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Title: Hugh Gwyeth - A Roundhead Cavalier
Author: Dix, Beulah Marie
Language: English
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                          Transcriber’s Note:

This version of the text cannot represent certain typographical effects.
Italics are delimited with the ‘_’ character as _italic_. The few
instances of blackletter font in the front matter use the ‘~’ as a
delimiter.

Please consult the note at the end of this text for a discussion of the
textual issues encountered in its preparation.



                              HUGH GWYETH


                          A ROUNDHEAD CAVALIER



[Illustration]



                              HUGH GWYETH
                          A ROUNDHEAD CAVALIER



                                   BY

                            BEULAH MARIE DIX



                               ~New York~
                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                     LONDON: MACMILLAN & CO., LTD.
                                  1913


                         _All rights reserved_



                            COPYRIGHT, 1899,

                       BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

                                -------

Set up and electrotyped March, 1899. Reprinted May, July, 1899; January,
1900; October, 1908; January, 1913.



                             ~Norwood Press~
                  J. S. Cushing & Co.—Berwick & Smith
                         Norwood Mass. U. S. A.



                                CONTENTS


         CHAPTER                                            PAGE

              I. Tidings out of the North                      1
             II. How One set out to seek his Fortune          16
            III. The Road to Nottingham                       34
             IV. To Horse and Away                            49
              V. In and Out of the “Golden Ram”               66
             VI. The End of the Journey                       81
            VII. How the World dealt by a Gentleman           95
           VIII. The Interposition of John Ridydale          113
             IX. The Way to War                              132
              X. In the Trail of the Battle                  152
             XI. Comrades in Arms                            171
            XII. For the Honor of the Gwyeths                190
           XIII. In the Fields toward Osney Abbey            208
            XIV. Under the King’s Displeasure                224
             XV. The Life of Edmund Burley                   242
            XVI. Roundheads and Cavaliers                    258
           XVII. The Stranger by the Way                     274
          XVIII. The Call out of Kingsford                   290
            XIX. The Riding of Arrow Water                   307
             XX. Beneath the Roof of Everscombe              324
            XXI. The Fatherhood of Alan Gwyeth               340
           XXII. After the Victory                           358



                              HUGH GWYETH

                          A ROUNDHEAD CAVALIER



                               CHAPTER I
                        TIDINGS OUT OF THE NORTH


Up in the tops of the tall elms that overshadowed the east wing of
Everscombe manor house the ancient rooks were gravely wrangling. A faint
morning breeze swept the green branches and, as the leaves stirred, the
warm September sunlight smiting through fell in flakes of yellow on the
dark flagstones of the terrace below. For a moment Hugh Gwyeth ceased to
toss up and catch the ball in his hand, while he stood to count the
yellow spots that shifted on the walk. Eight, nine,—but other thoughts
so filled his head that there he lost count and once more took up his
listless tramp.

Off to his left, where beyond the elms the lawn sloped down to the park,
he could hear the calls of the boys at play,—his Oldesworth cousins and
Aunt Rachel Millington’s sons. The Millingtons had come to Everscombe a
week before out of Worcestershire, where the king’s men were up in arms
and had plundered their house. Yet the young Millingtons were playing at
ball with the Oldesworth lads as if it were only a holiday. “Children!”
Hugh muttered contemptuously and, conscious of his own newly completed
sixteen years, threw an increased dignity into his step. He was a wiry
lad, of a slender, youthful figure, but for all that he carried himself
well and with little awkwardness. Neither was he ill-looking; though
there was a reddish tinge to his close-cut hair it changed to gold when
he came into the sunlight, and at all times there was in his blue eyes a
steady, frank look that made those who liked him forget the freckles
across the bridge of his nose and cheek bones, and the almost aggressive
squareness of his chin.

Mouth and chin were even sullen now, as Hugh lingered a moment to glance
up at the small diamond panes of the window of the east parlor. Within,
Hugh’s grandfather, Gilbert Oldesworth, the master of Everscombe, his
sons, Nathaniel and Thomas, his daughter’s husband, David Millington,
and Roger Ingram, the lieutenant in Thomas Oldesworth’s troop of horse,
were conferring with men from Warwick on the raising of forces, the
getting of arms, and all the means for defending that part of the
county; and Peregrine, the eldest of the Oldesworth lads, was allowed to
be of their counsels. Hugh turned away sharply and resumed his dreary
tramp up and down the flagged terrace. “If I had been Uncle Nathaniel’s
son, they would have suffered me to be present as well as Peregrine,” he
muttered, pausing to dig the toe of his shoe into a crack between the
flagstones. “’Tis not just. I am near a man, and they might treat me—”
He gave the ball an extra high toss and paced on slowly.

But, call as he would upon his injured dignity, he could not refrain
from facing about at the end of the walk and retracing his steps till he
was loitering once more beneath the window of the east parlor. He was
not listening, he told himself, nor was he spying; there was no harm in
walking on the east terrace of a morning, nor in lingering there to play
at ball. So he stood slipping the ball from hand to hand, but his eyes
were fixed on the little panes of the window above and his thoughts were
busy on what was happening within. Would the people of the hamlets round
about Everscombe, the farmers and ploughboys, who of a Sunday sat
stolidly in the pews of the village church at Kingsford, would they
truly resist their sovereign? The Oldesworths would head them, without
doubt, but how many others scattered through the county and all through
wide England were of the like mind? And what would come of it? Would
there be war in the land, such wars as Hugh had read the Greeks and
Romans had waged, such as the great German wars in which his own father
had borne a part? And if there was a war and brave deeds to do and fame
to win, would his grandfather and his uncles let him come and fight too,
or would they still shut him out with the little boys, as they had shut
him out to-day?

So he was thinking, when of a sudden the window at which he had been
staring swung open, and Nathaniel Oldesworth, a mild-featured man of
middle age, looked out upon him. Hugh flushed suddenly and kept his eyes
on the ball he was still shifting from hand to hand. “You here, Hugh?”
his uncle’s voice reached him. “Take yourself off to your play.”

“Ay, sir,” Hugh answered, and sauntered away down the walk. He kept his
chin up and his mouth was sulky, but in his boy’s heart every fibre of
awakening manhood was quivering at this last insult. Go play! when every
moment was big with events, when war was bursting on the land, and there
was work for every man to do, he was bidden to content himself with a
ball!

He went slowly down the steps at the south end of the terrace and
bearing off from the stables struck through the long grass toward the
orchard. He walked with eyes on the ground, too deeply buried in his own
resentful thoughts to heed whither he was going, but he realized when he
entered the orchard, for the sunlight that had been all about him since
he quitted the terrace went out; he saw the earth was no longer grassy
but bald and brown, and he trod on a hard green apple that rolled under
his foot.

A second small apple suddenly plumped to the ground before him, and a
girl’s voice called, “Hugh, Hugh.”

The boy looked up. Just above his head, through the branches of the
great apple tree, he saw the face of Lois Campion, the orphan niece of
Nathaniel Oldesworth’s wife. “Are you hunting for snails?” she asked,
while her dark eyes laughed. “Prithee, give over now, like a good lad,
and help me hence. I have sat here half the morning for lack of an arm
to aid me.”

She had slipped down the branches to the fork of the tree so that she
could rest her hands on Hugh’s shoulders, and as they came thus face to
face her tone changed: “Why, Hugh, what has gone wrong?”

“Nothing,” he answered shortly, swinging her down to the ground.

“You look as though you had eaten a very sour apple,” said Lois. “Try
these. There are sweet tastes in them, if you chew long enough.” She had
seated herself at the foot of the tree with her head resting against the
gnarled gray trunk.

“It’s not apples I want,” Hugh replied gruffly, and then the troubled
look in the girl’s eyes made him sit down beside her with a thought of
saying something to make amends for his surliness; only words did not
come easily, for his mind could run on nothing but his own discontent.

“I think I know,” Lois spoke gently and put her hand on his arm. “’Tis
because of Cousin Peregrine.”

Hugh shook off her hand and dropped down full length on the ground with
his forehead pressing upon his arms; he felt it would be the crowning
humiliation of the morning if the girl should see the look on his face
at the mere mention of his trouble.

For a time there was silence, except for the thud of a falling apple and
the soft rustle of leaves in the light wind; it was one of Lois’s best
comrade qualities, Hugh realized vaguely now, that she knew when to hold
her peace. It was he himself that renewed the conversation, when he felt
assured that he had himself too well in hand to let any childish
breaking be audible in his voice: “I wish my father had lived.”

“I wish my parents had, too,” Lois answered quietly.

“I did not wish it, when I spoke, because I loved them, I fear,” Hugh
went on, digging up the scant blades of grass about him with one hand;
“I do love them, but I did not think of it so, then. But I thought how,
when a lad hath a father alive, things are made easy for him,—no, not
easy; I do not mean skulking at home,—but he is helped to do a man’s
part. Now there was a good friend of mine, there at Warwick school,
Frank Pleydall; I’ve spoke of him to you. I was home with him once for
the holidays, to a great house in Worcestershire, where his father, Sir
William Pleydall, lives. And Frank had his own horses and dogs, and the
servants did his bidding, and—and his father is very fond of him.” Hugh
paused a moment, then gave words to the grievance nearest his heart:
“And Peregrine, now, because he is Uncle Nathaniel’s son, he is to have
a cornetcy in Uncle Thomas’s troop, and he will have a new horse,—I do
not begrudge it to Peregrine, but they might try me and see what I can
do.”

“But, Hugh,” Lois ventured, “you are younger than Peregrine.”

“Only two years and a half,” Hugh raised himself on one elbow, “and do
but feel the thick of my right arm there. And at Warwick school when
they taught us sword-play I learnt enough to worst Master Peregrine, I
am sure. And I can stick to my saddle as well as he, though I never have
anything to ride but a plough horse. And I have not even that now,” he
went on, with an effort at a laugh, “since all have been taken to mount
Uncle Thomas’s troop. But Peregrine will have a horse and a sword of his
own and go to the wars. Do you understand what ’tis I mean, Lois?”

“Yes,” Lois replied with a downward look and a quiver of the mouth. “You
will think ’tis girl’s folly in me, but I have felt what you mean when I
have seen Martha and Anne have new gowns, and I must wear my old frock
still.”

There was another long silence, broken this time by Lois. “Hugh,” she
half whispered, “I believe we are very wicked and ungrateful to our
kinsfolk.”

“I do not believe so,” the boy answered doggedly; “they have given us
nothing but food and clothes, and one craves other things besides.”

Lois nodded without speaking, then fetched a breath like a sob. “Lois!”
Hugh cried in honest alarm; he had never seen her thus before, “don’t
cry. I am ashamed I bore myself so unmanly to hurt you. Don’t cry.” He
took her hand in his, and tried to think of something comforting to say.

Lois bit her lips and made not another sound till she could answer with
only a slight tremble: “What you spoke of, made me feel lonely.”

“I am sorry I spoke so,” Hugh said contritely, still holding her hand.
“Shall we go look for apples now?”

The girl shook her head: “Prithee, do not put me off, Hugh, and do not
reproach yourself; I am not sorry that you spoke so. You are the only
one to whom I can talk of such things, here at Everscombe.”

“And you are the only one I have been able to talk to of anything that
touches me nearly, these two years since my mother died.—Do you know,
Lois, I sometimes think you look like her. She had brown hair like
yours, for she was a true Oldesworth and dark. Now I am a Gwyeth, and so
I come rightly by my red hair.”

“You shall not slander it so,” Lois interrupted.

“Aunt Delia calls it red. I care not for the color, but I’d like to let
it grow.” Hugh ran his fingers through his cropped hair.

“Would you turn Cavalier?” Lois asked half seriously.

“Most gentlemen wear their hair long; even my grandfather and Uncle
Nathaniel, for all they hold to Parliament.”

“Master Thomas Oldesworth has cut his close; he says all soldiers do so
in Germany.”

“My father did not,” Hugh answered quickly. “And he had more experience
in the German wars than ever Uncle Tom will have.”

“Tell me about him again, Hugh, if you will,” Lois begged.

The boy slipped down till he rested on his elbow once more. “There is
not much I can tell,” he began, but his face was eager with interest in
the old story. “I remember little of those times, but my mother was ever
telling me of him. His name was Alan Gwyeth; ’tis a Welsh name, and he
had Welsh blood in him. They put him to school, but he ran away to
follow the wars in the Low Countries. Later he was here in Warwickshire
to raise men who’d adventure for the German wars, and he met my mother,
and they loved each other, so they married. My grandfather and Uncle
Nathaniel did not like my father, so he left the kingdom straightway,
and she went with him on his campaigns in Germany. I was born there; I
think I can remember it, just a bit. A porcelain stove with tiles, and
the story of Moses upon them; and a woman with flaxen hair who took care
of me; and my father, I am sure I remember him, a very tall man with
reddish hair and blue eyes, who carried me on his shoulder.” Hugh’s look
strayed beyond the girl and he was silent a time. “Then it all ended and
we came home to England. I remember the ship and I was sick; and then
the great coach we rode in from Bristol; and how big Everscombe looked
and lonesome, and my mother cried.”

“And—and your father?” Lois asked timidly.

“He died,” Hugh answered softly. “My mother never told me how, but it
must have been in battle, for he was a very brave soldier, she said. And
he was the tenderest and kindest man that ever lived, and far too good
for her, she said, but I do not believe that. And just before she died
she told me I must try always to be like him, a true-hearted gentleman
and a gallant soldier.—I am glad I look like him, and then, sometimes,”
Hugh’s tone grew more dubious, “but usually ’tis when I have done wrong,
Aunt Delia says I am my father over again.”

“Aunt Delia has a sharp tongue,” said Lois with a sigh.

“I know it well,” Hugh answered ruefully.

“But still, she has a kind heart,” the girl was amending charitably,
when from across the orchard came a shrill call of “Hugh,” which ended
in a high-pitched howl.

Lois rose and peering under her hand gazed out into the sunlight of the
level grass beyond the apple trees. “’Tis Sam Oldesworth,” she said, and
as she spoke a boy of thirteen or fourteen years broke headlong into the
shade of the orchard.

“Where have you been, Hugh?” he panted. “Have you my ball safe? I’ve
looked everywhere for you.”

“For the ball? There ’tis,” Hugh replied.

“Nay, not for that. There’s something up at the house for you.”

“What is it?” Hugh came to his feet at a jump, while his thoughts sped
bewilderingly to swords, horses, and commissions.

“Guess,” replied Sam.

Hugh turned his back and walked away toward the manor house at a
dignified pace; it would not do to let a young sprig like Sam know his
curiosity and eagerness. But Lois, having no such scruples, teased her
cousin with questions till the boy, bubbling over with the importance of
the news, admitted: “Well, the post from the north has come, and there
is something for Hugh in the east parlor.”

“A letter?” Hugh queried with momentary disappointment in his tone. But
though a letter was not as good as a commission it was something he had
never had before in his life, so he quickened his step and with high
expectations entered the east wing and passed through the small hall to
the parlor.

The door stood open, and opposite the sunlight from the window, still
flung wide, lay in a clear rectangle upon the dark floor. About the
heavy oak table in the centre of the room, in speech of the news brought
from the north by the freshly arrived letters, sat or stood in knots of
two or three the grave-faced men of the conference. At the head of the
table, where the sunlight fell upon his long white hair, sat Master
Gilbert Oldesworth, an erect man with keen eyes and alert gestures, in
spite of his seventy years. Hugh also caught sight of Peregrine and
noted, with a certain satisfaction, that this fortunate cousin sat at
the foot of the table and seemed to have small share in the business in
hand. But next moment he had enough to do to give heed to his own
concerns, for Nathaniel Oldesworth called him by name and he must enter
to receive his letter. He felt his cheeks burn with the consciousness
that strangers had their eyes on him and that he must appear to them a
mere dishevelled, awkward schoolboy; he grew angry with himself for his
folly, and his face burned even more. Scarcely daring to raise his eyes,
he caught up the letter his uncle held out to him and slipped back again
into the hall.

Sam pounced upon him at once. “What is it?” he demanded, and Lois’s eyes
asked the same question.

Hugh forgot the hot embarrassment and misery of a moment before, as he
turned the letter in his hand. “I don’t know the writing,” he said,
prolonging the pleasure while he examined the superscription; then he
tore open the paper, and the first sight of the sheet of big sprawling
black letters was enough. “Ah, but I do know!” he cried. “’Tis from
Frank Pleydall, Lois.”

“Your school friend?”

“Yes. I have not heard from him these six months, since he left the
school. Doctor Masham, the master, said the queen was a Babylonish
woman, and when Sir William heard of that he came to the school in a
great rage and called Doctor Masham a canting Puritan and a hoary-headed
traitor,--truly, the Doctor is but little older and not a bit more white
headed than Sir William himself. And he took Frank away, and—I was right
sorry to lose him.”

“But you have found him again now,” said Lois. “Come, Sam.” She coaxed
the youngster, still reluctant and lingering, out upon the terrace, and
Hugh, happy in being alone, set himself down at once on the stairway
that led from the hall to the upper story. It was hard to find a
secluded place in Everscombe those days, what with the men from Thomas
Oldesworth’s troop quartered in the old west wing, and the Millingtons
and other refugee kinsfolk in the main part of the house. So in the fear
that a noisy cousin or two might come to interrupt him, Hugh settled
himself hastily and began his letter:—

GOOD HUGH:

It has come to my remembrance that it is many days since you have had
news of me, so at a venture I send this letter to your grandfather’s
house, though the roads are so beset and the post so delayed it is
doubtful if it ever reach you. I am here at Nottingham with my father.
He commands a notable troop of horse, drawn out of our own county, and
many of them men bred on our own lands, proper stout fellows, that will
make the rebels to skip, I promise you. My father is colonel, and some
of my cousins and uncles and neighboring gentlemen hold commissions, and
I think I shall prevail upon my father to bestow one on me, though he
maintains I be over-young, which is all folly. The king’s standard was
raised here week before last, and we all nigh split our throats with
cheering. The town is full of soldiers and gentlemen from all over the
kingdom, and many from following the wars abroad, and more coming every
day. I have seen his Majesty the king,—God bless him! He rode through
the street and he hath a noble face and is most gracious and kingly. I
do not see how men can have the wickedness to take up arms against him.
I have also seen his nephew, Prince Rupert, the famous German soldier,
who they say shall have a great command in the war. My father has had
speech with him and he commended our troop most graciously. It has been
the most memorable time of all my life, and, best of all, I shall never
go back to school now, but go to the wars. I would you might be with us,
Hugh, for it is the only life for gentlemen of spirit. Heaven keep you
well, and if this reaches you, write me in reply.

                            Your loving friend to serve you,

                                                   FRANCIS PLEYDALL.

NOTTINGHAM, Sept. 5, 1642.

I misremembered to tell you. Among the soldiers come from Germany is a
certain Alan Gwyeth, a man of some forty years, with hair reddish gold
like yours. It is an odd name and I thought perhaps he might be some
kinsman of yours. We met with him the day the standard was raised, and I
would have questioned him myself, but my father said I was over-forward
and I had to hold my peace. Did your father leave any brothers or
cousins in Germany? This man is a notable soldier and has got him a
colonelcy under the Prince.

                                                               F. P.

Hugh sat staring at the paper and saw the black letters and the words
but found no meaning in them. Across the dim hall he could see through
the open door the strip of greensward that ran across the front of
Everscombe, part black with the shadow of the east wing and part
dazzling bright with the noon sun. He fixed his gaze upon the clean line
where the shade gave way to vivid light, till the sunny greenness
blurred before his eyes; he felt the roughness of the paper, as he
creased and recreased it with nervous fingers, but he could not think;
he could only feel that something vast and portentous was coming into
his life.

A noise of tramping feet and a burst of voices roused him. The
conference ended, the men came slowly from the east parlor, and lingered
speaking together, then scattered, some with Nathaniel Oldesworth into
the main part of the house, some with Thomas Oldesworth out upon the
terrace. Master Gilbert Oldesworth was not among them, Hugh noted, and
on a sudden impulse he half ran across the hall and entered the east
parlor, closing the door behind him.

Master Oldesworth looked up from the paper over which he had been
poring. “You would speak with me, Hugh?” he asked, with a touch of
displeasure in his tone.

“If I may. ’Tis important,” Hugh stammered. “Will you look at this
letter? No, not all, just this place, sir.”

Hugh stood at his grandfather’s side, griping the edge of the table so
he saw the blood leave his fingers. In the elms outside the open window
the rooks still scolded, and over in the corner of the room the great
clock ticked loudly, but there was no other sound till Hugh had counted
thrice sixty of its noisy ticks. Then the boy drew a quick breath, and,
dreading what he might find, raised his eyes to his grandfather’s face.
But he saw no sign there for several moments, not till Master Oldesworth
had laid down Frank Pleydall’s letter, and then Hugh perceived there was
something akin to pity in the old man’s eyes.

“Well, Hugh, and what would you know?” he asked.

“That man, Alan Gwyeth, is he—” Hugh felt and knew what the answer would
be before Master Oldesworth spoke the words slowly: “Yes, Hugh, ’tis
your father.”



                               CHAPTER II
                  HOW ONE SET OUT TO SEEK HIS FORTUNE


“You must have known at last, but I had not thought it would be so
soon,” Master Oldesworth went on. “’Twas folly ever to have kept it from
you.”

In a blind way Hugh had groped for a chair and sat down with his elbow
on the table and his forehead pressing hard upon his hand. His face was
toward the window and he was aware of the brightness flooding in through
it, but he could see clearly only his grandfather’s thin, clean-shaven
lips and searching eyes. “Tell me,” he found voice to say at last, “I
want to know all. My father—he has been alive all these years? You
knew?”

Master Oldesworth nodded.

“You deceived me?” Hugh’s voice rose shrill and uncontrollable. “You
knew you were deceiving me? You had no right, ’twas wickedness, ’twas—”

“It was your mother’s wish.”

The burst of angry words was choked in Hugh’s throat; with a little
shudder of the shoulders he dropped his head upon his folded arms. “Will
you tell me wherefore, sir?” he asked in a dull tone.

“Because of the never-dying folly of woman,” Master Oldesworth replied,
with a sudden fierce harshness of tone that made Hugh lift his head. He
felt that, if the revelation of the letter had not made every other
happening of that day commonplace, he would have been surprised at the
sudden lack of control that made his grandfather’s sallow cheeks flush
and his thin lips move. But in a moment Master Oldesworth was as calm of
demeanor as before and his voice was quite colorless when he resumed:
“Hear the truth at last, Hugh, and you, too, will have reason to curse
the folly of womankind. She, your mother, my best-beloved daughter, was
most wilful, even from a child. Though you have none of her look I have
noted in you something of her rash temper. Her own impulse and desire
must always be her guides, and well they guided her. For there came a
swashbuckling captain of horse out of Germany, with a brisk tongue and
an insolent bearing, for which that mad girl put all her love on him,
worthless hackster though he was.”

“’Tis my father whom you speak of so?” Hugh cried, with an involuntary
clinching of the hands.

“Your mother’s work again!” said Master Oldesworth with a flicker of a
smile, that was half sad and half contemptuous. “She fled away from her
father’s house to marry this swaggering rascal; she followed him into
Germany; and there she found true all her kinsmen had told her of his
worthlessness and wickedness. So she took her child and gladly came back
to us again.”

“She never uttered word of this to me,” Hugh maintained doggedly.

“I urged her to,” Master Oldesworth continued, “but, with the weakness
of her sex, before six months were out she had forgot his unworthiness
and baseness. She remembered only that she loved him and she blamed
herself that she had left him; indeed, she would have returned if she
had been assured he would receive her back. But I forbade her hold
communication with him while she dwelt beneath my roof, and he himself
did not care to seek her out, though she long looked for him. When he
did not come she was the more convinced the fault was hers, and, since
she had robbed her son of his father, as she phrased it, she would at
least give him a true and noble conception of that father to cherish.
Perhaps she held it compensation for the wrong she thought she had
worked Alan Gwyeth that she sketched him unto you a paragon of all
virtues. And partly for that he was dead to her, and partly for that she
would not have the shame of her flight, as she called her most happy
deliverance, be known to you, she gave him out to you as dead. ’Twas ill
done, but I suffered her to rule you as she would; I had ever a weak
fondness for her.”

With a sudden jarring noise Hugh thrust back his chair and stumbling to
the window stood so Master Oldesworth could not see his face. His poor
mother, his poor mother! Because he knew in his heart she had done ill
to him with her weak deceptions he loved her and pitied her all the
more, and his eyes smarted with repressed tears that he could not see
her nor tell her that it all mattered little, the agony this
disillusionment was costing him; he knew she had meant it kindly and he
thanked her for it.

He was still staring out between the elms at the sloping lawn, where, he
remembered as if it had happened years back, he had played that very
morning like a boy, when his grandfather’s dry tones reached him: “This
man would seem to have roistered through life without thought of her. Of
late I did not know myself whether he were dead or living, but it seems
he is sailing on the high waves of royal favor and has found himself
fitting comradeship among the profligates and traitors of King Charles’s
camp.”

Hugh swept his hand across his eyes and faced about squarely. His father
a profligate who had abandoned his mother! Who dared say it or believe
it? His mother’s face as she had looked before she died came back to
him. A true-hearted gentleman and a gallant soldier, like his
father,—like his father.

“And you never suspected anything of the truth ere this?” Master
Oldesworth pursued.

“Once, months back, Aunt Delia told me a story somewhat like this,”
Hugh’s voice came low but so firm it surprised him, “but I held it only
some of her spitefulness and I did not believe it.”

Master Oldesworth looked up with a curious expression. “Do you believe
it now?” he asked.

“No,” Hugh answered honestly, then quickly added, “I crave your pardon,
sir, but I cannot believe it.”

“Have back this letter of yours,” Master Oldesworth said, rising, and as
Hugh came up to him he put his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You have a
loyal heart, Hugh Gwyeth,” he said dryly, “and ’tis no shame of yours
you have such a father.”

“I am not ashamed of him, sir,” Hugh replied stoutly.

“You are your mother over again,” said the old man, in a tone that held
something of vexation and something of amusement, yet more of kindliness
than he was accustomed to show his orphan grandson.

Hugh was in no mood to note this, however, but, delaying only to take
his precious letter, left the east parlor at a brisk step that verged
upon a run. Once in the open air, where he was freed from the restraint
of his grandfather’s presence, he leaped down the low terrace and,
hallooing at the top of his lungs, raced full speed across the lawn. But
when the shadow of the tall oaks on the border of the park fell upon him
the noisiness of his joy somewhat abated. He rambled on more slowly with
a happy under-consciousness of the dusky green of the old trees about
him and the shimmer of the stray sunbeams; he wondered that the dull,
familiar park seemed so joyous and beautiful a place.

Not till he had crossed the grassy roadway that led to the manor house,
and plunged into the thicker growth of trees, did he come again to the
power of framing connected thoughts. Little by little he let his pace
slacken, till at length he flung himself down in the shade of a beech
tree and pulling out Frank’s letter read the last sentences aloud. His
father was alive, an officer in the king’s army, at Nottingham, only the
width of two counties away. Hugh clasped his hands behind his head and
lying back gazed up unwinkingly at the cloudless blue sky; in his heart
there was no room for any feeling save that of pure happiness, of which
the bright day seemed a mere reflection. For he neither remembered nor
heeded the words his grandfather had spoken of Alan Gwyeth; he only knew
that a few score miles away the tall man with reddish hair and blue
eyes, who used to carry him upon his shoulder, was alive and waiting for
him.

The resolve formed in these hours of reflection he told to Lois Campion,
when, late in the afternoon, he crashed his way out to the edge of the
park with the briskness of one who has made up his mind. The girl was
playing at shuttlecock with Martha Oldesworth, but at sight of Hugh she
quickly laid aside her battledoor and came to him where he was lingering
for her beneath the oaks. “Where have you been?” she cried. “We missed
you at dinner, and Peregrine, who was honey-tongued as ever, said you
were sulking. But I knew ’twas some witchery in that letter.”

Hugh laughed excitedly. “Witchery? Ay, ’twas that indeed, Lois. Can you
believe it? My father is alive, at the king’s camp; and I have
determined to go to him.”

With that he made her sit down beside him and told her all, so
confidently and happily she dared not venture more than one objection:
“But ’tis a long way to Nottingham, Hugh.”

“I can walk it. Take no heed to the way, Lois, but think of the end.”

“When shall you go?” she asked, playing absently with some acorns she
had gathered in her hand.

“To-morrow night.”

“So soon?” The acorns fell neglected to the ground.

“Nay, ’tis delaying over-long. I would set out this very night, but I
suppose I should take some time for preparation.”

“And you must run from home by night?” she repeated sadly.

“Like Dick Whittington. I wonder if I have such good fortune as he.”

“How happy your father will be to see you!” Lois continued.

“’Twill be naught but happiness for us all,” Hugh ran on boisterously.
“Ah, must you go, Lois?”

“I must finish my game with Martha,” the girl answered steadily. Hugh
saw, however, that she did not go near Martha but walked away to the
house, and he was vexed because she did not care enough about his
departure to stay to talk with him.

It was well for Hugh the day was nearly spent, if his plans were to be
kept secret; for he longed to speak of them, and, now Lois would not
listen, there was no one in whom he could safely confide. Moreover, Sam
Oldesworth was so curious about the letter that it was a perilously
great temptation to hint to him just a little, especially when the two
boys were preparing for bed. Since the Millingtons had come to
Everscombe Sam and Hugh had been obliged to sleep together, an
arrangement never acceptable to the older boy and this night even
dangerous. Fortunately he realized his weakness enough to reply shortly
to all his companion’s eager questions, however gladly he would have
told something of his secret, till Sam at last grumbled himself to
sleep. But Hugh turned on his side and for hours lay staring into the
dark of the chamber, planning for his journey and sometimes wondering
where he would be in the blackness of the next night.

In the morning, when he first woke and lay gazing at the familiar room,
it gave him a feeling of surprisingly keen regret to tell himself that
this was his last day at Everscombe. Perhaps it was the outward aspect
of the day that made him feel so depressed, for a slow, drizzling rain
was falling and the sky was thick with gray clouds.

All the morning Hugh avoided his cousins, and even Lois, against whom
the resentment of the previous afternoon still lasted, and prowled
restlessly about the house to pay farewell visits to the rooms that he
had known. Thus his Aunt Delia found him, loitering upon the garret
stairs, and sharply bade him go about his business, so Hugh, his
sensitive dignity a-quiver, drew back to his chamber, where he pretended
to choose equipments for his journey. In reality it was a simple matter;
he would wear his stuff jacket and breeches,—he owned no other suit of
clothes,—and his one pair of stout shoes. He did not trouble himself
about clean linen, but he took pains to see that his pistol was in
order; it was an old one that had belonged to Peregrine, before he
received a case of new ones in keeping with his position as cornet in
the Parliament’s army. Peregrine’s old riding boots had also fallen to
Hugh’s share; they were a trifle too big and were ill patched, but there
was something trooper-like about them that made him sorry when he
realized that he could not take them with him. He reluctantly dropped
them back into the wardrobe, and then, the sight of them reminding him
he had yet to bid farewell to his friends the horses, he spattered out
through the rain to the stables.

The stones of the stable yard were slippery and wet; at the trough in
the centre three horses, with their coats steaming, were drinking, while
the man at their heads, one of Tom Oldesworth’s newly levied troopers,
joked noisily with a little knot of his comrades. Inside the big dark
stable a great kicking and stamping of horses was rumblingly audible
above the loud talk of the men at work. Hugh loitered into the confusion
and, making his way through the main building, entered the quieter wing,
where were the old family horses with whom he had acquaintance. But when
he stepped through the connecting door he perceived that even here
others were before him; standing with hands behind him and legs somewhat
wide, as befitted a veteran horse-soldier, was Tom Oldesworth, a
close-shaven, firm-mouthed man of thirty, in talk with his lieutenant,
Roger Ingram. Near by stood Peregrine Oldesworth, a heavy-featured, dark
lad, who was bearing his part in the conversation quite like a man.
Whatever the matter was, they seemed too merry over it for any business
of the troop, so Hugh thought it no harm to saunter over to them.

“Looking for a commission, eh, Hugh?” Tom Oldesworth broke off his talk
to ask jestingly.

“Not under you, sir,” Hugh retorted, rather sharply.

Oldesworth laughed and patted his head. “Never mind, my Roundhead,” he
said cheerfully, as Hugh ducked out of his reach, “your turn’ll come
soon. No doubt Peregrine will get a ball through his brains ere the
winter be over, and then I promise you his place.”

“Then you think the war will last till winter?” questioned Ingram.

“Till winter? I tell you, Roger, we’re happy if we have a satisfactory
peace in the land two full years hence.”

“You’re out there, Captain. These gallants of the king’s will stand to
fight here no better than they stood against the Scots. They’ll be beat
to cover ere snow fall—”

“Pshaw!” replied Oldesworth, convincingly. “Look you here, Roger.”
Thereupon the two fell to discussing the king’s resources and those of
Parliament, and comparing the merits of commanders, and quoting the
opinions of leaders, till Hugh tired of it all and strolled away.

He passed slowly down the line of stalls, caressing the soft muzzles of
the kindly horses, and lingered a time to admire the big black charger
that belonged to Captain Oldesworth. In the next stall stood a
clean-limbed bay, which thrust out its head as if expecting notice; Hugh
hesitated, then began stroking the velvety nose, when Peregrine
swaggered up to him with a grand, “Don’t worry that horse of mine,
Hugh.”

“I was not worrying him,” Hugh answered hotly. “But you can be sure I’ll
never touch him again.” He turned and walked away toward the open door.

“Oh, you can touch him now and then,” Peregrine replied, as he followed
after him out into the courtyard, where the rain had somewhat abated.
“But he’s too brave a beast for you youngsters to be meddling with all
the time. You’d spoil his temper.” Then, as Hugh still kept a sulky
silence, his cousin asked abruptly, “What’s amiss with you to-day?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ve not been friendly of late. I believe you are jealous that I have
a commission.”

“I do not want your commission,” Hugh replied, and to show he spoke the
truth he forced a laugh and tried to say carelessly, as he might have
said a month before, “Tell you what I do want, though: a new flint for
my pistol. Will you not give me one, Peregrine?”

“Are you going to shoot Cavaliers?” the elder boy asked, as he halted to
fumble in his pockets.

“Maybe.”

Peregrine drew out three bits of flint, turned them in his hand, then
gave the least perfect to Hugh. “I took it from my new pistol this
morning,” he explained. “’Tis good enough for any service you’ll need of
it.”

Hugh bit his lip, but with a muttered word of thanks took the flint.

“I was furbishing up my weapons this morning,” Peregrine went on. “We go
on real service next week; we determined on it yesterday at the
conference.”

“I thought Uncle Tom said the troop would not be in fit condition to
serve for a fortnight.”

“Not all the troop. But Uncle Tom, and I, and Lieutenant Ingram, are to
take some thirty men that are in trim and go into Staffordshire to see
what can be done among the godly people thereabouts.”

“Good luck to you, Peregrine,” Hugh forced himself to say, then shook
off his companion and, passing from the stable yard, trudged away
through the wet grass, with the old jealous pang worrying him as
savagely as ever. But soon he told himself that his father would
probably give him a horse and good weapons too, and, being a colonel in
the king’s army, would very likely let him go to the wars with him,
perhaps even give him a commission; and, thinking still of his father,
by the time he returned to the house he had quite forgotten Peregrine.

The rain had nearly ceased; there seemed even a prospect of a clear
sunset, and with the lightening of the weather Hugh cast aside the heavy
feeling of half-regretful parting which had weighed on him all day and
grew impatient for darkness, when he could set out on his journey. But
the night came slowly, as any other night, with a rift of watery sunset
in the west and mottled yellow clouds, that fading gave place to the
long, gray twilight, which deepened imperceptibly.

Hugh started early to his room, which was in the east wing, so he went
by the staircase from the little hall. Halfway up, as he strode two
steps at a time, he almost stumbled over a slight figure that caught at
his arm. “Lois!” he cried.

The girl rose to her feet. “Why are you angry with me, Hugh?” she asked,
and though he could not see her face he knew by her voice she was almost
sobbing.

“Why did you run away from me yesterday?” he replied, feeling foolish
and without excuse.

“No matter. I have forgot. But I wanted to have speech with you.”

“You waited here to bid me farewell? ’Twas good of you, Lois,” Hugh
blurted out. “I am sorry I was so rough to you about yesterday.”

“Then we’ll part still friends?” Lois said eagerly. “And here is
something you are to take with you.”

“Your five shillings?” Hugh broke out, as she pressed the coins into his
hand. “Nay, Lois, I cannot.”

“You must; ’twill be a long journey, and you have little money, I know.
And I shall never have need of such a hoard. Prithee, take it, Hugh,
else I shall think you still are angry because I left you yesterday. But
truly, ’twas only that I could not bear the thought of your going.” She
was crying now in good earnest, and Hugh tried awkwardly to soothe her
and whisper her some comfort: he wished she were a boy and could go with
him, perhaps even now he could come back some time and fetch her; he
never would forget what a good friend she had been to him; and much more
he was saying, when Martha’s voice came from below in the dusk of the
hall: “Lois.”

“I must go,” the girl whispered. “Farewell, Hugh.”

“Farewell, Lois.”

“God keep you, dear, always.”

He heard her go slowly down the stairs and wished she had stayed with
him longer; he might have said more cheering things. Then he heard the
footsteps of the two girls die away in the hall, and he went on to his
room.

He had placed his pistol on a chair beneath his cloak and hat, and had
just lain down in his undergarments and stockings beneath the coverings,
when Sam came in full of conversation, which Hugh’s short replies
quickly silenced. But after the boy had lain down Hugh remembered that
this was the last night they would sleep together, and, repenting his
shortness, he said gently: “Good night, Sam.”

“What’s wrong with you?” asked his cousin, which made Hugh feel foolish
and answer curtly, “Nothing.”

Then there was a long silence in the dark chamber, till at length Sam
was breathing deep and evenly. He was well asleep, Hugh assured himself,
so, slipping quietly from the bed, he quickly drew on his outer clothes,
put on cloak and hat, and tucked the pistol in his belt. He was just
taking his shoes in his hand, when Sam stirred and asked drowsily: “What
are you doing now?”

“I saw Martha’s battledoor out o’ doors,” Hugh mumbled. “I must fetch it
or the dew will spoil it.”

Sam gave a sleepy sigh, then buried his head in the pillow again, and
Hugh, waiting for no more, stole out of the room into the darkness of
the corridor that was so thick it seemed tangible. He scuffed cautiously
to the stairs and with his hand on the railing groped his way down. As
he went he grew more accustomed to the blackness, and so, treading
carefully, came without stumbling or noise to the outer door. He worked
back the bolt, cautiously and slowly, and with a nervous start at each
faint creak, till at last he could push the door open far enough to slip
through. The grass felt cold beneath his stockinged feet; the night wind
came damp and chilly against his face. With a shiver that was not all
from cold he drew the door to, more quickly than he had thought, for the
metal work jarred harshly.

With a feeling that the whole household must be aroused he ran
noiselessly across the terrace, and, pausing only to draw on his shoes,
struck briskly through the wet grass toward the park. At its outskirts
he halted and, glancing back, took a last look at Everscombe, black and
silent under the stars. Only in one window, that of his grandfather’s
chamber in the main building, was a candle burning, and the thought of
the habitable room in which it shone made the night seem darker and
lonelier. Hugh looked quickly away, and calling up his resolution
plunged in among the trees.

He had meant to go through to the highway by a footpath, but the woods
were blacker than he had thought for; again and again he missed the
track, till at last, finding himself on the beaten roadway from the
manor house, he decided the quicker course was to follow it. He had
covered perhaps half the distance and was trudging along with his head
bent to look to his footsteps, when from the thicket just before him
came a voice: “Stand, there!”

Hugh stopped where he was, half frightened for the instant, then half
inclined to run, when an erect figure stepping from beneath a
neighboring tree barred his path. By the long cloak and the staff on
which the man leaned Hugh guessed it was his grandfather, even before
Master Oldesworth spoke again: “So you are leaving us, Hugh Gwyeth?”

“Yes, sir,” Hugh replied defiantly.

“So I had judged. You are bound for the near park gate?”

Hugh nodded.

“You must bear with my company that far.”

So side by side they passed down the dark roadway, till presently the
trees thinned and the starlight reached them. Then Hugh glanced up at
his companion’s face but found it fixed in so stern an expression that
he did not care to look again.

“You are going to your father?” Master Oldesworth queried after a time.

“Yes, sir,” Hugh replied. The defiance had gone from his tone now.

At length the dimly seen roadway ran between two huge dark pillars, half
hidden by the trees; it was the park gate, Hugh saw, and beyond was the
king’s highway. Involuntarily he slackened his pace, and his grandfather
halted too, and stood by one of the pillars, resting both hands upon the
top of his staff. “Then you have the grace to hesitate a moment,” the
old man spoke, “before you leave those who have sheltered you?”

Hugh dared not trust his voice to reply, and after a moment Master
Oldesworth continued slowly: “It is your mother over again. We reared
her and cared for her, and she left us for Alan Gwyeth; and you—Have you
not had a home here?”

“Yes, sir,” Hugh answered meekly. He knew well that the grievances which
were so true when he told them to Lois would be nothing in his
grandfather’s sight.

“And what has this father for whom you leave us done for you?” Master
Oldesworth pursued. “You cannot answer? He broke your mother’s heart and
deserted you—”

“He is my father,” Hugh replied.

“Go to him, then, as your mother did before you. But mark you this, Hugh
Gwyeth: I received her back when Alan Gwyeth wearied of her, but I shall
never receive you back. Go now, and you go for all time.”

“I shall never ask you to take me back.” Hugh tried to speak stoutly,
but his voice faltered in an ignoble manner.

“Now consider well,” his grandfather continued. “When you pass the gate
it will be to me as if you had never lived. Be not rash, Hugh,” he went
on more gently. “Come back with me to the house; this folly of yours
shall never be known, and I shall look to your welfare as I always have.
But if you choose to go to that place of perdition, the king’s camp, and
to that evil man, Alan Gwyeth, I forget you are my daughter’s son. Now
make your choice between that man and me.”



                              CHAPTER III
                         THE ROAD TO NOTTINGHAM


Over in the marsh beyond the dim highway the frogs were piping their
lonesome note; the shrilling call of autumnal insects sounded from the
wayside; of a sudden the waste darkness reëchoed with solitary noises.
All came clearly to Hugh’s ear in the hush that followed his
grandfather’s words, and with them something that was akin to fright
laid hold on him. Outside the park gate the world looked vast and black;
he felt himself weak in his youthfulness, so even the butt of his pistol
for which he groped did not strengthen his courage. He looked to his
grandfather and involuntarily made a step toward him, but Master
Oldesworth still stood with his hands upon the top of his staff and
watched him but made no sign. With a stinging sense of rebuff Hugh drew
back and held himself quiet, while he strove to think clearly and so
make his resolution without prejudice. But all the time he felt that
invisible hands were surely haling him back to Everscombe and with his
whole will he struggled against them. “Will it be ended past question
when I go out at the gateway?” he cried, almost before his thought had
framed the words.

He did not even wait for an assent, but as he spoke stepped out beyond
the pillars of the gate into the rough highway. There he faced about
suddenly. “Grandfather,” he cried, “I—I am grateful for all you have
done for me. Prithee, forgive me.” The words died away then, for he saw
Master Oldesworth had turned and was walking slowly toward Everscombe,
nor did he once look back.

For an instant it was borne in on Hugh to run after his grandfather, to
implore pardon, to beg to be taken back and suffered to live the old
dull life at the manor house; then the impulse left him and he was more
ashamed of it than of his previous wavering. Still he lingered by the
gate, straining his eyes into the dusk of the park till long after he
had lost sight of Master Oldesworth. Once more he became aware of the
sad piping of frogs in the marsh, and he listened stupidly, while
heavier and heavier he felt the weight of loneliness press upon him. For
he now realized that his decision had indeed been irrevocable; for all
time he was cut off from his kinsfolk and his only home.

When at last he turned slowly from the gateway there was no hopefulness
in his step nor did he lift his eyes from the ground, unless to glance
up at the familiar trees of the park that he should not see again. But
at length, through the branches before him, he beheld Charles’s Wain
shining clear and the bright Pole Star that seemed to point him
northward to the king and to his father. At that Hugh straightened his
drooping shoulders resolutely and in good earnest set forth upon his
journey.

The new moon had long been set, but the stars were bright and the way
amid the trees was plain to follow. A pleasant freshness of the early
fall was in the faint night breeze and yet a lurking chill, that made
Hugh glad to draw his cloak closer and trudge on more briskly. It was
not long after midnight when he reached the first cottage on the
outskirts of the village of Kingsford; he had passed the cheery little
timbered dwelling many a time, but now, muffled in the night, it seemed
unfamiliar. As his feet crunched the gravel of the road before the
cottage he heard the house dog bark within, and a sudden feeling of
being shut out came over him. The dark houses, as he hurried by them,
had the awesome blankness of sleeping faces; even in the woods he had
not been so lonely as here in Kingsford, where human beings were within
call.

But as he drew to the end of the straggling village he slackened his
pace. The road, ascending slightly here, skirted the churchyard, where
he could see the light streak that marked the pathway, and the huddled
stones, blacker against the turf. For a moment he rested his arms upon
the lich wall and stood gazing across the graves at the dense bulk of
the little Norman church, with its side porch overshadowed by a dark yew
tree and its square tower cleanly outlined against the starry sky. In
the chancel of the church his mother lay buried. She would have approved
what he was doing, he told himself; she would gladly have returned to
Alan Gwyeth. With every fibre of his resolution newly braced he once
more took up his march, down the gentle slope and across the one-arched
bridge that spanned the river Arrow. There, with the sound of the
hurrying water in his ears, he paused and took a final glance at the
tower of Kingsford church, and as he passed on wondered vaguely if he
should ever set eyes on it again, and when, and how.

Beyond Kingsford the road ran once more through woods with now and again
a space of open land or a retired farmhouse. Hugh gave little heed to
the country round him, however; he noted only that he had firm road
beneath his feet, the cool morning wind in his face, and the stars
overhead to light him. But the wind grew chilly and faint with
approaching dawn; the stars paled; from far away across the cleared
fields a cock crowed and another answered him. When Hugh entered the
village next beyond Kingsford, the sky was fading to a dull leaden color
and he shivered with the cold of breaking day. Already people were
beginning to stir; he met laborers going afield and from roadside barns
heard men shouting to cattle, and the bark of dogs. About the little inn
there were some signs of life, so he entered and bought bread of a
tousled-headed woman. Coming out of the house he saw the eastern sky was
breaking into billows of pink, and a little later the cold yellow sun
burst forth.

Hugh munched his bread as he tramped along, and the food and the
daylight heartened him wonderfully. When the sun got higher he slung his
cloak over one shoulder, whistled for company, and almost felt it in his
heart to run when he came to an especially even bit of road. For he was
his own man now, out in the world, with his pistol at his side, his five
shillings and odd pence in his pocket, and his face set toward
Nottingham.

Something before noon he trudged into the great town of Warwick and made
his way to a tavern he knew from his school days. That time was now a
good four months past, so he felt entitled to put a bit of swagger into
his gait and rather hoped that in his new freedom he might meet with
some of his former schoolfellows. But he kept a wary eye out for his old
master, Doctor Masham, who, he suspected, might apprehend him on the
spot for a runaway and pack him off to Everscombe; so he drew a breath
of relief when he reached the tavern in safety. There he bought him
sixpence worth of bread and meat, and, too hungry to give great heed to
the varied company in which he found himself, spared expense by eating
in the common room.

As his hunger abated he became aware of an exceeding stiffness in the
muscles of his legs which made him almost wince when he rose again. He
hobbled as far as the door, where a bench in the sun proved so tempting
that he sat down to rest him just a moment before starting out. Not only
did his legs ache but he found his eyelids heavy and his head dull, and
he was possessed of a great desire to yawn and stretch himself. He
finally lay down with his head on his arms and would have given himself
up to thoughts of Nottingham, only an endless line of swaying trees and
dark farmhouses kept sliding before his eyes.

The next thing he knew some one shook him, and he heard the voice of one
of the drawers saying, “Now then, master, dost mean to pay us for the
use o’ that bench?”

Hugh blinked his eyes open and sat up stiffly; one or two idlers stood
gazing at him with amused faces, but for the rest the inn porch was
deserted, and the sunlight had climbed above the windows of the second
story. “Why, what’s the time?” he cried, broad awake as he perceived
that.

“Mid-afternoon and long past,” said the drawer, whereat Hugh jumped to
his feet and walked away, so vexed at his sluggishness that for the
first half-mile he scarcely heeded the soreness of his legs.

After that his gait grew slower and more halting, but he set his teeth
and pulled himself along, as if it were an enemy he held by the collar;
he had made up his mind to sleep some six or eight miles out of Warwick
at a hamlet that marked the furthest limit of his school rambles, and
his plan should not be altered because he had foolishly slept away
precious time. The sun set and left him toiling along the highway; the
twilight darkened; and the crescent of the moon was riding low among the
stars, when Hugh dragged his tired feet over the threshold of the inn
for which he aimed. The house was about closing and there was little
welcome for this belated traveller, but from sheer weariness the boy was
past resenting uncivil usage. He ate thankfully what was given him,
stumbled away to his chamber, and, almost before he had flung off his
dusty clothes, was sound asleep.

When he woke the mid-morning sun was streaming through the window full
in his face, but there was a sharpness in the air of the little chamber
that made him pull the blankets up to his chin. The poor inn bed seemed
far more comfortable than any he had slept upon at Everscombe; it took
an inordinate amount of resolution to rise from it, and an equal courage
to drag his shoes on to his swollen feet. But he had already lost the
bracing early hours of the day and he must waste no more time in
coddling himself, so he took the road at once, as briskly as his limbs
would bear him.

Sore and stiff as he still was from yesterday’s long march, he made slow
progress; it was close on midday when, passing through the town of
Coventry, he entered upon the old Roman road, the Fosse, which he was to
follow. The sight of the straight way stretching endlessly northeast
discouraged him at first, but after a short rest he pulled himself
together and, hobbling on, half forgot the pain in his heels in the
exhilaration of going forward. It was new country he was now passing
through, for he was no traveller; Everscombe to Warwick had been his
usual round, save for that one trip into Worcestershire with Frank
Pleydall. Since the last year, when Peregrine had been up to London with
his father, Hugh had fretted at the narrow range of his journeyings and
felt aggrieved at having made his German travels so young that he could
cudgel up only scant recollections of them. But now Peregrine might go
to London or Staffordshire or whither he pleased; Hugh felt no jealousy,
for he knew it was far pleasanter to be an independent traveller, bound
to Nottingham and a soldier father.

Thus, though he no longer had any wish to run, he contrived to jog along
quite cheerily till mid-afternoon. Then the low-lying clouds darkened
and a soft rain, striking chilly against Hugh’s face, made him glad to
pull his cloak up to his eyes. The fields and cottages looked gray
through the downpour, and then all he saw was the broad puddles of the
roadway, as of necessity he bent his head against the storm. At each
step he could hear the water oozing in his shoes, his stockings were
clammy wet, and his hat brim flapped cold against his forehead; but as
the afternoon waned he lost these single sensations, and only knew that
from head to foot he was soaked and numb and weary. Still he plodded on,
because he must hold out till he reached an inn, but it was at a heavy
mechanical pace, while he counted the steps and wondered drearily if the
march would never end.

Twilight was turning to night when he splashed at last into a
considerable village and stumbled into the first inn to which he came.
There was a brisk fire in the common room and but one other guest, so
Hugh was free to slip into the chimney corner and dry his dripping
clothes while he ate his supper. For civility’s sake he began talking to
his companion, from whom he learned that he was now over the boundary
and into Leicestershire. The knowledge gave him a childish homesick
pang; Everscombe seemed to have fallen hopelessly far behind him and
Nottingham was still distant the length of a county. With no further
care to eat he thrust aside his trencher and dragged himself off to bed.

In his waking moments he heard the rain plashing softly on the thatch of
the shed beneath his window, and with the morning light he found the sky
still gray and the storm still beating down. He put out one hand to his
coat, flung on the stool beside his pallet, and felt that it was not
half dried from yesterday’s soaking. Then for a time he rested quiet
again, while he wondered in half-shamed fashion if he might not lie by a
day till the storm was over. But when he reckoned up his store of money,
he saw he could not afford to lose so many hours; it was yet more than
two days’ march to Nottingham, and he had not full three shillings to
keep him on the way. He wondered at the speed with which money went, for
he was new to ordering such matters; hitherto he had been sure of his
three meals a day and bed at night, and looked upon stray sixpences as
valuable only for the apples and tops into which they might be turned.
He put that last recollection out of his head as speedily as possible,
ashamed of his scarcely ended childhood, and, accepting the
responsibilities of the manhood he had claimed for himself, got up and
dragged on his damp clothes.

After breakfasting he wrapped his sodden cloak about him and plunged
resolutely out into the rain. The heavy mud stayed him with clogging his
shoes, but he was now somewhat seasoned for the march and managed to
keep up a pace that, though not of the fastest, was steady. So he came
at length through the afternoon drizzle to the town of Leicester, which
he loyally told himself was not the half as fine as his own old Warwick.
But none the less he made his lodging there that night, and he went to
bed hopefully; for the western clouds were showing a faint yellow streak
that promised better weather on the morrow.

Sure enough, when morning came the rain had ceased to fall, and though
the air was still heavy with mist there seemed a prospect the sun might
yet break through. Hugh took the highway in gay spirits, and plodding
along at a stouter pace than on the day before congratulated himself on
covering such a deal of ground. But by noon he came to a less flattering
estimate of himself; for, talking with an idler at a small tavern he had
entered to buy his dinner, he discovered he was now following the Fosse
not to Nottingham but to Newark. Thereat Hugh faced about to retrace his
steps, too vexed at his own stupidity to allow himself to stop for
dinner. His informant called after him some direction about a cross-way
to the Nottingham road, which he scarcely heeded at the moment; but
afterward, when he was out of the village, he remembered, and striking
across the fields came into a narrow road full of ruts and great
puddles.

At first Hugh splashed along recklessly, but presently, when a streak of
sunlight crept through the trees and turned the puddles bright, he let
his pace slacken and little by little brought himself back to a more
contented mood. After all, he could make up by steady walking what he
had lost, and in any case Nottingham was now less than two days’ journey
distant. He began whistling for content, then stopped, as a rustling in
the bushes ahead caught his ear. He saw the branches crackle outward,
and two men, bursting through, came swinging down the roadway to meet
him.

Recovering from his first surprise, Hugh prepared to give them the usual
traveller’s good day, but on second glance kept to his side of the road
and walked more rapidly. One of the fellows was thick-set and well
tanned, and chewed a straw as he trudged; the other, a younger man, clad
like a field laborer, was taller and hulking, with a bearded, low-browed
face. As they came abreast he bade Hugh a surly good even and on the
word, almost before the boy could reply, gave a grip at his collar. Hugh
dodged back and pulled out his pistol, while the thought flashed through
his head that running was impossible in this mire,—and then it was not
befitting his father’s son. Next instant the tall man sprang upon him
and Hugh, thrusting the pistol into his face, pulled the trigger, then
felt the weapon knocked out of his hand and found himself grappling with
his big antagonist. The man’s fingers pressed into his throat, he knew;
and he remembered afterward how a smooch of red flecked the fellow’s
beard, as he dashed his fist against his mouth. Then he was griping the
other about the neck, hammering up at that stained face, and he heard
the fellow bawl, “Devil and all! Why don’t ’ee come in and help me,
Jock?” Another gruff voice retorted, “If thou canst not handle a younker
like that, thou deservest to have bloody teeth.” Then of a sudden Hugh
found himself twisted over so he saw the sky above him all shot with
black, and he felt a bursting pain in his forehead. Thrusting up his
hands gropingly, he went down full length in the mud without strength
enough in him to move, even when the tall man knelt over him and, with
one hand on his throat, rifled his pockets.

“Here, have back your pistol, master,” he heard the gruff voice say, and
he dimly saw the well tanned man, with a grin on his face, fling the
pistol down in the mud beside him. Then the two walked off at their old
swinging pace, and Hugh dragged himself up on his elbow and lay staring
uncomprehendingly at his bleeding knuckles. After a time he got
painfully to his feet and in mechanical fashion reckoned up the damages;
they had taken his cloak and cleaned his pockets of money and of
everything but the creased letter from Frank Pleydall and a loose bit of
string. They had left him nothing but the torn and well-muddied clothes
he wore and the pistol, that now was all befouled with mire. As Hugh
picked it up all the hot anger of the actual conflict swept over him
again, and with some wild idea of making the robbers restore their
plunder he staggered a few steps down the road. Then strength failed
him, and dropping down by the roadside he sat with his aching head in
his hands. The world was a brutal place, he reflected with dumb
resentment; even if a man had courage enough he did not always have the
muscle to defend his own, not even with a pistol to back him.

It did not better matters to sit there and whimper so after a time he
rose and, still rather dazed with his drubbing, went unsteadily on his
way. At the first brook he halted to wash his wounded hands and cleanse
the pistol, which he dried upon his coat as well as he could. The rest
of the afternoon he marched slowly because of the dizziness in his head,
and so the twilight had overtaken him before he reached the main road
and a village that lay upon it.

Close by the wayside stood a tavern, where candles were lighted and food
would be cooking, but Hugh only gave one wistful look and passed on. He
made his supper of a drink of water from the public well, and, falling
in speech there with some loiterers, he found he was now into the shire
of Nottingham and not above ten miles from the town. His heart jumped at
the news, but next moment he was telling himself he could not tramp
those miles in the dark and he grew sober as he realized unwillingly
that he must sleep in the open. Till mid-evening he lingered in the
village street, then, drawing reluctantly away from the sight of the few
candles that still shone in cottages, passed on to the outskirts of the
hamlet. After a cautious reconnoissance he crept through a hedge into a
field, where he had dimly made out in the darkness a stack of straw, in
the lee of which he snuggled down. The straw rustled with startling
loudness at his least movement, and the earth beneath him was so damp
his teeth chattered in his head. The strangeness of the place kept him
many moments awake, but he held his eyes shut that he might not have
sight of the lowering sky. Little by little he forgot it all and fell to
thinking of the last time he had lain in the open, when he and Sam
Oldesworth had stolen out for a frolic to lie the night in Everscombe
Park. How Sam would have marvelled at this nights doings! And Lois, only
Lois would have pitied him, like a girl.

Then he knew there had been a long space in which Lois and all other
remembrances left him, and he found himself shivering in the midst of
wet straw with gray morning light all around him. He crawled to his feet
and making his way to the highroad slowly set forth again. He was keenly
hungry with his twenty-four hours of fasting and stiff with the dampness
of his lodging, but he cheered himself with the thought that before
night he would be in Nottingham. He would have enough to eat then, and a
bed to sleep in, and decent clothes once more; but he put aside these
creature comforts at the thought that he would see his father before he
slept again. He wondered what his father would say, and he planned what
he would tell him, and how he would make light of his long walk and the
hunger and the cold.

His heart fairly jumped within him when at last, in the mid-afternoon,
he saw from a hill a great congregation of houses and steeples, which he
knew must be Nottingham. He started down the hill on the run, though his
knees were smiting together with his long fast. He thought he could keep
up the pace clear to the gates of the town, but a troublesome stone got
into his shoe, so presently he had to pause and sit down under a hedge
to look to it. As he was pulling on the shoe again a man passing by bade
him good day, and Hugh, seeing there were houses within call, so he need
not fear a second assault, entered into talk with him: “Yonder’s
Nottingham, is it not?”

“O’ course,” answered the other, proportioning his courtesy to the state
of Hugh’s jacket.

“How do you like having a king lie so near?” Hugh laughed for the sheer
happiness that was in him.

“Ill enough,” growled the other, “wi’ his swaggering ruffians breaking
our fields and kissing our wenches. Praise Heaven they be gone now.”

