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Title: Mistress Wilding
Author: Sabatini, Rafael
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Mistress Wilding" ***

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MISTRESS WILDING

By Rafael Sabatini



CONTENTS



CHAPTER I -- POT-VALIANCE

CHAPTER II -- SIR ROWLAND TO THE RESCUE

CHAPTER III -- DIANA SCHEMES

CHAPTER IV -- TERMS OF SURRENDER

CHAPTER V -- THE ENCOUNTER

CHAPTER VI -- THE CHAMPION

CHAPTER VII -- THE NUPTIALS OF RUTH WESTMACOTT

CHAPTER VIII -- BRIDE AND GROOM

CHAPTER IX -- MR. TRENCHARD’S COUNTERSTROKE

CHAPTER X -- THEIR OWN PETARD

CHAPTER XI -- THE MARPLOT

CHAPTER XII -- AT THE FORD

CHAPTER XIII -- “PRO RELIGIONE ET LIBERTATE”

CHAPTER XIV -- HIS GRACE’ IN COUNSEL

CHAPTER XV -- LYME OF THE KING

CHAPTER XVI -- PLOTS AND PLOTTERS

CHAPTER XVII -- MR. WILDING’S RETURN

CHAPTER XVIII -- BETRAYAL

CHAPTER XIX -- THE BANQUET

CHAPTER XX -- THE RECKONING

CHAPTER XXI -- THE SENTENCE

CHAPTER XXII -- THE EXECUTION

CHAPTER XXIII -- MR. WILDING’S BOOTS

CHAPTER XXIV -- JUSTICE



CHAPTER I. POT-VALIANCE

Then drink it thus, cried the rash young fool, and splashed the contents
of his cup full into the face of Mr. Wilding even as that gentleman, on
his feet, was proposing to drink to the eyes of the young fool’s sister.

The moments that followed were full of interest. A stillness, a
brooding, expectant stillness, fell upon the company--and it numbered
a round dozen--about Lord Gervase’s richly appointed board. In the soft
candlelight the oval table shone like a deep brown pool, in which were
reflected the gleaming silver and sparkling crystal that seemed to float
upon it.

Blake sucked in his nether-lip, his florid face a thought less florid
than its wont, his prominent blue eyes a thought more prominent. Under
its golden periwig old Nick Trenchard’s wizened countenance was darkened
by a scowl, and his fingers, long, swarthy, and gnarled, drummed
fretfully upon the table. Portly Lord Gervase Scoresby--their host, a
benign and placid man of peace, detesting turbulence--turned crimson now
in wordless rage. The others gaped and stared--some at young Westmacott,
some at the man he had so grossly affronted--whilst in the shadows of
the hall a couple of lacqueys looked on amazed, all teeth and eyes.

Mr. Wilding stood, very still and outwardly impassive, the wine
trickling from his long face, which, if pale, was no paler than its
habit, a vestige of the smile with which he had proposed the toast still
lingering on his thin lips, though departed from his eyes. An elegant
gentleman was Mr. Wilding, tall, and seeming even taller by virtue of
his exceeding slenderness. He had the courage to wear his own hair,
which was of a dark brown and very luxuriant; dark brown too were his
sombre eyes, low-lidded and set at a downward slant. From those odd eyes
of his, his countenance gathered an air of superciliousness tempered by
a gentle melancholy. For the rest, it was scored by lines that stamped
it with the appearance of an age in excess of his thirty years.

Thirty guineas’ worth of Mechlin at his throat was drenched, empurpled
and ruined beyond redemption, and on the breast of his blue satin coat a
dark patch was spreading like a stain of blood.

Richard Westmacott, short, sturdy, and fair-complexioned to the point
of insipidity, watched him sullenly out of pale eyes, and waited. It
was Lord Gervase who broke at last the silence--broke it with an oath, a
thing unusual in one whose nature was almost woman-mild.

“As God’s my life!” he spluttered wrathfully, glowering at Richard. “To
have this happen in my house! The young fool shall make apology!”

“With his dying breath,” sneered Trenchard, and the old rake’s words,
his tone, and the malevolent look he bent upon the boy increased the
company’s malaise.

“I think,” said Mr. Wilding, with a most singular and excessive
sweetness, “that what Mr. Westmacott has done he has done because he
apprehended me amiss.”

“No doubt he’ll say so,” opined Trenchard with a shrug, and had caution
dug into his ribs by Blake’s elbow, whilst Richard made haste to prove
him wrong by saying the contrary.

“I apprehended you exactly, sir,” he answered, defiance in his voice and
wine-flushed face.

“Ha!” clucked Trenchard, irrepressible. “He’s bent on self-destruction.
Let him have his way, in God’s name.”

But Wilding seemed intent upon showing how long-suffering he could
be. He gently shook his head. “Nay, now,” said he. “You thought, Mr.
Westmacott, that in mentioning your sister, I did so lightly. Is it not
so?”

“You mentioned her, and that is all that matters,” cried Westmacott.
“I’ll not have her name on your lips at any time or in any place--no,
nor in any manner.” His speech was thick from too much wine.

“You are drunk,” cried indignant Lord Gervase with finality.

“Pot-valiant,” Trenchard elaborated.

Mr. Wilding set down at last the glass which he had continued to
hold until that moment. He rested his hands upon the table, knuckles
downward, and leaning forward he spoke impressively, his face very
grave; and those present--knowing him as they did--were one and all lost
in wonder at his unusual patience.

“Mr. Westmacott,” said he, “I do think you are wrong to persist in
affronting me. You have done a thing that is beyond forgiveness, and
yet, when I offer you this opportunity of honourably retrieving...” He
shrugged his shoulders, leaving the sentence incomplete.

The company might have spared its deep surprise at so much mildness.
There was but the semblance of it. Wilding proceeded thus of purpose
set, and under the calm mask of his long white face his mind worked
wickedly and deliberately. The temerity of Westmacott, whose nature was
notoriously timid, had surprised him for a moment. But anon, reading the
boy’s mind as readily as though it had been a scroll unfolded for his
instruction, he saw that Westmacott, on the strength of his position
as his sister’s brother, conceived himself immune. Mr. Wilding’s avowed
courtship of the lady, the hopes he still entertained of winning her,
despite the aversion she was at pains to show him, gave Westmacott
assurance that Mr. Wilding would never elect to shatter his all too
slender chances by embroiling himself in a quarrel with her brother.
And--reading him, thus, aright--Mr. Wilding put on that mask of
patience, luring the boy into greater conviction of the security of
his position. And Richard, conceiving himself safe in his entrenchment
behind the bulwarks of his brothership to Ruth Westmacott, and heartened
further by the excess of wine he had consumed, persisted in insults he
would never otherwise have dared to offer.

“Who seeks to retrieve?” he crowed offensively, boldly looking up into
the other’s face. “It seems you are yourself reluctant.” And he laughed
a trifle stridently, and looked about him for applause, but found none.

“You are overrash,” Lord Gervase disapproved him harshly.

“Not the first coward I’ve seen grow valiant at a table,” put in
Trenchard by way of explanation, and might have come to words with Blake
on that same score, but that in that moment Wilding spoke again.

“Reluctant to do what?” he questioned amiably, looking Westmacott
so straightly between the eyes that the boy shifted uneasily on his
high-backed chair.

Nevertheless, still full of confidence in the unassailability of his
position, the mad youth answered, “To cleanse yourself of what I threw
at you.”

“Fan me, ye winds!” gasped Nick Trenchard, and looked with expectancy at
his friend Wilding.

Now there was one factor with which, in basing with such craven
shrewdness his calculations upon Mr. Wilding’s feelings for his sister,
young Richard had not reckoned. He was not to know that Wilding,
bruised and wounded by Miss Westmacott’s scorn of him, had reached that
borderland where love and hate are so merged that they are scarce to be
distinguished. Embittered by the slights she had put upon him--slights
which his sensitive, lover’s fancy had magnified a hundredfold--Anthony
Wilding’s frame of mind was grown peculiar. Of his love she would have
none; his kindness she seemingly despised. So be it; she should taste
his cruelty. If she scorned his wooing and forbade him to pursue it, at
least it was not hers to deny him the power to hurt; and in hurting
her that would not be loved by him some measure of fierce and bitter
consolation seemed to await him.

He realized, perhaps, not quite all this--and to the unworthiness of it
all he gave no thought. But he realized enough as he toyed, as cat with
mouse, with Richard Westmacott, to know that in striking at her through
the worthless person of this brother whom she cherished--and who
persisted in affording him this opportunity--a wicked vengeance would be
his.

Peace-loving Lord Gervase had heaved himself suddenly to his feet at
Westmacott’s last words, still intent upon saving the situation.

“In Heaven’s name...” he began, when Mr. Wilding, ever calm and smiling,
though now a trifle sinister, waved him gently into silence. But that
persisting calm of Mr. Wilding’s was too much for old Nick Trenchard. He
rose abruptly, drawing all eyes upon himself. It was time, he thought,
he took a hand in this.

In addition to his affection for Wilding and his contempt for
Westmacott, he was filled with a fear that the latter might become
dangerous if not crushed at once. Gifted with a shrewd knowledge of
men, acquired during a chequered life of much sour experience, old
Nick instinctively mistrusted Richard. He had known him for a fool,
a weakling, a babbler, and a bibber of wine. Out of such elements a
villain is soon compounded, and Trenchard had cause to fear the form
of villainy that lay ready to Richard’s hand. For it chanced that Mr.
Trenchard was second cousin to that famous John Trenchard, so lately
tried for treason and acquitted to the great joy of the sectaries of the
West, and still more lately--but yesterday, in fact--fled the country to
escape the rearrest ordered in consequence of that excessive joy. Like
his more famous cousin, Nick Trenchard was one of the Duke of Monmouth’s
most active agents; and Westmacott, like Wilding, Vallancey, and one
or two others at that board, stood, too, committed to the cause of the
Protestant Champion.

Out of his knowledge of the boy Trenchard was led to fear that if he
were leniently dealt with now, tomorrow, when, sober, he came to realize
the grossness of the thing he had done and the unlikelihood of its being
forgiven him, there was no saying but that to protect himself he might
betray Wilding’s share in the plot that was being hatched. That in
itself would be bad enough; but there might be worse, for he could
scarcely betray Wilding without betraying others and--what mattered
most--the Cause itself. He must be dealt with out of hand, Trenchard
opined, and dealt with ruthlessly.

“I think, Anthony,” said he, “that we have had words enough. Shall you
be disposing of Mr. Westmacott to-morrow, or must I be doing it for
you?”

With a gasp of dismay young Richard twisted in his chair to confront
this fresh and unsuspected antagonist. What danger was this that he had
overlooked? Then, even as he turned, Wilding’s voice fell on his ear,
and each word of the few he spoke was like a drop of icy water on
Westmacott’s overheated brain.

“I protest you are vastly kind, Nick. But I intend, myself, to have the
pleasure of killing Mr. Westmacott.” And his smile fell now in mockery
upon the disillusioned lad.

Crushed by that bolt from the blue, Richard sat as if stunned, the flush
receding from his face until his very lips were livid. The shock had
sobered him, and, sobered, he realized in terror what he had done. And
yet even sober he was amazed to find that the staff upon which with such
security he had leaned should have proved rotten. True he had put much
strain upon it; but then he had counted that it would stand much strain.

He would have spoken, but he lacked words, so stricken was he. And even
had he done so it is odds none would have heard him, for the late calm
was of a sudden turned to garboil. Every man of that company--with
the sole exception of Richard himself--was on his feet, and all were
speaking at once, in clamouring, excited chorus.

Wilding alone--the butt of their expostulations--stood quietly smiling,
and wiped his face at last with a kerchief of finest lawn. Dominating
the others in the Babel rose the voice of Sir Rowland Blake--impecunious
Blake; Blake lately of the Guards, who had sold his commission as the
only thing remaining him upon which he could raise money; Blake, that
other suitor for Miss Westmacott’s hand, the suitor favoured by her
brother.

“You shall not do it, Mr. Wilding,” he shouted, his face crimson. “No,
by God! You were shamed forever. He is but a lad, and drunk.”

Trenchard eyed the short, powerfully built man beside him, and laughed
unpleasantly. “You should get yourself bled one of these days, Sir
Rowland,” he advised. “There may be no great danger yet; but a man can’t
be too careful when he wears a narrow neckcloth.”

Blake--a short, powerfully built man--took no heed of him, but looked
straight at Mr. Wilding, who, smiling ever, calmly returned the gaze of
those prominent blue eyes.

“You will suffer me, Sir Rowland,” said he sweetly, “to be the judge of
whom I will and whom I will not meet.”

Sir Rowland flushed under that mocking glance and caustic tone. “But he
is drunk,” he repeated feebly.

“I think,” said Trenchard, “that he is hearing something that will make
him sober.”

Lord Gervase took the lad by the shoulder, and shook him impatiently.
“Well?” quoth he. “Have you nothing to say? You did a deal of prating
just now. I make no doubt but that even at this late hour if you were to
make apology...”

“It would be idle,” came Wilding’s icy voice to quench the gleam of hope
kindling anew in Richard’s breast. The lad saw that he was lost, and he
is a poor thing, indeed, who cannot face the worst once that worst is
shown to be irrevocable. He rose with some semblance of dignity.

“It is as I would wish,” said he, but his livid face and staring eyes
belied the valour of his words. He cleared his huskiness from his
throat. “Sir Rowland,” said he, “will you act for me?”

“Not I!” cried Blake with an oath. “I’ll be no party to the butchery of
a boy unfledged.”

“Unfledged?” echoed Trenchard. “Body o’ me! ‘Tis a matter Wilding will
amend to-morrow. He’ll fledge him, never fear. He’ll wing him on his
flight to heaven.”

Of set purpose did Trenchard add this fuel to the blazing fire. It was
no part of his views that this encounter should be avoided. If Richard
Westmacott were allowed to live after what had passed, there were too
many tall fellows might go in peril of their lives.

Richard, meanwhile, had turned to the man on his left--young Vallancey,
a notorious partisan of the Duke of Monmouth’s, a hair-brained gentleman
who was his own worst enemy.

“May I count on you, Ned?” he asked.

“Aye--to the death,” said Vallancey magniloquently.

“Mr. Vallancey,” said Trenchard with a wry twist of his sharp features,
“you grow prophetic.”



CHAPTER II. SIR ROWLAND TO THE RESCUE

From Scoresby Hall, near Weston Zoyland, young Westmacott rode home that
Saturday night to his sister’s house in Bridgwater, a sobered man and an
anguished. He had committed a folly which was like to cost him his life
to-morrow. Other follies had he committed in his twenty-five years--for
he was not quite the babe that Blake had represented him, although he
certainly looked nothing like his age. But to-night he had contrived to
set the crown to all. He had good cause to blame himself and to curse
the miscalculation that had emboldened him to launch himself upon
a course of insult against this Wilding, whom he hated with all the
currish and resentful hatred of the worthless for the man of parts.

But there was more than hate in the affront that he had offered;
there was calculation--to an even greater extent than we have seen. It
happened that through his own fault young Richard was all but penniless.
The pious, nonconformist soul of Sir Geoffrey Lupton--the wealthy uncle
from whom he had had great expectations--had been so stirred to anger by
Richard’s vicious and besotted ways that he had left every guinea that
was his, every perch of land, and every brick of edifice to Richard’s
half-sister Ruth. At present things were not so bad for the worthless
boy. Ruth worshipped him. He was a sacred charge to her from their dead
father, who, knowing the stoutness of her soul and the feebleness of
Richard’s, had in dying imposed on her the care and guidance of her
graceless brother. But Ruth, in all things strong, was weak with Richard
out of her very fondness for him. To what she had he might help himself,
and thus it was that things were not so bad with him at present. But
when Richard’s calculating mind came to give thought to the future he
found that this occasioned him some care. Rich ladies, even when they
do not happen to be equipped in addition with Ruth’s winsome beauty and
endearing nature, are not wont to go unmarried. It would have pleased
Richard best to have had her remain a spinster. But he well knew that
this was a matter in which she might have a voice of her own, and it
behoved him betimes to take wise measures where possible husbands were
concerned.

The first that came in a suitor’s obvious panoply was Anthony Wilding,
of Zoyland Chase, and Richard watched his advent with foreboding.
Wilding’s was a personality to dazzle any woman, despite--perhaps even
because of--the reputation for wildness that clung to him. That he was
known as Wild Wilding to the countryside is true; but it were unfair--as
Richard knew--to attach to this too much importance; for the adoption
of so obvious an alliteration the rude country minds needed but a slight
encouragement. From the first it looked as if Ruth might favour him, and
Richard’s fears assumed more definite shape. If Wilding married her--and
he was a bold, masterful fellow who usually accomplished what he aimed
at--her fortune and estate must cease to be a pleasant pasture land for
bovine Richard. The boy thought at first of making terms with Wilding;
the idea was old; it had come to him when first he had counted the
chances of his sister’s marrying. But he found himself hesitating to
lay his proposal before Mr. Wilding. And whilst he hesitated Mr.
Wilding made obvious headway. Still Richard dared not do it. There was
a something in Wilding’s eye that cried him danger. Thus, in the end,
since he could not attempt a compromise with this fine fellow, the only
course remaining was that of direct antagonism--that is to say, direct
as Richard understood directness. Slander was the weapon he used in
that secret duel; the countryside was well stocked with stories of Mr.
Wilding’s many indiscretions. I do not wish to suggest that these were
unfounded. Still, the countryside, cajoled by its primitive sense of
humour into that alliteration I have mentioned, found that having given
this dog its bad name, it was under the obligation of keeping up his
reputation. So it exaggerated. Richard, exaggerating those exaggerations
in his turn, had some details, as interesting and unsavoury as they were
in the main untrue, to lay before his sister.

Now established love, it is well known, thrives wondrously on slander.
The robust growth of a maid’s feelings for her accepted suitor is but
further strengthened by malign representations of his character. She
seizes with joy the chance of affording proof of her great loyalty, and
defies the world and its evil to convince her that the man to whom she
has given her trust is not most worthy of it. Not so, however, with the
first timid bud of incipient interest. Slander nips it like a frost; in
deadliness it is second only to ridicule.

Ruth Westmacott lent an ear to her brother’s stories, incredulous only
until she remembered vague hints she had caught from this person and
from that, whose meaning was now made clear by what Richard told her,
which, incidentally, they served to corroborate. Corroboration, too, did
the tale of infamy receive from the friendship that prevailed between
Mr. Wilding and Nick Trenchard, the old ne’er-dowell, who in his
time--as everybody knew--had come so low, despite his gentle birth, as
to have been one of a company of strolling players. Had Mr. Wilding
been other than she now learnt he was, he would surely not cherish an
attachment for a person so utterly unworthy. Clearly, they were birds of
a plumage.

And so, her maiden purity outraged at the thought that she had been in
danger of lending a willing ear to the wooing of such a man, she
had crushed this love which she blushed to think was on the point of
throwing out roots to fasten on her soul, and was sedulous thereafter in
manifesting the aversion which she accounted it her duty to foster for
Mr. Wilding.

Richard had watched and smiled in secret, taking pride in the cunning
way he had wrought this change--that cunning which so often is given
to the stupid by way of compensation for the intelligence that has been
withheld them.

And now what time discountenanced, Wilding fumed and fretted all in
vain, Sir Rowland Blake, fresh from London and in full flight from his
creditors, flashed like a comet into the Bridgwater heavens. He dazzled
the eyes and might have had for the asking the heart and hand of Diana
Horton--Ruth’s cousin. Her heart, indeed, he had without the asking, for
Diana fell straightway in love with him and showed it, just as he showed
that he was not without response to her affection. There were some
tender passages between them; but Blake, for all his fine exterior, was
a beggar, and Diana far from rich, and so he rode his feelings with
a hard grip upon the reins. And then, in an evil hour for poor Diana,
young Westmacott had taken him to Lupton House, and Sir Rowland had his
first glimpse of Ruth, his first knowledge of her fortune. He went down
before Ruth’s eyes like a man of heart; he went down more lowly still
before her possessions like a man of greed; and poor Diana might console
herself with whom she could.

Her brother watched him, appraised him, and thought that in this broken
gamester he had a man after his own heart; a man who would be ready
enough for such a bargain as Richard had in mind; ready enough to
sell what rags might be left him of his honour so that he came by the
wherewithal to mend his broken fortunes.

The twain made terms. They haggled like any pair of traders out of
Jewry, but in the end it was settled--by a bond duly engrossed and
sealed--that on the day that Sir Rowland married Ruth he should make
over to her brother certain values that amounted to perhaps a quarter of
her possessions. There was no cause to think that Ruth would be greatly
opposed to this--not that that consideration would have weighed with
Richard.

But now that all essentials were so satisfactorily determined a vexation
was offered Westmacott by the circumstance that his sister seemed nowise
taken with Sir Rowland. She suffered him because he was her brother’s
friend; on that account she even honoured him with some measure of her
own friendship; but to no greater intimacy did her manner promise to
admit him. And meanwhile, Mr. Wilding persisted in the face of all
rebuffs. Under his smiling mask he hid the smart of the wounds she dealt
him, until it almost seemed to him that from loving her he had come to
hate her.

It had been well for Richard had he left things as they were and waited.
Whether Blake prospered or not, leastways it was clear that Wilding
would not prosper, and that, for the season, was all that need have
mattered to young Richard.

But in his cups that night he had thought in some dim way to precipitate
matters by affronting Mr. Wilding, secure, as I have shown, in his
belief that Wilding would perish sooner than raise a finger against
Ruth’s brother. And his drunken astuteness, it seemed, had been to
his mind as a piece of bottle glass to the sight, distorting the image
viewed through it.

With some such bitter reflection rode he home to his sleepless couch.
Some part of those dark hours he spent in bitter reviling of Wilding, of
himself, and even of his sister, whom he blamed for this awful situation
into which he had tumbled; at other times he wept from self-pity and
sheer fright.

Once, indeed, he imagined that he saw light, that he saw a way out
of the peril that hemmed him in. His mind turned for a moment in the
direction that Trenchard had feared it might. He bethought him of his
association with the Monmouth Cause--into which he had been beguiled by
the sordid hope of gain--and of Wilding’s important share in that same
business. He was even moved to rise and ride that very night for Exeter
to betray to Albemarle the Cause itself, so that he might have Wilding
laid by the heels. But if Trenchard had been right in having little
faith in Richard’s loyalty, he had, it seems, in fearing treachery
made the mistake of giving Richard credit for more courage than was his
endowment. For when, sitting up in bed, fired by his inspiration, young
Westmacott came to consider the questions the Lord-Lieutenant of Devon
would be likely to ask him, he reflected that the answers he must return
would so incriminate himself that he would be risking his own neck in
the betrayal. He flung himself down again with a curse and a groan, and
thought no more of the salvation that might lie for him that way.

The morning of that last day of May found him pale and limp and all
a-tremble. He rose betimes and dressed, but stirred not from his chamber
till in the garden under his window he heard his sister’s voice, and
that of Diana Horton, joined anon by a man’s deeper tones, which he
recognized with a start as Blake’s. What did the baronet here so
early? Assuredly it must concern the impending duel. Richard knew no
mawkishness on the score of eavesdropping. He stole to his window and
lent an ear, but the voices were receding, and to his vexation he caught
nothing of what was said. He wondered how soon Vallancey would come, and
for what hour the encounter had been appointed. Vallancey had remained
behind at Scoresby Hall last night to make the necessary arrangements
with Trenchard, who was to act for Mr. Wilding.

Now it chanced that Trenchard and Wilding had business--business of
Monmouth’s--to transact in Taunton that morning; business which might
not be delayed. There were odd rumours afloat in the West; persistent
rumours which had come fast upon the heels of the news of Argyle’s
landing in Scotland; rumours which maintained that Monmouth himself was
coming over from Holland. These tales Wilding and his associates had
ignored. The Duke, they knew, was to spend the summer in retreat in
Sweden, with (it was alleged) the Lady Henrietta Wentworth to bear him
company, and in the mean time his trusted agents were to pave the way
for his coming in the following spring. Of late the lack of direct news
from the Duke had been a source of mystification to his friends in the
West, and now, suddenly, the information went abroad--it was something
more than rumour this time--that a letter of the greatest importance
had been intercepted. From whom that letter proceeded or to whom it was
addressed, could not yet be discovered. But it seemed clear that it
was connected with the Monmouth Cause, and it behoved Mr. Wilding to
discover what he could. With this intent he rode with Trenchard that
Sunday morning to Taunton, hoping that at the Red Lion Inn--that
meeting-place of dissenters--he might cull reliable information.

It was in consequence of this that the meeting with Richard Westmacott
was not to take place until the evening, and therefore Vallancey came
not to Lupton House as early as Richard thought he should expect him.
Blake, however--more no doubt out of a selfish fear of losing a valued
ally in the winning of Ruth’s hand than out of any excessive concern for
Richard himself--had risen early and hastened to Lupton House, in the
hope, which he recognized as all but forlorn, of yet being able to avert
the disaster he foresaw for Richard.

Peering over the orchard wall as he rode by, he caught a glimpse,
through an opening between the trees, of Ruth herself and Diana on the
lawn beyond. There was a wicket gate that stood unlatched, and availing
himself of this Sir Rowland tethered his horse in the lane and threading
his way briskly through the orchard came suddenly upon the girls.
Their laughter reached him as he advanced, and told him they could know
nothing yet of Richard’s danger.

On his abrupt and unexpected apparition, Diana paled and Ruth flushed
slightly, whereupon Sir Rowland might have bethought him, had he been
book-learned, of the axiom, “Amour qui rougit, fleurette; amour qui
plit, drame du coeur.”

He doffed his hat and bowed, his fair ringlets tumbling forward till
they hid his face, which was exceeding grave.

Ruth gave him good morning pleasantly. “You London folk are earlier
risers than we are led to think,” she added.

“‘Twill be the change of air makes Sir Rowland matutinal,” said Diana,
making a gallant recovery from her agitation.

“I vow,” said he, “that I had grown matutinal earlier had I known what
here awaited me.”

“Awaited you?” quoth Diana, and tossed her head archly disdainful. “La!
Sir Rowland, your modesty will be the death of you.” Archness became
this lady of the sunny hair, tip-tilted nose, and complexion that
outvied the apple-blossoms. She was shorter by a half-head than her
darker cousin, and made up in sprightliness what she lacked of Ruth’s
gentle dignity. The pair were foils, each setting off the graces of the
other.

“I protest I am foolish,” answered Blake, a shade discomfited. “But I
want not for excuse. I have it in the matter that brings me here.”
 So solemn was his air, so sober his voice, that both girls felt a
premonition of the untoward message that he bore. It was Ruth who asked
him to explain himself.

“Will you walk, ladies?” said Blake, and waved the hand that still held
his hat riverwards, adown the sloping lawn. They moved away together,
Sir Rowland pacing between his love of yesterday and his love of to-day,
pressed with questions from both. He shaded his eyes to look at the
river, dazzling in the morning sunlight that came over Polden Hill, and,
standing thus, he unburdened himself at last.

“My news concerns Richard and--Mr. Wilding.” They looked at him.
Miss Westmacott’s fine level brows were knit. He paused to ask, as if
suddenly observing his absence, “Is Richard not yet risen?”

“Not yet,” said Ruth, and waited for him to proceed.

“It does credit to his courage that he should sleep late on such a day,”
 said Blake, and was pleased with the adroitness wherewith he broke the
news. “He quarrelled last night with Anthony Wilding.”

Ruth’s hand went to her bosom; fear stared at Blake from out her eyes,
blue as the heavens overhead; a grey shade overcast the usual warm
pallor of her face.

“With Mr. Wilding?” she cried. “That man!” And though she said no more
her eyes implored him to go on, and tell her what more there might be.
He did so, and he spared not Wilding. The task, indeed, was one to which
he applied himself with a certain zest; whatever might be the outcome
of the affair, there was no denying that he was by way of reaping profit
from it by the final overthrow of an acknowledged rival. And when he
told her how Richard had flung his wine in Wilding’s face when Wilding
stood to toast her, a faint flush crept to her cheeks.

“Richard did well,” said she. “I am proud of him.”

The words pleased Sir Rowland vastly; but he reckoned without Diana.
Miss Horton’s mind was illumined by her knowledge of herself. In the
light of that she saw precisely what capital this tale-bearer sought to
make. The occasion might not be without its opportunities for her; and
to begin with, it was no part of her intention that Wilding should be
thus maligned and finally driven from the lists of rivalry with Blake.
Upon Wilding, indeed, and his notorious masterfulness did she found what
hopes she still entertained of winning back Sir Rowland.

“Surely,” said she, “you are a little hard on Mr. Wilding. You speak as
if he were the first gallant that ever toasted lady’s eyes.”

“I am no lady of his, Diana,” Ruth reminded her, with a faint show of
heat.

Diana shrugged her shoulders. “You may not love him, but you can’t
ordain that he shall not love you. You are very harsh, I think. To me it
rather seems that Richard acted like a boor.”

“But, mistress,” cried Sir Rowland, half out of countenance, and
stifling his vexation, “in these matters it all depends upon the
manner.”

“Why, yes,” she agreed; “and whatever Mr. Wilding’s manner, if I know
him at all, it would be nothing but respectful to the last degree.”

“My own conception of respect,” said he, “is not to bandy a lady’s name
about a company of revellers.”

“Bethink you, though, you said just now, it all depended on the manner,”
 she rejoined. Sir Rowland shrugged and turned half from her to her
listening cousin. When all is said, poor Diana appears--despite her
cunning--to have been short-sighted. Aiming at a defined advantage
in the game she played, she either ignored or held too lightly the
concomitant disadvantage of vexing Blake.

“It were perhaps best to tell us the exact words he used, Sir Rowland,”
 she suggested, “that for ourselves we may judge how far he lacked
respect.”

“What signify the words!” cried Blake, now almost out of temper.
“I don’t recall them. It is the air with which he pledged Mistress
Westmacott.”

“Ah yes--the manner,” quoth Diana irritatingly. “We’ll let that be.
Richard threw his wine in Mr. Wilding’s face? What followed then? What
said Mr. Wilding?”

Sir Rowland remembered what Mr. Wilding had said, and bethought him
that it were impolitic in him to repeat it. At the same time, not having
looked for this cross-questioning, he was all unprepared with any likely
answer. He hesitated, until Ruth echoed Diana’s question.

“Tell us, Sir Rowland,” she begged him, “what Mr. Wilding said.”

Being forced to say something, and being by nature slow-witted and
sluggish of invention, Sir Rowland was compelled, to his unspeakable
chagrin, to fall back upon the truth.

“Is not that proof?” cried Diana in triumph. “Mr. Wilding was reluctant
to quarrel with Richard. He was even ready to swallow such an affront
as that, thinking it might be offered him under a misconception of his
meaning. He plainly professed the respect that filled him for Mistress
Westmacott, and yet, and yet, Sir Rowland, you tell us that he lacked
respect!”

“Madam,” cried Blake, turning crimson, “that matters nothing. It was not
the place or time to introduce your cousin’s name.

“You think, Sir Rowland,” put in Ruth, her air grave, judicial almost,
“that Richard behaved well?”

“As I would like to behave myself, as I would have a son of mine behave
on the like occasion,” Blake protested. “But we waste words,” he cried.
“I did not come to defend Richard, nor just to bear you this untoward
news. I came to consult with you, in the hope that we might find some
way to avert this peril from your brother.”

“What way is possible?” asked Ruth, and sighed. “I would not... I would
not have Richard a coward.”

“Would you prefer him dead?” asked Blake, sadly grave.

“Sooner than craven--yes,” Ruth answered him, very white.

“There is no question of that,” was Blake’s rejoinder. “The question
is that Wilding said last night that he would kill the boy, and what
Wilding says he does. Out of the affection that I bear Richard is born
my anxiety to save him despite himself. It is in this that I come to
seek your aid or offer mine. Allied we might accomplish what singly
neither of us could.”

