other way--is there any of you
that would like to make his escape while there’s a chance? If there
is, let him speak.” I looked at the lad Walter who was youngest of
all of us. “What say you, lad?” says I. “Come, speak out--we shall
not think the less of thee if thou wouldst like to be free of this
business.”

But the lad shook his head, and flushed as red as a peony. “I’m
for biding where I am, Master Dick,” says he. “And me, too,” says
Peter, “and me,” say Benjamin.

“Why,” says I, “I think we’re all of a mind. So now to our posts,
lads, and let’s do our best. They will not break through our
defences so easily, and we have the advantage of safe cover.”

And there I was right, and events quickly proved it. When we
reached the upper storey, and I could keep an eye on the operations
of the enemy, I perceived that Captain Holdsworth was putting his
men at various points around the house, with the view of covering
those of our positions which previous incidents had made Anthony
Dacre already acquainted with. Thus he had placed a squad in the
stable, and they were now engaged in piercing the wall at intervals
from the inside; several men were in the summer-house across the
garden, while others occupied the barn, and commanded the window
on the right hand side of the courtyard. I made note of all these
preparations, and bade my men observe them with care, but directed
that no shot should be fired until the enemy actually came to the
attack. I was somewhat curious to see in what mode they would do
this, and felt that it would repay us to save our powder and ball
until we knew just what was going to be done.

About half-past nine o’clock I perceived that we were about to
enter upon the struggle. Some twenty-five troopers were arrayed at
our front, finding such cover as they could in the summer-house,
behind the wall, and in the rear of the trees. Captain Holdsworth,
who had dismounted, was going hither and thither, but it was also
evident that something was developing close to the house wall,
which we, from our position in the upper windows were unable to
see. “We must know what’s going on,” says I, “but how to do it I
can’t think.” And, indeed, the thing was difficult, for all the
windows on the ground floor were barricaded and strengthened, so
that it was impossible to see out of any of them. “What of the
garret windows?” thinks I. “I may get a peep from one of them
without being seen,” and on the instant I ran up the stair and
into a little place immediately above the garden door. I opened
the casement, and pushed out head and shoulders, and as I did so I
heard the report of a musket below, and felt a sudden sharp pain
as if a hot needle had been laid against the skin of my forehead.
I withdrew my head instantly, and as I did so another half-dozen
of bullets came rattling about the window. “Too late, my masters!”
says I and ran, laughing, down the stairs, satisfied with my
endeavour. For in the rapid glance that I had taken of the garden
below I had seen and comprehended what they were after. From the
stackyard beyond the barn they had brought one of the great pieces
of timber on which the foundations of a hayrick was laid, and a
half-score of stalwart fellows were getting it into position, so
that they might batter the door in. As I came to John Stirk’s post
again we heard the first blow, and felt the old walls shake with
its force. “Let them batter,” says I, and wiped away the blood that
ran down my nose from the scratch on my forehead. “They will want a
stout ram to break through our barricade,” says I, and I picked up
my musket and prepared for action.

As our defences seemed to be most needed at the front of the
house, I sent the lad Walter to fetch Humphrey Stirk from his post
overlooking the fold, and Gregory from the courtyard window. There
were now five of us in the corridor, and to each man I assigned
a window, bidding all to shoot straight, and keep under cover as
closely as was possible. “And since we’re all ready,” says I,
raising my voice, and presenting my piece, “pick your man, lads,
and let them have it.” And therewith, keeping behind the wall as
well as I could, I knocked out a pane of glass, and took aim at
Holdsworth, who was directing operations, partly covered by a tree.
The others fired at the same time, and almost on the instant there
came back a volley from the enemy, and the garden, from the high
wall to our windows was filled with smoke that hung heavy in the
damp air. And after that there was no need for us to knock out more
panes of glass when we wished to point our muskets, for with the
first fusilade the enemy shattered our windows to pieces, and the
corridor was strewn with splinters of wood and glass, and fragments
of the plaster that came tumbling from the wall behind us.

It was on this scene that Mistress Alison’s eyes fell when she
suddenly opened the door of my uncle’s chamber, and came hurriedly
towards me. “Back, cousin!” says I, rushing to meet her. “Your
life----” But she came on, holding out her hands to me. “Quick!”
she says. “Oh, be quick, cousin!” And then I knew what she meant,
and threw aside my musket, and with a hasty cry to my men to stand
to their posts I took her hand and hastened with her into Sir
Nicholas’s room.

Faith! in the days that came afterwards I have often thought,
always with a deal of softness, of the good old knight’s death-bed.
He lay there, very straight and calm, with me on one side of
him, and Alison on t’other, and poor old Barbara, weeping and
bemoaning him, at his feet, and thanks to the stout door and the
heavy curtain the chamber seemed peaceful, and yet through all its
peacefulness there came the thump, thump, thump, of the battering
ram and the crash and rattle of the musketry. When I first
approached him I think he knew naught, but presently a fiercer
discharge, that seemed like to bring the old house tumbling about
our ears, called him back to life, and he opened his eyes, and
looked at me.

“Ah!” says he, very feeble and low in voice. “So we are at it,
Dick?” There was a sudden flash of fire in his old eyes, and a
blot of colour showed itself on his cheek, that had grown thin and
pale. He looked at Alison, and from her to me again. Another fierce
rattle of musketry came from without, and one bullet, glancing from
the casement in the corridor, struck and buried itself in the door
of the chamber. My uncle made some faint show of raising himself in
his bed. “To thy post, Dick!” says he, and suddenly drops back on
his pillow, and died as quietly as a child goes to sleep.

“’Tis over, cousin,” I whispers across the bed. Alison looked from
his face to mine, and I saw that the girl had a rare faculty of
keeping her feelings in control. “Leave us now, cousin,” she says.
But since that might be the last chance that I should ever have of
seeing my uncle again, I took another look at him and laid my hand
on his. Then I turned to the door, and passed from the quietness of
the death-chamber into the hell that raged without.

The corridor was thick with smoke: my feet kicked against the
splintered wood and glass, or stumbled over the heaps of plaster
that were being rapidly piled up along the floor. Faith, the enemy
were making hot work of it! But my men were unhurt, save that John
Stirk had been struck in the side by a half-spent bullet, and that
Peter’s face was scratched by a shower of falling glass. “Stand
to your posts!” I cried to them, and ran downstairs to see how
the garden door had withstood its battering. I found it safe as a
rock--what it might have suffered without I know not, but within,
its heavy bolts and bars, supported by the mass of furniture that
we had piled against it, still held the thick oaken frame sound,
and I felt assured that naught less than a cannonade would break
through it.

While I stood in the hall, examining our defences, there came the
thump, thump of the battering-ram from the other door leading to
the courtyard. I laughed when I heard it, for the enemy might as
well have tried to break in through a twelve-foot wall as through
the barricade which he was now attempting. The door opened into a
porch, and the porch was filled with heavy flagstones that we had
hastily torn up from the scullery and pantry floor, and disposed in
such a fashion that the whole formed a tight wedge between the door
itself and the stout wall facing it on the inside. But secure as
I felt about the door, I was not so sure of our ability to direct
a smart fire upon the men engaged in battering it. I hastened to
the window on the right hand side of the courtyard, and found that
Holdsworth’s troopers, stationed in the barn, were keeping up such
a fusilade upon us as rendered it impossible for my men to do more
than get an occasional shot from a sharp angle of the casement.
I accordingly withdrew them to the window on the other side, and
from this point we did considerable execution, until Holdsworth
brought up a number of men behind the low wall of the orchard that
ran between the gable end of the house and the village street, and
there directing their fire upon us, we were compelled to retreat
to safer cover. However, the door remained as impregnable as that
leading into the front garden, and presently the men drew off and
there was an interval of peace, after which the fight was continued
by the interchange of occasional shots on either side, both of
us keeping a sharp lookout, and discharging our pieces whenever
besieged or besiegers drew out of cover. And as we were in a much
better position than they, we succeeded in effecting much damage
amongst them at no cost to ourselves.

About the middle of the afternoon Captain Holdsworth himself was
shot dead by Humphrey Stirk as he incautiously made across the
garden, where he was evidently going to give orders to the men
posted in the summer house. I was sorry to hear this news, for he
had parleyed with me in the frankest manner, and had shown some
solicitude for our position, but, after all, ’twas the fortune
of war, and might have been my own fate, or Humphrey’s. However,
there was no doubt that it made matters still more difficult for
me, in one respect--if we managed to escape with our lives and fell
into Fairfax’s hands, he would not deal any the more mercifully
with me because one of his officers met his death in the effort to
apprehend me.

We continued to exchange shots with the enemy until night fell,
when a cessation of hostilities took place, save for an occasional
fusilade when either side showed a light. That was a sad night,
for everybody in the house knew that Sir Nicholas lay dead in
our midst, and there was none that did not mourn him with much
sincerity. As for me I was sore concerned as to what was to
come, for I felt sure that Fairfax would eventually reduce us to
submission, and the thought of what might then chance to Alison
made me anxious. But here again I was somewhat helped by that
curious fellow, Merciful Wiggleskirk, who came tapping in the
darkness at the little window pane in the scullery, and bade Walter
fetch me to him.

“You here again?” says I. “What is it, friend?”

“Master Coope,” says he, “you paid me nobly, and I’ll give you a
hint. If you can get out o’ the house,” he says, “do so on the
instant. Captain Blackburn is coming in the early morning with more
men, and they are bringing cannon with them. Make your way out o’
the house during the night, Master Coope.”

He ran off across the fold, and I shut the window and stood musing
in the dark scullery. If they were bringing cannon against us it
was all over. “We shall have the old house heaped in ruins over us
ere noon!” I says. But since I was not yet weary of life, I sought
my cousin, intending to take counsel with her as to our next step.



Chapter VI

Of my Remarkable Adventures with Gregory and our Fortunate
Discovery, of Sir Nicholas’s Burial in his own House, and of my
Flight with Mistress Alison.


I.

Alison was in the death chamber, where Sir Nicholas’s body lay
stiff and stark in its shroud. They had prepared him for his
burial, Alison and old Barbara, with as much care as if he had been
like to be buried with all the pomp and ceremony that is the due of
a man of rank. The good old knight lay in his finest night clothes,
the best linen the house afforded was spread on his bed, and they
had lighted candles on either side of him, and hung the walls with
black cloth. And since everything in that room was so mournful I
would not talk there, but took my cousin down the stairs to the
hall, where I made her sit near the fire while I addressed myself
to her on the business then troubling me. She was looking pale
and wearied, which was no matter of surprise, seeing that there
had been precious little rest for anybody in that house since the
investment began.

“Now, cousin,” says I, “there is need for some counsel ’twixt you
and me. We are come to a sharp pass, cousin,” I says, “and unless
we use our wits we are like to be undone.”

“What is it?” she says. “Has aught of moment happened to us?”

“Why,” says I, “’tis difficult to say what is and what is not of
moment--one thing so leads to another. But I fear that the worst
will happen to us in the morning.”

“The worst?” she says. “And what is that?”

“We killed their captain this afternoon,” says I. “As pleasant a
fellow as e’er I spoke to, poor gentleman! And now I hear from that
knave Wiggleskirk--though, indeed, he has done us more than one
good turn--that another commander is coming with the dawn, and will
bring cannon with him.”

She raised her head and looked at me steadily.

“So we shall have the old house tumbling about our ears?”

“We shall,” says I.

“Well?” says she, after regarding me again at some length.

“Well?” says I.

“Is that all you had to say?” she asks.

“Nay,” says I, not seeing aught of her meaning, “I wanted to speak
with you of our escape.”

She lifted her head somewhat, and stared at me for a full minute
ere she broke into a shrill laughter.

“Escape?” she said. “Escape? Did you say escape, Master Richard?
So you would flee the old house, eh, and leave”--she turned and
pointed her hand towards the stair--“and leave his body to--come, I
think you did not mean escape?” she says, with a searching look at
me.

“Faith!” says I, not taking her at all, “but I did, cousin. Bethink
you--what can we do against cannon? The old walls will be shattered
to pieces with half a score discharges. ’Tis our duty, I take it,
to think of our own lives--and besides, there are those in the
house,” I says, “that we must needs consider, for we’ve no right to
peril their lives for the sake of ours.”

“Let them begone, then,” says she. “Did I ever ask them to come
here? Escape? We might be rats that have crept to the very bottom
o’ the stack!” she says, with a flash of the old temper.

“Egad!” says I, laughing in spite of myself. “And that’s a
marvellous neat comparison, cousin. Rats we are, and prettily
caged, too, and so----”

“And so keep your comparisons to yourself, Master Richard,” says
she, rising with a mighty fine air of dignity and marching across
the hall. “And your escape, too,” she says, with a glance over her
shoulder. “As for me,” she says, pausing with one foot on the stair
and looking me steadily in the face, “here I am, and here I stay
while one stone stands on another,” and she went up the staircase
and vanished, leaving me there full of wonder. “What the devil am
I to do?” says I, biting my nails with vexation. “Was ever such a
contrary piece of woman flesh? And I thought she was beginning to
show me some softness--Lord!” I says, with a sigh that seemed to
come from my boots, “the vagaries of these women----”

However, there was no good to be got in standing there, so I went
out into the kitchen and sent for old Gregory, whom I presently led
into a quiet corner. “Gregory,” says I, “set your wits to work,
for, faith, there’s need!” And I told him of the news that I had
received from Merciful Wiggleskirk and of my cousin’s attitude.

“Was ever such a coil?” says I. “You see, Gregory, I swore to my
uncle that I would defend and protect her, and how can I do that if
she won’t listen to reason? I must get her out of this house and
across country to her father’s, and there might be some manner of
doing it if only she were not so averse to the notion.”

“True,” says he, “but I would not trouble myself over much with
that, Master Richard. The best way with women,” says he, “is to
make ’em do a thing without argument about it.”

“Humph!” says I, feeling somewhat doubtful on that score.

“What we want to find out,” says he, “is whether there is some
manner of escape that we can avail ourselves of. Is there any
chance of leaving the house during the night?” says he.

“Not the least,” says I. “They have patrols on every side, and our
doors and windows are so barricaded that we could not remove the
barricades without attracting the enemy’s notice.”

“Then what was it that you had in your mind, Master Richard?” says
he.

“Faith!” says I, “I don’t know, Gregory. We’re in as pretty a trap
as e’er I heard of. Now I come to think on it,” I says, “I don’t
see how we are to escape.”

He sat silent for a time, stroking his chin, which was his habit
when he thought hard. “Master Dick,” says he at last, “did you
ever hear of that old passage that leads from our cellar to Farmer
Wood’s house?”

“A passage?” says I. “Do you mean that there’s an underground
passage betwixt our house and Farmer Wood’s? No,” I says, “I never
heard of it that I know of, Gregory.”

“But there is one,” says he, nodding his head. “When I first came
here--and that’s nigh on to sixty years since, Master Richard--it
was open at one end, and I’ve been in it. Sir Nicholas’s father
had it closed up. ’Twas a relic of the Popish days,” he says, “and
there was some old woman’s tale about it that I ha’ forgotten.”

“But if it’s closed up?” says I.

“It was only a matter o’ stout boarding put over the mouth,” says
he. “I make no doubt that it’s open all the rest of the way,
though I say naught as to Wood’s end on’t. If we could get a clear
passage,” he says, looking at me, “there’s an easy deliverance out
of our present difficulties, Master Richard.”

“Marry, so there is!” says I. And indeed there was naught that
could be easier. I sat thinking the matter over for a moment.
“Egad, Gregory!” I says, “if only this passage is open we can
circumvent the enemy and put Mistress Alison in safety with no
trouble beyond a trifling discomfort. Come,” I says, starting up,
“let’s down into the cellars and examine things for ourselves.”

Now, I am a bit slow at taking some things in, as for instance, a
woman’s meaning, which always seems to me to be the exact opposite
of what it really is, but at contrivances and strategies I am, I
think, as sharp as any, and I lost no time in making up my mind
as to what I would do supposing this passage proved open to us.
Our position was this--the Manor House stood at the west side of
East Hardwick village, some one hundred and twenty yards away
from Wood’s farmstead, which was the only considerable house in
the place beside our own. Between the two houses stood certain
cottages, tenanted by labourers that worked in the fields. Beyond
Wood’s house the land dropped away to the foot of Went Hill, a long
low range of hillside extending from Darrington Mill to the village
of Wentbridge. If Alison and I could escape by the passage and make
our way across the fields to Wentbridge, we should there come into
the Great North Road which ran thence in a straight course, through
Barnsdale, to Francis French’s house, where I could deliver her
in safety. It was possible that we might find horses or some
conveyance at the “Blue Bell,” on Wentbridge Hill, but if that plan
failed we were neither of us unfitted to walk some twelve miles in
the darkness.

But as we went down the steep steps into the cellar my thoughts
turned back to Mistress Alison. If it was her pleasure to stand by
the old house, how on earth was I going to persuade or oblige her
to leave it? It was all very well for Gregory to say that a woman
must be commanded and not argued with, but there was something
in me that whispered grave doubts as to the wisdom of trying his
advice on my cousin. “But I’ll leave that till last,” thinks I;
“the passage comes first,” and I hastened to join Gregory, who was
fumbling at the cellar door.


II.

The cellar lay in a thick darkness on which the light of our
lanthorn made but a little impression. It was a great dismal hole,
hewn deep into the rock, and was damp as a garden wall in February.
I could never remember that it was used for aught in my time,
save that one corner of it had been set apart and prepared for a
wine-cellar. It was too cold or too damp for the keeping of ale--a
hogshead of October kept down there would have come out more dead
than it went in. Then there was nobody but Gregory ever descended
the steps, though in bygone times there must have been considerable
wear of them seeing that they were hollowed out in the middle to
such an extent that it was dangerous to walk down them without
exceeding care.

“A dismal hole, Gregory,” says I, holding up the lanthorn and
gazing round me at the damp walls, up the chiselled face of which
crawled a multitude of slugs and snails that left a slimy silver
track behind them. “I should not care to spend much time down here.”

“I ha’ spent many a merry hour here,” says he, glancing at the door
of the wine-cellar. “’Tis a quietish spot enow, but a man gets used
to that. Give me the lanthorn, Master Richard,” he says, “and look
to your footing as you come after me, for the floor’s ill-paved and
as slippery as mud can make it.”

As he went before me in the gloom and I followed, keeping a strict
watch over my ways, I saw and heard things that made me turn cold
and shiver with a nauseous dread. There was the scatter of rats
amongst the old timber that lay strewn here and there, there were
slimy creeping things that seemed to writhe and quiver in helpless
silence under one’s foot, and more than once a foul, cold shape
that had hung or crawled on the roof detached itself and fell on my
face or neck.

“This cellar of yours is like to give me the horrors, Gregory,”
says I. “Egad, it seems to be the home of all that’s foul--I should
not wonder to see ghouls and afrites in it!”

