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Title: Mad Barbara
Author: Deeping, Warwick
Language: English
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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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[Illustration: BARBARA FELL BACK AGAINST THE WALL]



                              MAD BARBARA


                                   BY

                            WARWICK DEEPING


                               AUTHOR OF
                 “BERTRAND OF BRITTANY” “A WOMAN’S WAR”
                       “THE SLANDERERS” ETC. ETC.


                         WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY
                        CHRISTOPHER CLARK, R. I.


                          NEW YORK AND LONDON
                      HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
                                 MCMIX



                 Copyright, 1908, by HARPER & BROTHERS.
                         _All rights reserved._
                       Published February, 1909.



                              MAD BARBARA



                                   I


In the little music-house in his garden overlooking the Park of St.
James’s, Sir Lionel Purcell—Knight—lay dead, with his cloak half
thrown across his face and one hand still gripping the hilt of his
sword. The door of the music-room stood ajar, giving a glimpse of the
autumn garden, the grass silvered with heavy dew, yellow leaves flaking
it, like splashes of gold on a green shield. The curtains were drawn
across the windows, so that a few stray shafts of light alone streamed
in, giving a sense of some mystery unrevealed as yet, some riddle of
human passion waiting to be read.

The silent room seemed all shadows, save where those Rembrandtesque
strands of sunlight slanted upon the floor. And there, as though touched
by light from another world, the dead man’s forehead gleamed out above
the black folds of his cloak. His sword, a streak of silver, joined him
to the surrounding shadows, a last bond between him and the past.

Without—an autumn morning, with the clocks chiming the hour of six, and
the water-fowl calling from the decoy in the park. A golden mist
swimming in the east; the grass white with dew; the trees still
sleeping, though the yellow leaves fell slowly, softly from the silent
branches overhead. A virginal gray-eyed wonder in the eyes of the day.
Freshness and fragrance everywhere, with the spires of Westminster
striking upward into pearly haze, and the broad river catching the
sunlight that sifted through the ragged vapor.

Dawn may be the egotist’s hour of smug self-congratulation, or the
poet’s moment for praising solitude, even though like Thomson he buries
his head in a nightcap, and wallows in bed till noon. The dead man had
no one as yet to question his quietude, though there was a sense of
stirring everywhere—attic windows opening, milk frothing into jugs at
kitchen steps, carts lumbering lazily over the cobbles. The sun
ascended, the mist began to rise, the sunflowers in a row along the wall
had their broad faces made splendid by the day. A couple of thrushes
were hopping to and fro over the grass. An inquisitive robin came
perking in through the half-shut door, to stand twittering with one
black, beady eye cocked curiously at the motionless figure on the floor.
In one dark corner a harpsichord showed the ivory of its key-board with
something suggestive of a sinister smile.

Had that ingenious connoisseur of feminine beauty—Mr. Pepys—taken an
early stroll in the park that morning, he might have derived infinite
contentment from the sight of a young girl, a “comely black wench,”
standing at her open window with nothing but a red cloak to hide the
whiteness of her night-gear. She was binding her hair, her eyes gazing
over the empty park, a little table at the window beside her full of
ribbons, pins, trinkets, and laces. She was wondering whether her father
would walk early in the park that morning. She had fallen asleep before
he had returned from supping at my Lord Montague’s the night before,
though Mrs. Jael—her mother’s woman, had sat up to watch for the flare
of links along the street.

The garden looked innocent enough in the morning sunlight, with its
gravel walks, sleek grass, and quaint bay-trees trimmed into the
likeness of pinnacles. The music-room, with its diminutive classic
portico, lyre, mask, and trumpets in gilt upon the tympanum, seemed,
with its white pillars, no place where tragedy might watch and wait.

Whatever impulse drew the girl to the music-room that autumn morning,
she had caught no prophetic gleam of the thing that waited to be known.
A few steps across the grass, a moment’s surprise at finding the door
ajar, a startled pause upon the threshold. Then, the lights and shadows
of that Rembrandtesque interior burning themselves in upon the brain,
the limning of that motionless figure in lines of fire against a
background of imperishable memories.

That he was dead, a touch of the hand betrayed without one moment’s
hope. The reason of his death blazoned in gules, with a red rose over
the heart. The face set in a smile of infinite sadness. An overturned
candle with the wax spilled upon the table, a bowl of flowers broken
upon the floor. And in the left hand, held by the stiff fingers, a short
chain of gold with a knot of pearls, for a button, like a loop torn from
a man’s cloak.

It was thus that Barbara Purcell, child that she yet was, found her
father lying dead with a sword-thrust through the heart. He had been a
silent man, no courtier, a man whose life had hoped more from the quiet
corners of the world than from the pageantry of state. He had had no
enemies, so far as the child knew; yet the world might have warned her
that a man may be grudged the possession of a handsome wife. Even the
Bible might have told her that.

As for the short curb of gold with its knot of pearls, she took it from
the dead hand, and hid the thing in her bosom under her dress. To blazon
the truth abroad, to run shrieking into the house, that was not the way
the passion of her grief expressed itself. The curb of gold was the one
link that might join the future to the past. She would show it to no
one. That right should be hers to watch and to discover.



                                   II


“Listen!”

She touched his shoulder suddenly, and their eyes met in a questioning
stare, the eyes of two people who have some secret to be guarded.

“I heard some one in the gallery.”

“A coach stopped in the yard two minutes ago.”

“It is Barbara come home. The girl moves about like a ghost.”

They drew aside from each other; my lord, bland, buxom, imposing, in
periwig, and black coat broidered with gold; my lady, plump, luscious,
yet a little furtive about the eyes, her flowered gown in green and blue
pleated into a hundred folds over her camlet petticoat. She wore her
dark hair low upon her neck, with a rose over the left ear, and a mass
of exquisite lace upon her bosom.

Lord Stephen Gore cleared his throat, and began speaking with discreet
distinctness on some wholly impersonal topic. The pair were decorously
distant when the door of the great parlor opened, the man standing at
the window, as though watching the people passing in the street beneath;
the woman seated, almost primly, in a high-backed chair, a book in her
lap, mild apathy upon her face.

My lord at the window turned on his heel abruptly, as though he had just
become aware of the presence of a third person in the room. He was a man
of poise, of genial aplomb, one of those complacent gods who are never
out of countenance or at loss for a trick of the tongue.

The girl’s eyes seemed to sweep from one to the other with a momentary
gleam of distrust. She still wore her mourning, a gown of plain black
velvet with a circle of lace at the throat. The expression on her face
was one of tired nonchalance. But for that evanescent gleam of the eyes
she might have passed as a bloodless and languid girl whose vitality
lacked the stimulus of perfect health.

My lord met her with a bow that expressed unnecessary condescension. He
had reached an age when it is possible to be fatherly, and even
officious in a frank, twinkling, stately fashion.

“And how is my Proserpine? Still in the pensive droops? And yet Mr.
Herrick preaches the gathering of roses!”

He put forward a chair for her with the tolerance of an amiable
gentleman of the world. She took it without thanking him, her cold,
colorless face masking an instinctive repulsion, an impatience that his
urbanity seemed fated to inspire.

The lord and the lady exchanged glances. It was as though the girl had
brought a frost with her into the midst of June. Her silence and her
almost sullen apathy embarrassed them. It was like being in the presence
of a statue that had eyes and ears but no tongue.

Anne Purcell clapped her book to, and jerked it aside on to an oak
table.

“Where did you drive—in the park?”

“Drive?”

“Good lack! girl, are you torpid? I could swear you have not noticed the
color of a gown or the set of a hat. One might as well send out a
mummy.”

She glanced unconcernedly at the buckles on my lord’s shoes.

“The park? Yes. A great business there, to see—and to be seen. Enough
dust to stifle one; and too many people.”

The words were the perfunctory words of one who would rather have
remained silent. Her face seemed vacant and expressionless. My lord drew
in a deep breath through his nostrils, and regarded her with philosophic
pity.

“Eheu, holy Gemini, dust and ashes—at two-and-twenty!”

He nodded his head benignantly, yet with a cynical curving of the mouth,
while the plump, well-complexioned mother studied her bantling with
irritable contempt. There was some inherent antipathy between these two.
Their attitude was one of vague distrust, as though the sun and the moon
found themselves in miraculous juxtaposition at mid-day.

“You had better go to bed, girl; you look tired enough.”

She met her mother’s hard, inquisitive stare, and seemed to stiffen at
it with a sensitive hatred of being watched.

“No, I am not tired.”

“Fiddlesticks!”

My lord held up a bland white hand ruffled in Mechlin, immaculate to the
finger-tips.

“Let her alone, Anne. These feather moods need a south wind.”

His lofty compunction repelled her more than her mother’s brusque
contempt. The atmosphere of the room seemed overburdened with a sensuous
flavor. The very roses suggested a rank and vivid worldliness, a
fulsomeness of the flesh gotten of meat and wine.

She rose, pushing back her chair, with a languid drooping of the lids.

“Tell Jael to have supper sent to my room. Shall you be late to-night?”

Her face was turned toward her mother, as though the gentleman in the
periwig were a mere negligible shadow.

“Go to bed, child, and don’t trouble your head about healthy people.
Nell is at The King’s to-night. I wish you could catch some of the
wench’s devil.”

“Oh—the Drury Lane woman! I have seen her at her window in her
night-dress shouting at Moll Davis in the next house. She looked
something of a drab with her hair done up in papers. Do the candles make
such a difference?”

She looked listlessly over her shoulder at my lord, her lassitude giving
her an air of tired vacuity. And the smile he gave her might have been
the smile he would have given to a credulous child.

“We are all moths, coz, when the candles are lit. Which is a riddle that
you need not be bothered with.”

Her going relieved the two worldlings from an uncongenial feeling of
oppression, and yet some uneasiness of spirit remained to trouble both.
Miss Barbara had chilled the room for them with her wraithlike and
sinister sickliness. The sleek self-content of the well-fed animal had
been disturbed by impressions and by thoughts that neither cared to
analyze. My Lord of Gore stood at the window, stroking his periwig with
some such dissatisfaction on his face as he might have betrayed at the
first hint that he was growing old.

“The girl looks ill.”

Madam made a _moue_.

“Oh—that is nothing; she is always the color of sour cream. Lord, but I
think I hate the child; she drags things into my mind that make me
miserable.”

The angles of the man’s mouth twitched slightly.

“By the plague, Nan, why let yourself be overshadowed?”

“Why—indeed! We might understand that, you and I.”

He turned to her sharply with a gleam of impatience in his eyes.

“Why not be rid of the little blight?”

“Yes, no doubt—and how? Are you ingenious enough to suggest a method?”

“Get her married.”

“Lord! And who would have her?”

“She is something of a bargain—in movables. There are plenty of debtors
and fools.”

“The persuading would lie elsewhere. The girl has a sort of sullen
stubbornness that is worse than temper.”

Stephen Gore shook his periwig with the action of an impatient horse
shaking its mane.

“I suppose these mopes were put on with her mourning. The girl wants the
merry devil in her rousing. Jove, Nan, but she’s your child; there must
be blood somewhere.”

Anne Purcell picked up a fan, spread it with an impatient whisk of the
hand, and glanced uneasily at the closed door. She started up brusquely,
crossed the room, flung the door open suddenly, and looked down the long
gallery as though to prove that they were not being spied upon. Then she
returned to her tapestried chair.

“Well, have you any plan?”

My lord licked his upper lip, a sly smile spreading over his healthy
face.

“Will she go out with you?”

“Sometimes. To the old, dull houses where they wear starched aprons and
have the servants in to prayers.”

“And judge of godliness by the length of the jowl. Poor people! No—that
is not the elixir, the juice of crab-apples. Take her to the Mancini,
that witch who turns dross into sunshine. The woman would wake the merry
devil in a Quaker. She has old Rowley kissing her very slippers.”

“Hortense?”

“Who else, Nan? It is life, blood, mischief that the girl needs.”

My lady’s eyes flashed up at him mistrustfully for the moment. He caught
the look and the significance thereof, and laughed.

“Oh, she is not my fortune, Nan! I am too old a moth for that candle.
The woman is like a conduit of red wine let loose in the garden of White
Hall. She makes all but the abstemious—drunk. And the marvel is that
she is just as magical with women, is Hortense. Ask my Lord Sussex how
he likes the transfiguration of his wife.”

“Castlemaine’s stupid brat!”

“Little whey face all turned into dimples, roguery, and mischief. She
twinkles round the Mancini like a little Mercury with feathers at her
heels. I will speak with Hortense; she has some sort of sisterly
good-will to me, and a kind of pride in making sulky people merry.
She’ll set the girl’s blood spinning, or I’m a fool.”

Anne Purcell leaned back in her chair as though tired.

“Anything to get rid of that sour face. But it’s her mawkishness, her
squeamy, ‘pray-with-me-or-I-shall-die’ look, that makes me doubtful.”

The gentleman nodded understandingly.

“Leave that to Hortense. The Italian has a veneer of softness; she is
not like a Nell Gwyn. It is a question of subtleties. Nell would swear
the girl into a fit in three minutes. The Mancini has a trick of seeming
a saint—when necessary. If the Italian makes no romp out of her, then I
will dub her nothing but a petticoated Hamlet.”

My lady stretched her arms with a gesture of impatient ennui.

“Well we can try. Let us forget the ghost to-night. I feel I must laugh,
or I shall have wrinkles round my mouth.”

“Nell shall do that for you. You will come in my coach?”

“And the proprieties?”

He laughed with the true sardonic gayety of the Restoration.

“Sister Kate shall see to them. Though she is stone deaf she likes to
see the dresses and the candles. There is one mistake that Mr. Milton
made in that he did not tell us that the devil is deaf in one ear.”



                                  III


Had Lady Purcell, herself unseen, followed her daughter to her room,
she would have been astonished by the sudden transformation that swept
over her so soon as the door closed. The apathetic figure straightened
into keen aliveness; the look of vacuity vanished from the face. It was
like a sudden transition from damp, listless November to the starlit
brilliance of a frosty night.

“Dust and ashes at two-and-twenty!”

My Lord Gore’s echoing of Biblical pessimism seemed to have lost its
appropriateness so far as Barbara Purcell was concerned. There was
nothing listless about the intense and rather swarthy face that looked
down into the garden with its white-pillared music-room and its October
memories. It was more the face of some impassioned child of destiny
striving to gaze into the mystery of the coming years.

The acting of a part to delude the world, and to make men ignore her as
a spiritless girl. The merciless fanaticism of youth watching, and ever
watching, behind all that assumption of listlessness and sloth. Then, in
those solitary interludes when she had no part to play, the restrained
passion in her breaking like lava to the surface, filling her eyes with
a species of prophetic fire.

In a little carved cabinet of black oak she kept some of those relics
that made for her a ritual of revenge—her father’s shirt stained with
blood, some of the dead flowers she had found beside him on the floor, a
piece of the cloth that had covered him that autumn morning. Almost
nightly she would take these things from their hiding-place, spread them
upon her bed, and kneel before them as a papist might kneel before a
relic or the symbol of the Sacred Heart. As for the curb of gold with
its knot of pearls, she carried it always in her bosom, sewn up in a
case of scarlet silk. Distrusting every one, hardly sane in the personal
passion of her purpose, she never parted with the talisman, but
treasured its possible magic for herself.

Yet what had she discovered all these many months? The knowledge that
her mother had put aside her black stuffs gladly, a growing sense of
antipathy toward the man who had been her father’s friend. She could
remember the time when my Lord Stephen had carried her through the
garden on his shoulder; bought her sweetmeats, green stockings, and
jessamy gloves; and even served as her valentine with a big man’s
playful gallantry toward a child. She had thought him a splendid person
then, but now—all had changed for her, and the analysis of her own
instinctive repulsion left her obstinately baffled. She had no mandate
from the past for hating him; on the contrary, facts might have stood to
prove that she was his debtor. She remembered how she had caught him
praying beside her father’s coffin, and how he had risen up with a
strange spasm of the face and blundered from the room. He had offered
money for the discovery of the truth, importuned magistrates, petitioned
the King, put his own servants in black. No man could have done more
loyally as a friend.

Yet nothing had been discovered. Some unknown sword had passed through
Lionel Purcell’s body. The very motive remained concealed. The world had
buried him, gossiped awhile, and then forgotten.

But Barbara had a heart that did not know how to forget. She had
Southern blood, the passionate heirloom of an Elizabethan wooing. The
Spanish wine of her ancestry had given her a flash of fanaticism and the
swarthy melancholy of her comely face. And the whole promise of her
youth had bent itself, like some dark-eyed zealot—to a purpose that had
none of the softer and more sensuous moods of life in view.

Why should she hate this big, bland, stately mortal, this Stephen Gore
who had no enemies and many friends? That was a question she often asked
herself. Was it because she had been caught by the suspicion that he
might console the widow for the husband’s death? There was no palpable
sin in the possibility, and yet it angered her, even though she had no
great love for her mother. A supersensitive delicacy made her jealous
for the dead. The very buxom effulgence of my lord’s vitality seemed to
insult the shadow that haunted the house for her.

As she sat at the window looking down upon the garden the sun sank low
in the west, throwing a broad radiance under the branches of the trees.
Their round boles were bathed in light. The figures that moved about the
park were touched with a weird brilliance, so that a red coat shone like
a ruby, a blue like a sapphire, a silver-gray like an opal iridescent in
the sun. There was much of the charm of one of Watteau’s pictures, yet
with a greater significance of light and shadow.

Dusk began to fall. A hand fumbled at the latch of the door, and a
figure in black entered bearing a tray. It was Mrs. Jael, her mother’s
woman, a stout little body with a florid face and an overpolite way with
her that repelled cynics. She had amiable blue eyes that seemed to see
nothing, a loose mouth, and a big bosom. Her personality appeared to
have soaked itself in sentimentality as a stewed apple soaks itself in
syrup.

Barbara did not turn her head.

“Why, dear heart, all in the dusk! Here’s a little dish or two.”

“Set them down on the table.”

“You’ll get your death chill—there, sitting at that window—”

The woman fidgeted officiously about the room, as though trying to
insinuate her sympathy betwixt the girl’s silence and reserve. Her
dilatory habit only roused Barbara’s impatience. Mrs. Jael’s sly,
succulent motherliness had lost its power of deceiving, so far as Anne
Purcell’s daughter was concerned.

“Light the candles.”

She remained motionless while the woman bustled to and fro.

“Thanks. You can leave me, Jael.”

The tire-woman could meet a snub with the most obtuse good temper.

“Should you be tired, Mistress Barbara, I can come and put you to bed,
my dear, while my lady is at the playhouse.”

“I am old enough to put myself to bed, am I not?”

Mrs. Jael laughed as though bearing with a peevish miss of twelve.

“Dear life, of course you are.” And she broke into a fat giggle as
though something had piqued her sense of humor.

Barbara’s face remained turned toward the window.

“You can go, Jael.”

The woman curtesied and obeyed.

Her face lost its good-humor, however, as quickly as a buffoon’s loses
its stage grin when he has turned his back upon the audience. She stood
outside the door a moment, listening, and then went softly down the
passage to my lady’s room, with its stamped leather hangings in green
and gold, its great carved bed and Eastern rugs.

Anne Purcell was seated before her mirror, her long, brown hair, of
which she was mightily proud, falling about her almost to the ground.
She had a stick of charcoal in her hand, and was leaning forward over
the dressing-table, crowded with its trinkets, scent-flasks, and
pomade-boxes, staring at her face in the glass as she heightened the
expressiveness of her eyes.

Her glance merely shifted from the reflection of her own face to that of
Mrs. Jael’s figure as she entered the room. They were not a little
alike, these two women, save that the one boasted more grace and polish;
the other more pliability and unctuousness, and perhaps more cunning.

“Get me my red velvet gown from the cupboard, Jael.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Have you seen the girl?”

Mrs. Jael’s head and shoulders had disappeared into the depths of the
carved-oak wardrobe. Her voice came muffled as from a cave.

“Yes, my lady.”

“What was she doing with herself?”

“Sitting at her window, poor dear, and looking very low and sulky.”

Anne Purcell turned her head to and fro as she scrutinized herself
critically in the glass. She still looked young, with her high color and
her sleek skin, her large eyes and full red mouth. Her style of
comeliness seemed suited to the times, plump and pleasurable, full and
free in outline and expression. My Lord of Gore had no reason to feel
displeased at the prospect of possessing such a widow.

“What do you make of the girl, Jael?”

The tire-woman had turned from the wardrobe with the gown of red velvet
over her arm.

“The child is strange, my lady, and out of health. You might say that
she had been moon-struck, or that she was watching for a ghost.”

Anne Purcell moved restlessly in her chair.

“Sometimes, Jael, I think that Barbara is a little mad. I am ready for
you to dress my hair.”

Mrs. Jael spread the gown upon the bed.

“She doesn’t seem to have a spark of life in her, poor dear. I’m half
scared often that she should do herself some harm.”

My lady was watching the woman’s face in the mirror.

“Oh—”

“She’s always moping by herself like a sick bird. It often makes me
wonder, my lady—”

“Well?”

“What Mistress Barbara does all those hours when she is alone. I have
tried looking—”

“Through the key-hole, Jael?”

“Your pardon, but it is my concern for the child. I’ve started awake at
night thinking I heard her cry out, and I have dreamed of seeing her in
her shroud.”

A flash of cynicism swept across Anne Purcell’s face. But she did not
rebuke the woman for her sentimental canting.

“The girl ought to be watched.”

“Yes, my lady.”

“She will not have Betty to sleep with her.”

A sly suggestive smile on the face above hers in the mirror warned her
that Mrs. Jael understood her in every detail.

“What were you going to say, Jael? There is no need for us to beat about
the bush.”

“There is the little closet, my lady.”

“Yes, next to Mistress Barbara’s room.”

“It used to have a door—leading to the bedroom. But Sir Lionel—poor
gentleman—had it filled in.”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Only with double panelling, my lady, and the woodwork has shrunk a
little. I happened to notice it last night when I went in there in the
dark to get a blanket, and Mistress Barbara’s candle was burning.”

The eyes of the two women met in the looking-glass. Mrs. Jael’s face
gave forth a sunny, insinuating smile.

“It is not my nature, my lady, to spy and shuffle, but—”

“If you scraped a little of the wood away with a knife?”

“I don’t feel happy about Mistress Barbara, my lady. And if—”

“Be careful, Jael, you are pulling my hair.”

“A hundred pardons, my lady.”

“If you should see anything strange, it is well that I should know.”



                                   IV


If the divine Hortense ruled his Majesty the King that year, her sway
spread itself over the majority of those ambitious gentlemen who were in
quest of “place” and plunder. When women exploited the state, and burst
the bubble of a reputation with a kiss, politicians baited their
interests with some new “beauty,” and pinned their petitions to the
flounce of a petticoat.

Castlemaine had faded into France; Portsmouth watched from behind a
cloud; even the irrepressible Nell had prophesied the splendor of the
Mancini’s conquest. Hortense had landed at Torbay, and, like the
exquisite romanticist that she was, had ridden up to London in man’s
attire with seven servants, a maid, and a black boy in attendance. What
was of more significance, she had ridden at a canter into the august
heart of Whitehall. The palace of St. James had held her for a season,
till the Duke of York, with commendable brotherly discretion, had
purchased Lord Windsor’s house for her in the park, that such a
brilliant might shine upon them from a fitting setting.

There was a fascination in the fact that Cardinal Mazarin should have
possessed such a sheaf of adventurous nieces. They were all beautiful,
all romantically rebellious, all deliciously feminine. It was impossible
not to fall in love with them, and often impossible not to forget the
intoxication, for none of the Cardinal’s kinswomen were mere sentimental
fools. As for Hortense, she was a woman for whom a man might gamble away
his soul, simply because she looked at him with those black, roguish,
yet shrewd eyes of hers and made him feel that she was a desire beyond
his reach.

The incarnation of all womanly mystery, her beauty seemed to have stolen
some singular inspiration from twenty different types. A Greek symmetry
softened by a sensuous suppleness; the look of the gazelle, and yet of
the falcon; the stateliness of the great lady torn aside on occasions by
the nude audacity of a laughing Bacchic girl. Her sumptuousness made a
man’s glance drop instinctively to her bosom and watch the drawing of
her breath. There was sheer magic about her, fire in the blood, color in
the mind. When she entered a room the men looked at her, simply because
they could not help but look.

As my Lord Gore had said, “there was a merry heavenly devil in
Hortense.” She loved youth and all the glamour of its irresponsible
vitality, and would rather have seen some buffooning trick played upon a
bishop than have listened to the most eloquent of sermons. For she
herself was vital, magnetic, filled with all genius of sex. A mere
glance at her enriched the consciousness with visions, the flush of
sunsets, the heart of a rose, the redness of wine, the white curve of a
woman’s throat, moonlight and music, bridal casements opening upon foam.

My Lord of Gore heard the laughter in the great salon, even while the
Mancini’s footman in red and gold was taking his cane and hat. There was
nothing autumnal in Hortense’s house. Old men left their gout and their
growls behind them on the staircase, for the exquisite art of fooling
was a thing to be cherished and enjoyed.

The great salon had the brilliancy of color of a rose-garden in June.
The brown floor reflected everything like a pool of woodland water that
turns noonday into something vague and mystical. It caught the gleam of
a satin slipper and threw it back with the imitative rendering of the
gliding body of a fish. Like the villas of Pompeii, with its painted
walls and ceilings, this salon enclosed sunny worldliness and
picturesque realities. Its inmates were all sufficiently happy to be
able to forget to analyze the nature of their sensations.

“Ready—ready all. Go!”

My lord paused in the doorway to watch an improvised chariot-race that
offered any gentleman the chance of laying a wager. Three gallants had
been harnessed with sashes to as many chairs, and in each chair sat a
lady. Twice up and down the polished floor, with a turn at each end, and
a forfeit for upsetting. It was much like a great Christmas
romping-party for children.

A youth in blue satin with a fair-haired girl driving him came in an
easy first. The other two chariots had collided at the last turn, with
some slight damage to the furniture, and to the delight of the
spectators. She who had driven the blue boy to victory frisked out
joyfully, and performed a _pas seul_ in the middle of the room.

“Bravo! bravo!”

“Hortense, I have won my necklace.”

“Thanks, madam, to Tearing Tom.”

One of the fallen gallants stood rubbing a bruised shin. He was a slim
little fop with a weak face that pretended toward impudence, and a
name—even Sir Marmaduke Thibthorp—that suited his personality.

“I protest. We were overweighted—”

The lady whom he had overturned retorted with an unequivocal “Sir!”

My Lord Gore, with the genius of an opportunist, introduced his wit as a
fitting climax.

“The gibe may seem overstrained,” he said, flicking a lace ruffle, “but
surely the gentleman who claims to have been overweighted is hopelessly
under-calved.”

Nor was the joke visible till my lord pointed whimsically to Thibthorp’s
very ascetic shanks. Whereat they all laughed, more for the love of
ridicule than out of curtesy to my lord’s wit.

Hortense herself sat at one of the windows watching the youngsters at
their romps with the air of a laughing philosopher, whose mature age of
nine-and-twenty constituted her a fitting confidante either for children
or for cynics. She was dressed in some brown stuff that shone with a
reddish iridescence. The dress was cut low at the throat, so low as to
show the white breadth of her bosom. A chain of pearls was woven to and
fro amid the black masses of her hair.

My Lord Gore crossed the room to her and kissed her hand. They were very
good friends were my lord and Hortense. Something more tangible than
sentimental tendencies had drawn them together. Their worldly ambitions
were identical; the petticoat and the periwig were allied in their
campaign against the amiable idiosyncrasies of the King.

“Pardon me, but what a public-spirited woman I always find in you.”

He stood beside her chair, looking down at her, and at the lace that
filled her bosom.

“And you, my friend?”

“I come to enjoy perpetual rejuvenescence, and to learn to live in the
sun rather than in a fog of philosophy that gives us little but cold
feet and swollen heads.”

She looked up at him and laughed. And Hortense’s laugh had a delightful
audacity that rallied the world upon its dulness.

“They enjoy themselves, these children; they romp, chatter, make a
noise; I never allow them to quarrel. I try to teach them that there is
one folly to be condemned, the folly of suffering ourselves to lose our
youth.”

My lord’s eyes were fixed on the young spark, Tom Temple, who was
burlesquing a Spanish dance in the middle of the salon.

“We are always in danger of losing the art of make-believe.”

“You English are so serious, so grim.”

“Say, rather—selfish.”

“Is it not often the same thing?”

“Assuredly.”

“The world is only a great puppet-show; one of your playwriters has said
as much. We can all see the fun, even though we remain in the crowd. But
you English, you set your teeth, you push and fight; you must be in the
front, or nothing will content you. You make yourselves sullen in
struggling for your pleasures, while every one else is laughing, perhaps
at you.”

My lord bowed.

“I think you wrong the one enlightened spot in the kingdom,
madam—Whitehall. We must petition his Majesty to order Sir Christopher
to build you an academy, where we can institute you a new Hypatia. But I
gather that your philosophy would not end in oyster shells. For the
rest—I have a favor to ask.”

“I am listening.”

“Suffer me to introduce a very dull virgin into your atmosphere. I want
to convert her. She has a conscience.”

Hortense’s eyes met his frankly.

“So have I, my friend.”

“I do not question it. But the child I speak of has not learned to
laugh.”

“Deplorable!”

“She is a tax in sulkiness upon her mother. The poor woman is weary of
living with a corpse. In my humanity—I remembered you.”

“Bring her to me.”

“We shall be your debtors.”

“At least—I will tell you whether she will ever laugh. What mischief
have we brewing now?”

Tom Temple had bethought himself of some fresh piece of boyish
buffoonery, in which the girl whom he had drawn to victory in the
chariot-race had joined him. It was nothing more complex than a game of
double blind-man’s buff. The furniture was pushed aside into corners,
and the salon prepared for a lively chase.

“Hortense, Hortense, come and play!”

It was little Anne of Sussex, Castlemaine’s child, whisking a scarf in
one hand, while she held her skirts up with the other.

“Tom Temple and I are to be blind first. I am to catch the men, he—the
ladies.”

Lord Gore made her a grand obeisance.

“I will stand wilfully in the middle of the room, madam, and be caught.”

“Then you will have to give me three pairs of gloves. But you are too
large, my lord; we should always be catching you.”

“Like a leviathan in a fish-pond, eh?”

“Or an elephant in a parlor. Bind my eyes up, Hortense, and please pin
up my skirts.”

The Mancini humored her.

“Are you ready, Tom?”

“At your command,” said the youth, whom a friend had blindfolded.

“Turn me, Hortense; one, two, three. Now—have at all of you. If I catch
you—Tom—cry carrots.”

My lord and Hortense stepped back toward the window to watch the fun.

“It is just like the marriage market,” said she.

“Catch what you can,” he retorted, “and find out what sort of thing it
is—afterward.”

There was a great deal of scampering and laughing, of creeping into
corners and huddling against walls. In the very glory of a stampede,
when Tom Temple had sailed straight with his arms spread for a bunch of
girls, the salon door opened, and a servant announced:

“My Lord Sussex.”

The dramatic humor of the moment was missed by all save Hortense and
Lord Gore, so briskly and indiscriminately went the chase. My lord
pursed up his lips and whistled with a significant lifting of the
eyebrows. Hortense stifled a laugh.

Thomas Lennard, Lord Dacre, Earl of Sussex, was a prim aristocrat with
very stately prejudices against fashionable horse-play. Moreover, he had
one of those jealous and egotistical temperaments that persuades a man
to believe that the woman whom he had honored with marriage should
henceforth sit meekly at his feet—and play the mirror to his majesty.

He stood on the threshold, watching the whirligig of youth with the cold
wrath of a man who had come with the full expectation of being offended.
And to add to the irony of the moment, my Lady Anne came doubling down
the room in close pursuit of a couple of men. She made her capture not
three yards from her husband’s person, and made it gamely—with both
arms round the neck of Sir Marmaduke Thibthorp of the thin shanks.

She whipped off the bandage with a breathless laugh.

“Gemini—but it’s Duke Thibthorp!”

The gallant, whose back was toward the door, offered a mouth, and caught
his captor by the wrists.

“Forfeit, forfeit! A pledge—!”

Sudden silence had fallen on the room, to be followed by indiscriminate
and half-smothered giggling. My Lady Dacre’s face betrayed blank
consternation.

“Let me go—”

“Not for—”

“Let me go, fool.”

He of the thin shanks imagined that he was amusing the salon with his
waggery till a hand fastened upon his collar. Tom Temple, still
blissfully blind, came careering along one wall, and added emphasis to
the climax by coming down with a crash over a three-legged stool.

“I shall deem it a curtesy, sir, if you will release Lady Dacre’s
wrists.”

Thomas Lennard’s face had the cold fury of a blizzard. Yet he was
utterly polite. The gallant whom he had taken by the collar had twisted
round, and was staring with ludicrous vacuity into my lord’s eyes.

Stephen Gore watched the drama with an expression of angelic
satisfaction.

“Hortense, my friend, let me see you stop a quarrel.”

She had moved forward from the window with all the atmosphere of the Sun
King’s court.

“Pardon me, my lord. Your hand should be at my throat—if—you are
offended.”

The husband still had a firm hold of Marmaduke Thibthorp, and was
looking at him as though undecided whether it would be dignified to drop
the fop down the stairs. The aristocratic apathy in him triumphed. He
swept the youth aside, and with a curt bow to his wife, offered her his
arm.

“Come. Madam, I wish you a boisterous evening.”

His young wife had hesitated, with a whimsical grimace in the direction
of Hortense.

“Oh, what a sermon!”

The Italian’s eyes met those of Lord Dacre. It was as though they
challenged each other in their influence over the child.

“If my Lord Dacre will stay with us, I myself will put on the scarf. And
perhaps my Lord Gore—here—”

The leviathan bowed.

“I will flounder—most biblically.”

The Lady Anne giggled, and then glanced furtively at her husband’s face.

“A thousand thanks. My Lord Gore should delight even the psalmist. But
my coach is waiting. I wish you no broken furniture. Anne—come.”

There was a short, pregnant silence when he had departed with his
child-wife on his arm. Stephen Gore shrugged his shoulders and smiled at
Hortense.

“Most serious of swains! Oh, sage Solomon, who would grudge him the
responsibility of taming even one wife!”

“Alas, another unfortunate who has not learned to laugh.”

Sir Marmaduke Thibthorp was standing sheepishly beside the door,
striving to look amused.

“Such is fate,” he giggled.

“And such is a stool!” quoth Thomas Temple, sticking out a leg with a
blotch of blood on his stocking.

My Lord Gore took leave of Hortense after talking with her a moment
alone by the window.

“Bring her to me, my friend,” she said, as he made his bow.

“If you cannot cure her—”

“Ah, well—we shall see.”

He was crossing the park when a servant met him and handed him a note.
It was sealed with pink wax and smelled of ambergris. My lord opened it
as he strolled under the trees.


          “I would see you soon. Jael has been of use to me.”
                                                     “A. P.”



                                   V


A ship’s boat came up the river with half a dozen brown fellows
tugging at the oars, their dark skins and the patched picturesqueness of
their gaudy-colored shirts giving them something of the air of a
boat-load of buccaneers with gayly kerchiefed heads, ringed ears, and
belts full of pistols. A man in a soiled red coat, with remnants of lace
hanging to the cuffs, sat in the stern-sheets, his sword across his
knees, and beside him on the gunwale squatted a boy whose cheeky
sparrow’s face stared out from a tangle of crisp fair hair.

The man in the red coat looked even more brown and picturesque than the
seamen at the oars. He wore no wig under his battered beaver, and his
own black hair looked as though it had not been barbered for six months.
His shoes had lost their buckles, and the stocking of his right leg
showed a hole the size of a guinea above the heel.

“Three more strokes—and easy—lads.”

“Right, capt’n.”

“Let her run now; in with the bow sweeps.”

They had passed the Savoy, and drawn close in toward Charing Steps, with
a west wind sending the water slapping against the planking. The man in
the red coat held the tiller, and let the boat glide in, while the
seamen shipped their oars. The boat’s nose rubbed against the stone
facing of the steps, while a brown hand or two grabbed at the
mooring-rings. The boy on the gunwale was the first to leap ashore.

A number of watermen lounging about the steps were staring at the boat
and its crew, and exchanging opinions thereon with more candor than
curtesy. The sea-captain, standing in the stern-sheets, buckled his
sword to a faded baldric, callous to any criticism that might be
lavished on him by the river-side sots.

“Good-luck to you, capt’n.”

“You won’t forget us, sir.”

“We’ll follow you round Cape Horn again for a fight.”

The man in the red coat looked down at the brown faces along the boat
that were turned to him with a species of watchful, dog-like alertness.

“I shall have my flag flying in a month,” he said; “men sha’n’t rot down
at Deptford—the devil knows that. We have our tallies to count in the
South, eh, and Jasper shall have a long caronado to squint along.
Good-luck to you, lads. Here’s the end of the stocking. I wish it were
deeper.”

He tossed a purse to a grizzled old giant who was leaning upon his oar.
The man picked it up, looked at it lovingly a moment, and then glanced
over his shoulder at the men behind him.

“No dirty dog’s tricks here,” growled one.

“There’s a gold piece or two for ye,” said another, slapping his belt.

The giant stretched out a great fist with the purse in it.

“Maybe you’ll be selling the little frigate, capt’n; we can knock
along—”

The man in the red coat looked him straight in the eyes.

“Damnation, Jasper, I owe you all your pay—yet. Pocket it for beer
money.”

“Drink your last guinea, capt’n, not me!”

“Why, man, I can get a bagful for the asking—in an hour. And, look you
all, stand by down at ‘The Eight Bells’ to-morrow. I’ll pay every man of
you before noon.”

The watermen above had been listening to this dialogue with ribald
cynicism.

“Holy Moses,” said one, “here’s a boat-load of saints!”

“Throw it up here, mate, we ain’t shy of the dross.”

The captain had climbed the steps, with the boy beside him. But old
Jasper, standing up in the boat with his oar held like a pike, turned
his sea-eagle’s face toward the gentry on the causeway.

“Squeak, ye land-rats. By God’s death, you’ve never seen the inside of a
Barbary prison. If you were men you’d take your hat off to the capt’n.
But being land-gaffers, you’re all mud-muck and tallow. Shove her off,
mates, or I’ll be smashing some chicken’s stilts with my oar.”

The loungers jeered him valiantly as the bow sweeps churned foam, and
the boat, gathering weigh, swung out into the river.

“Look at their great mouths,” said the sea-wolf, grimly; “when we want
our bilge emptying we’ll send for ’em to have a drink.”

Meanwhile the man in the red coat and the boy had passed up the passage
from the river in the direction of Charing Cross, the shabbiness of
their raiment flattering the curiosity of the passers-by. The man in the
red coat appeared wholly at his ease. As for the boy, he was ready to
spread his fingers at the whole town on the very first provocation. Even
the fact that he had a rent in his breeches that suffered a certain
portion of his underlinen to protrude did not humble his
self-satisfaction.

The sea-captain, who had been walking with his chin in the air, glanced
down suddenly at the boy beside him.

“How are the ‘stores,’ Sparkin, my lad?”

“Getting low in the hold, sir.”

“We will put in and replenish.”

The boy gave a greedy twinkle.

“Hallo! I thought I told Jasper to patch you up with a piece of
sail-cloth?”

Sparkin did not betray any self-conscious cowardice.

“He was worse off, captain.”

“Poor devil!” And the man in the red coat laughed.

They turned into “The Three Tuns” at Charing Cross, the sea-captain
looking more like a Whitefriars’ bully than a gentleman adventurer. Two
comfortable citizens gathered up the skirts of their coats and edged
away sourly when the new-comers sat down next them at a table. The
captain remarked their neighborly caution, and smiled.

“Good-day, gentlemen. We embarrass you, perhaps?”

There was a humorous grimness about his mouth that carried conviction.

“Not at all, sir, not at all,” said the larger of the twain, poised
between propitiation and distrust.

“We are not Scotch, sir, so you will catch nothing.”

They dined in silence, the boy’s animation divided between his plate and
his surroundings, while the man in the red coat watched him with the air
of one who has an abundant past to feed his thoughts. His neighbors cast
curious momentary glances at him from time to time, but having once
spoken he appeared to have forgotten their existence. They had but to
look beneath the superficial shabbiness to see that the man was of some
standing in the world. He had that gift of remaining statuesquely
silent, that poise that suggests power. The brown, resolute face had the
comeliness of courage. Of no great stature, his sturdy, hollow-backed
figure betrayed strength to those who could distinguish between fat and
muscle.

The boy’s appetite reached impotence at last. The man in the red coat
beckoned to the servant, paid his due with odd small change routed out
of every pocket, and with a curt bow to his neighbors walked out into
the street.

He made his way toward St. James’s, and paused in the street of that
same name, before a big house with a pompous portico. A flight of steps
led up to the great door.

“Run up—and knock.”

The boy obeyed, his breeches bringing a smile to the sea-captain’s face
as he waited unconcernedly on the sidewalk.

“Don’t mind your knuckles, my lad.”

And Sparkin hammered as though he were sounding the ship’s bell.

A servant in livery opened the door and looked down at the boy with the
air of a bully scenting a beggar. The man in the red coat listened to
the following dialogue:

“My Lord Gore’s house, this?”

“What d’you want at the front door?”

“Lord Gore’s house?”

“Oh—is it?”

“Well, is it, stupid?”

“Here, you skip it, you—”

The sea-captain interposed with a laugh curving his mouth. There was so
much significance in the fellow’s gospel of cloth.

“Wake up, Tom Richards!”

The footman’s eyes protruded. He stared down at the seaman with the air
of a superior being resenting and distrusting familiarity.

“Well, what d’you want?” And his glance added, “You shabby,
cutthroat-looking devil!”

The man in red ascended the steps, while the servant’s face receded inch
by inch, so that he resembled a discreet dog backing sulkily into his
kennel. He was about to clap the door to, when the captain pushed
Sparkin bodily into the breach.

“Richards, man, have you forgotten me?”

Sparkin’s head had taken the fellow well in the stomach, and the shock
may have accounted for the man’s vacant and astonished face.

“Is my lord in? Brisk up, man, and don’t judge the whole world by its
coat.”

“The Lord forgive me, sir!”

“Possibly He will, Richards.”

“I didn’t know you, Mr. John, sir, you’re so brown—and—”

“Shabby, Richards; say it, and have done. Is my lord in town?”

“Oh yes, sir. Won’t you come in and dine? There is a good joint of
roast, Mr. John, sir, and a barrel of oysters. My lord is at Lady
Purcell’s in Pall Mall.”

“Lady Anne Purcell’s?”

“Yes, Mr. John.”

He turned and walked down the steps, the footman marvelling at his
effrontery in wearing such dastardly clothes.

“Take the boy in, Richards.”

Richards and Master Sparkin regarded each other suspiciously.

“Give him a wash, and a new pair of breeches, if you can find a pair to
fit.”

“Yes, Mr. John; and your baggage, sir?”

“Lies somewhere in Barbary, Richards, so you need not trouble your head
about that.”

The whole episode so piqued the footman that he proceeded to lead the
boy in the direction of the kitchen quarters by the ear. Whereat,
Sparkin, who had already gauged the gentleman’s tonnage, fetched him a
valiant kick upon the shin, and broke loose with a grin of whole-hearted
scorn.

“You keep your hands to yourself, Tom Richards.”

The footman made a grab at the boy, but Sparkin was on the alert.

“Touch me, and I’ll dig my dirk into you.”

Mr. Richards reverted to that easier and safer weapon—the tongue.

“Didn’t Mr. John tell me to wash you, you little bundle of rags?”

Sparkin’s hand went to his belt.

“You touch me, and I’ll let your blood for you, Tom Richards. The Lord
forgive me, sir”—and he imitated the man’s voice—“you’d be learning
something if you went to sea with Captain Gore.”

“Oh, I should, should I!”

“The devil you would.”

“And you’d be teaching me, perhaps!” said the man in livery, with a
sententious sniff.

“’Twouldn’t be my business. They’d send you to the cook’s galley to
clean pots.”

While Sparkin was instilling obfuscated respect and caution into Tom
Richards, Captain John Gore made his way to Lady Purcell’s house. The
stare he met there was no more flattering than that which his father’s
servant had given him. A three days’ beard, no wig, a soiled coat, and a
moulting beaver were not calculated to conciliate menials.

“My Lord Gore is here?”

“What may your business be?”

He walked in over the servant’s toes.

“Tell my lord that Captain Gore is below.”

“Captain Gore, sir?”

The gentleman merely reiterated the order with a straight stare.

“Would you be pleased, sir, to walk into the garden.”

John Gore followed the fellow’s lead, amused at the caution that did not
intend to offer him the chance of pocketing anything of value in the
house. He was left pacing the gravel walks, with his red coat showing up
against the green of the grass.

John Gore had taken two turns up and down the garden when a girl came
out between the pillars of the music-room, and stood gazing at the
gentleman’s broad back with the impatient air of one who has been
cornered by a stranger. She drew back again, as though waiting her
opportunity to cross from the portico to the house without being
observed. Her chance came and she seized it, only to discover that the
garden door of the house was locked.

The man in the red coat turned and came down the path again. He caught
sight of the girl standing on the steps, bowed, and lifted his hat to
her.

“I am afraid you are locked out,” he said.

“Oh—”

“Your man did not like the look of me, I suppose, and wisely turned the
key in the lock. There seems nothing to be pocketed in the garden but a
few green peaches.”

They were looking straight into each other’s eyes. Who this sturdy,
shabby gentleman could be Barbara could not gather for the moment. Nor
was she pleased at being left there—at his mercy.

“You have forgotten me, Mistress Barbara,” he said.

She frowned slightly.

“My father, Lord Gore, is here, I believe.”

Her eyes flashed suddenly, and she colored.

“Oh—you are—”

“The boy who pulled your ribbons off—that day—at Sheen. You may
remember the incident,” and he bowed.

Barbara remembered it. There was a short pause.

“You have changed,” she said, curtly, glancing over her shoulder at the
glass panel in the door.

He passed a hand critically over his chin.

“Seemingly, in the heat of adventure. My father’s man took me for a
bully. I have been in England about five hours.”

They stood regarding each other in silence, the man puzzled by her
swarthy, sullen face, the girl conscious of a rush of embittered
memories. It was as though something out of the past had risen up before
her, something ignorant and unwelcome that might blunder any moment
against her sensitive reserve.

“I trust that Sir Lionel is hearty as ever?”

She seized the handle of the door and shook it.

“I wonder where that fool—Miles—”

“Pardon me, shall I shout?”

Barbara kept one shoulder turned toward him, her face, bleak and white,
reflected in the glass panel of the door.

“Oh—at last!”

There was the sound of a key turning in a lock. She pushed past the man
as he opened the door, leaving John Gore wondering what manner of
mischief three years had made in a girl’s temper.

In the parlor, with its panelling, its massive furniture, and great
fireplace filled with blue Dutch tiles, Anne Purcell and my Lord Gore
had been talking for above an hour. My lord was standing at a window in
his favorite attitude of philosophic stateliness. The lady’s face had an
impatient sharpness of expression that hinted that the man’s sympathy
had not sounded the deeps of her unrest.

“I tell you, Nan, that these—these possibilities—leave us where we
stood before. The girl may be a little touched in the head. Leave her to
Hortense; if she cannot tame her, well, there are other ways.”

Anne seemed less credulous—and more obstinate than he desired.

“I am not superstitious, but to think of the girl praying to those—I
tell you, Stephen, the thought of it makes me afraid. Thank Heaven, she
is praying—in the dark.”

“Tush—tush,” and he smiled down at her, “the girl is not quite human.
We understand her, you—and I. Yet you seem to lack that diplomatic
foresight, Nan, that sees in an enemy’s tricks—the very tools for one’s
own hand.”

She looked up at him blankly.

“No, I foresee nothing save that—betrayal.”

“Which, if it occurred, could be turned aside as easily as I snap my
fingers. There is but one person to be considered, and we must keep her
fat and contented.”

“Jael?”

“Yes; the woman is greedy; that simplifies everything. To-morrow, then,
you will come with me to the Mancini’s?”

“Oh—if it will help.”

“At least it can do no harm. Listen!”

They heard the footsteps of the servant climbing the stairs, and in ten
seconds my Lord Gore had the first news of his seafaring and unshaven
son.



                                   VI


My Lord Gore could not conceal an instinct of fastidious disapproval
as he walked homeward with his son along Pall Mall. Sumptuousness came
before godliness in his scheme of values, and though poverty and
slovenliness were inevitable to the world, my lord found them useful as
a respectable background to heighten the effect of an exquisite
refinement in dress. But to have a soiled and weather-beaten scamp
familiarly at one’s elbow offered too crude a contrast, and suggested a
sinister interest in Whitefriars.

“What a devil of a mess you are in, Jack, my man!” And there was a
slight lifting of my lord’s nostrils. “You might have sent one of the
men to me instead of making a martyr of yourself.”

The reference to martyrdom carried a perfect sincerity, for it would
have pained Stephen Gore inexpressibly to have been caught in a seedy
coat.

John Gore met his father’s critical sidelong glance.

“It is only in plays and poems, sir, that you find your adventurer clean
and splendid. We were muzzle to muzzle with those heathen for half a
day; the prison they put us in was monstrously dirty; and the vegetation
they plant in their gardens and about their fields seems to have been
created with a grudge against people who have to run. We ran, sir, like
heroes, despite aloes, cacti, and thorns like a regiment of foot with
sloped pikes. After such incidents one has a tendency toward torn
clothes.”

My lord nodded.

“Still, Jack,” said he, “when you fall in a ditch and get muddied to the
chin, you do not stroll home through the park at three in the afternoon.
You should read _Don Quixote_, sir—a great book that.”

“I am more of a philosopher than the Spaniard.”

His father did not trouble to suppress a sarcastic smile.

“Oh, if you are a philosopher I have nothing more to say, save that you
have chosen the wrong school. There is the philosophy of clothes to be
considered at this happy period of ours. If you wish to try your
Diogenes’ humor, go to court in some such scraffle. You would be clapped
in the Tower for insulting the King.”

John Gore laughed.

“Who himself knows what ragged stockings and flea-ridden beds mean.”

“Exactly so, sir, and therefore any tactless allusion to the past would
be uncourtierlike in the extreme.”

My lord betrayed some impatience in his last retort, very possibly
because he beheld a group of acquaintances approaching with all the
niceness of fashionable distinction. The young gallants of the court had
all the merciless cynicism of premature middle-age. Genius, to prove
itself, scintillated with satire. Even when the youngsters laughed,
their laughter symbolized an epigram, a caricature, or a lampoon.

Lord Gore advanced very valiantly under the enemy’s fire. The party
numbered among its members Tom Chiffinch, the redoubtable royal pimp.

There was an ironical lifting of hats. John Gore’s costume had
interested the party for the last twenty yards of its approach. My lord
would have marched past with flags flying. But from some instinct of
devilry the gentlemen appeared overjoyed at the _rencontre_.

“We must take you with us to the Mall, my lord.”

“His Majesty has a match there.”

“Bring your friend with you, sir. By-the-way, who is he?” And Chiffinch
took Stephen Gore familiarly by the button and dropped his voice to a
forced whisper.

My lord’s dignity did not falter. He had caught a peculiar look in his
son’s eyes that pricked the pride in him.

“Gentlemen, Captain John Gore, my son.”

They bowed, all of them, with sarcastic deference.

“Delighted, sir.”

“You have seen hard service, sir.”

“No doubt you are a great traveller. May I ask your honor whether it is
true that the Spaniards in Peru grow their beards down to their belts?”

The man in the red coat showed no trace of temper.

“I lost my laces and my ribbons on the coast of Africa, gentlemen,” he
said. “They are a slovenly crew—those Barbary corsairs. It is a
pleasure to find myself once more among—men.”

My lord stood regarding the upper windows of a house with stately
unconcern. He glanced sharply at his son, and then bowed to Chiffinch
and his party.

“Come, Jack. Simpson of the Exchange must have been waiting an hour for
you. My son is like King John, gentlemen—he has lost bag and baggage to
the sea.”

They parted with ironical smiles, my lord spreading himself like an
Indian in full sail.

“Who the devil may Simpson be?” asked the son, bluntly.

His father frowned.

“My recommendation, sir.” And in a lower voice: “The first tailor in the
kingdom, you booby; the one reputation that might carry shot into those
gentlemen’s hulls. Such is the world, sir, that you can be put in
countenance by uttering the name of your tailor.”

Concerning his adventures, John Gore spoke with the grim reserve of a
man who had learned that the least impressive thing in this world is to
boast. He had lost his ship and seen the walls of an African prison, an
ironical climax to a seventeenth-century Odyssey. More from incidental
allusions than from any coherent confession, his father learned that he
had touched even Japan and far Cathay, his knight-errantry of the sea
carrying him into more than one valiant skirmish. An unhappy whim had
lured him, when homeward-bound, into the blue sea of the Phœnicians and
the Greeks, there to be pounced upon by a squadron of African rovers.
They had carried his decks by boarding after a five hours’ fight.

My lord listened with an air of fatherly condescension before reverting
to the eternal topic of clothes.

“I must turn you loose in my wardrobe, Jack, my man. You can contrive a
makeshift for a week or two. We must have Simpson in for you to-morrow.”

His manner was semijocular and genial, as though this man of many oceans
were still a boy poling a punt on an ancestral fish-pond. My lord had
never travelled, save into France and Holland, and the wild by-ways of
the world had no significance for him. As a courtier and an aristocrat
he was a complete and perfect figure, and the life of a gentleman about
court had given him the grandiose attitude of one who had turned the
last page of worldly philosophy. He had said what he pleased for many
years to the great majority of people with whom he had come in contact.
His “air” itself suggested the majestic finality of experience.

They supped together in the house of St. James’s Street, my lord asking
questions in a perfunctory fashion, often interrupting the replies by
irrelevant digressions and displaying the careless contempt of the
egotist for those superfluous subjects of which he condescended to be
ignorant. It appeared to the son that the father was preoccupied by
other matters. It was only when they came to the discussion of certain
questions concerning property that my lord showed some of the acumen of
the master of the many tenants.

“How much have you lost by this voyage of yours? As for throwing money
into the sea—”

John Gore pretended to no grievance.

“It is only what other men would have spent on petticoats and horses.
Call it an eccentric extravagance. I have had a glimpse of the earth to
balance the loss. About my Yorkshire property?”

“I have had my hand on it, Jack. Swindale has been a success as steward.
More money—for the sea’s maw. Is that the cry?”

John Gore maintained a meditative reserve.

“Possibly.”

“I have the rent-roll—and a copy of the accounts in my desk. Go down
and see Swindale for yourself. There is no need to think of such a means
as a mortgage. Money has been accumulating. Besides, my boy, though your
mother left her property to you, my own purse is always open.”

The son thanked him, and changed to another subject—a subject that had
been lurking for an hour or more in the conscious background of my
lord’s mind.

“How is Lionel Purcell?”

Stephen Gore turned his wineglass round and round by the stem, eying his
own white fingers and the exquisite lace of his ruffles.

“Dead,” he said, shortly.

The man in the red coat drew his heels up under his chair and leaned his
elbows on the table.

“Dead! Why, of all the quiet, careful livers—”

“He had no say in the matter. Some one killed him.”

There was a short pause. The elder man’s face remained a stately,
meditative mask. He raised the wineglass and sipped the wine, pressing
his lace cravat back with his left hand.

“It was a sad affair, Jack, and came as a blow to me.”

“Who killed him?”

“Ah, that is the question! No one knows. I suspect that no one will ever
know.”

“Was there a reason?”

My lord looked at his son shrewdly, meaningly.

“A man of the world could infer. These scholars—well—they have blood
in them like other mortals. We breathe nothing of it—because of the
girl.”

“Barbara?”

My lord nodded.

“The whole tragedy broke something in the child. She was bright and
sparkling enough, you remember, though always a little fierce. There is
the fear—”

He paused expressively, with his eyes on his son’s face.

“There is the fear of madness. The thing seems to have worn on her,
chafed her mind. Anne Purcell and I have done what we can, for God
knows—I was Lionel Purcell’s friend. But there is always the chance.
She is not like other women.”

My lord spoke as a man who feels an old burden chafe his shoulder. As
for the son, he was looking beyond his father at the opposite wall. He
recalled the girl as he had seen her in the garden. She had baffled him.
Here was the explanation.

“It is well that she should never know,” he said, gravely; “she has
enough to haunt her—without that.”

My lord had finished his wine and fruit. He rose from the table, and,
catching sight of himself in a Venetian mirror on the wall, turned away
with a slight frown.

“You had better amuse yourself choosing some of my clothes,” he said. “I
have business to-night with Pembroke, and I may be late. Richards will
give you the keys. We are much of a size, Jack, though you are shorter
in the shanks. Thank the Lord for one mercy, I have not put on too much
fat.”

By the light of a couple of candles in silver sconces John Gore amused
himself in my lord’s bedroom, with the boy Sparkin to act as a
self-constituted judge of fashions. Mr. Richards, who had accompanied
them, indulged in a few polite and irrelevant directions, and then
departed, as though he found the boy’s company incompatible with his
own. Every corner of the bedroom soon had its selection of satins,
camlets, and cloths, for Sparkin appeared possessed by an exuberant
desire to see and handle everything.

My lord’s wardrobe was the wardrobe of a gentleman who had a fancy for
every color and for every combination of shades. His stockings were to
be numbered by the dozen, and Sparkin, half hidden in a chest, baled the
stuffs out as though he were baling water out of a boat.

“Easy, there, you young hound. What manner of tangle do you think you
are making?”

The boy turned a hot and happy face to him.

“Take your choice, captain. What would some of the Greenwich girls give
for a picking! How does crushed strawberry please you?”

John Gore was standing in front of a mirror trying on a coat.

“That’s a sweet thing, captain. Just look at the lace. Here’s a chest we
haven’t opened yet.”

“Leave it alone, then. You have tumbled enough shirts to give Tom
Richards work for a week.”

Sparkin had been fumbling with the keys. He found the right one as John
Gore spoke, and lifted the chest’s lid as though there was no
disobedience in looking.

“What have you got there?”

Supremely tempted, Sparkin had fished out a periwig and clapped it on
his head. He pulled it off again just as briskly, merely remarking that
“the thing tickled.” A second dive of the arm brought up a black cloak
edged with gold cord and lined with purple silk.

“Bring that here, boy.”

Sparkin obeyed, and John Gore swung it over his shoulders.

“Just your color, captain,” said the boy, seriously.

“Thanks for a valuable opinion. Well, put it aside with the shirts and
stockings I have chosen. The devil take you, but what a fearsome mess
you have made!”

“That’s soon mended, captain.” And, after depositing the black cloak on
the bed, he proceeded to fill his arms with my lord’s luxuries, and
tumble them casually into chest and cupboard.

“Here, leave the clothes alone.”

“But—”

“You had better, out of regard for those new breeches of yours. Richards
must come up and restore order.”

A spasm of vivacious devilry lit up the boy’s face.

“So he had, captain. He is such a particular man! Shall I call down the
stairs?”

“Yes, call away.”

Sparkin disappeared, and John Gore heard his voice piping through the
house.

“Richards—Tom Richards there! I say Richards—Mr. Thomas Richards, the
captain’s orders are that you are to come aloft and clear up the
clothes.”

Sparkin’s voice reached to the nether regions, for slow and unwilling
footsteps were heard below. The boy slipped down the stairs and met the
man with a loud whisper.

“The captain has made a most fearsome muddle, Tom. He’s turned out every
chest and cupboard in the room. Just you come and look. It’s like a rag
booth at a fair.”



                                  VII


Barbara Purcell could not sleep that night, perhaps because she had
chosen not to have her curtains drawn, so that the light of the full
moon poured into the room. An increasing restlessness brought with it
that feverish race of thoughts, where the memories of years flash out
and intermingle like fantastic figures at a masked ball.

She sat up at last in bed, shook her dark hair free from her shoulders,
and stretched her arms out over her knees. The window stood a brilliant
square in the blackness of the wall, each lozenge of glass like crystal
set in ebony. Through the open casement she could see the silvery domes
of the great trees in the park and the few faint clouds that streaked
the summer sky. Her restlessness and the close night air made the
moonlight seem like a shower of icy spray. And it was as though some
feverish freak inspired her with the whim of bathing her hands and face
in it, for she slipped out of bed, her white feet gliding over the
polished woodwork of the floor.

A sound like the scuffling of rats behind the wainscoting startled her
for a moment, so that she stood listening with her face turned toward
the door. The deep silence of the house seemed to listen with her for
the recurrence of the sound, but she heard nothing but the sigh of her
own breath. Moving to the window, she leaned her hands upon the sill,
letting the draught play upon her bosom and in her hair. She felt as
though the night laid a cool hand upon her forehead, while the infinite
calmness of everything entered into her soul.

Beneath her lay the garden, the lawn like a stretch of dusky silver, the
bay-trees casting sharp shadows upon it, the portico of the music-room
cut into black panels by its pillars. She stood gazing down upon it all
with the air of one whose mind was full of dreams. The moon mirrored
itself, twin images, within her eyes, and made her night-gear shine like
snow under the torrent of her hair.

Distant clocks began chiming suddenly, to be followed by the deep
pealing of the hour. The sound roused the girl from her lethargy, like
the challenge of a trumpet waking a sentinel at his post.

The echoes of the chimes still seemed to be sweeping upward into the
moonlight when she heard a sound below her in the house. It was like the
snap of a turning lock, brief, crisp, and final. The striking of the
hour might have had the significance of a signal to some one in the
house. She was still listening for other sounds to follow when a shadow
moved out between the outlines of the bay-trees on the lawn.

Barbara leaned toward the window, and then drew back with an instinct of
caution, still keeping her view of the moonlit garden. The shadow and
the figure that cast it moved toward the music-room with the gliding
motion attributed to ghosts. The breath of the night air seemed doubly
cold upon her face and bosom for the moment. She saw the figure
disappear under the portico of the music-room with all the mystery of
the night to solemnize its passing.

A slight shiver swept up her limbs toward her heart. Things may seem
possible at such an hour that the reason might ridicule at noon. Yet she
remembered the snap of the shooting lock, and that mere incident of
sound held the supernatural vagueness of her thoughts in thrall.

Still listening, she seemed to hear something that brought a sharp and
almost fierce expression to her face. Holding her breath, she leaned
against the window-jamb as though to steady herself against the
slightest movement that might distract her sense of hearing. A murmur of
voices came to her out of the silence of the night, like the rustle of
aspen leaves in a light wind.

Her body straightened suddenly, bearing its weight upon one
out-stretched arm whose hand rested against the jamb of the window. Her
eyes became brighter in the moonlight. Her throat showed white under her
raised chin. Then turning as though impelled by some inspired thought,
she moved toward the door, opened it, and stepped out into the gallery.

Pausing for an instant, she began to walk slowly down the passageway
toward a transomed window that gleamed white in the moonlight. She moved
haughtily, with no shrinking haste, her head held high, her hands
hanging at her sides. It was the poise of a sleep-walker, stately,
wide-eyed, without a flicker of self-consciousness.

Barbara had not gone ten steps before she heard a slight sound behind
her like the rustle of a skirt. Startled though she may have been, she
betrayed nothing, but moved on with every sense alert. That some one was
close behind her she felt assured. Her hand was on the latch of her
mother’s door before her suspicions began to be confirmed.

She pushed the door open and crossed the threshold; yet though the room
was in utter darkness, she felt instinctively that it was empty. Turning
slowly so that she faced the door, she saw the outline of a figure
framed there against the dim glow of the moonlight that filled the
gallery.

Barbara stood motionless awhile, making no sign or sound, and then
walked straight toward the door. The figure faltered a moment before
gliding aside. Barbara passed it, her eyes fixed as on some dreamy
distance, her face blank and expressionless, her step unhurried. As she
passed back along the gallery she felt that the figure was following
her, and knew that it was a woman, and that woman Mrs. Jael.