He had at once the reward of his cunning speech. Ruth held out her
hands. “You are a good friend, Sir Rowland,” she said, with a pale
smile; and pale too was the smile with which Diana watched them. No more
than Ruth did she suspect the sincerity of Blake’s protestations.

“I am proud you should account me that,” said the baronet, taking Ruth’s
hands and holding them a moment; “and I would that I could prove myself
your friend in this to some good purpose. Believe me, if Wilding would
consent that I might take your brother’s place, I would gladly do so.”

It was a safe boast, knowing as he did that Wilding would consent to
no such thing; but it earned him a glance of greater kindliness from
Ruth--who began to think that hitherto perhaps she had done him some
injustice--and a look of greater admiration from Diana, who saw in him
her beau-ideal of the gallant lover.

“I would not have you endanger yourself so,” said Ruth.

“It might,” said Blake, his blue eyes very fierce, “be no great danger,
after all.” And then dismissing that part of the subject as if, like
a brave man, the notion of being thought boastful were unpleasant, he
passed on to the discussion of ways and means by which the coming duel
might be averted. But when they came to grips with facts, it seemed that
Sir Rowland had as little idea of what might be done as had the ladies.
True, he began by making the obvious suggestion that Richard should
tender Wilding a full apology. That, indeed, was the only door of
escape, and Blake shrewdly suspected that what the boy had been
unwilling to do last night--partly through wine, and partly through
the fear of looking fearful in the eyes of Lord Gervase Scoresby’s
guests--he might be willing enough to do to-day, sober and upon
reflection. For the rest Blake was as far from suspecting Mr. Wilding’s
peculiar frame of mind as had Richard been last night. This his words
showed.

“I am satisfied,” said he, “that if Richard were to go to-day to Wilding
and express his regret for a thing done in the heat of wine, Wilding
would be forced to accept it as satisfaction, and none would think that
it did other than reflect credit upon Richard.”

“Are you very sure of that?” asked Ruth, her tone dubious, her glance
hopefully anxious.

“What else is to be thought?”

“But,” put in Diana shrewdly, “it were an admission of Richard’s that he
had done wrong.”

“No less,” he agreed, and Ruth caught her breath in fresh dismay.

“And yet you have said that he did as you would have a son of yours do,”
 Diana reminded him.

“And I maintain it,” answered Blake; his wits worked slowly ever. It was
for Ruth to reveal the flaw to him.

“Do you not understand, then,” she asked him sadly, “that such an
admission on Richard’s part would amount to a lie--a lie uttered to save
himself from an encounter, the worst form of lie, a lie of cowardice?
Surely, Sir Rowland, your kindly anxiety for his life outruns your
anxiety for his honour.”

Diana, having accomplished her task, hung her head in silence,
pondering.

Sir Rowland was routed utterly. He glanced from one to the other of his
companions, and grew afraid that he--the town gallant--might come to
look foolish in the eyes of these country ladies. He protested again
his love for Richard, and increased Ruth’s terror by his mention of
Wilding’s swordsmanship; but when all was said, he saw that he had best
retreat ere he spoiled the good effect which he hoped his solicitude had
created. And so he spoke of seeking counsel with Lord Gervase Scoresby,
and took his leave, promising to return by noon.



CHAPTER III. DIANA SCHEMES

Notwithstanding the brave face Ruth Westmacott had kept during his
presence, when he departed Sir Rowland left behind him a distress
amounting almost to anguish in her mind. Yet though she might suffer,
there was no weakness in Ruth’s nature. She knew how to endure. Diana,
bearing Richard not a tenth of the affection his sister consecrated to
him, was alarmed for him. Besides, her own interests urged the averting
of this encounter. And so she held in accents almost tearful that
something must be done to save him.

This, too, appeared to be Richard’s own view, when presently--within a
few minutes of Blake’s departure--he came to join them. They watched
his approach in silence, and both noted--though with different eyes and
different feelings--the pallor of his fair face, the dark lines under
his colourless eyes. His condition was abject, and his manners, never
of the best--for there was much of the spoiled child about Richard--were
clearly suffering from it.

He stood before his sister and his cousin, moving his eyes shiftily from
one to the other, rubbing his hands nervously together.

“Your precious friend Sir Rowland has been here,” said he, and it was
not clear from his manner which of them he addressed. “Not a doubt but
he will have brought you the news.” He seemed to sneer.

Ruth advanced towards him, her face grave, her sweet eyes full of
pitying concern. She placed a hand upon his sleeve. “My poor Richard...”
 she began, but he shook off her kindly touch, laughing angrily--a mere
cackle of irritability.

“Odso!” he interrupted her. “It is a thought late for this mock
kindliness!”

Diana, in the background, arched her brows, then with a shrug turned
aside and seated herself on the stone seat by which they had been
standing. Ruth shrank back as if her brother had struck her.

“Richard!” she cried, and searched his livid face with her eyes.
“Richard!”

He read a question in the interjection, and he answered it. “Had you
known any real care, any true concern for me, you had not given cause
for this affair,” he chid her peevishly.

“What are you saying?” she cried, and it occurred to her at last that
Richard was afraid. He was a coward! She felt as she would faint.

“I am saying,” said he, hunching his shoulders, and shivering as he
spoke, yet, his glance unable to meet hers, “that it is your fault that
I am like to get my throat cut before sunset.”

“My fault?” she murmured. The slope of lawn seemed to wave and swim
about her. “My fault?”

“The fault of your wanton ways,” he accused her harshly. “You have so
played fast and loose with this fellow Wilding that he makes free of
your name in my very presence, and puts upon me the need to get myself
killed by him to save the family honour.”

He would have said more in this strain, but something in her glance gave
him pause. There fell a silence. From the distance came the melodious
pealing of church bells. High overhead a lark was pouring out its song;
in the lane at the orchard end rang the beat of trotting hoofs. It
was Diana who spoke presently. Just indignation stirred her, and, when
stirred, she knew no pity, set no limits to her speech.

“I think, indeed,” said she, her voice crisp and merciless, “that the
family honour will best be saved if Mr. Wilding kills you. It is in
danger while you live. You are a coward, Richard.”

“Diana!” he thundered--he could be mighty brave with women--whilst Ruth
clutched her arm to restrain her.

But she continued, undeterred: “You are a coward--a pitiful coward,” she
told him. “Consult your mirror. It will tell you what a palsied thing
you are. That you should dare so speak to Ruth...”

“Don’t!” Ruth begged her, turning.

“Aye,” growled Richard, “she had best be silent.”

Diana rose, to battle, her cheeks crimson. “It asks a braver man than
you to compel my obedience,” she told him. “La!” she fumed, “I’ll swear
that had Mr. Wilding overheard what you have said to your sister, you
would have little to fear from his sword. A cane would be the weapon
he’d use on you.”

Richard’s pale eyes flamed malevolently; a violent rage possessed him
and flooded out his fear, for nothing can so goad a man as an offensive
truth. Ruth approached him again; again she took him by the arm, seeking
to soothe his over-troubled spirit; but again he shook her off. And then
to save the situation came a servant from the house. So lost in anger
was all Richard’s sense of decency that the mere supervention of the
man would not have been enough to have silenced him could he have found
adequate words in which to answer Mistress Horton. But even as he racked
his mind, the footman’s voice broke the silence, and the words the
fellow uttered did what his presence alone might not have sufficed to
do.

“Mr. Vallancey is asking for you, sir,” he announced.

Richard started. Vallancey! He had come at last, and his coming was
connected with the impending duel. The thought was paralyzing to young
Westmacott. The flush of anger faded from his face; its leaden hue
returned and he shivered as with cold. At last he mastered himself
sufficiently to ask:

“Where is he, Jasper?”

“In the library, sir,” replied the servant. “Shall I bring him hither?”

“Yes--no,” he answered. “I will come to him.” He turned his back upon
the ladies, paused a moment, still irresolute. Then, as by an effort,
he followed the servant across the lawn and vanished through the ivied
porch.

As he went Diana flew to her cousin. Her shallow nature was touched with
transient pity. “My poor Ruth...” she murmured soothingly, and set her
arm about the other’s waist. There was a gleam of tears in the eyes Ruth
turned upon her. Together they came to the granite seat and sank to it
side by side, fronting the placid river. There Ruth, her elbows on her
knees, cradled her chin in her hands, and with a sigh of misery stared
straight before her.

“It was untrue!” she said at last. “What Richard said of me was untrue.”

“Why, yes,” Diana snapped, contemptuous. “The only truth is that Richard
is afraid.”

Ruth shivered. “Ah, no,” she pleaded--she knew how true was the
impeachment. “Don’t say it, Diana.”

“It matters little that I say it,” snorted Diana impatiently. “It is a
truth proclaimed by the first glance at him.”

“He is in poor health, perhaps,” said Ruth, seeking miserably to excuse
him.

“Aye,” said Diana. “He’s suffering from an ague--the result of a lack
of courage. That he should so have spoken to you! Give me patience,
Heaven!”

Ruth crimsoned again at the memory of his words; a wave of indignation
swept through her gentle soul, but was gone at once, leaving an
ineffable sadness in its room. What was to be done? She turned to Diana
for counsel. But Diana was still whipping up her scorn.

“If he goes out to meet Mr. Wilding, he’ll shame himself and every man
and woman that bears the name of Westmacott,” said she, and struck a new
fear with that into the heart of Ruth.

“He must not go!” she answered passionately. “He must not meet him!”

Diana flashed her a sidelong glance. “And if he doesn’t, will things be
mended?” she inquired. “Will it save his honour to have Mr. Wilding come
and cane him?”

“He’d not do that?” said Ruth.

“Not if you asked him--no,” was Diana’s sharp retort, and she caught her
breath on the last word of it, for just then the Devil dropped the seed
of a suggestion into the fertile soil of her lovesick soul.

“Diana!” Ruth exclaimed in reproof, turning to confront her cousin. But
Diana’s mind started upon its scheming journey was now travelling fast.
Out of that devil’s seed there sprang with amazing rapidity a tree-like
growth, throwing out branches, putting forth leaves, bearing already--in
her fancy--bloom and fruit.

“Why not?” quoth she after a breathing space, and her voice was gentle,
her tone innocent beyond compare. “Why should you not ask him?” Ruth
frowned, perplexed and thoughtful, and now Diana turned to her with
the lively eye of one into whose mind has leapt a sudden inspiration.
“Ruth!” she exclaimed. “Why, indeed, should you not ask him to forgo
this duel?”

“How, how could I?” faltered Ruth.

“He’d not deny you; you know he’d not.”

“I do not know it,” answered Ruth. “But if I did, how could I ask it?”

“Were I Richard’s sister, and had I his life and honour at heart as you
have, I’d not ask how. If Richard goes to that encounter he loses both,
remember--unless between this and then he undergoes some change. Were I
in your place, I’d straight to Wilding.”

“To him?” mused Ruth, sitting up. “How could I go to him?”

“Go to him, yes,” Diana insisted. “Go to him at once--while there is yet
time.”

Ruth rose and moved away a step or two towards the water, deep in
thought. Diana watched her furtively and slyly, the rapid rise and fall
of her maiden breast betraying the agitation that filled her as she
waited--like a gamester--for the turn of the card that would show her
whether she had won or lost. For she saw clearly how Ruth might be so
compromised that there was something more than a chance that Diana would
no longer have cause to account her cousin a barrier between herself and
Blake.

“I could not go alone,” said Ruth, and her tone was that of one still
battling with a notion that is repugnant.

“Why, if that is all,” said Diana, “then I’ll go with you.”

“I can’t! I can’t! Consider the humiliation.”

“Consider Richard rather,” the fair temptress made answer eagerly. “Be
sure that Mr. Wilding will save you all humiliation. He’ll not deny you.
At a word from you, I know what answer he will make. He will refuse to
push the matter forward--acknowledge himself in the wrong, do whatever
you may ask him. He can do it. None will question his courage. It has
been proved too often.” She rose and came to Ruth. She set her arm
about her waist again, and poured shrewd persuasion over her cousin’s
indecision. “To-night you’ll thank me for this thought,” she assured
her. “Why do you pause? Are you so selfish as to think more of the
little humiliation that may await you than of Richard’s life and
honour?”

“No, no,” Ruth protested feebly.

“What, then? Is Richard to go out and slay his honour by a show of fear
before he is slain, himself, by the man he has insulted?”

“I’ll go,” said Ruth. Now that the resolve was taken, she was brisk,
impatient. “Come, Diana. Let Jerry saddle for us. We’ll ride to Zoyland
Chase at once.”

They went without a word to Richard who was still closeted with
Vallancey, and riding forth they crossed the river and took the road
that, skirting Sedgemoor, runs south to Weston Zoyland. They rode with
little said until they came to the point where the road branches on the
left, throwing out an arm across the moor towards Chedzoy, a mile or so
short of Zoyland Chase. Here Diana reined in with a sharp gasp of pain.
Ruth checked, and cried to know what ailed her.

“It is the sun, I think,” muttered Diana, her hand to her brow. “I am
sick and giddy.” And she slipped a thought heavily to the ground. In an
instant Ruth had dismounted and was beside her. Diana was pale, which
lent colour to her complaint, for Ruth was not to know that the pallor
sprang from her agitation in wondering whether the ruse she attempted
would succeed or not.

A short stone’s-throw from where they had halted stood a cottage back
from the road in a little plot of ground, the property of a kindly old
woman known to both. There Diana expressed the wish to rest awhile, and
thither they took their way, Ruth leading both horses and supporting her
faltering cousin. The dame was all solicitude. Diana was led into her
parlour, and what could be done was done. Her corsage was loosened,
water drawn from the well and brought her to drink and bathe her brow.

She sat back languidly, her head lolling sideways against one of the
wings of the great chair, and languidly assured them she would be better
soon if she were but allowed to rest awhile. Ruth drew up a stool to
sit beside her, for all that her soul fretted at this delay. What if in
consequence she should reach Zoyland Chase too late--to find that Mr.
Wilding had gone forth already? But even as she was about to sit, it
seemed that the same thought had of a sudden come to Diana. The girl
leaned forward, thrusting--as if by an effort--some of her faintness
from her.

“Do not wait for me, Ruth,” she begged.

“I must, child.”

“You must not;” the other insisted. “Think what it may mean--Richard’s
life, perhaps. No, no, Ruth, dear. Go on; go on to Zoyland. I’ll follow
you in a few minutes.”

“I’ll wait for you,” said Ruth with firmness.

At that Diana rose, and in rising staggered. “Then we’ll push on at
once,” she gasped, as if speech itself were an excruciating effort.

“But you are in no case to stand!” said Ruth. “Sit, Diana, sit.”

“Either you go on alone or I go with you, but go at once you must. At
any moment Mr. Wilding may go forth, and your chance is lost. I’ll not
have Richard’s blood upon my head.”

Ruth wrung her hands in her dismay, confronted by a parlous choice.
Consent to Diana’s accompanying her in this condition she could not;
ride on alone to Mr. Wilding’s house was hardly to be thought of, and
yet if she delayed she was endangering Richard’s life. By the very
strength of her nature she was caught in the mesh of Diana’s scheme.
She saw that her hesitation was unworthy. This was no ordinary cause, no
ordinary occasion. It was a time for heroic measures. She must ride on,
nor could she consent to take Diana.

And so in the end she went, having seen her cousin settled again in the
high chair, and took with her Diana’s feeble assurances that she would
follow her in a few moments, as soon as her faintness passed.



CHAPTER IV. TERMS OF SURRENDER

“MR. WILDING rode at dawn with Mr. Trenchard, madam,” announced old
Walters, the butler at Zoyland Chase. Old and familiar servant though he
was, he kept from his countenance all manifestation of the deep surprise
occasioned him by the advent of Mistress Westmacott, unescorted.

“He rode... at dawn?” faltered Ruth, and for a moment she stood
irresolute, afraid and pondering in the shade of the great pillared
porch. Then she took heart again. If he rode at dawn, it was not in
quest of Richard that he went, since it had been near eleven o’clock
when she had left Bridgwater. He must have gone on other business first,
and, doubtless, before he went to the encounter he would be returning
home. “Said he at what hour he would return?” she asked.

“He bade us expect him by noon, madam.”

This gave confirmation to her thoughts. It wanted more than half an hour
to noon already. “Then he may return at any moment?” said she.

“At any moment, madam,” was the grave reply.

She took her resolve. “I will wait,” she announced, to the man’s
increasing if undisplayed astonishment. “Let my horse be seen to.”

He bowed his obedience, and she followed him--a slender, graceful
figure in her dove-coloured riding-habit laced with silver--across the
stone-flagged vestibule, through the cool gloom of the great hall, into
the spacious library of which he held the door.

“Mistress Horton is following me,” she informed the butler. “Will you
bring her to me when she comes?”

Bowing again in silent acquiescence, the white-haired servant closed the
door and left her. She stood in the centre of the great room, drawing
off her riding-gloves, perturbed and frightened beyond all reason at
finding herself for the first time under Mr. Wilding’s roof. He was
most handsomely housed. His grandfather, who had travelled in Italy,
had built the Chase upon the severe and noble lines which there he had
learnt to admire, and he had embellished its interior, too, with many
treasures of art which with that intent he had there collected.

She dropped her whip and gloves on to a table, and sank into a chair
to wait, her heart fluttering in her throat. Time passed, and in the
silence of the great house her anxiety was gradually quieted, until at
last through the long window that stood open came faintly wafted to her
on the soft breeze of that June morning the sound of a church clock at
Weston Zoyland chiming twelve. She rose with a start, bethinking her
suddenly of Diana, and wondering why she had not yet arrived. Was the
child’s indisposition graver than she had led Ruth to suppose? She
crossed to the windows and stood there drumming impatiently upon the
pane, her eyes straying idly over the sweep of elm-fringed lawns towards
the river gleaming silvery here and there between the trees in the
distance.

Suddenly she caught a sound of hoofs. Was this Diana? She sped to the
other window, the one that stood open, and now she heard the crunch of
gravel and the champ of bits and the sound of more than two pairs of
hoofs. She caught a glimpse of Mr. Wilding and Mr. Trenchard.

She felt the colour flying from her cheeks; again her heart fluttered in
her throat, and it was in vain that with her hand she sought to repress
the heaving of her breast. She was afraid; her every instinct bade her
slip through the window at which she stood and run from Zoyland Chase.
And then she thought of Richard and his danger, and she seemed to gather
courage from the reflection of her purpose in this house.

Men’s voices reached her--a laugh, the harsh cawing of Nick Trenchard.

“A lady!” she heard him cry. “‘Od’s heart, Tony! Is this a time for
trafficking with doxies?” She crimsoned an instant at the coarse word
and set her teeth, only to pale again the next. The voices were
lowered so that she heard not what was said; one sharp exclamation she
recognized to be in Wilding’s voice, but caught not the word he uttered.
There followed a pause, and she stirred uneasily, waiting. Then
came swift steps and jangling spurs across the hall, the door opened
suddenly, and Mr. Wilding, in a scarlet riding-coat, his boots white
with dust, stood bowing to her from the threshold.

“Your servant, Mistress Westmacott,” she heard him murmur. “My house is
deeply honoured.”

She dropped him a half-curtsy, pale and tongue-tied. He turned to
deliver hat and whip and gloves to Walters, who had followed him, then
closed the door and came forward into the room.

“You will forgive that I present myself thus before you,” he said,
in apology for his dusty raiment. “But I bethought me you might be in
haste, and Walters tells me that already have you waited nigh upon an
hour. Will you not sit, madam?” And he advanced a chair. His long white
face was set like a mask; but his dark, slanting eyes devoured her. He
guessed the reason of her visit. She who had humbled him, who had driven
him to the very borders of despair, was now to be humbled and to despair
before him. Under the impassive face his soul exulted fiercely.

She disregarded the chair he proffered. “My visit... has no doubt
surprised you,” she began, tremulous and hesitating.

“I’ faith, no,” he answered quietly. “The cause, after all, is not very
far to seek. You are come on Richard’s behalf.”

“Not on Richard’s,” she answered. “On my own.” And now that the ice was
broken, the suspense of waiting over, she found the tide of her courage
flowing fast. “This encounter must not take place, Mr. Wilding,” she
informed him.

He raised his eyebrows--fine and level as her own--his thin lips smiled
never so faintly. “It is, I think,” said he, “for Richard to prevent it.
The chance was his last night. It shall be his again when we meet. If he
will express regret...” He left his sentence there. In truth he mocked
her, though she guessed it not.

“You mean,” said she, “that if he makes apology...?”

“What else? What other way remains?”

She shook her head, and, if pale, her face was resolute, her glance
steady.

“That is impossible,” she told him. “Last night--as I have the story--he
might have done it without shame. To-day it is too late. To tender his
apology on the ground would be to proclaim himself a coward.”

Mr. Wilding pursed his lips and shifted his position. “It is difficult,
perhaps,” said he, “but not impossible.”

“It is impossible,” she insisted firmly.

“I’ll not quarrel with you for a word,” he answered, mighty agreeable.
“Call it impossible, if you will. Admit, however, that it is all I
can suggest. You will do me the justice, I am sure, to see that in
expressing my willingness to accept your brother’s expressions of regret
I am proving myself once more your very obedient servant. But that it is
you who ask it--and whose desires are my commands--I should let no man
go unpunished for an insult such as your brother put upon me.”

She winced at his words, at the bow with which he had professed himself
once more her servant.

“It is no clemency that you offer him,” she said. “You leave him a
choice between death and dishonour.”

“He has,” Wilding reminded her, “the chance of combat.”

She flung back her head impatiently. “I think you mock me,” said she.

He looked at her keenly. “Will you tell me plainly, madam,” he begged,
“what you would have me do?”

She flushed under his gaze, and the flush told him what he sought to
learn. There was, of course, another way, and she had thought of it;
but she lacked--as well she might, all things considered--the courage
to propose it. She had come to Mr. Wilding in the vague hope that he
himself would choose the heroic part. And he, to punish for her scorn
of him this woman whom he loved to hating-point, was resolved that she
herself must beg it of him. Whether, having so far compelled her, he
would grant her prayer or not was something he could not just then
himself have told you. She bowed her head in silence, and Wilding, that
faint smile, half friendliness, half mockery, hovering ever on his
lips, turned aside and moved softly towards the window. Her eyes, veiled
behind the long lashes of their drooping lids, followed him furtively.
She felt that she hated him in very truth. She marked the upright
elegance of his figure, the easy grace of his movements, the fine
aristocratic mould of the aquiline face, which she beheld in profile;
and she hated him the more for these outward favours that must commend
him to no lack of women. He was too masterful. He made her realize too
keenly her own weakness and that of Richard. She felt that just now he
controlled the vice that held her fast--her affection for her brother.
And because of that she hated him the more. “You see, Mistress
Westmacott,” said he, his shoulder to her, his tone sweet to the point
of sadness, “that there is nothing else.” She stood, her eyes following
the pattern of the parquetry, her foot unconsciously tracing it; her
courage ebbed, and she had no answer for him. After a pause he spoke
again, still without turning. “If that was not enough to suit your
ends”--and though he spoke in a tone of ever-increasing sadness, there
glinted through it the faintest ray of mockery--“I marvel you should
have come to Zoyland--to compromise yourself to so little purpose.”

She raised a startled face. “Com... compromise myself?” she echoed.
“Oh!” It was a cry of indignation.

“What else?” quoth he, and turned abruptly to confront her.

“Mistress Horton was... was with me,” she panted, her voice quivering as
on the brink of tears.

“‘Tis unfortunate you should have separated,” he condoled.

“But... but, Mr. Wilding, I... I trusted to your honour. I accounted you
a gentleman. Surely... surely, sir, you will not let it be known that...
I came to you? You will keep my secret?”

“Secret!” said he, his eyebrows raised. “‘Tis already the talk of the
servants’ hall. By to-morrow ‘twill be the gossip of Bridgwater.”

Air failed her. Her blue eyes fixed him in horror out of her stricken
face. Not a word had she wherewith to answer him.

The sight of her, thus, affected him oddly. His passion for her surged
up, aroused by pity for her plight, and awakened in him a sense of his
brutality. A faint flush stirred in his cheeks. He stepped quickly to
her, and caught her hand. She let it lie, cold and inert, within his
nervous grasp.

“Ruth, Ruth!” he cried, and his voice was for once unsteady. “Give it no
thought! I love you, Ruth. If you’ll but heed that, no breath of scandal
can hurt you.”

She swallowed hard. “As how?” she asked mechanically.

He bowed low over her hand--so low that his face was hidden from her.

“If you will do me the honour to become my wife...” he began, but got no
further, for she snatched away her hand, her cheeks crimsoning, her eyes
aflame with indignation. He stepped back, crimsoning too. She had dashed
the gentleness from his mood. He was angered now and tigerish.

“Oh!” she panted. “It is to affront me! Is this the time or place...”

He cropped her flow of indignant speech ere it was well begun. He caught
her in his arms, and held her tight, and so sudden was the act, so firm
his grip that she had not the thought or force to struggle.

“All time is love’s time, all places are love’s place,” he told her,
his face close to her own. “And of all time and places the present ever
preferable to the wise--for life is uncertain and short at best. I bring
you worship, and you answer me with scorn. But I shall prevail, and you
shall come to love me in very spite of your own self.”

She threw back her head, away from his as far as the bonds he had cast
about her would allow. “Air! Air!” she panted feebly.

“Oh, you shall have air enough anon,” he answered with a half-strangled
laugh, his passion mounting ever. “Hark you, now--hark you, for
Richard’s sake, since you’ll not listen for my own nor yours. There is
another course by which I can save both Richard’s life and honour.
You know it, and you counted upon my generosity to suggest it. But you
overlooked the thing on which you should have counted. You overlooked my
love. Count upon that, my Ruth, and Richard shall have naught to fear.
Count upon that, and when we meet this evening, Richard and I, it is
I who will tender the apology, I who will admit that I was wrong to
introduce your name into that company last night, and that what Richard
did was a just and well-deserved punishment upon me. This will I do if
you’ll but count upon my love.”

She looked up at him fearfully, yet with flutterings of hope. “What is’t
you mean?” she asked him faintly.

“That if you’ll promise to be my wife...”

“Your wife!” she interrupted him. She struggled to free herself,
released one arm and struck him in the face. “Let me go, you coward!”

He was answered. His arms melted from her. He fell back a pace, very
white and even trembling, the fire all gone from his eye, which was now
turned dull and deadly.

“So be it,” he said, and strode to the bell-rope. “I’ll not offend
again. I had not offended now”--he continued, in the voice of one
offering an explanation cold and formal--“but that when first I came
into your life you seemed to bid me welcome.” His fingers closed upon
the crimson bell-cord. She guessed his purpose.

“Wait!” she gasped, and put forth her hand. He paused, the rope in his,
his eye kindling anew. “You... you mean to kill Richard now?” she asked
him.

A swift lifting of his brows was his only answer. He tugged the cord.
From the distance the peal of the bell reached them faintly.

“Oh, wait, wait!” she begged, her hands pressed against her cheeks. He
stood impassible--hatefully impassible. “....... if I were to consent
to... this... how... how soon...?” He understood the unfinished
question. Interest warmed his face again. He took a step towards her,
but by a gesture she seemed to beg him come no nearer.

“If you will promise to marry me within the week, Richard shall have no
cause to fear either for his life or his honour at my hands.”

She seemed now to be recovering her calm. “Very well,” she said, her
voice singularly steady. “Let that be a bargain between us. Spare
Richard’s life and honour--both, remember!--and on Sunday next...” For
all her courage her voice quavered and faltered. She dared add no more,
lest it should break altogether.

Mr. Wilding drew a deep breath. Again he would have advanced. “Ruth!”
 he cried, and some repentance smote him, some shame shook him in
his purpose. At that moment it was in his mind to capitulate
unconditionally; to tell her that Richard should have naught to fear
from him, and yet that she should go free as the winds. Her gesture
checked him. It was so eloquent of aversion. He paused in his advance,
stifled his better feelings, and turned once more, relentless. The door
opened and old Walters stood awaiting his commands.

“Mistress Westmacott is leaving,” he informed his servant, and bowed
low and formally in farewell before her. She passed out without another
word, the old butler following, and presently through the door that
remained open came Trenchard, in quest of Mr. Wilding who stood bemused.

Nick sauntered in, his left eye almost hidden by the rakish cock of his
hat, one hand tucked away under the skirts of his plum-coloured coat,
the other supporting the stem of a long clay pipe, at which he was
pulling thoughtfully. The pipe and he were all but inseparable; indeed,
the year before in London he had given appalling scandal by appearing
with it in the Mall, and had there remained him any character to lose,
he must assuredly have lost it then.

He observed his friend through narrowing eyes--he had small eyes, very
blue and very bright, in which there usually abode a roguish gleam.

“My sight, Anthony,” said he, “reminds me that I am growing old. I
wonder did it mislead me on the score of your visitor?”

“The lady who left,” said Wilding with a touch of severity, “will be
Mistress Wilding by this day se’night.”

Trenchard took the pipe from his lips, audibly blew out a cloud of smoke
and stared at his friend. “Body o’ me!” quoth he. “Is this a time for
marrying?--with these rumours of Monmouth’s coming over.”

Wilding made an impatient gesture. “I thought to have convinced you they
are idle,” said he, and flung himself into a chair at his writing-table.

Nick came over and perched himself upon the table’s edge, one leg
swinging in the air. “And what of this matter of the intercepted letter
from London to our Taunton friends?”

“I can’t tell you. But of this I am sure, His Grace is incapable of
anything so rash. Certain is it that he’ll not stir until Battiscomb
returns to Holland, and Battiscomb is still in Cheshire sounding the
Duke’s friends.”

“Yet were I you, I should not marry just at present.”

Wilding smiled. “If you were me, you’d never marry at all.”

“Faith, no!” said Trenchard. “I’d as soon play at ‘hot-cockles,’ or
‘Parson-has-lost-his-cloak.’ ‘Tis a mort more amusing and the sooner
done with.”



CHAPTER V. THE ENCOUNTER

Ruth Wesmacott rode back like one in a dream, with vague and hazy
notions of what she saw or did. So overwrought was she by the interview
from which she came, her mind so obsessed by it, that never a thought
had she for Diana and her indisposition until she arrived home to
find her cousin there before her. Diana was in tears, called up by the
reproaches of her mother, Lady Horton--the relict of that fine soldier
Sir Cholmondeley Horton, of Taunton.

The girl had arrived at Lupton House a half-hour ahead of Miss
Westmacott, and upon her arrival she had expressed surprise, either
feigned or real, at finding Ruth still absent. Detecting the alarm
that Diana was careful to throw into her voice and manner, her mother
questioned her, and elicited the story of her faintness and of Ruth’s
having ridden on alone to Mr. Wilding’s. So outraged was Lady Horton
that for once in a way this woman, usually so meek and ease-loving,
was roused to an energy and anger with her daughter and her niece that
threatened to remove Diana at once from the pernicious atmosphere of
Lupton House and carry her home to Taunton. Ruth found her still at her
remonstrances, arrived, indeed, in time for her share of them.

“I have been sore mistaken in you, Ruth!” the dame reproached her. “I
can scarce believe it of you. I have held you up as an example to Diana,
for the discretion and wisdom of your conduct, and you do this! You go
alone to Mr. Wilding’s house--to Mr. Wilding’s, of all men!”

“It was no time for ordinary measures,” said Ruth, but she spoke without
any of the heat of one who defends her conduct. She was, the slyly
watchful Diana observed, very white and tired. “It was no time to think
of nice conduct. There was Richard to be saved.”

“And was it worth ruining yourself to do that?” quoth Lady Horton, her
colour high.

“Ruining myself?” echoed Ruth, and she smiled never so weary a smile. “I
have, indeed, done that, though not in the way you mean.”

Mother and daughter eyed her, mystified. “Your good name is blasted,”
 said her aunt, “unless so be that Mr. Wilding is proposing to make you
his wife.” It was a sneer the good woman could not, in her indignation,
repress.