“I never heard of them,” says he, “but, faith, Master Dick, there
be things here that pass a christened man’s understanding. Look
here,” says he, going a little way aside and holding his lanthorn
to the floor. “What do you make of that?” says he.

I looked and saw that which turned me sick. There was a pool of
black water in the floor, and on the edge of it, their staring eyes
and wide mouths turned upward to the glimmer of the light, sat a
row of great toads, fat and slimy, that stretched their webbed feet
along the damp brink of the rock. “In with you!” says Gregory,
swinging the lanthorn towards them, and they plunged in, sending
the foul water in brimming beads about our feet. “They feed on the
slugs,” says he, with a chuckle, “faith, there’s some nice picking
down here! But that’s naught, toads and slugs is common enough,
Master Dick. Now, here’s something that’s of a vast difference.
Look at it, Master Richard--faith, I never can make it out!”

He turned away in another direction and swung his lanthorn over a
little basin in the rock, full of clear water, that came bubbling
to the surface. “It looks like a spring,” says I. “Aye, but look
closer,” says he, whereupon I bent my head and saw a hundred little
fishes that darted hither and thither, turning their heads towards
the light. “Why, that’s curious!” says I. “But not half so curious
as you shall find,” says Gregory, and bends down to scoop up a
palmful of water. “Look thee there, lad,” says he, holding the
light over his hand. “The Lord have mercy!” says I, as I stared;
and faith, there was excuse for my fear. For the fish that he
had taken up, smaller than the minnows that lads draw out o’ the
streams, was blind as a bat, having a thin white skin drawn over
its eyes, and ’twas pitiful to see its head dart this way and that,
and the white scale that blinded it turn to the glint of the
candle. “For God’s sake, Gregory!” says I, “No more o’ thy horrors.
Let us to this passage, ere I go crazy. Why, man, this is the very
infernal pit--to think there is a gentleman’s house above it!”

“We are a good way from the house, Master Richard,” says he; “Hark,
that’s the horses stamping in the stable over us. But the passage
should be here under this heap o’ timber, which we must remove.”

There was a pile of logs leaned up against the corner of the
cellar, damp, rotten, falling to pieces, and giving harbour to more
foul things that crept about the scaling bark. “This is a very
palace of vermin!” says I, as I helped Gregory to shift the logs.
“God send the passage have less of horrors than its porch!”

“You can soon find out about that,” says he, as we laid bare the
boards that covered the entrance. “’Twas dry enough when I was last
in it, nigh on to sixty year ago.”

The boards were damp and rotten. They came down with small effort
on our part, and we were presently gazing into the mouth of the
passage. It presented itself as a low-roofed tunnel of some five
feet in height and four in width, hewn out of a sandstone bed
which there separated itself from the rock. It was carpeted with a
fine thick sand and seemed dry, though its looks were belied by a
breath of foul moisture that came from it as we stood peering into
its darkness. The entrance was strengthened by rude masonry that
extended for some yards along the passage: it was evident that in
days gone by there had been constant use of it for some purpose or
other.

“There it is, master,” says Gregory, swinging his lanthorn along
the walls.

“Aye,” says I, not half-liking the task that I knew I must needs
undertake, “and the next thing is to find out, if ’tis possible,
how far it is from this spot to Wood’s house?” I says.

“Let’s see,” says he, scratching his head. “Why, come, we are
under our own stable now, and that’s a good twenty yards from our
scullery window. We must be,” says he, “a hundred yards from Wood’s
cellar.”

“Ah, it runs into Wood’s cellar, does it?” says I. “And how on
earth are we to get out o’ that, I wonder, even if we get through
the passage? You were never through it yourself, eh, Gregory?”

“No,” says he, prompt enough. “I never went along more than a dozen
yards on’t, and wouldn’t now if t’were not for the fix we’re in,”
he says, shaking his head.

“And why not?” says I.

“There were queer tales about it,” he says, looking elsewhere than
at me.

I stood and stared at him for a full minute, during which he
affected not to know that my eyes were on him. “Look here,
Gregory,” says I, at last. “I’m going along this passage. Faith,
queer tales or no, there can’t be more that’s horrible in it than
there is in that cellar o’ yours. So give me the lanthorn,” I says,
“and wait me there.”

“I’m going with thee, lad,” says he, holding the lanthorn away from
me.

I reflected for a while. “Very well,” I says. “But I’ll lead the
way--and here goes,” and I took the light out of his hand and
advanced along the passage. “It’s a low roof for a big man,” I
says. “Keep your head down, Gregory.”

The first twenty yards of the passage yielded naught in the way
of adventure. The sand and dust was a foot thick on the floor,
and there were great cobwebs stretched from side to side along
which the spiders, big as a penny-piece, scattered and hurried as
the light drew near. But there were no obstacles to surmount nor
pitfalls to tumble into, and though the air was thick and musty it
was possible to breathe with some slight discomfort. “If it’s all
like this,” says I, “we shall do, though it’s poor work walking
with your body bent double.” “Why,” says Gregory, “we can crawl on
hands and knees if need be. Master Dick--we must needs expect----”
But there he stopped, for I had started back and thrown out a hand
behind me to keep him off. “God in Heaven!” says I, “Look there,
Gregory--there--there!”

As I swung the lanthorn to the floor he poked his head over my
shoulder and we stared together at the thing that lay in the dust
a yard from our feet. It was the skeleton of a man that had fallen
forward on his face, and now lay with outstretched arms and bony
fingers that clutched the yielding sand. There were bits of ragged
linen here and there, and between his arms, but rolled a little
way out of their reach, lay a coffer, or box, the lid of which had
burst open and revealed a quantity of jewels that sparkled dully in
the light of the lanthorn. As for the bones they shone as white as
if they had been bleached, and I shuddered to think of the rats
in the cellar behind us whose forefathers had no doubt picked them
clean.

“There’s naught to be afeard on, lad,” says Gregory after a while.
“’Tis some poor body that has striven to escape with his treasure
many a generation ago and had fallen here to die. But there’s
matter there, Master Dick,” he says, pointing to the jewels,
“that’s well worth the picking up, and you’ve a right to them, sir,
for this must ha’ been a Coope in bygone days. But let’s on, lad,
and see where this passage ends, for that’s the main thing after
all.”

I stepped over the skeleton with a shudder, being already made
squeamish by the horrible things in the cellars, and we went slowly
along the passage, I half-expectant of discovering some further
horror. But despite an occasional obstacle in the way of a fallen
mass of stone or earth there was little to hinder us, and at last
we came to where the passage narrowed and seemed to end in an
approach no wider than a fox hole.

“It’s useless after all, Gregory,” says I, sore disappointed. “The
tunnel has been blocked at this end. There’s no way out here that I
can see.”

“Softly, lad, softly,” says he. “Let me come by you,” and he
pushed his way along the rapidly narrowing passage until I thought
he must have stuck fast. “By the Lord Harry!” he says, “but there
is an opening here, Master Dick, and ’tis into the open air, too--I
can smell it. And if so be as you’ll put out the light for a
moment, I’ll lay aught we shall see a glimpse of the sky, for the
moon was rising two hours ago.”

But I had no mind to put out the light, though we had flint and
steel with us, so I settled matters by taking off my doublet and
wrapping it about the lanthorn. “There!” says Gregory, “Said I not
so?” and I looked and saw a space of grey light, the size of a
man’s hand, high above us where the passage shot upward.

“What’s to be done now?” says I: “We can’t squeeze through that.”

“No,” says he, “but we can make it bigger. This is naught but soft
earth that’s gradually fallen in to the mouth o’ the passage,
Master Richard. Do you scoop it away at that side,” he says, “and
I’ll scoop at this, and it shall go hard if we don’t make a good
road on’t.”

We set to work at this without more ado and toiled hard for a
good hour. “There,” says Gregory at last, “if I cannot push
my shoulders through what’s left may I never lift sack of corn
again i’ my life!” He gave a mighty heave and the loose soil came
tumbling about him. I saw his neck twisting and turning about “May
I die!” he says, as he drew it within, leaving a good two feet
square of moonlit sky to fill the hole, “if it doesn’t open into
Matthew Wood’s orchard! I ha’ been over this place many a time,”
says he. “From without it looks like an old drain that’s been
filled in long ago. And now, lad,” he says, as we drew back into
the passage beneath, “there’s a free road for us. What’s to be done
next?”

“Back to the Manor,” says I, and took my doublet off the lanthorn.
“The road’s there, to be sure,” I says, “but whether we can
persuade Mistress Alison to take it----”

“Why, Master Richard,” says he, “if she wont----”

“Aye, what?” says I.

“We must carry her through,” says he. “But I think she’ll listen to
reason,” he says--and so we made our way back along the passage to
where the skeleton lay white and ghostly. I picked up the coffer
and hurried on--there was no time to remove the bones and inter
them decently. It struck midnight as we came into the kitchen, and
there was much to do before daybreak.


III.

We had no sooner returned to the house than I sent Walter to John
and Humphrey Stirk, bidding them come to me in the hall, where I
went with Gregory to meet them. They reported that all had been
quiet during the evening, save that the lad Peter incautiously
carrying a light past one of the upper windows had been shot at and
hit in the shoulder, though not dangerously.

“He will quickly mend of that,” says I. “We have something more
serious than flesh wounds to think of. Now, John and Humphrey,
listen to me. We are in sore need,” I says, looking on them
earnestly, “and must use desperate remedies. In the morning the
house is to be assaulted with cannon--nay, for aught I know the
cannon may be on its way now. There is naught for us but to escape
before the old place comes tumbling about our ears. What say you?”
says I, looking from one to the other.

John shook his head. “I fear ’tis impossible, Master Richard,” says
Humphrey. “We have observed that they are keeping a strict patrol
round the house, and besides, ’tis a light night--we should be seen
ere we could cross the garden.”

“That’s certain,” says I, “but what if we tell you of another way,
lads?”--and I forthwith recounted to them the recent doings of
Gregory and myself, and informed them of my intentions with regard
to placing Mistress Alison in safety. “What do you think?” I says,
when I had told them all. “Is it a good plan?”

“Naught could be better,” says John.

“And now for the rest of you,” says I, “I have no mind that any
of you should fall into the hands of the enemy, and therefore I
propose that you should all make your escape in the same way. You,
John, and you, Humphrey, will have no difficulty in reaching home,
and faith, since there’s none can prove you have been here, why,
there’s none can injure you for it,” I says. “But what about thee,
Gregory, and the rest?”

“Why, Master Dick,” says he, “I ha’ thought of all that while you
have talked, and it seems to me that the best plan is to let John
and Humphrey here, and yourself and Mistress French, make your
escapes during the night, leaving the rest of us in the house. In
the early morning, Master Dick, ere they begin to torment us with
their cannon, we will put out a flag and submit to them--gog’s
wounds, they will do naught against us serving-men and women!--and
’twill save the old house,” he says, “that would otherwise be blown
to pieces with their artillery.”

“A good plan,” says John Stirk.

“But,” says I, “I don’t like the notion of leaving any of you in
the house, Gregory.”

“I am sure ’tis the best way out o’ present difficulties, Master
Richard,” says he.

“Well,” says I, “then so be it. If I only live and have power,” I
says, looking at all three in turn. “I will see that your devotion
is richly rewarded. But now, lads, there is another matter to
settle. Upstairs lies my uncle’s body--we cannot leave it to be
stared at by the enemy. What shall we do with it?”

We stood looking at each other. “It should be carried to Badsworth
churchyard,” says Gregory, “but that’s impossible, Master Richard.
If we could lay him somewhere until all this trouble is at an
end----?”

“And so we will,” says I, a sudden thought coming to me. “We will
lay him in his own house until such times as we can inter him with
his fathers. Gregory, do you and Jasper take up the pavement here
in the hall and prepare a grave while I see Mistress Alison, and
have him made ready,” and therewith I requested John and Humphrey
to come with me, and went upstairs to my uncle’s chamber.

Faith, it was no easy task that lay before me in making Alison
acquainted with my plans, but I was resolved that she should
obey me in everything--it meant ruin to all of us if she refused
compliance. So I tapped at the chamber door and asked her to come
forth and speak with me and to bring Barbara with her, these two
having kept close watch over Sir Nicholas’s body ever since they
had put it into his grave-clothes. I led them into a neighbouring
room, where I had already bestowed John and Humphrey, and entered
upon the matter at once.

“Cousin,” says I, “I wish to tell you and Barbara what I have
decided upon. Events are now come to a desperate pass, and it is
necessary that you and I, together with John and Humphrey, should
escape the house ere daybreak. Therefore,” I says, “be pleased,
cousin, to hearken attentively to what I have to say, and be sure
that in everything I have taken most careful thought for your own
safety.”

“I must decide matters for myself in spite of all that,” says she.

“Let me tell you what I have decided upon first, cousin,” says I.
“There will be time enough to discuss personal likes and dislikes
when we have got over our present difficulty.” And with that
I set to and told them all that we had decided upon. John and
Humphrey standing by me and nodding their heads in approval. But
while old Barbara showed us that she also approved our plans, my
cousin’s face plainly informed us that she had no liking for them.
However, she heard me to the end, and faith, I spoke as long and as
persuasively as I could, for I could see that she intended telling
me her mind after the old fashion.

“And so that is all you have to say, Master Richard?” says she,
when I had made an end. “’Tis a pretty story to have been put in
such a long-winded fashion. Methinks I can make it shorter. ’Tis
your notion,” says she, looking at me keenly, “to bury Sir Nicholas
Coope like a dog, under the floor, without rite or ceremony, and
then to skulk out of the house which he would have defended as long
as one stone had remained upon another. Am I right?” she cries. “Am
I right, sir?”

“Pray you, mistress,” says old Barbara. “Be guided by Master
Dick--a man knows more o’ these things----”

“Answer me, sir!” says she, disregarding Barbara. “Have I caught
your meaning?”

“Faith!” says I, somewhat nettled at her obstinacy. “I never knew
man or woman who was less apt at apprehending anything. Prithee,
cousin, since you think so badly of my schemes, will you be good
enough to give us some plan of your own? Something,” I says, with
a wave of my hand, “that will savour of more wisdom than aught
my poor brains can invent. I am but a man and think after a slow
fashion. You women, I am told, have a better ingenuity----”

She gave me a look that stayed me from saying aught further.

“I have naught to say,” says she, very quiet and dignified, “save
that I shall do what I believe to be in accordance with my uncle’s
wish and desires.”

“Why, cousin,” says I, sore inclined to lose what little temper I
had left, “do you mean to say that I am not of the same mind?” My
temper went as a bit of thistledown is swept away before the wind.
“By God!” says I, “I am fulfilling my uncle’s last command, and
that was to protect you, cousin, at all cost. And now we’ll talk
no more,” I says, cooling as quick as I had grown hot, “I’m for
action rather than words. Come, lads,” I says, starting for the
door, “we have no time to lose.”

But ere I could lay hands on the sneck she was at my side, and her
fingers held me tight by the arm. I looked into her eyes and saw
them as full of entreaty as a moment before they had been bright
with resentment.

“You will not bury him--where you said?” she cries. For a moment I
stood irresolute, staring at her. “We waste time,” whispers John
Stirk at my elbow. “I must carry out my plans, cousin,” I answers,
roughly.

She drew away her fingers from my arm. “Cruel--cruel!” she says,
and falls a-weeping on Barbara’s shoulder.

“The devil!” says I, under my breath. “Cousin!” I says, approaching
her, “what can we do else? Would you leave my uncle’s body to be
stared at by the fellows outside, and maybe suffer indignity at
their hands? Lord!” I says, well nigh beyond myself, “why wont you
listen to reason?”

But she put out her hand and waved me off. “Do what you please,”
she says. Old Barbara gives me a look. “Come,” says I, and went
out, followed by John and Humphrey. I wiped my forehead when I
got outside--faith, it was warmer work debating with Alison than
fighting a company of troopers!

Gregory and Jasper had made swift work with the grave, which they
had dug under the very spot in the hall where my uncle’s chair used
to stand. There was a rich, soft loam under the pavement, and they
had dug into it some four feet and lined the hole with boards since
there was no time to make a coffin. “All’s ready, Master Richard,”
says old Gregory, and the five of us went softly upstairs. At the
door of the chamber, where I had left Alison, I paused and knocked
ere I went in. She was still weeping on Barbara’s shoulder, and the
old woman talked to her as if she had been a child.

“Cousin,” says I, “we are ready, and there is no time to lose. If
you wish to see him----”

She turned her head and looked at me with a frightened enquiry
in her eyes. “Give me your hand,” I says, and took it in my own.
“Come,” says I, and led her out of the room and to the door of Sir
Nicholas’s chamber. The men stood aside and bent their heads. I
opened the door and let her in, and then shut it and waited. It was
some minutes ere she came out, and then she was calm enough and
faced us all with great composure. “Stand thee with her, Dick,”
whispers old Gregory, and he motioned the rest of them to follow
him into the room. And so I stood at Alison’s side, and neither of
us spoke. But when the four men came out carrying my uncle’s body,
closely wrapped in his grave-clothes, she gave a little shudder and
put out her hand and I took it in mine and held it there, and so we
followed them down the wide staircase and into the hall, and as we
came in sight of the staring hole in the floor where his chair used
to stand I felt her fingers close tighter on my own.

There was no more light in the hall than came from the two
lanthorns brought there by Gregory and Jasper, and the grave-clothes
looked ghastly white as we laid the good old knight in the only
resting-place we could give him. As we stood looking down into
his grave a thought came to me, and I stepped across the hall and
took down from its shelf the great prayer-book which he was wont
to use. And coming back, I knelt down by the grave with Alison at
my side and the others about us, and read certain passages out of
the service for the burial of the dead, and when we had all said
the Lord’s Prayer, and Gregory had twice repeated “Amen,” we got up
from our knees, and I led my cousin out of the hall, signing to the
men to do what they had to do with all speed.

Outside the hall I released Alison’s hand. “Now, cousin,” says I,
“you must prepare for your journey. I hope to see you in safety to
your father’s house ere daybreak, but there may be obstacles that I
have not reckoned for, and we must be prepared.”

“So we are to desert the house?” she says, looking at me.

“Let’s have no more of that, cousin,” says I. “We must leave the
house within half-an-hour. Cloak yourself warmly, and cause Barbara
to prepare you a flask of wine and some food in a parcel. In twenty
minutes from now,” I says, “You will meet me in the kitchen.”

I watched her go slowly up the staircase ere I hurried back into
the hall, where the four men were hastily filling up my uncle’s
grave. When they had finished I sent them all to the kitchen,
bidding them refresh themselves, and then shutting myself into the
hall, I proceeded to take up the hearthstone, according to Sir
Nicholas’s directions, and to secure the treasure which he had
spoken of. In a strong box I found three hundred guineas in gold,
together with a casket of jewels, to which I immediately added
those which we had discovered in the passage. When I had replaced
the hearthstone I called Gregory to me, and put in his hands
fifty guineas to be divided amongst the servants for their present
necessities. But John and Humphrey Stirk, whom I approached on the
same subject, would take naught, having done what they had out of
pure neighbourly feeling.