Still statuesque as one walking in her sleep she re-entered her room,
closed the door, locked it, and moved toward the window. She stood there
a moment, motionless, and if she saw anything in the garden beneath her
she betrayed no feeling and no conscious life. Before the clocks had
chimed the half-hour she was in her bed again, but not to sleep.

By the door leading into the garden two shadowy figures were whispering
together.

“She was asleep?”

“Yes, my lady.”

“Are you sure?”

“She walked past me as though I was not there. I have seen such a thing
before, yet it gave me a fright.”

“And she went to my room, Jael?”

“It was as dark as a cupboard, my lady. No one could have told that it
was empty—even if they had been awake.”

The sky was a brave blue next morning, and the air full of the scent of
summer when Barbara came down to the little parlor that looked out on
the garden. Her air of lethargy had a touch of gentleness to soften it.
Anne Purcell was already at the table. A plate of cherries and a flask
of red wine added color to the prosaic usefulness of pie and bacon.

Anne Purcell glanced at her daughter with momentary and questioning
distrust. The girl’s face betrayed no more self-consciousness than the
great white loaf on the trencher near her mother. She sat down, glanced
over the table listlessly, and then through the window where the sun was
shining.

“You look tired, Barbe?”

An insinuating friendliness approached her in the mother’s voice.

“Tired?—I slept all night. How fresh the garden looks! I feel I should
like a drive in the park to-day.”

“Yes; you want more interest—more bustle in your life.”

“Perhaps I should have fewer moods—”

“Take some wine, dear,” and she pushed the flask toward her. “Why not
trust yourself to me a little more? We are not all so melancholy.”

“I might only spoil your pleasure.”

“Nonsense. I should enjoy life more if you had a happier face.”



                                  VIII


Set a thief to catch a thief, and a woman to unravel the character of
a woman. Such was the aphorism my Lord Gore had bestowed in confidence
upon Hortense when he had bequeathed Anne Purcell’s daughter to the
Italian’s cleverness. If there were anything beneath that sullen and
lethargic surface, Hortense would discover it, and perhaps resurrect the
girl’s instinct to laugh and live.

Few guests met in the painted salon that summer evening: three girls of
Barbara’s age, an elderly knight with sharp, humorous eyes, a
sentimental widow, and Hortense. The windows were open toward the park,
where dull, rain-ladened clouds shut out the stars. A few shaded candles
in sconces along the walls made a glimmering twilight in the room, and
in one corner a little brazen lamp burned perfumed oil, so that the air
was richly scented.

A girl stood singing beside the harpsichord when Anne Purcell and her
daughter entered the salon. Hortense herself was accompanying the song,
while those who listened were like figures in a picture, each with a
shadowy individuality of its own. There was an atmosphere of opulence
and sensitive refinement about the scene. The breeze of youth had been
banished and the salon made sacred to musing maturity.

Hortense excelled in the art of welcoming a friend. Even the flowing
lines of her figure could put forth an intoxicating graciousness that
fascinated women as well as men. She suggested infinite sympathy, yet
infinite shrewdness. Strangers might have mistrusted her if she had
shown only the one or the other.

My Lady Anne looked commonplace beside Hortense. Her smile had a crude
affectation of good-will that did not completely conceal latent distrust
and jealousy. The Englishwoman was there with a purpose, and a purpose
is often one of the most difficult things on earth to smother. It was in
the daughter that Hortense discovered a vacant unapproachableness, a
callous apathy that piqued her interest. The girl was not gauche,
despite her silence. It was as though her individuality refused to
mingle with the individuality of others.

Hortense disposed of my lady by setting her to chat with the grim old
gentleman in the big periwig, whose interest in life gravitated between
the latest piece of learned gossip he might pick up at the meetings of
the Royal Society and the lighter, more glittering gossip of Whitehall.
My lady could at least satisfy him in the lighter vein. The three girls
were given a pack of cards and a table in a corner; the sentimental
widow—some new book. Hortense herself drew Barbara aside toward one of
the windows, as though she was the one person whom she chose to actively
amuse.

The prelude between them resembled a game of chess in which one player
made tentative moves to which the other blankly refused to respond. A
series of challenges provoked nothing but monosyllabic answers. Hortense
had no difficulty, as a rule, in persuading even dull or frightened
people to talk. There were the many mundane topics to be invoked when
necessary: clothes, music, books, men, amusements—and other women.

“Mère de Dieu!” she confessed to herself, at last, “the child is
impenetrable. There is a magic spring in every mortal. I have not
touched it—here—as yet.”

She studied Barbara with the easy air of the woman of the world who does
not betray the glance behind the eyes.

“And who is your great friend—in England, cara mia? We women must
always have a confidential mirror, though it does not always tell us the
truth. When I was quite young I used to write down all my thoughts and
adventures in a book. Some of us make friends with our own souls—in our
diaries.”

Barbara looked at her as though all the Italian’s subtle suggestiveness
beat on nothing more intelligent than the blank surface of a wall.

“Do you keep a diary, madam?”

Hortense laughed.

“Oh, life is my diary, and then—I write on the faces of those I meet.”

“Do you—how?”

“You must guess my meaning.”

“I can never guess anything.”

“How dull! Have you travelled much—with your mother?”

“My mother?”

“Yes. Is she not charming? so young—and Junelike! She should promise
you a long youth.”

“I do not care whether she does or not.”

“Then you have not learned to envy her?”

“What have I to envy?”

Hortense paused, with a momentary gleam of impatience in her eyes.

“Has the child any enthusiasm? Let us try her on another surface. Do you
remember your father, cara mia?”

Barbara’s eyes met the Mancini’s with a sudden intense stare.

“My father?”

“He was a great scholar, was he not?”

“Yes.”

“Books become such friends to us! Did he teach you—at all?”

“Oh, sometimes. He was very patient. How dark the sky looks!”

Hortense smiled. She had a suspicion that she was no longer fumbling in
the dark. She had touched the girl beneath her apathy and her reserve.

“Have you your father’s books—still?”

“They are in the library—covered with dust.”

“Why do you not keep the dust away by reading them. You could fancy
yourself talking with him when you turned the pages he had turned.”

“Could I?”

Hortense became silent suddenly, her face turned with an expression of
sadness toward the night.

“Of course. It is in our memories that we live again. The past may
become a kind of religion to us.”

She did not look at the girl, but her brilliant and sensitive
consciousness waited for impressions. Barbara remained motionless, with
stolid, morose face.

“What clever things you think of!” she said, abruptly. “But the books
are nearly all in Latin. I wish I had not eaten so much supper. It
always makes me sleepy and stupid.”

Hortense turned with a sharpness that contradicted her soft and
sympathetic attitude.

“Perhaps you would like some wine?”

“No, I thank you, madam. Mother made me drink half a jugful before we
came. She said that it might make me talk.”

Hortense gave her one searching stare.

“Either you are very clever or very dull,” she said to herself. “I must
try other methods, for I want to see you show yourself. Then—we may
understand.”

It was possible that the Mancini knew that her salon would not maintain
its air of Platonic tranquillity throughout the whole evening. She who
queened it for the moment above a galaxy of queens could not be left
long uncourted by the courtiers of her King. She was the Spirit of Wit
and the Pyre of Passion for that year at least; a fire about which the
moths might flutter; a Partisan of Princes; a shrewd, roguish,
laughter-loving woman. She was never unwilling that a fashionable rout
should storm and take possession of her house, for they came to
entertain her with their nonsense and to flatter her pride by attending
at her court.

A flare of links across the park, and the sound of laughter warned
Hortense of a possible invasion. The torches flowed in the direction of
her house, with a confusion of voices that betrayed the spirit of the
invaders. Barbara, who sat watching the stream of fire, saw the
link-boys running on ahead, with the glare of their torches flashing
over the grass and upon the trunks of the trees, while behind these
fire-flies came a stream of gentlemen in bright-colored cloaks, arguing
and laughing, some of them flourishing their swords like sticks.

Hortense appealed to her guests.

“Alas! my friends, here come the court innocents with all manner of
nonsense in their noddles. Shall we stand a siege?”

“You will never keep fools out of heaven, madam,” said the Fellow of the
Royal Society, with a cynical sniff; “have them in, and let us moralize
on the wasted energies of youth.”

“And you—my vestals?”

The girls at the card-table betrayed no immoderate shyness.

“And my Lady Purcell?”

“Should a woman be afraid of a boy’s tongue? We can clip it with our
wit.”

“They are in the court-yard already, the mad children! Let us see what
power music may have over them.” And she sat down at the harpsichord and
began to play with great unction a dolorous chant that was familiar to
serious singers of psalms.

Comus and his crew came in right merrily with a superfluity of ironical
obeisances and vivid color-contrasts in their clothes. The party was
headed by a figure in a black silk gown, with huge lawn ruffles at the
wrists, a white periwig, and a big lace bib. Barbara recognized my Lord
Gore among the gentlemen, and in the background she caught a glimpse of
the brown and imperturbable face of John Gore, his son.

Hortense still fingered out her psalm as though ignoring the irruption
of the world, the flesh, and the devil into her house. The three girls
at the card-table sat with eyes cast down and hands folded demurely in
prim laps. The grim old gentleman reclined in his chair, and stared at
the intruders with the inimitable assurance of a Diogenes. Barbara
remained by the window in isolation, while her mother and the widow were
smiling and whispering together in a corner.

The gentry of Whitehall appreciated the satirical humor of their
welcome. Hortense was laughing at them with that dolorous canticle of
hers.

“Now, Thomas, where is your wit?”

“Prick the bishop’s calves, he has gone to sleep.”

They laughed and applauded as the figure in the silk gown moved forward
into the room. Mr. Thomas Temple could play a variety of parts. His
mimicry excelled in burlesquing the episcopate.

“My children, let peace be upon this house.” And he gave them a pompous
blessing with upraised hands.

Hortense rose from the harpsichord with the assumed fire of a fanatic.

“Children of Belial!”

“Lady, pardon me, they are already qualifying as saints.”

“What sayest thou, Antichrist, thou Red Man of Rome? Woe, woe unto this
city when its priests wax fat in purple and fine linen!”

The bishop extended reproving hands.

“Woman, blaspheme not! We are here to save all souls with the kiss of
peace. My children, come hither. Have you been baptized?”

The three girls tittered. Hortense stood forward, flinging out one arm
with a passionate gesture of scorn.

“Behold the book of the beast. Behold the Serpent without a surplice!
And you—ye children of iniquity—make way for Thomas with the wine!”

There was a shout of laughter as my lord the bishop, picking up his
skirts, cut a delighted caper.

“Alas, she has bewitched me! St. Sack, where art thou—oh, strengthener
of my soul?”

A footman bearing a tray with flasks and glasses moved stolidly through
the crowd. The mock churchman extended a protecting arm.

“Bless you, my son. Blessed are all vintners and tavern-keepers! And
you, madam” (he turned to her with a stately obeisance), “our Lord the
King of his nobleness hath sent us to unbind your eyes—and to lead you
into the paths of light. We will baptize those innocents yonder into the
one true church, even the church of Sack—and Sashes. Let all the
heathen rejoice for the souls we shall save this day from the pit of
prudery. No woman can be saved unless she be kissed. Amen.”



                                   IX


For a girl to maintain her dignity in some such assemblage as that at
the house of Hortense, she needed a glib tongue, an easy temper, and no
prejudices with regard to the inviolate sanctity of her lips or cheek.
The gentlemen of fashion had renounced the central superstition of
Chivalry, while retaining some of its outward pageantry and splendor.
Cynics and worldlings, they had no real reverence for woman, no belief
in her honor, and little consideration for her name. She was merely a
thing to be coveted, to be maligned, or to be made, perhaps, the butt of
the bitterest and most unmanly ridicule. How mean and utterly
contemptible those splendid gentlemen of the court could be, Anne Hyde
had learned in the days before she became a duchess. So many noble
fellows conspiring to swear away a woman’s honor, and fabricating
unclean lies about her, in the belief they would please a prince.

Barbara remained isolated by the window, studying the scene with an
expression of sulky scorn. It was her first glimpse of the gadflies of
the court; their methods of attack and of torture were to her things
unknown. Many of the men had prematurely aged features, harsh skins, and
unhealthy eyes. Some two or three were palpably the worse for wine. And
despite their rich clothes and the beauty of mere surface refinement,
they brought an atmosphere of unwholesome insolence into the Italian’s
salon—an insolence that made such true aristocrats as John Evelyn
despair of the courts of kings.

The Mancini had drawn the mock bishop aside, and they were talking
together with ironical little smiles and gestures. Barbara met
Hortense’s eyes across the room. The man in the silk cassock glanced
also in the same direction, and Barbara had the sudden sense of being
under discussion.

The majority of the men were drinking wine at a side table, talking
loudly and without an atom of restraint, as though they were in a tavern
and not in the salon of a great lady. My Lord Gore and his son were the
centre of a little group; the brown face of the sea-captain contrasting
with the whiter skins of the idlers about town. He was glancing about
the room, as though tired of being penned up in a corner by a party of
fops with whom he had no sympathy. More than once his eyes met those of
Barbara Purcell. They appeared to be the only two people in the room who
chafed instinctively at their surroundings.

A loud voice at the door of the salon, strident and harsh, overtopped
the babbling of the crowd. Heads were turned in the direction; periwigs
bowed; slim swords cocked under velvet coat-tails. The commotion hinted
at the entry of some great captain in the campaign of pleasure. The knot
of many-colored figures fell apart, and a big man in black and silver
stalked forward to salute Hortense.

It was Philip of Pembroke, the most outrageous and hot-headed aristocrat
in the kingdom, a man whose own friends treated him as they would have
treated an open powder-mine, and whose very friendship was often the
prelude to a quarrel. Few people had the nerve to sit near him at table,
for an argument was his great joy, and his method of debate was so
fierce and fanatical that his arguments very frequently took the form of
wine bottles and dishes, or any forcible persuader that came to hand. He
would quarrel with any one, anywhere, on any topic, and appeared to
cherish the conviction that the whole world had conspired to contradict
him. Lean, ominous, with a fierce, intent, brown face, his sharp,
snapping jowl made him appear more like a mad fanatic than a sane and
stately English peer. The marvel was that a man with such a face should
waste even his madness on irresponsible brawls and outrages. It was like
some fierce Egyptian monk playing insane tricks in Christian Alexandria.

He saluted Hortense with his usual air of restless-eyed and explosive
abruptness. She had assumed her utmost graciousness, her full feminine
fascination. My lord stared at her for a moment in his queer,
distrustful way, and then turned to the figure in the silk cassock.

“Well, you dull dog, how are we to be amused to-night?”

Tom Temple adopted a tone of the blandest deference.

“We have founded a mission, my lord, for the conversion of unkissed
females.”

“Damnation, boy, there are none!”

“My Lord of Pembroke is a great authority.”

“Am I? Who told you that? I should like to talk with him a minute. Where
are your converts, eh? By my soul, I don’t see many!”

The bishop made an unctuous gesture with his open hands.

“There are an innocent few, my lord.”

“Three pinafores and two aprons! Who’s that there—old Purcell’s widow?
She is as plump as a fat hen! And the one there by the window, who’s
she?”

Tom Temple appealed to Hortense.

“Anne Purcell’s daughter.”

“A sour, scratch-your-face looking wench! Zounds, Tom, begin your
mission there! Go and kiss her, or I’ll knock your head against the
wall.”

He laughed, as though hugely tickled, while the majority of the men, who
had been listening, exchanged glances, and divided their curiosity
between the girl by the window, my Lord Pembroke, and Bishop Tom.

Hortense had drawn aside, and was bending over Anne Purcell. There may
have been a motive in the move. Possibly she did not wish to countenance
the joke, and yet desired to profit by the information she might gain
thereby.

The bishop looked embarrassed.

“If you will lend me your countenance, my lord—”

“Go and kiss her.”

“On my conscience, sir, but—”

He was drifting perilously near an argument, and the mad peer’s eyes
began to sparkle. The crowd settled itself to enjoy the drama.

“Why, my lord bishop is a heretic!”

“The recusant, the Fifth Monarchy maniac! Pull his bibs off!”

Tom Temple found himself in the midst of a dilemma. On the one hand was
this silent, swarthy-face girl who looked as unapproachable as a
Minerva; on the other, my Lord of Pembroke, ready to explode at the
slightest opposition.

“I accept your mandate, my lord.”

“Forward, then, sainted sir; I am the church militant to support the
conversion.”

Tom Temple plucked up his impertinence, and approached Barbara with an
air of grim solemnity. All eyes were turned in her direction. She found
herself the cynosure of this mocking, sneering, mischief-loving crowd.

“My daughter, I am authorized by his Majesty, Pope of Whitehall, and by
my Lord Cardinal Pembroke, here, to initiate you into the one true
church. Are you, my daughter, in a fit and ready state to be converted?”

Barbara looked the young man straight in the face and said nothing.

“Have you no answer for me, my child?”

My Lord of Pembroke gave him a push from behind.

“To it, Tom, or I’ll convert her myself!”

“My Lord Cardinal, I am ready to abdicate in your favor.”

“Sophist! Kiss her, and have done.”

Tom Temple looked at Barbara and found his expiring impudence unequal to
the task. A breeze of cynical laughter swept the room. The three girls
had left the card-table, and were standing huddled together, giggling
and glancing from Barbara to the gentlemen. Hortense and Anne Purcell
had drawn aside toward the harpsichord, while the sentimental widow
seemed scared.

“The church militant must intervene!”

My Lord of Pembroke jostled the mock churchman aside and faced Barbara.
She had risen and was standing at her full height, an angry color
flooding into her face. The peer and the lady looked each other in the
eyes.

The man’s cynical yet malicious stare humiliated her, despite her wrath
and her defiance. Her glance travelled over the faces that seemed to
fill the room. Nowhere did she find a glimmer of pity or resentment. She
was just a silly, prudish girl to them; a sulky child to be teased; a
thing that piqued their cynical curiosity.

My Lord of Pembroke made her a curt bow.

“You will permit me to receive you into the bosom of our church,” he
said.

She flashed a fierce stare at him, and then drew back close to the
window. It was then that her eyes met the eyes of some one in the room,
some one who had been standing in the background, and who was watching
her with intense earnestness. She recognized John Gore. A rush of appeal
and of chivalrous sympathy seemed to leap from face to face.

My Lord of Pembroke advanced a step. There was something satanic about
his eyes.

“Come, little simpleton.”

He stretched out an arm, and caught her wrist roughly. But she twisted
it free.

“Gently, my wild filly; we must break you to harness. Come—now—”

He was shouldered aside abruptly with a vigor that set the whole room
gaping at the thunderclap that would follow. A shortish, sturdy man with
a brown, imperturbable face had established himself calmly between my
lord and Barbara Purcell.

“It seems, my lord, that, since you are all Christians, I am the only
heathen in the room.”

The retort came instantly with a sweep of the peer’s arm. John Gore was
ready for it, and put the blow aside. Half a dozen gentlemen rushed in
and made a human barrier between the pair.

My Lord of Pembroke struggled like a knot of fire half smothered by damp
fuel.

“Hold off, fools! Let go my arm, Howard, or by God, I’ll run my sword
through you!”

They tried to pacify him, but his violent temper blazed through their
words. He looked madman enough as he spat his fury over the shoulders of
those who held him back. But for the inevitable steel, the scene might
have been ridiculous.

“Will you fight?”

“I am at your service, my lord.”

“Come then, draw! Clear the room. Howard, you are my second.”

Hortense’s voice intervened with imperious feeling.

“Gentlemen, not in my house.”

Stephen Gore had pushed through and stood beside his son.

“Take me, Jack; keep cool, boy; the fool’s mad.”

“In the park, then.”

“Lud! but it’s raining—torrents,” said some one, peering through the
window.

“Rain! Who the devil cares for rain? Tell my boys to light their links.
Get me my cloak, Howard. Are you ready, sir?”

“Ready, my lord,” said John Gore. “We can use the swords we have. That
is my privilege, I believe.”



                                   X


Barbara Purcell stood alone by the window, her eyes fixed upon the
torches that were spitting and flaring in the rain. The salon had been
emptied of its wits and gallants, as though the men had been whirled
away into the darkness by the very energy of my Lord Pembroke’s wrath.
The women were left alone with the cynical old aristocrat who dabbled in
science, and who had not moved from his chair during the brawl.
Hortense, who had dreaded bloodshed in her house and the scandal that
might follow, was watching from another window, with the three girls and
the widow gathered round her. My Lady Purcell appeared to be the most
vexed and troubled of them all. She moved restlessly about the room; sat
down in a chair beside the cynic; spoke a few words to him, and seemed
repelled by the flippancy of his retort; rose again; walked to and fro
for a minute, and then, as though driven thither by some spasm of
suspense, joined Hortense and the rest at the window.

The Mancini heard my lady’s deep breathing, and, turning to make room
for her, was startled by the scared expression of her face. But, being
discreet, she ignored her guest’s uneasiness.

“These men, they must be forever quarrelling! As for that mad,
irresponsible lord, I am always in dread of murder when he enters my
house.”

Anne Purcell leaned against the window-jamb.

“And they must drag in others, too. I suppose Howard and Stephen Gore
will be at each other’s throats.”

Hortense eyed her curiously.

“I think they have too much wisdom to cross swords over a lunatic. Who
is the little brown man with the broad shoulders and the cool face?”

“John Gore, my lord’s son.”

“Jack Gore; a good name for a gallant swashbuckler. The fellow pleased
me; he has a backbone and a keen eye. It was like a scene out of a
stage-play. And there is the distressed damsel, your daughter, watching
to see her champion do his devoir.”

Anne Purcell glanced at Barbara and gave a shrug of the shoulders.

“If the fool had only had some sense!”

“If—yes—if!”

“The stubborn brat! To shut her eyes to a mere piece of play!”

Hortense looked thoughtful.

“Pardon me, but the girl is no fool; that is my belief. It was no sulky,
stupid child that dared my Lord Pembroke to bully her.”

“No?”

“No. But a woman with pride, and a depth of courage in her that could
make her dangerous in a quarrel. My Lady Purcell, I could swear that
your daughter is cleverer than you imagine.”

Hortense saw the plump woman’s face harden.

“Perhaps,” she retorted, brusquely; “for myself, I have always thought
her a little mad.”

As for Barbara, she had no memory for Hortense and the rest. The dim,
rain-smirched park, with its pool of stormy light, absorbed all the life
in her for the moment. She had seen the torches go tossing out from the
gate with a trail of shadowy figures following. The link-boys had headed
for a great tree where there would be some shelter from the rain. The
torches made a wavering yellow circle about the four chief figures; the
rest of the gentlemen gathered in the deeper shadows under the tree. The
drifting rain blurred and distorted the details as bad glass distorts
the landscape to one at watch behind a window. Yet the four figures with
the smoke and flare of the torches seemed vividly distinct to her, two
of them stripped of cloaks and coats, so that their white shirts showed
up like patches of snow on a distant mountain-side.

Engrossed as she was, she heard one of the watchers at the other window
give a sharp cry of relief.

“At last—see—they have begun! My Lord Gore and Howard stand aside.”

It was her mother’s voice, and the words seemed to set some subtle
surmise moving in the daughter’s brain. She remained motionless, her
eyes on the circle of torches and the faint flicker of steel that was
discernible as the two swords crossed.

She heard a short, dry laugh, and turned to find the Fellow of the Royal
Society standing at her elbow. He was watching the scene under the tree
with eyes that had lost none of their youthful sharpness.

“There is no need for anxiety,” he said, with a friendly glance at
Barbara.

They stood side by side in silence for a minute. Then the cynic nodded
in the direction of the park.

“That mad jackass stood no chance against Stephen Gore’s son. Just as I
thought. That—will keep the fool quiet for a time, at least.”

There was a sudden swaying of the torches, and the circle of figures
swept in upon my Lord Pembroke and John Gore as the sea sweeps in on a
sinking ship. Nothing was discernible for the moment but the torch-flare
and the knot of eager, crowding men. Then the circle parted abruptly,
and they could see two friends throwing his coat and cloak over my Lord
Pembroke’s shoulders. He was leaning against his second, his sword-arm
hanging at his side.

The torches swayed forward and moved in a blot of light from under the
tree. John Gore, with his sword set in the grass, was struggling into
his coat, his eyes watching the violent fool whom he had wounded in the
shoulder. Stephen Gore, distinguishable by his stateliness and his bulk,
threw a cloak over his son’s shoulders. The torches moved away, the
figures scattered, and the whole scene seemed to melt into nothingness
behind the falling rain.

The cynic and Miss Barbara still maintained their silent fellowship at
the window, as though they approached to each other by showing an
uncompromising front toward the world. Her companion seemed to hint that
they had a common interest in the proceedings, when he pointed out to
her that a couple of torches were moving back toward the house.

“Here come the gentlemen who will assure us. Had I had the guiding of
that young man’s sword, I should have pricked that wind-bag for good and
all.”

He continued to talk, as though addressing no one in particular, but
only enumerating his own thoughts.

“But then—of course—it would be deucedly inconvenient. It is much
wiser to let fashionable fools alone; if you kill them, there will be
trouble; if you wing them only, there will still be trouble. It is
probable that we shall hear within a month or so that my Lord Gore’s son
has been bludgeoned some dark night.”

Barbara glanced at him with a sharp challenge in her eyes.

“Pardon me, it is a very usual method of procedure among gentlemen of
fashion. If you have an enemy who is too strong for you, or a man you
are afraid to fight, you hire a couple of bullies to ambuscade him—and
crack his skull. Both your honor and your spite are thereby greatly
relieved.”

The torches were close to the gate of the court-yard, though the
watchers at the window could but dimly distinguish the faces of those
who were returning.

“I hope to Heaven he is not hurt!”

“Stay there, children! you must not meddle in these men’s affairs.”

Hortense and my Lady Anne had moved by mutual impulse toward the door.
The girls, who had wished to follow them, remained talking in undertones
near the harpsichord. But Barbara was bound by no such casual
regulations. She left the cynic by the window, and followed her mother
and Hortense.

From the salon the staircase of the great house ran with broad shallow
steps into the hall. The beautiful balustrade was of carved oak, the
corner pillars topped with griffins holding gilded shields. French
tapestries covered the walls, and from the central boss of the ceiling a
great brass lantern hung by a chain.

Hortense paused at the stair’s head, with Anne Purcell at her side. The
rain rattled against the windows, with the light of the torches casting
wavering shadows over the glass. A servant stood holding the door of the
hall open, with the torches making a turmoil of smoke and flame.
Barbara, as she came from the salon, was struck by the eager poise of
her mother’s figure as she leaned forward slightly over the balustrade.

My Lord Gore and his son came in out of the night with their cloaks
aglisten, and rain dropping from their beavers. The vision that greeted
them was the vision of two women waiting at the stair’s head in their
rich dresses, the light from the lantern throwing their figures into
high relief. Hortense, in autumn gold, tall and opulent, crowned by her
crown of splendid hair, seemed a figure divine enough to top that great
oak stairway with its sweep of shadows. Anne Purcell, leaning forward
with one hand on a carved pillar, symbolized watchfulness and secret
suspense. While in the background the Spanish swarthiness of her
daughter’s face added that mystery and solemn strangeness to the picture
that life conveys in its moment of pathos or of passion.

My Lord Gore made straight for the stairway, hat in hand.

“Soyez tranquille, mesdames; a mere pin-prick in the shoulder.”

Hortense glanced past him with interest at the bronzed and imperturbable
face of his son.

“Whose was the wound? Not—?”

“No, no, my Jackanapes had the madman at his mercy. May we men of blood
ascend? Assuredly the name of Gore seems suited to the occasion!”

He turned his head and smiled over his shoulder at his son.

“Come up, my Jack the Giant-killer! Where is our little mistress, our
inspirer of heroics?”

Anne Purcell bent toward him—as though swayed by her woman’s instinct.

“The little fool shall stay at home in future—”

“Psst—beware—!”

My lord gave a forced laugh, and looked upward over my lady’s shoulder.
He had caught sight of Barbara standing in the doorway of the salon.

“Behold the inflamer of the peaceful citizens of Westminster! Mistress
Barbara, my child, see what an obstinate mouth will do!”

Anne Purcell and Hortense had both turned toward the salon. My Lord
Stephen was at the stair’s head, his son a little below him, with the
light from the lantern falling full upon his face. But the girl standing
in the doorway of the salon seemed the significant and compelling figure
of the moment. She was staring at John Gore with a bleak intentness that
ignored the three who waited for her to make way.

“Barbara!”

Her mother seized her arm and pushed her—almost roughly—into the
salon.

“Where are your wits, girl? Don’t gape like that! On my honor, I think
you are mad.”

She suffered her mother’s hectoring with an apathy that betrayed neither
resentment nor understanding. Her eyes held John Gore’s for the moment.
Then she turned and walked back to the window as though she had no more
interest in the affair.

Yet—she had seen on the cloak that John Gore was wearing three short
chains of gold, each with a knot of pearls for a button. They were
spaced out irregularly, those three strands of gold, as though one had
been lost—perhaps torn off in a struggle and never been replaced.



                                   XI


My lord paused abruptly with the wine-decanter in his hand, his eyes
fixed in a vacant stare on his son, who was drawing a high-backed chair
forward to the table. The rumble of the wheels of the coach that had
brought them home from Hortense Mancini’s could be heard dying away
along St. James’s.

“Wine, Jack? They should have got Pembroke comfortably to bed by now.
The man will be about again in a month—ready to quarrel with his best
friend. What made you meddle in the game? A little mockery might do Nan
Purcell’s girl some good.”

John Gore was unfastening the curbs of his black cloak. His father
watched him, his brows knitted into a sudden frown of uneasiness—the
frown of a man surprised by a spasm of pain at the heart.

“You all seemed so ready to make a fool of the child.”

“Tut—tut, sir, you ought to have come by more shrewd sense than to make
a pother over such a piece of fun. Where the devil, may I ask, did you
get that cloak?”

John Gore glanced down at the garment as though my lord’s tone of
contempt might have made the thing shrivel on his shoulders.

“The cloak? You should know it, since it came out of your own wardrobe!”

“Mine! I deny the imputation.”

He laughed with a cynical twist of the mouth, and regarded his son slyly
over the rim of his wineglass.

“Well, it came out of your room, sir!”

“Come, come, Jack!”

“My boy Sparkin fished it out of a chest when he was advising me on
frills and fashions. The sobriety of the garment suited my
inclinations.”

Stephen Gore’s eyes gleamed for the moment with a flash of fierce
impatience.

“The meddlesome ape! You must pardon me being tickled by the irony of
facts. Since Captain Jack Gore listens to a cook-boy’s opinions on
costumes, I am mum.”

The son seemed amused and piqued in turn by his father’s inquisitive and
fanatical prejudices. He swung the cloak from his shoulders and held it
up with one hand.

“What have you to quarrel with, sir? The refinements of fashion are too
deep for me. I shall be landed in Newgate for wearing the wrong kind of
buckle on my shoes before the week is out.”

My lord appeared in earnest.

“Pshaw! Quarrel with? Why, the thing is about ten years out of date.
Unpardonable! Give it up, Jack; I’ll not countenance you in such a
pudding-cloth.”

John Gore broke into a hearty, seafaring laugh.

“Sancta Maria! is the offence so flagrant?”

“You might as well go to the King’s levee with a dirty face, sir. Don’t
guffaw; I’m in earnest. Richards has orders to get rid of all the
husks.”

The sea-captain fingered the gold tags.

“Being a prodigal, I will put up with such husks as these. I suppose I
may be preferred before Tom Richards?”

My lord took the cloak from him casually, as though he had not noticed
the gold chains with their knots of pearls.

“Hallo! these are worth saving, after all. I’ll keep them myself, Jack.
Give a thing, and take it back again. That is philosophy of a sort,
according to Hobbs.”

He laughed, pulled out a silver-handled clasp-knife from a pocket, and
cut the gold curbs away from the cloth.

“For what we have saved, let us be thankful. It is not always wise to
lend other people either your opinions or your wardrobe, much less your
purse.”

John Gore had picked up the cloak again.

“Three, are there? There must have been four once. Look at the tear,
there—in the cloth. Curious; I should not have noticed it before.”

My lord took the cloak from him and examined it with a careless air,
making use of one corner to hide a yawn.

“The mark of the beast, Jack. Tom Richards’ fingers have been at work
here, or I know nothing of human nature. Well, the fellow must have his
pickings. If one worries about a small man’s petty pilferings one ought
not to have the insolence to be a courtier. We are all sooted by the
same chimney. Another glass of wine, Jack? No? Well, let’s to bed.”

They parted with a hand-shake and a light word or two upon the stairs,
words that hid in either case the deeper impulses beneath. In my lord’s
heart there was something of scorn, something of dismay, and the fierce
uneasiness of a man who loves to look only upon the more flattering
features of his soul. There seemed nothing in the incident to shake his
confidence, and yet it had shaken him as a light wind sways a mighty elm
that is rotten at the roots. A cloak, so much mere cloth, which he had
hidden away and forgotten! Yet the thing had brought back visions of an
autumn night, of betrayal and of anger, of passionate reproaches and of
swift violence in the dark. What though he solaced himself with the oath
that death had judged between the fortunes of two swords? The sin of
treachery had been his. The blood-guilt remained, and no sophistry and
no well-wishing to himself could wipe the stain away.

For the son, the happenings of the night had a richer aftermath. He was
no self-conscious, strutting righter of wrongs; no chivalrous
adventure-hunter launching his lance at the world’s throat. My Lord
Pembroke might have kissed most women with impunity as far as John Gore
was concerned; for though they might have protested, he knew, as a man
of the world, that not one in twenty would have been worth the
interference. Any chivalrous fool who had pushed in to a rescue would
have merely flattered a coquette with the offer of blood where the other
man had only offered kisses.

But that tall girl with the Spanish face had given the scene a different
meaning. The uncompromising sincerity of her pride had turned a piece of
fantastic fooling into insolence and dishonor. The call of solitary soul
to soul is ever something of a riddle, and yet to the man there must be
that one woman whose hair has the darkness of night, whose eyes are
mysterious, whose face has an alluring sadness near to pain. Out of one
thread of pathos or of passion may be woven that scarlet robe that
covers the dim white body of Romance. A trick of the voice, a poise of
the head, and the sleeper wakes in the world of color and desire. The
streaking of the night sky by a falling star is not more swift and
strange than that flash of divine wonder across the consciousness of a
woman or a man.

The memory of her standing by the window, tall, defiant, aloof, with
those cynical fools mocking her, burned with great vividness in John
Gore’s brain. He remembered the moment when her eyes had wandered round
the room to remain fixed on his. He thrilled still, strong man that he
was, at that appeal the girl had given him, as though some instinct had
warned her that his manhood was a nobler thing than to suffer her pride
to be humbled before them all. Fighting against wild seas and the
primeval perils of strange lands had given John Gore the cool and
unflurried courage that is steady rather than impetuous. And yet that
one glance from the girl’s eyes had drawn an instant and impulsive
answer from him, as though all that she held sacred had been trusted to
his hands.

And then—her history, this morose, brooding grief that my lord had
hinted at! The very shadow of sadness that haunted her added a mystery,
an alluring strangeness that beckoned the soul. She was not like other
women. What more subtle deification! For strong natures are untaken save
by strong contrasts and by keen impressions. The song of the nightingale
may have no meaning for the falcon. Nor could the chattering lutes of
“court beauties” call to a man who had stood where Cortez stood, gazing
from Darien on the ocean limitless toward the burning west.

John Gore stood awhile at the open window of his room, as he had often
stood at the rail of his quarter-deck on a southern night. The great
silence of the sea seemed once more with him, and the far unutterable
splendor of the moon. Then, as by contrast, his thoughts were caught by
his father’s furious convictions as to the importance of the proper
droop of a feather or the color of a coat. Who remembered such things
when the storm-wind was shrieking, like the ghosts of the sea’s dead,
through a great ship’s tackle? Yet, after all, it was only the
fanaticism of another circle, another world. Your scientific zealot will
cut a caper over the discovery of some new bug. It was a mere question
of environment, and Father Adam may have strutted vaingloriously in some
new-fangled smock of leaves.

Not for John Gore alone had it been a night of impressions. They had
proved keen, pitiless, and pathetic so far as Barbara Purcell was
concerned. She was alone in her room, and at her open window, the human
counterpart of John Gore. In her lap lay a little strand of gold, while
the moonlight touched the bleak pallor of her face, making the night,
like her heart, a contrast of mysterious light and shadow.

With Barbara her impressions were like elemental fire and ice, vivid,
distinct, at war with one another. They stood opposed within her mind,
hurting her heart by their very enmity. Gratitude and hatred unable to
be reconciled; the harsh notes of revenge and the voices of heaven
clashing together in the galleries of the brain. She had seen and she
had recognized, yet the gross incongruity of it all made her falter for
a meaning. The incidents of the night passed and repassed rhythmically
before her. The uprising of his manhood in her service; her mother’s
strained dismay; the scene at the stair’s head; the glimpse of the three
gold curbs upon the cloak. Where were the beginnings and the endings in
this tangled skein for her? Had she not looked for exultation in this
moment when at last it should come into her life? And now that the truth
seemed close to her very heart, she found the near future blurred by a
dimness of doubt, of incredulity, even—of dread.



                                  XII


Summer freshness after rain, a splendor of wet shimmering fields and
woods, gardens full of a hundred perfumes, a sky changing from azure to
opalescent gold on the horizon. The slow sweep of the river through the
dream of a summer day. White swans moving over the water; scattered
houses with black beams and plaster-work, or warm red walls, lifting
their gables amid sleeping trees. Now and again the plash of oars and
the sound of voices stealing down some quiet “reach.”

Two boats with cushions and banners at the stern were moving up-stream
while the day was still in its April hours. They were nearing Richmond,
stately in memories and in trees, and Sheen also, where the last of the
Tudors delivered up her queenship unto God. The two boats had pulled out
from Whitehall stairs that morning, carrying a river-party to my Lord
Gore’s house at Bushy. Discretion and the voice of some “back-stairs
friend” had hinted that my lord and his son would discover the country
preferable to the town until my Lord of Pembroke’s recovery should be
assured. The King had lately assumed a prejudice against brawls, and my
lord had left this chance indiscretion in the hands of Hortense, who
was—for the while—the King.

Stephen Gore had collected a few especial friends to go by river and
spend some days with him at Bushy. His deaf sister from Kensington had
been appointed state duenna for the week. With my lord were two
gentlemen of the same political tendencies as himself; my Lady Purcell,
fresh and fragrant as a Provence rose; a certain Sir Peter Marden’s wife
and daughter, blood relatives of the Gores; and Captain John, his son.
Moreover, in the same boat as her mother, with a scarlet cushion under
her arm, sat Mistress Barbara, solemn, and dark as some Proserpine to
whom the breath of the summer day presaged the shadows of a sadder
world.

Her mother would probably have left her at the house in Pall Mall had
not the girl displayed a sudden tractable cheerfulness that had
surprised Lady Anne into searching for motives. Nor had the fertile and
intuitive brain of woman far to seek. My Lady Purcell drew her own
amused conclusions, nor was she sorry to suspect the girl of such
reasonable yet uncharacteristic softness.

It so happened that Barbara and John Gore were not shipped in the same
boat, the son having taken charge of the second and smaller of the two,
with a cargo of luggage and servants, to say nothing of Master Sparkin,
who had scrambled into the bow, and amused himself alternately by
tickling the neck of the nearest waterman with a feather and dabbling
his hands in the water over gunwale. John Gore’s boat proved the faster
of the two, and though she started half a mile behind my lord’s, she had
drawn up by the time that they had reached Mortlake, much to the
satisfaction of Sparkin, who had urged the men on to a race. For a while
they pulled stroke and stroke, John Gore laughing and talking to the
guests in his father’s boat.

Stephen Gore was steering, his sister next him on his left, Lady Purcell
on his right. And the moment that the two boats had drawn level, Anne
Purcell had touched my lord’s knee with hers and glanced meaningly at
Barbara, who had been looking back at the flashing oars of John Gore’s
boat. Her mother had been on the watch for suggestions. And in such
matters the most commonplace incidents may appear significant. Yet
Barbara had merely been watching Sparkin’s drolleries, for one cannot
always breathe to the rhythm of tragic verse.

“Jack, my boy, when you put to sea with a boat-load of ‘baggage,’ you
will find yourself faster than stately dowager-ladened ships.”

My lord’s second cousin, my Lady Marden, a fat, happy woman eternally on
the verge of laughter, shook the large green fan that ladies used then
in the place of a parasol.

“Dowagers, indeed! I am sure we look younger than our daughters.”

“That is always the case,” said one of my lord’s friends.

“I would venture it that Captain John would rather be in our boat,” and
she glanced at Barbara as though for confirmation.

Anne Purcell’s daughter gazed at the far bank over the lady’s shoulder.

“Even a boat-load of aunts and cousins may be duller than a Barbary
prison,” quoth my lord, with a play upon words that no one understood.

“And even a weevily biscuit better than none—when you’re empty,” said
Sparkin, who seemed to consider himself perfectly justified in airing
his wit. But seeing that the venture drew a sharp and ominous glance
from the great gentleman in the other boat, Sparkin became suddenly
oblivious to its presence, and returned to tickling the brown neck of
the man who pulled the bow oar—an act that stamped him as the meanest
of opportunists, seeing that the man could not express himself in the
presence of “quality.”

The boats were still moving side by side when Mistress Catharine Gore,
the deaf duenna, began asking questions in her shrill, aggressive voice.

“Who’s that boy, Stephen?”

My lord assumed an alarmed look and held up a silencing hand.

“My dear Kate,” he shouted in her ear, “do not ask embarrassing
questions.”

His sister’s face betrayed a sudden gleam of shocked intelligence that
made my lord’s fooling appear more piquant. Deafness had developed a
habit of irritability in her, and she was accustomed to blurt out her
opinions in a voice that she probably intended for a whisper.

“You don’t say so, Stephen! I am astonished that your son should have
the effrontery. But these sailors—”

The other ladies began to giggle. My lord nudged his sister vigorously
with his knee.

“Jack brought the boy home from America with him.”

“Why don’t you speak louder, Stephen? What did you say her name was?”

But as she discovered that they were trying to hide their laughter
behind fans and coat-sleeves, Mistress Catharine Gore gave her brother
one stare, and relapsed into a silence that was not altogether amiable.

Nor did John Gore look the complaisant son smiling at his father’s
waggery. He nodded to his men, who quickened at the oars, making the
boat forge ahead of my lord’s galley. Barbara’s eyes met the
sea-captain’s as he glanced back for a moment to look at something,
perhaps at her. She was glad and yet sorry that they were not together,
for the secret that she concealed made his nearness a martyrdom and a
season of suspense. How could she keep the consciousness of that grim
blood-debt before her soul, with the beat of the ripples against the
boat and the flash of the sunlight on the water? She felt too close to
humanity to be able to look into her own haunted heart. These laughing,
chattering women, these mercurial, pleasure-loving men! She could only
sit there in a silence as in a trance, and let the shores and the tide
of life glide by, until she could wake in the tragic loneliness of
solitude—and of self.

The garden of my Lord Gore’s house at Bushy came down to the river with
a sweep of perfect sward. There was a stone boat-house with quaint
copper dragons on the recessed gable ends, and a gilded vane shaped like
a ship in sail. The steps that led up from the river had statues of
fauns and wood-nymphs upon their pillars, and along the bank
weeping-willows trailed their boughs in the brown water of the shallows.

The garden itself had all that quaint formalism, that stately simplicity
that was part of the lives of some of the Old-World gentry. A great
stretch of grass cut into four squares by gravel paths, with closely
clipped bays and yews set rhythmically along the walks. On the north, an
ancient yew alley, a gallery of green gloom. On the south, a broad
flower border, full of roses, pinks, and stocks, and all manner of
flowers and herbs. On the west, the stone terrace of the house, with
orange-trees in tubs ranged behind the balustrade. In the centre of all,
where the four walks met, a fountain playing, throwing a plume of spray
from the bosom of a river-god.

John Gore’s boat, half a mile ahead of my lord’s galley, disembarked
first at the steps, so that the servants were able to clear the baggage
into the house and help in preparing that most essential of all
incidents—dinner. John Gore sent Sparkin off to the kitchen, and passed
the time pacing the gravel walks, with the river before him and the air
sweet with the perfumes of the herbs. The stateliness of the place, its
repose and opulence, had a strong charm for the man after rough years of
voyaging and the squalid loneliness of prison. He contrasted it with the
weird brilliance and fragmental beauty of the countries of the Crescent.
Nothing could seem more rich to him than those splendid lawns, like
green samite spread without seam or wrinkle. Even the gilded vane on the
boat-house had memories, for he could remember coveting it as a child,
and the thing may have suggested the life of those who go down to the
sea in ships.

John Gore saw in season the flash of my lord’s oars, the bluff bow of
the galley pushing the ripples aside, the banner floating over the
stern. Going to the water-steps, he stood there and waited, hat in hand,
the quiet dignity of such a man seeming in keeping with such a scene.
With one foot on the gunwale, he gave a hand in turn to my lord’s
guests, while the rowers held the boat in place by using their oars as
poles.

The character of the different women might have been guessed by the way
each accepted the curtesy of the man upon the steps. Anne Purcell smiled
in his face with a full-blown and fragrant vanity. Mrs. Catharine Gore
gave him a severe stare. My Lady Marden might have melted his dignity
with her good-humor; her daughter faltered with assumed shyness, looking
at her feet and not into John Gore’s eyes. As for Barbara, she ignored
his hand unconcernedly, gazing straight before her with a straight mouth
and a passionless face.

The gentlemen followed, John Gore leaving them to their own legs. He had
turned and climbed the steps close on Barbara’s heels, noticing, as a
man does, the poise of her head and the proud youth in her figure. A
high-born and imperious spirit seemed proper from one who walked between
those stiff and stately trees. John Gore would not have wished for a
hoyden in such a setting.

The party moved up the central walk toward the house, my Lady Marden
verbosely pleased with everything that she saw. “But there were no
peacocks! Surely that sweet terrace should have been a proper place for
the birds to show their tails! But perhaps my Lord Gore did not like
their voices?” My lord replied that he saw so many peacocks at Whitehall
that there was nothing singular or distinctive about having such
commonplace birds on show. He would send for a barge-load if my Lady
Marden would promise to imitate a pea-hen in her dress. Anne Purcell
looked tried by the fat woman’s excessive and loquacious amiability. She
had Mrs. Catharine Gore for a stimulating “cup of bitters,” Mrs. Kate,
whose wood billet of a figure looked fit only for a great wheel
farthingale. My lord’s two gentlemen friends were walking one on either
side of my Lady Marden’s daughter, who pretended to be embarrassed, and
was not. She had a black patch at the corner of a very suggestive mouth,
and a figure that did not promise prudery. For the rest, John Gore and
Barbara Purcell were left pacing side by side like two grave and staid
strangers walking up the aisle of a church.

The party dined in the long salon whose windows opened upon the terrace
with its row of orange-trees. My Lady Marden careered in her
conversation like a fat mare turned out to grass. My lord alone appeared
inclined to keep step with her. After dinner there were wines and fruit:
wines of Spain and Burgundy; peaches, nectarines, apricots, and grapes.
After the fruit and wine, those who desired could steal a siesta, for
the river air is fresh after rain, and mature appetites minister at the
altar of Morpheus.

The two gentlemen were amusing themselves by making hot love to the
younger Marden, and watching the expression of keen curiosity and
chagrin on Mrs. Catharine Gore’s face. To be able to see so many
suggestive things, and to hear nothing! What more tantalizing position
for a duenna, and a spinster! John Gore could not keep back a smile as
he watched the drama. He rose, and went and stood by Barbara’s chair
with the quiet simplicity of a man who was not self-conscious.

“Do you remember the old place? I suppose you have been
here—often—since I was last here.”

“No, not for a long while.”

“Would you like to see the garden?”

She glanced up at him and rose.

“Yes.”

And that was all they said to each other for fully three minutes.

Probably their interest in glass houses, herb beds, and flowers was a
wholly subordinate affair, yet it served the purpose of bringing two
people together who desired to be near each other for very different
reasons. John Gore may have thought the girl curiously reserved and
silent. Yet he did not wish her otherwise, preferring her swarthy,
pale-skinned aloofness to red-faced and commonplace good temper. Men who
have seen the world have little use of people who let their
insignificant souls bolt from their mouths like a mouse out of a hole.
Hearts easily won are easily lost. The open field has no lure for the
imagination; high walls and a mass of dusky trees pretend to hide all
manner of mystery.

Neither of them referred to the brawl of the other night—Barbara, for
reasons known to her own heart; John Gore, from a sense of delicacy and
chivalrous understanding. He began to talk to her of the days when they
had been mere children, and the subject served to sweep away some of the
reserve that chilled the air between them.

They were in the fruit-garden, with its high, red-brick walls, when John
Gore recalled to her an incident of their irresponsible youth.

“Do you remember old Jock, the head gardener?”

She looked at him with a slight frown of thought.

“Jock, the Scotchman?”

“The old fellow with the bandy legs, and the head that lolled to and fro
when he walked. It was just here I played that trick on him. You were
standing there—by the door; I was behind a bush with the squirt. I can
see you laughing now, and the flick of your green skirt as you bolted
into the yew alley.”

She smiled, but her face grew grave again abruptly, as though reproved
by some power within.

“How long ago it seems! We have changed so much! And you have been
nearly over the whole world!”

He glanced at her as she spoke, finding by instinct in her a sense of
something to be overcome. It might be the natural strength of reserve in
her. Yet she appeared to him like a girl brought up in some fanatical
home where laughter was a sign of carnal inclinations. Her heart might
begin to smile, but some habit of self-repression stifled the impulse
before it could mature.

“You will tell me about your voyages?”

“If they are of any interest to you.”

Her eyes met his, and then swerved away with a flash of wayward feeling
that puzzled him.

“I should like to hear everything. It has an interest for me. And
then—you were in a Moorish prison?”

He looked into the distance with the air of a man ready to speak of his
very self.

“Prison. That is an experience that grinds the folly out of the heart. A
man is walled up with that strange riddle of a thing—himself. It made
me learn to understand those old hermits in the deserts. For the devils
who tempted them, and whom they fought and cast out into the night, were
the devils a man carried about with him in his own heart. Prison makes a
man a wild beast—or a philosopher.”

“More often a beast, Jack,” said my lord, who appeared at the gate
leading into the yew walk, fanning himself with a big fan that he had
borrowed from Anne Purcell.



                                  XIII


On the evening of the third day at my Lord Gore’s house at Bushy,
Barbara walked alone in the yew alley on the north of the great garden.
It was like some dim cloister built for those who fled from the fever of
life to cool their hearts in Gothic mysteries. The dark trunks broke,
sheaf by sheaf, into groins that crossed in a thousand arches. Its
shadowy atmosphere seemed silent and remote, full of an absorbed sadness
that spoke of sanctuary.

On the tennis-court beyond the house Stephen Gore and his friends were
playing out a match that had been put up for a wager. The women-folk
were looking on, ready to hazard a brooch or a scarf on the fortunes of
a racquet. Barbara, whose heart was full of a fierce unrest, had slipped
away alone into the garden, and even if her mother had missed her, she
had pinned a sentimental meaning to her daughter’s mood.

The sun sank low in the west as Barbara walked in the alley of yews, so
low that the western arch of the cloister was a panel of ruddy gold. The
long shafts of the decline came streaming through and through the
criss-cross boughs, splashing the trunks with amber, and weaving a
checker of light and shadow upon the path. There was no sound to break
the silence save the occasional plash of oars upon the river and the
faint voices from the tennis-court beyond the house.

Yet for Barbara the sweet sanctity of the ancient trees had no solace
and no shade. She had fled there as to a sanctuary to escape from that
most fierce and incomprehensible thing—herself. The desire to be alone
had been like the thirst of one in a desert—thirst for quiet waters and
the shadow of some great rock.

The girl had come to my Lord Gore’s house with the purpose of three
years struggling to be matured. Perhaps she was a little mad, even as a
mind that has brooded upon one shadowy memory must lose the sane breadth
of noonday for the more vivid contrasts of dawn or twilight. The
fanatical Spanish blood in her had taken fire and burned those three
years in the deeps of her sombre eyes. For she had loved the man—her
father—as she had loved no other living thing on earth. The manner of
his death still woke a slow, ominous fury in her—a phase that placid
natures might have been unable to understand. Yet the Jews of old were
true and elemental in their vengeances and in the vengeance of their
God. They understood that flame of fire in the heart that consumes even
its own substance till the sacrificial victim has been found.

Yet here was the bitterness of the thing that she should falter before
this very sacrifice. It is so easy to strike when the whole heart is in
the blow; so difficult when some trick of lovableness makes the courage
waver. If only the man had helped her by being gross, arrogant, or
contemptible! Yet he was all that she would not have him be, and all
that she, as a woman, would have desired had there been no inevitable
tragedy urging her on. His very surface, though she rallied herself with
cynical distrust, made her incredulous, even afraid. Often she would
fling the very suspicion from her with passionate unbelief. And yet in
an hour it would flow back again like dark water into a well.

Walking the yew walk in some such mood of doubt and hesitation, she saw
a boy’s face looking down at her from overhead—a brown, impudent,
snub-nosed face with an intelligent twinkle in the eyes. It was John
Gore’s boy, Sparkin, straddling the fork of a yew, the dense vault of
foliage overhead casting so deep a shadow that he might have escaped
notice like his Majesty in the oak after Worcester fight.

Barbara paused and glanced up at him threateningly, angry at the thought
that she had been spied upon.

“What are you doing there?”

“Birds’-nesting,” said the boy, promptly.

“You won’t find any eggs this month of the year.”

“Oh, sha’n’t I!”

“No, the birds are fledged.”

“Some of them sit twice,” quoth Sparkin, determined neither to be
corrected nor to be crushed, though he had been caught at such a
disadvantage.

There was a stone bench at the western end of the yew alley, and
Barbara, leaving Sparkin skied by his own conceit, walked on and sat
down on the bench, knowing that the best way to hurt a boy is to ignore
him. But Sparkin was out on no vainglorious adventure. He had nearly
been tempted to interest himself in his master’s affairs, for it was a
new experience for the youngster to watch this king of the quarter-deck
dipping his flag to a thing in a petticoat.

Therefore, Sparkin came scuffling down the tree as soon as he discovered
that his ambuscade had failed, and, pushing his way between the yews and
a high brick wall, disappeared in the direction of the house.

Making a bolt for the doorway leading into the tennis-court, he ran full
tilt into a gentleman as he rounded the corner, and that gentleman being
none other than Captain Gore himself, he took Master Sparkin playfully
by the ear, concluding that the boy had been in mischief, and that
vengeance in some shape or form followed at his heels.

“Hallo! what are you running for?”

Sparkin had no excuse for the moment. It would have been useless to
explain that he preferred the more vigorous form of exercise.

“I met Mistress Barbara in the yew walk, captain.”

His innocence was sublime. What earthly interest could John Gore take in
such a coincidence?

“I was birds’-nesting, and I thought it would be good manners to run
away.”

John Gore maintained his hold on Sparkin’s ear, and looked down at him
with shrewd amusement. Then he gave him a fillip, and a gesture in the
direction of the house, a hint that the boy had the wisdom to accept as
final.

The stone bench in the yew walk was set forward a little from the trunks
of the trees, and John Gore, as he entered the alley, saw the girl’s
figure outlined against the gold of the western sky. This tunnel of
shadows seemed to him to lead toward mystery and desire. The figure at
the end thereof remained motionless as a statue in black marble set
before the entrance to a shrine.

She did not wake to his presence till he was quite near to her, with the
sun shining upon his face, and upon the new coat of scarlet cloth that
he wore. There may have been some symbolism in the very color of the
cloth. The simple richness of it suited his brown skin and the swarthy
strength of his clean-shaven face.

“Oh, is it you!”

“You were tired of watching grown men playing with a ball?”

“Perhaps I had other things to think of.”

She moved aside and gathered up her dress so that there was ample room
for him upon the bench. Yet, though it was done coldly, imperturbably,
without a glimmer of a smile, the man whom she had sworn to kill
suspected nothing but habitual melancholy.

“Your boy was here a minute or two ago.”

“Sparkin? I caught him on the run, and gave him a tweak of the ear to
last for a week.”

“The child seems very fond of you.”

“Perhaps because I have never spared the rope’s-end when necessary, and
perhaps because he has never caught me lying.”

“How did you come by him?”

“A mere chance. He was no man’s child—a kind of wild-cat that haunted
the river-side and lived as best it could. It was before I sailed three
years ago that I saw the youngster outside a Greenwich tavern. He was
standing up in his rags to some big, well-conditioned bully of a
school-boy, and thrashing him squarely by sheer pluck.”

“That is how you became friends?”

“I took him to sea with me, and grew fond of the youngster in spite of
his insolence, which I chastened like a father. And the humor of it was
that after pulling him out of a Greenwich gutter, the boy pulled a
ship’s crew out of a Barbary prison. I have told you that tale before.”

Barbara watched his face while he was speaking with an intentness that
made him feel the nearness of her eyes.

“A lucky day for the boy.”

“And for me. We are more than quits. I am here in England.” And he
glanced at her as though he had meant more than he had said.

Barbara cherished her reserve.

“It was in the autumn of 1675 that you sailed,” she said.

“No, earlier than that.”

“I remember the year well.”

“It was in June, not in the autumn.”

“I remember every month of that year, because it was the year that my
father died.”

She spoke calmly, yet he was startled by the expression of her face. It
shone white in the half-gloom of the evening under the yews, the eyes
gleaming out from it with a dull fire.

“The month was June; I am sure of that.”

“If you say it was June it must have been so. You should know.”

Her wayward strangeness puzzled him. At times he was even tempted to
believe that what my Lord Gore had hinted at might some day prove too
true. The thought roused in him a shock of rebellion at the heart, and
an instinct of strong tenderness that woke a longing to cherish and to
protect.

“Are you cold here? There is a mist beginning to rise from the river.”

“They will be wondering what has become of us.”

“Let them wonder. I will fetch you a cloak.”

“No. Let us go in.”

She shivered momentarily and rose from the bench, drawing a little away
from him as they walked up the yew alley together. The east was full of
a faint crimson splendor; the colder tints had not come as yet.

Neither of them appeared to have a word to say. Yet the silence was
tinged with a vague mystery that seemed to catch the spirit of the dying
day. To John Gore it seemed that any memory of that fatal year chilled
the girl like the breath of a raw November night.

Barbara went to her room with a feeling of infinite loneliness weighing
upon her heart, the loneliness of a gray twilight over a gray land. An
utter dreariness dulled all feeling in her for the hour. Perfunctorily,
almost blindly, she changed her dress, putting on something richer for
the wax lights and the music in the state salon. A procession of dim
thoughts moved slowly through her brain, their significance hurting her
despite her obstinate self-will.

It was inevitable that the man should swear that he had sailed from
England before the month of her father’s death.

Had not the voyage itself been a trick to cover the meaning of the past?
Neither he nor that other one whom she suspected had betrayed one
glimmer of a tragic intimacy. But that, too, was inevitable—a surface
hypocrisy that might betray caution, penitence, even a fading of desire.

And yet—and yet!

She stretched her arms out with a kind of anguish of incredulous
helplessness, feeling utterly alone in a world of bitterness and horror.
Could he be that man whose sword had left her father dead that autumn
night?



                                   XIV


My Lord of Gore’s coach carried Anne Purcell and her daughter back to
Westminster, for the gathering at the house at Bushy had dispersed
prematurely, owing to sundry regrettable differences of opinion that had
arisen between the three elder women. My lord himself travelled cityward
with the Purcells, as though discountenancing Mrs. Catharine Gore, who
had been spirited by Lady Marden and her daughter away in her coach to
Kensington. For the quarrel, such as it was, had originated in Mrs.
Kate’s deafness and her utter lack of reasonable discretion, since her
loud and irritable tongue had not only set the two elder ladies by the
ears, but had driven even her stately brother to a tempestuous ruffling
of his dignity. The repartee had verged on coarseness, for Mrs.
Catharine Gore was the most exasperating person to argue with on the
face of God’s earth. Her deafness, exaggerated for the occasion, made
her impregnable both against weight of metal and sharpness of wit. And
she could retaliate in the most violent and acrid fashion, pretending
all the time that she had mistaken the rival disputant’s meaning.

Thus when my lord had persisted with some heat and an impressive
dogmatism that his sister painted her prejudices too vividly, Mrs. Kate
had seized the chance of flinging an explosive retort into the midst of
the party.

“If my Lady Purcell had said that my Lady Marden painted her face, it
was no business of her brother’s to repeat it, and that only fools made
mischief wantonly.”

And it may be imagined that a few such sweet misapplications of the
truth had ruined the tranquillity of her brother’s house.

John Gore and the two gentlemen had ridden over earlier that morning,
for the sea-captain had business at Deptford that concerned the men who
had lain with him in a Barbary prison. Nor were the three in my lord’s
coach sympathetically arranged. There were three angles to the diagram,
and though two of them may have been in geometrical agreement, the third
spoiled the symmetry of the whole human proposition. For Barbara had
never seemed more moody or distraught. She sat like a figure of Fate
with her great eyes looking into the distance, and her face blank and
impassive to any sallies from my lord. An atmosphere of dreariness and
of apathy seemed to emanate from her, an atmosphere so sluggish and
sincere that it blighted the two elders, who would have been buxom
enough if they had been alone.

The lord and the lady exchanged glances from time to time. They were
wise in their generation, nor were they ready to be displeased at the
little romance that appeared to be developing under their noses. The
girl had an eccentric way of accepting homage. Yet they understood her
to be a queer piece of morose comeliness; nor had she the habit of
simpering like other women.

Stephen Gore smiled, and looked with surreptitious shrewdness at the
mother.

“Pauvre petite!”

“La maladie des femmes.—Jean et Jeanette!”

They laughed and glanced, each of them; out of their respective windows,
not noticing the dull gleam in the girl’s dark eyes.

Meanwhile the Don John of their love prophecies had changed his nag for
a fast wherry on the Thames, and had landed at Deptford stairs before my
lord’s coach had come within sight of the towers of Westminster. Picking
his way amid the sea-lumber of the place, he hunted out a tavern known
as “The Eight Bells,” a tavern with great tipsy tables, and little
windows like blinking eyes, and rough benches along the wall.

Within, a parlor full of tobacco smoke, black beams, and copper-colored
faces that seemed to conjure up all the adventuresomeness of the wild
life of the sea. It was a corner of the world where men about a winter
fire might tell tales of treasure, of sea-fights, and all the coarse,
quaint, crudely colored romance of the Spanish seas. The mere words were
magical to a roving spirit. Pieces of eight, culverins, great rivers
with strange names, treasure-houses full of ingots of gold, the far
islands of the buccaneers. There men should tell tales of wine drunk
under tropical moons, of mulatto women in bright garments, of Indian
girls, of prize-money and the smell of powder, and the salt sweat of the
bustling seas. The whole strong perfume of that adventurous life seemed
to permeate the shadows of that low-beamed room, with Jasper of the guns
turning his hawk’s eyes from man to man, and talking of the days when
the captain should sail the ship that they had already seen and coveted.

Ha!—and Jasper’s face grew fierce and happy—they would sweep down the
Channel with sails whiter than Dover cliffs, and all their cannon
sparkling like ingots of gold! There would be pikes bristling in the
arm-racks around the masts; the hissing of the grindstone as the men
sharpened their cutlasses. Full sail past Tangier, and a “lookout” in
the foretop for any heathen devil that dared show a nose in the open
sea. Even a few piratical jests would not come amiss. Jasper had
pictured it all to his mates after they had seen and coveted Old Man
Hollis’s ship, _The Wolf_, lying at anchor in mid-stream. Just the girl
to carry the captain in her lap! They would wipe out the smell of that
Barbary prison, and set the brass boys bellowing like bulls of Bashan.

They tumbled up from the benches of “The Eight Bells” when the figure in
the red coat showed at the doorway. Jasper, old sea-wolf, with ringed
ears and a buckram skin, grinned joyfully, proud with the pride of an
old Norse pirate.

There was a chair by the rough table for John Gore. He sat down there,
while the men formed a ring round him, while Jasper of the guns said his
say.