“That is what Mr. Wilding has done me the honour to propose,” Ruth
answered bitterly, and left them gaping. “We are to be married this day
se’night.”

A dead silence followed the calm announcement. Then Diana rose. At the
misery, the anguish that could impress so strange and white a look
on Ruth’s winsome face, she was smitten with remorse, her incipient
satisfaction dashed. This was her work; the fruit of her scheming. But
it had gone further than she had foreseen; and for all that no result
could better harmonize with her own ambitions and desires, for the
moment--under the first shock of that announcement--she felt guilty and
grew afraid.

“Ruth!” she cried, her voice a whisper of stupefaction. “Oh, I wish I
had come with you!”

“But you couldn’t; you were faint.” And then--recalling what had
passed--her mind was filled with sudden concern for Diana, even amid her
own sore troubles. “Are you quite yourself again, Diana?” she inquired.

Diana answered almost fiercely, “I am quite well.” And then, with a
change to wistfulness, she added, “Oh, I would I had come with you!”

“Matters had been no different,” Ruth assured her. “It was a bargain
Mr. Wilding drove. It was the price I had to pay for Richard’s life and
honour.” She swallowed hard, and let her hands fall limply to her sides.
“Where is Richard?” she inquired.

It was her aunt who answered her. “He went forth half an hour agone with
Mr. Vallancey and Sir Rowland.”

“Sir Rowland had returned, then?” She looked up quickly.

“Yes,” answered Diana. “But he had achieved nothing by his visit to Lord
Gervase. His lordship would not intervene; he swore he hoped the cub
would be flayed alive by Wilding. Those were his lordship’s words, as
Sir Rowland repeated them. Sir Rowland is in sore distress for Richard.
He has gone with them to the meeting.”

“At least, he has no longer cause for his distress,” said Miss
Westmacott with her bitter smile, and sank as one exhausted to a chair.
Lady Horton moved to comfort her, her motherliness all aroused for this
motherless girl, usually so wise and strong, and seemingly wiser and
stronger than ever in this thing that Lady Horton had deemed a weakness
and a folly.

Meanwhile, Richard and his two friends were on their way to the moors
across the river to the encounter with Mr. Wilding. But before they
had got him to ride forth, Vallancey had had occasion to regret that he
stood committed to a share in this quarrel, for he came to know Richard
as he really was. He had found him in an abject state, white and
trembling, his coward’s fancy anticipating a hundred times a minute the
death he was anon to die.

Vallancey had hailed him cheerily.

“The day is yours, Dick,” he had cried, when Richard entered the library
where he awaited him. “Wild Wilding has ridden to Taunton this morning
and is to be back by noon. Odsbud, Dick!--twenty miles and more in the
saddle before coming on the ground. Heard you ever of the like madness?
He’ll be stiff as a broom-handle--an easy victim.”

Richard listened, stared, and, finding Vallancey’s eyes fixed steadily
upon him, attempted a smile and achieved a horrible grimace.

“What ails you, man?” cried his second, and caught him by the wrist. He
felt the quiver of the other’s limb. “Stab me!” quoth he, “you are in no
case to fight. What the plague ails you?”

“I am none so well this morning,” answered Richard feebly. “Lord
Gervase’s claret,” he added, passing a hand across his brow.

“Lord Gervase’s claret?” echoed Vallancey in horror, as at some
outrageous blasphemy. “Frontignac at ten shillings the bottle!” he
exclaimed.

“Still, claret never does lie easy on my stomach,” Richard explained,
intent upon blaming Lord Gervase s wine--since he could think of nothing
else--for his condition.

Vallancey looked at him shrewdly. “My cock,” said he, “if you’re to
fight we’ll have to mend your temper.” He took it upon himself to ring
the bell, and to order up two bottles of Canary and one of brandy. If he
was to get his man to the ground at all--and young Vallancey had a due
sense of his responsibilities in that connection--it would be well to
supply Richard with something to replace the courage that had oozed
out overnight. Young Richard, never loath to fortify himself, proved
amenable enough to the stiffly laced Canary that his friend set before
him. Then, to divert his mind, Vallancey, with that rash freedom that
had made the whole of Somerset know him for a rebel, set himself to talk
of the Protestant Duke and his right to the crown of England.

He was still at his talk, Richard listening moodily what time he was
slowly but surely befuddling himself, when Sir Rowland--returning from
Scoresby Hall--came to bring the news of his lack of success. Richard
hailed him noisily, and bade him ring for another glass, adding, with
a burst of oaths, some appalling threats of how anon he should serve
Anthony Wilding. His wits drowned in the stiff liquor Vallancey had
pressed upon him, he seemed of a sudden to have grown as fierce and
bloodthirsty as any scourer that ever terrorized the watch.

Blake listened to him and grunted. “Body o’ me!” swore the town gallant.
“If that’s the humour you’re going out to fight in, I’ll trouble you for
the eight guineas I won from you at Primero yesterday before you start.”

Richard reared himself, by the help of the table, and stood a thought
unsteadily, his glance laboriously striving to engage Blake’s.

“Damn me!” quoth he. “Your want of faith dishgraces me--and ‘t ‘shgraces
you. Shalt ha’ the guineas when we’re back--and not before.”

“Hum!” quoth Blake, to whom eight guineas were a consideration in these
bankrupt days. “And if you don’t come back at all upon whom am I to
draw?”

The suggestion sank through Dick’s half-fuddled senses, and the scare it
gave him was reflected on his face.

“Damn you, Blake!” swore Vallancey between his teeth. “Is that a decent
way to talk to a man who is going out? Never heed him, Dick! Let him
wait for his dirty guineas till we return.”

“Thirty guineas?” hiccoughed Richard. “It was only eight.
Anyhow--wait’ll I’ve sli’ the gullet of’s Mr. Wilding.” He checked on
a thought that suddenly occurred to him. He turned to Vallancey with a
ludicrous solemnity. “‘Sbud!” he swore. “‘S a scurvy trick I’m playing
the Duke. ‘S treason to him--treason no less.” And he smote the table
with his open hand.

“What’s that?” quoth Blake so sharply, his eyes so suddenly alert that
Vallancey made haste to cover up his fellow rebel’s indiscretion.

“It’s the brandy-and-Canary makes him dream,” said he with a laugh, and
rising as he spoke he announced that it was high time they should set
out. Thus he brought about a bustle that drove the Duke’s business from
Richard’s mind, and left Blake without a pretext to pursue his quest
for information. But the mischief was done, and Blake’s suspicions were
awake. He bethought him now of dark hints that Richard had let fall
to Vallancey in the past few days, and of hints less dark with which
Vallancey--who was a careless fellow at ordinary times--had answered.
And now this mention of the Duke and of treason to him--to what Duke
could it refer but Monmouth?

Blake was well aware of the wild tales that were going round, and he
began to wonder now was aught really afoot, and was his good friend
Westmacott in it?

If there was, he bethought him that the knowledge might be of value,
and it might help to float once more his shipwrecked fortunes. The haste
with which Vallancey had proffered a frivolous explanation of Richard’s
words, the bustle with which upon the instant he swept Richard and Sir
Rowland from the house to get to horse and ride out to Bridgwater were
in themselves circumstances that went to heighten those suspicions of
Sir Rowland’s. But lacking all opportunity for investigation at the
moment, he deemed it wisest to say no more just then lest he should
betray his watchfulness.

They were the first to arrive upon the ground--an open space on the
borders of Sedgemoor, in the shelter of Polden Hill. But they had not
long to wait before Wilding and Trenchard rode up, attended by a groom.
Their arrival had an oddly sobering effect upon young Westmacott, for
which Mr. Vallancey was thankful. For during their ride he had begun to
fear that he had carried too far the business of equipping his principal
with artificial valour.

Trenchard came forward to offer Vallancey the courteous suggestion that
Mr. Wilding’s servant should charge himself with the care of the horses
of Mr. Westmacott’s party, if this would be a convenience to
them. Vallancey thanked him and accepted the offer, and thus the
groom--instructed by Trenchard--led the five horses some distance from
the spot.

It now became a matter of making preparation, and leaving Richard to
divest himself of such garments as he might deem cumbrous, Vallancey
went forward to consult with Trenchard upon the choice of ground. At
that same moment Mr. Wilding lounged forward, flicking the grass with
his whip in an absent manner.

“Mr. Vallancey,” he began, when Trenchard turned to interrupt him.

“You can leave it safely to me, Tony,” he growled. “But there is
something I wish to say, Nick,” answered Mr. Wilding, his manner mild.
“By your leave, then.” And he turned again to Valiancey. “Will you be so
good as to call Mr. Westmacott hither?”

Vallancey stared. “For what purpose, sir?” he asked.

“For my purpose,” answered Mr. Wilding sweetly. “It is no longer my wish
to engage with Mr. Westmacott.

“Anthony!” cried Trenchard, and in his amazement forgot to swear.

“I propose,” added Mr. Wilding, “to relieve Mr. Westmacott of the
necessity of fighting.”

Vallancey in his heart thought this might be pleasant news for his
principal. Still, he did not quite see how the end was to be attained,
and said so.

“You shall be enlightened if you will do as I request,” Wilding
insisted, and Vallancey, with a lift of the brows, a snort, and a shrug,
turned away to comply.

“Do you mean,” quoth Trenchard, bursting with indignation, “that you
will let live a man who has struck you?”

Wilding took his friend affectionately by the arm. “It is a whim of
mine,” said he. “Do you think, Nick, that it is more than I can afford
to indulge?”

“I say not so,” was the ready answer; “but...”

“I thought you’d not,” said Mr. Wilding, interrupting. “And if any
does--why, I shall be glad to prove it upon him that he lies.” He
laughed, and Trenchard, vexed though he was, was forced to laugh with
him. Then Nick set himself to urge the thing that last night had plagued
his mind: that this Richard might prove a danger to the Cause; that
in the Duke’s interest, if not to safeguard his own person from some
vindictive betrayal, Wilding would be better advised in imposing a
reliable silence upon him.

“But why vindictive?” Mr. Wilding remonstrated. “Rather must he have
cause for gratitude.”

Mr. Trenchard laughed short and contemptuously. “There is,” said he, “no
rancour more bitter than that of the mean man who has offended you and
whom you have spared. I beg you’ll ponder it.” He lowered his voice as
he ended his admonition, for Vallancey and Westmacott were coming up,
followed by Sir Rowland Blake.

Richard, although his courage had been sinking lower and lower in a
measure as he had grown more and more sober with the approach of the
moment for engaging, came forward now with a firm step and an arrogant
mien; for Vallancey had given him more than a hint of what was toward.
His heart had leapt, not only at the deliverance that was promised him,
but out of satisfaction at the reflection of how accurately last night
he had gauged what Mr. Wilding would endure. It had dismayed him then,
as we have seen, that this man who, he thought, must stomach any affront
from him out of consideration for his sister, should have ended by
calling him to account. He concluded now that upon reflection Wilding
had seen his error, and was prepared to make amends that he might
extricate himself from an impossible situation, and Richard blamed
himself for having overlooked this inevitable solution and given way to
idle panic.

Vallancey and Blake watching him, and the sudden metamorphosis that was
wrought in him, despised him heartily, and yet were glad--for the sake
of their association with him--that things were as they were.

“Mr. Westmacott,” said Wilding quietly, his eyes steadily set upon
Richard’s own arrogant gaze, his lips smiling a little, “I am here not
to fight, but to apologize.”

Richard’s sneer was audible to all. Oh, he was gathering courage fast
now that there no longer was the need for it. It urged him to lengths of
daring possible only to a fool.

“If you can take a blow, Mr. Wilding,” said he offensively, “that is
your own affair.”

And his friends gasped at his temerity and trembled for him, not knowing
what grounds he had for counting himself unassailable.

“Just so,” said Mr. Wilding, as meek and humble as a nun, and Trenchard,
who had expected something very different from him, swore aloud and with
some circumstance of oaths. “The fact is,” continued Mr. Wilding, “that
what I did last night, I did in the heat of wine, and I am sorry for
it. I recognize that this quarrel is of my provoking; that it was
unwarrantable in me to introduce the name of Mistress Westmacott, no
matter how respectfully; and that in doing so I gave Mr. Westmacott
ample grounds for offence. For that I beg his pardon, and I venture to
hope that this matter need go no further.”

Vallancey and Blake were speechless in astonishment; Trenchard
livid with fury. Westmacott moved a step or two forward, a swagger
unmistakable in his gait, his nether-lip thrust out in a sneer.

“Why,” said he, his voice mighty disdainful, “if Mr. Wilding apologizes,
the matter hardly can go further.” He conveyed such a suggestion of
regret at this that Trenchard bounded forward, stung to speech.

“But if Mr. Westmacott’s disappointment threatens to overwhelm him,” he
snapped, very tartly, “I am his humble servant, and he may call upon me
to see that he’s not robbed of the exercise he came to take.”

Mr. Wilding set a restraining hand upon Trenchard’s arm.

Westmacott turned to him, the sneer, however, gone from his face.

“I have no quarrel with you, sir,” said he, with an uneasy assumption of
dignity.

“It’s a want that may be soon supplied,” answered Trenchard briskly,
and, as he afterwards confessed, had not Wilding checked him at that
moment, he had thrown his hat in Richard’s face.

It was Vallancey who saved the situation, cursing in his heart the
bearing of his principal.

“Mr. Wilding,” said he, “this is very handsome in you. You are of the
happy few who may tender such an apology without reflection upon your
courage.”

Mr. Wilding made him a leg very elegantly. “You are vastly kind, sir,”
 said he.

“You have given Mr. Westmacott the fullest satisfaction, and it is with
an increased respect for you--if that were possible--that I acknowledge
it on my friend’s behalf.”

“You are, sir, a very mirror of the elegancies,” said Mr. Wilding, and
Vallancey wondered was he being laughed at. Whether he was or not, he
conceived that he had done the only seemly thing. He had made handsome
acknowledgment of a handsome apology, stung to it by the currishness of
Richard.

And there the matter ended, despite Trenchard’s burning eagerness to
carry it himself to a different consummation. Wilding prevailed upon
him, and withdrew him from the field. But as they rode back to Zoyland
Chase the old rake was bitter in his inveighings against Wilding’s folly
and weakness.

“I pray Heaven,” he kept repeating, “that it may not come to cost you
dear.”

“Have done,” said Mr. Wilding, a trifle out of patience. “Could I wed
the sister having slain the brother?”

And Trenchard, understanding at last, accounted himself a numskull that
he had not understood before. But he none the less deemed it a pity
Richard had been spared.



CHAPTER VI. THE CHAMPION

As vainglorious was Richard Westmacott’s retreat from the field of
unstricken battle as his advance upon it had been inglorious. He spoke
with confidence now of the narrow escape that Wilding had had at
his hands, of the things he would have done to Wilding had not that
gentleman grown wise in time. Sir Rowland, who had seen little of
Richard’s earlier stricken condition, was in a measure imposed upon by
his blustering tone and manner; not so Vallancey, who remembered the
steps he had been forced to take to bolster up the young man’s courage
sufficiently to admit of his being brought to the encounter. Richard so
disgusted him that he felt if he did not quit his company soon, he would
be quarrelling with him himself. So, congratulating him, in a caustic
manner that Richard did not relish, upon the happy termination of the
affair, Vallancey took his leave of him and Blake at the cross-roads,
pleading business with Lord Gervase, and left them to proceed without
him to Bridgwater.

Blake, whose suspicions of some secret matter to which Vallancey
and Richard were wedded, had been earlier excited by Westmacott’s
indiscretions, was full of sly questions now touching the business which
might be taking Vallancey to Scoresby. But Richard was too full of
the subject of the fear he had instilled into Wilding to afford his
companion much satisfaction on any other score. Thus they came to Lupton
House, and as Richard swaggered down the lawn into the presence of the
ladies--Ruth and her aunt were occupying the stone bench, Diana the
circular seat about the great oak in the centre of the lawn--he was a
very different person from the pale, limp creature they had beheld there
some few hours earlier. Loud and offensive was he now in self-laudation,
and so indifferent to all else that he left unobserved the little smile,
half wistful, half scornful, that visited his sister’s lips when he
sneeringly told how Mr. Wilding had chosen that better part of valour
which discretion is alleged to be.

It needed Diana, who, blinded by no sisterly affection, saw him exactly
as he was, and despised him accordingly, to enlighten him. It may also
be that in doing so at once she had ends of her own to serve; for Sir
Rowland was still of the company.

“Mr. Wilding afraid?” she cried, her voice so charged with derision that
it inclined to shrillness. “La! Richard, Mr. Wilding was never afraid of
any man.”

“Faith!” said Rowland, although his acquaintance with Mr. Wilding was
slight and recent. “It is what I should think. He does not look like a
man familiar with fear.”

Richard struck something of an attitude, his fair face flushed, his pale
eyes glittering. “He took a blow,” said he, and sneered.

“There may have been reasons,” Diana suggested darkly, and Sir Rowland’s
eyes narrowed at the hint.

Again he recalled the words Richard had let fall that afternoon. Wilding
and he were fellow workers in some secret business, and Richard had said
that the encounter was treason to that same business, whatever it might
be. And of what it might be Sir Rowland had grounds upon which to found
at least a guess. Had perhaps Wilding acted upon some similar feelings
in avoiding the duel? He wondered; and when Richard dismissed Diana’s
challenge with a fatuous laugh, it was Blake who took it up.

“You speak, ma’am,” said he, “as if you knew that there were reasons,
and knew, too, what those reasons might be.”

Diana looked at Ruth, as if for guidance before replying. But Ruth sat
calm and seemingly impassive, looking straight before her. She was,
indeed, indifferent how much Diana said, for in any case the matter
could not remain a secret long. Lady Horton, silent too and listening,
looked a question at her daughter.

And so, after a pause: “I know both,” said Diana, her eyes straying
again to Ruth; and a subtler man than Blake would have read that glance
and understood that this same reason which he sought so diligently sat
there before him.

Richard, indeed, catching that sly look of his cousin’s, checked his
assurance, and stood frowning, cogitating. Then, quite suddenly, his
voice harsh:

“What do you mean, Diana?” he inquired.

Diana shrugged and turned her shoulder to him. “You had best ask Ruth,”
 said she, which was an answer more or less plain to both the men.

They stood at gaze, Richard looking a thought foolish. Blake, frowning,
his heavy lip caught in his strong, white teeth.

Ruth turned to her brother with an almost piteous attempt at a smile.
She sought to spare him pain by excluding from her manner all suggestion
that things were other than she desired.

“I am betrothed to Mr. Wilding,” said she.

Sir Rowland made a sudden forward movement, drew a deep breath, and as
suddenly stood still. Richard looked at his sister as she were mad and
raving. Then he laughed, between unbelief and derision.

“It is a jest,” said he, but his accents lacked conviction.

“It is the truth,” Ruth assured him quietly.

“The truth?” His brow darkened ominously--stupendously for one so fair.
“The truth, you baggage...?” He began and stopped in very fury.

She saw that she must tell him all.

“I promised to wed Mr. Wilding this day se’night so that he saved your
life and honour,” she told him calmly, and added, “It was a bargain that
we drove.” Richard continued to stare at her. The thing she told him
was too big to be swallowed at a mouthful; he was absorbing it by slow
degrees.

“So now,” said Diana, “you know the sacrifice your sister has made to
save you, and when you speak of the apology Mr. Wilding tendered you,
perhaps you’ll speak of it in a tone less loud.”

But the sarcasm was no longer needed. Already poor Richard was very
humble, his make-believe spirit all snuffed out. He observed at last
how pale and set was his sister’s face, and he realized something of
the sacrifice she had made. Never in all his life was Richard so near
to lapsing from the love of himself; never so near to forgetting his
own interests, and preferring those of Ruth. Lady Horton sat silent, her
heart fluttering with dismay and perplexity. Heaven had not equipped her
with a spirit capable of dealing with a situation such as this. Blake
stood in make believe stolidity dissembling his infinite chagrin and
the stormy emotions warring within him, for some signs of which Diana
watched his countenance in vain.

“You shall not do it!” cried Richard suddenly. He came forward and laid
his hand on his sister’s shoulder. His voice was almost gentle. “Ruth,
you shall not do this for me. You must not.”

“By Heaven, no!” snapped Blake before she could reply. “You are right,
Richard. Mistress Westmacott must not be the scapegoat. She shall not
play the part of Iphigenia.”

But Ruth smiled wistfully as she answered him with a question, “Where is
the help for it?”

Richard knew where the help for it lay, and for once--for just a
moment--he contemplated danger and even death with equanimity.

“I can take up this quarrel again,” he announced. “I can compel Mr.
Wilding to meet me.”

Ruth’s eyes, looking up at him, kindled with pride and admiration. It
warmed her heart to hear him speak thus, to have this assurance that he
was anything but the coward she had been so disloyal as to deem him; no
doubt she had been right in saying that it was his health was the cause
of the palsy he had displayed that morning; he was a little wild, she
knew; inclined to sit over-late at the bottle; with advancing manhood,
she had no doubt, he would overcome this boyish failing. Meanwhile
it was this foolish habit--nothing more--that undermined the inherent
firmness of his nature. And it comforted her generous soul to have this
proof that he was full worthy of the sacrifice she was making for him.
Diana watched him in some surprise, and never doubted but that his offer
was impulsive, and that he would regret it when his ardour had had time
to cool.

“It were idle,” said Ruth at last--not that she quite believed it, but
that it was all-important to her that Richard should not be imperilled.
“Mr. Wilding will prefer the bargain he has made.”

“No doubt,” growled Blake, “but he shall be forced to unmake it.” He
advanced and bowed low before her. “Madam,” said he, “will you grant
me leave to champion your cause and remove this troublesome Mr. Wilding
from your path?”

Diana’s eyes narrowed; her cheeks paled, partly from fear for Blake,
partly from vexation at the promptness of an offer that afforded a fresh
and so eloquent proof of the trend of his affections.

Ruth smiled at him in a very friendly manner, but gently shook her head.

“I thank you, sir,” said she. “But it were more than I could permit.
This has become a family affair.”

There was in her tone something which, despite its friendliness,
gave Sir Rowland his dismissal. He was not at best a man of keen
sensibilities; yet even so, he could not mistake the request to
withdraw that was implicit in her tone and manner. He took his leave,
registering, however, in his heart a vow that he would have his way with
Wilding. Thus must he--through her gratitude--assuredly come to have his
way with Ruth.

Diana rose and turned to her mother. “Come,” she said, “we’ll speed Sir
Rowland. Ruth and Richard would perhaps prefer to remain alone.”

Ruth thanked her with her eyes. Richard, standing beside his sister with
bent head and moody gaze, did not appear to have heard. Thus he remained
until he and his half-sister were alone together, then he flung himself
wearily into the seat beside her, and took her hand.

“Ruth,” he faltered, “Ruth!”

She stroked his hand, her honest, intelligent eyes bent upon him in
a look of pity--and to indulge this pity for him, she forgot how much
herself she needed pity.

“Take it not so to heart,” she urged him, her voice low and crooning
--as that of a mother to her babe. “Take it not so to heart, Richard.
I should have married some day, and, after all, it may well be that Mr.
Wilding will make me as good a husband as another. I do believe,” she
added, her only intent to comfort Richard; “that he loves me; and if he
loves me, surely he will prove kind.”

He flung himself back with an exclamation of angry pain. He was white to
the lips, his eyes bloodshot. “It must not be--it shall not be--I’ll not
endure it!” he cried hoarsely.

“Richard, dear...” she began, recapturing the hand he had snatched from
hers in his gust of emotion.

He rose abruptly, interrupting her. “I’ll go to Wilding now,” he cried,
his voice resolute. “He shall cancel this bargain he had no right to
make. He shall take up his quarrel with me where it stood before you
went to him.”

“No, no, Richard, you must not!” she urged him, frightened, rising too,
and clinging to his arm.

“I will,” he answered. “At the worst he can but kill me. But at least
you shall not be sacrificed.”

“Sit here, Richard,” she bade him. “There is something you have not
considered. If you die, if Mr. Wilding kills you...” she paused.

He looked at her, and at the repetition of the fate that would probably
await him if he persevered in the course he threatened, his purely
emotional courage again began to fail him. A look of fear crept
gradually into his face to take the room of the resolution that had been
stamped upon it but a moment since.

He swallowed hard. “What then?” he asked, his voice harsh, and, obeying
her command and the pressure on his hand, he resumed his seat beside
her.

She spoke now at length and very gravely, dwelling upon the circumstance
that he was the head of the family, the last Westmacott of his line,
pointing out to him the importance of his existence, the insignificance
of her own. She was but a girl, a thing of small account where the
perpetuation of a family was at issue. After all, she must marry
somebody some day, she repeated, and perhaps she had been foolish in
attaching too much importance to the tales she had heard of Mr.
Wilding. Probably he was no worse than other men, and after all he was
a gentleman of wealth and position, such a man as half the women in
Somerset might be proud to own for husband.

Her arguments and his weakness--his returning cowardice, which made him
lend an ear to those same arguments--prevailed with him; at least they
convinced him that he was far too important a person to risk his life in
this quarrel upon which he had so rashly entered. He did not say that
he was convinced; but he said that he would give the matter thought,
hinting that perhaps some other way might present itself of cancelling
the bargain she had made. They had a week before them, and in any case
he promised readily in answer to her entreaties--for her faith in
him was a thing unquenchable--that he would do nothing without taking
counsel with her.

Meanwhile Diana had escorted Sir Rowland to the main gates of Lupton
House, in front of which Miss Westmacott’s groom was walking his horse,
awaiting him.

“Sir Rowland,” said she at parting, “your chivalry makes you take this
matter too deeply to heart. You overlook the possibility that my cousin
may have good reason for not desiring your interference.”

He looked keenly at this little lady to whom a month ago he had been
on the point of offering marriage. His coxcombry might readily have
suggested to him that she was in love with him, but that his conscience
and inclinations urged him to assure himself that this was not the case.

“What shall that mean, madam?” he asked her.

Diana hesitated. “What I have said is plain,” she answered, and it was
clear that she held something back.

Sir Rowland flattered himself upon the shrewdness with which he read
her, never dreaming that he had but read just what she intended he
should.

He stood squarely before her, shaking his great head. “Not plain enough
for me,” he said. Then his tone softened to one of prayer. “Tell me,” he
besought her.

“I can’t! I can’t!” she cried in feigned distress. “It were too
disloyal.”

He frowned. He caught her arm and pressed it, his heart sick with
jealous alarm. “What do you mean? Tell me, tell me, Mistress Horton.”

Diana lowered her eyes. “You’ll not betray me?” she stipulated.

“Why, no. Tell me.”

She flushed delicately. “I am disloyal to Ruth,” she said, “and yet I am
loath to see you cozened.”

“Cozened?” quoth he hoarsely, his egregious vanity in arms. “Cozened?”

Diana explained. “Ruth was at his house to-day,” said she, “closeted
alone with him for an hour or more.”

“Impossible!” he cried.

“Where else was the bargain made?” she asked, and shattered his last
doubt. “You know that Mr. Wilding has not been here.”

Yet Blake struggled heroically against conviction.

“She went to intercede for Richard,” he protested. Miss Horton looked
up at him, and under her glance Sir Rowland felt that he was a man of
unfathomable ignorance. Then she turned aside her eyes and shrugged her
shoulders very eloquently. “You are a man of the world, Sir Rowland. You
cannot seriously suppose that any maid would so imperil her good name in
any cause?”

Darker grew his florid countenance; his bulging eyes looked troubled and
perplexed.

“You mean that she loves him?” he said, between question and assertion.

Diana pursed her lips. “You shall draw your own inference,” quoth she.

He breathed heavily, and squared his broad shoulders, as one who braces
himself for battle against an element stronger than himself.

“But her talk of sacrifice?” he cried.

Diana laughed, and again he was stung by her contempt of his
perceptions. “Her brother is set against her marrying him,” said she.
“Here was her chance. Is it not very plain?”

Doubt stared from his eyes. “Why do you tell me this?”

“Because I esteem you, Sir Rowland,” she answered very gently. “I would
not have you meddle in a matter you cannot mend.”

“Which I am not desired to mend, say rather,” he replied with heavy
sarcasm. “She would not have my interference!” He laughed angrily. “I
think you are right, Mistress Diana,” he said, “and I think that more
than ever is there the need to kill this Mr. Wilding.”

He took his departure abruptly, leaving her scared at the mischief she
had made for him in seeking to save him from it, and that very night he
sought out Wilding.

But Wilding was from home again. Under its placid surface the West
Country was in a ferment. And if hitherto Mr. Wilding had disdained the
insistent rumours of Monmouth’s coming, his assurance was shaken now by
proof that the Government, itself, was stirring; for four companies of
foot and a troop of horse had been that day ordered to Taunton by the
Deputy-Lieutenant. Wilding was gone with Trenchard to White Lackington
in a vain hope that there he might find news to confirm his persisting
unbelief in any such rashness as was alleged on Monmouth’s part.

So Blake was forced to wait, but his purpose suffered nothing by delay.

Returning on the morrow, he found Mr. Wilding at table with Nick
Trenchard, and he cut short the greetings of both men. He flung his
hat--a black castor trimmed with a black feather--rudely among the
dishes on the board.

“I have come to ask you, Mr. Wilding,” said he, “to be so good as to
tell me the colour of that hat.”

Mr. Wilding raised one eyebrow and looked aslant at Trenchard, whose
weather-beaten face was suddenly agrin with stupefaction.

“I could not,” said Mr. Wilding, “deny an answer to a question set so
courteously.” He looked up into Blake’s flushed and scowling face with
the sweetest and most innocent of smiles. “You’ll no doubt disagree with
me,” said he, “but I love to meet a man halfway. Your hat, sir, is as
white as virgin snow.”

Blake’s slow wits were disconcerted for a moment. Then he smiled
viciously. “You mistake, Mr. Wilding,” said he. “My hat is black.”

Mr. Wilding looked more attentively at the object in dispute. He was in
a trifling mood, and the stupidity of this runagate debtor afforded him
opportunities to indulge it. “Why, true,” said he, “now that I come to
look, I perceive that it is indeed black.”

And again was Sir Rowland disconcerted. Still he pursued the lesson he
had taught himself.

“You are mistaken again,” said he, “that hat is green.”

“Indeed?” quoth Mr. Wilding, like one surprised and he turned to
Trenchard, who was enjoying himself. “What is your own opinion of it,
Nick?”

Thus appealed to, Trenchard’s reply was prompt. “Why, since you ask
me,” said he, “my opinion is that it’s a noisome thing not meet for a
gentleman’s table.” And he took it up, and threw it through the window.

Sir Rowland was entirely put out of countenance. Here was a deliberate
shifting of the quarrel he had come to pick, which left him all at sea.
It was his duty to himself to take offence at Mr. Trenchard’s action.
But that was not the business on which he had come. He became angry.

“Blister me!” he cried. “Must I sweep the cloth from the table before
you’ll understand me?”

“If you were to do anything so unmannerly I should have you flung out
of the house,” said Mr. Wilding, “and it would distress me so to treat
a person of your station and quality. The hat shall serve your purpose,
although Mr. Trenchard’s concern for my table has removed it. Our
memories will supply its absence. What colour did you say it was?”

“I said it was green,” answered Blake, quite ready to keep to the point.

“Nay, I am sure you were wrong,” said Wilding with a grave air.
“Although I admit that since it is your own hat, you should be the best
judge of its colour, I am, nevertheless, of opinion that it is black.”

“And if I were to say that it is white?” asked Blake, feeling mighty
ridiculous.

“Why, in that case you would be confirming my first impression of it,”
 answered Wilding, and Trenchard let fly a burst of laughter at sight
of the baronet’s furious and bewildered countenance. “And since we are
agreed on that,” continued Mr. Wilding, imperturbable, “I hope you’ll
join us at supper.”

“I’ll be damned,” roared Blake, “if ever I sit at table of yours, sir.”