And now all was ready for our flight, and I arranged the last
details with Gregory and the Stirks. Alison and I were to start
at once and make what speed we could towards her father’s house;
John and Humphrey were to follow soon afterwards and return to
their farm at Thorpe (’gad, who could ha’ thought that it was but
three days since I ran in upon them to crave their help!), and at
daybreak Gregory was to surrender the house, craving leave for the
servants to go their ways unmolested. This settled there was naught
for us but to say farewell to each other, and for Alison and myself
to descend into the cellar with Gregory, who was in readiness to
light us to the passage.

Now I had said naught to my cousin of the passage itself, but
had merely told her that I had found a sure means of escape. She
trembled somewhat as we crossed the slimy floor of the great cellar
and came to the entrance to the passage. “We are to pass through
this?” says she, looking at me. “’Tis our only means, cousin,”
says I, and turned to take the light from Gregory. I shook his
hand--faith, it was the last time, for I never saw him again!--and
bade her follow me. Then we turned into the passage, and I heard
Gregory’s voice, calling down God-speed on us, die away as we
advanced.

Within a few minutes the bones of the dead man’s skeleton gleamed
white in the light of the lanthorn. “Cousin,” says I, “take my
hand, and shut your eyes for a while. There is in the path what I
have no mind for you to see.” And so we passed by, and ere long I
put out the light for the patch of grey sky showed at the mouth of
the tunnel. “Would it had been a darker night!” says I, as I went
first and looked about me. But all was still and quiet, and so I
helped her out of the passage, and together we stole across the
land. As we hurried along behind the tall hedgerows an owl hooted
from Matthew Wood’s barn. “An omen!” thinks I, but said naught to
her save to encourage her to press forward. Thus we dipped into the
meadows, wet and marshy with the November fogs and mists, and made
with what speed we could for the foot of Went Hill, that loomed
before us through the night.



Chapter VII

Of our Adventures under the Bridge and the Privations we there
Endured, and of my Interview with Fairfax and its Sad Results.


I.

The meadows were half under water: the Carleton Dyke had overflowed
its banks, and ere we had well dipped into the low fields, our feet
were sinking at every step into the marshy ground, or splashing
loudly into some pool that stared at us in the faint light. ’Twas
bad going, i’ faith, but neither of us paid much heed to it, our
minds being set on gaining the road beyond. But when we came to the
Dyke itself, which we were bound to cross, we found ourselves in a
pretty position, for it had widened a good six yards, and there was
no means of crossing it nearer than the ford, which was too near
Hardwick village for my liking or our safety. “There’s only one
way,” says I, “I must carry you over, cousin, otherwise you will
not get across dryshod.”

“I have not been dryshod since we came into these meadows,” says
she, “and methinks you’ll have no easy task in carrying me across
there.”

“Why,” says I, “I don’t look for ease in adventures of this sort,”
and I stepped into the Dyke and took her from the bank into my
arms. “Faith!” says I, “I had no idea that you were so heavy,
cousin. ’Tis well that I have but a half-score of yards to carry
you.”

“Set me down!” says she, trying to slip out of my grasp. “I had
rather be drowned----”

But what else she meant to say was lost to me, for at that moment
there rang out a musket shot that had been fired somewhere in the
fields over which we had already passed, and ere the sound died
away, it was followed by another discharge.

“They cannot have discovered our flight!” says I, and pushed on
through the water to set her down on dryer ground. “Now, cousin,”
I says, taking her hand, “we must run for it. There’s so little
shelter in these meadows that they can see us at fifty yards’
distance, but if we can make the road, we can hide behind the trees
under Went Hill, if they follow us. And so run, cousin,” I says,
“run, if you’ve no mind to fall into their hands.”

Now there was then but one field ’twixt us and the road, and that
not a very wide one, but they had been stubbing trees in it that
autumn, and as ill-luck would have it, I ran in my haste upon a
root that had been left half-out of the ground, and so twisted my
ankle that I fell, groaning with pain. “I believe my leg’s broke,”
says I, when I could speak. “Egad, cousin, was ever aught so
unlucky! And what shall we do now?”

“First find out where you are hurt,” says she, and kneels down by
me in the wet grass. “Try to move your leg,” she says. “’Tis not
broke, I think--you must have twisted your foot, cousin.”

“I am stopped,” says I, pulling myself up and trying to walk. “I
am not good for twenty yards,” and I took her arm and endeavoured
to step out, with no more effect than to make me cry out with the
pain. “And hark ye there, cousin! We’re followed.” I heard the
sound of voices beyond the Dyke. “We are undone!” says I, cursing
our ill-fate to myself. “They will be upon us in a few moments.”

She stood supporting me and looking about her as if she sought
for some means of escape. Suddenly she clutched my arm. “If you
could contrive to get forward to the top of the field,” she says,
“we might hide under the bridge for awhile. Nobody would think of
looking for us there.”

“Egad!” says I. “The very notion--naught could serve our need
better.” But when I tried to walk I found that I was crippled as
surely as old Matthew that goes with two crutches and hobbles at
that. If I did but set my foot to the ground I was like to scream
with the pain of it, and though I leaned heavily on Alison’s arm,
the agony I suffered was so great that the sweat rolled off my
forehead, and I turned sick. “Alas!” says she, “If I could but
carry you.”

“Why,” groans I, “I wish you could, cousin, but since you can’t, I
must make other shift. Let’s see if I can’t crawl on my hands and
knees,” I says, getting to the ground with some difficulty. And
finding that I made progress in this lowly attitude, we went on
to the corner of the field, pausing now and then to listen to the
voices in our rear.

Now at that point there runs a narrow stream from the coppice on
Went Hill into the Dyke in the valley, and it is carried under the
road from Darrington Mill to Wentbridge by a bridge of stone, so
deeply sunk into the ground that you might walk over it a thousand
times and see naught of it. There is a thick hedgerow at each end
of this bridge, and moreover another hedgerow runs along the side
of the stream, going up to the coppice on one side and down to
the Dyke on the other, so that the entrances are shielded from
observation. You may stand there and see naught of the bridge
itself, and if you find occasion to wonder how the stream comes
under the road, you will tell yourself that ’tis by means of a pipe
or culvert, or some such contrivance. But Alison and I knew of this
bridge, for we had hidden in it in our boy and girl days, and there
was room in it to hide a score of folk, though the quarters were
damp enough to give a whole village the rheumatics.

I made shift to crawl through the bushes into the arch of the
bridge, carrying with me sundry thorns and prickles, whose smart
I regarded no more than a pin-prick, so acute was the pain which
I suffered from my foot. The water rose high in the channel, but
I managed to clamber to some stones that stood above the stream,
and there I sat me down, groaning as loudly as I dared, while
Alison stood at my side. And after a time, hearing no sound from
without, and judging that our pursuers, if indeed we were pursued,
had gone another way, I contrived to get off my foot-gear in order
to examine my hurt. Then I found that my ankle was swollen to such
a thickness as reminded me of Sir Nicholas’s gouty foot, and the
remembrance of that, and how he used to curse it when it tweaked
him, put me into a more hopeful humour. “Come,” says I, “there’s
naught broken, cousin--’tis but a bad sprain. Let’s be thankful,” I
says, “that there’s so much cold water at hand--’tis a good thing
for a hurt of this sort.” I put my foot into the stream and found
much relief, though the water was icy cold. “If I can but get the
stiffness out of it,” says I, “we’ll make good progress yet.”

“It will be morning soon,” she says, glancing out of the bridge.
“The sky is already growing light. We shall have little chance of
escape in the daytime, shall we?”

“Why,” says I, “I had certainly meant us to be clear of Barnsdale
ere day broke. But we must do the best we can. ’Tis the fortune of
war--and yet I did not think to escape all that we’ve gone through
these four days past, and be brought down by a tree-root. But it’s
these small matters,” I says, with the air of a philosopher, “that
lead to great results.”

“I am in no humour for speculations,” says she.

“Why,” says I, “you must certainly be suffering much discomfort,
cousin, but I don’t see how we can help it. Will you not endeavour
to sit down by me here?--’tis a dampish seat, this heap of stones,
but I think you will prefer it to standing. And you have a flask of
wine there, and some food--we shall neither of us be the worse for
a drop of one and a bite of t’other,” I says. She made no answer
for a while, but presently she contrived to seat herself at my
side, and brought out the wine and food from beneath her cloak.

“You take everything in a very philosophical spirit, Master
Richard,” says she, giving me the flask.

“Why, faith, cousin,” says I, “why not? ’Tis my humour to take
things that way. There was my uncle, now, would fume and fret
himself into a fever if all went not as he wished, but it never did
him any good that I could see. Take things as they come, say I.”

“’Tis a poor fashion,” says she, “for it shows that you have no
special care for aught.”

“Now methinks ’tis you that wax philosophic,” I says. “And, faith,
I don’t follow you. As for caring for aught, why, I have cared for
a deal o’ things, but as I never got most of them I came to the
conclusion that it was better to want naught.”

“Oh,” says she, “and what, pray, did you care for and want that
you didn’t get?”

“Why,” says I, “I wanted to be a country gentleman, with no more
anxiety than the rearing of cattle and the making of an occasional
ballad or sonnet.”

“Oh, a poet!” says she.

“Why, say a rhymester,” says I. “Heigh-ho! I was all for a quiet
life--and here I am in a wet ditch, with a lame leg--plague take
it!--and as good a chance of being hanged or shot as any man in
England. Nevertheless,” says I, “there’s the present enjoyment of
conversing with you, cousin, which is----”

But there, like a woman, she went off at a tangent.

“Master Richard,” says she, “what made you turn rebel?”

“Cousin,” says I, drawing my leg out of the water where I had kept
it till it was numbed through. “Why do you ask me such a question?”

“Because,” says she, “you observed just now that you cared for
naught, and I don’t understand how a man can join a cause unless he
has some care for it.”

“Lord!” says I. “You are too deep for me. I must have meant--nay,
faith,” I says, “I don’t think I know what I did mean.”

She laughed merrily at that--I think it was the first time since I
came to the Manor. “Why, let me help you to your wits,” says she.
“Would you join the rebels to-morrow, if you were able?”

“Aye, indeed!” says I.

“And why?” says she.

“Because my sympathies are with them,” says I. “I am for liberty
and against oppression. Being a true Englishman,” I says, “I hate
this Star-Chambering and extortioning of honest folk’s money.”

“I wonder how much you know about it,” says she.

“About as much as yourself,” says I.

“God save the King!” says she.

“Faith, he needs it!” says I.

After that we sat in a miserable silence for full half-an-hour.
It was then growing light, and the dawn came with a sharp burst
of sleet that penetrated the bushes and stung our faces as we sat
huddled under the bridge. “A dreary morning, cousin,” I says.

A low booming roar came echoing across the fields. I forgot my
hurt and tried to start to my feet. “Cannon!” says I. “They are
bombarding the old place after all. And yet surely----”

But she had rushed to the mouth of the bridge and forced her way
through the bushes, and there she stood, gazing across the dank
fields towards the old house. The roar of the cannon came again.
She drew back within the bridge, and dropping at my side burst into
a passion of bitter weeping.

“Come, cousin,” says I, laying my hand on her arm, “be
comforted----”

She turned her face suddenly upon me, all aflame with anger.

“Comforted?” says she, “Shame upon you, Richard Coope! Oh, cowards
that we are, to have skulked from the old place like rats from a
sinking ship! Doesn’t it shame you,” she says, “to sit here in a
ditch when you ought to be there defending your own?”

“Why, cousin,” says I, “considering that it’s through no choice of
my own that I sit in this ditch, it doesn’t; and as to defending my
own, why, there’s naught in the old house that’s mine save a book
or two. It’s not my property,” I says, nursing and groaning over my
lame leg.

“But it’s mine,” says she, drying her tears.

“Then go and defend it,” I says, sulkily. “You were better
employed in that than in preaching to me.”

She turned her face and stared at me long and hard.

“You have the rarest faculty for saying insolent things,” says she.

“Faith, it’s a poor one in comparison with yours!” says I, testily
enough.

She coloured up to the eyes at that. Egad, she had no liking for
such plain talk! But she stared at me again and then at my foot,
which was at that moment exceeding painful.

“Can I do aught to relieve you?” she says.

“I wish you could,” says I. “But you can’t, and so there’s an end
on’t.”

“Oh,” she says, bridling, “if you don’t wish to talk with me----”
and she drew herself away. But after a time she looked round at me
again.

“Will they destroy the old house?” she says.

“I don’t know, cousin,” says I. “They seem to have given over
firing at it, but these two shots will have knocked some lath and
plaster about.”

She looked at my foot which I was dipping in the water again.

“What a misfortune!” she says. “I cannot abide this idleness. It
irks me to sit here, doing naught, as if we were rats in a cage.”

But since we were helpless I made no answer to her, and so there
we sat, miserable as you please, and without the grey dawn widened
into a dull morning.


II.

The morning wore away in a sore discomfort until it came near to
noon. Upon several occasions we heard folks pass along the road
above our heads, and now and then a cart rumbled by, or a horseman
made our hiding-place echo with the ring of his beast’s feet. But
we heard no more of the cannon nor anything in the neighbouring
meadows of our pursuers. As for my lame foot it was so damaged that
I could see there was no chance of our going onward that day. The
plentiful doses of cold water which I had administered to it had
seemed to keep down the inflammation, but the swelling was still so
great and the stiffness so stubborn that I could make no use of my
leg from the knee downwards.

“Cousin,” says I, “look upon me as done for. I am winged as
absolutely as a partridge that can only use its feet. It will be
days before I can walk,” I says, groaning more with chagrin than
with pain, though I had enough and to spare of that.

“Well?” says she.

“I don’t know what we’re to do next,” says I, sore perplexed.
“There isn’t a house nearer than Darrington Mill, and you musn’t go
there. If you go along the road to Wentbridge you’ll be seen. But
when night falls you might try it, cousin. Dare you travel alone?”
I says.

She looked round at me and laughed.

“Dare!” says she. “Dare, indeed!”

“Then will you?” says I.

“No,” says she, prompt enough.

“And why not?” says I.

“Because I shall not leave you,” says she.

“Why,” says I, “that’s very kind of you, cousin, but I wish I could
see you in safety.”

“’Tis not my fashion to run away when things come to the worst,”
says she.

“’Gad, mistress!” says I, somewhat nettled. “I don’t know which
smarts the more--your tongue or this plaguey leg of mine. But you
might be more civil,” I says.

“Was I uncivil?” says she, making a great show of innocence with
her eyes.

“I know what you meant,” I says, turning surly again.

“Well,” she says, speaking very polite and gentle, “confess,
cousin, that if you hadn’t persuaded me to leave the house, we
should not have been burrowing in this ditch, half-starved to
death.”

“No,” says I, “that’s true enough. But I would rather burrow in
a ditch and have my life, than swing to the branch of a tree, or
stand before a file of troopers with my kerchief tied about my
eyes. And I think,” says I, regarding her narrowly, “that you would
prefer your liberty even in a hole like this to being handed over
to Anthony Dacre.”

She gave me a cool stare.

“And what harm would there be in that?” says she.

“What?” says I.

“I say what harm would there be in that?” she says.

“Oh, you did say so, did you?” says I. “Faith, I thought you did,
but then I thought you didn’t.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” says she.

“Nay,” says I, “how do I know? I have given up trying to understand
women.”

“Anthony Dacre,” says she, musingly, “is a handsome man, and a most
devoted cavalier.”

“I wish I had my fingers at his throat!” says I.

“No man could be more attentive to ladies than he,” she says, still
musing. “His manner is of the best.”

“Is it?” says I. “I wish he would come here and show us some of it.”

“He looks better in a withdrawing-room,” says she, giving the
merest glance at my torn and mud-stained garments.

“I daresay he will grace some corner of hell,” says I, savage as a
bear with a sore lug.

She turned and looked at me.

“You and I don’t seem to agree,” she says.

“Faith! I don’t care whether we do or not!” I says, like to weep
with the pain of my foot, and the vexation into which she threw me.

She gave me a sharp glance, and suddenly I saw her eyes melt in the
curiousest fashion. She was sitting near me on the wet stones and
she put out her hand to mine with a quick gesture. But what she had
it in mind to say or do----

There was a rustle at the mouth of the bridge, and we turned our
heads to see a great hound glaring at us from between the bushes
that his shoulders had pushed aside. “Tracked, by God!” says I, and
without a thought I snatched a pistol from my belt and fired at the
brute’s open jaws. He fell, a quivering heap, into the stream at
our feet, and the noise of the pistol rolled and echoed along the
bridge, “Oh, foolish!” she cried, “they will hear it--they cannot
be far off.” She looked at the dog and I saw her eyes fill with
tears. “Poor dog!” said she.

But now that danger was at hand I was quick to think and to act. I
drew out the bag of gold that I had carried--she already had the
jewels in another bag--and handed it to her. “Here,” says I, “take
this, cousin--and cousin,” I says, “whether we’ve agreed or not
don’t forget that I tried to serve you. A curse on this foot o’
mine!” I says, struggling to get into a standing posture, “I’d give
anything----”

There came the tramp of feet without and the sound of men pushing
their way through the hedgerows. “The dog headed this way,” says
a voice. “Why, this is the old bridge!” says another. But by that
time I had got to my feet and drawn the other pistol from my belt.
“Behind me, Alison!” says I, “We’ll have a life or two ere we
yield.”

The bushes were suddenly filled with men. I saw Anthony Dacre’s
face amongst the throng, and Merciful Wiggleskirk peering round the
corner. I levelled the pistol full at Anthony and laughed to see
him duck his head. “Coward!” says Alison in my ear. “Spare your
powder for better men, Dick.”

She had never called me Dick before--at any rate, since we were
children. I turned hastily to her. “Sweetheart!” I says, “this is
the end, but by heaven, I love you!”

After that, I think I must have swooned and fallen. When I came
to my senses again I was lying on the road above the bridge, with
Alison and Merciful Wiggleskirk at my side, and Anthony Dacre
talking to an officer on horseback close by. I strove to rise, half
wondering where I was, and it was only the pain in my foot that
suddenly reminded me of our position.


III.

Having fairly recovered my senses I looked round me and found that
we were in the midst of a score or so of troopers, apparently under
command of a middle-aged officer who seemed fierce enough to eat
hot lead. This worthy, turning from Anthony Dacre, with whom he had
been conversing, presently approached me and enquired if I were now
in a condition to travel.

“Aye,” says I, “but not a-foot, sir.”

“You shall have a mount, Master Coope,” says he, and beckons a
trooper to bring up a horse, upon which I clambered with some pain
and difficulty. “We must make what haste we can,” says he, “for
Fairfax is somewhat impatient to meet you.”