“We have found you a ship, captain: twenty brass cannon and wings like a
sea-gull. All her tackle new as a girl’s stockings after Michaelmas.”

John Gore looked at them all a little sadly, like a man who must speak
bad news. He had picked up Jasper’s pipe, and was tracing an imaginary
pattern on the table. The sailors would have sworn that it was a
love-knot had they been able to see inside the captain’s head.

“Don’t tempt me, Jasper, my man; when you go to sea again, it won’t be
under my flag.”

Bluntly, yet with a great kindness for them that could not be hid, he
blew to the winds all Jasper’s visions of judgment. Not for a year at
least would he sail on a second voyage. The big man regarded him
sorrowfully, as though listening to the news of a Dutch victory. The
sailors looked at one another and shifted uneasily from foot to foot. A
pipe was tapped softly, even dismally, on the heel of a sea-boot. One
worthy could find no other method of expression than that of firing a
stream of tobacco juice into a pile of sawdust in a corner.

They were like so many dismasted hulks with the spirit out of them, so
many disappointed children. Jasper’s enthusiasm broke into a last flare.

“Such a little dancing devil, captain, and her guns all like new pins.
She ought to carry you, and no one else.”

The man in the red coat still drew patterns on the table.

“Look you, my men, don’t count on serving under me; I am high and dry
for a year or more. You are too tough to rot here in taverns. My
business is to see good men of mine afloat in a good ship.”

“That’s like you, captain.”

“We did not fight the _Sparhawk_ for nothing, did we? You served me
well; I mean to serve you. Will you go to sea as picked men in a King’s
ship?”

Jasper looked at his mates, first over one shoulder and then over the
other.

“That’s the next best,” he said, bluntly.

“Well, then, I’ll make it my affair.”

“I can’t keep my fingers off a gun or a rope for long, sir, that’s God’s
truth.”

“The smell of the tar sticks, lads? Mr. Pepys and the Duke, if
necessary, shall be my men. I would rather see fellows of mine in the
best ship that carries the King’s flag than rolling in some dirty ketch
between Dover and Dunkirk.”

John Gore called for a tankard of ale, and they pledged healths together
in the tavern of “The Eight Bells.” Leaving them a purse of guineas as
largesse, he returned to his boat, with Jasper and his mates acting as a
kind of state guard to the water-side.

“If God won’t have a man, the devil will! That’s an old proverb,
captain, and the King’s a better master than Old Nick.”

With some such philosophy Jasper looked lovingly on John Gore as he
stood on the water-steps and took his leave. Far down the stream the
masts of Old Man Hollis’s ship seemed to beckon them unavailingly toward
the brightness of Spanish seas.

At the Admiralty offices a plump, buxom, bustling gentleman received
John Gore with great good-will. Something of a dandy, with protuberant
eyes that appeared to have grown weak with straining at everything that
was to be seen, Mr. Pepys bundled himself gladly from the multifarious
responsibilities of office, and let loose all his heartiness in the
service of a friend. It was impossible to be jovial or to enjoy a gossip
where so many detestable quills were scratching and scolding over
parchment and paper. The dinner-table was the secretary’s inspiration.
Mrs. Pepys would be infinitely contented at the thought of an old friend
dining off the new silver plate. John Gore and the ubiquitous, but yet
lovable, busybody departed dinnerward arm in arm.

At home the fair St. Michel appeared triste and a little out of temper.
Her husband’s hospitality was often inconsistently impulsive. There are
moments, even in the best households, when the joints are scraggy, and
the puddings like country cousins, homely and out of fashion. Mr. Pepys
kissed his wife with excellent unction, let fall a hint that he had seen
a new gown at the New Exchange, and compelled the domestic sun to shine
by the sheer vitality of his good-humor.

Jack Gore praised his sherry, and frankly confessed that he had a favor
to ask. Mr. Pepys chuckled. So many people always appeared to be in like
case. His sherry was the finest sherry in the three kingdoms on such
occasions. Some of these suppliants—well, that was a purely private
affair! And he gave a confidential and deliberate wink that suggested
that he was popular.

“Most revered Jack,” quoth he, “you throw a request in a man’s face like
a twenty-pound shot into a Dutchman’s hull. There is just the polite
spark at the touch-hole to give one warning, your urbanity concerning
the sherry. None the less, I like it. Candor makes me feel quite fat.”

“You will get these fellows of mine well berthed?”

“All captains and lieutenants in three weeks! I would have you come and
see some of the scrofulous schemers who wriggle in and smirk at me—most
days of the month. They are so polite, so considerate in suggesting how
I may be made a fool and a rogue. And sea-captains, sir, seem to be the
fated husbands of pretty wives. It makes a Prometheus of me at times, I
assure you. And as for Mrs. Pepys there, somehow she always has a
sneaking preference for the mild and simple bachelors!”

The secretary’s wife stared hard at her husband’s embroidered vest. The
direction of such a glance is considered disconcerting when applied to
gentlemen who are approaching maturity.

“Sam is always a fool where women are concerned,” she said, with an
autocratic poise of the head.

“There now, sir—and I married her! How can she speak such truths? Some
more pie? Nonsense apart, Jack, I will see these men of yours well
placed.”

What with chattering on his own affairs and questioning John Gore on his
voyage, Mr. Pepys appeared to forget that there was such an incubus as
his Majesty’s business. He suggested a drive in the park. His own coach,
so he said, had eclipsed the Mancini’s, as Hortense had eclipsed the
Breton Rose. Then there was Nell to be seen in a new play at The King’s,
but he would not wink at her. Mrs. Pepys should see to that. And their
best bedroom stood empty! A man who had so much cosmopolitan gossip to
impart could not be suffered to call a link-boy that night. They could
sit out together on the “leads” after supper, and talk till the stars
blinked and they both fell a-yawning.

The end of all this amiable bustle was that John Gore slept between Mr.
Pepys’s best sheets, and spent a great part of the following day with
him, looking at his books and plate, drinking his wine, and hearing his
new maid sing one of the secretary’s old songs. For Mr. Pepys was such a
bubble of mirth, such a book of shrewd sense, such a register of
anecdotes, that his loquacity and his infinite good-fellowship made even
romance linger in its onrush for an hour.

Late shadows were floating down the river before John Gore escaped from
the secretary’s weak eyes and stalwart tongue. He had some small affairs
of his own to attend to in the City and at the New Exchange in the
Strand: some new harness at a saddler’s; stockings and shirts at a silk
mercer’s; a case of long pistols at a gunsmith’s in a street near the
New Exchange. The pistol-stocks were inlaid with ivory and
mother-of-pearl, and he left them with the smith for an hour to have his
name scrolled upon the barrels. A coffee-house and a _Gazette_ filled up
his leisure. And not being a man afraid of carrying a parcel through the
public streets, he returned to the gunsmith’s shop, and went westward
with the pistols under his arm.

He took some of the quieter ways past Charing Cross, where the city and
the fields met in scattered gardens and narrow lanes. Apple boughs,
already hung with fruit, drooped alluringly over high brick walls. Here
and there came the scent of rosemary and sage, of clove-pinks, marjoram,
and lavender. And through the bars of some iron gate you might see great
sheaves of sweet-peas in bloom, or torch-lilies stiff and quaint, or
rose-trees with the flowers falling and turning brown.

In one of these narrow lanes, with a high wall upon the one side and a
thorn-hedge upon the other, John Gore met the last soul on earth he
expected to meet at such a moment—Barbara Purcell, alone, not even
followed by a servant. However dreamily John Gore’s thoughts may have
lingered amid the stately walks of my lord’s house at Bushy, he was
surprised to see her before him in the flesh. She was dressed quietly,
with a cloak over her shoulders, and the hood turned forward to cover
her hair, so that she looked more like a shopkeeper’s daughter than a
young madam from the atmosphere of St. James’s.

There was no turning back for either of them in that narrow lane, even
if either had desired to escape a meeting. John Gore saw her flush
momentarily, with a glitter of something in the eyes wonderfully like
anger. How symbolical that hedged-in pathway seemed to her—a pathway
where fate could not be eluded, and where death followed her like a
shadow!

“I never thought to see you here!”

She looked at him darkly with her sombre eyes—eyes that made him think
of watchfulness and waiting.

“Sometimes I come here and walk in the lanes. They are quiet, and one is
not stared at.”

“You should not walk here, though, when it is getting dusk.”

“Oh, I am not afraid.”

The unfeigned earnestness of the man betrayed a depth beyond the
shallows of mere words.

“Others—may be afraid for you. These paths that seem so sweet and green
are often the night tracks of the vermin of the streets.”

Their eyes met and appeared to exchange a challenge.

“I have never been troubled here.”

“God save the chance that you ever should. We can walk back together,
now that we have met.”

She had no excuse with which to parry his grave frankness. Had life
promised another meaning she might have suffered herself to be touched
by the message that his manhood seemed to utter. And to John Gore,
walking at her side, the rose-trees that had bloomed in the quaint
gardens were budding again into crimson flame. The high hedgerows were
full of golden light, caught and held in the mysterious shadow-net of
the dusk.

Under his arm were the pistols that he had bought at the gunsmith’s shop
in the street near the New Exchange. He little thought that Barbara
Purcell had been bound for that very place, where steel barrels
glistened row by row in the oak racks against the wall. Chance, and
their meeting, had prevented her that day, and her first impulse had
been one of anger and impatience. It was not easy to slip away alone and
unobserved from the house in Pall Mall. John Gore had marred the first
endeavor. She could but pretend tolerance, and hold to that patience
that counts upon the morrow.

Yet, when he was leaving her as the dusk fell, she felt like one nearing
the grim and incredible climax of a dream. It hurt and oppressed her to
be near him, and yet there was an indefinable mystery in his nearness
that made her heart cry out against the inevitable doom of all desire.

“Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

She felt that he stood and watched her with those grave eyes of his
after she had turned from him along the footway. And the shadow of the
coming night seemed more apparent to her soul.



                                   XV


There are few episodes in a man’s life that plunge him into that dim
forest world of romance where the woodways are full of whisperings and
elfin music, and the gleam of moonlight upon the smooth trunks of mighty
trees. In youth romance is a habit; in maturity, a mere digression. The
boy is naturally an imaginative creature; he dreams dreams of beauty and
strangeness, and of women whose lips suck the blood from the heart. The
marriage service sobers him. He ceases his excursions into hypothetical
raptures, and becomes the steady, workaday busybody, proud of his house,
his table, or his garden, paternally patient with poetical youth.
Affection takes the place of that inconvenient thing called passion. To
romance he is inert, fuddled—unless one illegitimate fire plays havoc
with his respectable tranquillity.

And yet those moments of passion when the heart was all flame, incense,
and music, and the world a young world gorgeous with dawns and sunsets,
those moments of wistful youth come back dearly with a rush of regret
that makes gray reality transiently bright with a faint afterglow. What
though it be a cheat and an illusion, it is the finest dream that will
ever steal through the gates of day. The man may remember it when he
figures at his ledger, and may yearn secretly for that rich, sensuous
youth which the cumulative common-sense of years has crushed into a
faded, foolish fancy.

There are few lives without one red gleam from the west, one moment of
desire when the wind comes with the cry of a lover through midnight
forest ways. To feel again that strange stir of mystery many a man has
leaped into what the world calls “sin.” It is but Nature’s living voice:
the potion of sweet herbs that she presses upon her children, that they
may drink and see the sky waving with red banners, and smell the far
fragrance of pine woods or wild thyme. For life must beget life, and
Nature weaves her mystery about the hearts of mortal men, only snatching
the magic veil aside when her witchery has worked its will.

Now my Lord Gore had passed through many such phases, and was as wise as
most men who have studied others and themselves. To remain interested in
life the man of the world must be piqued continually by some new plot. A
dish that can be had for the asking has less spice in it than one that
boasts delicacies from strange lands. And my lord was amused by his
son’s possible lunacy, even as a man who has been under the table many a
night is amused by watching some grave person make a first experiment in
the art of self-intoxication.

My Lord Gore and his dear Goddess enjoyed the little drama together,
being in such sympathy with each other that they could discuss its
subtleties and smile over its innocent blindness. There was some
singularity in the case in question. The woman was not what the world
would call wooable. As for the man, he was no courtier, and not given to
fine phrases. They imagined that much bellows-work would be needed to
make such green wood flare up into flame.

My lord and Lady Anne were standing at a window in the main gallery of
the house—a window that looked out upon the garden and the music-room.
My lord was hiding, almost playfully, behind a curtain, and peering at
the mother with inimitable slyness. Anne Purcell stood back a little, so
that she could hear without being seen.

“They are not very talkative,” said my lord.

“No.”

“A couple of sphinxes making love to each other without speaking a word!
I have no doubt but that Jack will prove a veritable Petruchio. It will
be boot and saddle for him to-morrow, and a canter along the road to
York to see how his property doth in those parts. A man must be given
opportunities of saying good-bye. It is discreet and amiable of us to
stand here chuckling in a draughty gallery.”

Anne Purcell held up a hand, a sharp gesture for silence.

“Hark! some one is playing the harpsichord!”

“Not Jack.”

“No one has touched the thing for months.”

“That accounts for the discords. Mistress Barbara is picking up the old
fascinations that girls learn at school. Phew! Jack must be a gallant
liar if he can swear that he enjoys it!”

“For Heaven’s sake, be quiet, Stephen. I want to listen.”

She bent toward the window, holding her hollowed hand to her ear. My
Lord Gore pulled down his ruffles and leaned gracefully against the
wainscoting. He winced hypersensitively as the harpsichord notes jangled
out of tune.

“Well, madam, if you can make anything out of it—”

“Be still.”

“For five minutes I will have no tongue.”

There was an expression of bleak intentness upon Anne Purcell’s face.
More than once her lips moved. My lord watched her with an air of
cynical tolerance.

Suddenly she straightened at the hips and swung the lattice to with a
clash of impatience.

“Tut—tut!” quoth the gentleman, soothingly.

“Did you hear what the girl is thumbing out?”

“No, on my honor.”

“That song of Sutcliffe’s which the Westminster choir-master set to
music! Such things must run in the girl’s brain.”

A frown gathered upon my lord’s debonair and buxom face.

“You are always looking for the snake under the stone, Nan. Why should
we worry over such a flick of the memory?”

“Why? Why, indeed! Except that some shadow seems always to strike across
my face. You—you should understand.”

He drew a deep breath, and expelled it slowly with a hissing sound
between his closed teeth.

“If you believe in omens, Nan, we must transfer the sinister side of it
to Captain Jack. Pah! what do either of the young fools know? They will
help each other to forget every one and everything on earth save their
two sweet selves. That is one of the advantages of the disease. What are
parents when a lover appears? He has already roused the girl to some
show of spirits, and for that, Nan, you should be thankful.”

There was, however, something false and forced in the energy of his
cynicism, and in the flippant way he tossed the past aside. Yet even
when they returned to the salon on the other side of the house, the
faint, husky voice of the harpsichord followed them like a voice from
another world.



                                  XVI


In the music-room a sudden silence had fallen, like the pause between
the two stanzas of a song. Barbara, seated on an oak settle with a
cushion of crimson velvet, let her hands rest idly on the key-board of
the harpsichord. Her eyes were raised as though her thoughts had been
carried beyond the four walls of the room by the music her fingers had
drawn from the keys. Yet it was not the pose of one who was dreaming,
for she was looking into a mirror that hung on the wall above the
harpsichord.

In that mirror—she had hung it there with her own hands—she could see
the greater part of the room reflected with all the minute brilliance of
a Dutch “interior”: the polished floor, the oak table, John Gore’s red
coat, the brown wainscoting; even the vivid grass beyond the window, and
the massed colors of a bed of summer flowers. John Gore was sitting in
the window-seat, and she could watch his face in the mirror on the wall.

He was bending forward and looking at her with an intentness that
betrayed his ignorance that she had him at a disadvantage, in that he
saw only the curve of a cheek, while Barbara had everything before her.
His elbows were on his knees, his hands knitted together between them,
his sword lying on the window-seat, the scarf a knot of brilliant color
like a great red rose. He was a man in whom even a child would have
found great strength, and a kind of quiet sternness that mellowed when
he smiled.

John Gore had come to her to say good-bye, and she knew the meaning of
his coming, the meaning that had come kindling in those eyes of his
since the duel that wet night in June. It was a mere man’s trick to be
near her, and to turn a month’s absence to the service of the heart. And
they were alone together in that room where she had found her father
dead—the room that might prove an altar of sacrifice.

Barbara’s white face seemed near to tragedy as she gazed steadily into
the mirror on the wall. Every fibre of her heart had been strung to a
tenseness that made each heart-beat hard and perceptible. She had put
pity from her with the dry cold eyes of a fatalist and the fierce apathy
of one driven onward by force of fate. She had faltered too long, clung
too treacherously to an incredulous caution. Life had become a dull
misery for her, full of infinite doubt and sudden passionate impulses
that carried her to the edge of the unknown. Only to grasp the truth, to
tear aside the veil of sentiment, to end the uncertainty of it, even if
it should be forever! Her heart was emptying of the power to hate. She
had begun to distrust herself. She had to scourge herself with memories,
as a fanatic uses a knotted whip upon the flesh.

“Is that the end?”

The silence had seemed a silence of hours instead of moments, and she
started at the sound of his voice, pressing a hand over her bosom with
an involuntary spasm of swift consciousness. She was wearing a loose
gown with a mass of lace over the breasts. There was something more
tangible hidden there than a memory.

“I have no voice to sing; I shall only remind you of a missel-thrush.”

“But the harpsichord?”

“The notes are all harsh and the wires rusty.”

She glanced at the mirror and saw the same intentness in his eyes.

“Then you do not play often?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“My mother is no music-lover. And my fingers have grown stiff.”

“Why should that have been?”

“I have hardly touched the key-board since—my father died.”

She watched him in the mirror, but he did not change his posture or
betray anything upon his face. It seemed stern, and a little sad, the
face of a man with depths beneath a surface of reserve.

“I can understand that—in measure.”

His voice struck a chord in her, as a voice that sings may set a wire
vibrating.

“It was here—in this room.”

“Here?”

“Yes. It was I who found him. His hands had touched these notes the day
before. He had sung the song that I have played to you.”

Upon the panel of the upturned lid was a picture painted in an oval
scroll of flowers, a sensuous scene from a _fête galante_ with men and
women dancing and looking love. The colors and the gestures of each
minute figure seemed to burn in upon the girl’s brain, as small things
will when life hangs upon a look or upon a word.

Barbara rose slowly, pushing the settle back, and gazing into the mirror
at the man’s dark and thoughtful face.

“It was some unknown sword that killed him.”

She had turned, and his eyes met hers.

“Nothing was ever discovered.”

“Nothing?”

“That was what seemed so strange.”

She stood a moment gazing through the window at the flowers in the
border, yet trying to penetrate by sheer instinct beyond the man’s quiet
dignity. John Gore remembered his father’s innuendos. It had been a
pitiable affair for an innocent girl. It would have been even more
pitiable had she been confronted with what my lord had hinted to be the
truth.

“Does the thrust of a sword hurt? I have often wondered.”

Her eyes were fixed upon him, as though she had discovered the slightest
flicker of uneasiness, a length of silence that suggested premeditation.

“Why think of such things?”

“One cannot always help one’s thoughts; they come like the wind through
the window.”

John Gore leaned his head upon his hand, his fingers tugging at his
hair, much like a school-boy baffled by a pile of figures. Man of
action, and of the world that he was, his ways were often quaintly
boyish.

“There may be one pang, perhaps.”

“The thought of steel in one’s body makes one shiver.”

She seemed to persist in her morbid melancholy like one whose thoughts
move in a circle.

“Is that the sword with which you fought Lord Pembroke?”

“That? Yes.”

“Let me look at it. Strange that such bodkin can be so deadly.”

He took it for a whim of hers, and humored her, hiding the pity in his
eyes.

“Why, it is not much heavier than a gentleman’s cane!”

She held it in her two hands, balancing it, and looking at the silver
work upon the sheath. John Gore watched her, grave-eyed and
compassionate.

“It is said that the sword suits itself to the age.”

“Oh!” And she drew back innocently, step by step.

“Broad and trenchant; slim and subtle.”

“Then you would call this a sword for a treacherous hand?”

“No, rather a tool for the man with a brain. Any fool can fight with a
club.”

She drew the blade sharply from the scabbard, still moving backward step
by step till the table was between her and John Gore.

“It was some such sword as this that killed my father.”

“Perhaps.”

He shirked the subject, as though afraid of paining her or abetting her
in her distemper.

“If I could only know the truth! The mystery of it haunts me.”

She laid the sword upon the table, quite close to her hand, so that she
could snatch at it if things came to such a pass.

“Some parts of life are better forgotten.”

“If we can forget.”

A great impulse stirred in him, bidding him go to her and take her
hands.

“The bitter things remain, and with them—for contrast—the silliest
trifles.”

He looked up at her with a brightening of the eyes.

“Yes; why, Heaven alone knows! I can remember kissing my mother when she
lay dead. And with the same vividness I can remember a wooden horse I
had as a boy, a gray horse with a brown saddle painted on his back, and
his nostrils a gay scarlet. Whenever I see a horse I think of that
wooden horse’s nose.”

Barbara gave a queer, short laugh, her face firing with sudden
animation.

“That is just what life is. And sometimes we see the same thing
again—afterward. I can call to mind looking into the window of a
goldsmith’s shop, and seeing upon a little green board a short gold
chain with a knot of pearls for a button. Why I should have noticed and
remembered that one thing I can’t tell. But I saw its brother chain one
night this summer.”

His eyes met hers, calm, steady, and unperturbed.

“Where?”

“On the cloak you wore that night.”

“A cloak?”

“Yes, at Hortense Mancini’s, when you came in wet with the rain. And I
thought that one of the gold chains seemed missing.”

She watched his face, her hand going instinctively toward her bosom.

“Strange! That chain probably belonged once to the cloak I wore.”

“Ah!”

“There was a chain missing and a small scar in the cloth, as though it
had been torn away. The loss might easily be answered for.”

She steadied herself against the table, feeling every muscle in her
rigid, yet ready to tremble when the end had come.

“You had worn that cloak before?”

“I?”

He glanced up at her curiously, struck by her white, set face and the
harsh straining of her voice.

“Yes.”

“No. The cloak was borrowed, if the truth concerns you.”

“Borrowed?”

“I came home from sea with one shirt, one coat, and the other part of me
in like proportion. My father’s wardrobe came to the rescue.”

“Then the cloak was my Lord Gore’s?”

“Yes; and his man probably stole the chain and sold it.”

He laughed; but on looking up at her again a silent, questioning wonder
swept the lighter lines aside. She was standing motionless behind the
table, her hands fixed upon the edge thereof, her eyes staring at
nothing like the eyes of one in a trance. Yet even as he looked at her a
great spasm of emotion seemed to sweep across her face. She turned
without a word to him and fled out of the room.

John Gore found himself looking at the table behind which she had stood
and at the sword that lay unsheathed thereon. The inexplicable swiftness
of her mood went utterly beyond him, save that the words my lord had
spoken flashed up like letters of fire upon the wall.

He rose and went to the door of the music-room, moving slowly as one
weighted with thoughts that bear heavily upon the heart. The garden was
empty, save for its closely clipped bays. Like some wayward cloud-shadow
she had passed it and was gone.

But Barbara had fled to her room with a tumult of deep feeling within
her heart. It was as though something had broken within her brain,
letting forth infinite tenderness that welled up into poignant tears.

She went in and fell on her knees beside her bed. And if her heart found
utterance it was in the one short cry: “Thank God!”



                                  XVII


John Gore rode for Yorkshire the next day, mounted on a good gray nag,
with pistols in his holsters, and a servant with a blunderbuss, and a
valise strapped on the saddle of a stout brown cob. Travellers had to
take their chance of meeting rough gentry on the road, and many a
nervous countryman, weighing sixteen stone, made out his will before he
did so desperate a thing as travel forty miles. The sea-captain was not
a man with jumpy nerves, and his thoughts went to and fro between
rentals and harvestings and the ways of women as though he sat smoking
at home in a padded chair. Put a man in the saddle on a summer morning,
when the dawn is coming up, and all the hedgerows are dashed with dew,
and he will be moved to sing, and to think well of the world, for the
fresh kisses of the dawn leave no stain upon the mouth.

John Gore was thinking of Barbara Purcell; and the mistake a man so
often makes is to accuse a woman of whims when he does not understand
her, it being easier to call a thing by a name than to investigate its
properties. Man is the creature of a superstition in this respect, and
if a cow kicks the milk-pail over he calls her “a cussed beast,” and as
such she is branded. For man, taking himself so solemnly, cannot stay in
his stride to find out why a woman has her silks or her worsteds in a
tangle. If she weeps, his great solatium is a sweep of the arm and a
kiss. If she seems sulky, it is just her perversity, and it is no more
use for him to trouble his wise head about her vapors than to ask a
February morning cloud why it shows such a sour face. It is nature’s
business, and man, unless he happens to be a psychologist, leaves it as
such and thinks about his dinner.

John Gore, jogging along at a good pace, with the fields and woods all
silver under the rising sun, looked back at the hours of yesterday with
more thoroughness than the majority of lovers. An ordinary egotist might
have drawn some flattering inference from the strange melting of the
girl’s reserve and her eagerness to escape him. He would have reminded
his own conceit that a woman cries, “Shame, sir!” and thinks what she
will wear for the wedding. But John Gore was not so ordinary a fool. His
thoughts went deeper into the soil than the thoughts of frailer men. And
he had more true manhood in him than to insinuate even to his own heart
that because a woman played the will-o’-the-wisp, she was luring him on
with the lure of mystery.

It was all so simple, had he but known, as all great secrets seem when
they are once discovered. Your astrologist goes weaving grotesque
obscurities about man’s destiny and the stars, till one calm brain sets
the whole grand and reasonable scheme in order. Men wrote with
prodigious pomposity about a pump. “Nature abhors a vacuum,” quoth they.
And Nature, like a misunderstood woman, laughed in her sleeve, knowing
that the larger a wise man’s words are, the less he knows.

That Lionel Purcell’s death had left a great void in the girl’s life,
and that she still brooded over the violent mystery of it, of these
things John Gore felt assured. He could put no clear meaning to the mood
of yesterday, save that much grieving had left, as it were, an open
wound upon the brain, and that memory, touching it, would not suffer it
to heal. She had never given him one glimpse of the real purpose that
she cherished. Yet probably John Gore’s nag would have leaped forward
under a sudden slash of his rider’s spurs had the man been told what
Barbara had kept hidden from him in her bosom. As it was, her past life
appeared to him suffused with a wistful glow of infinite sadness,
infinite regret. Her face rose before him dim with a mist of autumn
melancholy. Her crown was a crown of scarlet berries woven and
interwoven amid the dark peril of her hair.

As for Barbara, she had fallen into a strange mood that day when John
Gore rode northward out of her life. She rose early, and walked alone in
the garden, showing an untroubled face to her mother when my lady
descended after taking breakfast in bed. Barbara, to appear occupied,
had a basket on her arm, and a pair of scissors with which she was
cutting off the dead flowers along the border.

Anne Purcell was a lady who had never bent her back over such a hobby.
“Such things were for maiden ladies with round shoulders and no bosoms.”
And the mother was a little inquisitive that morning, for John Gore’s
face had told her nothing the night before. Her wishes were all for an
understanding between the two, and she was not squeamish. The grip of a
man’s arm would hug the mopes out of the girl. Barbara needed hot blood
to teach her to live and to enjoy. My lady was wise in all these
matters.

“It is a new thing for you to touch the harpsichord, Barbe,” she said,
with that kindness that comes easily when people seemed inclined to
shape themselves to one’s wishes. “I will send Rogers to the City and
have a man out to tune the wires.”

Barbara reached for a dead flower, showing off her figure finely as she
leaned over the border—but there was no man there to see.

“You can have a singing-master again, if you wish for it, so that you
can sing to some one when he comes riding back from the North.”

She laughed and looked at her daughter with motherly archness. It was
good, at least, to see the girl busying herself even over such things as
dead flowers.

“My voice is not worth training.”

“What! When some one is ready to sit in the dusk and hear you sing?”

Barbara looked at her mother innocently enough. She was all meek guile
that morning.

“My Lord Gore is a good judge.”

“Why, to be sure, he shall give you a lesson or two. We must get you
some new songs pricked. The old ones are too chirrupy and out of date.”

Thus my lady imagined that she had discovered much of the truth, and
perhaps she had discovered some small portion of it beneath that placid
surface. Dead flowers! Anne Purcell had no prophetic instinct in such
matters. And Barbara was glad when she was gone, and the garden empty of
all thought save the thought of expiation. She was neither happy nor
sad, but possessed by a strange tranquillity, like the first sense of
coming sleep to one who has been in pain. She might have been surprised
at her own calmness had she been in a mood to be surprised at anything.
It was as though bitterness and doubt had been swept out of her path,
leaving the way easy toward the inevitable end.

Barbara went into the music-room, and, lifting the lid of the
harpsichord, let her fingers go idly to and fro over the notes. So few
hours had passed, and yet the passionate voice of yesterday had died
down to a distant whisper. She was glad, quietly glad now, that he had
gone out of her life innocent and unharmed. There was still the
blood-debt between them, and in the consummation of her purpose she
would leave him a memory that could retain but little tenderness.

It was a strange yet very natural mood, the mood of one going calmly to
the scaffold with all the fears and yearnings of yesterday drugged into
stoical sleep. Her one wonder was that she had been so blind, and that
she should have overlooked the grim simplicity of the riddle of three
years. Now, everything seemed as apparent and real to her as the
reflection of her own face in the mirror upon the wall. Her whole
insight had seized upon the discovery and accepted it with swift
conviction, even as a man in doubt and trouble seizes on the text that
answers his appeal. She could have laughed at her own blindness, had
laughter been possible over such a hazard.

My Lord Gore was to sup with them at six o’clock that evening. Barbara
looked calmly toward the hour, as though her heart had emptied itself of
all emotion. There was no anger in her, no haste, no clash of horror and
regret. “I shall kill him to-night,” she said to herself, quite quietly,
as though there could be no other ending to that three years’ vigil.
Judged by the ordinary sentiment of life, men would have called her
utterly callous, execrably vindictive, a thing without any heart in her
to feel or fear. Yet fireside judgments are shallow things. No man knows
what a hanging is like till he happens to drive in the tumbrel to
Tyburn, and the imagination looks for lurid lights where everything may
be as calm and cold as snow. It is easy for a man to sit as judge with
the stem of a pipe between his teeth and a good dinner inside him. He
has no more knowledge of what love and desire and vengeance and death
may be than a plum-pudding can know the thoughts inside the head of the
woman who stirred it in the making.

At noon Barbara dined with her mother, and in a Venetian vase upon the
table there were some late roses sent from my Lord Gore’s garden at
Bushy. The subtle scent of the flowers remained with the memory of that
day like the perfume from censers before a sacrifice. After dinner she
dressed herself, and, taking the girl who waited on her as maid, walked
in the park and down past Whitehall toward the river. The girl with her
noticed nothing strange, save that she was very silent, and seemed not
to see the people who went by.

Leaning over the parapet of the river-walk, Barbara saw a barge moored
near in, and a couple of brown children sitting at the top of the cabin
steps and blowing bubbles from broken clay pipes. The soapy water in the
porringer between them would not have been wasted had it been used upon
their faces. But they were so brown and healthy and happy watching the
bubbles sail and burst that Barbara turned away from the water-side with
the first pang of the heart that she had felt that day.

Coming back past Whitehall a troop of the King’s guard came by with
drums beating and trumpets blowing, and all the pomp of the Palace in
their red coats and burnished steel. The girl with Barbara stopped to
stare; but Barbara walked on under Hans Holbein’s gate, letting a crowd
of boys rush past her to see the redcoats and hear the trumpets.

She would liked to have wandered into the fields beyond Charing village,
but time was passing, and there were things to be remembered. She went
straight to her room on reaching home, and, locking the door, opened an
oak coffer of which she kept the key. Lying there on a green silk scarf
were two pretty little flintlocks, their barrels damascened and the
stocks set with silver. She took them out and, sitting on her bed, held
them in her lap while she ran the ramrod down the barrels to see that
the charges were safely there. The scattering of powder in the pan from
the ivory powder-flask should be left till the last moment.

Barbara was putting the pistols back in the coffer when she heard voices
at the far end of the gallery. It was her mother and Mrs. Jael talking
together. Their footsteps came down the gallery, and a hand knocked at
the door.

“Yes. Who is it?”

Mrs. Jael’s voice answered, bland and sweet:

“Mistress Barbara, my dear, my lady wishes to see you in her room.”

Barbara closed the lid of the coffer, put the keys in her bosom, and
went to the door. Mrs. Jael curtesied, never forgetting her good
manners.

“Will you please go to my lady’s room?”

“What does mother want with me?”

“Go and see, my dear mistress,” quoth the woman, with an air of
motherliness and mystery.

Barbara passed up the gallery without locking the door after her, since
Mrs. Jael made a pretence of going down the stairs. Yet the woman was
back again, with a briskness that did her years credit, so soon as she
had heard the closing of my lady’s door. Mrs. Jael appeared wise as to
what to do in Barbara’s room, probably because of that peep-hole in the
wainscoting of the wall. She went straight to the table where the oak
coffer stood, pulled out a bunch of keys from her pocket, and, choosing
one marked with a tag of red ribbon, unlocked the coffer and lifted the
lid.

Mrs. Jael showed no surprise at seeing the pistols lying therein half
concealed by the green scarf. She ran a knitting-needle, which she drew
from her stocking, down each barrel in turn, holding the pistol close to
her ear and listening as she probed it. Then she examined the
powder-pans, smiled to herself sweetly, and, putting the pistols back
just as she had found them, relocked the coffer and sidled out of the
room.



                                 XVIII


My Lord Gore came to the supper-table in the best of tempers, welding
fatherliness, gallantry, and wit into one and the same humor. After a
glance at his debonair and handsome face the veriest nighthawk out of
Newgate might have declared him a great gentleman, a pillar of the
state, and upholder of all chivalry. No man could be more gracious when
the wine had no sour edge to it. He could dance a child to the ceiling,
laugh like a boy, and make the majority of young maids fall in love with
him with a tremor of romance.

In the world it is too often self that is served, and the gallant
courtier may be a bear at home. My Lord Gore was a man charmed with his
own charm. It pleased him to shine upon people, to radiate warmth, to be
looked upon as generous and splendid by men of duller manners. Yet he
could act generously, and not always with an eye to personal effect. The
plague came when his own comfort or his self-love were menaced. Then the
great gentleman, the classic courtier, showed the crust of Cain beneath
silks and velvets and coats of arms. Cross him, and Stephen Gore’s
stateliness became a power to crush instead of to propitiate. He could
be brutal with a courtly, sneering facility that was more dangerous than
the blundering anger of a rough and clumsy nature. For though every man
with the normal passions in him may be a potential Cain, it is chiefly
in the two extremes of brutishness and luxurious refinement that one
meets with that savage intolerance of the rights of others. And it must
be confessed that in the matter of sheer selfishness the poet has often
eclipsed the boor.

At the supper-table Anne Purcell spoke of Barbara’s singing. Who was
considered the best master, and did my lord prefer the Italian manner?

“For a man, yes,” he answered, quickly, “if he has a bull’s chest on
him. But give me a Frenchman to teach a woman to sing love-songs. That
is the fashion for Proserpine, eh, when Master Pluto has gone
a-farming?”

He winked at Barbara over his wine, looking very bland and fatherly,
with his lips rounded as though he were saying “Oporto” to his own
comfort.

“You might try the girl’s voice after supper, Stephen.”

My lord was very ready. He had a bass of rich compass, like the voice of
a popish priest chanting in some glorious choir.

“Herrick should be the man for Barbara. Soft, delicate lyrics, with an
amorous droop of the eyelids. Poor Lionel was too fond of the old
Cavalier ditties.”

Barbara looked at him with sombre, widely opened eyes. It was not often
of late that she had heard him speak her father’s name. And that night
it woke a flare of exultant anger in her, because of the touch of
patronage, as though the dead could always be safely pitied.

“Well, then, let us go to the music-room,” said her mother. “I will ring
to have candles lit.”

My lord wiped his mouth daintily and laughed.

“Next month there will be no lights needed, but chaste Diana peeping
through the casements and wishing she was not cursed with so prudish a
reputation.”

They wandered out into the garden, where a great slant of golden light
came over the trees and made the grass vivid, even to violet in the
shadows. Barbara walked a little apart, like one whose thoughts went
silently to meet the night. Now and again she glanced at my lord, when
his eyes were off her, with an earnestness that might have puzzled him
had he noticed it.

It was Mrs. Jael who came out with a tinder-box and lit the candles in
the music-room. Barbara watched her through the window, noticing, almost
unconsciously, the woman’s double chin, and loose, lying, voluble mouth.
She was watching Mrs. Jael when my lord took her by the elbow playfully
and turned her toward the portico.

“Come, Mistress Jet and Ivory, we must see how you fancy Parson
Herrick.”

Anne Purcell went in after them, Mrs. Jael standing back as my lady
entered.

“You can send the people to bed early, Jael.”

“Yes, my lady,” and the confidential creature passed out.

Yet what she did was to fly up to Mistress Barbara’s room so that her
breath came in short wheezes, unlock the coffer, grope therein
tentatively, relock it, and hurry down again with a complacent smirk on
her fat face. For Mrs. Jael had a sense of the dramatic where self was
concerned, and could keep a shut mouth, despite her loquacity, till the
occasion should come when she could most magnify herself by opening it.
She went out again into the garden, where it was already growing dusk,
and, crossing the grass softly, stood at one corner of the music-room
where she could wait to hear whether her prophecies were likely to be
realized.

My lord had established himself on the settle with the scarlet cushion,
and was playing an aria, the rings on his fingers glancing in the
candle-light. The mirror had been taken from the wall above the
harpsichord. In the window-seat Anne Purcell showed a full-lipped,
round-chinned profile ready to be outlined by the rising moon, while on
a high-backed chair beside the door sat Barbara, quiet and devout as any
novice.

“Sing us that song of Mr. Pepys’s, Stephen.”

“‘Beauty Advance,’ eh? A wicked wag, that Admiralty fellow. I have
watched him in church trying to discover which girl in the congregation
would make the prettiest beatitude. A dull song, very, for so lively a
gossip.”

My lord had a habit of turning his head and looking over his shoulder,
as though he never for one moment forgot his audience.

“Well, has Proserpine a word to say?”

Barbara gave him her sombre eyes at noon.

“There are my father’s songs.”

My lord struck a false note on the harpsichord.

“Some old Cavalier ditty, fusty as a buff coat! No, my dear, we have
forgotten how to carry a bandolier.”

“Let the girl try something. Teach her one of the playhouse songs.”

Barbara sat with one hand in her bosom.

“There is an old song I remember,” she said, with the far-away look of
one calling something to mind.

My lord paused and glanced at her.

“What do you call it?”

She met his eyes.

“‘The Chain of Gold.’”

“The name has slipped my memory. How does it run?”

Barbara leaned against the high back of her chair. She looked steadily
at Stephen Gore, every fibre in her tense as the fibres of a yew bow
bent by an English arm.

“‘My love has left me a chain of gold.’ That is the first line.”

My lord furrowed his forehead thoughtfully.

“Hum! go on. I catch nothing of it yet.”

        “‘My love has left me a chain of gold,
           With a knot of pearls, for a token.
         It came from his hand when that hand was cold,
           And the heart within him broken.’”

There was a short silence in the music-room, the flames of the candles
swaying this way and that as though some one moving had sent a draught
upon them.

My lord turned with a laugh that had no mirth in it.

“A dreary ditty. Where did you come by the song?”

She answered him with three words.

“In this room.”

My lady’s silks rustled in the window-seat like the sound of trees
shivering in autumn.

“What moods the girl has!”

My lord kept his eyes on Barbara.

“Is there any more of that song?”

“There was only one verse to it till I found another.”

“So!”

“For to match that chain—there were three other chains. And they were
sewn upon a black cloak with a lining of purple silk, the cloak Captain
John wore the night he fought Lord Pembroke.”

My lord pushed back the settle very slowly. His face was in the shadow,
but for all that it was not pleasant to behold.

“Has the child these mad fits often?” he asked, with a jerk of the chin.
“She will be wishing Jack at Newgate next.”

Barbara would not take her eyes from him to glance in the direction of
her mother. Had she looked at Anne Purcell she would have seen a plump,
comely woman grown old suddenly, and trying to make anger shine through
fear.

“The cloak did not belong to John Gore, my lord. Nor did he know that I
have the chain from it that I found in my father’s hand.”

She rose suddenly, and, swinging the chair before her, knelt with one
knee on it and steadied her elbow on the back.

“Father lay over there—near the table. There is a stain on the floor
still—though Mrs. Jael was set to scrub. It was I who found him. You
may remember that.”

They both looked at her askance, cowed and caught at a disadvantage for
the moment by this knowledge that she had and by her hardiness in
accusing.

“My dear young madam, you had better go to bed.”

Her bleak imperturbability turned my lord’s sneer aside like granite.

“Here is the chain from your cloak. I give it back to you now that it
has served its purpose.”

She flung out her hand, and the chain fell close to my Lord Gore’s feet.
He did not even trouble to look at it, as though he had no wish to
appear seriously concerned.

“We appear to be judge, jury, and witness all in one,” he said. “Come
down off that chair, my dear, and don’t be foolish.”

He spoke with an air of amused impatience, but there was something in
his eyes that made her know the truth of what she had said.

“You have always thought me a little mad, my lord.”

“No, assuredly not. Only a little strange in your appreciation of a
joke. Nan, stay quiet.”

Barbara had put her hands into her bosom, given one glance behind her,
and then levelled a pistol at my lord’s breast. The high-backed chair
and the settle were scarcely four paces apart.

“I made a promise to myself that I would find out the man who killed my
father. When I discovered it I bought these pistols.”

My lady had risen from the window-seat and was standing with her arms
spread, her open mouth a black oval, as though she were trying to speak
and could not.

“Mother, do not move. I will beseech my Lord of Gore to tell me the
truth before I pull the trigger.”

The great gentleman looked at her like a man dumfounded, hardly able to
grasp the meaning of that steel barrel and that little circle of shadow
that held death in the compass of a thumb’s nail.

“Assuredly I will tell you the truth,” he said, at last.

“Then let me hear it.”

He grappled himself together, gave a glance at my lady, who had sunk
again into the window-seat, and then met Barbara eye to eye.

“Since you seek the truth at the pistol’s point, my child, I will tell
it you, though no man on earth should have dragged it from me at the
sword’s point. Good God!” And he put his hand to his forehead and looked
from mother to daughter as though unwilling to speak, even under such
compulsion.

Barbara watched him, believing he was gaining leisure to elaborate some
lie.

“You are determined to hear everything?”

She nodded.

“Have it then, girl, to your eternal shame! Why should the unclean,
disloyal dead make the living suffer? Much good may the truth do all of
us, for none are without our sins.”

He spoke out in a few harsh, solemn words—words that were meant to
carry the sorrow and the travail and the anger of a great heart. It was
the same tale that he had told John Gore, yet emphasized more grimly to
suit the moment. And when he had ended it he put his head between his
hands and groaned, and then looked up at Barbara as though trying to
pity her for the shock of his confession.

“Is that everything?”

She was white and implacable. My lord’s lower lip drooped a little.

“Is it not enough?”

“Of lies—yes.”

He looked in her eyes, and then gave a deep, fierce cry, like the cry of
a wild beast taken in the toils. It was done within a flash, before he
could cross the space that parted them. He stumbled against the chain
that she had thrown down toward him. And as the echoes sped, and the
smoke and the draught made the candles flicker, Barbara fell back
against the wall, her hand dropping the pistol and going to her bosom
for the consummation of it all.

“Mercy of me, my dear, mercy of me, what have you done?”

She found Mrs. Jael clinging to her and holding her arms with all her
strength. Barbara tried to shake the woman off, but could not for the
moment. Then, quite suddenly, as the smoke cleared, she ceased her
striving and leaned against the wall, her eyes staring incredulously
over Mrs. Jael’s head as the little woman clung to her and pinioned her
with her arms.

For though my Lord Gore had fallen back against the table with a great
black blur on his blue coat and the lace thereof smouldering, he stood
unhurt, with my lady holding to one arm and looking up with terror into
his face.

“Safe, Nan,” he said, very quietly, being a man of nerve and courage;
“where the bullet went, God only knows!”

A gray fog came up before Barbara’s eyes. She stood like one dazed, yet
feeling the warmth of Mrs. Jael’s bosom as the woman still clung to her.
Then her muscles relaxed and her face fell forward on Mrs. Jael’s
shoulder.

Stephen Gore put the mother aside, and, striding forward, thrust his
hand into Barbara’s bosom. He drew out the second pistol, looked at it
with a grim, inquiring smile, and then laid it upon the table.

“The child must be clean mad,” he said, with admirable self-control and
a glance full of meaning at my lady and Mrs. Jael.

“Oh, the poor dear! oh, the poor dear! To raise her hand against such a
gentleman without cause or quarrel! Her wits must have gone. I’ve feared
it many weeks.”

Stephen Gore pondered a moment, looking at Barbara’s bowed head with a
look that boded nothing good for her.

“Get her to her room, Nan. Keep the servants out of the way. We don’t
want any pother over the child’s madness. Understand me there; for her
sake we can hold our tongues.”

Mrs. Jael looked at him as though he were a saint.

“Poor dear, to think of it!”

My lady and the woman took Barbara by either arm. She lifted her head
and looked for a moment at my lord, and then went with them meekly, as
though dazed and without heart. Whispering together behind her back,
they led her across the garden and up the staircase to her own room.
When they had locked the door on her, Anne Purcell laid a hand on Mrs.
Jael’s arm, and they went together into my lady’s chamber.



                                  XIX


When Anne Purcell returned to the music-room she found my lord waiting
for her there, walking to and fro with his hands behind his back and his
handsome face lined and shadowed with thought. He looked up quickly when
she entered, a look full of infinite meaning, as though he had felt a
chill of loneliness and was glad that this woman shared with him what
the future might convey.

He closed the door and casements carefully, after walking round the
garden to see that no one was lurking there. Anne Purcell’s face still
looked white and scared. The horror of a betrayal haunted her as she
went to the window-seat, where the moonlight was already glimmering upon
the glass.

“Speak softly. I had better draw the curtains.”

He did so, leaning over my Lady Anne, and stooping to kiss her before he
drew away. Restlessness seemed in his blood, for he kept walking to and
fro as they talked, pausing sometimes as though to think.

“Does the woman Jael know anything of this?”

“She knows everything. It was she who saved your life by tampering with
the charges.”

“She knew the girl had pistols?”

“Yes—by watching through the hole in the wainscoting. She saw where
Barbara kept them, and found a key to fit the coffer. Jael seemed to
have foreseen something, for to-night she found that the pistols were no
longer there.”

My lord turned to the table where the steel barrels glistened in the
candle-light. He picked them up and looked at them closely, a deep
pucker of thought upon his forehead.

“Who would have thought that the girl had so much devil in her! I tell
you, Nan, she must have been playing with us all these years, watching
and waiting, and pretending to be asleep. And it was a narrow thing, by
God! But for that woman of yours, I should be lying there, where—”

He did not complete the sentence, but broke off abruptly, for the
conscious shock seemed to strike him more heavily now the intensity of
the moment had passed. He looked white about the mouth, and his eyes had
a hard, scared wrath in them that made them ugly.

Anne Purcell turned on the window-seat to look at him, and then covered
her face with her hand.

“She said that the stain is still there. And it is—”

“Fiddle-faddle! What of that, Nan?” And the evil spirit in him flashed
out fiercely. “The girl has cornered us. It is no time for whimpering.”

He recovered his serene and cynical poise almost instantly, and, putting
two fingers in the pocket of his embroidered vest, drew out the curb of
gold with its knot of pearls.

“This little thing came very near ending everything. I shall give it no
second chance. Like the easy fool I am I put that cloak away and forgot
it, never suspecting that it had left such a clew behind. Jack turned it
out of an old chest when he came home shirtless from sea, and wore it
that night at Hortense’s. It was only when we got home that I noticed
the thing, and talked him into surrendering it. She must have
cross-questioned him. And, by the prophets of Israel, Jack was near
having a bullet in his heart! She said she told him nothing. God grant
that’s true. Jack’s a man with a tight mouth and a kind of grimness that
sails straight in the face of a storm.”

He paused, staring hard at the flame of one of the candles, and tossing
the chain up and down in his palm.

“What are you going to do, Stephen?”

“Do?” And his face darkened, although so close to the light. “Keep the
Spanish fury out of danger. What can you desire—”

She stretched out an arm to him, her face rigid with dread.

“No, not again, Stephen. I cannot bear it—I will not—”

“There, there,” and he laughed, “how you women leap at conclusions!
There is no such serious need. But I value my neck too much, and yours,
my dear, to let her run at large.”

“Then how?”

He looked down at her steadily.

“The girl is mad.”

“Barbara!”

“Yes, mad, poor thing, as a March hare. Mad! Drink the word in, and live
on it. Mad—mad! This wild scarecrow of a suspicion is nothing but a
shadow on the brain, a shadow of distortion and madness brought on by
poor Lionel’s death. There are some of us to swear to that, and our
words carry more weight and volume than the ravings of a girl. Mrs. Jael
must be worth her money. The whole affair will be very simple. Thank
Heaven, son Jack is in the country! I can bleed him and doctor him when
he returns.”

Anne Purcell watched him with a trace of wonder in her eyes. The man was
so many-sided, such an actor, such a cynic.

“Then—”

“She must be treated as one gone mad, yet discreetly and gently, as
though the family niceness were to be considered. No idle talking, no
news about town. Yet being dangerous, even, perhaps, against
herself—mark that, Nan!—she must be put under soft restraint in some
quiet corner where she can do no harm.”

He spoke so shrewdly, and with such a meaning between the words that
Anne Purcell again looked scared.

“No whips, Stephen, and all those things. I have heard—”

“Tush, my love, am I a fool?”

“But—”

He opened his arms to her, with an impulse of tenderness and strong
appeal.

“Now, sweetheart, trust me. We have been too much to each other, you and
I. Look at me, Nan; what I am I am because you are what you are. We are
on the edge of a cliff. Don’t tell me that I must drag you over.”

He played to the woman in her, yet not without real feeling. She rose to
him, and for a moment he had her in his arms.

“There. You understand, Nan, why I want to live. It is for your sake as
well as mine, though I shall not see fifty again. We cannot help
ourselves. And I tell you the girl is mad. I have said so to others
before it came to this.”

My lord put her gently out of his arms, and led her with some majesty
back to the window-seat.

“You must know, Nan, that this will be de prerogativa regis—that is to
say, it will be the chancellor’s affair, and he is an easy man to
manage. As to a private inquiry, we can probably slip by it—with
Christian discretion. The point is—that the unfortunate subject is
confined in custody under the care of her nearest friends or kinsfolk.”

Anne Purcell began to understand.

“But there may still be danger in it.”

“No; trust me; very little. It can be done quietly. There is your place
of Thorn.”

“Thorn! Why, it is half in ruins, and no one ever goes there.”

“Nan, my sweet, are you a fool?”

“No, Stephen; but—”

“The country air and food, and contact with some simple couple—what
more could the poor wench wish for? An old house in the deeps of Sussex,
seven miles from a town. Why, it is made for such a case.”

She looked at him helplessly, for her selfish worldliness had received a
shock that night.

“There is no other way?”

“None, unless you wish to feel a silk rope round your neck, my dear.”

They said little more that night, my lord putting on a cloak to hide his
powder-blackened coat, and kissing her very kindly before he went. He
gave her a few words of warning, commended Mrs. Jael to her, and spoke
of the money that should be forthcoming. Barbara was to see no one but
Mrs. Jael and her mother. They were to keep her locked in her room till
my lord should bring a physician whom he could trust to inquire into the
state of the girl’s mind.

Yet there was one thought that haunted Stephen Gore as he walked home
alone by the light of the moon without a single torch to keep him
company and scare away footpads: it was possible that the girl might
turn against herself. And though he tried not to hanker after the
chance, he knew how it would simplify the tangle. Barbara’s window stood
some height from the ground, and there were no bars to it. My lord
remembered these details before he went to bed. He was careful to show
the man Rogers his blackened coat, and to tell him that he had been
fired at by some villain, but that the ball had missed him by some mercy
of God.

Mrs. Jael came down from her attic next day soon after dawn, her eyes
red and suffused, her bosom full of sentimental sighings. She went about
the house, blubbering ostentatiously in odd corners, dabbing with her
handkerchief, and setting all the servants spying on her.

Yet all she would say was:

“Poor dear, poor sweet! The brain is turned over in her. And so young,
too! I always was afeard of it, she took it so to heart. Oh, dear Lord,
what a sad world it is, surely! The poor child’s made me ten years
older.”

And then she would shuffle away, jerking her fat shoulders and trying to
smother sobs, so that every servant in the house knew that something
strange had happened, and were ready to hear of anything—and to accept
it as an interesting fact.



                                   XX


John Gore, riding over the yellow stubbles with some burly farmer at
his side, seemed very far from the stately littlenesses of Whitehall.
For, next to the open sea, John Gore had always loved the open country,
either moor, field, or forest, so long as the eye could take in some
sweeping distance. He loved, also, the smell of the soil, the byres, and
the old farm-houses with the scent of the hay and the fragrant breath of
cattle at milking-time. Much of his boyhood clung to the memories of it
all, where the play of lights and shadows upon the moors made the
purples and greens and gold as glorious as the colors of sky and sea at
sunset.

John Gore had inherited these Yorkshire lands from his mother, who had
been able to will them to him by right of title. Her marriage with Lord
Gore had not been a happy one, for he had been too desirous of pleasing
all women, while she was a lady of sweet earnestness who would have
given her heart’s blood for a man—had he been worthy. Her character
appeared to have mastered my lord’s, for her nature ousted his from the
soul of their only child—a boy, John Gore. She had died in her Junetide
while the lad was schooling at the great school of Winchester, leaving
her property in trust for him till he should come of age.

Shirleys, for such was the name of the manor-house and the park, had
been leased to a city merchant, a man who had trudged to London as a
Yorkshire lad, and driven out of it as Sir Peter in a coach-and-six. The
farms and holdings were under the eye of a steward, Mr. Isaac Swindale,
a lawyer at Tadcaster. The whole estate was worth a good sum yearly to
John Gore, and it was with the money, therefore, that he had bought and
fitted out the _Sparhawk_, and sailed in her as gentleman adventurer
into strange seas.

John Gore passed some days at Shirleys as Sir Peter Hanson’s guest, for
his mother had died in the old house, and he had wished to see the place
after the passing of three years. Perhaps his heart went out the more to
the memory of that dead mother because she had taught him to reverence
women, and given him that most precious thing that a man can have: the
power to love deeply and with all the tenderness that makes love
stronger even than death. The gardens and the walks were just as in his
mother’s day, for John Gore had stipulated that nothing should be
meddled with, and the flowering shrubs and the herb borders were there
as she had left them.

The spirit of the place seemed full of sympathy for him that September.
Its memories had a restfulness that touched him even more than of old.
For the thought of his mother bending her pale, serious face over the
rose-bushes and the green ferns where the roach pool lay seemed more
dear and vivid to him because of that other thing that had taken birth
within his heart. He felt that he would have given much to have walked
with his mother through those little coppices and the green aisles of
the orchard where the Lent-lilies dashed the April winds with gold, and
to have talked to her as a son can sometimes talk to a mother, even
though he be a grown man with the tan of the wide world upon his face.
So near did her spiritual presence seem to him that he would not go to
kneel before the stately tomb in the chantry at the church, feeling that
she lived in the place that she had loved, and not under that mass of
alabaster and of marble that covered the mere dust.

For John Gore had found the one woman in the world who could make the
heart grow great with awe in him—as with the awe of unsailed seas. It
was sweet even to be so far away from her that he might feel the
dream-lure drawing him amid those Yorkshire moors. The memory of his
mother shared in the tenderness thereof, as though she had breathed into
him at birth that soul of hers that could love even in sadness and
regret.

John Gore spent two weeks upon his land, walking in the gardens and the
park of Shirleys, and talking to Sir Peter of the great ships and the
trade routes, and the doings of the Dutch in the East Indies. Sir Peter
and his wife were a grave and homely couple without children, whose
simple dignity hurt none of his recollections. Or he would ride over the
various farms, finding old friends among the farmers and the men,
inquiring into his tenants’ affairs, and ready to sit down and take his
dinner in the great kitchens with the country folk and their children.
For John Gore was more at home in an ingle-nook, with some little
Yorkshire maid on his knee, than idling in his father’s painted salon
with a score of somebodies trying to seem more splendid and more witty
than either their estates or their brains could justify.

Now John Gore dreamed a quaint dream the last night that he lay at
Shirleys in the very room where his mother had died. He dreamed that he
was at sea again, and sitting in the stern-sheets of a boat that was
being rowed in toward an unknown shore. It was all vivid and real to
him—the heave of each billow under the boat, the dash through the surf,
the men leaping out and dragging the boat up on the sand. He crossed the
beach alone, drawing toward a little grove of palms whose green plumes
were clear and breathless against a tropical sky. And as he neared the
grove a woman came out from among the straight boles of the palm-trees,
and that woman was his mother.

There is no astonishment in dreams, and John Gore went toward her as
though she had not known death, and as though there was nothing strange
in finding her there where palm-trees grew in lieu of elms and birches.

But she held up her hands to him, and cried:

“Go back—go back!”

Then there was the sound like the ringing shot of a carbine, and he woke
in the room at Shirleys, wondering whether there were thieves in the
house, and whether the old merchant knight had used a musket or a pistol
upon the marauders.

Yet though believers in dreams might have sworn that his brain had
caught an echo of some tragedy that concerned him deeply, how little
John Gore thought of the dream may be judged by the fact that he went
back to bed, after sallying forth with a candle and a horse-pistol to
reconnoitre, and slept till the servant drew back the curtains to let in
the sun. For the episode of Barbara Purcell’s expiation had become a
thing of the past by the time John Gore reached Shirleys.

The day following the affair in the music-room, Stephen Gore drove a
jaundice-faced old gentleman in his coach to the house in Pall Mall.
They talked gravely together on the road, the rattle of the wheels on
the cobbles compelling them to mouth their words almost in each other’s
ears. The old gentleman wore a white periwig, and a kind of gown or
cassock of black silk, beneath which protruded a very thin pair of legs
ending in clumsy square-toed shoes. The top of his long cane was made to
carry snuff, and the whole front of his silk gown appeared blotched with
the powder. His long nose prying out from his shrewd face gave one the
impression that the habit of snuff-taking had lengthened it abnormally.
The skin over either cheek-bone was mottled with small blue veins, and
his mouth, long and curved like a half-moon, made one wonder whether he
was smiling or sneering.

My lord had explained the nature of the case to Dr. Hemstruther,
adopting a tone of paternal and chivalrous concern that he contradicted
on several occasions by a majestic wink. The physician was a quaint
character, for he combined in himself two vices that might have been
considered mutually opposed. Yet the resulting energy that arose from
the friction between these two passions, the love of precious stones and
the love of the eternal feminine, inspired Dr. Hemstruther with a lust
to grab every gold Carolus he could lay his fingers to. He was a man of
great repute, and had made money out of “back-stairs secrets,” though
the apothecaries and the midwives hated him, swearing that he knew more
than a mere physician should.

Now this shrewd, snuffy, peaky-faced little man was ushered about twelve
o’clock into Barbara Purcell’s room, with my lady and Mrs. Jael to act
as guards. The curtains were drawn, and Barbara, dressed in simple
black, with her hair upon her shoulders, was lying, in the dim light, on
her bed. She sat up and looked at them with her large eyes as they
entered—heavy, languid eyes, that seemed to have been empty of sleep.

Dr. Hemstruther made a little bow to her, handed his hat and cane to
Mrs. Jael, tossed back one of the curtains, and drew a chair up toward
the bed. He sat down, keeping his eyes fixed on Barbara’s face, and
sniffing from time to time as though he missed his snuff.

“So you are not feeling in good health, my dear young lady.”

He had a soft, silky voice, easy to swallow as good wine. Barbara,
seated on the bed, stared at him and said nothing. It was easy to see
that the girl had suffered greatly, either in mind or body, for the
youth seemed to have left her face, leaving it blanched, lined, and very
weary. Her eyes looked doubly big because of the shadows under them, and
her lips were no longer firmly pressed together. The strain of her
sacrifice had broken the heart in her, and she had fallen into a stupor
like one whose brain has been numbed by frost.

Dr. Hemstruther considered her with his clever eyes.

“Can you sleep, my dear?” he asked her, at last.

“No.”

She was only dimly conscious that her mother and Mrs. Jael were in the
room, and who the little man was she hardly had the will to wonder.

“What is it that keeps you from sleep at night?”

“Oh, thoughts—and other things.”

“Perhaps you hear voices?”

She looked at him vaguely.

“Yes, voices.”

“And they talk to you?”

“Sometimes. There are often voices with one, are there not?”

Dr. Hemstruther rubbed his hands together, forgetting to sniff for a
minute or more, a lapse that the sentimental Jael mended.

“Are they the voices of people whom you know?”

“Sometimes.”

“And perhaps you hear bells ringing, and other such sounds? Do you ever
see the people who talk to you at night?”

She maintained an indolent yet questioning silence. Dr. Hemstruther
repeated the question.

“Yes, I have fancied it,” she answered; “one can fancy so many things in
the dark.”

Dr. Hemstruther gave a jerk of the chin as though to emphasize this as a
fact worth noting. He drew his chair nearer, and, taking her hand,
looked at it attentively, rubbing the skin with his thumb-nail. Then he
asked her a few more questions, keeping his eyes on hers, and watching
her with the alertness of a hawk.

My lady and Mrs. Jael saw the girl’s eyelids begin to quiver. When Dr.
Hemstruther spoke to her she did not answer him, but sat rigid, like a
cataleptic, her face betraying no feeling and no intelligence. She
remained in some such posture till the old man rose and pushed back his
chair. Then a deep breath seemed to come from her with a great sigh, and
the lashes closed over her eyes so that she appeared asleep.

Dr. Hemstruther watched her for a while, and then turned to Anne Purcell
with an expression of sympathetic gravity upon his face.

“She is best left alone, madam, at present.”

And he marched out at my lady’s heels, Mrs. Jael following and carrying
his hat and cane.

Dr. Hemstruther had satisfied a pliant conscience with regard to the
nature of the case. He sat—much at his ease—in one of the
leather-seated chairs in the room that had been Lionel Purcell’s
library, and declared his conviction that the girl was of unsound mind.

“I can understand, madam,” he said, with a courtly little bob of the wig
to my lady, “how much exercised you are in mind over your daughter’s
sanity. At present it is the calm after the storm, the cool dew after
the fire of noon. The pulse is depressed, the brain almost torpid, and
she did not even hear some of the things I said. Then you heard her
confess to hearing voices; that is a very common and significant
symptom. My experience goes to prove that some of these cases are the
most dangerous and distressing.”

He nodded his head, took snuff with emotion, and looked under
half-lowered eyelids at my lord.

“The young gentlewoman must be most carefully watched. It would be
expedient to have non compos mentis proven. That gives her guardians the
very necessary power to have her cared for and restrained in some safe
place.”

He was merely advising what he knew Stephen Gore desired in the matter
of advice. There was sufficient on which to swear that the girl’s mental
state was not healthy. Young gentlewomen who fired pistols and made wild
accusations against old and honorable friends could scarcely be regarded
as either sane or safe.

“Then you advise us to apply for powers of custody and restraint.”

“Assuredly, my lord, for the patient’s sake. She cannot be trusted not
to turn against herself. I would suggest that you send her into the
country and put her in charge of some capable relative—some sensible
maiden aunt, let us say.” And his mouth curved with huge
self-satisfaction.

“You prefer the country?”

“Far away from all distractions and all cares. Perfect rest, and a
convent life. Then I may hope that God’s grace will heal her.” And he
rose with a bow to my lady.