“Ah!” said Mr. Wilding regretfully. “Now you become offensive.”

“I mean to be,” said Blake.

“You astonish me!”

“You lie! I don’t,” Sir Rowland answered him in triumph. He had got it
out at last.

Mr. Wilding sat back in his chair, and looked at him, his face
inexpressibly shocked.

“Will you of your own accord deprive us of your company, Sir Rowland,”
 he wondered, “or shall Mr. Trenchard throw you after your hat?”

“Do you mean...” gasped the other, “that you’ll ask no satisfaction of
me?”

“Not so. Mr. Trenchard shall wait upon your friends to-morrow, and I
hope you’ll afford us then as felicitous entertainment as you do now.”

Sir Rowland snorted, and, turning on his heel, made for the door.

“Give you a good night, Sir Rowland,” Mr. Wilding called after him.
“Walters, you rascal, light Sir Rowland to the door.”

Poor Blake went home deeply vexed; but it was no more than the beginning
of his humiliation at Mr. Wilding’s hands--for what can be more
humiliating to a quarrel--seeking man than to have his enemy refuse to
treat him seriously? He and Mr. Wilding met next morning, and before
noon the tale of it had run through Bridgwater that Wild Wilding was at
his tricks again. It made a pretty story how twice he had disarmed and
each time spared the London beau, who still insisted--each time more
furiously--upon renewing the encounter, till Mr. Wilding had been forced
to run him through the sword-arm and thus put him out of all case of
continuing. It was a story that heaped ridicule upon Sir Rowland and did
credit to Mr. Wilding.

Richard heard it, and trembled, enraged and impotent. Ruth heard it, and
was stirred despite herself to a feeling of gratitude towards Wilding
for the patience and toleration he had displayed.

There for a while the matter rested, and the days passed slowly. But Sir
Rowland’s nature--mean at bottom--was spurred to find him some other
way of wiping out the score that lay ‘twixt him and Mr. Wilding, a score
mightily increased by the shame that Mr. Wilding had put upon him in
that encounter from which--whatever the issue--he had looked to cull
great credit in Ruth’s eyes.

He had been thinking constantly of the incautious words that Richard
had let fall, thinking of them in conjunction with the startling rumours
that were now the talk of the whole countryside. He laid two and two
together, and the four he found them make afforded him some hope. Then
he realized--as he might have realized before had he been shrewder--that
Richard’s mood was one that made him ripe for any villainy. He thought
that he was much in error if a treachery existed so black that Richard
would quail before it, if it but afforded him the means of ridding
himself and the world of Mr. Wilding. He was considering how best to
approach the subject, when it happened that one night when Richard sat
at play with him in his own lodging, the boy grew talkative through
excess of wine. It happened naturally enough that Richard sought an
ally in Blake, just as Blake sought an ally in Richard. Indeed, their
fortunes--so far as Ruth was concerned--were bound up together. The
baronet saw that Richard, half-fuddled, was ripe for any confidences
that might aim at the destruction of his enemy. He questioned him
adroitly, and drew from him the story of the rising that was being
planned, and of the share that Mr. Wilding--one of the Duke of
Monmouth’s chief movement-men--bore in the business that was toward.

When, towards midnight, Richard Westmacott went home, he left in Sir
Rowland’s hands an instrument which the latter accounted potential not
only for the destruction of Anthony Wilding, but perhaps also for laying
the foundations to the building of his own fortunes anew.



CHAPTER VII. THE NUPTIALS OF RUTH WESTMACOTT

Here was Sir Rowland Blake in high fettle at knowing himself armed with
a portentous weapon for the destruction of Anthony Wilding. Upon closer
inspection of it, however, he came to realize--as Richard had realized
earlier--that it was double-edged, and that the wielding of it must be
fraught with as much danger for Richard as for their common enemy. For
to betray Mr. Wilding and the plot would scarce be possible without
betraying young Westmacott, and that was unthinkable, since to ruin
Richard--a thing he would have done with a light heart so far as Richard
was himself concerned--would be to ruin his own hopes of winning Ruth.

Therefore, during the days that followed, Sir Rowland was forced to
fret in idleness what time his wound was healing; but if his arm was
invalided, his eyes and ears were sound, and he remained watchful for an
opportunity to apply the knowledge he had gained. Richard mentioned the
subject no more, so that Blake almost came to wonder whether the boy
remembered what in his cups he had betrayed.

Meanwhile Mr. Wilding moved serene and smiling on his way. Daily there
were great armfuls of flowers deposited at Lupton House--his lover’s
offering to his mistress--and no day went by but that some richer gift
accompanied them. Now it was a collar of brilliants, anon a rope of
pearls, again a priceless ring that had been Mr. Wilding’s mother’s.
Ruth received with reluctance these pledges of his undesired affection.
It were idle to reject them, considering that she was to marry him; yet
it hurt her sorely to retain them. On her side she made no dispositions
for the marriage, but went about her daily tasks as though she were to
remain a maid at Lupton House for a time as yet indefinite.

In Diana, Wilding had--though he was far from guessing it--an entirely
exceptional ally. Lady Horton, too, was favourably disposed towards him.
A foolish, worldly woman, who never probed beneath life’s surface, nor
indeed dreamed that anything existed in life beyond that to which her
five senses testified, she was content placidly to contemplate the
advantages that must accrue to her niece from this alliance.

And so mother and daughter in Mr. Wilding’s absence pleaded his cause
with his refractory bride-elect. But they pleaded it to little real
purpose. Something perhaps they achieved in that Ruth grew more or
less resigned to the fate that awaited her. By repeating to herself the
arguments she had employed to Richard--that she must wed some day, and
that Mr. Wilding would prove no doubt as good a husband as another--she
came in a measure to believe them.

Richard meanwhile appeared to avoid her. Lacking the courage to adopt
the heroic measures which at first he had promised, yet had he grace
enough to take shame at his inaction. But if he was idle so far as
Mr. Wilding was concerned, there was no lack of work for him in other
connections. The clouds of war were gathering in that summer sky, and
about to loose the storm gestating in them upon that fair country of
the West, and young Westmacott, committed as he stood to the Duke of
Monmouth’s party, was forced to take his share in the surreptitious
bustle that was toward. He was away two days in that week, having been
summoned to a meeting of the leading gentlemen of the party at White
Lackington, where he was forced into the unwelcome company of his future
brother-in-law, to meet with courteous, deferential treatment from that
imperturbable gentleman.

Wilding, indeed, seemed to have forgotten that any quarrel had ever
existed between them. For the rest, he came and went, supremely calm, as
if he were, and knew himself to be, most welcome at Lupton House. Thrice
in the course of that week of waiting he rode over from Zoyland Chase
to pay his duty to Mistress Westmacott, and Ruth was persuaded on each
occasion by her aunt and cousin to receive him. Indeed, how could she
well refuse?

His manner was ever all that could be desired. Gallant, affectionate,
deferential. He was in word and look and tone Ruth’s most obedient
servant. Had she been less prejudiced she must have admired the
admirable restraint with which he kept all exultation from his manner,
for, after all, it is difficult to force a victory as he had forced his,
and not to triumph.

It is to be feared that during that week he neglected a good deal of his
duty to the Duke, leaving Trenchard to supply his place and undertake
tasks of a seditious nature that should have been his own.

At heart, however, in spite of the stories current and the militia at
Taunton, Wilding remained convinced--as did most of the other leading
partisans of the Protestant Cause--that no such madness as this
premature landing could be in contemplation by the Duke. Besides, were
it so, they must unfailingly have definite word of it; and they had
none.

Trenchard was less assured, but Wilding laughed at the old rake’s
forebodings, and serenely went about the business of his marriage.

On the eve of the wedding he paid Ruth his last visit in the quality
of a lover, and was received by her in the garden. He found her looking
paler than her wont, and there was a cloud of sadness on her brow, a
haunting sadness in her eyes. It touched him to the soul, and for a
moment he wavered in his purpose. He stood beside her--she seated on
the old lichened seat--and a silence fell between them, during which
Mr. Wilding’s conscience wrestled with his stronger passion. It was his
habit to be glib, talking incessantly what time he was in her company,
and seeing to it that his talk was shallow and touched at nothing
belonging to the deeps of human life. Thus was it, perhaps, that this
sudden and enduring silence affected her most oddly; it was as if she
had absorbed some notion of what was passing in his mind. She looked up
suddenly into his face, so white and so composed. Their eyes met, and he
stooped to her suddenly, his long brown ringlets tumbling forward. She
feared his kiss, yet never moved, staring up with fixed, dilated eyes as
if fascinated by his dark, brooding gaze. He paused, hovering above her
upturned face as hovers the hawk above the dove.

“Child,” he said at last, and his voice was soft and winning from very
sadness, “child, why do you fear me?”

The truth of it went home to her. She feared him; she feared the
strength that lay behind that calm; she feared the masterfulness of his
wild but inscrutably hidden nature; she was afraid to surrender to
such a man as this, afraid that in the hot crucible of his love her own
nature would be dissolved, transmuted, and rendered part of his. Yet,
though the truth was now made plain to her, she thrust it from her.

“I do not fear you,” said she, and her voice at least rang fearlessly.

“Do you hate me, then?” he asked. Her glance grew troubled and fell
away from his; it sought the calm of the river, gleaming golden in the
sunset. There was a pause. Wilding sighed heavily, and straightened
himself from his bending posture.

“You should not have sought thus to compel me, she said presently.

“I own it,” he answered a thought bitterly. “I own it. Yet what hope had
I but in compulsion?” She returned him no answer. “You see,” he said,
with increasing bitterness, “you see, that had I not seized the chance
that was mine to win you by compulsion I had not won you at all.”

“It might,” said she, “have been better so for both of us.”

“Better for neither,” he replied. “Ah, think it not! In time, I swear,
you shall not think it. For you shall come to love me, Ruth,” he added
with a note of such assurance that she turned to meet again his gaze.
He answered the wordless question of her eyes. “There is,” said he, “no
love of man for woman, so that the man be not wholly unworthy, so that
his passion be sincere and strong, that can fail in time to arouse
response.” She smiled a little pitiful smile of unbelief. “Were I a
boy,” he rejoined, his earnestness vibrating now in a voice that was
usually so calm and level, “offering you protestations of a callow
worship, you might have cause to doubt me. But I am a man, Ruth--a
tried, and haply a sinful man, alas!--a man who needs you, and who will
have you at all costs.”

“At all costs?” she echoed, and her lip took on a curl. “And you call
this egotism by the name of love! No doubt you are right,” she continued
with an irony that stung him, “for love it is--love of yourself.”

“And is not all love of another founded upon the love of self?” he asked
her, startling her with a question that revealed to her clear-sighted
mind a truth undreamed of. “When some day--please Heaven--I come to find
favour in your eyes, and you come to love me, what will it mean but that
you have come to find me necessary to yourself and to your happiness?
Would you deny me now your love if you felt that you had need of mine?
I love you because I love myself, you say. I grant it you. But you’ll
confess that if you do not love me yet, it is for the same reason, and
that when you do come to love me the reason will be still the same.”

“You are very sure that I shall come to love you,” said she, shifting
woman-like the ground of argument now that she found insecure the place
on which at first she had taken her stand.

“Were I not, think you I should compel you to the church to-morrow?”

She trembled at his calm assurance. It was as if she almost feared that
what he said might come to pass.

“Since you bear such faith in your heart,” said she, “were it not
nobler, more generous, that you should set yourself to win me first and
wed me afterwards?”

“It is the course I should, myself, prefer,” he answered quietly. “But
it is a course denied me. I was viewed here with disfavour, almost
denied your house. What chance had I whilst I might not come near you,
whilst your mind was poisoned against me by the idle, vicious prattle
that goes round and round the countryside, increasing ever in bulk from
constant repetition?”

“Do you say that these tales are groundless?” she asked, with a sudden
lifting of the eyes, a sudden keen eagerness that did not escape him.

“I would to God I could,” he cried, “since from your manner I see that
would improve me in your sight. But there is just sufficient truth in
them to forbid me, as I am, I hope, a gentleman, from giving them a full
denial. Yet in what am I worse than my fellows? Are you of those who
think a husband should come to them as one whose youth has been the
youth of cloistered nun? Heaven knows, I am not one to draw parallels
‘twixt myself and any other, yet you compel me. Whilst you deny me, you
receive this fellow Blake--a London night-scourer, a broken gamester
who has given his creditors leg-bail, and who woos you that with your
fortune he may close the doors of the debtor’s gaol that’s open to
receive him.”

“This is unworthy in you,” she exclaimed, her tone indignant--so
indignant that he experienced his first pang of jealousy.

“It would be were I his rival,” he answered quietly. “But I am not. I
have saved you from becoming the prey of such as he by forcing you to
marry me.”

“That I may become the prey of such as you, instead,” was her retort.

He looked at her a moment, smiling sadly. Then, with pardonable
self-esteem when we think of what manner of man it was with whom he now
compared himself, “Surely,” said he, “it is better to become the prey of
the lion than the jackal.”

“To the victim it can matter little,” she answered, and he saw the tears
gathering in her eyes.

Compassion moved him. It rose in arms to batter down his will, and in a
weaker man had triumphed. Mr. Wilding bent his knee and went down beside
her.

“I swear,” he said impassionedly, “that as my wife you shall never count
yourself a victim. You shall be honoured by all men, but by none more
deeply than by him who will ever strive to be worthy of the proud title
of your husband.” He took her hand and kissed it reverentially. He rose
and looked at her. “To-morrow,” he said, and bowing low before her went
his way, leaving her with emotions that found their vent in tears, but
defied her maiden mind to understand them.

The morrow came her wedding-day--a sunny day of early June, and
Ruth--assisted by Diana and Lady Horton--made preparation for her
marriage as spirited women have made preparation for the scaffold,
determined to show the world a brave, serene exterior. The sacrifice was
necessary for Richard’s sake. That was a thing long since determined.
Yet it would have been some comfort to her to have had Richard at her
side; it would have lent her strength to have had his kiss of thanks
for the holocaust which for him she was making of all that a woman holds
most dear and sacred. But Richard was away--he had been absent since
yesterday, and none could tell her where he tarried.

With Lady Horton and Diana she took her way to Saint Mary’s Church at
noon, and there she found Mr. Wilding--very fine in a suit of sky-blue
satin, laced with silver--awaiting her. And with him was old Lord
Gervase Scoresby, his friend and cousin, the very incarnation of
benignity and ruddy health.

For a wonder Nick Trenchard was not at Mr. Wilding’s side. But Nick
had definitely refused to be of the party, emphasizing his refusal by
certain choice reflections wholly unflattering to the married state.

Some idlers of the town were the only witnesses--and little did they
guess the extent of the tragedy they were witnessing. There was no
music, and the ceremony was brief and soon at an end. The only touch of
joy, of festiveness, was that afforded by the choice blooms with which
Mr. Wilding had smothered nave and choir and altar-rails. Their perfume
hung heavy as incense in the temple.

“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” droned the parson’s
voice, and Wilding smiled defiantly a smile which seemed to answer him,
“No man. I have taken her for myself.”

Lord Gervase stood forward as her sponsor, and as in a dream Ruth felt
her hand lying in Mr. Wilding’s cool, firm grasp.

The ecclesiastic’s voice droned on, his voice hanging like the hum of
some great Insect upon the scented air. It was accomplished, and they
were welded each to the other until death should part them.

Down the festooned nave she came on his arm, her step unfaltering,
her face calm; black misery in her heart. Behind followed her aunt and
cousin and Lord Gervase. On Mr. Wilding’s aquiline face a pale smile
glimmered, like a beam of moonlight upon tranquil waters, and it abode
there until they reached the porch and were suddenly confronted by Nick
Trenchard, red of face for once, perspiring, excited, and dust-stained
from head to foot.

He had arrived that very instant; and, urged by the fearful news that
brought him, he had come resolved to pluck Wilding from the altar be the
ceremony done or not. But in that he reckoned without Mr. Wilding--for
he should have known him better than to have hoped to succeed. He
stepped forward now, and gripped him with his dusty glove by the
sleeve of his shimmering bridegroom’s coat. His voice came harsh with
excitement and smouldering rage.

“A word with you, Anthony!”

Mr. Wilding turned placidly to regard him. “What now?” he asked, his
bride’s hand retained in the crook of his elbow.

“Treachery!” snapped Trenchard in a whisper. “Hell and damnation! Step
aside, man.”

Mr. Wilding turned to Lord Gervase, and begged of him to take charge of
Mistress Wilding. “I deplore this interruption,” he told her, no whit
ruffled by what he had heard. “But I shall rejoin you soon. Meanwhile,
his lordship will do the honours for me.” This last he said with his
eyes moving to Lady Horton and her daughter.

Lord Gervase, in some surprise, but overruled by his cousin’s calm,
took the bride on his arm and led her from the churchyard to the waiting
carriage. To this he handed her, and after her her aunt and cousin.
Then, mounting himself, they drove away, leaving Wilding and Trenchard
among the tombstones, whither the messenger of evil had meanwhile led
his friend. Trenchard rapped out his story briefly.

“Shenke,” said he, “who was riding from Lyme with letters for you from
the Duke, was robbed of his dispatches late last night a mile or so this
side Taunton.”

“Highwaymen?” inquired Mr. Wilding, his tone calm, though his glance had
hardened.

“Highwaymen? No! Government agents belike. There were two of them, he
says--for I have the tale from himself--and they met him at the Hare and
Hounds at Taunton, where he stayed to sup last night. One of them gave
him the password, and he conceived him to be a friend. But afterwards,
growing suspicious, he refused to tell them too much. They followed
him, it appears, and on the road they overtook and fell upon him; they
knocked him from his horse, possessed themselves of the contents of his
wallet, and left him for dead--with his head broken.”

Mr. Wilding drew a sharp breath. His wits worked quickly. He was, he
realized, in deadly peril. One thought he gave to Ruth. If the worst
came to pass here was one who would rejoice in her freedom. The
reflection cut through him like a sword. He would be loath to die
until he had taught her to regret him. Then his mind returned to what
Trenchard had told him.

“You said a Government agent,” he mused slowly. “How would a Government
agent know the password?”

Trenchard’s mouth fell open. “I had not thought...” he began. Then ended
with an oath. “‘Tis a traitor from inside.”

Wilding nodded. “It must be one of those who met at White Lackington
three nights ago,” he answered.

Idlers--the witnesses of the wedding--were watching them with interest
from the path, and others from over the low wall of the churchyard,
as well they might, for Mr. Wilding’s behaviour was, for a bridegroom,
extraordinary. Trenchard did not relish the audience.

“We had best away,” said he. “Indeed,” he added, “we had best out
of England altogether before the hue and cry is raised. The bubble’s
pricked.”

Wilding’s hand fell on his arm, and its grasp was steady. Wilding’s eyes
met his, and their gaze was calm.

“Where have you bestowed this messenger?” quoth he.

“He is here in Bridgwater, in bed, at the Bell Inn, whence he sent for
you to Zoyland Chase. Suspecting trouble, I rode to him at once myself.”

“Come, then,” said Wilding. “We’ll go talk with him. This matter needs
probing ere we decide on flight. You do not seem to have sought to
discover who were the thieves, nor other matters that it may be of use
to know.”

“Rat me!” swore Trenchard. “I was in haste to bring you news of
it. Besides, there were other things to talk of. There is news that
Albemarle has gone to Exeter, and that Sir Edward Phelips and Colonel
Luttrell have been ordered to Taunton by the King.”

Mr. Wilding stared at him with sudden dismay.

“Odso!” he exclaimed. “Is King James taking fright at last?” Then
he shrugged his shoulders and laughed; “Pshaw!” he cried. “They are
starting at a shadow.”

“Heaven send,” prayed Trenchard, “that the shadow does not prove to have
a substance immediately behind it.”

“Folly!” said Wilding. “When Monmouth comes, indeed, we shall not lack
forewarning. Come,” he added briskly. “We’ll see this messenger and
endeavour to discover who were these fellows that beset him.” And he
drew Trenchard from among the tombstones to the open path, and thus from
the churchyard and the eyes of the gaping onlookers.



CHAPTER VIII. BRIDE AND GROOM

And so the bridegroom, in all his wedding finery, made his way with
Trenchard to the Bell Inn, in the High Street, whilst his bride,
escorted by Lord Gervase, was being driven to Zoyland Chase, of which
she was now the mistress.

But she was not destined just yet to cross its threshold. For scarcely
were they over the river when a horseman barred their way, and called
upon the driver to pull up. Lady Horton, in a panic, huddled herself
in the great coach and spoke of tobymen, whilst Lord Gervase thrust
his head from the window to discover that the rider who stayed their
progress was Richard Westmacott. His lordship hailed the boy, who,
thereupon, walked his horse to the carriage door.

“Lord Gervase,” said he, “will you bid the coachman put about and drive
to Lupton House?”

Lord Gervase stared at him in hopeless bewilderment. “Drive to Lupton
House?” he echoed. The more he saw of this odd wedding, the less he
understood of it. It seemed to the placid old gentleman that he was
fallen among a parcel of Bedlamites. “Surely, sir, it is for Mistress
Wilding to say whither she will be driven,” and he drew in his head and
turned to Ruth for her commands. But, bewildered herself, she had none
to give him. It was her turn to lean from the carriage window to ask her
brother what he meant.

“I mean you are to drive home again,” said he. “There is something
I must tell you. When you have heard me it shall be yours to decide
whether you will proceed or not to Zoyland Chase.”

Hers to decide? How was that possible? What could he mean? She pressed
him with some such questions.

“It means, in short,” he answered impatiently, “that I hold your
salvation in my hands. For the rest, this is not the time or place to
tell you more. Bid the fellow put about.”

Ruth sat back and looked once more at her companions. But from none did
she receive the least helpful suggestion. Lady Horton made great prattle
to little purpose; Lord Gervase followed her example, whilst Diana,
whose alert if trivial mind was the one that might have offered
assistance, sat silent. Ruth pondered. She bethought her of Trenchard’s
sudden arrival at Saint Mary’s, his dust-stained person and excited
manner, and of how he had drawn Mr. Wilding aside with news that seemed
of moment. And now her brother spoke of saving her; it was a little late
for that, she thought. Outside the coach his voice still urged her, and
it grew peevish and angry, as was usual when he was crossed. In the end
she consented to do his will. If she were to fathom this mystery that
was thickening about her there seemed to be no other course. She turned
to Lord Gervase.

“Will you do as Richard says?” she begged him.

His lordship blew out his chubby cheeks in his astonishment; he
hesitated a moment, thinking of his cousin Wilding; then, with a shrug,
he leaned from the window and gave the order she desired. The carriage
turned about, and with Richard following lumbered back across the bridge
and through the town to Lupton House. At the door Lord Gervase took his
leave of them. He had acted as Ruth had bidden him; but he had no wish
to be further involved in this affair, whatever it might portend. Rather
was it his duty at once to go acquaint Mr. Wilding--if he could find
him--with what was taking place, and leave it to Mr. Wilding to take
what measures might seem best to him. He told them so, and having told
them, left them.

Richard begged to be alone with his sister, and alone they passed
together into the library. His manner was restless; he trembled with
excitement, and his eyes glittered almost feverishly.

“You may have thought, Ruth, that I was resigned to your marriage with
this fellow Wilding,” he began; “or that for other reasons I thought it
wiser not to interfere. If you thought that you wronged me. I--Blake and
I--have been at work for you during these last days, and I rejoice
to say our labours have not been idle.” His manner grew assertive,
boastful, as he proceeded.

“You know, of course,” said she, “that I am married.”

He made a gesture of disdain. “No matter,” said he exultantly.

“It matters something, I think,” she answered. “O Richard, Richard, why
did you not come to me sooner if you possessed the means of sparing me
this thing?”

He shrugged impatiently; her remonstrance seemed to throw him out of
temper. “Oons!” he cried; “I came as soon as was ever possible, and,
depend upon it, I am not come too late. Indeed, I think I am come in the
very nick of time.” He drew a sheet of paper from an inside pocket of
his coat and slapped it down upon the table. “There is the wherewithal
to hang your fine husband,” he announced in triumph.

She recoiled. “To hang him?” she echoed. With all her aversion to Mr.
Wilding it was plain she did not wish him hanged.

“Aye, to hang him,” Richard repeated, and drew himself to the full
height of his short stature in pride at the thing he had achieved. “Read
it.”

She took the paper almost mechanically, and for some moments she studied
the crabbed signature before realizing whose it was. Then she started.

“From the Duke of Monmouth!” she exclaimed.

He laughed. “Read it,” he bade her again, though there was no need for
the injunction, for already she was deciphering the crabbed hand and
the atrocious spelling--for His Grace of Monmouth’s education had been
notoriously neglected. The letter, which was dated from The Hague, was
addressed “To my good friend W., at Bridgwater.” It began, “Sir,” spoke
of the imminent arrival of His Grace in the West, and gave certain
instructions for the collection of arms and the work of preparing men
for enlistment in his Cause, ending with protestations of His Grace’s
friendship and esteem.

Ruth read the epistle twice before its treasonable nature was made clear
to her; before she understood the thing that was foreshadowed. Then
she raised troubled eyes to her brother’s face, and in answer to the
question of her glance he made clear to her the shrewd means by which
they had become possessed of this weapon that should destroy their enemy
Mr. Wilding.

Blake and he, forewarned--he said not how--of the coming of this
messenger, had lain in wait for him at the Hare and Hounds, at Taunton.
They had sought at first to become possessed of the letter without
violence. But, having failed in this through having aroused the
messenger’s suspicions, they had been forced to follow and attack him on
a lonely stretch of road, where they had robbed him of the contents of
his wallet. Richard added that the letter was, no doubt, one of several
sent over by Monmouth to some friend at Lyme for distribution among his
principal agents in the West. It was regrettable that they should
have endeavoured to take gentle measures with the courier, as this had
forewarned him, and he had apparently been led to remove the
letter’s outer wrapper--which, no doubt, bore Wilding’s full name and
address--against the chance of such an attack as they had made upon him.
Nevertheless, as it was, that letter “to my good friend W.,” backed by
Richard’s and Blake’s evidence of the destination intended for it, would
be more than enough to lay Mr. Wilding safely by the heels.

“I would to Heaven,” he repeated in conclusion, “I could have come in
time to save you from becoming his wife. But at least it is in my power
to make you very speedily his widow.”

“That,” said Ruth, still retaining the letter, “is what you propose to
do?”

“What else?”

She shook her head. “It must not be, Richard,” she said. “I’ll not
consent to it.”

Taken aback, he stared at her; then laughed unpleasantly. “Odds my life!
Are you in love with the man? Have you been fooling us?”

“No,” she answered. “But I’ll be no party to his murder.”

“Murder, quotha! Who talks of murder?” Her shrewd eyes searched his
face. “How came you by your knowledge that this courier rode to Mr.
Wilding?” she asked him suddenly, and the swift change that overspread
his countenance showed her that she had touched him in a tender spot,
assured her of the thing she had suddenly come to suspect--a suspicion
which at the same time started from and explained much that had been
mysterious in Richard’s ways of late. “You had knowledge of this
conspiracy,” she pursued, answering her own question before he had time
to speak, “because you were one of the conspirators.”

“At least I am so no longer,” he blurted out.

“I thank Heaven for that, Richard; for your life is very dear to me. But
it would ill become you to make such use as this of the knowledge
you came by in that manner. It were a Judas’s act.” He would have
interrupted her, but her manner dominated him. “You will leave this
letter with me, Richard,” she continued.

“Damn me! no...” he began.

“Ah, yes, Richard,” she insisted. “You will give it to me, and I shall
thank you for the gift. It shall prove a weapon for my salvation, never
fear.”

“It shall, indeed,” he cried, with an ugly laugh; “when I have ridden to
Exeter to lay it before Albemarle.”

“Not so,” she answered him. “It shall be a weapon of defence--not of
offence. It shall stand as a buckler between me and Mr. Wilding. Trust
me, I shall know how to use it.”

“But there is Blake to consider,” he expostulated, growing angry. “I am
pledged to him.”

“Your first duty is to me...”

“Tut!” he interrupted. “Blake feels that he owes it to his loyalty to
lay this letter before the Lord-Lieutenant, and, for that matter, so do
I.”

“Sir Rowland would not cross my wishes in this,” she answered him.

“Folly!” he cried, now thoroughly aroused. “Give me that letter.”

“Nay, Richard,” she answered, and waved him back.

But he advanced nevertheless.

“Give it me,” he bade her, waxing fierce. “Gad! It was folly to have
told you of it. I had not done so but that I never thought you such a
fool as to oppose yourself to the thing we intend.”

“Listen, Richard...” she besought him.

But he was grown insensible to pleadings.

“Give me that letter,” he insisted, and caught her wrist. Her other
hand, however--the one that held the sheet--was already behind her back.

The door was suddenly thrust open, and Diana appeared. “Ruth,” she
announced, “Mr. Wilding is here.”

At the mention of that name, Richard let her free. “Wilding!” he
ejaculated, his fierceness all blown out of him. He had imagined that
already Mr. Wilding would be in full flight. Was the fellow mad?

“He is following me,” said Diana, and, indeed, a step could be heard in
the passage.

“The letter!” growled Richard in a frenzy, between fear and anger now.
“Give it me! Give it me, do you hear?”

“Sh! You’ll betray yourself,” she cried. “He is here.”

And at that same moment Mr. Wilding’s tall figure, still arrayed in his
bridegroom’s finery of sky-blue satin, loomed in the doorway. He was
serene and calm as ever. Neither the discovery of the plot by the
abstraction of the messenger’s letter, nor Ruth’s strange conduct--of
which he had heard from Lord Gervase--had sufficed to ruffle, outwardly
at least, the inscrutable serenity of his air and manner. He paused
to make his bow, then advanced into the room, with a passing glance at
Richard still spurred and booted and all dust-stained.

“You appear to have ridden far, Dick,” said he, smiling, and Richard
shivered in spite of himself at the mocking note that seemed to ring
faintly at the words. “I saw your friend, Sir Rowland, in the garden,”
 he added. “I think he waits for you.”

Though Richard could not fail to apprehend the implied dismissal, he
was minded at first to disregard it. But Mr. Wilding, turning, held the
door, addressing Diana.

“Mistress Horton,” said he, “will you give us leave?”

Diana curtsied and passed out, and Mr. Wilding’s eye falling upon the
lingering Richard at that moment, Richard thought it best to follow her
example. But he went with rage in his heart at being forced to leave
that precious document behind him.

As Mr. Wilding, his back to her a moment, closed the door, Ruth slipped
the paper hurriedly into the bosom of her low-necked gown. He turned to
her, calm but very grave, and his dark eyes seemed to reproach her.

“This is ill done, Ruth,” said he.

“Ill done, or well done,” she answered him, “done it is, and shall so
remain.”

He raised his brows. “Ah,” said he, “I appear, then, to have
misapprehended the situation. From what Gervase told me, I understood it
was your brother forced you to return.”

“Not forced, sir,” she answered him.

“Induced, then,” said he. “It but remains me to induce you to repair
what I think was a mistake.”

She shook her head. “I have returned home for good,” said she.

“You’ll pardon me,” said he, “that I am so egotistical as to prefer
Zoyland Chase to Lupton House. Despite the manifold attractions of the
latter, I do not intend to take up my abode here.”

“You are not asked to.”

“What, then?”

She hated him for the smile, for his masterful air, which seemed to
imply that he humoured her because he scorned to use authority, but that
when he did use it, hers must it be to obey him. Again she felt that
everlasting calm, arguing such latent forces, was the thing she hated
most in him.

“I think I had best be plain with you,” said she. “I have fulfilled my
part of the bargain that we made. I intend to do no more. I promised
that if you spared my brother, I would go to the altar with you to-day.
I have carried out my contract to the letter. It is at an end.”