“Gone?” Hugh echoed blankly.

“Ay, his Majesty and the whole crew of his rakehelly followers went
packing westward three days back.”



                               CHAPTER IV
                           TO HORSE AND AWAY


If Hugh Gwyeth had been a few years older he might perhaps have cursed
his ill fortune; if he had been a few years younger he would assuredly
have put his head down on his knees and wept; as it was, being neither
man nor child, he blinked his eyelids rapidly and forced a weak grin,
then asked: “There’s a road that runs west from Nottingham, is there
not, friend? Perhaps then there is some cross-way from here by which I
may reach it?”

The man delayed long enough to give full information about a path, a
stile, a meadow, and an ancient right of way, which Hugh checked off
mechanically. But after the man had passed on he still sat a time
staring at the distant roofs of Nottingham and blinking fast.

At length he got to his feet and started down the hillside by the path
the man had shown him, slowly, for all the spring had gone out of his
gait now, and his knees felt weak and shook so that more than once he
had to pause to rest. During such a halt a sickening fear seized him:
suppose after all he should never reach his father? There was no danger
of his dying of starvation yet, for he had had food as late as the
previous morning; but what if strength failed him and he fell down in
the fields or lonely woods and slowly perished there? That fear still
staying with him, he made his night’s resting-place under a hedge,
almost within hail of a farmhouse. He lay down early in the twilight,
too exhausted to make the day’s march longer, but he could not sleep for
very hunger. In the first hours of his waking the dim light in the
distant farmhouse gave him company, but after that he had only the
stars. He lay huddled in a heap for warmth and stared up into the sky at
Charles’s Wain and the North Star, that were shining clear as on the
night when he quitted Everscombe.

He lost sight of the stars at last, slept, and woke in white moonlight,
then slept and woke again, and, finding the chilly dawn breaking, rose
and plodded painfully out into the highway. The farmhouse in the gray
morning did not bear out the hospitable promise of its candle of the
night before; so, sick with hunger though he was, Hugh went by it
without so much as asking for a drink of water. But a few rods farther
on, when he caught sight of some apple trees, he crawled through the
hedge and helped himself, then hurried away guiltily and tramped the
next quarter mile so fearful of apprehension that he durst not taste the
plunder. When he did so he found that the apples were half sour and
hard, so he could scarcely swallow a mouthful, and that little sickened
him. When he resumed his walk he felt dizzier and weaker even than
before.

About eleven of the morning he passed through a small village, where he
met people coming to their midday meal. He loitered along slowly and
rested a time by a well in the centre of the place; it was in his mind
to go boldly to some cottage and ask for food, but he could not decide
which house looked least inhospitable. While he was still debating, the
shameful realization of what he was doing came over him; he jumped up
and, pulling his battered felt hat over his face, walked away with
something of his old dignified step. But once outside the village his
pace slackened, as he told himself unsparingly that begging befitted a
gentleman far better than stealing, and he must now do one or the other.

It was several hours later that a third resource occurred to him: he
might trade something for food, his pistol, perhaps. He examined it
carefully and decided that, though it looked a trifle rusty, it might
serve. In the expectation of getting food for it at the next town he
labored on more hopefully, but the next village seemed never to come,
for his knees were now fairly knocking together and his halts grew more
frequent and prolonged. Once, when he had to cross a small stream, he
found himself too unsure of foot to keep the stepping-stones, so he must
splash into the water up to his knees. A branch sent his hat into the
stream, and, without heart enough left even to struggle after it, he let
it drift away.

The sun was nearly set when at last he came to scattered houses, which
he judged must be on the outskirts of a considerable town. At the
thought of food he stumbled forward more rapidly, with his pistol in his
hand ready for the barter, but he saw no possible purchaser till he came
to a small inn. There he found a knot of men gathered about a side door,
so, after a moment’s hesitation, he ventured into the courtyard. Country
fellows they proved to be, idling and smoking on the inn porch; one, who
took the deference of his comrades as a matter of course, had the look
of a small farmer; another seemed a smith; the rest were of the ordinary
breed of tavern frequenters. Hugh paused by a horseblock, and, looking
them over, found little encouragement in their appearance, yet he was
trying to frame a proper greeting with which to go up to them, when a
tapster bustled out on the porch and, getting sight of him, hailed him
roughly, “Now then, what brings you here?”

Hugh hesitated over to the porch; he had forgot what he had meant to say
and for a moment no words came to him; then, realizing it was now or
never, he managed to stammer: “I have a pistol here. Maybe some one of
you would—wish to buy it.” As he spoke he held out the pistol, but the
farmer, the great man of the crew, shoved it aside and, pulling fiercely
at his pipe, wheezed out something about vagabonds and the stocks. The
blacksmith, however, took the pistol carelessly, turned it over, and
laughed. “How many men hast killed wi’ this, sirrah?” he asked in a big
voice, and passed the pistol to his neighbor, who grinned and offered a
ha’penny for it.

Hugh gazed helplessly at the ring of mocking faces, then let his eyes
drop to the ground, and with the blood tingling in his cheeks waited
their pleasure. He would gladly have seized upon his pistol and flung
away from them, but he felt too faint and hungry to walk a rod, and
before he could get food he must make this sale. But at last, with slow
sickening disappointment, he realized they had no notion of purchasing,
but were making sport of him. “If you will not buy—” he blurted out with
weak anger.

“What is going on here?” a pleasantly drawling voice struck in.

Turning sharply Hugh almost brushed against a man who had approached
from the direction of the stables, a gentleman, by his dress and easy
bearing. “Will you not suffer me to see, friends?” he drawled slowly,
and reaching out his hand took the pistol from the man who held it.

Gazing up at him hopefully Hugh saw that the newcomer was not above two
or three and twenty years of age, with long dark hair and a slight
mustache, under which Hugh fancied he saw his mouth twitch as he looked
the pistol over. Then the gentleman glanced up and showed a pair of
humorous brown eyes, which, as he surveyed Hugh, suddenly grew grave.
“Here, I’ve need of a pistol,” he said, and held out a piece of money.

It was a crown piece, Hugh saw, that would buy unlimited bread, and
meat, too; but, as his fingers were closing over it, the remembrance of
the twitch in the purchaser’s lips and the laugh in his eyes recurred to
him, and of a sudden he understood that a pistol which thieves
themselves would not deprive him of could not be worth even a ha’penny.
He had no right to take money for it, he knew, and in his disappointment
he grew angry at his own stupidity, and angry at the brown-haired
gentleman for offering him charity, and angry at the other men who
looked on and thought him a beggar and worse. “After all, I’ll not sell
it,” he muttered sullenly. “Perhaps—’tis not in good condition.”

“Tis a serviceable weapon,” replied the other.

“It’s worthless,” Hugh maintained doggedly. “Give it back to me.”

“But I’ve taken a fancy to it.”

“Keep it, then,” Hugh retorted, fiercely, so his voice might not break,
and elbowing his way through the group of men walked off. He could smell
the food cooking inside the tavern, and hunger gnawed him so savagely
that even the thought that he had refused charity and had not deceived
any one into buying a worthless pistol could not keep a lump from
gathering in his throat. His step wavered and he had to halt an instant
to lean against the gate-post: out beyond the street looked lonely and
chill in the misty twilight. Just then he heard the click of spurs upon
the stones of the courtyard, and some one took him by the shoulder. Even
before he heard the drawl he knew it was the young gentleman. “Look you
here, sir, I cannot take your pistol as a gift.”

More than one rough speech came to Hugh’s lips, but he did not utter a
word, only shook off the grasp on his shoulder and without looking up
made a step forward. Then his knees seemed to give way, the ground
suddenly came nearer, and, pride, resentment, and all, he pitched down
on the stones at the gentleman’s feet.

The other bent over him quickly, and this time Hugh had neither strength
nor will to shake him off. “What’s wrong with you, lad?” There was
almost no drawl in the speakers voice, “Hurt? Tired? Hungry?”

Hugh nodded dumbly.

“Well, well! That’s easier remedied than a broken leg. Up with you,
now.” Hugh found himself upon his feet again, and, with the young man’s
hand beneath his elbow, stumbled obediently back across the courtyard
and through the little group about the door, who made way for them.
Within they turned up a staircase, and now he heard the man beside him
asking: “You’ll not refuse to take supper with me, perchance? When
gentlemen meet on the road—”

“You’ve no need to make it easy unto me,” Hugh gulped out brokenly. “If
some one did not help me I doubt if I could tramp many days more,
and—I’d liefer take help from you.”

Indeed, utter weariness and hunger had for the moment made an end of
Hugh’s dignity as effectually as if he had cast it quite away at the inn
gate. He suffered the stranger to lead him into a room and seat him in a
big chair by the fire, where he drank what was given him and swallowed
down some mutton broth, sparingly, at first, as he was told. He troubled
himself neither to think nor to speak, but he noted that the dark inn
chamber seemed like home, the fire felt warm, and the candles twinkled
dazzlingly. He found, too, that the brown-haired gentleman had a kind,
elder-brotherly way with him, and that in private life he dispensed with
his drawl, though his voice lost none of its pleasant tone.

“Well, you feel almost your own man again now, do you not?” his host
queried at last.

Hugh essayed a smile in reply.

“Wait an hour or so and, if soft answers still have power with tavern
women, we’ll have a good supper then,—I take it you’ll be ready for it.
And now it seems time for ceremonious introductions. My name is Richard
Strangwayes.”

“And my name is Hugh Gwyeth. My father is Colonel Alan Gwyeth of the
king’s army.” Hugh spoke slowly as if he liked to linger over the words;
it was the first time he had ever claimed his father.

“And you are bound for the king’s camp?” asked Strangwayes, sitting down
on the opposite side of the fireplace.

Hugh explained very briefly that he had left home to join his father and
had had a hard march, to which Strangwayes listened with sympathetic
eyes, though when he took up the conversation again his tone was light.
“We are headed for the same place, then, Master Gwyeth, for I am wearing
out my horse to reach his Majesty’s army. I am going to join my uncle,
Sir William Pleydall—”

Hugh felt he could have hugged the man, he seemed suddenly to have come
so very near. “Why, I know Sir William,” he cried, “I was at school with
his son. I’ve a letter from him here.” Pulling out Frank’s worn letter
he passed it to Strangwayes, who stared at him an instant, then hastily
scanned the sheet. When he handed it back Hugh noted a change in his
manner; he had been kind before with the kindness of one stranger to
another, but now he seemed to have taken to himself a permanent right to
befriend Hugh. He came across the hearth and shook hands with the boy.
“I’m right glad we chanced to meet, Hugh,” he said warmly. “We’ll
journey the rest of the way together. Oh, yes, I can procure you a
horse.”

Hugh ventured some weak objection, rather shamefacedly, for he knew he
hoped Strangwayes would thrust it aside, and he felt only satisfaction
when the young man did so. “Leave you to come on alone? Folly! I only
lend you the horse; your father will settle the matter with me. I’ll
charge him Jew’s interest, if ’twill content you. Do you think I mean to
leave my cousin Frank’s comrade to fray out his clothes and his body
along the road?”

Afterwards, when they were eating supper together and the maid who
served them had quitted the room, Strangwayes suddenly looked up and
asked quizzically, “You are well assured there is no Spanish blood in
you?”

Hugh was quite sure; why had Master Strangwayes asked? What were
Spaniards like, anyway? Strangwayes drawled on disjointedly for a
quarter of an hour, while his eyes laughed in a provoking way: Spaniards
were fierce fighters, and their women were pretty, and they liked gold,
and they were proud as the devil, and they were very cruel, and they had
a deal of dignity, and they grew oranges in their country. “Dream it out
to-night, Hugh,” he advised, as they rose from the table; but Hugh
disobeyed flagrantly, for the instant he was laid in a Christian bed
once more he was sound asleep.

He woke in broad daylight, and, having assured himself that the bed was
real, so Richard Strangwayes could not have been a dream, dozed
contentedly again, and woke with a start to rise and dress with the
unsettled feeling of one who has slept long enough to lose count of
time. When he went downstairs he judged by the sunlight that flooded the
courtyard that it must be near noon, and his guess was verified by the
tapster, who was vastly more respectful than he had been on the
preceding evening. Those loitering about the courtyard, too, eyed him
curiously but no longer mocked him. The only relic of last night’s
dismal scene which he found was a rusted pistol that lay near the post
of the outer gate. After a hasty glance about to make sure none were
looking, Hugh snatched it up and, hiding it beneath his coat, sauntered
nonchalantly out of the courtyard. Just across the road was a sluggish
muddy ditch, and into this he dropped the pistol that had once been
Peregrine Oldesworth’s. Even as he did so he felt a quick pang of
regret, for he realized he had trusted in the worthless weapon as he
never could trust again in the truest sword or the surest musket.

A bit saddened and a bit shamed at such a feeling, he retraced his steps
to the gateway, where he came face to face with Strangwayes, very
martial indeed with his big hat and riding-boots, who trotted up on a
long-legged white horse. By the bridle he led a despondent-looking gray,
which halted with the greatest readiness, as Strangwayes reined in his
own steed and addressed Hugh: “What do you think of this high-tempered
charger? Unless appearances are arrant liars, he is the prettiest bit of
horse-flesh within two league of here. His Majesty,—Heaven bless him and
requite it to his followers!—has carried away every well-seeming thing
that goes o’ four legs. Here, sirrah hostler, give the beasts a bite.
We’ll do the like service to ourselves, Hugh, and then the word is, ‘To
horse and away.’”

“I am ready,” Hugh answered. “But I fear I have made you to lose time—”

“Time spent in horse-dealing is never lost,” Strangwayes replied
sententiously; “especially when the rascal who owns the horse has
likewise a winsome daughter. Now come to dinner.”

It was during this meal that a new care burdened Hugh. Now that he was
no longer half starved and near desperate he had time to take heed to
minor matters, and he was keenly aware of the holes in his stockings and
the rents in his breeches and jacket. It seemed Strangwayes had guessed
something of his thought, for, as they rose from the table, he spoke out
with a half embarrassment: “Look you here, Hugh, I meant—to lend you
money to get you fresh clothes, but, faith, the gray there cost a penny
more than I thought, and, as we’ve no wish to starve again, methinks you
must be content to let your new coat ride away on his back.”

“’Tis no great matter,” Hugh forced himself to say. “If you be willing
to take the road with such a vagrant-looking fellow as I.”

Strangwayes suggested, however, that they do what they could, so the
tapster was bribed and the chambermaid cajoled, till out of the inn
stores Hugh was furnished with a cap and a pair of boothose, and a good
part of the hedge mud was brushed off the rest of his apparel. So when
at last he rode out from the inn on the gray horse Hugh felt himself a
very passable Cavalier, for his covered head greatly increased his
self-respect, and the boothose in most hypocritical fashion concealed
the torn stockings. But had he been quite out at elbow he felt he would
have shone in the borrowed light of Strangwayes’ completeness, and would
have been content with that or anything he might owe to his new friend.

That night they slept within the borders of Staffordshire, and, sparing
their horses, took the road late next morning beneath a lowering sky.
They were headed for Shrewsbury, Hugh learned, whither the king was
marching by a northern road; they would keep to the south, however, in
the hope of speedily overtaking a scouting party led by one Butler, an
old friend of Strangwayes, whom the reports of tavern-keepers placed
less than four and twenty hours ahead of them. If the horses held out,
they doubtless would come up with him in the course of a twelvemonth,
Strangwayes announced dolorously, after a morning spent in flogging his
beast along the heavy road. It was impossible to mend the pace, so they
forgot it at last in talk, for after his days of non-intercourse Hugh
was but too happy to tell some one his thoughts and plans; and he felt
Strangwayes was as safe a confessor as a man could have. So he related
his early life, much in detail, and the intimate reasons of his present
quest, and all he knew of his father. At that Strangwayes’ dark eyebrows
went up amazingly and came down in a twist above his nose. “Name of
Heaven!” he ejaculated, turning in his saddle to face Hugh, “do you mean
to tell me you are tracing over the kingdom after a father who has not
set eyes on you for twelve years? What think you the man will say to you
or do with you?”

Hugh paused blankly, assailed with sudden queer doubts, as Strangwayes
thus harked back to his grandfather’s hints. But next instant the older
man laughed off his surprise and plunged headlong into a tale that soon
ended Hugh’s discomfort. “Confidence for confidence, Hugh. Would you
hear something of myself? If they ever put me in a chap-book they can
say I was the unhappy third son of a worthy knight of Lincolnshire. They
put me to school at a tender age,—pass over that; no doubt you can guess
what it means. No, I did not run from school; mine has been a sober and
industrious life, fit for all youth to take instruction by. When I was
sixteen I betook myself to Oxford, for my father was too loyal a
gentleman to trust even so poor a piece of goods as a third son among
the Puritans of Cambridge. There at Oxford I improved my hours to best
advantage and learned to play famously at bowls, and would have become a
past master at tennis, had not the Scots war broke out. Sir William
Pleydall procured me a lieutenancy—”

“And you have been to war once already?” asked Hugh, suffering the gray
to slacken the pace to his natural amble. “Tell me of your battles, I
pray you, Master Strangwayes.”

“If you’ll clip my title to Dick,” replied the other. “It sounds more
natural. Truth to tell, I was in but one battle, Hugh, and that was the
fierce and bloodless battle of Wilterswick, here in this same pleasant
Staffordshire. You remember, doubtless, when the king went against the
Scots, how loath our excellent yokels were to follow after. Rank
Puritans, the most of the levies were, and worked off their warlike
energies pulling down communion rails and hunting parsons out of their
parishes. We had a choice lot of such spirits in our troop, and, to put
a leaven to the whole lump, the captain was an Irishman, ergo, a
Catholic. A proper black fellow he was, Dennis Butler; the same one at
whose mess-table we may chance to sit to-morrow night. This Butler and I
took ourselves to rest one wet night at Wilterswick, and, faith, we
waked to the hunt’s up of a big stone crashing in at our casement and
found our trusty followers crowding the street before the inn, clamoring
to hang the captain for a Papist. At their head was a venomous,
two-legged viper, Constant-In-Business Emry,—he was rightly named,—a
starveling of a fellow,—I’d swear he began life a tailor. Butler had
rated him a day or two before, so he was in earnest, and, truth, the
rest of them looked it. So Denny Butler, being a gentleman of resources,
gathered himself into his clothes and left by the rear door.”

“And you?” Hugh cried out, “I hold your captain went like a coward.”

“Nay, nay, we’d agreed to it; I knew they’d not hurt me. So I slipped on
my shirt and breeches, and went down to speak unto them. They threw
stones and other things, and roared somewhat, but at last I made myself
heard; then I talked to them like a preacher and a father, and tripped
up Constant-In-Business Emry on a theological point, and demonstrated
that I was a good Church of England man, like all my ancestors before
me. By that they were tolerably subdued, so I called for a Book of
Common Prayers and read them morning service, then down we all knelt in
the mud of the courtyard and I prayed over them. You never know how hard
you can pray till you’re put to it. By that Butler was well away, so I
went back to my chamber and finished dressing. I ruined a serviceable
pair of velvet breeches kneeling in that mud, and the lesson of that is
to go rough clad when you go to war. And that was the end of my military
glory, for the king struck a truce with the Scots, I lost my commission,
and, as I would have no more of the university, my father packed me off
to London to take chambers in the Middle Temple. He held the Puritans
should not have a monopoly of lawyers, ‘fight the devil with his own
weapons,’ as ’twere. But I confess the only court I followed was the
king’s court and I learned far more of dancing and sonneteering than of
the precepts of worthy Sir Edward Coke. Then my father,—Heaven rest
him!—died, and left me an annuity. I have no liking for annuities; they
encourage a man in the sordid practice of living within his means. I
sold mine out of hand, and, with a droll streak of prudence, as rare as
strange, committed a round sum to Sir William Pleydall to hold in trust
for me, then set out with the rest to see the world. I went to the Low
Countries and served a time as a gentleman volunteer, and then to
France, where I learned some handy tricks at fencing.”

“You’re a great swordsman?” Hugh queried with bated breath. “Did you
ever fight a duel?”

“On my honor, yes,” the other replied with a smile. “No earlier than
last April I crossed swords with a certain Vicomte de Saint Ambroix. The
manner of it? Do you think of challenging any one, Master Hugh? Why,
monsieur the vicomte chose to speak some scurvy untruths of Englishwomen
in my company, so I did but go up to him and strike him across the
mouth, saying, ‘Monsieur, I do myself the honor of telling you that you
lie in your throat.’ Which was a great waste of words. But we fought and
he was hurt somewhat in the shoulder. No, I have no scars, but I got
then a piteous gaping wound in a crimson satin doublet of mine, which
has never healed, as flesh and blood heals in time. That was the last
adventure, fortunately, for here comes what shall abridge my story.”
Strangwayes pointed before him where the dusky roofs of a straggling
village showed among the wet trees.

“But how came you home, Dick?” Hugh coaxed.

“Simply told. I heard there was work for men of enterprise, and I judged
my loyal uncle would have turned my pounds and shillings into troopers
and muskets, and would gladly give me a commission in exchange. So I
spent what surplus money I had,—’tis the surest way to cheat
thieves,—and took ship for King’s Lynn. I paid a swift visit to my elder
brother in Lincolnshire; he is for the Parliament,—Heaven and my
father’s spirit forgive him! So I mounted and faced me westward to the
king, and here I am now, and here we are.”

The two horses clinked across the cobbles of the courtyard of the
village inn, a hostler ran up officiously, and the host himself came
puffing out to greet the guests. “Well, friend, what news on the road?”
cried Strangwayes, swinging out of his saddle. “Has a troop of Cavaliers
passed through here?”

The host gazed from one to the other, then up at the sky, then back at
the travellers. “Be you king’s men?” he finally asked, with mild
curiosity.

“Sure, I trust we all be honest people,” Strangwayes answered dryly.

“Well, well, that may be as it may be; I say naught; only ’tis good hap
for you, you lie in a snug haven to-night.”

“Why, what mean you? Are there hobgoblins farther on?” Strangwayes’
voice dropped to a ridiculous quaver that made Hugh smile.

“Worse nor hobgoblins, master,” replied the host. “Have ye not heard,
then? They do say a stout band of Puritan rogues are plundering the
country, yonder toward the west of us.”



                               CHAPTER V
                     IN AND OUT OF THE “GOLDEN RAM”


Though the dawn of another day had broken, slate-colored clouds still
hid the sun and a mist like a fine rain hung in the air; even the white
horse and the gray, standing saddled and ready in the inn yard, touched
noses as if they vowed the weather bad. Hugh slapped their flanks and
settled their damp manes, while he waited for Strangwayes to pay the
reckoning to the mildly curious host, but the process proved so long
that at last he mounted into the saddle and ambled slowly out into the
highway. Turning the gray horse’s nose to the west he paced forward,
with his heart a-jump at the thought that yonder in the mist before him
real danger that tested men’s courage might be lurking.

A gay clatter of hoofs on the uneven roadway made him turn just as
Strangwayes came abreast of him. At once Hugh blurted out what was
uppermost in his thoughts: “Do you think, Dick, the host spoke true? Are
there enemies before us? What think you?”

“I think there be two whose words are not to be over-trusted: a woman
when she will have a boon of you, and a tavern-keeper when he will have
you to tarry in his lodgings.”

“Then you believe the host’s talk of Roundheads—”

“Mere words to frighten children. It troubles me not the half as much as
his showing me just now that Butler must have borne more northward.
Well, let the Irish rogue go hang! We’ll push on as we are and reach
Shrewsbury,—some day.—Come up, you crows’ meat!” This to the white
horse, whose nose was at its knees.

“To-day will be but as yesterday, then, without any danger?” asked Hugh,
a thought relieved, yet with room for a feeling of grievous
disappointment at being cheated of his looked-for adventure.

Strangwayes’ telltale eyes laughed immoderately, though he kept his
mouth grave: “You’ll have all the adventures you need, after you reach
the king’s army. Still, as I have an honest liking for you, mayhap, if
you’re a good lad, I’ll find you one ere we come thither.”

Then they fell to speaking of all they would do, when once they were
enrolled among his Majesty’s followers, and, what with talking and
urging on their laggard horses, they kept themselves employed till past
noon. “We’ll bait here,” Strangwayes announced, as rounding a curve they
got sight of a tiny hamlet half concealed beneath a hill. “Then we’ll
make a long stage this afternoon and sleep the night well within the
borders of Shropshire.”

At that cheering thought they put the horses to their best pace and
clattered through the village street quite gallantly, though there were
none to admire them, save a flock of geese, and a foolish-looking girl,
who seemed the whole population of the little place. Thus they came to
the farther end of the hamlet, where, a bit retired from the neighboring
cottages, stood a shabby inn, before which hung a sign-board bearing a
faded yellow sheep. “Golden Ram!” Strangwayes translated it. “Mutton
would suit me as well!”

They rattled into the little inn yard, ducking down in their saddles to
save their heads from the bar across the low gateway, and drew rein just
in time to avoid riding down a flurried serving-maid. Strangwayes almost
fell out of his saddle, so promptly he dismounted to reassure her.
“You’re not harmed, my lass?” he asked anxiously, slipping one arm about
her as if he expected her to faint, though, from her fine fresh color,
that did not seem likely. Hugh had already seen something of his
friend’s civilities to barmaids, so he kept to his saddle and felt
rather foolish, when suddenly the host, a scrawny man with a lantern
face, appeared in the doorway. At sight of him Strangwayes, in his turn,
looked a bit foolish, and stepping away from the maid began briskly,
“Well, friend, what can you give us to dinner?” There he paused
dumfounded, and stared, then cried out: “Heaven keep us! If it be not my
constant friend Emry, as busy as ever! Verily, ’tis a true saying that
the Lord will not see the righteous forsaken.”

“Lieutenant Strangwayes was always a merry gentleman,”
Constant-In-Business Emry replied, with a rather dubious countenance.

“Tut, tut! You’re all mistaken, my man. I abominate merriment as much as
I do ale. Which calls it to my mind I am uncommon dry and thirsty. Jump
down, Hugh. We’ll have experience of a Puritan tavern.”

“Ay, men must eat,” sighed Emry. “Though my calling may smack of the
carnal taint, yet ’tis not all ungodly, since—”

“Don’t trouble yourself for that,” Strangwayes replied. “Faith, I never
thought to surprise you in so honest a calling.”

With that he led the way into the inn, where he and Hugh dined together
in an upper chamber. The food was none of the best, Hugh privately
thought, but Strangwayes praised it mightily to the maid who served
them, the same they had encountered in the courtyard. She was a
stepdaughter of Emry, who had married her mother, the now deceased
hostess of the “Golden Ram,” so she told Strangwayes, and added much
more touching Emry, who seemed the same old Puritan malcontent of
Wilterswick. Soon the talk turned from him to gayer matters, for the
girl was fresh-faced and black-eyed, so Strangwayes gave more heed to
her than to his meat and drink. Hugh, feeling more foolish and out of
place than ever, choked down his food quickly, then left the room, and,
as he closed the door, heard a suppressed squeak: “Don’t ’ee, sir. An
thou kiss me again I’ll scream.”

Hugh stamped downstairs and stood glowering out into the courtyard,
where the mist was now dribbling down in a slow rain. He watched the
grayish streaks it made across the black openings of the sheds opposite
the inn porch, and athwart the gaping door of the stable at his right. A
wretched chilly day it was, and—why need Dick Strangwayes play the fool
because a wench had red cheeks? When he heard his friend’s step he did
not even turn his head, and then Strangwayes came up alongside him, and
clapping one arm about his shoulders said in a low tone, “Jealous of a
tavern maid, or I’ll hang myself!” Then he walked off laughing and
disappeared into the stable.

But when Strangwayes came out again some time later the laughter had
gone from his face, and in its stead was a troubled, angry look that
made Hugh forget his petty vexation and run down from the porch to meet
him. “What has happened, Dick?” he begged.

“Why, nothing,” replied Strangwayes, and took hold of his arm, so they
paced up and down the courtyard together, “and yet everything is amiss.
The white horse has gone lame.”

“Is that all?”

“Enough. Unless you fancy walking ten miles through the mud and rain to
the next village. I do not.”

“You can ride my horse. That is, he’s yours, of course.”

“Or you might carry me,” Strangwayes answered soberly. “No, Hugh,
neither you nor I will walk that ten miles nor the half of it, dragging
a hobbled horse behind us.”

“Well, at worst,” Hugh tried to speak cheerfully, “we shall but lose a
few hours.”

“Ay, is that all? Tell me this, Hugh: why did a sound horse go lame in
the mere course of dinner?”

“Then it’s possible ’twas done with fore-thought?” Hugh cried.
“Perchance they mean—”

“Hush, hush, you fire-eater!” Strangwayes interrupted hastily. “If ’twas
the inn people lamed the horse they did it only to stay us here, that
they might profit by our tarrying. Or to hinder us in our journey, for
this knave Emry has no love unto me.”

Yet Strangwayes, Hugh took note when they returned to the house, was
merry as ever in his talk with the lean-visaged Emry. He ordered a
chamber for the night, and then, free to go and come as he pleased, went
sauntering into every corner of the hostelry, from the common room to
the sheds and stable. About twilight the journey ended in the kitchen,
where, finding Emry’s stepdaughter at work, Strangwayes seated himself
on a table and entered into ardent conversation with her about
butter-making.

Left to himself, Hugh sat down on the settle and, poking the fire
vigorously, watched the embers die down and then flare up again, while
the light waned or reddened throughout the room. Bits of the smoky
ceiling and black walls started into sudden radiance, or the fire gleam
was given back by a copper kettle or pewter plate, and once the sudden
blaze lit up the two who were by the table. Strangwayes’ face was half
shadowed by his long hair, so only his clean-cut chin and confident
mouth showed vividly; but the girls face, with drooping eyelids and
sober lips that now were silent, was very clear to see.

Hugh turned once more to the embers and paid the others no further heed,
till Strangwayes came to his side with the noisy announcement that, the
kitchen being a very delectable place, they would eat supper there. So
the maid lit candles and fetched them food, though she kept silent, even
to Strangwayes’ gayest nonsense. At the last she brought wine, as he
bade, and filling a glass held it out to him. Hugh, glancing up, left
eating to stare at the girl’s white face, and Strangwayes of a sudden
caught hold of her arm. “What’s wrong with you, wench?” he asked
abruptly.

At that the wine went slopping to the floor. “Don’t ’ee tell, sir,” the
girl murmured, under her breath, “father’d kill me, if he knew. But
there be Roundhead troopers,—they come hither to-night.”

A side glance from Strangwayes checked the exclamation that was on the
tip of Hugh’s tongue. The girl went on softly: "Father said: ‘He is a
swaggering child of Satan, this Papist Strangwayes. A shall not go out
of the “Golden Ram” till he goes strapped to another man’s saddle-bow.’"

Strangwayes’ nostrils contracted, but he said nothing, merely whistled
between his teeth. “A merry fellow your father is,” he broke silence at
length; “he does not deserve to have so good a lass for his daughter.
Here’s a half-crown to pay for the good wine your floor will scarce
appreciate, and here’s a kiss for yourself. And prithee fetch me more
drink.”

As the girl turned away, Hugh, for all his hot excitement, found wit
enough to say softly: “For the host’s talk of Roundheads ’twas mere
words to frighten children.”

“My boy,” Strangwayes replied, “if you do not hold your tongue as to
that, I’ll put you on the sound horse and pack you off to the next
village.” Then his face turned cheery as ever, as the maid came back
with the glass of wine, which he sipped slowly, questioning her softly
meantime: “What hour will these people come, do you know?”

“About mid-evening, I heard father say.”

“How many?”

“Only five or six. A grand officer and some common men. They were here
yesternight and before that.”

“Are there any men in the inn save your worthy, busy father and his
groom?”

“No others. But they are keeping watch of the inn gate and the stairs to
the upper story.”

Strangwayes drained off the last of the wine, then rose. “Tell me one
thing,” he asked, “is there any way from the upper floor into the
stable?”

“Through the loft above the kitchen.”

“It may chance your father and his man will be here in the kitchen the
next hour; then, if you love me, lass, keep up a great clattering of
your pans. Here, Hugh, take a brace of candles and off with you to bed.”

Hugh went slowly into the common room, where sat Emry, to all
appearances wrapped in pious meditations, and passed firmly up the
stairs. How the little flames of the candles flickered, he observed, and
how light and eager he felt; yet there was a kind of foolish trembling
in his knees.

Scarcely within the chamber Strangwayes rejoined him. “Are you satisfied
with this brave adventure, my man?” was his greeting.

Hugh nodded. “I know you’ll bring us through safe, Dick.”

“Humph! To do that we need but to slip out at a window of the inn. I’ve
a better plan, Hugh, if you’ll come in with me. We cannot bear off our
noble white steed and our fleet gray, for to ride hence is the surest
means to fall foul of these Roundheads. Then say we lurk here and, turn
and turn about, possess ourselves of two of their horses.”

“That’s your plan?” Hugh repeated amazedly. “Why, yes, of course I’ll
follow, if you bid. But you must tell me what to do.”

“First, here are the brace of pistols from my holsters,” Strangwayes
answered; “you are to take one of them. I grieve I cannot make two of my
rapier, but ’tis impossible. Now, note you, we go to bed—”

“What do you mean?” Hugh cried.

“No, no, no, don’t pull off your coat yet. To the mind of
Constant-in-the-Devil’s-Work Emry we take ourselves to bed, for we blow
out our candles, save this one, which I cut down till it will burn not
above half an hour. And I set it where the light will smite through the
window. Now tread softly and follow me.”

Outside the chamber the corridor was very dark and still, so that the
least creak of a board was appallingly loud, but there was no other
noise, save the faint sound of a girl’s singing in the kitchen below.
Down the corridor they passed what seemed immeasurable lengths, till
Hugh’s knees ached with the slow step, step, to a point where he felt
for sheer nervousness he must stamp or shout or do something foolish.
Then he heard the faint squeak of a door, as Strangwayes, a black figure
in the dusk, swung it gently ajar, and he stepped cautiously into a
loft, where a square of fainter darkness at the left showed a window was
cut. After a moment he found it lighter here than in the corridor, so,
groping with more confidence, he was presently at Strangwayes’ heels.
Right below he heard the muffled voice still singing words that were
undistinguishable. “That’s a rare wench,” Strangwayes just breathed.
“And here’s the hole into the stable loft. Count sixty ere you follow,
or you’ll be putting your heels through my skull.”

A long sixty it was, but Hugh counted ten more to be certain, then,
crawling through a low window that bruised his head, hung an instant by
his hands, while he wondered how far it was to fall. Just there
Strangwayes put his arms about him and rolled him over into a pile of
hay. “Not above a foot to drop, Hugh,” he whispered, with a suppressed
chuckle, “but an inch is as bad as a mile in the dark. For the rest of
the way I am sure; I used my eyes this afternoon.”

They quickly slid down from the hay-loft to the floor of the barn, and
as they went Hugh found time, perilous though the moment was, to feel
half shamed that Strangwayes was taking such care of him, as if he were
a little boy. The lighter square of the opening guided them to the
stable door, where Strangwayes caught Hugh’s arm. “Briskly now; they may
be spying from the gate. But softly.”

Hugh fairly held his breath in the three quick paces across the corner
of the courtyard till he found the grateful, pitchy darkness of a shed
around him. He smelt the freshness of new litter, heard it rustle about
his ankles, and then Strangwayes pulled him down beside him amidst
trusses of straw. “You understand, Hugh,” he whispered, “if we stayed in
the stable these knaves of troopers might mistake us for hay, when they
came to feed their horses, and the mistake would grieve us all. Now here
in the shed we can lie close till they leave the stable under guard of a
man or two, and then we will follow the fundamental maxim of warfare and
supply ourselves from the enemy. Unless they come first to rouse us in
our beds. Look you, Hugh, yonder, that little light, is our chamber.
There, it has gone out,” he added presently. “Now, when next we see a
light in that room, we’ll know they have gone thither and discovered our
removal, and we must be up and doing.”

Then for a long time there was silence betwixt them, while Hugh thought
of many things and felt the brave pistol under his coat. He tried to
make out a single star in the misty night that was around them, and he
strained his ears with listening for hoof-beats, till he wearied of it
and put his head down on his arms. Presently Strangwayes took him in the
ribs with his elbow. “Hugh,” he whispered in an odd, half-jesting voice,
“have you courage?”

“In truth, I was wondering,” Hugh blurted out. Strangwayes put his arm
about him as they lay, and once more many moments ran by. Then suddenly
Strangwayes whispered sharply, “Hark!”

Hugh raised his head, and he, too, caught, far off upon the highway, the
thud, thud of swiftly approaching horses, that slackened in speed but
grew louder and louder. He felt his heart thump shamefully, and,
reaching out his hand, griped Strangwayes’ coat. Then the hoofs sounded
right upon them, and there came shouts of men and the clatter of horses
across the inn yard. Through the misty darkness shone a sudden light,
against which Hugh could see outlined the top of the straw-pile. He saw,
too, Strangwayes, with his bare head uplifted, peer out through an
armful of the loose straw he held up before him, and he heard him
whisper: “Six men, Hugh. Two are officers, I judge. One of them has
passed into the inn. The rest are heading into the stable.”

Hugh pulled himself up on his knees and gazed out. There were torches in
the inn yard that made a half circle of light about the stable door, but
left the rest black as ever. Men were leading horses into the stable,
and calling and swearing to each other, so they could be heard even
after the great door swallowed them up. The house itself was silent as
before, but a moment later, and, even as he gazed, from the farther
window in the upper story a faint light streamed out. “Curse them! They
need not have gone prowling so soon,” Strangwayes rapped out between his
teeth. “We must make a dash for it. They are only five against two.”

Both were now on their feet among the straw, and Strangwayes had made a
step to the opening of the shed, when Hugh caught his arm. “Wait, wait,
Dick,” he panted, the words instinctively saying themselves, “that’s but
a small chance. Nay, I am not afraid; ’tis only I have a better way.
With my ragged clothes,—I’ll slip my cap under my jacket,—they’ll think
me a stable-boy. Let me go first into the stable. Perhaps I can get a
couple of horses out into the court. Yes, I am going.”

Strangwayes gave a glance at the lighted window. “If you’re beset, call.
God speed!” he whispered, and Hugh ran out from the shed.

For a moment his eyes were dazzled with the sudden light about him, then
he blinked it away and went forward. He seemed scarcely to feel the
solid ground beneath him, nor to hear his own step, for the pounding of
the blood in his temples. Yet there was no fear nor any feeling within
him, only he saw the opened door to the lighted stable, and he stepped
in boldly.

There he halted and of a sudden griped at the side of the door to hold
himself erect. For just before him, saddled, bridled, and all, stood two
horses, a black and a bay, which he had last caressed in the stable of
Everscombe Manor. Beside the bay loitered a stalwart young officer, who
at his step glanced up and showed the face of Peregrine Oldesworth.
“Hugh!” he cried amazedly, and the troopers, unsaddling the horses at
the farther end of the stable, looked up at the cry.

Hugh felt his nerves tingle, but with a calmness that seemed no part of
him he walked into the stable. “Good even, Cousin Peregrine,” he said
quietly, though his voice shook a trifle. “May I lead out the horses to
water?” His hands closed on the reins of the bay and the black.

“What are you doing here?” Peregrine asked astonishedly.

“What I can,” Hugh replied, with growing confidence.

“You’ve come down in the world, Master Runaway,” said Peregrine, and by
his look Hugh knew he was not sorry that his proud cousin should groom
his horse. That triumphant look strengthening him mightily, he
deliberately faced the horses about and led them the few steps to the
door. “I’m down, Cousin Peregrine,” he said, with a quick laugh, “but
maybe I’ll be up in the saddle again.”

“What are you about with the horses?” Peregrine cried, with a first
realization that all was not well. “Halt, there!”

For answer Hugh gave a cry of “Dick!” and jerking at the bits brought
the two horses into the courtyard on the run. The beasts were plunging
and wrenching at their bridles, behind him he heard the stamp of men
rushing across the stable,—all in a second,—then a dark figure had
sprung out from the shelter of the shed. “Look to yourself, Hugh!”
Strangwayes shouted, and helter-skelter Hugh made a spring for the back
of the bay horse. He got the reins in his hand anyhow and his leg across
the saddle, then, griping the pommel and the horse’s mane, clung for his
life as the frightened animal dashed for the gate. Men were shouting and
running, he heard the thud of another horse behind him, the crack of a
pistol, then, as he galloped past the inn, a casement suddenly swung
open. A bar of light dazzled in his eyes, and for the fraction of an
instant he saw the face of Thomas Oldesworth, as he leaned out, pistol
in hand. He heard the report of the shot, and then he flung himself
forward in the saddle to save his head from the bar at the gate.

Now he was out on the highway, the bay plunging and leaping beneath him,
and groping wildly he got one foot into the stirrup. Just then the black
horse with its bareheaded rider came abreast of him, passed him, and
Hugh galloped blindly at its heels. Well in the rear he heard the beat
of other horse-hoofs, but he had both feet in the stirrups now and the
reins in his hands, so he turned boldly into the fields behind the black
horse. There was a dark wall, he remembered, that he jumped recklessly,
and a stretch of rough ground, where he must hold his reins taut. There
the black slackened pace somewhat and Hugh galloped up breathless.
“We’ll give them the slip yet, will we not?” he cried, and then he heard
Strangwayes breathing in quick painful gasps, and saw he sat drooping
forward in his saddle. “Dick, Dick,” he almost screamed, “sure, you’re
not—”

“Ay,” Strangwayes panted, “I’m hit.”



                               CHAPTER VI
                         THE END OF THE JOURNEY


For perhaps an hour the black and the bay crashed at a fierce pace
across the dark countryside. Hugh had afterwards a confused remembrance
of thickets where he must bend his head to escape the swishing boughs,
of a ford where the water flew high as the girths, of a cluster of
cottages, black and silent in the night. Cleared land and highway sped
by him hazily, but always he had the mist in his face, faint hoof-notes
that ever grew fainter behind him, and just before him the black horse
with the piteously slouching figure in the saddle. Once and again Hugh
had cried out to him: How grievously was he hurt? Could not he stay to
look to it? Each time the terse reply had come: “’Tis nothing. Ride on.”

But the pursuing horses were at last no longer audible; moment after
moment passed, and still no sound reached them but the echo of their own
gallop. Slowly the black’s pace sobered to a trot, and Hugh rode up knee
to knee with his friend. “Dick, ’tis not mortal? Tell me,” he entreated.

“‘Not as wide as the church door,’ as saith the gentleman in the play,”
Strangwayes replied, but for all his gay tone Hugh caught in his voice a
strained note that frightened him; “a mere pistol wound. That knave in
the window gave’t me. Why did you not shoot him down?”

“’Twas my uncle,” Hugh replied.

“A sweet family you belong to, then,” Strangwayes muttered.

“I would it had been me he shot. If he has killed you—” Hugh gulped out.

“Nonsense!” Strangwayes answered testily. “Ride on, and trouble me with
no more such talk.”

For another long space they rode in silence, Strangwayes with his head
sunk on his chest and his left arm motionless. Hugh pressed close to
him, lest he fall from his saddle, but he did not venture to trouble him
with further speech. Thus the breaking day came upon them, as they
trotted through a bit of wet woodland, and Hugh at last could see his
comrade’s white face, that looked gray in the uncertain light, and
thought to make out a dark splotch upon the back of his coat. At the
farther verge of the wood, where a small brook, flowing across the road,
broadened into a pool on the right, Strangwayes reined in his horse with
two or three one-handed jerks at the bridle. “You’ll have to try your
’prentice hand at surgery,” he said, as Hugh sprang down from the bay;
“adventures do often entail such postscripts.”

“Do not make a jest of it,” Hugh answered chokedly, and putting his arm
about Strangwayes helped him to climb from the saddle and to seat
himself on the brink of the pool. He still kept his arm about his
friend, and now, feeling something damp against his sleeve, he looked
closer and found the back of Strangwayes’ coat was all wet and warm.
“’Tis here you’re wounded?” he cried.

“Yes, in the back,” the other replied, with a half-suppressed groan. “A
brave place for a gentleman to take his first hurt! Draw my coat off,
gently. Now take my knife and rip off my shirt. ’Twill serve for
bandages.”

Somehow Hugh mastered the nervous trembling in his fingers sufficiently
to cut away the shirt, upon which the broad stain of red showed with
sickening clearness. Beneath, Strangwayes’ back was slimy with blood,
and the dark drops were oozing from a jagged wound in the fleshy part of
the left shoulder. Strangwayes, who was sitting with his full weight
thrown upon his right arm, never uttered sound nor winced, but Hugh sank
down on his knees, and for a moment felt too faint to do more than
support his friend with his arm.

                 “‘O dinna ye see the red heart’s blood
                 Run trickling down my knee,’”

Strangwayes half hummed, and turned his head to look at Hugh. His brows
were puckered with pain, but there was the ghost of a smile on his lips
as he drawled, “Why, Hughie, man, methinks I be the one to feel sick,
not you.”

Thereat Hugh set his teeth, and, shamed into strength by the other’s
courage, dipped half the cut shirt into the brook and washed the wound,
tenderly as he was able, then made shift to bandage it, as Strangwayes
directed. “Well, I’m still wearing a shirt,” the latter said, as Hugh
carefully helped him into his coat, “but ’tis not in the usual way. You
must fasten my coat up to my chin, Hugh, and pray none note my lack of
linen, nor the bullet-hole in the back. What a place to be wounded!”

The rim of the sun was just showing above the eastern trees when they
started to horse once more. Strangwayes, leaning heavily on Hugh,
managed to climb into his saddle, and then he let his hand rest a moment
on the boy’s shoulder, while he looked down at him. “So you are troubled
for me?” he asked dryly.

“More than I would be for any man, unless ’twere my father.”

“You’re a brave lad, Hugh,” Strangwayes said irrelevantly. “I would fain
hug you, if I would not topple out of my saddle if I tried. I thank
Heaven ’twas not you got hurt by my fool’s trick last night.” Then he
put his horse slowly forward, so Hugh mounted the bay and came after.

They went at a gentler pace now, by the highway or by short cuts through
the fields, for Strangwayes knew this country well, he explained, from
his old experience in the king’s army. He kept a little in advance, one
hand on the bridle rein, the other arm limp, and his whole body stooping
a trifle forward. Hugh realized with a helpless pang that his friend was
suffering, he dared not think how much, nor how it might end, yet he was
powerless to aid him. Once, when they rode through a village where the
people were astir about their morning business, he begged Strangwayes to
stop and have his wound looked to, at least have drink to strengthen
him. But the other shook his head, then spoke with pauses between
phrases: “They’d not succor me for love, Hugh; we are not strong enough
to force them; and for the rest, I’ve not a shilling to soften them.”

“How?”

“What I had was none too much to give that maid for the saving of our
liberty, perchance our lives. At least, I rate my life thus high.”

“And that I could be angry with you for such a matter as fooling with
her!” Hugh broke out penitently.

“’Tis for a man’s advantage to be friendly with all women,” Strangwayes
answered in a matter-of-fact tone. “Had I sulked in her presence, like
some haughty gentlemen I know of, we’d be tramping the road to a rebel
prison now, Hugh. That knave Emry! I contrived to reach him a crack on
the head with the butt of my pistol as I rode out, he’ll remember some
days.”

But after that one burst of everyday speech Strangwayes lapsed again
into silence, with so slack a hold on the reins that Hugh, coming close
alongside, ventured now and then to put hand to the bit and guide the
black horse. Lines of pain were deepening in the wounded man’s brows and
about his white lips, and once, as they descended a steep pitch
abruptly, he only half stifled a groan.

So when they reached the next village Hugh took matters into his own
hands by pulling up both horses before a wayside tavern. “What’s to do?”
Strangwayes asked listlessly.

“I am going to get you drink,” Hugh answered, and jumping down from his
horse entered the tavern and made for the common room. There he found a
surly tapster, and, trying hard to be civil and yet not abject, begged:
“Can you give me a glass of aqua vitæ? I’ve a wounded friend here—”

To which the tapster simply responded: “Pack!”

Hugh gave back a step or two, and then, with the feeling that
Strangwayes might be dying and he must do something, however desperate,
pulled out his pistol. “I must have that aqua vitæ,” he said quietly.
“Either you give it me or I go fetch it. Make up your mind.”

Instead the tapster drew away to the door, bawling for assistance till
he roused up another man and a maid and the hostess herself. Hugh, with
his back to the wall and the pistol in his hand, felt unjustified and
ashamed, but, the thought of Strangwayes nerving him, repeated his
request to the hostess. She fell to rating him shrilly for a bullying
swashbuckler to frighten a poor woman so, and, as the men would not
check her and Hugh could not use his pistol for argument here, she was
like to keep it up some time. Happily the maid, who had peered out at
the window, broke in with a glowing account of the fine horses and the
poor wounded gentleman, whereat the landlady, after boxing the wench’s
ears for gaping out of doors, bounced over to the casement. The sight of
Dick Strangwayes or of the horses must have softened her, for after an
instant’s gazing she began to rate the tapster and bade him fetch what
the young gentleman required.

When Hugh came out triumphant with the glass of spirits he found the
rest of the inn people gathered about the horses, and the hostess very
pressingly urging Strangwayes to light and rest at her house. She was
but too glad to help a gentleman fallen on misfortune, she explained,
especially when the gentleman served the king, bless him! His Majesty
and all his men had passed through there and some of them had lain in
her house only the night before.

“Then we’ll soon be up with your friends, Dick,” Hugh urged, trying to
speak cheerfully.

Strangwayes just nodded, then drank the hostess’s health in the aqua
vitæ, and with a flicker of energy bade Hugh get to his saddle. As they
left the little knot of staring people behind them, he turned his face
toward Hugh and, forcing his drawn lips into a smile, asked: “You raided
those inn folk? You’re learning bravely, my Spanish Puritan.”

Then he became silent and suffered the gallant pace at which he had set
out to slacken. The black showed a tendency to veer from one side of the
road to the other, till at last, not above two miles from the tavern,
Strangwayes dropped the bridle rein into Hugh’s ready hand. “You must
lead the horse a bit,” he said wearily. “I’ll rest me.”

Of those last miles Hugh kept only blurred recollections, among which
the dazzle of sunlight upon the firm road beneath the horses’ feet, the
sight of men laboring in tilled fields, and the smell of moist woods,
recurred vaguely. Through all the shifting changes of the wayside
Strangwayes, as he sat bowing over the pommel of his saddle with his
pallid face hidden on his breast, was alone a living reality.

The long piece of woodland ended at last, and across the fields the
roofs of a village came in sight. To the left horses grazing in a meadow
whickered to the passing chargers, and then the riders trotted slowly in
among the houses. There was a smith’s shop, Hugh remembered, about which
lounged men in great boots and buff jackets, and before the village inn
were more in the same attire. Hugh reined up there, scarcely knowing
what he purposed, but before he could dismount a young man with long
light brown hair, who wore a scarlet sash across his jacket, advanced
from the inn door. “King’s men?” the stranger asked. “Why, what has
befallen here?”

Strangwayes raised his chin a trifle, then his head sank again. “Who
commands?” he asked faintly.

“Captain Dennis Butler.”

“Tell him, Richard Strangwayes seeks him. He—” There the voice trailed
off inaudibly.

Hugh leaned a little from his saddle and got his arm about his friend.
Men were hurrying forward curiously, but of a sudden they drew aside to
make way for a thick-set officer with a black beard, who came striding
through their midst. “On my soul, ’tis Dicky Strangwayes!” he cried,
halting at the injured man’s stirrup. “Gad, but you’re come in good
time! We can give you a bottle of Burgundy to crack or a rebel throat to
cut—”

“Ah, Captain, if you’ll give me a bed, I ask nothing else of you,”
Strangwayes gasped out, and pitched forward, half into Butler’s arms.

They had him off the horse and two of the troopers carried him into the
house, so speedily that Hugh got only a glimpse of his friend’s
deathlike face. He jumped down, intent on following, but the youngish
officer with the light hair, paying him no heed, walked away and left
him to the curious troopers. They asked him many questions touching
Strangwayes and how he had been hurt, which Hugh, with eyes on the door
by which his comrade had disappeared, could only answer disjointedly.
Presently a man came out and, saying that Guidon Allestree had so
ordered it, led the black and the bay off to be groomed and fed. Still
unbidden Hugh followed into the stable yard, where, sitting down on the
shaft of a cart, he stared at the inn till he knew every angle of its
timbered roof. He realized vaguely that men passed him by, and one
group, loafing near at hand in the shelter of a shed, he heard talking
loudly together. Once, when they were complaining of the lack of liquor
at this tavern, he was aware that one grumbled, “No wonder; Gwyeth’s men
lay here yesternight.”

Even that seemed not to be personal to Hugh, and he still sat staring at
the blank inn windows, while he wondered to what room they had carried
Strangwayes. At last he could endure the suspense no longer, but taking
his courage in his hand walked into the house, where, halfway up the
stairs, he met the light-haired man. “I pray you, may I not see Master
Strangwayes?” Hugh blurted out his business at once.

“The surgeon has forbidden it. They have but just cut out the bullet,
and he is too weak to be worried.”

“Is there—much danger?” Hugh faltered.

“Nay, very little. A mere ugly flesh wound, but he has lost much blood
and is near exhausted.—Come, come, don’t give way like that, boy,” the
young man added, as a sob of sheer relief escaped Hugh. “Your master’ll
be sound enough in a couple of weeks.”

Hugh looked up with his face aflame; because his clothes were ragged was
no reason that the young officer should take him for a horse-boy. “Will
you be so good as tell Dick I am glad he is recovered?” he said slowly.
“And give him back his pistol here, and tell him since he is in the
hands of friends I have gone about my own affairs.”

So saying he went down the stairs and, without a single glance at the
light-haired officer, passed out into the courtyard. He would not hang
about the place a moment longer, he vowed, but then he reproached
himself for deserting Strangwayes and had half a mind to go back, when
by chance he caught sight of the same group of loungers he remembered
had spoken of Colonel Gwyeth. On the impulse he went to them and,
questioning them, learned that not only had Colonel Alan Gwyeth been
that very morning at the inn, but he was now not above eight miles
distant at Shrewsbury.

At that Hugh faced about and took the highway for the great town. It was
not deserting Dick Strangwayes now, he told himself, for his father
would doubtless let him have a horse and ride back next day to see his
friend, and in any case he must go forward, lest his father be off to
some other part of the country. So during the sunny last hours of the
afternoon he hurried along, scarcely observing the villages through
which he passed nor the men on foot or horseback whom he met or
overtook, in the eager hope at each turn of the road that he would come
upon Shrewsbury steeples. He hardly felt sleepy from last night’s long
watch, nor stiff with his rough ride, just eager and happy. When he
thought of Strangwayes it was only to be thankful that his hurt had not
proved mortal, and to be glad that the skirmish at the “Golden Ram” had
happened. For now he could go to his father, not a raw schoolboy, but a
young gentleman who had been under fire; he was just a bit sorry he had
not himself been wounded.

But when at length he saw the last horizontal rays of the sun upon the
clustered roofs of Shrewsbury, his happy mood seemed to end. It was all
too good to be true; once before he had thought himself almost in his
fathers arms and he had been deceived. He hardly dared ask a countryman
if the king were lodging in the town yonder, and, finding it true, could
not walk forward fast enough, lest before he came up his Majesty should
move away.

Walk fast as he would, twilight was deepening when he entered the town,
but hordes of people—gaping country folk, sober burghers, swaggering
troopers, gayly dressed gentlemen—made the dusky streets lively as by
day. Among them all Hugh forced a path, jostled and pushed, and pushing
in his turn. He began inquiring of those he met if Colonel Alan Gwyeth
lodged in the town, and some had not heard the name, and some knew such
an officer was with the king but knew not where he lay. At last he
chanced upon a foot soldier who directed him for Alan Gwyeth’s lodgings
to the west gate of the town. Thither Hugh tramped to search the
neighborhood for the house and get cursed for disturbing people, but
still he persisted in his search, though there would creep in upon him a
hopeless feeling that it had all been delusion from the first and he
never would find his father.

In the end he got a direction that took him out a quarter-mile beyond
the west gate to an old timbered house that sat close upon the road;
knocking and making his usual inquiry of a curt servant, he found that
Colonel Alan Gwyeth lodged there. Almost unable to believe it, Hugh
repeated the words blankly after the servant, then stood staring at him
without speaking till the door was nearly shut in his face. He stayed it
with one hand, while he asked to see the colonel.

“He is hence with other gentlemen this evening; I know not when he will
return,” was the short reply before the door was closed in good earnest.

Hugh still stood on the steps, trying to comprehend that it was all
true; in a few hours his father, the tall reddish-haired man, would be
walking up to that very door. He would see him, at last. He went slowly
down to the road, and then paused; if he walked away his father might
come, for the evening was already half spent. He decided it would be
better to wait there, so he went up the steps again and sat down.

At first he had no lack of company; horsemen went swinging by, and
groups of men, some staidly, some boisterously with shouts and songs,
passed in the road below him. Hugh listened with ears alert and as each
dark form drew near asked himself if that might be the one. Gradually as
the evening wore on passers-by became less frequent and Hugh wearied of
starting at each new step. He became aware, too, that he was stiff with
sitting in one position and the night was cold enough to make his
clothes of small protection. He looked up at the sharp stars and counted
them and picked out those he knew. Then he changed his position once
more, and fell to thinking how good a hot meal would taste; he had not
eaten food since the supper of the night before. And he was tired, too;
he leaned his head against the railing of the stairs, and, just closing
his eyes, saw the trees and fields of the night ride go by, and saw
Strangwayes’ white face, and saw the face of the tall man who used to
carry him on his shoulder.

A great noise of talking made him rouse up, wondering dazedly if he had
slept. Somebody was shouting out a drinking song, and others, with
voices crisp in the chilly air, were disputing together. A torch seemed
to glare in his very face, and a man, the first of several stumbling up
the steps, nearly fell over him, and swore at him, then dragged him to
his feet with a rough, “What are you doing here, sirrah?”

Rubbing the dazzle of the light out of his eyes, Hugh saw five or six
men about him on the steps, two with torches, who seemed mere troopers,
and the others finely dressed. “Is—Colonel Gwyeth here?” he faltered,
with a half hope that the meeting might be deferred a bit longer.

“Here, Alan, this gentleman has commands for you,” some one called, and
laughed.

At that another man came briskly up from the street and, shoving the
others aside, pushed under the light of the torches. A man of short
forty years, and but little above middle height, Hugh perceived, in a
velvet suit with a plumed hat and a cloak wrapped up to his chin.
Beneath the torchlight his long hair and close-trimmed beard seemed the
color of gold, and he had blue eyes that looked angry and his face was
flushed. “What’s to do here?” he asked curtly, and a trick of the tone
set Hugh’s memory struggling for something that had long been past.
“What do you want of me, you knave?”

Hugh looked up at the flushed, impatient face, and, stammering to find
words, wished it were all over and these men gone, and he were alone
with this stranger; then he hesitated desperately, “Colonel Gwyeth, if
it like you, I am your son.”

Somebody laughed foolishly, and another began, “’Tis a wise child—” but
Alan Gwyeth looked Hugh over and then, turning on his heel with a curt
“The devil you are!” walked through the open door into the house. The
others tramped noisily after him; some one gave Hugh a hasty shove that
sent him pitching to the foot of the steps, and as he recovered himself
he heard the house-door slammed.


                              CHAPTER VII
                   HOW THE WORLD DEALT BY A GENTLEMAN


He could get only a broken sleep, because of a door that was always
slamming; sometimes men were laughing, too, but the crash of the closing
door was louder still, so loud Hugh woke at last. “It was all a bad
dream,” he said in his thoughts, with a lightening of the heart that
made him feel like his old self. But next moment his hand touched the
damp boards of the doorway in which he was crouched and found them real;
across the roadway the dim houses, with the mist that comes before day
hanging over them, were real; and so was the blank sky. Then all that
had happened last night was true: there was a lad named Hugh Gwyeth,
whose father would have none of him, who had not a friend to turn to,
nor a penny to his name, nor, except for this cold doorway whither he
had crawled, a place to lay his head. Hugh sat up and, as if it were
another man’s concern, checked it all off dispassionately.