Stephen Gore touched him on the shoulder.

“Supposing that one of those violent fits should occur? A dose of
soothing physic, eh?”

“Certainly, my lord, certainly. I will have it compounded and despatched
to you without delay.”

That same afternoon Stephen Gore drove out in his two-horse coach, and
called on no less a person than Sir Heneage Finch, the Keeper of the
Great Seal. My lord and the chancellor happened to be well disposed
toward each other for the moment, and Stephen Gore approached him as a
friend with an air of grief and of concern. He spoke most movingly about
“the child.” It was a sad affair, and might have been far sadder but for
the mercy of God. Dr. Hemstruther had seen Mistress Barbara Purcell that
morning, and given it as his opinion that she was of unsound mind. He
had advised immediate seclusion and restraint, warning them that unless
she was watched and guarded she might do some damage to herself.

My lord’s sympathies were importunate and appealing. It would be less
humiliating for both the mother and the daughter if the thing could be
done quietly, and without noise or scandal. The chancellor, being an
amiable man, and not proof against sentiment on occasions, declared
himself ready to agree. Yet since it was a question of the King’s
prerogative, his Majesty would have the matter laid before him quietly;
that was the only formality that would be needed, and no very serious
one, for the King was grateful to people who took business off his
hands, provided they did not relieve him also of the perquisites.

In three days the whole affair was settled, thanks to my lord’s
briskness and influence—and his ability to pay. On the third evening he
was carried in a sedan to the house in Pall Mall, and spent more than an
hour with my lady in her salon. He had made his plans, and all that the
mother had to do was to agree with him and to commend him for his
ingenuity.

“We had better travel at once,” he said, when they had talked over every
detail; “we can take her in a closed coach. And the nurse and her man
can come with us; they are both trustworthy people. You say that there
are only a gardener and his wife at Thorn? They must be pensioned and
discharged.”

“Yes, no one else.”

“We must have the girl mewed up before Jack comes back. I shall be able
to deal with him. He must not know where we have hidden her.”

“No; but should he—”

“Prove obstinate! We must find a substitute, or pack him off to sea
again. The man has a roving disposition. But listen—in your ear, Nan: I
have discovered some one who has taken a sudden liking to Captain John.”

“Who?”

“Guess.”

“Not poor Barbara—she does not count.”

“No, no; but Hortense.”

My lady looked at him with open eyes.

“Hortense! Why, she has only seen him perhaps twice in her life. And
then—?”

“His Majesty? Oh, Mr. Charles is—well, her banker. It would be like
Hortense; it is the blood, and the southern fire in her.”

“But how do you know this?”

He flipped her playfully on the chin.

“How long have I lived in the world, Nan, and how much do I know about
women?”



                                  XXI


A blustering, cheerless wind beat up over the hills as John Gore rode
the last five miles of a three days’ journey, and saw the vague glimmer
of the distant city clinging to the loops of the river Thames. Scudding
clouds made the sky cold and full of a gray hurrying unrest, though it
was splashed toward the west with stormy gouts of gold.

John Gore rode over the heathlands, with the furze-bushes shivering as
the wind swished through them; and the sandy road was dry and adrift
with dust, although the sky looked so wet and sullen. The servant behind
him on the cob kept a sharp eye cocked on the hollows of the heath and
the knolls of furze, and nursed his blunderbuss for comfort, though his
face looked as red and as round as the sunny side of an apple. Here and
there clumps of stunted hollies jostled each other, their whisperings
making the evening seem doubly gray and dreary. An unhallowed dusk was
creeping over the landscape—an unhallowed dusk that made travellers
imagine footpads lurking behind the thorn-bushes or the furze.

As they trotted downhill a solitary horseman came creeping up a side
track, with his cloak blowing about him and his beaver over his nose.
John Gore had a hand ready for a pistol, and the man Tom began to nudge
the butt of his blunderbuss against his knee. Yet the stranger appeared
more scared of them than they of him, for he went skimming like a
swallow into the dusk, itching for his own chimney glow and the warm
side of a safely barred door.

John Gore had come by an instinctive distrust of the man Tom’s
forefinger. He pulled up, and sent him ahead.

“I shall be safer at your back, Tom, with that tool of yours ready to
roar like a boy at the sight of the birch.”

Tom obeyed him with rather a shamefaced grin, for thirty miles south of
Shirleys his blunderbuss had exploded at two in the afternoon, the road
running through a wood with a stray cow pushing through the
hazel-bushes. A scattering of slugs and buckshot had pattered into the
grass beside John Gore’s horse; for Tom’s forefinger had a habit of
crooking itself for comfort round the trigger when the road wound into
shady bottoms. And if an owl screeched at dusk along a hedge-row, Thomas
would give such a start in the saddle that it was a mere turn of the
coin whether the flint would come sparking on the powder in the pan.

It was growing very gray in the west when they came by Edgeware toward
Hyde Park, and soon saw the spires of Westminster like faint streaks
against a fainter sky. The lights that were looking up in the gathering
twilight had a heartening, warming twinkle. Tom slung his blunderbuss by
a strap over his shoulder, and began to look buxom and bold enough—as
though he already sniffed a hot supper and felt the ale-mug tickling his
beard. They came without event toward St. James’s, Charing Village, and
Whitehall, and all that sweet savor of courtliness where great gentlemen
and roguish “maids of honor” drank wine and let the warmth thereof mount
into their eyes.

To John Gore the whole purlieu of the palaces had a mystic glow—a glow
that the romance of the heart throws out like a June sun over an
Old-World garden. His thoughts were very different from those of
red-faced Tom, who may have associated the ogle of a pair of merry eyes
with the glint of a pewter pot; for John Gore forgot a twenty-mile
hunger at a glimpse of the dim trees of St. James’s and the imagined
gleam of Rosamond’s Pool. And hunger in a strong man is an earnest
pleader. Therefore, romance had the greater glory, and even so the queen
thereof—a girl in a black dress, with white bosom and white arms, and
eyes so sombre that the sorrow of the world might have sunk therein.

The lower windows of my Lord Gore’s house were aglow as John Gore and
his man rode up St. James’s Street with a homeward clatter over the
stones. The iron gates leading into the court-yard at the side of the
house stood open, and in the yard itself several coaches were standing
without their horses, and a couple of sedan-chairs in one corner with
the poles piled against the wall. Yet though there was as much talking
going on as in the parlor of a river-side tavern, there was not such a
thing as a servant to be seen.

As John Gore rolled out of the saddle, being a little stiff after three
days’ riding, a couple of red faces were poked out of the near window of
one of the coaches. The postilions and footmen had taken their master’s
places, issued invitations to the chairmen and the grooms, and were all
much at their ease with the beer-mugs passing round, and one of my
lord’s cook-boys playing “powder-monkey,” and running round from coach
to coach with a great can and an apron full of bread and cheese. In one
of the carriages that was upholstered in orange and blue a fat chairman
had stuck a farthing candle on the prong of a dung-fork, and so arranged
the primitive candle-stand by leaning it against the door that the
company within had a light to drink by, though the upholsterings might
suffer from the droppings of the tallow. Even my lord’s grooms were
making familiar with plush and scarlet cloth and stamped leather, with
their heavy stable-boots planted where a satin slipper or a
silver-buckled shoe alone had the right of repose.

The impudent roguery of it so tickled John Gore that he gave the two men
at the near window a gruff “Goodevening,” coarsening his voice so that
they should think him one of themselves.

“Hallo! Be that you, Sam Gibbs?”

“Samuel it is, old codger. Liquor going?”

“A hogshead full. Come inside; there’s room for a porker.”

John Gore laughed. It was dark in the yard, and the men could not
recognize him.

“Whose coach?” he asked.

“This ’ere? Old Porteus Panter’s. And pant he would, the liquoring old
scoundrel, if he knew what honest fellows were warming his cushions.
Come along in, lad. Skin o’ my eyes, where’s that damned boy with the
beer?”

“I’ll go and clap the horses in, and come and clink mugs.”

He walked toward the stables, leading his horse by the bridle. Catching
the man Tom while he was still staring at the dim but vociferous
vehicles in the yard, he slapped him lightly on the shoulder.

“Keep mum, Tom, my lad. There is some fun here. Put the horses in, and
swing your heels on the manger for half an hour.”

John Gore managed to slip into the house by the garden entry, and making
his way along a passage, reached the door of the dining-room without
meeting any of my lord’s servants. Supper was over, and the gentlemen
were at their wine, and talking so hard that a company of carol-singers
might have struck up in the court-yard without being noticed. John Gore
turned the handle and walked in—top-boots, riding-cloak, and all,
dusty, and a little hot. His father sat with his back to him at the head
of the long table, with some dozen guests talking and drinking on either
side hereof.

Seated on Stephen Gore’s right hand was one of the gentlemen who had
been at Bushy those few days in the summer. He was the first to
recognize the intruder, and welcomed him with a laugh and an upraised
glass of wine.

“All hail, John Gore! Here are we, all on the right side of the
table—as yet!”

John Gore’s eyes were fixed upon his father. He saw him turn sharply
with the look of a man who sees in a mirror the face of an enemy behind
his chair. He was on his feet almost instantly, his buxom face pleasant
as a glass goblet full of Spanish wine.

“Jack, my lad, this is well timed! We are all friends here, or should
be. Gentlemen, my son, Captain John Gore, just out of the saddle from
Yorkshire. Never mind your boots, boy. You have a hungry look, and a dry
look. Pull the bell-rope, Launce, and I’ll thank you. Supper is the song
that a man wants to hear after a hard day’s ride.”

A boy in a pink velvet coat, and with the grand airs of a lord
chamberlain, rose and offered John Gore his chair. The sea-captain bowed
to the youngster in turn, though the child’s attitude of condescension
was vastly quaint to a man who had dared more adventures in one year
than the young fop would meet in a lifetime.

“You seem to have left a great many of your friends outside in the cold,
gentlemen,” he said, still standing, and looking down the long table;
“my father has enough chairs, and more than enough liquor.”

His coming had brought a momentary lull with it, and not a few of the
gentry at the table were staring with some curiosity at a man who had
seen the inside of a Barbary prison.

My lord caught his son’s words.

“What’s that you are saying, Jack?”

“These gentlemen have left some of their friends outside in their
coaches. Sir Porteus, sir,” and he bowed to an apoplectic old fellow
with a fringe of white hair and a tonsure like a monk’s, “there are
people in your carriage. I trust you have not been too modest.”

The baronet stared boozily across the table.

“People in my coach, sir?”

“Certainly. And drinking small-beer when they should be drinking
sherry.”

John Gore had such a stern and serious way with him at times that casual
acquaintances might have set him down as a Puritan, with none of the
sly, jesting spirit behind his swarthy and imperturbable face.

“I assure you, sir, there were gentlemen seated inside your coach. My
father’s house is not so niggardly—”

Stephen Gore caught his son’s eye and twinkled. A servant came in at the
same opportune moment, having taken fully three minutes to answer the
bell.

“Here, Jeremy, sirrah, Sir Porteus has left some gentlemen to wait in
his coach. Desire them to join us; my table is big enough.”

The man stared, and then appeared in a great hurry to go about his
master’s business. But my lord hindered him.

“Jeremy, you rascal, come here. Pardon me, Porteus”—and my lord assumed
his most impressive manner—“perhaps you had better call these friends
of yours in to us.”

“I should recommend the other gentlemen to do likewise,” said John Gore,
gravely; “Sir Porteus is not the only culprit. The more the merrier.”

The curiosity of the whole room appeared piqued. Several of my lord’s
guests pushed their chairs back and made toward the door. But what Sir
Porteus and the rest of them said when they poked their heads into the
windows of their respective coaches no one but a hostler could possibly
confess. The tallow dip on the pitchfork was knocked over by a judicious
fist, but not before it had gutted all down the cushions of the door.
There was a sudden exodus of stable boots and small clothes into the
dark, and from the whistling and hissing in the stable any innocent man
might have imagined that horses had never been so carefully rubbed down
after a two-mile drive. The boy with the beer-can was the only thing
captured, and most unjustly cuffed because his ears happened to be at
the right level for the easy exercise of a gentleman’s hand.

It was well after midnight before Stephen Gore and his son were left
alone in the great dining-room, with the air thick with the fumes of
tobacco and of wine. John Gore opened the windows that faced the street.
His father was standing by the Jacobean fireplace, with one elbow on the
ledge of the carved oak over-mantel and the stump of a little brown
cigarro between his fingers. He was frowning to himself, and looking at
the dying fire upon the irons, for a log fire had been burning, though
it was still September.

John Gore pulled out a short clay pipe and a tortoise-shell box from a
pocket. He filled the pipe leisurely, and lit it with a splinter of
burning wood that he picked up with the tongs.

“Well, Johnny, how is Yorkshire?”

My lord, like a father, showed no discretion or sense of proportion
either in the diminutives or in the vernacular renderings of his son’s
name. Moreover, the Yorkshire moors were very far away, and a more vivid
vista blotted them into the distance.

“Shirleys has changed very little. They have a new pump in the village.
All the farms are in good fettle. Swindale seems as honest as such men
ever are.”

My lord appeared distraught and preoccupied.

“How are old Peter Hanson and his woman? Does she still wear a
farthingale?”

“Well—as ever, like the solid north country folk they are. I have no
news, save that the new pump’s leaden snout was cut off the first week
it was put up, and that a couple of deer were shot at Shirleys three
days afterward. How have things passed here—in the world?”

My lord put his cigarro to his lips, drew a deep breath, and expelled
the smoke slowly, watching it curve under the hood of the chimney.

“Oh, somewhat sadly. I have a thing to tell you, Jack.”

John Gore’s face darkened perceptibly.

“News?”

“Yes. After all, it may not concern you much—at least—I trust not. We
all have our little impulses, our chance inclinations. Do you remember,
Jack, something I said to you in this very room the night you fought
Phil Pembroke?”

John Gore remembered that something very keenly. His eyes betrayed as
much.

“Does it concern Barbara Purcell?”

My lord gave him one look, and then threw the stump of his cigarro into
the fire.

“It does, poor child. She has gone stark mad. There’s the blunt truth,
Jack. If I have hit you hard, take it in the face like a man—and
forget.”



                                  XXII


John Gore asked few questions that night, but went to his room with a
silent and impenetrable air that refused to betray any inward bleeding
of the heart. His reserve challenged my lord to decide whether the son
was really unconcerned, or whether he hid what he might feel beneath a
casual surface. For Stephen Gore had spoken with great pathos of this
“maid’s tragedy,” and had tempted his son with a display of sympathy to
make some sentimental confession of faith.

But John Gore had knocked his pipe out against the hood of the
fireplace, pulled off his heavy boots, and pretended that he was sleepy
after a forty-mile ride and a good supper. He had taken one of the
candles from the table and gone to his room, leaving his father no wiser
as to what the son felt or what he knew.

John Gore did not sleep that night, despite the September wind over the
open country and the dust that had been blown into his eyes. He had left
my lord that he might be alone, and escape that parental curiosity and
concern that grated upon the raw surface of his consciousness. For,
strong man that he was, he had felt sick at heart over the news of the
girl’s madness; it had come as a shock at the end of a day of dreams;
sudden as a musket-ball lodged beneath the ribs, making him faint with
the pain of it and with an inward flow of blood. In those few seconds,
when his father had spoken to him, he had realized how deeply he had
pledged himself to that mystery of mysteries. It had laid bare the truth
to him as a knife lays bare the bleeding heart of a pomegranate.

John Gore left the candle burning and sat at the open window, his arms
crossed upon the window-ledge. It was the attitude of one whose eyes
gazed out into the night with sadness and great awe, while the soul went
down into the deeps to drink bitterness bravely to the dregs and gain
new strength thereby. He was still there, fully dressed, when the candle
guttered in the candlestick, throwing up spasmodic gleams of light
before dying into the dark. The dawn came up and found him there, like
one who has kept watch all night on the deck of a great ship before a
battle.

With men who live the life of action the coming of each new day brings a
fresh impulse and fresh inspiration. John Gore seemed to throw off the
stupor of the night as the grayness of the dawn deepened into bands of
blue and gold across the east. He shook himself, dashed cold water over
his head and face, and, putting on fresh linen and new clothes, went
down into the house before a servant so much as stirred. Opening the
street door, he met the dewy breath of the morning and all the silent
and gradual glamour of the dawn. He was not the man to mope and write
sonnets in a corner, or to surrender a strenuous will to feeble
speculation. Wandering down to the river, he hired a waterman who
happened to be industriously early with a pot of paint down by Charing
Stairs, and, making the man row him into mid-stream, he stripped and
plunged, and swam a good half-mile with the tide, feeling the fitter for
it in body and heart.

Returning, he breakfasted alone, and, inquiring from the man Rogers,
learned that my lord had rung for his morning cup of chocolate, which he
always drank in bed. He heard also the account of how Sparkin had been
sent to school some days ago, for John Gore had entered the youngster as
a boarder at St. Paul’s. He had been packed off, as Mr. Rogers described
it, like a pressed man to a king’s ship, swearing that he would desert
at the first chance, and cut the servant’s throat who had had the
insolence to drag him schoolward by the collar. But Rogers, who had been
sent by my lord to inquire after the child, confessed that he had found
Sparkin more resigned to his fate. He had fought three fights in as many
days, and been royally licked in the last encounter. Defeat seemed to
have decided Mr. Sparkin to remain, in order to be avenged as honor and
the prestige of the past demanded.

My lord was luxuriously at his ease, leaning against a pile of pillows
in the four-post bed, when his son paid him a morning call. He lost a
little of his dignity in a silk nightcap and a black velvet bed-gown as
elaborately belaced as some priestly vestment. But Stephen Gore was
still the great gentleman, the man of affairs, the dispenser of favors,
as the litter on the quilt testified—letters, pamphlets, a needy poet’s
new book of poems, bills, petitions, and what not. The man Rogers was
laying out shirts, stockings, and silk underwear—preparing for that
most solemn ceremonial, the sacrament of the toilet.

“You can leave us, Rogers, for half an hour. If any of my people call,
keep them waiting till I ring.”

John Gore had opened the window, and stood looking down into the little
garden at the back of the house.

“My dear Johann, I am not seasoned, like you, to sea breezes. Please
pity my gray hairs, my son. I allow no draughts till I have gotten me my
periwig. Hum—ha, what’s this! Will your honor put such and such a
matter before the Duke of York? Yes, of course, dirty work, as usual.
Let it bide. I hope you have got rid of the saddle-ache, Jack, my
fellow. My business hour—this; look at all this infernal paper; it is
an amazing pity that so many people should learn to write.”

He was picking up letters and papers, and tossing them aside, stopping
now and again to scribble notes upon his tablets.

“I had a secretary, Jack, for a year, but I distrust the tribe. I find
that they are always selling one’s secrets behind one’s back. Is this a
filial visit, or am I to include it among my business?”

John Gore was watching his father with those dark, intent eyes of his.

“I want to speak to you about Barbara Purcell.”

My lord threw his tablets upon the bed, and looked at his son with
questioning keenness. It was still of vital interest to him to discover
whether this sea-rover had lost his heart or no.

“Tell me one thing first, Jack. Had you any strong fancy for the girl?”

“It is four months since I smelled the sea, sir.”

“Then she had some flavor for you—beyond the mere scent of a
petticoat?”

“Yes, a good deal more than that.”

His father regarded him with sympathetic solemnity. Yet my lord’s
attitude betrayed the fact that even a clever man of the world may prove
shallowly pompous in dealing with a son.

“I gave you all the information I have, Jack, last night. If you care to
see the pistol-mark the poor child made on me, the coat is hanging in
that cupboard.”

John Gore kept his place.

“You said, sir, that she believed that you knew the name of her father’s
murderer.”

“Some such madness, Jack. But I can assure you that it was a most
unholy, startling incident. I can see her now standing like a young
figure of Fate, with a pistol in her hand and her eyes like two live
coals. I told her to go to bed, and then she fired at me. Southern
blood—Southern blood! Not that I bear any malice against the poor
thing, John, though she was so near sending me to my account with all my
sins upon my head. What more do you want to know?”

“Where she is.”

My lord pushed some of the papers aside with a trace of impatience.

“Safe, and well cared for, Jack. Dr. Hemstruther’s commands. We applied
to the Chancery—”

“Where, sir, did you say?”

“The child has everything that can make life easy.”

“You have not told me yet, sir, where she is.”

My lord swung to one side of the bed, and, putting an arm round the
carved corner-post, looked straight into his son’s face.

“You want to know the one thing, Jack, that I have not the least
intention of telling you.”

“And why not, sir?”

“Why not!” And Stephen Gore threw himself back again upon the pillows
with some of the dramatic action that he could make appear so natural.
“Look you, most obstinate of bulkheads, do you care one brass culverin
for the girl? Answer me that.”

There was no need for the answer; my lord galloped on.

“Do you want her to come by her reason and her right mind again? You
will protest that you do. Of course. Once more, John, my son, would you
like to see your love making mouths at you, gnawing her bib, and perhaps
shouting like a fish-wife? You will protest, perhaps, that you do not.”

John Gore stood very still about two paces from his father’s bed. His
eyes had a gleam of fierceness in them, for even the possible truth
filled him with an impulse to strike the man who uttered it. My lord,
who was watching him as a swordsman watches his enemy’s eye, changed his
tactics abruptly, and held out an appealing hand like an orator pleading
for a reasonable understanding.

“Don’t glare at me, Jack, my boy, as though I had called some one a bona
roba. If I have struck hard, it is for your good. Understand that I am
not an old fool, and that I have some sense. You are one of those men
who love a woman with the same headlong fierceness with which you would
board an enemy’s ship. Look at the matter through my eyes. You would
only harm the girl by seeing her, for, by God’s providence, she may
recover if we rest her as we rest inflamed eyes in the dark. It would
only hurt your heart, Jack, if you were to see her as she is now. That
is why I am minded to keep temptation out of your way.”

He threw himself back again upon the pillows, for he had been leaning
forward like a preacher over a pulpit rail.

“You must trust me, my son. Some day you may thank me for this. I may be
pardoned for wishing the best in life for you, for though you may think
me a wild old worldling, even a courtier, Jack, may have a heart.”

He spoke with such a burst of manliness and emotion that John Gore bent
over his father’s hand.

“You are in the right, sir, and I thank you.”

And he went out from my lord’s room touched to the heart, and awed a
little by the sudden fervor of this great gentleman of the court whose
flippant splendor had so much of the simpler, braver manhood.

Yet so strange and mercurial a thing is temperament that Stephen Gore
lay back upon his pillows when his son had gone with the drawn look of a
man caught by some spasm of a faltering heart. He forgot for the moment
to ring for Rogers, but sat staring straight before him, his hands
moving amid the papers on the quilt. For my Lord Gore, like many a man
embarked on crooked courses, was very human, as such men often are. He
could not forever be callous in hypocrisy, and a touch of tenderness
lurks like a faint red glow amid the cold embers of every heart.

Stephen Gore felt a sudden pity for his son that morning. Something drew
him toward that silent, brown-faced man, so strong and yet so simple—so
wise, and yet so ready to believe. Yet what was the use of soliloquizing
over broken pitchers and squandered wine? He had entered an alley in
which there was no turning, and those who hindered him must be brushed
aside. To hesitate would only plunge all those concerned into bitterer
complexities, and perhaps into deeper guilt. And yet he could not forget
that look in his son’s eyes, for the man trusted him, and the man was
his own son.

“Crooked corners are best left crooked,” he said to himself, at last, as
he reached out a hand toward the bell-rope. “After all, he need not make
an Arabella Stewart of the girl; there are handsomer and better-tempered
women by the score.—Come along, Rogers; I am late as it is. Put my
plum-colored suit out. And have you stropped those razors properly? They
were beginning to bite like files.”

Rogers bustled forward with hot water, scented napkins, and a phial of
perfumes.

“Yes, sir, they are as sharp as your own wit, sir.”

“Give me the glass, Rogers. I feel yellow this morning. Do I look it?”

“A little tired, sir, perhaps. Nothing more.”



                                 XXIII


They will tell you in those parts how Waller, the parliamentarian,
battered with his cannon the Purcells’ house of Thorn, leaving it half
ruinous, as a warning to all royalists who felt tempted to trust in the
breadth of their moats or the stoutness of their walls. Be the woodland
legend what it may, the Purcells were poor after the long war, and Thorn
had been for thirty years a haunt of owls and jackdaws—a strange, dim
place set in the midst of stagnant water, far from a high-road, and
hidden by wastes and woods. From broken gable ends and tottering
battlements a red-brick tower and a few twisted chimneys rose against
the blue. Even in those short years ivy had climbed up over the walls,
pouring over the stone sills of the windows, and growing knotty and
stout of stem even up to the leaden water-spouts of the tower. When the
wind blew from the southwest the whole house seemed to shake and glimmer
with the movements of those myriad leaves. And through the windows of
roofless rooms you could see the sky redden or grow gold at dawn or
sunset.

As for the moat, it was a checker of black and green, with moor-hens
swimming on it and water-rats making rippling tracks from wall to wall,
while here and there great rambling roses, that had not felt the knife
for many a year, poured over the brick parapet, and hung in summer-like
banners of green flowered with crimson and gold. The crown of the bridge
had been broken, and several tree-trunks, ranged side to side and banked
with earth and brushwood, filled up the gap. The court-yard gate, a new
one since Waller’s day, seemed the only unruined thing about the place;
but the court-yard itself was knee-deep with grass and weeds at
hay-time. In the garden there were stretches of turf that had once been
lawns, paths that were no longer visible, roses and shrubs growing as
they listed, for a corner of the vegetable-garden alone had been kept in
cultivation. The out-houses and stables in the kitchen court were
crumbling and falling in—a quaint medley of ragged thatch and gaunt
roof timber, falling plaster, and lichened brick.

Yet the old thorns that grew in the grass-land beyond the moat,
thorn-trees that had given the house a name and were outliving it,
stretched out their flat tops like so many pleading and appealing hands.
They were white each spring above the green rushes, the brown
mole-heaps, and the dew-wet grass. And in the winter the birds flocked
to them and fed upon the red berries, welcome, indeed, when the turf was
frost-bound or when the snow lay deep. So the old thorns lived on as
they had lived for generations, while “Thorn” crumbled brick by brick,
and the ivy, as though yearning to hide its nakedness, made it dim with
glimmering green.

Thorn had its ghost, and no Sussex churl would come within half a mile
of it when dusk began to fall. An old Scotch gardener and his wife had
lived there some ten years, warm and snug in the rain-proof kitchen,
daring the devil and all spirits and insects with a handful of good
sulphur. MacAlister and his dame had been given their quittance that
autumn, and had been packed off into some distant county, no man knew
why or where, and no man cared. The owls might fledge their broods, the
jackdaws build in the chimneys, and the place be given up to all manner
of mystery and ghostliness. None had troubled in those parts about
Thorn, save one farmer who had needed a new barn, and had driven a wagon
over to thieve bricks, and come away with such a scaring that every one
believed him when he swore the place was cursed.

There were ghosts at Thorn that autumn—but solid, hungry, and most
gluttonous ghosts, who seemed to have abundance of good beer and food
stowed away in the huge cupboards of the kitchen. The kitchen and the
two rooms over it had been made habitable for the MacAlisters, and were
now used by the new spirits who haunted Thorn—a big, stocky man, with a
back like a flagstone; a comely, broad-hipped woman, with black eyes and
a tight, hard face. They had come there suddenly, when the moon was
full, walking by the woodland track from a great black coach that had
set them down upon the high-road.

One evening in October, as the dusk was falling, the figure of a man, a
burly blotch of darkness in the half light of the yard, came across from
an out-building that was used as a wood-shed with an apron full of oak
blocks for the fire. Farmer Knapp, he who had come to steal bricks, had
told how he had come to the gate of Thorn and had seen through the
grill, not a foot from his own eyes, a great white face as big as the
moon when full. Farmer Knapp had not taken a second look, and, although
it was only three in the afternoon, he had jumped into his wagon and
driven off with his cart-horses lumbering at a canter. Now the man who
crossed the court-yard, carrying his billets of wood, had a piece of
white cloth covering his face, tied under the chin and about the
forehead, with two holes for the eyes and a slit where the mouth should
be.

The huge calves of the man’s legs rubbed together as he walked, and
under the brim of his beaver his pate was as bald as the ivory knob of a
gentleman’s cane. He went down into the kitchen by three steps and a
short passageway, and tumbled his wood into a corner of the open hearth.

At the table the woman was stirring something in a basin. A big black
pot hung on a rack and chain over the fire, and on the bricks before the
hearth lay a dog of the mastiff breed, who lifted his head and blinked
when the man entered.

“Supper ready?”

“Throw some more wood on, Sim, will ye?”

The man tossed two or three blocks into the red heart of the fire,
pulled a rough settle forward with one foot, and sat down and stared at
the pot. The firelight glittered on the eyes behind the white cloth,
showing up the red lids unshaded by the trace of an eyelash.

“Lord, what a dull hole this is, or I’m saved!”

The woman had her sleeves turned up, and her big forearms were brown and
comely.

“Dull,” said the man, “when there’s plenty to eat?”

“And drink, Sim?”

“Better than Tyburn or Newgate, anyway. Only there ain’t nothing to lay
one’s fist to; not so much as a dog for old Blizzard to take by the
throat.”

“Turn smuggler, my dear, if you want to let blood.”

The man sniffed at the pot.

“Smuggler? No, thank ye; we don’t want none of those gentry inside
Thorn. Stodging about the country for a keg of liquor when we can have
it for going to the cupboard! This deuced viz of mine smarts like hot
Hollands to-night.”

He untied the strings and turned the mask up, but the woman did not look
at him, it being near supper-time and food upon the table. They were not
Sussex folk, nor even country people, by their speech, but gentry whose
childhood had been passed within hail of Southwark or the Savoy.

“Who’s going to carry the girl’s food up to-night?”

The man took an oil flask and a piece of linen from the long shelf above
the open fireplace. Over the shelf hung a long gun and a couple of heavy
pistols, also a seaman’s cutlass and a pair of iron wristlets. He
dropped some of the oil on the rag, and began to dab his face with it,
blinking his red lids like an owl.

“Take it up yourself, Nance; I’m tired.”

She looked at him with a shrewish lift of the chin.

“Tired, you great hulk! Dang those rickety stairs, they make my knees
ache; a bat put the candle out last night. Mother of God! I wouldn’t be
here another week but for the doubloons! Think of the smell of the
sausage shops and the snug little taverns Southwark way! I would give a
gold Jacobus to sniff the river mud at low water. They might take us for
papists from St. Omer; as for the girl—Black Babs, she’s no more mad
than I am.”

The woman had a certain air of culture—the culture, perhaps, of a bold
and clever orange girl who had caught some of the courtliness of the
playhouses and the gardens.

“So we are papists,” quoth the man, still dabbing his face, “and to say
whether a wench is mad or not is none of our business.”

“It’s my business, Sim, to see no one drops a noose over my neck.”

“Noose be damned! When a great gentleman opens his purse, you slut, wise
folk ask no questions.”

“P’r’aps not. Lift the pot off. My Lord Pomposity wishes the girl mad, I
gather, and mad she will be in six months, with the winter coming—or,
maybe, stiff as a frozen bird. Then it will be old Drury and Whitefriars
again.”

“As likely as not. Captain Grylls will be black-guarding it this way
with orders before long. They must get us fresh supplies sent in before
December.”

“That’s the real business of life, Sim, to be sure. There’s the girl’s
bread and dripping. Run up with it like a good lad, or I shall spoil the
pudding. You had better take the lantern; the old tower is full of bats
and draughts.”

The man put the oil flask on the shelf, and, dropping the white cloth
over his face, took down a horn lantern from a beam and lit the candle
in it with a burning brand from the fire. He trod on the dog’s paw in
the doing of it, and gave the beast his boot in the ribs because he
presumed to snarl at him.

“Anything to wash it down?”

“I filled the jug this morning.”

Simon Pinniger picked up the pewter plate and marched off swinging the
lantern. From the kitchen a passage led to what had been the hall, now
rafterless, with the stars blinking between ivied walls. A flight of
steps led to a door that opened into the lower story of the tower. Simon
put the lantern down, pulled out a key, and, unlocking the door, picked
up the lantern again and began to climb the interminable stair. Thud,
thud, thud, up into the darkness, with the light from the lantern
swinging this way and that, and the raw cold of the autumn night
breathing in at the open squints, and through the shot-holes that could
be seen here and there in the walls. Simon Pinniger climbed sixty steps
or so, passing two narrow landings before he came to a door with a bar
across it. He put down the lantern, unlocked the door, lifted the bar
that worked upon a pin, and, opening the door about a foot, pushed the
plate in with the toe of his boot.

“Supper,” was all he said.

Then, after the turning of the lock and the creaking of the bar, the
thud, thud died down again into the darkness of the stair.

Only one thing moved for the moment in the tower-room, and that a mouse,
who came out boldly to nibble at the bread on the pewter plate. A single
window, high up in the wall and closed with stanchions, let in the brown
gloom of the dusk and the glitter of a star. There was no fire, no
furniture to speak of, and nothing that could be broken and used as an
edge to cut and wound.

In one corner stood a truckle-bed, and sitting thereon a still, shadowy
figure whose face showed a gray oval in the darkness. The place seemed
far above all sound, though the wind might moan there and shake the ivy
on the wall.

The figure rose from the bed and moved toward the door. It went on its
knees there, and with cold hands began to crumble some of the rough
bread. A tiny shadow crept up toward the white fingers and took crumbs.
It was so little a thing, too small to be caressed, yet it had grown
tame in one short month, and, above all, it was alive.

Barbara, kneeling there, fed the mouse with crumbs, and ate some
mouthfuls of the bread herself. For there was nothing for her to do at
Thorn but to watch for this friend at dusk, or for the white pigeons
that sometimes flew up to her window during the day. She could see
nothing of the world, not even the waving woods, but only the clouds
moving and a few stars at night. One book they had given her, and that
an old Bible bound in faded red leather. She had read it twice from
cover to cover, sometimes with listlessness, sometimes with fierce
hunger, sometimes with tears. And for an hour or more she would sit on
the bed and think, her white face thin and questioning, but with no
madness in her eyes.



                                  XXIV


There was a shadow of unrest over England that year, as though each
man distrusted his neighbor, and was ready to accuse his own friend of
treason and papish practices, of taking the French King’s money, or of
complicity in some wild and improbable plot. There had been no rush of
the mob as yet, no Protestant fury, but the discontent and the fear and
the distrust were there, spread on either side by vague whisperings and
all manner of monstrous rumors. Men were seen to sit cheek by jowl in
the taverns, and talk of an armed landing, of a second Massacre of St.
Bartholomew, when all good Protestants were to be murdered in their
beds. There were tales of Jesuits swarming over the country-side like
silent, night-flying moths. The Catholic lords had long been arming, so
it was said, and were ready even to murder his Majesty the King, and set
up the Duke of York, that morose-faced inquisitor, in his stead.

John Gore, who had suspected his father of being trammelled up in some
secret undertaking, had called on my Lady Purcell one gray afternoon,
and was walking home alone across the park, taking a circuit so as to
pass by Rosamond’s Pool. He had been often of late to the house in Pall
Mall, drawn thither by instincts that he could not smother. He went to
hear news, and more than once he had spoken to Anne Purcell of her
daughter; but my lady had set her mouth very firmly, and made him
believe that the affair was too poignant for her. He had even questioned
Mrs. Jael quietly, and the woman had drawn two gold pieces from him with
her emotional loquacity and the trickle of tears down her plump cheeks.

My lord had advised patience, and John Gore had done his best to abide
by the advice, suspecting no treachery in it, and hoping for all that
God might give. Yet often he rebelled against his blindness, yearning
but to know the place where they had hidden her away. The truth might
have been had by bribery, but John Gore had no reason as yet to persuade
him to bribe his father’s servants, nor would he have stooped to such a
thing without great need. Yet the girl had vanished out of the world,
and there was no horizon toward which he might turn his eyes and know
that she was there, like a light beyond the hills. In his heart he kept
her image bright, even as she had appeared to him those summer days,
swarthy and sorrowful, with silent lips and watchful eyes.

Dusk was falling as John Gore crossed the park, and there were few
people strolling along the paths. He had come close to Rosamond’s Pool
when he saw two figures leaning over the rail, with the collars of their
cloaks turned up and their hats down over their eyes. They turned from
the water as John Gore came by, and even in the dusk he recognized the
taller of the two as Stephen Gore, his father.

The son stopped, and saw his father give a tug to the shorter man’s
cloak.

“Well met, Jack; you are the man I want. This, Captain Grylls, is that
son of mine who has sailed a ship farther than any of your sea-going
bravoes.”

My lord’s companion bowed and lifted his hat. He was pock-marked and
somewhat overdressed, with a hook nose and a sharp, dry mouth. One of
his shoulders appeared higher than the other, and his head set a little
askew upon his neck.

“The great navigator! Proud to approach you, sir; we are mere duck-pond
gentry, some of us, though we may have fought the Dutch.”

His nose wrinkled queerly when he smiled, and he displayed a row of
teeth discolored by tobacco. John Gore judged the man to be a rogue, and
a hanger-on to the skirts of patrons about the court. His eyes had a
knack of seeming to look both ways, and no doubt he would have been
pleased if he had been able to see behind him like a hare.

“Attend to this little affair of mine, Grylls. I shall expect you some
day this week.”

“Yes, my lord; you know me to be as steady as a clock.”

“Yet clocks need winding, Grylls.”

The man laughed politely as though he saw the gilt edge of the jest,
and, lifting his hat, moved away with the discretion of an underling who
has learned to tell instantly when he is no longer wanted.

My lord opened his cloak and set his hat at a happier angle.

“Come along, Jack; I have business for you to-night.”

Now John Gore carried one matter uppermost in his mind that evening. My
lord seemed to read the nature of his son’s thoughts, and dashed any
illusion with the candor of a friend.

“No, nothing of that kind, Jack; I had news this morning. She is well in
body, but she has not changed greatly yet in soul. Put it behind you,
and wait for the best. After all, there are stirring things to be done
in the world, and a maid should not make a man’s blood turn to milk.”

John Gore walked on in silence, his father humming a tune that sounded
very much like a chant. For my Lord Stephen was a papist, though the
conversion had not come till his maturer years, and whether it had been
a question of conscience or of statecraft none but a Jesuit could have
explained.

“Who was the man you were talking with by the Pool?”

“Grylls? A poor, willing kind of rogue who has learned to make himself
of use. Small fry, Jack, to float in shallow streams. I have deeper
waters for you, sir, with all your guns and tackle.”

There was a gleam of grimness in his eyes as he spoke.

“The Bible sayeth, Jack, ‘Put not your trust in princes.’ A wise saying,
truly; yet I have a wiser, and that, sir, is, ‘Put not your faith in the
mob.’ Trust the sheep-dog, and watch the wag of his tail, rather than
bump and scurry and run with the flock. Yonder lies our anchorage.”

A house rose before them amid the trees, its windows dark save for one
in the first story, and that dim with the shadow of drawn curtains. John
Gore recognized it as the house of Hortense. They were crossing the
ground where he had fought my Lord Pembroke that wet night in summer.

“Is your call there, sir?”

Stephen Gore glanced this way and that, and then laid a hand on his
son’s shoulder.

“Yes. Join with me, Jack; there are nobler prizes to be won here than
you will ever take at sea.”

They entered the Mazarin’s house through the little garden door, behind
which some one seemed to have been waiting, for it was opened directly
my lord had given five sharp knocks. The door closed behind them, and in
the dim light John Gore saw the janitor was a woman. My lord walked
straight ahead toward a back stairway as though he knew the intimate
secrets of the house. John Gore was following him, when he felt the
woman touch his arm.

“Of your curtesy, sir, the lock has caught; will you turn it for me?”

She spoke with a slightly foreign accent, drawing out every syllable
with quaint directness.

“Have you the key?”

“Here it is, sir. Fie, now, I have dropped it; how very clumsy!”

She began to draw her skirts this way and that in the narrow passage,
peering for the thing in the dark, and even sweeping the floor with her
hands. John Gore bent down to help her. And in the quest the woman’s
hair brushed up against his cheek.

She gave a sudden, thrilling little laugh, and took John Gore softly by
the ear.

“So you have come to join us, Signor Giovanni? That is very sweet of
you. We need brave men.”

To be held by the ear by a waiting-woman surprised the sea-captain for
the moment. He took a firm but meaning hold upon the lady’s wrist. But
with the other hand she put back the hood of the cloak she wore.

“Ah, how good! I have played a trick upon you both. Have you never been
held by the ear, Sir John, by some pretty little waiting-maid? Now do
not pretend, Sir John; I shall be able to tell a different tale.”

She seemed to grow taller suddenly, and to radiate splendor even in the
dusk. Her voice changed also from a mincing treble to a full contralto
that seemed made for song.

John Gore knew that it was Hortense.

“Madam,” he said, “I beg your pardon.”

She laughed with mischievous charm, and drew her hand away slowly so
that it brushed his cheek.

“How simple of you, Sir John. And yet you can handle a sword so well.
Shall we follow my lord?”

“And the key?” he asked, with a glance at the floor.

“Is in the lock. And the lock is turned. So you see!”

She dropped the cloak that she was wearing, and as they ascended into
the light he could see the splendor of her dress gleam up gradually, the
color of her hair, and the compelling beauty of her face. Her eyes
seemed full of sparkles of light; her lips red, soft, and mobile, as
though on the brink of a smile.

She paused at the head of the stairway, and stretched out an arm across
the passage that led toward a room whence light and the sound of voices
came. John Gore paused also, and she stood and looked into his eyes with
an earnestness that made him color.

“I am serious now, Sir John. We are risking our necks here; it may be no
mere supper-party and a trifling loss at cards. You are young—and,
then, you have been in other lands. And yet, after all, I am speaking to
you as though you were a boy.”

For the moment he could only look at her, for she was so very lovely and
so womanly that it was not in a man’s nature not to look.

“I am in the dark,” he said, at last.

“Are you afraid of the dark?”

“I have dared it before—for the sake of adventure.”

She still stood regarding him with her great eyes, so liquid, so
mysterious, and perhaps a little sad. John Gore saw her press something
to her bosom, and when she took her hand away he saw that it was a
little silver crucifix hung by a chain about her neck. Her lips moved as
though she were repeating some Latin prayer.

“Fides sanctissima, Maria beatissima, Pater-noster in cœlo.”

And then she swept forward toward the room, and John Gore followed her
lest she should think him afraid.

The room was quite small, panelled with dark oak, and with a fire
burning upon the open hearth at one end. A long table stood in the
centre. About it were seated some half a score men, and at the head
thereof, in a great leather-backed chair, Coleman the Jesuit, chaplain
to the Duchess of York.

My Lord Gore exchanged glances with Hortense.

“It was you, then, most magical Dian, playing porter at the door. I
wondered what had become of our friend here. Had I known—” And he laid
a hand over his heart.

Hortense turned her head for an instant with an audacious flash of the
eyes at John Gore.

“I will not betray him, but he wished to help a woman find a key that
she had not dropped, gallant Sir John!” And the look she gave him would
have made the greatest epicure push his plate aside and talk.

Father Coleman, infamous or sainted Coleman, as men were soon to call
him, sat at the head of a table that was covered, not with papers and
epistles, but with dishes of fruit, wineglasses, bottles, comfits, and
spiced cakes. The gentlemen about it appeared to have easy consciences
and pleasant thoughts. They were debonair, familiar, talkative, very
much in the grace of pleasure. The panelling of the room was fanatical
and austere, yet the Duchess’s chaplain had cheerful cheeks and
vivacious eyes, and bore himself with that easy-flowing worldliness that
carries a clever priest into the intimate life of palaces.

It might have been nothing more than a gathering of lords and gentlemen
who gossiped over their wine, comparing their views, and exchanging the
ordinary news of the day. There appeared to be no elaboration of
secrecy, no self-conscious sense of urgent peril. They ladled out punch,
or filled their wineglasses, smiling across the table at one another,
and listening to little pieces of scandal with the ingenuous
cheerfulness of country ladies over their dishes of tea.

All of those present appeared very interested in the breeding of
race-horses, and the technicalities of the sport were bandied to and
fro, even Father Coleman appearing to be possessed of very pronounced
views upon so unpriestly a subject. They talked much of a famed French
horse named “Soleil d’Or,” and also of a Dutch stallion whose breed none
of the gentry seemed to fancy. There were a great number of noted beasts
in the shires whose names and points were familiar to the whole table.
“Norfolk Joe,” “Northern Star,” “Jenny of Cheshire,” “Hertford
Prince”—such were some of the many titles that John Gore heard passing
from mouth to mouth. Being a seaman, he felt himself out of touch with
the “horse gossip” of the day. That some gentleman contemplated
introducing a stud of French mares into the country was news whose
significance was largely lost to him. He knew very little of Italian
roans and Spanish jennets, nor why “Oak Apple” should be spoken of as a
sire who had not been properly watched.

There was no coarseness in their gossiping, and John Gore, who sat at
one corner of the table close to Father Coleman and Hortense, saw no
need for either the priest or the lady to look embarrassed. The
gentlemen were still intent upon the topic when the Mazarin leaned over
the side rail of her chair and drew a plate of grapes toward her.

She cut a small bunch, and began to eat the grapes one by one, doing it
so daintily that it was good to watch her white hands and her full red
mouth. She glanced now and again at the man beside her with a charming
suggestion of coy interest in him that contrasted with the mischievous
mood of an hour ago.

“You know more of ships than of horses, Sir John?”

She gave him the title as though it provided her with an excuse for
mouthing two very pretty syllables where one might have sounded blunt
and clumsy.

John Gore looked at her with his grave eyes and smiled.

“At the Nore you would have heard ships talked of in much the same
fashion.”

“Yes. A sea-captain must love his ship as an Arab loves his horse.”

“If she can spread her wings well and swing her shot home into an
enemy.”

“Truly, Sir John, even I should love to go to sea, and sail away for
leagues and leagues—away to those dim islands where everything is new
and strange. I feel like a little ignorant girl when I think of what you
men of the sea have seen.”

She looked at him so delightfully, with her eyes full of wonder and
interest, that a far stronger man than Ulysses might have lingered to
tell her of the splendors of unsailed seas. John Gore discovered himself
in Calypso land, with white hands pushing dishes of fruit toward him and
proffering Spanish wine.

He was telling her of the grim passage of Cape Horn, and of the savages
who lived in those wild parts, when a sudden gleam from his inner
consciousness swept across his mind. He remembered how he had told the
same tales to that silent, sad-eyed girl whose life had had no glamour
of homage in it, and whose tragic face looked out at him from a mist of
madness.

He grew silent quite suddenly, bringing his voyages to a clumsy and
confused end, and not noticing the questioning look in Hortense’s eyes.
He felt instinctively that she was nearer to him than he wished. Her
beauty became a sudden glare, clashing with something more spiritual,
more mysterious, and more strangely sad. He was glad when some of the
gentlemen rose and began to kiss Father Coleman’s hand.

They went down by the same stairway, Hortense herself lighting them with
a little Italian lamp. She was very close to John Gore in the
passageway. Her dress brushed against him, while the lamp she carried
made her beauty seem softly brilliant amid the shadows.

“Good-night, my lord; good-night, Sir John; I hope we have not
frightened you very greatly?”

She searched him with her great eyes, so full of intentness for the
moment that he felt their power and could not look away.

“You must tell me more of those wild seas, the great rivers, and the
Indians, the gold and the pearls.”

He bowed to her a little gauchely, but did not touch her hand, and he
had a last glimpse of her standing there with the glow from the lamp
upon her face as he went out into the night.

My lord appeared in excellent spirits as they walked home together in
the dark. His son had a silent mood upon him, and Stephen Gore found
nothing in his silence to be reproved.

“Pearls and gold and strange lands. That is Hortense,” he said,
suddenly, as they entered the broad street; “a splendid creature,
too—in heart as well as in body.”

John Gore walked on with no sound save the crisp beat of his feet upon
the stones.

“What was the meaning of it all, sir?” he asked, at last.

“Meaning, Jack?”

“Yes.”

“Why, just what you please, my lad. We choice spirits and good Catholics
love to have our gossip, and you can find in it just as much as you wish
to know. You must come with me again, and tell the lady more about the
pearls and the gold and the strange lands. I tell you, John Gore, there
is something for you to discover more mysterious and alluring than
anything Cortés and all the Spaniards discovered in the New World over
the sea.”



                                  XXV


In the salon of the Purcells’ house in Pall Mall there hung a portrait
of the Spanish lady whom the Purcell of Queen Bess’s days had won with
the romantic daring of an adventurer’s sword. It was the portrait of a
young woman in a quaint stiff dress of black and gold, her dark hair
curled loosely about her head, and her black eyes looking down out of a
proud and rather peevish face.

The portrait was touched by a ray of sunlight that October morning when
John Gore stood beneath it, finding a strange and wistful familiarity in
the Spaniard’s face. He was waiting in the salon for my Lady Purcell,
being the bearer of a letter from his father, who had ridden suddenly
into the eastern counties, giving no other reason than that of business
with a friend. These Purcell pictures had been familiar to John Gore
from his boyhood, yet they were full of a deeper significance for him
now as he searched face after face, but especially that of the lady in
black and gold. There was a stretch of landscape in one corner of the
picture, the one sunlit space upon the canvas, a scene of meadows and of
woodlands, with a mansion of red brick rising from the narrow waters of
a moat. John Gore guessed it to be the Purcells’ house of Thorn, now
ruinous in a Sussex waste, but once the home of the fair Spaniard with
the peevish mouth.

He was looking at this picture with some intentness when Anne Purcell
came in to him, with cross lines about her mouth, and the strained air
of a woman whose temper is not at its best when inconsiderate persons
make morning calls. She was wearing a faded puce-colored gown, and lace
and ribbons that were none too clean, and she looked sallow in the
morning sunlight, and restless yet heavy about the eyes.

“Good-morning, Jack.”

She treated him with blunt ceremony, having seen his ears boxed as a
boy. John Gore turned and bowed to her, with his head full of other
things.

“I was looking at Donna Gloria’s picture,” he said, making the most
obvious remark, as a man commonly does on such occasions; “there is a
strange likeness there.”

“Ah, yes, Gloria had a temper.”

“Is that Thorn—in the corner of the canvas, where the patch of sunlight
lies?”

My lady glanced at him as though she had found him infinitely tiresome
on previous visits.

“Thorn? I suppose it is.”

“It lies some miles from the Rye road, does it not—not far from a place
called Battle?”

Anne Purcell looked at him with sudden suspiciousness, and, turning
aside, sat down on a low couch with her back toward the light. John Gore
had always angered her of late with the grim and quiet persistency of a
forlorn and ridiculous faith. And possibly this impatience of hers came
from the inevitable pain she suffered when gleams of the finer spirit in
her broke through the shades of self.

John Gore, feeling in his pocket for his father’s letter, could not help
being struck by the haggard expression of my lady’s face. So ripe and
healthy by nature, the change in her was the more obvious and the more
marked. The woman looked ill, with an indefinable grayness about the
mouth and a heaviness about the eyes. Wrinkles had appeared in the skin
that she had not touched that morning with rouge and powder, making her
look thin, yellow, and even old.

“I have a letter for you from my father.”

“For me?”

Her face lighted up instantly, yet John Gore was struck by a shallow
gleam like fear in her eyes.

“He has gone into the country for a few days.”

“The country! Where?—what part?”

“Suffolk, I believe.”

He handed her the letter, and turned to the window as though to give her
leisure to break the seal and read it. Yet for nearly half a minute she
suffered the letter to lie unopened upon her lap as though she were
afraid to dip into its contents. Her eyes had fixed themselves with a
look of prophetic dread upon the Spaniard’s picture where the sunlight
shone.

John Gore, standing at the window, heard the stiff crackle of the paper
in her hands as she spread it upon her knee. Stephen Gore and my Lady
Purcell had been friends for so many years that the son almost thought
of them as brother and sister. His father had been Lionel Purcell’s
friend and Barbara’s godfather, and the sympathies of the two families
had seemed to flow in one common channel.

“John”—her voice startled him, for his thoughts had flown elsewhere, as
a lover’s thoughts will; he turned and saw her sitting with the letter
on her lap, her face dead white, and the muscles twitching about her
mouth—“will you ring for Jael?”

He looked at her keenly, with some concern.

“Have you had bad news—”

“No—”

“—about Barbara?”

“No, no, I am only faint. I have not been well these last few days.” And
she crumpled the letter in her hands.

As he crossed the room he heard her give a curious, shivering cry, and
when he turned again she was sitting with her face hidden in her hands,
swaying slightly from side to side, her whole body shaken by some
convulsive storm of tears. John Gore looked at her helplessly.
Experience had not taught him to deal with an hysterical woman of forty.

Seizing the most discreet impulse, he moved toward the door and nearly
pushed against Mrs. Jael as he opened it. He stood aside, and nodded her
into the room, feeling that only a woman could deal with a woman in such
a case. What the woe was he could only conjecture; perhaps some woman’s
affair that made her emotions passionate and uncertain.

The spirit of unrest that seemed in the blood of every man that year
might well have entered into John Gore’s mood as he wandered without
purpose in the park after leaving my Lady Anne to Mrs. Jael’s
ministrations. To a man who had led an active and adventurous life the
court world seemed a trivial world, unless he were a libertine, a
gambler, or a dabbler in ambitious schemes. John Gore felt himself out
of touch with all these people, for after a three years’ voyage a man
may be more ignorant of the political passions of the moment than a
ploughboy who can catch the village gossip in a tavern. There were
causes and interests to be served, and numberless back-stair intrigues
to enthrall those who loved crooked pleasures and the mystery of some
plot. John Gore realized that his father had plunged both hands into
some secret undertaking, yet even the glamour of the Mazarin’s private
salon did not lure him to mingle an amour with intrigues. The times
seemed sinister, and full of violent yet treacherous motives. The life
about him appeared vague, elusive, and unsatisfying. Even my Lady
Purcell, so plump and buxom of yore, seemed to have fallen under the
spell of some secret panic, to judge by her sickly look, and the strange
emotion she had betrayed that morning. He found himself wondering what
she had read in my lord’s letter, for the suddenness of her distress
could hardly be explained by a fit of the vapors. For Anne Purcell had
always appeared to him to be a thoughtless and selfishly cheerful woman,
affectionate toward those who pleased her, but not one who would suffer
greatly for the sake of others. The thought haunted him that the news
had concerned Barbara, and that she had concealed the truth from him
with a spasm of motherly pity.

His mood was of restlessness and discontent that morning—the
restlessness of a man who lacks a purpose for the moment, and who longs
for something to grapple with and overcome. My Lord Gore had counted on
this adventurous spirit in the son, believing that it would lure him
into the angry intrigues of the hour, and that he would forget that
which my lord wished heartily to be forgotten. The fascinations of
Hortense might have won many a man’s sword, and her splendor have dimmed
the feeble and romantic glimmer of a distant face. To forego such
plunder for a sulky girl whose mouth did not seem to be made for kisses!
My lord’s worldliness scoffed at the chance. Hortense would disenchant
him for any such sickly whim, and with a pout of her red lips or a touch
of the hand, turn him aside from stupid melancholy. Yet Stephen Gore
misunderstood the nature of the man, for though the vicissitudes of life
make most folk fickle, there are some fanatics who grow more obstinate
when threatened by fate.

John Gore passed by the Duke of Albemarle’s rooms, and entered the
street by Holbein’s Gate. He walked under the windows of the Banqueting
Hall, over the place where a king’s head had fallen, and turned in at
the Palace Gate. He was strolling across the first court with the air of
a man who wishes the whole world with the devil, when at the entry of
the passage that ran past the Great Hall and the Chapel to Whitehall
Stairs, he cannoned against an equally preoccupied person who came out
by a side alley with a couple of books under his arm.

“Pardon, sir; but may I remind you that God gave us eyes!”

“Tu quoque, my friend; you have some weight behind those books, to judge
by the dig in the ribs you gave me.”

They stared at each other irritably for the moment, and then fell
a-laughing like a couple of boys.

“Bless my eyes, Jack Gore, but they are always playing me these scurvy
tricks. I shall be kissing all my neighbors’ wives soon in mistake for
my own.”

“And no doubt the excuse will be useful, unless the husbands are fools.”

“Ah, you dog! Remember my dignity, and in the public and august place.
Where are you bound?”

“Anywhere—and nowhere.”

“The most devilish, dangerous course, John Gore, that a man can ever
sail; it ends too often with places beginning with T and B. It also
betokens a precarious state of mind, sir—a readiness to be made a fool
of by a satin slipper or the turn of an ankle. I have had experience.
Don’t laugh, you buccaneer. I am minded to take you under cover of my
guns, and sail you into the country, where you can run into nothing more
dangerous than a milkmaid with scarlet stockings.”

Mr. Pepys insinuated a hand round John Gore’s arm, and turned him back
in the direction of the Palace Gate.

“Lest you find your way to the Stone Gallery, John, or to the bowers of
the maids of honor, I will conduct you under escort as one who may prove
an incorrigible vagrant. But to be most serious. Are you so
incontinently idle and unoccupied?”

“I am.”

“Then you should be the very man for a fat and purblind friend who is
driven to making pilgrimages on other people’s business. It is an error,
sir, to be considered honest and good-tempered. How would a week’s
saddle-shaking help your hunger. You have the took of a man too full of
bile.”

John Gore looked into Mr. Pepys’s florid, short-sighted, and shrewdly
amiable face.

“Are you going into the country?”

“Yes, like a Jew to Babylon. For of all the things I abominate, John
Gore, commend me to country inns and the sloughs that bumpkins call
roads. Being plump, Jack, I am piteously popular with certain officious
insects, and when I consider it, I am moved by the reflection that these
insects might split their affections out of curtesy to a strapping
sailor.”

Mr. Pepys turned abruptly in his bustling way, dragging John Gore round
by the elbow.

“We will go back by boat and dine, and after dinner a friend can refuse
nothing. Take count of my inflictions, John Gore: Item one, to visit a
female cousin and inquire into some business where she has been robbed
and skinned by some rogue of a steward; and the woman is monstrously
ugly, Jack, with not so much as a simper to make a man feel gallant.
Item two, to go in person and render some private matter to Lord
Montague who is resting—resting in one of his accursed country houses;
it is no real business of mine, John Gore, but the kind of sottish
business that a man allows himself to be saddled with because he is what
people call trustworthy. Item three, to ride on to Portsmouth and poke
my nose into certain unsavory messes there. This is what it means, sir,
to be a man of affairs, and the most popular purse-carrier in an
accursedly large family.”

John Gore laughed at Mr. Pepys’s declamatic energy, knowing him to be a
man who would read a beggar a sharp lecture and then give him sixpence
to drink with on the road.

“When do you start?” he asked.

“To-morrow.”

“And by what road?”

“The Rye road, John—and a wry road it is, I wagerdown to some miserable
town called Lamberhurst, in Kent. They work iron there, and I suppose
the beds are full of smuts that bite and smuts that don’t. Thence to the
town of Battle to find my Lord Montague, if he chances to be there and
not at Cowdray. Thence on to Portsmouth, and so home. The one cup of
spiced wine is that we ride by Tunbridge; I shall visit The Wells, buy
apples from the country girls, drink ink, and perhaps see some fine
women. And if you will take the road with me, I shall be more easy in my
mind as to footpads and fleas.”

Now there had flashed into John Gore’s mind the vision of Donna Gloria’s
picture, with the glimpse of Thorn amid its woods and meadows. And
sometimes a man is swayed by the veriest whim toward destinies that are
far beyond the moment’s vision. So it proved with John Gore as he
followed Mr. Pepys into the boat at Whitehall Stairs, for he promised to
share with him the mellow comfort of St. Luke’s summer, and to serve as
partner in the matter of rustic beds.



                                  XXVI


Mr. Pepys was a gentleman whose spirits were never dashed save when he
was testy for want of food or plunged into some periodical ague fit of
shivering religiosity. He was an excellent companion for the road, with
his vivacity and his bustling determination to get the best that life
could give. John Gore and the Secretary had agreed to take no servants
with them, for, as Mr. Pepys declared, “the rogues only drank their
masters’ purses dry, and ran away at the first click of a
pistol”—though it is highly probable that Mr. Samuel preferred to ride
alone upon his travels simply because he was minded to enjoy himself
without some prying rascal of a groom carrying home all manner of
scandalous lies as to what Mr. Samuel said and did and drank in his
hours of ease and absence.

They slept the first night at The Checkers Inn at Tunbridge, a fine
timber and plaster house whose great gables overhung the street. The
next day they rode on to The Wells, where many fashionable folk still
lingered, enjoying the autumn sunshine and the country air. Mr. Pepys
contrived to hire one of the little wooden cottages upon The Common for
the night, a step that saved them riding off to Speldhurst. The
Secretary appeared chiefly delighted with the fair held near The
Pantiles, where pretty country girls sold fruit and flowers and garden
stuff, and robbed their customers coquettishly, being not so simple as
they seemed. Mr. Pepys proved such a zealous marketeer that he came away
with a boy carrying a big basket, in which were three cabbages, a gallon
of apples, two pounds of butter, a chicken and a duck, some home-made
cakes, several bunches of ribbons, and a bottle of gooseberry wine.
“What the deuce to do with the stuff?” That was a problem that made him
laugh most heartily. And being an ingenious wag he went down in the
evening with the basket to a little pavilion where some of the quality
were playing cards by candle-light, and, soon finding friends there, he
sat down and played ombre till he had lost three guineas. Then came the
jest of protesting that he must pay his debts “in kind,” and the duck
and the cabbages and the butter were hauled forth out of the basket. The
bottle of gooseberry cordial was the only thing they took back with them
to the cottage on The Common, and they shared it between them, finding
it far stronger and more fiery than they had expected.

Mr. Pepys had a religious fit next morning when they rode on toward
Lamberhurst to condole with the ugly cousin over her losses. It proved
to be a smoky village in a valley, with a little stream running through
it and a good inn near the bridge. Mr. Pepys established himself at the
inn, swearing that he would cause Cousin Jane no extra expense; for her
cooking would have caused a second revolt in heaven—at least, so he
told John Gore. He appeared in need of a comfortable cup of mulled wine
when he returned from calling upon the relative, who lived in a dull
little house up the hill. Mr. Pepys confessed that she had talked five
gold pieces out of him, and he went to bed so surlily that the officious
insects, if there were any in the place, remained at a discreet and
respectful distance.

On the fourth day from crossing London Bridge they rode for the town of
Battle, leaving the Rye road at Flimwell, and entering upon a track that
made Mr. Pepys sore in spirit as well as in the saddle. The roughness
and the quagmires of the so-called highway reduced him to one of those
sad and pensive moods when a man beholds rottenness in every
institution, and despairs of an age that can suffer so much mud. When
Mr. Pepys felt gloomy he took to talking politics, and to inveighing
against the venality of the times, and the dangers that threatened every
man, however shrewd and honest he might be.

“Keep away from it, John,” he said, solemnly; “for I assure you there
will be heads falling before you and I are a year older. We are passing
through a pest of plots—ouch!—hold up, you beast, that is the fifth
time you have bumped me on the same place! I trust, John, that you have
not meddled with any of these intrigues.”

“I am just as wise as a child, Sam.”

“Be careful that you are not too simple. Now, in your ear, John, I have
many fears for that fine gentleman, your father. He is dabbling his
hands in dangerous dishes. God knows what will come of all this ferment.
The Protestant pot is on the bubble, John; it will boil over and scald a
good many people, or I know nothing.”

“How much of it is froth?”

“Perhaps on the top, sir; but there is a deuced lot of hot liquor
underneath. I know more of these things than most men, John; I am in and
out, here, there, and everywhere; I keep my ears open, my clacker quiet,
and my opinions to myself. There are some people who must be forever
meddling, and banking up secret bonfires under their own houses. The
papists are just such folk, John. There will be a flare soon, I tell
you, and a bigger flare, perhaps, than the Great Fire ever made. Keep
your fingers to yourself, John, and let fools play with hot coals.”