He gave me a curious, knowing look as he turned from me to Alison.

“As for you, madam,” he says, “I fancy that some arrangement has
been made for you by your kinsman, Master Dacre; you are free, at
any rate, so far as I am concerned.”

“If Mistress Alison will accept my poor protection as far as her
father’s house--” says Anthony, coming forward. But half-a-dozen
paces away he stopped, frightened, I think, by the look she gave
him.

“Liar!” she said, and looked him up and down ere she turned away.
She came up to me and laid her hand on my arm, “I am going with
you,” she says in a low voice. “I am afraid--that man frightens me.
What is it they will do to you, Richard?”

“Shoot me, I expect, cousin,” says I. There was naught to be gained
by keeping the truth from her.

She went over to the officer. “Sir,” says she, “you will make me
your debtor if you will carry me to Pomfret with you. I have a mind
to go there,” she says, looking hard at him.

The man looked from her to Anthony. “Why, madam,” says he, “sure
you are free to do what you please, and I should feel it an honour
to give you any assistance, but----”

“You are to go with me to your father’s, cousin,” says Anthony,
with a frown on his black face. “It was on these conditions only
that I secured your liberty.”

But she paid no more heed to him than if he had been a stone. She
still looked at the officer. “Then you will take me with you, sir?”
she says.

“Faith, and so I will, mistress,” says he, “if you can make shift
to ride on one of my men’s saddles.”

“You are wrong, Captain Stott,” says Anthony Dacre, “I agreed with
Sands----”

“Look you, Master Dacre,” says the other, “the young woman is free,
and I know naught of your arrangements with Sands or anybody else.
And since she asks me for a lift into Pomfret,” he says, “why, she
shall have it, and there’s an end.”

This matter being settled, much to Anthony Dacre’s chagrin and
the further souring of his naughty temper, we presently set out
for Pomfret, going thither by way of Darrington Mill and Carleton
village, in passing through which the folk came out of their houses
to stare at us. It gave me much pain to ride, and Captain Stott
urged us forward at a brisk pace. But going up Swan Hill we came
to a gentle walk and Stott brought his horse alongside mine and
inquired after my condition.

“Why, sir,” says I, “I suffer somewhat smartly, I promise you, and
this jolting does naught to help me.”

“Well,” says he, “you will have a speedy quittance of your pain,
young gentleman, for as I am an honest man I believe Fairfax will
shoot you.”

“I expect naught else,” says I.

“You’re mighty cool about it,” says he, “and I admire you for that.
Lord! what is there that’s better than war for taking the sentiment
out of a man? I am sure you’ll face a file of my troopers very
brave,” he says, looking narrowly at me. “’Twill be but justice,
young gentleman, for your offence was exceeding grave.”

“Sir,” says I, “you seem to know a deal more of my offence than I
know myself. To tell you the truth,” says I, “I am in that state of
mind which prevents me from caring whether I offend or not.”

“Oh, tired of life,” says he.

“On the contrary,” says I. “I want very much to live, and am
cursing my fate as earnestly as I can. And yet,” I says, giving him
a smile that was doubtless as grim as his own, “I am wise enough to
know that all the cursing in the world won’t alter things.”

“You will certainly be shot,” says he.

“Well, sir,” I says, “then I will be shot. But if you would oblige
a dying man--and you seem assured that I am one--say naught of
it to my cousin there,” says I, pointing to Alison, who rode a
little in advance, and out of earshot. “She has some inkling of it
already, but you have such a cold-blooded style of saying things,”
says I, “that she’ll look upon you as a butcher.”

“Why, ’tis my trade, lad,” says he, and laughs. “But I’ll respect
your wish, seeing that it’s one of the last you’ll ever utter.”

We were now come to Pomfret, and for some moments I forgot my own
affairs in looking about me and noting the evidences of warfare
which were on every side. As we drew nearer to the marketplace I
saw many houses that had been shattered by the Castle artillery and
now stood in ruins. Beyond the Moot Hill we passed the Main Guard,
which they had erected at the top of Northgate, and out of which
came several Parliamentarians to see us pass, and inquire of their
fellows as to our business. Captain Stott, however, hurried us
forward along Skinner Lane, and so we presently came to Fairfax’s
camp, which was at the rear of a great horn-work that they had
thrown up for the beleaguering of the Castle. We were now in full
view of the Castle itself, and occasionally noted the discharge
of its cannon which chiefly played, however, against the fort on
Baghill, from whence most annoyance was caused to the besieged.
Fairfax and Sands were closeted together in a farmhouse close by
the camp, and thither Captain Stott conducted us and bade his men
help me down from my horse. I was making shift to hobble along,
leaning on the arm of a trooper, when Sands himself suddenly came
out of the house and met us. He looked from me to Alison and seemed
resentful of her presence.

“What do you do here, mistress?” says he, rudely. “I cannot
remember that we sent you for any woman, Captain Stott,” he says.
“That matter, I think, was arranged with Master Dacre there.”

“She came of her own accord,” says Stott. “She was free to go where
she pleased for aught that I know to the contrary.”

“What is your business here, mistress?” says Sands. But ere she
could reply he fell into a sudden fury. “Come!” says he, “get you
gone, mistress, get you gone!--what, have we not had enough of
trouble with you Coopes this last day or two that you must give us
more? See her out of the camp, Master Dacre,” he says, turning upon
Anthony. “See her to her father’s house as you arranged with me.”
He turned from them and looked at me with a severe displeasure in
his eyes. “Richard Coope, eh?” says he. “Bring him within--we are
anxious to make acquaintance with you, Master Coope.”

“Sir,” says I, as I hobbled into the farmhouse after him, “I claim
your protection on behalf of my cousin, Mistress French, without
there.”

“She hath another cousin to protect her,” says he, ill-temperedly.
“We have given her safe-conduct to her father’s house, and there’s
an end on’t.”

“But----” says I.

“I’ll hear no more,” says he, savage as a bear, and he walked
forward and into a room, the door of which he closed behind him.
The three troopers that had me in charge waited in the passage with
me in their midst. I looked from one to the other, and recognising
Merciful Wiggleskirk amongst them, I begged him to run outside and
see whether Alison had departed, and if not, to entreat her from
me to seek out some friend in the town rather than trust herself
to Anthony Dacre. This he did, but presently returned, saying that
Mistress French had ridden away, and Master Dacre and his two men
with her, whereat I turned sick at heart, and cared no more as to
what might happen to me.

After some little time the door of the chamber into which Sands had
withdrawn was opened again, and an officer looked out and bade the
troopers bring me within. I hobbled into the room and found myself
standing at the foot of a great table, at the head of which sat a
man whom I immediately took to be Sir Thomas Fairfax himself. Sands
sat by him on his right, and two other officers were placed on his
left, while Captain Stott stood half-way along the table. They
all gazed at me with some curiosity, and faith, I daresay I was a
pretty sight to behold, for I had had no time to smarten myself up
for four days, and the mud of the ditch was thick on my clothes.
However, I made my best bow, and was then forced to clutch and hold
by the table lest I should fall, for the pain in my leg was turning
me sick again.

“Master Richard Coope,” says Fairfax, looking at me.

“The same, sir,” says I.

“You seem to be in some distress,” says he, not unkindly.

“Sir,” I says, “I have hurt my foot, and the pain is exceeding sore
at this moment.”

“Give Master Coope a chair,” says he.

“I thank you, sir,” says I, very polite. “Faith!” thinks I, “he is
surely going to shoot me, or he would not be so attentive.” And I
sat down and tried not to groan at the agony which every movement
gave me.

“Now, Master Coope,” says he, “we have had you brought here after
much trouble and annoyance to question you of your late doings.”

He paused and looked at me.

“Sir,” I says, regarding him steadily, “I am prepared to answer any
question you are pleased to put to me.”

“Are you so?” says he. “Be assured, Master Coope, that we shall
deal justly with you. And since we are sitting in court-martial
upon you, you shall know what it is that you are charged with.”
He took up a paper from the table. “You are charged,” he says,
looking at it, “with a grave offence, namely, that you, being
duly entrusted with the conveyance of a despatch from General
Cromwell to me, Sir Thomas Fairfax, did desert your commission,
and, attaching yourself to the enemies of the Parliament, did do,
and cause to be done, many things hurtful to the cause which you
had sworn to further. What say you to that, Master Coope?” he says,
regarding me keenly.

“Sir,” says I, “if you will listen to my defence I shall hope to
make myself clear to you.”

“You shall have all the consideration that is right,” says he. “So
tell us your story, Master Coope, without fear.”

“I am a poor hand at it,” says I, “but this is a plain tale and the
truth,” and I pulled my wits together and put the matter plainly
before them. I told them how I had lost my horse, how I had chanced
to overhear Anthony Dacre’s plot, how I had gone to the Manor
House to warn my uncle, and had been trapped there ere I could
leave, and how I had contrived to forward the despatch by Merciful
Wiggleskirk. “And that,” says I, coming to an end, “is the truth
of this matter, wherein, if I have done wrong, it has been for the
sake of folk that were dear to me. And, gentlemen,” says I, looking
from one to the other, “if there were need I would do it again--and
I have no more to say.”

After I had finished none of them spoke for awhile, but at last
Fairfax looked at Sands. “I wish,” says he, “that we knew more
about this man Dacre and the plot which his kinsman Coope alleges
against him.” But Sands shook his head. “’Tis neither here nor
there, Sir Thomas,” says he. “What have we to do with plots about
carrying off a young woman? Here is Richard Coope confessing,
yea, and glorifying himself because of it, that he deserted his
commission, and joined himself to his uncle in resisting our
warrant. A clearer case,” says he, “I never heard.”

Then the four of them withdrew into another apartment, leaving me
there with Stott and the troopers. “Thy foot will not pain thee
much longer, young man!” says Stott. “Faith,” says I, conceiving a
great dislike to him all of a sudden, “’tis well for you, sir, that
I am unable to use it!” And there might have been a pretty row
between us but that Sir Thomas and the others came back and took
their seats. I glanced at Sands, and knew what was coming.

Fairfax looked at me with some kindness as he began to speak.
But there was naught kind about his words. I had deserted my
commission, and thereby caused great annoyance to the Parliament;
I had joined myself with the Royalists, and had brought about the
death of a useful officer, and it was impossible that my serious
offence could be overlooked. And so I was to be shot at daybreak of
the following morning.

I think I got to my feet and bowed to him when he made an end.
And I must have winced with the pain that every movement gave me,
for he looked at me with some consideration. “I am sorry that you
suffer,” says he. “I will send my surgeon to see to your hurt.”
“I am greatly your debtor, sir,” says I. And so we parted with
much politeness on both sides, and the troopers helped me out, and
presently installed me in a neighbouring cottage, with Merciful
Wiggleskirk as a guard, and my own thoughts for amusement.



Chapter VIII

Of my Surprising Deliverance from Death, my last Meeting with
Anthony Dacre, and of certain Notable Passages ’twixt Mistress
Alison and Myself.


I.

The place in which they installed me to wait for my end was a
little cottage some fifty yards away from the farmhouse, where
Fairfax had set up his quarters, and stood in an angle of the
fields that lie ’twixt Skinner Lane and the hamlet of Tanshelf. It
afforded but the most indifferent accommodation, there being naught
in the way of furniture but a chair or two, a pallet bed in one
corner and a deal table, but in my then condition these things were
more than sufficient for my wants, and I made no complaint of them.
Nay, when Merciful Wiggleskirk offered me some apology for the poor
quarters he had brought me to I checked him, and pointed out that
to a man who has but some sixteen hours to live a cottage is as
fine as a palace.

“Why, sure,” says he, “death is the greatest leveller--but is there
naught that we can do for your honour? Your honour,” he says,
giving me a sly look, “is such a generous rewarder----”

“Friend,” says I, “I verily believe that I have not even a
penny-piece upon me. As for reward then----”

“I meant you to understand,” says he, “that I had already received
my reward, and was minded to do still more to deserve what you have
already bestowed upon me. So if there is aught that you lack----”

“Faith,” says I, “thou art a good fellow. Why, now I come to think
on’t, I should be pleased to have pen, ink, and paper, so that I
may spend an hour or two in writing some necessary matters. ’Twill
help me to kill the time of waiting,” I says.

“You shall have what you wish, Master Coope,” says he, and he went
forth to his fellow at the door and despatched him for the things
I needed. “I shall be on guard with you alone for the rest of the
time,” says he, returning to my side. “A lame man can make little
shift to escape, and we need all our men in the works. There is to
be a great assault made upon the Castle to-night.”

“Ah!” says I, “under other circumstances I could like to ha’ joined
in it; but to tell the truth, good fellow, my foot gives me so much
pain as to put the thoughts of everything out o’ my mind. Faith!”
says I, with a grim laughter filling me at the very humour of it,
“I believe I’m more concerned about the pain o’ this plaguey foot
than that I am to be shot i’ the morning.”

“Why, master,” says he, looking out of the window, “let’s hope
you’ll shortly find some relief, for here’s Sir Thomas’s chirurgeon
coming to see you,” and he opened the door to admit a little,
hatchet-jawed fellow, that eyed me curiously, and demanded to see
my hurt. He took my leg in his lap, and prodded my swollen ankle
here and there with so much abstracted curiosity that I lost my
temper with him.

“Master surgeon,” says I, “you torture me, and I have no mind to be
tortured by anybody. For God’s sake,” I says, “either relieve my
pain, or put my foot down!”

But he looked at me out of his leaden eyes and gave me such a nip
over the ankle bone as made me roar with agony. “Yea,” says he, “I
thought the hurt lay there. However, in three days you shall walk
as well as ever.”

“Thank you for naught,” says I, mightily inclined to take him by
the scruff of the neck and shake him to pieces. “Three days!--why,
man, in three days I shall ha’ seen things that you are never like
to see--I am to be shot at daybreak i’ the morning.”

“Are you so?” says he, with a stare. “Pooh! I waste my valuable
time,” he says, and walks out of the cottage without another
word. And thereat, in spite of the pain and vexation, I burst out
a-laughing, and bade Merciful Wiggleskirk shut the door on the
leech’s back. “Faith, I think he was in the right on’t, after all!”
says I. “What’s the good of mending a man that’s to be broken for
good in a few hours?”

“Why, I don’t know about that, master,” says Merciful. “I conceive
that a man hath a right to be eased of his pain ere his end, so
that he may make a good quittance. And if you’ve no objection,” he
says, “I’ll try my own healing art upon you with an ointment that I
always carry about my person--a very balm of Gilead it is, and hath
worked the marvellousest cures.”

“With all my heart, lad,” says I, “thou canst do aught thou’rt
minded to, short o’ cutting my leg off. I must make shift to stand
straight in the morning.”

He brought out the little box that contained his ointment and
began to rub my leg with it. “I have some acquaintance with the
healing art,” says he. “I was boy to a doctor at one time, and made
experiments on my own account. Besides, my merciful nature obliges
me to exercise my office upon all that are in distress.”

“Thou art a queer fellow,” says I. “But, come, tell me of what
happened at the Manor House this morning. I am anxious to know how
it fared with the serving-folk.”

“Oh,” says he, “at daybreak they hung out a flag and submitted
themselves, and we had free entrance to the house, and were sore
concerned, I promise you, to find naught there but servants.
Captain Stott was for dealing sternly with them at first, but,
what, they had but obeyed orders, and so he let them go their own
ways, and set himself to track you and madam.”

“But we heard cannon discharged,” says I.

“Yea,” says he, rubbing away at my foot, “your ancient house,
Master Coope, is certainly not of such fair proportions as it was.
Stott fired two discharges into it, and you will have some repairs
to see to if you intend--but I forgot,” he says, looking at me with
a curious smile, “that you will not need earthly residence much
longer.”

“So the old house is dismantled?” says I.

“Why, say somewhat disarranged,” says he.

“May the Lord reward whoever did it!” says I, and fell a prey
to bitter thoughts. I had loved that old house, and it gave me
sore pain to think of it, a heap of ruins over my uncle’s grave.
“Alack!” thinks I, sadly. “What evil days have we fallen upon. My
uncle lies dead and buried under his own floor, Alison is in the
hands of Anthony Dacre, and here sit I, waiting to be shot. Was
ever sadder fortune?”

But there Merciful Wiggleskirk gave up his ministrations, and
looked up at me from where he knelt on the floor.

“Now, master,” says he, “how does your hurt feel by this time?”

“Why,” says I, working my ankle about, “I believe it is a deal
easier. That ointment o’ thine must be rare stuff--it has certainly
given me relief.”

“I could have you fit to stand upright without pain by to-morrow,”
says he, proudly. “Ah! this is, as I said, the very balm of
Gilead. I concocted the notion on’t myself, and would not sell it
for a deal o’ money. When I grow weary of this fighting trade,
master, I shall set up as an empiric----”

“It would reward you better,” says I. “And were a fitter employment
for a man of your powers. I’m obliged to you,” I says. “The smart
hath abated marvellously.”

“I will minister to you again ere long,” says he. “You shall walk
out of this cottage straight enough in the morning. But here’s your
pens and paper,” he says, seeing the other trooper returning. “So
now you can fall to your writing, master.”

It was now past noon, and ere long there was brought to us food
and drink, which we consumed together with as much satisfaction as
we could get out of each other’s company. True, the thought of my
condition did sometimes come upon me as I ate, and made my food to
stick in my throat, but as there was no use in repining at my fate,
I strove to be free of regret, and to behave myself like a man. And
the food and drink putting some heart into me, I presently turned
to the table, and began to write, in which occupation I found great
comfort and relief.

Now, I verily believe that troubled as I was at my own fate (for I
was troubled though I strove hard not to be) I was more concerned
on account of Alison. After all that I had done to prevent it, she
had in the end fallen into the hands of Anthony Dacre. I had no
cause to be especially anxious for her safety when I first heard
Anthony’s designs against her, for she and I, on the rare occasions
of our meeting, had never been able to get on together, and she
had treated me with a certain haughty contempt that I secretly
resented. But I had never been able to endure the thought of her
being in Anthony’s power, and after I had lived under the same roof
with her, and seen much of her I felt that I would stay at naught
to save her from him. And there was more than that, for, somehow,
I had come to love her with a rare passion, even when she flouted
and teased me. This made life exceeding bitter for me in what I
believed to be its last hours. There I was, a prisoner in more
ways than one, unable to move hand or foot to succour her whose
image was constantly before me, while she, for aught I knew to
the contrary, was in the hands of a man whom I knew from his own
confession to be a black-hearted villain, and incapable of mercy or
consideration where his own vile inclination was concerned.