Just then a drunken trooper came reeling down the empty street, and Hugh
found himself making nice calculations as to whether the man’s zig-zag
progress would plunge him into a muddy puddle just opposite the doorway,
or bring him safely by on the far side. When the fellow staggered past
unsplashed Hugh lost interest in him, and began counting the windows of
the opposite houses, that were slowly lighting up with the dawn.
Presently a man on a red horse came clicking down the narrow way, then
two men helping a comrade home, then a little squad of foot soldiers
under a brisk officer; and after that townsmen and stray troopers came
in greater numbers, the doors and windows opened, and the day began.

All the long morning Hugh tramped the streets of Shrewsbury, aimlessly,
for he had nowhere to go. Everscombe was not to be thought of; even if
he had been at the very gates of the manor house, even if his
grandfather had found it in his heart to relent, the affair at the
“Golden Ram” would have made forgiveness impossible to his kinsfolk.
Neither could he go back to Strangwayes, who had lent him a horse for
which his father was to pay; at least the bay would compensate for that,
but he had no right to ask farther kindness which he could never return.
And then Strangwayes’ new friends had shown him out of doors; perhaps
Dick would not care to have him come back.

With such broken reflections Hugh loitered through the town, and now and
again, in gazing at the swarming men and brave horses that filled the
streets, tried to forget his miserable plight. About noon he stood many
minutes in a gutter and listlessly watched a great body of horse march
by. He heard some one say the king was going northward on an expedition,
and he asked himself if Colonel Gwyeth went too, and was troubled an
instant till he realized that he had now no call to follow.

Then he let all that pass, and thought only that the autumn air was
chilly and he was hungry, so that though he pulled his belt a notch
tighter it availed nothing. A man must eat, and out in the world food
came only by work, he realized; and with that he fell to wondering if
there were any labor to which he might turn his hand. A small knowledge
of Latin, small skill with a sword, and the ability to back a
horse,—that summed up his accomplishments. Hugh told them over with a
feeling that either he had not been equipped for such a fortune as this,
or he had struck out for himself long before his education was
completed. But if he could ride and handle a sword he might turn
trooper, so, coming in sight of a smith’s shop and men, one of whom
looked a petty officer, lounging about it, he ventured up shyly and, as
the fellows were in good humor, questioned them tentatively, if they
might not perhaps care to enroll him among them. They only laughed at
him, and the petty officer bade him run home and grow. With his hopes a
bit dashed Hugh walked away, but, strengthened by having a purpose,
tramped the town all the afternoon in search of employment among the
horse soldiery. But those he applied to either lost their tempers and
swore at him, or laughed and chaffed him; and the foot soldiers, to whom
he finally offered himself, were even more contemptuous. “You? ’Twould
need another fellow to bear your musket,” the last man he questioned
answered him gruffly.

That night Hugh slept in the sheltered corner of an alley, and two
officers, tramping through at midnight with a torchbearer, stumbled over
him. One kicked him, the other, glancing at him, flung him a penny
before he passed on. When the coin fell beside him Hugh did not move,
but after the torch had blinked out of sight he groped his hand along
the damp ground, shaking with nervousness that he did not find the
penny, and, as his fingers closed on it, almost sobbed with relief. He
sought out a bakehouse at once, and sitting on some dingy steps opposite
waited the hungry hours till morning broke, the shop opened, and
bursting in headlong he could buy his bread. It went very quickly,
leaving him hungrier than ever, but he got no more till next morning,
when a gentleman paid him twopence for holding his horse.

He had now given over tramping the town, for he knew it was useless; he
had sought employment in every troop in Shrewsbury, and everywhere he
had been rebuffed. So the most of the day he sat on a doorstep and, idly
watching the street and the sky, tried to forget what life had looked
like four days ago. When he was ordered off the step he loitered slowly
out by the western gate, and, finding him a snug corner in the lee of a
shed opposite a wayside alehouse, lay down for the night. He was
beginning now to get a realization of what had befallen, as a man who
has been stunned recovers consciousness with a sense of pain, and he had
a feeling that if he could have cried a long time it would have eased
him, but the hard manhood that had been thrust upon him would not suffer
that nor anything which might relieve him.

Toward morning a noise of loud singing woke him. He tried to sleep
again, but the singing worried him and besides he felt cold and cramped.
He rose at last to stretch himself, and stepping out into the road saw,
sprawled across the doorstone of the alehouse, a big dark figure that
was yelling lustily at the sky. “Have you come at last?” the fellow
cried, “I said to myself,—maybe you heard me,—‘Bob, if thou keepst it up
time enough some mother’s son will come.’ Look ’ee here, lad, you’re to
do me a kindness. I am quite sober, mark you, sober as parson himself,
but somewhat is amiss with my legs. An you’ll aid me to the stable
you’ll do his Majesty a great service.”

There might be a ha’penny at the end of it, so Hugh suffered the
trooper, as he judged the man to be, to lean on him, and they set out
unsteadily. What with keeping his charge erect and looking to the rough
highway lest they both go down, he paid little heed to the landmarks,
though once, at a half-articulate order from his companion, he swerved
over to the left and, keeping a dark house on one hand, walked toward a
dim light. They were just near enough for Hugh to perceive it shone from
an isolated low building, when an armed man challenged them, but at a
thick reply from the trooper let them go stumbling on. The familiar
stamp of horses was now audible, the light shone clearer, and at last
Hugh guided his shambling comrade in at the open door of a stable. On
either hand the uncertain light of a brace of lanterns showed rows of
dim stanchions and tethered horses, before it merged away into the dark
lofts and vast roof. In the centre of the stable the lanterns flung a
clear circle of yellow light, and there four fully armed carabineers,
seated on kegs or sprawling on the floor, were playing at dice. The
sound of footsteps made them look up, and one half swore, while another
started as if to sweep up dice and boxes. “Does this man belong to you?”
Hugh asked desperately, for his companion, with his florid face suddenly
turned melancholy, was leaning against the doorpost and blinked at the
light, but said nothing.

“Yes, he belongs to us,” replied one with a beard, who seemed the leader
of the party, “the more sorrow to us.” He threw his dice deliberately:
“Seven-tray-cinque.—Pitch him down on the hay yonder.”

“Nick, how can you use a comrade so?” maundered the prodigal, as Hugh
helped him across the stable and suffered him to roll over on a heap of
hay.

“Be thankful you get no worse. If old Jack Ridydale had not shogged off
with the troop to Chester, you’d get the devil for this; he’s the man
could give it you.”

“Hardwyn has mind to make himself such another,” said one of the younger
and less assured men.

“Jeff Hardwyn is a cursed better soldier than ever thou’lt be,” Nick
replied concisely, and the play went on.

None took heed of Hugh, so, after a moment’s hesitation, he sat down on
the loose hay, where his drunken friend had fallen sound asleep. He had
no call to linger, but the hay was far softer than the ground of the
streets, so he sat there and listened to the gruff talk of the men and
the click of the dice. At length he stretched himself out, and, watching
the dim lanterns flicker, he, too, went to sleep.

Of a sudden he was wakened by some one’s pitching him roughly off the
hay. There was dull morning light in the stable now, men were feeding
and grooming horses, and right over him stood a shock-headed fellow,
with more of the peasant than the trooper still visible in him, who
demanded, “What beest thou here for?”

“’Twas no harm,” Hugh answered, getting up stiffly; he had meant to walk
away, but in the stable there was at least a roof over him, and he
hesitated. “I can feed your horse for you,” he ventured.

“Then run fetch a bucket of water,” the other commanded. Hugh caught up
the bucket, and, hurrying out into the chill of the morning, found
between the stable and the big house a well where he drew the water, as
he was bidden. After that he fetched more water, brought fodder, rubbed
down a horse,—it was marvellous the amount of work that could be found
for an extra pair of hands to do. But, weary and faint though he was,
Hugh labored on bravely, with a special effort to satisfy Jonas Unger,
the trooper who had first roused him, in which he succeeded so well that
when at last the men tramped away to breakfast Unger permitted him to
follow along. Crossing an open space betwixt the great house and the
stables, they came out through a hedge-gap upon a byway and scattered
cottages where the carabineers were quartered. Hugh slunk into the
common room of one of these cottages at the heels of Unger and the man
called Nick Cowper, and there, sitting at table, with white lips and
heavy eyes, found the roisterer he had helped home the night before. Bob
Saxon, as his mates called the fellow, was past much talk this morning,
and the others were in tolerably good temper, so Hugh was suffered to
take a share of their rations, which he ate on the doorstone. The food
was coarse, but there was almost enough to satisfy him, so, in the hope
of earning more, when the men went back to the stables he followed them.

After a time a curt officer entered the stable, and, ordering the little
troop to horse, led it away to be exercised. Hugh cleaned out a stall
and had some speech with other ragged hangers-on who made refuge in the
stable, but, liking the company little, soon held his peace and gave
heed only to his work. About noon the troop returned with the horses all
sweaty, and a deal of unharnessing and rubbing down to be done. Hugh
came forward to take his share and was removing the saddle from Saxon’s
horse, when he thought to hear mention of a name that made his hands
shake at their task. Pausing to look up, he saw it was a sunburned man
with a twist of mustache who was speaking: “Ay, ’twas one of the
colonel’s men brought the tidings. The king has surely taken in
Chester.”

“Good news, in truth, Corporal Hardwyn!” replied Cowper, whom the man
addressed. “And we tied here to hammer wit into dunder-pated raw levies!
Ay, ’twas like Colonel Gwyeth to serve us such a trick.”

Hugh heard no more for the rush of blood to his temples; still he could
not believe his bad fortune had served him such a cruel turn, so, when
he had put Saxon’s horse into its stall, he went up to Cowper and asked
point-blank: “An’t like you, who commands this troop?”

“What is that to you, sirrah?” asked Cowper.

“Is it—Alan Gwyeth?” Hugh persisted.

“Yes, hang you!” replied the man, and boxed his ears for asking.

Even as he reeled back with his face tingling, Hugh found room in his
heart to be thankful that he had told no one his name. These knaves must
never know it was their commander’s son whom they had the right to knock
about. Perhaps the dignity of his family required that he should leave
the place at once, he reflected dolefully, as he groomed Cowper’s horse;
but, after all, it was better to drudge for his father’s troopers than
to beg in Shrewsbury streets.

So Hugh stayed on at the troop stables, where he groomed horses, and
cleaned stalls, and fetched and carried with all the strength and
readiness necessary to please a score of rough masters. From day’s end
to day’s end it was hard, hateful labor with no sign of release. Once,
to be sure, at the news that the king had returned from Chester,
something that was half hope and half dread awoke in him, for there was
a chance that at any hour Colonel Gwyeth might come to the stables. But
soon he learned that his father had gone foraying to the eastward, so
even that small hope vanished, and life meant only to work with all his
strength, sleep on the hay, share the troopers’ rations, and through all
endure such abuse and brutality as they might choose to inflict upon
him.

It was not long before Hugh dropped his old methods of classification
and grouped men in two great divisions: those who struck at you for the
fun of seeing you dodge, and those who struck to hurt you. Of the former
class was Bob Saxon, who had a certain good nature about him, though his
horseplay was apt to be rough. He had been to the wars in Germany, Hugh
gathered from the big stories the fellow told, and for that reason Hugh
felt drawn toward him; at least, Saxon knew the land where he had been
born, and he knew Colonel Gwyeth. “There’s a man would take a trot
through hell, if he had the word,” he once said admiringly of the
colonel, whereat Hugh felt a feeble thrill of pride, and held his chin
higher, till Cowper happened along and set him to cleaning his boots.
Hugh considered there was nothing good to be said for Nick Cowper; he
had an unconscious knack of setting tasks that peculiarly unbefitted a
gentleman, while at all times he was brutal with the fierce roughness of
a seasoned campaigner, who struck to hurt. To be sure, no malice seemed
behind his brutality; it was merely his way of reducing command to terms
of the senses, but that gave small remedy to Hugh’s skin or to his
wounded dignity, when Cowper sent him stumbling about his work with his
lip cut or his nose bleeding.

But Hugh was to learn there were rougher dealers even than Cowper, when
he came into conflict with Jeff Hardwyn, the corporal. He was one who
seldom lifted his hand against any man, but when he ordered the troopers
obeyed; and Hugh, with a feeling that he must not get the fellow’s
ill-will, jumped to do his bidding and called him “sir.” But, for all
these poor defences, he at last fell under the corporal’s displeasure,
by such trivial happenings that even looking back he did not understand
how it had come to pass. There had been a day of heavy rains that turned
the roads to mud, in the midst of which Unger sent Hugh tramping through
Shrewsbury in quest of a man he was not able to find. When the boy
returned late in the afternoon, drenched and tired, he discovered the
whole errand had been a mere hoax for the diversion of Unger and Saxon
and the half-dozen others who were loafing in the dry stable. “Next
time, pray you take a fair day to be witty,” Hugh said, trying not to
show temper, and was starting out to forage hungrily for dinner when
Hardwyn bade him stop and tighten a buckle on his saddle girth. Pulling
off his coat, Hugh turned to the job, which he found harder than he
thought, so he did it hastily, then ran out to seek his dinner, and, for
his late coming, got none at all.

But when he splashed wearily back to the stable he suddenly forgot all
the petty misadventures of the luckless day, for over by the stalls
Hardwyn was standing with his brows drawn together ominously. “Can you
not tighten a buckle better than that?” he asked, and tapped the saddle
at his feet with the toe of his boot.

“I did it as well as I knew, sir,” Hugh replied.

“Well, I’ll learn you to do it better next time,” said Hardwyn without
temper, and crossing the stable picked up a heavy horsewhip.

Hugh thought that the heart had gone out of his body, so weak and empty
of strength did he feel. He had been whipped many times, at school and
at Everscombe, but he knew this would be different, and he was half
afraid, yet he did not run. Indeed, when Hardwyn took him by the neck of
his shirt, he looked up and said quietly, “I am not going to run away.”

“No, I’ll wager you’re not,” Hardwyn answered, and brought the whip
stinging down across his back.

Hugh heard his shirt rip in the grasp on his neck, and he felt a foolish
concern over it; he saw the loose spears of hay scattered on the dingy
floor at his feet; and he wondered why, since he had not meant to
struggle, he had twisted up one arm and griped Hardwyn’s wrist that held
him. He knew that he was counting the blows, eleven so far, but he durst
not open his lips lest in spite of himself he cry out. Were the cuts of
the whip bringing blood, he wondered? He did not hear the strokes, but
he counted them by feeling; at first each had seemed distinct and left a
lingering smart, but now his whole back was wincing and quivering. He
heard Hardwyn draw a deep breath and for a second hoped he might stop,
but there came another slash of the whip. Then, of a sudden, it was
borne in on him that Hardwyn meant to flog him till he cried. Hugh set
his teeth tight on his lip and only thought, “I will not, I will not,”
and felt the whip-cuts, nothing more, till the floor seemed blurry and
came nearer, and his shirt ripped again. Then he heard Saxon’s voice:
“Don’t kill the lad, sir.”

“Curse his stubbornness!” Hardwyn panted out, and then there were other
blows of which Hugh kept no count. He only knew that at the last he
found himself free to reel over against the boards of a stall, and,
without glancing at the other men around them, he looked up into
Hardwyn’s flushed face a long minute. Then, still keeping hold on the
stall, he made a step toward the door, but Hardwyn picked up the saddle
and flung it down before him. “Mend that aright now,” he ordered, “and,
harkee, if ever you bungle another piece of work like that, I’ll flay
you alive.”

Without a word Hugh took up the saddle and tightened the buckle. His
fingers shook, he noted, and once, when he put his hand to his mouth, he
felt his lip was bleeding where he had bitten it. But he had not cried
or spoken, nor would he; when the saddle was put to rights he flung it
over its peg, and, still keeping silence, walked out of the stable
toward the highway.

So long as he was in sight of the men he walked with tolerable
erectness, but he knew it could not last long and he must get away from
every one, so he struck across the road into the fields. There he turned
eastward on a course that would finally bring him round Shrewsbury to
the main highway. For eastward lay the village where he had left
Strangwayes; Dick would protect him, he knew, and yet he knew he was not
going to him.

As well walk eastward as another way, though, but he ached from head to
foot and his back throbbed painfully; so at last, on a bleak hilltop, he
sat down to rest, and watched the twilight close in. A little below him
he could see the dim roofs of Shrewsbury and the purpling sky above. The
western star came out first, and, as the night darkened, many more
showed till he lost count of them and turned his eyes to the lights of
the town. As he gazed thither he caught, clear and vibrant on the still
air, the note of a bell. On the instant the foolish old tale of Dick
Whittington came back to him: “Turn again, turn again.” Then he
remembered how Lois and he had spoke together the day before he set out
from Everscombe; and, when he had hoped for Whittington’s fortune, she
had answered that his father would be glad to see him.

Of a sudden Hugh found himself lying face down in the wet grass of the
hillside with his fingers digging into the turf. If he were only dead,
now while he still possessed some shred of self-respect! He could not go
on living, a mere horse-boy, everybody’s drudge, with his highest hope
to be some day a swaggering private trooper, and then to be knocked on
the head in a petty skirmish. It was so piteously different from the
soldierly life he had planned, but he did not ask for that now, only not
to be bullied and flogged any more.

Then that mood passed, and he knew only that he was cold in his torn
shirt and his back was sore so he was loath to move. But the cold at
last forced him to his feet and set him pacing up and down the wet
grass; he still loved life enough to exert himself to keep it. Then he
began to realize that, after all, he had acted like a child. Was this
life so much less endurable than that at Everscombe? Was it worse to
earn his living of a gang of brutal troopers than be dependent on
grudging relatives? If he did get more blows, a man must not whimper for
that, and he was now a man. Neither must a man go crying to his friends;
rather the thing that best befitted a gentleman was to accept the life
he had taken up and go on bravely.

So, in the early hours of the morning, Hugh Gwyeth faced westward and
tramped back to the stables. Reaching there about dawn, he walked in as
usual, and taking up a bucket, went to draw water. He had a curious
sense of not feeling ashamed nor abashed, as he thought to feel when
facing the men once more, but rather proud of himself and of more
dignity than ever. He had no hope, however, of being a hero in the sight
of the troopers. Some of them chaffed him over his beating and his
slinking back again. “You wanted more of the same, did you?” Hardwyn
asked dryly, whereat the others laughed. Saxon chaffed him too; but
later, when Hugh came to the cottage for breakfast, he asked him roughly
if the whip had drawn blood, and then he helped the boy to wash off his
hurt back.

By next day every one had forgotten that Hardwyn had flogged him, and
life went on in its old course. Only Hugh took it now as an accepted
thing; there was no escape, so he would make the best of it, do as he
was bidden, dodge what blows he could, and, what he could not dodge,
bear without flinching. He even contrived, so long as he could busy
himself about the horses, to find a sort of negative pleasure in the
life. To groom and feed and water the great, friendly animals did not
seem menial, but this made only a part of the day’s routine, and Hugh’s
pride could not yet stoop willingly to cleaning boots and fetching beer.
The last was the most humiliating employment of all; though he might
reconcile himself to slipping into an obscure corner and cleaning the
boots of a man who was older than he and a better soldier, he felt that
to tramp a quarter-mile on the highway with a brace of jugs and fetch
bad beer from an alehouse for a crew of peasant troopers could never
befit a gentleman.

Late of an October afternoon he was trudging back to the stable from
such an errand, when he met a gay company of horsemen and, to save being
trampled on, halted at one side of the road till they should pass. By
chance he glanced up and among the riders saw one very young gentleman
with yellow curls, who wore a fine blue velvet suit and a big hat, and
bestrode a dainty roan mare. Hugh caught his breath and looked again,
then dodged headlong back from the road, in behind a cottage out of
sight. Halting there a moment he instinctively looked himself
over,—ragged shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the shoulders, ragged
breeches stained with mud, half-worn boothose, and shoes that were
falling to pieces. He wondered if Frank Pleydall, in his fine clothes,
on his good horse, had recognized him, and he thought it unlikely. With
a foolish dread of a second encounter he made his way back to the stable
through the fields; the going was rough, and he now perceived much of
the beer had slopped out of the jugs. “I shall be flogged for that,” he
told himself, and, with something that was not jealousy but hurt him
keenly, he wondered if Frank Pleydall knew what a happy lad he was.

But, much as he expected it, Hugh did not get a flogging; for when he
came into the stable yard he found strange horses standing there, and
two or three troopers he did not know, and his own acquaintances looked
energetic and on good behavior, so much perturbed they did not even rate
him about the beer. “The colonel is back from the eastward,” Unger
explained, “and Corporal Ridydale is on our shoulders again.”

“He’ll send you packing,” Cowper spoke cheerfully to Hugh.

Just then Saxon, riding in, called to Hugh to groom his well-bespattered
horse, so the boy, eager though he was to hear more, must walk away with
the beast to the open floor of the stable, where he fell to work. It
darkened and lanterns were lit; one was hung from a stanchion, and just
beneath Hugh saw a stranger standing, a tall, thickset man of middle age
with a heavy beard, who seemed to have an eye for all the business of
the stable, and at whose word men moved to obey, even more readily than
they did for Hardwyn. He must be John Ridydale, Hugh decided, so he got
Saxon’s horse betwixt them, and, working briskly, hoped he might not be
noticed. But presently Ridydale stopped giving orders, and Hugh, getting
uneasy at his silence and looking sidewise at the man, found he was
gazing at him with his brows drawn together. Hugh feigned to be very
busy with the horse, but the currycomb moved unsteadily in his hand,
while he waited, and wondered if Ridydale would kick him out of the
stable at once or let him stay long enough to get his supper. Then he
heard a heavy step and, looking up and finding the corporal beside him,
drew back a pace warily; but the other griped him by the shoulder with a
sharp, “What’s your name, lad?”

“Hugh.”

“What else?”

“Nothing else, sir.”

Hugh had his arm half raised to shield his head, but Ridydale did not
strike at him, only said with something strangely like kindliness, “Come
outside here.”

There were horses at the trough by the door, Hugh noted, and through the
stable yard a twilight mist, in which the cottage lights looked blurry,
was shutting down. They had drawn away from any stray troopers, and now,
right by the hedge, Ridydale, with his grasp still on Hugh’s shoulder,
halted him and asked, “The rest of the name mightn’t be Gwyeth, perhaps,
master?”



                              CHAPTER VIII
                   THE INTERPOSITION OF JOHN RIDYDALE


It shamed Hugh afterward to remember how overwhelmingly, at that first
dim prospect of relief, the realization of his friendlessness and
degradation came over him, till not even sufficient spirit was left in
him to make his usual evasions. “Yes, I am Hugh Gwyeth,” he answered
simply; “I am the colonel’s son.”

Then he felt the sharp sting of twigs across his face, as he pressed his
head upon his folded arms against the yielding hedge, and his breath
came stranglingly for a great lump that had gathered in his throat and
was near choking him. Ridydale was patting him on the shoulder, he knew,
and he heard him say: “Come, come, master, don’t go play the woman now.
’Tis all well, I tell you.”

At that Hugh lifted his head from his arms. “Did my father send you to
seek me?” he asked, eagerly, as the griping feeling in his throat would
let him.

Ridydale hesitated a moment. “I’ll wager he’ll be glad enough that I
have found you, sir,” he said at length. “For now, get you over to the
cottage where the light shows yonder and bide till I come.”

“But Saxon’s horse,”—Hugh’s long drill in stable duty made him protest.

“Hang the horse and Bob Saxon, too!” growled Ridydale, with an expletive
or so. “A pretty trade for your father’s son to turn a hand to!”

Still muttering, he strode back to the stable, while Hugh obediently
made his way, by the hedge-gap and the well-trodden path, to the
farthest of the cluster of cottages that quartered the troop. By virtue
of his coming from Corporal Ridydale he was suffered to enter the
low-studded living room and sit down on a stool in the chimney corner.
It was a poor smoky room, but with the fire and candle it was warmer and
brighter than the stable, and there was a home-likeness about the
children sprawling on the hearth, the woman cooking pottage at the fire,
even about her stolid peasant husband, that made Hugh content to sit in
a kind of open-eyed drowse and watch them. In these hours of negative
comfort the whole burden of responsibility seemed slipped from him, and
he neither thought nor vexed himself with anticipation, only waited for
Ridydale.

All save the cottager’s wife had packed to bed in the loft before the
corporal returned. Hugh heard him outside, rating some unknown trooper
with bullying volubility, and then he came in, grumbling about the
mismanagement of Hardwyn, who in his absence had got the men out of all
conceit of obedience. By the time they sat down to supper he had almost
calmed himself, however, and was kindly spoken to the woman who attended
them and brusquely civil to Hugh, who after his vagabond period felt ill
at ease, even at so poor a board. Ridydale noted all that, and
apparently he had made inquiries too, for when they were left alone at
table he spoke out, half angrily and half sorrowfully, “So you’ve been
drudging in the stables ever since that night, sir?”

“There was nothing else to do,” Hugh answered, and took another piece of
bread, with a comfortable sense that he could have all he wanted.

“’Twas hard to think at first it could be the colonel’s son,” Ridydale
went on, “though I was on the watch for you. I heard of that blockhead
Rodes,—he who bore the colonel’s torch that night—how you came unto him.
Rodes told it for a jest the colonel’s comrades would put upon him, but
I that had been with him nigh twenty years, I had a shrewd doubt there
might be some truth lay at the bottom of it. So I took it on myself to
make search, so soon as we returned to Shrewsbury. Lord save me, sir,
when I used to see you, there where we were in Lower Saxony, such a
well-favored little rascal, I never thought to come upon you currying
horses for your father’s men.”

“You were in Germany?” Hugh asked.

“Where the colonel has been I have been, these twenty years. I went as
his man when he first crossed to the Low Countries—a proper young
soldier he was! Then I was back with him in Warwickshire, seventeen
years agone; it seems longer.”

“Then—you knew my mother?” Hugh asked, pushing aside his trencher.

“Ay, Mistress Ruth Oldesworth, and a gallant-spirited young gentlewoman
she was. To leave her knave kinsfolk so, for love o’ the colonel! And
she was that kind spoken to all of us that followed him. Faith, a man
could nigh forgive her, even for deserting the colonel so.” Hugh broke
out.

Hugh rumpled the hair back from his forehead, while he strove to grasp
the significance of this new information. He realized that these last
weeks there had been in his heart an unphrased feeling that his father
was cruel, and his mother must have suffered much, just as he was
suffering. Once he had held both parents something nobler than human
creatures; and latterly his mother had seemed more than ever a saint,
and his father an utter wretch; but now, what was he to think? Ridydale
spoke presently. Hugh replied, and snuffed the candle with his fingers a
moment, then broke out: Ridydale thoughtfully eyed the fire smouldering
on the hearth, and tousled his beard with one hand.he began at length.
“They were both very young and high-tempered, and he would have his
pleasure. He was stubborn, though I grudge to say it of him, and she was
not over-patient. There was words betwixt them, and that same day our
troop was sent foraying southward and he did not even take leave of her.
But he faced the troop about ere the sennight were over and brought us
home at a gallop. And when he came to quarters she had taken you and
gone for England. He never said word of it, even to me, save, ‘She might
ha’ left me the lad; he was as much mine as hers.’”

“Then—he did have some care for me once?” Hugh asked; he was keeping his
face turned toward the fire, away from his companion.

Hugh smiled at the fire, rather tremulously; it was dawning upon him
that Ridydale, for all his formal respect and kindness, was disappointed
that he did not bear out the promises of his babyhood, and he had a
doleful feeling that in the same way Colonel Gwyeth, too, would always
be disappointed in him. Ridydale began again, “and joined ourselves unto
King Gustavus. For the colonel would not make a start to follow his
lady; perhaps ’twas stubbornness, but he had no word of her since she
quitted Germany, and he was too proud to go a-begging to her, so we just
stayed on in the Swedish army. Once—’twas the year we fought at
Wolfenbüttel—there came a gentleman volunteer from England with tidings
out of Warwickshire, and so we learned that she was dead.”

Hugh blinked at the fire and made no answer. Ridydale mused aloud. Then,
as Hugh still kept silent, Ridydale suggested they get to bed, and led
the way up the steep ladder to the loft. There were two pallets in
Ridydale’s rough chamber, and Hugh wondered impersonally, as he lay down
on one, what trooper the corporal had violently dispossessed of his
quarters to make room for him. At the foot of the pallet, in the sloping
roof, was a small window, through which Hugh found, after the candle was
out, he could see five bright stars and a patch of purple-black sky. He
lay staring at the stars and saw no meaning in them, for thinking busily
to himself and trying to comprehend that his parents had been neither
all good nor utterly depraved, but just frail everyday human creatures,
whom he must love and bear with for their humanness.

Next morning he awoke of his own accord, without being kicked, and,
finding the room empty and a sunbeam coming through the little window,
rose up and went briskly below stairs. Late though he was, the woman
gave him all the breakfast he wanted, and then force of habit took him
over to the stable.Saxon greeted him, and the other men merely pestered
him with questions but gave him no blows.

With a feeling that it was not yet time to proclaim his identity to all,
Hugh answered evasively, and then, because it was irksome to be idle, he
watered one of the horses, and, as Unger had bidden him the day before,
began patching up a headstall. He was sitting on a keg, fumbling with a
refractory buckle, when Ridydale bore down upon him with a fierce,
Arguing that if he were still a stable-boy Ridydale had the right to
command him, and if he were a gentleman Ridydale’s friendliness had
given him the right to make requests, Hugh laid aside the headstall and
went meekly back to the cottage, where till dinner time he lounged
ingloriously on the doorstone. After the noon meal Ridydale, very sullen
and wrathful, beckoned him outside and rated him, respectfully but
severely. “’Tis not becoming a gentleman like you to fetch and carry for
those dogs of troopers,” he explained. It was so ludicrously like the
view of what befitted a gentleman which up to a fortnight ago he himself
had held that Hugh could not help smiling. “Methinks ’tis not what a
gentleman does but how he does it makes the disgrace,” he said.

Ridydale shook his head and looked dubious, then, coming apparently to a
better temper, changed the subject by offering to lend Hugh money with
which to buy fresh clothes. “The colonel will be here to-night,” he
concluded, “and I’ve a plan to wait a good-natured moment and tell him
of you. I’m thinking he’ll ask to see you, and you should not come
before him in such rags as these.”

But Hugh had had enough of borrowing on the chance of Colonel Gwyeth’s
making repayment, and he refused the loan; if the colonel chose to
provide for him, he reasoned to himself, he need wear his rags but few
hours longer; and if the colonel rebuffed him again he would liefer have
rags than whole clothes and a debt to so short-pursed a man as a
corporal of carabineers. Ridydale fairly let slip his self-control at
the boy’s obstinate refusal. “If ’twere not for your red hair and your
trick of setting your lips together, I’d doubt if you were a Gwyeth,” he
broke out at last, and marched away to the stables in some temper.

Whereat Hugh felt angry, then grew thoughtful, and, reflecting that the
man, for all his arbitrary ways, had treated him with real kindness,
wondered if he might not have somewhat tempered his refusal. So, when he
next saw Ridydale, at supper, he tried to talk him into good humor by
questioning him of his father, which much mollified the corporal, and
then of the troop, and finally of the progress of the war. It seemed
Colonel Gwyeth’s force had shared with Sir William Pleydall’s troop some
brisk skirmishing about Worcester; Hugh wondered if Frank had had the
good fortune to be present, and sought to get news of the Pleydalls from
Ridydale, who, when he learned Hugh had acquaintance with such
gentlemen, looked a trifle more favorably upon him. The boy was sorely
tempted to tell him the story of Dick Strangwayes and the skirmish at
the “Golden Ram,” but, after all, that was a kind of self-glorification
that would become Bob Saxon better than Hugh Gwyeth. So he held his
peace, and was thankful that he had got Ridydale into a mood where, if
he still esteemed him rather a weak-spirited fellow, he did not utterly
despise him.

But early as next morning it was Hugh’s ill luck to destroy whatever
good impression he had made. Having risen late, he had fetched a bucket
of water up to the chamber, and, stripped to the waist, was bathing
himself with much splashing, when Ridydale unexpectedly came in. “The
colonel has granted to speak with me ere noon,” the corporal announced
his business at once, “so you shall speedily—” There he paused, looking
sharply at Hugh, who stood sidewise toward him, then strode over to the
boy. “How got you those fresh scars on your back?” he demanded.

“No matter,” answered Hugh, facing hastily toward the speaker.

Ridydale took him unceremoniously by the shoulders, and turned him
round. “’Twas done with a whip!” he burst out. “What means this? Have
you been flogged?”

“Yes,” Hugh replied. “Now have the goodness to take your hands off me.”

“Was it done here at the stables?” Ridydale persisted. “Answer me,
master.”

“Do you look for me to turn tale-bearer?” Hugh retorted.

“I look to cut some combs for this,” Ridydale stormed. “Though you lack
in spirit you bear your father’s name, and for that they that misuse you
shall answer—”

“I pray you, let it all go,” Hugh interrupted. “I have suffered no
harm—”

Ridydale stamped his foot down on the floor. “Harm, quotha! Why, you
might be a brat out of the kennel for all the shame you take from it.
Tell me, what can befall a man of gentle birth that’s worse harm than to
be banged by a pack of knaves?”

Hugh busied himself in pulling on his shirt, and made no reply.

“Well, ’tis time the colonel took you in hand,” Ridydale blustered. “You
need to be taught what befits a gentleman.”

Then he went noisily out of the room, and Hugh heard him clatter down
the ladder from the loft. Looking out at the little window he saw
Ridydale head for the stables, and he hoped the man might not make
inquiries there or bring any one into disgrace for what had befallen.
Then, as he turned back to finish dressing, a new alarm seized Hugh:
what if the corporal, in his irritation, should refrain from speaking
for him to Colonel Gwyeth? But next moment he had quite accepted the
thought; indeed, he seemed all along to have half suspected some
miscarriage would destroy his faint hope of the last few hours. It would
only be of a piece with all that happened to him since he set out from
Everscombe.

So, on the whole, he was surprised when about an hour later the
cottager’s wife knocked at his door with the news that a trooper was
below, come to take him before the colonel. No, he was not excited, Hugh
told himself, for he cared not what the issue might be; he had twice
gone so eagerly to meet his father, and each time been so bitterly
disappointed, that now, whatever good fortune might be before him, it
could awake in him no fresh anticipation. Yet, for all that, he came
down the ladder rather briskly, and, when he found himself actually
setting forth to Colonel Gwyeth’s quarters, felt a thrill of something
like apprehension.

The bit of walk up the byway and along the main road to the great house,
the back of which Hugh knew so well from his stable days, ended all too
soon. Still repeating to himself that he did not care, he was not
frightened, Hugh followed the trooper through the doorway; and then the
door had closed, he was left alone in a dim back room, and suddenly he
realized that in sober truth he was near to trembling with nervous
dread. He was afraid of that flushed, red-haired man who had publicly
rejected him; he was afraid of his roughness and more afraid of his
tenderness, and if it had not been for shame at running away so
ignominiously he would have bolted out of the house. Since that was not
to be thought of he sat down on the window-seat and studied the dead
leaves and withered flower-stalks of a strip of garden outside. Then he
looked about the room and counted the oak panels in the walls and the
diamond panes in the windows, but after all his eyes strayed to the door
opposite, by which his guide had left him, and he found himself
listening to the subdued hum of men’s voices that sounded within. Once a
single voice rose choked and impatient, and immediately after feet
scurried down the passage outside the entrance door. Getting up, Hugh
tried hard to stare out at the window, but soon found himself facing the
door and listening. All within was quiet now; indeed, there was not a
sound nor a warning when at length the door was flung open and Ridydale
himself beckoned him to come in. “Don’t be afeard, sir,” he said under
his breath as Hugh passed him, and even in the midst of his own
agitation Hugh noted that the corporal’s face was anxious and his manner
subdued.

“No prompting, Corporal Ridydale,” interrupted a stern voice that Hugh
remembered. “Come hither, sirrah.”

Hugh halted where he was, a few paces from the door, and looked toward
the fireplace. Before the hearth Colonel Gwyeth was standing with his
hands behind him; the set of his lips could not be judged because of his
thick beard, but his brows were contracted so his eyes looked black
beneath them. “So this is my son,” he began more quietly.

Hugh bowed his head without speaking; for the moment he dared not trust
his voice.

“Come, come, hold up your head, man,” the colonel broke out impatiently;
and then, with a visible effort to maintain his quieter tone, “Why have
you not come to me ere this?”

“I did not court a second rejection, sir,” Hugh answered, with a steady
voice, though his hands were crushing his cap into a little wad.

“There was no need of a first rejection, as you call it. You could have
spared us both all this shame had you chosen a proper time and place to
seek me.”

“I had come some miles and I was eager to see you,” Hugh answered
slowly.

“Had they used you ill at Everscombe that you ran away?” the colonel
broke in.

“N-no, sir,” Hugh must admit in simple justice. “My grandfather always
used me rather kindly.”

“Gilbert Oldesworth?” Colonel Gwyeth turned impatiently from the
fireplace. “’Twas of him, I doubt not, you had your good Roundhead
doctrine.”

“I—do not understand, sir.”

“The doctrine of giving your cheek unto the smiter. That cut on your
face, now, was that, too, given you by one of my grooms?”

Hugh felt the blood sting in his cheeks; he looked at his father but
made no answer.

“Perchance, sir—” Ridydale ventured in a subdued voice.

“Be quiet, John.—I have heard the whole history of your last fortnight,
Hugh Gwyeth, your honorable associates, your gentle bearing, all you
have done to uphold the credit of your house.”

“On my soul, sir, you do the lad wrong,” Ridydale struck in rashly.
“Though his way be not your way, he is but young and—”

“Hold your tongue, John Ridydale!” the colonel cried, banging his fist
down on the table beside him. “And for you, sirrah Hugh, if you have
aught to say for yourself, say it out now.”

“I know not why I should defend myself, sir.” Now they would hark to him
at last, Hugh was amazed to find how hot and thick his words came. “I
know not what I have done shameful, unless it becomes a gentleman better
to starve than to work for his bread.”

“You have only done this much, that you have bitterly disappointed me,”
Colonel Gwyeth answered sharply. “For my gallant young gentleman I had
thought on, those crop-eared kinsmen of mine have sent me a snivelling
young Roundhead—”

“For my hair, that is not my fault,” Hugh blurted out, “and for
snivelling, you have no right to put that word to me. You may ask any
one—”

Colonel Gwyeth swept back one arm with an impatient movement that sent
some loose papers from the table crackling to the floor. “Can you not
understand now what you have done?” he cried. “When you ran away from
your school you looked for me to make a soldier of you, did you not?
Tell me now, how can I set over my troopers a fellow their whips have
lashed?”

For the moment Hugh found no words; the full significance of his
father’s speech, the totally new view of his weeks of discipline,
dismayed him beyond reply. With it all came a feeling that he was
bitterly sorry that the matter had gone amiss; in time he might have
come to like the red-haired man, who was disappointed in him, and the
red-haired man might have come to like him. Even yet it was possible he
might win the colonel’s favor, if he could show his mettle, if he were
only given a chance! Then he heard Ridydale venture, “An’t like you,
sir—”

“Enough, Jack,” the colonel replied, with a poor assumption of a casual
tone. “I want you now to take Master Hugh here and get him fitting
clothes and a steady horse. By to-morrow night I shall have procured a
pass—”

“What mean you to do with me?” Hugh cried out, making a step toward his
father.

“I am going to despatch you back to your kinsfolk at Everscombe.”

There was an instant of silence; then, “You hold me so mean-spirited a
fellow that you will not keep me with you?” Hugh asked slowly.

“Your ways suit your Puritan kindred better than they suit me,” Gwyeth
answered, fumbling among the papers on the table. “’Tis too late now for
me to mend what they have marred. So I shall furnish you with a horse
and clothes—”

“I did not come out of Warwickshire to beg a new coat and a nag of you.”
As he spoke, Hugh half turned away to the door and he perceived now that
Ridydale was violently signing to him to be quiet and stay where he was.
He did not heed, but, stepping to the door, laid his hand on the latch.
“And I shall not go back to Everscombe, sir,” he finished his speech
deliberately.

“Tut, tut! You are too old for such childishness,” answered the colonel,
with exasperating contempt.

“I will not go to Everscombe,” Hugh repeated.

“Do you turn saucy, you young crop-head?” replied Colonel Gwyeth,
letting slip his assumption of calmness. “You will do as I bid you.”

“You have no right to say ‘do this’ unto me,” Hugh flung back. “And I
want nothing of you,—nothing that you have offered me. I had rather get
my head broke in a troop stable twenty times over. But I’ll leave your
stable. And I’ll never trouble you more, sir, with coming unto you,
unless you choose to send for me again.” All this he said fast, but
without raising his voice, and throughout he kept his eyes fixed on the
colonel, who stood with his clinched hand resting on the table, and a
black look on his face. But Hugh gave him no time to answer, just said,
“Good morrow, sir,” with much dignity, set his cap on his head, and
walked out of the room. He took great pains to close the door carefully
behind him.

Once outside upon the highway, he became aware that his face was burning
hot and every fibre of his body seemed braced as for actual battle.
Heading blindly toward Shrewsbury he tramped along fiercely, while he
went over and over the incidents of the last half-hour. If any man but
his own father had dared speak so contemptuously and so untruly of him!
No, if it had been another than his father, it would not have mattered.
But that Colonel Gwyeth, of all men, should hold him such a miserable
fellow, and give him no chance to prove himself better!

Just then he heard behind him Ridydale’s voice: “Master Hugh! Stay a
moment, sir.” The corporal had plainly run from the house, but, so soon
as Hugh halted, he sobered his pace and came up at a more dignified
gait. “On my soul, sir, I meant not to put all awry,” he broke out at
once.

“Did you bear the tale of that flogging unto him?” Hugh asked hotly.

“Ay. But not as you think, sir, on my honor.” Ridydale strode at Hugh’s
side while he poured out the story: “I had taken me to the stables and
dragged the truth from the knaves there. Well, I’ll settle that score
with Jeff Hardwyn. I was hot with it all when I came to the colonel, and
he bespeaks me very careless and cool, if ’twas his son indeed, belike
in time, and so on. I might ha’ known ’twas but the way of him and he
would yet make it right, but I blurted out he’d best move quickly for
his son’s sake, not leave him to be buffeted by every cullion in his
stables. Well, he got the whole story of me then, sir, and off he goes
into one of his fine Gwyeth rages, and packs off Rodes after you, and
rates every one in the house on whom he can put hands until you come.
And I left him in such another rage. Why in Heaven’s name did you go
about to defy him so, sir?”

“Because he drove me to it,” Hugh retorted, and pressed on with his face
set to the front.

“Well, no one is driving you now that you keep such a pace. Whither are
you going, an’t like you?”

“Shrewsbury. To seek in all the troop stables till I find those who will
employ me.”

“Nay, nay, lad, come back with me, if you have it in heart to forgive
me. On my soul, I meant not so to dash your fortunes. By the Lord, I’ve
a liking for you, sir, in spite of your meek bearing. And I doubt not
your father would see there was some good in you, in time. Only come
back, and mayhap he—”

“Before I’d beg of Colonel Gwyeth now, I’d go carry a musket for a
common foot soldier,” Hugh answered.

“Well, you’ve not your father’s spirit,” Ridydale jerked out
impatiently.

Hugh turned on him: “I trust I’ve not. I trust I’ll never live to cast
off a son of my own.”

At that Ridydale stared blankly, then stopped short and burst out
laughing. “By the Lord, you are the colonel over again, sir, whether it
like you or not! My faith, and he does not realize it even now, no more
than I did. Why, there’s mettle in you, sir, after all. Now come back.”

But Hugh very plainly showed his whole intent was turned to Shrewsbury,
so at length Ridydale abruptly yielded. “I’ll come along with you,” he
offered. “Very like I can find employment for you there, sir. If you
care to trust unto me—”

“Ay, and I thank you too,” Hugh answered, touched for the moment, till
he remembered that Ridydale cared for him only as he would have cared
for a dog, had it borne the name of Gwyeth.

After that they trudged on in silence, past the huddled, outlying
houses, through the west gate of Shrewsbury, and so into the crowd and
confusion of the garrison streets. It was somewhat past noon, Hugh
judged by the position of the sun, and then the sun was shut out, as
they turned into a narrow byway where the mud was deep in the shadow of
the tall houses. “This has not much the look of a troop stable,” Hugh
suggested, as Ridydale halted and knocked at the dark rear door of what
seemed a considerable mansion.

But Ridydale was speaking a word aside to the serving man who opened,
and paid no heed. Presently he stepped in, bidding Hugh follow, and
then, leaving him alone in a dingy anteroom, he walked away with the
servant. Seating himself on a bench by the wall Hugh tried to run over
the morning’s events, and then to put them by and think only of what was
before him: stable-boy, trooper one day, perhaps. Only it was not a good
thing to hope forward to, so he drummed his finger-tips on the bench and
wondered why Ridydale delayed.

Just then there came a quick, light step outside the inner door. “Where
is he?” a shrill voice cried. The door was kicked open, and there
plunged in headlong a slim figure in blue. “Hugh, you scoundrel! Where
have you been? Why did you not seek me out at first? Hang me if I be not
glad to see you, old lad.”

“Frankie Pleydall!” was all Hugh could get out for the arms about his
neck that were near to strangling him.



                               CHAPTER IX
                             THE WAY TO WAR


“That was friendly conduct of you!” Frank Pleydall, having ended his
last hot tirade, suffered himself to fall back once more with his
shoulders against one arm of his big chair and his legs hanging over the
other. “I take it, had not that tall corporal of yours come hither and
opened up the matter to us, you’d have gone sweat in a stable, eh? On
your honor, Hugh, did you enjoy the life?”

“Would you?” Hugh retorted, and then, as he looked at Frank’s curls and
fair skin, the impossibility of his going through such experience came
home to him. He shrugged his shoulders and, turning to the mirror, went
on dragging the comb through his rebellious hair, rather slowly, for to
be cleanly and freshly clad was an unwonted sensation, to enjoy which he
was willing to dally a trifle in dressing. From time to time he paused
to glance at Frank, who lounged and chatted, just as he had done in the
old days at school, or to look about the dark room, with great bed and
heavy furniture, that recalled to him his grandfather’s chamber at
Everscombe. After all, he still felt at home in well-ordered life;
“outcast” was not stamped upon him for all time. In Frank’s stockings
and shirt, which was rather scant for him, and a certain Cornet
Griffith’s gray breeches, and another officer’s half-worn shoes, swept
up in the general levy Frank had made on the nearest wardrobes, he
thought himself for a moment the same young gentleman who had left
Everscombe a month before. Then, chancing to meet the blue eyes that
looked back at him out of the mirror, he realized this was not the face
he used to know; this face was thin, so the jaws seemed squarer, and
there was a firmer set to the lips, and a new depth to the eyes. A
slight cut on one cheek and a bruise above one eye he noted, too,
without great resentment against those who had given them; such marks
would pass quickly, he knew, but the endurance and obedience he had
acquired with them would remain.

“I should think it would pleasure you to study that well-favored face,”
Frank chuckled lazily. “When you’re done, sir, get on your coat, and
I’ll take you to my father.”

Hugh pulled on Cornet Griffith’s gray jacket, which was somewhat too
large for him, and stood turning back the long sleeves. “What a tall
fellow you seem!” his comrade broke out, bringing his feet down to the
floor and sitting forward in his chair. “On my conscience, I could swear
you were more than six months elder than I.”

“So could I,” Hugh answered thoughtfully.

“Well, for all that you are not to treat me like a boy as the other men
do; you’re nothing but a lad yourself.”

Hugh laughed, and put his hand down on Frank’s shoulder. “We’ll be good
comrades as we ever have been,” he said. “I shall never forget how
kindly you have used me this day.”

“Oh, hang all that!” Frank put in hastily. “You’d do the like for me.
And ’tis pleasure for me to have you with me. You can share my
chamber,—there’s space enough for one to be lonesome,—and we’ll go to
the wars together, eh?”

The realization of part of the boyish plan he had brought with him from
Everscombe pleased Hugh gravely, but he had been too often disappointed
to clutch eagerly at any hope, so he only said, “I’d like it right
well,—if your father wish me to stay.”

“If I wish it, he will,” Frank answered confidently, and so they went
arm in arm down the stairs.

Large as the house was, Sir William and the officers of his troop
contrived to fill it only too full, Hugh concluded, after Frank had
haled him, to his great embarrassment, into several rooms, and presented
him formally to all the men on whom he could lay hands. Of the number he
best remembered a dry-spoken Captain Turner, who told him, with an
implication that made Hugh’s face redden, that he ought in justice to
notify the rebels that he had joined the king. He remembered, too, a
long-legged Cornet Griffith, whose boyish face at sight of him took on
such a rueful look that Hugh suspected the loan of the gray clothes had
been a forced one. He ventured a private expostulation to Frank, who
merely laughed: “Oh, Ned Griffith is a cousin of mine, so he ought to be
glad to lend me his goods.—And here I have found my father out at last.”

With that he dragged Hugh by the sleeve into a retired parlor, where Sir
William Pleydall, a stout florid man of near sixty, was sitting at a
table dictating to a secretary. “Here is Hugh Gwyeth, sir, of whom
Colonel Gwyeth’s corporal told you,” Frank announced. “You’ll entertain
him as a gentleman volunteer, will you not, sir?”

“Will you be silent, Francis, till I have done with this piece of work?”
Sir William burst out.

Frank knelt down on a chair with his elbows on the table and his chin in
his hands, so the candlelight fell across his girlishly fair face. “I am
right sorry, sir,” he began winningly, “I did not mark you were busied.
I had thought—you would gladly aid a friend of mine. Have I offended you
greatly, sir?”

“No, Frank,” Sir William answered hastily, and, putting by the papers he
held, motioned Hugh to come over to him. “I remember you very well,
sir,” he began. “You were home with Frank one Michaelmas time. So you
ran away from that school? ’Twas very well done of you. That man Masham
is a cozening, foul-mouthed knave of a crop-headed Puritan.” Sir
William’s face flushed and Frank made haste to change the subject. “You
promised me Hugh should stay with me, sir, you’ll recollect.”

“If he care to,” Sir William made answer. “You look sober enough, Master
Gwyeth, to keep my lad in proper behavior.”

“I would gladly serve you, Sir William, in any way I could,” Hugh said
earnestly. “I think I could fight—”

Sir William began laughing. “Call yourself a gentleman volunteer, if
’tis any satisfaction to you,” he said, and seemed about to end the
conversation; but, after a second glance at Hugh, asked abruptly in a
lower tone, “Between ourselves, sir, what vice was there in you
wherefore your father would not entertain you?”

“I did not chance to please him,” Hugh answered.

“But you are his only son, are you not?” asked Sir William, looking, not
at Hugh, but at Frank, who was still kneeling by the table.

“Yes, Sir William,” Hugh replied, with his eyes suddenly lowered.

The baronet was silent a moment, then, “Stay with us as long as you
please, my lad,” he said in a kinder tone than he had yet used, and with
that, abruptly taking up his papers, turned again to his secretary.

Hugh came out in silence from the little parlor, and for a time, while
he enjoyed the realization that he had not lost a boy’s capacity for
feeling happy and hopeful, could make no reply to Frank’s brisk chatter.
But, before the evening was over, he made amends to Master Pleydall,
for, snugly settled in a window-seat with his friend, he recounted to
him not only the distinctions he hoped to win in the war, but all that
had befallen him in the last six months. Frank, hugging his knees in his
excitement, wished audibly he had been with Hugh to run away; two days
without food seemed so slight a thing when told. But Strangwayes’ share
in events surprised him enough to make him leave clasping his knees and
sit up straight: “Met my Cousin Dick? What good fortune for you! He used
to be a gay kindly fellow, the best liked of all my father’s nephews.
What manner of man is he grown now?”

Hugh’s eager account made Frank look dubious. “Very like when he comes
again you’ll not wish to be my comrade any more,” he suggested
jealously.

“You’re somewhat of a fool, Frank,” Hugh answered candidly. “Tell me
now, have you had news of Dick of late?”

“Ay, he’s still with Butler’s troop; we only learned that on coming out
of Worcestershire two days back. He is but just recovered from his wound
and fever—”

“Do you think, Frank,” Hugh interrupted, “to-morrow we might walk over
to the village and see him?”

“I take it you’ll not,” Frank retorted. “Where have you kept yourself
from the news? To-morrow we march southward to flay the skin off that
old fox, the rebel Earl of Essex. We’ll make short work of him, and
then—” he trailed off into an exact exposition of the way the war would
go, which ended only at bedtime.

Next day, as Frank had promised, in a keen, clear weather that made the
throngs of troop-horses prance and gave a vividness to every bright coat
and sword-hilt, the southward march began. Hugh, riding forth bravely
with Frank, Captain Turner, and others of Sir William’s officers, felt
he could have shouted for mere pleasure in the sight of the plunging
horses, the troops of men, and the throngs of friendly townsfolk that
lined the streets of Shrewsbury. In every fibre of him was a bracing
sensation, not only from the crisp air and the sunlight, but from the
mere feeling of the horse moving beneath him and the ordered motion all
about him of men and beasts. Now first it came over him that, even if he
might not serve with his father, he was glad that he was one of his
Majesty’s great marching army, bound to fight for the king.

At the east gate, by which all must pass, horses and men were wedged
thickly, so presently Hugh found himself forced to one side of the
gateway, where his progress was checked. An ammunition wagon had broken
down and blocked the way ahead, the word ran through the crowd, whereat
some men swore, and others, laughing, took the delay merrily. While they
were waiting thus, an officer with one trooper attending rode headlong
into the thick of them and there stuck fast. “You’ll need slacken pace,
sir, you’ll find,” Turner called to him.

“I’ve no wish to show my steed’s quality,” replied the other. “But I’d
fain be with a troop of mine that’s somewhere ahead on the road ’twixt
here and Staffordshire.” He impatiently thrust back the flapping brim of
his felt hat, and Hugh was made sure of what he had guessed by the
voice, that it was Colonel Gwyeth himself.

At first he felt a kind of trembling, which was foolish, he told
himself; for he no longer feared the man. So he did not even try to urge
his horse forward, but suffered the beast to keep his stand, while he
gazed fixedly at the colonel. All through the press ran a swaying
motion, which soon forced Colonel Gwyeth, still in loud speech with
Turner, knee to knee with Hugh, and at the touch he faced toward him.
Hugh felt a thrill go through him, but he looked his father squarely in
the eyes and, lifting his hat a trifle, said, “Good morrow, sir.”

“In the name of the fiend!” Gwyeth broke out; he had to turn in his
saddle to say it, for the movement in the throng had now brought him
level with the nose of Hugh’s horse. “Well, sir, you seem fully able to
fend for yourself.”

So he was swept away, and next instant Ridydale following him was up
alongside. “’Tis all well, Master Hugh?” he asked in a low tone as he
brushed by.

“Ay, thanks to you,” Hugh replied, and then Ridydale was forced away, so
he lost him in the ruck of horsemen. After that he gave heed only to
edging his own beast forward till they were out upon the highway, where
they found the road so nearly choked with the riders of their troop,
which they presently overtook, that a swift pace was still out of the
question. This was somewhat of a relief to Hugh, for the borrowed sorrel
which he bestrode was of no great speed, and made him think sadly of the
bay horse he had ridden on the headlong dash from the “Golden Ram.”
Frank, however, who was capitally mounted on his roan mare, The Jade, so
named for her wretched temper, lamented all the morning that he had not
space sufficient to show his steed’s fine paces.

About noon, as they passed through the village where Hugh had met with
Butler’s troop, he coaxed Frank out of the ranks and, with an eager hope
of seeing Dick Strangwayes again, headed for the inn. But the place was
filled with thirsty troopers, so the tapsters were too busy to pay much
heed to the boys till Frank tried bribery. Then they learned that the
day before Butler’s dragoons had started southward to capture some arms
at a Puritan country-seat; and, though he looked scarce fit to ride, the
gentleman who had lain ill at the house had gone with them. “Well,
Cousin Dick must be a hardy fellow,” said Frank, as the two boys got to
horse again. “Though, to be sure, all the gentlemen of our family are.”
He flung out his chest as full as possible while he spoke, and presently
got his hat tilted over one ear at a swaggering angle.

Thus the march went on, by south and east, over ground Hugh had already
once ridden at a time that now seemed immeasurable years behind him. He
had let his life at Shrewsbury and his father’s rejection of him slip
backward in his memory, till now he found himself living heartily in the
present. Existence meant not to worry at what was past, but to sleep in
an inn bed or on a cottage floor, whatever quarters fell to the troop,
to eat what fare Sir William’s officers could procure, and through all,
wet or dry, to ride on whither the king led.

Very early in the march they entered the hamlet of the “Golden Ram,”
where Hugh, as he held it to be his duty, sought out Sir William and
laid before him the story of Emry’s treachery. The baronet, after some
moments of explosive swearing, sent men to apprehend the fellow, and
bade Hugh go to guide them. But when they came to the inn they found
that at their approach Constant-In-Business Emry had discreetly removed,
and there was left only the red-cheeked maid with the black eyes, who
joked and flirted with the troopers while she drew them ale. At first
she did not recognize Hugh, and, when she did, seemed to take little
interest in him; but, as the men tramped out, she ran after him, and
catching his arm asked him in a whisper how the dark gentleman fared,
and if he had been hurt in the scuffle. The news of Dick’s illness made
her half sniffle, which touched Hugh so that, having no money to give
her, he tried his friend’s tactics and kissed her. Whereat the wench,
after a feint at boxing his ears, darted back to the door of the common
room, where she paused, laughing shrilly. “Ride away, my lad,” she
called after him. “It takes more than jack-boots and spurs to make a
man.”

Hugh went back to his horse in some mortification; it might be well
enough for Dick Strangwayes to be on good terms with all women, but he
had no will to meddle farther in such matters.

Yet, scarcely a week later, he found himself seated at a table in a
stuffy chamber, trying by the flicker of a guttering candle to blot out
a letter to a girl. For the army was now among the Warwickshire fields,
and the sight of home country brought back to Hugh’s thoughts Everscombe
and the good friend he had left there. So, while Frank jeered from the
bed about his sweetheart, and urged him to put out the candle and lie
down, Hugh, sitting in his shirt-sleeves, painfully scrawled some
ill-spelt lines to Lois Campion. Much had happened that would only make
her miserable to know, so he spoke little of his father, only told her
he was well and happy, and, as Colonel Gwyeth could offer him no place
in his troop, was serving with Sir William Pleydall. He sent his duty to
his grandfather, too, and his obedient faithful services to her.

Just there Frank sat up in bed, and, throwing a boot at the candle,
contrived to overturn the ink-bottle. Shutting his lips, Hugh mopped up
the stuff, then, still without speaking, began to undress. “Now you’ve
lost your temper, Master Roundhead,” Frank teased; but Hugh held his
tongue till he had blown out the candle and stretched himself in the
bed, then said only, “Good night.”

He was almost asleep when Frank began shaking him. “Hugh, prithee, good
Hugh,” he coaxed, “are you truly angry? Pray you, forgive me, Hugh.”

“Don’t I always?” Hugh answered, half waked. “Go to sleep, Frank.”

So they began next morning on as good terms as ever, and before night
had barely avoided two of those quarrels which Frank made a daily
incident to friendship. But by the following sunrise even Frank was too
busied with other matters for such diversion. “The rumor’s abroad that
we’re to bang old Essex soon,” he broke out, as he and Hugh rode a
little before Sir William’s troop along the stony Warwickshire road.