“Indeed,” said he; “I think it has not yet begun.” He advanced towards
her, and took her hand. She yielded it, unwilling though she was. “This
is unworthy of you, madam,” said he, his tone grave and deferential.
“You think to escape fulfilling the spirit of your bargain by adhering
to the letter of it. Not so,” he ended, and shook his head, smiling
gently. “The carriage is still at your door. You return with me to
Zoyland Chase to take possession of your home.”

“You mistake,” said she, and tore her hand from his. “You say that what
I have done is unworthy. I admit it; but it is with unworthiness that we
must combat unworthiness. Was your attitude towards me less unworthy?”

“I’ll make amends for it if you’ll come home,” said he.

“My home is here. You cannot compel me.”

“I should be loath to,” he admitted, sighing.

“You cannot,” she insisted.

“I think I can,” said he. “There is a law..”

“A law that will hang you if you invoke it,” she cut in quickly. “This
much can I safely promise you.”

She had need to say no more to tell him everything. At all times half a
word was as much to Mr. Wilding as a whole sentence to another. She saw
the tightening of his lips, the hardening of his eyes, beyond which he
gave no other sign that she had hit him.

“I see,” said he. “It is another bargain that you make. I do suspect
there is some trader’s blood in the Westmacott veins. Let us be clear.
You hold the wherewithal to ruin me, and you will use it if I insist
upon my husband’s rights. Is it not so?”

She nodded in silence, surprised at the rapidity with which he had read
the situation.

“I admit,” said he, “that you have me between sword and wall.” He
laughed shortly. “Let me know more,” he begged her. “Am I to understand
that so long as I leave you in peace--so long as I do not insist upon
your becoming my wife in more than name--you will not wield the weapon
that you hold?”

“You are to understand so,” she answered.

He took a turn in the room, very thoughtful. Not of himself was he
thinking now, but of the Duke of Monmouth. Trenchard had told him some
ugly truths that morning of how in his love-making he appeared to have
shipwrecked the Cause ere it was well launched. If this letter got
to Whitehall there was no gauging--ignorant as he was of what was in
it--the ruin that might follow; but they had reason to fear the worst.
He saw his duty to the Duke most clearly, and he breathed a prayer of
thanks that Richard had chosen to put that letter to such a use as this.
He knew himself checkmated; but he was a man who knew how to bear defeat
in a becoming manner. He turned suddenly.

“The letter is in your hands?” he inquired.

“It is,” she answered.

“May I see it?” he asked.

She shook her head--not daring to show it or betray its whereabouts lest
he should use force to become possessed of it--a thing, indeed, that was
very far from his purpose.

He considered a moment, his mind intent now rather upon the Duke’s
interest than his own.

“You know,” quoth he, “the desperate enterprise to which I stand
committed. But it is a bargain between us that you do not betray me nor
that enterprise so long as I leave you rid of my presence.”

“That is the bargain I propose,” said she.

He looked at her a moment with hungry eyes, and she found his glance
almost more than she could bear, so strong was its appeal. Besides,
it may be that she was a thought beglamoured by the danger in which he
stood, which seemed to invest him with a certain heroic dignity.

“Ruth,” he said at length, “it may well be that that which you desire
may speedily come to pass; it may well be that in the course of this
rebellion that is hatching you may be widowed. But at least I know that
if my head falls it will not be my wife who has betrayed me to the axe.
For that much, believe me, I am supremely grateful.”

He advanced. He took her unresisting hand again and bore it to his lips,
bowing low before her. Then erect and graceful he turned on his heel and
left her.



CHAPTER IX. MR. TRENCHARD’S COUNTERSTROKE

Now, however much it might satisfy Mr. Wilding to have Ruth’s word for
it that so long as he left her in peace neither he nor the Cause had any
betrayal to fear from her, Mr. Trenchard was of a very different mind.

He fumed and swore and worked himself into a very passion. “Zoons,
man!” he cried, “it would mean utter ruin to you if that letter reached
Whitehall.”

“I realize it; but my mind is easy. I have her promise.”

“A woman’s promise!” snorted Trenchard, and proceeded with great
circumstance of expletives to damn “everything that daggled a
petticoat.”

“Your fears are idle,” Wilding assured him. “What she says, she will
do.”

“And her brother?” quoth Trenchard. “Have you bethought you of that
canary-bird? He’ll know the letter’s whereabouts. He has cause to fear
you more than ever now. Are you sure he’ll not be making use of it to
lay you by the heels?”

Mr. Wilding smiled upon the fury provoked by Trenchard’s concern and
love for him. “She has promised,” he said with an insistent faith that
was fuel to Trenchard’s anger, “and I can depend her word.”

“So cannot I,” snapped his friend.

“The thing that plagues me most,” said Wilding, ignoring the remark, “is
that we are kept in ignorance of the letter’s contents at a time when we
most long for news. Not a doubt but it would have enabled us to set our
minds at ease on the score of these foolish rumours.”

“Aye--or else confirmed them,” said pessimistic Trenchard. He wagged his
head. “They say the Duke has put to sea already.”

“Folly!” Wilding protested.

“Whitehall thinks otherwise. What of the troops at Taunton?”

“More folly.”

“Well-I would you had that letter.”

“At least,” said Wilding, “I have the superscription, and we know from
Shenke that no name was mentioned in the letter itself.”

“There’s evidence enough without it,” Trenchard reminded him, and fell
soon after into abstraction, turning over in his mind a notion with
which he had suddenly been inspired. That notion kept Trenchard secretly
occupied for a couple of days; but in the end he succeeded in perfecting
it.

Now it befell that towards dusk one evening early in the week Richard
Westmacott went abroad alone, as was commonly his habit, his goal being
the Saracen’s Head, where he and Sir Rowland spent many a night over
wine and cards--to Sir Rowland’s moderate profit, for he had not played
the pigeon in town so long without having acquired sufficient knowledge
to enable him to play the rook in the country. As Westmacott was passing
up the High Street, a black shadow fell athwart the light that streamed
from the door of the Bell Inn, and out through the doorway lurched Mr.
Trenchard a thought unsteadily to hurtle so violently against Richard
that he broke the long stem of the white clay pipe he was carrying. Now
Richard was not to know that Mr. Trenchard--having informed himself of
Mr. Westmacott’s evening habits--had been waiting for the past half-hour
in that doorway hoping that Mr. Westmacott would not depart this evening
from his usual custom. Another thing that Mr. Westmacott was not to
know--considering his youth--was the singular histrionic ability which
this old rake had displayed in those younger days of his when he had
been a player, and the further circumstance that he had excelled in
those parts in which ebriety was to be counterfeited. Indeed, we have it
on the word of no less an authority on theatrical matters than Mr. Pepys
that Mr. Nicholas Trenchard’s appearance as Pistol in “Henry IV” in the
year of the blessed Restoration was the talk alike of town and court.

Mr. Trenchard steadied himself from the impact, and, swearing a round
and awful Elizabethan oath, accused the other of being drunk, then
struck an attitude to demand with truculence, “Would ye take the wall o’
me, sir?”

Richard hastened to make himself known to this turbulent roysterer, who
straightway forgot his grievance to take Westmacott affectionately by
the hand and overwhelm him with apologies. And that done, Trenchard--who
affected the condition known as maudlin drunk--must needs protest almost
in tears how profound was his love for Richard, and insist that the boy
return with him to the Bell Inn, that they might pledge each other.

Richard, himself sober, was contemptuous of Trenchard so obviously
obfuscated. At first it was his impulse to excuse himself, as possibly
Blake might be already waiting for him; but on second thoughts,
remembering that Trenchard was Mr. Wilding’s most intimate famulus, it
occurred to him that by a little crafty questioning he might succeed in
smoking Mr. Wilding’s intentions in the matter of that letter--for from
his sister he had failed to get satisfaction. So he permitted himself to
be led indoors to a table by the window which stood vacant. There were
at the time a dozen guests or so in the common-room. Trenchard bawled
for wine and brandy, and for all that he babbled in an irresponsible,
foolish manner of all things that were of no matter, yet not the most
adroit of pumping could elicit from him any such information as Richard
sought. Perforce young Westmacott must remain, plying him with more and
more drink--and being plied in his turn--to the end that he might not
waste the occasion.

An hour later found Richard much the worse for wear, and Trenchard
certainly no better. Richard forgot his purpose, forgot that Blake
waited for him at the Saracen’s Head. And now Trenchard seemed to be
pulling himself together.

“I want to talk to you, Richard,” said he, and although thick, there was
in his voice a certain impressive quality that had been absent hitherto.
“‘S a rumour current.” He lowered his voice to a whisper almost, and,
leaning across, took his companion by the arm. He hiccoughed noisily,
then began again. “‘S a rumour current, sweetheart, that you’re
disaffected.”

Richard started, and his mind flapped and struggled like a trapped bird
to escape the meshes of the wine, to the end that he might convincingly
defend himself from such an imputation--so dangerously true.

“‘S a lie!” he gasped.

Trenchard shut one eye and owlishly surveyed his companion with the
other. “They say,” he added, “that you’re for forsaking ‘Duke’s party.”

“Villainous!” Richard protested. “I’ll sli’ throat of any man ‘t says
so.” And draining the pewter at his elbow, he smashed it down on the
table to emphasize his seriousness.

Trenchard replenished it with the utmost promptness, then sat back in
his tall chair and pulled a moment at the fresh pipe with which he had
equipped himself.

“I think I espy,”’ he quoted presently, “‘virtue and valour crouched
in thine eye.’ And yet... and yet... if I had cause to think it
true, I’d... I’d run you through the vitals--jus’ so,” and he prodded
Richard’s waistcoat with the point of his pipe-stem. His swarthy face
darkened, his eyes glittered fiercely. “Are ye sure ye’re norrer foul
traitor?” he demanded suddenly. “Are y’ sure, for if ye’re not...”

He left the terrible menace unuttered, but it was none the less
understood. It penetrated the vinous fog that beset the brain of
Richard, and startled him.

“‘Swear I’m not!” he cried. “‘Swear mos’ solemnly I’m not.”

“Swear?” echoed Trenchard, and his scowl grew darker still. “Swear? A
man may swear and yet lie--‘a man may smile and smile and be a villain.’
I’ll have proof of your loyalty to us. I’ll have proof, or as there’s a
heaven above and a hell below, I’ll rip you up.”

His mien was terrific, and his voice the more threatening in that it was
not raised above a whisper.

Richard sat back appalled, afraid.

“Wha’... what proof’ll satisfy you?” he asked.

Trenchard considered it, pulling at his pipe again. “Pledge me the
Duke,” said he at length. “Ther’s truth ‘n wine. Pledge me the Duke and
confusion to His Majesty the goldfinch.” Richard reached for his pewter,
glad that the test was to be so light. “Up on your feet, man,” grumbled
Trenchard. “On your feet, and see that your words have a ring of truth
in them.”

Richard did as he was bidden, the little reason left him being
concentrated wholly on the convincing of his fellow tippler. He rose to
his feet, so unsteadily that his chair fell over with a bang. He never
heeded it, but others in the room turned at the sound, and a hush fell
in the chamber. Dominating this came Richard’s voice, strident with
intensity, if thick of utterance.

“Down with Popery, and God save the Protestant Duke!” he cried. “Down
with Popery!” And he looked at Trenchard for applause, and assurance
that Trenchard no longer thought there was cause to quarrel with him.

Behind him there was a stir in the room that went unheeded by the boy.
Men nudged their neighbours; some looked frightened and some grinned at
the treasonable words.

A swift change came over Trenchard. His drunkenness fell from him like
a discarded mantle. He sat like a man amazed. Then he heaved himself to
his feet in a fury, and smashed down his pipestem on the wooden table,
sending its fragments flying.

“Damn me!” he roared. “Have I sat at table with a traitor?” And he
thrust at Richard with his open palm, lightly yet with sufficient force
to throw Richard off his precarious balance and send him sprawling on
the sanded floor. Men rose from the tables about and approached them,
some few amused, but the majority very grave. Dodsley, the landlord,
came hurrying to assist Richard to his feet.

“Mr. Westmacott,” he whispered in the rash fool’s ear, “you were best
away.”

Richard stood up, leaning his full weight upon the arm the landlord had
about his waist. He passed a hand over his brow, as if to brush aside
the veil that obscured his wits. What had happened? What had he said?
What had Trenchard done? Why did these fellows stand and gape at him? He
heard his companion’s voice, raised to address the company.

“Gentlemen,” he heard him say, “I trust there is none present will
impute to me any share in such treasonable sentiments as Mr. Westmacott
has expressed. But if there is any who questions my loyalty, I have
a convincing argument for him--in my scabbard.” And he struck his
sword-hilt with his fist.

Then he clapped on his hat, aslant over the locks of his golden wig,
and, taking up his whip, he moved with leisurely dignity towards the
door. He looked back with a sardonic smile at the ado he was leaving
behind him, listened a moment to the voices that already were being
raised in excitement, then closed the door and made his way briskly
to the stable-yard, where he called for his horse. He rode out of
Bridgwater ten minutes later, and took the road to Taunton as the moon
was rising big and yellow over the hills on his left. He reached Taunton
towards ten o’clock that night, having ridden hell-to-leather. His
first visit was to the Hare and Hounds, where Blake and Westmacott had
overtaken the courier. His next to the house where Sir Edward Phelips
and Colonel Luttrell--the gentlemen lately ordered to Taunton by His
Majesty--had their lodging.

The fruits of Mr. Trenchard’s extraordinary behaviour that night were
to be seen at an early hour on the following day, when a constable and
three tything-men came with a Lord-Lieutenant’s warrant to arrest Mr.
Richard Westmacott on a charge of high treason. They found the young man
still abed, and most guilty was his panic when they bade him rise and
dress himself--though little did he dream of the full extent to which
Mr. Trenchard had enmeshed him, or indeed that Mr. Trenchard had any
hand at all in this affair. What time he was getting into his clothes
with a tything-man outside his door and another on guard under his
window, the constable and his third myrmidon made an exhaustive search
of the house. All they found of interest was a letter signed “Monmouth,”
 which they took from the secret drawer of a secretary in the library;
but that, it seemed, was all they sought, for having found it, they
proceeded no further with their reckless and destructive ransacking.

With that letter and the person of Richard Westmacott, the constable and
his men took their departure, and rode back to Taunton, leaving alarm
and sore distress at Lupton House. In her despair poor Ruth was all for
following her brother, in the hope that at least by giving evidence
of how that letter came into his possession she might do something to
assist him. But knowing, as she did, that he had had his share in the
treason that was hatching, she had cause to fear that his guilt would
not lack for other proofs. It was Diana who urged her to repair instead
to the only man upon whose resource she might depend, provided he were
willing to exert it. That man was Anthony Wilding, and whether Diana
urged it from motives of her own or out of concern for Richard, it would
be difficult to say with certainty.

The very thought of going to him for aid, after all that had passed, was
repugnant to Ruth. And yet what choice had she? Convinced by her cousin
and urged by her affection and duty to Richard, she repressed her
aversion, and, calling for a horse, rode out to Zoyland Chase, attended
by a groom. Wilding by good fortune was at home, hard at work upon a
mass of documents in that same library where she had talked with him on
the occasion of her first visit to his home--to the home of which she
remembered that she was now, herself, the mistress. He was preparing
for circulation in the West a mass of libels and incendiary pamphlets
calculated to forward the cause of the Protestant Duke.

Dissembling his surprise, he bade old Walters--who left her waiting in
the hall whilst he went to announce her--to admit her instantly, and he
advanced to the door to receive and welcome her.

“Ruth,” said he, and his face was oddly alight, “you have come at last.”

She smiled a wan smile of self-pity. “I have been constrained,” said
she, and told him what had happened; that her brother had been arrested
for high treason, and that the constable in searching the house had come
upon the Monmouth letter she had locked away in her desk.

“And not a doubt,” she ended, “but it will be believed that it was to
Richard the letter was indited by the Duke. You will remember that
its only address was ‘to my good friend, W.,’ and that will stand for
Westmacott as well as Wilding.”

Mr. Wilding was fain to laugh at the irony of this surprising turn of
things of which she brought him news; for he had neither knowledge nor
suspicion of the machinations of his friend Trenchard, to which these
events were due. But noting and respecting her anxiety for her brother,
he curbed his natural amusement.

“It is a judgment upon you,” said he, nevertheless.

“Do you exult?” she asked indignantly.

“No; but I cannot repress my admiration for the ways of Divine Justice.
If you are come to me for advice, I can but suggest that you should
follow your brother’s captors to Taunton, and inform the lieutenants of
how the letter came into your power.”

She looked at him in anger almost at what seemed a callousness. “Would
he believe me, think you?”

“Belike he would not,” said Mr. Wilding. “You can but try.”

“If I told them it was addressed to you,” she said, eyeing him sternly,
“does it not occur to you that they would send for you to question you,
and that if they did so, as you are a gentleman you could not lie away
my brother’s life.”

“Why, yes,” said he quite calmly, “it does occur to me. But does it not
occur to you that by the time they came here they would find me gone?”
 He laughed at her dismay. “I thank you, madam, for this warning,” he
added. “I think I’ll bid them saddle for me without delay. Too long
already have I tarried.”

“And must Richard hang?” she asked him fiercely.

Mr. Wilding produced a snuffbox of tortoise shell and gold. He opened it
deliberately. “If he does, you’ll admit that he will hang on the gallows
that he has built himself--although intended for another. I’faith! He’s
not the first booby to be caught in his own springe. There is in this a
measure of poetic justice. Poetry and justice! Do you know, Ruth,
they are two things I have ever loved?” And he took a pinch of choice
Bergamot.

“Will you be serious?” she demanded.

“Trenchard would tell you that it were to make an exception from the
rule of my life,” he assured her, smiling. “Yet even that might I do at
your bidding.”

“But this is a serious matter,” she told him angrily.

“For Richard,” he acknowledged, closing his snuffbox with a snap. “Tell
me, what would you have me do?”

Since he asked her thus, she answered him in two words. “Save him.”

“At the cost of my own neck?” quoth he. “The price is high,” he reminded
her. “Do you think that Richard is quite worth it?”

“And are you to save yourself at the cost of his?” she
counter-questioned. “Are you capable of such a baseness?”

He looked at her thoughtfully a moment. “You have not reflected,” said
he slowly, “that in this affair is involved more than mine or Richard’s
life. There is a great cause weighing in the balance against all
personal considerations. If I accounted Richard of more value to
Monmouth than I am myself, I should not hesitate in riding to set
him free by taking his place. As it is, however, I think I am of the
greatest conceivable importance to His Grace, whilst if twenty Richards
perished--frankly--their loss would be something of a gain, for Richard
has played a traitor’s part already. That is with me the first of all
considerations.”

“Am I of no consideration to you?” she asked him. And in an agony of
terror for her brother she now approached him, and, obeying a sudden
impulse, cast herself upon her knees before him. “Listen!” she cried.

“Not thus,” said he, a frown between his eyes. He took her by the elbows
and gently but very firmly brought her to her feet again. “It is not
fitting you should kneel save at your prayers.”

She was standing now, and very close to him, his hands still held her
elbows, though their touch was so light that she scarce felt it.
To release them was easy, and the next second her hands were on his
shoulders, her brave eyes raised to him.

“Mr. Wilding,” she implored him, “you’ll not let Richard be destroyed?”

He looked down at her with kindling glance, his arms slipped round her
lissom waist. “It is hard to deny you, Ruth,” said he. “Yet not my love
of my own life compels me; but my duty, my loyalty to the cause to which
I am pledged. I were a traitor were I now to place myself in peril.”

She pressed against him, her face so close to his that her breath fanned
his cheek, whither a faint colour crept in quick response. Despite
herself almost, instinctively, unconsciously, she exerted the weapons of
her sex to bend him to her will.

“You say you love me,” she whispered. “Prove it me now, and I will
believe you.

“Ah!” he sighed. “And believing me? What then?”

He had himself grimly in hand, yet feared he should not prove strong
enough to hold himself for long.

“You... you shall find me your... dutiful wife,” she faltered,
crimsoning.

His arms tightened about her; he crushed her to him, he bent his head to
hers and his lips burnt the lips she yielded to him as though they had
been living fire.

Anon, she was to weep in shame--in shame and in astonishment--at that
instant of surrender, but for the moment she had no thought save for her
brother. Exultation filled her. She accounted that she had conquered,
and she gloried in the power her beauty gave her, a power that had
sufficed to melt to water the hard-frozen purposes of this self-willed
man. The next instant, however, she was cold again with dismay and
newborn terror. He unclasped her arms, he drew back, shaking off the
hands she had rested upon his shoulders. His white face--the flush had
faded from it again--smiled a thought disdainfully.

“You bargain with me,” he said. “But I have some knowledge of your ways
of trading. They are overshrewd for an honest gentleman.”

“You mean,” she gasped, her hand pressed to her heart, her face a
deathly white, “you mean that you’ll not save him?”

“I mean,” said he, “that I will have no further bargains with you.”

There was such hard finality in his tone that she recoiled, beaten and
without power, to return to the assault. She had played and lost. She
had yielded her lips to his kisses, and--husband though he might be in
name--shame was her only guerdon.

One look she gave him from out of that face so white and pitiful, then
with a shudder turned from him and fled his presence. He sprang after
her as the door closed, then checked and stood in thought, very grim for
one who professed to bestow no seriousness on the affairs of life. Then
he returned slowly to his writing-table, and rummaged there among the
papers with which it was encumbered, seeking something of which he now
had need. Through the open window he heard the retreating beat of her
horse’s hoofs. He sighed and sat down heavily, to take his long square
chin in his hand and stare before him at the sunlight on the lawn
outside.

And whilst he sat thus, Ruth made all haste back to Lupton House to tell
of the failure that had attended her. There was nothing left her now
but to embark upon the forlorn hope of following Richard to Taunton, to
offer her evidence of how the incriminating letter had come to be locked
in the drawer in which the constable had discovered it. Diana met her
with a face as white as her own and infinitely more startled. She had
just learnt that Sir Rowland Blake had been arrested also and that
he had been carried to Taunton together with Richard, and, as a
consequence, she was as eager now that Ruth should repair to Albemarle
as she had erstwhile been earnest in urging her to seek out Mr. Wilding;
indeed, Diana went so far as to offer to accompany her, an offer that
Ruth gladly, gratefully accepted.

Within an hour Ruth and Diana--in spite of all that poor, docile Lady
Horton had said to stay them--were riding to Taunton, attended by the
same groom who had so lately accompanied his mistress to Zoyland Chase.



CHAPTER X. THEIR OWN PETARD

In a lofty, spacious room of the town hall at Taunton sat Sir Edward
Phelips and Colonel Luttrell to dispense justice, and with them, flanked
by one of them on either side of him, sat Christopher Monk, Duke of
Albemarle, Lord-Lieutenant of Devonshire, who had been summoned in
all haste from Exeter that he might be present at an examination which
promised to be of so vast importance. The three sat at a long table at
the room’s end, attended by two secretaries.

Before them, guarded by constable and tything-men, weaponless, their
hands pinioned behind them--Blake’s arm was healed by now--stood Mr.
Westmacott and his friend Sir Rowland to answer this grave charge.

Richard, not knowing who might have betrayed him and to what extent, was
very fearful--having through his connection with the Cause every reason
so to be. Blake, on the other hand, conscious of his innocence of any
plotting, was impatient of his position, and a thought contemptuous.
It was he who, upon being ushered by the constable and his men into the
august presence of the Lord-Lieutenant, clamoured to know precisely of
what he was accused that he might straightway clear himself.

Albemarle reared his great massive head, smothered in a mighty black
peruke, and scowled upon the florid London beau. A black-visaged
gentleman was Christopher Monk. His pendulous cheeks, it is true, were
of a sallow pallor, but what with his black wig, black eyebrows, dark
eyes, and the blue-black tint of shaven beard on his great jaw and upper
lip, he presented an appearance sombrely sinister. His netherlip was
thick and very prominent; deep creases ran from the corners of his mouth
adown his heavy chin; his eyes were dull and lack-lustre, with great
pouches under them. In the main, the air of this son of the great
Parliamentarian general was stupid, dull, unprepossessing.

The creases of his mouth deepened as Blake protested against what he
termed this outrage that had been done him; he sneered ponderously,
thrusting further forward his heavily undershot jowl.

“We are informed, sir, of your antecedents,” he staggered Blake by
answering. “We have learnt the reason why you left London and your
creditors, and in all my life, sir, I have never known a man more ready
to turn his hand to treason than a broken gamester. Your kind turns by
instinct to such work as this, as a last resource for the mending of
battered fortunes.”

Blake crimsoned from chin to brow. “I’m forejudged, it, seems,” he made
answer haughtily, tossing his fair locks, his blue eyes glaring upon his
judges. “May I, at least, know the name of my accuser?”

“You shall receive impartial justice at our hands,” put in Phelips,
whose manner was of a dangerous mildness. “Depend on that. Not only
shall you know the name of your accuser, but you shall be confronted by
him. Meanwhile, sirs”--and his glance strayed from Blake’s flushed and
angry countenance to Richard’s, pale and timid--“meanwhile, are we to
understand that you deny the charge?”

“I have heard none as yet,” said Sir Rowland insolently.

Albemarle turned to one of the secretaries. “Read them the indictment,”
 said he, and sank back in his chair, his dull glance upon the prisoners,
whilst the clerk in a droning voice read from a document which he took
up. It impeached Sir Rowland Blake and Mr. Richard Westmacott of holding
treasonable communication with James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, and of
plotting against His Majesty’s life and throne and the peace of His
Majesty’s realms.

Blake listened with unconcealed impatience to the farrago of legal
phrases, and snorted contemptuously when the reading came to an end.

Albemarle looked at him darkly. “I do thank God,” said he, “that through
Mr. Westmacott’s folly has this hideous plot, this black and damnable
treason, been brought to light in time to enable us to stamp out this
fire ere it is well kindled. Have you aught to say, sir?”

“I have to say that the whole charge a foul and unfounded lie,” said Sir
Rowland bluntly: “I never plotted in my life against anything but my own
prosperity, nor against any man but myself.”

Albemarle smiled coldly at his colleagues, then turned to Westmacott.
“And you, sir?” he said. “Are you as stubborn as your friend?”

“I incontinently deny the charge,” said Richard, and he contrived that
his voice should ring bold and resolute.

“A charge built on air,” sneered Blake, “which the first breath of truth
should utterly dispel. We have heard the impeachment. Will Your Grace
with the same consideration permit us to see the proofs that we may lay
bare their falseness? It should not be difficult.”

“Do you say there is no such plot as is here alleged?” quoth the Duke,
and smote a paper sharply.

Blake shrugged his shoulders. “How should I know?” he asked. “I say I
have no share in any, that I am acquainted with none.”

“Call Mr. Trenchard,” said the Duke quietly, and an usher who had stood
tamely by the door at the far end of the room departed on the errand.

Richard started at the mention of that name. He had a singular dread of
Mr. Trenchard.

Colonel Luttrell--lean and wiry--now addressed the prisoners, Blake more
particularly. “Still,” said he, “you will admit that such a plot may,
indeed, exist?”

“It may, indeed, for aught I know--or care,” he added incautiously.

Albemarle smote the table with a heavy hand. “By God!” he cried in that
deep booming voice of his, “there spoke a traitor! You do not care, you
say, what plots may be hatched against His Majesty’s life and crown! Yet
you ask me to believe you a true and loyal subject.”

Blake was angered; he was at best a short-tempered man. Deliberately he
floundered further into the mire.

“I have not asked Your Grace to believe me anything,” he answered hotly.
“It is all one to me what Your Grace believes me. I take it I have not
been fetched hither to be confronted with what Your Grace believes. You
have preferred a lying charge against me; I ask for proofs, not Your
Grace’s beliefs and opinions.”

“By God, sir, you are a daring rogue!” cried Albemarle.

Sir Rowland’s eyes blazed. “Anon, Your Grace, when, having failed of
your proofs, you shall be constrained to restore me to liberty, I shall
ask Your Grace to unsay that word.”

Albemarle stared, confounded, and in that moment the door opened, and
Trenchard sauntered in, cane in hand, his hat under his arm, a wicked
smile on his wizened face.

Leaving Blake’s veiled threat unanswered, the Duke turned to the old
rake. “These rogues,” said he, pointing to the prisoners, “demand proofs
ere they will admit the truth of the impeachment.”

“Those proofs,” said Trenchard, “are already in Your Grace’s hands.”

“Aye, but they have asked to be confronted with their accuser.”

Trenchard bowed. “Is it your wish, then, that I recite for them the
counts on which I have based the accusation I laid before Your Grace?”

“If you will condescend so far,” said Albemarle.

“Blister me...!” roared Blake, when the Duke interrupted him.

“By God, sir!” he cried, “I’ll have no such disrespectful language here.
You’ll observe the decency of speech and forbear from profanities, you
damned rogue, or by God! I’ll commit you forthwith.”

“I will endeavour,” said Blake, with a sarcasm lost on Albemarle, “to
follow Your Grace’s lofty example.”

“You will do well, sir,” said the Duke, and was shocked that Trenchard
should laugh at such a moment.

“I was about to protest, sir,” said Blake, “that it is monstrous
I should be accused by Mr. Trenchard. He has but the slightest
acquaintance with me.”

Trenchard bowed to him across the chamber. “Admitted, sir,” said
he. “What should I be doing in bad company?” An answer this that set
Albemarle bawling with laughter. Trenchard turned to the Duke. “I will
begin, an it please Your Grace, with the expressions used last night in
my presence at the Bell Inn at Bridgwater by Mr. Richard Westmacott, and
I will confine myself strictly to those matters on which my testimony
can be corroborated by that of other witnesses.”

Colonel Luttrell interrupted him to turn to Richard. “Do you recall
those expressions, sir?” he asked him.

Richard winced under the question. Nevertheless, he braced himself to
make the best defence he could. “I have not yet heard,” said he, “what
those expressions were; nor when I hear them must it follow that I
recognize them as my own. I must admit to having taken more wine,
perhaps, than... than...” Whilst he sought the expression that he needed
Trenchard cut in with a laugh. “In vino veritas, gentlemen,” and
His Grace and Sir Edward nodded sagely; Luttrell preserved a stolid
exterior. He seemed less prone than his colleagues to forejudging.

“Will you repeat the expressions used by Mr. Westmacott?” Sir Edward
begged.

“I will repeat the one that, to my mind, matters most.” Mr. Westmacott,
getting to his feet and in a loud voice, exclaimed, “God save the
Protestant Duke!”

“Do you admit it, sir?” thundered Albemarle, his eyes glowering upon
Richard hesitated a moment, pale and trembling.

“You will waste breath in denying it,” said Trenchard suavely, “for I
have a drawer from the Bell Inn, and two gentlemen who overheard you
waiting outside.”

“I’faith, sir,” cried Blake, “what treason was therein that? If he...”

“Silence!” thundered Albemarle. “Let Mr. Westmacott speak for himself.”

Richard, inspired by the defence Blake had begun, took the same line of
argument. “I admit that in the heat of wine I may have used such words,”
 said he. “But I deny their intent to be treasonable. There are many men
who drink to the prosperity of the late Kings’s son...”

“Natural son, sir; natural son,” Albemarle amended. “It is treason to
speak of him otherwise.”

“It will be a treason presently to draw breath,” sneered Blake.

“If it be,” said Trenchard, “it is a treason you’ll not be long
committing.”

“Faith, you are right, Mr. Trenchard,” said the Duke with a laugh.
Indeed, he found Mr. Trenchard a most pleasant and facetious gentleman.

“Still,” insisted Richard, endeavouring in spite of these irrelevancies
to make good his point, “there be many men who drink daily to the
prosperity of the late King’s natural son.”

“Aye, sir,” answered Albemarle; “but not his prosperity in horrid plots
against the life of our beloved sovereign.”

“True, Your Grace; very true,” purred Sir Edward. “It was not so I meant
to toast him,” cried Richard. Albemarle made an impatient gesture,
and took up a sheet of paper. “How, then,” he asked, “comes this
letter--this letter which makes plain the treason upon which the Duke
of Monmouth is embarked, just as it makes plain your participation in
it--how comes this letter to be found in your possession?” And he waved
the letter in the air.