There was but one thing that comforted me in this sore pass and
that was the thought of Alison’s own fearlessness. She was one of
those women that are accustomed--faith, there are precious few of
them that I have seen during fifty years of life!--to think and act
for themselves, and I could readily imagine her to be more than a
match for Anthony Dacre, so long as natural wit was the only weapon
employed by both. It might be that she, finding herself in his
hands, would contrive means for her safe progress to her father’s
house and even delude him into procuring them. Thus, I was somewhat
comforted, and yet it was a hateful thought to me that the woman
I loved was in the company of a man whom I heartily despised. It
was not that I had any jealous feeling--though she had teased me
about him as we sat under the bridge, saying that he was a handsome
man, a devoted cavalier, and so forth, which was her woman’s way
of professing what she didn’t believe for very sport--but that I
had so much respect and affection for her that I would have done
aught--aye, and had done so much as to lose my own life by it--to
keep her unsmirched even by the mere company of villainy. But caged
as I was what could I do?--and so I hoped for the best, and sat me
down to write letters to my cousin, having arranged with Merciful
Wiggleskirk that he would use his utmost endeavour to have the
packet delivered.

Now of what I then wrote I have at this time but the least
knowledge, for the packet came into Alison’s hands--though not
after the fashion that I had intended--and she has since taken
the strictest care of it, and values it so much that she will not
permit it to pass out of her keeping even for a moment. However,
what I do remember is that I spent all that afternoon and evening
in writing--with some intervals wherein Merciful Wiggleskirk rubbed
his balm of Gilead into my foot, much to its great benefit--and
that in the end I used all the paper that the trooper had brought
me, and so was obliged to lay down my pen unsatisfied.

It was then close upon midnight, and being sore fatigued, I lay
down on the bed, sleepy enough, in spite of the fate that was but
some seven hours distant. Merciful Wiggleskirk mounted guard over
me, rarely satisfied with the result of his ministrations to my
injury. “Faith!” says I, “I think I shall sleep well,” and I bade
him good-night.

But there was much about to happen, and since I had naught to do
with that which brought it about, I shall here present to you the
account of it that was written down afterwards by Alison herself.


II.

  A TRUE NARRATIVE OF THE TRANSACTION BETWEEN ALISON FRENCH AND
      ANTHONY DACRE, NOW SET DOWN AFTER A PLAIN FASHION BY THE
      FORMER.--A. F.

When Colonel Sands so rudely bade me begone from the camp, and
I saw my cousin Richard led away by the troopers to what I felt
assured must end in his death, I was so sore distrest that for some
moments my wits forsook me and I knew not what to say or do. It
was, I think, at that moment that I first discovered my love for
my cousin, and that, perhaps, had as much to do with my confession
as aught else. They gave him no time to speak with me ere they led
him away, but he turned himself about at the door of the house
into which they were conducting him, and gave me a swift glance,
and when I met his eyes I knew that I loved him with all my heart,
which had never till then been stirred by the thought of any man.
Then he was gone, and I felt that all was over, and that for the
rest of my life I should carry with me the pain of that moment
which was yet mingled with the joy that comes to a woman who
suddenly discovers that she is loved and that she loves in return.

It was Anthony Dacre that woke me out of my reverie. He drew near
and addressed me by name. I know not what sort of countenance
I turned upon him, but he stood back and looked afraid. But on
the instant I grew calm. There was naught but danger of the
worst sort to the man I loved and to myself (and I was now the
dearer to myself because he loved me) in that moment. “This is no
time,” thought I, “for rashness or for ill-temper. I must keep
my wits, and see if I cannot devise something to save Dick from
his fate.” And therewith a thought flashed across my mind. My
wit against all of them--my woman’s wit against Anthony Dacre’s
subtlety and Fairfax’s decree. I had always prided myself on my
strong-mindedness and my common-sense--of what avail were either
if they could not help the man I loved when his need was of the
greatest? Could not?--nay, but they should! I would be strong and
wise: it should not be for lack of endeavour if I did not outwit
them all.

I turned to Anthony Dacre with a gracious manner.

“And so you are to form my escort, cousin?” I said, speaking to him
with a civility which belied the loathing and contempt I kept for
him in my heart.

He looked at me with a great surprise, wondering perhaps what had
brought this change over me.

“I have made some arrangements for you,” he said. “I shall conduct
you to your father’s house with great pleasure. Will it please you
to set out at once?”

“Why,” said I, affecting to treat the matter lightly, “I am
ill-provided with riding-gear. Would it not suit your convenience
to stay our progress at the Manor House so that I can fit myself
out in proper fashion?”

“Anything that you desire, cousin,” said he.

“Then we will set out at once,” I said, and gave him my hand in
order that he might assist me to the horse which stood near. “But I
fear,” I said, when I had disposed myself as well as I could, “that
we shall find the old house a heap of ruins, and my gear may not
easily be come at.”

“It is certainly somewhat damaged,” said he, “and believe me,
cousin, it was much against my will. But I am but a gentleman
volunteer, after all, and things have gone beyond my power. I
wish,” he said, as we rode away, followed by his two men, “that
you had thought better of me, cousin, at the beginning of this sad
matter. It would have saved much bloodshed and trouble.”

Now there was naught that I so much desired at that moment as to
turn in my saddle and look Anthony Dacre straight in the face and
tell him my true thoughts. It would have given me the greatest
relief--but there was so much at stake that I must needs lie to him
and to myself if I would win the game I was playing.

“Cousin,” I answered, as gracious in voice as if it gave me
pleasure to be in his company, “I, too, am sorry that there have
been misunderstandings. But when one is misinformed----”

“Ah!” he said eagerly. “So your mind was poisoned against me,
cousin? Let me now swear to you that in all this I have sought
nothing but your own comfort and safety. When Fairfax determined to
attack Sir Nicholas I entreated that the matter might be placed in
my hands so that no insult should be offered to yourself. Alas!--I
know not what it was that prejudiced you against me in this. Suffer
me to believe that you are satisfied with my explanation, cousin.”

“I am sorry that I did not know your true character earlier,
cousin,” I answered.

“I am overjoyed to think that we are reconciled,” said he, “it has
hurt me much to feel that I lay under your displeasure.”

“I have observed to others,” I said, still humouring him, “that
you are a devoted cavalier, Master Anthony,” and I gave him a
smile that fetched the colour to his face, “and so I expect you
to attend me to my father’s house, and there you shall be duly
rewarded--maybe with----”

“Ah!” said he, coming nearer to me. “With what, cousin?”

“Why,” said I, with another smile, “with what so devoted a knight
has the right to expect,” and with that I whipped up my horse and
rode forward as if in some confusion. He laughed and came after me,
and so we pressed on to Hardwick agreeing very well indeed.

Now when we turned into the courtyard of the old house the sight
of the ruin caused by the cannon was like to make me weep, but I
restrained myself and suffered Anthony Dacre to lead me within. The
kitchen and hall were least damaged of the lower apartments, and
in the former we found old Barbara and Jasper who were pottering
about in sore lamentation, and seemed vastly surprised to see us.
I addressed Barbara in my grandest manner giving her at the same
time a glance that she understood plainly enough.

“Barbara,” I said, “Master Dacre is escorting me to my father’s
house, but before we go forward we will refresh ourselves if you
can make shift to give us food and drink. You will not refuse to
dine with me, Anthony,” I said, turning to him with a smile that
was meant to subdue him.

Now it is marvellous--and never so much so, I think, as to us
women ourselves--that a woman’s beauty and manner hath power to
change a man from his purpose more rapidly than any other form
of persuasion. As I looked at Anthony Dacre I knew that I could
do with him as I pleased. He mumbled something in the way of a
compliment that I scarcely heard, though I affected to do so, and
smiled back my thanks to him for it. He was won over--but oh, the
anxiety that I still felt lest my plans should miscarry!

While Barbara prepared food and drink for us, I went over the house
under pretence of making myself ready for our further progress.
It was a sad sight that my eyes beheld. The upper storey of the
house had been well-nigh shattered to pieces, and the room in which
my uncle died was a heap of stones and dust. But my own chamber
was undisturbed, and thither I presently repaired and made such
alterations in my apparel as were sorely needed. Nay, when I looked
at myself in the mirror I marvelled that I had been able to make
any impression on Anthony Dacre, for my adventures of that day and
the previous night had made me anything but attractive. Now it was
necessary (beauty being the greatest weapon which we women can arm
ourselves and aid our natural cunning with) that I should make
myself as attractive as possible, and so I gave some considerable
attention to my toilet, and at last went downstairs to find Anthony
Dacre, and proceed with the development of my plans.

I found him in the small parlour that adjoined the hall, where
Barbara had contrived a hasty meal for us. He looked at me with
some astonishment as I entered, and I noticed as I returned his
glance that he, too, had taken some pains to smarten himself up. I
walked to the head of the table, and motioned him to take a seat
at my right hand. But he came forward and took my hand as if to
lead me to my chair, and no sooner did his fingers touch mine than
he broke out into the most extravagant profession of love for me,
swearing by all that is holy that he adored me in the most devoted
fashion, and beseeching me to have some pity on his condition. All
this I was compelled to endure and even to affect to receive with
complaisance, though inwardly I was filled with two thoughts--the
first, that I could cheerfully have stabbed him where he stood; the
second, that he was playing into my hands. I heard him to the end,
and then I disengaged my hand from his and drew away from him.

“Cousin,” I said, “this is not the time or place for us to discuss
these matters. It is possible,” I said, looking at him, “that I
have been mistaken in you, as you say, and if so, I am indeed
sorry, and will strive to make amends. But I think it will be best
if you accompany me to my father’s house, and there prosecute your
suit--if indeed, you really feel for me what you say--after the
fashion usual amongst people of our degree. You must speak to my
father first,” says I, with a coquettish glance at him that made
him ready to obey me on the instant.

“But yourself?” said he. “What answer will you make to me if I
fulfil your wishes in this?”

“Why,” I said, looking, I daresay, very modest and conscious,
“I think that if you really obey me, I may perhaps be found more
complaisant than you have fancied, cousin.”

“My angel!” he cried, and would have embraced me had I not
anticipated some such proceeding on his part and escaped him.

“Come,” I said, smiling, “let us have some food, cousin--we have a
long ride before us, and for myself I have had little to eat since
last night.”

He took his seat near me, and I occupied myself in paying him much
attention, and seeing to his comfort. As for me, it well-nigh
choked me to eat a crumb of bread; but, lest he should observe that
I was anxious or pre-occupied, I forced myself to make a hearty
meal. Barbara had furnished the table with a flask of my uncle’s
old Tokay, and more than once I filled Anthony’s glass with my own
hands. What a comedy it all was, and yet what a tragedy seemed to
be playing itself out in my heart at the time!

When at last he would eat and drink no more, I approached the
subject that lay closest to my thoughts. “Now,” thought I, “Heaven
send me strength and wit to carry out my project!” And I think my
prayer must have been answered quickly, for I spoke with calmness,
though every nerve in my body seemed to me to quiver with anxiety
and apprehension.

“Cousin,” I said, “what will they do with Richard Coope?”

He looked at me narrowly. I could see that the mere question raised
his jealousy and distrust on the instant.

“They will shoot him,” he answered, keeping his eyes on mine.

“I supposed they would,” said I, affecting a rare carelessness.
“Poor Dick! But ’tis I suppose, the fortune of war, eh, cousin?”

“’Tis the treatment always meted out to deserters and traitors,” he
said.

“Well,” said I, “’tis a pity that a kinsman of ours should die a
shameful death, is it not, cousin?”

“It is not to the credit of the family,” he answered. “But an
offender against the cause must be punished.”

“Why,” I said, “I think Dick offended under some misapprehension,
and ’tis rather a pity that he should die for that when you
and I, cousin, have been so fortunate as to clear away our own
misunderstanding. Could we do nothing to save him from so violent a
death?”

“No,” he said, “naught. By this time it is probably over.”

It was only by the strongest effort that I was able to preserve my
composure when he said that. I affected to take no particular heed
of it.

“I wish we could have saved him,” I said presently. “I fear my
father will visit his displeasure upon both of us for our neglect
to say a word in Dick’s favour. He thinks so much of family ties,
cousin. But I trust he may not, for I do not wish you to meet
with a frown from him when you conduct me home, under the--the
circumstances that you spoke of a little time ago,” said I, giving
him a sly glance.

“I would do aught to please you, cousin,” he exclaimed. “But in
this matter of Dick Coope, what can I do, even if he be still
alive, which I question? I have no influence with Fairfax.”

“You must surely have some,” I replied. “One who has rendered such
service.”

“Why, I may have some slight claim upon him,” he said. “But come,
cousin, what signifies Dick Coope--let us talk of ourselves.”

“Dear Anthony,” said I, “we shall have so much time for that
afterwards, and i’ faith I am concerned about Dick--though indeed
I have no cause to trouble myself about him, seeing that he and I
could never abide one another’s presence--for the reason that my
father and our relations will be sore vexed at his death. And I am
so anxious that naught should occur to vex my father at this time,”
I added, looking significantly at him, “that if it were in my power
I would do something to save Dick, and get him out of the country.
Is there aught that we could do in that way, cousin?”

“I won’t say that something might not be done,” said he. “I might
contrive his escape if he still lives.”

“I would give something if that were done,” said I. “Why, that’s
noble and generous in you, cousin! Come, I think the more of you
for that. But is the thing possible?”

“There are three things that would make it so,” said he, looking
narrowly at me.

“And what are they, cousin?” I enquired.

“Why,” said he, “first, if he’s still alive; second, if there’s
money in the house to secure his release; and third, if you will
reward me for my efforts on his behalf.”

“I reward you?” said I, affecting a great surprise. “How can I
reward you, cousin?”

“By bestowing yourself upon me without delay, fair cousin!” he
cried, throwing himself at my feet and seizing my hand.

“Why,” said I, affecting a pretty confusion, “I thought that I had
already given you some promise of the sort--but ‘without delay’
sounds so formidable--will not a year hence suit you, cousin?” I
said.

“A year hence? ’Tis an age--a century!” he exclaimed, possessing
himself of both my hands. “It must be at once--I cannot endure my
passion to remain unsatisfied, fair coz; indeed, I love thee so
much.”

“I could do much for a man that gratified my whim,” said I.

“And by heaven,” said he, “I will gratify it if I’m in time!
Promise me, cousin, that you’ll marry me to-night, and I’ll save
Dick Coope--that is,” he said, with a sudden caution, “if he’s yet
alive, and if you can find me money for the enterprise.”

“But to-night?” said I, much confused. “Oh, cousin--why, was ever
aught so sudden? Let us say a month hence, or a fortnight.”

“No,” he said, “to-night--this very night. I will bring a clergyman
with me.”

“I am so taken aback,” I said. “Let us say a week hence, cousin.”

“No,” he said. “A week? ’Tis a lifetime--you must make me the
happiest of men to-night if I do this for you. Come, yes or no,
coz?”

“Why,” said I, looking away from him, “you deserve to be rewarded
for your enterprise, Master Anthony, so I will say yes. But--nay,”
I said, as he made as if to embrace me, “let us defer all that
until we have some leisure--bethink you what there is to do. We
must bestir ourselves if you really mean to win me for your own ere
to-morrow morning. What is our bargain, cousin? That you are to
rescue Dick Coope and bring him here, and that I am then to reward
you with my hand?”

“And your heart,” said he, still pressing me with his attentions.

“Why, of course,” said I, and laughed. “Come, cousin, let us sit
down and make our arrangements,” and I contrived to keep the table
between us. “Now, first,” I said, giving him the bag of gold which
Dick had handed to me when we were caught by the troopers, “there
is money for your needs in this matter. Now let us settle all other
things. First, you are to set out forthwith for Pomfret and busy
yourself about Dick’s escape. You will, I suppose, bribe those that
have him in charge?”

“Leave that to me,” he answered, with a chuckle. “I know a trick or
two of that sort.”

“I am sure of it,” said I. “Then you are to bring him here so that
he can be furnished with money for his journey out of the country.”

“Must he come here?” said he. “If I manage his escape----”

“Why, to tell you the truth, cousin,” said I, “I want to see him
for a good reason. Sir Nicholas on his death-bed confided to Dick a
secret as to the hiding of some considerable treasure, and I want
to have it out of him. He cannot refuse to tell me after what we
have done for him,” I said.

“He shall be brought here,” he answered.

“And when will you return with him?” I said.

“Why,” said he, musingly, “I have a plan, and if it goes as I think
it will, it will be within an hour after midnight.”

“Then I will expect you, cousin,” said I. I paused a moment,
and then looked at him in a shy fashion. “And you will bring
a clergyman with you?” I said, striving, and I hope with some
success, to counterfeit a becoming modesty.

“Assuredly I will!” he cried.

“Then go, dear Anthony,” I said. “But stay, there are two other
matters--I do not like the notion,” I said, looking about me
with an air of distaste, “of spending my wedding night in this
house--could not we ride to your own house at Foxclough immediately
after the ceremony? I should find that much to be preferred,
cousin.”

“Why,” said he, “’tis a ten mile ride--and the old place is but
poorly furnished--but since you wish it, cousin, I will despatch
one of my men with strict orders to have it prepared for our
reception during the night.”

“And your other man?” said I, “will you leave him here to protect
me?--old Jasper is but a poor guard, and there is no one but
Barbara and myself in the house.”

“Agreed,” said he. “And now I must hasten--egad, the time will go
but slow till I return with the parson, fair coz!”

“Hasten!” said I, “you must fulfil your bargain if you would gain
your prize. Nay,” I said, seeing that he was minded to embrace me,
“lose no time, cousin--I shall be impatient for your return,” and
I gave him a smile as he went out of the door that was intended
to encourage him. I watched him across the kitchen and saw that
he spoke to the two men; then he rode out of the courtyard and I
returned to the parlour, calling Barbara to attend me there. And
we had no sooner entered and closed the door than I swooned, the
excitement of the scene I had just gone through proving too much
for me to bear any longer.

“This will not do,” I said when Barbara had brought me round, and I
sat up feeling somewhat recovered. “There is still much that I must
undertake.” I began to plot and plan afresh, telling old Barbara
sufficient of what was going on to explain my anxiety to her. Truly
I was by that time in a sad condition, for there was first the fear
lest Dick should already be beyond my help, and second, the thought
that my plans should miscarry ere they could be worked out as I
wished. “’Tis a desperate game,” I said to myself, “Heaven help me
to play it to the end and give me success!” And therewith I began
to consider my next movement.

Now so far as matters had turned out I had nothing to regret,
and last of all, the seeming deception which I had practised on
Anthony Dacre. It may seem to you who read this narrative that I
had played upon him in the vilest and most heartless fashion by
promising to marry him. But there was no deception in it, save on
his side, for all the time that he spoke with me of marriage he was
in reality meditating my ruin. I knew what he did not know that I
knew--namely, that he was already married. I had come to know it
by the most curious chance. Soon after Sir Nicholas Coope fell ill
and took to his bed, there came to see him old Master Drumbleforth,
a neighbouring clergyman, who chanced to inform him that he had
married Anthony Dacre to one of his parishioners some few years
previously, and that the woman still lived, though sore neglected
by her husband. And I think it was because of knowing this that
I felt it neither heartless nor deceitful to treat Anthony as I
did. My own happiness and the life of the man I loved were at
stake--what true woman would have let squeamish notions about nice
points of honour stand in her way at such a time?