“We’ve been going to ever since we left Shrewsbury,” Hugh replied. “I
hope—Perhaps if I did somewhat in battle some one would bestow a
commission on me; I’d like not to tax your hospitality longer.” Then he
repented of the last as an ungracious speech.

But Frank, without heeding, ran on: “I hope I shall get a share in this
work, and I will, if I lose my head for it. You’ll understand, Hugh, my
father let me have no share in the fighting in Worcestershire; they left
me at home when they went out to Powick Bridge. On my honor, Hugh, I
wish sometimes one or two of my sisters had been boys. ’Tis a fine
thing, no doubt, to be sole heir to a great property, but a man would
like a little liberty now and again, not to be ever kept close and out
of harm like a girl. Now I’ll lay you any amount of money my father will
strive to keep me from this battle.”

Hugh did not look properly sympathetic, so Frank added pettishly: “And
he’ll rate you no higher than me, so if you are to have a hand in the
fighting and get you a commission, you must look to yourself.”

None the less Hugh cherished a suspicion that if a battle took place
under his very nose he would be aware of it, and in that hope he went
trustingly to sleep next night. Sir William’s troop was quartered about
a small manor house, some three miles to the west of Edgcott, where the
king lay. Hugh noted the place merely as one that gave comfortable
harborage, for he and Frank were assigned a chamber to themselves, where
they went promptly and wearily to bed. But barely asleep, as it seemed,
a troublesome dream disturbed Hugh; he thought himself back in the
Shrewsbury stables, where the horses had all turned restless and stamped
unceasingly in their stalls. Then of a sudden he sat up in bed, broad
awake, just in time to see the door kicked open, and Griffith, with his
coat in one hand and a candle in the other, stumble in. “Up with you,
youngsters!” he cried. “Essex is coming.”

“Essex?” Frank whimpered sleepily. “We’ll kill him.”

“Leave us the candle, Cornet Griffith,” Hugh cried, springing up and
beginning to fling on his clothes. “How near are the enemy?” His teeth
were chattering with the cold of the room and a nervous something that
made his fingers shake.

“The Lord knows!” Griffith replied, struggling into his coat. “The word
to get under arms has but just come.”

“Where is my other stocking?” Frank put in piteously from his side of
the bed. “Hugh, have you seen it?”

“Stockings!” the cornet ejaculated. “There’s a fellow would wait for
lace cuffs ere he went to fight.”

Thus warned, Hugh put his bare feet into his riding-boots, and,
fastening his jacket without the formality of donning a shirt, ran for
the door at Griffith’s heels. Frank, after an unheeded entreaty to wait
for him, tumbled into his shirt and breeches, and came headlong after
out into the corridor.

Below in the great hall, under the dim light of candles, men were
jostling and shouting and pulling on coats and buckling sword-belts, as
they passed hurriedly out by the black open door. Running blindly after
the crowd, Hugh collided by the entrance with Captain Turner, who came
in jauntily, albeit he was in his shirt-sleeves. “How near are the
enemy, Captain?” Hugh cried, catching him by the arm.

Turner looked down at him with a dry smile. “Not so near, Gwyeth, but
you’ll have time to wash your face ere they come up.”

Even the mocking tone could not recall Hugh to his self-composure, but
he ran on out of the house, where he was jostled by troopers and nearly
trampled on by horses that were being led up. Getting out of harm’s way
at last in an angle of the front of the house, he became aware that the
stars were few in the sky and on the horizon a light streak showed; it
must be nearing dawn. Just then he heard the deadened sound of a horse’s
being rapidly ridden over turf, and then a strange officer came
galloping up to the very door. Running thither, Hugh saw him disappear
into an inner room, whence a little later Sir William Pleydall, a bit
excited but carefully accoutred, came forth with the announcement that
the enemy were near by at Kineton, and the troop was to hold itself in
readiness to march to meet them.

There was sufficient time to follow Captain Turner’s advice, so Hugh and
Frank went back to their chamber and, while their candle paled in the
daybreak, dressed methodically. Hugh turned up his boot-tops and
fastened his buff coat up to his chin, telling himself he should be too
grateful to Sir William for such a stout jacket to envy Frank his
cuirass, then, while his companion was tugging a comb through his curly
hair, sat down on the window-seat to wait. The manor house looked out
across a valley toward the east, where a light rift in the dun clouds
showed till presently the sun broke through, and turned the mist in the
lowlands to silver. “It will be a fair day,” Hugh said, half aloud;
“’tis a Sunday, too, is it not?”

“Yes,” sneered Frank. “How can so godly a man as Essex fight of a
Sabbath?” Then he broke off speech for the serious business of strapping
on his sword, which was long enough to threaten to trip him up. Hugh
looked on rather enviously, for no one had yet offered him a sword, and,
as he felt he should not ask for one, he had to content himself with
sticking in his belt a spare pistol Captain Turner had lent him.

When the two young soldiers came downstairs they found the candles were
long since out and gray daylight was glimmering through the hall. There
tables were spread, about which the officers of the troop, all equipped,
sat or stood while they ate; and, as they had good appetites, Hugh,
though he was not over-hungry, felt obliged to take bread and meat and
try to make a hearty meal. All about him was talk of nothing but the
battle, the numbers the Earl of Essex had in his army, the numbers the
king could put against him, and the surety of a mighty victory. “Do not
you be all so certain,” croaked Turner, who had seated himself to make a
comfortable meal. The others hooted him down, so he changed the subject
by chaffing Frank on his prodigiously long sword. The boy retorted
saucily enough to make those about him laugh; indeed, for the most part,
all were gay now daylight had come and the work before them was clear to
see. There were wagers laid on the length of the battle, promises of
high revelry on the spoils of the enemy, and above all calls for wine.
When the glasses were filled, Sir William, rising at the head of the
table, gave the king’s health. Hugh remembered afterward the instant’s
tense hush that came in the talk and loud laughter, then the sudden
uproar of fists smiting on the table, boot-heels stamping on the floor,
and through and above all cheers and cheers that made the high-roofed
hall reëcho. Then, as the tumult died down, the major, Bludsworth,
cried: “Now, then, lads: To the devil with the Parliament and Essex!”

After that was shouting that made the lungs ache, and glasses shattered
on the floor, then, as the storm of curses and calls abated, one of the
officers struck up a song against the Parliament, and some joined in,
some laughed, and others still cried, “Down with the Parliament!”

Just then a messenger, pushing in, spoke a word to Sir William, who gave
orders for the troop to prepare itself to march, for the main guard
would soon be under way.

“Mayhap we can get sight of something from the hill here,” Frank cried.
“Come out, Hugh, and see.”

Running out into the cold of the nipping morning air they set their
faces to the steep pitch of hillside behind the manor house. The turf
was stiff with frost, so climbing was easy, and in a short space they
were at the summit. Instinctively they turned their first glance to the
west where the enemy lay. “But ’tis useless gazing,” Frank said, next
moment, “for ’twixt here and Kineton rises a piece of high land; they
call it Edgehill. Face back to the east, Hugh. Look, look, ’tis the
vanguard!”

Winding down the opposite slope they could now distinguish a long line
of moving figures, horsemen upon horsemen, with the sunlight glittering
ever the stronger on their cuirasses and helmets. Moment after moment
the boys delayed there, till the foremost of the riders toiled up a
lower ridge of the hill, not an eighth of a mile distant from them. The
hum of the moving files reached them; almost they thought to distinguish
the devices of the fluttering banners. “But the king’s standard will
come only with the Life Guards and the foot,” Frank explained. “This
evening ’twill be waving over all England. God and our right! God and
King Charles!”

“Yonder below marches a black cornet,” Hugh broke in. “See you, Frank?
My father’s troop goes under such a banner.”

“Say we draw down nearer to them,” the other cried, and started to
descend the hill.

“Stay, Frank,” Hugh called, “it must be mid-morning. I think we were
best get back to our troop.”

“Name of Heaven! I had near forgot,” Frank replied, and, facing about,
started back to the manor house at full speed.

Hugh followed after, slipping upon the steep hillside, and so they came
down behind the stables, where after the tumult of the earlier morning
was a surprising quiet. “Some must have set out already,” Frank panted,
as he headed for the house.

“I’ll fetch our horses,” Hugh shouted after him, and ran to the stable.
Within he saw The Jade and the sorrel had already been led forth, and in
their places, all a-lather and with drooping heads, stood the black and
bay captured from the Oldesworths. “When were they put here?” Hugh cried
to the hostler, and, without waiting for an answer, ran for the house;
if the horses were there, Dick Strangwayes must be close at hand.

But when he came to the house he found neither horse nor man, only off
to the right the last of Sir William’s troop were pacing round a spur of
the hill, and on the doorstone stood Frank with his hands tight
clinched. “Hugh, they’ve taken our horses!” he cried shrilly.

“Have you seen anything of Dick?” Hugh asked in his turn.

“And Bludsworth,—the fiend come and fetch him!—he answered me: ‘The men
that can strike the stoutest blows for the king must have the horses
to-day.’” Frank plunged a step or two across the trampled turf, as if he
had a mind to run after the troop. “He’d not a dared use me so, if he
knew not my father would approve. I told you they’d cheat us of the
battle. Never mind, I would not fight for them if I could.”

As Frank’s voice trailed off into inarticulate mutterings Hugh found
opportunity to question: “Has Dick been here? Tell me.”

“Ay, ’twas he and another from Butler’s troop. Had spurred night and
day. Their horses were spent. And Dick Strangwayes has taken my Jade.
Plague on him! He’s too heavy for her; he’ll break her legs. My Jade—”

“He has gone into the battle and I did not see him,” Hugh broke out. “He
may be hurt again.”

“I care not if he be,” Frank cried, “so he bring her back safe. She was
the prettiest bit of horseflesh! And I was going to ride her in the
battle.—Did I not tell you they’d not let us come? And no doubt they’ll
beat the rebels and ’tis the last encounter and I shall not be there.
And she was my horse, and she loved me; she almost never kicked at me.”
Frank’s shrill voice broke suddenly. “Oh, hang it all!” he cried, and,
dropping down on the doorstone with his head on the threshold, began
sobbing piteously and choking out more oaths till his voice was lost for
weeping.

Hugh forgot his own bitter disappointment at not seeing Dick and having
no chance to earn a commission in the battle, in his first alarm for
Frank. Then alarm gave place to something akin to disgust at the boy’s
childishness, and he half started to walk away, but he turned back.
After all, Frank was younger than he, and he ought to be patient with
the lad, just as Dick Strangwayes had been patient with him. So he stood
over Frank and tried to joke him into being quiet.

“But ’twas my horse,” the boy sobbed, “and there’ll never be another
battle, and I had no part in the last.”

“Well, it does not befit your cuirass to cry like that,” Hugh answered;
and then, “Look you here, Frank, ’tis not above six miles to Kineton and
we’ve good legs to carry us. Why should we not have a hand in the
fighting even now?”



                               CHAPTER X
                       IN THE TRAIL OF THE BATTLE


It was long past the noon hour, as the westward bent of the sun showed,
when the two boys panted up the northern pitch of the rough Edgehill.
From the manor house to the field they had come at their best pace,
running at first even up the hillsides, till sheer lack of breath made
them somewhat moderate their speed. A couple of miles out from the
house, as they headed aimlessly, with only a vague notion that somewhere
to the west the battle would be joined, they came up with a body of foot
alongside which they marched clear to the southern verge of the hill.
Coming thither, they at last heard the rumor that, while the foot would
be massed in the centre for the fight, the Prince with the mounted men,
among whom served Sir William’s troop, would hold the right wing.
Thereupon they forsook the foot soldiers and, heading to the northward,
plunged down a steep pitch and across an open bit of ground, where they
got entangled in a body of pikemen and were nearly ridden down by some
straggling dragoons, and so came breathless up the last hillside. There
upon the high ridge, whence for miles they could see the low country
spreading away toward Kineton and right beneath them the mustering
squadrons, they made a moment’s halt.

“Below here to the right our men are,” Frank gasped, without breath
enough to shout. “If I only had The Jade.”

“’Twill be the enemy far over yonder in the plain, where I can just make
out black things to move,” said Hugh. “There look to be a many of them.”

“There’ll be fewer ere night,” Frank replied.

“Sure, we’ll scarce give battle so late in the day?”

“There’s time enough ’twixt now and sundown to trounce them roundly,”
Frank answered cheerfully. “Come, let us go down and seek our people.”

They had gone barely a rod along the brow of the hill, when right behind
them, deadened till now by the yielding turf, sounded the galloping of a
horse. Glancing over his shoulder, Hugh got sight of a rider spurring in
their steps with no evident intention of swerving, so he caught Frank by
the arm and jerked him to one side, none too soon, for the horse’s nose
almost grazed the boy’s shoulder. “Look how you ride!” Hugh shouted
angrily. The horseman never deigned to look at him, but, with his dark
face set to the front and the ends of his scarlet sash fluttering, shot
by and disappeared down the hillside.

“Curse him!” Frank sputtered, “’twas a coward’s trick; ’twas like him.”

“Like who?”

“’Tis Philip Bellasis, a son of my Lord Bellasis. I pray his comb be cut
some fine morning.”

“The Lord Bellasis who is of the king’s council?” Hugh asked, as they
tramped along the hilltop, with ears alert now for more reckless riders
behind them.

“Ay, a scurvy civilian,” Frank said, with extra swagger; “we of the army
have no love for them nor they for us. Why, his influence came near
losing my father his independent command. He would have lumped us in
with my Lord Carnavon’s horse. Well, we’ll show to-day who’ll save the
kingdom, meddling lawyers like Bellasis or soldiers like ourselves.”

Then conversation ceased, for reaching a gully in the hillside they gave
all their thoughts to descending it, and slipped and scuffled in the dry
bed till Frank had wrenched his ankle and Hugh had a torn coat-sleeve to
his credit. The gully ending in a small stream, they followed it down
through a copse of bare bushes that snapped against the face, and so
came out upon the open plain. Not an eighth of a mile distant, sitting
ready with their backpieces gleaming and their carabines slung across
their shoulders, they could see the ranks of horsemen. In the open
betwixt the boys and the ordered troops messengers were spurring to and
fro, and now and again, in small groups or man by man, stray horsemen
straggled by. One such they came upon by the brook, as he was patching a
broken girth, and Hugh, pausing to lend his aid, asked him what news
there was in the field. “Why does not the battle begin at once?” Frank
urged, and, when the man answered the troops were but waiting the word
to fall on, he caught Hugh’s arm and bade him come forward quickly to
seek their regiment.

At that the trooper struck in: “Best keep out o’ the press, sir. You’ll
be trampled to pieces there with small good to the king or to yourself.
Better bear off to the northward out of harm’s way.”

“But I am here solely to get in harm’s way,” Frank protested; and, when
Hugh, taking the advice, made for a log bridge to cross the stream,
followed grumblingly.

Once over, with the intention of taking their final stand at the extreme
right of the line of waiting horsemen, they pressed northward across the
uneven plain. They were sliding down the bank to a shallow hollow, when
the thud, thud of hoofs warned them to look to the westward and there,
over a slight rise in the ground, a belated troop came at a smart trot.
Pressing back against the bank Hugh watched the crowded columns
approach, the bespattered breasts of the horses, their tossing heads,
and above the waving manes the white faces of the riders. As the head of
the column came close upon him his eyes rested on its leader, and he saw
he was a man of middle height with reddish hair, who rode in his shirt
with neither cuirass nor helmet. Then the troop was sweeping past,
black, red, and gray horses straining at a trot, and men with steady
faces and silent lips, among whom, looking closer, Hugh recognized some
he knew.

But he only gazed without speaking till the last horse had swung down
the hollow, and Frank, who had been cheering mightily, settled his hat
on his head again, with an excited, “A brave troop, was it not, Hugh?”

“It was my troop,” Hugh answered. “Did you not note? ’Twas my father led
them.”

“Oh, ay, to be sure,” replied Frank, making for the opposite side of the
hollow. “I scarce remembered him, and, to my thinking, he has used you
so knavishly that he does not merit to dwell in any gentleman’s
remembrance, and—Hark, there!”

Both halted a moment as from far off on the left came the dull boom,
boom of cannon. From far to the front an answering crash sounded.
“They’re falling to it,” Frank cried. “Briskly, Hugh!”

One last spurt that sent the blood beating to the temples and turned the
breath hot in the throat, and they were stumbling up the little hillock
for which they had headed. Still, before and on the left, the cannon
were pounding, and there came, too, in long, undistinguishable shouts,
the noise of men cheering. The withered grass of the hillside wavered
before Hugh’s eyes with the very weariness of running, yet he found
strength in him to pull off his hat and breath to pant out: “For a
king!”

Then, coming over the brow of the hill, he had sight of the rough plain
stretching off to the gray west, and across it saw the long ranks of
horsemen sweeping forward. A gleam of cuirasses and helmets, a glimpse
of plunging horses and waving swords, a flutter of banners; they had
charged onward, and only the echo of their shouts still lingered and was
lost in the throb of cannon. Now first Hugh realized his throat was near
cracked with cheering and his arm ached with waving his hat; so he
paused breathless, with his eyes still fastened on the brown dust-cloud
toward the west. There came a touch on his arm, and putting out his hand
he grasped Frank’s wrist. Young Pleydall was gasping for breath with a
choke like a half sob. “If we had only been with them!” he broke out.

“My father is there,” Hugh said, half aloud. He did not tell Frank what
he was thinking: that, after all, he would rather have a father who,
even if he did despise and reject his son, was striking good blows over
yonder, than an indulgent parent like Master Nathaniel Oldesworth, who
could bear to sit idle at home.

“What if your father is there?” Frank panted in retort. “It does not
better matters for us. They’re hard at it. Listen to the muskets yonder.
Come, let us go thither.”

Hugh gave one glance to the west, where even the dust-cloud had faded in
the distance, and to the south, where a slight swelling of the plain hid
the sight of conflict; it was from there the tantalizing noise of firing
came. “’Tis not in human endurance to stay here and not know how the day
is going,” he burst out, and led the way down into the plain. They
struck toward the brook they had crossed, and followed its course
northwestward, almost in the track the Royalist horse had taken.

“They’ve all passed out of sight,” Frank said as he pressed forward,
half on the run. “They must have driven the rebels clean into Kineton.”

“Hark to the southward!” Hugh answered.

“They will only be shooting down stragglers,” Frank replied confidently.
“The day’s ours. No living thing could stand up against such a charge.
Was it not brave? I tell you, Hugh, war is the grandest—”

There the words died away on Frank’s lips, as a few paces before them
near the brookside he caught sight of a dark, motionless thing. “’Tis
not—” he faltered, and made a movement as if he had half a mind to fetch
a circuit about the place.

“Come along,” Hugh said firmly, though he felt the heart contract within
him. “If he be alive, we must help him.” Walking forward deliberately,
he halted a step from the object,—a common trooper, he now saw, and by
his colors one of the king’s men. He lay on his back with his hands
clinched above his head, and the blood bubbling out through a bullet
wound in his throat, but he still breathed in short, rattling gasps.
Perceiving that, Hugh ran to the margin of the brook, and, dipping his
hat full of water, splashed it over the man’s face; he remembered
afterward what a dull, dogged face it was under the pain that was
distorting the brows and lips. He raised the man’s head up against his
arm. “Fetch more water, Frank,” he bade; then, as the boy turned, it
seemed something caught and clicked in the trooper’s throat, and his
head slipped down from Hugh’s arm. Hugh suffered him to sink to the
ground, and was kneeling beside him, half dazed with the awesomeness of
what had happened, when Frank came stumbling back. “What!” the younger
lad cried; “is he—”

“He is gone,” Hugh answered simply. He got up, and walking to the brook
lay down on the brink and drank; the chill of the soggy turf beneath him
and the cold water he gulped down seemed to wash away something of the
horror he had just seen. He rose fairly steadied. “Shall we go forward,
Frank?” he asked. “There’ll be more such to see.”

“Yes, let us,” Frank said, rather subdued, and so, passing the body of
the trooper, they went on down the brook.

The farther they advanced, the more ill sights there were to see: horses
that lay dead or sprawled with disabling wounds yet struggled to rise,
men with gashed bodies or blackened faces, who were beyond aid, and
others, bleeding with wounds, who had crawled to their feet and were
heading for the rear. One horse, a roan, Frank persuaded Hugh, for The
Jade’s sake, to shoot with his pistol; but after that Hugh, sparing his
scant supply of ammunition, refused to carry on such work. But they
tried to aid the wounded men, who came ever more frequently, and with
them one or two of another sort, unhurt but riding too hastily to pause
to speak. “The cowardly knaves!” Frank cried. “If I find one of our
troop turning tail so, hang me if I do not recommend him for a
flogging.”

But just then there came a white-faced horseman, who, reining up at
their call, gladly gave them what tidings he could, which were vague
enough, only the king’s men had swept the rebel horse from off the
earth, and chased the rest of the army away, and there had been great
fighting, and a scurvy Roundhead bullet had broke his leg. Would one of
the young gentlemen reach him a drink of water? He could not dismount.
Hugh filled the man’s steel cap at the brook, and then he rode slowly
away.

Farther on, where the conflict had been hotter, they passed more bodies,
and just the other side of the brook, which they leaped at a narrow
turn, came upon one lying face down whose long hair gave him to be a
gentleman. Hugh had bent to see if by any chance he still lived, when
Frank thrust by him. “Do you not know that head-piece with a nick in
it?” he cried. “’Tis Ned Griffith.”

At that they had him over on his back and found he was breathing, in
spite of a great gash in his shoulder that had sheered through the
cuirass. Tearing off his armor, they splashed water over him till the
young fellow revived enough to blink his eyes open, groan, and shut them
again. “Live?” said Frank, pouring another capful of water over him. “Do
you think a man will die who can fetch a groan like that?”

Griffith’s eyes slowly opened again. “You youngsters?” he asked feebly.
“Was it the whole troop rode over me?”

Hugh laid open his coat, and, with a certain grim thankfulness that what
he had unwillingly seen now enabled him without physical shrinking to
help a friend, bandaged his hurt. “We must carry him to the rear,” he
finally ordered Frank. “You take his legs, and I’ll manage his head.”

They lifted up Ned Griffith, who hung limp and heavy in their hands, and
set their faces toward the dark hill whence the king’s army had charged
forth. The walk out into the field had gone briskly enough, but there
seemed no end to the return journey. Again and again they had to lay the
injured man down while they recovered breath; but though wounded
stragglers passed them, they saw none who could aid them, so of
necessity they lifted up their burden once more and struggled on.
Sometimes Frank panted out a grumbling complaint, but Hugh made no
reply, for his eyes were on the wounded man’s white face and parted
lips, and he found himself wondering how his father was faring in the
battle, and what might have befallen Dick Strangwayes.

Of a sudden Frank, letting Griffith’s boots come to the ground abruptly,
began shouting with all his strength to a brace of loiterers. “Men of
our troop,” he explained to Hugh, “and not much wounded, Heaven be
thanked for’t! They can convey Ned to a surgeon, if such a one is in the
field, and we’ll back to see more.”

Relinquishing their charge on such terms, they set their faces again to
the field of battle. It was now drawing toward sundown, and the fire to
the south had slackened. “Mark my words, the war is ended,” Frank
lamented; “and we have had no part in it, only to tramp about and look
on those others have killed.”

Hugh must acknowledge to himself it had been a grim afternoon’s work, so
with some hope of brisker adventures he followed willingly, as his
companion headed southerly toward the clearer line of a road. “Maybe
we’ll find our troop if we walk toward Kineton,” Frank suggested. “And
we could ride back with them.”

“Yes, they should have taken some horses from the rebels by this,” Hugh
replied, with a nod toward a corpse with an orange sash that lay on the
edge of the roadway. He stubbornly told himself it was only another
monument to the Royalist fighting quality, and tried to believe he had
nearly deadened sympathy in him and calloused his senses to the horror
of what he must endure if he would follow this life he had chosen.

They faced westward and tramped along the road, but what with ruts and
mire it proved heavier walking than the fields. “Faith, I’m weary of
this,” Frank grumbled. “How much farther to Kineton?”

“Let’s bear off on the other side,” suggested Hugh, peering through the
gathering twilight. “Yonder’s a bit of a hollow and it may be easier
going.”

They crossed a piece of open level, and, holding this the quickest way,
jumped down the slight pitch at its farther edge. As they recovered
footing, they perceived close before them in the lee of the bank two
bodies lying motionless, one of which seemed that of an officer by its
better clothes and of a rebel by its orange sash. It was the first
officer of Essex’s army they had yet noted among the dead, and, with a
sudden fear that it might be one of his own kindred, Hugh bent over the
corpse. Finding, to his relief, that the face was strange to him, he was
turning away, when his eyes chanced to rest upon the other body, that of
a hulking common foot soldier. As he gazed he thought to see a slight
tremor pass over it, so, stepping to the man as he lay on his face, he
shook him by the shoulder.

At the touch the fellow suddenly scrambled to his knees. “Don’t kill me,
master,” he whined. “Give me quarter.”

Hugh had started back a step or two and pulled out his pistol; the man
was not even scratched, he perceived, but had feigned dead. Then he
noted a basket-hilted sword with a leathern baldric that had been
concealed beneath him as he lay, and he noted, too, that not only did
the dead officer wear no sword, but his pockets had been turned inside
out. “So that’s your trade, is it?” Hugh cried. “Robbing the dead of
your own party, eh?”

“I’ll never do so no more,” whimpered the fellow. “Don’t ’ee shoot.”

The craven tone of the creature harked back to something in Hugh’s
memory; he leaned a little forward and studied the man’s bearded,
low-browed face, then drew back with his pistol cocked. “I remember
you,” he said. “Are you ready to pay back the two shillings and sixpence
you took from me on the Nottinghamshire crossroad?”

“Is this the padder?” Frank struck in. “Put a bullet through him, Hugh.”

“Don’t ’ee shoot me, master,” the other begged. “I did not kill ’ee
then, and I might ha’.”

“I am not going to shoot you,” Hugh replied, “but you can give me over
that sword to pay for what you owe me. And remember, this pistol I hold
now is in good order,” he added, for he half suspected the fellow was
plucking up courage as he discovered it was only two lads, not a whole
troop, had come upon him. So he stood back warily out of the plunderer’s
reach, while Frank, who was viewing the whole proceeding happily like a
holiday sport, took up the booty and passed it over to him. Hugh
gathered the baldric about the sword in his left hand, a little
hurriedly, for it was beginning to dawn on him that he and Frank had
strayed pretty far, and where one live rebel was there might be others.
Just then, over in the plain, he got sight of a straggling horseman or
two, so he turned upon Frank with a quick order: “Clamber up the slope
there and make for the road briskly.”

He heard behind him the boy’s quick retreating step, but his eyes were
still fixed on the scowling rebel, whom he thought well to cover with
his pistol. “Sit where you are,” he commanded the man, “and offer to
play me no slippery tricks if you value your skin.” Thus speaking, he
backed toward the bank, which he ascended slantingly, so as to keep an
eye on the fellow. But, chancing to look beyond him, he saw one of the
horsemen was already heading in his direction, so he turned and fair ran
for the roadway, where Frank was halting for him. “Run,” he called to
the boy; “’tis a hornets’ nest here.”

Without staying for farther questions, Frank took to his heels down the
road toward Kineton, and Hugh, after one glance to the right where he
saw no stragglers of his own party, ran after him. At each stride he
gained on him, for Frank’s boots and cuirass encumbered the youngster;
capture was possible, it flashed through Hugh’s head, and with it came
the reflection that it would be discreditable to be taken in the act of
plundering a private of foot, for others might not see the justice of
the case as clearly as he had seen it. Then he found wit to think only
of the hoof-beats that were now sounding on the roadway behind him,
louder and louder, and, looking at Frank stumbling on before him, he
thought what an ill return it would be for all Sir William’s kindness to
let harm come to the boy. So he halted short and faced back; close
behind him was one trooper with a yellow sash and somewhat in his rear
came three others. How long the horse’s head looked, Hugh reflected
dazedly, and would the man slash down at him with his sword and make
such a gash as he had seen upon Ned Griffith? Then there was no space
for reflection or remembrance, only the horse’s head grazed by him, he
saw the man lean forward in his saddle, and, thrusting up his pistol
with the muzzle aimed under the man’s upraised arm, he fired. The sword
grazed down weakly across his shoulder, the edge slipping harmlessly
over the stout buff; then the sword fell to the roadway, the horse
clattered forward a pace or two, and the rider reeled headlong from the
saddle. The horse went galloping away down the road with the stirrups
beating against his flanks.

A shout from behind brought Hugh to his senses. He ran forward, got a
fleeting sight of the rebel trooper, who lay outstretched on his back in
the roadway with a grayish shade gathering on his face, then came up
with Frank and caught him by the arm. “Off the road, quick!” he panted.
“They’ll ride us down.”

They went headlong over the low embankment and struggled blindly forward
into the field. Hugh had jammed his pistol into his belt, wondering how
many seconds it would take him to draw his sword clear for a final
stand, when Frank reeled up against him, crying: “My ankle! I’ve
wrenched it again.” With that he pitched down at Hugh’s feet, and Hugh,
clapping his hand to the hilt of the sword, stood over him and faced
about. Then he saw the rebel horsemen had drawn rein in the roadway and
were watching them but not following, behind him he heard horses coming,
and Frank, suddenly scrambling to his feet, began shouting. “King’s men!
Hurrah!”

Hugh turned about in time to see a little squad of eight or ten horsemen
with scarlet scarfs come riding out of the twilight and pull up
alongside them. There was something familiar in the broad shoulders of
the leader and the gruff voice in which he began: “’Tis happy for you,
gentlemen, that we—”

“Corporal Ridydale, have you forgot me?” Hugh interrupted breathlessly,
going up to the man’s stirrup.

“Forgot you, sir?” Ridydale made answer, “Lord, no, sir. Jump up behind
me. ’Tis not a healthy place hereabouts for men of our color.—Here,
Rodes, take t’other young gentleman up behind you.”

After delaying long enough to slip his new baldric over his shoulder,
Hugh scrambled up behind Ridydale, and the little squad headed across
the field toward Edgehill. How had the battle gone, Hugh asked, as soon
as he had recovered breath; and Ridydale told him the Prince and Colonel
Gwyeth had hunted the rebels clear beyond Kineton. “The knaves banged
our troop some deal, but we had brave plundering in the town,” the
corporal ended. “‘How has the day gone in the rest of the field?’ I know
not; we have done our part.”

“Colonel Gwyeth had no hurt?” Hugh broke in.

“No thanks to him that he hasn’t, the madman!” Ridydale answered. “He
would fight in his shirt, for he swore these fellows were too paltry for
a gentleman to guard against. So he laid off his armor ere he rode into
the fight. Now that, sir, is the temper the gentlemen of your house have
ever been of, and ’tis the only fitting temper.”

It looked like the beginning of their usual disagreement, so Hugh kept
silent, the more willingly since he found himself tired so that even
talking required exertion. He leaned rather heavily against Ridydale,
and watched the field, that looked gray in the deepening twilight, slip
by them, and, when he shut his eyes, still saw the field with the
trampled bodies of men and writhing chargers. Then, of a sudden, their
horse pulled up. “I take it we’ll rendezvous here,” he heard the
corporal say. “Perchance you’ll bide with us till the colonel comes,
sir?”

“No,” Hugh said hurriedly, slipping down from the horse. “Thank you,
Ridydale. We’d have been in a bad way but for you.”

Then he stumbled away with Frank across the hummocky plain, which
darkness made all the more treacherous, and, scrambling up the hill to
the broad summit, toiled about among the scattered troops that were
straggling back. “I am clean spent” his companion said sorrowfully. “I
would not be a foot soldier for all the gold in the kingdom. Where think
you my father is, Hugh?”

“We’ll try to find him,” Hugh answered, with what cheerfulness he could
summon, and turned aside to ask a friendly-looking soldier if he knew
where Sir William Pleydall’s troop was stationed. The man did not know,
and, indeed, in the confusion and darkness no one seemed to know
anything; so the two boys could only tramp up and down, Frank
expostulating crossly and Hugh too utterly weary to respond, till at
last they got sight of a figure that looked familiar in the dusk.
Running thither they found it was Major Bludsworth, whereupon Frank
nearly hugged him. “I never was so glad to see you before, sir,” he
cried. “Where is my father, and when are we going to have anything to
eat?”

Bludsworth took Frank by the arm, and half carried him a rod or so to a
small fire beneath a bank about which Sir William and a little knot of
his officers were standing. “Here’s a runaway in quest of you, Sir
William,” he announced brusquely.

“Francis, you here?” Sir William asked, with some displeasure.

“Prithee, do not be angry, sir,” Frank protested, “I’ve had a gallant
day of it. And I have not had the least hurt. And Hugh here killed a
man, sir. And has Dick Strangwayes brought back my Jade?”

“The beast is unscathed,” answered Sir William, drawing Frank to him
with a hand on his shoulder. “And another time you may as well ride in
on her back at the start and done with.”

“Master Strangwayes has come out safe, then?” Hugh’s eagerness made him
strike in.

“No hurt at all, his usual fortune,” Sir William replied, before he
turned away to one of those beside him.

Hugh had to check his questions on his tongue’s end, and wait and look
about in the hope each instant that Dick might come tramping to the
fire. But the minutes ran on, Frank had settled himself by the blaze,
and Sir William had no time to heed a boy’s concerns, so Hugh must
finally take courage and, going to Bludsworth, ask of Dick’s
whereabouts. “Young Strangwayes?” replied the major. “Why, he has gone
back to the house we quartered at; some one had to convey Cornet
Griffith thither.”

“Well, he’s left the road behind him,” Hugh answered stoutly, and,
turning from the fire, faced into the black of the night.

At first, what with the foot and horse soldiers and camp followers to be
met, the gleam of the bivouac fires on either hand, and the tumult of
the army all about him, it was brisk enough journeying. But, as he
passed out from the circle of the encampment and the bustle around him
subsided, he found his riding-boots felt heavy and the going was far
slower than it had been that morning. It was dark overhead, so he
stumbled, and once his new sword tripped him. He put his hand to the
hilt so as to strike up the blade, and then as he trudged he fell to
wondering what manner of man the sword had belonged to, and he thought
on the trooper with the wound in his throat, and the many faces of dead
men. When a branch snapped in a copse to his left he halted short with
his heart thumping, then told himself he was a fool and tried to whistle
as he walked. But there came on him a desire to look back over his
shoulder, and the echo of his whistle made his blood thrill
unpleasantly. There was a thicket he must pass through, he remembered,
before he reached the manor house; he dreaded it long, and, when he came
to it, clinched his hands tight and walked slowly, while the gray face
of the trooper he had himself slain dazzled up and down before his eyes.
Half through the thicket he broke into a run, and, with not even will
enough left in his tired body to restrain himself, plunged heavily
across the open to the door of the hall, where there was light. He
stumbled against the door, which resisted, and, in a panic he could not
comprehend, he shook it.

“Gently, gently,” came a voice that calmed him. The door swung open, and
in the candlelight that shone within he saw Dick Strangwayes, with his
cuirass and helmet off, his coat hanging unfastened, and the same old
half-laughing look in his eyes, while his lips kept sober.

Hugh pitched in headlong and blindly griped his friend in his arms.
“Dick, Dick,” he burst out, “I have found you. And, Dick, I—I killed a
man to-day.”

“Is that all?” Strangwayes drawled with one arm about him. “Why, I
killed three.”



                               CHAPTER XI
                            COMRADES IN ARMS


There were no dreams for Hugh after he had stretched himself out on a
bench in the hall as Strangwayes bade him. He was too exhausted in body
and spirit to question or speak; he only knew he was glad he had found
his friend once more, and the cushion beneath his head felt soft, so he
went dead asleep, and lost at last the remembrance of the sights of the
day’s carnage. He had no dreams and he was loath even to have a waking;
some one shook him again and yet again, but he only murmured drowsily,
with a voice that seemed far off to him, till he was pulled up sitting.
He screwed his knuckles into his eyes, turning his face from the
candlelight, and he heard Strangwayes laugh: “Look you here, Captain
Turner. This gentleman must have a clear conscience by the way he
sleeps.”

The thought that Turner’s sharp eyes were on him made Hugh face about
and sit blinking at the candles. The hall where they had that morning
eaten was quite bare now and dark, except for the two flickering candles
and the uncertain firelight. In front of the chimney-piece Turner, all
equipped to ride forth, was making a lunch of a biscuit and a glass of
wine he held in his hands, and the only other occupant of the apartment
was Dick Strangwayes, who, wrapped to the chin in his cloak, stood by
the bench. “Awake, eh?” he smiled down at Hugh. “Good morrow, then.”

“What’s the time?” Hugh asked, peering across the hall at the windows,
which were squares of blackness.

“Past two and nipping cold. Are you fit to ride back to the field with
us?”

For answer Hugh staggered to his feet, marvelling at the stiffness in
his legs, and tried to hold himself erect. “Here, on with this,” said
Strangwayes, throwing a cloak about him. “I judged ’twas yours, and if
’tis not, the man who left his goods so careless deserves to lose them.
And slip this sash over your sword-belt. It was Ned Griffith’s, but
he’ll not need—”

“He’s not dead?” Hugh broke out.

“No, no; but he’ll be of little more use than a dead man for the next
four months. Slash in the breast and his leg broke by some of our horse
as he lay. You’ll need to look you out a new cornet, Captain Turner.”

“They dropped my lieutenant, too, down by Kineton,” said Turner, putting
by his glass. “Gwyeth’s troop and mine, there on the flank, we suffered
for it. Do you judge those knaves will have the horses saddled ere
daybreak?”

“Is there more fighting to come?” Hugh questioned sleepily, as he tried
to tie the scarlet sash across his chest.

“Enough to flesh that maiden sword of yours,” Turner paused at the door
to reply. “By the bye, Master Strangwayes, is it true that Captain
Peyton was slain in the charge? He owes me five sovereign on my wager
that neither side could call the day theirs, and if he has got himself
killed!” Turner shrugged his shoulders and passed out.

“What has brought him hither?” Hugh yawned.

“Poor old lad! Eat a bit and try to wake up,” urged Strangwayes. “What
has brought Michael Turner? Why, his love for that poor little troop he
let get so wofully peppered in the fight. He has been ravaging the
country for a horse-load of bread with which to fill their stomachs, ere
the battle he is sure will come this day. And now, question for
question, what brings you here, so far from Colonel Gwyeth?”

Hugh put down on the table the piece of bread he had been eating, and
looked across at Strangwayes, then blurted out plainly the whole story.
He was glad to find he could tell it almost without passion now, with
not a censuring word for Colonel Gwyeth, and even with an effort to make
a jest of some of the happenings. He heard Strangwayes mutter something
like an oath when he described his first meeting with the colonel, but
there was not another sound till he told of the affair with Hardwyn;
then Strangwayes drew in his breath between his teeth and turned toward
the fire. Hugh concluded hurriedly and half frightened, and waited for
an answer; then broke out, “Dick, sure you’re not going to despise me
for it as he does?”

Strangwayes came to him and put both hands on his shoulders. “No, Hugh,”
he said, “I need all the scorn that’s at my command for that precious
father of yours.”

The jar of the opening door made them stand apart and face to the end of
the hall, as Turner looked in to say, “Do you ride with me, gentlemen?”

Outside, a chilly wind that stung the face was abroad, and the sky was
black with clouds. Hugh paused on the threshold to blink the candlelight
out of his eyes, then, peering into the dark, made out the dim figures
of Turner, already in the saddle, and of two of his mounted troopers who
held led horses, and, last of all, let his gaze rest on a half-wakened
groom who came up with two fully equipped chargers. At sight of them
Hugh jumped down from the doorstone, and, after one closer glance,
cried, “Why, Dick, will you suffer me ride the bay?”

“The bay?” Strangwayes answered from the black horse’s back. “Your bay,
you young fool! Why in the name of reason did you not keep the beast
with you, since you captured him?”

Hugh settled himself in the saddle and turned the horse’s head in his
companion’s tracks, too full of joy to heed anything, save that the bay
that had known him in the Everscombe stables, that Peregrine Oldesworth
would not suffer him even to stroke, was now his, all his. He put out
one hand to stroke the warm neck, and whistled softly to see the slender
ears erected.

“Hold up, man! You’re riding me down,” came Strangwayes’ voice beside
him, and he found he had pushed forward till they were crowding knee to
knee.

“Do you honestly mean me to keep this fellow?” Hugh asked.

“If you can,” Strangwayes replied; “I’m thinking you’ll keep him on
three legs if you do not spare talk and look to him over this rough
ground.”

Hugh laughed happily, then drew the reins tauter in his hands, and
strained his eyes into the dark ahead lest some pitfall open to swallow
up the bay horse from under him. The road was so short, as he traversed
it now, that he was sorry when the fires on Edgehill twinkled in the
distance, and, picking their way cautiously, they came to the rendezvous
of Turner’s troop. “I am keeping by the captain, do you see?”
Strangwayes whispered Hugh as they dismounted. “He has lost his
lieutenant, and Sir William has promised to set me in the first
vacancy.”

Of the rest of the night Hugh only remembered that his knees were very
warm with the fire by which he sat, and his back was cold in spite of
his cloak. The flames crackled bravely, and Strangwayes talked nonsense,
to which Captain Turner listened in deep and sober approbation. But
Hugh, crowded close up to Strangwayes, said nothing, just gazed at the
fire and closed his eyes once in a while, till at last he went
ignominiously asleep with his head on his friend’s shoulder.

Waking with neck stiff and arm cramped, he found to his delight the east
all pale in the dawn, so, slipping the bridle of the bay horse over his
arm, he went strolling across the encampment till he could find out
Frank and show him his new mount. But Frank, now confident in the
possession of The Jade, discovered many flaws in the bay, which he set
forth in horseman-like phrases till Hugh went sauntering back again to
Strangwayes. At Turner’s fire he found a newcomer, a brown-haired young
officer, who had once taken him for a horse-boy, whom Strangwayes now
made known to him under the name of George Allestree, guidon in Captain
Butler’s dragoons, and serving as a volunteer at Edgehill. Discreetly
ignoring their former meeting, Allestree was effusively grateful to Hugh
for the use of the bay, which Strangwayes had lent him to ride thither,
and altogether proved so pleasant spoken a fellow that Hugh ended by
putting out of mind the memory of his previous conduct.

With Allestree and Strangwayes Hugh passed the long day, now talking a
bit by the ashes of last night’s fire, then rising to stretch his legs
and look to his horse, then back to the fire again, where he ate such
rations as were dealt to him and felt rather hungry afterward. It was a
day of uncertainty and idleness beneath which lay a tense expectancy;
any moment a blow might be struck for the king, yet the moments passed
and nothing was done. About noon Turner stalked off to confer with Sir
William, but he came back whistling and non-committal; indeed, there was
nothing but the old story to tell: his Majesty’s army rested on Edgehill
and my Lord Essex’s army was drawn up in the plain below, and each
looked at the other, but neither moved to strike.

They were not up in action till mid-afternoon of the next day, when
there came word the rebels were retreating, and, right on the heels of
that, a definite order for the horse to form in the plain. Once more
Hugh scrambled down the slope of Edgehill, but this time his feet were
braced in the stirrups, his sword smote against his horse’s flank, and
all about him, in loud talk of the victory they were soon to gain, other
mounted men were descending. Once more he had sight of ranks of horsemen
marshalling for a charge, but now he was himself in the thick of it,
and, when the word was passed along, waved his sword with the rest, then
galloped forward amidst his comrades. Before him the plain swept into
the western sky, where the clouds were shiny with the sun they hid, the
wind came sharp in his face, and around him men shouted and horses
plunged till his own beast, too, catching the joy of movement, reared
up. This was war, Hugh thought, and only for a second recalled it was
the same bloody field over which he had tramped not eight and forty
hours ago. Then across the plain he saw a cluster of roofs, and, as they
spurred faster, made out the windows of the cottages, and men moving in
the street. At that the shouting in the ranks about him became a yell of
onset, and he, too, rising up in his stirrups, screamed, “For a king, a
king!”

Of what followed nothing was quite clear. There were houses, a woman
that ran shrieking in front of his horse, and a Roundhead soldier he saw
bleeding upon a doorstone. He heard shots to the front, saw some of his
side press past him in flight, and after that he was mixed in a
confusion of horses and men of both parties. He struck wildly in with
his sword, whereat a Royalist dragoon, swinging round in his saddle,
cursed him volubly in German and in English as not old enough to be
trusted with cutting tools, and crowding past the man he left him still
cursing. Then he was wedged into a lane, where was a baggage-wagon with
a teamster on it who tried to lash forward his four horses. One Cavalier
trooper slashed up at the fellow where he sat, while another was cutting
the traces. Up at the far end of the lane was a shouting, “The rebels
are coming!” Hugh urged the bay forward to the heads of the leaders,
and, bending from the saddle, cut the traces with his sword. Then a ruck
of the Royalist troops was about him, and, as men caught at the freed
horses, he judged it proper to seize one of them by the bit and hold to
him, while the crowd forced him back down the lane, past the wagon and
the teamster dead beneath its wheels. From the rear came shots, but
there was no facing about in such a throng, so with the rest Hugh swept
back at a gallop through Kineton out into the open country.

The pace slackening now, he slipped his sword back into the sheath, and,
taking time to look about him, saw some of those who rode near had been
cut, but he himself and his two horses were without a scratch. Turning
in the saddle to gaze back, he saw other bands of horse come straggling
behind them. “Is the fight all over?” he asked a trooper who trotted
beside him.

“Over?” swore the fellow. “What more d’ye want?” Then he looked pretty
sharply at Hugh, and ended by offering to lead the wagon-horse for him,
an offer the boy refused. Next the trooper, assuring Hugh he might have
no end of difficulties in maintaining his right in the capture, proposed
to give him ten shillings for the beast. What more he would say Hugh
never found out, for, as they rode at a slackened pace a little on the
flank, a horseman from the rear came charging into them, stared, and
cried Hugh’s name. It was Bob Saxon of Gwyeth’s troop, who, scenting a
matter of horse-dealing, voluntarily came in, and, falling upon the
other man, bepraised the captured horse till he clean talked the fellow
out of the field.

“Ten shillings?” Saxon repeated contemptuously to Hugh, “Lord forgive
the knave! The beast is worth fifty. Come along with me, sir, and I’ll
find you a market.”

They made a great circuit off to the north of the field and about dusk
fetched up in a hamlet to the rear of the army, whither Royalist troops
were now marching from Edgehill to seek quarters. Saxon gathered some
half score of dragoons and a petty officer or two in the street before
the village inn, where, with loud swearing and shouting, he showed off
to them the captured horse. There followed much chaffering and
wrangling, with Saxon’s voice loudest, which ended in the paying of the
money and the delivering over of the beast. “Fifty shillings, as I
promised you, sir,” Saxon announced, as he told them into Hugh’s hand,
with a suggestive look that made Hugh pass him back five for himself.

“You’re a good piece of a gentleman, sir,” the trooper said candidly, as
they rode out from the hamlet. “Be you never going to serve under
Colonel Gwyeth?”

Hugh winced and answered “No,” then, bidding Saxon good-bye, headed for
the manor house, which he was not able to discover till mid-evening. It
was a relief to find himself safe among his comrades, for he was so
conscious of the forty-five shillings in his pocket that he felt sure
every prowler and hanger-on of the camp must have marked them for
plunder.

From the field of Edgehill the royal army marched to Banbury, which
yielded to them unresistingly. To Hugh this was far pleasanter marching
than the passage through Warwickshire, for not only did he now wear a
sword and a red sash that marked him of the king’s men, but he had his
own horse, Bayard, as he had named him for his bay color. The animal
contented him very well, though Frank and The Jade distanced him
whenever they raced a piece. “Bayard is no ambler; he was built for
serious work in the field,” Hugh replied loftily to Frank’s jeers, and
betook himself to Dick Strangwayes, whose mere presence was comforting.
He trailed along at Dick’s side, ate with him, and shared his bed, and,
in return, would gladly have cleaned Dick’s boots and groomed his horse,
the horse that had once belonged to Captain Oldesworth. He knew better,
however, than to offer such service, so he satisfied himself with taking
their two horses to stable, and standing over the groom who cared for
them to see the task was done without shirking.

On the night they lay at Banbury he came in from such labor and in their
chamber found Strangwayes unbuckling his cuirass, and singing, which was
with him a sign of either very good or very bad fortune. “What’s to do,
Dick?” Hugh asked, lighting a candle at the fireplace.

“What do you say to a lieutenancy to the front of my name again, and
over seasoned fighting men this time, not Jacks such as I misgoverned in
the Scots war?”

“Sir William has given you the lieutenancy under Turner?”

“Ay, and on the heel of that comes better: Turner’s troop rides for
service into Northamptonshire to-morrow.”

“That’s well,” Hugh answered rather sorrowfully, as he put the candle on
the table. “Luck go with you.”

“Come along and bring it to us. Ay, you’re to go. I told my uncle we
could use you as a volunteer. You see, the troop is short one officer
since Griffith left.”

“Yes?” Hugh urged, with curiosity.

“I’m promising you nothing, remember,” Strangwayes continued soberly.
“But there’s that vacant cornetcy, and you’re a lad of a steady
courage,—I pray you, spare blushing,—and of a discreeter head than most
of your years. Now, first, you’re to ride with us and do all you can to
satisfy Captain Turner.”

“Dick, I cannot satisfy him,” Hugh gasped, almost bewildered by the
coolness and breadth of Strangwayes’ plan. “Captain Turner never does
aught but mock me; I’m near as unhappy with him as with my father.” He
could have bit his tongue for the ease with which it let slip such a
piece of the truth, but Strangwayes only gave him one involuntary look,
then changed the subject hastily to the matter of the raid into
Northamptonshire.

Next day, when his Majesty and his men rode south for Oxford, Captain
Turner, Lieutenant Strangwayes, and Volunteer Gwyeth, with some forty
troopers, got to saddle and went cantering eastward, to their own
pleasure and the discomfort of more than one Puritan of
Northamptonshire. It was partisan warfare, but Turner waged it
honorably; and Hugh, after he once got used to riding with his hand on
his hilt through villages of hostile, scowling people, had no quarrel
with the life.

They made their first dash for a country-house where arms and powder
were stored; there was slight resistance, a shot or two without damage,
a door battered in, and then Hugh was detailed with five men to ransack
a wing of the house where were the kitchen and offices. As they found
nothing they only wearied themselves with the thorough search Hugh
insisted on, and got laughed at for their pains by a fat kitchen wench.
But Strangwayes and his squad captured six muskets and a keg of powder,
though he came away grumbling. “No more work of that sort for me,” he
confided to Hugh. “You, you rogue, were safe in the buttery, while I was
rummaging the parlor, and the gentlewomen stood off with their skirts
gathered round them and glowered on me as if I were a cutpurse. I’m
thinking the time will never come that women understand the laws of
war.”

Afterward they struck into a small town where more powder was said to be
hid. Across the narrow part of the main street the people had built a
barricade of carts and household stuff, so Turner, after reconnoitring,
determined on a charge. “You had best bear the colors, Gwyeth,” he said,
as the troop fell into order outside the village. “Strangwayes must ride
at the rear, and, in any case, his two arms are of more profit to us
than yours.”

Hugh forgave the sneer as the cornet of the troop was put into his
hands. Like all Sir William’s cornets, it was a red flag with a golden
ball upon it, the prettiest colors in the world, Hugh considered, except
the black flag with the cross of gold that Colonel Gwyeth’s troop
marched under. Settling the staff firmly against his thigh, he glanced
up to see the folds of the flag droop in the still air, then took his
place by Turner at the front of the troop, and, a moment later, charged
in behind him. The stones clicked beneath the horses’ feet, the cottages
sped by, the barricade, whence came the hateful spitting of muskets, was
right before them. Hugh swerved for the left end, where the structure
was lowest, and Bayard, gathering himself up, cleared it at a leap.
Behind the barricade were men of all coats, some loading and steadily
firing, but more already scrambling down to flee. One, crying out at
sight of Hugh, broke away the faster; another levelled a pistol at him,
but before he could fire Bayard’s hoofs had struck him into the kennel.
Then the whole barricade seemed to go down as the Cavaliers, some still
in the saddle, others dismounted to scramble the better, came pouring
over.

Thus the king’s men possessed themselves of the town and took the
powder, which for some days to come supplied them. But there was a price
to pay, for in the encounter they had two men wounded, one of whom died
that night, and on the morrow before they marched was buried in an
orchard. Hugh never forgot the look of the leafless trees, the frosty
ground, and the silent men, who stood drawn up, with their breastpieces
strapped in place, all ready to mount. Each tenth man sat his horse with
the bridles of his comrades’ steeds in his hand, and there, at a little
distance from the horses, some of the townspeople, loitering with
curious, unsympathetic faces, peered and pointed at those about the
grave. They buried the dead trooper without his armor, but with his
cloak wrapped round him, and Strangwayes, standing with his helmet under
one arm, read the burial service. For the life of him Hugh could not
help thinking of that sermon Dick had once preached to Emry and his
friends, and there came on him an unbecoming desire to laugh, which
mixed with a choke in his throat so his lips moved till he was well
assured Captain Turner must think him no better than a child.

The morning sunlight was strong when they rode away from the orchard,
and half a mile out the troopers were swearing good-humoredly at each
other, and Strangwayes was jesting at the bravery of the town watch, a
single countryman whom he had hauled out, roaring for mercy, from
beneath an empty cart. Hugh laughed at the tale, and laid it to heart
that in war no man can hold regrets long, for his turn may come next,
and what little life may be left him is not given to be needlessly
saddened.

So he designedly carried a light heart under his buff jacket, and seized
what enjoyment he could from the small matters of everyday work. He was
happy when they had broiled bacon or a chicken for supper, which was not
often, and thankful for any makeshift of a bed; he took pleasure in
cantering Bayard at the head of the troop, and watching the red and gold
cornet flutter and flap above him; and he liked the fierce, hard knocks
of the skirmishes they had, in little villages and at lonely
country-houses, here and there through the shire. But when food failed
and there was no bed but the ground, when he was weary and sore with
much riding, even on that one wretched day when a troop of Roundhead
dragoons fell on them and sent them scampering with three saddles empty,
he got his best content from Strangwayes’ friendship, which made him
surer of himself and readier to face the world, yet humbler in his
efforts to keep the affection of the older man.

The thought that the winning of a commission in that troop meant more
such days of service with Strangwayes caused Hugh to redouble his
efforts to please Turner, and he succeeded so far that after the first
skirmish the captain suffered him to carry the cornet. For the rest,
Turner met all his honest efforts and prompt obedience with sarcasms on
his youth and simplicity, which made Hugh wince and go on laboring
bravely. Only one word of approbation did he get of Turner; that was on
a pouring wet night when Hugh came in from a watch with the pickets,
soaked to the skin, and, finding no food, lay down without a word on the
floor of the cottage where the officers were quartered, and went sound
asleep. Through his waking he could have sworn he heard Turner say,
“After all, Lieutenant, there’s the right mettle in this crop-headed
whelp.”

Though when Hugh opened his eyes and saw Turner standing over him with a
candle in his hand, the latter only said, “My faith, sir, do you ever do
aught but sleep?”

Thus with work and enjoyment of work the month of November passed, and
meantime his Majesty with the bulk of his army had marched to London,
and then marched back again. Afterward men said a kingdom might have
been gained upon that journey and had been cast away, but at that time
Turner’s troop had only rumors of marches and countermarches, till in
the early December a definite order reached them to repair to the king’s
headquarters at Oxford and join themselves to their regiment.

It was in the mid-afternoon that they at last rode into the city, where
the High Street was gay with bravely dressed men and sleek horses, and
the old gray buildings seemed alive with people. So many fine troops
were passing and re-passing that none gave special heed to the little
muddy band out of Northamptonshire. They passed unnoticed out by the
North Gate toward the parish of St. Giles, where quarters had been
assigned Sir William’s regiment, and there, in the dingy stable, the
officers parted. Hugh of necessity surrendered the cornet into Turner’s
hands with a last regretful look at its idle folds. “You made shift not
to lose it, did you not, sir?” the captain said with some kindness.
“Why, you’re no more of an encumbrance to a troop of fighting men than
most youngsters are.”

Then Turner and Strangwayes walked away to report themselves to Sir
William, while Hugh remained to see that Bayard and Dick’s Black Boy
were well groomed. To tell the truth, he was glad to linger in the
stable with the men among whom he had spent the last month; he wondered
if he was to have the chance to serve with them always, and the thought
made him nearly tremble with expectancy.

He was loitering by the stable door, when he caught sight of a familiar
blue jacket, and Frank Pleydall, in company with two lads of his own
age, came swaggering up. “So you’re back again, are you, Hugh?” he
cried, with a boisterous embrace. “And more freckled than ever, I swear!
Is that heavy-heeled horse of yours still unfoundered? Nay, don’t scowl,
I mean nothing. But tell me, is Michael Turner’s troop here or in the
stable across the way? I want to have a look at its fighting force.”

“Wherefore?” Hugh blurted out suspiciously.

“Why, I’m to hold Griffith’s cornetcy in it. Such labor as I had to win
it, Hugh. Talk to my father night and day, swear I had the strength and
discretion of twenty, vow to run away if he gave it not to me, so in the
end I secured it of him. Cornet Pleydall; how like you the sound? I told
you I’d coax a commission of him.”

“You will find Captain Turner a gallant man to serve under,” Hugh said,
after a moment. “Good-bye, Frank, I’m weary now. I’ll speak with you
to-morrow.”

With that he passed out into the street and headed aimlessly, he cared
not whither. He had not known till now how sure he had felt of that
cornetcy. And that a mere boy like Frank should be preferred over him,
because his kinsfolk gave him their countenance! For one instant he
almost had it in his heart to wish himself back at Everscombe, still
believing in his father, and still confident the world stood ready to
receive a man kindly for his own endeavors.

Too wretched to think or lay a plan for the future, he plodded up and
down the crowded streets till it grew dusk and pitchy dark, when sheer
weariness turned him to his quarters; at least Strangwayes was his
friend. The thought put more life into his step and made him hurry a
little with impatience till he had sought out the baker’s shop, in an
upper chamber of which they were to lodge. To his disappointment Dick
had not yet come in, so Hugh, without spirit enough to light a candle,
sat down on a stool by the fire with his chin in his hands and waited.

When he heard Strangwayes’ step outside, he endeavored to force a gay
tone and shouted him a greeting, but now he tried to use it his voice
broke helplessly. “There, I’ve heard it all, Hugh,” Strangwayes said,
and made no movement to get a light; “and I’m thinking Turner takes it
as ill as we do. He kept an assenting face to Sir William, of course,
but he blurted out to me that the deuce was in it that a little popinjay
like Frank must be thrust into our troop.”

Hugh forced a desperate laugh that ended in a choke.

“And I’ve another piece of news for you,” Strangwayes went on, sitting
down beside him. “Now you can take it as good or bad, which you please.
I’m not resolved yet myself. You’ll recollect Peyton was shot at
Edgehill, and we lost many men from the regiment. Well, they’ve taken
another troop that suffered much and used it to fill up the place. And a
new captain has been put over it under Sir William.”

“Is it you, Dick?” Hugh asked.

“Nay,” Strangwayes answered, with a chuckle; “’tis a one time
independent colonel, Alan Gwyeth.”



                              CHAPTER XII
                      FOR THE HONOR OF THE GWYETHS


“You’re free to take it as you choose, good or ill,” Strangwayes went
on; “but I can tell you Colonel Gwyeth is in no two minds about it.”

“I am sorry for him,” Hugh answered, after an instant. “I know it does
wring a man to lose a commission out of his very hands.”

“Since I must steer to the windward of hypocrisy, I am _not_ sorry for
him,” Strangwayes returned. “And do not you worry yourself over his
broken spirit, Hugh; so far he has borne up stoutly. At the last report
he was ranging about with his sword at ready, bent on scoring out all
his wrongs upon Master Philip Bellasis.”

“Philip Bellasis?” queried Hugh, struggling to recall what that name
stood for. “What has he to do in this matter?”