John Gore listened to Mr. Pepys’s prophecies, and watched the autumn
woods flow by, russet and green, and bronze and gold. They were riding
now over the Sussex hills, with a gorgeous landscape flowing toward the
sea. Blue distances, far, faint horizons, dim, winding valleys ablaze
with the splendor of decay. Leaves falling with a flicker of amber in
the autumn sunlight. Berries red upon the bryony and the brier. Bracken
bronzing the woodlands and the hill-sides, vague mists ready to rise so
soon as the sun had set.

It was late in the afternoon, and the west a sweep of cold clear gold,
when they came to the town of Battle, riding over the hill where the
windmills stood, the hill called Mountjoy in those parts, for there the
knights of William the Norman had tossed their spears in triumph as the
sun went down. Coming by Mill Street into King Street they saw the great
gray gate of the Abbey facing the town green where the fairs were held
and where they baited bulls. Looking about them for a good inn, they
chose “The Half Moon,” on the eastern side of the green. Over the way
stood the great beamed house where wayfarers had been lodged before the
days of the Abbey’s death.

The first piece of news Mr. Pepys had from the hostler as he dismounted
was that my Lord Montague was not at the Abbey, but was expected from
Cowdray some day that week. Mr. Pepys swore by way of protest, being
stiff and hungry, and inclined to be choleric and testy over trifles. He
was walking to and fro in the yard to stretch his legs, and throwing
caustic brevities toward John Gore, when a neat and comely woman of
forty came stepping over the stones, and desired to know how she could
make the gentlemen welcome.

Mr. Pepys looked at her bland, brown face, with plaits of dark hair
drawn over the forehead, and recovered some of his urbanity.

“Your best bedroom, ma’am, the best supper you can serve, and the best
bottle of wine you have. You may not know Mr. Pepys of the Admiralty in
these parts.”

The landlady spread her apron and curtesied very prettily, her brown
eyes and the red handkerchief over her bosom making Mr. Pepys approve of
her manners.

“The great Mr. Samuel Pepys, sir?”

“Some people would question the adjective, ma’am.”

“I have a boy in one of the King’s ships, sir, and Mr. Pepys, sir, is
mighty popular in the navy. I am proud to serve you, sir.” And she
dropped him another curtesy that made the great man think her a mighty
fine woman. “Tom, carry up the gentlemen’s valises to the big front
room. I can give you a little parlor to yourselves, sirs. And what may
it please you to take for supper?”

They became quite coy and coquettish over pasties and spitted woodcock,
duck and apple sauce, and Mr. Pepys’s favorite pudding. The Secretary
appeared to forget the stiffness in his legs. He walked in with the
genial air of a man who feels that his dignity is sure of its deserts,
whispering to John Gore, with a wink, that it is useful at times to be
somebody in this world, even for the sake of a clean bed.

The hostess of “The Half Moon” reconciled Mr. Pepys so thoroughly to his
quarters by the polish of her pewter, the warmth of the wood fire, and
by the supper she sent him by the hands of her daughter, that he lost
his spite against my Lord Montague for being on the other side of
Sussex. Lolling in a chair before the fire, his shoes off and his
stockinged feet enjoying the blaze, he made as comfortable a picture as
a philosopher could wish to praise.

“I could stomach a day or two here, John, with great contentment,” he
said; “for the thought of those Sussex roads at night make me bless God
for the burning logs, although it is October. My Lord Montague can come
to me while we enjoy ourselves. Let us consider what there is to be seen
in this part of Sussex. Ha, so—let us call up mine hostess’s daughter
and hear what she has to say.”

There was no bell in the parlor, but Mr. Pepys improvised a gong with
the bottom of a big brass candlestick and the poker. But since this most
martial clashing did not bring the damsel, he went to the stairs-head
and called over the balusters:

“Betty—Betty, my dear.”

Petticoats bustled up the stairs, and the daughter of the house appeared
with a tray held like a buckler across her bosom. Mr. Pepys made her a
polite little bow.

“We shall be beholden to you, my dear, if you will tell us how we may be
amused to-morrow. Are there any gentlemen’s houses worth a ride in the
neighborhood?”

Mr. Pepys retreated backward into the room as though desirous of drawing
the girl after him.

“There is the Abbey, sir.”

“The Abbey!” And Mr. Pepys tossed the suggestion aside as superfluous.
“I shall see enough of it, Betty, when my Lord Montague reaches us. Are
there any houses hereabouts where murder has been committed, or a plot
hatched, or a king been entertained. We like to see the shows.”

The girl leaned against the door-post with the tray lodged jauntily upon
one hip, and her green stays with their red laces showing off a very
embraceable figure.

“There is Bodjam Castle, sir.”

“Bodjam—Bodjam. What a name, my dear, for a cobbler! It likes me
little.” And he admired the red petticoat and the green stays.

“Hastings Town—and Castle, sir.”

“Fish and old stones! No, John, eh; no Betty. Try me again.”

“Perhaps Rye Town would please you, sir.”

“A wry road, no doubt, which is more than your figure is, my dear; not
wry, I mean, but trim as—well—just what you please.”

The girl laughed, perked up her chin, and glanced at John Gore as though
he looked a sturdy fellow, and as though she expected him to wink.

“There is Pevensey, sir, where the King landed, and Thorn House, and
Hurstmonceux.”

“Ah, Hurstmonceux, and Thorn, did you say? Thorn belongs to the
Purcells, John, surely?”

“Yes, Mr. Pepys—”

“Pat off the tongue—Patrick Pepys shall be patted!”

“No one ever goes to Thorn, sir; there is nothing to see but ravens.”

“Hurstmonceux is a pretty word, my dear. Say it again; I like to see
your lips pout out. What! giggling? Now, dear soul, what is there to
laugh at? I am an old bachelor, as this gentleman will tell you. And,
Betty, don’t forget the warming-pan, will you, my dear?”

John Gore and Mr. Pepys shared the same room that night, and the
Secretary’s bed-going was as lengthy as his tongue. He had a habit of
undressing by degrees, and of sitting down and roasting his toes at the
fire between each act. He would even draw off his small-clothes from one
leg and sit with the other still breeched, while he chatted and fondled
his chin. Even when he had undressed, the toilet for the night was
nearly as thorough as the toilet for the day. Mr. Pepys aired the
contents of his travelling valise before the fire, and donned in
succession a pair of lamb’s-wool bed-boots, a thick undervest, a blue
cloth sleeping-coat, and a great nightcap, which he drew down over his
ears. Then he shut the lattice tight, pushed a table against the door,
put his money under his pillow, warmed his feet for the last time at the
fire, and then clambered into bed.

“Lord Montague can stay at Jericho,” he said, as he wallowed down into a
feathered mattress. “The weather should be steady, Jack—my corns are
quiet. What do you say to Hurstmonceux for to-morrow. I wager that we
can get inside.”

“The girl spoke of Thorn.”

“That was an allegory, John; ask her if her name is Rose. Now I dare you
to keep me awake with your talking, sir; I know you sailors, all yarn to
the rope’s-end. Good wench, she has warmed the bed well just where my
feet go, God bless her! Did you applaud the color of those stays, John?
Red and green are rare colors on a dark woman. Ah—ho!—if I tie not my
clacker up, you will never let me sleep till midnight.”

John Gore still remembered Mr. Pepys’s snoring when they ordered their
horses out next morning for a jaunt over the Sussex hills. Mistress
Green Stays brought Mr. Pepys a mug of sack into the court-yard as he
sat in the saddle, for which favor he thanked her gallantly, and told
her she had pretty dimples at the elbow. They took a track that ran out
of the western end of the town past the old Watch Oak, and soon toward
Ashburnham and Penhurst.

Now, to put the matter frankly, these two gentlemen got wickedly lost
that day, largely through a fit of friskiness on Mr. Pepys’s part in
chasing a stray donkey down a side road. He had been lusting for a
gallop, so he said, and the moke gave it him, to land him quizzically in
a stout thorn-hedge. John Gore extricated the Secretary, condoled with
him over the scratches, and prevailed upon him to return toward the
road. But Mr. Pepys boasted a great belief in his own bump of locality,
and, taking to a bridle-path, lost himself with complete success. And
then he swore roundly at the Sussex roads, as though it was their duty
to fly up in his face and not go crawling and sneaking like a lot of
thieves behind a wood.

John Gore laughed, for it was Mr. Pepys’s outing and not his, and he
suffered his friend to follow his own nose, being amused to know what
would be the end of it. They were following a grass track that curled
hither and thither through thickets and over scrubby meadows, not a
house to be seen anywhere, with the sun at noon, and no dinner
threatening.

The track proved kind to them, however, for the woods gave back
suddenly, and they saw a red farm-house shelving its thatch under the
shelter of a few beech-trees against the clear blue of an October sky.
The beeches themselves were a-glitter with ruddy gold. And from the low
brick chimney blew a wisp of smoke, as though flying a signal to Mr.
Pepys’s inner man.

The Secretary bumped his heels into his horse and went forward at a
canter. John Gore saw him rein in clumsily as he skirted a hedge that
closed the orchard and yard, rolling forward in the saddle as though he
was in danger of going over his horse’s head. He waved an arm over the
hedge toward a great pond that lay on the farther side thereof, between
the farm-yard and the orchard.

It seemed that the farmer’s child of seven had something of the Columbus
in him, for while the men were in the fields and his mother in the
kitchen he had rolled a big tub down from the yard, floated the craft,
and embarked boldly, with a couple of thatching-pegs for oars. Whether
the child paddled his way too daringly or no, the tub overturned in the
middle of the pond, and, righting itself, lay there water-logged, while
a flaxen head and a pair of frightened hands went bobbing and clawing
and gulping amid ripples of scared water. And on the far bank, with the
drake at their head, a company of white ducks were quacking in chorus,
shaking their tails, and making a mighty pother.

John Gore saw that the boy was likely to drown, and, vaulting out of the
saddle, he broke through the hedge and reached the pond. The pool looked
too dark and deep for wading, and probably had two feet of mud at the
bottom; so, pulling off his horseman’s coat and his heavy riding-boots,
he went in, made a breast plunge for it, and struck out for the child.
The white head was going under again when John Gore snatched at the
curls. He held the boy at arm’s-length, and, swimming till his feet
touched mud, stood up and lifted the youngster in his arms.

Mr. Pepys, who had run into the farm-house, appeared at the hedge with a
round of rope and a big, raw-boned woman in a blue petticoat and a kind
of linen smock. She pushed through, not sparing her brown forearms or
her face, and would have taken the child out of John Gore’s arms.

But he put her aside kindly, and, laying the boy on the grass under the
hedge, unfastened his little doublet, and then held him up by the legs
to empty the windpipe and lungs of water.

“Have you a good fire burning?”

“Lord bless you, sir, yes.”

“Go and get your blankets ready. We shall soon have him alive and
roaring.”

John Gore carried the child into the farm kitchen, and, laying him in a
blanket almost upon the hearth-stone, rubbed and kneaded him till the
skin began to redden. A loud sneeze was the first greeting that he gave
them. His mother went down on her knees instantly and huddled him to her
bosom, the blanket trailing across the brick floor.

“You be for terrifying me, you God-forsaken little rascal! Playing these
tricks on us, with the good gentleman here wet to the skin and his
stockings all mud! Won’t I smack ye when ye can bear a hand on a spot
where a hand can’t do much harm!”



                                  XXVII


Mr. Christopher Jennifer came to the kitchen in the middle of all this
fussing over the child, with his bill and his hedging-gloves and his
boots caked with muck. He was a short, round-headed man with bowed legs
and a broad chest, and, after hearing the truth of it all from his wife,
he laid the child solemnly and deliberately across his knee. “Come now,
Chris, man, he ben’t fit for ye yet.”

“Oh, ben’t he? I reckon it will make him livelier nor cakes.”

And he began in the same stolid and unflurried fashion to lay one of his
hedging-gloves across the child, till the sound of his roaring sent
Death out with ignominy by the back door.

The chastening of youth attended to, Mr. Jennifer and his woman began to
make a great to-do over John Gore and Mr. Pepys. The farmer took John
Gore upstairs to the best bedroom, fetched out his Sabbath suit of gray
cloth with the silver buttons, and gave his guest a change of stockings
and of underwear. Then he went and mixed him a glass of hot toddy,
remarking, with grave solemnity:

“That water be powerful wet!”

His wife Winnie bustled about the kitchen, banking up the fire with
fagots till it roared in the black throat of the chimney, pulling out
her best table linen from the press, and talking to Mr. Pepys all the
time as though she had known him all her life. The Secretary was just
the genial soul for such an adventure. He turned to very gallantly, and
pressed himself into Mrs. Winnie’s service, tramping to and fro to the
larder with her—a larder that smelled of herbs and ale, carrying mugs
and platters of hollywood, a chine of bacon, and a round of beef. He
even filled the big, black jack for her from the barrel in the dark
corner, taking a good pull to his own content, and declaring that he
pledged Mrs. Jennifer’s health.

The farmer came down-stairs carrying John Gore’s wet clothes, followed
by that gentleman himself in Chris Jennifer’s Sabbath suit. Mr. Pepys
looked at him quizzically, and bunched out his own vest with a
significant wink. The farmer’s shoes were inches too big for the
sea-captain, so that the heels clacked upon the bricks of the kitchen
floor.

Mrs. Winnie hung the wet clothes before the fire, while her man stared
at the table with the critical eyes of a host whose gratitude meant to
prove its warmth by persuading his guests to overeat themselves.

“Turn your chairs to, my masters. Ye’ll be welcome to Furze Farm so long
as my boots leave their muck upon t’ floor. Be it for me to tell ye for
why, sir?” And he looked at John Gore steadily, and jerked a thumb in
the supposed direction of the pond.

These good people of Furze Farm were so hospitable and so full of honest
gratitude that what with the hot liquor, the drying of John Gore’s
clothes, and Mr. Pepys’s happy torpor after a big meal, the afternoon
was nearly gone before they remembered the homeward road. Farmer
Jennifer would have had them stay the night, but Mr. Pepys roused
himself to refuse, remembering the comforts of “The Half Moon” and the
dimples of Mistress Green Stays. John Gore changed again into his own
clothes (though Chris Jennifer would have made him a present of the
undergear), and went above to say good-bye to little Will Jennifer, who
had been put to bed and left to meditate over this Tale of a Tub. The
boy seemed a little shy of John Gore, who dropped a sixpence on the
pillow; for when a child has been smacked before strangers, some
allowance must be made for outraged pride.

“I be sure thee had better bide the night,” said Mrs. Winnie, as they
moved out from the kitchen. “Battle be a good nine miles, and in an hour
will come sundown.”

Mr. Pepys thanked her very heartily, and declined her kindness with
proper grace. They would be grateful, however, if Mr. Jennifer would put
them upon the road.

“Get thee up on Whitefoot, Chris, and ride with the gentlemen to the
Three Ashes.”

Mr. Jennifer brought a big brown filly from the stable, and set out with
no more harness than a halter, and a sack for a saddle. Mrs. Jennifer
held the farm-gate open for them, looking up at John Gore very kindly
with just a glimmer of tears in her eyes, for though Winnie Jennifer had
a strong arm and a rough, brown face, she was as warm-hearted a creature
as ever creamed the milk.

“If ever it should be that we can serve ye, sir, God see to it, we will
not forget.”

And John Gore gave her a sweep of his hat, never dreaming for the moment
that Winnie Jennifer might one day prove a right dear friend.

Mr. Christopher rode with them a mile or more, saying very little, for
he was a silent man, and accustomed to leave the talking to his wife. He
looked sincerely puzzled by Mr. Pepys’s jokes, tickling his chin with a
stumpy forefinger, and grinning occasionally as though wishing to be
polite. They reached the Three Ashes, and Mr. Jennifer would have ridden
farther with them, but Mr. Pepys, still obstinately sure of his own
powers, refused to carry the farmer another furlong. Chris Jennifer gave
them some very rambling directions, and after a long, dog-like stare at
John Gore—a look that betrayed that he wished to say something graceful
and could not—he wished them God-speed, and rode off on the brown
filly.

Mr. Pepys professed himself wholly enlightened by the farmer’s rigmarole
of “keep to t’ beech hanger on thy left”—“get ye down into t’
bottom”—“second lane ye come by afore t’ brook, and t’ second yonder
along under t’ brow wid a turnip-field under t’ hedge.” John Gore had
the seaman’s sense of direction, nothing more. Mr. Pepys was accustomed
to strange documentary ambiguities, and persisted cheerfully that he
knew just how to go.

And thus it befell that the Secretary lost himself valiantly a second
time that day, and meeting not so much as a ploughboy to put him right,
he lumbered on stubbornly, trusting to good-fortune. The dusk came down
and caught them as they followed a rough “ride” that pretended to run in
the direction of Battle Town. But it led them ungenerously into the
heart of a wood, and then disappeared amid impassable undergrowth that
was black with the coming night.

Mr. Pepys could face it out no longer. They were lost, and he accepted
the blame of it, ruefully wishing that he had bottles in lieu of pistols
in his holsters.

“What’s to be done, Jack? No ‘Half Moon’ for us to-night.”

A wind had risen and was beating through the underwood, making a dismal
moan and setting the brown leaves shivering. The horses’ hoofs sucked at
the spongy soil. Woodland and sky would soon be one great black void.

“We had better pick our way back and trust to luck.”

“And to think, John, that we left that warm corner of a kitchen! I would
give a guinea for the smell of the smoked bacon, and a glimpse of the
wood fire licking the chimney.”

They began to pick their way back again, the woodland “ride” growing
black as the gallery of a mine. Their horses drooped their heads and
went mopingly as though feeling as hungry and dismal as their masters.
The hazel twigs kept stinging Mr. Pepys’s face, and though he swore
peevishly at the first flick across the cheek, he pulled his hat down
over his nose and took his punishment with the grim silence of a man who
has only himself to blame.

A word from John Gore, who rode a little ahead, made Mr. Pepys perk up
in the saddle.

“What—John—what?”

“A light over yonder.”

“God bless the smallest candle, John, that strives with this infernal
darkness.”

They had come out from the wood, and could see far below them in a
valley a faint glimmer of light. The ground seemed to fall away into a
long sweep of vague gloom. The sky had become dark with clouds, and
though they could see nothing but that faint spark of fire, they could
hear the trees whispering and muttering not ten yards away.

“We had better make for the light.”

Mr. Pepys acquiesced fervently, the night growing raw and cold, and full
of eerie sounds.

“I begin to think great things of Mr. Bunyan,” quoth he; “there is a
sermon in yonder candle that makes me remember the responsibilities of
my immortal soul.”

They rode down through the night, going very slowly, with the heavy
sound of tired horses plodding over wet grass, and the wind blowing
about them in restless gusts. They could see nothing but the glimmer of
the light, nor could they even tell from what place it came, save that
it most probably burned behind a casement because of its steadiness
against the night.

They passed a few spectral trees that spread out into flat tops from
short, knotted trunks. Then a vague, black mass seemed to rise against
the opaque sky. Mr. Pepys, who had pushed on a few feet ahead, leaned
forward in the saddle, straining his eyes to see what was before him.
They had passed the trees by scarcely twenty paces when there was a
sharp, scuffling sound, and the ring of something metallic against
stone. John Gore saw the shadowy outline of horse and man swerve
violently, and back past him over the grass. His beast carried Mr. Pepys
into the boughs of a thorn-tree, yet, though tangled up with his periwig
in his mouth, he managed to shout and warn John Gore.

“Hold back, John, for the love of God! There’s a wall in front of us,
and water beyond it.”

John Gore dismounted and ran to help his friend, whose scared horse was
raking him through the thorn boughs. He caught the animal’s bridle and
quieted him, so that Mr. Pepys was able to slip out of the saddle.

“Where the devil are we now, John? Heaven help my poor face! I feel as
though I had married fifteen wives, and all of them with finger-nails
and tempers.”

“Hold the horses and I’ll reconnoitre.”

“Do, good John; but first let me find my hat.”

Outlined dimly by the light were two massive pillars that looked as
though they flanked a gate. Moving very cautiously, John Gore found a
bridge of tree-trunks across a moat, and a heavy gate at the end
thereof. Peering through the crevice between the hinge-edge and the
pillar, he could see the light burning behind a window near the ground.

“Where are you, John?”

“Here, over the bridge. There is a gate here, barred. The place must be
of some size to have such a moat round it. I will try a shout.”

He gave a seaman’s hail, while Mr. Pepys, who was a man of many tricks,
put two fingers in his mouth and blew a shrill whistle.

The light did not move, but they heard the deep baying of a dog, and
then footsteps coming out into the yard. The steps paused, as though
some one was listening, and a voice growled out an order to the dog.

“Halloo, there!”

The footsteps approached the gate. A man’s voice called to them from the
other side, and they could hear the dog rubbing his snout along the
lower edge and sniffing.

“Who’s there?”

“We have lost our way, and want a night’s lodging.”

“Who’s who?”

“Two gentlemen travelling alone. Open the gate, my good fellow, and take
us in—”

“Deuce take you, that I shall not.”

Mr. Pepys, who had led the horses forward, put in a bland appeal.

“My good soul, why so surly? We are honest men and have the wherewithal
to pay. What is more, we are hungry and dead tired.”

“How many are you?” asked the voice, while the dog kept sniffing at the
gate.

“Two of us, and our horses.”

“What will you pay?”

Mr. Pepys gave John Gore a shocked and indignant nudge.

“The foul clod, bargaining with our starvation! A gold carolus, my
friend.”

“Say five,” quoth the voice, laconically.

“Five! Why it’s sheer robbery!”

“Stay outside, then; it’s no business of mine.”

“Five be it, then,” said Mr. Pepys, in disgust.

The man went off, saying that he would chain the dog up, because the
beast was fierce. They heard him call to some one, and then the sound of
voices haggling together and the rattle of a chain. Presently the slow
and heavy footsteps came back across the court-yard, with the lighter,
quicker tread of a woman following. She had brought a lantern with her,
and the light from it played under the gate.

“You can sleep in the barn,” said the man’s voice. “My woman won’t take
strangers into the kitchen.”

Mr. Pepys expostulated.

“Five gold pieces, you rogue, for a night in an out-house?”

“Warm hay is better than wet grass. We can send you in a jug of beer and
some bread and bacon.”

“Thank Heaven, John, there is such a place as hell! Open the gate, my
man.”

“Throw the money over first.”

“Deuce take me, I am no such fool. Open the gate, and you shall have the
money.”

They heard the lifting of the bar and the shooting of the bolts. It was
a woman who met them—a cloak over her head and a lantern swinging in
her hand. The man stood in a deep shadow behind the gate, and they could
see the glint of a gun-barrel and the grayness of his face.

“Money down, gentlemen.”

Mr. Pepys felt very much like being held up by a footpad. He glanced
over his shoulder for John Gore, who led the horses, and then threw five
gold pieces down on the court-yard stones. The woman picked them up, one
by one, examining each in turn by the light of the lantern.

“Come this way, sirs.”

Mr. Pepys did not like the gleam of the gun-barrel, nor the mystery of
the place; but he felt more at ease, now that he had something in
petticoats to deal with.

“I must make my apologies, ma’am,” he said, intending to try civility,
“for disturbing you at such an hour. We have lost ourselves twice to-day
on the road. Seeing us to be such quiet gentlemen, you might be
persuaded—”

The woman cut him short without great ceremony, and they heard the
grinding of hinges as the man closed the court-yard gate.

“You had better walk more this way or the dog will have a bite at your
leg.”

“Obliged, ma’am, I swear,” and he took the hint promptly. “If you happen
to have a warm corner in your kitchen—”

“I don’t keep a tavern, sir,” she said, quietly. “This is my man’s
business, not mine. If you can’t sleep on clean hay, the more’s the
pity.”

Mr. Pepys felt frost-bitten. Here was a lady who meant what she said,
and was not to be argued with. Mr. Pepys had studied the sex. “Barn” she
had said, and “barn” it would be.

The woman pulled open a door that sagged on its hinges and scraped the
stones with its lower edge, and going in she hung the lantern to a nail
in the wall. Mr. Pepys saw a litter of hay in one corner, a pile of
broken bricks in another, and a few old garden tools and remnants of
furniture in a third. He could not refrain from making a cynical
grimace.

“This is the dearest and the dirtiest lodging, ma’am, I ever paid for in
advance.”

“That’s as you please, sir; be grateful for what you can get.”

She left them and crossed the yard, while John Gore fastened the two
horses to a couple of iron brackets in the wall. Mr. Pepys took the
lantern down and turned the hay over critically with his boot. Then he
went and stood in the doorway, sniffing the night air hungrily, and
attempting to decipher his surroundings in the dark.

“I do not stomach this greatly, John. Where the deuce are we? That is
what I should like to discover.”

John Gore was unsaddling the horses.

“As queer a place as ever I saw—and queer people in it, too. Listen
here, John”—and he came in with an air of mystery—“those voices were
never trained in Sussex.”

“Oh!”

“You hear such sweet strains in London City, John. What the deuce has
brought such folk down here into Sussex?”

John Gore laid one of the saddles on the ground. Mr. Pepys stooped over
it and pulled a pistol from a holster.

“Look to your powder-pans, John; my hair feels stiff under my wig. They
would cut our throats for a shilling.”

He smuggled the pistol suddenly under his coat as he heard footsteps
crossing the court. The woman came in with a big jug, and bread and cold
bacon upon a plate. Mr. Pepys made one more attempt to melt her
churlishness.

“Would you be so gracious as to tell us, ma’am, where we happen to be
passing the night?”

She kept her eyes to herself as she set the jug on an old stool.

“In Sussex, sir.”

Mr. Pepys shrugged his shoulders.

“There is such a thing as a house, my dear madam.”

“So I have heard, sir; but there is no house here.”

“There is also a commandment, ma’am, that tells us not to prevaricate.”

“So I have heard, sir. My man will call you in the morning.”

She left them without another word, though John Gore called after her,
bidding her to send her man with water for the horses. She came back
herself anon, and left them a single bucketful, going out again as
silently and sullenly as before. John Gore was holding the bucket under
his horse’s nose when he heard the barn door grate over the stones, and
close on them with a final heave from a heavy shoulder.

Mr. Pepys’s face looked blankly scared.

“Halloo, there, what are you shutting us in for?”

“To keep the wind out,” said the man’s voice. “Good-night, gentlemen,”
and they heard something thud and grind against the door, as though the
fellow had jammed a piece of timber against it.

Mr. Pepys put his shoulder to the door, but could not move it.

“The scoundrel has wedged us in, John!”

Slow, solid footsteps died away across the court-yard. They heard the
rattle of a falling chain and the whimpering of a dog. And presently
they heard the beast come sniffing at the door.

Mr. Pepys looked at his companion, and then glanced with no appetite at
their supper.

“Stars and garters, John! I don’t like this at all. Keep away from that
beer—the rogues may have poisoned it; I would rather share the water
with the nags. Get your pistols out, John. Just listen to that brute of
a dog sniffing and scraping to get at us. If you catch me asleep
to-night, sir, you may call me a fat fool!”



                                 XXVIII


Nevertheless, Mr. Pepys fell fast asleep on the hay that night, for
the Sussex air and the ale at Furze Farm triumphed over his
presentiments of violence and murder. The sea-captain, who was of harder
fibre than the Secretary, sat in the hay with his pistols beside him and
his ears on the alert for any sound that the night might send.

The candle in the lantern guttered about midnight, and John Gore was
left in the dark to listen to Mr. Pepys’s snoring and the heavy
breathing of the tired horses. He could hear rats scrambling and
squeaking in the walls, the harsh creaking of a rusty vane over one
gable-end of the barn, and the occasional sniffing of the dog’s nose at
the door. The barn was warm enough, and full of a musty fragrance, what
with the heat of the horses and the hay, and John Gore might have
followed Mr. Pepys’s example had he not come by the habit of keeping
watch at sea. And worthy man though Mr. Pepys was, John Gore commended
him for falling asleep, being desirous of thinking his own thoughts
without the distraction of his companion’s tongue.

The place and its people puzzled John Gore, and he trusted them even
less than did Mr. Pepys. There might be priests in hiding, or some
secret to be guarded, for John Gore guessed that only the couple’s greed
had persuaded them to give casual strangers shelter in the barn for the
night. Their surly aloofness, as though they were risking something for
five gold pieces, had set the sea-captain’s curiosity at work. The place
had a moat and a gate that suggested a manor-house or a grange of some
size. Nor did the folk themselves smell of the country. John Gore
determined to reconnoitre the place at dawn if he were able to force the
door.

Matters shaped otherwise, however, for it was still pitch-dark on an
autumn morning when he heard the sound of a door opening and a heavy
tread upon the court-yard stones. The man’s voice called to the dog, and
by the rattle of a chain John Gore guessed that the beast was being
fastened. The footsteps crossed the court and paused outside the barn,
with the glow from a lantern sending fingers of light through the chinks
in the door.

“Halloo, gentlemen—halloo there!”

He hammered at the door, the sound making such a thunder in the barn
that Mr. Pepys woke up with a gurgle, as though he were being throttled,
and sat up, striking out with his fists into the dark.

“Soul of me, what is it? John! Where are you?”

“Here, watching over you like a father.”

“And I have been asleep! My conscience! Call me a fat fool, John, out
loud!”

“Time to start, gentlemen.”

“Start!” said Mr. Pepys, rubbing his eyes, “why, it can’t be much after
midnight!”

“Five of the clock it is, sirs.”

“Call us again at seven, Solomon; the hay is sweeter than I thought.”

The man pulled the prop away, dragged the door open a foot or so, and
pushed the lantern inside. But he did not show them his face.

“I go to work in half an hour,” he said, stubbornly, “and my woman wants
you away before I go.”

“Dear soul alive, we shall not eat her, nor even salute her tenderly!
And there is breakfast to be considered.”

“You can get your breakfast on the road. Up with you, or, by Old Noll,
I’ll let the mastiff off the chain!”

The fellow’s bullying tone roused John Gore’s grimness, but he felt that
nothing was to be gained by a squabble. Mr. Pepys dragged himself up
from the hay, and helped himself to some of the bread and bacon that had
been left over from the night. John Gore was already at work saddling
the horses, not sorry to remember the warm parlor of The Half Moon Inn
at Battle.

The man had moved off, and they heard him opening the court-yard gate.
It was still dark when they sallied from the barn, and found the woman
waiting for them with a cloak over her head. John Gore loitered and
looked about him, but could see nothing but low, dilapidated, thatched
roofs, and a vague, shadowy mass looming up against the northern sky.
The woman seemed to have no wish to let them linger, and the growling of
the dog typified the temper of the humans who owned him. The man had
disappeared, but what with the darkness and the raw cold of an autumn
morning, Mr. Pepys had no desire to wish him good-bye. He remembered the
glint of a gun-barrel as he climbed into the saddle.

“You can at least tell us, my good woman, how to find the road to Battle
Town?”

“I never was at Battle in my life, sir.”

“Oh, cheering Aurora, how helpful thou art! Can you give us just one
point of the compass, ma’am?”

“Ride east, sir; you must come somewhere.”

“I agree with that statement, heartily,” quoth Mr. Samuel, with a
philosophical grimace.

They rode out through the gate and over the bridge of tree-trunks with a
vague, black gleam of water on either side. They had hardly crossed when
the gate was slammed on them, and they heard the woman laughing, and
calling with coarse words to her man.

“The pope deliver us, John, but I congratulate my throat on being
sound.”

“Did you get a glimpse of the man’s face?”

“No.”

“Nor did I. He seemed shy of showing it.”

“The surly scoundrel! As I said before, John, thank Heaven there is a
hell.”

They pushed on slowly in the dim light, riding over spongy grass-land
that sloped upward toward the west. Everywhere the silence of the night
still held, save for the fluttering call of an awakened bird. They had
gone little more than a furlong when they came to the outstanding
thickets of a wood, the trees rising black and strange against the
heaviness of the sky. John Gore drew rein suddenly, and swung out of the
saddle.

“What’s your whim, John?”

For he was leading his horse by the bridle toward a clump of beech-trees
whose boughs swept close to the ground.

“I am going to wait for the dawn.”

“There is some wisdom in that,” said Mr. Pepys.

“What is more, I want to have a look at the place where we have spent
the night. And the folk yonder will not get a glimpse of us in the thick
of these trees.”

A slow grayness gathered in the east with little crevices of silvering
light opening across the sky. The silver turned betimes to gold, with
tawny edges to the clouds, and here and there the faintest flush of
rose. The grayness rolled back gradually, with a glimmer here and a
glimmer there of a hill-top catching the first gleams. In lieu of the
ghastly twilight the landscape began to take on color, and to glow, as
though touched by fire, with all the wild tints of an autumn dawn.

As the day came John Gore saw a great house rise in the valley, with
water about it, and grass-land and woods on every side. The walls were
smothered with ivy, and through some of the empty windows shone the
dawn. Above the roofless rooms a square tower rose, showing a few feet
of red brick above its mantling of ivy. There were rotting out-buildings
beyond the court-yard, and a green space that looked like a wild garden,
while in the meadows about the place grew a number of old thorns.

Now there flashed suddenly across John Gore’s mind the picture of Donna
Gloria in the Purcells’s house at Westminster. And he knew as he gazed
upon it that this place in the valley was their ruined house of Thorn.

Mr. Pepys was too short-sighted to distinguish the place distinctly.

“Well, John, what do you make of it?”

His companion jerked a look at him as though he had forgotten Mr.
Pepys’s existence.

“Strange chance, Sam! We have spent the night, without knowing it, at
the Purcells’s house of Thorn.”

“Thorn!”

“I have seen a picture of it before the Parliament men made it a ruin.
The windows are out, the roof in, and the walls shaggy with ivy. I
wonder that they did not batter down the tower.”

Mr. Pepys was screwing up his eyes and shading them with his hand, but
things run into a blur at a distance, and much straining made the tears
come.

“We had better be mounting, John.”

“Wait! Bide quiet a moment.”

John Gore’s face had a keen, hawk-like look as he leaned forward a
little, drawing a beech bough down to shade his eyes. He had seen
several white pigeons flutter up from the circular brick dove-cote that
still stood in one corner of the court, and beat their wings about a
narrow window high up in the tower. The dark ivy seemed to give
distinctness to the fluttering specks. Two of the birds had perched upon
the sill, and it was then that John Gore’s far-sighted eyes had seen
something that made him wonder. For two faint, white things had appeared
at the window, like hands thrust out, and the pigeons had fluttered to
them as though to be fed.

“What is it, John?”

The sea-captain ignored the question, and Mr. Pepys began to yawn and
fidget.

The white birds had fluttered away again, and the faint hands and wrists
showed in the dark framing of the narrow window. They looked like hands
thrust up in supplication, the hands of a prisoner who could only see
the white birds and the sky.

John Gore turned sharply, and climbed into the saddle with the air of a
man gripped and held by some inspired suspicion. He rode off slowly, Mr.
Pepys following him, and they began to pick their way through the autumn
woods. And fortune was kind to them that morning, for they struck a
track that led them to the Battle road.

John Gore fell into a deep silence, a slight frown on his forehead and
his mouth firmly set. Mr. Pepys’s sallies lighted upon a stubborn and
irresponsive surface, for his companion seemed grimly set upon
reflection.

“It puzzles me to know,” the Secretary had said, “what that man and his
woman are doing down at Thorn. Has my Lady Purcell established them
there as her retainers, and if so—why? Or have they taken up their
lodging there like rats in a ruin?”

Mr. Pepys did not suspect how sudden a significance that same question
had gathered for John Gore. The sea-captain kept his own counsel on
certain matters, nor did he tell his companion of the hands he had seen
at the tower window. They might have belonged to the woman, but John
Gore did not imagine her to be a creature who would climb a tower in
order to feed pigeons.

And yet the suspicion that had seized him seemed wild and incredible
when he thought of the people who were responsible for such a thing.
Even in an age when the mad were treated more like caged beasts, no man
with manhood in him could have given a mere girl such a prison and such
keepers.

John Gore gave his horse the spur suddenly, and took Mr. Pepys into
Battle at a canter, the Secretary bumping fiercely in the saddle, much
to the delight of certain rude children who watched them come riding
into the town.

But at Thorn, Barbara, cold and very quiet, sat on the bed under the
window, with the red book in her lap and her eyes full of vague musings.
For though those four walls let life in only by the window overhead, her
thoughts flew out into the wide world—sad and poignant thoughts that
bled at the bosom like a bird that has been wounded by a bolt.

She had heard strangers come and go, and with them the echo of a voice
that made her heart hurry and her white face flush, and her eyes grow
full of desire and mystery. It had seemed but an echo to her from far
away, no dear reality—yet there had been tears upon the page when she
read the book that morning.

For many things had changed in Barbara’s heart that autumn, with the
cold and the loneliness, the wretched food, and the wind in the tower at
night. She had grown gentler, more wistful, less sure of her own soul.
It was as though suffering were softening her, even ripening the heart
in her, despite the raw nights and the shivering dawns. What the future
had in store she could not tell, but she fed the birds at the window,
and the mouse that now crept out to her in the daytime and not only when
dusk fell. And with these childish things some new impulse seemed to
quicken and take fire within her, like the life of a child that is
reborn in those who suffer.



                                  XXIX


Mr. Pepys looked very glum when John Gore told him over their wine
that he could go no farther into the county of Sussex. The business
between my Lord Montague and the Secretary to the Admiralty had been
thrashed out confidentially in my lord’s private parlor in the Abbey the
day after the adventurous return from Thorn. Mr. Pepys was ready for the
Portsmouth road, and could not or would not be brought to understand for
the moment John Gore’s humor in deserting him thus suddenly. The
sea-captain would only hint at a reason, and Mr. Pepys’s curiosity was
piqued to the extreme limit of good temper. He even suggested rather
pointedly that Mistress Green Stays might be to blame, but John Gore
looked so grim at the innuendo that Mr. Pepys pushed his pleasantries no
further.

“Well, John,” he said, at last, like a man of sense, “let each dog
follow his own nose. I gather that you have affairs that need careful
watching, and a friend should be able to respect a friend’s privacy. If
you have any winks to give me, John, let me have them that I may not
blab anything that will rouse your wrath.”

He was such a shrewd good soul that John Gore felt tempted to tell him
everything, but refrained, from a sense of sacredness and pride.

“Rely on it, Sam,” he said, gravely, “this is no whim of mine. I am not
a man to be blown here and there for nothing. I have happened on
something here in Sussex that has made me drop anchor and bide my time.”

“And should I return to London before you?”

“Know nothing about me, and I will thank you.”

“So be it, John; I will keep my tongue quiet, though I trust you are not
for meddling in any mischievous plot.”

“I have no finger in any plot, Sam; that is the plain truth.”

And though Mr. Pepys looked mystified, and even helplessly inquisitive
despite his self-restraint, he made the best of the business as far as
his own plans were concerned, and said no more either one way or the
other.

He was greatly cheered and comforted next morning by a piece of news
that he had from one of my Lord Montague’s men. Dr. William Watson, the
Dean of Battle, was riding down to Chichester next day with two armed
servants who knew the road. Mr. Pepys went instantly to call upon the
churchman, and proved himself so amiable and engaging a soul that they
were soon agreed as to the advantages of their taking the road together.
And so they set out for Lewes on a fine October morning, bobbed to most
respectfully by all the old dames and children of the place, and talking
perhaps less of salvation than of Cambridge dinners and of wine and the
wit that was to be had in college halls. For Dean Watson was an old St.
John’s man, and had drunk of other things besides the classics.

John Gore, left to himself in Battle Town, spent the day in riding over
the Sussex hills, probing the tracks and woodways on the side toward
Thorn. He had done much meditating since that dawn amid the beech-trees,
and his suspicions, such as they were, importuned him to satisfy his
curiosity with regard to Thorn. For he had only his surmises and the
strange coincidences of the affair to launch him on such a fool’s
adventure.

He rode back to Battle soon after noon, with his horse muddy and his
face warm with a blustering wind. And being minded to learn what he
could in the matter of gossip and common report, he went, after dinner,
into the public parlor of the inn and sat down on a settle near the
window. A little round man and a great gaunt farmer were drinking and
smoking opposite each other in the ingle-nook, and John Gore pulled out
his pipe, for gossip’s sake, and smoked himself into the pair’s good
graces.

The little man proved to be the barber-surgeon of the town, a rolling,
jolly quiz of a rogue who made his patients laugh even when he was
bleeding them, and had a wink for every pretty girl and a pat of the
hand or a pinch for the children. He was a communicative person, and had
been carrying on most of the conversation with the farmer, who sat with
his long legs crossed and the stem of his pipe resting upon his folded
arms. The farmer would give his pipe a cock and nod his head when the
surgeon said anything he heartily approved of, and scrape the heels of
his boots on the bricks and heave himself when he was inclined to
disagree.

John Gore had joined these worthies in a gossip on the Dutch wars, and
was proving to them how a ship could throw a broadside of shot to the
best advantage, when the sound of a trotting horse came down the street,
and the surgeon, who never let a cart pass without looking to see what
was in it, came to the window to look out. They saw a man in a brown
coat and a big beaver loom up on a lean black horse. He pulled in toward
“The Half Moon,” and, glancing about him for a moment, got out of the
saddle as though he were stiff and tired. A hostler came running from
the yard, and the man in the brown coat tossed the bridle to him, and,
stooping down, lifted his nag’s near forefoot. The horse had cast a
shoe, and his master looked vexed over it, as though he grudged the
delay.

The little surgeon was noticing all these details, but not with the same
interest as the man at his elbow. Something familiar in the man’s figure
had struck John Gore at the first glance, but it was only when he
dismounted that he noticed that the fellow carried one shoulder a little
higher than the other, and that his head seemed set a trifle askew. Then
suddenly he remembered the man’s face, with its sallowness, its roving
eyes, and its air of impudence that could change into quick servility.
It was the man whom my Lord Gore had spoken of as Captain Grylls, and
whom he had met with him by Rosamond’s Pool in the park that evening
before the gathering at the house of Hortense.

John Gore stood irresolute a moment. Then, after he had turned over
twenty possibilities in his mind, he walked out of the parlor and down
the passage leading to the stairs. My lady of the inn was standing in
the street doorway, waiting till the man in the brown coat should have
finished giving orders about his horse. John Gore loitered on the stairs
and listened.

“My nag has cast a shoe, ma’am, and I am held up for an hour, and deuced
hungry. Get me some good hot liquor and some dinner, and I will remember
you in my prayers.”

“Will you please to step into the parlor, sir?”

“My best services, ma’am; I have another three leagues of road yet. Your
fellow has taken my nag to the smith’s.”

John Gore heard the bustle of the landlady’s petticoat, and retreated up
the stairs to the private parlor overhead. He walked to and fro for a
while, with a frown of thought on his face, before crossing to the
bedchamber to pack his belongings into the little leather valise he
carried strapped to the saddle. He was fastening the straps when he
heard footsteps on the stairs, and caught Mistress Green Stays coming up
with a bosomful of clean linen.

“Betty, my girl, run down and ask your mother to let me know her
charges. I am following my friend on to Chichester in an hour.”

The girl looked surprised, but, putting down her linen, went below about
the bill. Her mother came up betimes with some show of concern, hoping
that the gentleman had not found anything lacking. John Gore relieved
her from any such doubt, paid her her money, with a gold piece thrown
in, and asking her to fill his flask for him and make him a small parcel
of food, he gathered up cloak, sword, pistols, and valise, marched down
the stairs and out by a side door into the stable-yard.

His horse had finished a good meal of bran and oats when a stable-boy
pitched the saddle on again, while John Gore stood and looked on.
Through the doorway of the stable he had a view of the street, and kept
his eyes upon it, knowing that the smithy lay down in the borough of
Sanglake. Mistress Green Stays came in with John Gore’s flask and some
food tied up in a clean napkin, and John Gore gave her a kiss and a
piece of silver while the boy was fastening the girths under the nag’s
belly. The girl had gone, blushing a little, with the coin in her palm,
when Captain Grylls’s black horse came up the street with a hostler at
his head.

John Gore appeared to remember of a sudden that he had left a bunch of
seals in his bedroom, and he walked off, telling the boy to keep the
horse warm in the stable, for the beast’s coat was still wet with the
sweat of the morning. From the window of the upper parlor John Gore saw
Captain Grylls come out into the road and look at the new shoe on his
nag’s foot. He had a roll of brown tobacco leaves between his lips, and
looked flushed and comforted by his dinner. John Gore saw that the
captain was ready to mount before he went down again into the
stable-yard. A clatter of hoofs warned him that his man was on the road,
so he mounted and rode quietly out of the yard with his eyes on the
watch for Captain Grylls.

The man in the brown coat rode out by the western end of the town,
puffing smoke from his cigarro, and looking about him alertly like a man
who is no longer tired. John Gore let him draw ahead, so that there was
a good space between them, and the curves of the road to hide them from
each other. He kept his distance upon Captain Grylls by catching a
glimpse of him every now and then over a hedge-top. For from the moment
that John Gore had recognized the gentleman, the suspicion had seized on
him that Captain Grylls was bound for Thorn. What charges the fellow had
there, or whether he were riding on my Lord Gore’s service, John o’ the
Sea could only guess.

There was a good hour’s daylight left when they approached the track
that led down through the woods toward Thorn. John Gore drew up a
little, riding on the grass, and going very warily, so as not to blunder
into a betrayal. He had a mind to get to the bottom of this business,
and to prove whether he was the fool of fancy or whether his grim
surmises were drawing toward the truth. The road ran straight for two
hundred yards or more, and the sea-captain, pulling close under some
brushwood, reined in to see what Captain Grylls would do. John Gore saw
him rein in, pause, and then turn his horse suddenly toward the left,
where a dead oak stood, and disappear into the woods. Captain Grylls had
taken the track for Thorn, and John Gore brought his fist down on his
knee with the air of a man whose suspicions were closing up, link by
link.

John Gore shadowed Captain Grylls through the woods, riding very warily
till he saw him go trotting over the grass-lands where the waning light
from the west beat vividly upon Thorn. Turning into that same thicket of
beeches, he tethered his horse where the trunks hid him from the house,
and advancing from tree to tree he was in time to see Captain Grylls
lead his horse up to the gate. One glance at that window of the tower
showed it him as a mere slit of blackness amid the ivy, and he kept his
eyes fixed upon the figure at the gate. He could see into the court-yard
from where he stood, and as he watched he saw a man come round the angle
of the house with what looked like a white cloth tied over his face.
Even at that distance John Gore recognized him by his slow, ponderous
walk, and by his size, for the man who had taken them in that night
stood nearly six feet four.

The gate opened, and Captain Grylls led his horse in, turning to glance
up the valley, as though to see if any one were moving there. They
crossed the court and disappeared round the angle of the house, and
though he watched there till dusk fell, John Gore saw no more of the
captain or the man with the white cloth over his face.

He leaned against the tree for a while, eating the food he had brought
with him from the inn, and washing it down with liquor from his flask.
He was summing up the situation, and wondering what to make of it, for
it seemed more than probable that he would spend a night in the open
woods. Captain Grylls had most assuredly ridden into Thorn, and he
suspected Captain Grylls to be his father’s creature. He remembered also
that gathering in Hortense’s house, and the hints his father had thrown
out to him. Anne Purcell might be in the secret of some intrigue; Thorn
was her house and the very place for a refuge in case of need. Then
there were the white hands he had seen at the window, those hands that
had set all manner of passionate surmises afire within his brain. Yet
what a suspicious, speculative fool he might prove himself to be! It was
humanly possible and reasonable that the couple down yonder should have
a daughter.

Darkness had fallen, and, taking his cloak, he cast it over his horse’s
loins. Then after petting and fondling the beast as though to persuade
him to patience, he started out from the beech thicket over the
grass-land toward the house.

He had come within a hundred yards of the moat when he saw a beam of
light steal out suddenly from the black mass of the ruin. It came and
went, mounting higher each moment, for some one was carrying a lantern
up the tower stair, the light shooting out, as it passed, through the
narrow squints in the wall. John Gore gained one of the thorn-trees
close to the moat and took cover there, about twenty yards from the
gate.

An upper window in the tower shone out suddenly, a yellow oblong against
the blackness of the ivied walls. The light remained steady. John Gore
heard the sound of a rough, bullying voice that would have rasped any
man’s fighting instinct and made him knit his muscles as though to take
an enemy by the throat. For a moment there was silence. Then the voice
came down to him again, harsh, threatening, with sharp, fierce words
that sounded like oaths. Moreover, there was the sound as of a blow
given, and then—shrill and full of strange anguish—a woman’s cry.

John Gore straightened where he stood, his upper lip stiffening and his
teeth pressing grimly against each other. With the shadow of the
thorn-tree over him, he stood there listening, the silence of the night
about him, and from the lighted window high up in the tower a faint
sound coming like the sound of some one weeping. A dull murmur of voices
struck upon his ear. Then the light died away suddenly, the window
melted into the darkness, and he heard the rough closing of a door. The
light came down the stair again, flashing out where the squints opened,
with a muffled thud of feet and the faint growl of voices.

But John Gore, as he stood under the thorn-tree, could still hear the
sound as of weeping coming from the shadows of the great tower.



                                  XXX


John Gore let his heart have its way that night, for the impulse in
him was too strong to be withstood. Yet, like the cool and dogged man he
was, he chastened the adventurous passion of a boy with the quiet
hardihood of one who has learned to hold a rough ship’s company in awe
of him.

Unbuckling his sword, he thrust it into the grass under the tree, for
the thing would only have cumbered him, and after drawing off his heavy
boots and coat he went quietly to the bridge and across it to the
court-yard gate. As on the night when he had waited there with Mr.
Pepys, he could see a light burning in a window near the ground and the
shadow of some one moving in the room within. Taking a couple of steps
back, he made a running jump at the gate, and got his hands on the top
thereof with hardly a sound to convict him of clumsiness. The rest was
easy, and he straddled the gate and then dropped softly into the
court-yard. His chief fear was lest the dog should hear him and give
tongue. But there was not so much as the rattle of a chain to show that
the beast was on the alert.

Moving along the court-yard wall that edged the moat, he came to the
terraceway that ran along the western front of the house. The place was
smothered with weeds and brambles, the brambles catching his ankles like
gins, so that he was constrained to go warily and set his teeth and his
temper against the pricks. The wall fell to a couple of feet where the
terrace began, giving a glimpse of the dim black waters of the moat.

John Gore halted when the outlines of the tower rose above him against
the night sky. The western face thereof came down to the terrace stones,
and in the western face was the window at which he had seen the hands
appear. Crossing the terrace, he leaned against the plinth of the tower,
almost burying himself in the ivy that hung there in masses. But for the
very faint shivering of the leaves he could hear no sound, not even the
sound of a voice from the far wing where the couple appeared to have
their quarters.

John Gore ran his hands along the plinth, feeling for the main stems of
the ivy where they had lifted and cocked the flagstones of the terrace.
These stems were stout and tough as a great ship’s cable, forked here
and there so that a man’s foot might rest, and sending out a net-work of
ropes over the tower. John Gore thought of Sparkin, and how he would
have laid a hatful of gold on the boy’s pluck and sinew for such a
climb. But since there was no Sparkin to venture such a climb for him,
he pulled his stockings up, took a look at the precipice overhead, and
staked his neck on a scramble into the dark.

A rat would have thought nothing of such a climb, for you may find them
nesting high up in the ivy about a house. A daring boy might have
ventured it by daylight, but to scale such a place at night might have
made the most monkeyish seaman swear that he was not yet tired of the
taverns. John Gore was not a man who had trained as a sea-captain by
drinking wine in his state-room and strutting in scarlet upon his
quarter-deck. He could make the tops as briskly as any man in his ship’s
company, and carry tarry hands and shiny clothes to the credit of his
seamanship.

But his heart never felt so near his mouth before, nor his fingers so
desperately tenacious, as when he had climbed some forty feet up that
tower of Thorn. The ivy stems were smaller and gave less grip, while the
sheer mass above him made the black void behind and below seem full of a
sense of suction drawing him toward a smashing fall upon the terrace
stones. He pressed his chest to the brickwork, breathing hard through
dilated nostrils, his teeth set, and his hands clinched upon the cordage
of the creeper.

His brain grew steadier anon, and he went on, slowly and grimly, like a
mountaineer laboriously and patiently clinging to narrow niches in the
rock. Another ten feet brought him to one of the windows. It was barred,
but the bar gave him something to hold to, and he found a knotted stem
beneath that jutted out like a corbel. He rested there awhile,
listening, and he could hear a dull, rhythmic sound above, as though
some one were pacing to and fro in an upper room.

Then he went on again, even more slowly and perilously than before,
thinking what a mad fool he was, and trying to forget that the return
journey was before him. He was so close to the window now, and so grimly
intent on keeping his hold, that he had no instinct left in him but the
instinct of self-preservation. His whole consciousness seemed in his
fingers and his toes. At last he felt one hand go over the window-ledge,
and, lifting himself slowly, he got a grip of the stanchions and drew
himself up till he could rest his elbows on the sill.

He hung there dizzy and out of breath, yet with a sense of infinite
comfort at having his hand upon an iron bar. His fingers were bleeding,
and his stockings torn into holes at the toes. Life and the full memory
of things came back to him as he lay on the sill of the window. It was
no moment for elaborate curtesy, as though he were in a velvet coat and
bowing himself gallantly on the threshold of a great lady’s salon.

One word came to him as the blood steadied in his brain, and he uttered
it in a half whisper, as though it would have the power of a spell.

“Barbara!”

He heard some one move, and the creaking of woodwork.

“Barbara, is it you?”

There was a rustling sound against the wall, and two hands came up to
him out of the darkness.

“John—John Gore?”

“Dear, you should know my voice.”

“You, John! is it you? Oh, but you frightened me! I heard something
climbing, and was shivering in a corner.”

Now John Gore seemed suddenly to forget the eighty feet of space below
him. His heart had given a great leap and was drumming against his ribs,
for the truth that he had discovered went far beyond his dreams. The
window was cut in the thickness of the wall, and the stanchions set
deeply in it, so that he contrived to drag himself over the sill and
wedge himself there with his face close to the bars.

“Thank God,” he said, “that I dared this climb! It was a climb into the
dark, dear, but I have found more than ever I sought.”

He saw her hands come up to the bars. They touched his face, and then
drew back as though she had not thought him so near. Her heart was so
full of manifold emotions that for the moment she could not think. The
suddenness of it had dizzied her, and yet through the strange tumult of
it all she felt an infinite sweet joy.

“Barbe!”

His voice roused her suddenly to a sense of keen reality.

“Speak softly, or they may hear. You—you should not have risked so
much.”

“Barbe, why are you here, and why did they tell me lies?”

“Lies?”

“Yes, may God confound them! Come close to the window, dear; you can
trust me to the death.”

He heard her catch a short, sharp breath as though some one had dashed
icy water upon her bosom.

“John, I can’t tell you—I can’t!”

“Why, child?—come?”

“Don’t ask me—don’t ask me anything to-night. I cannot bear it, when
you have risked so much.”

He could not see her, not even her hands, but he felt that she was very
close to him. Assuredly this was not the Barbara of the old sullen days?
Her infinite dumb distress went to his heart like wine.

“Barbe!”

She could not answer him for the moment, her thoughts in a tumult with
the miserable secrets of the past.

“I cannot—I cannot!”

“Tell me, dear; you can trust me.”

She was leaning her arms against the wall and her head against her arms.

“Oh, I was mad, John, and I think I had no heart—then. You must have
heard; they must have given you some reason for this.”

The wrath in him flashed out for an instant.

“Whether you were mad or not, child, I have no need to ask. They had put
me off with lies, and but for God’s mercy I should never have chanced
upon the truth.”

He heard her move with a little sound of anguish in the throat.

“The truth—what truth?”

“Why, that you were never mad, Barbara; God even pardon me for uttering
the word.”

“Mad—only that?”

“And does that mean nothing to me—to-night.”

She saw that he was only half wise as to the miserable intrigue that had
let blood forth, blood that had dimmed her vision and filled her with a
hate that now made her shudder. His tenderness would out, beating about
her like mysterious movement in the air, making her dizzy and in terror
of the past.

“Of your goodness, John, don’t ask me anything—don’t ask me anything
to-night.”

She broke down utterly, and though she tried to stifle it, the sound of
her weeping would not be smothered. Pity of it went to the man’s heart.
A great tremor swept across his face. He stretched out an arm between
the bars into the darkness of the room.

“Barbe, I ask nothing—I’ll know nothing—till you wish. Don’t weep,
dear heart, when I cannot come at you to comfort.”

His tenderness beat in on her, so that she seemed to master herself,
only to fall into a new fear, and that lest he should be discovered.

“You must go, John. Why am I keeping you here? If they were to come!”

No words could have made him hardier in his daring.

“Take no care for me, Barbe. This is but the beginning of it all.”

She put up her hands to him in appeal.

“No, no; they would kill you, perhaps!”

“I am not so easily dealt with, dear. Answer me one thing. Some brute
struck you to-night?”

She leaned her head against the wall.

“Oh, that is nothing—nothing.”

“Nothing!” And she could picture the bronzed grimness of his face. “Tell
me, Barbe—the big man, or the little crooked rogue?”

“The big man.”

“Now I know my dog.”

The hardness of the window-stone, and the cramp and stiffness in his
muscles, forced him to remember that he had the descent to make, and
that it would not do to waste his strength.

“I must go now, Barbe,” he said, “before I get too stiff.”

She seemed to realize suddenly all the peril of that dark descent, and
the dear hardihood that had brought him to her.

“John, if you should slip!”

Her tone held him there, loath to leave her when her voice thrilled so.

“No, I have done my scrambling about a ship’s gear. Next time I shall
bring a rope.”

She put up her hands to the bars.

“But it is so dark, and so deep. Can’t I help you, John?”

He hung there, and, seeing her hands so near, stretched one of his to
meet them.

“What have you in the room, Barbe?”

“There are the sheets on the bed.”

“How many?”

She climbed down and pulled the bedclothes on to the floor.

“Two sheets and the blanket.”

“A short three fathoms. They would help me over the worst piece. Are you
strong enough to knot them into a rope?”

“Yes, John—yes.”

She set to work in the dark, rolling the sheets up and knotting the ends
as stoutly as she could. Yet she mistrusted the knots, lest they should
slip and dash the man to the stones below. And in her dread of it she
pondered the case, and then looked up at the window.

“Have you a knife?”

“Surely, being a sailor.”

He fumbled for it, cramped and wedged in as he was, and dropped it down
upon the bed. Barbara felt for it, and, cutting off two thick strands of
her hair, bound down the ends of the knots with the strands so that they
should hold more surely under his weight.

“Here, John.”

She mounted the bed and held the end to him, and he knotted it about the
bar as firmly as a seaman could.

“Can you reach it when I have gone? Try.”

She reached out her hands.

“Yes, easily. Take the knife back. They might find it, and suspect.”

Their hands touched and thrilled in the darkness of the night. Then John
Gore drew the sheet rope out, trying the knots to see that they were
firm.

“What have you bound them with? Why, child, you have cut your hair!”

“Only two small pieces.”

“Then the rope is blessed, dear. Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

“Trust to me, dear; I shall have you away from here before long. Trust
me in your heart.”

Barbara stood close to the wall, the anguish of the past, with all its
memories, flooding back on her, now that he was going. She thought of
that secret that seemed to flow between them like a river of doom. Her
heart grew chilled and afraid with dread of the truth.

“John!”

He hung there, waiting.

“You must not come again, John. Promise me; it is risking your life, and
I—”

“And you?”

“Don’t ask me to tell you; I have not the courage; it was all so
terrible, and the truth was too great for me. Promise you will not
come.”

“If I promised that,” he said, simply, “I might as well drop and end
it.”

“Oh—but—John—”

“Barbe, good-night.” And she felt the tightening of the rope against the
bar. “I cannot part with such wild talk from you. Good-night. God hold
you in His keeping.”

She heard the rustle of leaves and the dull chafing of the sheet against
the stone. Leaning against the wall and listening, her heart seemed to
beat but thrice in a minute while she waited to hear whether he were
safe or no. The rope slackened, and she heard the faint rustle of leaves
go slowly down the tower. Then all was silent, and there was nothing
left but the empty night.

Suddenly, as though bending beneath some great weight of humiliation and
utter helplessness, she sank down on the bed with her head resting
against the wall. A great shudder ran through her, yet no tears came;
for all the dreariness of the hour seemed lost in the miserable menace
of the past.



                                  XXXI


John Gore made his retreat from Thorn with nothing more threatening in
the way of a betrayal than a low, querulous growl from the mastiff
chained in the yard. He scaled the gate, and made his way back to the
thorn-tree where he had left his heavier clothes and his sword.

Now the sea-captain’s brain might have been a Spanish treasure-ship, and
the happenings of the night so many buccaneers by the way they stormed
in and put everything to confusion. There were a hundred questions to be
asked and answered, and many of them were the worst of riddles. The
night sky seemed full of new meanings, new mysteries, new secrets, and
Thorn itself a strange dim place where the heart of a man might lose
itself in wonder. Yet one truth shone out like a great star above the
tower, steady and sure amid so many drifting clouds. He had found the
girl with the white face and the dusky hair, and learned that she was no
more mad than he was; and for that he gave God thanks.

But setting the romance and the tenderness thereof aside for a moment,
John Gore found himself face to face with some very sinister and savage
questions. Plodding back over the grass toward the beech-thicket where
he had left his horse, he began to scan the past as he walked, beating
up memories with the keenness of a lawyer sifting evidence. Why had they
mewed the girl up in this ruin of a place? Why had they lied to him
about her madness? What had they to fear from her that they had made
such a secret of the thing? Barbara herself had seemed haunted by some
hidden anguish, some mysterious dread that had made her shudder at the
simplest question. He recalled all that he had heard concerning her—the
mystery of her father’s death, her moodiness and silence, the fears my
lord had expressed as to her state of mind. He retold, piece by piece,
the tale his father had told him on the night of his return from
Yorkshire in September. Why had they gotten her into their power, made
some pretence of madness, and shut her up with such keepers, and at the
mercy of a ruffian’s fist? The inevitable answer was that Barbara had
discovered some secret that my Lord Gore and her mother were fiercely
compelled to conceal. It had not been madness on her part, but perhaps
too much knowledge, that had led them to seize such sinister methods. As
for the secret itself, the core and pith of the whole mystery! He could
only recall the tale his father had told him, and knit his brows over it
like a man meeting the sleet of a storm.

Now John Gore was a man of action, and as such laid his plans that
night. He was going to take Barbara out of Thorn, for all the plots and
intrigues and miserable shadows of shame the whole world might boast.
There was the fellow Grylls to be dealt with, his father’s creature, and
though his heart smote him at the thought of it, he was grimly
determined to lose no chance. Whatever authority the man might have, he
might at least be robbed of information. Captain Grylls would probably
spend the night at Thorn, and might be dealt with when he sallied out in
the morning.

A night watch in the woods opened for John Gore; he and his horse would
have to make the best of such quarters as they had, the shelter of the
beeches and the litter of leaves and bracken. John Gore swung himself
into the fork of a tree, and, wrapping his cloak about him, sat looking
toward Thorn, his heart full of the night’s adventures. The darker
thoughts drifted aside for a season, and he thought only of the woman
whose womanhood meant so much to him. He found himself wondering at the
change in her, for never before had she shown her true self to him with
its flood of pathos, simplicity, and passion. A few moments at a window,
a touch of the hands, and they were sharing life and its impulses
together. He thought of the long, cold nights in that tower room, the
loneliness, the forebodings, the burden of past sorrow. It was easy to
understand how the less lovable pride in her had been broken, and how
with tears her womanhood had come by its true strength. The very sound
of her voice had seemed richer to him; the change in her was a change
that no true man would ever quarrel with.

Though mists rose and a frail moon came up to make the dark woods seem
more raw and cold, John Gore kept watch all night in the fork of the
beech-tree, thinking of Barbara and of the strange things he had
discovered. He saw the dawn steal slowly into the east, and with the
first gray light thereof the flutter of something white at the upper
window of the tower. But with the day and the sound of the stirring of
birds, John Gore came down out of the beech-tree, for there was work
before him, and he had made his plans. There were his pistols to be
cleaned and primed, his horse to be given a canter for both their sakes,
and a crop at the grass in the forest ride. He still had some victuals
left him, and John Gore made a meal under the tree where he had spent
the night, keeping an eye on Thorn for a glimpse of Captain Grylls. Nor
had the gossamer and the dew shone for long in the sunlight before he
saw a horseman ride out from the gate of Thorn, and push on slowly
toward the forest track.