I now proceeded to carry out my further plans, all of which I had
duly considered since my first notion of saving Dick entered my
head. Towards the close of the afternoon I rode over to Master
Drumbleforth’s vicarage and confessed to him all that I had done
and all that I had it in my mind to do, and begged him to come to
the Manor House that night in order to help me to carry out my
last intentions. He promised to do so and gave me his blessing and
sympathy, comforted by which I returned home. My next proceeding
was to get rid of the man whom Anthony Dacre had left with us.
I made up a parcel of my clothing, and giving it to him, bade
him follow his fellow-servant to Foxclough and bide there until
Anthony and I came in the night. He went without question, and when
he was fairly departed, I mounted my horse again and rode off to
Thorpe, where I saw John and Humphrey Stirk. I arranged that they
should come to the Manor House early that night and remain there
until Anthony Dacre returned. This done, my arrangements were all
complete. I had carried out everything that my woman’s wit could
devise, and there was naught left but to return home and wait with
a fierce impatience for the outcome of my endeavours.

This is a true history of what I, Alison French, did on that
distressing day. God send that no other woman be ever placed in
such trying circumstances as those which I have here faithfully
described. As for the end of them all, it will be much better
spoken of by Richard, who has a turn for the writing of books, than
by me, who have none.

THIS IS THE END OF MISTRESS ALISON’S ACCOUNT OF HER TRANSACTION
WITH ANTHONY DACRE.


III.

I do not think that I had slept above half-an-hour when I was
awoke by Merciful Wiggleskirk, who laid his hand on my shoulder
and at the same moment bade me make no noise. There was a very dim
moonlight flooding the cottage when I opened my eyes, and at first
I took it for the dawn and thought that my last hour was come.

“So they are ready, eh, lad,” says I, sitting up. “Faith, the
night’s been short, but thank God, I have slept soundly.”

“Hush, master,” says he. “The night’s not half over. We have work
to do yet. Hearken to me--are you minded to escape if I show you
the way?”

“What’s all this?” I says, staring at him in the dim light. “Say
plainly what’s on your mind.”

“Why, then,” says he, “your cousin, Mistress French, has devised
some plan of rescuing you, and it falls to me to carry out this
part of it. Are you willing?”

“Willing!” I says. “Come, let us hasten.”

“First,” says he, “let me doctor your foot. We have still a quarter
of an hour. I waked you in advance of the time so that I might be
able to minister to your hurt. It may be that you’ll have to use
that foot whether it pain you or no.”

“I’ll make shift,” says I, all impatient now that I knew Alison had
not forgotten me. I was anxious to proceed to our next movement,
but Wiggleskirk made me sit down while he rubbed his balm of Gilead
into my leg. He busied himself in this fashion for some minutes,
and then proceeded to bandage my ankle and foot with linen swathes.
“There,” says he at last. “Now stand up, master, and see if you
cannot use your foot a little.”

Now, whether it was the healing powers of Merciful’s ointment,
or my own excitement at the thought of regaining my freedom that
worked such wonders in me, I don’t know, but whatever it was I
found on putting my foot to the ground that I could walk with some
little difficulty. There was still much stiffness and discomfort in
my foot, but the pain had abated in marvellous fashion.

“Thou art a very miracle-monger,” says I. “Come, what do we turn to
next?”

“Have patience,” says he. “There’s much at stake.” He opened the
door of the cottage and looked forth. The moon was then dipping
into a bank of cloud. “Now,” says he, “I think we may venture,” and
he beckoned me to follow him. We left the cottage, and turning the
corner crept along behind the hedgerow. For fifty yards I contrived
to amble along, but then the pain returned, and I was forced to
call a halt. “Pain or no pain,” says Merciful, “we must onward,”
and he drew my arm within his and supported me. Soon we came to
a little grove of trees. “Here are two men with four horses,” he
whispers in my ear. “Ask no question of them--all you have to do
is to mount and ride. I shall be at your side, and we are going to
your cousin.”

We were now close to the horses, and one of the men, coming
forward, assisted Merciful to lift me into the saddle. “All clear,”
says Merciful, and we set out across the fields, the three men
closely surrounding me. One of the strange men led the way, and I
observed that he was careful to keep clear of the town. For some
time I was not sure as to the direction we were following, but
after skirting the fields that lie between Tanshelf and Mill Hill
we eventually came out on the Barnsdale road, and ere long I saw
the top of the old manor rising up in the moonlight.

“Surely we cannot be going there!” I thought. But when we came
to the corner of the village street our leader turned his horse,
and in a few minutes they were assisting me to dismount in the
courtyard. “Well, this,” thinks I, “is the strangest adventure,”
but I said naught. The men tied their horses to the rings at the
mounting-stone, and Merciful Wiggleskirk gave me his arm. And then
all four of us were at the porch, and the door of the great kitchen
opened, and there stood Alison, holding a lamp above her head, just
as she had stood when I and the Stirks came to warn her of her
danger but a few nights before. I stared at her as she looked at us
and was amazed. Her eyes were bright, there was the rarest colour
in her cheeks, she had never looked so handsome, I swear, but there
was something in her face that I had never seen there before. It
was excitement, apprehension, fear--I know not what; but when her
eyes fell on me it vanished. She gave me one swift look, and then
turned into the kitchen. The two strangers followed her close, with
me and Wiggleskirk in attendance, and as we came into the light
the foremost of them threw aside the cloak that had so effectively
concealed him from me. It was Anthony Dacre!

I looked from him to her. She stood, proud and haughty by the
hearth, and gave no more heed to me than if I had been a stone.
Anthony Dacre spoke, setting his eyes on her boldly.

“There, madam,” says he, with a bow that began at her and finished
at me, “you see how well I have executed your commands. Here
stands Master Richard Coope, alive and unhurt Have I done well,
fair cousin?”

“You have done excellent well, sir,” says she.

“Then there is naught left, madam,” says he, “but to claim my
reward.”

“And that,” says she, “you shall have without delay. But first I
must transact that business with Master Coope that I told you of.
Master Richard, will it please you to step with me into the hall
for a moment?”

But I looked at her and then at him.

“Hold!” says I. “What is the meaning of all this, and what is that
reward you speak of, Master Dacre?”

He gave me a triumphant look.

“In return for saving your life,” says he, “Mistress French confers
upon me her hand and heart. Here,” he says, motioning towards the
man at his side, “is the clergyman who will presently marry us.”

“Is this true?” says I, and looked at Alison.

“And what right has Master Richard Coope to ask such a question?”
says she, in her haughtiest manner. But she had contrived to get
’twixt me and Anthony, and she gave me a look which signified
so much that I saw through all this mystery in an instant. “By
heaven!” thinks I, “she has tricked him after all!” And I followed
up her clue. “Nay,” says I, sulkily, “it’s naught to me, mistress.
But what’s this business that you speak of?”

“Step with me into the hall,” says she. She turned to Anthony,
and gave him the sweetest look. “We shall need but a few minutes,
cousin,” she says.

I hobbled into the hall. She followed me close, and shut the door.
I turned to her, and as our eyes met she threw her arms about my
neck, and held me to her. “Oh, Dick!” she cries. “My dear, my dear,
if you knew what I have gone through. But you are safe,” she says,
starting away, “and there is so much to do. Come----”

“Alison,” I said, holding her hand. “What is all this--what does it
mean?”

“Dick,” she says, looking me straight in the eyes, “do you love me?”

“As my life--and more!” says I.

“And will you marry me--now?” she says.

“Now?” I says. “But I will do aught that you wish,” I says, sore
mystified.

“Come, come!” she says, and drags me to the door of the little
parlour. “There are good friends here,” she says, and leads me
within.

There was old Drumbleforth, the parson, there, with John and
Humphrey Stirk. Alison led me up to the clergyman. “Stand by the
door, John and Humphrey,” says she. “Now, Master Drumbleforth, will
you wed me to my cousin?”

“You are both of a mind, children?” says the old man, looking from
one to the other. “But I see you are,” he says, and opened his book.

So we were married, and as the parson said his last word I took my
wife in my arms and kissed her for the first time.

By that time I was well nigh amazed with the succession of
conflicting emotions that I had experienced during the day and
night. I could not believe that things were real. I stood staring
at Alison and old Parson Drumbleforth. She smiled at me, and then
seemed to recollect herself.

“John,” says she, “do you and Humphrey see to your arms, and give
my husband those that you have prepared for him. There may be
need for them, but I think not. Now----” she left the parlour,
and crossed the hall. She flung open the door. “I am ready for
you, Master Anthony,” she cried. “Will you step this way with your
friend?”

She came back and stood at my side, putting out her hand to touch
mine. And then came Anthony Dacre, followed by the other man, and
they stopped on the threshold and stared at us.

Faith! I am not sure that I did not pity Anthony as he stood
there. He looked at Alison and at me, and from us to old Parson
Drumbleforth, and at sight of him his face turned from red
to black, and from black to white. He looked back to Alison.
“Tricked!” he says. She looked steadily at him: his eyes dropped:
he turned to the door. But Merciful Wiggleskirk had followed them
in, and had now closed the door behind them, and stood against it
with a pistol in his hand.

Anthony Dacre turned to sudden rage. “Let me go,” he says.

“When Master Drumbleforth has answered some questions,” says
Alison. She turned to the old man. “This afternoon,” she says,
“Anthony Dacre asked me to marry him. Have you aught to say to
that, sir?”

“Child,” says old Drumbleforth, “He is married already--I married
him myself in my parish church of Darrington.”

“He has brought a clergyman with him to perform the ceremony,” says
she, still watching Anthony. “Step forward, friend--let us look at
you.”

The man drew nearer, with evident unwillingness. He removed his
cloak from his face. “He paid me to do it,” growls he, motioning
towards Anthony.

“Preserve us!” says Merciful Wiggleskirk. “’Tis Tobias Tomkins of
our troop--he is no more a parson than I am, and not half so much
so.”

“I had meant to ask Master Drumbleforth if he recognised him for
a clergyman of the rural deanery,” says Alison. “But there’s no
need. I have no more to say. And yet----” she paused and looked at
Anthony once again. “I have played with fairer weapons than yours,”
she says.


IV.

And now there was naught left but for Alison and myself to make
good our escape. We had been favoured in the most marvellous
fashion up to that time, but we were not yet out of danger, and it
was necessary that we should lose no time in removing ourselves
from a neighbourhood wherein there was so much to imperil us. So I
desired Alison, Master Drumbleforth, and Merciful Wiggleskirk to
accompany me to another apartment where we might discuss matters in
privacy. Anthony Dacre and Tobias Tomkins I left in charge of John
and Humphrey Stirk, bidding the latter have no mercy on them if
they made any attempt to escape.

“And now,” says I, when the four of us were safely bestowed in
another room, “what’s to be done next? ’Tis clear that we must quit
this presently and put as many miles as possible between us and our
enemies ere daybreak. The question,” I says, looking from one to
the other, “is----where shall we go?”

“If I may speak,” says Merciful Wiggleskirk, “I say let us go to
the Low Countries. I say us because I am going with you, master and
mistress. Don’t say me nay--faith, you’ll find me useful enough ere
we’ve come through our troubles,” he says.

“’Tis a long journey,” says I, doubtfully, looking at Alison.

“Long or short, ’tis a safe place that we shall find at the end
on’t,” says Merciful. “And ’tis not so long either if we can but
light on a ship at Hull.”

“I am of Master Wiggleskirk’s opinion,” says Master Drumbleforth.

“What say you, Alison?” says I.

But for answer she put her hand in mine. “Anywhere with you, Dick,”
says she.

“The Low Countries be it, then,” says I. I looked round me. “Shall
we ever see the old house again?” I thought to myself, cursing the
fate that drove me and my bride out of its shelter like beggars.
But that was no time for such thoughts. “Come,” I says. “Let’s be
stirring--what is that you propose, Merciful Wiggleskirk?”

“Why,” says he, “what I propose, master, is simple enough--that we
presently mount our horses and set out for Hull, there to find a
ship. And since we have a fifty mile ride before us,” he says----

“Let’s waste no time in starting,” says I. “Come, see to the horses
while I arrange for the safe custody of our prisoners.”

“Pity that we cannot knock them on the head for vermin,” says
Merciful, and bustled out of the room on my errand. Master
Drumbleforth followed him to find his own beast. I turned and took
Alison into my arms.

“Sweetheart,” says I, “this is but a poor wedding-night for you.
I fear we have many troubles and difficulties ahead out of which I
would fain keep you.”

“Nay,” says she, laying her hand on my mouth, “no talk of that
sort, Dick. We have faced more than one trouble together--I’ve no
fear of aught that may come,” says she, smiling at me. “Oh, my
dear, I love you so that troubles seem naught when I share them
with you.”

“Why, then,” says I, leading her towards the door, “all’s well
indeed.” I paused and held her at arm’s length, looking long and
steadily into her eyes. “My wife!” I says, and caught her to my
heart, only to release her again and look at her smiling face in
sheer wonder. For to tell truth, my head was half turned with the
strange doings of that day, and I could scarce comprehend that
Alison was really and truly my own.

I think we might easily have forgotten our predicament, so wrapped
up in each other were we, had not Merciful Wiggleskirk come
bustling back again with news that the horses were in readiness.
I sent Alison to her chamber for such baggage as it was necessary
she should carry with her, and while she was thus employed, I went
back to the room where John and Humphrey mounted guard over our
prisoners. I bade them follow me without, and locked the door with
my own hands.

“Now,” says I, handing the key to John Stirk, “you will keep these
fellows in safe custody for three hours, lads, at the end of which
time you may release them to go their ways as the devil, their
master, prompts.” “By that time,” I says, “I trust we shall be
beyond their reach. And so farewell, honest lads both, and pray God
we meet again under this roof ere long with happier surroundings.”
And I shook their hands, and went out to join Alison, who was
busied in saying farewell to Barbara.

There was a faint moonlight as the four of us rode away across the
moor towards Darrington. It was then one o’clock in the morning,
and the air was of a biting keenness that seemed to penetrate to
the very bones. Master Drumbleforth, muffled to his eyes, stooped
over his horse’s neck and said naught; Merciful Wiggleskirk rode
in front, humming a psalm tune to keep his jaws from chattering;
Alison and I rode side by side in the rear, both occupied, I think,
with our own thoughts, which were--if I may judge by my own--of
that diverse complexion which is made up of sweet and bitter. For
first I cursed the fate that drove me and my bride from the house
where we should have settled down in peace and comfort, and then I
blessed the day that had given me to wife the woman whom I loved
with a deep and abiding passion. And somehow the happiness of the
last thought drove out the bitterness of the first, and as we swept
past the hedgerows and trees in the faint moonlight, I began to
feel a sense of elation that made me bold and resolute to encounter
whatever further peril lay before us.

At his parsonage house in Darrington village, Master Drumbleforth
drew rein and took leave of us, bidding us God-speed, and wishing
us a safe deliverance from all our dangers. We called back our
thanks to him, and rode swiftly forward through the sleeping
village until we came to the Great North Road. At the corner of the
inn stables, Merciful drew rein.

“I am half undecided,” says he, “whether to go forward through
Womersley and Snaith or to turn along the north road, and cross the
river at Ferrybridge. What say you, master?”

“’Tis more likely to be safe by Snaith than by Ferrybridge,”
says I. “Fairfax’s troopers are in force along the river-side at
Ferrybridge.”

A window in the inn was thrown open above us, and a man looked out
as if to enquire our business. Merciful turned his horse. “Do as I
do,” says he, in a whisper. “By Ferrybridge, then,” he says in a
loud voice, and rode away up the hill. Alison and I followed. We
were half a mile outside the village before Merciful spoke again.

“We are not for Ferrybridge after all,” says he. “I liked not the
throwing up of that window, for the man who put his head out is in
a position to say which way we have gone. Therefore, I came along
the north road. We will now turn down this by-lane, and rejoin the
Womersley road at Stapleton. Do you see my meaning, master?”

“Clearly,” says I. “Though I don’t see who can follow us.”

“Best give no chance,” he says. “We can’t be too careful. I shall
breathe more freely when we’re across the Aire, and in a fair way
for Hull.”

We now doubled back upon our old track, and presently came
into the Womersley road, about a mile from Darrington village.
For half-an-hour we rode through the woods of Stapleton, which
overshadowed the road on either side, and shut out what moonlight
there was. Then came the long, winding street of Womersley, and the
clatter of our horses’ feet against the cottage walls, and then we
were into a thickly wooded country again, relieved here and there
by wild patches of marsh and moor. In a shifty light (for the moon
that night was of an uncertain behaviour) we raced across Balne
Common. It was near three o’clock when we drew near to Snaith, and
pulled up our horses under the shelter of a wayside coppice to
consider our further plans.

“Shall we cross the river at Snaith,” says Merciful, “or shall we
go on by the south bank to the ferry over the Ouse at Hooke? There
is something to be said for both roads.”

“I know naught of either,” says I, “and must therefore leave the
matter to your own decision, lad. I incline to the straightest
road, so long as it is fairly clear of interruption.”

“I think we’ll make for Hooke,” says he, after he had meditated
awhile. “From Howden to Hull there is a good turnpike road, and we
shall make better progress. God send we find no interruption at the
ferry!”

So we rode forward again, through Cowick and Rawcliffe, leaving
Snaith on the left, and made good progress until we came to Airmyn
at four o’clock in the morning. But there, just as I was beginning
to feel sure of our deliverance, we received a sudden check that
took all the conceit out of me, and left me a prey to more doubts
and fears than I had any fancy for.

Airmyn was all alive. There were lights in every house, and as
we came along the street we heard sounds of shouting and singing
as though the place were filled with roysterers rather than with
peaceable villagers. Coming to the open space before the inn
we found a crowd of men and horses, and made out from a little
distance that the former were Royalist troopers. With a common
consent we drew rein, and looked at one another by such light as
the candles and lanthorns in the cottage windows afforded us.

“What say you, Merciful?” says I. “Shall we venture through this
mob, or is there some by-way that we can try?”

“There is no by-way,” says he, shaking his head. “And they see
us by this time, and would think it suspicious did we turn back.
Best go forward as if we were travellers in haste to continue our
journey. Remember,” he saying, bending over to me, “that you are a
country gentleman, travelling with your lady and servant to Hull,
and that we are all staunch Royalists.”

“Can we play the parts?” says I.

“I can play a good many parts to save my neck,” says he. “Come, we
are observed, master--let’s move forward.”

So we shook our reins and went on. There was a round score of
troopers grouped about their horses before the inn, with here
and there a stable lad running about, flaring torch in hand, the
streaming light from which gave a grotesque appearance to the men
and animals. I leaned over and laid hold of Alison’s bridle, and so
we approached the crowd, none of whom seemed disposed to make way
for us.