“The simplicity of untutored youth!” Strangwayes’ voice came pityingly.
“Why, ’tis clear as most logic: my Lord Bellasis of the king’s council
disapproves of these small independent troops, and has given his voice
loudest, ’tis said, for merging Gwyeth’s horse into Sir William’s
regiment; _ergo_, Colonel Gwyeth has taken my Lord Bellasis into his
hatred. My Lord Bellasis is blessed with the gout; _ergo_, Colonel
Gwyeth, not to waste so precious a commodity as hatred upon a disabled
man, transfers all his intentions to my lords swashbuckling son Philip.
For, granting the colonel’s temper, he must fight something now, and he
would vastly prefer something of the name of Bellasis.”

Hugh still kept his old place without offering comment, so Strangwayes,
after a moment or two, rose and lit a candle at the hearth. He did not
pause even to slip off his accoutrements, but, holding the light, began
roaming about the chamber on inspection, and communicating the results
of his researches to his companion: “We might be worse placed. Two
flights of stairs upward from the ground, so the air should be delicate
and wholesome. Also the room is so small the fireplace ought to heat it
well. And for the lack of furnishings, the emptiness near cheats a man
into believing he has space enough to stretch himself. A contented
spirit, mark you, is an admirable necessity in a soldier.”

In the end he brought up at the nearer of the two windows, which he
opened, and, after a long look out into the night, drew in his head
again with a soberer face. “If I risked myself a hand-breadth further
from the casement, I think I could make out the roofs of St. John’s,” he
said, sitting down quietly, with the one small table betwixt himself and
Hugh. “’Tis the good old college of which I was so unworthy a son. I am
glad we lie near it.”

“Where is the rest of the regiment?” Hugh asked.

“Sir William and most of his officers lodge just over the way at a
merchant’s house; Turner and Chadwell and Seymour are here under the
roof with us. We’ll all meet together at Sir William’s table.”

Hugh started back on his stool so he nearly overset himself. “Dick,” he
burst out, “that means that thrice a day I shall be forced face to face
with Colonel Gwyeth.”

Strangwayes nodded, and then, the sheer absurdity of the whole position
coming over them, they both went into a fit of laughter.

Hugh recovered himself with a saner feeling of self-possession. “After
all, it’s very simple,” he said aloud; “he’ll take no note of me, I
know, and I’ll bear me as I would to Captain Turner, or any of the older
men.”

But, in spite of his stout words, when he woke in the dark of next
morning Hugh could not sleep again for thinking of Colonel Gwyeth, and
wondering if he would see him at breakfast and if the colonel would
speak to him.

When he first entered the long upper chamber of the house across the way
that served the officers for dining hall, he looked about him, half
eager and half in dread, and despising himself for both emotions. But he
saw no sign of Alan Gwyeth, Colonel Gwyeth, as he named him to himself,
for all he was now a mere captain. Two of the officers of the old
independent troop, a German, Von Holzberg, and a certain Foster, who had
come over into the regiment with the colonel, Frank pointed out to him;
but Hugh only glanced at the men and went on eating. He wondered if it
had been either of them that shoved him off the steps that night at
Shrewsbury, and he had no desire to come in contact with them.

After breakfast Frank Pleydall haled him off to view the city. “You
might spare me one hour away from your Dick Strangwayes,” the younger
lad complained. “But I knew after you got sight of him you’d not have a
word for me.”

Hugh felt conscience-stricken, so he forced himself to be very pleasant
to Frank, in spite of the boy’s persisting in talking of Turner’s troop
and his new cornetcy. Before they reached the High Street of the city,
however, they were joined by several other youngsters, one a lad from
Magdalen, the others, boys whose fathers were serving the king, with all
of whom Frank seemed to have a ripe acquaintance. Hugh concluded Master
Pleydall was not suffering for companionship, and presently he
concluded, too, it was a companionship into which he could not hope to
enter. He had an unhappy feeling of aloofness from the amusements of
these boys; he knew next to nothing of bowls or dice of which they
spoke, and when one lad began to jeer another about a girl, he did not
understand. So presently he took his leave of Frank, who was too busied
with his comrades to take much heed of his going, and started back by
himself to his quarters.

He was walking rather slowly, to study the landmarks he had noted and
find his way without inquiry, when some one took him a boisterous clap
on the shoulder. Facing about with a deal of indignation in his
movement, he found it was George Allestree, who merely stood back and
laughed at him. “You need but two wings to make a paragon of a turkey
cock, Hugh Gwyeth,” he said amusedly. “Are you looking for diversion?
Come along with me. I am sick for some one to talk with.”

Perhaps it was not a complimentary invitation, but Allestree followed it
up by being so cordial and jolly that Hugh went with him out to the
walks of Magdalen, and back into the city to dine at an ordinary. They
had only just come out into the street again, when Hugh perceived a
sudden surging of the foot passengers about him to the edge of the
kennel, and such horsemen as were passing drew to the side to leave the
way clear. Then some one raised a cry, “The king!” and others began
cheering. Allestree caught Hugh’s sleeve and drew him up a flight of
steps, whence, looking over the heads of the people, they could see a
little band of mounted gentlemen come slowly pacing down the High
Street.

“Look you there, ’tis Prince Rupert,” Allestree cried loudly, to be
heard through the cheering, and Hugh took a long look at a tall young
man in a scarlet coat, whose whole attention was fixed upon his restless
horse. Then he heard the cheers redouble, and Allestree had now joined
his voice to the uproar. Right before the spot where he stood Hugh got
sight in the midst of the horsemen of one with a pointed beard and
slender face, who bowed his head never so slightly to those who cheered
around him.

Then the horsemen had passed by, men turned to go their way once more,
and Allestree replaced his hat on his head. “Had you lost your voice,
Hugh, that you could not cheer?” he asked curiously.

“No,” Hugh answered, as he followed down from the steps, “I was
thinking.”

“’Tis a bad practice. What was it of?”

“I was thinking his Majesty looks much as other men.”

“Indeed? And what else?”

“I was wondering,” Hugh said half to himself, “which had the right of
it, you that do ever so extol him, or my grandfather who laid the blame
of all this on him.”

“Because your hair is clipped you’ve no need to wear ‘Roundhead’ in your
heart,” Allestree answered sharply. “None but a boy or a fool would
speak so.” Then, as Hugh looked abashed, the other moderated his tone,
and, talking carelessly of this and that, they came at length to
Allestree’s quarters, close outside the North Gate.

There Allestree would have Hugh out to the troop stables, to show him
Captain Butler’s gamecocks; and, in the midst of it, Butler himself
walked into the stable. Hugh remembered his dark, low-browed face very
well from their first encounter, but he was surprised and a little
flattered also to find the captain knew him at the mention of his name.
“The brave lad that saved me my old friend Strangwayes,” Butler said,
with a bit of an Irish accent, and shook hands kindly, then lingered to
set forth the graces of the gamecocks. “Gloucestershire birds, those,”
he explained. “They were hatched of rebel eggs, but I held it sin to
leave them to tempt a good Puritan brother into seeing a cockfight. So I
just made bold to muster them into the king’s service.”

“We must put them to’t soon, Captain,” said Allestree, and, when Hugh
left them, a good hour later, they were still discussing the cocks.

It was near dark when Hugh came at last to Sir William’s quarters. The
loud talk of the men above stairs brought him at once up to the dining
room, where he found several officers loitering. “Trust that red devil
Gwyeth,” Lieutenant Chadwell was saying; “he ran Bellasis down, be
sure.”

“Fight, did they?” asked another.

“They set out together this afternoon. Yes, they’ve crossed blades ere
this.”

“Do you know who had the better of it?” Hugh cried, thrusting himself
into the circle.

Chadwell looked up at him impatiently, then answered, “No”; and Hugh,
staying for no more, ran out of the room.

Clattering down the stairway to the outer door, he dodged by Turner,
who, facing about on the stair, called, “Whither are you summoned in
such haste?”

“To the city. To get news of the duel,” Hugh replied, over his shoulder.

“There’s no need to go that far,” Turner answered moderately; and then,
as Hugh came stumbling back to him up the stairs, went on: “Bellasis was
worsted, a thrust through the shoulder. Captain Gwyeth came off
unscathed.”

“I was afraid—” Hugh said, clinching his hand about the balustrade as he
stood.

“Of what?” Turner questioned dryly. “Has the gentleman been such a good
friend—” He broke off there, and looked at Hugh. “I crave your pardon
for that last, Master Gwyeth,” he said, without sarcasm, and walked away
up the stairs.

That night at supper it seemed marvellous to Hugh that men could speak
or think of anything but the duel. However, there was more speech of
fortifying the city and of the storming of Marlborough than of Captain
Gwyeth’s affairs, so he was glad to get away to his room, where at least
there were none to interrupt his own thoughts.

Late in the evening Strangwayes joined him. “Yes, yes, you can spare
words; I’ve heard all about that duel,” he greeted Hugh; “and the
town’ll hear more to-morrow. Captain Gwyeth has just sent a message to
Sir William; he passed it on to me, and I’ll do the like by you. Hang me
if the provost did not pounce down on the captain almost ere he quit the
field, and haled him off to the Castle. They want no duelling among the
king’s men.”

“Will they punish him?” Hugh asked breathlessly.

“Much!” Strangwayes answered, with vast contempt. “He did but nick
Bellasis, and if report be true that fellow’s injury is no loss to the
kingdom. If he had killed him it might be otherwise, for Bellasis has
great kindred, civilians, too, who would not scruple to bring the law on
his slayer, but as ’tis— Why, they’ll but hold him at the Castle a few
days to encourage those of us who are of like inclination, and then
he’ll come abroad again.” Then something of the warmth of his tone
abated, and he laughed to himself. “’Tis an ill wind that blows no one
good, eh, Hugh? You can eat your daily bread in peace now; for the
present Captain Gwyeth cannot vex you.”

Indeed, now the constant expectation of meeting with Alan Gwyeth was
removed, Hugh found it far easier to fit himself to the routine of his
new life. At first, to be sure, it cut him every time he saw Strangwayes
buckle on his sword and clank away to the exercise of his troop, and he
winced at every boasting word Frank let fall of the great things he
meant to do now he was a full-fledged cornet. But he soon found that
even a gentleman volunteer who had failed of a commission could be of
use, where the fortifications on the north and southeast were digging;
so for some days he spent hours in the varied assembly of college men
and townsfolk, who labored with pick and shovel at the trenches. It was
inglorious work for a soldier, and it was hard work that sent him to
quarters with blistered hands and aching back. Frank joked him a little
on turning ditcher, some of the other men chaffed, and even Strangwayes
raised his eyebrows with the dry question, “Is it necessary?”

“If the king cannot use me in one way, I must serve him in another,
since I am eating his bread,” Hugh replied doggedly.

Whereat Strangwayes’ eyes laughed, and he prayed Hugh, if he thought
’twould make no difference to the king, to quit the trenches for that
afternoon and come ride with him. “Your aim is to be a soldier, is it
not?” he asked, as they paced along the western road beyond the High
Bridge.

“Yes, if I can get me a commission; ’tis all there is for me.”

“Good. I began to doubt if you had not determined to turn pioneer. Dig
in the trenches somewhat, by all means, and learn what you can of how
men build fortifications and how the engineers devise them. But you must
not for that neglect your horse and your sword. That brings it to my
mind, Hugh; you should know something of rapier play as well as the
broadsword. There’s a Frenchman in the city shall teach it you.”

Hugh stammered something, with his eyes on the pommel of his saddle.

“’Twill be a favor to me if you will take these lessons of him,”
Strangwayes put in hastily. “I knew the man in my college days; he owes
me somewhat from them and would gladly return it thus.”

So, early as next morning, Strangwayes marched Hugh over to a dingy lane
that led from the Corn market, and up a narrow stair to a bare room,
where he presented him to Monsieur de Sévérac, a fierce small man with
mustaches. De Sévérac stood Hugh up with a rebated sword in his hand,
and thrust at him, talking rapidly in a mixture of French and English,
while Hugh vainly tried to parry the point that invariably got home upon
his body. He came away bewildered and sore, to find the dull labor of
the trenches, where at least he knew what was expected of him, a
downright comfort. But little by little, as the lessons went on, he
began to find a method beneath it all, and to get real pleasure from
wielding the long, light rapier, so different from the broadsword to
which he had been used. De Sévérac even admitted one day that he had a
steady hand, and with practice might make a creditable swordsman.

With a great desire to whistle, Hugh walked back to dinner, and, two
steps at a time, ran up the stairs at Sir William’s house, a bit before
the hour, he judged, for he found the dining room to all appearances
empty. Then, as he stepped across the threshold, he caught sight of Von
Holzberg, standing in one of the deep window recesses, and beside him a
man with red hair, who at his step turned and looked at him. It was Alan
Gwyeth. For a moment he stared steadily at Hugh, and by his face the boy
could not tell whether his humor were good or ill; then he bowed to him
curtly, as any one of the captains might have done, and continued his
speech with Von Holzberg. They spoke in German, Hugh observed, in the
instant that he halted mechanically before he turned on his heel and
went out of the room. He had no desire to whistle now; he only knew that
he was heavy with a great disappointment, that was none the less
overwhelming for being utterly vague.

But, in the end, he found that matters went the more smoothly, now the
dreaded meeting was over. It grew in time a mere daily and expected
occurrence to see Captain Gwyeth among the officers, and to receive from
him, in the course of ordinary civility, sometimes a short bow, once or
twice a curt good morrow. But, though Hugh repeated to himself it was
all he had looked to receive of the man, there slowly grew in him an
unrealized sense of resentment that hitherto had had no place in him. He
ceased to look wistfully toward Captain Gwyeth, but made it a point to
talk busily with Frank or Dick or others that he knew when he came in
his father’s sight, and to return the other’s scant bows with equal
curtness.

Meantime other occupations and interests than the affairs of the mess
room were busying him. The ground was now too hard for digging, but the
fencing lessons still went on, as Hugh’s bruised face and aching body
often testified. He had also come once more, at a hint of an invitation
from Turner, to take his place in the ranks and go through whatever
exercises the troop was put to. Try as he would, though, a little
bitterness still came into his heart at sight of Frank, carrying the red
and gold cornet, so he was happier when, formal drill over, he could
ride away whither he listed on Bayard.

When rapier and horse both failed of interest, Hugh had recourse to John
Ridydale, whose quarters in a by-street he had speedily discovered. With
small coaxing he persuaded the corporal to drill him in handling pistol
and carabine, an exercise which involved the shooting off of an amazing
quantity of his Majesty’s powder and ball at practice marks in the
fields of the west suburbs. Hugh, after peppering away bravely, came
home in great enthusiasm to Strangwayes, who laughed a little, and
finally remarked one day, “And do but think, too, how that honest
corporal will go singing your perfections to Captain Gwyeth.” Whereat
Hugh grew thoughtful, and somewhat curtailed his shooting trips.

After that, especially as fouler weather closed in, he exercised much in
Turner’s troop stable, where Frank kept a wooden horse for vaulting,
which he took great profit in seeing Hugh use. “’Tis such a pleasure to
look on animation of a cold morning,” young Pleydall remarked one day,
as he stood shivering in his cloak. “But do you get enjoyment of it?”

Hugh, who sat in his shirt-sleeves swinging his legs on the back of the
horse, merely laughed and drew his left hand up and down his spare,
sinewy right arm. He had grown a little that winter, and he was
beginning also to learn the power that was latent in each muscle. Just
now he was thinking to himself that if it ever came again to rough and
tumble hand-grips with Peregrine Oldesworth, such as they had had in the
days at Everscombe, his cousin would not be quite so sure of the
mastery.

Aside from the fact that he was still an uncommissioned volunteer,
Hugh’s only quarrel with his busy life that winter was that he saw
little of Dick Strangwayes. His friend’s chamber and purse were at his
disposal, but his time Strangwayes himself was not master of; not only
did his duties in the troop require him, but he had in the city and in
the colleges many friends to whom he gave much of himself. Hugh valued
the more the moments he had with his comrade at their chamber, and, for
the rest, sought himself companionship where he could. Frank, too, had
associates of his own, for whom Hugh had no great affection, so as a
last choice he resorted to George Allestree, who showed his friendship
by introducing him to all the taverns and ordinaries in the city. It was
Allestree, too, who, when he found Hugh took in great seriousness his
intention of becoming a soldier, unearthed a fat book, “The Soldier’s
Grammar and Accidence,” by one Gervase Markham, and told the boy he
would get from that all the theory of war he wanted. “I’ll read it
speedily and return it to you, George,” Hugh said gratefully.

“Prithee, don’t hurry yourself,” Allestree answered quickly. “Ten years
hence is quite soon enough for my needs.”

Indeed, Hugh did not find Gervase Markham exciting reading, but, to the
silent enjoyment of Strangwayes, he dutifully labored through his pages.
He was hard at work on Markham one morning, with his chin on one fist
and his elbow on the table. Only his eyes were not on the book, but
ranging out at the casement, for it was in early February and the sky
was blue, and Hugh was thinking how the buds would be bursting soon on
the beeches in the park at Everscombe.

“Did you note the Worcestershire parson who sat at our table last
night?” suddenly spoke Strangwayes, who was shaving at the little mirror
between the windows.

“Frank said he was an old tutor whom Sir William held in much respect,”
Hugh answered, bringing his gaze back to the room.

“Well, he was set next Captain Gwyeth, and I was the other side, so I
enjoyed their discourse. It seems the parson was much attracted by you.”
Strangwayes tipped his head on one side while he scraped the razor along
his cheek, and spoke disjointedly. “Something, either the way you thrust
up that square chin of yours, or your pretty habit of not speaking to
your elders unless they address you,—except in my case, for you
constantly fail in respect to me,—well, you much pleased the gentleman,
so he asked the captain your name. And the captain told him. ‘Your son,
sir?’ says he, and falls to congratulating the captain on your fine
bearing and—nay, I’ll spare you. But I’m thinking Captain Gwyeth did not
relish his supper.” There was an instant’s pause while Strangwayes, with
his head thrown back, shaved warily beneath his chin; then he laid down
the razor and faced about. “Will you believe it, Hugh?” he said, in
something between jest and seriousness, “I’m thinking if you should go
very humbly, hat in hand, to the captain and say, ‘Sir, I bore myself
very frowardly and peevishly toward you, but now I am ready to submit
me,’ I’m thinking he would rate you soundly and—henceforth maintain you
himself.”

“Doubtless he will,—when I go unto him so,” Hugh said shortly.

Strangwayes laughed a little, then fell to talking of indifferent
matters, while he put on his coat and fastened his belt. “I saw Phil
Bellasis in the city yesterday,” he ended. “Perhaps to even matters he’s
looking for Captain Gwyeth now.”

“I should think one lesson would suffice for him,” Hugh replied; and
then, as Dick tramped away, turned his attention again to Gervase
Markham.

But reading or any serious pursuit was out of the question on those blue
spring days in the midst of winter. There was near a week of such
weather, in which poor Gervase was left to gather dust on the
chimney-piece, and Monsieur de Sévérac expostulated at Hugh’s
inattention. The boy’s heart was idling out in the open air, and his
body must needs follow. He galloped Bayard round about the city till he
knew the roads to weariness, and then, descending upon George Allestree,
he dragged him out to tramp in the slushy remnants of the last snow.

“We’ll even up scores now,” Allestree said one afternoon. “You’ve haled
me through the mire, which I loathe, and now I’ll make you sup in the
city with me, which I know you abhor.”

So it was that in the evening Hugh found himself blinking sleepily in a
brightly lighted room above a city ordinary, and roused up only at the
click of the dice. At one of the small tables Allestree and Lieutenant
Seymour, who had joined them, were deep in play, so Hugh got up and
stood watching them. In spite of all urgings he did not play himself;
the forty-five shillings he brought from Edgehill had lasted him well
for spending money, but he had none to squander on the dice.

He looked up to the door as several newcomers entered,—civilians, from
their lack of any regimental badge. “Why, is’t not Bellasis yonder?”
Seymour asked, dicebox in hand.

“Hm,” grunted Allestree. “Throw.”

Hugh glanced curiously at the men, who had placed themselves at the next
table. One that sat on the farther side—a sallow, long-legged fellow of
thirty—he held to be Bellasis; meeting the man’s eyes, his thoughts went
back to the day of Edgehill, when Bellasis had nearly ridden down Frank,
and he felt sure of the identification. Then he turned to watch
Allestree’s play; how many throws had passed he did not know, when,
hearing some one speak near by, he listened carelessly.

“Oh, you do not know him, then?” a curt, incisive voice reached him.
“Well, ’tis no wonder. The puppy was whelped in a gutter.”

Hugh felt a hot prickling clear to the back of his neck; but, although
his whole attention was now riveted to those behind him, he did not
turn.

“Yes, groom to a gang of common foot soldiers. A fellow of the name of
Strangwayes took him thence in charity and employed him as body
servant.”

“I stake you ten shillings,” said Allestree, reaching well across the
table.

“I take it,” answered Seymour.

Hugh leaned a little forward with his clinched hands resting on the
table, and listened, not to them, but to Philip Bellasis.

“Pshaw! how would you have it?” the scornful voice went on. “’Tis bad
blood there. Now Alan Gwyeth—”

Hugh swung round on his heel; the candles dazzled up and down before
him, but he could make out Bellasis, resting his chin on one hand as he
sat, and speaking straight at him: “Alan Gwyeth, you’ll remember, was
but a broken German cutthroat, who lost his commission here for
cowardice—”

“Sit down, Hugh!” Allestree cried.

Hugh could feel Allestree’s grasp tighten on his arm, but, shaking him
off, he walked across to the table where Bellasis sat. The room was very
still, and in the silence his voice sounded husky and low. “You spoke of
Alan Gwyeth,” he began slowly. “When you call him a coward, I tell you
you lie in your throat!”

Then he leaned across the table and smote Bellasis on the mouth.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                    IN THE FIELDS TOWARD OSNEY ABBEY


It was dark in the passage outside the door, and Hugh fumbled stupidly
to find the latch. Inside two patches of moonlight, checkered like the
diamond panes of the windows, lay on the floor. Hugh stood staring at
them dully a moment before he spoke, “Dick.”

“Well?” came from the black corner where the bed stood; it was
Strangwayes’ assertion that he always slept with one eye and one ear
alert.

Hugh stepped over to the bedside. “I have met with Philip Bellasis,” he
began quickly, as if he had a lesson he knew must be repeated. “He
slandered my father. I gave him the lie. We are to fight with rapiers
to-morrow at twilight in the fields toward Osney Abbey.”

Strangwayes was sitting upright in bed now. “You are to fight Bellasis?”
he repeated.

Hugh nodded. “Have you the time to come out to the field with me, Dick?
George offered, but I’d rather—”

“Did George Allestree suffer you enter on such a quarrel?” There was a
sharp, ringing quality in Strangwayes’ voice Hugh had seldom heard.

“Nay, ’tis no fault of George,” he answered quickly, and detailed all
that had befallen at the ordinary.

Strangwayes dropped back on his elbow. “Hugh, you fool, you babe!” he
broke out, still with that odd quality in his voice. “That scoundrel
trapped you deliberately; he durst not meet your father again; he tried
to trap you, and you suffered him!”

“I could do nothing else,” Hugh answered.

“Well, get to bed now,” Strangwayes said in his kindest tone. “You must
have all the rest you can before you go to spit our friend Philip.”

Lying down obediently, Hugh stared at the moonlight creeping along the
floor, and listened to the watch that paced the street below.
Strangwayes at his side breathed uneasily and once or twice turned
somewhat; but Hugh lay quiet till his opened eyes ached and were heavy,
and he slept a sleep full of dreams.

When he came broad awake again there was chilly daylight in the room,
and Strangwayes was up and half dressed. “What sort of day is it?” Hugh
asked.

“A gray day,” Dick answered cheerily. “’Tis good for your work. There’ll
be no sun to dazzle either of you.”

Hugh got up, and in the midst of drawing on his clothes glanced at
Dick’s watch, where he saw it was past their rising hour. “Is this the
way you pamper a fighter, as if I were one of Butler’s gamecocks?” he
asked.

“You were sleeping well,” Strangwayes answered; “’twere pity to wake
you. I’ll fetch some breakfast and we’ll eat together here.”

“You can get food from the shop below; you’ve no need of your hat and
cloak. Where are you going, Dick?”

Strangwayes hesitated an instant while he drew his cloak about him, then
replied, “I am going to your father.”

“You shall not!” Hugh cried, and, crossing to the door, set his back
against it.

“Assuredly I shall,” Strangwayes answered. “The matter has gone beyond
jest.”

“He will call me a snivelling coward,” Hugh pleaded; “he will say I made
a mash of it and then came whimpering to him.”

“Let him,” Strangwayes interrupted, “’tis his quarrel and he should
manage it himself. Why did you ever thrust in?”

“I know not,” Hugh answered. “Only he is my father. And he is no coward.
They lied about him in that. And he was not there to reply. I had to
come in.”

“Well, he can come in now,” Strangwayes retorted, and strode over to the
door.

Hugh thrust up one arm against his friend’s chest. “You will not tell
him?” he begged. “I know you can put me aside, Dick; you’re the
stronger. But prithee, do not use me thus. He despises me so already.
I’d liefer Bellasis killed me twice over. You won’t speak a word to him,
Dick?”

“No, I won’t speak to him, Hugh,” Strangwayes answered soothingly.
“Come, come, you’re foolish as a girl. Go get on your coat, and be ready
to eat a full breakfast.” He put Hugh aside with one arm about his
shoulders, and went out of the room.

When Hugh had finished dressing he opened the casement and leaned out a
little into the raw morning air; the chilly wind seemed to brush away
something of the heaviness of his unrefreshing sleep. Down in the street
below he saw men passing by, and a townswoman in a scarlet hood that
showed bright against the muddy road and dark houses. Across the way he
saw Major Bludsworth come leisurely down the steps from Sir William’s
quarters, and presently he saw a trooper, lumbering briskly up the
stairs, disappear inside the house.

Just then a kick upon the door made him turn in time to see Strangwayes,
keeping the door braced open with one foot, come sidewise through the
narrow aperture. In one hand he held two mugs of ale and in the other a
pasty, which Hugh had the wit to catch before it fell to the floor. “Ay,
treat it reverently,” Dick said, “’tis mutton, and age has ever
commanded reverence. Part of the ale has gone up my sleeve, but the rest
is warranted of a good headiness.”

After he had thrown off his cloak the two set them down at the table
with the pasty and the ale between them, and drew out their knives.
Strangwayes scored a line across the middle of the mutton pie. “Now each
man falls to,” he ordered, “and he who works the greatest havoc on his
side gets the mug that is full, while the other must content him with
the scant measure. Now, then, charge for England and St. George!”

They were well at work, Hugh eating dutifully and Dick both eating and
setting forth an interminable tale of a fat citizen’s wife he had
accosted in the bakeshop, when there sounded a quick stamping on the
stairs. “I’ll wager ’tis the popinjay,” said Strangwayes, pausing with
his knife suspended.

Right on the word Frank Pleydall burst into the room. “Is it true you’re
to fight?” he cried.

“A guess near the truth,” answered Strangwayes. “Draw up and share with
us.”

“I’ve eaten breakfast. They were talking of the duel there at the table.
So you’re to fight Bellasis, Hugh? Aren’t you afraid?”

The full mug of ale suddenly went crashing and slopping to the floor.
“If I were the Creator and had men to make,” said Strangwayes, down on
his knees among the fragments, “I’d make men without elbows, at least
without such elbows as mine. Come aid me, you lazy fellow.”

Hugh obediently began mopping up the spilt ale, but Strangwayes did not
stay to help him. He was speaking with Frank over by the window, and
Hugh just caught something like, “If you don’t hold your foolish tongue,
I’ll cuff your head off.”

In any case, when Hugh rose to his feet he found Frank very subdued.
“’Twas my father sent me hither,” he began, with a little trace of
sullenness. “He said if you really had it in mind to fight, you were
best slip out of the town early. The matter has got abroad, and the
provost may send to apprehend you just for accepting the challenge.”

“Then we’ll disappoint the provost,” said Strangwayes. “I’ve sent to the
stable already to have our horses brought round. Clap into your boots,
Hugh, but bring your shoes along. You can’t fight with a ton of leather
about your heels.”

“Is there aught I can lend you, Hugh?” asked Frank, studying his friend
with interested eyes.

“I’m well enough,” Hugh answered cheerfully. “Dick is going to let me
use his rapier.”

“Can’t I come out to the field with you?” Frank begged. “Oh, I’ll not
speak a word, Dick, and I’ll do whatever you may tell me.”

“If a second man came it would have to be Allestree,” answered
Strangwayes. “Better go back to quarters now, Frank. Tell Sir William we
thank him for his warning, and I have taken a day’s leave of absence.”

But as Strangwayes was edging him toward the door Frank dodged by him
and ran back to Hugh. “Good luck to you,” he said, putting his arms
round Hugh and kissing him. “And—and God keep you.”

Then he clattered out and down the stairs, and Hugh, for a moment,
neither looked at Dick nor spoke.

He was drawing on his cloak, still with his back toward Strangwayes, who
stood by the window, when his friend struck in gayly: “In good time,
here are the horses. Come along, now.” Thus Hugh was hurried out at the
door, with time only for a single backward glance at the little crowded
chamber, and barely an instant in which to ask himself, would he ever
look upon that room again?

At the foot of the first flight of stairs they met Turner, recognizable
by his slim figure, though the corridor was too dark for them to
distinguish his face. “Going out to the field, eh, Gwyeth?” he asked,
thrusting out his hand. “Well, success to you, lad, good success.” He
shook hands a second time with a strong pressure that lingered on Hugh’s
fingers till after they were mounted and off.

Under foot the mud and slush were heavy, but the horses kept up a
tolerable pace, which Hugh, unknown to himself, was setting for them. A
feverish desire to be moving quickly was upon him, and with it a dread
of being silent. He laughed and chatted indifferently of whatever caught
his eye upon the western road till he soon had Strangwayes talking back
glibly. “We’ll dine at an alehouse called the ‘Sceptre,’” Dick rattled
on. “I know it well of old. I used to have a score as long as my arm
chalked on the door. There’s a very pretty bowling green behind the
house. Which explains my long score. When the spring comes I must have
you out thither and teach you to bowl. ’Tis good for the muscles of the
arm, let alone the exhilaration of the spirits.”

It was mid-morning when they drew rein before the much belauded
alehouse, a low gray building, in a field somewhat apart from the
surrounding cottages, with tall poplars in a row on either side that
made it seem the more remote. The short-breathed host and his staid,
gray-headed drawer had had acquaintance with Strangwayes as late as that
winter, to judge by the warmth of their greeting. They had the horses to
the stable at once, and the gentlemen to the big front chamber of the
upper story, where a good fire was started, a cloth laid, and all made
comfortable. “We’ll not dine till one o’clock,” Strangwayes ordered. “If
you hear scuffling before then be not dismayed; we may try some sword
practice. You understand, eh, Martin?”

The sober drawer showed sparks of interest. “Be you to fight, Master
Strangwayes?” he asked.

“This gentleman is, this afternoon. Now keep a quiet tongue, Martin, as
you always do.” He slipped a piece of money into the drawer’s hand, and
the man departed slowly, with his gaze on Hugh.

“Now make yourself at ease,” Strangwayes bade. “Or will you try a little
rapier practice to limber your muscles?”

Hugh was ready enough, so Strangwayes procured from the host a pair of
blunted rapiers with which they fell to fencing. Hugh watched Dick’s
sword-hand and did his best, but again and again the point slipped past
his blade; there seemed no suppleness in his wrist nor spring in his
body, and when he tried desperately to retort faster he laid himself
open to his adversary. In the end, as he attempted a vigorous thrust in
quarte, his foot slipped so he only saved himself by catching at the
table. As he recovered himself he looked at Dick, and saw his face was
of an appalling soberness. “You’ve a steady enough hand, Hugh,” he began
hastily. “Only you must quicken your thrusts somewhat. No, don’t try any
more; you’ll only spend yourself needlessly.”

Hugh handed back his weapon, and made a great work of putting on his
coat again. But presently it would out. “My father is considerable of a
swordsman, is he not?” he began.

“He has that reputation,” Strangwayes answered dryly.

“Yet he did not contrive more than to wound Bellasis.”

“I doubt if he put his whole skill into the business,” Strangwayes said
quickly. “Come, Hugh, try a hand at primero with me,—unless you fear I
worst you there.”

He drew the cards from his pocket, and they sat down to the table by the
fire. How many games they played Hugh did not heed; he dealt recklessly
and talked and laughed his loudest; sometimes he won of Strangwayes,
sometimes he lost, but it all mattered nothing. He was in the thick of a
boisterous exposition of the merits of the hand he held, when some one
knocked at the door. “Come!” Strangwayes cried eagerly, and sprang to
his feet.

The door was pushed open, and Ridydale, spattered to the thighs, walked
in. “A letter for you, sir, from Colonel Gwyeth,” he said, crossing to
Hugh. “The colonel lay from his quarters yesternight, and came not back
till late this morning.”

This last was spoken more to Strangwayes than to Hugh, but the boy did
not heed. He was tearing open the letter with fingers that shook with
impatience. It was very brief, he saw at first glance; then he read:—

WORTHY SIR:

For something like forty years I have contrived unaided to keep my honor
and my reputation clear. By the grace of Heaven I hope to do so for
forty years longer, still without a boy’s assistance. Quit at once this
absurd quarrel you have entered on. Take yourself back to your quarters.
I shall myself deal with Master Bellasis.

                                      Your obedient servant,

                                                        ALAN GWYETH.

Hugh read the paper over once more, slowly, then passed it to Dick.
“That is what he writes me,” he said without passion, and getting up
went to fetch a standish and paper from an open cupboard in one corner
of the room.

He placed them on the table as Strangwayes looked up from finishing the
letter. He, too, said nothing, but his mouth was set in a hard line
under his mustache. “I’ll write an answer,” Hugh said quietly, as he
seated himself.

“Will you not ride back to the city with me, sir?” Ridydale put in
eagerly.

Hugh was silent a moment while he adjusted his paper and pen, then
replied: “I am not coming to the city with you. Moreover, Corporal
Ridydale, if you ever again mention unto me one word of Captain Gwyeth,
I’ll have no more dealings with you.”

Then he turned resolutely to his task and wrote his answer, slowly, for
he was an unhandy penman, and he wished the letter to be quite dignified
in neatness.

WORTHY SIR:

When we parted at Shrewsbury perhaps you may remember I said to you that
you had no right to lay a command upon me. Since that time you have done
naught to get you the right; by your will I am no son of yours. Yet so
long as I bear the name of Gwyeth it is my part to defend that name from
any slander. Therefore I did enter on a quarrel with the one who defamed
my family. The quarrel is now mine and I shall pursue it to the end.
Though I have been flogged by your troopers, I have some notion of what
becomes a gentleman of honor. Such a gentleman as my mother would wish
me to be does not suffer another to undertake his defence.

                                      Your obedient servant,

                                                        HUGH GWYETH.

He chose his words deliberately; it was amazing how ready they were to
his hand, now that he had come to the realization that Alan Gwyeth had
used him with brutal unjustness.

He folded the paper carefully. “Here, take it, Ridydale,” he ordered.
“But remember, I’ve no quarrel with you, Corporal. You have been a good
friend to me, and I’d still keep you so. Only never another mention of
Captain Gwyeth.”

Ridydale hesitated a moment with the letter in his hand before he broke
out: “Tell you what, Master Hugh, I’ll send this by another messenger.
I’m going to rest here till the fight’s over. You may want me.”

“That’s well,” Strangwayes said promptly.

After Ridydale had left them, Dick ordered up dinner, and they tried to
talk over it as before. Strangwayes made out fairly, but a numb silence
was on Hugh; in the bracing anger of a few moments before his resolution
seemed all to have vanished and left him spiritless. He could not help
looking to the window to see what time of day it was, and involuntarily
he interrupted Strangwayes with a question as to how soon they should
start for the field. “Not for a couple of hours,” the other replied.
“’Tis a bit of a walk; we’ll take supper here afterward—”

With a sudden gesture Hugh pushed by his plate and swung about with his
head hidden against the back of his chair. For of a sudden there came
sweeping upon him overpoweringly the realization he had been battling
off all the morning: this was the last meal he might ever eat.

He got to his feet unsteadily and walked to the door; the scrape of a
chair told him Strangwayes had risen. “Don’t!” Hugh cried. “I want to be
alone.”

Somehow he felt his way down a flight of backstairs, and pushing open a
side door stumbled out into the air. There was a level stretch of pashy
bowling green down which he splashed his way. But press forward as he
would, he knew he could not run from what he had bound himself to, so,
where the green ended at the hedge, he flung himself down on a wet bench
and sat with his head in his hands. In one of the bare poplars a snow
bird was chirruping; over toward the stable he could hear a man calling
and a horse stamp. He dropped his head on his knees and stared dumbly at
the trodden mud between his feet. For he knew now there was nothing to
help him, even Dick’s friendship and affection were of no avail; there
was only himself to rely on. Once he thought of God, but the God the
Oldesworths had taught him was distant and very stern; He would never
take pity on a duellist, even if he cried to Him. So Hugh, with his head
bowed down, wrestled through the struggle alone, and little by little
forced himself to accept with a soldier’s resignation the fate that
should take from him the joy of battle, and of friendship, and of life
that summed up all joys.

When he rose his face was quite steady, though he made no pretence to
the cheerfulness he had kept up that morning. Walking briskly back to
the house, he made his way to their chamber, where he found Strangwayes
pacing up and down. Hugh went to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s not try to pretend about it any more, Dick,” he said simply.
“Bellasis has handled a rapier for years where I’ve used it but weeks.
There is no hope for me. Frankly, is there? On your honor, Dick.”

“There is this hope,” Strangwayes answered, after an instant. “It may be
he will content himself with disabling you, and then—he will force you
to crave his pardon.”

“The other way suits me better,” Hugh said quietly.

“You can only do your best,” Strangwayes replied. “He may be careless.
Be ready to use every opportunity.”

“I will,” Hugh nodded, and then, sitting down by the fire, he beckoned
his friend to sit beside him. “I take it, time’s short,” he began, “so I
want to tell you, Dick, you’re to take Bayard and keep him, and be very
kind to him, only I know you’ll be that.”

Strangwayes reached out his arm; the two griped hands, and sat so.

“Give my sword to Frank,” Hugh went on, “and give Ned Griffith back his
red sash. Ridydale can have my spurs. Then there’s six shillings I’ve
here; I want a trooper named Robert Saxon in Gwyeth’s company to have
them; he’ll be sorry and drunk at once. Give my duty to Captain Turner
and Sir William, and commend me to George Allestree.” He paused a
moment, then resumed: “There’s a girl at Everscombe Manor, Lois Campion;
we were playfellows then. She has not writ me since, but I’d like her to
know that I held her in remembrance. I’d fain send my duty to my
Grandfather Oldesworth, too, but I doubt if he’d accept of it.”

“I’ll do all as you bid,” Strangwayes answered. “God! if I could but
fight that coward for you.”

After that outburst they sat side by side without speaking, while the
quick moments slipped by, till at last Strangwayes rose unwillingly to
his feet. “We must start now,” he said, so Hugh put on his cloak, and
arm in arm they went out from the house.

At the door Ridydale saluted them, then fell into step behind them, and
in such order they splashed down the bowling green. Through a gap in the
hedge they entered a field where some patches of snow still lingered in
the hollows. Beyond they passed through a copse of naked trees, and so
across a dry ditch entered a level piece of open ground. At the farther
end two men stood waiting. “Faith, I had judged you meant to shirk your
hour,” cried the taller of the two in a sharp, high voice.

“Close of twilight is a rather loose appointment, Master Bellasis,”
Strangwayes answered curtly.

“And you fetched a third man, did you? Two to one—”

“Maybe you would wish the city guard to come upon you with blades in
your hands?” Strangwayes interrupted. “I have brought a sure man to
watch the road. But if you object—”

“Oh, by no means,” laughed Bellasis. “And ’tis well you brought him.
’Twill need two of you to convey your gentleman from the field.”

“In any case I shall have legs left to walk back to the field and find
you,” Strangwayes retorted, with his nostrils drawn thin. “Strip off
your coat, Hugh. Take your place beyond the bushes there, Ridydale.”

Hugh was glad that Dick unfastened his coat for him; for a sick instant
the control he had acquired of himself seemed slipping away. But it was
only an instant, and then, grasping his rapier firmly, he had stood up
stiffly in the place they bade him stand. In the distance, against the
darkening twilight, he could see the bare trees and the towers of Osney
Abbey; then his eyes descended to Bellasis’ keen sallow face, and then
they dropped to the man’s bony sword-hand, and he saw nothing else.

Some one said, “Now!” and the rapiers crossed, how, he scarcely knew. He
heard the quick click of the blades, and with it came a sudden flash of
pain in his right thigh; he thrust desperately at Bellasis’ shoulder,
but his point went wide.

“That shall quit the blow you struck me,” his adversary spoke, softly,
as the blades clicked again.

Hugh shifted his body, stiffly, for his right leg felt strangely numb,
yet with his utmost skill he contrived to put by two thrusts; all his
attention was riveted to the blades, but some inner consciousness was
telling him that Bellasis was only feinting carelessly, and had not yet
shown his strength. His very despair drove him forward in a useless
thrust, and at that the other’s rapier seemed in his eyes, and he felt
something warm on his left cheek.

“And there’s for your father’s blow,” said Bellasis, in a low voice.
“Get your breath now for the last bout.”

There was thrust and parry for what seemed endless hours; click of
blade, desperate effort that set Hugh, mad with his helplessness,
panting to the point of sobbing. Then, of a sudden, as he made an
instinctive swerve to the right, there came a rasping sound of tearing
cloth, a deathly agony swept through his body. But he saw Bellasis
leaning toward him with body all exposed, and, springing forward, with
all the strength in him he thrust home the rapier.

The hilt of the rapier slipped from his hand. Bellasis’ shirt and face
showed white on the muddy ground at his feet. All the rest was blackness
and pain. A second thrill pierced through his side. Some one’s arm was
about him, and Dick’s voice cried, “Hugh, Hugh!” with an agony in it he
marvelled at. He could feel Strangwayes’ fingers tearing open his shirt,
a cloth pressing in upon his side. “Ha’ done!” he gasped out, clutching
Dick round the neck.

Right upon that, somewhere very far distant, he heard Ridydale’s voice:
“Off with you! The guard’s upon us!”



                              CHAPTER XIV
                      UNDER THE KING’S DISPLEASURE


A racking agony of being borne joltingly along Hugh remembered dimly,
but now there came a moment of fuller consciousness. He knew it was
black all about where he lay, the ground beneath him felt wet, and his
face was jammed into something so cold it made his cheek ache. With a
helpless catching of the breath he tried to shift his position. “Hush,
hush!” Strangwayes’ voice sounded right at his ear, and Strangwayes’ arm
pressed him close.

Smothering the cry of pain, Hugh listened breathlessly; somewhere far
above him people must be moving, for he heard the snap of boughs and
men’s voices calling, “Have you found a trace?”

“Nay, they bore to the roadway, I’ll wager.”

“Have ye searched the ditch?”

On that, nearer and louder than before, came more trampling and
crashing. Hugh could not hear Strangwayes breathe, but he felt
Strangwayes’ arm draw more tensely about him, and, when he turned his
head painfully, knew it was Strangwayes’ hand pressed down on his mouth.
Now as he lay he could see a shred of dark sky with the outline of
branches thick woven against it. Then the sight of the sky went blurring
out from before his eyes, and the crackling of the bushes grew fainter
till that and all other sound ceased for him.

A sense that he had been long in a region of blankness, then once more
he heard voices, but now they were beside him and he knew who spoke.
“Durst you venture forth, sir?”

“I dare not risk it, Corporal. Yet if we stay in this slough— You’re
holding him as clear of the wet as you can?”

“What else should I be doing, sir?” Ridydale’s voice came snappishly.

“You are here, Dick?” Hugh tried to say, but it took an instant to force
out even a weak whisper.

A quick movement and Strangwayes bent over him; Hugh concluded vaguely
that he was resting across the knees of his two friends with his head
upon Dick’s arm. “How is it with you now, lad?” Strangwayes asked
eagerly.

“Well enough. Only my face aches,” Hugh admitted in a whisper that
pained him.

“I could have forgiven him, had he killed the lad clean and quick,”
Strangwayes broke out; “but to hack him into pieces thus!”

“Hell gnaw him for it!” Ridydale growled back.

With neither wit nor strength to reason out of what or whom they spoke,
Hugh lay quiet and unresisting in the arms of his companions. He
wondered if their coats were wrapped about him, he felt so warm. Then,
after a space where even wonder was blotted out, he felt his shirt
thrust open again and the air cold on his breast. “Give me those other
napkins,” Strangwayes’ voice sounded hard and colorless; “he is bleeding
again.”

Something like a groan burst from Ridydale. “May we not venture it now,
sir?” he begged.

“In God’s name, yes!” Strangwayes cried.

Hugh felt himself lifted up, and with the movement came a throbbing pain
through all his body, and then a deathly faintness, that left him no
strength to cry out. Through it all he caught a glimpse of a blackness
above him that must be the night sky, and then it was all a blackness,
where he could not even feel Dick’s touch.

For one instant of agony the light returned to him. It seemed they must
have torn open all his wounds, and they would not spare him, even when
at last he cried for mercy. Strangwayes’ face came out of the blur of
light, and Strangwayes griped hold of his hand, but gave him no other
comfort. Then the light went out, and for a space Hugh had only ugly
dreams.

It was of a morning that he opened his eyes again upon a sane and
remembered world. Somewhere near crackled a fire, the light of which
dazzled him so he blinked and closed his eyes once more. Gradually he
became aware that he was warm, and lay on something soft. He felt no
pain at all now, and he could not understand why they had so fettered
his body with bandages. Presently he summoned energy to open his eyes a
second time, and, with long intervals of dozing, lay staring about him:
a small, bare room he did not recollect to have seen before; one high,
narrow window, with a naked branch that seemed to cleave it from corner
to corner; a dancing fire that for a long time fascinated him. After
that he studied the blue coverlet that was flung over him, and then,
dragging out one arm, rested it upon the coverlet, and marvelled that
his wrist was grown so slender.

Then from somewhere Strangwayes came and stood over him, just the same
as he had ever been, only now the lower part of his face was black with
a half-grown beard. “Do you know me, Hugh?” he asked, and for once there
was no laughter in his eyes.

“Why, of course I know you,” Hugh replied, vexed at the folly of such a
question.

Drawing up a stool, Strangwayes sat down beside him, but Hugh hardly
noted him for still gazing at that limp arm that did not seem to belong
to him. But presently he found that he could move it, if he took his
time, so with infinite pains he dragged his hand up to his face, and
felt a great welt of plaster upon one cheek. “What’s to do?” he asked
faintly.

“A beauty mark you may keep with you,” Strangwayes said, with an effort
at his old gay tone, though his eyes were blinking fast.

Hugh rested a time, then, with much patience, lifted his hand to his
head, and gave a gasp of consternation as he drew his uncertain fingers
across a stiff, prickly surface. “What have you done to me now?” he
cried.

“Clipped you close. Do you think a fellow that gets him a fever can be
let play Cavalier?”

“You cut my hair?” Hugh repeated. “And it was growing bravely. He’d a
had no need to call me Roundhead any more. I would not have used you
so.” He slipped his hand down over his eyes, and burst into a pitiful
sort of whimpering, he knew not why.

“Be silent now!” Strangwayes cried, with a sharpness that made Hugh
quiet with pure amazement that his friend could use such a tone to him.
But after that Strangwayes put his pillow into shape, and, covering him
up, bade him sleep, with all his old kindness.

After sleeping long and comfortably Hugh awoke to see a candle
flickering on the table, and the small window carefully hidden over with
a curtain. “Are you here, Dick?” he asked, and Strangwayes, rising from
before the fire, came to the side of his pallet. “Awake again, Hugh?
Come, don’t you think you could eat a bit?”

"I know not," Hugh spoke with long pauses. “Why, perhaps I am hungry. I
thought something was amiss.”

Strangwayes laughed, for no visible reason, and, presently fetching him
broth, fed him with slow spoonfuls. The food put enough life into Hugh
for him to ask at length, “Where are we?”

“In a back chamber of the alehouse of the ‘Sceptre.’ There, question no
farther. Your duty now is but to eat and sleep.”

For many hours Hugh obeyed that command unquestioningly, and pained
himself only to take the merest outer observation of what went on about
him. A small pompous man in black, who dressed his wounds and left
ill-tasting drugs came twice to the room; the drawer, Martin, came often
with food; and Strangwayes was there always, right at his bedside,
whenever he chose to call upon him. For the rest, there was the
crackling fire to watch, and the window. Once when he looked to it of a
morning he saw it thick with white frost, and Strangwayes, coming to the
pallet, flung a cloak over him as he lay. Hugh watched him an instant,
then broke out irrelevantly, “Dick, have I been very ill?”

“Just a bit,” Strangwayes replied, in his dryest tone.

“From the duel, was it not?” Hugh pursued; then suddenly: “Tell me, how
did it fare with Bellasis? Has he recovered before me?”

“He is recovered,” Strangwayes answered, and hastened away to mend the
fire.

But four and twenty hours later Hugh attacked his friend with a new
query: “Why does not Frank or George come to visit me now? I think I be
strong enough.”

“Wait a time longer,” Strangwayes urged; so Hugh waited and pondered
much. For his head did not ache now whenever he tried to think, so he
went over all he remembered of the last days, and concluded on this and
that till he was ready to ask farther questions.

The late cold that made the window white had somewhat abated, when for
the first time Strangwayes propped Hugh up in bed with two cushions
behind him and a cloak about his shoulders. “I want to ask you
something,” Hugh began then, soberly, “I am quite strong, you see. Now
tell me, Dick, did I not hurt Bellasis?”

“Yes,” Strangwayes answered, setting his face grimly to the front.

“Sorely?” Hugh urged. “Tell me, Dick.”

“You must lie down again,” Strangwayes ordered; but as he was stretched
on his back Hugh caught his friend’s sleeve. “You must tell me,” he
repeated. “Dick, I did not—kill him?”

In spite of all he could do Strangwayes’ face made reply, and Hugh,
after one look, turned himself to the wall.

Presently Strangwayes’ arm was slipped under his neck. “You must not
grieve for that man,” he spoke anxiously.

At that Hugh turned and put his arm round Dick as he knelt by the
pallet. “I was not grieving,” he said simply, “only I was sorry that
after all I could not be sorry for him.” Then, after a moment: “Tell me
all about it. Yes, now, I pray you, Dick.”

Strangwayes looked at him, then settled himself a little more
comfortably on the floor by the pallet. “You remember the fight?”

Hugh nodded. “But I cannot understand how I had the better of it.”

“He gave it you,” Strangwayes answered. “He scorned you so he destroyed
himself. He fenced as if ’twere mere play, and his last thrust was not
clean. It took you beneath the small ribs, not a mortal thrust, and
there his rapier stayed hampered. And while his body was undefended, as
he strove to wrench his blade free, you ran him through the bowels. They
carried him off the field, I hear, but he was bleeding inside, and they
could do nothing for him. So ’twas well we came out from the hands of
the guard, for Lord Bellasis was mad with anger, and he has great
friends and influence with the king, so by next day the ways were laid
and they were seeking us to answer for his death.”

“And you saved me from them,” Hugh said under his breath, while he tried
to hug Dick with one arm.

“Faith, ’twas saving myself at the same time, and I near killed you in
the effort. Jack Ridydale and I caught you up on the alarm and plunged
into the ditch at the edge of the field—”

“I remember,” Hugh interrupted.

“So do I,” Strangwayes said, and tried to force a laugh. “Sure, ’twas
wet there. By the favor of fortune the watch passed over us, and we
fetched you to the ‘Sceptre’ and had in a close-mouthed physician. And I
was bravely frightened, Hugh, for there was no moving you hence, and
here we lay in the jaws of the enemy. No, no, you’re in no danger now.
For so soon as we were safe in the alehouse good old Ridydale made for
the stable, and the watch had not yet searched here, so the horses were
untouched. He got him on his own steed, took your Bayard and my Black
Boy by the bridles, and rode for the west as fast as spur could drive.
Toward dawn he faced about and trotted home again, the horses all
belathered and crestfallen, and, jogging along the road in such trim, he
was seized upon by the zealous patrol and haled into the city to answer
as to our whereabouts.”

“They did not harm him?” Hugh asked anxiously.

“Harm him? Nay, the old scoundrel was more than their match. He swore we
had posted all night, made a change of horses, and headed into the
enemy’s country to take ship out of the realm. They coaxed him and they
bullied him for three days, but the rascal lied with such liberality and
discretion that in the end they must release him. So the matter stands,
for some do truly believe we have got beyond seas, and my Lord Bellasis
has still a hope that we be somewhere in the country round about here.
And the most of the people, Hugh, have clean forgot about us by this.”

“None know where we are? That is why none of the others have come
hither?”

“No; ’tis that I wanted few to come drawing suspicions to us. Sir
William knows, and he was pleased to approve your conduct, Hugh, and
sent us supply of money by the trusty old drawer here. Ridydale durst
venture to us only once, for fear of being tracked. ’Twas when he was
new released and he had had no word how it was faring with you. So he
came and he brought news of Captain Gwyeth.”

Hugh made no reply.

“If you have the strength to hear it, I’d fain ease me of it,”
Strangwayes went on. “This is what he had done, Hugh: When he got my
word that man had forced a fight upon you because you were your father’s
son, and when I prayed him to meet the hacking cutthroat—Heaven forgive
me! Bellasis is dead now. Well, you know the answer Captain Gwyeth sent
you. Having shown his proud temper in that, he set out, not to join us
and intercept the man upon the field, but to seek him in the city. Now
Bellasis, like a wise man, had withdrawn himself on a suspicion of that,
so Alan Gwyeth did but meet Bellasis’ cousin, Herbert, who drew him into
a scuffle under the very shadow of the Castle. They were promptly put
under arrest therefor. Then the captain found the hour of the duel
coming on, and he laid by the heels for his folly, and then—”
Strangwayes paused, and tried to laugh himself into a less earnest tone.
“Well, Hugh, he prayed to see the officer of the watch, and conveyed
unto him full information of the place and time of the duel.”

“Then ’tis he that is to thank for bringing the watch upon us?”

“Yes, and for making us hale you into the ditch and near rack your poor
body to pieces. I swear the rough handling we had to give you had as
much share in bringing on the fever as your wounds. And as you lay in
the very heat of the fever came this fine proud message from him that
his will was to come unto you. And I wrote back unto him so he has not
come. But if you wish him, Hugh, I’ll—well, doubtless I can crave his
pardon, and then he will come to you.”

“I do not wish to see him,” Hugh answered coldly. “What did you write
him, Dick?”

“’Twas not just a temperate letter, I’m fearing. For your fever had run
four days, and there seemed no change save the worst change. Oh, well,”
Strangwayes laughed, “I wrote him that his cursed ugly pride had never
brought anything to you but disgrace and pain, and now he had killed you
he should leave you to me. I told him his blundering stupidity in
sending the watch would have wrecked your honor, had they come ten
minutes earlier, and now it had wrecked your life. And I told him he had
been no father to you while you lived, and he should not play that part
in your death. I said if he came hither I would bar the door in his
face. Truth, I must have been near mad to write so uncivilly, but—I had
been watching with you three nights, and I was worried for you, lad. So
he did not come. And you do not wish him to?”

“No, never,” Hugh said, then lay silent so long that Strangwayes,
slipping his arm from beneath his head, had risen, when Hugh broke out,
“Dick, you must have sent him a message the day of the duel.”

“Hm,” said Strangwayes, heading for the fireplace.

“You promised me—”

“Only not to speak to him,” the other put in hastily. “I did not. I
wrote him a letter there in the bakeshop, and sent it by a stray
trooper. Dear lad, I was trained for a lawyer. How could I resist a
quibble? You’re going to forgive me, Hugh.”

“’Tis a very little fault in you, Dick,” Hugh answered. “Though if
another had done it—”

“Well, I’ll never attempt to incline Captain Gwyeth to his duty again,
rest assured,” Strangwayes ended their talk earnestly.

So, while he still had barely strength to lift his head from off the
pillow, Hugh came to full knowledge of how his affairs stood. He was
glad to be told the worst, not be played with like a child, yet the
realization of the desperate state to which the word and the blow at the
Oxford ordinary had reduced, not only his own fortunes, but those of his
friend, made his slow convalescence doubly hard to bear. Day followed
day, all alike, save that on some the fire was heaped high for warmth,
while on others, more frequently as time passed, the narrow window was
flung wide open, and a breath of spring-like air sweeping in made
confinement all the less endurable. Then Hugh fretted miserably, till he
looked at Dick, and thought what it must mean to a man to be pent up in
a sick room while he had all his limbs and strength at his command. For
Strangwayes never left him, save for a half-hour or so at night, when he
used to slip out by the back way and tramp about the bowling green, to
bring in with him so fine a breeziness that Hugh used to lie awake for
his coming. At first Strangwayes did not quit the chamber even for his
rest, but, wrapping his cloak about him, stretched himself across the
hearth, till Hugh, with gaining strength, assured him he could fare well
enough without constant watching, and begged him to get a room and a
bed. After that Hugh passed long, sleepless hours of the night in
loneliness, while through the little window he watched the varying
shades of the sky and the stars that had so many times looked back at
him.

During the day the chief diversions were to eat, and to note how many
minutes more he contrived to sit up than on the preceding day. In the
intervals he and Dick played cards, till the pack was wofully thumbed,
or chess, which Hugh found easier, for he need only lie on his back and
look sidewise at the board. Later Dick unearthed the whole library of
the “Sceptre,” a fat “Palmerin of England,” whose “gallant history” he
patiently read aloud to Hugh, who did not find the story enlivening, but
got to appreciate Dick’s sarcastic comments. Still better he liked to
hear his friend talk, half nonsense, half truth, of the things he had
seen and done when he served in the Low Countries and made his stay in
Paris. “How should you like to go thither yourself?” Strangwayes asked
abruptly one March morning, when for the second time Hugh was sitting up
in a chair.

“With you?” the boy asked quickly.

“No, not with me now,” Strangwayes answered; “I cannot quit the kingdom,
Hugh, while there’s a blow to be struck. Even though I be a volunteer—”

“Dick!” Hugh cried, “you’ve lost your commission through me?”

“No, no, no,” Strangwayes said hastily. “Only ’twould be awkward to come
to the front and claim it while this duel is still remembered. Sir
William will always keep me a place in his regiment. And when you are
cured, ’tis my purpose to go into the North to fight. I’ll not be easily
recognized now my beard is grown, and I’ll put another name to me. There
in the North I may chance to do something that will bring us a pardon
for what we had a share in.”

All of which Hugh only half heeded as he sat with his head in his hands.
For it was worse than the realization that he had killed a man to know
that he had wrought Dick’s fortunes such a terrible shock.

Strangwayes said what he could that was generous, and ended with the old
proposition to send Hugh, so soon as he was recovered, into the Low
Countries, where he would be safe from all pursuit. But Hugh shook his
head. “I cannot, Dick; I’d rather be hanged here on English ground, or
whatever else they would do to me. Why, I could not speak their queer
language yonder. And you’ve pampered me so, I durst not venture out
among strangers again. I’ll do as you do, change my name, and volunteer
somewhere else.”

It was at this time he made a resolution, which he had a chance to carry
out perhaps a week later, when Ridydale paid him a cautious visit. Sir
William’s regiment marched northward in two days, the corporal
explained, bound to garrison Tamworth, and he had thought it well to
come see Master Hugh ere he went, and bring him his accoutrements from
his quarters at Oxford. Hugh watched his chance till Dick had left them
alone, then prayed Ridydale get Bayard from Turner’s stable and sell
him. “I have been a heavy charge unto my friends, and am like to be
heavier,” he explained painfully. “And in any case I cannot keep the
horse, for he is known as mine, and might draw suspicion to me. He’s a
good beast and should fetch a fair price. Only try your best, Corporal,
to sell him unto some one will use him kindly.”