Captain Grylls was jogging along peacefully that morning, thinking of
such things as a man thinks of when he feels fat and warm, the money he
is making, the clever things he may have done, or the woman he happens
to fancy for the moment, when he heard the sound of a horse’s hoofs
sucking wet grass, and the creak and jingle of harness. The track had
broadened into an open place with a number of great oak-trees spreading
their branches over it, so that they made a golden dome with the turf
green and sleek beneath. A man on horseback appeared suddenly amid the
oak-trees, riding at a canter under the sweeping boughs, with his hat
over his eyes as though to save his face from the hazel twigs of the
track. The stranger bore down straight on Captain Grylls, though that
worthy shouted lustily and tried to get his horse out of the path. And
even before he could curse the clumsy folly of the thing, his horse went
down like a rammed wall, throwing him heavily, and crushing one leg
badly under his flank.

Captain Grylls was stunned, and lay there on his back with his mouth
open, a great gobbet of wet mud on his forehead. His nag picked himself
up, shook himself till the harness rattled, and then stood quietly
staring at the stranger who had blundered into him like a cavalry horse
at the charge. John Gore was out of the saddle and bending over Captain
Grylls. The fellow was far from dead, though conveniently senseless.
John Gore opened his coat, searched his pockets, and found in a brown
leather pocket-book a little package about the size of a man’s palm,
wrapped in a piece of paper that looked like the torn-out fly-leaf of a
book. The packet was tied up with worsted and roughly sealed.

John Gore took the thing, slipping the leather pocket-book back again
into its place. Then he turned his attention to Captain Grylls’s horse,
taking out that gentleman’s pistols, scattering the powder, and rubbing
wet mud into the pans. He searched the holsters and the saddle-bags, but
found nothing but a pipe and a paper of tobacco, some food, a change of
undergear, and a bottle of wine. He had put the things back again when
Captain Grylls came to his senses and sat up.

With the first clearing of his wits he laid a hand to his bruised ankle,
and began to swear like a buccaneer at the man who had ridden into him
so clumsily.

“Teeth and hair of the Almighty! you blind sot of a jackass, isn’t there
enough road for you to ride to blazes without blundering into better men
than yourself? What the devil do you mean by it, you Sussex clod, you
bumpkin, you lousy yeoman? Give us a hand, can’t you? Wet grass ain’t
anything of a cushion, especially when a man has no change of
small-clothes with him.”

He glanced at John Gore, but did not seem to recognize him, and, getting
upon his feet, limped to and fro awhile, cursing. Then he began slapping
his pockets with his hands to make sure that his purse and pocket-book
were there, looking at John Gore the while out of the corners of his
eyes.

“I have not had anything in the way of an apology yet, sir,” he said.

John Gore lifted his hat, watching Captain Grylls carefully, to see
whether his lack of recognition was a blind or no. He remembered that he
had had the collar of his coat turned up that night in the park, and
that he himself might not have recognized Grylls but for the wryness of
his figure.

“Most certainly, I offer you my apologies, sir. I was in a hurry, and
had taken a bridle-track, having business Hastings way by eight.”

John Gore coarsened himself to the likeness of a gentleman farmer in his
best clothes.

“You will crack your skull and spill your business if you ride about it
in such fashion.”

“We Sussex folk have hard heads.”

“And no manners—either,” quoth the man in the brown coat, glancing
rather threateningly at the pistol-holsters on his saddle.

He limped up to his horse, and examined the saddle-bag to see that his
things were there. Then he jammed his hat down on his head, looked
sourly at his muddy clothes, and passed a hand over the wettest portion
of his figure.

“A nice start for a thirty-mile ride. I shall have to bait somewhere and
dry my breeches.”

“A day in the saddle, then?”

“Tunbridge to-night, London to-morrow.” He put his foot in the stirrup
and climbed up heavily, grunting and swearing to ease his temper. “I
wish you a clear road, sir,” he said, with sarcasm. “You would do well
to lead a charge of horse.”

“I can only assure you of my regrets, my dear sir. We farmer gentry ride
fast when there is a marriage to be arranged.”

Captain Grylls tilted his nose.

“Green youth, green youth!” he said, sententiously. “In ten years, my
lad, you will break your neck riding to be rid of the sweet thing’s
temper. Let the blood be hot for a month or two, till she begins to
scold in bed instead of kissing.”

John Gore laughed.

“You are a man of experience, sir. Well, I must not waste your time—or
my own.”

The man in the brown coat went away with a jeer.

“Spend your time on a wife, my lad, and you’ll waste it. Learn to spend
it on other men’s wives—steal the kisses, and leave them the
scratches.”

“Good-morning to you, sir; I wish I had some spare small-clothes to lend
you.”

“They’ll dry in the saddle, Master Numskull, or I’ll sit with my back to
the next fire I come across.” And he went off at a trot into the autumn
woods.

John Gore led his horse aside among the oak-trees, and proceeded to
examine the package that he had taken from Captain Grylls. On the paper
was roughly scrawled “My lord,” and, breaking the seal and the worsted,
he found nothing more astonishing than a mass of wool pressed tightly
together. But as he unravelled the stuff he came upon something hard
that glistened—a gold ring set with a seal and bound round with a piece
of red silk. The seal was an intaglio cut in sardonyx—a gorgon’s head
with a hand holding a firebrand above it.

John Gore knew it to be his father’s signet-ring, and this circle of
gold, with its seal, cast out all doubt as to my lord’s authority in the
matter. That ring might carry his father’s orders to and fro without his
compromising himself by putting pen to paper. John Gore wondered what
the piece of red silk meant. The message it carried might have some
sinister meaning, for the mystery and the secrecy of it all had drawn
many dark thoughts into his mind. How far would Captain Grylls ride
before discovering the loss of the packet? Would he return, or ride on
ahead for London? Above all, what message had he carried to Thorn, and
had his coming foreshadowed some peril for Barbara? John Gore had
thought of holding Captain Grylls at the pistol-point and of forcing a
confession from him, but he had realized the rashness of such a measure;
nor could he have proved that the rogue was telling him the truth.
Captain Grylls might be a mere despatch-rider knowing nothing of the
news he carried. It would be wiser to let him go his way without his
discovering who was meddling in the plot.

John Gore put the ring upon his finger, mounted his horse, and made for
the main road. He needed a place where he could lie quiet, and people
whom he could trust, and Furze Farm was such a place. He made for it
that morning, guided by the shouts of a man whom he found ploughing in a
field, and before noon he rode down the grass track that Mr. Pepys had
followed, and saw the red farm-house, the dark thatch, the yellow
stacks, and the golden beeches against a breezy sky. As he came riding
by Chris Jennifer’s orchard he saw Mrs. Winnie hanging linen out to dry,
while white-polled Will paddled round the pond, and surreptitiously
threw sticks at the white ducks thereon.

Mrs. Winnie’s blue petticoat was blowing merrily, and she had a
clothes-peg in her mouth when John Gore called to her over the hedge.
She dropped the peg suddenly, while the wind blew an apron across her
face.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Jennifer.”

“Drat the clothes! Who be it this time of the morning? And me with a
short petticoat on!”

She flicked the apron aside, settled her skirts, and came round under a
great apple-tree, with a few pullets running at her heels.

“Good-morning, Mrs. Jennifer.”

“Sakes alive! is it you, sir?”

“Yes, come to ask you a favor. You had better keep an eye on that boy of
yours. He still seems in love with the pond.”

She moved along the hedge, smoothing her brown hair down, and showing
the muscles in her big brown arms.

“Come in, sir, and be welcome. Will, Will, you little frummet, what be
you doing there, terrifying all of us with puddling round in the mud?”

She opened the gate for John Gore and gave him a curtesy, for Winnie
Jennifer had served as woman in a great house, and her manners and her
speech were less quaint that Mr. Christopher’s.

“Come in, sir; my man will be up from the ploughland soon. Dinner will
be coming, though it be only rough stuff.”

John Gore dismounted, and made Mrs. Winnie a slight bow.

“You offered me your good-will,” he said, frankly, “and I have come to
take it—as a friend.”

He led his horse toward the stable while Chris Jennifer’s wife bustled
into the house, putting washing-day behind her with good-natured
patience. John Gore found her going into the little old parlor with an
apron full of sticks, but he protested that the kitchen ingle-nook would
do for him, and that he liked the smell of dinner. So he sat himself
down in the nook under the hood of the great fireplace, stretching his
legs out to the fire, and wondering what he would say to Christopher
Jennifer’s wife.

There was a pot boiling over the fire, and Mrs. Winnie began to gather
her flour and things upon the table for the making of a pudding. She
took a great pot of preserves from a cupboard, and set to work very
sensibly in her practical, brown-armed way.

“If I had known, sir, I wouldn’t have put an old one in the pot.”

“Old one?”

“One of the old hens, sir; they’re not so bad when you boil ’em. I’ll
make up some herb sauce to help the old lady down.”

Now whether it was the warmth of the fire, or the frank freshness of
Mrs. Winnie’s manner, John Gore found himself telling her enough of the
truth to set the woman in her heartily at his service. She forgot her
pudding in her sympathy, even so far as to stir the air with a wooden
spoon and to spill jam upon the table. John Gore had come to the pith of
the matter when he saw her flourish the spoon threateningly in the
direction of the back-yard door.

“Will, you little spying rogue, get you out and look for the eggs.”

“There ain’t none,” came the retort; “t’ birds be moultin’.”

“Don’t answer me, young man; do what I tell ye.” And she made a step
forward that sent the youngster running for fear of the spoon.

Mrs. Winnie turned to her pudding, casting a look now and again at the
grim, brown-faced man in the ingle-nook.

“You move me—powerful, sir. As sure as I love my man, sir, coming to
him as a clean maid as I did, with all my linen and my savings, if it be
no liberty on my part—I’ll ask to serve you—as you please. Come into
this house as yours, sir; come and go, and we’ll ask no questions. My
man and I will thank God for it, that we can give you service for what
you did.”

John Gore felt that he could trust her, and Mrs. Winnie had no less
trust in him. She was a shrewd woman, with some knowledge of the world
in her own blunt way, and more sentiment and warmth in her than one
would have guessed by the masterfulness of her manner.

“I shall be very grateful to you,” said, the man, simply.

“Why, there, sir, it’s little enough. There sha’n’t be any poking of
noses round Furze Farm, I can tell you that. I have a tongue—and a
tongue, and my man is a man o’ sense. Order your own goings, sir, and
we’ll just mind our business.”

She could not have shown her good-sense or her honor better than by
taking the matter as she did. But when John Gore spoke of his more
tangible debt to her, she stirred the pudding hard, and would have none
of his protests.

“No, sir, we have got good crops in, three milking-cows, a yard full of
pullets, all stuff off our own ground. It’s just our own stuff, and we
shall thank you to eat of it, though it be a bit rough, and not puffed
up for a gentleman’s table. Charge you sixpence when we kill a chicken,
or a penny when I take a bowl of apples down out of the attic? Dear
life, sir, not me! My hands aren’t made that way.”

Chris Jennifer came in about dinner-time, heralding his approach by
kicking his muddy boots against the stone step at the yard door. He came
in, and received John Gore and his wife’s orders without so much as a
blink of surprise. He stared hard at his guest for half a minute or so,
and then took a big jug from a shelf over the fireplace.

“I’ll tap t’ new cask,” he said, as though that would be his warmest
welcome. “Put some apples t’ sizzle, my dear. Suppose thee’ll be airin’
t’ best sheets.”

“Go on with you,” said his wife, bluntly; “do you think I be one to
forget such a thing?”

Mr. Jennifer lumbered round to her, stood by her solemnly a moment, and
then gave her a very deliberate dig under the arm.

“T’ woman stole gentleman Adam’s rib; mindings be mendings.” And he went
off with a chuckle toward the pantry, leaving John Gore to disentangle
the meaning of so solemn a jest.



                                 XXXII


Little Dr. Hemstruther, in his rusty clothes, came out from my Lady
Purcell’s house and entered the “chair” that was in waiting for him,
telling the men to carry him to my Lord Gore’s, in St. James’s Street.
He took snuff vigorously as the two chairmen swung along over the
cobbles, patted his chest, and beat his hands together to keep them
warm. His unwholesome face had a beaky, bird-like alertness, and he
appeared cynically amused by something, for Dr. Hemstruther delighted in
the quaint inconsistencies of human nature, and had a fanatical hatred
of all altruism and the sentiment of religion. Like many sour old men,
he was hugely pleased when he had discovered anything mean and
scandalous. And yet he was to be trusted in the keeping of a secret, his
cynical temper helping him to cover up the follies of those who filled
his purse. He merely jeered and mocked at them in philosophic privacy,
taking their money, and mocking his own self for being the creature of
such hire.

The chairmen stopped before the house in St. James’s Street, Dr.
Hemstruther waiting in the chair till the house door opened, for a keen
northwest wind was sweeping the street. Toddling in at last—a shrewd,
meagre figure, his long nose poking forward between the curls of his
huge wig—he was shown by the man Rogers into a little room at the back
of the house where Stephen Gore kept his books and papers.

Dr. Hemstruther was warming his hands at the fire when my lord came in
to him, his florid cheerfulness struggling to shine through a cloud of
anxiety and unrest. His suit of sky-blue satin, the lace ruffles at his
wrists, the very rings upon his fingers, seemed part of a radiance that
was wilfully assumed. A keen eye could detect a certain hollowness in
the face, a bagginess beneath the eyes, some slackness of the muscles
about the mouth. The silky gloss of his fine manner betrayed through the
very beauty of its texture the darker moods and thoughts beneath.

Dr. Hemstruther noted and commented on all this as he bowed his lean
little body, and rubbed his hands for fear of chilblains; and Dr.
Hemstruther despised my lord, though he covered up his sneers with
subserviency and unction. For my Lady Purcell had fallen sick of the
small-pox some days ago, and in her panic and distress of soul was
sending my lord messages, which he—brave gentleman—put discreetly to
one side.

“Well, sir, what news to-day?”

Dr. Hemstruther carried a very solemn face for the occasion.

“Great peril, my lord—great peril.”

“What! No better?”

“A threatening of malignancy, my lord.”

A flash of impatience escaped from Stephen Gore.

“What is your experience worth, Dr. Hemstruther, if you cannot handle a
woman with a fever? The greater part of our earthly wisdom is a mere
matter of words.”

He walked to the window and opened it.

“Poor Nan Purcell, to have escaped so long with a clean skin! There will
be much weeping and gnashing of teeth and covering up of mirrors.”

The petulance in his voice betrayed his resentment at the lack of
improvement in her affairs. Her sickness was infinitely mischievous at
such a moment, and inspired him with an uneasy and savage impatience. He
flung down into a chair, with all his sweet loftiness in peril of
toppling into a snarl of unseemly temper. Dr. Hemstruther appeared to be
intent upon brushing some of the snuff from his coat.

“The danger is not skin deep, sir,” he said.

“You find yourself quite helpless, Dr. Hemstruther, eh? There, pardon my
peevishness—”

“I would not venture the weight of a feather either way, my lord. And
she is a bad patient, mens turbida in corpore ægro.”

He sniffed, smoothed his wig, and looked deferentially at his shoes.

“My Lady Purcell is asking for you, my lord.”

“Then she is conscious—of everything?”

“Conscious to the quick, in spite of the heat of the fever. If I may be
pardoned—”

His eyes met my lord’s, and Stephen Gore was the more embarrassed of the
two.

“You think that I should do her good?”

“More good, my lord—”

“Than all your draughts and bleedings!”

Dr. Hemstruther bowed, and hid a smile with the obeisance.

“My Lord Gore might find some words to soothe the lady.”

“But you forget, man, that—”

He did not complete the sentence, for even his egotism stumbled at the
confession of the instinct of cowardice and self-love. Dr. Hemstruther
understood him, and mocked inwardly at the great man’s prudence.

“There is some danger, my lord; but still I would advise—”

“As a matter of policy?”

“As a matter of policy.”

Stephen Gore pushed back his chair and stood at his full height, as
though he felt the need of feeling himself taller than this little crab
of a man who knew so much, and whose authority was so obsequious and yet
so strong.

“Women have no patience, sir, and will scream ‘fire’ when a log falls on
the hearth. I am up to my eyes in a rush of affairs to-day. And my
friends will thank me if I breathe a pest into all their faces.”

“To-morrow would serve, my lord.”

“I may take your word for that? Good. Are there any cautions you would
give me?”

Dr. Hemstruther screwed his face into an expression of intense sagacity.

“I will send you a powder to burn, my lord, and a mild draught to clear
you. Sit by an open window, and have all the clothes you go in burned.”

“My thanks. And now, sir, if you will pardon me, my leisure is not my
own.”

He unlocked a cabinet, took out a silk purse, and, crossing the room,
held the purse out to the physician.

“I am exerting myself in that little affair of yours, Dr. Hemstruther,”
he said. “It is a pleasure to labor for one’s friends.”

Both smiled faintly as they looked into each other’s eyes. Dr.
Hemstruther put the purse away in an inner pocket and made one of his
most courtly bows.

“Your servant, my lord. I trust that I am mindful of all your
interests.” And he went out sniffing, to wrinkle up his nose
sardonically, like a grinning dog, so soon as he was out of Stephen
Gore’s sight.

But if Anne Purcell burned with a fever upon her bed, whimpering and
calling continually on Mrs. Jael, who had taken a heavy bribe to bide
beside her lady, my Lord Gore was in an equal fever of mind, the fever
of a man who has many things to dread. He knew enough of the human heart
to remember that the cords of silence char and slacken when Death holds
the torch to the secrets of the past. A panic of penitence, the betrayal
of others in the mad impulse to make amends, the emotions thirsting for
the comfort of the confessional dew. And Stephen Gore was wise as to the
gravity of a betrayal, for the man Grylls had ridden into Sussex, and
Anne Purcell knew it, and the sealed order that he carried. Moreover,
this blood-debt was not the only stain that darkened my lord’s
consciousness. He was sunk to the chin in other and wider waters, where
the breath from a hired creature’s lips might stir such a storm as
should smother death into the mouths of many.

He stood before the fire, staring into it, and turning the rings upon
his fingers. For the moment it was all self with him: self, savage,
querulous, impatient, driven to that height of fanaticism whence the
sorrows and hopes of a man’s fellows seem infinitely small and
insignificant. It was the mad, angry self that beats down and tramples
on the life instincts of others, crying a savage sacrifice to the Moloch
of the ego. And yet this man in the satin coat, so bland, so debonair,
so generous on the surface, heard the low clamor of that underworld that
every man carries in the deeps of consciousness. He suffered, yet would
not countenance his suffering, hardening himself to escape from it with
fierce strength and subtlety and anger.



                                 XXXIII


If Winnie Jennifer was not in love with John Gore, she was in love
with the love in him, for no man could sit and stare so at the fire, and
look so quietly grim over such a matter, without winning over a woman’s
heart. There was a romance here, and your true woman, be she drudge or
madam, has that trick of the fancy that lifts life out of its sordid
round and makes her a queen of the fairies, though there be gray in her
hair. And when he looked at Winnie with those deepset eyes of his she
knew that he was looking beyond her toward his love, and that the heart
in him said: “I must go to her, for she has suffered.”

Therefore, when John Gore rose up from the ingle-nook about three in the
afternoon, and asked her whether Mr. Jennifer could lend him several
fathoms of good rope, Mrs. Winnie regarded him with a curious glint of
the eyes, and felt a delight in meddling in such a matter.

“To be sure, sir, there is a good round of rope hanging on a harness-peg
in the stable. Come you—we will see.”

She went out with him, swinging her brown arms and holding her head
high, as though proud in her woman’s way of sharing in the adventure,
and, opening the stable door, showed him a hank of brown rope hanging
from the wood.

“How much would you be wanting, sir?”

“Ten fathoms will do.”

He took the hank down, and, laying it on the floor, began to measure the
rope out, yard by yard, coiling it neatly close by Mrs. Winnie’s feet.
It was good hemp, unfrayed and unrotted, not too thick and stiff, yet
stout enough to carry the weight of three men.

Mrs. Winnie watched him, her eyes inquisitively kind, and her tongue all
of a tremble. He was borrowing the rope in the cause of adventure, and
she felt flattered in the lending of it, but she wished he would tell
her what it was for.

“It is good hemp, sir.”

“I should know a good rope, being a sailor. I shall need it to help me
in a bit of a scramble.”

Mrs. Winnie began to think of all the cliffs and quarries in the
neighborhood, for John Gore had withheld the name of Thorn.

“I had better get you a wallet full of food, sir; you may be needing
it.”

“You think of everything, Mrs. Jennifer. I am going treasure-hunting.”
And he laughed.

“Treasure, sir?”

“Yes. In a few days I may bring my treasure-trove back with me.”

Mrs. Winnie understood of a sudden, and her eyes grew full of light.

“No doubt she is all you desire, sir, and I ask no more questions of
you. You have told me enough before to make me want to take and comfort
her.”

She went away, and returned anon with an extra cloak, a parcel of bread
and meat, some apples, and a drop of good hollands in a flask, for the
autumn nights were growing raw and cold. John Gore had saddled his horse
and hung the rope over one of the holsters. He looked touched by Mrs.
Winnie’s simple kindliness, and by the faith she seemed ready to give to
him.

“I shall have a heavy debt before long,” he said.

“We don’t count by tallies here, sir.”

And she was quite happy, good soul, in feeling his gratitude pledge its
truth. She watched him ride away along the hedge, knowing him for a
brave man and a strong one—a man whom a woman instinctively respects.

Now, at Thorn, Simon Pinniger sat on a tree-stump in an out-house lazily
splitting billets of wood with the axe edge of a pick. It was growing
dusk, and a pile of white wood lay beside him, with here and there the
pink core of an old apple trunk amid the billets of oak and ash. Simon
Pinniger was tired of the job, and, filling a basket with split logs, he
shouldered it and crossed the court-yard into the kitchen, and dumped
the basket down beside the hearth with the air of a man whose day’s work
was done.

The woman Nance was at the table, peeling apples for a pie, her lips
pressed intently together, and three hard lines running across her
forehead. The man looked at her a little furtively, and then went to
draw some beer from a cask that stood in the corner. He put the jug on
the floor under the tap, so that the ale should have a head on it, and
stood there watching the liquor flow with the stupid slouching pose of a
man whose body was too big for his brain.

“Sim!”

The sharp rasp of the woman’s voice brought him round as though she had
clouted him on the ear.

“What are you thinking of, man?”

The red-lidded eyes behind the eyelet-holes in the linen looked capable
of expressing nothing but fleshly things.

“Supper,” he said, curtly.

“Well, you’ll wait for it. Quick, you fool, the liquor’s running over.”

He turned and put a hand to the spigot, muttering as a rivulet of good
ale curled across the floor.

“All your tongue, as usual.”

“It’s always my tongue, Sim, and never your lumpishness. Wipe that slop
up; I’m not going to soil my shoes in it.”

He obeyed her, and then sat himself on the three-legged stool before the
fire, taking the jug with him, and standing it on the hearth.

“There’s comfort in the stuff,” he said, sullenly.

The woman gave a sharp laugh.

“Courage, you mean, you six feet and a half of fat and folly! You would
run away from it all but for me.”

“Run!”

“Yes, you.”

“You want a week of the branks, my dear. Give me my money and my liquor,
and I’m the bully for any man.”

“Oh, you’re a fine fat falcon—you! Keep a little courage in the cask,
Sim, till the business comes. Three days’ grace and no countermand.
What’s it to be—a mattress, or a fathom of rope, or a soft scarf? What
are you looking so sulky about?”

For the man had bunched himself over the fire, and was rocking backward
and forward on two legs of the stool.

“Let it alone, you fool,” he said; “it don’t do a man good to think of
such things.”

She looked up mockingly, and threw a half-rotten apple at him.

“Oh, you soft head!—you piece of pulp! You’re no better than a great
girl—you, who pulled Adam Naylor’s windpipe out and broke in that
Frenchman’s chest. You, to make such a blubber over this!”

“Who’s afraid?” he asked, savagely.

“My sweet conscience! Oh, dear, good saints! I’m a poor sinner, a poor
snivelling sinner—”

“Nance, shut your trap!” And he opened his chest and roared at her with
sudden fury.

She took it with a laugh.

“Better, Sim, better. Put a little temper into it. I’ll give you a pint
of hollands when the night comes, and smack you across the face with a
firebrand to make you mad.”

And she filled her apron with the apple-peelings, and came and tossed
them into the fire.

A west wind blew fitfully about the tower of Thorn. The ivy rustled,
leaf tapping against leaf; and the clouds passed slowly across the
stars. An owl was beating up and down the edge of a neighboring wood,
hooting as he went, now strangely near, now faint in the distance. From
the court-yard came the dull “burr” of the dog’s chain as he fidgeted in
his kennel.

Barbara had been at war with herself all day—distraught, troubled,
afraid to believe that which she most desired. And with the dusk her
uneasiness and her wavering suspense had deepened, heralding an anguish
of self-hatred and humiliation that shirked the ordeal of another
meeting. She dreaded lest John Gore should come, and yet listened for
his coming, fearing and longing for him in one breath, the past and
present fighting for her desire. Twice she rolled up the sheets to
succor him in his climb, and twice unrolled them with a fever of
indecision. Her heart labored with the secret that it held, striving
against the untellable, yet trying to beat out nothing but the truth.
There was that eternal blood-debt between them, lurid to her, now that
the night had come, like the glare of a fire reddening the sky.

Barbara walked to and fro awhile, and then stood listening, leaning
against the wall. Nor had she been long motionless when there was a
faint rustling of the ivy, a sound as of something moving, of something
drawing near to her in the darkness. She climbed the bed and put her
hands to the bars. A faint whisper came up to her out of the sibilant
shiver of the leaves.

“Barbara!”

The fever of doubt and of fear left her suddenly.

“John!”

“Can you help me?”

“Yes; wait.”

She was down instantly, rolling the sheets and knotting them into a
rope. The strands of her hair were under the pillow. She took them and
wound them round the knots, and, making them fast to a bar, threw the
end thereof out of the window. But the rope would not run by its own
weight, and she had to thrust it out foot by foot, standing on the bed
and leaning her bosom against the wall.

The rope tightened, the knot straining at the bar. Then a shadow blotted
out the window.

“Dear heart!”

She stretched out her hands to him, and then drew them with a sharp sob
into her bosom, bending down her head and feeling the old despair taking
possession of her heart.

“Barbe!”

He had forced himself into the stone framing of the window, and she
could hear him breathing hard with the grimness of the climb.

“Where are you, child?”

He lay there with his face to the bars, and heard nothing but sudden
passionate weeping. The sound of it went through him to the heart. He
stretched out an arm and was able to touch her hair.

“Dear heart, what is it?”

She shivered and drew away.

“You should not have come—”

“No, no.”

“John, you should not—”

“My life, child—come, speak to me—I cannot bear to hear you weep.”

She knew that he was trying to touch her, to be nearer to her, even with
all the deep tenderness of his manhood. It was so easy and yet so
difficult, so sweet and yet so full of torment. She felt that she could
not bear out against him; and yet—how could she tell?

He spoke again.

“Barbara!”

And then:

“Dear heart, do you not trust me?”

Something seemed to break within her, and she thrust up her hands to him
with a cry as of one drowning.

“John, I am afraid! John, I am afraid!”

“There, my life.”

“Take my hands—hold them—keep me; I am afraid, John! Dear God, what
can I say!”

Her courage and her will had gone, and a storm of trembling shook her.
John Gore felt the quivering of her body coming along her arms to him.
Her hands strained at his, as though he were the one sure thing left to
her in the anguish of it all.

“Barbara!”

He drew her as close to him as bars and wall would suffer.

“Tell me, child, everything.”

“I can’t, John! oh, I can’t!”

“Dear, do you think there is not one heart in the world? Look up, and
tell me; I cannot let you go!”

She was silent a moment, still trembling greatly.

“John, you will hate me!”

“No! no! no!”

“Your father—”

His hands tightened on hers.

“My life, courage!”

“Your father killed my father, John!”

“Child!”

“And I—I tried to win revenge.”

She buried her face upon her arms, and then lifted it suddenly toward
him in the dark, as though in an agony to know what he was thinking. His
hands still had hold of hers, and there was no slackening of his
fingers.

“John!”

“Dear heart!”

He bent his head, and drawing her hands to him, pressed his lips to
them. Below him he could see the dim, appealing whiteness of her face.

“Barbe, you should have told me.”

“I was mad.”

“Who shall judge us, dear? You should have told me. I might have spared
you much.”

He drew her hands close into his bosom, and she leaned there, letting
the tears flow silently and the sorrow in her take refuge in his
strength.

“You will not condemn me, John—you?”

“I! What am I, child, to condemn you?”

“But I have learned and I have suffered, and, John, in the long, silent
nights I have prayed to God that He would be merciful to me—that I in
turn might be more merciful.”

He kissed her hands again.

“God is with us, child, here and now.”

“How good you are, John! If I could only tell him—and my mother.”

“Dear heart, let that rest awhile. It is you I pray for—you that I
remember.”

He was silent awhile, like a man waking to life from some strange dream.
Then he pressed her hands in his, and spoke very dearly through the bars
to her.

“Barbe, I must get you away from here. I would do it without violence
for your sake—for the sake of every one. It would be easy for me to
kill that man, but I would not have blood with the memory of this.”

She looked up at him and sighed.

“Listen: you can trust me. I have a rope here round my body; take it,
when I am gone, and hide it in your bed. I will come again to-morrow and
file these bars through. Do you know how the door is fastened?”

“With lock and bar.”

“A tough customer. Do they leave you alone the whole night?”

“Yes.”

“Time, an auger, and a good knife will serve then. I have a place to
take you to. You will trust me in this?”

“John, need you ask that?”

“Dear heart of mine, no, no. Now for a rope’s-end. When I am safe below
I will give three twitches to the rope. Draw it up, dear, and hide it in
your bed.”

“Yes.”

“And, child, if you are in danger, or fear anything, tear off a piece of
linen and tie it to one of the bars. I shall storm in then without by
your leave or welcome, and deal with those gentry at the point of the
sword.”

He kissed her fingers, hung there a moment, and then unwound the rope
from about his body. Fastening it, he touched her hands through the bars
of the window and went down into the night.



                                 XXXIV


There were two link-boys waiting outside Lord Gore’s house in St.
James’s Street when a short, stumpy woman came hurrying along with the
hood of her cloak down over her head. The street door of the house was
open, and a servant waiting on the step with a fur cloak over one arm
and a sword under the other.

His master came out as the woman paused at the steps—a thin, swarthy,
sallow man, with alert eyes and a brisk manner. He took the cloak from
the servant and swung it over his shoulders, putting his chin up as he
fastened the cloak, and making his lower lip protrude beyond the upper.
Coming down the steps he looked hard at the woman who was leaning
against the railings, a look that was half gallant, half suspicious, and
even paused to stare in her face as though he thought she might have
some message for him. But since she hung back and waited for him to
pass, and was, moreover, woolly and middle-aged, he gave an order to the
link-boys for the Savoy, and went away at a good fast stride with the
servant following at his heels.

The woman ran up the steps and spoke to Tom Rogers, who was holding the
door open and staring curiously after the retreating figure. Her voice
was importunate, and even threatening—so much so that he let her in and
closed the door, and went about her business without demur, as though
knowing that she had some right to hustle.

My lord was in the little library at the back of the house, sorting and
looking through a litter of papers on the table with a feverish,
irritable air. There was a good fire burning, and charred fragments of
paper littered the hearth and fluttered in the draught at the throat of
the chimney. My lord had taken a roll of letters, and was thrusting them
into the heart of the fire with the tongs when Rogers knocked at the
door and entered upon privilege.

His master glanced at him with a gleam of impatient distrust.

“What is it now?”

“My Lady Purcell’s woman, sir.”

“Where?”

“In the hall, my lord. She says that she must speak with you.”

Stephen Gore’s face had the dusky look of a face gorged with blood from
drinking.

“Send her in, Rogers. Take warning, I am at home to no one, not even to
the King.”

The roll of letters was a black mass spangled over with sparks and
corroding lines of fire when Mrs. Jael came in with the hood of her
cloak turned back. She waited till Rogers had closed the door, and even
then looked at it suspiciously, as though afraid that the fellow might
be listening. Stephen Gore understood her meaning. He opened it, found
the passage empty, and, closing the door again, stood with his back to
it and his hand upon the latch.

“Your message?”

Mrs. Jael fidgeted her arms under her cloak, and looked hot and a little
scared.

“My lady has sent me, my lord—”

“Well, well?”

“She must see you to-night; she will take no denial; I am bidden to
bring you back.”

Stephen Gore frowned at her didactic tone and the menace in her manner.

“Indeed!”

“She cannot bear it alone, my lord; she must speak with you; we fear
that she is dying.”

“Dying?”

“Yes, sir; yes—don’t curl your mouth at me. She bade me say that unless
you come to her, she will—”

The expression of my lord’s face so frightened Mrs. Jael that her voice
faltered away into an almost inaudible murmur. He stood staring at her,
his flushed face seamed with the passions of a man whose courage and
patience had already suffered, and on whom all the hazards of life were
falling in one and the same hour.

“I will come.”

He pressed back his shoulders, steadied his dignity, and crossed the
room to where hat, cloak, and sword lay on a carved chair. His hands
fumbled with the tags of the cloak as he fastened them. Mrs. Jael kept
her distance as he walked toward the door, for there was a look in my
lord’s eyes that night that made her afraid of him. He was as a man
driven to bay, and ready to stab at any one who should venture too near
his person.

Stephen Gore walked the short distance to Anne Purcell’s house in grim
silence, heartily cursing all women, and in no mood to humor a sick
sinner. The whole thing was accursedly vexatious and inopportune, and he
hardened himself against all sentiment with the savage impatience of a
man who is harassed and menaced on every quarter. Mrs. Jael was a
snivelling fool, an emotional creature who had helped to froth up her
mistress’s panic. Both of them, no doubt, needed ice to their heads, and
a couple of gags to keep them quiet.

Yet the great house was so solemn and dim and silent, and the woman’s
manner in tragic keeping therewith, that Stephen Gore felt chilled and
uneasy as he followed her flickering candle up the stairs. The place
seemed ghostly and deserted, full of dark corners, draughts, and
mysterious empty rooms. Stephen Gore had come in with his pulses
thrumming lustily, and the hot intent to put all this meddlesome
nonsense out of his path. But the house had much of the eeriness of a
moorland in a fog, with quags ready to suck at a man’s feet, and a
strange, vast silence to unnerve him.

Mrs. Jael led him along a gallery, and opened a door at the end thereof.
She stood back waiting for him to cross the threshold, and then, as
though she had had her orders, she swung the door to and turned the key
in the lock.

Stephen Gore turned with a start, hesitated, biting his lip, and then
let things take their course. The room was lit by a single candle; the
boards and walls were bare, and there was little in it save the
four-post bed. A great fire burned on the hearth, and the air felt hot
and heavy, and full of the indescribable scent of sickness.

“Stephen!”

He forced back his shoulders, gave a tug to his cravat, and turned
toward the bed. The curtains were drawn back, and on the white pillow he
saw a dusky, swollen face—a face that might haunt a man till the day of
his death.

“Stephen, are you there?”

My lord looked shocked despite himself, as though thinking of the face
that he had kissed not many days ago.

“Why, Nan, how is it with you?”

Her breathing was labored, her lips cracked and dry, and the hand that
she stretched out to him swung up and down, like a branch in the wind.

“I cannot see you; my eyes are touched.”

He looked at her helplessly, half loathing the thing he saw, and yet
unnerved by a blind rush of pity that beat and shook the pedestal of
self.

“Stephen, don’t come near me if you are afraid.”

She might have reproached him with the pusillanimous prudence he had
shown in keeping away from her until this night. And, vain woman that
she had been, she felt that it was the threat alone that had brought him
to her. Yet she spoke calmly at first, and feebly, like one who had come
to a sense of awe and of the end.

My lord put the best dignity he could upon it, but he felt the heat and
the wilfulness in him growing cold.

“You have sent for me, Nan—”

“It is not the first time.”

“I should have come before, but I have been pressed and driven by a
hundred things.”

Instinctively she turned her face toward him on the pillow, though she
could not see him because the disease had blinded her.

“Let us make no excuses to-night, Stephen. Do you know that I am dying?”

“No, Nan—not that.”

She gave a long sigh, and her hands moved to and fro over the coverlet.

“Yes. I am dying. You know why—I have sent for you.”

“What is your desire?”

He stood looking at her in some astonishment and with unwilling awe, for
she whom he had always led seemed mistress of herself under the shadow
of death, and not the weeping, pleading, terrified thing that he had
thought to find.

“Stephen, you must go to-night.”

He faced up as though to attention.

“Go? Where?”

“Need I tell you that?”

“My heart, you are ill—and distraught.”

She raised herself on the pillow with a sudden energy of passion; her
poor marred face could not express it, but her voice had a deep, fierce
thrill that came from the heart of the world.

“Man, man, do not play with me to-night, as you have played with me
these many years!”

“Anne, if you will listen to me—”

“Listen! What have I to hear? This thing lies in my throat—and stifles
me. I cannot bear it, I cannot bear to die with it—smothering my
breath.”

He breathed out, and tried to hold himself in hand.

“Nan, it is impossible—”

“No, no.”

“I cannot go to-night. There are matters—affairs that it would be death
to me to leave. I tell you, I tell you—my honor is pledged here.”

She held out a rigid arm toward him, her blurred, sightless eyes at
gaze.

“Stephen, I warn you—”

“I tell you, you do not understand—”

“Your honor! You weigh your honor against this thing! Stephen, I warn
you—”

“For God’s sake, listen: I—”

“No, no. Save the child, I charge you, or before I die I will tell the
truth.”

Her hand dropped and then went to her throat, for a spasm of choking
seized her, and he could see the muscles straining in her throat and her
dry lips praying for air. Stephen Gore thought that death had her that
instant, but the strength of her purpose bore her through.

“Stephen, promise me.”

He held out his hands appealingly, helplessly; but the gesture was lost
upon her blindness.

“Promise.”

“It is impossible.”

“Man, man, have you ever loved any one but yourself? Have you never
stood on the edge of the world—and looked over—over into darkness? I
cannot go to it—with this thing stifling me. Stephen, I ask you, if you
have ever loved me, do me this last mercy.”

He walked to and fro with a quick, rigid step, and paused at the far end
of the room, feeling the air hot and poisonous, and the blood drumming
at his temples.

“I am to sacrifice myself, Nan. You ask that?”

She propped herself upon the pillow, her head swaying slightly from side
to side.

“I ask you not to face your God, Stephen, with more blood upon your
hands.”

He cried out at her with bitterness.

“Woman, woman, what can I do?”

“What I have asked. Ride down to Thorn—to-night. And, Stephen, do not
think that I shall die—so soon—that you can play with me—and shirk
it. You may wish that I were dead now—and silent.”

He leaned against the wall, spreading his arms against it as though to
steady himself.

“Before God, Nan, not that!”

“Stephen, if you have ever loved me, do not stoop to play a coward’s
trick upon me now.”

He leaned there against the wall, almost like a man crucified, his face
haggard, his forehead agleam with sweat. He had come to temporize, to
dissuade, to cheat the truth with a few glib words, and he found the
heart plucked out of him, and his self beaten against its anger and its
will.

“Nan, I will go.”

“There is time—yet.”

“A night—and a day.”

She held out her hands as though with a piteous sense of loneliness and
leave-taking; but though he was humbled, shaken, he could not look into
her face.

“Nan, I will go. Let that help you to live. What will come of it God
alone can tell.”

She felt instinctively through all the tumult of it that he could not
look at her without a shudder, he who had always loved sun and color and
richness about him—a soft skin and pleasant lips. Yet she was too near
the veil, too close upon the eternal mystery, to cry out over a lost
desire.

“Stephen, for God’s sake, go!”

She fell back on the pillow as he turned to the door and shook it,
forgetting in the chaos of his thoughts that the woman Jael had turned
the key. He beat upon the panels with his fist, and when the door opened
for him, pushed past her without a word, and went heavily down the dark
stairway to the hall where he had left his cloak and sword.

My Lord Gore was within twenty yards of his own house when a figure that
had been loitering in the shadow came slantwise across the road to meet
him, and stopped on the footway as he passed. My lord had a glimpse of a
pair of shining eyes and the white oval of a man’s face between the
drooping brim of a beaver and the upturned collar of a cloak.

“Good-night, my lord—fugax, fugax, solvendo non sumus.”

He was pushing on with nothing more than a low, soft whistle when
Stephen Gore caught him by the arm.

“Blake!”

“Softly, for God’s sake, sir; I have loitered here for half an hour to
give you the wink and the text.”

My lord still gripped his arm.

“What is it, man?”

“Boot and saddle for me, sir, before midnight, and the godsend of a boat
across the Channel. Coleman’s correspondence has been seized.”

“The fool—the Jesuit fool!”

“The poor devil will be in the Protestant purgatory soon, sir. If you
are wise, ride—ride. There will be bigger titles than yours, my lord,
bumping in the saddle to-night.”

He looked about him uneasily, and then freed himself quietly from
Stephen Gore’s grip.

“Your pardon, sir, but the hawks will soon be on the wing for some of us
poor popish pigeons. Good-night.”

“Blake, thanks for this.”

“Nonsense, sir; you helped me once, and I am an Irishman. Good-night.”

He went away at a good pace, leaving Stephen Gore standing on the
footway, with the wind blowing his periwig about his face. He stood
there for half a minute watching a faint shadow melt into the night.
Then he seemed to steady himself like a tree between the gusts of a
storm, and, turning, walked on slowly toward his house.

But Stephen Gore did not sleep in Westminster that night, for he went
alone into the stable when the grooms had gone and the servants were in
bed, and saddled and bridled a horse with his own hands. He had thrown
his periwig into a corner, put on the oldest clothes he could find, to
ride out like a sturdy crop-head of a Britisher daring enough to venture
on the roads at such an hour. Pistols, money, and food he took with him,
and leading his horse out into the street, went away at a brisk trot
into the black chasm of the night. He might be knocked out of the saddle
at any corner, but Stephen Gore hazarded the chance, since he might be
given an axe or a halter for his badge.



                                  XXXV


Chris Jennifer was too busy a man to worry his slow brain greatly over
other people’s affairs, for when a man farms for the children who shall
come after him he can give all the daylight to the land, and trudge home
to feed and sleep without much communion with the philosophers and
poets. There is always work upon a farm, save for those who have sore
heels and a chronic thorn in the forefinger. For these autumn and winter
months ploughing, hedging, ditching, carting fagots and stacking them
for the winter, spreading the muck abroad, taking odd carpentering jobs
in hand, to say nothing of the feeding and tending of sheep and cattle,
the fattening of pigs and bullocks for Christmas, the trapping of
vermin, and the netting of the accursed cony. Chris Jennifer’s most
luminous moment was after a rat-hunt about the barns and out-houses. To
take by the tail the carcasses of sundry strapping rats and heap them in
a funeral pile was an act that made Mr. Jennifer feel that Satan can be
confounded in this world and his imps punished for stealing a farmer’s
com. For if Chris Jennifer hated anything it was a rat, and next to the
rat he hated couch-grass, while the purple-polled thistle came in a bad
third.

When Mrs. Winnie’s husband went to bed he slept the deep, sonorous sleep
of a round-headed peasant whose lungs had been breathing in clean air
all the day. And not even the facts that John Gore had borrowed his best
rope and that his wife was dabbling her hands in affairs that did not
concern her could keep Master Christopher awake and talking. All he had
deigned to hope was that “us be not goin’ agen the law,” and that “this
fine gentleman ben’t feedin’ on hot pie-crust.” Then he drew his
nightcap down, turned on his right side, and went to sleep with the ease
of a dog.

Mrs. Winnie, being a woman, and more impressionable and imaginative,
remained very wakeful all that night, thinking of all manner of strange
adventures, and not a little afraid of John Gore’s neck. She had banked
the kitchen hearth up with logs, left some supper on the table, and the
door unbarred, so that there should be some welcome for him if he came
home after bedtime. Yet in spite of all this satisfying forethought she
kept awake to listen, and even when she dropped away toward
Christopher’s oblivion Mrs. Winnie came to with a start, thinking that
she had heard sounds.

Daylight came, with a west wind swishing in the beech-trees and making a
low murmur in the chimney, and the adventurer had not returned. Mrs.
Winnie jerked an elbow into her man’s back, rose up, and began to dress.
She was down and at work in the kitchen getting the fire alight before
Chris Jennifer got a very stout pair of legs out of the bed.

Mrs. Winnie had piled up the fire, lit the dry brushwood under it, and
was kneeling to help the blaze with the bellows, when the door swung
open, and John Gore walked in. He looked muddy as to the boots and
breeches, and rather white about the face, like a man who has been out
long in the cold, though his eyes had a quiet steadfastness that proved
he had no pallor at the heart.

Winnie Jennifer twisted round on her knees.

“Body of me, sir, you are here at last! I’ve been kep’ awake most of the
night through thinking of ye, and listening.”

He smiled down at her, and when he smiled the mystery that was in him
seemed to glow and to exult in a way that made Mrs. Winnie hanker after
her own days of being courted.

“You should not have troubled your head about me, Mrs. Jennifer.”

The fire was blazing now, making a brave crackle, and John Gore looked
at it as though he were cold and empty and dead tired. Mrs. Winnie was
up and bustling in an instant.

“Sit you down, sir. Why, bless my heart, you must be cold and damp as a
dish-clout! I’ll fetch Chris down to see to your horse.”

“I have seen to him myself, Mrs. Winnie.”

She pushed forward the great box of a chair that was padded with
horsehair and leather, and had been polished to a rare sheen by her
husband’s breeches.

“Just you pull off your boots, sir, and rub yourself dry. I’ll have
something hot in ten minutes, and a dish of bacon and some eggs.”

She was bustling with curiosity as well as with good-will, for there was
something in the man’s manner that told of mystery and of strange things
accomplished, and perhaps of looking deep into other eyes. He sat down
obediently before the fire, and, pulling off his boots, spread himself
to the blaze. Overhead they could hear the stumping of Chris Jennifer’s
feet as he tumbled into his clothes with decent circumlocutions.

Mrs. Winnie came to hang the kettle on the chain, and while she was
bending forward with the firelight on her face John Gore sat forward in
his chair and laid a hand upon her shoulder.

“I am giving you a great deal of trouble, Mrs. Jennifer,” he said.

“Dear life, no, sir.”

“Can I ask you to do something more for me?”

She knelt and looked around at him, her honest, comely face perfectly
trustful.

“To be sure, sir.”

“Then I must make my terms with you.”

“You can talk of them, sir, though I may not be for listening to them
when you have told me what you wish.”

John Gore sat back in the chair again, his eyes on the fire.

“Mrs. Jennifer, I want some one whom I can trust. I want to bring her to
you here, away from people who wish her out of the world.”

Mrs. Winnie took up the poker and made a thrust or two at the fire.

“It’s good of you, sir, to give me the honor—”

“There shall be no danger to you or yours, I can promise that.”

“There, sir, I was not thinking of any such thing! We are only farming
folk, and the lady may have prettier notions than—”

He bent forward suddenly and looked into her face.

“She would bless you, Mrs. Winnie, as I should, for the very warmth of a
fire. She has not felt the warmth of a fire this month or more, and she
is half starved into the bargain.”

Mrs. Jennifer opened her eyes with indignation.

“What! not a stick of fire! Who be they who have the caring for her? And
no victuals!”

“Then you will let me bring her here—if I can?”

“Dear heart, sir, yes. I’ll have my best blankets out, and make cakes
and pasties. And perhaps she would like a nice young pullet, sir. We
will put her in the parlor ingle-nook, and melt her heart, and give her
stuff to make the color come.”

John Gore held out a hand.

“You do not know how I thank you for this. But there are my terms to be
considered.”

“Oh, get along, sir.”

“I shall pass over to you three gold pieces a week.”

Mrs. Winnie looked ready to scoff and laugh.

“Three sixpences would be nearer the mark, sir. Why, Jem and Sam and
Nicholas, our men, wouldn’t eat and drink a third of that in seven whole
days.”

“Never mind your men, Mrs. Jennifer.”

“Not mind them! And where should we be in six months, the lazy loons!
No, I tell you, sir.”

John Gore tried her on another quarter.

“Very well, Mrs. Winnie, take the money and put it in a stocking for
your boy.”

“But, sir—”

“Take it, or turn me out of the door. I hold to your good-will and your
trust with all my heart, but live on you I will not, just because I
happened to pull the youngster out of the pond.”

The woman gave the fire three more pokes.

“I wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, sir.”

“Then you will put the money aside for the child’s sake.”

Mr. Christopher Jennifer had had great faith in his wife’s wisdom ever
since she had elected to marry him in preference to a gay sprig of a
harness-maker at Lewes, a gallant who could write verses after the
fashion of a gentleman, and had deigned to dazzle both with dress and
address. Chris Jennifer in his courting days and season of rivalry had
fallen violently foul of this same harness man for the love of Mrs.
Winnie. Chris, who had never been a quarrelsome man, had put his
bristles up at last under the provocation of his rival’s genteel and
foppish impertinence. He had led the harness man by the ear into the
back-yard of Mrs. Winnie’s father’s house, and there had smitten him,
and in the smiting had won his way to Winnie’s heart. For she was a
woman who must have strength of a kind in a man, and silence and shrewd
sense, nor could she abide a ranter or a puff-bag, nor a fellow who was
always talking big about the gentry, and telling how he had dined at the
justice’s table. Men with long tongues were not after her fancy, seeing
that length of tongue generally goes with a league of silly vanity and
boasting, and that men who talk much are still talking while your quiet
man has ploughed his furrow.

Therefore, when Mrs. Winnie threw out a downright hint to her man that
Gentleman John was likely to bring his lady-loveto Furze Farm, and
insisted upon putting sundry gold pieces into son William’s pocket, Mr.
Jennifer humphed and nodded, and supposed there would be no harm in it
“if t’ parson be not left out in t’ cold.” Mrs. Winnie snubbed him for
his sneaking prudery, and protested that he had no wits in him to see
when a gentleman was of clean, brave blood and the very stock of honor.

“The lad’s in love, Chris, as a lad should be, though he be past thirty
by the set of his jaw and mouth. He ben’t one of your gilliflower
gentlemen, prancing along and tweaking his chin to and fro to see how
the women fall to him. It be none of my business to spy and to
speculate, but the woman he be after, Chris, must be a woman worth
winning.”

Mr. Jennifer was heaving a couple of fagots into the wood-shed while his
wife dropped these suggestions into his ear. Son William had been sent
out with a basket to pick blackberries, and the men were down in the
fields.

“I hope it be nothing agen t’ law, Winnie.”

“Go on, you great coward!”

“Woa, my dear!”

“When ye smacked Peter Tinsel on the mouth that day for love of me, did
ye think of the law, Chris?”

He stood and looked at her with a slow, broadening grin, as though he
were proud of her cleverness and her courage.

“T’ law be damned; that were what I told Peter Tinsel.”

Mrs. Winnie stuck out her elbows as though to express the word
“exactly.” But her husband came up to her and kissed her on the mouth
with a manly vigor that swept away any sense of superiority on her part.

Mrs. Jennifer was busy over many things that day, seeing that Furze Farm
might be turned into a refuge for romance, and that she had people of
quality to cook for. Yet she found time to have a short gossip or two
with John Gore over the parlor fire, and that which struck her most was
the grim foreshadowing of something in his eyes, as though he had an
enemy to meet or a debt to wipe out in the cause of honor. Had Mrs.
Winnie been able to read his thoughts as he sat before the fire and
cleaned his pistols after sending the bullets splashing into the pond,
she would have hugged her bosom and have understood that grim look about
his eyes and mouth. For in the silence of the night, and amid the wet,
black woods where he had seen the dawn gather, John Gore had suffered a
revelation that would have made any man’s heart heavy and ashamed. He
had never greatly loved his father, nor had they ever trusted each other
with the inner intimacies of life, yet a son cannot lay bare his
begetter’s true nature without recoiling from it when he beholds
rottenness and hidden sores. The tragedy was so plain to him, so
terribly simple now that the scattered rays of his conjectures had been
gathered by the burning-glass of truth. And John Gore had ridden into
Furze Farm that morning with the cold raw air of the wet woods in his
blood and the heart numb in him but for the thought of Barbara. The
warmth of the fire and a tankard of ale had driven some of the poisonous
taste from under his tongue, but the truth galled him like a bone in the
throat, filling him with wrath and shame and pity.

Mrs. Winnie found herself called upon to provide more tools for him that
day, and after some rummaging in an oak locker in the harness-room she
found him what he needed—namely, a file and a half-inch auger. He also
borrowed the pillion on which Christopher Jennifer took his wife to
market at Battle, Hailsham, or Robertsbridge. By reason of these details
Mrs. Winnie understood that the romance was deepening to a crisis, and
though she kept her tongue to herself in the matter of asking questions,
she cordially commended John Gore in his prison-breaking, having a
hearty contempt for authority when true sentiment was threatened.

While John Gore rode through the woods when the evening mists began to
dim the splendor of the trees so that they were like shrines of gold
seen through the drift of incense, Simon Pinniger sat in the kitchen at
Thorn drinking to get his temper up and his blood hot and muddled
against the night. He would spread out his great hands before the fire
and look at them with a kind of sottish pride, keeping an uneasy eye
upon the woman Nance, who in turn kept a keen eye on him.

“What is it to be, Sim?” she asked, with the air of one who must keep a
surly dog in good temper with himself.

The man drew off a great red neckerchief that he was wearing, made a
loop, and, putting one fist through it, drew the ends tight with his
teeth and the other hand.

“That’s my trick,” he said, dropping the end from his mouth; “them
Spaniards have a liking for it, and Spaniards are particular in the
playing of such tricks.”



                                 XXXVI


There was to be a moon that night, and the thickets were black at
sunset against the cold yellow of a winter sky. Frost hung in the air,
with a gusty, arid northeast wind that came sweeping south with a sense
of coming snow, while great purple cloudbanks loomed slowly into the
north. The grass was already stiffening, and the leaves made a dry thin
rattle as John Gore drew up in the beech-thicket over against Thorn. He
had brought an extra cloak with him, and a loin-cloth for his horse, and
after some searching he found a little hollow where dead bracken stood,
and where the beast would be sheltered from the wind. He buckled the
bridle about a young ash whose black buds and branches stood out against
the sky.

John Gore took his sword, pistols, and tools into Thorn with him that
night, tying them up in the end of a red scarf, and swinging them after
him as he straddled the gate. He hid the sword and one pistol in the ivy
at the foot of the tower, and set out on a reconnoissance, holding close
under the deep shadow of the walls, and keeping a long knife ready in
case the dog should be loose and on the prowl. There was a faint silvery
glow low down in the eastern sky, but no moon as yet, and John Gore,
meeting the keen north wind, thought of Barbara in that cold room, and
felt his heart warm to her, and to Mrs. Winnie as he remembered the
blazing kitchen at Furze Farm.

Probing about in the dusk, he found the doorway that led into the ruined
hall, and in the corner of the hall the rough stone stair and door that
gave access to the tower. It might have seemed simpler to have set to
work straightway upon that door, but he chose the safer, slower method
of forcing the window and then working from within.

The rope was dangling from within reach when John Gore returned to the
foot of the tower, and he went up it hand over hand with the tools slung
behind him by the scarf. He was soon under Barbara’s window, where the
rope ran taut over the sill, and, reaching in for a grip of the bars, he
called to her in a whisper.

“I am here, John, waiting.”

He felt the wind on his back, and guessed how miserably cold that room
must be.

“Poor heart, the blood must be numb in you.”

“No, John, not quite.”

“Let me have your hands, dear.”

He lay in on the window-ledge with his face against the bars, and
stretched his arms in. His hands groped for hers and found them, and of
a truth they were like ice.

“Why, my life, you are all a-shiver!”

She was shuddering a little—half with the cold, half with a deep thrill
from within.

“No, it is not only the cold, John.”

“No?”

“It is all so strange—and hazardous.”

He held her hands between his, and then began to chafe them to get them
warm.

“We will soon have you out of this. I have found a warm nest for you,
where they pile the wood half-way up the chimney, and look glum if one
does not eat more than one needs. You must rest there, Barbe, and forget
everything for a while, and let the past die, dear, if you can. I
suppose the folk below will not meddle to-night?”

“No. Yet it is strange, John, they have brought me no food to-day.”

“No food, child! Why?”

“Oh, I had a little bread left.”

“The brutes! And here am I chattering like a starling instead of getting
to work.”

He drew up the scarf, and unfastening the knot about the tools and
pistol, laid them before him on the sill. Then he made a loop in the
rope, so that the end should not be left dangling near the ground and
betray him in case the man Pinniger were in a vigilant mood. He had
brought a rag with a slip of lard in it, and he greased the bar with the
fat where the file was to work, so that the tool should make less sound.
The steady “burr” of the steel teeth soon told of their bite upon the
rusty metal. The three bars were as thick as John Gore’s forefinger, but
they had rusted away more at the lower ends, where the damp gathered and
the rain had stood in tiny pools. A strong arm would be able to thrust
them in after an hour or so’s steady filing.

Barbara stood on the bed, leaning her arms against the wall and
listening to the stubborn rasping of the file. There was a sweetness
even in that rough, shrill sound to her, for life and desire were
breaking in with strong arms and the beat of a man’s heart. She no
longer felt the cold, but stood there conscious only of the dearness and
mystery of it all, letting a sense of infinite peace steal in. She fell
almost into a dreamy, wandering mood like one near to the edge of sleep,
hearing him speak to her from time to time. Now and again he would stop
and rest, and stretch a hand in between the bars, and she felt him once
take a strand of her hair and lay it across his lips.

John Gore had filed through one bar and bent it back, when a sudden,
clear, ringing sound came up to them out of the silence of the tower,
like the clash of something metallic upon stone. Barbara woke from her
stupor of dreams like a frightened sentinel, and put up a hand as though
in warning.

“John! Did you hear that?”

He had heard it, and hung there with every sense upon the alert, hating
the wind that made the ivy rustle. Barbara had stepped down from the bed
and crossed the room to the door. She knelt and laid her ear to the
lock, holding her breath, her lips parted, her eyes at gaze.

A vague suggestion of movement came to her from the dark well of the
tower stair—a dull, slow, scraping sound that came up and up with
moments of silence in between. There was no glimmer of light as she
looked through the key-hole, nothing but that slow, cautious sound like
some big thing crawling in a dark and narrow place.

Shivering, her skin a-prickle as with cold, she went back to the window,
climbed the bed, and gave the man a whisper.

“John, there is some one coming up the stair.”

“Lie down on the bed, child; I will slip out and wait.”

She heard the rope chafe slightly against the window-ledge as John Gore
lowered himself cautiously so as to be out of view. He hung there as a
sailor can, with feet and knees gripping the rope, and one hand on the
butt of the pistol that he had thrust into his belt. He had left the
tools on the window-sill, and no one would see them or the knotted rope
about the bar, unless they climbed up from the bed to look.

Hanging there, with the wind shaking the ivy, he could hear no sound in
the tower and see no glimmer of light coming from the squints. The
rising moon was beginning to throw gleams down into the valley, but the
western quarter of the tower was as dark as a well. It was a moment when
a man may feel scared by some vague, indefinite peril invisible to him
in the darkness. Or he may clinch his teeth and keep his right hand
ready, knowing, if he be a man who has had his share of
adventure-hunting, that his own imagination may be far more sinister
than any living thing on earth or sea.

There was a sudden faint click like the twist of a turned lock, a sound
that made John Gore lift his chin heavenward and listen with both his
ears. Then came a slow whine, as though an unoiled hinge were turning.
The door of Barbara’s room had been opened; he had no doubt of that.
Probably she was feigning sleep, thinking that one of my lord’s
creatures had come to see that all was safe. A harsh gust of wind shook
the ivy on the wall, making John Gore curse the leaves for setting up
such a flutter.

But above the rustling of the ivy he heard an abrupt and half-smothered
cry, and then the sound as of people struggling. The bed creaked; there
was an inarticulate choking as of some one striving to call for help
through the smothering folds of a cloak. The black room within seemed
full of movement, of piteous effort, of hoarse, savage whisperings that
made his mane bristle like a furious dog’s.

He gave one shout as a challenge and a warning, and then slid down the
rope without heeding how it chafed his hands. Plucking out his sword and
pistol from the ivy at the foot of the tower, he ran for the doorway
that led from the terrace into the hall, his face meeting the moonlight
that poured down through a broken window.



                                 XXXVII


The door at the foot of the tower stood open, and John Gore plunged in
with his sword forward and his pistol at the cock. The place was as dark
as a pit, and he thrust out right and left with the sword, the point
ringing against the walls till he found where the gap of the stairs
opened. He went up silently, for he was in his stockings, but there was
more grimness in that swift and silent climb than any clangor and clash
that armed men might have made. His blood was up, the devil awake in
him, and the spirit of murder howling in his ears. He seemed to see all
the gross, smothering horror of the scene above, and he set his teeth as
he wondered whether he would come too late.

A quick shuffling sound came down to him in the darkness. A hurrying
human thing was close to him, and John Gore challenged and lunged
without pity. There was a hard sob, and a dim shadow of a figure dragged
down his sword’s point in its fall. He freed the blade and went on with
hardly a thought, as a stormer pushes on over the bodies in the throat
of a “breach.” A sudden gleam of light slanted down the stair, and he
heard the tread of heavy feet and a harsh shout of “Nance! Nance!”
Rounding the last twist of the stair, John Gore came upon a man with a
white cloth over his face, standing on the landing outside Barbara’s
room and holding a shaded lantern in his hand.

There was no parleying between those two, and Simon Pinniger, caught
without arms, lifted up the lantern as though to dash it in John Gore’s
face. The sea-captain flung up his left arm, and firing straight into
the man’s body, saw him go lurching back, the lantern falling at his
feet. John Gore sprang up with his sword ready, thinking for the moment
that the bully had it in his heart. But Simon Pinniger’s ribs were tough
enough to turn a pistol-bullet, and he recovered himself and came at the
rescuer like a bull.

He tried to beat the sword aside with a sweep of the arm, but the
lantern still burned upon the floor, and John Gore was too grim a
gentleman to be tricked so easily. He avoided the blow with a backward
step and a swift back swing of the right arm. The point was still to the
fore, and lunging with the whole weight of arm and shoulder, he felt the
blade grate between the fellow’s ribs. Then he was caught full face,
like a bluff ship by an ocean roller, and knocked backward down the
stairs by the mass and impact of the man’s charge.

The sword broke a foot from the guard, but John Gore held to the hilt,
even while the brute bulk of the man was grinding over him down the
steps. Twisting free, he slipped aside against the wall, only to feel a
hand grasping at his throat, and the sound of hoarse, wet breathing
mingling with savage curses. He struck out with the hilt of the sword,
broke the man’s grip, and came up top dog despite Simon Pinniger’s
brute, plunging fury. It was like the death-thrashing of a leviathan
amid blood and spray. They struggled, clawed, and smote for a moment,
till a chance stab went deep into the fellow’s eye. He crumpled down
into the darkness; John Gore heard his head strike the wall, and the
breath come out of him like the wind out of a stabbed “float.”

The man was mere carrion, and John Gore sprang up the stairs, finding
the lantern still burning, though the grease from the candle had
guttered through upon the stones. He picked it up, and was about to push
forward into the room when a black square in the flooring caught his
eye. A flagstone had been turned upon its side against the wall,
uncovering the mouth of some oubliette or pit, and for a moment he bent
over it, trying to probe its depths, as though dreading lest that dear
body should be lying broken in the darkness beneath.