Richard went the colour of ashes. He faltered a moment, then took refuge
in the truth, for all that he knew beforehand that the truth was bound
to ring more false than any lie he could invent.

“That letter was not addressed to me,” he stammered.

Albemarle read the subscription, “To my good friend W., at Bridgwater.”
 He looked up, a heavy sneer thrusting his heavy lip still further out.
“What do you say to that? Does not ‘W’ stand for Westmacott?”

“It does not.”

“Of course not,” said Albemarle with heavy sarcasm. “It stands for
Wilkins, or Williams, or... or... What-not.”

“Indeed, I can bear witness that it does not,” exclaimed Sir Rowland.

“Be silent, sir, I tell you!” bawled the Duke at him again. “You shall
bear witness soon enough, I promise you. To whom, then,” he resumed,
turning again to Richard, “do you say that this letter was addressed?”

“To Mr. Wilding--Mr. Anthony Wilding,” Richard answered.

“I would have Your Grace to observe,” put in Trench ard quietly, “that
Mr. Wilding, properly speaking, does not reside in Bridgwater.”

“Tush!” cried Albemarle; “the rogue but mentions the first name with a
‘W’ that occurs to him. He’s not even an ingenious liar. And how, sir,”
 he asked Richard, “does it come to be in your possession, having been
addressed, as you say, to Mr. Wilding?”

“Aye, sir,” said Sir Edward, blinking his weak eyes. “Tell us that.”

Richard hesitated again, and looked at Blake. Blake, who by now had
come to realize that his friend’s affairs were not mended by his
interruptions, moodily shrugged his shoulders, scowling.

“Come, sir,” said Colonel Luttrell, engagingly, “answer the question.”

“Aye,” roared Albemarle; “let your invention have free rein.”

Again poor Richard sought refuge in the truth. “We--Sir Rowland here and
I--had reason to suspect that he was awaiting such a letter.”

“Tell us your reasons, sir, if we are to credit you,” said the Duke, and
it was plain he mocked the prisoner. It was, moreover, a request that
staggered Richard. Still, he sought to find a reason that should sound
plausible.

“We inferred it from certain remarks that Mr. Wilding let fall in our
presence.”

“Tell us the remarks, sir,” the Duke insisted.

“Indeed, I do not call his precise words to mind, Your Grace. But they
were such that we suspicioned him.”

“And you would have me believe that hearing words which awoke in you
such grave suspicions, you kept your suspicions and straightway forgot
the words. You’re but an indifferent liar.”

Trenchard, who was standing by the long table, leaned forward now.

“It might be well, an it please Your Grace,” said he, “to waive the
point, and let us come to those matters which are of greater moment. Let
him tell Your Grace how he came by the letter.”

“Aye,” said Albemarle. “We do but waste time. Tell us, then, how came
the letter into your hands?”

“With Sir Rowland, here, I robbed the courier as he was riding from
Taunton to Bridgwater.”

Albemarle laughed, and Sir Edward smiled. “You robbed him, eh?” said His
Grace. “Very well. But how did it happen that you knew he had the letter
upon him, or was it that you were playing the hightobymen, and that in
robbing him you hoped to find other matters?”

“Not so, sir,” answered Richard. “I sought but the letter.”

“And how knew you that he carried it? Did you learn that, too, from Mr.
Wilding’s indiscretion?”

“Your Grace has said it.”

“‘Slife! What an impudent rogue have we here!” cried the angry Duke,
who conceived that Richard was purposely dealing in effrontery. “Mr.
Trenchard, I do think we are wasting time. Be so good as to confound
them both with the truth of this matter.”

“That letter,” said Trenchard, “was delivered to them at the Hare and
Hounds, here at Taunton, by a gentleman who put up at the inn, and was
there joined by Mr. Westmacott and Sir Rowland Blake. They opened
the conversation with certain cant phrases very clearly intended as
passwords. Thus: the prisoners said to the messenger, as they seated
themselves at the table he occupied, ‘You have the air, sir, of being
from overseas,’ to which the courier answered, ‘Indeed, yes. I am from
Holland. ‘From the land of Orange,’ says one of the prisoners. ‘Aye, and
other things,’ replies the messenger. ‘There is a fair wind blowing,’ he
adds; to which one of the prisoners, I believe it was Sir Rowland, makes
answer, ‘Mayit prosper the Protestant Duke and blow Popery to hell.’
Thereupon the landlord caught some mention of a letter, but these
plotters, perceiving that they were perhaps being overheard, sent him
away to fetch them wine. A half-hour later the messenger took his leave,
and the prisoners followed a very few minutes afterwards.”

Albemarle turned to the prisoners. “You have heard Mr. Trenchard’s
story. How do you say--is it true or untrue?”

“You will waste breath in denying it,” Trenchard took it again upon
himself to admonish them. “For I have with me the landlord of the Hare
and Hounds, who will corroborate, upon oath, what I have said.”

“We do not deny it,” put in Blake. “But we submit that the matter is
susceptible to explanation.”

“You can keep your explanations till your trial, then,” snapped
Albemarle. “I have heard more than enough to commit the pair of you to
gaol.”

“But, Your Grace,” cried Sir Rowland, so fiercely that one of the
tything-men set a restraining hand upon his shoulder, “I am ready to
swear that what I did, and what my friend Mr. Westmacott did, was done
in the interests of His Majesty. We were working to discover this plot.”

“Which, no doubt,” put in Trenchard slyly, “is the reason why, having
got the letter, your friend Mr. Westmacott locked it in a desk, and you
kept silence on the matter.”

“You see,” exclaimed Albemarle, “how your lies do but serve further to
bind you in the toils. It is ever thus with traitors.”

“I do think you are a damned traitor, Trenchard,” began Blake; “a
foul...”

But what more he would have said was checked by Albemarle, who thundered
forth an order for their removal, and then, scarce were the words
uttered than the door at the far end of the hall was opened, and through
it came a sound of women’s voices. Richard started, for one was the
voice of Ruth.

An usher advanced. “May it please Your Grace, there are two ladies here
beg that you will hear their evidence in the matter of Mr. Westmacott
and Sir Rowland Blake.”

Albemarle considered a moment. Trenchard stood very thoughtful.

“Indeed,” said the Duke, at last, “I have heard as much as I need hear,”
 and Sir Phelips nodded in token of concurrence.

Not so, however, Colonel Luttrell. “Still,” said he, “in the interests
of His Majesty, perhaps, we should be doing well to receive them.”

Albemarle blew out his cheeks like a man wearied, and stared an instant
at Luttrell. Then he shrugged his shoulders.

“Admit them, then,” he commanded almost peevishly, and Ruth and Diana
were ushered into the hall. Both were pale, but whilst Diana was
fluttered with excitement, Ruth was calm and cool, and it was she who
spoke in answer to the Duke’s invitation. The burden of her speech was
a clear, succinct recitation--in which she spared neither Wilding
nor herself--of how the letter came to have remained in her hands and
silence to have been preserved regarding it. Albemarle heard her very
patiently.

“If what you say is true, mistress,” said he, “and God forbid that
I should be so ungallant as to throw doubt upon a lady’s word, it
certainly explains--although most strangely--how the letter was not
brought to us at once by your brother and his friend Sir Rowland. You
are prepared to swear that this letter was intended for Mr. Wilding?”

“I am prepared to swear it,” she replied.

“This is very serious,” said the Duke.

“Very serious,” assented Sir Edward Phelips.

Albemarle, a little flustered, turned to his colleagues. “What do you
say to this? Were it perhaps well to order Mr. Wilding’s apprehension,
and to have him brought hither?”

“It were to give yourselves useless trouble, gentlemen,” said Trenchard,
with so much assurance that it was plain Albemarle hesitated.

“Beware of Mr. Trenchard, Your Grace,” cried Ruth. “He is Mr. Wilding’s
friend, and if there is a plot he is sure to be in it.”

Albemarle, startled, looked at Trenchard. Had the accusation come from
either of the men the Duke would have silenced him and abused him;
but coming from a woman, and so comely a woman, it seemed to His Grace
worthy at least of consideration. But nimble Mr. Trenchard was easily
master of the situation.

“Which, of course,” he answered, with fine sarcasm, “is the reason why
I have been at work for the past four-and-twenty hours to lay proofs of
this plot before Your Grace.”

Albemarle was ashamed of his momentary hesitation.

“For the rest,” said Trenchard, “it is perfectly true that I am Mr.
Wilding’s friend. But the lady is even more intimately connected with
him. It happens that she is his wife.”

“His... his wife!” gasped the Duke, whilst Phelips chuckled, and Colonel
Luttrell’s face grew dark.

Trenchard’s wicked smile flickered upon his mobile features. “There are
rumours current of court paid her by Sir Rowland, there. Who knows?” he
questioned most suggestively, arching his brows and tightening his lips.
“Wives are strange kittle-kattle, and husbands have been known before to
grow inconvenient. Upon reflection, Your Grace will no doubt discern the
precise degree of faith to attach to what this lady may tell you against
Mr. Wilding.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Ruth, her cheeks flaming crimson. “But this is
monstrous!”

“Tis how I should myself describe it,” answered Trenchard without shame.

Spurred to it thus, Ruth poured out the entire story of her marriage,
and so clear and lucid was her statement that it threw upon the affair a
flood of light, whilst so frank and truthful was her tone, her narrative
hung so well together, that the Bench began to recover from the shock to
its faith, and was again in danger of believing her. Trenchard saw this
and trembled. To save Wilding for the Cause he had resorted to this
desperate expedient of betraying that Cause. It must be observed,
however, that he had not done so save under the conviction that betrayed
it was bound to be, and that since that was inevitable the thing had
better come from him--for Wilding’s sake--than from Richard Westmacott.
He had taken the bull by the horns in a most desperate fashion when he
had determined to hoist Richard and Blake with their own petard, hoping
that, after all, the harm would reach no further than the destruction of
these two--a purely defensive measure. But now this girl threatened
to wreck his scheme just as it was being safely steered to harbour.
Suddenly he swung round, interrupting her.

“Lies, lies, lies!” he clamoured, and his interruption coming at such a
time served to impress the Duke most unfavourably--as well it might.

“It is our wish to hear this lady out, Mr. Trenchard,” the Duke reproved
him.

But Mr. Trenchard was undismayed. Indeed, he had just discovered a
hitherto neglected card, which should put an end to this dangerous game.

“I do abhor to hear Your Grace’s patience thus abused,” he exclaimed
with some show of heat. “This lady makes a mock of you. If you’ll allow
me to ask two questions--or perhaps three--I’ll promise finally to prick
this bubble for you. Have I Your Grace’s leave?”

“Well, well,” said Albemarle. “Let us hear your questions.” And his
colleagues nodded.

Trenchard turned airily to Ruth. Behind her Diana sat--an attendant had
fetched a chair for her--in fear and wonder at what she saw and heard,
her eyes ever and anon straying to Sir Rowland’s back, which was towards
her.

“This letter, madam,” said he, “for the possession of which you have
accounted in so... so... picturesque a manner, was intended for and
addressed to Mr. Wilding, you say. And you are prepared to swear to it?”

Ruth turned indignantly to the Bench. “Must I answer this man’s
questions?” she demanded.

“I think, perhaps, it were best you did,” said the Duke, still showing
her all deference.

She turned to Trenchard, her head high, her eyes full upon his wrinkled,
cynical face. “I swear, then...” she began, but he--consummate actor
that he was and versed in tricks that impress an audience--interrupted
her, raising one of his gnarled, yellow hands.

“Nay, nay,” said he. “I would not have perjury proved against you. I do
not ask you to swear. It will be sufficient if you pronounce yourself
prepared to swear.”

She pouted her lip a trifle, her whole expression manifesting her
contempt of him. “I am in no fear of perjuring myself,” she answered
fearlessly. “And I swear that the letter in question was addressed to
Mr. Wilding.”

“As you will,” said Trenchard, and was careful not to ask her how she
came by her knowledge. “The letter, no doubt, was in an outer wrapper,
on which there would be a superscription--the name of the person to whom
the letter was addressed?” he half questioned, and Luttrell, who saw the
drift of the question, nodded gravely.

“No doubt,” said Ruth.

“Now you will acknowledge, I am sure, madam, that such a wrapper would
be a document of the greatest importance, as important, indeed, as the
letter itself, since we could depend upon it finally to clear up this
point on which we differ. You will admit so much, I think?”

“Why, yes,” she answered, but her voice faltered a little, and her
glance was not quite so fearless. She, too, saw at last the pit he had
dug for her. He leaned forward, smiling quietly, his voice impressively
subdued, and launched the bolt that was to annihilate the credibility of
the story she had told.

“Can you, then, explain how it comes that that wrapper has been
suppressed? Can you tell us how--the matter being as you state it--in
very self-defence against the dangers of keeping such a letter, your
brother did not also keep that wrapper?”

Her eyes fell away from his face, they turned to Albemarle, who sat
scowling again, and from him they flickered unsteadily to Phelips and
Luttrell, and lastly, to Richard, who, very white and with set teeth,
stood listening to the working of his ruin.

“I... I do not know,” she faltered at last.

“Ah!” said Trenchard, drawing a deep breath. He turned to the Bench.
“Need I suggest what was the need--the urgent need--for suppressing that
wrapper?” quoth he. “Need I say what name was inscribed upon it? I think
not. Your Grace’s keen insight, and yours, gentlemen, will determine
what was probable.”

Sir Rowland now stood forward, addressing Albemarle. “Will Your Grace
permit me to offer my explanation of this?”

Albemarle banged the table. His patience was at an end, since he came
now to believe--as Trenchard had earlier suggested--that he had been
played upon by Ruth.

“Too many explanations have I heard already, sir,” he answered. He
turned to one of his secretaries. In his sudden excess of choler he
forgot his colleagues altogether. “The prisoners are committed for
trial,” said he harshly, and Trenchard breathed freely at last. But the
next instant he caught his breath again, for a ringing voice was heard
without demanding to see His Grace of Albemarle at once, and the voice
was the voice of Anthony Wilding.



CHAPTER XI. THE MARPLOT

Mr. Wilding’s appearance produced as many different emotions as there
were individuals present. He made the company a sweeping bow on his
admission by Albemarle’s orders, a bow which was returned by a stare
from one and all. Diana eyed him in amazement, Ruth in hope; Richard
averted his glance from that of his brother-in-law, whilst Sir Rowland
met it with a scowl of enmity--they had not come face to face since the
occasion of that encounter in which Sir Rowland’s self-love had been so
rudely handled. Albemarle’s face expressed a sort of satisfaction,
which was reflected on the countenances of Phelips and Luttrell; whilst
Trenchard never thought of attempting to dissemble his profound dismay.
And this dismay was shared, though not in so deep a measure, by Wilding
himself. Trenchard’s presence gave him pause; for he had been far,
indeed, from dreaming that his friend had a hand in this affair. At
sight of him all was made clear to Mr. Wilding. At once he saw the role
which Trenchard had assumed on this occasion, saw to the bottom of the
motives that had inspired him to take the bull by the horns and level
against Richard and Blake this accusation before they had leisure to
level it against himself.

His quick wits having fathomed Trenchard’s motive, Mr. Wilding was
deeply touched by this proof of friendship, and for a second, as deeply
nonplussed, at loss now how to discharge the task on which he came.

“You are very choicely come, Mr. Wilding,” said Albemarle. “You will be
able to resolve me certain doubts which have been set on foot by these
traitors.”

“That,” said Mr. Wilding, “is the purpose for which I am here. News
reached me of the arrest that had been made. May I beg that Your Grace
will place me in possession of the facts that have so far transpired.”

It was one of his secretaries who, at Albemarle’s bidding, gave Wilding
the information that he craved. He listened gravely; then, before
Albemarle had time to question him on the score of the name that might
have been upon the enfolding wrapper of the letter, he begged that he
might confer apart a moment with Mr. Trenchard.

“But Mr. Wilding,” said Colonel Luttrell, surprised not to hear the
immediate denial of the imputation they had expected, “we should first
like to hear...”

“By your leave, sirs,” Wilding interrupted, “I should prefer that
you ask me nothing until I have consulted with Mr. Trenchard.” He saw
Luttrell’s frown, observed Sir Edward shift his wig to scratch his head
in sheer perplexity, and caught the fore-shadowing of denial on the
Duke’s face. So, without giving any of them time to say him nay, he
added quickly and very seriously, “I am begging this in the interests of
justice. Your Grace has told me that some lingering doubt still haunts
your mind upon the subject of this letter--the other charges can matter
little, apart from that treasonable document. It lies within my power to
resolve such doubts most clearly and finally. But I warn you, sirs, that
not one word will I utter in this connection until I have had speech
with Mr. Trenchard.”

There was about his mien and voice a firmness that forewarned Albemarle
that to insist would be worse than idle. A slight pause followed his
words, and Luttrell leaned across to whisper in His Grace’s ear; from
the Duke’s other side Sir Edward bent his head forward till it almost
touched those of his companions. Blake watched, and was most foolishly
impatient.

“Your Grace will never allow this!” he cried.

“Eh?” said Albemarle, scowling at him.

“If you allow those two villains to consort together we are all undone,”
 the baronet protested, and ruined what chance there was of Albemarle’s
not consenting.

It was the one thing needed to determine Albemarle. Like the stubborn
man he was, there was naught he detested so much as to have his course
dictated to him. More than that, in Sir Rowland’s anxiety that Wilding
and Trenchard should not be allowed to confer apart, he smoked a fear
on Sir Rowland’s part, based upon the baronet’s consciousness of his own
guilt. He turned from him with a sneering smile, and without so much
as consulting his associates he glanced at Wilding and waved his hand
towards the door.

“Pray do as you suggest, Mr. Wilding,” said he. “But I depend upon you
not to tax our patience.”

“I shall not keep Mr. Trenchard a moment longer than is necessary,” said
Wilding, giving no hint of the second meaning in his words.

He stepped to the door, opened it himself, and signed to Trenchard to
pass out. The old player obeyed him readily, if in silence. An usher
closed the door after them, and in silence they walked together to the
end of the passage.

“Where is your horse, Nick?” quoth Wilding abruptly.

“What a plague do you mean, where is my horse?” flashed Trenchard. “What
midsummer frenzy is this? Damn you for a marplot, Anthony! What a pox
are you thinking of to thrust yourself in here at such a time?”

“I had no knowledge you were in the affair,” said Wilding. “You should
have told me.” His manner was brisk to the point of dryness. “However,
there is still time to get you out of it. Where is your horse?”

“Damn my horse!” answered Tren chard in a passion. “You have spoiled
everything!”

“On the contrary,” said Mr. Wilding tartly, “it seems you had done that
very thoroughly before I arrived. Whilst I am touched by the regard for
me which has misled you into turning the tables on Blake and Westmacott,
yet I do blame you for this betrayal of the Cause.”

“There was no help for it.”

“Why, no; and that is why you should have left matters where they
stood.”

Trenchard stamped his foot; indeed, he almost danced in the excess of
his vexation. “Left them where they stood!” he echoed. “Body o’ me!
Where are your wits? Left them where they stood! And at any moment you
might have been taken unawares as a consequence of this accusation being
lodged against you by Richard or by Blake. Then the Cause would have
been betrayed, indeed.”

“Not more so than it is now.”

“Not less, at least,” snapped the player. “You give me credit for no
more wit than yourself. Do you think that I am the man to do things by
halves? I have betrayed the plot to Albemarle; but do you imagine I have
made no provision for what must follow?”

“Provision?” echoed Wilding, staring.

“Aye, provision. God lack! What do you suppose Albemarle will do?”

“Dispatch a messenger to Whitehall with the letter within an hour.”

“You perceive it, do you? And where the plague do you think Nick
Trenchard’ll be what time that messenger rides?”

Mr. Wilding understood. “Aye, you may stare,” sneered Trenchard. “A
letter that has once been stolen may be stolen again. The courier must
go by way of Walford. I had in my mind arranged the spot, close by the
ford, where I should fall upon him, rob him of his dispatches, and take
him--bound hand and foot if necessary--to Vallancey’s, who lives close
by; and there I’d leave him until word came that the Duke had landed.”

“That the Duke had landed?” cried Wilding. “You talk as though the thing
were imminent.”

“And imminent it is. For aught we know he may be in England already.”

Mr. Wilding laughed impatiently. “You must forever be building on these
crack-brained rumours, Nick,” said he.

“Rumours!” roared the other. “Rumours? Ha!” He checked his wild scorn,
and proceeded in a different key. “I was forgetting. You do not know the
Contents of that stolen letter.”

Wilding started. Underlying his disbelief in the talk of the
countryside, and even in the military measures which by the King’s
orders were being taken in the West, was an uneasy dread lest they
should prove to be well founded, lest Argyle’s operations in Scotland
should be but the forerunner of a rash and premature invasion by
Monmouth. He knew the Duke was surrounded by such reckless, foolhardy
counsellors as Grey and Ferguson--and yet he could not think the Duke
would ruin all by coming before he had definite word that his friends
were ready. He looked at Trenchard now with anxious eyes.

“Have you seen the letter, Nick?” he asked, and almost dreaded the
reply.

“Albemarle showed it me an hour ago,” said Trenchard.

“And it contains?”

“The news we fear. It is in the Duke’s own hand, and intimates that he
will follow it in a few days--in a few days, man in person.”

Mr. Wilding clenched teeth and hands. “God help us all, then!” he
muttered grimly.

“Meanwhile,” quoth Trenchard, bringing him back to the point, “there is
this precious business here. I had as choice a plan as could have been
devised, and it must have succeeded, had you not come blundering into it
to mar it all at the last moment. That fat fool Albemarle had swallowed
my impeachment like a draught of muscadine. Do you hear me?” he ended
sharply, for Mr. Wilding stood bemused, his thoughts plainly wandering.

He let his hand fall upon Trenchard’s shoulder. “No,” said he, “I wasn’t
listening. No matter; for even had I known the full extent of your
scheme I still must have interfered.”

“For the sake of Mistress Westmacott’s blue eyes, no doubt,” sneered
Trenchard. “Pah! Wherever there’s a woman there’s the loss of a man.”

“For the sake of Mistress Wilding’s blue eyes,” his friend corrected
him. “I’ll allow no brother of hers to hang in my place.”

“It will be interesting to see how you will rescue him.”

“By telling the truth to Albemarle.”

“He’ll not believe it.”

“I shall prove it,” said Wilding quietly. Trenchard swung round upon him
in mingled anger and alarm for him. “You shall not do it!” he snarled.
“It is nothing short of treason to the Duke to get yourself laid by the
heels at such a time as this.”

“I hope to avoid it,” answered Wilding confidently.

“Avoid it? How?”

“Not by staying longer here in talk. That will ruin all. Away with you,
Trenchard!”

“By my soul, no!” answered Trenchard. “I’ll not leave you. If I have got
you into this, I’ll help to get you out again, or stay in it with you.”

“Bethink you of Monmouth?” Wilding admonished him.

“Damn Monmouth!” was the vicious answer. “I am here, and here I stay.”

“Get to horse, you fool, and ride to Walford as you proposed, there to
ambush the messenger. The letter will go to Whitehall none the less in
spite of what I shall tell Albemarle. If things go well with me, I shall
join you at Vallancey’s before long.”

“Why, if that is your intention,” said Trenchard, “I had better stay,
and we can ride together. It will make it less uncertain for you.”

“But less certain for you.”

“The more reason why I should remain.”

The door of the hall was suddenly flung open at the far end of the
corridor, and Albemarle’s booming voice, impatiently raised, reached
them where they stood.

“In any case,” added Trenchard, “it seems there is no help for it now.”

Mr. Wilding shrugged his shoulders, but otherwise dissembled his
vexation. Up the passage floated the constable’s voice calling them.

Side by side they moved down, and side by side they stepped once more
into the presence of Christopher Monk and his associates.

“Sirs, you have not been in haste,” was the Duke’s ill-humoured
greeting.

“We have tarried a little that we might make an end the sooner,”
 answered Trenchard dryly, and this was the first indication he gave Mr.
Wilding of how naturally--like the inimitable actor that he was--he had
slipped into his new role.

Albemarle waved the frivolous rejoinder aside. “Come, Mr. Wilding,” said
he, “let us hear what you may have to say. You are not, I take it, about
to urge any reasons why these rogues should not be committed?”

“Indeed, Your Grace,” said Wilding, “that is what I am about to urge.”

Blake and Richard looked at him suddenly, and from him to Trenchard; but
it was only Ruth whose eyes were shrewd enough to observe the altered
demeanour of the latter. Her hopes rose, founded upon this oddly
assorted pair. Already in anticipation she was stirred by gratitude
towards Wilding, and it was in impatient and almost wondering awe that
she waited for him to proceed.

“I take it, sir,” he said, without waiting for Albemarle to express
any of the fresh astonishment his countenance manifested, “that the
accusation against these gentlemen rests entirely upon the letter which
you have been led to believe was addressed to Mr. Westmacott.”

The Duke scowled a moment before replying. “Why,” said he, “if it could
be shown--irrefutably shown--that the letter was not addressed to either
of them, that would no doubt establish the truth of what they say--that
they possessed themselves of the letter in the interests of His
Majesty.” He turned to Luttrell and Phelips, and they nodded their
concurrence with his view of the matter. “But,” he continued, “if
you are proposing to prove any such thing, I think you will find it
difficult.”

Mr. Wilding drew a crumpled paper from his pocket. “When the courier
whom they robbed, as they have correctly informed you,” said he quietly,
“suspected their design upon the contents of his wallet, he bethought
him of removing the wrapper from the letter, so that in case the
letter were seized by them it should prove nothing against any man
in particular. He stuffed the wrapper into the lining of his hat,
preserving it as a proof of his good faith against the time when he
should bring the letter to its destination, or come to confess that it
had been taken from him. That wrapper the courier brought to me, and I
have it here. The evidence it will give should be more than sufficient
to warrant your restoring these unjustly accused gentlemen their
liberty.”

“The courier took it to you?” echoed Albemarle, stupefaction in his
glance. “But why to you?”

“Because,” said Wilding, and with his left hand he placed the wrapper
before Albemarle, whilst his right dropped again to his pocket, “the
letter, as you may see, was addressed to me.”

The quiet manner in which he made the announcement conveyed almost as
great a shock as the announcement itself.

Albemarle took up the wrapper; Luttrell and Phelips craned forward to
join him in his scrutiny of it. They compared the two, paper with paper,
writing with writing. Then Monk flung one and the other down in front of
him.

“What lies have I been hearing, then?” he demanded furiously of
Trenchard. “‘Slife I’ll make an example of you. Arrest me that
rogue--arrest them both,” and he half rose from his seat, his trembling
hand pointing to Wilding and Trenchard.

Two of the tything-men stirred to do his bidding, but in the same
instant Albemarle found himself looking into the round nozzle of a
pistol.

“If,” said Mr. Wilding, “a finger is laid upon Mr. Trenchard or me I
shall have the extreme mortification of being compelled to shoot Your
Grace.”

His pleasantly modulated voice was as deliberate and calm as if he were
offering the Bench a pinch of snuff. Albemarle’s dark visage crimsoned;
his eyes became at once wicked and afraid. Sir Edward’s cheeks turned
pale, his glance grew startled. Luttrell alone, vigilant and dangerous,
preserved his calm. But the situation baffled even him.

Behind the two friends the tything-men had come to a terror-stricken
halt. Diana had risen from her chair in the excitement of the moment and
had drawn close to Ruth, who looked on with parted lips and bosom
that rose and fell. Even Blake could not stifle his admiration of
Mr. Wilding’s coolness and address. Richard, on the other hand, was
concerned only with thoughts for himself, wondering how it would fare
with him if Wilding and Trenchard succeeded in getting away.

“Nick,” said Mr. Wilding, “will you desire those catchpolls behind us
to stand aside? If Your Grace raises your voice to call for help, if,
indeed, any measures are taken calculated to lead to our capture, I
can promise Your Grace--notwithstanding my profound reluctance to use
violence--that they will be the last measures you will take in life. Be
good enough to open the door, Nick, and to see that the key is on the
outside.”

Trenchard, who was by way of enjoying himself now, stepped briskly
down the hall to do as his friend bade him, with a wary eye on the
tything-men. But never so much as a finger did they dare to lift. Mr.
Wilding’s calm was too deadly; they had seen a man in earnest before
this, and they knew his appearance now. From the doorway Trenchard
called Mr. Wilding.

“I must be going, Your Grace,” said the latter very courteously, “but
I shall not be so wanting in deference to His Majesty’s august
representatives as to turn my back upon you.” Saying which, he walked
backwards, holding his pistol level, until he had reached Trenchard and
the door. There he paused and made them a deep bow, his manner the more
mocking in that there was no tinge of mockery perceptible. “Your very
obedient servant,” said he, and stepped outside. Trenchard turned the
key, withdrew it from the lock, and, standing on tiptoe, thrust it upon
the ledge of the lintel.

Instantly a clamour arose within the chamber. But the two friends never
stayed to listen. Down the passage they sped at the double, and out
into the courtyard. Here Ruth’s groom, mounted himself, was walking his
mistress’s and Diana’s horses up and down whilst he waited; yonder one
of Sir Edward’s stable-boys was holding Mr. Wilding’s roan. Two or three
men of the Somerset militia, in their red and yellow liveries, lounged
by the gates, and turned uninterested eyes upon these newcomers.

Wilding approached his wife’s groom. “Get down,” he said, “I need your
horse--on the King’s business. Get down, I say,” he added impatiently,
upon noting the fellow’s stare, and, seizing his leg, he helped him to
dismount by almost dragging him from the saddle. “Up with you, Nick,”
 said he, and Nick very promptly mounted. “Your mistress will be here
presently,” Wilding told the groom, and, turning on his heel, strode
to his own mare. A moment later Trenchard and he vanished through the
gateway with a tremendous clatter, just as the Lord-Lieutenant, Colonel
Luttrell, Sir Edward Phelips, the constable, the tything-men, Sir
Rowland, Richard, and the ladies made their appearance.

Ruth pushed her way quickly to the front. She feared lest her horse
and her cousin’s being at hand might be used for the pursuit; so urging
Diana to do the same, she snatched her reins from the hands of the
dumbfounded groom and leapt nimbly to the saddle.

“After them!” roared Albemarle, and the constable with two of his
men made a dash for the gateway to raise the hue and cry, whilst
the militiamen watched them in stupid, inactive wonder. “Damnation,
mistress!” thundered the Duke in ever-increasing passion, “hold your
nag! Hold your nag, woman!” For Ruth’s horse had become unmanageable,
and was caracoling about the yard between the men and the gateway in
such a manner that they dared not attempt to win past her.

“You have scared him with your bellowing,” she panted, tugging at the
bridle, and all but backed into the constable who had been endeavouring
to get round behind her. The beast continued its wild prancing, and the
Duke abated nothing in his furious profanity, until suddenly the groom,
having relinquished to Diana the reins of the other horse, sprang to
Ruth’s assistance and caught her bridle in a firm grasp which brought
the animal to a standstill.

“You fool!” she hissed at him, and half raised her whip to strike, but
checked on the impulse, bethinking her in time that, after all, what the
poor lad had done he had done thinking her distressed.

The constable and a couple of his fellows won through; others were
rousing the stable and getting to horse, and in the courtyard all was
bustle and commotion. Meanwhile, however, Mr. Wilding and Trenchard had
made the most of their start, and were thundering through the town.



CHAPTER XII. AT THE FORD

As Mr. Wilding and Nick Trenchard rode hell-to-leather through Taunton
streets they never noticed a horseman at the door of the Red Lion Inn.
But the horseman noticed them. He looked up at the sound of their wild
approach, started upon recognizing them, and turned in his saddle as
they swept past him to call upon them excitedly to stop.