Ridydale demurred, then yielded; and before he left Oxford, brought Hugh
five sovereigns, the purchase money. Then there was an explanation with
Strangwayes, who was downright angry, but finally laughed at himself.
“Only a fool would quarrel with such a remnant of a fellow as you look
now,” he concluded.

Hugh felt the term was justified the first time he dragged on his
clothes, which seemed cut for a lad of vastly greater brawn, and,
contriving to hobble into the adjoining chamber, got sight of himself in
the glass. Eyes, mouth, and a raw scar sheer across his left cheek,
seemed all that was left of his face, and his close-cut hair added to
the unfamiliarity of his look. “Scars are good adornments for a
soldier,” he said bravely, but he tried in vain to find a complimentary
phrase for the painful stiffness that lingered in his thigh.

By dint of stumbling about his chamber, however, the lameness wore off,
till he could walk with some surety of not falling against the
furniture; and then there came a night he never forgot, when Strangwayes
helped him carefully down the stairs, and, pacing slowly across the
bowling green, they sat down on a bench that Hugh remembered. It was a
clear spring evening, with the stars numerous and bright, and an earthy
smell in the soft air. Hugh felt the ground beneath his feet once more,
and stared at the poplars that still looked bare in the nighttime, while
his heart grew full at the thought that he was alive to enjoy the spring
and all the deeds that were yet to do. He spoke it all out, as he leaned
against Strangwayes, by saying: “I am well again now, Dick. When shall
we be off to the North?”

“North? Not for you at present, lad,” Strangwayes replied. “You’re no
figure for a camp yet. So I am going to carry you to a farm called
Ashcroft, somewhat toward Warwickshire, where dwells a distant kinswoman
of Sir William Pleydall and of my mother. ’Tis a good, bluff widow, whom
I shall bid keep you well hidden, and see you go to bed betimes, and do
not run off to kill Roundheads till I give the word. When you have back
your strength again, you shall join me in Yorkshire, and we’ll go
a-soldiering together again.”

For the next week Hugh felt he had something to look forward to, though
expectation made the days even more tedious. With long intervals of
rest, he furbished up his sword and spurs, and, when that interest
failed, spent much time in devising a name to assume till his peace was
made with his Majesty. Strangwayes had announced early that he meant to
go by the name of Henry Ramsden, and there was an end of it; but Hugh
had an unaccountable feeling that he did not wish to take any one of the
common names that men he knew had borne, and bestow it on a hunted
duellist. He finally ended by calling himself Edmund Burley, but it was
a long process of selection, and the choice was made only on the day he
left the “Sceptre.”

They made their start about midnight, when the road was quiet, and the
houses in the fields beyond the alehouse were all black. Two horses were
fetched them at the side door, the drawer held a lantern half screened
with his hand as they mounted, and the host wished them God-speed in a
guarded, low voice. Then they paced softly into the highway and headed
northward under the starlight. At first Hugh sat straight, and would
gladly have talked with Dick to tell him how easy, after all, he found
the exercise. But Dick would have no speaking till almost cock-crow,
when they were riding through a stretch of lonely fields, and by then no
jauntiness was left in Hugh, only dull pain and faintness, so he had no
will to say anything except, “Thank Heaven!” when Strangwayes, fairly
lifting him off his horse, half carried him into a dwelling-place.

There he spent the day, sleeping some and for the rest lying still as he
was bidden, till twilight came on and once more they got to saddle. A
little fine rain was sifting down now, and the cold wet on his face
refreshed Hugh somewhat, but even then, when they halted at last at the
gate of a lonely farm enclosure, he was drooping over his saddle-bow. He
noted of the house only that there was a green settle in the living
room, the arm of which was of just the right height to rest his head
upon, and the loud-voiced woman who had roused up to greet them held a
guttering candle so he was assured the dripping wax must soon burn her
fingers.

After that he remembered Dick helped him to bed in a little upper
chamber; the sheets felt good, and he shut his eyes to keep out the
troublesome candlelight. “Rain or no, I’m going to push on for Sir
William’s house in Worcestershire,” Dick was saying. “You’re safe here
with Widow Flemyng, Hugh. And ere long I’ll have you with me again. God
keep you till then, old lad!” He bent down and kissed Hugh, who hugged
him with a sudden childish feeling that he could not let Dick go.

So he turned over with his face in the pillow, broad awake now, and he
heard Dick’s boots creaking down the stairway. He lay listening alertly
for more, but he heard only the spatter of rain upon the window.



                               CHAPTER XV
                       THE LIFE OF EDMUND BURLEY


At one end of the bench outside the garden door of Ashcroft, Widow
Flemyng’s great black cat lay sunning himself; at the other end Hugh
Gwyeth sat hugging one knee, while he wondered drowsily which were the
lazier, he or the cat. In the alert blue spring weather the tips of
green things were bursting through the soft mould of the garden; the
birds were making a great ado in the trees; and in the field beyond the
hedge the widow’s man, Ralph, was ploughing, and whistling as he
ploughed. Only Master Hugh Gwyeth lingered idly on the garden bench and
meditatively handled the flabby muscles of his arm till he grew
impatient with himself. Three weeks and more he had been at Ashcroft,
yet this was all the strength he had gained or was likely to gain with
sitting still. He dragged the cat, heavy and reluctant, up from its nap,
and was trying to coax the creature to jump over his hands, which at
least required a little exertion, when Nancy, the serving-maid, came out
to potter about the garden. Spying him, she called: “Don’t ’ee vex poor
Gib, now. Better get thee into the kitchen; the mistress is at her
baking.”

Hugh laughed, and, rising leisurely, made his way down the garden to the
rear door. Women were droll creatures, he reflected; his mother, of
course, had always treated him with tenderness, but why these strangers
should pamper him like a child, and concern themselves about his every
movement, was more than he could puzzle out. From the first Nancy had
made no end of commiserating him for the scar on his face, and even the
widow herself, for all her sharp ways, had been melted to pity, when she
came to examine his wardrobe. “Well, well, well! when did a woman put
hand to these shirts?” she had cried, whereat Hugh informed her
blushingly that ’twas his custom to have his shirts washed till they
grew too tattered to serve even under a buff jacket, and then he threw
them away. “You poor thriftless child!” sighed the widow, “sure, you’re
not fit to be sent to the wars.” So she mended his shirts and stockings,
and, when that way of showing her motherly care failed, brewed him
ill-tasting concoctions of herbs, which Hugh swallowed courteously,
though with inward protests against this expression of good-will. He was
far more grateful when her kindness finally took the form of cooking him
such food as he liked, and pressing him to eat at all times, for his
illness had left him with an alarming appetite, which without such
connivance could never have been decently satisfied.

He halted now, as he had often done, with his elbows on the sill of the
opened window in the long kitchen, and took a sweeping survey of the
dressers and the fireplace and the brick oven. Just by the window stood
a table at which the Widow Flemyng, with her sleeves tucked up and her
broad face flushed, was rolling out pastry. “I marvel you’ve not been
here before,” she said gruffly, as she caught sight of him; “where have
you been all this morning now?”

“Teasing the cat,” Hugh answered. “Before that I was down through the
meadow—”

The widow paused with her rolling-pin suspended. “That meadow again? And
no doubt you wet your feet!”

“On my word, good widow,” Hugh laughed, “my kinsfolk have trusted me
abroad without a nurse for several years now.”

“The more fools they!” she replied, smacking the pastry smartly once
more.

Profiting by the pause, Hugh reached one arm in at the window and helped
himself to a strip of pie-crust, all hot and newly baked, that lay
there; he might repress his early fondness for honey and jam, but crisp
pastry was still too great a temptation for him to resist.

“That’s a right Roundhead trick to come thieving at a poor woman’s
window!” said the widow.

“Was there never such a thing as a Cavalier thief?” Hugh suggested.

“I never speak treason, sir. There do be some that say there is a
garrison yonder at Woodstead Manor that never was known to pay for what
it lives by, but I speak no ill of the king’s men, you’ll note.”

Hugh had cause enough to note and remember the conversation a few days
later. Of a dull gray afternoon he had taken himself to his chamber,
dutifully to practise thrusts with his sword at a round mark on the
wainscot, an exercise which proved tedious, so he was glad enough when a
noise of horses stamping and men calling in the yard below gave him an
excuse for running to the window. At the front of the cottage nothing
was to be seen, so, flinging on his coat, he ran downstairs into the
kitchen, whence came the sound of high talk. Bursting into the room, he
found Nancy crouched by the fireplace, and Ralph skulking by her, while
at the door stood Widow Flemyng, arms akimbo, in hot discourse with a
cross-eyed trooper, who wore the king’s colors.

“I tell you, it shall not be put up!” the man was blustering. “We’d
scarce set foot in your stable when your rascal would be breaking a
stave across Garrett’s head.”

“And I tell you, you shall put up with it!” retorted the widow. “Do you
think to come plundering decent loyal bodies, you minching thieves? Not
a step do you stir into this house. Reach me hither the kettle, you
white-livered Ralph.”

Hugh prudently got the kettle into his own hands, then presented himself
at the door with the query, “What’s amiss?”

“Here are three rogues from Woodstead who seek to plunder the very
horses from my plough,” replied the widow, clapping hands on the kettle.
“Now come in if you dare, the pack of you!”

But Hugh stayed her arm, while he looked out and got the situation. In
the open space between the rear door and the stable three horses drooped
their heads, and by them lingered two dragoons, one heavy and surly, the
other a thin-faced fellow, who, looking sharply at Hugh, nudged his
comrade. It seemed just an ordinary small foraging band, who were going
beyond their authority, so Hugh stepped out and confronted the
cross-eyed man with a stern, “What’s your warrant for this?”

“King’s service, sir,” the other replied, gazing at him a little
doubtfully.

“’Tis service that will profit you little if it come to your captain’s
ears,” Hugh answered. “There are none here but loyal people and friends
to the king. Best take advice and go back empty-handed. ’Twill be for
your good in the end.”

Just there a hand was clapped heavily upon his collar; instinctively
Hugh was ducking to wrest himself clear, when the cross-eyed man, too,
caught him by the throat of his jacket, and, realizing the uselessness
of a struggle, the boy held himself quiet. “We’ll go back to Woodstead
right enough, sir,” spoke the thin-faced trooper, who had first seized
him. “But you’ll go with us, Master Gwyeth.”

“My name is Edmund Burley,” Hugh replied stoutly, though the heart
seemed all at once to have gone out of his body.

“Well, you’ve enough the look of the other gentleman for Lord Bellasis
to pay ten pound for the sight of your face. You can explain to him who
you are, sir,” scoffed the thin-faced man. “Fetch a horse from the
stable for him, Garrett.”

After that, as in an ugly dream, matters went without Hugh’s agency. He
felt his arm ache in the hard grip of the cross-eyed man, which he had
no hope to shake off; he heard the widow in heated expostulation with
the thin-faced trooper, assuring him the gentleman had dwelt with her
near six months, and could not have had a hand in the mischief they
charged him with; he saw Nancy come out, all blubbering, to bring him
his hat, and he said, “Why, don’t cry over it, wench,” and wondered at
the dull tone of his voice. It seemed an interminable time, but at
length one of the plough horses was led out, all saddled, and, mounting
as they bade him, he rode away with them in the gray of the afternoon.
As they passed out from the yard he heard the door of Ashcroft slam, and
by that he knew the widow was much moved.

Then, turning eastward, they trotted slowly across gray fields, a
trooper on either side Hugh’s horse, and he went as they guided. For he
took no heed to them, as he told himself that Dick Strangwayes was far
away in the North, Sir William busied at Tamworth, and in Oxford there
was not a friend to aid him. Already he seemed to feel the chill of the
cells in the old Castle at Oxford, and to see a room full of stern men
who bullied and frightened him; after that he thought to hear the cart
jolting beneath him across the stony streets, while the people ran and
pointed at him; and then he felt a rope about his throat. He tried
helplessly to battle off such thoughts, but they still pressed upon him
till his head was stupid with turning them over, and, listening
uncomprehendingly to the talk of those about him, he rode in a sort of
daze.

The afternoon grew grayer and grayer, and was merging into twilight when
they rode through a poor village, beyond which, upon a barren swell of
highland, they came to a stockade flung around a small manor house. They
crossed a rough bridge over a moat, and so, keeping to the left of the
house, drew rein at length before a great stable. “Yon’s the captain,
now,” spoke the cross-eyed man, peering into the dark of the building.

“Looking to the cocks, I’ll be bound,” muttered he of the sharp face.

“What dog’s mischief have you been loitering about, you knaves?” came
from within the stable, and the voice was one Hugh remembered.

“Captain Butler!” he cried, flinging himself from the saddle, and,
stumbling through the door, near embraced the big Irishman who came to
meet him.

“Good faith, ’tis not—” Butler began.

“I am Edmund Burley,” Hugh interrupted feverishly. “Sure, you remember
me, sir?”

Butler pulled him outside, where the light was clearer, and after that
instant’s pause turned upon the troopers with a violent demand as to
what they meant. One replied, “’Tis he who killed Master Bellasis;” but
the captain cut him short with a volley of abuse, that they durst hale
thither an innocent man and a friend of his, too, and followed it with
threats of a flogging to them all and bluster and oaths, till the three
were cowed into a frightened silence.

“Well, I’ll be easy with you this time, you rogues,” Butler resumed
after a moment, “for Master Burley is a merciful man, and I’m thinking
would be better pleased that you went free. And, faith, he bears so
little malice he wishes you all to drink his health.” Thus admonished,
Hugh pulled three shillings out of his pocket and tossed them to his
late captors before Butler led him away to the house. “Come have a drink
with me, Burley,” he said, and added, with a chuckle, “I take it you
need it.”

“That was a narrow escape, eh, Gwyeth?” he spoke later, as Hugh was
swallowing down a bumper of Spanish wine in the west parlor of the
house.

“Narrow as I ever wish,” Hugh replied truthfully.

“I think my fellows will hold their tongues now, betwixt threats and
bribes,” Butler went on. “But after this you’d best do as you should
have done at the first, shelter yourself among honest soldiers, who’d
die ere they’d let a comrade come to harm, just for spitting a paltry
civilian.”

In the end Hugh thought it best to take the advice; if he returned to
Ashcroft there was no reason that Cavalier marauders should not stray
thither again, and a second apprehension might not end so happily. Then,
besides, he was glad, after his weeks of illness and dependence, to be
once more among men, who accepted him as an equal and did not fret him
with constant care. Holding this feeling rather ungrateful, he took
pains to write a very civil and thankful letter to the Widow Flemyng,
which George Allestree conveyed to her, when he rode to Ashcroft with
one of the men to fetch away Hugh’s clothes and accoutrements.

Allestree had welcomed Hugh boisterously, although he had an alarming
habit of almost forgetting to call him Burley; the blue-eyed Irish
volunteer, Mahone, received him with open arms; and even the lieutenant,
Cartwright, unbent a little toward him. Before a fortnight was out Hugh
understood, for by then he felt he could have fallen on the neck of the
meanest scamp, just for joy at sight of a new face in the garrison.
Woodstead lay close upon the borders of Warwickshire, where the rebels
were up in strength, so none were allowed to venture forth far from the
house. All day long there was nothing to do but to walk up and down the
cramped enclosure, to converse with the troopers as to sick dogs and
lame horses, or to watch Butler’s cocks mangle each other in fight, till
in sheer disgust Hugh turned away. But within the house he found still
less amusement; there was not even a Gervase Markham or a Palmerin to
read, so he was reduced to persuading Allestree or Mahone into fencing
with him, and, that failing, could only play at cards or watch the
others at dice, and listen to Cartwright’s same old stories or the
everlastingly same chatter of the younger men.

Once, to be sure, there came a day of excitement, when a part of the
troop prepared to ride away to forage in the hostile country. They set
forth bravely in the mid-afternoon, and till they were lost in dust
Hugh, with neither a horse to ride nor sufficient strength for the work,
watched them wistfully from the entrance gate. Then he loitered away to
his lonely supper with Cartwright, who cursed the luck that left him
behind to command the garrison, and drank so deeply Hugh must call a man
to help him to bed. Next day Butler and his men came back, noisy and
victorious, with cartloads of grain and much miscellaneous plunder that
the common soldiery had taken to themselves. They brought also a
Roundhead lieutenant, half-stripped, grimy, and sullen, whom Butler
clapped into an obscure room on a spare diet till he could find leisure
from his more serious affairs to look to him. For the captain had laid
hands on a considerable amount of strong waters, so for two days there
was high carousing at Woodstead, which shocked Hugh, used though he had
become among these comrades to the sight of hard drinking.

While Butler and his officers shouted and smashed glasses below stairs,
and the men in their turn let discipline slip, Hugh, in the hope of
getting some tidings of his Oldesworth kindred, bribed his way in to
speak with the Roundhead prisoner. The man was defiant at first, then
more communicative when Hugh smuggled him in some bread and meat, but,
being of a Northamptonshire regiment, he could give little of the
information Hugh sought, save that he had heard of Captain Thomas
Oldesworth and had had speech with Hugh’s other uncle, Lieutenant David
Millington, who was in garrison with his company of foot at Newick in
Warwickshire. For his Roundhead kinsfolk’s sake Hugh lent the lieutenant
a coat, and, when Butler, in a shaky, white state of sobriety, packed
him off under guard to prison at Oxford, gave five shillings to the
corporal who had charge of the squad, and urged him to use the prisoner
as civilly as he could. Considering the temper of the squad, however,
and the fact that his old acquaintance, the surly Garrett, was one of
them, Hugh decided those five shillings had probably been expended for
nothing.

Near a week later the men came back, and, in his joy at any new sight in
his monotonous life, Hugh turned out to meet them. He counted them idly,
as they came pacing in at the gate, till his eyes fell upon a horse that
Garrett led, a bay horse, all saddled, which put up its head and
whickered. “Bayard!” Hugh cried, plunging into the press, and, getting
the horse clear, fair put his arms about its neck in the face of the
whole garrison. “Where did you find him?” he questioned Garrett a moment
later, sharply, to preserve his dignity.

The man explained they had come home by a way that took them near
Ashcroft, for he held there might be letters Master Burley would gladly
pay a price for, and there they had found both a letter and the horse,
which had been waiting him some days.

Hugh paid generously, the more so as he saw the letter was directed in
Dick’s black hand; that made the sending of Bayard no longer a mystery,
for doubtless Dick would have him come northward now and so had sent him
the horse. He could hardly wait to see the beast stabled before he ran
up to the chamber he shared with Allestree, and tore open the letter
that should summon him. Then he read:—

SWEET FRIEND:

It doth grieve me to bring you aught of disappointment, but patience
perforce, lad. Sir W. hath need of ammunition and of fieldpieces, so he
hath commissioned me, because of old acquaintance in those parts, to go
into the Low Countries and see what may be procured. I would I could
take you with me, but my time is short, for the ship only waits a
prosperous wind. When my task yonder is done I shall come quietly to the
place you know of to confer with Sir W. I will convey you a word, and if
you will join me there we will try another bout with Fortune together.
Till then you were best keep yourself close. There is a rumor that the
lord you know of hath no such big voice in the king’s counsels as he
used. Time, then, and patience may bring all right with us. Commend me
to good Mistress Flemyng, and be assured at longest I shall send for you
ere the end of summer.

                                    Your very loving friend,

                                                      HENRY RAMSDEN.

NEWCASTLE, May 20th, 1643.

That night Hugh ate no supper. Sitting on the broad window-bench he
watched the sunlight wane upon the floor, and the twilight fill in the
chamber, and from time to time, till it was quite dark, he re-read the
letter. In those hours he came to realize how much he had lived on the
expectation that any day Dick might call for him, and he sickened at the
thought of the dull, hateful days of inactivity before him, for now he
must school himself to endure the long three months of summer with
Butler’s crew. Below he could hear the officers singing over their wine,
and, fearing lest Allestree might come half-drunk to urge him to the
table and jeer at his sorry silence, he slipped out by the back way to
the stable, where till bedtime he tried to find some comfort in petting
Bayard.

Next day life was running its old round, save that the hope which before
had made it tolerable was gone. That week Hugh discontinued fencing; the
weather was over-hot, and besides, what use to drill himself for action,
when Dick had no need of him, and his present companions were content to
idle? Instead of using the rapier, he set himself to watching Allestree
and Mahone at dice, and at length came to take a hand himself. It was an
ill memory to him afterward, those feverish summer mornings when,
sitting in their shirt-sleeves, they threw and threw, sometimes with
high words and oaths, sometimes in silence, save for Allestree’s
half-laugh when he made a winning cast. Fortune varied, but in time
there came a day when Hugh got up from the table, and, thrusting his
hands into two empty pockets, slouched off with his head down. He heard
Allestree say, “I hate a fellow who loses with ill grace,” and Mahone
call, “Hi, Ed! Come back. Don’t give over, man, as long as you’ve a
shirt to stake. Put up your horse now.”

But Hugh shook his head. Though he had diced away every penny he
possessed, and with it every hope of setting out by himself to seek
other harborage than Woodstead, he would not risk his horse and sword.
Not twenty-four hours later he had cause to rejoice at having kept his
equipments, for at the mess table Butler announced briskly that next day
the troop would ride a-foraying into Northamptonshire, to a little
village called Northrope, where corn could be got in plenty. “And wine
from a brave tavern there,” Allestree whispered Hugh; “Else the captain
would not be so forward in this business.”

But in his joy at having a hand in active service once more, the end of
the expedition mattered nothing to Hugh. Before noon next day he had his
buff jacket on and his sword slung over his shoulder, then fretted away
the long hours of expectation by tramping about the enclosure, settling
Bayard’s saddle, and listening to Allestree’s proffered bets on the
success of the night’s work. The sun had set behind the low green hills,
when at last Butler led half his troop forth from Woodstead, with
Allestree to keep the rear and Mahone and Hugh to put themselves
wherever they were bid. In spite of the gathering twilight the air was
still heavy with the sweltering heat of the day, and the dust that was
beaten up by the feet of the horses prickled and stung. Before the first
mile was out Hugh had flung open his coat, and was more disturbed at
Bayard’s sweating than at the thought of the skirmish that was to come.

The night air was cooler and the stars were out thick, when at length
the word ran through the line that Northrope lay over the next swell in
the plain. Falling in with the squadron behind Butler, who was to sweep
around and attack the village from the east while Allestree rode in at
the west side, Hugh drew away noiselessly from the rest of the troop,
and at a swift canter passed through a field into a piece of
spicy-smelling woodland. Beyond that they rode softly along a stretch of
sandy road, and at last halted upon the brow of a hill, beneath which
the dark roofs of cottages could be seen. At a whispered command from
Butler Hugh ranged himself among the corporal’s guard who were to keep
the hill and stop whoever fled that way, while the rest of the dragoons
fell into place behind the captain. Then the leader turned to a trooper,
who, swinging his dragon to his shoulder, fired into the air. An
instant, and far to the west another shot replied, Butler shouted to
charge, and with his men at his heels galloped away down the hill.

Below in the village Hugh heard the sound of clattering hoofs, of shouts
of attack, and shriller cries. A moment later, and, as he gazed, he saw
over to the west a reddish gleam that broadened and brightened. “They’ve
fired the village,” muttered one trooper, and the rest grumbled
subduedly that all within the scurvy place would be burned ere they came
to share the plunder.

The moments ran on, while the fire rose and sunk again, till Hugh judged
the night more than half spent. Still none had fled in their direction;
the men were restless at their useless stay, and Hugh himself had grown
to hate this waiting, for it left him time to reflect, and to compare
this raid with the daylight fighting he had had under Turner. For all
the ugly sights of plunder to be seen he felt it a relief when the
corporal gave the word to descend into the village, and gladly as the
rest he trotted forward.

Once in among the houses his comrades scattered to plunder, but Hugh,
left alone, rode on down the street, which grew lighter with the flare
of the burning houses. He had sight of household stuff that littered the
roadway; in the lee of a wall he saw a man sitting with his hand pressed
to his breast; and down toward the blaze, where was a great yelling and
confusion, he made out against the glare the black shapes of men running
to and fro. He saw, too, nearer at hand, a flapping sign-board before
what seemed an inn, where a noisy crew had possession, and he halted a
moment, while he wondered grimly if Butler were not there and if he
should report to him. As he hesitated he heard some one shout from an
upper window of the cottage on his right, and he let his eyes travel
thither. The place looked dark and blank, but as he gazed the door was
kicked open and a man came forth, holding by the arm a girl, who dragged
back with all her slender strength. “What devil’s trade are you about?”
Hugh called angrily. “Bring the wench hither.”

The man hesitated, then unwillingly slouched nearer. As the firelight
flared along the street Hugh saw it was his old enemy, the cross-eyed
trooper; then his gaze dropped lower to the pallid face of the girl. At
that Hugh sprang from his saddle with a cry, “Lois, Lois!”



                              CHAPTER XVI
                        ROUNDHEADS AND CAVALIERS


He had thrust the trooper aside and drawn the girl close to him. “Sure,
you do not fear me, Lois?” he urged, for she stood with her hands to her
face and her body braced tensely against the pressure of his arm. “I’m
Hugh Gwyeth. You’ve not forgot—”

At that she uncovered her face and stared at him with so piteous a look
of fright that Hugh hated himself and all who had had a share in that
night’s work. “Be off with you.” He swung round upon the cross-eyed
trooper with some of Allestree’s favorite oaths. “The gentlewoman is kin
to me. Get you hence and be thankful I let you go with a whole skin.”

Then he looked again to Lois, and, noting now that she had no outer
covering upon her shoulders, unstrapped his cloak from the front of his
saddle and wrapped it about her, drawing the folds up to hide her face
somewhat. He felt her hands clutch tremulously at his wrist, and her
voice broke into a choking sob: “O, Hugh! In sober truth, ’tis you? You
will take care of me?”

“To be sure I will,” he said, and, slipping Bayard’s bridle over one
arm, put the other about the girl. “Just come with me now.”

They walked toward where the cottages were burning, slowly, for Lois
staggered as she went, and Hugh, for all his brave speech, was dazed
with the necessity of thinking what he was to do for her protection.
Woodstead was no place to which to fetch a girl, nor was any other
harbor open to him. He halted short in his perplexity, then turned to
her with a sudden idea: “Look you here, Lois; would you wish me to
convey you unto Newick, to Lieutenant Millington?”

“’Tis thither I was going,” she answered faintly.

“Well, you shall be safe there ere to-morrow noon,” he assured her.
“Just a little time here, and be not afraid.”

Thereupon he faced across the street to the house with the sign-board,
where he guessed might be wine and Captain Butler. Within were lights
and men stamping to and fro, while without at the entrance door lingered
others, among whom Hugh caught sight of Garrett, still sober, and seized
on him. “I want your help,” he said brusquely; “I’ll pay you for it ere
I die. Procure some sort of white flag, and find me out a pillion for
this gentlewoman. Put it on my horse and be ready to ride with me when I
bid.”

Leaving the man with mouth and eyes open in astonishment, he led Lois
into the tavern. Across the corridor a trooper was sprawling, drunk,
Hugh saw, as he thrust him aside with his foot to give the girl passage.
Inside the common room the floor crackled with broken glass, on the
chimney-piece two candles sputtered unevenly, and by the table, a bottle
in one hand, a great mug in the other, stood Butler. Hugh felt Lois
press closer to him, but he resolutely left her on a settle by the wall
and went up to the captain. “I pray you, sir, give me a safe-conduct to
pass through the lines with one of your dragoons,” he blurted out his
business.

Butler cursed him roundly, and Hugh, standing stiffly, heard him out
without reply, while in his heart he prayed the ugly fit of drunkenness
might speedily give place to the maudlin fit. A heavy stamping made him
turn in sudden hope as Allestree reeled in from superintending the
seizure of the tavern stores. But one look at the guidon told Hugh he
was too far gone to aid him now, so he could only fall back beside Lois,
and, taking hold of her hand, bid her wait a little longer and not fear.

Presently, after Allestree had pitched into a chair with his head on the
table, Hugh once more made his request to Butler, and once more was
gruffly refused. But then, chancing to spy ink and paper on a shelf, he
blotted off a safe-conduct, and, again presenting himself to the
captain, begged him sign. There were refusals of varying sternness, but
with all the obstinacy of his square chin Hugh followed the man up and
down the chamber, pen in hand, and, holding his temper well in check for
the girl’s sake, bore the other’s abuse and only prayed him sign. At
last Butler, snatching the pen from his hand, splashed a great signature
across the sheet. “Take it, in the devil’s name, you hell babe!” he
cursed.

Hugh thrust the paper inside his coat, and, running to Lois, jostled a
way for her out to the open air. By the tavern door Garrett, holding a
pike with a white napkin bound to it, was sitting his horse, and by him
stood Bayard with a cushion fixed behind the saddle. Hugh helped Lois to
her place, then, leaping up before her, rode briskly out from the
village.

Not till the sight of the fire and the noise of the shouts of the
plunderers were quite lost to them did Hugh let Bayard’s eager trot
subside to an amble. He turned a little to ask Lois how she fared, and
bid her keep the cloak close about her against the damp of the early
morning; then he called to Garrett, and, in talking with him of the road
they must take for Newick, time enough passed for the stars to grow few
in the sky. After that they rode a long space in silence, save for the
soft scuff of the horses now and again as they came upon a stretch of
sandy road. The sky grew a fainter dun color, and in the east a slit of
pale light showed, while in the west a white shred of moon yet lingered
on the horizon line. The morning breeze, coming damp on Hugh’s face,
made him heavy with desire to sleep; only at a splashing sound of water
did he rouse up with a jerk to find Bayard knee-deep in a ford and
drinking greedily. To right and left the bushes above the stream were
dusky, but flecks of lighter gray showed in the water where the road ran
down to meet it. “’Twill be sunrise soon,” Hugh said, and shook himself
awake.

“Think you, presently, I might have a drink of water?” Lois asked
hesitatingly.

“Why, here and now you shall have it!” he cried, and, flinging his
bridle to Garrett, lifted Lois from her place and led her a little
upstream within the shadow of the bushes.

As she knelt on the brink and drank slowly from her hand, Hugh had space
to note how white her face was and how weary her every gesture. So when
she rose he drew her back a little to the roots of an oak tree, where he
bade her sit and rest a time. Garrett shrugged his shoulders, when the
word was passed to him, then tied the horses and went to stretch himself
on the bank farther down-stream. Hugh returned to Lois, and, seating
himself beside her, persuaded her to lean against him, till her eyes
closed and he hoped that she might sleep. He sat very still and looked
sometimes at her brown head against his shoulder, and sometimes at the
branches of the oak above him and the clear sky beyond that was growing
brighter and taking on a bluish tinge. He listened to the hurry of the
brook and the restless stamp of the horses; then, shutting his eyes, he
seemed only to see Everscombe manor house and the sunlight upon the
eastern terrace.

“Are you asleep, too?” The words were spoken softly, but they startled
him through all his body.

“I am awake now, in any case,” he replied, and laughed a little with a
foolish sort of satisfaction as he looked down at Lois. For the tense
look of the night before had left her eyes, and she had again the face
of his old comrade at Everscombe.

“Your poor arm will sleep next, Hugh. I am leaning too heavily against
it.”

“I had not felt it,—if you are content.”

Lois smiled slightly and tremulously, then, slipping out one hand, drew
her fingers through the wet grass. “There has been a heavy dew,” she
said irrelevantly, “and it has soaked my shoes,—my shoe, I mean.” She
let her feet just show beneath her petticoat, and Hugh had sight of one
stout shoe and the toe of a small gray stocking.

“You’ve been tramping with one foot half bare?” he broke out.

“Nay, nay, I have been riding. I knew it not till this morning, so I did
not mind. I must have left that other shoe in the closet where I hid
away.”

“Tell me, Lois, how came you there at Northrope?” he asked, after an
instant.

The girl’s face lost its flash of gayety. “Why, ’tis only—” she began,
and, pulling some blades of grass, twisted them between her fingers
without looking at him. “Last October ’twas, Aunt Delia said perchance I
were best now go visit my mother’s kinsfolk in Northamptonshire. And
last week they said I had best visit her again. O me, I know not why
they will not have me! I do not eat so much, Hugh, and I am ready to be
of service.” She pushed aside his arm and leaned forward with her head
upon her knee; by the movement of her shoulders he knew that she was
crying.

He realized well why she wept, and he knew, too, there was no help that
he could offer; so he only bent forward, and, speaking her name gently,
patted her shoulder. He heard her swallow a sob, then, with her head
still bowed, she went on defiantly, “So there is nothing to tell, Hugh.
A neighbor was riding to Northrope for the day, so they sent me with him
and he left me at that cottage. They thought perhaps some carrier might
be going to Newick, and would convey me thither; then Lieutenant
Millington would find means to despatch me to Everscombe. That is all.”

Hugh bit his nails and made no reply. If his own father rejected him,
how could he reproach the uncles and aunts who grudged shelter to an
orphan girl? Only she was a girl and weak, and somehow they seemed worse
than Alan Gwyeth. He fell back on his stock piece of comfort: “You
should ha’ been a boy, Lois, and then it had all been easy.”

“But I have no wish to be a boy,” Lois said sorrowfully, as she turned
away her face to wipe her eyes.

“Perhaps ’twould not be so pleasant,” Hugh admitted, and added, with a
thought of Frank, “Young boys are sometimes vexatious.”

Lois gave a laugh that was a bit hysterical. “You have grown very
arrogant. Prithee, now, tell me all about yourself and how you got that
sorry scar.”

Hugh hesitated, to collect himself, then set forth at great length what
pertained to Strangwayes, and very hastily told her that his father had
disowned him. At that her face grew so grave he hurried back to
Strangwayes again, and forbore to tell her of the duel. So they talked
on till a shaft of sunlight dazzled upon the brook, and the trees cast
clean dark shadows on the pathway. “We must ride for Newick,” said Hugh,
jumping to his feet. “You’re not so weary, Lois? Wait till the next
village and you shall have wine to hearten you. Perchance you could eat,
too?”

“Perchance, if ’twere offered,” Lois replied demurely, as she smoothed
her hair with her hands.

“It shall be looked to, I promise you,” he answered gayly, and walked
away. Before he had gone ten paces, however, his gayety was at an end,
for he tucked his hands into a brace of bare pockets. He fidgeted a
moment by the horses; then, taking his only course, walked over to the
surly trooper. “Garrett,” he began, in a low tone, “have you money about
you?”

“Ay, sir.”

“Will you lend unto me?”

“You swore the giving should lie all on your side,” the other answered
suspiciously.

“I tell you I’ll pay,” Hugh said angrily; and, seizing on the two
shillings the other reluctantly proffered, walked away with his face
burning.

It had been a petty incident, but the ill taste of it lingered with him,
and took all pleasure from the getting to horse once more. Even the
sight of Lois’s half-smiling face, and her droll efforts to spare her
stockinged foot, could not restore him to his old contented mood. He led
her in silence to where Bayard stood, and there she halted suddenly with
eyes upon the horse. “Why, ’tis indeed the same,” she cried. “’Tis
Peregrine’s steed they said you—”

“Stole?” Hugh asked sharply. “Ay, ’tis the same.”

Then he lifted her to her place, and without a word more set forward.

An hour later, in the full heat of the morning sun, they rode into a
little hamlet, where the people stared at the Royalist red sashes, and
shouted saucy comments on the strangers. Hugh made his way scowlingly to
the village inn, and, helping Lois dismount, led her into the common
room, where he called on the hostess to bring wine and white bread for
the girl. “Are you going with these ruffians of your own will,
sweetheart?” he heard the good woman whisper Lois.

He was turning away impatiently, when, just at the door, he ran upon the
tapster. “Draw two mugs of ale for my man and me,” he ordered curtly.

“Will I, sir? Who’s to pay?” retorted the other. “An you pay, ’twill be
the first of your color—”

“Will you talk?” Hugh cried, with an oath; and struck the fellow so he
staggered. “Fetch what I bid now,” he swore. Then he turned to go back
into the common room; and there Lois sat, not eating, but gazing at him
with blank, dismayed face.

Without staying to drink his ale, Hugh went out and loitered at Bayard’s
head, where he kicked up spiteful little spurts of dust and would not
stroke the horse. When Lois hobbled out at last in a pair of over-large
shoes, he helped her to mount; she did not speak, and he only looked
sharply at her, but said nothing. As the roofs of the village sank
behind the hill in their rear, however, he turned in the saddle and
addressed her almost roughly, “So you are not pleased with me?”

“Sure, Hugh, I must be pleased; you have used me so kindly—”

“That’s a right woman’s trick to bungle at a plain ‘no,’” he said, with
a curt laugh; then started, for tone and laugh sounded to him as an echo
of Allestree, whom he had left drunk at Northrope. Putting spurs to
Bayard, he pressed on at a reckless pace, so the dust rose thick and
white, and turned his throat dry, and sifted in between his collar and
his neck. He was hot and weary and wretchedly angry against all the
world, especially against Lois Campion, why, he could not tell himself.

In such a mood he cantered into the shadow of the first of a straggling
line of cottages, where a sentinel in a yellow sash, springing to the
middle of the road, bade him pull up. “Conduct me to Lieutenant
Millington,” Hugh ordered, showing his safe-conduct; so in a few moments
he was riding down the street at an easy pace, with a Roundhead corporal
walking at his bridle.

They drew up without the gate of a large, half-timbered house, which set
back from the road in a garden of red roses that dazzled drearily before
Hugh’s eyes. “If you will accept of my aid—” he said brusquely to Lois,
and had just swung her down from the horse’s back, when he heard the
gate clatter open behind him. He turned about, and came face to face
with Peregrine Oldesworth.

For an instant they confronted each other without speaking, time enough
for Hugh to take note that his cousin wore a pompous great pair of boots
and a long sword, and had grown a scrap of dark mustache that made him
look older than his years. Then said Peregrine, “Well, have you come to
fetch back that stolen horse, Master Thief?”

“The horse is best off with him who has the wit to keep him,” Hugh
replied quickly. “Be assured I had not come to you beneath a white flag,
if it had not been to bring Lois hither.”

“And a brave convoy you have had, Cousin Lois,” Peregrine said, with a
dull flush on his face. “The next time you must roam the country-side,
pray you, seek another protector than a scape-gallows like this.”

“You know well, Cornet Oldesworth,” Hugh retorted, “that I would pay it
back to you, if you durst put that term to me in any other place.”

“So you’d like to murder me as you murdered Bellasis?”

“Murdered! What do you mean?” The words came faintly from Lois, and to
Hugh’s fancy she seemed to draw a little from him.

“Maybe he will set it forth to you himself,” sneered Peregrine.

“I killed a man in a fair duel,” Hugh replied shortly. “I leave you to
your cousin’s care, Lois.” With that he seized Bayard’s bridle and
turned away, he cared not whither, only he did not wish to see the
horror in Lois’s eyes.

“Perhaps you’ll give your horse a rest here at the stable, sir?” the
Roundhead corporal at his elbow suggested civilly. Hugh slouched down
the road after him, and scarcely heeded Garrett beside him, chuckling,
“Well, sir, I knew from the start you were Master Gwyeth.”

“Now you’re sure of it, you’d best carry the news to Oxford,” Hugh
replied; “I cannot buy silence.”

After they were into the cool of the black stable and he had seen Bayard
cared for, he sat down on a truss of straw and stared at the motes that
swam in the sunlight by the open door. His eyes ached with the light and
the dust, and his throat was all choked; he crushed the straws between
his fingers as he sat, and in this destruction found his only ease.

He roused up as a petty officer entered the stable, who prayed him, from
Lieutenant Millington, to come back to the house and dine with the
officers of the company. Hugh hesitated a moment, then came, rather
sullen and defiant, and after washing the dust from his face entered the
dining room. Millington, a heavy, slow man of near forty, greeted him
courteously, and presented him to his brother officers, who were distant
and suspicious. “You are of Woodstead, are you not, sir?” one asked him,
with an implication that made Hugh guess the other held him to have come
from a den of all iniquities.

Then they conversed of matters that concerned them, while Hugh swallowed
his dinner in silence, with an occasional pause to stare defiantly at
Peregrine, who scowled at him from the opposite corner of the table. It
was a relief when the meal was ended and he could rise, bent on setting
out from the place at once; but Millington bade him step apart with him
into an empty parlor. “’Tis an ill report we have had of you this
winter, Hugh Gwyeth,” he began judicially, as he seated himself by the
open window; “can you give me nothing better to bear to Everscombe?”

Hugh stood erect, with a feeling that he was a culprit brought to
sentence, and replied that he had only slain a man in a fair fight, and
he held that no wrong.

“Perhaps not;” Millington waived the question; “but I tell you, nephew,
’tis not the part of an honest gentleman to be herding with such drunken
libertines and cowardly bullies as those that hold Woodstead.”

“Mayhap ’tis not the company I would keep of my own will,” Hugh
admitted, “though they have been kind to me. But ’tis best I lie close
just now.”

“If you have done no wrong why need you hide yourself?” Millington
retorted, with a flicker of a triumphant smile.

“Have me a murderer and a thief, if you will,” Hugh flung back.

“Nay, ’tis that I held you a lad of good parts, in spite of your running
after these strange gods. That you have dealt so courteously by little
Mistress Campion shows you are not all lost yet. But take heed to the
associates you keep.”

Hugh felt a guilty hotness in his face, but, bracing himself, he
listened with respect to all his uncle had to say farther in the same
strain, and, when he had done, he replied honestly, “I thank you, sir;
methinks you mean all kindly.”

So he took his leave, and turned away to summon Garrett; then
remembered, and with a downcast look hesitated back to Millington. “An’t
like you, uncle,” he faltered, “I am ashamed to ask it, but I have had
to borrow money to provide for Lois, and I promised this fellow of mine
reward for aiding me. And I have no money.”

“Eh? How do you live, then, sir?”

“I had some. I lost it at dice,” Hugh admitted shamefacedly. “On my
honor, I never will again.”

There was an instant’s pause, then Millington said more coldly, “I’ll
pay the man,” and led the way from the house. Hugh, following behind
like a chidden child, saw his uncle go to Garrett, who waited with the
horses just outside the gate, and saw him fee the trooper; by the man’s
face he guessed it was done liberally, but he knew the fact that the
money came from another’s hand must always lower him in the fellow’s
eyes.

Dreading to meet the trooper’s curious look, he was lingering an instant
on the garden walk, feigning to adjust his boot-tops, when he heard
behind him some one call his name. He would not look up till there came
a touch on his arm, and he must raise his eyes to meet Lois’s gaze. “I
wanted to thank you, Hugh,” she said gently.

“You need not.”

“And I wanted to ask your pardon, if I hurt you. Truly, I will never
believe you have done anything that is base, whatever they say. Prithee,
forgive me, Hugh.”

“I should ask you to forgive it that I was so surly,” he hesitated.
“And—and next time I meet you, Lois, I’ll have mended my manners, so you
need not be dismayed. Farewell now.” He looked her frankly in the eyes
as he spoke, then bent a little and kissed her hand.

He came out at the gate more briskly than he had hoped, and there, by
the horses, found Peregrine and Lieutenant Millington in talk. “When you
go back to Thomas Oldesworth tell him from me he should have taught you
that a white flag protects the bearer,” he heard Millington say, and he
noted Peregrine had fixed covetous eyes on Bayard. Indeed, as Hugh swung
into the saddle, his cousin broke out, “You’ll pay me for that horse one
day, sirrah.”

But Hugh deliberately turned his back upon his bluster, while he bade
his uncle a second farewell, then waved his hat to Lois, who still stood
among the roses in the garden, and so headed his horse away from Newick.

The shadows of the two horsemen showed long in the late afternoon sun,
and lengthened and blended at last into the gray of the twilight. Frogs
piped to them in the dusk as they threaded their way through a bit of
bog land, and after that they went a long piece in silence under the
wakeful stars. Hugh suffered Bayard go slowly, while he felt the
pleasant night air upon his face and harked to the hoof-beats, muffled
by the yielding road, till at length a light upon a distant hill showed
where Woodstead lay. At that the horses freshened their pace, and, with
a good flourish, they cantered in at the gate of the manor house and
pulled up at the stables.

Bayard once made comfortable, Hugh went slowly back to the house, where
he found the officers, with their coats off and the table well stored
with glasses, loitering in the west parlor.

“So you’re back, are you, sir?” Butler greeted him. “Well, now you’ve
had a safe-conduct and all at your disposal, is there anything else
you’d command of me?”

“Nothing, sir,” Hugh replied, as he threw off his buff coat. “I’ll not
need your good offices, for—In short, sir, I’m wearied of hiding, and I
want back my own name again. So ’tis in my mind to ride for Oxford
to-morrow.”



                              CHAPTER XVII
                        THE STRANGER BY THE WAY


“You’ve a gray day for a start and a gallows at the end,” Allestree
spoke encouragingly, as he lounged in the doorway of the manor house.

“’Twill be profitable to you, Master Gwyeth, to turn your thoughts as
you go to composing your last good-night,” Mahone paused in lighting his
pipe to add cheerfully.

Hugh put his attention to drawing on his gauntlets and made no reply; in
the last twelve hours there had been threats and expostulations and
jeers enough to teach him that his only course was to be silent and keep
to his determination.

“I’ll lay you five shillings, George, he loses courage and sneaks back
in time for dinner,” Mahone resumed.

The blood shot up to Hugh’s face; he knew that was what Mahone wanted,
and he was the angrier that he had gratified him. He turned sharp away
and fumbled at Bayard’s headstall till he felt surer of his
self-control, then asked stiffly: “Can you tell me if the captain is in
the west parlor? I must take my leave of him.”

“I don’t begrudge you the task,” Allestree hinted. “The captain lost his
temper at Northrope, because the scurvy little tavern was so ill
supplied, and he has not found it again yet. So look to yourself, Hugh.”

It did not need Allestree’s warning to bring the heart down into Hugh’s
boots; the mere inhospitality of the closely shut door of the west
parlor and the grim tone in which Butler bade him come in were enough to
daunt him. The captain had been writing ponderously at the table in the
centre of the room, but at Hugh’s coming he flung down his pen, and,
after surveying him scowlingly, burst out: “You’re still set in your
folly, then? Well, for Dick Strangwayes’ sake I’d fain have saved you,
in spite of your cursed sullen ways.”

“I have not meant to be discourteous to you, Captain Butler,” Hugh
protested; “I thank you for sheltering me and saving me that first time,
I do thank you heartily. But now I think it better—”

“To seek other company,” Butler retorted. “If you were a bit older, I’d
be angry with you, sir; and if you were a small bit younger, by the
Lord, I’d cuff some wit into you; as ’tis—Well, I’ll shake hands, if you
wish. On my soul, ’tis pity so decent a lad should not have the sense to
keep his head on his shoulders.” Thereupon he turned his back, and, with
great show of being occupied, fell to his writing, so Hugh, feeling
miserably rebuked, had no course but to go quietly from the room.

Perhaps his downcast state touched Allestree a little, for he met him
more kindly and spared farther jests while Hugh was mounting Bayard.
“Better go to Tamworth if you are ill at ease here,” he counselled
wisely. “But in any case God speed you and protect you for the sake of
the innocence of you.”

At this Mahone went into a fit of laughter, from which he recovered only
in time to bawl a farewell that reached Hugh but faintly, as he rode out
by the sentinel at the gate of Woodstead.

Travelling slowly, to spare Bayard after his heavy work of the preceding
day, he came about noon to a cross-road, where for a moment he
hesitated: should it be north to seek Sir William’s help, or south to
put himself into the provost’s hands and trust to his own innocence of
ill intent to bring him clear? But he soon told himself that, if Sir
William had had the power to aid, he would long ago have helped Dick
Strangwayes; and, in any case, he had no will to live longer in holes
and corners, as if he were indeed the murderer Peregrine had called him.
Perhaps he would find friends if he went on boldly. So he jogged
southward at an easy pace, so easy, indeed, that he gave up all idea of
reaching Oxford that day. “And we don’t care to lie in the fields,
Bayard,” he talked softly to the horse. “And we’ve not a penny to our
names to hire lodgings. What say you if we swerve off to Ashcroft?
Perhaps they’ll shelter us this night.”

At heart he knew they would, yet, remembering how carelessly he had
departed thence, he felt a little backward about presenting himself to
the Widow Flemyng. His pace lagged more and more as he drew near the
farm, and he might have halted short to reconsider, had not the spat of
rain upon the white roadway warned him to look to the sky. There the
clouds were black with storm and thunder, so, having no wish to come at
last to Oxford all bedraggled, he spurred forward hastily and galloped
Bayard into Ashcroft stable just as the rain began pelting down.

Storm or no storm, so soon as he had delivered over the horse to Ralph’s
care, he put his head down and ran for the house, where he pitched
blindly in at the kitchen door. He heard a shriek from Nancy, “Preserve
us! mistress, ’tis Master Burley come back,” and then the widow’s
peremptory tones: “Take those boots off right where you stand, sir, else
you’ll track mud over my new-sanded floor.”

Hugh balanced uneasily on one foot as he obeyed, then asked meekly if he
mightn’t be permitted to sit down now?

“Oh, at table, is it?” questioned the widow, bustling to the nearest
cupboard. “Hungry as ever, I take it?”

“Always,” Hugh replied, and fetched a stool to the table against the
kitchen wall, where he was presently busy with a cold capon.

In the midst the widow paused at his side and laid a folded paper by his
trencher. “’Tis well you came hither now, Master Burley,” she said.
“This was fetched from Tamworth for you by a close-mouthed trooper three
days agone. I was almost resolving me to get upon the old mare and ride
to seek you at Woodstead. I am no chit of a girl to fear those saucy
knaves.”

Hugh laughed, and with frank curiosity unfolded the paper; within were
two gold sovereigns, but not a sign of writing, though he turned the
sheet over and over. “What does this mean?” he asked blankly.

“I’ve told all I know,” replied the widow. “I did my best to learn more
of the fellow who brought it.”

Hugh finished his dinner in silence, while he turned over various
solutions. Dick was out of the kingdom, and in any case he would never
have sent the coins and no word; but Sir William had supplied them with
money while they lay hid at the “Sceptre”; or perhaps Frank, with his
well-filled pockets and his boyish fondness for mystery, had had to do
with this. At any rate the money was there in his hands and made his
journey easier, so much so that he felt, had he been superstitious, he
would have hailed it as a sign that he was to go on to Oxford as he had
started.

Yet when the twilight shut in, gray with drizzling rain, there came on
him a heavy feeling of uncertainty; his own determination, though he
felt so sure of it, weakened a little before the memory of the
opposition of all his friends. In such a mood he loitered into the
cottage parlor, where, finding the Widow Flemyng sitting idle in the
dusk, he drew up a stool and blurted out to her his true name and how
matters stood with him. “I fear you’d not have cared to harbor me, had
you known what a charge I lay under,” he concluded humbly.

“Why, child, I suspected all along,” the good woman hastened to reply,
and Hugh, staring dutifully at the gray rain outside the lattice,
thought it wise not to contradict her. It gratified him, too, as she
continued speaking, to find she did not hold him a fool for his
resolution. Indeed, she said emphatically no worse harm could befall a
decent lad at Oxford than at Woodstead, and in any case she was well
assured no one would ever have the heart to hang him. “You were best
cast yourself on the king’s mercy,” she ended. “Now had you great
friends at court, or could get to have audience with his Majesty.”

“Did you ever hear the ballad of ‘Johnny Armstrong’?” Hugh asked. “Dick
used to sing it. There was a man sought the king for pardon and he got
little good by it.”

All the same her assurances made him more confident in himself, so he
slept that night untroubled and woke ready for whatever the day might
bring. Perhaps it was the widow’s continued encouragements, perhaps it
was the good breakfast he made, or perhaps the sight of the sun
struggling through the watery clouds, that served still farther to put
him in high spirits. Be as that may, he took a gay farewell of Widow
Flemyng and of Nancy, and cantered out by the pasture lane at a hopeful
pace, as if he were eager to cover the distance to Oxford and whatever
waited him there.

The rain of the preceding day had laid the dust well, and left in the
air a lingering fragrance of moist earth and beaten grasses that made it
a temptation to slacken speed along the country road. In the hedges by
the wayside the honeysuckle was still dripping with wet; Hugh pulled a
tuft of blossoms as he passed, and crushed them slowly in his bare hand.
How sweet and good was life in summer time, he reflected, and then he
flung the blossoms away and, whistling persistently, thought no more,
for his mind was all made up.

At the first tavern he came to he bought him a draught of ale, bravely,
now there was money in his pocket, then trotted on without halt till
past noon. By that the sun had burnt away the clouds, and the still heat
made the journey less pleasant; so, coming upon a sleepy village with a
small neat inn, the “Bear and Ragged Staff,” Hugh thought well to rest
the midday hours and get food for himself and his horse. The fear of
being recognized and apprehended before he should have a chance to give
himself up made him call for a private room, where he ate alone, except
that the host bustled in to serve him and retail a variety of gossip.
Oxford was near enough for the daily news to pass to the village, so
Hugh heard a deal of authentic information of how the king was said to
lean now to the counsels of the hot-heads and to the army, and how the
royal troops might any day set forth to take in Bristol. He scarcely
heeded more, for the talk of Oxford had turned his thoughts again to
what was before him. Where should he eat his next meal, he wondered,
with a remembrance of the grim Castle; and then, impatient at his own
faltering, he jumped up hastily, and, paying his reckoning, went down to
the little court of the inn, where he bade them saddle Bayard at once.

The horse had been led out into the shade of an open shed, and Hugh was
lingering by the stirrup to fee the hostler, when outside the gateway
sounded a great clattering of hoofs, and a gentleman came spurring in
upon a white horse, that stumbled on three legs. “Have me hither a fresh
mount, briskly, you knaves!” he shouted, flinging a handful of loose
coin among the stable-boys and loiterers. Then, as he put eyes on
Bayard, he swung himself from his saddle. “This beast will serve my
turn,” he called to the host, who had just showed himself at the door of
the inn.

“By the Lord, this beast will not serve your turn!” Hugh cried hotly,
and, catching hold on Bayard’s bridle, flung himself before the horse in
time to confront the stranger. “This is no post-horse, sir, but mine
own.”

The other turned sharp away with a shrug of the shoulders; they were
broad shoulders, Hugh noted, and the rough gray coat fitted them ill.
“Put saddle to another horse at once,” the man bade.

“There is no other at hand, your Honor,” the host apologized, as he
ventured out into the court. “All are at the smith’s. Belike in a
half-hour, your Worship—”

“Enough,” the other interrupted him, and strode back to Hugh. “What will
you sell this beast for?” he asked curtly.

“Not again for all the gold in England,” Hugh replied, tightening his
grasp on the bridle.

“My faith, sir, I’ve no intent to knock you down and steal the horse,”
the other answered, with a short laugh.

His cool tone allayed the heat of Hugh’s anger sufficiently for him to
note the man more closely now, and he perceived he was not above three
or four and twenty, of a tall strong build, with sharp eyes. Hugh caught
his breath and stared frankly, while his mind jumped back to his first
day at Oxford, when he and Allestree, standing upon the steps, had
watched the king and his retinue ride by. The stranger had turned his
back upon him now, and drawn over to the centre of the court, but his
voice was loud, and Hugh could hear him bidding the hostler run out and
procure him a farm-horse or aught that went upon four legs. With a
sudden desperate impulse Hugh thrust forward and spoke boldly, “If it
like you, sir, you may have my horse now.”

“Your price?”

“No price. I’ll lend him unto you.”

“You’ve changed your tune quickly, sir,” said the man, coming back to
Bayard’s side.

“I’m thinking ’tis likely your business is of more weight than mine,
your Highness,” Hugh answered, in a tone that sank to a whisper.

“So you know me?” asked the stranger, with his foot already in the
stirrup.

“I can guess, sir.”

“Spare guessing, then, for taxing the brain,” retorted the other, as he
settled himself in the saddle. “Give me your name, though, sir; I’ll not
forget your service.”

Hugh hesitated an instant, then replied, “Hugh Gwyeth.”

“I’ve heard that name. Perhaps you’re kinsman to him that killed
Bellasis’ son?”

“I—I am the man that killed him, sir.”

“You? The deuce you are!” the stranger broke out; and, to Hugh’s
amazement, he did not look horrified, but more as if he were inclined to
laugh. “Come seek me to-morrow morning at my quarters,” he said
abruptly, then, gathering up the reins, went out of the inn yard at a
gallop.

Hugh stood gazing blankly after him, and could not decide whether to be
elated or dismayed, for he knew the stranger was Prince Rupert, and he
was to have audience with him next morning. Carry his cause to the king,
the widow had counselled him, Hugh reflected, and he tried to smile at
the remembrance, though his heart was sober and anxious.

Just there the host interrupted him; what was his pleasure now? Surely
he would not attempt to make his journey with the lame horse? “No, let
him rest,” Hugh ordered; “I’ll venture him in the morning. For now give
me a chamber; I’ll lie here this night.”

He was early astir next day, for, though the way to Oxford was short, he
was not sure of his mount, and, in any case, he was burning with desire
to present himself before the Prince and know the worst that was
destined for him. The white horse still went lame with a strained
fore-leg, but, sparing him as much as he could, Hugh contrived about
eleven of the clock to pace slowly into the city. Before he entered the
suburbs he had flung on his cloak, in spite of the heat, and pulled his
hat low on his forehead; but still he was nervously alert to avoid the
fixed gaze of those he met, and he dreaded any delay in the street. By
dint of such precautions, perhaps, he came at last unchallenged to
Christ Church, where he remembered Prince Rupert had his quarters.

The groom who took his bridle eyed him sharply, and, once across the
quadrangle and within the broad hall, a trig gentleman usher looked
askance at his worn boots and shabby buff coat. Hugh had too much upon
his mind, however, to trouble for his poor attire. He sat uneasily in
the great chair to which he had been motioned, and studied the sunlight
that fell from a long window high up toward the roof of the hall, till
the usher came at last to bid him follow. Hugh trudged obediently up a
great flight of stairs that creaked alarmingly, and, as he went,
wondered why there was an emptiness where his heart ought to be, and his
throat felt all choked up.

A great door was swung open, he remembered; then he was within a long
sunshiny chamber, with heavy table and big dark chairs, the usher had
gone, and he was left face to face with his Highness, the Prince, and
another youngish gentleman, who sat at opposite sides of the table with
a jumble of papers betwixt them. “You keep your time well, Master
Gwyeth,” spoke the Prince, and put by a paper like a map he had been
studying.

“Your Highness bade me,” Hugh stammered.

“So ’twas you killed Bellasis’ son,” the other repeated, still amusedly.
“Lay down that order, Grandison. I want you to have a look at this
desperate duellist.”

“That boy, your Highness?” drawled the man at the table.

The blood came hot into Hugh’s cheeks. “I pray your Highness, hang me,
if you will, but do not mock me,” he blurted out.

“Who speaks of hanging you here, lad?” Prince Rupert answered, in so
kindly a fashion that Hugh gazed at him in surprise. “Nay, had I my way,
I’d give a captaincy to every man who has the goodness to take off one
of these cursed civilians who are always holding our hands. You are of
the army, sir?”

“I hope to be, your Highness. I am only a volunteer now.”

“’Tis near enough for all soldiers to aid you as a fellow-soldier.—And
how think you, Grandison, my Lord Bellasis would take it, if this
gentleman received a free pardon?”

“He would deem himself most notably affronted,” the other answered
soberly.

Hugh made a step forward and let his words come fast: “If it be your
Highness’s will, if ’tis in your thought to aid me, I do entreat you,
let my case go, so far as it concerns me. But there is my friend that
went to the field with me, for my sake, and cared for me when I was ill
with my hurt afterward. He lost a commission because of me. If there is
only one can be pardoned, I beseech your Highness let it be he.”

“And how do they call this notable friend of yours?”