A glance through the open door of the room showed him Barbara lying upon
the floor, with the bedclothes half covering her as she lay. He was down
beside her with a cold sweat of fear on him as the light from the
lantern fell upon her face. A red scarf had been wound about her neck,
and her two hands were still straining at it, pathetic in their
impotence to let in life and breath. John Gore set the lantern down,
caught her up and unwound the thing, cursing as he did so the marks
where the white throat had been bruised by brutal hands. There was froth
on her lips and dusky shadow covering her face, yet the lips were warm
when he pressed his cheek to them, and, putting an ear to her bosom, he
found that her heart still throbbed.

An inarticulate “Thank God!” came from him, but the cry of the moment
was “Air! air!” Taking her in his arms, he bent for the lantern, and
swinging it by the ring from one finger, he started down the stairs. He
hardly heeded the two bodies lying there, save to step over them, and
so, with all his manhood praying and striving for the life in her, he
came out into the cold night air and the pale gleam of the moon.

Now John Gore remembered a trick that an old buccaneer surgeon had
taught him at Port Royal—a trick that had saved men who had been cut
down from the gallows or pulled out senseless from the sea. He laid
Barbara on the wet grass that grew in the old hall, and, kneeling at her
head, took her two arms at the wrists and began to move them gently from
the shoulders, spreading them wide, and then crossing them with slight
pressure upon her bosom. Nor did man ever thank God more than did John
Gore when she began to breathe feebly of her own sweet self, and the
rise and fall of her bosom showed that the tide of life had turned. He
bent over her and wiped her lips, touched her bruised throat tenderly
with his fingers, and then leaned back and looked at the moon, as though
that broad, white, heavenly face could understand what all this meant to
him.

He lifted her up again in his arms, and seeing a yellow glow beating
along the passage that led from the hall into the kitchen, he made for
it and found a huge fire blazing on the hearth, the light from it making
the place far brighter than in the day. There was a rough sort of couch
under the window, and John Gore laid Barbara upon it, and drew the thing
up before the fire so that the warmth should hearten the life in her.
And then, for the first time, he took notice of the swelter he himself
was in, his shirt hanging open and showing his chest, blotches of
crimson staining it, his very stockings soaked from the blood of the two
dead creatures upon the stairs. A man in such a war tackle was not a
savory thing to meet the eyes of a frightened girl.

John Gore bent over her a moment and saw a faint pink flush creeping
into her cheeks, while her breath came and went steadily with a quiet
sighing. There was an oak chest in the kitchen, and John Gore found some
clothes in it: a rough shirt that had belonged to the dead man and some
woollen hose. He went out into the yard where the dog was rattling his
chain and making a great whimpering, as though calling for his supper,
and, knowing that there was a pump by the stable, he stripped himself to
the waist, washed, and put on clean gear. Then he unbarred the gate, and
brought in his coat and riding-boots from under the thorn-tree, so that
he should seem something of a gentleman, and not a ragged scoundrel
hardly fit to touch a woman’s hand.

Barbara was still lying like one asleep before the fire when he
returned, for she had been so near to death that life seemed to steal
back softly and slowly as though still afraid. John Gore had never
looked thus at his love before, as a man might look at a sleeping child
or at some fair valley under a golden dawn. He saw the faint flush upon
her cheeks, the shadowy sweep of the long lashes, the little dark curls
of hair falling with such a sheen of sweetness over her forehead, the
line of the red mouth, the soft warmth of her skin. She looked thin,
poor child, frail and tragical, and yet the suffering that she had borne
had shed a glamour over her that made her more lovable and more womanly
than of old. His heart went out to her with all the awe of a man’s
desire as he stood and watched the coming of life—and love.

There was a fluttering of the shadowy lashes, a long-drawn breath, a
movement of the hands, and then the low cry of one waking to some
revolting memory. John Gore bent over her and took her hands in his.

“There is nothing to fear, dear heart.”

A shudder ran through her as she looked at him, and some moments passed
before light and understanding swept the shadows from her eyes. But the
look that came into them when her soul awoke made John Gore long to take
her in his arms and to hold her close to him, so that he could feel the
beating of her heart.

“John—is it you?”

She spoke huskily, from the bruising of her throat by Simon Pinniger’s
murderous hands.

“It is all over, Barbe. We are king and queen of the castle.”

He wished to hide all the grimness of the night’s work from her, seeing
that her great eyes were ready to grow frightened and full of fear,
showing that she had borne too much already in body and soul.

“John, I remember it all now—they were smothering me in the dark!”

He took her face between his two hands, and looked dearly into her eyes.

“Barbara, you are in my keeping; try and forget all that, dear heart. I
came in time to scare those wolves into the night. Now you must suffer
me to have my way.”

She looked up at him almost timidly, as though conscious of his nearness
and the homage in his eyes. It had been dark at the tower window, but
now they saw each other in the light, and a mysterious coyness covered
her face.

“I will do all that you wish, John.”

“I shall take you away to-night.”

“Yes, yes; take me away from Thorn.”

Her hands went into his.

“There is a moon, dear, and I have a pillion for you, if you are strong
enough.”

“Oh yes, I am quite strong now.”

She made as though to sit up on the couch, but she grew faint instantly,
so that John Gore held her with one arm about her shoulders.

“More spirit than strength, Barbe, yet.”

Some of her old obstinacy appeared in her for the moment.

“No, I am only a little giddy.”

“Lie down again.”

“No, I must make a start.”

She dropped her feet in their worn shoes over the edge of the couch,
glanced at him a little wilfully, and then looked away with a rush of
color and a tremulous flash of the eyes.

“You must try and be patient with me, John.”

“It is not a matter of patience, child, but food and good wine.”

She put a hand to her throat.

“I could not touch anything in this place.”

He looked at her with a smile.

“Not even if it came in my pocket?”

“I will try, John.”

“Of course you will. I have work to do here before we start.”

He brought out a flask from his pocket, and food that Mrs. Winnie had
wrapped up in a clean white napkin. There were some little cakes and
some baked meat laid in slices between slips of home-made bread. Barbara
looked at them, and then gave him a first sad smile.

“It is gross of me, John, but those cakes make me feel hungry.”

“The very best confession, dear.”

“Will you have some?”

He had laid the cloth upon her knees.

“No, child, not yet. Can you bear to be left alone awhile?”

“I am quite brave now, John. But—”

“Well, sweetheart?”

“You are not going far?”

“No. Only into the tower to get the rope which is not mine to leave. Is
there anything that you would wish to take?”

She looked down thoughtfully, her dark lashes sweeping her cheeks.

“There is a book, John, bound in red leather. I would not leave it
here—because—it has helped me—taught me—almost as much as you have
done.”



                                XXXVIII


John Gore had grim things on his mind that night, and a task before
him that he did not wish to come to Barbara’s knowledge. She, poor
child, with Mrs. Winnie’s food in her lap—food such as she had not
touched for many a day—would have had no heart to eat and drink had she
known of the dead on those dark stairs. He wished to spare her the
horror of it, for the night had been gross and violent enough, and after
all the suffering she had borne he was afraid for her in body and mind.

Taking the lantern, he made his way to the tower, closing the door in
the passage that led from the kitchen into the ruined hall. Nance
Pinniger lay dead upon the stairs, her mouth open and her hands clinched
over the place where the sword had entered, and John Gore shuddered as
he looked at her, wishing, for the sake of her womanhood, that he had
held his hand. He went higher to where the man lay half doubled against
the wall, the cloth that covered his face caught between his teeth in
the death spasm. The fellow’s bulk seemed a veritable barrier against
burial, and John Gore, hardened as he had been to the rough life of the
sea, felt a vital horror of this huddled mass that seemed gross and
gluttonous even in death.

Remembering the open pit, he went and held the lantern over the black
hole in the floor, but was still unable to fathom its depth. Here was a
ready vault if he could but get the dead to it—a pit that seemed to
scoff with open mouth at those whom Fate had cheated.

To make short work of a grisly business, even as John Gore did, he took
one of the sheets from Barbara’s room, and knotting it about the dead
man’s ankles, contrived, thanks to his great strength, to draw the body
to the edge of the pit. Unknotting the sheet, he turned Simon Pinniger
down into the darkness, handling him daintily so as not to foul his own
clothes. For the woman he underwent a like labor, letting the bloody
sheet slip after her, and turning the flag down into its place. He had
the feelings of a man who had played scavenger to a headsman upon a
scaffold, and he still seemed to hear the soughing rush of wind from the
pit as those dead things went to their last resting-place in the secret
depths of Thorn.

When he had drawn the rope up from the window, unknotted and coiled it,
and gathered tools, pistols, and his broken sword, he searched for and
found Barbara’s red Bible, and retreated, with all his gear, out of the
tower. The memory of the place made his gorge rise, and he was glad of
the night air and the light of the moon. He drove his feet through some
clumps of grass and weeds, yearning to wipe off every stain of the place
before taking this child out into the world.

In the kitchen he found Barbara warming herself before the fire, and the
spirit of maidenhood in her, the smooth, virginal contours of her face
and figure, filled him with a sense of freshness and of awe. He saw the
play and counterplay of shadow and light within her eyes, and held it to
be witchcraft miraculously pure and sweet, bringing down God to him, and
beauty, and clean living. Somehow he felt that night that he could not
go close to her, that he had a butcher’s hands, and that it would be
impiety to touch a thing so goodly. Moreover, there was a delight in
holding a little aloof from her, in watching all her half-coy sweetness,
so fresh and new to him in her altered womanhood. He could mark the
shade and sunlight in her glances, the passing gleams of color on her
face, the birth of that dear consciousness that strove to smother that
which could not be wholly hid.

“How long you have been, John!”

“I had dropped some of my things and had to hunt for them. I found your
book.”

He gave it to her, and, throwing the ropes and tools upon the table, he
busied himself with reloading the pistol that had sent its lead into
Simon Pinniger’s body, having a small ivory powder-horn and a bag of
bullets with him.

“I heard such strange sounds, John, while you were away!”

“Oh!” And he seemed intent on ramming home the charge.

“It was like something falling in a cellar under the house.”

“Old houses are full of such sounds,” he said, looking up at her
suddenly. “Thorn sheds bricks and plaster most nights in the year, with
the ivy working its way everywhere.”

He made so little of it that Barbara did not press him further, for she
had no knowledge of the pit that had been opened for her, with its
well-like shoot cut in the thickness of the tower wall. John Gore began
to gather up all that belonged to him, and, finding a sack in one of the
cupboards, he tumbled the tools and rope into it, tying the mouth of the
sack with a strip of stuff torn from the quilt of the couch. His own
sword was broken in its scabbard, so he took the hanger down that hung
over the fireplace, and also the long carbine that had a strap for
slinging across the back.

John Gore had brought his horseman’s cloak with him from under the
thorn-tree, and he took it and laid it upon Barbara’s shoulders.
Moreover, Mrs. Winnie had lent him a woollen scarf and some gloves,
which he had stowed away at the bottom of his holsters, and he knew that
the girl would need them because of the keen wind.

“I have left the horse in the woods, Barbe. What sort of shoes are you
wearing?”

She showed him them, and he did not commend their flimsiness.

“You must let me carry you, child, or you will have your stockings
soaked in those boggy meadows, and we shall be somewhile on the road.”

She glanced at the table where the sack and the arms lay, and then gave
him an unequivocal smile.

“And you think you can carry me as well as all that, John?”

“It can be done.”

“I am not so selfish as that. I have stolen your cloak already.”

“There is another on the horse.”

“Instead of carrying me, John, give me something to carry.”

He looked at the thin hands she held out to him.

“There is your book.”

“Yes, but I can take more than that.”

“As for that, we will see what the grass is like when we get over the
moat.”

They went out together into the court-yard, where the moonlight came
down upon the checker of stones outlined and interlaced with grass and
weeds. Above them rose the black tower, dark as with mystery, while on
every hand dim, silvery hills rose toward the frosty curtain of the sky.

“I had forgotten the dog.”

The mastiff had come out from the old cask that served him as a kennel,
and was clanking his chain over the stones and growling.

“Some one will find him, John; they may come back when we have gone.”

But John Gore knew better.

He did not like the thought of leaving the beast chained there to
starve, and he was debating whether a pistol bullet would not be the
kinder end, when something far more hazardous challenged his attention.
The wind was beating about Thorn, shaking the ivy on the walls, while
the clank of the dog’s chain had a suggestive ghostliness. Yet beyond
these sounds came the dull, rhythmic thud of a horse trotting over
stiffening turf, the muffled cadence coming down upon the wind as they
stood in the court of Thorn and listened.

“Quick, dear, we must play at hide-and-seek. It is that fellow Grylls
riding back again.”

They were close to the open gate at the moment, and John Gore took
Barbara by the hand and drew her aside along the wall to where a stunted
bush had made roots and grown despite the stones. He pressed Barbara
back within its shadow, and stood covering her, a pistol ready and the
hanger at his belt should he need cold steel.

“Not a sound, Barbe; be ready to slip away when I take your hand.”

They could hear the steady thud of hoofs over the grass, and even the
heavy breathing of the beast, as though he had been pushed and bustled
by the spur. John Gore guessed that his rider was skirting along the
moat. Then came the sharper clatter of the iron shoes upon the timbers
of the bridge. The dog set up a savage barking, and in the moonlight
they saw a man ride into the court of Thorn, steam rising from his horse
like smoke, so that the beast looked huge and spectral. The man himself,
though outlined against the moon, showed nothing but the sweep of a
cloak and the droop of a black beaver.

He sat motionless a moment in the saddle, and then, dismounting, led his
horse by the bridle toward the mist of light that came from the archway
leading into the kitchen. John Gore felt for Barbara’s hand, and they
glided along the wall toward the gate, for the man’s back was toward
them, while the barking of the dog and his grinding against the chain
drowned the sound of their footsteps utterly. They made the gate, and
went out hand in hand over the bridge and away over the moonlit
grass-land, with the barking of the dog dying down into a hoarse
whimper. John Gore had thrust the pistol in his belt and swung the sack
over his left shoulder. He put his right arm about Barbara’s body and
swept her along by main strength toward the towering beech-trees that
shone in the moonlight while the seal of silence seemed over Thorn.



                                 XXXIX


It was Stephen Gore who had ridden that steaming horse into the
court-yard of Thorn—Stephen Gore, with jaded, twitching face, and eyes
that looked weary with straining and gazing into the deeps of the night.

No man can be constantly and statuesquely selfish through life; the very
whims and impulses of human nature are against such a frozen constancy
in self-seeking. Nor can a man ever swear to being master either of
himself or of his future; the whole gamut of the emotions are arrayed
against him; a child may prove his vanquisher or a woman his seducer.

Stephen Gore exchanging epigrams with some princely wit or bending over
a pretty woman’s chair was a different creature from Stephen Gore
shabby, saddle-sore, jaded to death, riding with an imagined price upon
his head and a prophetic mist of blood before his eyes. Throw a man out
of his natural environment and he may lose all the genius of self, and
even the poise of manhood. Milton seated upon a boat’s thwart in the
midst of mad, cursing Jamaica buccaneers would have probably seemed
contemptible and a coward. March out a fop in vile clothes, and he may
prove a sneaking, cringing, self-shamed thing, for all his soul was in
his coat. We are so much the creatures of habit that our habits flatter
us like well-trained and obsequious servants, and we lose our dignity
and even ourselves without their ministrations.

So it had proved with my Lord of Gore that November night after a
reckless, memory-haunted ride from something he feared toward something
that he was being taught to fear by the bleak, wind-swept loneliness of
wild roads in night and in winter. Nature is powerful to work upon a
man’s mind when all the primal instincts of hunter or hunted come again
to the surface. All the damned out of hell might have been rushing on
him through those gibbering, moaning woods. The very trees had grotesque
and sinuous hands stretched out to catch and strangle. There had been
the physical weariness of it all, the chafing of the saddle, the
stiffness, the lust for speed, the flounderings of a tired horse, the
hundred and one vexations that break the heart in a man when it has no
inspiration to keep it whole. And as the poise and the self-grip of the
colder will had slackened, so the emotions had taken law of license and
had scrambled abroad over the man’s consciousness. The cool, eclectic,
cynical, civilized gentleman gave place to the credulous, elemental,
emotional savage. Primitive instincts came to the surface: an awe of
death and the invisible, a dread of the dark.

My Lord Gore’s nerves were as tremulous as the nerves of a coddled boy
when he reined in his steaming horse under the shadow of Thorn tower.
His face looked flaccid and yet under strain, he had lost that power and
precision of movement that is second nature to a man bred among pomps.
He nearly fell as he climbed out of the saddle, looking about him with
quick, scared glances such as a child might have given in a dark garden
at night.

The dog seemed alive enough, and sufficiently lusty to scare away
ghosts, but my lord cursed him for the infernal pother he made, being
out of heart, and therefore out of temper. He led his horse toward the
kitchen entry whence the light of the fire came out, and stood there
waiting in the throat of the short passageway, as though expecting some
one to come out to him and at least be decently servile. But since no
living soul appeared to answer the barking of the dog and the clatter of
hoofs on the stones, he hitched the bridle over a hook in the wall and
marched in slowly, yet with the slight swagger of a man who has no
reason to be proud of his courage, and yet is determined not to be put
out of countenance by anything he may see or hear.

But there was nothing tangibly alive in Thorn that night, save the dog
in the yard; nothing but the crusts and embers of life, and a silence
amid the rush of the wind that made the place seem cold and ominous. A
man’s nerve may come back to him again when he has got a grip upon
realities, but surmises and conjectures at midnight are apt to run
toward emotionalism and panic. There were the blazing fire, the remnants
of a meal upon the table, the whining of the hungry dog to prompt him to
a conclusion. But my Lord of Gore began to shiver inwardly, and to
become conscious of an empty feeling under the heart and of a vague
horror that seemed to penetrate the air.

Yet a lust to see the end of it, and a blind impatience that set aside
shadows and suspicions, gave him sufficient animal courage to light the
lantern his son had left and to go exploring through the ruins. The ways
of Thorn seemed known to him, for he went first to the tower; nor did he
need to go beyond the first few steps in order to discover the ooze of a
tragedy staining the stones. None the less he went on doggedly, as
though carried upward by the very ferment of the passions in him,
greatly dismayed within himself, yet greatly afraid of missing the whole
truth. And so the lantern went jerking upward into the darkness of the
tower, its movements seeming to signal some restless, devil-driven quest
after unhallowed spoil.

When Stephen Gore came back again into the blaze and warmth of the
kitchen he looked shrunken and ashy about the mouth, and he walked in a
stooping, hollowchested way like a man huddling into himself because of
the cold. He closed both doors, and even the doors of the cupboards,
after peering into them, as though he were afraid of the dark and of any
dim, unlit corner. Then he drew the couch up close to the fire,
spreading his hands to it, and staring at the flames with a vacant,
colorless face. The horror of some unseen thing seemed in his eyes, and
his lips fell apart and loosened like the lips of a very old and feeble
man.

At midnight there had been a moon, but before dawn snow came, a great,
gray, shimmering gloom drifting through the vague world. The dry leaves
shivered and crackled in the wind as the myriad flakes came sweeping
down, ribbing the boughs and the curved fronds of the bracken, piling
itself amid the moss at the roots of great trees, and scudding over the
open lands with a fierce, withering haste that left the grass tussocks
white like stones catching foam from a rushing stream. The dawn came as
a mere grayness, with a flocculent, drifting chaos of snow in the air,
and a bite in the northwest wind that sent spikelets of ice bearding the
fringes of ponds and ditches.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Now Mrs. Winnie had been awake most of the night, and had risen very
early full of an instinct that strange things were about to happen, what
with such a storm of snow the first week in November. She had lit the
fire in the kitchen and was standing at the window watching the snow
come down when she heard a horse neigh in the stable, as though the
beast had caught the sound of a comrade’s coming. And, sure enough,
through the maze of snow she saw something dark draw up toward the gate,
and knew in her heart that John Gore had returned.

Going to the door, she lifted the bar and saw the snow come whirling in
with a hungry wind that went deep into her bosom. There was the click of
the gate, and a man came up the path between the drooping stocks and the
withered, swaying rose-bushes with something wrapped in a cloak lying in
his arms. Mrs. Winnie went out to meet him, her woman’s nature caught by
the spell of such a love tale.

“Mrs. Winnie!”

“Thank God, sir, and you have brought her back.”

The breast of his coat was white with snow, for he had wrapped both the
cloaks about Barbara to keep her warm. And he looked down anxiously at
the face that lay against his shoulder, as though he feared that the
cold had gone to her heart.

“We lost our way, and only luck helped us back again. A warm fire, Mrs.
Winnie; she is half frozen.”

Christopher Jennifer’s wife had taken a sly peep at this desired one,
but she was as brisk and concerned as John Gore was, and not a woman to
talk and dally.

“Come in, sir, out of this wind; it bites into the blood of the child.
Such a storm, with autumn only half out of the door! Let me have her,
sir; I know what the cold be on these Sussex hills.”

John Gore carried Barbara into the kitchen, for he had ridden with her
in his arms to keep her warm, guiding his nag with a touch of the knee.
She had fallen asleep with weariness and the cold—a dazed, numb sleep
that was not pleasant to consider. Her lips were white and her hands
like ice, so that she looked more like a sleeping snow-maiden than a
living girl.

Mrs. Winnie had shut the snow and the wind out, drawn her man’s chair
forward, and was running and rummaging for pillows, wraps, and blankets.
Son William put his head in, and was sent packing with the flick of a
flannel across his cheek, much amazed and not a little delighted. Mrs.
Winnie wellnigh took Barbara out of John Gore’s arms, as though this was
a woman’s affair, and not a matter for a man to meddle with. The wood
fire had roared up to a great red mound, and was flinging out such a
heat that the very air seemed a-simmer. Mrs. Winnie had Barbara propped
up before it, with her head on a pillow and her bosom open to the fire.

“You will find a brick, sir, holding the pantry door open. Put it in the
fire to heat.”

John Gore did as she bade him, while she reached for the chain with an
iron crook and slung the kettle on it.

“There be the tongs, sir. I’ll wrap the thing in a bit of flannel and
put it to the child’s feet. Poor, dear young thing—lady, I mean, sir.
Mercy o’ me, her shoes are wet and almost froze!”

She knelt down and stripped off the shoes and stockings, and began
chafing the little feet, admiring them in her blunt, frank way, and
calling them the feet of a lady of quality. She had noticed the marks on
Barbara’s neck, and John Gore, seeing her eyes fixed there, nodded
grimly and put a hand to his throat. His eyes held Mrs. Winnie’s, and
she understood the need for silence.

“Where be that brick, sir?”

John Gore brought it out with the tongs, and Chris Jennifer’s wife
patted it into a piece of flannel and set Barbara’s feet upon it with a
smile of satisfaction.

“Now for some hot toddy, sir.” And she went away to mix it.

John Gore bent over Barbara and touched her cheek, for a faint color was
creeping back, and he felt that even Mrs. Winnie might be kissed at such
a moment. But being a quiet man, he went out to see to his horse, hardly
noticing that his own feet were still like frozen clay and that his arms
were stiff from carrying his love.

There was a brave breakfast cooking, and the fire was a red, shimmering
slope of wood ash when Mr. Jennifer came stumping down the stairs to
pause and stare in astonishment at Barbara as he opened the stairway
door. She was lying back in the chair with her eyes open, but with no
real soul in them as yet, her hands hanging over the chair-rail, her
black hair bathing her face.

Mr. Jennifer came in softly and discreetly, and stood about three yards
from her, fingering the side seam of his breeches. Then he made a bob
and waited, and then a second bob, with a stolid, persistent desire to
be proper in the matter of politeness. But though Barbara hardly had
sight or hearing for anything as yet, Mr. Jennifer stood stolidly to his
convictions, and scraped his feet to make the lady look at him.

Mrs. Winnie caught him at this bobbing and scraping, with a puzzled
stare in his eyes and his thick head full of kindness. He glanced at his
wife with extreme cunning, and gave her a whisper behind his hands.

“Come ye here, Winnie. What be t’ lady a-staring at? Here be I makin’ a
knee to her—”

“Get out with you, you great fool!”

She gave him a cuff across the ear. But Mr. Jennifer still gazed at
Barbara.

“She be purty enough. But what be a-terrifying me—be—why she won’t
blink them eyes o’ hers.”

“Get along with you, Chris Jennifer, you great booby! Can’t you see she
be dazed with t’ cold? And will she be thanking you for standing there
and staring like a cow? Go and help the gentleman with his horse.”

“And did them come all on one horse, my dear?”

Mrs. Winnie looked at him, and Mr. Jennifer went.



                                   XL


With the coming of winter there had been strange happenings at the
Purcells’ house in Pall Mall, for my lady had died the night after
Stephen Gore’s going, with no one to comfort her but Mrs. Jael. The
servants had all fled, and the house stood deserted save for the live
woman and the dead one; the very tradesmen shirked the steps; friends
had business elsewhere; and Dr. Hemstruther himself, being a keen
Protestant when popery was especially perilous, kept his distance,
knowing that my Lord Gore’s influence had been paramount there in heart
and body. For my Lord Gore was one of the Catholic gentlemen upon whom
the Plot-men longed to lay their hands.

It happened that when poor Anne Purcell died that there was some store
of silver and of plate in the house, also her jewels and trinkets, and
sundry precious things that belonged to the Purcell family. Mrs. Jael
showed some little care for the corpse by covering it with a clean
sheet, but she showed far more care for her own concerns and for the
valuables that were at her mercy. She ransacked the whole house,
gathering every small thing of value into a heap on the floor of one of
the attics, gloating and smiling over it, and promising herself great
joys. For Mrs. Jael had picked up a sweetheart, a rough, sturdy fellow
from Aldgate way, and she crept out one night to warn him of her
good-fortune, and to persuade him to help in spiriting away the plunder.
The man was a common thief, and had tricked even the smooth, sly Jael
for three months past, pretending that he was in the cloth trade, and
that he hankered greatly after a comely widow. He was ready enough to
join in the adventure, and cared as little for small-pox as for the reek
of an open drain. And thus Mrs. Jael let him into the house by night,
and they packed up the plunder between them in a couple of sacks, and so
went their way into the darkness. But the man no longer had any desire
for the voluptuous embraces of a widow, and in some way Mrs. Jael came
to her end that night, and was found weeks later afloat in the Thames,
an unrecognizable and nameless body.

Now Jael, during the time that she was gathering the treasure together,
had left lights burning in my lady’s room to make people think that Anne
Purcell was still alive. She had put new candles to burn the very night
she had fled out to her death, and so an eerie thing befell, for
officers in quest of papists, and my Lord Gore in particular, broke into
the house, having heard the rumor of small-pox and considered that it
might be a trick. But they found Anne Purcell lying dead in her bed, a
sheet covering her, and the candles burning, not a living soul in the
whole house, and every chest and cupboard rifled. So the Law stepped in,
beat round for witnesses, and buried my lady at night with a bushel of
quick-lime and extra pay to the man who buried her. Then there was a
learned to-do, much hunting out of documents, and much puzzling over
facts. For Mistress Barbara Purcell was her father’s heiress after her
mother’s death, and Mistress Barbara had come within the chancellor’s
ken by reason of unsound mind, yet no living soul seemed able to tell
where this same Barbara Purcell was. The lawyers looked wise over it,
and sat down cheerfully to make their pickings, Chancery claiming
authority in the case, and not caring greatly how long the dilemma
lasted so long as they handled the property. For every man’s mind was
full of the Plot those months, and not for many years had the wigs
boasted so much business.

Titus Oates had come toward full notoriety in October by harrowing the
public with the fulminations of a furious imagination. Then had followed
Sir Edmundbury Godfrey’s murder, the seizing of Coleman’s
correspondence, and a panic in London, with mobs shouting in the
streets. The Protestant beacon had been fired, and blazed with terrified
fury, while Oates threw fagot after fagot to feed the flames. Catholic
peers were cast into the Tower; two thousand or more smaller people were
arrested; all papists commanded to leave London. The train-bands marched
through the streets; executions were soon to begin; it was nothing but
Plot—Plot—Plot—from Parliament to Pulpit.

At Thorn, in Sussex, my Lord of Gore hid himself from the knowledge of
all these things, a man shrunken strangely from his former buxom self, a
man without nerve or energy for the moment, vacillating between plans on
a dash across the Channel for France, and the timidity of a hunted thing
that fears to leave its hiding-place for the open. Even as Monmouth the
Protestant prince at the head of an army differed from Monmouth the
panic-obsessed fugitive skulking in a ditch, so the Stephen Gore of
Whitehall differed from the Stephen Gore of Thorn. Some blight seemed to
have fallen on him, turning his manhood into a white-faced,
memory-haunted thing afraid of the very shadow of its own thoughts. That
brief, fierce burst of winter may have helped to chill the marrow in the
courtier’s bones, with the wailing of the wind and the whirling of the
snow. For a man cannot do without food and fire, and Stephen Gore had to
turn drudge to his own need. At first he had tried to dispense with a
fire for fear the smoke should betray him, but when he had shivered and
ached for two days his caution surrendered to the lust for warmth, and
he brought in fagots and with great trouble made a blaze. He had found a
store of salted meat, ship’s biscuits, and other stuffs still left in
the place, and though Thorn had a horror for him, he clung to it like a
fox to his “earth,” knowing of no other place wherein to hide himself.
For there seemed hardly a better place in the kingdom than Thorn, for
Pinniger and his woman had not been molested all those weeks. There
would be a score of open ways for a bold and resolute man to take later,
but the heart was utterly out of Stephen Gore, and the spirit of
yesterday was not the spirit of to-day.

Yet what, after all, had he to fear, setting visions of judgment and
other worlds aside, but the passing fury of a Protestant mob and the
wild tale of a double murder? A month ago these menaces would have stung
the self in the man to thrust them aside with audacity and resolution.
But a climax had come and gone; something was breaking in him and taking
his cool self-trust away, and he felt like Samson shorn of his hair.
Perhaps the bile had congealed in him with the cold, for nothing can
make a man more tame and listless than a clogged and sluggish liver.
Perhaps he had lost faith in his own genius for success. Perhaps he was
penitent. This last would have been the pretty, saintly end, confession
and absolution, penance, the lighting of tapers and saying of masses,
and all the saints in the calendar stretching out succoring hands. Yet
there is something incongruous in the idea of a strong, selfish, cynical
man huddling himself feverishly into the habit of religiosity when
Retribution comes knocking at the door. It often fails to impress the
conscience. It is not always convincing, even in romance.

Probably the secret of all this crumbling up of courage lay in the
nature of the man’s very self. Vanity may be a rare cement in the walls
of a man’s fortune so long as there is no corroding acid in the air. And
Stephen Gore’s genius had rested upon his vanity, not in his dress
alone, but in all those attributes that a man desires to see given to
his splendor. His vital force had been fed upon the pleasant things of
life; he was a self-inflated, artificial creature, who was strong so
long as he could be flattered. But, like an orthodox believer smitten to
the heart with doubt, he began to find his convictions dissolving into
chaos, and the adulations of self-worship becoming a mockery despite his
efforts to believe them real.

Voices—sharp, sneering, sardonic voices that he had had the strength to
stifle of old—began to cut him with his own cleverness, using the very
gibes against him that he had used in the gay salons to his own glory.
For when a cynic falls into misfortune he is likely to discover that he
has nurtured a devil that will use its claws upon the master who has
reared it.

Stephen Gore had often said that—

“A man who begins to think his virtue shabby is a man who cannot afford
to pay his tailor—the priest.”

“Never confess to yourself any cause for shame, or you will soon find
your feet in the mire.”

“Men may regret; only women and fools repent.”

“Consciousness is life; therefore a man ought to suffer himself to be
conscious only of pleasant things.”

And my Lord of Gore was having a wider consciousness forced upon him in
the narrow world of that ruined house. And where were the studied
pleasantries of consciousness? A fine gentleman feeding on salt beef and
onions, scraping his own fire together, and living in devout horror of a
prosaic thing called death. So much so that he was possessed by a
species of “morsomania” grim enough to prevent him seeing the cynically
comic side of his own condition.



                                  XLI


A man in love is not supposed to think of his lady’s clothes, but only
of the brightness of her eyes and the beauty of her body, the way her
lips curve when she smiles, and how she may look coy or mischievous, or
sad and silent with some mysterious desire. Yet there is a delight in
practical things when shoes are for certain feet, and the petticoats to
hide a certain comely pair of ankles. John Gore had inquired of Mrs.
Winnie as to the shops in Battle Town, and qualified her enthusiasm
somewhat to himself when she vowed that Mr. Bannister’s mercery and
haberdashery shop might have served the Queen.

Chris Jennifer was riding into Battle that week, for the wind had backed
into the southwest, and the snow had thawed in a day. And John Gore set
forward to ride with Mr. Jennifer, Mrs. Winnie whispering to him that
her man could carry a power of things, being accustomed to suffer all
manner of commissions. For Barbara had nothing but the clothes she stood
in, and was wearing a pair of Mrs. Winnie’s shoes when she went down the
garden path to watch John Gore mount for Battle. Mrs. Jennifer was
always taking her man by the coat-tails when these “young things” were
about together. Poor Christopher had no peace in his own house, being
ordered out of the way wherever he might go, and told that he was a
blind booby for not keeping the corner of an eye open, and for not
thrashing those lazy, gossiping rogues—his men—for loitering and
hanging about the buildings. Yet Christopher took it all very patiently,
going out to the stable to smoke his pipe and teach son William to make
“jumping-jacks” and bird snares and pop-guns out of elder wood.

Mr. Jennifer and John Gore came to Battle Town that day and pulled up
outside Mr. Bannister’s shop, where Mill Street ran toward Mountjoy and
The Mills. Chris Jennifer had business at the farrier’s and the
grocer’s, so he left John Gore to his own affairs, promising to be back
in half an hour in order to help load the baggage. John Gore called a
boy to hold his horse, and went into Mr. Bannister’s shop with the grim
air of an Englishman who is tempted to feel shy.

A young woman came forward with ribbons in her cap, and a saucy,
giggling look that seemed to rally the gentleman on his surroundings.
John Gore had no use for her at all. He looked round the shop and saw no
one else but a little old woman carding wool.

“Is Mr. Bannister in?”

The girl stared, and the old lady put down her wool. John Gore took off
his hat to her.

“May I see Mr. Bannister himself, madam?”

“Titsy, go and see where the master is.”

And Titsy went, with a flaunting fling of the shoulders, for the man had
not taken off his hat to her.

Mr. Bannister was a mild man in rusty brown. John Gore could see that he
had just washed his hands and bustled into his Sunday wig, for he had
put it on awry. He came forward with the walk of a man who suffered from
chronic rheumatism about the spine, and he was wearing at least five
pairs of stockings, to judge by his bulgy legs.

John Gore persuaded him to the end of the counter next the door, not at
all pleased to see that Titsy of the ribbons had come back into the shop
and was listening with both her ears.

“Good-day, sir. In what way may I serve you?”

“I want some of these stuffs here, God knows what you call them, stuff
for gowns and petticoats—and—and—things!”

The need seemed rather vague and extensive. Mr. Bannister worked his
mouth about, and wondered who the stranger was and whether he had proper
money. The girl Titsy began to giggle, and John Gore half wished that he
had let Mrs. Winnie come and do the shopping for him, though her taste
was crude and monstrous in many ways.

“The fact is, sir, I have been made the guardian of a young gentlewoman,
and I find that she is not clothed in the style she should be. Come here
to the door, sir, to get out of range of that confounded girl of yours,
whose manners might be mended. Now, Mr. Bannister, I have heard your
shop well spoken of, and I want proper stuffs for a wardrobe.
The—the—you know what I mean—I leave it to you; but show me your
cloths and silks and ribbons.”

Mr. Bannister was a man of tact, especially when a gentleman produced a
purse. He turned Titsy and the old lady out of the shop, locked the
door, and commenced business. John Gore was soon handling all manner of
dainty stuffs: silks, brocades, cloth of red and green and blue,
cottons, and the like. Mrs. Winnie had truly praised Mr. Bannister’s
store of treasures, and the lover soon had all that he listed for the
glorifying of his lady.

Gold passed across the counter. Mr. Bannister had begun piling certain
dainty linen aside with the mystery of a man of sentiment.

“Can I send these by the carrier, sir?”

“Thanks; my friend and I can take them, if you will cord the stuff so
that we can carry it aboard our horses.”

“Very good, sir, very good.”

Mr. Jennifer came in at that moment, his hat on the back of his head and
his face trying to kill a grin. Mr. Bannister glanced at him a little
severely, and was more surprised to see the stranger own him as the
friend he had referred to.

“What be all these doings here, Mister Bannister, in Battle, hey?”

“What doings may you be referring to, Mr. Jennifer?”

“Doings! Why, there be old Squire Oxenham out on his gray ’oss on t’
Green, with a pair of sodgering fellows in red, and half a score yeomen,
and Lawyer Gibbs, and a little gen’leman in a great wig, with a face
like a raw side of beef.”

Mr. Bannister had heard of none of these doings, and they went to the
door, all three of them, and stood on the footway, looking toward the
Green. Squire Oxenham was there, sure enough, with a couple of troopers
and the yeomen—all mounted, and one or two more gentlemen to watch the
mounted men, who were keeping their horses moving, all save Squire
Oxenham, the lawyer, and the red-faced man in the big black periwig.

“What be ut, Garge?”

Mr. Jennifer accosted a man in a leather apron who came swinging along
the sidewalk.

“Devil a bit I knows. Some of these papistry gentry to be taken, I
guess. Squire Oxenham’s keeping mum.”

Mr. Bannister pulled out a pair of tortoise-shell spectacles and took
stock of the scene. He had hardly adjusted the spectacles when the two
troopers came riding up the street, followed by the yeomen, Squire
Oxenham, and the rest. A rabble of small boys followed at their heels,
till the Squire made free with the whip he carried and drove the boys
back like a lot of dogs. They swept past Mr. Bannister’s shop, Chris
Jennifer running forward to hold the heads of his and John Gore’s
horses. They saw the cavalcade go westward past the Watch Oak, the
Squire’s gray horse and the red coats of the troopers standing out
vividly from the duller tints of the rest.

Mr. Bannister folded up his spectacles and remarked that “the times were
troubled, and that a king who gave all his days to women could not keep
a kingdom clean.” And he looked severely at the row of heads protruding
from the windows all down the street, and caught Miss Titsy’s beribboned
cap bobbing back to escape his censure.

“The parcels yonder are for you, Mr. Jennifer.”

The farmer went in to survey the bales on the counter, while John Gore
passed three doors down the street to a cobbler who sold gentlewomen’s
shoes. He bought a pair of red leather slippers with silver buckles, and
also some strong, stout shoes fit for the wet grass-lands in winter, for
it was his desire that Barbara should bide at Furze Farm till he knew
how matters fared in other quarters.

Christopher Jennifer was a genius at piling baggage about a horse, and
they were soon on the homeward road, John Gore thinking not a little of
the things he had seen in Battle Town, and wondering whither that
cavalcade had ridden, and what their business might be. For when a man
has a secret in his heart he is always jealous of the vaguest threat,
and ready to imagine that his secret may be meddled with by all the law
and the prophets. And John Gore had no wish for the tragedy of Thorn to
be dragged into the light as yet. He thought of Barbara before all else,
and of any peril that might threaten her new-found health and hope.

Son William was packed off to bed early that night, and Chris Jennifer
went out into the wood-lodge to cut logs for the fire. In the parlor
were the bales that John Gore had brought in from Battle, and Mrs.
Winnie’s fingers itched to open them, but Barbara knew nothing.

It was after supper that John Gore took his knife and cut the cords,
and, turning back the sacking, left Barbara and Mrs. Winnie to look at
the things together. He left them to it because he was the giver, and
because he knew that there were some matters that he could have no hand
in. He had told Mrs. Winnie what to say, for Barbara had fallen to like
Mrs. Winnie very greatly, and Chris Jennifer’s wife was no less fervent
in her eagerness to mother “the little lady.”

John Gore was sitting alone before the kitchen fire when the parlor door
opened very softly and a shadow fell athwart the clean red bricks.
Barbara was standing there with some ruddy silken stuff held up over her
bosom and falling in rich folds to her feet.

He turned in his chair, smitten with the thought of how fair she looked
with her swarthy beauty and that ruddy sheen of silk to heighten it.
There was just a flash of woman’s vanity in her eyes that moment, a
thing new in her since he had come.

“Barbe!”

She came to him, holding the stuff in her two hands, and they could hear
Mrs. Winnie singing with purposeful vigor in the parlor.

“John, how good of you! But you must let me—”

“Let you do what, my soul?” And he rose and stood looking at her very
dearly.

“Pay you, John.”

“What pride—and nonsense! But that silk is sweet, now, is it not?”

She met his eyes, blushed, and looked down at her own figure. And then,
suddenly, she let the silken stuff fall to the floor, put her two hands
up over her face, and burst into tears.

“How wicked of me—how utterly wicked!”

“Why, Barbe, child?”

“Don’t speak to me, John. To think that I should give thought to such
things when all this is over you—over us both!”

He went to her, putting an arm about her shoulders, touched her hands
gently with his lips.

“Weep not, dear heart, if it be wrong that you should have these pretty
stuffs, it is I who am to blame for loving you.”

She let her hands fall and looked up through a mist of tears into his
face.

“John, can we—can you ever forget the past? Can you forgive?”

“What have I to forgive, dear heart?”

“Ah yes; but—”

He held her at arm’s-length, his two hands upon her shoulders, and
looked into her eyes.

“Barbara, it is not your heart that is hard now. God has given this love
to us, and what God gives, who shall forbid?”

She hung her head and sighed.

“I am wondering, John.”

“Well, my life?”

“What will happen, what we must do—what the end may be.”

He looked at her a moment in silence, and then spoke like a man whose
strength is in his own heart.

“Child, there is one good and certain thing with us—let us hold to it,
you and I together. I will take shame from no man, and no lie from any
living throat. If there should be dark days, let them come; I will not
let you go from me—no, for here life is, nor can there be sin or shame
in that which God has given.”

She looked up at him quickly with a great brightness of the eyes.

“John, I cannot, I could not, stand all alone now.”

“Why, my desire, what more can a man pray for!”

And they still heard Mrs. Winnie singing as though she were singing at a
harvest-home.

In a little while they went back together into the parlor hand in hand.
Chris Jennifer’s wife was standing with her back to them, posing herself
before a little old mirror with a bright piece of stuff—pink roses upon
a green ground—folded about her bosom. She turned with a start, and
whisked the thing away as though shy of a piece of matronly vanity.

“Why, Mrs. Winnie, you have picked out the very thing!”

“Me, sir? I was only trying how my little lady would look in it gathered
up over the breast—just so, Mr. John.”

“But I bought that piece of stuff for you, Mrs. Winnie.”

“Now, come, my dear good gentleman—me with pink roses!”

“Well, I should praise you in it.”

“Pink roses and a face like a side of bacon! Dear soul, but it be too
young for me.”

Barbara went to her suddenly, and, taking the stuff, unfolded it, and
held it to Mrs. Jennifer’s figure. And in truth she looked comely with
the sweet colors of it, turning her coy, brusque face this way and that
with self-conscious pride.

“You look like a bride, Mrs. Jennifer.”

“Go along with you, Mr. John, you be as bad as the rest of them with
your tongue. But, by my soul, dearie, it do look sweet!”



                                  XLII


It would almost seem that Stephen Gore was a little mad those first
few days in Thorn, what with the fever of a chill he had taken in the
saddle, the utter ghostliness and melancholy of the place, and the cold,
raw mists that hung about the moat. The cold went to his marrow and the
sinister solitude of the house to his brain, for at night Thorn was a
veritable goblin castle where a man might imagine all manner of dim
horrors. The wind made strange noises and whisperings of dismay; plaster
crumbled and fell; slants of moonlight sprang in as the clouds drifted
over the moon; the ivy rattled on the walls; worm-eaten beams creaked
and cracked; and the wind was everywhere like a haunted spirit. Stephen
Gore had found only one candle left in the place; it had lasted him but
one night, so that when the dusk fell he had no light but the light of
the fire. And he would lie awake on the couch in the kitchen, the hot
blood simmering in his brain, and a sweat of shivering fear on him,
while he fancied that he heard voices in the thickness of the walls and
a sound as of things moving in the darkness.

However dainty and superfine a man may be, his flesh takes command of
his spirit when the smaller necessities of life fall to his own hands.
It would have delighted some of the cynics of Whitehall to have seen
this fine gentleman in his shirt-sleeves splitting firewood with pitiful
clumsiness, and disciplining his stomach in an attempt to boil salt
beef. For Stephen Gore was repeating some of the experiences of a
Selkirk, save that his solitude was of his own seeking, and yet not a
matter of choice.

What with misery of mind and body, the _malaise_ of the fever, and the
utter melancholy of the place, my lord’s manhood and his moral courage
were in ruins within a week. He gave way to a sense of panic and to a
delirious lust for self-preservation that would have seemed ridiculous
but for the very real torment he was in. Whether he was hunted as a
conspirator against the state or as a spiller of innocent blood were
possibilities that pointed only to the one grim issue. A morbid belief
in their having “sinned against the Holy Ghost” has sent superstitious
mortals to Bedlam. A morbid dread of death seized on my lord with equal
grimness, and in a week he had lost that larger consciousness, that cool
sanity and shrewd sense of humor, that give a man power over the chances
of life. His intelligence began to drop to the level of the animal that
seeks to cover its tracks from possible pursuers. Sagacity gave place to
cunning and a blind passion for the annihilation of everything that
might betray him.

He sent his horse adrift, driving him out with savage prickings from his
sword, so that the beast fled panic-stricken into the woods. As for the
dog, he put a pistol bullet through his head, tied a weight to the
carcass, and sunk it in the moat. Saddle and harness he buried in the
garden, keeping the bar up across the court-yard gate, and going out
from the house only at dusk. He even made his fire on the floor in the
middle of the kitchen, enduring the smoke and the smarting of his eyes,
so that the smoke might leak away through doors and windows and crevices
instead of pluming up out of the chimney. He burned all the rough
furniture in the place, save the couch and an old stool, and, taking up
two of the flagstones in the floor, dug a hole under them to hide the
store of food, not realizing, perhaps, that the stuff would be mouldy
and rotten in a month. It was his feverish purpose to blot out every
trace of life from Thorn, so that should it be raided by the Law there
should be no clews. The marvel was that he found such a life worth
living for the sake of the life he hoarded. But Stephen Gore was not
wholly sane those days, what with the fever, and the sweat of fear in
him at night, and the thoughts that haunted him as thirst haunts a
straggler in the desert.

Nor was all this cunning of his wasted upon chimerical possibilities and
feverish fancies, as the event soon proved. It was the day of John
Gore’s ride into Battle Town with Mr. Jennifer, and Stephen Gore had
fallen asleep on the couch in the kitchen, for he could sleep in the day
if not at night. About two o’clock in the afternoon he awoke to find
that the fire had burned itself out, for the erstwhile philosopher had
much to learn in the simple matter of building a wood fire so that it
should not be out in an hour. He scrambled up rather sourly, and was
about to cross the court to the wood-lodge when he heard a faint
“halloo” coming from the misty stillness of the wooded slopes of the
valley.

Stephen Gore turned back into the kitchen like a man who has escaped
walking over a cliff in the dark, and stood listening a moment with his
hand to his ear. Then he pushed the couch away toward the window, and,
kneeling, swept the ashes of the fire on to the hearth-stone with his
hands, thanking Heaven for the providential perverseness of the thing in
burning out while he was asleep. Climbing the lower story of the tower,
he looked cautiously through the narrow window to see nearly twenty
mounted men coming down over the grass-land at a fast trot. My lord’s
knees rubbed together as he recognized the red coats of the two
troopers, and the more sombre and magisterial look of the gentry who
followed.

Days ago Stephen Gore had searched out a hiding-place for himself, and
his choice had lighted on nothing cleaner and more distinguished than
the chimney in the kitchen. He had climbed up by the chain, despite the
soot—he who could hardly wear the same shirt twice in a week—till the
throat of the chimney narrowed so that he could use his hands and feet.
About fifteen feet from the ground he had discovered a little recess in
the brickwork where a man might stand and not be seen by any one looking
upward. He had eased the ascent to this possible niche of refuge by
knocking in an old nail or two that he had found in one of the
out-houses.

A great amount of majestic cant has been written about the stately
courage of the Gentleman. There are very few Sir Richard Grenvilles in
the world, but far more Falstaffs ready to take refuge in the
washing-basket at a pinch. To have played the proper heroic part my lord
should have gone out calmly to the gate of Thorn and courteously dared
these gentry to take him while he lived, or at least to have awaited
them with aristocratic composure and delivered up his arms like a great
captain surrendering a fortress that he has no longer the power to hold.
Such should have been the picturesque setting of the scene, but the
meaner impulses of human nature triumphed, and the gentleman Went up the
chimney like any sweep’s boy, barking his knees and elbows, and coloring
his dignity with most satanic soot.

Squire Oxenham and his party came to the gate of Thorn, and sent one of
the yeoman over it to drop the bar and let the others in. Three men were
left to guard the horses and the gate, and two more to patrol the
borders of the moat, while magistrate, attorney, king’s rider, and the
rest spread themselves abroad to ransack the place, keeping their steel
and powder ready in case they might come to grips with desperate men.
But for all their bravery and bustle they found nothing but silence and
emptiness in Thorn, as though the place had remained lifeless since the
old Scotch folk left it in the autumn.

Squire Oxenham and Lawyer Gibbs found their way into the kitchen and
went no farther in the man hunt, being content with the work done. The
lawyer noticed the discolored stones in the floor and some wood-ash
lying in the crevices. And had he touched those stones, instead of
staring at them in a perfunctory and superior way, he would have
discovered that they were warm, and that a fire had been lit there that
very day.

Squire Oxenham, being an old and plethoric man with threatenings of gout
in the right foot, sat down on the couch and pulled out a flask of
hollands. He and the lawyer began gossiping together, and the Knight of
the Chimney could hear every word that passed.

“We shall have an appetite for supper, Thomas, though we may not set
eyes on Mr. Shaftesbury’s lord. Deuce take me if I can get my blood hot
over the notion of sending some poor devil to the block. What are you
staring at the floor for, Thomas?”

“There has been a fire here, Squire.”

“Months old, man; the place where Sandy Macalister smoked his Sabbath
clothes before sneaking into heaven without crossing Peter’s palm. Have
a drop of spirit, Thomas Gibbs. I wonder what made those Westminster
wolves scent out Thorn as the man’s hiding-hole. The fellow Maudesly
tells me that the Purcell woman—Halloo, Sacker, my man, have you found
anything except owls?”

“Not a thing, your worship.”

“Just as I thought, Mr. Gibbs—just as I thought. Any man of sense with
a warrant out against him would have been in France days ago and eating
French dinners instead of freezing in a damned rubbish-heap like this.
But these Jacks in Office must pretend to know everything. Some noodle
at Westminster would be ready to tell me how much to allow my wife’s
sisters, and how often my cess-pit ought to be emptied. Well, Mr.
Maudesly, have you had enough of Thorn?”

The little man in the big periwig came in looking testy, and not to be
trifled with. The men trooped in after him, while the Squire passed his
flask round to the gentlemen, and condoled with them satirically on
having drawn a “blank.” Stephen Gore in the chimney heard them gossiping
there awhile before they tramped out into the court-yard to take horse
for Battle Town before dusk fell. The thunder of hoofs went over the
timbers of the bridge, and slowly, almost eerily, as the water of a
stagnant pool settles over the stone that has been thrown into it, the
heavy silence closed again over Thorn.

It was probable that my lord felt some elation over his escape, and that
he was not a little eager to be out of so black and draughty a refuge.
He was also very stiff and cold from having stood in that narrow recess
for over an hour. At all events, he began the descent clumsily and
carelessly, and, bearing too much weight on one of the nails that he had
driven into the wall, the thing broke away from the rotten mortar, and,
though he drove out his knees and elbows in an attempt to wedge himself
in the chimney, his weight and bulk carried him heavily to the hearth
below. Coming down on his right flank, his right thigh struck one of the
iron fire-dogs about a hand’s-breadth below the great trochanter of the
hip. And Stephen Gore felt the bone snap as a dead branch snaps across a
man’s knee.

In the agony of it he rolled over and over till his body was stopped by
the couch that Squire Oxenham had drawn forward from the window. He
gripped the lower stretcher of the wood frame with both hands and took
the sleeve of his coat between his teeth, as a seaman will clinch his
teeth upon a rope’s-end to save himself from screaming when the
surgeon’s hot iron sears the stump of a mangled limb. Then he lay on his
back, breathing deeply and slowly, his hands tugging at the collar of
his shirt as though the band were tight about his throat. His right foot
had fallen outward, and when he tried to move the limb there was nothing
but a spasm of the muscles and a sense of bone gritting against bone.



                                 XLIII


The days were pleasant enough at Furze Farm, with Barbara gaining in
health and color, and in a womanly winsomeness that made even Mrs.
Jennifer wonder. It was as though the real soul had come to life in her
again, and her heart, that had been a thing of moods and sorrows of old,
had warmed into a richer consciousness of life, so that the beautiful
shell began to glow with the light of the beautiful spirit within. There
was a sweet sparkle of youth in her that began to play over the surface
of sadness, and though the past still shadowed her, she stood free from
the utter gloom of it and saw the golden rim of the sun. She made
friends with little Will Jennifer, played hide-and-seek with the boy,
and told him tales in the dusk before he went to bed. She and Mrs.
Winnie, too, were busy making up the stuffs from Battle into gowns and
petticoats, and though Mrs. Winnie’s craft was simple and somewhat
crude, the colors lighted up Barbara’s comeliness, and the very
simplicity of the frocks seemed in keeping with that Sussex fireside.
She even besought Mrs. Winnie to let her learn the lore of the dairy,
the art of butter-making, and the like; for the primitive, busy life of
the place seemed good to her, and full of the warmth and fragrance of a
home.

John Gore took her riding with him over the winter fields, for he had
bought her a quiet saddle-horse in one of the market towns. Yet though
the days were magical for lover and beloved, there were the sterner
issues of life to be confronted, nor could they forget those clouds that
had withdrawn a little toward the horizon. Moreover, John Gore began to
feel the very material need of a replenished purse, and an insight into
the future that concerned him and his love, even unto the death.

He laid everything before Barbara one evening as they rode homeward
toward Furze Farm, with a red, wintry glow in the west, and the hills
wrapped in bluish gloom. Riding very close to him, she listened to all
his reasonings, accepting things that went against her heart, because
she knew that he loved her, and because she felt him to be shrewd and
strong.

“Do that which you think best, John,” she said, with an upward look into
his face; “I trust you with all that life can hold.”

And so their nags went homeward side by side, so close that the man’s
arm was over the girl’s shoulders, and her breathing rising up to him in
the keen, clear air like a little cloud of incense.

One morning early in December John Gore took the London road, following
the same course that he and Mr. Pepys had taken—by Battle, Lamberhurst,
Tunbridge, and Seven Oaks. Nor could he help contrasting the difference
of the ways, and the different spirit that inspired him, though the
woods were bare now, and the country gray and colorless when no sun
shone. His thoughts went back over the Sussex hills to that farm-house
with its broad black thatch, its beech-trees, and its uplands, its
brick-paved, low-beamed kitchen with the fire red even to the chimney’s
throat, and the kindly folk who moved therein. But chiefly he thought of
Barbara sitting before that winter fire, her great eyes full of the
light and dreams thereof, and her Spanish face betraying new deeps of
womanhood because of the suffering she had borne and the spirit of
beauty she had won thereby.

John Gore put up at an inn in Southwark, meaning to keep his distance
from the precincts of St. James’s, and from that intriguing, cultured,
cruel world that had held his own father as a murderer and a paramour.
He had heard of grim things in the Spanish Provinces and the Islands,
but nothing that had brought home to him the shame of the goddess self
in passion as this tragedy in an English home had done. He could only
think of the man—his father—with pity, and a kind of revolting of the
honorable manhood in him. It was almost a subject beyond the pale of
thought; a thing rather to be realized and then—buried.

Now John Gore was innocent of all knowledge of Oates’s Plot and of the
wild ferment the City was in, for the news of it had not trickled as yet
into the by-ways of Sussex, and he had kept to himself upon the road.
His plan was to hunt out Samuel Pepys and hear the news of the surface
of things, whether my lord was in town, and whether the Secretary would
act for him in receiving and forwarding his Yorkshire moneys. His first
visit across the water was to the Admiralty offices, and there, when he
had sent his name in, Mr. Pepys came out in person with a mightily
solemn face. He took his friend straight to a little private cabinet of
his own, locked the door, and pushed John Gore unceremoniously into a
chair.

“Well, John, you have come here, have you, with a lighted candle to look
for sixpence in a barrel of gunpowder. Where have you been all these
weeks?”

Mr. Pepys’s manner was the manner of a man who had some reason for being
honestly perturbed.

“Within ten miles of the place you left me at, Sam. I have come up for
news and money.”

Mr. Pepys looked at him steadily, yet with a species of alarmed awe.

“News, John! Gracious God, we are shaken in our shoes with fresh news
every other day! You have heard of the Plot, of course.”

“Plot! What plot?”

Mr. Pepys’s silent stare expressed infinite things. He stepped forward,
tapped John Gore on the chest with his forefinger, then stepped back
again, and made him a reverence.

“Can I bow, sir, to a gentleman who has never heard of Titus Oates?
Alack, John, I fear me I have many sad and solemn things to tell you! I
thought that you had heard everything, and that you were wintering in
the country—like a wise man. For it is not flattering at present to
bear the name of Gore.”

He saw the sea-captain straighten suddenly in his chair and look up at
him keenly.

“What do you mean, Sam?”

“Mean, sir? Did I not warn you that the papists were likely to burn
their fingers? And we are in the thick of such fire and fright and fury
because of them that we are all afraid to catechize our own souls. News,
my good John! The Protestants raging, informers making Ananias seem a
simpleton, Catholic peers in the Tower, hundreds in jail, Coleman the
Jesuit tried and executed, a warrant out against your father, who has
taken to his heels and fled.”

“Good God, Sam! Where?”

“That is what certain people would like to know, sir. I pity your
innocence, John, but we are all of us shaking in our shoes. Even the
Queen has not been pitied.”

John Gore sat forward in his chair, his hands on his knees, his eyes
looking into the distance. He was silent a moment, while Mr. Pepys
fidgeted with his feet and glanced nervously at both door and window.

“I have not seen my—Lord Gore since I left London with you, Sam.”

“No?”

“I have heard nothing of all this. What is more, I have had matters of
my own.”

Mr. Pepys stroked his chin.

“There is yet another piece of news, John.”

“Well?”

“Concerning the Purcells.”

The sea-captain looked at him sharply.

“What?”

“Anne Purcell died of the small-pox a month ago.”

“Anne Purcell!”

“Yes; it would have been the talk of the town but for this furious
belcher of accusations, even the man Oates.”

John Gore looked at him in silence.

“She was found dead in her bed in her house in Pall Mall. All the
servants had fled, and the house had been rifled. But there also appears
to be a mystery about the daughter. The lawyers have discovered that she
was put away in the autumn for being of unsound mind; and now that all
the property seems to have fallen to her, not a living soul knows what
has become of the girl.”

The sea-captain smiled very slightly, with a grim light in the eyes.

“Who has the control of the matter?” he asked.

“It has fallen into Chancery.”

“Like the traveller to Jericho, Sam, in the parable. How long is it
since my Lord Stephen hoisted sail?”

“Somewhere about a month ago—before I returned from Portsmouth.”

“Did Anne Purcell die before then?”

“Heaven help me if I know, John. But what has that to do with the case?”

“More than you know, my friend—more than you may suspect.”

He had the air of a man who was troubled and perplexed by many
difficulties.

“Sam, I want your help and advice. I can trust you.”

Mr. Pepys made him a little bow.

“Where are you staying, John?”

“In Southwark. I had my reasons. Can you give me supper to-night, and an
hour’s private talk? I have many things to turn over in my mind before
then.”

The Secretary laid a hand upon John Gore’s shoulder.

“A friend’s trust is a friend’s affection, John. Come and sup with me;
what I can do I will.”

The Secretary’s wife was feasting with friends that night, and Mr. Pepys
and John Gore had the table to themselves. When supper was over, Mr.
Samuel took the sea-captain to the library, locked the door, and
prepared to play the part of counsellor and friend. For Mr. Pepys was a
shrewd, sound man of the world, for all his oddities and love of news—a
man who had walked the slippery path of public responsibility, and who
knew the world’s deceitfulness, even to the latest lie from the lips of
a king.

But even this critic of court scandals, and of the vanities of himself
and of mankind at large, was flustered a little by John Gore’s account
of his doings, and of the tragedy that had taken place at Thorn. Mr.
Pepys could pass over a gay intrigue, but this darker and more sinister
affair gripped the manhood in him, and made him understand his friend’s
grimness.

“On the Cross of our Lord, Sam, I pledge you to silence over this. I
know you are to be trusted where questions of life and death are
concerned.”

There was no need to question the intenseness of the Secretary’s
sincerity. He was a man of oak whose foibles and frivolities were merely
the flutter of leaves in the wind.

“Have no doubt of that, John. But upon my conscience, this is black
villany or something marvellous like it. Iago, oh Iago, thou dinest with
us and smilest at us in church, thou art not only a thing of the stage!”

John Gore sat thinking, smoking his pipe, and snapping the thumb and
middle finger of his right hand.

“It is the girl who has to be considered, Sam. She has borne enough,
suffered enough, and from my own flesh and blood; that’s where the rub
comes.”

Mr. Pepys sat and considered.

“The Chancery folk are such a dastardly meddlesome lot,” he said.

“I am not afraid of the lawyers, Sam; we can take our chances over the
sea, if needs be. But there is this man—this father—to be considered.
And, by my hope in Heaven, I will kill him as he killed Lionel Purcell
if he meddles further with the girl’s life!”

Mr. Pepys looked a little shocked despite his sympathy. He had been a
good son himself, and the word “father” had its true meaning for him.

“Softly, John, softly. There is always the other side of the case; we
cannot always see into another man’s heart.”

John Gore stared at the floor grimly.

“What I have said, Sam, I have said; even one’s father is not privileged
to seduce and murder as he pleases. I shall put my sword to his breast
and say: ‘Sir, no further.’ He has his life in his hand.”

Mr. Pepys looked at him kindly.

“Have you not thought, John, that it may rest with the girl?”

“With her—how?”

“If she chooses not to speak, to play a part.”

John Gore met his friend’s eyes.

“Why should this—this man be shielded? There is blood upon his hands;
he has stained the lives of others. Who shall consider him?”

“John, John, you talk like a man who stabs fiercely at a shadow. No man
is wholly the devil’s creature, and, say what you will, his loins begot
you.”

“The greater the need, Sam, to put aside false sentiment. Still, he is
out of our ken at present. We must bide our time—and watch.”

Mr. Pepys rubbed his knees with the palms of his hands.

“Do you know what I would have you do, John? Go back to this quiet farm;
let the child come by her health and happiness. Keep the lawyers out of
it, and marry her, if you can.”

“You are echoing my own thoughts, Sam.”

“Good; very good. See what a seal, my friend, you might set upon the
past, if God granted you children and happiness, and the long love of
wife and man.”

John Gore understood his meaning.

“The blood-debt might be wiped away, Sam, for the sake of the future.”

“God grant it. And now, John, you will want money.”

“Money! How do you know that?”

“John, my man, when I was in love I was always poor. I know how Dan
Cupid picks a man’s pocket. Besides, money is above the law, John, and
at a pinch you might find it useful.”

“I have money enough; it needs handling, that is all. There is all my
property in Yorkshire.”

“Give me a written authority, John, and I will act for you.”

“Sam, you are a friend.”

“I am a man of business, sir. I can receive and hand on rentals, can I
not? And as for the present need, I always keep money in my house. Take
what you want; the security is good enough.”

John Gore began to thank him, but Mr. Pepys rose up from his chair and
put his two hands on his friend’s shoulders.

“Man John, there may be two or three souls in the wide world whom a man
may love without prejudice and without disaster. The friends of a life
are few, John, and we find them without forethought. Men come to me for
favors, scores of them in the year; most of them are sycophants, rogues,
hypocrites; I know it, and there is no deep pleasure in what I do. But
there are some men, John, to whom the heart goes out in the game of
life. To be a friend to a friend comes not so very often. A man who has
seen life will swear to that.”