“Hi!” he shouted. “Nick Trenchard! Hi! Wilding!” Then, seeing that they
either did not hear or did not heed him, he loosed a volley of oaths,
wheeled his horse about, drove home the spurs, and started in pursuit.
Out of the town he followed them and along the road towards Walford,
shouting and clamouring at first, afterwards in a grim and angry
silence.

Now, despite their natural anxiety for their own safety, Wilding and
Trenchard had by no means abandoned their project of taking cover by the
ford to await the messenger whom Albemarle and the others would no
doubt be sending to Whitehall; and this mad fellow thundering after them
seemed in a fair way to mar their plan. As they reluctantly passed the
spot they had marked out for their ambush, splashed through the ford and
breasted the rising ground beyond, they took counsel. They determined
to stand and meet this rash pursuer. Trenchard calmly opined that if
necessary they must shoot him; he was, I fear, a bloody-minded fellow
at bottom, although, it is true he justified himself now by pointing out
that this was no time to hesitate at trifles. Partly because they
talked and partly because the gradient was steep and their horses
needed breathing, they slackened rein, and the horseman behind them
came tearing through the water of the ford and lessened the distance
considerably in the next few minutes.

He bethought him of using his lungs once more. “Hi, Wilding! Hold, damn
you!”

“He curses you in a most intimate manner,” quoth Trenchard.

Wilding reined in and turned in the saddle. “His voice has a familiar
sound,” said he. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked down the
slope at the pursuer, who came on crouching low upon the withers of his
goaded beast.

“Wait!” the fellow shouted. “I have news--news for you!”

“It’s Vallancey!” cried Wilding suddenly. Trenchard too had drawn
rein and was looking behind him. Instead of expressing relief at the
discovery that this was not an enemy, he swore at the trouble to
which they had so needlessly put themselves, and he was still at his
vituperations when Vallancey came up with them, red in the face and very
angry, cursing them roundly for the folly of their mad career, and for
not having stopped when he bade them.

“It was no doubt discourteous,” said Mr. Wilding “but we took you for
some friend of the Lord-Lieutenant’s.”

“Are they after you?” quoth Vallancey, his face of a sudden very
startled.

“Like enough,” said Trenchard, “if they have found their horses yet.”

“Forward, then,” Vallancey urged them in excitement, and he picked up
his reins again. “You shall hear my news as we ride.”

“Not so,” said Trenchard. “We have business here down yonder at the
ford.”

“Business? What business?”

They told him, and scarce had they got the words out than he cut in
impatiently. “That’s no matter now.

“Not yet, perhaps,” said Mr. Wilding; “but it will be if that letter
gets to Whitehall.”

“Odso!” was the impatient retort, “there’s other news travelling to
Whitehall that will make small-beer of this--and belike it’s well on its
way there already.”

“What news is that?” asked Trenchard. Vallancey told them. “The Duke has
landed--he came ashore this morning at Lyme.”

“The Duke?” quoth Mr. Wilding, whilst Trenchard merely stared. “What
Duke?”

“What Duke! Lord, you weary me! What dukes be there? The Duke of
Monmouth, man.”

“Monmouth!” They uttered the name in a breath. “But is this really
true?” asked Wilding. “Or is it but another rumour?”

“Remember the letter your friends intercepted,” Trenchard bade him.

“I am not forgetting it,” said Wilding.

“It’s no rumour,” Vallancey assured them. “I was at White Lackington
three hours ago when the news came to George Speke, and I was riding to
carry it to you, going by way of Taunton that I might drop word of it
for our friends at the Red Lion.”

Trenchard needed no further convincing; he looked accordingly dismayed.
But Wilding found it still almost impossible--in spite of what already
he had learnt--to credit this amazing news. It was hard to believe the
Duke of Monmouth mad enough to spoil all by this sudden and unheralded
precipitation.

“You heard the news at White Lackington?” said he slowly. “Who carried
it thither?”

“There were two messengers,” answered Vallancey, with restrained
impatience, “and they were Heywood Dare--who has been appointed
paymaster to the Duke’s forces--and Mr. Chamberlain.”

Mr. Wilding was observed for once to change colour. He gripped Vallancey
by the wrist. “You saw them?” he demanded, and his voice had a husky,
unusual sound. “You saw them?”

“With these two eyes,” answered Vallancey, “and I spoke with them.”

It was true, then! There was no room for further doubt.

Wilding looked at Trenchard, who shrugged his shoulders and made a wry
face. “I never thought but that we were working in the service of a
hairbrain,” said he contemptuously.

Vallancey proceeded to details. “Dare and Chamberlain,” he informed
them, “came off the Duke’s own frigate at daybreak to-day. They were put
ashore at Seatown, and they rode straight to Mr. Speke’s with the news,
returning afterwards to Lyme.”

“What men has the Duke with him, did you learn?” asked Wilding.

“Not more than a hundred or so, from what Dare told us.”

“A hundred! God help us all! And is England to be conquered with a
hundred men? Oh, this is midsummer frenzy.”

“He counts on all true Protestants to flock to his banner,” put in
Trenchard, and it was not plain whether he expressed a fact or sneered
at one.

“Does he bring money and arms, at least?” asked Wilding.

“I did not ask,” answered Vallancey. “But Dare told us that three
vessels had come over, so that it is to be supposed he brings some
manner of provision with him.”

“It is to be hoped so, Vallancey; but hardly to be supposed,” quoth
Trenchard, and then he touched Wilding on the arm and pointed with his
whip across the fields towards Taunton. A cloud of dust was rising from
between tall hedges where ran the road. “I think it were wise to be
moving. At least, this sudden landing of James Scott relieves my mind in
the matter of that letter.”

Wilding, having taken a look at the floating dust that announced the
oncoming of their pursuers, was now lost in thought. Vallancey, who,
beyond excitement at the news of which he was the bearer, seemed to have
no opinion of his own as to the wisdom or folly of the Duke’s sudden
arrival, looked from one to the other of these two men whom he had known
as the prime secret agents in the West, and waited. Trenchard moved his
horse a few paces nearer the hedge, “Whither now, Anthony?” he asked
suddenly.

“You may ask, indeed!” exclaimed Wilding, and his voice was as bitter
as ever Trenchard had heard it. “‘S heart! We are in it now! We had
best make for Lyme--if only that we may attempt to persuade this
crack-brained boy to ship back to Holland again, and ship ourselves with
him.”

“There’s sense in you at last,” grumbled Trenchard. “But I misdoubt me
he’ll turn back after having come so far. Have you any money?” he asked.
He could be very practical at times.

“A guinea or two. But I can get money at Ilminster.”

“And how do you propose to reach Ilminster with these gentlemen by way
of cutting us off?”

“We’ll double back as far as the cross-roads,” said Wilding promptly,
“and strike south over Swell Hill for Hatch. If we ride hard we can do
it easily, and have little fear of being followed. They’ll naturally
take it we have made for Bridgwater.”

They acted on the suggestion there and then, Vallancey going with them;
for his task was now accomplished, and he was all eager to get to Lyme
to kiss the hand of the Protestant Duke. They rode hard, as Wilding had
said they must, and they reached the junction of the roads before their
pursuers hove in sight. Here Wilding suddenly detained them again. The
road ahead of them ran straight for almost a mile, so that if they took
it now they were almost sure to be seen presently by the messengers.
On their right a thickly grown coppice stretched from the road to the
stream that babbled in the hollow. He gave it as his advice that they
should lie hidden there until those who hunted them should have gone by.
Obviously that was the only plan, and his companions instantly adopted
it. They found a way through a gate into an adjacent field, and from
this they gained the shelter of the trees. Trenchard, neglectful of
his finery and oblivious of the ubiquitous brambles, left his horse in
Vallancey’s care and crept to the edge of the thicket that he might take
a peep at the pursuers.

They came up very soon, six militiamen in lobster coats with yellow
facings, and a sergeant, which was what Mr. Trenchard might have
expected. There was, however, something else that Mr. Trenchard did not
expect; something that afforded him considerable surprise. At the head
of the party rode Sir Rowland Blake--obviously leading it--and with him
was Richard Westmacott. Amongst them went a man in grey clothes,
whom Mr. Trenchard rightly conjectured to be the messenger riding for
Whitehall. He thought with a smile of what a handful he and
Wilding would have had had they waited to rob that messenger of the
incriminating letter that he bore. Then he checked his smile to consider
again how Sir Rowland Blake came to head that party. He abandoned the
problem, as the little troop swept unhesitatingly round to the left and
went pounding along the road that led northwards to Bridgwater, clearly
never doubting which way their quarry had sped.

As for Sir Rowland Blake’s connection with this pursuit, the town
gallant had by his earnestness not only convinced Colonel Luttrell of
his loyalty and devotion to King James, but had actually gone so far as
to beg that he might be allowed to prove that same loyalty by leading
the soldiers to the capture of those self-confessed traitors, Mr.
Wilding and Mr. Trenchard. From his knowledge of their haunts he was
confident, he assured Colonel Luttrell, that he could be of service
to the King in this matter. The fierce sincerity of his purpose shone
through his words; Luttrell caught the accent of hate in Sir Rowland’s
tense voice, and, being a shrewd man, he saw that if Mr. Wilding was to
be taken, an enemy would surely be the best pursuer to accomplish it. So
he prevailed, and gave him the trust he sought, in spite of Albemarle’s
expressed reluctance. And never did bloodhound set out more relentlessly
purposeful upon a scent than did Sir Rowland follow now in what he
believed to be the track of this man who stood between him and Ruth
Westmacott. Until Ruth was widowed, Sir Rowland’s hopes of her must lie
fallow; and so it was with a zest that he flung himself into the task of
widowing her.

As the party passed out of view round the angle of the white road,
Trenchard made his way back to Wilding to tell him what he had seen and
to lay before him, for his enucleation, the problem of Blake’s being the
leader of it. But Wilding thought little of Blake, and cared little of
what he might be the leader.

“We’ll stay here,” said he, “until they have passed the crest of the
hill.”

This, Trenchard told him, was his own purpose; for to leave their
concealment earlier would be to reveal themselves to any of the troopers
who might happen to glance over his shoulder.

And so they waited some ten minutes or so, and then walked their horses
slowly and carefully forward through the trees towards the road. Wilding
was alongside and slightly ahead of Trenchard; Vallancey followed close
upon their tails. Suddenly, as Wilding was about to put his mare at the
low stone wall, Trenchard leaned forward and caught his bridle.

“Ss!” he hissed. “Horses!”

And now that they halted they heard the hoofbeats clear and close at
hand; the crackling of undergrowth and the rustle of the leaves through
which they had thrust their passage had deafened their ears to other
sounds until this moment. They checked and waited where they stood,
barely screened by the few boughs that still might intervene between
them and the open, not daring to advance, and not daring to retreat
lest their movements should draw attention to themselves. They remained
absolutely still, scarcely breathing, their only hope being that if
these who came should chance to be enemies they might ride on without
looking to right or left. It was so slender a hope that Wilding looked
to the priming of his pistols, whilst Trenchard, who had none, loosened
his sword in its scabbard. Nearer came the riders.

“There are not more than three,” whispered Trenchard, who had been
listening intently, and Mr. Wilding nodded, but said nothing.

Another moment and the little party was abreast of those watchers; a
dark brown riding-habit flashed into their line of vision, and a
blue one laced with gold. At sight of the first Mr. Wilding’s eyelids
flickered; he had recognized it for Ruth’s, with whom rode Diana,
whilst some twenty paces or so behind came Jerry, the groom. They were
returning to Bridgwater.

They came along, looking neither to right nor to left, as the three men
had hoped they would, and they were all but past, when suddenly Wilding
gave his roan a touch of the spur and bounded forward. Diana’s horse
swerved so that it nearly threw her. Ruth, slightly ahead, reined in at
once; so, too, did the groom in the rear, and so violently in his sudden
fear of highwaymen that he brought his horse on to its hind legs and had
it prancing and rearing madly about the road, so that he was hard put to
it to keep his seat.

Ruth looked round as Mr. Wilding’s voice greeted her.

“Mistress Wilding,” he called to her. “A moment, if I may detain you.”

“You have eluded them!” she cried, entirely off her guard in her
surprise at seeing him, and there echoed through her words a note of
genuine gladness that almost disconcerted her husband for a moment. The
next instant a crimson flush overspread her pale face, and her eyes were
veiled from him, vexation in her heart at having betrayed the lively
satisfaction it afforded her to see him safe when she feared him
captured already or at least upon the point of capture.

She had admired him almost unconsciously for his daring at the town hall
that day, when his strong calm had stood out in such sharp contrast to
the fluster and excitement of the men about him; of them all, indeed, it
had seemed to her in those stressful moments that he was the only man,
and she was--although she did not realize it--in danger of being proud
of him. Then again the thing he had done. He had come deliberately to
thrust his head into the lion’s maw that he might save her brother. It
was possible that he had done it in answer to the entreaties which she
had earlier feared she had poured into deaf ears; or it was possible
that he had done it spurred by his sense of right and justice, which
would not permit him to allow another to suffer in his stead--however
much that other might be caught in the very toils that he had prepared
for Mr. Wilding himself. Her admiration, then, was swelled by gratitude,
and it was a compound of these that had urged her to hinder the
tything-men from winning past her until he and Trenchard should have got
well away.

Afterwards, when with Diana and her groom--on a horse which Sir Edward
Phelips insisted upon lending them--she rode homeward from Taunton,
there was Diana to keep alive the spark of kindness that glowed at last
for Wilding in Ruth’s breast. Miss Horton extolled his bravery, his
chivalry, his nobility, and ended by expressing her envy of Ruth that
she should have won such a man amongst men for her husband, and wondered
what it might be that kept Ruth from claiming him for her own as was
her right. Ruth had answered little, but she had ridden very thoughtful;
there was that in the past she found it hard to forgive Wilding. And yet
she would now have welcomed an opportunity of thanking him for what he
had done, of expressing to him something of the respect he had won
in her eyes by his act of self-denunciation to save her brother. This
chance, it seemed, was given her, for there he stood, with head bared
before her; and already she thought no longer of seizing the chance,
vexed as she was at having been surprised into a betrayal of feelings
whose warmth she had until that moment scarce estimated.

In answer to her cry of “You have eluded them!” he waved a hand towards
the rising ground and the road to Bridgwater.

“They passed that way but a few moments since,” said he, “and by the
rate at which they were travelling they should be nearing Newton by now.
In their great haste to catch me they could not pause to look for me so
close at hand,” he added with a smile, “and for that I am thankful.”

She sat her horse and answered nothing, which threw her cousin out of
all patience with her. “Come, Jerry,” Diana called to the groom. “We
will walk our horses up the hill.”

“You are very good, madam,” said Mr. Wilding, and he bowed to the
withers of his roan.

Ruth said nothing; expressed neither approval nor disapproval of Diana’s
withdrawal, and the latter, with a word of greeting to Wilding, went
ahead followed by Jerry, who had regained control by now of the beast
he bestrode. Wilding watched them until they turned the corner, then he
walked his mare slowly forward until he was alongside Ruth.

“Before I go,” said he, “there is something I should like to say.” His
dark eyes were sombre, his manner betrayed some hesitation.

The diffidence of his tone proved startling to her by virtue of its
unusualness. What might it portend, she wondered, and sought with grave
eyes to read his baffling countenance; and then a wild alarm swept into
her and shook her spirit in its grip; there was something of which until
this moment she had not thought--something connected with the fateful
matter of that letter. It had stood as a barrier between them, her
buckler, her sole defence against him. It had been to her what its
sting is to the bee--a thing which if once used in self-defence is
self-destructive. Not, indeed, that she had used it as her sting; it had
been forced from her by the machinations of Trenchard; but used it had
been, and was done with; she had it no longer that with it she might
hold him in defiance, and it did not occur to her that he was no longer
in case to invoke the law.

Her face grew stony, a dry glitter came to her blue eyes; she cast a
glance over her shoulder at Diana and her servant. Wilding observed
it and read what was passing in her mind; indeed, it was not to be
mistaken, no more than what is passing in the mind of the recruit who
looks behind him in the act of charging. His lips half smiled.

“Of what are you afraid?” he asked her.

“I am not afraid,” she answered in husky accents that belied her.

Perhaps to reassure her, perhaps because he thought of his companions
lurking in the thicket and cared not to have them for his audience, he
suggested they should go a little way in the direction her cousin had
taken. She wheeled her horse, and, side by side, they ambled up the
dusty road.

“The thing I have to tell you,” said he presently, “concerns myself.”

“Does it concern me?” she asked him coldly, and her coolness was urged
partly by her newborn fears, partly to counterbalance such impression
as her illjudged show of gladness at his safety might have made upon his
mind. He flashed her a sidelong glance, the long white fingers of his
right hand toying thoughtfully with a ringlet of the dark brown hair
that fell upon the shoulders of his scarlet coat.

“Surely, madam,” he answered dryly, “what concerns a man may well
concern his wife.”

She bowed her head, her eyes upon the road before her. “True,” said she,
her voice expressionless. “I had forgot.”

He reined in and turned to look at her; her horse moved on a pace or
two, then came to a halt, apparently of its own accord.

“I do protest,” said he, “you treat me less kindly than I deserve.” He
urged his mare forward until he had come up with her again, and
then drew rein once more. “I think that I may lay some claim to--at
least--your gratitude for what I did to-day.”

“It is my inclination to be grateful,” said she. She was very wary of
him. “Forgive me, if I am still mistrustful.”

“But of what?” he cried, a thought impatiently.

“Of you. What ends did you seek to serve? Was it to save Richard that
you came?”

“Unless you think that it was to save Blake,” he said ironically. “What
other ends do you conceive I could have served?” She made him no answer,
and so he resumed after a pause. “I rode to Taunton to serve you for two
reasons; because you asked me, and because I would have no innocent men
suffer in my stead--not even though, as these men, they were but caught
in their own toils, hoist with the petard they had charged for me.
Beyond these two motives, I had no other thought in ruining myself.”

“Ruining yourself?” she cried. Yes, it was true; but she had not thought
of it until this moment; there had been so much to think of.

“Is it not ruin to be outlawed, to have a price set upon your head, as
will no doubt a price be set on mine when Albemarle’s messenger shall
have reached Whitehall? Is it not ruin to have my lands and all I
own made forfeit to the State, to find myself a beggar, hunted and
proscribed? Forgive me that I harass you with this catalogue of my
misfortunes. You’ll say, no doubt, that I have brought them upon myself
by compelling you against your will to marry me.

“I’ll not deny that it is in my mind,” said she, and of set purpose
stifled pity.

He sighed and looked at her again, but she would not meet his eye, else
its whimsical expression might have intrigued her. “Can you deny my
magnanimity, I wonder?” said he, and spoke almost as one amused. “All I
had I sacrificed to do your will, to save your brother from the snare
of his own contriving against me. I wonder do you yet realize how much
I sacrificed to-day at Taunton! I wonder!” And he paused, looking at her
and waiting for some word from her; but she had none for him.

“Clearly you do not, else I think you would show me if only a pretence
of kindness.” She was looking at him at last, her eyes less hard. They
seemed to ask him to explain. “When you came this morning with the
tale of how the tables had been turned upon your brother, of how he
was caught in his own springe, and the letter found in his keeping was
before the King’s folk at Taunton with every appearance of having been
addressed to him, and not a tittle of evidence to show that it had been
meant for me, do you know what news it was you brought me?” He paused
a second, looking at her from narrowing eyes. Then he answered his own
question. “You brought me the news that you were mine to take whensoe’er
I pleased. Whilst that letter was in your hands it gave you the power to
make me your obedient slave. You might blow upon me as you listed whilst
you held it, and I was a vane that must turn to your blowing for my
honour’s sake and for the sake of the cause in which I worked. Through
no rashness of mine must that letter come into the hands of the King’s
friends, else was I dishonoured. It was an effective barrier between us.
So long as you possessed that letter you might pipe as you pleased, and
I must dance to the tune you set. And then this morning what you came to
tell me was that things were changed; that it was mine to call the tune.
Had I had the strength to be a villain, you had been mine now, and
your brother and Sir Rowland might have hanged on the rope of their own
weaving.”

She looked at him in a startled, almost shamefaced manner. This was an
aspect of the case she had not considered.

“You realize it, I see,” he said, and smiled wistfully. “Then perhaps
you realize why you found me so unwilling to do the thing you craved.
Having treated me ungenerously, you came to cast yourself upon my
generosity, asking me--though I scarcely think you understood--to beggar
myself of life itself with all it held for me. God knows I make no
pretence to virtue, and yet I think I had been something more than human
had I not refused you and the bargain you offered--a bargain that you
would never be called upon to fulfil if I did the thing you asked.”

At last she interrupted him; she could bear it no longer.

“I had not thought of it!” she cried. It was a piteous wail that broke
from her. “I swear I had not thought of that. I was all distraught for
poor Richard’s sake. Oh, Mr. Wilding,” she turned to him, holding out a
hand; her eyes shone, filmed with moisture, “I shall have a kindness
for you... all my days for your... generosity to-day.” It was lamentably
weak, far from the hot expressions which she forced it to replace.

“Yes, I was generous,” he admitted. “We will move on as far as the
cross-roads.” Again they ambled gently forward. Up the slope from the
ford Diana and Jerry were slowly climbing; not another human being was
in sight ahead or behind them. “After you left me,” he continued, “your
memory and your entreaties lingered with me. I gave the matter of our
position thought, and it seemed to me that all was monstrously ill-done.
I loved you, Ruth, I needed you, and you disdained me. My love was
master of me. But ‘neath your disdain it was transmuted oddly.” He
checked the passion that was vibrating in his voice and resumed after
a pause, in the calm, slow tones, soft and musical, that were his own.
“There is scarce the need for so much recapitulation. When the power
was mine I bent you unfairly to my will; you did as much by me when
the power suddenly became yours. It was a strange war between us, and I
accepted its conditions. To-day, when the power was mine again, mine
to bring you at last to subjection, behold, I have capitulated at
your bidding, and all that I held--including your own self--have I
relinquished. It is perhaps fitting. Haply I am punished for having wed
you before I had wooed you.” Again his tone changed, it grew more cold,
more matter-of-fact. “I rode this way a little while ago a hunted man,
my only hope to reach home and collect what moneys and valuables I could
carry, and make for the coast to find a vessel bound for Holland. I
have been engaged, as you know, in stirring up rebellion to check the
iniquities and persecutions that are toward in a land I love. I’ll not
weary you with details. Time was needed for this as for all things, and
by next spring, perhaps, had matters gone well, this vineyard that so
carefully and secretly I have been tending, would have been, maybe, in
condition to bear fruit. Even now, in the hour of my flight, I learn
that others have come to force this delicate growth into sudden
maturity. There! Soon ripe, soon rotten. The Duke of Monmouth has landed
at Lyme this morning. I am riding to him.”

“To what end?” she cried, and he saw in her face a dismay that amounted
almost to fear, and he wondered was it for him.

“To place my sword at his service. Were I not encompassed by this
ruin, I should not have stirred a foot in that direction--so rash, so
foredoomed to failure is this invasion. As it is,”--he shrugged and
laughed--“it is the only hope--all forlorn though it may be--for me.”

The trammels she had imposed upon her soul fell away at that like bonds
of cobweb. She laid her hand upon his wrists, tears stood in her eyes;
her lips quivered.

“Anthony, forgive me,” she besought him. He trembled under her touch,
under the caress of her voice, and at the sound of his name for the
first time upon her lips.

“What have I to forgive?” he asked.

“The thing that I did in the matter of that letter.”

“You poor child,” said he, smiling gently upon her, “you did it in
self-defence.”

“Yet say that you forgive me--say it before you go!” she begged him.

He considered her gravely a moment. “To what end,” he asked, “do you
imagine that I have talked so much? To the end that I might show you
that however I may have wronged you I have at the last made some amends;
and that for the sake of this, the truest proof of penitence, I may have
your forgiveness ere I go.”

She was weeping softly. “It was an ill day on which we met,” she sighed.

“For you--aye.”

“Nay--for you.

“We’ll say for both of us, then,” he compromised. “See, Ruth, your
cousin grows weary, and I have a couple of comrades who are no doubt
impatient to be gone. It may not be good for us to tarry in these parts.
Some amends I have made; but there is one crowning wrong which I have
done you for which there is but one amend to make.” He paused. He
steadied himself before continuing. In his attempt to render his voice
cold and commonplace he went near to achieving harshness. “It may be
that this crackbrained rebellion of which the torch is already alight
will, if it does no other good in England, at least make a widow of you.
When that has come to pass, when I have thus repaired the wrong I
did you, I hope you’ll bear me as kindly as may be in your thought.
Good-bye, my Ruth! I would you might have loved me. I sought to force
it.” He smiled ever so wanly. “Perhaps that was my mistake. It is an
ill thing to eat one’s hay while it is grass.” He raised to his lips the
little gloved hand that still rested on his wrist. “God keep you, Ruth!”
 he murmured.

She sought to answer him, but something choked her; a sob was all she
achieved. Had he caught her to him in that moment there is little doubt
but that she had yielded. Perhaps he knew it; and knowing it kept the
tighter rein upon desire. She was as metal molten in the crucible, to be
moulded by his craftsman’s hands into any pattern that he chose. But the
crucible was the crucible of pity, not of love; that, too, he knew, and,
knowing it, forbore.

He dropped her hand, doffed his hat, and, wheeling his horse about,
touched it with the spur and rode back towards the thicket where his
friends awaited him. As he left her, she too wheeled about, as if to
follow him. She strove to command her voice that she might recall him;
but at that same moment Trenchard, hearing his returning hoofs, thrust
out into the road with Vallancey following at his heels. The old
player’s harsh voice reached her where she stood, and it was querulous
with impatience.

“What a plague do you mean, dallying here at such a time, Anthony?” he
cried, to which Vallancey added: “In God’s name, let us push on.”

At that she checked her impulse--it may even be that she mistrusted it.
She paused, lingering undecided for an instant; then, turning her horse
once more, she ambled up the slope to rejoin Diana.



CHAPTER XIII. “PRO RELIGIONE ET LIBERTATE”

The evening was far advanced when Mr. Wilding and his two companions
descended to Uplyme Common from the heights whence as they rode they had
commanded a clear view of the fair valley of the Axe, lying now under a
thin opalescent veil of evening mist.

They had paused at Ilminster for fresh horses, and there Wilding had
paid a visit to one of his agents from whom he had procured a hundred
guineas. Thence they had come south at a sharp pace, and with little
said. Wilding was moody and thoughtful, filled with chagrin at this
unconscionable rashness of the man upon whom all his hopes were centred.
As they cantered briskly across Uplyme Common in the twilight they
passed several bodies of countrymen, all heading for the town, and one
group sent up a shout of “God save the Protestant Duke!” as they rode
past him.

“Amen to that,” muttered Mr. Wilding grimly, “for I am afraid that no
man can.”

In the narrow lane by Hay Farm a horseman, going in the opposite
direction, passed them at the gallop; but they had met several such
since leaving Ilminster, for indeed the news was spreading fast, and the
whole countryside was alive with messengers, some on foot and some on
horseback, but all hurrying as if their lives depended on their haste.

They made their way to the Market-Place where Monmouth’s
declaration--that remarkable manifesto from the pen of Ferguson--had
been read some hours before. Thence, having ascertained where His Grace
was lodged, they made their way to the George Inn.

In Coombe Street they found the crowd so dense that they could but with
difficulty open out a way for their horses through the human press.
Not a window but was open, and thronged with sight-seers--mostly women,
indeed, for the men were in the press below. On every hand resounded the
cries of “A Monmouth! A Monmouth! The Protestant Religion! Religion and
Liberty,” which latter were the words inscribed on the standard Monmouth
had set up that evening on the Church Cliffs.

In truth, Wilding was amazed at what he saw, and said as much to
Trenchard. So pessimistic had been his outlook that he had almost
expected to find the rebellion snuffed out by the time they reached
Lyme-of-the-King. What had the authorities been about that they had
permitted Monmouth to come ashore, or had Vallancey’s information been
wrong in the matter of the numbers that accompanied the Protestant
Champion? Wilding’s red coat attracted some attention. In the dusk its
colour was almost all that could be discerned of it.

“Here’s a militia captain for the Duke!” cried one, and others took up
the cry, and if it did nothing else it opened a way for them through
that solid human mass and permitted them to win through to the yard of
the George Inn. They found the spacious quadrangle thronged with men,
armed and unarmed, and on the steps stood a tall, well-knit, soldierly
man, his hat rakishly cocked, about whom a crowd of townsmen and
country fellows were pressing with insistence. At a glance Mr. Wilding
recognized Captain Venner--raised to the rank of colonel by Monmouth on
the way from Holland.

Trenchard dismounted, and taking a distracted stable-boy by the arm,
bade him see to their horses. The fellow endeavoured to swing himself
free of the other’s tenacious grasp.

“Let me go,” he cried. “I am for the Duke!”

“And so are we, my fine rebel,” answered Trenchard, holding fast.

“Let me go,” the lout insisted. “I am going to enlist.”

“And so you shall when you have stabled our nags. See to him, Vallancey;
he is brainsick with the fumes of war.”

The fellow protested, but Trenchard’s way was brisk and short; and so,
protesting still, he led away their cattle in the end, Vallancey going
with him to see that he performed this last duty as a stable-boy ere he
too became a champion militant of the Protestant Cause. Trenchard sped
after Wilding, who was elbowing his way through the yokels about the
steps. The glare of a newly lighted lamp from the doorway fell full upon
his long white face as he advanced, and Venner espied and recognized
him.

“Mr. Wilding!” he cried, and there was a glad ring in his voice,
for though cobblers, tailors, deserters from the militia, pot-boys,
stable-boys, and shuffling yokels had been coming in in numbers during
the past few hours since the Declaration had been read, this was the
first gentleman that arrived to welcome Monmouth. The soldier stretched
out a hand to grasp the newcomer’s. “His Grace will see you this
instant, not a doubt of it.” He turned and called down the passage.
“Cragg!” A young man in a buff coat came forward, and to him Venner
delivered Wilding and Trenchard that he might announce them to His
Grace.

In the room that had been set apart for him abovestairs, Monmouth still
sat at table. He had just supped, with but an indifferent appetite,
so fevered was he by the events of his landing. He was excited with
hope--inspired by the readiness with which the men of Lyme and its
neighbourhood had flocked to his banner--and fretted by anxiety that
none of the gentry of the vicinity should yet have followed the example
of the meaner folk, in answer to the messages dispatched at dawn from
Seaton. The board at which he sat was still cumbered with some glasses
and platters and vestiges of his repast. Below him on his right sat
Ferguson--that prince of plotters--very busy with pen and ink, his keen
face almost hidden by his great periwig; opposite were Lord Grey, of
Werke, and Andrew Fletcher, of Saltoun, whilst, standing at the foot of
the table barely within the circle of candlelight from the branch on the
polished oak, was Nathaniel Wade, the lawyer, who had fled to Holland
on account of his alleged complicity in the Rye House plot and was now
returned a major in the Duke’s service. Erect and soldierly of figure,
girt with a great sword and with the butt of a pistol protruding from
his belt, he had little the air of a man whose methods of contention
were forensic.

“You understand, then, Major Wade,” His Grace was saying, his voice
pleasant and musical. “It is decided that the guns had best be got
ashore forthwith and mounted.”

Wade bowed. “I shall set about it at once, Your Grace. I shall not want
for help. Have I Your Grace’s leave to go?”

Monmouth nodded, and as Wade passed out, Ensign Cragg entered to
announce Mr. Wilding and Mr. Trenchard. The Duke rose to his feet, his
glance suddenly brightening. Fletcher and Grey rose with him; Ferguson
paid no heed, absorbed in his task, which he industriously continued.

“At last!” exclaimed the Duke. “Admit them, sir.”