“Richard Strangwayes, your Highness. He was lieutenant in the regiment
of Sir William Pleydall.”

“Pleydall? Ah, your case was brought unto our notice two months back.
Ay, surely. Gwyeth and Strangwayes. Sir William Pleydall was urging your
pardon through a certain Captain Gwyeth who came to me.”

Hugh dropped his hand down on the back of a chair close by and griped it
hard, while he gazed blankly at the Prince, yet scarcely saw him.
Captain Gwyeth had been urging his pardon, he repeated over and over to
himself, yet could not make it comprehensible. Then he realized that his
Highness was speaking again, and he roused himself up to listen. “Two
months back that was. Well, there is time for many matters to change in
two months. Perchance your business can be settled for you, Master
Gwyeth. Only you must promise to fight no more duels,” the Prince added,
with a laugh in his sharp eyes.

“I will promise, your Highness,” Hugh answered soberly.

“And break it, I’ll wager. You were ready to draw your sword on a poor
dismounted traveller yesterday. Maybe you’d like to have back that horse
you’d not take all the gold in England for?”

“If it does please your Highness,” Hugh said politely; then added
honestly, “I should be loath to part with him.”

His Highness laughed outright. “Go to my stable and call for the horse,”
he bade. “Come hither again in a week or so, and there may be tidings
for you. Only see you do not come to court too often, Master Gwyeth;
’twould be a pity to spoil the honest blunt soldier you are like to be
with a slippery courtier polish.”

Then he turned again to his map in sign of dismissal, and Hugh somehow
contrived to bow himself safely through the door. He was out in the
green quadrangle before he got it through his head that Prince Rupert
himself would move for his pardon to the king, and then he recollected
he had not even said “thank you,” and he flushed hot with the
consciousness of his own churlishness.

It changed his thoughts a trifle to seek out his way to the stable and
claim Bayard, whom he had been ready to give up for lost and was
proportionately glad to recover. Once upon the horse’s back, he took
himself unostentatiously through the streets to the lodgings of his
fencing-master, de Sévérac, who received him warmly, when Hugh assured
him he was fairly sure of pardon and sought only to have quiet harborage
for the week. Those seven days he passed in the dingy sleeping-room
behind the fencing-hall, where he studied the pictures in a great French
folio, “L’Academie de l'Espee,” or entertained de Sévérac in his leisure
moments with a full account of the duel with Bellasis. The
fencing-master, who took a professional pride in his pupil’s success,
entreated Hugh not to persist in saying the victory was due solely to
Bellasis’ carelessness; ’twas just as easy to give credit to himself and
those who taught him the use of the rapier.

Thus the week dragged to an end, while Hugh counted the days
impatiently, and heard with terror that troops were setting out for
Bristol, for in the confusion the great men might well forget his
business. At last the seventh day came, and, having put on a clean shirt
and brushed his coat, he set out for Christ Church. As he went he tried
to steel himself against possible disappointment by telling over the
many cases of the ingratitude of kings; but at heart he knew he did not
believe so ill of the Prince, and in the end his trust was justified. He
had not been kept waiting many minutes in the great hall, when a trim
officer came from above-stairs, and, asking him if he were not named
Gwyeth, delivered to him a fair great piece of parchment all sealed up.
“’Tis my pardon?” Hugh burst out.

The other smiled, not unkindly. “The king of his clemency has been
pleased, at his Highness’s entreaty, to grant a full pardon to those who
had a hand in the death of Philip Bellasis,” he explained formally; then
added, “Suffer me congratulate you, Master Gwyeth.”

In a dazed fashion Hugh shook the other’s hand, then came forth from the
hall into the open air. There he paused, and pushed his hat well back on
his head so all could see his face, then, walking out into the South
Street, tramped half across the city. For he need not skulk nor shrink
now, he was a free man again; and how stoutly he meant to fight for
Prince Rupert, since he could show his gratitude in no other way. Then
it came over him that he were best post off at once to Tamworth and
thank Sir William Pleydall, who had first begun the movement to relieve
him, and thank Alan Gwyeth, who had been Sir William’s instrument. Hugh
scowled and walked a little slower.

But still all his friends lay at Tamworth, and he would speed a letter
thence to tell Dick the good news; so in the end he made briskly for his
quarters. Taking time first to hale out de Sévérac to a fine dinner at
an ordinary, where they ate under the full gaze of the town, he got to
horse, and, ere mid-afternoon, trotted forth from the city. He
calculated he would make the “Bear and Ragged Staff” just about dusk,
and, true enough, he rode down the village street while the red flush of
the sunset still lingered in the west.

Inside the court of the inn he saw five horses standing, stripped of
accoutrements and already half rubbed down by the hostler and his groom.
“Take this beast of mine in to make the half-dozen,” Hugh bade, and,
dismounting, walked leisurely across the court to the side door. His
eyes travelled above the door to an open lattice, and, as he gazed, like
the flash of a face in a dream, he had sight of Dick Strangwayes.

For an instant Hugh stood petrified while he took in each
detail,—Strangwayes’ clean-shaven jaw, the sweep of mustache, the
bandage about his forehead, even the way in which he leaned heavily at
the window, resting one hand against the casement; then he sprang
forward, crying, “Dick!”

Right on that Strangwayes flung himself forward half out at the
casement, and shouted, “Into the saddle and off with you, off with you!”



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                       THE CALL OUT OF KINGSFORD


Just inside the door of the inn was a steep flight of steps; Hugh
tripped over the first, but, almost ere his outstretched hand touched
the floor, was on his feet again and rushing up the stairway. As he ran
he pulled his sword clear from the scabbard; if matters were so ill Dick
wished him thence, he would have need of it. But in the corridor
above-stairs all was quiet, he noted in the instant in which he paused,
holding his breath, and gazed at the closed doors along the gallery.
“Dick!” he called again, so there came a little echo from the end of the
corridor. Then he ran headlong for the nearest door, and, dashing it
open with his foot, flung himself well into the centre of the chamber.
By his very impetus he thrust out of his way a man in a blue livery
coat, and, clearing free passage thus, pushed up to the wall and set his
back against it. There were three blue-coated serving men in the room,
he perceived now, and a gross, short-necked man in a fine riding-suit,
who was deliberately bolting the entrance door. Then his eyes rested on
Dick, who, seated well away from the window, was leaning back indolently
in his chair and tugging at his mustache; only Dick’s white face was
tense, Hugh saw, and he noted, too, that his friend wore no sword.

It was the short-necked man who broke the instant’s expectant hush:
“Master Hugh Gwyeth, the tall swordsman? On my soul, I be rejoiced to
meet with you. Put down that sword. You are my prisoner.”

“What knaves are these, Dick?” cried Hugh, with his sword-hand alert on
the hilt.

“Of the old Bellasis breed,” Strangwayes answered, and let his hand fall
from his mustache with the merest gesture toward the open window, and
just a look which bade Hugh take his chance.

“Ay, we apprehend you for the foul murder of my kinsman, Philip
Bellasis,” spoke the man by the door.

“Is that all?” Hugh asked, with a sudden nervous laugh of relief. He
clapped his sword back into the sheath and tore open his coat.

“Seize his arms!” cried the short-necked man.

One of the serving fellows had sprung at him, when Hugh, striving to
throw him off, saw Dick come to his feet at a jump and hit out. Somebody
bellowed with pain; he found his arm free, and Dick’s shoulder pressing
against his as they stood to the wall. “Have done, have done!” Hugh
cried. “Read you there, Dick.”

He thrust the parchment into his friend’s hands, and Dick, with a
smothered exclamation, broke the seals. An instant of silence came upon
the room, as if all had half guessed; only the rustle of the parchment
and the heavy movement of the fallen serving man dragging himself to his
feet broke the quiet, till Strangwayes spoke with ominous civility,
“Will you deign, Master Bellasis, to bestow one glance upon his
Majesty’s seal and signature?”

“You’ll not deceive me—” said the gross man with much bluster, yet he
came hastily, and, gazing upon the paper, read with dropping jaw.

“Now have you any farther business with me, Master Bellasis?”
Strangwayes asked easily. “Speak quickly, ere I go across the corridor
to sup with Master Gwyeth.”

The other said something that was choked with inarticulateness in his
short throat.

“I am ordering my supper now,” Strangwayes finished, as he went with
much dignity to the door; “and hark you, sir, I want my sword brought
back to me ere supper be on the table. For I’ll be wishing to fetch it
along with me when next I come to seek you.”

Then he made Master Bellasis a very low bow, and, catching Hugh by the
arm, brought him out into the corridor. Right across the way was a
vacant chamber, but almost before they were inside the door Hugh’s arms
were about Dick, and Strangwayes, with his voice half smothered in the
roughness of the embrace, was jerking out: “Heaven forgive Bellasis his
other sins for the good turn he did in bringing us together. But ’twould
have been a sorry companionship, had you not come so furnished.” Thereat
he got Hugh by the scruff of the neck and set him down hard on the
nearest stool. “Now, you thick-witted rogue,” he ordered, “why in the
name of reason did you not call out to me from the inn yard and say you
had that piece of parchment inside your coat? Here I sat a good
half-hour and schooled myself into seeing you laid by the heels along
with me. Faith, I’ll look to find white hairs in my head to-morrow.”

Hugh laughed, because the world was so good now he could do nothing
else, then poured out his story thick and fast,—Prince Rupert at the
“Bear and Ragged Staff,” and behind that Newick, and Woodstead, and
Ashcroft, all huddled together. “Lord save us! We must have food to help
down such a lump,” cried Dick, and, summoning the host thereupon,
ordered supper to be ready in quick time.

A drawer came speedily to fetch them candles, and barely had he gone
when one of the bluecoats, bowing his way in, handed over to Strangwayes
his sword. Dick gave him money, and bade him and his fellows go drink.
“A pleasant company I’ve been keeping, eh, Hugh?” he asked, with a dry
smile, as the man backed out. “How came I by it? Alas, a man cannot
always choose. I was about my business at The Hague, like a decent
gentleman. And that fat calf, Herbert Bellasis,—’tis a cousin to the
whole scurvy connection,—he was there on some mischief, and recognized
me.”

Just there came supper, but across the table Strangwayes drawled on: “My
friend Bellasis feared a young man like myself might come to harm in
foreign parts. So he fetched me home.”

“Fetched you, Dick?”

“Very simply. He and his bluecoats met me of a dark night in a byway. He
was urgent, but I refused his invitations. Then they picked me up and
conveyed me aboard an English ship.”

“I don’t believe they could,” Hugh said bluntly.

“To be sure, they had knocked the senses out of me, else I had not come
so meekly. ’Twas there I got this souse in the head; ’tis near healed
now. But there were four bluecoats once; one of them is still at The
Hague, cherishing a punctured lung; I gave it to him. We had a merry
passage over, Hugh; Bellasis and I must share the cabin and eat
together. He used to tell me over the wine—’twas ship’s beer and flat at
that—how I ought to be hanged, and he hoped to live to see it done. And
I used to compliment him on his mad dare-devil courage. For if at five
and thirty he durst attack a single man when he had only four to back
him, no doubt at seventy he would dare come on with only two to aid.
Nay, if he lived long enough, he might yet arrive at fighting man to
man. Methinks the length of years he had to wait discouraged him, by the
vile temper that put him in. Every pleasure has an end, so at last we
made the Welsh coast and posted hither, in the very nick of time, it
seems. For, Hugh, after this last exploit of yours, I’d be loath to
leave you fending for yourself. Man alive, where do you think you’d be
lying now, if you hadn’t chanced to take the Prince’s fancy?”

Hugh answered submissively that he didn’t know.

“Neither do I,” Strangwayes retorted grimly. “Nay, nay, don’t look
conscience-stricken now, for you found the one good chance in a hundred,
and it has all come well. But ’tis a blessing for us that his Highness
delights to fly about noisily in disguise, instead of plodding soberly
about his business. It has been more of a blessing to us, perhaps, than
to the kingdom.”

“You shall not speak slurringly of Prince Rupert in my presence!” Hugh
flared up.

Strangwayes said, with a laugh, that he would make honorable amends by
drinking his Highness’s health, on his knees, if Hugh desired; so they
ended amicably by drinking the health together as they stood by their
chairs, then religiously smashed their glasses, and went away to bed.

The early sunrise roused them up to repeat and re-repeat all that had
befallen in the months of their separation, a subject which lasted them
through breakfast till they quitted the table and went down to the inn
yard. “Why, Herbert Bellasis has taken himself and his people hence,”
Hugh cried, after one glance into the vacant stable.

“I respect wisdom in any man,” Strangwayes commented, as he loitered at
Hugh’s side in among the stalls. “You say the Prince said something to
you about not fighting any more? Tut, tut! ’Tis a pity.” There he broke
off suddenly, “Why, lad, how came old Bayard back to you?”

“Why should you ask?” Hugh replied wisely. “If you don’t know, I don’t.”

“I’d take it kindly if you’d talk reason,” Strangwayes said
pathetically. “What have I to do with your horse? I don’t know even who
bought the beast, or whither he was taken from Oxford.”

Hugh whistled a stave. “It must ha’ been the same who sent me the two
sovereign from Tamworth. Maybe ’twas Sir William, or perhaps Captain
Turner.”

“Or perhaps Captain Gwyeth,” Dick said, after an instant.

Hugh stared blankly a moment, then stamped his foot down on the stable
floor. “I won’t believe it,” he cried fiercely. “I tell you, I’d fling
away the money and turn the horse loose, if I believed it.”

“Captain Gwyeth had a hand in that first movement to gain your pardon,”
Strangwayes spoke impartially.

“He was only Sir William’s instrument,” Hugh insisted, and, without
staying to caress the horse, strode out of the stable.

Strangwayes followed in silence; indeed, that instant’s jar ended
conversation between them till they were back in their chamber, and Dick
was busied in writing the news of his whereabouts and the outcome of the
Bellasis affair to Sir William. “What use?” urged Hugh, wearied of
gazing out of the window with no one to talk to. “We’ll be at Tamworth
soon.”

“Not for a little time,” Strangwayes answered, with his eyes intent on
the sheet; “I’ve business here at Oxford.”

He did not tell his companion what the business might be, but to all
appearances it was furthered by taking a room in Oxford, by dining with
various gentlemen and officers, and by devoting some days to a happy and
care-free time of which Hugh enjoyed every moment. Not till the morning
succeeding the day on which the king left the city to take possession of
Bristol did Strangwayes make mention of the northward journey; then he
routed Hugh early from his bed with the announcement that they would set
out at once. “But first we must eat a meal at the ‘Sceptre,’” he
concluded. “Fit yourself for the road, Hugh, and gallop thither to order
dinner. If I’m not with you ere noon I’ll have been called north by the
other way, so do you post after as fast as you can. Remember.”

An hour later Hugh was gayly riding out by the western road, which he
had last travelled with such different feelings, and, coming in the
mid-morning to the “Sceptre,” ordered dinner grandly. Afterward he
loitered down to the bowling green, now all short velvety grass, where
he had inveigled Martin, the friendly drawer, into giving him a lesson
in bowls, when Strangwayes hailed him noisily from the doorway. “My
business is despatched,” he said smilingly, as Hugh came to meet him.
“After all, we’d best bribe Martin here to eat the dinner for us. We
must be off.”

They went out from the “Sceptre” at a rattling pace, but the first hill
slackened their speed so conversation was possible. Then Strangwayes
drawled pleasantly, “I’ve no wish to deceive you into any danger, Hugh,
so you should know I have just fought with Herbert Bellasis.”

“Dick!” Hugh cried.

“I was most circumspect,” Strangwayes apologized. “I waited till the
king was well away, so I might not do it in the very teeth of him. And I
did not hurt the fat lump, though I’d fain have done so. I only knocked
the sword out of his fist, and then the poor knave was very ready to
kneel down and crave my pardon, and swear never so to abuse a gentleman
again. Don’t put on your Puritan face, Hughie. The fellow had so treated
me I could do nothing else.”

“Why did you not let me come to the field with you?” Hugh protested. “I
take it most unkindly of you.”

“I was not going to let my folly spoil your new fortunes,” Strangwayes
answered. “I think ’twas done so quietly ’twill all blow over, since we
have got away to Tamworth. But if not, no charge can come against you.”

“Why will you always be sparing me as if I were a child?” Hugh cried,
with an angry break in his voice.

“Because some ways you are still just a long-legged, innocent bairn,”
Dick replied, with a chuckle, whereat Hugh tried to sulk, but that was
impossible with Dick talking fast of their comrades at Tamworth. In the
end he must talk, too, and laugh with Dick, till he forgot the hurt to
his dignity.

By hard riding they contrived before moonrise to reach Ashcroft and
rouse up the Widow Flemyng. She fair hugged Hugh, and said of course she
knew he’d get his pardon; then fell to cooking their supper, while she
talked loudly and contentedly to either of them or both. Next morning
they set out in dubious weather, and, going a short stage out of their
direct road, passed that night with Butler and his officers, who made
much of Strangwayes, though they looked askance at Hugh, and were half
loath to forgive him for not getting hanged as they had prophesied. Next
evening brought them to Sir William Pleydall’s great house in
Worcestershire, where his widowed daughter, Mistress Cresswell, gave
them a hearty welcome, and, riding thence at sunrise, they came at last
unto Tamworth.

It was about four of the afternoon, hot and moist with slow rain, when
they rode across the King’s Dyke down the narrow High Street of the
town. At the door of a tavern Hugh caught sight of a trooper loitering,
a shiftless fellow of Turner’s company, but he longed to jump down and
have speech with the rascal. “Let us push on briskly, Dick,” he begged,
and so they went at a swinging pace down the street and across the
river, where on its height Tamworth Castle towered black against the
gray sky. There was a shout of greeting to the petty officer of the
watch, a scurrying of grooms in the paved south court of the castle, and
then the word of their coming must have travelled at high speed, for
barely had they crossed to the main door of the keep when a young
officer ran out to meet them, and fell on Strangwayes. “Have you forgot
me, Lieutenant?” he cried.

“Sure, no, Cornet Griffith,” Dick answered heartily. “Your leg’s
recovered?”

“A matter of a limp; it does well enough in the saddle. I have back my
commission under Captain Turner now, so we’ll serve in the same troop.
Ay, your lieutenancy is waiting for you.”

Talking boisterously, they crossed the great hall that was now a
guardroom, and, passing into one of the lesser rooms that served the
officers, came upon Michael Turner. It pleased Hugh more than he could
show that the captain did not scoff at him, but gave him a half-embrace,
saying kindly: “Faith, we’re glad to have you back, Gwyeth.” Though next
moment he had turned away to talk with Strangwayes: “You’ve come in time
for work, Lieutenant. They’re drawing all the men they can find westward
unto Gloucester, where they say there will be brisk doings. Leveson’s
and my troops are here in the castle; Gwyeth’s has gone a-raiding into
Warwickshire; the others are all prancing into the west. We’re a scant
hundred to defend the whole town, so we’ll gladly give you the pleasure
of keeping the watch to-night.”

Strangwayes came away laughing, and under Griffith’s guidance they went
down a corridor to a snug parlor, where they had the good fortune to
find Sir William, idle for the moment, and unattended save by a single
hound. The dog made a dash to meet Dick, barking hilariously the while,
so Hugh could only see that the baronet embraced his nephew warmly, and
he stepped back a little to leave them to themselves. But Dick hailed
him forward, and Sir William spoke to him with a gracious sort of
welcome that made Hugh stammer, when he tried to thank him for the
effort to secure his pardon. “Nonsense, nonsense,” spoke Sir William;
“we had no need to seek it, sir. You have the wit or the good fortune to
be able to maintain yourself without our help. Your father ought to be
proud of you.” He stopped there, then, as he turned again to
Strangwayes, added with a certain diffidence: “I pray you, Master
Gwyeth, do not forget to go speak to Francis; he has been in a fit of
the sullens since yesternight.”

Hugh left the room in some wonderment, and, seizing upon a serving man,
was speedily conducted by a passageway, up a flight of stairs, and along
a gallery to a closed door. Hugh knocked, and, getting no reply, knocked
again, then tried the door and found it bolted within. “Frank,” he
called, and began shaking the door. “Open to me. ’Tis Hugh Gwyeth.”

There was an instant’s pause, then a slow step across the floor, and the
grate of the bolt in the socket. “Come in, hang you!” Frank’s voice
reached him.

It was a big cheerless tower chamber, Hugh saw, with heavy scant
furniture and windows high from the floor that now gave little light. He
stood a moment, half expecting Frank to speak or bid him be seated, but
the boy slouched back to the bed that stood in the farther corner, and,
without looking at him, flung himself down upon it. “Why, what’s amiss?”
Hugh broke out, and went to him; now he came nearer he saw Frank had
been crying much.

“Nothing,” the boy answered, and kept his face bent down as if he were
ashamed.

“Tell me,” Hugh urged, “you’ll feel the better for it. Is it anything
because of Griffith?”

“Yes, it’s that,” Frank cried, raising his head defiantly. “They have
taken away my cornetcy, Hugh. ’Tis all along of Michael Turner. And I
never harmed him; I had done my best. But he comes to my father; he says
he must have a man for his troop. So my father turns his anger on me; he
said I was a selfish, heedless child, where ’twas time I bore me as a
young man. And then Ned Griffith comes back all cured, and they stripped
me of my cornetcy to give it to him.” Frank dropped down with his face
buried in the pillow. “I pray you, go away,” he choked; and, in the next
breath, “Nay, come back, Hugh; you’ve always been my friend.”

Hugh sat down obediently by the bed, scarcely knowing what to say, when
Frank with his face still hidden suddenly broke out, “Hugh, did you look
to have that cornetcy last winter?”

Hugh hesitated: “Yes, I did hope. But I had no reason, ’twas no fault of
yours.”

“My faith, I had not taken it of you, had I known. I’d not have used a
man as Ned has used me, as they all have used me. I have been playing
the fool, and they all have been scoffing at me, and I did not know it.”

“Sure, you must not take it so grievously, Frank,” Hugh urged. “Get up
and wash your face and show you care not. You’ll have another commission
soon, when they see you are in earnest.”

Between coaxing and encouraging he got Frank to his feet at last, and
even persuaded him to eat supper, which he ventured to order sent to the
chamber. Throughout Hugh did his best to talk to the boy of any and all
matters that had befallen him, till he roused him to a certain dull
interest. “So you’ve had back your horse all safe?” Frank asked
listlessly. “’Twas I procured Captain Gwyeth the name of the place where
you were hiding. He bought the horse when ’twas sold at Oxford, and he
wished you to have it, that time when he was working for your pardon.
Yes, I know your father well; he is always kind to me, and does not mock
me as the others have been doing. I used to tell him all about you, and
then he asked me find where you were lodging. I had influence with my
father then, so I could learn it,” he added bitterly.

All thought of comforting Frank had left Hugh; he tried to listen with
sympathy to his piteous complaints, but it was useless; so he rose, and,
bidding him as cheery a good night as possible, and promising to come
back in the morning, went out from the chamber. At the end of the
gallery was a deep window-seat, where he sat down and stared out at the
roofs of the town that huddled gray in the twilight, so intent on his
own thoughts that he started when Dick touched his shoulder. “How did
you leave the poor popinjay?” Strangwayes asked, with a trace of a laugh
in his voice.

“Better, I think,” Hugh replied.

“Poor lad! Sir William might remember there is a mean betwixt
over-indulgence and severity. But Frank has brought it on himself. When
he forgot to do his duty in the troop he would be trying to cajole
Captain Turner into good humor, just as he has always cajoled Sir
William. And Michael Turner is not the man to coax that way. He has
influence with Sir William, too, and so—Well, ’twill be for Frank’s good
in the end,” Dick concluded philosophically, as he settled himself on
the window-bench.

Hugh made room for him, then went on staring at the gray sky. Suddenly
he broke out, “Dick, it was Captain Gwyeth sent me Bayard.”

“Ay?” the other answered, without surprise. “And I have it of Sir
William, he was main urger, and drew him on to what seemed a hopeless
attempt to gain our pardon.”

Hugh scowled at his boots. “I take it I must wait on him and tell him
‘thank you,’ when he comes back out of Warwickshire. I wish he had let
me alone!” he cried.

“You _are_ like your father,” Strangwayes said judicially, leaning back
on the window-bench. “See to it, Hugh, you do not make the resemblance
too complete.”

“How that?” Hugh asked guiltily.

“By giving way to your ugly pride, so you do what it may take months of
repentance to undo.”

Hugh made no answer, and the silence between them lasted till the
gallery was quite dark, when, slipping off the window-seat, they tramped
away to their comrades below.

Next day Hugh gave himself up to Frank, who, truth to tell, in his
present half-subdued state was pleasanter company than he had been at
Oxford. He persuaded Master Pleydall to come out and view the town,
which took them till mid-afternoon; and then they loitered back to the
castle, with discreet turnings to avoid meeting any of the other
officers. Frank dodged into a tavern to keep out of sight of Griffith,
but he dragged Hugh half a mile down a blind lane to avoid a suspected
encounter with Captain Turner. “Mayhap I was impudent and forward, so he
got at last to ask my advice about conducting the troop, when others of
the men were by. And I thought he meant it all in sober earnest.” Frank
made a brave attempt at nonchalance, but his lips quivered so Hugh had
an improper desire to chastise Michael Turner; for all his swagger and
affectation, Frank had been too innocent and childish a lad to be
scathed with the captain’s pitiless sarcasms.

Luckily they had no more encounters with men from the garrison till they
were nearly at the gate of the castle, and then it was only Strangwayes,
riding forth in full armor, with some twenty men behind him, to post the
watch about the town for the evening hours. Hugh made him a formal
salute, which Dick returned gayly before he rode on.

“Dick is right fond of you,” Frank said, with a shade of envy; and after
that they sauntered in a moody silence, till, the sight of the stables
cheering Frank a bit, he prayed Hugh come in and look at The Jade. “I’ve
not seen the old lass since day before yesterday,” he explained.

They were still lingering to admire the mare, when two grooms came
hurrying a lathered horse into the stable. “Who’s been riding so hard?”
Hugh asked carelessly.

“Messenger from the troop to the south, sir.”

“To the south?” Hugh repeated. “Come quickly, Frank, I must see—”

He walked rapidly across the courtyard to the door of the guardroom.
About it men were crowded, and more were pressing into the room itself;
but at Hugh’s jostling they made him a way into the thick of them. Over
on a bench in the corner he had sight of a man with the sleeve cut from
his coat, who sat leaning heavily against a comrade. Another, whom Hugh
recognized as the surgeon of the regiment, was washing a wound in his
arm, and as he moved, Hugh got a glimpse of the face of the injured man.
“Cowper!” he cried, and ran forward, for he knew the fellow for one of
Captain Gwyeth’s old independent troop.

Men gave him place; he heard a mutter amongst them, “The captain’s son,”
but he did not heed; just pushed his way to the wounded man, and bent
over him: “Cowper, what has happened? Is anything wrong with my father?
Tell me.”

“They closed in on us, sir,” the man roused up to speak. “Captain
Oldesworth’s horse, and a company of foot beside. They took our horses
and they slew Cornet Foster. I came through for help. They have the
colonel blocked up in Kingsford church.”



                              CHAPTER XIX
                       THE RIDING OF ARROW WATER


For a moment the faces of the men about him went all blurry to Hugh’s
sight; then he was making his way fumblingly across the guardroom, and,
thrusting out one arm before him, found the door to the inner part of
the castle. Now that he was hurrying at a surer pace down the corridor
within, he realized that his breath was coming in short gasps and he was
shaking with a nervous tremor. Kingsford, Kingsford, the word kept
singing through his head; the Oldesworths, who had so hated Alan Gwyeth,
held him at their mercy now at Kingsford. Only to Hugh it was no longer
Alan Gwyeth, but his father, the father whom his mother had taught him
to respect, who had tried to win him a pardon. And he had begrudged the
man even a grateful thought.

Hugh dashed open the door of his chamber, and, kicking off his shoes,
began tugging on his boots. He heard a step behind him, as he struggled
with his head bent; then came Frank’s voice: “Hugh, you’ve heard? They
have cut him off; he has cried for help; my father is taking counsel
with the captains—”

“Counsel?” cried Hugh, springing to his feet. “Why don’t they send him
aid?” He tore his buff coat down from the wall.

“Faith, ’tis a question if there is aid to send,” Frank cried, in equal
excitement, as he made a hindering effort to help Hugh into the coat;
“they have taken away so many of our regiment; we are scant a hundred
men all told; they say ’tis doubtful if we can send—”

“Then I’ll go to Kingsford alone. Run bid them saddle Bayard, Frank,
quick.” With that Hugh caught up his sword, and, going full speed out of
the chamber, drowned in the clatter of his boots the protests Frank sent
after him.

Below, in the tower room that served for conferences, Sir William would
be with his officers, and he hoped there to learn farther news. Almost
at the door he ran upon a man from Turner’s troop, all accoutred, who
drew back and saluted him. “What seek you? Know you what they are
planning?” Hugh asked excitedly.

“Nay, sir; only I was bid have my horse ready, and stand at their
service.”

Hugh could guess the service. Pushing by the trooper to the door of the
chamber, he knocked a rattling, peremptory knock, and another right upon
it. At that the door was wrenched open, and Leveson, grim and dignified,
had begun, “What brings you, sirrah?” when Turner’s voice interrupted:
“Hugh Gwyeth, is it? Let him come in.”

After that Hugh had a confused sight of the high-studded room, with the
sunlight far up on the walls and the corners dusky, and of the men by
the table, who had faced toward him. Then he found himself over by Sir
William’s armchair, his hand resting hard upon the table, and he was
speaking rapidly: “I am going to Kingsford, Sir William, to my father.
If you are seeking a messenger for anything, I’ll bear it safely. For I
am going straightway.”

“Nay, I shall not suffer it, Hugh Gwyeth,” the baronet cut him short.
“Do you understand? The roads are close beset; the trooper who brought
us the tidings was shot in the arm and the side.”

“But I know the Kingsford roads. I can make it,” Hugh protested, and
looked from one to another of the three dubious faces. “Sure, you’ll let
me go,” he burst out. “I must. If he be—harmed and I not there. I must
go.” His eyes dropped to his hands that were clinching his hat fast, and
rested there; he dared not glance again at those about him lest he find
refusal in their looks, and he hoped they might not be gazing at him,
for he knew his mouth was working.

Then Turners voice sounded quick and decided: “Let him go, Sir William.”

“Ay, he is a light rider and he knows the roads. A good messenger, after
all,” Leveson added in a matter-of-fact tone.

Hugh looked up hopefully and saw a glance exchanged between Sir William
and his captains that meant his case was won. “We’ll not endanger you
with a written message,” the baronet spoke at once; “for I tell you
frankly, sir, you run a hundred chances of capture. If you do contrive
to bring yourself through the rebel lines, bid Captain Gwyeth from me to
hold out but two days, till Saturday, and he shall have help. ’Tis so
you have determined, gentlemen?”

“If the Lord aid us, we can recall enough troops to make the town good
and ride for the rescue by then,” Turner answered.

“That’s all your message, Gwyeth,” Sir William resumed; “and remember,
if the rebels knew the time when relief could be looked for, ’twould aid
them mightily, so if you be taken—”

“I’ll not be taken, sir, I do assure you,” cried Hugh, with his hand on
the latch of the door; “I’ll come through safe to Kingsford.”

“Heaven grant it!” the other said, with a trace of a smile, and then
soberly, “I can warn you, the captain will be glad at heart to see you.”

Turner said something kindly, too, Hugh remembered afterward, but for
the present it was just people speaking and wishing him God speed, and
he was glad when he clapped on his hat outside the door and could run
for his horse.

Outside, the whole castle seemed emptied into the south court; Leveson’s
and Turner’s men, some in coats and more in shirt-sleeves, who shouted
questions and the tidings back and forth, and swore and scuffled at the
jostlings of the crowd. The sun was down, but the early twilight still
was clear between the gray walls, enough to bring out every detail of
the swarming courtyard, and to enable Hugh to distinguish the faces of
the men. Down in the thick of the throng he caught sight of Frank, with
a groom holding The Jade, and he ran down from the doorway to him. At
that, some of the men set up a cheering, under cover of which Frank,
putting his arm round Hugh’s shoulders, said in a low tone: “I want you
to take the mare, Hugh; she’s faster than Bayard, and she’s not been
used these two days; and I did not know it was your cornetcy I was
taking, and I want you to ride her. Into the saddle with you!”

Without wit or time to reply, Hugh found himself on the mare’s back,
felt her quiver beneath him, and had opened his mouth to bid the groom
let go her head, when the shouting swarm between him and the great
gateway was suddenly cleft apart. Up the lane Black Boy came swinging
with Strangwayes pulling taut on the bridle so he eased up at Hugh’s
side. “Get you down,” Dick cried without question, and, springing to the
ground himself, began tearing off his cuirass.

“What will you have? Be brisk,” Hugh shouted, coming out of his saddle.

Strangwayes flung his cuirass about him, and began very deliberately
taking in the straps to fit Hugh’s body. “Did you think you were going
on a pleasure ride?” he asked. Frank burst into a nervous laugh, which
others caught up, and some began cheering for the lieutenant. Hugh heard
The Jade prancing with impatience at the sound, and he himself fairly
squirmed under Dick’s touch. “Let me be off!” he cried.

“You’ve all night before you,” Strangwayes drawled. “Hold up your arm so
I can get at the strap.”

Just then, through the clatter of The Jade’s restless hoofs and the hum
of the eager crowd about him, Hugh heard his name called. Looking over
his shoulder he saw Cowper, with his face the color of ashes, limp up
between two comrades. “They said ’twas you should go to Kingsford, sir,”
the man addressed him.

“I’m to venture it,” Hugh answered. “How left you matters there,
Cowper?”

“The captain has the church and the graveyard, sir. The rebels hold the
village and the bridge over the Arrow. I got across two mile up at the
Blackwater ford. The river ran high, and they had set no guard. ’Twas
breaking through the village they shot at me.”

“Go tend your hurt now,” Hugh found thought to urge. “I’ll remember the
ford, be sure. Are you done now, Dick?”

“Done with that,” replied Strangwayes. “Are your pistols in order? And
the word for the night is ‘Gloucester’; you’ll need it at the gates.”

“Yes, yes,” Hugh cried, and made a dash for The Jade, who, dragging her
groom at her head, had fretted herself a good ten feet away. A trooper
jumped forward and caught her bit to stay her; but it was Dick, Hugh
remembered, who held the stirrup so he could swing himself easily into
the saddle. “God speed!” he heard Strangwayes say in the instant that
followed. “We’ll be at your heels soon. God speed!”

That was all the farewell between them; for the men stood back from The
Jade’s head, and, with a shrill squeal, she darted forward across the
court. Hugh heard the click of her hoofs on the cobblestones, then lost
the sound in the cheer upon cheer that broke from those about him. His
arms ached with the tense grip he was holding on the bridle, and then he
found the mare had the bit in her teeth. “Go, if you will,” he cried,
letting the reins looser. The shadow of the gateway fell upon him; he
saw the flicker of the torch beneath it and the white faces of the men
on guard. Then he had jammed his hat on hard, and, bending his head, was
striving to hold The Jade straight as she tore down the slope and sped
through the town.

Houses and shops rushed by; he heard a woman shriek abuse after him for
his mad riding; the crash of opening casements, as the townsfolk leaned
out to see him pass; once, too, his heart gave a jump as a boy, like a
black streak, shot across the road just clear of The Jade’s nose. Then
the bulk of the town gate blocked his way; he saw the sentinels spring
forth to stay him, and, contriving to check the mare an instant, he
leaned from the saddle to say “Gloucester” to the corporal in charge.

“Pass free,” came the word; the men stood from his path, and, giving
loose rein to The Jade, he flew by them out into the twilight stretch of
open country road.

For a time it was just breathless riding, with his full weight on the
reins to slacken the mare’s speed; for the road was all ruts, and he
feared for her slender legs. The mud spattered up even into his eyes,
and once, at a dip in the road, he felt his mount make a half-slip in
the mire, which sobered her somewhat, so he could ease her down to a
slow, careful trot that promised to carry him well through the night.
Now he was first able to look about at the broad, dusky fields and back
over his shoulder, where Tamworth town and castle were merged into the
night. The first exhilaration of the setting forth went from him in the
stillness and dark; it was steady, grim work he had before him, yet he
felt assured he would come safely into Kingsford, and, spite of the
gravity of it all, he found himself smiling a little at the way in
which, at last, he was going to his father. He wondered perplexedly how
he should greet Captain Gwyeth, and how phrase his message; a formal
tone would perhaps be best till he was sure of his welcome. But Sir
William had said his father would be glad at his coming; at that thought
Hugh pricked on The Jade a little faster.

Once clear of the first village beyond Tamworth he entered a stretch of
woodland, where the black tips of the trees showed vivid against the
starless gray sky. Below, the undergrowth was all dense darkness and
Hugh thought it well to keep a hand on his pistol, for he was drawing
into Puritan country where a Cavalier was fair game for an ambuscade.
Out beyond he trotted again through fields, only blacker and lonelier
now than those by Tamworth. Such cottages as he passed were silent and
dark; at one farmstead he heard a dog howl, and once, in a tangled
hollow, a bat whizzed by his head, but he saw or heard no other living
thing. Though once, as he gazed across the fields on his left, he made
out in the distance a gleam of light; a farm must lie yonder, and he
pictured to himself the low cottage chamber, where the goodwife would be
watching with a restless child. Such shelter and companionship was
betokened by the light that he turned in the saddle to gaze at it till a
clump of trees shut it from him.

It must have been something after midnight, though under that starless
sky he could not tell the time surely, when he clattered into a
considerable town. An officious watchman with a bobbing torch ran from a
byway, calling on him to stand, so Hugh clapped spurs to The Jade and
shot through the street at such a pace that the next watchman could only
get out of his course without trying to stay him. But after that he grew
wary and, when the outlying houses of the next town came out of the
black, turned off into the fields and picked his way about it. The
round-about course saved him from interference, but it took much time;
by a dull, unbraced feeling, that was not sleepiness nor yet quite
weariness alone, he knew he had been many hours in the saddle, and he
began to look to the east, in dread lest he catch the first signs of
daybreak.

Presently he must give his whole attention to The Jade, for they
spattered into a ford where the going was treacherous. While she halted
to drink he gazed about at the bushes and the field before him, and,
spite of the dark, knew the place. It was home country he was drawing
toward now, so he trotted on slowly, with his senses alert and his eyes
peering into the dusk for the landmarks that should guide him. So it was
that at last on his right hand he caught sight of a big leafless oak,
beneath which he pulled up short. True enough, he remembered the way in
which the tree stood up bare and alone with scragged common at its back;
he could not see well for the dark, but he knew that at the farther edge
of the open land was a belt of young oaks that hid the ford of
Blackwater.

He lingered beneath the blasted oak, time enough to look to his pistols,
and time enough, too, for him to recall the ghostly reputation of the
lonely tree, so his nerves were crisping as he rode by it into the
common. But he quieted The Jade’s fretty step, and, in the action and
the thought of what might be before him, steadied himself till, though
his body was trembling with eagerness, his head was cool. He took the
precaution of making the mare keep a slow trot that was half muffled in
the turf, though he urged her as much as he dared on the uneven ground;
for to the east, as he looked over his shoulder, the dark was beginning
to pale. The early summer morning must be near at hand, for when he had
crossed the open there was light enough for him to make out the break in
the trees where the bridle path wound down to the ford.

Hugh went in cautiously, with the reins taut in his left hand and his
right on his pistol; but for all that The Jade’s feet splashed in the
sloughs of the pathway with a loudness that startled him. He pulled up a
moment and listened; ahead he could hear the lap, lap of swift water,
but for the rest the wood was silent. He was about to press the mare
forward with a touch of the spur, when, flinging up her head, she
whickered shrilly. Right upon that, somewhere to the front by the
water’s edge, a horse neighed.

Next moment Hugh felt the lash of low boughs across his neck, as he
pulled The Jade round with her haunches in among the bushes by the path.
Spite of the crash of the branches, and the pounding of the blood in his
temples that near deafened him, he caught the sound of hoof-beats on his
left, coming down on him from the common as well as up from the river.
At that he urged The Jade forward, straight into the bushes at the other
side of the path, where the limbs grew so low that he bent down with his
bare head pressed against her mane. For all the hurry and tumult, his
ears were alert, and presently he heard their horses crashing behind him
among the trees at the right. Then, cautiously as he could pick his way
in the gray dimness, he turned The Jade’s head to the common. Brushing
out through the last of the oaks he faced southward, and, as he did so,
cast a glance behind him. Out of the shadows of the trees in his rear he
saw the dim form of a horseman take shape, and a command, loud in the
hush of morning, reached him: “Halt, there!”

Hugh laid the spurs to The Jade’s sides and, as she ran, instinctively
bent himself forward. Behind him he heard a shot, then the patter of
many hoofs upon the turf, and a second shot. Right upon it he felt a
dull shock above the shoulder blade; the ball must have rebounded from
his cuirass. After that he was in among the trees once more; through the
wood behind him men were crashing and shouting; and even such scant
shelter as the oaks gave was ending, as they grew sparser and sparser,
till he dashed into an open stretch that sloped to the Arrow. To the
front he had a dizzy sight of more horsemen straggling from cover; there
were two patrols closing in on him, he realized, and with that, jerking
the mare to the right, he headed for the river.

Before him he could see the slope of hillside, the dark water under the
bank beyond, even the dusky sedge of the low opposite shore. He saw,
too, a horseman, bursting out from the trees, halt across his path, but
he neither stayed nor swerved, just drove the spurs into The Jade and
braced himself for the shock. He must have struck the other horse on the
chest; he had an instant’s sight of a trooper’s tense face and a horse’s
sleek shoulders, then only black water was before him and men behind him
were shouting to pull up. There came a sickening sense of being hurled
from the earth; a great splashing noise and spray in his face. After
that was a time of struggling to free his feet from the stirrups, to
clear himself from the frightened mare; all this with water choking and
strangling him and filling his ears and beating down his head. He had no
thought nor hope nor conscious plan of action, only with all the
strength of his body he battled clear till he found himself in
mid-stream, with the current tugging at his legs, and his boots and
cuirass dragging him down. Once his head went under, and he rose gasping
to a dizzy sight of gray sky. He struck out despairingly while he tried
in vain to kick free from his boots. The current was twisting and
tossing him helplessly; he turned on his back a moment, and still the
sky was rushing past above him and whirling as it went. Above the din of
the water he heard faint shouts of men and crack of musket-shot. A base
end for a soldier, to drown like a rat! he reflected, and at the thought
struck out blindly. The water swept him down-stream, but he fought his
way obliquely shoreward till of a sudden he found the tug of the current
had abated. He could rest an instant and look to his bearings; quite
near him lay the shore, a dark sweep of field with a hedge that ran down
to the water, and on the farther side the hedge he saw horsemen
following down the stream.

Hugh struck out with renewed strength, till, finding the bottom beneath
his feet at last, he splashed shoreward on the run, and, stumbling
through the sedge and mire of the margin, panted upward into the field.
Off to the left were the roofs of Kingsford, so far the current had
swept him, but near at hand there was no hiding-place, nor even a tree
to set his back against, and, with his boots heavy with water and his
breath exhausted with the past struggle, he had no hope to run. He
halted where he was, in the midst of the bare field, and pulled out his
sword, just as the foremost horseman cleared the hedge at a leap. It was
not so dark but Hugh recognized the square young figure, even before the
man charged right upon him. “Good morrow, Cousin Peregrine,” he cried
out, and dodged aside so the horse might not trample him. “Get down and
fight.”

As he spoke he made a cut at the horse’s flank; then Peregrine, crying
out his name, sprang down and faced him. They were blade to blade at
last, and at the first blow the older lad flinched, stumbling back in
the long grass of the field, and Hugh, with eyes on his set, angry face,
pressed after him. Horses were galloping nearer and nearer, men calling
louder, but Hugh did not heed; for Peregrine, mistaking a feint he made,
laid himself open, and he lunged forward at him.

Then his sword-arm was caught and held fast, and he was flung backward
into the grasp of a couple of troopers. The man who had first seized
him, a grim corporal in a yellow sash, wrenched the sword out of his
hand, and he heard him speak to Peregrine: “Has the knave done you hurt,
sir?”

Hugh pulled himself together, though his whole body was still a-quiver
with the action of the last moments, and looked about him. Yellow-sashed
troopers surrounded him, six or seven, he judged, and a few paces
distant stood Peregrine, with his hand pressed to his right forearm. “He
slashed me in the wrist,” young Oldesworth broke out; “I tripped, else
he had not done it.”

“You had not tripped if you had stood your ground,” Hugh flung back,
with an involuntary effort to loosen his arms from the grasp of those
who had seized him.

“Hold your tongue, you cur!” snapped Peregrine, and might have said
more, had there not come from across the river a prolonged hail. One ran
down to the brink to catch the words; but Hugh had no chance to listen,
for at Peregrine’s curt order he was hustled upon one of the troop
horses. They tied his hands behind him, too; whereat Hugh set his teeth
and scowled in silence. What would Peregrine do with him before he were
done, he was wondering dumbly, when the man from the river came up with
the report that the captain bade to convey the prisoner to Everscombe,
and see to it that he did not escape. “I’ll see to it,” Peregrine said
grimly, and got to his saddle, awkwardly, because of his wounded arm,
that was already staining a rough bandage red.

The morning was breaking grayly as the little squad turned westward
through the fields, and by a hollow to the Kingsford road. As they
descended into the highway, Hugh faced a little about in his saddle, and
gazed down it toward the village; a rise in the land shut the spot from
sight, but he knew that yonder Captain Gwyeth lay, awaiting the message
that he was not to bring. The trooper who rode at his stirrup took him
roughly by the shoulder then, and made him face round to the front. “You
don’t go to Kingsford to-day, sir,” he jeered.

Hugh had not spirit even to look at the fellow, but fixed his eyes on
the pommel of the saddle. Trees and road he had known slipped by, he was
aware; he heard the horses stamp upon the roadway; and he felt his wet
clothes press against his body, and felt the strap about his wrists cut
into the flesh. But nothing of all that mattered as his numbed wits came
to the full realization that this was the end of the boasting confidence
with which he had set forth, and the end of his hope of meeting with his
father. The last fight would be fought without him, or even now Captain
Gwyeth, ignorant of the aid that should hurry to him, might be putting
himself into his enemies’ hands. At that, Hugh tugged hopelessly at the
strap, and found a certain relief in the fierce smarting of his chafed
wrists.

Like an echo of his thoughts Peregrine’s voice came at his elbow: “So
you were thinking to reach Kingsford, were you?”

“I should not be riding here just for my pleasure,” Hugh replied, with a
piteous effort to force a light tone.

“’Twould be as well for you if you were less saucy,” his cousin said
sternly. “You know me.”

“I know you carry one mark of my sword on you,” Hugh answered, looking
his tormentor in the face, “and if you’d not let your troop come aid
you, you’d carry more.”

For a moment he expected Peregrine to strike him; then the elder lad
merely laughed exasperatingly. “You’ll not talk so high by to-night,” he
said, “when you’re fetched out to see that dog Gwyeth hanged up in
Everscombe Park.”

“You’d best catch him before you hang him,” Hugh answered stoutly,
though the heart within him was heavy almost beyond endurance. What
might the Oldesworths not do if once they laid hands on Captain Gwyeth?
A prisoner of war had no rights, Hugh was well aware, and so many
accidents could befall. He felt his face must show something of his
fear, and he dreaded lest Peregrine goad him into farther speech, and
his words betray his wretchedness.

But happily just there they turned in between the stone pillars of
Everscombe Park, and Peregrine paced to the front of his squad. Hugh
listlessly watched the well-remembered trees and turnings of the avenue,
which were clear to see now in the breaking dawn. The roofs of the manor
house showed in even outlines against the dull sky, all as he remembered
it, only now the lawn beneath the terrace was scarred with hoof-prints,
and over in the old west wing the door was open, and a musketeer paced
up and down the flagstones before it. Heading thither, the squad drew up
before the entrance, and Hugh, haled unceremoniously from the horse’s
back, was jostled into the large old hall of the west wing, that seemed
now a guardroom.

“How do you like this for a home-coming, cousin?” Peregrine asked, and
Hugh looked him in the eyes but answered nothing. His captor laughed and
turned to his troopers. “Search him thoroughly now,” he ordered; “then
hold him securely till Captain Oldesworth comes.—And I can tell you,
sirrah,” he addressed Hugh once more, “you’ll relish his conversation
even less than you relish mine.”



                               CHAPTER XX
                     BENEATH THE ROOF OF EVERSCOMBE


They had searched Hugh, thoroughly and with more than necessary
roughness, and now he was permitted to drag on his dripping clothes
again. It was in a long, narrow room at the end of the old hall, where
the ceiling was high and dark and the three tall windows set well up
from the floor. A year ago it had been a closed and disused apartment,
but now a couple of tables and some stools were placed there; Hugh noted
the furniture in listless outer fashion as he sat wrestling on his
sodden boots. For once his captors had taken their hands off him; one
trooper was guarding the door and another was pacing up and down beneath
the windows, but the corporal and the third man stood within arm’s reach
of him. When Hugh rose to his feet the corporal made a little movement,
and he realized they were all alert for his least suspicious action. “My
faith, I’m not like to get away from the four of you,” Hugh broke out in
a despairing sort of sullenness. “’Tis only that I’d fain put on my
coat, unless you claim that along with my cuirass and buff jacket.”

One bade him put on and be hanged, and Hugh, having drawn on the wet
garment, sat down again on the stool by the table, too utterly weary and
hopeless to note more than that the room was damp and the chill of his
soaked clothes was striking to his marrow. With a thought of tramping
some warmth into his body he rose again, but the corporal sharply bade
him sit down quietly or be tied down. Hugh resumed his place on the
stool with his shoulders against the edge of the table and one ankle
resting on the other knee; he would gladly have swung round and rested
his head upon the table, so worn-out and faint he felt, only he knew if
he did his captors would think him childish and frightened.

Of a sudden he heard the sentinel at the door advance a step and
announce to the corporal: “Captain Oldesworth has just come into the
guardroom, sir.”

A queer tingling went through Hugh’s veins, and upon it followed a
sickening faintness. Bringing both feet down to the ground, he faced
about with his clinched hand on the table and his eyes fastened upon the
door. He knew now why he had not been able to think, those last moments,
why every humiliation had been scarcely heeded, in the expectation of
this that was before him. He saw the corporal draw up stiff in salute,
the sentinel stand back from the door, and then, clean-shaven,
set-mouthed as ever, he saw Tom Oldesworth stride in.

It had been in Hugh’s mind to stand up to meet his uncle, but at the
last he dared not trust his knees to such a test. For the moment the old
boyish fear of the elder man, whose raillery had cut him, whose blows
had made him flinch, came back on him, and he could only stare at him
dumbly.

“’Tis not the place I had looked to find you, nephew,” Oldesworth
greeted him, in a tone that though brusque was kindly enough. Only in
the hurriedness of his bearing and the eagerness in his eyes Hugh read
no friendly presage, so he let his gaze fall to the table and studied
the grain of the wood, while he listened to the beating of his heart
that vibrated through all his body.

Oldesworth spoke a word aside to the corporal, and as the troopers drew
to the farther end of the room came and set himself down opposite Hugh.
“Now attend me, sir,” he began rapidly. “By your trappings you seem to
have learned something of war; then you know how the case stands with
you now we have you fast. So I trust you will not suffer any childish
stubbornness to vex me or harm you.”

Hugh watched the man’s hard face with fascinated eyes and lips
half-opened, but found no tongue to reply.

“You were riding to Kingsford,” Oldesworth continued, gazing at him
fixedly. “You came from Tamworth, whither a messenger was posted
yesterday. You brought an answering message. What was it?”

Hugh flung back his head. “If there be a message, think you I’d be such
a fool as to tell it?” he cried, in a voice that was so firm it made him
glad. After all, he had no need to fear, for this was only a man like
the rest, and he was now a man, too.

“You brought a message from Sir William Pleydall,” Oldesworth repeated,
unmoved. “He is going to send aid to this man, is he not? Why, I can
read that in your face, Hugh. Aid is coming, then. Is it to-day?
To-morrow? Answer me.”

Hugh met his uncle’s gaze fairly, with his head held a little upward and
his lips tight-set now. There was nothing for him to say, but he knew
they fought the battle out betwixt them while their glances met.

“So you’re stubborn, are you?” Oldesworth said, rising to his feet. “You
young fool! Do you think you can set your will against mine?”

“I think I will not tell what you ask,” Hugh replied without a tremor.

Oldesworth leaned a little forward with his fist upon the table. “I have
been waiting all my manhood to take satisfaction from Alan Gwyeth,” he
said slowly. “Now the opportunity is given me do you think I shall
suffer a boy’s obstinacy to hinder me? I will have that message. If
you’ll not yield it for the asking, why—Come, come, speak. I’d be loath
to hurt you, Hugh.”

“I’d be loath to have you, sir,” Hugh replied soberly, though his whole
inclination was to laugh; for now the worst had come he was braced to
meet it, and quite unafraid.

Captain Oldesworth’s jaws were set ominously at that. “Corporal,” he
ordered sharply, “send a man to fetch rope and a piece of match.”

With an involuntary start Hugh came to his feet, for his mind had jumped
back to something Butler had once hinted,—that a length of burning match
tied between the fingers was the surest way to make a dumb knave find
his tongue.

“’Tis no laughing matter, you’ll perceive,” the captain said, with a
trace of satisfaction. “Now you’ll tell?”

Hugh shook his head, not looking at his uncle but with eyes upon the
door. He saw it pushed open, and then came in the trooper with a length
of rope in his hand, but Hugh scarcely heeded, for behind him, with an
eager step, walked Peregrine Oldesworth. After that it did not need the
tramp of the men crossing from the other end of the room to set every
fibre of Hugh’s body tense for the coming struggle. With a quick
movement he swung about to catch up the stool he had just quitted;
Oldesworth must have stepped round the table behind him, for he blocked
his way now, and catching him by the shoulders made him stand, for all
Hugh’s effort to wrench clear. “’Twill be no use fighting, my lad,” he
said, with something oddly like pity in his face. “Do as I ask
straightway. You’ve done all a gentleman need do. Tell me now when
Pleydall is coming. Else you go into the hands of Cornet Oldesworth and
his squad here. And Peregrine is keen for this work. But tell, and no
one shall lay hand on you, nor—”

“I care not if you kill me!” Hugh cried hoarsely.

“Have it your way, then!” Oldesworth retorted, and, flinging him off,
turned his back. “Tie him up, lads,” he ordered.

Some one griped his collar, Hugh felt; there was a rip of cloth, and for
a moment he had torn himself free and struck out blindly at the mass of
them. They must have tripped him, for he felt the floor beneath his
shoulders; but he still had hold on one of them, and he heard a shirt
tear beneath his hands. There came a dull pain between his eyes, as if
the bones of the forehead were bursting outward, and he made a feeble
effort to strike up as he lay. Then the struggling was over; he could
not even kick, for one that sat upon his legs; a man’s knee was grinding
down on his back, and his arms were forced behind him. His face was
pressed to the floor, and he could see nothing for a blackness before
his eyes, but he heard Peregrines voice, cool and well-satisfied: “He’ll
be quiet enough now. Here’s the rope.”

Some one else had entered the room, Hugh realized; a slow step, a pause,
and then a stern voice that rang loud: “Thomas Oldesworth! Bid your
ruffians take their hands from your sister’s son.”

“Father!” the captain’s voice spoke, then after an instant’s blank pause
ran on: “You do not understand, good sir. He—”

“Will you stand arguing?” There came a noise as of a staff’s being
struck upon the floor. “Do I command in this house, son Thomas, or do
you? You ruffianly knaves, up with you all!”

They had left him free, Hugh found, and dragging one arm up to his head
he lay panting desperately, without strength or heart to move. “Help him
to his feet,” the stern voice spoke again. “Or have you done him serious
hurt?”

They lifted him up, with gentler handling than they had yet given him,
and staggering a pace to the table he leaned against it. He drew his
hand across his eyes unsteadily to rub away the black spots that danced
before them; he had a blurry sight, then, of the troopers drawn back to
the windows, and of the captain and Peregrine, who stood together with
half-abashed faces, for in the doorway, leaning on his staff, was Master
Gilbert Oldesworth. “Get you back to Kingsford and fight out your fight
with the scoundrel who wronged your sister,” he spoke again. “At such a
time can you find no better task than to maltreat a boy?”

“If you would only pause to hear how matters stand, sir,” the captain
urged, with a visible effort to maintain a respectful tone. “The lad
holds the information that shall make us masters of that villain Gwyeth.
If he will not speak, though he were twenty times my nephew, I’ll—”

“If he were twenty times the meanest horseboy in the king’s camp, he
should not be put to torture beneath my roof,” Master Oldesworth
answered grimly. “Come here to me, Hugh Gwyeth.”

Wondering dully why all the strength had gone out of his body, Hugh
stumbled across the room and pitched up against the wall beside his
grandfather. He noted now that his shirt was torn open, and drawing his
coat together he tried to fasten it; his fingers shook unsteadily, and
the buttons were hard to find. He felt his grandfather’s hand placed
firmly on his shoulder. “I think you have mishandled this gentleman
enough to satisfy you,” the old man spoke contemptuously. “Henceforth
you will merely hold him as a prisoner taken in honorable war. And I
shall myself be responsible for his custody.”

“My good father,” Captain Oldesworth broke out, “I cannot suffer him to
pass from my keeping. My responsibility to the state—”

“Will you school me, Thomas?” Master Oldesworth cut him short. “I am
neither bed-ridden nor brain-sick that you should try to dictate to me
now. But I will advise you, sir, that there are decencies to be observed
even in war, and there are those in authority would make you to smart if
ever they got knowledge of this you purposed. Lift your hand against my
grandson, and this day’s work comes to their ears.”

Then the grasp on Hugh’s shoulder tightened, and submissively he walked
at his grandfathers side out into the guardroom. Those loitering there
drew back to make way for them, he judged by the sound of footsteps, but
he had not spirit even to look up. By the difference of the oak planking
of the floors he perceived they were entering the passage that led to
the main building, when he felt a firmer grip close on his arm and heard
the voice of the Roundhead corporal: “I crave your pardon, sir. The
captain bade me see the prisoner safely locked up.”

“No need,” Master Oldesworth spoke curtly, and then addressed Hugh: “You
will give me your parole not to attempt an escape.”

Hugh looked up helplessly into his grandfather’s stern face, and felt
the grasp of the corporal press upon his arm. His breath came hard like
a sob, but he managed to force out his answer: “I cannot, sir, I cannot.
You’d better thrust me back into my uncle’s hands. I cannot promise.”

He was trying to nerve himself to be dragged back to the chamber behind
the guardroom, but though Master Oldesworth’s face grew harder, he only
said, “Bring him along after me,” and led the way down the passage.

Hugh followed unsteadily, glad of the grasp on his arm that helped to
keep him erect. They had entered the east wing, he noted listlessly;
then he was trudging up the long staircase and stumbling down the
corridor. At the first window recess he saw Master Oldesworth halt and
heard him speak less curtly: “I have indeed to thank you, mistress.”
Raising his eyes as he passed, Hugh saw that by the window, with hands
wrung tight together, Lois Campion was standing.

Instinctively he tried to halt, but the grip on his arm never relaxed,
and he must come on at his captor’s side, down to the end of the
corridor. There Master Oldesworth had flung open a door into a tiny
chamber, with one high, narrow slit of a window, bare of furniture save
for a couple of chests and a broken chair, over which the dust lay
thick. “Since you will have no better lodging, you shall stay here,” he
said coldly.

Dragging his way in, Hugh flung himself down on a chest with his head in
his hands. “Could you let me have a drink of water, sir?” he asked
faintly.

“Go to my chamber and fetch the flask of Spanish wine, Lois,” Master
Oldesworth bade, and Hugh heard the girl’s footsteps die away in the
corridor, then heard or heeded nothing, just sat with his face hidden.