                                  XLIV


Rain was falling and the wind beating about the chimneys of Furze Farm
as the daylight waned toward a gray night like a fog coming up from the
sea. Barbara and Mrs. Jennifer were sitting before the kitchen fire, the
girl watching the sparks fly upward, the woman’s brown hands busy with
thread and needle. Gusts of wind came down the chimney, making the
wood-ash shimmer at red heat, even blowing flakes of fire out on to the
bricks. Now and again the drippings of the rain fell on the red mass,
rousing the fire to spit like an angry cat.

Chris Jennifer’s wife, looking up from time to time at her “little
lady,” could see that Barbara was listening for something beyond the
mere roar of the wind in the chimney and the swish of the beech boughs
in the gathering dusk. The pupils of her eyes would grow large of a
sudden, and she would lift her chin and keep her bosom from breathing,
as though she heard some sound far away in the coming night. Mrs. Winnie
knew well what was passing in the girl’s heart. Nearly a week had gone
since John Gore had ridden for London, and her thoughts were out on the
wet road, wondering whether he were facing the wind and rain.

“I be thinking, my little lady”—and Mrs. Jennifer gave a tug to the
gown she was making—“I be thinking that a bunch of red ribbon would
look just fair for a shoulder-knot to yon scarf. My man Christopher has
a liking for red in the winter, it being the color of the berries, he
says, and warm and comely when there be snow about.”

Barbara only woke to the sense of Mrs. Winnie’s words when the good
woman had come to the middle of her statement.

“Is that why they wear red stockings so much in the country, Mrs.
Winnie?”

“Lor’, my dear, what a fancy! If I thought that about Christopher, I’d
be talking to him with a broomstick. Red stockings for a man to stare at
on market-day! No, my lady, red be a warm and comfortable color, like
holly berries, and that shoulder-knot would just be a touch to t’
green.”

Barbara listened to the wind.

“How heavy the roads must be!” she said.

“Honest mud never harmed nobody, my dear. Lord bless you, we don’t think
anything of mud in Sussex.”

“Are the roads dangerous at night?”

“And what may you mean by dangerous, my lady?”

“Footpads and rough men.”

“London way there be them kind of creatures. Puddles and ruts be our
great trouble, and the mud-holes when the ways be rotten. A horse may
break his leg in one of ’em; but there, God’s providence be powerfuller
nor mud-holes.”

She went on with her stitching, watching a red slipper tapping a little
restlessly on the brick curb about the hearth, as though beating out the
furlongs and the miles. Dusk was falling rapidly, and though the fire
was bright, Mrs. Winnie was thinking of lighting the candles when the
red slipper ceased its tapping, and the figure before her remained
motionless and alert.

“I can hear a horse, Mrs. Winnie.”

Mrs. Jennifer listened.

“It be a loose bough of the old plum-tree clapping against the wall.”

“I am sure it is a horse.”

She rose up and went to the window, and leaned her elbows on the sill.
Mrs. Jennifer gave a nod of the head, as though assuring herself that
youth must have its way. She knew every sound in and about the house
when the wind blew from over the sea.

“I will put a candle in the window, Mrs. Winnie.”

She went and took one from the shelf, lit it, and put it upon the sill.
And she was returning again toward the fire when she paused and stood
listening, her head held a little to one side.

“There, do you hear it?”

Mrs. Winnie stopped her stitching and listened. This time she did hear
something beyond the clapping of a bough against the wall.

“Why, yes, little lady.”

“Listen, there is the farm gate.”

She turned quickly toward the door, opened it, and stood looking out
into the dusk.

Mrs. Winnie put her work aside, gave a glance through the window, smiled
to herself, and then discovered that she had business in the dairy. In
the dusk she had seen a man dismounting from a horse, and her husband
plodding across the yard to welcome the traveller and take his nag to
the stable. Mrs. Winnie was a woman of tact. She caught son William
sneaking in by the back door, and took him with her to inspect the
milk-pans.

Barbara stood framed in the doorway with a warm light playing about her,
and the brown wainscoting, the great beams in the ceiling, and the red
bricks for a background. Yet the impulse of the moment failed in her,
and a shy panic took its place, so that she went and stood before the
fire and turned her head away so as not to see his coming. For there was
something in the intense truth that almost made her afraid, and she
might have fled away to her room but for the thought that he had seen
her at the door and might not understand the whim of a woman.

She heard his footsteps on the path, and when she looked he was on the
threshold, wet and travel-stained, but with eyes that were very bright.
He came and took her hands, but stood a little apart because of his wet
clothes, and also because there was a sense of awe between them. His
eyes searched her face to see whether there were any shadow of pain or
sadness thereon. And now that he was so near to her, her shyness and her
confusion fled, and simple love alone had utterance.

“John, how wet you are! Come to the fire, and let me dry your coat. I
had a feeling that you would come to-night.”

She led him to the fire; yet though the initiative was hers, she went
with his arm about her waist.

“You are looking wondrous well, Barbe!”

“Am I?” And she colored, and hid her eyes from him a moment. “I am glad,
very glad, to have you back, John. I was afraid, with this rough
weather, and the roads so bad, and you riding alone.”

“And yet I was not alone,” he said, touching her hair reverently. “I
shall never be alone again, pray God.”

“Yes, dear, I understand.” And she put her face up for him to kiss her,
her eyelids closed and the lashes shading her cheeks.

Then she made him sit down in the chair before the fire, and, fetching
the rough towel that hung on one of the doors, she rubbed his coat while
he sat patiently and tried not to look amused. For there was something
infinitely quaint and sweet in this ministration to a man who had seen
the wild world in its cups and in its quarrels. He caught the two hands
and kissed them, and looked up into eyes that were full of a mysterious
tremor of light.

“Do you know, child, what you bring into my mind?”

“No, John.”

“All the rough, blasphemous, accursed things that a man must see in this
world, whether he wills it or not. They come to me, dear, as so many
black memories, and I lift up these white hands—so—and I see what is
clean and what is pure.”

She looked at him an instant, and then fell on her knees beside the
chair and hid her face upon his shoulder.

“John, you forget; you make me ashamed when you speak thus; we women are
not angels; we are quick, selfish, passionate things, though we may be
unselfish when we love.”

“Dear, I forget nothing of that,” he said. “Do you think that I would
choose to love a saint?”

“I am nothing of a saint, John.”

“Thank God,” said he.

John Gore told her nothing that night of her mother’s death, for the
evening in that great warm kitchen seemed too goodly and dear a time to
be marred by evil tidings. Perhaps self had some weight, too, with him
that night, for it was a delight to watch the warm blood mantling under
the soft skin, the radiance of her eyes, and the way she would look at
him suddenly and color. John Gore’s eyes could not leave her that
evening as they sat round the fire with Mrs. Winnie busy at her
stitching, and Mr. Christopher smoking his pipe and trying to pretend
that he was half asleep.

The eyes of the day were empty of tears on the morrow, the world full of
winter sunlight, the sky all blue, the woods all purple and gray. John
Gore borrowed Mr. Jennifer’s nag, for his own beast needed a rest, and,
saddling Barbara’s horse, he took her out with him for a canter along
the grass track that wound past Furze Farm and onward into the vague
lands. It was a grass track that might have come down from old Celtic
times, before the Romans spaced out their Itineraries, a highway that
had run south of the great weald that stretched from the marshes of
Portus Lemanis to the plains of Gwent.

John Gore waited till they were on the homeward road and not a mile from
the farm before telling her of Anne Purcell’s death. They were riding
along the ridge of a hill, with Beechy Head a great blue shadow far
away, and the silver bow of the sea bent against the land. Barbara rode
on beside him, with the light gone suddenly from her eyes, and a shocked
silence making her mute. Her mother had borne and bred her, little more;
she had even been ready to sacrifice the child to save her paramour and
herself; and yet Barbara felt a great pity for that poor, gay woman who
would paint her cheeks no more, nor ogle herself in the glass to see how
her eyes beckoned. Barbara’s heart had changed greatly those months. She
had a wider consciousness, more sympathy, more insight. It had become
easier to pity than to hate.

John Gore saw that she was weeping the tears of compassion and of regret
rather than the tears of passion. And he let her weep, pushing his horse
a little ahead of hers to give her privacy, for there are times in life
when every soul must meet its intimate thoughts alone.

They were within view of the farm when he heard her call to him, and her
voice was very gentle, as though there were no malice and anger left in
her.

“Death brings things home to the heart, John,” she said, softly; “it is
like a great silence that compels one to think.”

He looked at her very dearly.

“My life, what can I say to you?”

“Tell me; John, that I was fierce and revengeful, and it would be the
truth. Who are we that we should judge? One cannot gauge another’s
temptations. She may have suffered while I was blind to it.”

John Gore reached for her bridle, and they rode the last furlong side by
side. And compassion for the dead seemed to hallow the love in their
hearts.

John Gore had said little concerning his father, save the news of the
Popish Plot, and my lord’s flight with many others who were concerned.
He was believed to have found refuge in France, and yet at Thorn, not
five miles from Furze Farm, a miserable, maimed thing dragged itself to
and fro like an animal that has been crushed in the jaws of a steel
trap.

A long splint, sand-bags, and six weeks in bed—such should have been
Stephen Gore’s portion; but when a man with a broken thigh is alone in a
ruin he must either crawl or starve by inches. Destiny had hipped him,
and Necessity had him at her mercy. It was with labor and a sweat of
anguish that he went like a worm upon his belly, for the belly hungered
and tortured him with thirst, and the worm still wriggled with a blind
instinct toward life.

December was cold and raw at Thorn, but there was no fire, and the man
lay on the stone floor with nothing under him but the cover and the
padding that he had torn from the couch. There was no drink either in
the kitchen of Thorn, and the quenching of his thirst became an ordeal
that made his flesh quiver. Once a day a miserable, unwashen figure
would go crawling across the court-yard to where the pump stood in a
corner. The face of the thing that crawled resembled the face of a
swimmer who feels a limb seized by the jaws of a shark. Slowly, with
infinite carefulness, and a tremor of the whole body, he would prop
himself against the wall, reach for the pump-handle, and trickle the
water into the leather bottle that he had dragged after him by a strip
of linen. Then he would crawl back again, agonized, cursing the pain of
those grinding splinters as the leg came over the stones, the toe
catching in the grass and weeds. Sometimes the water in the bottle would
last him more than one day, for he husbanded it like a miser, knowing
that each drop meant the sweat of his very blood. The food was an easier
matter, for he had only to drag himself to the hole in the floor. But
from the cold there was no escape. It froze into heart and marrow at
midnight, keeping sleep from him, even making him weep like an idiot
child.

What a change, too, on the surface of things! Hands grimed, nails black,
a stubble of gray hair over the jowl, holes in the cloth over knees and
elbows, the dirt of the court-yard upon his linen. A squalor about his
bed on the stones such as is found in foul jails.

Even the lust for life, such life, would flicker out in him at times,
and he would take his sword as he lay with the broken bone galling him
like hot grit in the flesh, and run his fingers along the blade, and
look at it, and consider. More than once he bared his breast and set the
point of the sword over his heart, feeling for a gap between the ribs so
that the steel should make no error. But the cold pricking of the point
against the skin seemed to frighten even the despair and weariness in
him, and he would lay the sword aside, cover his chest again, and stare
at the beams in the ceiling. He had the blind lust to live, but not the
blind courage to die. For even life in its most squalid misery may seem
better, kinder than the black, unfathomable unknown.



                                  XLV


Though all the gay stuffs, the reds and the greens and the rich
brocades, were put aside for a season, and though Barbara wore a plain
black gown that Mrs. Winnie bought of Mr. Bannister at Battle, they made
ready for Christmas at Furze Farm in country fashion, with a great
abundance of food and liquor, with a yule-log the size of a tub, and
holly boughs gathered out of the woods. Mrs. Winnie would have quieted
the day out of curtesy to her “little lady,” but Barbara would have none
of their pleasure spoiled because she wore a black gown for her mother.
To cheat the living of their good cheer would not comfort the sleeping
dead, and the very kitchen seemed warming itself for the wassail-bowl,
and the beef and the pies, and the women with their ribbons.

Now, Barbara had no money and a great deal of pride despite her love, so
that John Gore, who knew how matters stood with her, had to resort to a
lover’s stratagem to fill her purse. He told her a solemn tale of how
the lord chancellor managed the affairs of the nation, and how she was
her father’s heiress, though the estates were in the lawyers’ hands till
the time came for her to step forward and prove herself a very comely
young woman without a mad whim in her head, save that whim of loving a
sailor. He also related that a very good friend of his had certain
matters in hand, and was likely to receive on her behalf certain moneys
that had been found in the house in Pall Mall. That money might come to
her any day by private messenger, and so it did, though delivered to
John Gore, and greatly to the girl’s secret delight, for she knew
nothing of law, and, believing the lover’s invention, guessed not that
the money was his.

Yet here John Gore wellnigh landed himself in a dilemma. She began to
plead that she owed him money for all the things he had bought at
Battle, nor could he silence her for a long while, and then only by
pretending to be a little hurt. Whereat she dropped the money as though
it had burned her, and went to him and asked his pardon.

The gold pieces had rolled hither and thither over the kitchen floor,
and they gathered them and counted them into little piles. Barbara’s
eyes had begun to dance with a multitude of generous desires, and she
was already planning how to spend it.

“I must go a-shopping, John,” she said, “for Christmas. If we could only
borrow Mr. Jennifer’s wagon.”

“A wagon, sweetheart! Do you want to empty all the shops in the town?”

“No, dear; but I feel that I cannot give enough to these good people
here. It has been a home, and a very dear home, John; I shall not forget
it to the day of my death.”

Now, John Gore talked privately to Mr. Jennifer, and Mr. Jennifer took
counsel privately of his wife, and the result of all this talking was
that Christopher prepared for a day’s jaunt into the county town of
Lewes. He cleaned up his wagon, put straw and bracken in the bottom
thereof, tied his horses’ manes with ribbons, and put out his Sabbath
best. One of his men and his wife came into Furze Farm for the day,
while the household went a-wagoning to Lewes, starting two hours before
dawn because the roads were heavy and the days short. Barbara, Mrs.
Winnie, and son William rode in the wagon, and John Gore on his horse,
while sturdy Kit marched beside his cattle, his whip over his shoulder,
and a sprig of holly in his hat.

Barbara had a radiant face and but little money left by noon that day in
Lewes, for even if the heart has cause for sadness there is joy in
giving others joy. She seemed incarnate womanhood that Christmas-tide,
taking a delight in all the little mysteries and mummeries of the season
and in the revels that were held. John Gore had bought all manner of
merchandise: a new gun for Mr. Christopher; a great family Bible for the
wife; toys, sweetmeats, and oranges for son William and the laborers’
children; a beautiful chain of amethysts for his love. There was much
giving and receiving that Christmas-tide at Furze Farm. The three
laborers came with their wives and youngsters to the state dinner in the
kitchen. Mr. Jennifer brewed punch, got a flushed face, and talked more
than he had talked for a whole year. Little Will nearly fell into the
fire while roasting chestnuts. John Gore played with the Sussex children
till Mrs. Winnie exclaimed at “the gentleman’s good-nature.” Pipes were
smoked in the ingle-nooks. The three countrywomen tried their best
manners, and stared hard yet kindly at “the lady” about whom there was a
mystery that had set their tongues a-clacking. Yet a woman who is sweet
to other women’s children wins a way into the hearts of mothers. “A
gracious lady, surely,” they whispered to one another, and thought the
better of her because she touched their children’s lips. And when
ribbons and blankets and good woollen stuffs came to them from her
hands, they may have regretted the disobedience of Mrs. Winnie’s orders
as to the minding of their own business, for Mrs. Jennifer had forbidden
them to gossip about the “quality biding at Furze Farm.” Yet gossip had
gone abroad, for all Mrs. Winnie’s caution, and even the lazy parson
knew that there were strangers in his parish.

With Christmas fare and festivity questions of the past, and St. Stephen
claiming his day in the calendar, Mr. Jennifer had his cart-horses out
for a gallop to sweat them well before the yearly bleeding, for it was
the custom to give horses a warming and then to bleed them on St.
Stephen’s day. Whether John Gore subscribed to the superstition or not,
he saddled his own beast early and went out alone for a canter, having
the Christmas dinner upon his conscience, and, what was more, a certain
hankering to visit Thorn. For several weeks he had intended riding over
to the place, but Barbara had been nearly always with him, and they had
taken happier and less sinister paths. He desired to see whether there
were signs of folk having been there since that November night when the
horseman whom he had taken for Captain Grylls had ridden back to inquire
after his lost packet.

It was a still and rather misty morning with moisture dropping from the
trees, and the grass wet and boggy. The fog did not hinder him greatly,
for he had learned to pick up his landmarks at every furlong, and the
track was familiar and simple when once known. About ten of the clock he
came into the valley of thorns, and saw the dim mass of the tower
glooming amid the mist. The place seemed infinitely melancholy with the
fog about it, and the dripping thorn-trees and the black, stagnant water
that showed never a ripple. The very ivy looked wet and sodden with the
raw vapor of that December day.

John Gore tethered his horse to one of the thorn-trees, and, finding the
gate open, much as he had left it, he crossed the court-yard where the
mist hung in the air like breath upon a mirror. He saw that the dog was
gone, but, what was more, the kennel also, and this slight detail
puzzled him a little and made him more cautious in his exploring. Going
to the kitchen entry and finding the door ajar, he stood there and
listened. The moisture was pattering down from the ivy leaves all about
the house, yet from the kitchen came a sound that could not be easily
mistaken—the regular, heavy breathing of a man in a deep sleep.

John Gore saw that his sword was loose in its sheath, and, pushing the
door open cautiously, he passed on into the kitchen. The figure of a man
lay upon the floor with nothing between him and the stones but what
appeared to be a tatter of rags. A sword, a leather bottle, and two
mouldy biscuits lay beside him. His head was thrown back and his throat
showing, with the stubble of a beard making the jaw look gray and
slovenly.

John Gore crossed the room softly, and recognized in that ragged,
haggard thing my Lord Gore—his father.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It was well past noon when John Gore mounted his horse again, and rode
away from the mist and shadows of Thorn, with the look of a man who had
spoken, even as Dante spoke, with some soul in the deeps of hell. He was
thinking of an old, yellow-faced man, maimed, dirty, servile, with
clothes worn into holes, and an intelligence that had flapped between
emotional contrition and paroxysms of selfish fear. This thing had been
the mighty man of manners, the serene gentleman of Whitehall and St.
James’s, whose body had smelled of ambergris and whose fine raiment had
shamed the sheen of tropical birds. Pride, vanity, even self-honor, in
the dust and dirt! A white, flaccid, furtive face that had lost all its
buxom boldness, most of its intellect—almost its very reason.

What had they said to each other, those two?

Murderer and adulterer; lover and son.

Yet John Gore had filled the leather bottle for his father that morning,
lit a fire with odd wood gathered from the rotting out-houses, and
brought in an armful of musty straw to soften the sick man’s bed.

And my lord had wept—miserable, senile tears that had no dignity and no
true passion. He had fawned on the man, his son, grovelled to him
without shame, till the son’s manhood had revolted in him, for he would
have welcomed savagery and cursing rather than moral slime. It had been
like a polluted river bringing all manner of drift to the lip of a weir.
And though he had ministered to his father, he had kept an implacable
face and a firm mouth. He had acted as a man who knew everything, and
chosen to let my lord realize that he knew it, even assuming the truth
that Barbara was dead.



                                  XLVI


John Gore rode for Furze Farm with many turbulent thoughts at work in
him, and the raw mist that thickened from over the sea making the wet
woods no more comforting than the degradation he had found at Thorn. He
had been fierce at first with the man whom he called father, till my
lord’s squalid ignominy had become apparent to him, and he had realized
that he was dealing with a creature and not a man. For there had been no
sense of strength opposed to him, no pride, no will, not even savage
passion, nothing to struggle with, nothing to overcome with shame. My
lord was dead in the better sense. Those weeks in Thorn had starved and
frozen the soul out of him, and he had become half a savage, yet a
timid, fawning savage whose consciousness was bounded by elemental
things. At first there had been nothing but abhorrence and disgust for
John Gore. This cringing thing with the face of an imbecile, embracing
his own son’s knees, lying amid his own offal! What could a man say to
this shadow of a self? Where lay the promise of judgment or of appeal?
Good God! He could remember the time when he had stood in some awe of
this same man because of his fine presence and his habit of command.

Yet as John Gore rode through the white mist the impressions and
instincts of the morning began to sift themselves and to piece up a
broader, saner picture. Incidents, acts, details started forward or
receded into clearer, truer perspective. The offensive flavor of the
thing began to prejudice him less. He tried to see the whole untarnished
truth with the sincerity of a man who is not content with mere
impressions.

Perhaps what he saw was this: a man bred in luxury, a bon-vivant, a
lover of pleasure, thrown down, broken into a species of dark pit where
the mere physical miseries of existence would bring him near to death in
body and mind. Pain, sleeplessness, cold, hunger, are grim inquisitors
fit to break a man on the rack and tear the very senses from him. John
Gore had looked into the hole where his father had kept his food, and
had seen meat going putrid and biscuits covered with mould. He
remembered, too, very vividly an incident in the Indies when he and his
ship’s company had found a man who had been marooned on an island that
was little better than a reef. The man was a Norman, and his sojourn
there had been but a matter of days. Yet he was skull-faced, parched,
abject, and as mad as an idiot child. He had run from them, screaming,
when they landed, though his legs had given under him before he had gone
fifty yards. And he had died on board John Gore’s ship, and they had
buried him at sea, and often afterward at night the sea-captain had
fancied that he still heard the man’s wild cry: “J’ai soif, mon Dieu!
mon Dieu, j’ai soif!”

Now Stephen Gore had been a proud man, and a man of sentiment after his
own ideals. He had had other things to torture and humiliate him besides
anguish in the flesh. Proportionately as a man’s physical strength
wanes, so the menace of spiritual suffering grows the more quick and
poignant. This man had spilled blood and betrayed friends. A well-fed
cynic might have put such things under his feet and trampled them. It
would be otherwise with a half-starved, memory-haunted, isolated being
shivering the nights through, listening and ever listening, while the
solitude hung like an eternal silence, and the slightest movement of the
body set bone grating against bone. Who could shrug his shoulders
through such an ordeal and come forth smiling with an epigram? Would not
the very intellect curse itself and die by its own hand? Innocent blood;
the betrayal of honor and of friends; lies, inevitable self-salvation.
These thoughts would grip such a man, throttle him, spit at his very
soul. They would not be conjured or persuaded. They would be awake with
him through the winter nights; scoff when some spasm of pain made him
curse and set his teeth; watch him with cold eyes when the light of the
dawn came in. The same miserable dragging of the days, the same
miserable passion-play of the crucified soul. Where would a man’s
manhood be at the end of such a chastisement?

The glow of the winter fires reddened the windows of Furze Farm as the
shadow of the house loomed up through the mist. The orchard hedge was
dripping with dew, the grass gray and sodden, the beech-trees like
phantom trees, the coming of the dusk mournful and full of a heavy
silence. Yet the windows of the house, with their lozenged latticing
outlined by the fire, sent John Gore’s thoughts back with a sudden
shiver of pity to dreary, ruinous, fog-choked Thorn. He dismounted
heavily, and leading his horse to the stable left him to Mr. Jennifer,
who was sitting astride a rough bench mending harness by the light of a
candle.

In the kitchen Barbara came out to welcome him, with just the faintest
glimmer of shyness that made her love the more desirable. Mrs. Winnie
was above, turning out her linen cupboard, little Will in the wood-lodge
cutting firewood with the hand-bill—a thing he had been solemnly
forbidden to do. Barbara and John had both kitchen and parlor to
themselves. No candles had been lit in the house as yet, but the burning
logs threw a rich light upon the wainscoting.

“You have had a long ride, John.”

He hung his cloak on a chair and took her hands, her pale face with its
new ripeness of color seeming to bring to him freshness and perfume
after these abhorrent hours at Thorn. Yet his heart was stern and
troubled in him because of the man, his father; nor could even his
love’s eyes flash a complete smile into his.

“They will be pleased with this fog at sea,” he said. “I can fancy that
I hear the bells ringing. What have you been doing all day, little
woman?”

She looked at him with questioning intentness. Rarely can a man hide
care from the world—very rarely, indeed, from the eyes of the woman who
loves him.

“Mrs. Winnie has been teaching me to make button-holes, John. Will and I
went out after dinner, and were nearly lost in the fog. You look tired.”

He had dropped her hands, but he caught them again with the impulsive
frankness of a man who knows himself to be but a poor dissembler.

“I am tired, Barbe—heart-tired; I cannot pretend that I am not.”

“John!”

Her voice had a touch of appeal in it.

“This morning I went out innocently enough, child; but I have returned
with more than I foreshadowed.”

“Where have you been, John?”

“To Thorn.”

“Thorn!”

“Yes.”

She hung back a little from him, reading the forethought and trouble in
his eyes, and the tired yet generous calm of a man thinking of others
rather than himself.

“You are troubled, John. Tell me.”

He looked down at her reflectively, and his eyes seemed to say: “Shall I
or shall I not?” Womanwise, she appeared to understand.

“You are afraid for my sake, John.”

“A little.”

“Is it because you cannot trust me?”

Her eyes held his, and for once it was as though she had the greater
power of will.

“No. Because I wish worry and care away.”

“John, do you think I shall leave all the burden of life to your
shoulders? Are we so little to each other? Am I so selfish?”

She felt his hands tighten on hers.

“Barbe, I have found my father.”

“At Thorn?”

“Yes.”

She shuddered slightly, despite herself, and he saw her eyes darken.

“John, did you speak to him?”

“Without mercy.”

“Does he know?”

“He thinks you dead.”

“Why is he at Thorn?”

“Hiding from the law because of this Plot; hiding from us, a miserable
wreck of a man, half starved, almost mad.”

She saw his face grow haggard and stern, the lines deepening about the
mouth, his eyes staring fixedly at the fire, as though he were looking
upon a thing that revolted him. The instinct in her was one of a strong,
pure passion to be of use. He had feared for her courage, perhaps for
her magnanimity. Yet it was she who took the torch that evening, and
carried it so that the darkness seemed less dark.

“John, my heart, tell me everything.”

She drew him by the hands into the inner room, and shut the world out,
save that world at Thorn. He looked down at her, as though wondering at
the will in her, and feeling a strength and courage near him that might
have the power of turning destiny into providence. She was calm yet
infinitely vital, and her face had a radiance that drove scorn and
bitterness and malice into the dark. He beheld a transfiguration—love
bending toward love, beautiful with the beauty of sacrifice, pity, and
desire.

“John, do you fear for me?”

He opened his arms, but paused with a sudden awe of her, and, bowing
himself, touched her hands.

“No, not now.”

“Then tell me everything.”

And he told her, sitting in the firelight, with his hands clasped upon
his knees.

Silence held them awhile in thrall. Barbara was leaning against the jamb
of the chimney, one hand laid along her cheek, her eyes full of the
past. It was as though some sharp struggle were passing within her, and
for a moment her eyes had a glitter of anger. But the gleam passed from
them, and her mouth softened.

She looked down at the man with a mystery of a smile—a smile with no
mirth in it, but full of sadness, yearning, and self-reproach.

“John.”

He started, almost as though he had forgotten her.

“Do you love your father?”

The question seemed to stagger him; he frowned at the fire.

“Love that!”

She rested her head upon her arm; his scorn had made the heart leap in
her.

“I did, John, my father. And then—What misery! What greater shame!”

“But you—”

“John—John, what must it be to lose everything, even the love of one’s
own son? That touches me, even to the heart. Is it not strange that I
should feel that, even more than you?”

He looked at her questioningly, mutely. She had not seen what he had
seen—cowardice, squalor, bestial fawning that was infamous in a man.
And yet her words woke a depth of feeling in him, something finer and
more delicate than his man’s nature had fashioned of itself.

He opened his mouth to tell her more of the gross truth, but some
impulse rebuked him. He waited instinctively for her.

Barbara had raised her head. For a moment she stared at the fire and
then turned to him with a look he would never forget.

“John, it may help you if I tell you what is in my heart.”

“Child!”

“It is this, John: I can forgive—yes, I can forgive.”

He looked at her wonderingly, and then sprang up, opening his arms. She
went to him with a low, inarticulate cry, and let him hold her to him,
while a great tremor passed through her, as though the old self were
vanishing with a last spasm of pain and bitterness.

“Barbe, you can forgive!”

“Yes.”

“But it is for my sake?”

She raised her head, and her eyes were full of tears.

“Yes—partly; you have changed me; and yet—it is of my own will.”

He bent, and kissed her lips.

“Child, you make me ashamed. It is you that shall teach me. God keep
you!”



                                 XLVII


For three weeks John Gore rode almost daily to Thorn, starting out
from Furze Farm toward dusk, sometimes spending the night at the ruin
and riding back with the breaking of the day. He took over food with
him, blankets, clean linen, and a keg of spirits, carrying something on
each journey, yet keeping the whole matter as secret as he might. Mrs.
Winnie and her man had to be enlightened in some measure, and they were
folk who could be trusted when once their love had been won; for Sussex
folk are often slow and surly in their likings, but they make good
friends when once they have forgiven the strangeness of an unfamiliar
face.

Nothing had ever gone more grimly against John Gore’s nature than those
first days of ministration to the refugee at Thorn. It was a question of
will and effort, an ordeal of self-compulsion, lightened by a vague
glimmer of magnanimity that Barbara’s renunciation had inspired; for
John Gore had closed heart and hand against his father with the
determined passion of a man whose nature was strong and combative, and
none too gentle where infamy was concerned. The romantic rush of the
past months was still with him. It was not easily hindered or turned
aside into a sordid, shallow channel. Even in the flush of fighting, a
man may throw down his sword and hold out a generous hand to a beaten
enemy whose gallantry had touched his manhood. But the refugee at Thorn
had roused no generous impulses as yet. Courage respects courage, even
in a rogue; my lord seemed half an imbecile, half a coward. None of the
finer manliness seemed left in him: he was servile, unclean, furtive,
suspicious as an animal, lacking in all the grace of the nobler
feelings. It was as though the perfumes and the colors of that complex
flower, “the gentleman of fashion,” had evaporated and decayed, leaving
the raw and naked self stripped in its ugliness to the last husk.

John Gore had made a rough splint and bound his father’s leg to it, and
contrived a bed with straw and blankets that should keep him from sores
and from the cold. A spark of my lord’s easy cynicism had flashed out
momentarily in the midst of his degradation.

“Mending a leg to break a neck, John; you are Puritan enough for that.”

But it was a flash in the pan. Even the polite insolence seemed dead in
him. He had caught his son’s arm and clung to it pleadingly.

“Think better of me, John. I came here to save the girl: I swear that,
before God.”

And then he would show great cunning behind the chatterings of dismay,
trying to worm from his son all that he knew, and also how he had come
to know it. But John Gore kept a shut mouth and the face of a flint, the
heart hard and contemptuous within him when he remembered the look in
Barbara’s eyes when she had spoken these words: “I can forgive.” Surely
there was no soul here worth forgiving. Better dead. That was the grim
judgment his heart uttered.

Such was the first week at Thorn, with the dark rides to and fro along
the woodland roads, the mournfulness and dolor of the winter landscape,
love by the fireside, retribution amid ruins. Sometimes Barbara would
walk out a little way toward Thorn in the hope of meeting John Gore upon
the homeward ride. She could not but mark the bitterness in him, a
certain questioning look about the eyes that seemed to gaze toward some
inevitable end. The riddle would have been baffling enough even if his
heart had been in the solving of it. Granted that the past were given to
oblivion, his father was a proscribed man; there was some risk even in
shielding him; any day he might be discovered and taken.

Nor could he tell Barbara all that he saw at Thorn. It was too sordid,
too contemptible; and yet his very reticence led her to understand.
Perhaps she had more sympathy, more vision than John Gore that winter.
She knew what Thorn could be even to one without guilt, without physical
pain, without an eternal dread, and with some one to bring food. This
man had gone down into the deeps of misery and degradation. He had been
starved and broken. That was her thought.

Once she asked John Gore to let her see him, but he shook his head and
would not hear of it.

“He thinks that I am dead, John,” she said.

“Then let him think it. God! Are we to make the thing so easy?”

“John! John!”

His fierceness hurt her a little, seeming to wake a clash of discords in
her, as though the brazen gates of that closed tragedy were jarring wide
again.

“John, don’t speak like that, dear.”

His tenderness shone through the anger in him.

“Barbe, you may forget; I cannot. When I touch your hand, when I see the
life in you, I remember.”

The memory of that night came back, and she shuddered: the dark room,
those throttling hands, the violence and horror in the dark. She looked
at her lover and understood.

“It is hard for you,” she said, very gently.

For to John Gore at that time it was like pampering a man who had sought
to betray the honor of his wife.

The old year had gone; the new was in with white hoar-frost on the grass
and the boughs each dawn, and a silvery smoke of mist melting into clear
blue mornings. January went plodding on—a heavy, toothless, torpid
month, despite the frost and the shimmer of sunlight; for January has
little of the likeness of a child; rather it appears as a gray old man
laboring in the dusk and the mists of the morning at some task that no
man sees. It is a month when gnomes work below the ground, laboring for
the mystery of beauty that is to be, touching the hidden seed with fire,
breathing into brown roots the colors of the flowers that shall come
hereafter.

With January, Stephen Gore’s life seemed to sink to the lowest level of
lethargy. Torpor fell upon him till he was like a frost-nipped plant
with the sap congealed, the leaves shrivelled and gray. He would sleep
for hours, and even when awake lie staring at the beams in the ceiling
above him, his face blank and without intelligence. He hardly ever
spoke. Even the fever of fear left him. He asked for nothing, not even
food. John Gore thought that my lord was dying, and even picked out a
place in the garden where he would bring him when he was dead.

Yet it was not death with Stephen Gore, but a stupor that nature had
brought upon him even as the winter fields lie inert and frost-crumbled
under the sky. Fresh food and the warmth of the bed had a narcotic
effect upon the man. The half-starved body seized greedily upon
everything and bade the mere mind sleep, and so the mind slept on for
many days, as though helping forward the old adage—“_Mens sana in
corpore sano._” For the body is but the stem of the tree of the senses,
and the sick body is often the cause of the sick mind.

Toward the last week in January John Gore saw a slow and subtle change
in his father, a change that came like the first thrusting of growth
through the winter soil. The flabbiness melted out of the man’s face;
his eyes grew brighter and full of the intelligence of inward life. He
was still very silent, but it was the silence of growth, not the silence
of paralysis. John Gore would find his father watching him, not with the
old, furtive, cringing look, but with a kind of sadness, a mute
perplexity that betrayed the mind working behind the eyes. More than
once he had made tentative little attempts to show gratitude, always
watching his son’s face as though conscious of its imperturbable
sternness. His son’s face began to be a dial of destiny to him. He could
read the truth about himself in the younger man’s grave eyes.

It became evident that Stephen Gore’s manhood and his self-respect were
returning to him slowly as he lay in the kitchen of Thorn. What his
thoughts were John Gore could only guess, though he was struck by the
change in his father, the indefinable refining and strengthening of the
outer and inner man, as though my lord had ceased to be the animal, and
had come again to the cognizance of higher things. They seldom spoke to
each other, these two, nor did they venture beyond the trivial needs or
happenings of the day. Both were conscious of the imminent and dark
shadow, and faltered before it, sheltering behind reticence and
procrastination. Yet John Gore would see a certain look come into his
father’s eyes, as though the man were dumb and were striving to speak.

And the first breaking of the superficial surface of reserve was caused
by nothing more dramatic than a beard. My lord’s self-respect seemed
intimately married to bodily cleanliness and perfection in dress. Silks
and brocades and perfumes were beyond him; perhaps he would not have
asked for them even if they had been at hand. But it was with a gleam of
his old wit that he desired most humbly to be barbered, and to be
deprived of the hair that had grown at Thorn.

John Gore accepted the incident without a smile, brought a razor with
him next day, and dutifully shaved my lord’s upper lip and chin. He had
done his barbering in silence, with the air of a man who had no care
beyond the dexterity of his fingers, when my lord laid a hand on his
son’s shoulder.

“You would like to cut my throat, John. Cut it.”

They looked at each other squarely in the eyes. Stephen Gore was the
first to glance away.

“Nor should I blame you, my son.”

And that was all that passed between them over the shaving of my lord’s
chin.

John Gore told Barbara of the change in Stephen Gore, and she listened
with a faint smile hovering about her mouth, as though her intuition
gave her some vision of the future.

“Be gentle with him, John,” she said. “I have heard it said that pottery
is brittle when it first comes from the furnace.”

“Then you think the clay has been recast, child?”

“Why should it not be so!”

And he could only marvel at the change in her.

So the month went, and my lord’s “grand air” began to flutter out feebly
like a faded butterfly on a sunny day in spring. Yet there was a certain
humility about him that made John Gore reflect, for his father was very
patient now, strangely so for one who had sworn at lackeys. Often the
son would catch a troubled shadow darkening the father’s face. He would
drop his eyes when they met John Gore’s, yet he watched his son almost
hungrily when the son’s back was turned.

It was a day early in February, and John Gore sat on Simon Pinniger’s
three-legged stool before the fire, and cleaned his pistols that grew
foul quickly in the damp winter air. His father had been asleep, and the
son believed him still sleeping as he polished the barrels and scoured
the powder-pans.

He heard a slight movement behind him, and, turning sharply, found my
lord awake and watching him with thoughtful eyes. Both men colored
slightly. John Gore turned again, and went on with his work.

Then he heard his father speak.

“John, how long have I been here?”

The son considered.

“Three months—or so,” he answered.

My lord sighed.

“This leg of mine is mending.”

The son said nothing.

“I am wondering whether it is worth the mending. A man must die some
day; though it is better that he should die like a man, not like a dog.”

There was a minute’s silence. John Gore could hear his father’s
breathing, but he went on doggedly with the cleaning of his pistols.

“John.”

My lord spoke softly, almost pleadingly.

“Yes.”

“Will you answer me a few questions?”

“Ask them.”

Again there was a short pause.

“Have you any news from Westminster?”

“What news?”

“The Catholics, my friends—the rest.”

John Gore laid one pistol down and took up the other.

“Coleman is dead,” he said, curtly.

“Coleman! How?”

“The scaffold.”

He heard his father mutter indistinctly, and the words sounded like the
words of a Latin prayer.

“And the rest?”

“Some with Coleman, some in the Tower and the jails, some scattered.
London has been calling for blood.”

My lord lay very still. Then he turned slightly, and his eyes were on
his son.

“And in Pall Mall?”

“My Lady Purcell?”

“Yes.”

“She died three months ago.”

There was another and a longer pause.

“John.” And he spoke with effort.

“Yes.”

“Why did you save me from dying?”

The son frowned at the fire.

“I do not know,” he said, at last.

“John, you were always honest. Yet—God help me—with the irony of the
truth.”

Stephen Gore asked no more questions, but lay staring at the beams above
him, his mouth twitching, his eyes glazed with a film of thought. He
seemed to forget the presence of his son. The great dim world of the
past, and the vast “beyond” that holds the past world in its shadows,
engrossed the life in him, and he made no sound.

As for John Gore, his heart was full of a conflict of strong emotions.
Nor was his mouth so straight and stern when he turned and glanced at
his father over his shoulder. Yet what he beheld moved him more deeply
than any words my lord had spoken. For Stephen Gore’s eyes were wet and
blurred, and there was the glisten of tears upon his face.

John Gore rose suddenly from before the fire, and, taking his pistols
with him, went out without a word. He was half angry and half ashamed,
for though pity had welled up like blood into his mouth, a rough and
scolding bitterness pointed to the meaner motives of mankind, and the
leer of a possible hypocrisy hardened his heart.

He rode home toward Furze Farm, meeting a strong west wind that made the
sky move fast and the ash boughs clash in the thickets. And in the woods
north of the farm Barbara met him, where a number of old hollies threw
up a wall of dense, green gloom.

He dismounted, and kissed her with some of the brusqueness of a man
whose eyes seem too shallow, and whose heart is too near his lips. She
let the strangeness in him pass, and they walked on side by side, the
horse following at their heels. John Gore looked at the grass road
before him, Barbara at the sky. And for nearly half a furlong they
walked on thus in silence.

“John, you two have spoken.”

He glanced at her sharply, as though wondering how she knew.

“Yes.”

“What did he say to you?”

“Questions. He asked questions.”

“About—”

“His friends; about your mother.”

“What did you tell him, John?”

“I told him the truth.”

“Yes; and then—”

“What could I say to the man? Curse him, he wept!”

She paused a moment, taking her lover’s arm, and holding him back a
little as though about to speak. The impulse changed, however, and she
walked on again with a light of infinite wisdom in her eyes. For a man’s
nature is a proud and contrary thing. She felt what was passing in John
Gore’s heart, and she was too tender and too prudent to drag it roughly
into the light of day.



                                 XLVIII


My lord took his first walk in the kitchen of Thorn leaning upon John
Gore’s shoulder, the son’s arm about the father’s body. Any one who had
seen the pair would have judged them to have been the best of friends,
for the son steadied the father’s steps with the grave, patient air of
one whose care was almost a devotion. And the father, who had the look
of a man who had aged very rapidly, what with the white in his hair and
the deep lines upon his face, seemed to lean upon the son with a sense
of confidence and trust. He was wearing a new suit of plain black cloth,
with a white scarf about his throat. Some of his little gestures and
tricks of expression came to him as in the old days, save that they were
less emphatic and less characteristic of the aggressive self.

At the third turn Stephen Gore looked at the window that was lit by the
March sunlight, and a sudden wistfulness swept into his eyes, as though
he were touched by pathetic memories. He paused, leaning his weight upon
his son, for he was feeble and easily out of breath after those weeks
upon his back.

“I should like to go into the open air, John, and sit in the sun.”

John Gore looked at him doubtfully.

“You are safer here,” he said.

My lord gave a shake of the head.

“Are you cautious for my sake, my son? John—John, you do not understand
me yet.”

There seemed a new atmosphere of sympathy enveloping them, for John Gore
answered his father very gently.

“It shall be as you wish.”

“Then put your arm under my shoulders, John—so. What a strong fellow
you are! I can just toddle like a dot of two.”

They went out into the court-yard, Stephen Gore’s right leg dragging
stiffly. He would walk with a limp for the rest of his life, since the
limb that had been broken had been shortened by three inches in the
mending. The son carried Simon Pinniger’s three-legged stool in his left
hand. They crossed the court-yard very slowly, and passed through a
doorway into the wilderness of the garden. The green of the spring was
thrusting through a thousand buds; there was the thrill of growth in the
air, and the birds were singing.

Close on the sunny side of a ragged box-tree that was half netted in
brambles a clump of Lent-lilies stood in bloom, swinging their golden
heads over the weeds and grass. There seemed the beauty of symbolism
about these flowers. The sunlight appeared to centre upon them, and to
burnish their golden heads with the warmth of the March day.

My lord’s glance settled on the flowers. He paused before them with a
sudden curious smile.

“Set the stool here, John.”

And he sat down there, with the clump of daffodils at his feet.

John Gore left him there awhile, and strolled on along the rank walks
where primroses glimmered from lush green glooms, and gilliflowers were
beginning to scent the air from the crumbling tops of the old brick
walls. The softness and the glamour of spring seemed everywhere. There
was no wind, hardly a cloud—nothing but the warm shimmer of the
sunlight.

Father and son had come closer to each other those last days, not
through any sentimental outburst of the emotions, but because the father
had become once more a man, and a man whom it was even possible to
respect. “Mea culpa,” he had said, and the dignity of a simple
acceptance of guilt had given him a new impressiveness. It had been
difficult, at first, for John Gore to accept his father’s humility as a
thing born of the heart and the spirit. There was ever the sneer of
possible “play-acting” penitence, the tawdry sentimental epilogue spoken
with a hypocritical leer and a thought of the nearest brothel. John Gore
had distrusted his father, and had watched keenly for the old self to
betray itself. Yet he had still continued to behold a quiet, patient,
and sorrowful old man who seemed grateful for small services, and who
looked at him with watchful and troubled eyes. John Gore distrusted any
religious display in such a man as my lord. And yet he came to
understand by degrees all that was passing in his father’s heart.

He returned presently to where the elder man was seated, and found him
in an attitude of saddened thought. Stephen Gore looked up as his son
joined him, and then turned his head away so that his eyes were on the
tower of Thorn. The place itself must of necessity force the full
meaning of the past upon him. The stones spoke; the very silence of the
place had a message of its own. For my lord still believed Anne
Purcell’s child to be dead, and that thought had survived to haunt him
above all others.

“John.”

“Yes.”

“I have something to say to you as between man and man.”

The son stood back, and leaned against the trunk of an apple-tree.

“You have given me the chance, John, to judge myself, and to discover
the truth with my own eyes. Let us have no parson’s talk—no snivelling.
As a man of the world I fought for myself, and pushed others out of the
path. I blundered immortally over my selfishness, John, and they ought
to hang me for a fool.”

He still looked toward the tower, and John Gore guessed whither his
thoughts tended.

“That was the damnedest thing the self in me ever rushed on, my son. And
yet I tried to alter it at the last—perhaps for my own sake, perhaps
for the mother’s. She was dying then—I have told you that; perhaps that
was why I repented. The heart of a man is a strange, elusive,
treacherous thing, even to its owner, John. Sometimes we can hardly
decide why we do the things we do.”

He sat in silence awhile, with his head bowed down.

“You must have hated me, my son; if you had spat upon me, I should
hardly have questioned it. Words are not life: I cannot give you back
that which I destroyed. And there is where bitterness grips the heart in
a man when he sees what manner of ruin he has made. What are regrets,
despair, protestations? Air—mere air in the brain! When once a man has
fallen into the slough, John, his struggles seem only to carry him
deeper. He may even drag others below the surface or splash foul mud
onto innocent faces. But the awe and the bitterness are in the
knowledge, John, of our own utter, miserable impotence. Things cannot be
wiped out. They last and endure against us till the crack of doom.”

He stared at the grass and knitted his hands together.

“I had thought of giving myself up, my son, and telling the whole truth.
But that—that cannot help the dead. And somehow I have come to shudder
at the thought of throwing shame into the grave of the one woman who
really loved me. And, John, I shall suffer more by living than by dying.
Fools do not always realize that in this world. They tie a man to a
rope, and think that they are even with him for his sins. They would
often get the greater vengeance on him if they only let him live.”

He paused, staring straight before him, his shoulders bent.

“Weeks ago, John, I remember, as in a dream, that I lived in a mad
horror of death. That has passed, I know not quite how. But I leave the
judgment in your hands, my son. Do with me what you please.”

He seemed to grow very weary of a sudden, for his strength was but the
strength of a sick man, and the grim truths of life seemed heavy on him.
His son went to him, and, putting an arm about his father’s body, helped
him to his feet, and led him back to the bed in the kitchen.

“I am not your judge, father,” he said, very gently; “there is another
one who should judge, and from whom forgiveness may have come.”

He was thinking of Barbara, but my lord thought that he spoke of God.

The meadows about Furze Farm were full of the bleating of lambs those
days, and the youngsters skipped and butted one another, galloping to
and fro on their ridiculous legs, while the stupid old dames baaed, each
to its own child. There had been one sick lamb that Christopher Jennifer
had brought home in his arms, and the little beast had been laid upon
hay in a basket beside the fire. There were also two cade-lambs in a pen
in the orchard, and Barbara, who had many hours to herself now that John
Gore rode almost daily to Thorn, had asked Mrs. Winnie to let her have
the tending of the two motherless ones, also the feeding of the early
chicks and the gathering of the eggs. The whole life at the farm was
fresh and quaint to her, and brisk life it was those spring days—a
cackling, bleating, lowing life, with the thrushes singing in the
beech-trees and the blackbirds in the hedgerows. The bloom on the apple
and pear trees in the orchard would soon be pink and white, and there
were daffodils nodding their heads at Furze Farm as well as in the
wilderness of Thorn.

The evening after Stephen Gore’s confession at Thorn, John Gore took his
love away over the uplands where the furze was all a glitter of gold,
with the green slopes of the hills and the brown ploughlands making a
foreground to the distant sea. They desired to be alone that evening, to
feel the spirit of spring in them, and to watch the sun go down and the
twilight creep into the valleys. Their happiness was the greater because
others were not forgotten in the romance of their two selves. Moreover,
the glamour of the morrow had the delight of a plot in it. Mrs. Winnie
alone was suffered to taste the spice in the secret, though the duty
fell to her of sending out for clean rushes, taking down the rosemary
and bay from the beams in the pantry, and gathering flowers to spread
upon the coverlet of the bed.

She smiled to herself very pleasantly when John Gore and the “little
lady” rode out early next morning as though for nothing more solemn than
a morning’s canter. She knew that the gentleman had smoked a pipe in the
parson’s parlor more than a month ago, and Mrs. Winnie was quite wise as
to what was in the wind. There was to be no stir made, and Chris
Jennifer’s wife rather approved of being the solitary holder of such a
secret. Her attitude was quite motherly. She spent the morning sweeping
Barbara’s room, and strewing rushes and flowers about it, and putting
posies of bay and rosemary upon the pillows.

The pair were back at Furze Farm by dinner-time, looking mild and
innocent, even hungry, as though nothing serious had befallen. They
walked into the kitchen just as Mr. Jennifer was settling himself to
carve the meat. John Gore glanced at Mrs. Winnie, who had run forward to
kiss and embrace her “little lady.” That occurred behind Mr. Jennifer’s
back, and son William had too brisk an appetite to trouble about the
emotions of his elders.

“Shall I give you a dump o’ fat, sir?”

And so they sat down to dinner.

They were half through with it when Mrs. Winnie accepted a nod from John
Gore and pushed back her chair, and picking up a wedding-favor from
under a mug on the dresser, she went to her man and held it under his
nose.

Mr. Jennifer stared at the gilded sprigs and the ribbons very gravely.

“I dunno as I be a widower yet,” he said, as his slow brain took in the
nature of the thing, “nor be you a widow, Winnie.”

“Oh, you thick-head, Chris!”

Mr. Jennifer looked at her, and then, with a sudden gleam of the eyes,
at John Gore and the lady.

“Be that so, my dear?”

“Surely,” said Mrs. Winnie, in a whisper.

Then Mr. Jennifer laid a hand to his mug, rose slowly and solemnly, and
stared hard at the bride and bridegroom.

“Ut be a pleasure—”

He paused and reconsidered the beginning.

“Ut be a pleasure—”

John Gore and Barbara looked up at him smilingly, and their eyes seemed
to drive the whole art of oratory out of Mr. Jennifer’s head. He took
refuge in his mug, brandished it toward them, and set it down empty,
with emphasis. Then he looked at his wife with an affectionate grin.

“I be powerful pleased, my dear. Seven years ago—”

“Eight,” interposed the wife, with a shocked glance at son William.

“Eight be ut, then—I dared ut like a man, and I’d dare ut again, please
God.”

“Lor’, Christopher!”

“William, keep t’ gravy off thy breeches. Mr. Gore, sir, you’ll be for
pardoning me, but t’ lady’s face be a good bargain. T’ Bible says
something of vines and fig leaves and olive branches—I dunno as I quite
knows what; but I wish ye all of ut, sir, you—and the lady.”

So Barbara lay in her lover’s arms that night, and they heard the birds
break out with their songs at dawn.



                                  XLIX


The sun was up, the birds making the air quiver, the life of the world
awake with the faint fragrance of a spring morning. Barbara, lying upon
her lover’s arm, looked with shadowy eyes at the casement that caught
the light of the glowing east. And with the first coming of
consciousness she had remembered the refugee at Thorn and the part that
they had set themselves to play that day. The “self” in them was to be
thrust aside on that first morning of their life together.

Barbara, combing her hair at the little glass by the window, could hear
her man walking to and fro in the garden; for he had risen first, and
taken the bar down from the house door before the Jennifers were
stirring. And though he whistled the tune of a love-song, she seemed to
feel a spirit of melancholy and foreboding stealing up through the
spring morning. Nor was her own consciousness without a sense of
shadowiness and vague unrest. Bridal dawns are not always the happiest
dawns, yet it was not the love in Barbara that had suffered pain. The
destiny that she was to fulfil that day brought back a fog of
recollections that chilled the air a little and weakened the sunlight.
This was the aftermath, the second reaping and gathering of memories.

The joy of the night had been sweet, intimate, and wrapped in the
darkness, and perhaps her heart was not ready for the daylight—and
realities. It was a sensitive and sacred hour with her, and almost she
could have desired to spend that day alone. There was so much to
realize, so much to feel, so much to foreshadow. She was no longer
herself; the sacrament had its mysteries; her maidenliness felt a little
shy of the world at first.

She heard John Gore walking below her window, and a sudden rush of
tenderness seized on her. For the moment she felt lonely, even afraid;
for he to whom she had given everything alone could give everything in
return. The sense of surrender was quick in her. She would be utterly
alone in the world, save for this one man. Love was life. And the
wistfulness made her yearn over him as though one day the world might
take him from her.

“John!”

He turned and looked up at the window.

“Halloo, little wife!”

She leaned forward with her comb caught in a tress of her hair, knowing
not what to say to him now that she had called him.

“What a heavy dew there has been!”

“Yes; the grass is gray in the meadows.”

“Is Mrs. Winnie up yet?”

“No; we are the larks this morning.”

She was silent a moment, looking away toward the distant hills. Her
voice had a tremor when she spoke again.

“John!”

“Yes!”

“Come to me; I want you.”

And he went up, to find her weeping.

Man, being a creature of tougher fibre, cannot always comprehend a
woman’s moods. They may seem inexplicable to him, because her
sensitiveness can be as fine as gossamer, and hardly visible against the
coarser background of reality. Even as a man cannot always gauge the
strange, shrinking prides of a shy child, so he may blunder against the
delicate and sacred things of a woman’s soul, unless love, spiritual
love, gives him that intuition that sees beyond the carnal clay.

“Why, Barbe—weeping!”

He looked at her, not a little troubled, searching his own heart
guiltily, yet having no consciousness of having wounded her in any way.
The tears of a woman whom he loves have always a personal issue for a
man. They may pique him if he is vain, challenge him if he be honest.

“Oh, it is nothing, John!”

He did the only thing a man could do, and that was to take her face
between his two hands and kiss her.

“Little wife, no secrets from me. Let us begin life so; we shall never
regret it.”

She closed her eyes, and, putting her hands upon his shoulders, hung her
head a little.

“It was foolish of me, dear. I have been so happy, and sometimes when
one has been very happy—”

“The tears come, little wife.”

“I have never been very happy till now, John. And just now it came into
my heart so suddenly—”

She faltered, and he stood looking down at her as he held her in his
arms.

“Barbara—wife, you felt lonely.”

She darted up a look at him as though surprised that he should know.

“How do I know, child? Because I had something of the same feeling
myself. What a pair of fond fools, eh! No, it is something deeper and
more sacred than that.”

“Yes, John, I know. But do you think—”

“I think a great many things, Barbe.”

“Yes; but that I shall make you happy, that I can fill your life for
you?”

He took her unloosed hair, and put it back from off her forehead.
Perhaps he was learning the familiar truth that no being can be more
fiercely conscientious and self-critical than a good woman newly
married. Fevers of doubt and of introspection rise in her. The surrender
is so final, so utter, and the future seems so precious.

“Barbe, we have been married not quite a day. Yes—yes—I know. It is
the sweet, brave heart in you that is blind to its own worth. Little
wife, look in my eyes and see if you see any shadows there.”

She looked and smiled.

“No, John.”

“Then never look for them, dear heart. One’s imagination may create
curses. Always speak out; never think in. If I ever hurt you—yet God
forbid—tell me so; that can be mended.”

She felt for his hands and held them.

“I will try always not to think of myself, John.”

“Then you will be a very foolish woman, dear, and I shall have to do the
thinking for you.”

“And you will take me to Thorn to-day?”

He looked at her gravely.

“You wish that?”

“I wish it.”

It was still early when John Gore brought the horses to the gate after
breakfast and lifted Barbara into her saddle. She wore a plain black
riding-habit that morning, a black beaver with a black plume curled
round the brim, and a collar of white lace about her throat. The life at
Furze Farm had tinted her skin with a brown, pearly haze. She was never
a girl for much color, but her lips were red and generous, and her
figure more rich in womanliness than of yore.

The shy, introspective mood of the early morning had passed. Hill and
valley bathed in sunlight, the freshness of the woods, the movement, the
sympathy between heart and heart, brought back that happier courage that
is the true boast of health. For it is the brave, clear-eyed woman who
holds the love of a man in this world. Melancholy and helplessness may
please the lover; they do not often hold the husband. Man needs a mate
who can spread her wings with him, whose eyes look trustfully, who has
no trick of selfish tears. And John Gore, riding beside his wife that
morning, felt glad and strong and sure because of her, for generosity
counts with a man almost before all other virtues. Let a woman be pure
and generous, and she will never lack the reverence of men.

When they came to the valley of thorns that morning John Gore drew rein
in the beech thicket that he knew so well. He desired to bring Barbara
into Thorn without my lord suspecting it.

“I will go down first,” he said; “when I am ready I will come into the
court and wave my cloak. Then, little wife, you will follow.”

And it was agreed between them as he said.

My lord was not in the kitchen that morning, and John Gore, seeing that
the stool was gone, guessed that his father was in the garden. Going out
into the court he waved his cloak as a sign to Barbara, and passing on
into the garden he found Stephen Gore sitting in the sunlight with his
sword across his knees. He looked younger by years than he had looked
for many weeks. His eyes had an alertness new to them, and he rose up to
meet his son with the air of an aristocrat and a man.

“Good-morning to you, John; I am making the most of the sunlight.”

The son looked questioningly at the father’s sword. My lord’s manner had
something final, something stately in its tranquillity.

“I had a visitor yesterday, my son; I was glad that you were absent.”

“A visitor? Who?”

“One of those gentlemen, John, who walk through the world with a ladle
full of hot sulphur. He came to spy and to discover. I entertained him.
I assure you that he was mightily exalted.”

John Gore looked grave.

“An informer?”

“Call the creature what you will, my son, he has scented the fox and run
him to earth. He seemed astonished at my urbanity, and sat with a hand
upon his pistol. ‘Good sir,’ said I, ‘I am tired of the country, and
yearn for the city and that noble place where so many good gentlemen are
entertained. Do me the honor of waiting on me to-morrow with a few fiery
Protestant friends; let us fix the hour at noon. I assure you that I
shall not run,’ and I believe the fellow believed me. I shall be taken
to-day, John; I am waiting for them quietly here. What does it matter!
They cannot frighten me; I am beyond that now.”

He spoke simply yet pungently, a quiet pride giving him something of
grandeur and impressiveness. John Gore was listening for the sound of
Barbara’s coming. A clatter of hoofs from the court-yard rose on the
morning air. My lord heard it and smiled, and then held out a hand to
his son.

“Hear them, John! I did not expect the rogues so early. Clear, my lad; I
don’t want you caught in the tangle. Get behind some of yonder bushes.”

John Gore looked hard at his father.

“It is not your friends yet,” he said; “wait here; this is my affair.”

The sunlight shone on Barbara’s face as she met her husband in the
court-yard. He said but one word—“Come”—and led her by the hand into
the garden. A tangle of shrubs hid the place where Stephen Gore waited.
And thus John Gore and Barbara came upon my lord quite suddenly, and
stood before him almost like a pair of runaways returning for a father’s
pardon.

My lord looked at Barbara and went white to the lips. His arms hung
limply. He stooped, and seemed to shrink into himself, his eyes
remaining fixed on her as though unable to look away. For the moment the
old, frightened, fawning expression came back into his eyes. Then he
gave a sudden, inarticulate cry, flung out his hands, and stood groping
almost like one struck blind.

“John, you have deceived me!”

He would probably have fallen had not the son sprung to him and put an
arm about his body.

“John, you have deceived me! My God, are you against me, even at the
last!”

“No, no; it is not that.”

He glanced at Barbara, for Stephen Gore seemed in a kind of agony. He
trembled greatly, leaned heavily upon his son, almost clinging to him as
though stricken with the dread that he had been tricked and condemned
even at the last by the one man whose love was the one thing left to
him.

Barbara answered her husband’s glance; her lips were quivering. This
strong man’s anguish went to her heart.

“John, tell him—”

“It is forgiveness.”

“A blotting out of the past.”

At the sound of her voice Stephen Gore recovered his courage and his
self-control. He stood back from his son, putting John Gore’s arm aside,
as though he had strength enough to stand alone. He looked at Barbara
sadly, yet with thankfulness—the look of a man whose grosser prides
were dead.

“You are alive, child; thank God for that! The truth of this was hid
from me.”

She would have spoken, but he held up his hands as though to beg her
patience.

“You know everything? Does she know the whole truth, John?”

The son nodded and turned his face away. My lord spoke on.

“Child, I did you and yours a great wrong. I cannot justify myself; out
of my own mouth I am judged. These are the words of a man who expects to
die. Yet be it said, child, without pride of heart, that I would have
gladly ended the thing I called my life that I might wipe out all the
past.”

There was silence between the three for several seconds. Then Barbara
looked at John Gore and he at her.

“We have buried the past,” she said, turning to my lord.

Stephen Gore did not move.

“John and I are man and wife. We have put the past away from us. It is
better for us—and for the dead.”

My lord raised his eyes slowly till they rested on Barbara’s face. He
saw nothing there but a mist of tenderness and tears.

“Child, you say this to me?”

She held out her hands generously.

“Out of my heart I say it.”

My lord bowed himself and took her hands, and when he had kissed them he
put them reverently away from him, and stood up bravely, yet with a
twitching face. John Gore had come to stand beside his wife. And the
three looked at each other and were silent.

Then my lord spoke.

“Children, go—and God bless you.”

They looked at him questioningly, but he did not falter.

“John, my son, you understand. They will come for me soon; I am ready; I
shall no longer be ashamed. Go. I would not have you near the fringe of
the slough into which these good Protestants will throw me. You have
your lives to live. It is my desire that no shadow of mine should ever
darken them again.”

Barbara looked at her husband, for she did not understand the meaning of
what was said. My lord smiled at her and pointed toward the distance.
The authority seemed his that day.

“John will tell you the truth. It is for your sakes that I demand this.”

Both husband and wife faltered, but Stephen Gore’s eyes were clear and
unflinching.

“John, if this should be the end of me, what I have is yours, unless the
rogues sequestrate it. Now go, my son, and be happy. It is my last wish,
and you will grant it me.”

And so they left him, sadly, unwillingly, feeling like traitors leaving
a friend to death. For the man had seemed lovable, even great, at that
last moment, and yet they had felt that it would have been graceless to
question his last desire.

Stephen Gore watched them go, following them to the court-yard, and
standing above the moat as they rode slowly away toward the woods. Under
the beech-trees they turned and looked back at Thorn, and saw him
standing there, and waved him a farewell.

“What will it mean?”

Barbara’s eyes asked her love that as he took her bridle and drew away
into the woods.

“They will take him to-day,” he said; “yesterday he was discovered.
Other heads have fallen; so may his.”

She was silent awhile, and then looked at John Gore wistfully.

“And we are leaving him!”

“Wife, it was his wish, his prayer, his penance. I—a man—would not
grudge it him. Can you not understand?”

“Yes, John, I can understand.”

And they rode back to Furze Farm sadly, knowing that it would be wiser
for them to leave the place and seek some other refuge till they saw how
the times promised.

Before noon my lord was taken in Thorn as a Catholic and a conspirator
against the state. He met them calmly, with the fine carriage of the man
of the world, courteous and debonair, ready even with an epigram and a
smile. His face seemed strangely tranquil as he rode with his escort out
of the gate of Thorn.

“May the sins of the fathers rest not upon the children.”

That was the prayer that his heart uttered.

                                THE END

                 *        *        *        *        *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Spelling and hyphenation have been left as in the original. Punctuation
and minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.





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