“By your leave, gentlemen,” cries Merciful. “My master and mistress
are in haste, and would fain ride forward if you will give them
room.”

But the men in front made no show of compliance, and one burly
fellow laid hands on my bridle reins and on Alison’s, staring
impudently into my face.

“Body o’ the Pope!” says he. “What have we here? Whither away so
fast, my pretty gentleman, with mistress madam? I’ faith, art come
at the right time if thou wishest a score of proper fellows to
drink her health.”

“Good friend,” says I, very anxious to keep my temper, “I wish
naught but to proceed upon my way with as much speed as possible.
We are on business of importance, and have no time for aught that
would hinder us.”

“Shalt not pass until we have drunk madam’s good health!” he cried
vociferously. He turned, shouting to his fellows, “Hey, lads, see
what the morn brings us--a pair o’ runaway lovers, as I am a true
man. Come, Master Solemn Face, let’s see the colour of thy money
that we may drink----”

But at that moment an officer came out of the inn calling loudly
for order.

“Silence, men!” he shouted. “Is this Bedlam that you all talk
together like so many madmen? Sure, I command the most unruly troop
in His Majesty’s service! What have you there, Sergeant Strong?” he
says, pushing his way through the crowd towards the man who held
our bridles. A sudden turn of one of the torches threw a glare
of light across Alison’s face. The officer doffed his hat on the
instant and came closer to us, holding it in his hand.

“Sir,” says I, seizing the advantage, “I am travelling with my wife
and servant for Hull, and am anxious to lose no time on the road.
If you’ll desire your men to give us room we’ll proceed,” I says,
giving him a low bow.

“I crave a thousand pardons if my fellows have offered you a
rudeness, sir,” says he, bowing to the ground. “Sergeant Strong,
give way--get the troops together and call the roll.” He turned to
us again as the big man moved off. “You will pardon my fellows,
sir,” he says, looking very admiringly at Alison. “They are
somewhat cock-a-whoop because of a trifling victory gained last
night. So you are for Hull?” says he, seeming loth to say farewell
to us.

“And are in much haste to get there, sir,” I says.

“I and my troops are for Beverley,” says he. “We go the same road
as far as South Cave. Let me advise you to accept our escort--the
enemy is in force across the river, and madam might find it
unpleasant to fall into their hands. If you will accept our
protection----”

“Why, sir,” says I, very impatient, “I thank you very heartily. But
we are in great haste and must needs ride fast----”

“Your beasts seem spent now,” says he, with a sharp look at the
horses. “I think our heavy cattle will match them.”

“Take his offer,” whispers Merciful at my elbow.

“In that case, sir,” says I, “I accept your offer gladly. I
daresay we shall be the better of your protection.”

“It shall be willingly bestowed, sir,” says he, still mighty
polite. “But since we do not start for an hour (I wait that space
in order to join a troop that is riding to meet me at the ferry) I
would advise you to give your horses a feed of corn and to refresh
yourselves at yonder inn. The benefit will be yours, sir.”

Now, I had not bargained for any delay, being in a great anxiety
to push forward, but I reflected that our beasts were weary, and
that an hour’s rest would help them to bear the further strain
to which we must needs subject them. I therefore dismounted, and
having assisted Alison to alight, led her within the inn, leaving
our horses to the care of Merciful Wiggleskirk, who lost no time in
conducting them to the stables.

The officer, preceding us into the inn, called loudly for the
landlord, who bowed the three of us into his best apartment and
desired to know our pleasure. As for me and Alison I think we had
no stomach for either eating or drinking, but I desired the man
to set his best before us, and we made some show of breaking our
fast. Meanwhile the officer had introduced himself to us, and
seemed highly desirous to make as good an appearance as possible,
protesting that as a true servant of His Majesty it was his duty to
protect the King’s loyal subjects--all of which, I take it, was in
the way of so much tribute to my wife’s beauty, and a sure proof
that a woman’s prettiness can achieve more than all the common
sense and reason in the world put together.

“I’ faith!” says he. “I am glad to meet you, sir, and am
unreservedly obliged to you and your lady for your kindness in
giving me your company. ’Tis poor work for a man of quality to ride
at the head of his troop with none fitting to hold converse with
him. I promise myself,” he says, with yet another bow, “a most
profitable ride ’twixt now and our parting.”

“Why, sir,” says I, “’tis very good of you to say so, though I
fear we shall prove but poor company.” And indeed I felt but
little disposed to hold converse with him or any other, being sore
anxious as to our future movements. But Alison, full of her woman’s
wit--albeit as anxious as I--came to my aid and talked to him,
making herself mighty agreeable--much to his pleasure--until the
hour was past and the troop departed, the officer with Alison and
myself bringing up the rear.

As we rode along the river side into Hook village the dawn came,
grey and misty. There was a bank of white fog over the Ouse, which
was there a wide and swift river, mightily swollen at that moment
by the recent rains. Down at the ferry the air was cold and thin,
and I saw Alison shiver as we sat our horses by the water’s edge. I
looked round me at the dull, flat landscape, and the wintry river
at our feet, and felt a sense of coming trouble. “I have led thee
into perilous doings, sweetheart,” says I, laying my hand on hers.
But she looked at me with the rarest smile, and I knew then that
because of her love for me she was willing to face whatever might
come.

Our friend the officer, while we waited at the ferry for the troop
that was to join him, amused himself by drawing up his men in order
of battle and putting them through various movements. I think he
designed these things in order to draw our attention to his own
person and importance, for he was in sooth a perfect coxcomb, and
seemed to delight in showing off his airs and graces. So concerned
were we with our own thoughts, however, that we perceived little
of what went on immediately before us. Alison and I sat apart,
conversing now and then. Merciful Wiggleskirk walked his horse up
and down the road in a fashion that clearly proved his uneasiness.
And presently, after an excursion to the end of the turn he came
back to my side, and drawing rein as if naught had happened, leaned
over and spoke to me in a low voice.

“Master,” says he, “we are pursued.”

“Pursued?” says I. “What makes you think that?”

“I have just been to the top of the road,” says he, “and caught
sight of a troop of horse coming along under the woods a mile off.
In another minute or so you’ll hear the sound of their horses’
feet,” he says, nodding his head towards the highway.

“Why, man,” says I, “’tis the troop of horse that this officer is
now waiting for that you have seen. He expects them to join him
here every moment.”

“No,” says he, “for these are Roundheads--I can tell the difference
’twixt Roundheads and Cavaliers at three miles. We are pursued,
master, as I feared we should be, and if Anthony Dacre has a hand
in it we shall have to fight. And the question is,” he says, with a
glance at Alison, “what is to be done with madam?”

“Have no fear on that point,” says I. “Fetch the officer to us,
Merciful, and let us tell him our fears. If we are pursued we may
as well ask our new friends to defend us.”

While he rode off I turned to Alison and told her our fears. “I
doubt,” says I, “that Anthony has escaped the Stirks and raised a
hue-and-cry after us.”

“We will not be separated, Dick,” says she. “If it comes to the
worst give me a pistol and they shall see that I can use it. Only
promise to let us keep together,” she says, imploringly.

But ere I could answer, the officer comes riding up with Merciful
at his heels. I lost no time in telling him our fears. “Sir,” says
I, “you have been so kind to us that I scarce like to trouble you
with more of our misfortunes, but we are like to be in a sore
plight. The fact is that I and my wife--and ’twas but yesterday
that we were married--are closely pursued by a troop of Roundheads
from Fairfax’s camp at Pomfret, and my man has just sighted them
along the road there. You can even now hear their horses’ feet.”

“Faith,” says he, “I do hear something of that sort, but I think
’tis the troop that I am to meet here.”

“No, master,” says Merciful, “they are Roundheads--I observed their
headgear narrowly.”

“Then we are in for another fight!” cries the officer, rubbing
his hands. “Have no fear, sir--do you and your lady sit apart, and
you shall see as pretty a bit of war-play as you could wish for.
Hold--I have it! Do you conduct madam, sir, into yonder house, and
let your man stable your beasts at the rear. I promise you we will
soon settle these crop-eared rogues, and be ready to escort you
onwards within the half-hour. Hah!--now I hear them plainly--suffer
me to get my men in order.”

Now, I should dearly have liked to draw my sword, and had a share
in the coming fight, but the officer’s advice seemed good, and in
a trice all three of us had ridden round to the rear of the house
overlooking the ferry, and were off our horses. While Merciful
hurried them into the barn, Alison and I made for the house. There
was no person to be seen within but an old woman, who scuttled
away at the mere sight of us. And that being no time for ceremony
we made our way to an upper chamber, whose windows looked out upon
the street, and from behind the curtains gazed at the progress of
events below. From our point of vantage we could see along the
highway by which we had ridden from Snaith. Almost immediately
before us it made a sudden turn, where it dipped towards the
ferry, and it was in this turn, hidden by a tall farmstead that the
Royalist captain had drawn up his men along the roadside. I saw his
plan on the instant: it was to let the advancing troop sweep by,
and then to hem them in between the high ground and the river bank.

The Roundheads came on at a gallop, evidently unconscious of
the fact that the ferry lay close before them. They rode in a
close-packed body, some thirty in number, and at their head as they
swung round the bend, I saw the evil face of Anthony Dacre, whose
eyes were like those of a hound that scents its prey.

With a swing and clatter that woke all the echoes of the
neighbouring houses, the troop dashed round the corner of the
farmstead and into the presence of the Royalists. Every man of the
latter had his sword drawn, and as the Roundheads swung by, pulling
on their horses’ reins lest they should go over the river bank,
they charged with a crash that made the blood tingle in my veins,
and Alison cover her face with her hands. And in good sooth ’twas
no pleasant sight that we gazed upon. Three men had gone over the
bank and were perishing miserably in the grey stream, calling on
their friends for help that could not be given. Here and there,
trampled underfoot by the horses, and presently battered into
unrecognisable masses of flesh and blood, lay men that had been cut
down ere ever they could draw weapon. High above the curses and
cries, the shouting of the men and the neighing of the plunging
horses, rose the clatter of the swords as Roundhead and Royalist
hewed away at each other, and the battle cry of the latter, roared
from the leathern lungs of Sergeant Strong, who was here and there
like a mad bull, slaying at every stroke.

I suppose it was all over in a few moments, for the Roundheads,
riding full tilt into an ambuscade, had never a chance, and were
overwhelmed in point of numbers into the bargain. But as the fight
ebbed away I seized Alison’s arm. “Look, look!” I cried, and
pointed to the road beneath.

There was a sort of small courtyard immediately before us, and
within it, swept aside by the struggling mass of men and horses
about them, Anthony Dacre and the Royalist officer fought, foot to
foot. Both were covered with blood, and both fought fiercely as if
for life. But the Royalist was pressing Anthony hard; he retreated
yard by yard until the wall lay close behind him; I saw in his face
the look that comes to a man’s eyes when he knows that death is at
last before him, not to be denied. And at that I threw open the
casement to lean out and see the end. At the sound, Anthony Dacre
looked up. He saw me, and Alison at my shoulder, and I saw his lips
form a curse. And at the same instant the Royalist’s sword passed
through his heart, and I caught Alison away lest she should see
him fall and die. But at the sound of a bugle I went back to the
window, and saw the troop that we had waited for riding up to the
ferry to find their comrades hot with the heat of victory over the
Roundheads who lay dead or dying in the middle of the highway.

And so it was all over, and we were free of our enemies. Late that
night Alison and I, with Merciful Wiggleskirk in attendance, were
in the Market Place at Hull, weary and sore bespent, but devoutly
thankful. Ere daybreak next morning we were sailing down the
Humber, and so at last I had some leisure to look at my wife and
assure myself that all the events of the past week were realities
rather than dreams. But that they were realities her sweetness did
most abundantly prove to me, and in spite of the fact that we were
exiles, she and I spent our first years of married life in Holland,
in as sweet a contentment as lovers could wish for.

But after many years we came back to England and to the old house.
And since it was half-ruined, I set to work to rebuild it, and
somewhat altered it in appearance and design. We transferred
Sir Nicholas’s body from its first quarters to its proper
resting-place. On the spot where we first buried him I now spend
many hours, sitting in his chair, and telling my eldest son,
Nicholas, of the brave doings that I have had in our old house. And
for the sake of him and of his brothers and sisters--for I warrant
you we have been blessed with a numerous progeny!--I have written
down this chronicle at such times as I have had naught better to do.

When I showed the first pages of this book to my wife, she took
some objection.

“Sure,” says she, “I never called you Master Poltroon.”

“Sweetheart,” says I, “you did.”

“But you called me Mistress Spitfire,” says she.

“And that’s what you were,” says I.

“Was I?” says she. “Well, maybe I was--but you were never Master
Poltroon.”

Faith! ’tis mighty comforting that she has so good an opinion of me.


THE END.


TURNBULL AND SPEARS, PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.

       *       *       *       *       *

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

    WHEN CHARLES THE FIRST WAS KING
    LIFE IN ARCADIA
    THE WONDERFUL WAPENTAKE
    GOD’S FAILURES
    AT THE GATE OF THE FOLD
    THE QUARRY FARM
    WHERE HIGHWAYS CROSS
    BALLADS OF REVOLT

       *       *       *       *       *

                                           _ALDINE HOUSE,
                                   69 GREAT EASTERN STREET, E.C.,
                                                 AND
                                     67 S. JAMES’S STREET, S. W.
                                           OCTOBER 1896._

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W. L. COURTNEY, in the Daily Telegraph.

“It would be indeed difficult to overpraise the grace, the
delicacy, and the humour with which the author has accomplished his
task. It is all so piquantly fresh, so charmingly unconventional,
that it carries one away with it from start to finish in a
glow of pleasurable sentiment. Rarely, amidst all the floods
of conventional fiction-spinning and latter-day psychological
analysis, does one come across such a pure jet of romantic fancy as
that with which Mr. Wells refreshes our spirits.”


Pall Mall Gazette.

“Enthusiastic we own that we are; no book could be more prodigal
of honest delight, and its promise leaves hardly any literary
accomplishment beyond the aspiration of its author.”


Saturday Review.

“A striking fantasia, wrought with infinite tact, charm, and
wit.... The conversations are full of light and delicate (rather
than full-bodied) wit, and it becomes sufficiently pungent at
times; but underlying the sweet or acid wit, or even the pure fun
(for fun abounds), there is a vein of seriousness and sadness
which, with the beautiful descriptive miniatures scattered here and
there, justify us in calling the story a piece of literature.”


Referee.

“So fresh and imaginative a piece of work, that Mr. Wells, we begin
to think, is the new man in fiction. Not only the ingenuity of the
story, but the logic of it is such that we know no writer since the
author of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ who could show such amazing power in
sustaining the illusion of truth under like conditions.”


Scotsman.

“The whole story is so delightfully coherent that, whether in the
amusing or in the touching passages, it pleases always. So much
that is clever, comical, tender, whimsical, and of healthy fancy.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                      Crown 8vo, 4s. 6d. net.

                     IN THE VALLEY OF TOPHET.

                        BY H. W. NEVINSON,

                  AUTHOR OF “NEIGHBORS OF OURS.”


Daily Chronicle.

“Mr. Nevinson’s keenness and clearness of observation of his
characters comes of his deep sympathy with them. Through the mirk
and mire, the folly, the ignorance, and the superstition, he sees
the good human stuff. Hence his humour has always in it something
of pathos, and his pathos is just lightened by a touch of humour.
He plumbs profound depths. He not infrequently brings a lump to the
throat.”


Athenæum.

“In a series of a dozen epistles, more or less connected, he has
set forth, with a vividness which one would suppose can only be
the result of careful personal study, the grim humour and the
grimmer pathos of the lives that are lived about Cradley, Dudley,
and Walsall. It is to the author’s credit that in depicting these
lives he has been able, while in no way ignoring the lawless
animal traits natural to a swarming and neglected population, to
steer almost wholly clear of the Zolaesque crudities in which some
writers whom one could name would probably have revelled. Take it
all in all, this is the strongest book of short stories which we
have come across for some time.... One feels that it would have
taken a good many critics to write one of these stories.”


Scotsman.

“The atmosphere of the book is as hard and grimy as a coal-mine
itself; but the charm lies in this, and it is true to the nature of
its subject. Its pathos--and there is plenty of it--is never forced
or mawkish; and the stories never fail to be impressive. The book
will enhance the reputation its author gained by his ‘Neighbours of
Ours,’ and will no doubt be widely read.”


Glasgow Herald.

“Mr. Nevinson has succeeded in exacting the marrow from his subject
in a fashion that should place him at once high amongst our
contemporary writers of fiction. His vein of romance, his slow but
delicate humour, and his strong humanity of touch remind us more of
Miss Mary Wilkins than of any other living writer that we can call
to mind. His book is one to read and re-read, and then to lay aside
for future enjoyment.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                  Crown 8vo, cloth, 4s. 6d. net.

                       THE TOUCH OF SORROW.

                         BY EDITH HAMLET.

                        (EDITH LYTTELTON).


Times.

“The style is good and the observations are keen enough.”


Daily Chronicle.

“‘The Touch of Sorrow’ appears to be the author’s first novel, and
as such she may safely congratulate herself both upon its promise
and its performance.”


Daily Telegraph.

“Miss Hamlet’s powerful story.”


Dundee Advertiser.

“The course of the story is simple and free from complication, yet
it is written with freshness and engrossing charm. At some points,
indeed, the interest of the reader is strained almost to intensity.
Miss Hamlet has studied human nature, and particularly her own sex,
to advantage, and more of her wholesome and pleasing studies will
be welcomed.”


Daily Mail.

“‘Edith Hamlet’--under which designation is veiled the identity of
the Hon. Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton--has set forth this main theme with
much tenderness, insight, and emotional power. The character of
Stella is perfectly natural, and is consistent throughout. The book
is intensely womanly, in the best sense of the word, and many of
the writer’s ‘thoughts by the way’ are fresh and striking.”


Westminster Gazette.

“It is extraordinarily refreshing, by turns jaded and perplexed
as we are with sex problems and complications arising out of the
married state, to watch, absolutely without their aid, the birth
and development in this joyous, radiant being of the Sorrow Soul.”


Glasgow Herald.

“This thoughtful and able story.”


Liverpool Post.

“A charming literary effort and clever study.”


The Guardian.

“Stella Morecombe is one of those rare heroines whose charm is felt
by the reader as well as described by the writer.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                  Crown 8vo, cloth, 4s. 6d. net.

                    IN THE WAKE OF KING JAMES.

                       BY STANDISH O’GRADY,

                   AUTHOR OF “ULRICK THE READY.”


Athenæum.

“No one now living writes a better story of adventure than Mr.
Standish O’Grady.... It has every quality that is of value in such
a story.... It ought to be devoured for pure delight by all the
young people in the kingdom.”


The Speaker.

“A robust and excellent piece of work.... Mr. Standish O’Grady must
be warmly congratulated upon so unequivocal a success as he has
achieved in this thrilling romance.”