A touch on the shoulder roused him at last; he took the glass of wine
his grandfather offered him and slowly drank it down. They were alone in
the room now, he noted as he drank, the door was drawn to, and Lois was
gone. He set down the empty glass and leaned forward with his elbows on
his knees. “I thank you, sir, for this, for all you have saved me from,”
he said slowly.

“You might thank me for more, if you were less self-willed.”

“’Tis not from self-will, sir, I did as I have done, that I refused my
parole,” Hugh broke out, “’tis for my father. I cannot bind myself. I
must go to him. I—”

“No more words of that man,” Master Oldesworth silenced him. “You shall
never go to him again. A year ago I dealt not wisely with you. I gave
you choice where you were too young to choose. For all your folly there
are parts in you too good for me to suffer you destroy yourself. Now
where I let you walk at your will I shall see to it that you keep the
right path, by force, if you drive me to it. For the present I shall
hold you in safe custody at Everscombe. Later, as you conduct yourself,
I shall determine what course to take.”

“But my father!” Hugh cried.

“Captain Oldesworth will deal with Alan Gwyeth,” Master Oldesworth
replied. “Do you forget him.”

“I can never forget him, sir. Sure, I’d liefer be hanged with him than
be saved apart from him thus. I—”

The door closed jarringly behind Master Oldesworth, the key grated in
the lock, and the bolt was shot creakingly.

For a time Hugh sat staring stupidly at the door of his prison, then,
getting slowly to his feet, he began dragging and shoving the chest
beneath the window. His hands were still unsteady and he felt limp and
weak, so again and again he must pause to sit down. The little room was
close and hot; the perspiration prickled on the back of his neck, and
stung above his eyebrows. The movement of the chest cleared a white
space on the gray floor, and the dust that rose thick sifted into his
mouth and nostrils till he was coughing painfully with a miserable
feeling that it needed but little for the coughing to end in sobbing. He
hated himself for his weakness, and, gritting his teeth, shoved the
chest the more vigorously till at last it was in position beneath the
window. Lifting the one chair upon it, he mounted up precariously; the
sill of the window came level with his collar bone while the top grazed
his forehead. He stretched up his arms and measured the length and
breadth of the opening twice over, but he knew it was quite hopeless;
there was no getting through that narrow window, and, had it been
possible, he must risk a sheer fall of two stories to the flagged walk
below. For a moment he stood blinking out at the green branches of the
elms that swayed before his window, then he dropped to the floor again
and sat down on the chest with his face in his hands.

So he was still sitting, when the door was unlocked and one of the
serving men of the household came in to fetch him dinner. Hugh looked
up, and, recognizing the fellow, would have spoken, but the man only
shook his head and backed out hastily. Hugh noted that it was no
trooper’s rations they had sent him, but food from his grandfathers
table; still he had no heart to eat, though he drank eagerly, till
presently he reasoned this was weak conduct, for he must keep up
strength if he were ever to come out of his captors’ hands, so, drawing
the plate to him, he resolutely swallowed down a tolerable meal.

Then he set himself to watch the motes dance in a sunbeam that ran well
up toward the ceiling, but presently it went out altogether. He leaned
back then on the chest where he sat, and perhaps had lost himself a time
in a numb, half-waking sleep, when of a sudden he caught a distant sound
that brought him to his feet. He could not mistake it; off to the east
where Kingsford lay he could hear the faint crack of musketry fired in
volleys. Hugh cried out something in a hoarse voice he did not
recognize; then he was wrenching at the latch and hammering on the door
with his clinched hands, while he shrieked to them to let him go. He saw
the blood smearing out from his knuckles, but he beat on against the
unshaken panels till the strength left him and he dropped down on the
floor. Still, as he lay, he could hear the distant firing, and then he
ground his face down between his hands and cried as he had never cried
before with great sobs that seemed to tear him.

Afterward there came a long time when he had not strength even to sob,
when the slackening fire meant nothing to him, and, lying motionless and
stupid, he realized only that the light was paling in the chamber. The
door was pushed open, and mechanically he rolled a little out of the way
of it. The serving man he remembered came in with supper, and at sight
of him Hugh lifted up his head and entreated brokenly: “Tell me, what
has happened? Have they taken my father? For the love of Heaven, tell
me.”

The man hesitated, then, as he passed to the doorway, bent down and
whispered: “They’ve beat the Cavaliers into the church, sir, but they’ve
not taken the captain yet. Lord bless you, don’t cry so, sir.”

For the sheer nervous relief had set Hugh choking and sobbing again
without pride or strength enough left to hold himself in check. As the
darkness closed in, however, he grew a little calmer, though sheer
exhaustion more than inner comfort held him quiet. His eyes were hot and
smarting, and his throat ached, so he crept over to the chest where the
food was placed, and laying hands on a jug of water gulped down a good
deal and splashed some over his face. After that he stretched himself
again upon the floor, where for pure weariness he dropped at length into
a heavy sleep.

He awoke in darkness, his blood tingling and his pulses a-jump in a
childish momentary fear at the strangeness of the place and a something
else he could not define. He had recollected his position and laid down
his head again, with a little effort to place himself more comfortably
upon the floor, when there came a second time the noise that must have
wakened him,—a stealthy faint click of the latch, as if the door were
being softly opened. Hugh sprang to his feet and set his back to the
wall, in the best position for defence, if it were some enemy, if it
were Captain Oldesworth came seeking him. The door was opening, he
perceived, as his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. “Who is it?” he
asked in a guarded tone.

“Hush! ’Tis I, Lois.”

Hugh caught his breath in a gasp of relief. “Lois, you’ve come to free
me?” he whispered, and, stepping softly to her, fumbled in the dark and
found her hand.

“Yes, yes. I was afraid for you. I told Master Oldesworth that Peregrine
was bragging how the captain would serve you. He saved you that time.
But ’tis possible the captain will lay hands on you again. I slipped
into Master Oldesworth’s chamber and took the key. I know ’tis wicked; I
care not. Pull off your boots and come away, quick.”

Noiselessly as he could, Hugh got his boots in his hand and in his
stockinged feet stole out of the chamber. In the corridor it was all
black and still, just as it had been that other time when he ran from
Everscombe, only now Lois was with him, and when the stairs creaked they
pressed close together. Then she went forward boldly, and he, still
half-blinded with sleep, was content to follow the guidance of her hand.
“In here,” she whispered at length, and so led him into the east parlor,
where the great clock still ticked, solemn and unperturbed. “Go out at
the window,” Lois spoke softly; “I dare not open the door. There are a
few men in the house, but they lie in the west wing and the stables. The
bulk are at Kingsford. Northward you will find the way clear.”

“I am not going northward,” Hugh answered, as he warily pushed open the
casement. “I go to my father now.”

“Hugh!” The girl’s voice came in a frightened gasp. “I had not released
you— If you come unto them at last— They wish it not— You may be killed!
You shall not do this thing.”

Leaning from the casement Hugh dropped his boots carefully where the
dark showed an edge of grass bordered the flagged walk; as he set
himself astride the window ledge he spoke: “’Tis just the thing I shall
do, Lois, and the only thing. If you be sorry for what you did, call, if
you will, but I shall jump and run for it.”

“I shall not call,” she answered. “Oh, I care not who has the right and
wrong of the war. I cannot bear they should hurt you.”

She was kneeling on the window-bench with her face close to his; he
suddenly bent forward and kissed her. “God bless you for this, Lois,” he
said.

Then he swung himself over the window ledge, and letting his weight come
on his hands dropped noiselessly to the walk below. He dragged on his
boots, and taking a cautious step across the flagstones slid down the
terrace to the lawn. Once more he glanced back, not at Everscombe manor
house, but at the opened window of the east parlor. It was too dark more
than to distinguish the outline of the casement, but he knew that at the
lattice Lois was still standing to wish him God speed to his father.


                              CHAPTER XXI
                     THE FATHERHOOD OF ALAN GWYETH


The sky was bluish black with heavy masses of clouds, but through a rift
in the west showed a bright star, by which Hugh guessed roughly it must
be within two hours of dawn. Quickening his pace to a run at that, he
came into the shelter of the park, where it was all black, and he went
forward blindly, with one arm thrust up to guard his face. Now and again
he had through the tree-tops a distant sight of the sky, and by it took
his directions; but for the most part he stumbled on haphazard, though
at a brisk pace, for the night was passing rapidly. When at length he
crushed his way through a thicket to the edge of the brook that marked
the bounds of the park, the bright western star had sunk out of sight
behind the trees.

Beyond the brook he hurried through a tract of woodland, where he bore
to the southward to keep clear of the Kingsford highway and a farmstead
that lay back from it. He came out in a cornfield, where the blades felt
damp against his face as he forced a rustling passage through, and after
that climbed over a wall into the open fields. There were no more houses
to avoid before he reached the village, so with less caution he pressed
on at a good jog-trot. For the night was waning, and Kingsford was still
to come.

An ominous pale streak showed in the east before him as he climbed the
swell of land that cut off sight of the village. Fearing lest his figure
show up too distinctly against the sky line, he made for a clump of
bushes at the summit, and had just got within their shadow when he
caught the sound of hoof-beats. Dropping flat he dragged himself in
under the bushes, where, peering out between the leaves, he saw the
black bulk of a horseman ride along the slope below him. A little to
Hugh’s left he pulled up and called to another rider a challenge that
reached the boy’s ears quite clearly, then turned and came pacing back.

They had set a mounted guard about the town, then; and with that Hugh
told himself he must slip past it and quickly, too, or the dawn would be
upon him. But first he waited for the horseman’s return, to know what
was the time between his passing and repassing, and while he waited he
strained his eyes into the dark to get the lay of the land. At the foot
of the rising ground was a hollow, he remembered, and across it, on the
higher land, stood an irregular line of three cottages, beyond which ran
a lane that led by the side wall of the churchyard. Very likely troops
were lodged about the cottages now, perhaps even more patrols in the
hollow, but all he could see was the black depths beneath him and the
outline of the nearest cottage. Then he heard the sound of hoofs loud
again, as once more the horseman on guard rode by below. Hugh could make
out his form far too clearly; dawn was coming, and he durst stay no
longer.

So soon as the man had turned and paced a rod on his journey back, Hugh
crawled from beneath the bushes and, rolling noiselessly, creeping on
hands and knees, made his way down the hillside. He remembered afterward
the feel of the moist grass in his hands, the look of the mottled dark
sky and the faint stars, and how at a distant hail in the village he
pressed flat on the cold ground. But at last he crawled across a more
level space he judged the bridle path, and scrambled down into the depth
of the hollow, where a chilly mist set him shivering. As he lay
outstretched, resting his weary arms a moment, he heard up above him the
horseman ride by.

Now that he was within the lines of the patrol only caution and
quickness were necessary. Still on hands and knees, he dragged himself
slowly up the hillside, bearing ever to the south to get behind the
cottages, yet not daring to venture too far, lest he come upon another
line of guards. As he approached the first cottage he rose half erect
and tried a short run, but the bark of a dog made him drop flat in the
grass, where he lay trembling. Next instant, realizing that it was
better to push on, whatever befell, he sprang up and made a dash to the
cover of a hedge behind the second cottage. For now the protection of
the night had nearly left him; he could see clearly the lattices of the
cottage, the whitish line of highway beyond it, and others might see him
as well. But as he crept forward, keeping to the shelter of the hedge,
he looked up, and against the gray sky saw what gave him courage. Above
the farther cottage rose the church tower, and from it stood up a staff
on which fluttered a red flag with a splotch of gold upon it; Captain
Gwyeth and his men still were holding out.

With renewed hope Hugh worked his way past the hedge to the shelter of
an outbuilding, not a rod from the lane that ran white beneath the lich
wall. He could see the church clearly now, the scowling small windows,
the close side door, and the gravestones on the slope below. There was
little prospect of welcome, he was reckoning anxiously, as he lay
crouched against the outbuilding, when suddenly he heard a cry: “Stand,
there!” Off to his right in the lane he beheld a Roundhead sentinel
halted with his piece levelled.

Springing to his feet Hugh dashed across the grass plot to the lane. On
the left he heard hoof-beats, then a cry: “Shoot him down!” A bullet
struck the sand at his feet; he heard men running, and another shot. He
heard, too, the crunch of crisp weeds beneath his boots as he crashed
into the overgrown tangle beyond the lane. He felt the rough stones on
the top of the wall, then he had flung himself clear across it, and was
struggling up the slope among the graves. His boots were heavy and
hampered him, and his breath seemed gone. He looked up to the dead
windows of the church and tried to cry: “King’s men! To the rescue!” but
what sound he could make was lost in the din behind him. A bullet struck
on a headstone just to one side; then of a sudden came a numbing pain in
his left arm. He staggered, stumbled blindly a pace; then the sky was
rolled up like a gray scroll, the stars were dancing before his eyes,
and he was down flat upon the ground. Lifting his head dizzily he had a
dim sight of the lane below, men swarming from the cottages, and one he
saw leap the wall and come running toward him. Hugh’s head dropped back
on the ground; he saw the sky pale above and waited for the butt of his
pursuer’s musket to crash down upon him, and prayed it might not be long
to wait.

They were still firing, he heard; and he heard, too, quick footsteps
behind him and a man breathing fast. He was swung up bodily from the
ground, and there came a voice he knew: “Your arm round my neck, so.
Have no fear, Hugh; I’ve got you safe.”

There was firing still and faint cheering; the rest darkness; but before
it closed in on him Hugh had one blurred glimpse of a strong, blue-eyed
face above him, and he knew it was his father who held him.

The light returned to Hugh in a dim and unfamiliar place; high above
him, as he lay on his back, he had sight of a vaulted roof full of
shadows. His head felt heavy and dazed, so he did not care to stir or
speak, just closed his eyes again. There had been faces about him, he
remembered vaguely, and he felt no surprise when he heard a voice that
was unmistakably Ridydale’s: “He’s coming round, sir.”

They were pressing a wet cloth to his forehead, Hugh judged, and his
head was aching so he tried to thrust up his arm to stop them.
“Let—me—alone,” he forced the words out faintly, and opened his eyes. It
was his father who was bathing his head, he saw, and remembering what
brought him thither his mind went back to the formal message he had
framed on the way from Tamworth. “Captain Gwyeth, Sir William Pleydall
bade me deliver word, he will send you relief; it shall come to-morrow.”

“Saxon, take that word to Lieutenant von Holzberg,” Captain Gwyeth’s
voice came curtly. “Spread it through the troop that help is
coming.—Spare farther speaking now, Hugh; I understand.”

Hugh closed his eyes heavily and lay quiet. He felt a wet cloth tied
round his head, and then he winced through all his body as a knife
ripped halfway up his sleeve. “Thank Heaven, ’tis only a clean flesh
wound,” he heard the captain say. “Nay, Jack, I’ll hold him. Do you
bandage it.”

Hugh felt himself lifted up till his head rested against the captain’s
shoulder. Half opening his eyes he had a confused sight down the nave of
the church, only now it seemed unfamiliar, for the pews were torn from
their places and piled up against the great entrance door. Up and down
by the walls men were pacing, and some lay silent on the floor of the
choir, and some he heard groaning as they lay. Then he closed his eyes
and clinched his teeth, for his arm was aching rarely, so the lightest
touch made him shrink. He wondered if the bandages they were putting on
would never end, and if he could keep on biting down all sign of pain,
when at last Ridydale spoke: “There, sir, ’tis done the best I could. If
we only had water to wash the hurt properly!”

That suggested to Hugh that his mouth was dry, so he said under his
breath: “I am thirsty.”

“If there be a drop of water in the place, fetch it,” Captain Gwyeth
bade; and a moment later Hugh’s head was lifted up and a cup set to his
lips. It was brackish water, and very little at that; he swallowed it
with one gulp, and opened his eyes to look for more. “Nay, that’s the
last,” the captain spoke out. “’Tis an ill lodging you have taken with
us. I would to God you were elsewhere!”

With the scant power of his returning strength, Hugh tried to move clear
of the arm that was about him. “I had hoped, this time, you would not be
sorry to see me,” he broke out, in a voice that quavered in spite of
himself.

He heard the captain give a sharp order to Ridydale to be off, and he
felt it was to save the dignity which had almost slipped from him. He
put his head down on the captain’s shoulder again. “Father, you are glad
to have me, after all,” he said softly.

He felt the sudden tension of the arm that drew him closer, though when
Captain Gwyeth spoke, his tone was of the driest: “After the trouble
I’ve had to get hold of you, do you not think ’tis reasonable I should
be glad?” Then he cut short all response with a hasty: “Lie you down
here now and be quiet. You’ve been knocked just enough for you to make a
fool of yourself if you try to talk.”

Hugh grinned weakly, and suffered his father to put him down with his
head upon a folded cloak. “I’ll send Ridydale to have an eye to you,”
the captain said in a low tone, “and if anything happens, I’ll be near.”
Then he rose and tramped away down the nave of the church, but Hugh,
watching him through half-shut eyes, saw him halt to glance back.

After that Hugh lay a long time in a heavy, half-waking state, where he
listened to the slow pacing up and down of those about him who kept
guard, and to the quicker step of men who, on other errands, hastened
across the reëchoing church; he heard men shout orders across the aisles
or nearer to him speak in curt monosyllables; and he heard, too, all the
time, the labored groaning of one who must lie somewhere near. Then
there were moments when, losing all sounds, he drifted off into an
unknown world, where he lived over again the happenings of the last
hours, and struggled in the water of the Arrow, and fought Oldesworth’s
troopers, and made the last run through the churchyard under the
Roundhead fire.

It was a relief to come back to consciousness and find himself lying
comfortably on the floor of the choir with the dark roof far above him.
A glint of purple sunlight from a broken window wavered on the ground
beside him, and, forcing his mind to follow one train of thought, he
contrived at last to reason out that it must be past noon. Pulling
himself up on his sound arm, he tried to look about the church, but the
effort made his head ache so he was glad to lie down. But he had got
sight of Ridydale, who stood on a bench beneath one of the tall windows
in speech with a trooper, and after a moment’s rest he called the
corporal by name.

Ridydale stepped down, carabine in hand, and came to Hugh’s side. “Is
there anything you’ll be wanting, sir?” he began.

“Yes,” Hugh replied, “I’d take it kindly of you if you’d just tell me
what hit me that time.”

Ridydale grinned and settled himself close by on the steps of the altar
with his carabine across his knees. “’Tis all very simple, Master Hugh,”
he explained. “They wasted a deal of lead trying to wing you,—they’re
clumsy marksmen, those Roundhead cowherds. Somehow, by good luck, they
contrived to shoot you in the arm. I take it you stumbled on one of
those sunken stones, then, for you went down and broke your head against
another gravestone.”

“Was that it?” Hugh asked, in some mortification.

“And then the colonel stepped out and fetched you in. We had sight of
you, those that were keeping the west windows, as you came down to the
lane. ‘It’s Hugh,’ says the colonel, sharplike; ‘unbar the door.’ Soon
as we had the barrier tore down, and we made short work of it, he out
after you. ’Twas a most improper thing, too,” Ridydale grumbled;
“captain of a troop to risk himself under a fire like that for a mere
volunteer. When there were others ready enough to go out. Maybe you were
too flustered, sir, to note what a pretty shot I had at the knave who
followed you over the wall?”

Hugh confessed he had missed that sight.

“Ay, ’twas not a shot to be ashamed of,” the corporal resumed, pulling
his mustache with much satisfaction. “’Twas brisk give and take we were
having then, sir. The colonel had a bullet through the skirts of his
coat ere he got you within the church. Ay, ’twas improper conduct of
him. What would have become of us all, tell me now, had he been hurt?”

“Why, just the same that will become of you now he is not hurt,” the
captain struck in crisply as he came up. “Tell me, Hugh, did it commend
itself to the sapience of Sir William Pleydall to say what time Saturday
we might look for relief?”

“No, sir.”

“Perhaps it does not matter to him whether it gets here at sunrise or
sunset,” the captain remarked dispassionately. “It makes a mighty deal
of difference to us, though.” He stuck his hands in his pockets and
stood staring up at the broken window where the sun came through. In the
strong light Hugh noted how haggard his face looked about the eyes, and
how three days of neglect showed in the red-gold beard. But when the
captain turned from the window there was a laugh in his eyes. “Jack,” he
addressed Ridydale, who was standing at attention, “what devilry do you
suppose Tommy Oldesworth is at now that he keeps so quiet?”

“Shall I try a shot to stir him up, sir?” the corporal proffered.

“Not for your life, Jack. Go rest you, while they let us.”

As Ridydale strode off, Captain Gwyeth, with a soberer look, set himself
down in his place. “You ought to know, Hugh, that we’re in a bad way,”
he spoke out in a brusque, low tone.

“There’s help coming,” Hugh answered stoutly, and dragged himself up on
one elbow so he could rest against the steps beside his father.

“Ay, but it must be quick,” the captain replied, “for Oldesworth is hot
upon us. He came hither this morning under the white flag to advise us
surrender to his mercy ere he batter down our walls.”

“Ordnance?” Hugh asked blankly.

“He may bring it from Warwick. Our only hope is that he may be so long
in the bringing it— Well, he’s bravely worried that you got in to us,
else he’d not have offered us terms. He’s troubled about that relief;
and, faith, I’m troubled, too. The men will hold out another twenty-four
hours in the hope, but we’ve had neither food nor drink since yesterday
afternoon. And we are scant thirty men now, and there are six with
disabling wounds besides.”

“Couldn’t I make one in the fighting?” Hugh ventured hesitatingly. “I
might not be able to steady a carabine with one hand, but I could load—”

“Then we could not use you long,” the captain said, with a dry laugh.
“That’s the crowning curse of it all, Hugh; there’s not above three
bullets left to a man.”

Hugh gazed down the dismantled church, where the pews were all turned to
sorry defences and the windows were shattered with the rebel balls. He
noted, too, the set, weary faces of the nearest men on guard, and
something of the hopelessness of the whole position came home to him.
His face must have shown his thought, for the captain suddenly put a
hand on his shoulder. “That’s why I’m sorry you are here,” he said
briefly.

“I care not for that,” Hugh choked, “but if they do not bring aid in
time,—Peregrine said they would hang you.”

“Peregrine?” the captain queried. “Tut, tut! He should be old enough by
now to know a gentleman does not let himself be taken and hanged while
he has weapons in his hands. Though I knew from the start ’twould be a
fight to the death if ever I came sword to sword with the Oldesworths.”
There was a space of silence, then he broke out: “I suppose they taught
you I was a scoundrel, did they not?”

“At the last, yes, my grandfather said it,” Hugh admitted, “but while my
mother lived she told me only good of you.”

“Then, she had forgiven me?” the captain asked in a low tone.

Hugh’s eyes were not on him, but straying across the church to where the
great Oldesworth pew had stood; even at that distance he seemed to read
on the tablet set in the wall the name, “Ruth Gwyeth.” “She did not hold
there was anything to forgive; she said the wrong had all been hers,” he
broke out; “she said you were the best and noblest gentleman that ever
lived, and far too good for her.”

“Poor lass, poor lass!” the captain said under his breath; he was
sitting with one hand shielding his eyes, Hugh noted, but of a sudden he
looked down at the boy and spoke curtly: “So you came seeking me,
believing all that, and then I thrust you out of doors?”

Hugh nodded without looking at his father; he was conscious of a queer,
shamed feeling, as if he had been himself at fault.

“Yet you stood up before that hound Bellasis and took that hack in the
face for me. I used you like a villain, Hugh,” the captain blurted out;
“even Ruth could not forgive me for it. But, lad, if we come alive from
this, I’ll strive to make you forget it.”

“I am forgetting now,” Hugh said honestly. “And if you’d looked as if
you wanted me, I’d ha’ come to you before.”

“I did want you. And you waited for me to look it, did you? I’m thinking
we’re something alike, lad.” He put his arm about the boy’s neck with a
sudden, half rough caress. “Turner said you had as decent a courage as
most lads and a bit more sense,” he broke out. “Faith, I believe him.
And if we come through here you shall have a chance to show it to every
man in the troop, yes, to the same fellows that flogged you.”

Hugh edged a little nearer his father. “I’d do my best to show them; I’d
like the chance,” he answered; then added thoughtfully, “Though, after
all, I am not sorry for that flogging. If I’d not known some hard knocks
already, they might have been able to frighten me yesterday.”

There he stopped, unavailingly, for the captain pounced down on him and
did not rest till he got the whole history of the last hours. Hugh put
all the emphasis he could on Master Oldesworth and on Lois, but
Peregrine and Thomas Oldesworth were dragged in at the captain’s
urgence, and the captain’s face grew ominous. “’Twas not clean dealings
on Tom Oldesworth’s part,” he said betwixt his teeth. “Well, when it
comes to the last we’ll remember it against him.”

With that he got up to go about his business, but presently strode back
with a cushion. “Put that under your head, Hugh,” he bade, and taking up
the cloak helped the boy wrap it round him. “You’ll find it cold here in
the church as soon as the sun goes down,” he explained. “Try to sleep,
though; get what strength you can against to-morrow.”

After he had gone, Hugh settled himself to sleep, but it took a time,
for his arm ached relentlessly, and his head was hot and his mouth dry.
Moment after moment he lay staring down the dusky church, where the
twilight was filling in, and harked to the slow step of those on guard.
The shades had gathered dark, and his eyes were closing, when he
realized that the man who had been groaning in the transept was quiet
now. He guessed what that meant, and something of the ugliness of death
came home to him. He sat up eagerly to look for some companionship, then
felt ashamed and lay down again to listen and listen once more, and
think on Peregrine’s threats and Thomas Oldesworth’s set, implacable
face. When he went to sleep at last his kinsmen followed him, even
through his dreams.

Dreams, recollections, of a sudden all were blotted out. He was sitting
up, he knew, in a place that save for two feeble flickers of light was
pitchy black, he heard men running and shouting, and, over all and
subduing all, he heard a crash, crash which he judged bewilderedly to be
of cannonading. The roof must fall soon, he feared, and scrambling to
his feet he ran forward into the darkness and tumult. Above the uproar
he caught Captain Gwyeth’s voice, steady and distinct: “Lieutenant von
Holzberg, your squadron to their stations at the windows. Corporal
Ridydale, take six men and bear the wounded down into the crypt.”

Following the voice, Hugh stumbled into the transept and, getting used
to the dark, had a vague sight of his father, who, with his hands behind
him, stood giving orders to right and left. Hugh leaned against the wall
close by and kept his hand to his head that throbbed and beat with each
stroke of the cannon and shake of the building. During a lull in the
firing he caught the captain’s voice in a lower key: “You here, Hugh?”

“I—I take it I was frightened up,” he stammered. “You’ll help me to a
sword before the end?”

“No need for that yet,” Captain Gwyeth answered. “They’ll not be able to
batter in these walls for hours. And by then—” His voice took a curious
change of tone: “You are sure, Hugh, they made no mention of what time
Saturday the aid would come?”

“No, none,” Hugh replied; “but ’twill surely come, sir. Dick promised.”

“Well, well, we’ve much to hope,” said the captain, “and, faith, that’s
all we can do now. Sit down here, Hugh,” he went on, leading him over to
the pulpit stairs. “I’ve a notion ’twould be pleasing if I could lay
hands on you when I want you.”

Then he went back into the din and confusion of the nave, and Hugh,
leaning his head against the balustrade, harked dazedly to the
successive boom of cannon. Through it all he found space in his heart to
be glad that his father had not suggested sending him down into the
crypt with the other wounded.

Out through a shattered window to the east he had sight of a strip of
sky, uneven with clouds, and some small stars. Little by little they
paled while he sat there, and still the guns kept up their clamor. Once,
after the shot, came a great rattling, and a piece of stone crashed down
from the western wall; Hugh heard a confused running in that direction,
and the captains voice that checked it. Once again, when oddly he had
fallen into a numb sort of doze, came another shattering crash, and
right upon it a man screamed out in a way that made Hugh shudder and
choke. After that he dozed no more, but rigid and upright sat listening.

It was light enough to distinguish faces when at length Captain Gwyeth,
with his brows drawn and his teeth tugging at one end of his mustache,
came up to him. “I’ve a sling here for that arm of yours,” he said
brusquely, beginning to fasten the bandage. “’Twould be in your way for
any fighting purposes. And here’s a sword. You may have to use it,
unless our friends come quickly.” Then he paused a time by Hugh, not
speaking, but scowling upon the floor, and at last strode moodily away.

The light broadened and brightened within the church; a patch of
sunshine gleamed upon the floor, and through an east window Hugh could
catch the rays of yellow light glinting across the sombre leaves of the
yew tree. It was a rare, warm, August day, a strange time for a life and
death struggle, he told himself, as he drew the sword clumsily from its
scabbard. Then he looked to the western wall of the church, where the
light was smiting in now at a great gap and the crumbled stones lay
scattered across the floor. Up above he saw a broken fragment of the
roof that hung and swayed so its motion fascinated him. Of a sudden, as
he gazed stupidly, he became aware the cannonading had ceased, and he
wondered that he had not marked it before. Then he heard again his
father’s curt, quick tones, and saw the troopers quit their stations to
gather opposite the gap in the wall.

Getting to his feet, Hugh went down to join the others. At the west door
he perceived Von Holzberg standing with six men, but he passed on into
the nave of the church. There at the gap the men had fallen into double
line, a battered, haggard little company, some in their breastpieces,
some in their shirt-sleeves. There were bandaged arms and bandaged heads
among them, Hugh noted, but the carabines were all in hand, and each had
his sword, too, ready at his side. Captain Gwyeth was with Ridydale,
peering out at the gap in the wall, but now he turned to his men. “As
you see, they have made a practicable breach in our walls,” he began.
“Now they have it in mind to storm us, and afterward knock us o’ the
head. So it behooves you fight for your worthless skins. And in any
case, if they destroy us, see to it a good crew of these cursed rebels
go to hell before us.”

Then he looked about till his eyes fell on Hugh, and, coming to him, he
took him by the shoulder and brought him over to front the troop. Hugh
faced the men he had once served, and he saw Unger on the farther end of
the front line, and Saxon, with his head tied up, and Jeff Hardwyn, who
looked at him and fumbled with his carabine. Somehow his eyes rested on
Hardwyn, as the captain began speaking briskly: “I’m thinking some of
you know this gentleman, my son. He has risked his neck twice to break
through the lines and share this fight with us. So I set him in Cornet
Foster’s place, and you will follow him as your officer. Cornet Gwyeth,
you will take six men and make good the north door.”

Right on that, some one, Hugh guessed it was Saxon, broke into a cheer,
which the others took up. Under cover of the noise, Captain Gwyeth,
still holding Hugh by the shoulder, whispered him hurriedly: “When they
come in, and we have the last fight, try to get to me. We’ll fight it
out back to back, if it be God’s will.”

Just there Ridydale, standing by the breach in the wall, spoke: “Captain
Gwyeth, the rebels are advancing up the hill.”



                              CHAPTER XXII
                           AFTER THE VICTORY


In the moments while the besieged held their fire, a hush came upon the
church. Hugh could hear the footfalls startlingly loud as he led his
squadron briskly to the main door, but it did not seem it was himself
who went forward. He saw the floor slip by him and heard his own tread,
but it was in an impersonal way, as if it were another man who was to
fight that last fight, while he stood by, unmoved and unaffected, and
watched and passed judgment. Before him now he saw the entrance door,
with the broken pews heaped in a stiff barricade; to the right, beneath
the window, the ends of the barrier furnished some foothold, so he
started to scramble up and reconnoitre. His injured arm made him
awkward; at the first step he tottered, and was glad that one of his
followers caught him about the body to steady him. Glancing down he saw
that it was Hardwyn, but he felt no surprise; everything now was beyond
wonder. “Keep hold on me, Corporal,” he said, as if Hardwyn had never
been any but his obedient underling, and made a move to step to the next
projection.

Just there the heavy stillness of the church was broken by a jarring
rattle of carabine fire that sent a cracking echo through the high roof.
Looking over his shoulder Hugh saw gray smoke belch across the nave, and
saw the ordered movement of the men as the second line, with their
carabines raised, stepped forward to the breach. Right as he looked the
second volley rolled out, and there came a cracked and dry-throated
cheering from the men. “Four volleys left,” he heard Hardwyn beside him
mutter. “Best cheer while we can.”

Once more there was a lull, and Hugh, getting his sound hand on the
window ledge, pulled himself up, balancing precariously upon the broken
boards, and peered out. He could see the white walk that ran up to the
porch, and on either hand the untroubled graves, but he beheld no enemy
astir. Venturing to lean a little from the window, he saw the roadway
beyond the church wall, the arch of the bridge, the water beneath,
bright in the sun, and across it the slope of hillside road. There
Hugh’s eyes rested, and then his voice came high and shrill so he
scarcely knew it: “Hardwyn, look, look you there! What is coming?”

Hardwyn was elbowing him at the window; through the crash of the fourth
volley he heard the barrier creak under the weight of the rest of the
little squadron as they pressed up about him. But he did not take his
eyes from the hilltop till, black and clear against the sky, a moving
line of horse swung into view.

“Cavalry, sir,” spoke Hardwyn, imperturbably, but Hugh had already
turned from the window. “Run to the captain, Saxon,” he cried. “Tell him
they are coming. Relief, relief!” His voice rose to a shout that carried
through the church, and his squadron took up the cry, and ended with a
cheer that spread even to the fighters at the breach.

Through the uproar sounded Captain Gwyeth’s voice: “If they will have
it, out at them!”

The besieged swarmed forth at the breach, and Hugh, plunging headlong
down off the barrier, ran to join them. The stones slipped noisily
beneath his feet, and as he stumbled over the crest of the debris he
turned his ankle. Outside the hot blur of sunshine dazzled him; he was
conscious of light, light all around him, and men, grappling, clubbing,
stabbing, in a tumult that bewildered his brain. Loud amidst the shrieks
and oaths and cries for quarter rattled the crack, crack of carabines
and small arms, but through it all he could hear the hollow thud, thud
of horses thundering across the bridge. Some one struck at him, and
instinctively he defended himself, though it was hard to swing a sword
in the press. Then, getting sight of his father’s red head, clear from
the breach in the thick of the fight, he forced his way down to his
side. At the foot of the fallen stones he stumbled over a man and, as he
recovered himself, came one who tried to strike him with a clubbed
musket. Hugh ducked, and, as he bent, saw the trampled grass beneath his
feet, then, thrusting low, came away unscathed. Still he heard the thud,
thud of coming horses, and now, too, he caught clearly from the
undistinguishable shouts and yells the cry: “For a king! God and the
king!”

Hugh had one glimpse of horsemen leaping the low wall; then he was
guarding himself from the slashes of a Roundhead trooper, and only just
saved his head. He gave the man back an undercut, when suddenly the
fellow cast the sword from his hand. “I yield me, sir. Quarter!” he
cried.

Hugh paused, and, glancing about him now, saw the battle was indeed
over. Down in the road troopers in red sashes were guarding the way, and
men of the same color were swarming up through the churchyard, but there
was no resistance, save here and there where single conflicts were still
contested to the end. Then Hugh spied Alan Gwyeth, picking himself up
from the grass at the foot of the shattered wall, and he ran thither,
just as the captain dragged to his feet the man with whom he had been
grappling. It was Thomas Oldesworth, Hugh saw, with the dirt grimed into
his coat and his face streaming blood; he stood unsteadily with one hand
pressed to his side, but his lips were hard set as ever. “Take him
within the church and look to him,” the captain bade Ridydale, and then
there was no room for thought of the vanquished, for Captain Turner came
riding comfortably up the slope and hailed them: “Good day to you,
Captain Gwyeth. Is there enough of the troop left to pay us for posting
hither to rescue you?”

“Rescue be hanged!” said the captain, ungraciously, as he stood wiping
the sweat from his forehead with his sleeve. “We could a held out three
hours longer.”

“Vour hours und more,” put in the stolid Von Holzberg, and such of the
troop as had gathered thither murmured a resentful assent.

“Well, well, I crave all your pardons for coming so inopportunely,”
Turner answered dryly, and then: “So that lad of yours got through in
safety? Better go look for Lieutenant Strangwayes, Master Gwyeth; I
think he’s troubled about you. He has ridden on the trail of the rebels
a piece.”

Hugh started down the slope, but, chancing to glance back, saw Michael
Turner had dismounted, and he and Captain Gwyeth were embracing each
other amicably. Then he went on down the sunny hillside, and across one
mound saw a man lying motionless on his back, and down by the wall one
who, pulling himself up on his elbow, called for water. But Hugh could
give him no heed, for up the white, hot roadway he saw a squadron
coming, and at its head a black horse that he knew. He scrambled up on
the low wall and stood staring and meaning to call, but could not find
voice till the black horse had shot out from the bulk of the squadron,
and Dick Strangwayes had reined up by the wall. “Hugh! And safe?” he
asked in a low tone.

Hugh came down off the wall and reached up to grasp Dick’s hand. “Safe,
I think; I’m not sure yet. And, Dick, ’tis all well now between my
father and me.” Then he stood a moment with his head leaning against
Black Boy’s neck, and gazed up into Dick’s face and the dazzle of blue
sky beyond, but found nothing he could say.

“So you’re alive, old Hugh?” came Frank’s voice behind him. “Faith,
you’re a lucky lad. Here’s your bay horse I borrowed, turn and turn
about. You can ride him back, for we’ll have enough and to spare.”

There they must break off speech, for Turner, leading his horse
carefully, came down from the church and with him Captain Gwyeth. “Call
the troop to saddle again, Lieutenant,” Turner ordered; “we’ll ride for
Everscombe and entreat these people give the captain back his horses.”

“I’ll ride with you,” spoke Alan Gwyeth; “I want to see the house
again.” Then he turned to Hugh and asked in a low tone: “You say ’twas
your grandfather took you out of Captain Oldesworth’s hands?”

“Yes, sir. He sent me dinner, too, though I was not feeling hungry
then.”

The captain smiled a bit. “I’ll remember it to his credit,” he said.
“Now keep you quiet at the church and save your hurt arm.” He walked off
to mount upon a spare horse, and Hugh watched him till he rode away with
Turner’s troop.

As he was clambering back over the wall into the graveyard, Frank came
panting in his trail. “Captain Turner bade me stay with you,” he
announced; “sure, he has less liking to me as a volunteer than as an
officer.”

“Nonsense! ’Tis only that he does not wish to take you home wounded. And
if they find The Jade at Everscombe they’ll bring her—”

“Oh, I have The Jade safe already,” Frank answered cheerfully, as he
kept step with Hugh up into the churchyard; “they found her grazing in
the fields beyond Tamworth yesterday morning with her stirrups flapping
loose. Dick shut his mouth then as he does on occasion, and before
nightfall Turner’s and Leveson’s men got off to bring help. I know not
how they’ll do without us,” he went on, “for Captain Marston’s troop was
the only one recalled to Tamworth. But we are to make a forced march
back to-night, if ’tis in our horses. And that reminds me, Hugh, you’re
not fit to be trusted with a good piece of horse-flesh. The Jade has
strained the tendons of her near foreleg, and her coat is rough as a
last year’s stubble-field. Not but I’m glad she could serve you,” Frank
corrected himself with tardily remembered courtesy. “And, faith, I am
glad as Dick that you are still alive.”

Up in the church, whither the wounded and prisoners were being brought,
Hugh reported himself to Von Holzberg, who despatched him with a squad
to forage out food in the village. The Roundheads had already stripped
it pretty clean, but in an hour’s time Hugh secured enough for his
father’s hungry troop, and, leaving Frank idling in the village street,
led his men back to the church. In the shade outside several of Gwyeth’s
troop, battered and weary, were easing themselves with grumbling that
they had not been suffered to come share in the plunder of Everscombe.
The word put it in Hugh’s head that now he had eaten and felt a bit like
himself he would gladly ride to the manor house and, if he could, thank
his grandfather for the kindness he had thought to show him. With that
intention he passed into the church to seek Von Holzberg and get his
permission for the journey.

At first, as he came from the bright sunlight, the shadows within the
church blinded him, but he could hear the sorry groaning of injured men,
and presently made out that the wounded were laid in the transept before
him. It was an ugly, pitiful sight, and knowing his helplessness to aid
he passed on quickly into the choir, where he had caught sight of
Ridydale. Once more the corporal was seated with his carabine on the
altar stairs, but he now had on his grimmest look, for down in Hugh’s
old place lay Captain Oldesworth. They must have looked to his hurts
somewhat, for the blood had been washed from his face, and his coat was
flung open as if his side had been bandaged; he lay quiet now, with his
eyes closed and his lips white, but Hugh, remembering how mercilessly
the man had dealt by him, told himself he did not pity him. Without
heeding the captain he stepped over to Ridydale and asked him where
Lieutenant von Holzberg might be found. “He has just passed down into
the nave, Master Hugh,” said Ridydale relaxing his grimness a trifle.
“Crave your pardon, sir, I should have called you Cornet Gwyeth now.”

“Perhaps not yet,” Hugh answered discreetly; “Sir William Pleydall will
have a word to say in the matter.”

“Humph!” Ridydale retorted conclusively. “Hasn’t Colonel Gwyeth said you
were his cornet? What more would you have?”

Hugh laughed, and was turning away, when he perceived that Captain
Oldesworth had opened his eyes and was watching him; he halted short and
waited, for he would not be the first to speak. “So it’s your day now,”
Oldesworth began, in an even tone that might be construed a dozen ways.

“Fortune of war, sir,” Hugh answered coldly.

“You got in, after all,” the captain pursued, with something like a
groan. “That comes of letting a civilian meddle with military matters.
If you had remained in my hands—” There he broke off. “I crave your
forgiveness, sir,” he finished, with a bitterness that angered Hugh, yet
moved him to something faintly like compassion, “I had forgot; a
prisoner should be circumspect in speech.”

It was on Hugh’s tongue to retort that Cavalier gentlemen were not wont
to mishandle their prisoners, but he thought on Dennis Butler, and that
speech was silenced. He merely said: “My father will not abuse you,
sir,” and had half a mind to pass on, when Oldesworth struggled up on
his elbow. “Tell me one thing, Hugh,” he broke out as if against his
will, “has Peregrine been taken?”

“No, sir, not here at Kingsford.”

Oldesworth sank down again with his head on his arm. “He ran away,
then,” he said in a constrained voice. “He should have come in with the
other squadron. We need not have been so cut to pieces had the whole
troop been there. Lieutenant Ingram came in with me; he was killed at
the breach. And Peregrine ran away.” He paused a moment, then spoke half
to himself, “If I come free again I’ll strip him out of his commission
for this.”

Hugh dropped on one knee beside his uncle. “I pray you, sir, take it not
so to heart,” he urged, “mayhap ’twas not that he ran away—”

“Nay, I know Peregrine,” Captain Oldesworth answered. “I would ’twere he
had turned Cavalier and you had stayed Roundhead; you’d not have slunk
off to save your skin.” But next moment he spoke in his bitterest tone:
“Nay, get you hence, lad. I don’t want your pity; I’d liefer have your
hate.” Then he turned his face to the wall, still with his mouth hard
set, and closed his eyes.

There was nothing more to be said, Hugh saw, so he came to his feet
slowly, with a feeling that after all he was sorry for Oldesworth, in
his pain and bitter humiliation, much though he had deserved it. He
turned again to Ridydale and said under his breath: “Corporal, if you
love me put on a less appalling face and use the gentleman more civilly.
After all, he is my kinsman.”

Then he walked away to seek Von Holzberg, and, getting his permission to
ride to Everscombe, routed out Saxon to make ready Bayard and two other
horses, while he went in search of Frank, for whom he had a feeling of
responsibility. Not finding him at first, he was a bit worried till,
chancing to step into one of the deserted cottages, he came upon the
lad, curled up snugly on a settle and fast asleep. He jumped to his feet
in a hurry as Hugh’s hand was laid on his forehead, and after a first
bewildered stare put on a great assumption of alertness and came
stumbling out into the roadway. “You see, we were in the saddle all
yesternight,” he found tongue to explain, as the two boys, with Saxon in
their wake, rode out from Kingsford. “So perhaps ’tis no great blame I
just shut my eyes a moment. But, Hugh, I’d take it kindly if you did not
tell Dick I went to sleep for so little. And by no means let Captain
Turner know.”

Hugh promised soberly, then, as they trotted along the highway, relapsed
into heavy silence. But Frank still chattered on gayly, insisting on a
rejoinder: “How does it seem to come home thus? Sure, you’re a dutiful
lad to ride this distance to see your grandfather.”

Hugh blinked at Bayard’s erect ears, and told himself in dull fashion
that while he was at Everscombe he would see Lois again and thank her,
but he did not hold it necessary to speak it all to Frank.

A little patrol of horse guarded the park gate, but knowing Hugh they
suffered him pass through with his companions. For all the roadway was
cut with horse hoofs they ventured a brisk trot, and so came speedily
out into the open, and following the track across the lawn drew up by
the west wing. The rest of the house was silent, but here were stationed
two sentinels of Turner’s troop, a wagon had just been brought lumbering
to the door, and from within the long guardroom Strangwayes himself
hailed them: “Get off your horse, and come in, Master Cornet. I’ve
recovered my cuirass from the plunder of these crop-eared thieves, and
I’m thinking I’ve lighted on your buff coat and sword.”

Sliding off his horse, Hugh strode briskly into the big room. At one
side a long table had been hastily set forth, at which a squad of
Turner’s men were making a nondescript meal, but the rest of the hall
was littered with arms and accoutrements that the troopers were still
fetching in noisily; they must have stripped the manor house of every
warlike furnishing. “Yes, the work is near done, and we can be off,”
Strangwayes said low to Hugh. “Sure, I’m not the man will be sorry. Did
you know, my lad, there’s a harder thing than storming a town, and
that’s to keep your troop from stealing the town after you’ve taken it?
As ’tis a sort of family matter Captain Gwyeth is loath to have this
house plundered, so we’ve done our best. But it’s well Leveson’s thieves
have been used in clearing the stable; our own men have held the house,
and they are the best and most obedient in the regiment. I’ve knocked
down one or two of them, and put three under arrest, and promised a few
floggings, but barring that they’ve been good as lambs and not stole
from the house more than each man can hide in his pockets. Trust them?
I’d trust my troop anywhere, that I had my eyes on it,” he concluded
lugubriously. “But now I’m going to risk taking one eye off them and
leave Griffith to see the spoils loaded in the wagons, while I tie up
your hurts again.”

Accordingly, Strangwayes sent men running for water and bandages, and,
putting Hugh on a bench against the wall, was dressing his head and arm,
when Captain Gwyeth came in. Hugh caught sight of him as he paused an
instant in the doorway, and at the changed expression of the man’s face
a sudden fear struck him, for it came home to him that, though the
captain forgave the son who had defied him, he might never forgive the
son’s friend who had threatened to bar the door upon him. It was a new
thought, and it checked Hugh’s first impulsive movement to rise to meet
his father; instead he moved a bit nearer Dick. There was an instant’s
dangerous silence, then Master Frank, nodding half-asleep at Hugh’s
side, perceived Captain Gwyeth and ran to him. “Why, this is a lucky
meeting,” he cried, leading the captain over to the bench. “And did I
not tell you, sir, when once you were acquainted with Hugh, he was a
right friendly, generous fellow for all his stubborn face?”

That made Dick turn and come to his feet, stiff and respectful. “Maybe
’twill please you look to Hugh’s hurt now, sir,” he said, with a slight
bow.

“Nay, you’ve looked to his hurts before this, Lieutenant,” the captain
said slowly. “You’ve the right to do so now.” He hesitated, then held
out his hand, and Strangwayes took it.

Next moment Strangwayes was tying the bandage about Hugh’s arm again,
while he talked briskly with Captain Gwyeth of the ill ride they had had
from Tamworth, and the worse ride they were like to have back, to which
the captain replied with a satisfied account of the good spoil of horses
and arms they had made in compensation for those lost at the first
overthrow of his troop. “So soon as the carts are laden, you are to quit
the house, so Captain Turner bids,” Captain Gwyeth finished in an
everyday tone. “We must be out of the village before sunset.”

Then as Strangwayes, ending his surgery, jumped to his feet to aid
Griffith in superintending the loading, the captain turned to Hugh: “I
bade you stay rest at the church, but since you’ve taken your way and
come hither you can do me service.” He dropped his voice a little,
though they were screened well enough under the racket of the men who
were carrying forth the captured arms: “Get you to the east wing of the
house, where the family have withdrawn, and, if you can, procure access
to Master Oldesworth. He denied it unto me. Tell him from me that it is
for the sake of his daughter and his daughter’s son that I have saved
his house from utter spoil to-day. And tell him that I will use Tom
Oldesworth better than he deserves, and exert my influence to have him
speedily exchanged. That’s all.”

Hugh passed out through the confusion to the front of the house, where
the carts were loading, and with a rather dubious foreboding crossed the
terrace to the east wing. Within, the hall was cool and dark with long
afternoon shadows; the din of the western quarter drifted hither only
faintly, so his mind went back with a vaguely homesick feeling to the
peaceful, humdrum days at Everscombe a year ago. It seemed like a bit of
the old life to go to the door of the east parlor and knock and hear his
grandfather’s voice bidding him enter.

But once inside, Hugh knew a year had passed since last he faced Master
Oldesworth there. Not only did a glance at his own buff coat and high
boots, his sword and bandaged arm recall the change, but he could see
his grandfather bent a little in his chair, and his head looked whiter
even than it had looked two days before. The old man was sitting by the
window, but at Hugh’s step he turned toward him with a cold, angry face
that made the boy hesitate at first; then taking courage he repeated his
father’s message respectfully. Master Oldesworth’s face relaxed a little
at the word of Captain Oldesworth, and at that Hugh ventured to add in
his own behalf: “And, aside from my father’s message, sir, I wished to
come hither and thank you that you used me so kindly the other day.”

“I would use you still better if your stiff-necked childishness did not
prevent,” the old man answered sternly. “So you will yet refuse what I
would offer and follow this man because he is your father?”

“Nay, ’tis not for that now, sir,” Hugh replied happily, “’tis because
he saved my life yesterday, and he has made me his officer. ’Tis because
I know him to be a valiant and a kindly gentleman, though his temper is
hot. And I must go, too, because my friends all fight for the same cause
as he.”

“So you will play your mother’s part over again,” Master Oldesworth said
sharply, and gazed out at the window so long that Hugh made a motion to
go, when the old man rose and bade him come to him. “You are set to go
your own way, and ’tis a foolish way,” he began, putting his hand on the
boy’s shoulder. “’Twas her way, too. Yet spite of all I loved her best
of all my daughters or yet of my sons. Well, well, Hugh, I would not say
it the first time you went, but now if God can look on a man who fights
in so unjust a cause I pray He may keep you uncorrupted and turn your
heart aright while there is time. Now go your way.”

He turned to the window, and Hugh murmured that he thanked him from his
heart and would strive never to shame him by his conduct.

Then he passed out into the hall again, and, with his mind on what had
just been said, was stepping slowly to the door, when from the stairway
he heard his name called. Before he faced about he knew it was his
sharp-tongued Aunt Delia, but the sensitive boyish dread of her was all
gone now. He turned back briskly to learn her bidding, and as he turned
he perceived Lois Campion standing by her at the foot of the stairs.
“’Tis well you have come back, Hugh Gwyeth,” Mistress Oldesworth began
in a cutting voice that might have made Hugh wince, only he told himself
that she was Peregrine’s mother, and Peregrine was a coward and a
runaway; she had need of words to vent her bitter sorrow. “There is one
here maybe has claim on you, if you still hold in remembrance this
gentlewoman,” she went on, leading Lois forward. “She has remembered you
so well that she has forgotten her duty to her kindred and to—”

“Let me go, aunt!” Lois cried in a smothered tone. She had brushed by
Hugh and run out at the open door before he fully comprehended, and
without a glance at Mistress Oldesworth he ran after.

Out under the elms of the east terrace he overtook Lois, and catching
her hand made her stay. “What is it? What does it mean?” he urged.

“Nothing,” she answered, with her head erect and her cheeks blazing.
“Only, I can never go under that woman’s roof again. Some things even a
poor weak-spirited creature like a girl will not endure.”

“But if you cannot stay at Everscombe,” Hugh repeated blankly, but next
moment he was half laughing. “Faith, Lois, the time has come now; you
shall run away with me. Come, we’ll be off at once.”

The most of the troop had already ridden for Kingsford, Hugh perceived,
as they came to the front of the house, but by the west door Dick and
Frank, with Saxon and a trooper or two, still stayed for him. Hugh led
Lois up to his two friends, a bit slowly, for the girl’s steps faltered
shyly. “Dick,” he began, “this is Mistress Campion of whom I have told
you. They have cast her out from Everscombe because she set me free from
them yesterday, so ’tis in my mind to take her unto Tamworth.”

Dick’s expressive eyebrows went up, but before Hugh had time for
resentment, or even comprehension, he had swung round on the trooper who
waited at Black Boy’s head: “Off to the stable with you and fetch a
pillion. Frank, use your impudence well and bring out a cloak for
Mistress Campion from the house. ’Tis well thought on, Hugh, for surely
all the regiment is indebted to the gentlewoman who aided you to bear
that message. Say, by Mistress Campion’s leave, we convey her to my
cousin, Mistress Cresswell, in Worcestershire?”

“Did I not tell you, Lois, that Dick was the best good fellow ever
lived?” Hugh broke out.

“Pshaw!” said Strangwayes. “Get to your saddle, you one-armed warrior.
You’ll have all you can do to manage Bayard, so I shall entreat Mistress
Campion to ride behind me.”

In such order they went from Everscombe in the late afternoon, and,
urging the horses a trifle, for Captain Turner and Captain Gwyeth had
long since ridden forth, came into Kingsford as the sun was setting.
Already the troops were falling into marching order in the road, and
Strangwayes, only pausing to bid Hugh look that he did not go to sleep
and pitch over his saddle-bow ere he reached Tamworth, trotted ahead to
take his place in the rear of Turners men. At a word from him Frank
followed at his side, but Lois, seated behind Dick, kept her face turned
back to Hugh.

He watched till they passed in the rear of the troop down to the bridge
of the Arrow, then drew Bayard back to the little band that represented
Gwyeth’s men; the troopers were all in the saddle; behind them Leveson’s
squads were getting to horse, and the graveyard was deserted. The slope
of the hill and the church were red in the sunset but very peaceful now;
Hugh looked to the church tower and saw no flag was flying. Then he
heard a voice at his elbow: “The colors, sir.”

He looked down at Ridydale, stiff and soldierly, who saluted and passed
him up the red and gold cornet of the troop.

“Can you manage the flag, Hugh?” spoke Captain Gwyeth, getting leisurely
to horse beside him. “Leave it to the corporal if your arm—”

“Sure, sir, I can manage it very well indeed,” Hugh broke in, much
alarmed; he braced the staff against his stirrup and, resting it in the
crook of his elbow, gathered the reins into his sound hand.

“Nay, none shall take it from you, Cornet Gwyeth,” the captain laughed,
and turned to the trumpeter to sound the order to march forward.

They rode slowly down the slope to the bridge. The water splashed
beneath the archway, and the horses’ hoofs sounded hollow on the road;
Hugh listened happily, while his thoughts sped back to the last time he
had crossed the bridge, a friendless little runaway. On the thought he
turned in his saddle and gazed back at the church that now showed black
against the sunset sky. Did the mother who lay buried there, he
wondered, know that at last he had found Alan Gwyeth? He faced slowly to
the front again, and as he faced he met the captain’s eyes; there were
no words between them, but each guessed something of the other’s
thoughts. Hugh tightened his hold on Bayard’s bridle and drew close, so
he rode knee to knee with his father.

------------------------------------------------------------------------


                      “ANOTHER BEWITCHING ROMANCE”
                         —_The Times_, New York

                             --------------

                          THE PRIDE OF JENNICO

                BEING A MEMOIR OF CAPTAIN BASIL JENNICO

                                   BY

                        AGNES and EGERTON CASTLE

                       16mo.     Cloth.     $1.50

                             --------------

“Picturesque in literary style, rich in local color, rising at times
almost to tragic intentness, and bristling throughout with dramatic
interest.”—_The Record_, Philadelphia.

"There is a wealth of historic detail which lends an interest to the
story apart from the romantic love affair between Captain Jennico and
the Princess Marie Ottilie of Lausitz. The hero’s great-uncle had been
one of those lucky English adventurers whose Catholic religion and
Jacobite leanings had debarred him from promotion at home, and who had
found advancement in the service of Austria, and wealth with the hand of
a Bohemian heiress. Such chances were not uncommon with ‘Soldiers of
Fortune’ in the times of Queen Anne and the early Georges. At his
uncle’s death, Captain Basil Jennico became the possessor of many
millions (reckoned by the florins of that land), besides the great
property of Tollendahl—fertile plains as well as wild forests, and of
the isolated frowning castle of Tollendahl with its fathom-thick walls,
its odd pictures of half-savage dead and gone Woschutzkis, its antique
clumsy furniture, tapestries, trophies of chase and war. He became
master, moreover, of endless tribes of dependents, heiducks and
foresters; females of all ages whose bare feet in summer pattered oddly
on the floors like the tread of animals, whose high boots in winter
clattered perpetually on the stone flags of stairs and corridors; serf
peasants, factors, overseers, the strangest mixture of races that can be
imagined; Slovacks, Bohemians, Poles, to labor on the glebe; Saxons or
Austrians to rule over them and cipher out rosters and returns; Magyars
who condescended to manage his horse-flesh and watch over his safety if
nothing else; the travelling bands of gypsies, ever changing, but never
failing with the dance, the song and the music, which was as
indispensable as salt to the life of that motley population.

“The story is largely historical, both German and English elements
entering into it. The scene changes from the old castle of Tollendahl to
an English country house and London club, always maintaining its old
world flavor.”

“The tale is gracefully told, and owing partly to this fact and to the
novelty of the setting given to Basil Jennico’s amazing experience, it
gains for itself a place apart.... It is an artistic production and it
is original.”—_The York Tribune._

“One of the newest and best novels of the decade.”—_The Budget_
(Boston).

“No such piece of inimitable comedy, in a literary way, has appeared for
years.”—_The Inter-Ocean_ (Chicago).

                             --------------

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                       66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK
            Chicago           Boston           San Francisco

------------------------------------------------------------------------


                      CROWNED BY THE LONDON ACADEMY
 as one of the three most important books published during the year 1898

                             --------------


                           THE FOREST LOVERS

                           By MAURICE HEWLETT

      _Author of “Earth Works out of Tuscany,” “Pan and the Young
                            Shepherd,” etc._

                       Cloth.     12mo.     $1.50

                             --------------

                         JAMES LANE ALLEN says:

“This work, for any one of several solid reasons, must be regarded as of
very unusual interest. In the matter of style alone, it is an
achievement, an extraordinary achievement ...; in the matter of
interpreting nature there are passages in this book that I have never
seen surpassed in prose fiction.”

                        HAMILTON W. MABIE says:

“The plot is boldly conceived and strongly sustained; the characters are
vigorously drawn and are thrown into striking contrast.... It leads the
reader far from the dusty highway; it is touched with the penetrating
power of the imagination; it has human interest and idyllic
loveliness.”—_Book Reviews._

                       The New York Tribune says:

“A series of adventures as original as they are romantic.... ‘The Forest
Lovers’ is a piece of ancient arras; a thing mysteriously beautiful, a
book that is real and at the same time radiant with poetry and art. ‘The
Forest Lovers’ will be read with admiration and preserved with something
more than respect.”

                         The Outlook calls it:

“A story compounded of many kinds of beauty. It has, to begin with,
enchanting beauty of background; or rather, it moves through a beautiful
world, the play of whose light upon it is subtle, beguiling, and
magical.”

                             --------------

                         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                       66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           Transcriber’s Note

The following table summarizes the resolution of any other errors.

 168.6    “I am clean  spent[’/”]                       Replaced.
 300.25   But Dick ha[i]led him forward,                Added.





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