Manchester Guardian.

“A striking and powerful romance of love and adventurous peril....
Mr. O’Grady is to be congratulated and thanked for a spirited piece
of imagination, full of swing and vigour. This story, at any rate,
does not ‘buckle and bow the mind to the nature of things,’ but
quickens the pulse and stirs the blood in the name of chivalry.”


Scotsman.

“The tale is vivid and vigorous above most, and there is about it
a fine briny flavour of the Atlantic.... Old Thomas is certainly
a villain of the first water, and what is more to the purpose, a
villain of a new type.”


Freeman’s Journal.

“Without any disparagement to the power and brilliancy of any of
Mr. O’Grady’s work, we think that we have here perhaps the most
interesting and finished of his novels.... The hero’s adventures,
mishaps, and captivity in the grim old hold of his malevolent
cousin, and his final rescue by the quick-witted and courageous
Lady Sheela, will be read in the volume before us, and we will not
spoil the reader’s enjoyment of the full flavour of those startling
adventures by any attempted foretaste. ‘In the Wake of King James’
will undoubtedly do much to increase the already high reputation of
its author.”


Weekly Irish Times.

“Do you want to read a thoroughly fresh and stirring romance? If
you do, get Mr. Standish O’Grady’s last novel, ‘In the Wake of King
James.’ ...The wild work that goes on in the old castle, and the
hair-breadth escapes ... should be enough to quicken the pulses of
the most sluggish-blooded reader.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                      Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d. net.

                      DR. VERMONT’S FANTASY,

                        AND OTHER STORIES.

                         BY HANNAH LYNCH.


Athenæum.

“Original observation and a rare reticence of detail.”


Daily Chronicle.

“Miss Lynch has proved in previous work that she has at command the
most precious of gifts, the gift of charm. These stories are all,
more or less, interpenetrated by it. Nor is the working of it in us
merely while we read. It recurs unbidden in the ‘sessions of sweet,
silent thought.’”


Vanity Fair.

“Miss Hannah Lynch’s new volume, ‘Dr. Vermont’s Fantasy,’ is
the finest piece of feminine literary work, take it all in all,
that has been accomplished in Great Britain during the present
generation. Miss Lynch belongs to no school; she has chosen the
best models here, there, and everywhere, and formed her own
style. I cannot say what model has been dearest to her; but the
general effect is Greek--the massive dignity, the repose--with the
exception of the story ‘Brases,’ which is supposed to be written by
an excitable Frenchman--the cold simplicity keeping in check but
never conquering the rich warm temperament of the Irish author....
Her matter in the average cheap and skilful hands would win
immediate recognition, so abundant and full of interest is it.”


Dundee Advertiser.

“The climax, great because of its very simplicity, shows that
the authoress has a very rare gift as a writer of fiction. In
its entirety the collection offers not only something new, but
something that will remain attractive. It might be the work of any
one of the best French writers. Not that the style is copied. It
is the work of one who has not only studied French fiction as a
scholar, but who has herself marked and pondered over the life from
which she has drawn her men and women.”


Scotsman.

“This writer’s work is distinguished among the host of similar
productions that clamour for public attention to-day by being
much stronger than the ruck. The pictures of life of to-day are
recognisable ... they have no mawkishness in tone, and, while
laying the shadows heavily in, do not forget that the prime office
of the literary, as of the other arts, is to please. The skill
they show in giving literary shape to the less obvious moods and
phases of feeling that a present-day reader must recognise as
peculiar to his own generation is remarkable; and there is not one
of the stories that has not its own peculiar variation of this
consistently maintained interest.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                      Crown 8vo, 4s. 6d. net.

                    IN THE HEART OF THE HILLS:

                       A NEW ENGLAND STORY.

                         BY SHERWIN CODY.


Scotsman.

“The tale is told in a simple, straightforward way, and the peace
that is in the everlasting hills pervades and inspires it.”


Glasgow Herald.

“An extremely pretty and natural story quaintly and simply told,
and has a rural atmosphere that is very alluring to the jaded
palate.”


Illustrated London News.

“A delightful story.... It is some time since we have read a
sweeter love-scene than that with which the book happily closes;
and, indeed, throughout you feel yourself in Arden.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                      Crown 8vo, 3s. 6d. net.

                         VENUS AND CUPID;

             Or, A TRIP FROM MOUNT OLYMPUS TO LONDON.

                         BY THE AUTHOR OF

               “THE FIGHT AT DAME EUROPA’S SCHOOL.”


Nottingham Express.

“This fantastic romance is calculated to offer delightful amusement
to a multitude of readers, and ought to have a great run of
popularity. It is a long time since we have read anything so
provocative of laughter. The idea of the book is most happy and
humorous; and its development leaves nothing to be desired. Every
chapter is full of fun and frolic, and it is impossible to find
a dull page from the beginning to the end of the story. It would
be unfair to disclose the particulars of this unique ‘personally
conducted tour’; but we warmly recommend holiday-makers and all
others who are on the look-out for a lively and entertaining book
to secure a copy of ‘Venus and Cupid,’ and if they do not find
in it magic to brighten a wet day at the seaside, they are quite
free to anathematise the reviewer. Our verdict is that a more
mirth-provoking romance has seldom if ever been published.”


Birmingham Post.

“The story is thoroughly consistent, that having accepted the
position--the visit of these august personages to earth--all the
details are worked out in harmony with this conception, with
abundant fun and humour and fancy. Cupid--or Q, as he is called--is
the most delectable little rogue, and we were quite sorry to say
good-bye to him.”

       *       *       *       *       *

            Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d. net each volume.

                             EMANUEL.

                      BY HENRIK PONTOPPIDAN.

         _Translated from the Danish by_ Mrs. EDGAR LUCAS.

                ILLUSTRATED BY MISS NELLY ERICHSEN.


Daily Chronicle.

“Extremely interesting story ... most delicately delineated, and
charms us by its idyllic grace and purity.”


Manchester Guardian.

“As a novel pure and simple the book is altogether out of the
common, and the firmness of its character-drawing, the sympathetic
rendering of nature’s background, and the prominence given to the
life of the clergy, it reminds one not a little of the work of
Ferdinand Fabre, the novelist _par excellence_ of French clerical
life.”


Glasgow Herald.

“Among the many Scandinavian works that have of late appeared in an
English dress, few have worn it with a more charming air than this
tale of Henrik Pontoppidan’s, for a really excellent version of
which we have to thank Mrs. Lucas.... The tale is told in a fashion
that recalls, among our own writers, the intimate knowledge and
loving descriptions of Miss Mitford or Mrs. Gaskell. It is not very
far from being a work of real genius.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                     _UNIFORM WITH THE ABOVE._

                        THE PROMISED LAND.


Pall Mall Gazette.

“A story simple and strong, with much quiet pathos, keen analytic
power, and graphic picturing of character and place. It is a book
to read, enjoy, and muse over, both for its domestic and political
interest.”


Scotsman.

“It is told with so equable an art and with so much fidelity,
both to the general life which a reader of any nationality can
understand, and to the local conditions to Denmark, that it is
always full of a quiet intense interest. The English version is
throughout well done, and it has the advantage of a series of
pleasant illustrations from the pen of Miss Nelly Erichsen.”


Manchester Guardian.

“It is impossible to read it without feeling that Henrik
Pontoppidan is an artist of the first rank.”

       *       *       *       *       *

                  Crown 8vo, cloth. 3s. 6d. net.

                     THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE.

                      BY MRS. ALFRED BALDWIN,

           AUTHOR OF “WHERE TOWN AND COUNTRY MEET,” ETC.

                ILLUSTRATED BY J. AYTON SYMINGTON.


Pall Mall Gazette.

“We have not seen for some time anything that, without any
suggestion of imitation, more vividly recalls the manner of George
Eliot than do some of Mrs. Baldwin’s characters.”


National Observer.

“Mrs. Baldwin has a very pleasant humour of her own, and a rare
gift of characterisation.”


Athenæum.

“‘The Story of a Marriage’ shows considerable promise for
the future of its author. It contains several excellent
character-sketches, drawn with real humour and insight.”


St. James’s Gazette.

“Uncommonly well written.”

       *       *       *       *       *

             Crown 8vo, cloth, gilt top. 3s. 6d. net.

         THE SHADOW ON THE BLIND, AND OTHER GHOST STORIES.

                      BY MRS. ALFRED BALDWIN,

             AUTHOR OF “THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE,” ETC.

                ILLUSTRATED BY J. AYTON SYMINGTON.


Leeds Mercury.

“For those who love a good, downright, thrilling tale of the
supernatural, just the thing.”


Pall Mall Gazette.

“A handful of weird stories, as calculated to ‘freeze our blood’ as
were the Fat Boy’s revelations to the Maiden Aunt. Are a welcome
collection for the lovers of the supernatural.”


Scotsman.

“Believe or disbelieve it as you like; at least you cannot deny
that it is a capital story and well told.”


Athenæum.

“The author shows considerable skill in working up to a climax.”

       *       *       *       *       *

               Crown 8vo, cloth, 2s. 6d. net. each.

            THE ILLUSTRATED NOVELS OF ALPHONSE DAUDET.

    TARTARIN OF TARASCON.
    TARTARIN ON THE ALPS.
    KINGS IN EXILE.
    ARTISTS’ WIVES.
    RECOLLECTIONS OF A LITERARY MAN.
    THIRTY YEARS OF PARIS.
    JACK. 2 vols.
    ROBERT HELMONT.


Globe.

“A very pretty edition, excellently printed on good paper,--the
attractively bound volumes should be much in request.”


Glasgow Herald.

“A very readable and enjoyable version. The little volume is neatly
and tastefully bound; and if Daudet’s other works are to follow in
the same style, the whole collection will be a charming one.”


Scotsman.

“The book, which is a history of literary Paris of the time, as
well as a record of the author’s own life and work, ranks as one of
the classics among French books of its kind. It will be a boon to
many to be enabled to read in English a book which is a model of
easy style, and delightful in its frank estimates of men and books.”


Weekly Sun.

“Mr. Dent has been at pains evidently to give to the exterior
of these volumes a daintiness and an elegance suitable to their
tone; and certainly the volumes are in an exquisite dress. The
translations, too, are so good, that one often forgets that one is
not reading an original work--which is the highest praise one can
bestow on a translation.”


Dundee Advertiser.

“The publishers have spared no pains to render the volume
attractive. It is daintily illustrated and prettily bound, and
exterior and interior are alike attractive.”


Illustrated London News.

“It is hardly too high a compliment to the illustrations of this
new edition to say that they are as exquisitely humorous as the
text of which they double your enjoyment.”

       *       *       *       *       *

Square fcap. 8vo, cloth, gilt top, Illustrated, 2s. 6d. net. each.

                        _THE IRIS LIBRARY._


Glasgow Herald.

“_The Iris Library volumes are so dainty and beautiful, that one
always takes up with pleasure a new one. All that good type, good
paper, and pretty binding can give in the way of attraction these
books have._”


TRYPHENA IN LOVE.

BY WALTER RAYMOND.

Times.

“‘Tryphena’ is far the best work that Mr. Raymond has yet given
us.... It is a work of art; nowhere redundant, nowhere deficient,
steeped in sterling human nature, and instinct with quaint humour.”


MAUREEN’S FAIRING.

BY MISS JANE BARLOW.

Freeman’s Journal.

“Some of the best writing Miss Barlow has yet done ... filled with
a fidelity to Irish nature, marvellous in its closeness. Since
Rudyard Kipling gave us his Wee Willie Winkie, new fiction has
contained no character to match with Mac.”


MRS. MARTIN’S COMPANY, AND OTHER STORIES.

BY JANE BARLOW.

Spectator.

“The first in this little volume is a perfect gem of bright
delineation of the mixed simplicity and faith of the Irish people.
Nothing could possibly be told with happier touches of both human
and devout fancy than this beautiful story.”


A RINGBY LASS, AND OTHER STORIES.

BY MARY BEAUMONT.

Leeds Mercury.

“Half a dozen stories, every one of which is a gem, and every gem
of which is set in brilliants.”


A MODERN MAN.

BY MISS ELLA MACMAHON.

Pall Mall Gazette.

“This extremely clever sketch, with its subtle analysis and almost
pitiless dissection of character and ‘motives,’ is as intensely
modern ‘as they make them.’”


CHRISTIAN AND LEAH.

_Translated from the German of Leopold Kompert, by_ ALFRED S.
ARNOLD.

Birmingham Post.

“The tales are tenderly told, and the life of the Ghetto is made
very real to us as we read, and beautiful as well as real. There
is amid the sordid surroundings ... an ever-present dignity and
sublimity of conception about the great mysteries of life, and a
moral purity, which win respect and admiration.”


THE WITCH OF WITHYFORD: A ROMANCE OF EXMOOR.

BY GRATIANA CHANTER.

Pall Mall Gazette.

“Charmingly told with a simplicity and delicacy that marks an
ability above the common.”


WHERE HIGHWAYS CROSS.

BY J. S. FLETCHER.

Guardian.

“A charming idyll. Thoroughly original and cleverly worked out.”


A LOST ENDEAVOUR.

BY GUY BOOTHBY.

Saturday Review.

“An exceedingly effective story; he grips the reader from the
outset, and holds him to the end.”


LIVES THAT CAME TO NOTHING.

BY GARRETT LEIGH.

       *       *       *       *       *

        Pott 8vo, cloth, gilt top, 1s. 6d. net each volume.

                       _Odd Volumes Series._


ASTECK’S MADONNA, AND OTHER STORIES.

BY CHARLES KENNETT BURROW.

Manchester Guardian.

“It is turned out with all the daintiness we have learned to expect
from its publishers. If its contents are an earnest of the standard
of workmanship to be maintained in the remaining volumes, we can
look forward to them with pleasure. Each one of the nine stories is
technically a work of art.”

To-Day.

“The daintiest, lightest, and best printed book I have ever seen at
the price. The first two pages are enough to show that the author
has great gifts, a sense of the fitness of words, an ear for the
rhythm of fine prose--a style, in fact. But he has more than these.
He has observed keenly and felt deeply the moods of nature and of
human nature. He writes with knowledge, and from the heart. Two
main ideas I find informing the book--a love of the great peace
that lies near the heart of nature, and of the courageous spirit
(born of that peace) which enables a man to look life in the face,
fight its battles, and enjoy its fruits.”


KIRIAK; Or, THE HUT ON HEN’S LEGS.

_Translated from the Russian of_ COUNT SAILHAS _by_ Mrs.
SUTHERLAND EDWARDS.

Scotsman.

“The simplicity of the story, and the truth and delicacy of touch
with which its pathetic central figures are drawn, give the book a
rare charm.”

World.

“Told with a rugged force, and unstrained pathos, and a mastery of
simple yet beautiful imagery that reflect the unmistakable literary
genius of Count Sailhas, its author.”


IN RUSTIC LIVERY.

BY GEORGE MORLEY.

The Literary World.

“His name will have to be written down whenever a list of worthy
suppliers of short stories is being made.... Mr. Morley has given
us a little book of distinct charm and individual flavour, and we
record our thanks with a marked sense of pleasure.”


THE CLOSING DOOR.

_Authorised Translation from the German of_ OSSIP SCHUBIN
_by_ MARIE DOROTHEA GURNEY.

Glasgow Herald.

“Its chief attractions lie in the skill with which it blends pathos
and humour, the vividness of its sketches of Austrian society, and
the high moral tone which pervades it. As a further attraction,
in as far as the British reading public is concerned, it has been
excellently translated.”

Scotsman.

“Both characters and action are depicted with a humanity that makes
the pleasing effect of the story independent of local colouring.
It is a healthy and a delightful story, and will stimulate its
author’s growing popularity in this country.”


MAN.

BY LILIAN QUILLER-COUCH.

Scotsman.

“Every sketch is cleverly built round a dramatic situation, and
none of them ever wholly loses sight of the poetical aspects of its
subject.”


_NOW READY._

AMOS JUDD.

BY J. A. MITCHELL.

       *       *       *       *       *

                    THE NOVELS OF H. DE BALZAC.


  An entirely new translation of the COMÉDIE HUMAINE.
      Edited by GEORGE SAINTSBURY. Translated by Miss
      ELLEN MARRIAGE and Mrs. CLARA BELL. With
      3 Etchings in each volume by W. BOUCHER and D.
      MURRAY-SMITH. Crown 8vo, cloth, 3s. 6d. net.

  For Large Paper Edition apply to the Booksellers.

_The following volumes are already published:_--

    =The Wild Ass’s Skin.=
    =The Chouans.=
    =Eugénie Grandet.=
    =The Quest of the Absolute.=
    =The Unknown Masterpiece.=
    =A Bachelor’s Establishment.=
    =Pierrette= and =The Abbé Birotteau=.
    =The Country Doctor.=
    =The Cat and Racket.=
    =Ursule Mirouet.=
    =Old Goriot.=
    =The Atheist’s Mass.=
    =La Grande Bretêche.=
    =César Birotteau.=
    =Modeste Mignon.=
    =The Village Parson.=
    =Béatrix.=

_The following volumes are in active preparation:_--

    =The Peasantry.=
    =A Harlot’s Progress.= 2 vols.
    =About Catherine de Medici.=
    =A Woman of Thirty.=
    =A Lily of the Valley.=
    =Lost Illusions.= 2 vols.
    =Seraphita.=
    =The Seamy Side of History.=
    =Cousin Betty.=
    =Cousin Pons, &c. &c.=


Athenæum.

“The volume is got up with the taste the publishers have taught the
public to expect of them.”


Times.

“Certainly few English critics are better qualified than Mr.
Saintsbury to write either a general introduction such as he here
gives, dealing with Balzac’s life and the general characteristics
of his work and genius, or a series of prefaces such as he promises
for each succeeding volume.”


Glasgow Herald.

“The translation (‘Old Goriot’) has been done by Miss Ellen
Marriage, and is characterised by that accuracy and fluency of
style which, in the five or six volumes already contributed by her
to the series, have shown her thorough competency for as difficult
a task as a translator could undertake. It has the singular merit
of being so idiomatic and natural that those who do not know the
original might easily take it to be an English story of Parisian
life, and yet so true to Balzac’s manner that those who are
familiar with him will recognise many of his peculiarities even in
the version, and almost find themselves doubting whether they are
reading him in French or English.”


Glasgow Herald.

“Mrs. Clara Bell, who is responsible for these stories (‘La Grande
Bretêche’) has again done her work with remarkable skill and
fidelity. We have read through the version of ‘La Grande Bretêche’
with the original before us, and we have not found a single passage
with which the most exacting critic could fairly find fault.”



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber’s note:

Obvious punctuation misprints corrected. Inconsistent hyphenation
is typical for the period and was retained, as was period spelling.

“fulful” changed to “fulfill” on page 163. (I will indeed fulfill
your wish)

Chapter III is missing a heading for section II.





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