When they entered, Wilding coming first, his hat under his arm, the Duke
sprang to meet him, a tall young figure, lithe and slender as a blade of
steel, and of a steely strength for all his slimness. He was dressed in
a suit of purple that became him marvellously well, and on his breast a
star of diamonds flashed and smouldered like a thing of fire. He was
of an exceeding beauty of face, wherein he mainly favoured that “bold,
handsome woman” that was his mother, without, however, any of his
mother’s insipidity; fine eyes, a good nose, straight and slender, and
a mouth which, if sensual and indicating a lack of strength, was
beautifully shaped. His chin was slightly cleft, the shape of his face
a delicate oval, framed now in the waving masses of his brown wig. Some
likeness to his late Majesty was also discernible, in spite of the wart,
out of which his uncle James made so much capital.

There was a slight flush on his cheeks, an added lustre in his eye, as
he took Wilding’s hand and shook it heartily before Wilding had time to
kiss His Grace’s.

“You are late,” he said, but there was no reproach in his voice. “We had
looked to find you here when we came ashore. You had my letter?”

“I had not, Your Grace,” answered Wilding, very grave. “It was stolen.”

“Stolen?” cried the Duke, and behind him Grey pressed forward, whilst
even Ferguson paused in his writing to raise his piercing eyes and
listen.

“It is no matter,” Wilding reassured him. “Although stolen, it has but
gone to Whitehall to-day, when it can add little to the news that is
already on its way there.”

The Duke laughed softly, with a flash of white teeth, and looked past
Wilding at Trenchard. Some of the light faded out of his eyes. “They
told me Mr. Trenchard...” he began, when Wilding, half turning to his
friend, explained.

“This is Mr. Nicholas Trenchard--John Trenchard’s cousin.

“I bid you welcome, sir,” said the Duke, very agreeably, “and I trust
your cousin follows you.”

“Alas,” said Trenchard, “my cousin is in France,” and in a few brief
words he related the matter of John Trenchard’s home-coming on his
acquittal and the trouble there had been connected with it.

The Duke received the news in silence. He had expected good support from
old Speke’s son-in-law. Indeed, there was a promise that when he came,
John Trenchard would bring fifteen hundred men from Taunton. He took a
turn in the room deep in thought, and there was a pause until Ferguson,
rubbing his great Roman nose, asked suddenly had Mr. Wilding seen the
Declaration. Mr. Wilding had not, and thereupon the plotting parson, who
was proud of his composition, would have read it to him there and then,
but that Grey sourly told him the matter would keep, and that they had
other things to discuss with Mr. Wilding.

This the Duke himself confirmed, stating that there were matters on
which he would be glad to have their opinion.

He invited the newcomers to draw chairs to the table; glasses were
called for, and a couple of fresh bottles of Canary went round the
board. The talk was desultory for a few moments, whilst Wilding and
Trenchard washed the dust from their throats; then Monmouth broke the
ice by asking them bluntly what they thought of his coming thus, earlier
than was at first agreed.

Wilding never hesitated in his reply. “Frankly, Your Grace,” said he, “I
like it not at all.”

Fletcher looked up sharply, his clear intelligent eyes full upon
Wilding’s calm face, his countenance expressing as little as did
Wilding’s. Ferguson seemed slightly taken aback. Grey’s thick lips were
twisted in a sneering smile.

“Faith,” said the latter with elaborate sarcasm, “in that case it only
remains for us to ship again, heave anchor, and back to Holland.”

“It is what I should advise,” said Wilding slowly and quietly, “if I
thought there was a chance of my advice being taken.” He had a calm,
almost apathetic way of uttering startling things which rendered them
doubly startling. The sneer seemed to freeze on Lord Grey’s lips;
Fletcher continued to stare, but his eyes had grown more round; Ferguson
scowled darkly. The Duke’s boyish face--it was still very youthful
despite his six-and-thirty years--expressed a wondering consternation.
He looked at Wilding, and from Wilding to the others, and his glance
seemed to entreat them to suggest an answer to him. It was Grey at last
who took the matter up.

“You shall explain your meaning, sir, or we must hold you a traitor,” he
exclaimed.

“King James does that already,” answered Wilding with a quiet smile.

“D’ye mean the Duke of York?” rumbled Ferguson’s Scottish accent with
startling suddenness, and Monmouth nodded approval of the correction.
“If ye mean that bloody papist and fratricide, it were well so to speak
of him. Had ye read the Declaration...”

But Fletcher cropped his speech in mid-growth. He was ever a
short-tempered man, intolerant of irrelevancies.

“It were well, perhaps,” said he, his accent abundantly proclaiming him
a fellow countryman of Ferguson’s, “to keep to the matter before us. Mr.
Wilding, no doubt, will state the reasons that exist, or that he fancies
may exist, for giving advice which is hardly worthy of the cause to
which he stands committed.”

“Aye, Fletcher,” said Monmouth, “there is sense in you. Tell us what is
in your mind, Mr. Wilding.”

“It is in my mind, Your Grace, that this invasion is rash, premature,
and ill-advised.”

“Odds life!” cried Grey, and he swung angrily round fully to face the
Duke, the nostrils of his heavy nose dilating. “Are we to listen to this
milksop prattle?”

Nick Trenchard, who had hitherto been silent, cleared his throat so
noisily that he drew all eyes to himself.

“Your Grace,” Mr. Wilding pursued, his air calm and dignified, and
gathering more dignity from the circumstance that he proceeded as if
there had been no interruption, “when I had the honour of conferring
with you at The Hague two months ago, it was agreed that you should
spend the summer in Sweden--away from politics and scheming, leaving
the work of preparation to your accredited agents here. That work I have
been slowly but surely pushing forward. It was not to be hurried; men of
position are not to be won over in a day; men with anything to lose need
some guarantee that they are not wantonly casting their possessions to
the winds. By next spring, as was agreed, all would have been ready.
Delay could not have hurt you. Indeed, with every day by which you
delayed your coming you did good service to your cause, you strengthened
its prospects of success; for every day the people’s burden of
oppression and persecution grows more heavy, and the people’s temper
more short; every day, by the methods that he is pursuing, King James
brings himself into deeper hatred. This hatred is spreading. It was
the business of myself and those others to help it on, until from the
cottage of the ploughman the infection of anger should have spread
to the mansion of the squire. Had Your Grace but given me time, as
I entreated you, and as you promised me, you might have marched to
Whitehall with scarce the shedding of a drop of blood; had Your Grace
but waited until we were ready, England would have so trembled at your
landing that your uncle’s throne would have toppled over ‘neath the
shock. As it is...” He shrugged his shoulders, sighed and spread his
hands, leaving his sentence uncompleted.

Monmouth sat sobered by these sober words; the intoxication that had
come to him from the little measure of success that had attended the
opening of the listing on Church Cliffs, deserted him now; he saw the
thing stark and in its true proportions, and not even the shouting of
the folk in the streets below, crying his name and acclaiming him their
champion, served to lighten the gloom that Wilding’s words cast like
a cloud over his volatile heart. Alas, poor Monmouth! He was ever a
weathercock, and even as Wilding’s words seemed to strike the courage
out of him, so did Grey’s short contemptuous answer restore it.

“As it is, we’ll thrust that throne over with our hands,” said he after
a moment’s pause.

“Aye,” cried Monmouth. “We’ll do it, God helping us!”

“Our dependence and trust is in the Lord of Hosts, in Whose Name we
go forth,” boomed the voice of Ferguson, quoting from his precious
Declaration. “The Lord will do that which seemeth good unto Him.”

“An unanswerable argument,” said Wilding, smiling. “But the Lord, I am
told by the gentlemen of your cloth, works in His own good time, and my
fears are all lest, finding us unprepared of ourselves, the Lord’s good
time be not yet.”

“Out on ye, sir,” cried Ferguson. “Ye want for reverence!”

“Common sense will serve us better at the moment,” answered Wilding
with a touch of sharpness. He turned to the frowning and perplexed
Duke--whose mind was being tossed this way and that, like a shuttlecock
upon the battledore of these men’s words. “Your Grace,” he said,
“forgive me that I speak it if hear it you will, or forbid me to say it
if your resolve is unalterable in this matter.”

“It is unalterable,” answered Grey for the Duke.

But Monmouth gently overruled him for once.

“Nevertheless, speak by all means, Mr. Wilding. Whatever you may say,
you need have no fear that any of us can doubt your good intentions to
ourselves.”

“I thank Your Grace. What I have to say is but a repetition of the
first words I uttered at this table. I would urge Your Grace even now to
retreat.”

“What? Are you mad?” It was Lord Grey who asked the impatient question.

“I doubt it’s over-late for that,” said Fletcher slowly.

“I am not so sure,” answered Wilding. “But I am sure that to attempt it
were the safer course--the surer in the end. I myself may not linger
to push forward the task of stirring up the people, for I am already
something more than under suspicion. But there are others who will
remain to carry on the work after I have departed with Your Grace, if
Your Grace thinks well. From the Continent by correspondence we can
mature our plans. In a twelvemonth things will be very different, and we
can return with confidence.”

Grey shrugged and turned his shoulder upon Wilding, but said no word.
There was silence of some few moments. Andrew Fletcher leaned his elbow
on the table and took his brow in his great bony hand. Wilding’s words
seemed an echo of those he himself had spoken a week or two ago, only to
be overruled by Grey, who swayed the Duke more than did any other--and
that he did not do so of fell purpose, and seeking deliberately to work
Monmouth’s ruin, no man will ever be able to say with certainty.

Ferguson rose, a tall, spare, stooping figure, and smote the board with
his fist. “It is a good cause,” he cried, “and God will not leave us
unless we leave Him.”

“Henry the Seventh landed with fewer men than did Your Grace,” said
Grey, “and he succeeded.”

“True,” put in Fletcher. “But Henry the Seventh was sure of the support
of not a few of the nobility, which does not seem to be our case.”

Ferguson and Grey stared at him in horror; Monmouth sat biting his lip,
more bewildered than thoughtful.

“O man of little faith!” roared Ferguson in a passion. “Are ye to be
swayed like a straw in the wind?”

“I am no’ swayed. Ye ken this was ever my own view. I feel, in my heart,
that what Mr. Wilding says is right. It is but what I said myself, and
Captain Matthews with me, before we embarked upon this expedition. We
were in danger of ruining all by a needless precipitancy. Nay, man,
never stare so,” he said to Grey, “I am in it now and I am no’ the man
to draw back, nor do I go so far as Mr. Wilding in counselling such a
course. We’ve set our hands to the plough; let us go forward in God’s
name. Yet I would remind you that what Mr. Wilding says is true. Had
we waited until next year, we had found the usurper’s throne tottering
under him, and, on our landing, it would have toppled o’er of itself.”

“I have said already that we’ll overset it with our hands,” Grey
answered.

“How many hands have you?” asked a new voice, a crisp, discordant voice,
much steeped in mockery. It was Nick Trenchard’s.

“Have we another here of Mr. Wilding’s mind?” cried Grey, staring at
him.

“I am seldom of any other,” answered Trenchard.

“We shall no’ want for hands,” Ferguson assured him. “Had ye arrived
earlier ye might have seen how readily men enlisted.” He had risen and
approached the window as he spoke; he pulled it open, to let in the full
volume of sound that rose from the street below.

“A Monmouth! A Monmouth!” voices shouted.

Ferguson struck a theatrical posture, one long, lean arm stretched
outward from the shoulder.

“Ye hear them, sirs,” he cried, and there was a gleam of triumph in his
eye. “That is answer enough to those who want for faith, to the feckless
ones that think the Lord will abandon those that have set out to serve
Him,” and his glance comprehended Fletcher, Trenchard, and Wilding.

The Duke stirred in his chair, stretched a hand for the bottle and
filled a glass. His mercurial spirits were rising again. He smiled at
Wilding.

“I think you are answered, sir,” said he; “and I hope that like Fletcher
there, who shared your doubts, you will come to agree that since we have
set our hands to the plough we must go forward.”

“I have said that which I had it on my conscience to say. Your Grace may
have found me over-ready with my counsel; at least you shall find me no
less ready with my sword.”

“Odso! That is better.” Grey applauded, and his manner was almost
pleasant.

“I never doubted it, Mr. Wilding,” His Grace replied; “but I should like
to hear you say that you are convinced--at least in part,” and he
waved his hand towards the window. It was almost as if he pleaded for
encouragement. In common with most men who came in contact with Wilding,
he had felt the latent force of this man’s nature, the strength that was
hidden under that calm surface, and the acuteness of the judgment that
must be wedded to it. He longed to have the word of such a man that his
enterprise was not as desperate as Wilding had seemed at first to paint
it. But Wilding made no concession to hopes or desires when he dealt
with facts.

“Men will flock to you, no doubt; persecution has wearied many of the
country-folk, and they are ready for revolt. But they are all untrained
in arms; they are rustics, not soldiers. If any of the men of position
were to rally round your standard they would bring the militia, and
others in their train; they would bring arms, horses, and money, all of
which Your Grace must be sorely needing.”

“They will come,” answered the Duke.

“Some, no doubt,” Wilding agreed; “but had it been next year, I would
have answered for it that it would have been no handful had ridden in
to welcome you. Scarce a gentleman of Devon or Somerset, of Dorset or
Hampshire, of Wiltshire or Cheshire but would have hastened to your
side.”

“They will come as it is,” the Duke repeated with an almost womanish
insistence, persisting in believing what he hoped, all evidence apart.

The door opened and Ensign Cragg made his appearance. “May it please
Your Grace,” he announced, “Mr. Battiscomb has just arrived, and asks
will Your Grace receive him to-night?”

“Battiscomb!” cried the Duke. Again his cheek flushed and his eye
sparkled. “Aye, in Heaven’s name, show him up.”

“And may the Lord refresh us with good tidings!” prayed Ferguson
devoutly.

Monmouth turned to Wilding. “It is the agent I sent ahead of me from
Holland to stir up the gentry from here to the Mersey.”

“I know,” said Wilding; “we conferred together some weeks since.”

“Now you shall see how idle are your fears,” the Duke promised him.

And Wilding, who was better informed on that score, kept silence.



CHAPTER XIV. HIS GRACE’ IN COUNSEL

Mr. Christopher Battiscomb, that mild-mannered Dorchester gentleman,
who, like Wade, was by vocation a lawyer, was ushered into the Duke’s
presence. He was dressed in black, and, like Ferguson, was almost
smothered in a great periwig, which he may have adopted for purposes of
disguise rather than adornment. Certainly he had none of that air of
the soldier of fortune which distinguished his brother of the robe. He
advanced, hat in hand, towards the table, greeting the company about it,
and Wilding observed that he wore silk stockings and shoes, upon which
there rested not a speck of dust. Mr. Battiscomb was plainly a man who
loved his ease, since on such a day he had travelled to Lyme in a coach.
The lawyer bent low to kiss the Duke’s hand, and scarce was that formal
homage paid than questions poured upon him from Grey, from Fletcher, and
from Ferguson.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” the Duke entreated them, smiling; and
remembering their manners they fell silent.

As Wilding afterwards told Trenchard, they reminded him of a parcel of
saucy lacqueys who take liberties with an upstart master for whom they
are wanting in respect.

“I am glad to see you, Battiscomb,” said Monmouth, when quiet was
restored, “and I trust I behold in you a bearer of good tidings.”

The lawyer’s full face was usually pale; to-night it was, in addition,
solemn, and the smile that haunted his lips was a courtesy smile that
expressed neither mirth nor satisfaction. He cleared his throat, as if
nervous. He avoided the Duke’s question as to the quality of the news
he brought by answering that he had made all haste to come to Lyme upon
hearing of His Grace’s landing. He was surprised, he said; as well he
might be, for the arrangement was that having done his work he was to
return to Holland and report to Monmouth upon the feeling of the gentry.

“But your news, Battiscomb,” the Duke insisted. “Aye,” put in Grey; “in
Heaven’s name, let us hear that.”

Again there was the little nervous cough from Battiscomb. “I have scarce
had time to complete my round of visits,” he temporized. “Your Grace
has taken us so by surprise. I... I was with Sir Walter Young at Colyton
when the news of your landing came some few hours ago.” His voice
faltered and seemed to die away.

“Well?” cried the Duke. His brows were drawn together. Already he
realized that Battiscomb’s tidings were not good, else would he be
hesitating less in uttering them. “Is Sir Walter with you, at least?”

“I grieve to say that he is not.”

“Not?” It was Grey who spoke, and he followed the ejaculation by an
oath. “Why not?”

“He is following, no doubt?” suggested Fletcher.

“We may hope, sirs,” answered Battiscomb, “that in a few days--when he
shall have seen the zeal of the countryside--he will be cured of his
present luke-warmness.” Thus, discreetly, did the man of law break the
bad news he bore.

Monmouth sank back into his chair like one who has lost some of
his strength. “Lukewarmness?” he repeated dully. “Sir Walter Young
lukewarm!”

“Even so, Your Grace--alas!” and Battiscomb sighed audibly.

Ferguson’s voice boomed forth again to startle them. “The ox knoweth his
owner,” he cried, “the ass his master’s crib; but Israel doth not know,
my people doth not consider.”

Grey pushed the bottle contemptuously across the table to the parson.
“Drink, man, and get sense, said he, and turned aside to question
Battiscomb touching others of the neighbourhood upon whom they had
depended.

“What of Sir Francis Rolles?” he inquired.

Battiscomb answered the question, addressing himself to the Duke.

“Alas! Sir Francis, no doubt, would have been faithful to Your Grace,
but, unfortunately, Sir Francis is in prison already.”

Deeper grew Monmouth’s frown; his fingers drummed the table absently.
Fletcher poured himself wine, his face inscrutable. Grey threw one leg
over the other and in a voice that was carefully careless he inquired,
“And what of Sidney Clifford?”

“He is considering,” said Battiscomb. “I was to have seen him again at
the end of the month; meanwhile, he would take no resolve.”

“Lord Gervase Scoresby?” questioned Grey, less carelessly.

Battiscomb half turned to him, then faced the Duke again as he made
answer, “Mr. Wilding there, can tell you more concerning Lord Gervase.”

All eyes swept round to Wilding who sat in silence, listening;
Monmouth’s were laden with inquiry and some anxiety. Wilding shook his
head slowly, sadly. “You must not depend upon him,” he answered; “Lord
Gervase was not yet ripe. A little longer and I think I must have won
him for Your Grace.”

“Heaven help us!” exclaimed the Duke in petulant vexation. “Is no one
coming in?”

Ferguson swung a hand towards the still open window, drawing attention
to the sounds without.

“Does Your Grace not hear, that ye can ask?” he cried, almost
reproachfully; but they scarce heeded him, for Grey was inquiring if
Mr. Strode might be depended upon to join, and that was a matter that
claimed the greater attention.

“I think,” said Battiscomb, “that he might have been depended upon.”

“Might have been?” questioned Fletcher, speaking now for the first time
since Battiscomb’s arrival.

“Like Sir Francis Rolles, he is in prison,” the lawyer explained.

Monmouth leaned forward, and his young face looked careworn now; he
thrust a slender hand under the brown curls upon his brow. “Will you
tell us, Mr. Battiscomb, upon what friends you think that we may count?”
 he said.

Battiscomb pursed his lips a second, pondering. “I think,” said he,
“that you may count upon Mr. Legge and Mr. Hooper, and possibly upon
Colonel Churchill, though I cannot say what following they will bring,
if any. Mr. Trenchard, upon whom we counted for fifteen hundred men of
Taunton, has been obliged to fly the country to escape arrest.”

“We have heard that from Mr. Trenchard’s cousin,” answered the Duke.
“What of Prideaux, of Ford? Is he lukewarm?”

“I was unable to elicit a definite promise from him. But he was
favourably disposed to Your Grace.”

His Grace made a gesture that seemed to dismiss Prideaux from their
calculations. “And Mr. Hucker, of Taunton?”

Battiscomb’s manner grew yet more ill at ease. “Mr. Hucker himself, I
am sure, would place his sword at your disposal. But his brother is a
red-hot Tory.”

“Well, well,” sighed the Duke, “I take it we must not make certain of
Mr. Hucker. Are there any others besides Legge and Hooper upon whom you
think that we may reckon?”

“Lord Wiltshire, perhaps,” said Battiscomb, but with a lack of
assurance.

“A plague on perhaps!” exclaimed Monmouth, growing irritable; “I want
you to name the men of whom you are certain.”

Battiscomb stood silent for a moment, pondering. He looked almost
foolish, like a schoolboy who hesitates to confess his ignorance of the
answer to a question set him.

Fletcher swung round, his grey eyes flashing angrily, his accent more
Scottish than ever.

“Is it that ye’re certain o’ none, Mr. Battiscomb?” he exclaimed.

“Indeed,” said Battiscomb, “I think we may be fairly certain of Mr.
Legge and Mr. Hooper.”

“And of none besides?” questioned Fletcher again. “Be these the only
representatives of the flower of England’s nobility that is to flock to
the banner of the cause of England’s freedom and religion?” Scorn was
stamped on every word of his question.

Battiscomb spread his hands, raised his brows, and said nothing.

“The Lord knows I do not say it exulting,” said Fletcher; “but I told
Your Grace yours was hardly the case of Henry the Seventh, as my Lord
Grey would have you believe.”

“We shall see,” snapped Grey, scowling at the Scot. “The people are
coming in hundreds--aye, in thousands--the gentry will follow; they
must.”

“Make not too sure, Your Grace--oh, make not too sure,” Wilding besought
the Duke. “As I have said, these hinds have nothing to lose but their
lives.”

“Faith, can a man lose more?” asked Grey contemptuously. He disliked
Wilding by instinct, which was but a reciprocation of the feeling with
which Wilding was inspired by him.

“I think he can,” said Mr. Wilding quietly. “A man may lose honour, he
may plunge his family into ruin. These are things of more weight with a
gentleman than life.”

“Odds death!” blazed Grey, giving a free rein to his dislike of this
calm gentleman. “Do you suggest that a man’s honour is imperilled in His
Grace’s service?”

“I suggest nothing,” answered Wilding, unmoved. “What I think, I state.
If I thought a man’s honour imperilled in this service, you would not
see me at this table now. I can make you no more convincing answer.”

Grey laughed unpleasantly, and Wilding, a faint tinge on his
cheek-bones, measured him with a stern, intrepid look before which his
lordship’s shifty glance was observed to fall. Wilding’s eye, having
achieved that much, passed from him to the Duke, and its expression
softened.

“Your Grace sees,” said he, “how well founded were the fears I expressed
that your coming has been premature.”

“In God’s name, what would you have me do?” cried the Duke, and
petulance made his voice unsteady.

Mr. Wilding rose, moved out of his habitual calm by the earnestness
that pervaded him. “It is not for me to say again what I would have Your
Grace do. Your Grace has heard my views, and those of these gentlemen.
It is for Your Grace to decide.”

“You mean whether I will go forward with this thing? What alternative
have I?”

“No alternative,” put in Grey with finality. “Nor is alternative needed.
We’ll carry this through in spite of timorous folk and birds of ill-omen
that croak to affright us.”

“Our service is the service of the Lord,” cried Ferguson, returning from
the window in the embrasure of which he had been standing; “the Lord
cannot but destine it to prevail.”

“Ye said so before,” quoth Fletcher testily. “We need here men, money,
and weapons--not divinity.”

“You are plainly infected with Mr. Wilding’s disease,” sneered Grey.

“Ford,” cried the Duke, who saw Wilding’s eyes flash fire; “you go too
fast. Mr. Wilding, you will not heed his lordship.”

“I should not be likely to do so, Your Grace,” answered Wilding, who had
resumed his seat.

“What shall that mean?” quoth Grey, leaping to his feet.

“Make it quite clear to him, Tony,” whispered Trenchard coaxingly; but
Mr. Wilding was not as lost as were these immediate followers of the
Duke’s to all sense of the respect due to His Grace.

“I think,” said Wilding quietly, “that you have forgotten something.”

“Forgotten what?” bawled Grey.

“His Grace’s presence.”

His lordship turned crimson, his anger swelled to think that the very
terms of the rebuke precluded his allowing his feelings a free rein.

Monmouth leaned forward. “Sit down,” he said to Grey, and Grey, so
lately called to the respect he owed His Grace, obeyed him. “You will
both promise me that this affair shall go no further. I know you will
do it if I ask you, particularly when you remember how few are the
followers upon whom I may depend. I am not in case to lose either of you
through foolish words uttered in a heat which, in both your hearts, is
born, I know, of your loyalty to me.”

Grey’s coarse, elderly face took on a sulky look, his heavy lips were
pouted, his glance sullen. Mr. Wilding, on the contrary, smiled across
the table.

“For my part I very gladly give Your Grace the undertaking,” said he,
and took care not to observe the sneer that altered the line of Lord
Grey’s lips. His lordship, too, was forced to give the same pledge, and
he followed it up by inveighing sturdily against the suggestion that
they should retreat.

“I do protest,” he exclaimed, “that those who advise Your Grace to do
anything but go forward boldly now, are evil counsellors. If you put
back to Holland, you may leave every hope behind. There will be no
second coming for you. Your influence will have been dissipated. Men
will not trust you another time. I do not think that even Mr. Wilding
can deny the truth of this.”

“I am by no means sure,” said Wilding, and Fletcher looked at him with
eyes that were full of understanding. This sturdy Scot, the only soldier
worthy of the name in the Duke’s following, who, ever since the project
had first been mooted, had held out against it, counselling delay, was
in sympathy with Mr. Wilding.

Monmouth rose, his face anxious, his voice fretful. “There can be no
retreat for me, gentlemen. Though many that we depended upon are not
here to join us, yet let us remember that Heaven is on our side, and
that we are come to fight in the sacred cause of religion and a nation’s
emancipation from the thraldom of popery, oppression, and superstition.
Let this dispel such doubts as yet may linger in our minds.”

His words had a brave sound, but, when analysed, they but formed a
paraphrase of what Grey and Ferguson had said. It was his destiny to be
a mere echo of the minds of other men, just as he was now the tool
of these two, one of whom plotted, seemingly, because plotting was a
disease that had got into his blood; the other for reasons that may have
been of ambition or of revenge--no man will ever know for certain.

In the chamber they shared, Trenchard and Mr. Wilding reviewed that
night the scene so lately enacted, in which one had taken an active
part, the other been little more than a spectator. Trenchard had come
from the Duke’s presence entirely out of conceit with Monmouth and
his cause, contemptuous of Ferguson, angry with Grey, and indifferent
towards Fletcher.

“I am committed, and I’ll not draw back,” said he; “but I tell you,
Anthony, my heart is not confederate with my hand in this. Bah!” he
railed. “We serve a man of straw, a Perkin, a very pope of a fellow.”

Mr. Wilding sighed. “He’s scarce the man for such an undertaking,” said
he. “I fear we have been misled.”

Trenchard was drawing off his boots. He paused in the act. “Aye,” said
he, “misled by our blindness. What else, after all, should we have
expected of him?” he cried contemptuously. “The Cause is good; but its
leader---Pshaw! Would you have such a puppet as that on the throne of
England?”

“He does not aim so high.”

“Be not so sure. We shall hear more of the black box anon, and of the
marriage certificate it contains. ‘Twould not surprise me if they were
to produce forgeries of the one and the other to prove his father’s
marriage to Lucy Walters. Anthony, Anthony! To what a business are we
wedded?”

Mr. Wilding, already abed, turned impatiently. “Things cried aloud to be
redressed; a leader was necessary, and none other offered. That is the
whole story. But our chance is slender, and it might have been great.”

“That rake-hell, Ford, Lord Grey has made it so,” grumbled Trenchard,
busy with his stockings. “This sudden coming is his work. You heard what
Fletcher said--how he opposed it when first it was urged.” He paused,
and looked up suddenly. “Blister me!” he cried, “is it his lordship’s
purpose, think you, to work the ruin of Monmouth?”

“What are you saying, Nick?”

“There are certain rumours current touching His Grace and Lady Grey. A
man like Grey might well resort to some such scheme of vengeance.”

“Get to sleep, Nick,” said Wilding, yawning; “you are dreaming already.
Such a plan would be over elaborate for his lordship’s mind. It would
ask a villainy parallel with your own.”

Trenchard climbed into bed, and settled himself under the coverlet.

“Maybe,” said he, “and maybe not; but I think that were it not for that
cursed business of the letter Richard Westmacott stole from us, I should
be going my ways to-morrow and leaving His Grace of Monmouth to go his.”

“Aye, and I’d go with you,” answered Wilding. “I’ve little taste for
suicide; but we are in it now.”

“‘Twas a sad pity you meddled this morning in that affair at Taunton,”
 mused Trenchard wistfully. “A sadder pity you were bitten with a taste
for matrimony,” he added thoughtfully, and blew out the rushlight.



CHAPTER XV. LYME OF THE KING

On the next day, which was Friday, the country folk continued to come
in, and by evening Monmouth’s forces amounted to a thousand foot and
a hundred and fifty horse. The men were armed as fast as they were
enrolled, and scarce a field or quiet avenue in the district but
resounded to the tramp of feet, the rattle of weapons, and the sharp
orders of the officers who, by drilling, were converting this raw
material into soldiers. On the Saturday the rally of the Duke’s standard
was such that Monmouth threw off at last the gloomy forebodings that had
burdened his soul since that meeting on Thursday night. Wade, Holmes,
Foulkes, and Fox were able to set about forming the first four
regiments--the Duke’s, and the Green, the White, and the Yellow.
Monmouth’s spirits continued to rise, for he had been joined by now
by Legge and Hooper--the two upon whom Battiscomb had counted--and by
Colonel Joshua Churchill, of whom Battiscomb had been less certain.
Captain Matthews brought news that Lord Wiltshire and the gentlemen
of Hampshire might be expected if they could force their way through
Albemarle’s militia, which was already closing round Lyme.

Long before evening willing fellows were being turned away in hundreds
for lack of weapons. In spite of Monmouth’s big talk on landing, and of
the rumour that had gone out, that he could arm thirty thousand men, his
stock of arms was exhausted by a mere fifteen hundred. Trenchard,
who now held a Major’s rank in the horse attached to the Duke’s own
regiment, was loud in his scorn of this state of things; Mr. Wilding was
sad, and his depression again spread to the Duke after a few words had
passed between them towards evening. Fletcher was for heroic measures.
He looked only ahead now, like the good soldier that he was; and,
already, he began to suggest a bold dash for Exeter, for weapons,
horses, and possibly the militia as well, for they had ample evidence
that the men composing it might easily be induced to desert to the
Duke’s side.

The suggestion was one that instantly received Mr. Wilding’s heartiest
approval. It seemed to fill him suddenly with hope, and he spoke of
it, indeed, as an inspiration which, if acted upon, might yet save the
situation. The Duke was undecided as ever; he was too much troubled
weighing the chances for and against, and he would decide upon nothing
until he had consulted Grey and the others. He would summon a council
that night, he promised, and the matter should be considered.

But that council was never to be called, for Andrew Fletcher’s
association with the rebellion was drawing rapidly to its close, and
there was that to happen in the next few hours which should counteract
all the encouragement with which the Duke had been fortified that day.
Towards evening little Heywood Dare, the Taunton goldsmith, who had
landed at Seatown and gone out with the news of the Duke’s arrival, rode
into Lyme with forty horse, mounted, himself, upon a beautiful charger
which was destined to be the undoing of him.

News came, too, that the Dorset militia were at Bridport, eight miles
away, whereupon Wilding and Fletcher postponed all further suggestion of
the dash for Exeter, proposing that in the mean time a night attack upon
Bridport might result well. For once Lord Grey was in agreement with
them, and so the matter was decided. Fletcher went down to arm and
mount, and all the world knows the story of the foolish, ill-fated
quarrel which robbed Monmouth of two of his most valued adherents.
By ill-luck the Scot’s eyes lighted upon the fine horse that Dare had
brought from Ford Abbey. It occurred to him that nothing could be more
fitting than that the best man should sit upon the best horse, and he
forthwith led the beast from the stables and was about to mount when
Dare came forth to catch him in the very act. The goldsmith was a rude,
peppery fellow, who did not mince his words.

“What a plague are you doing with that horse?” he cried.

Fletcher paused, one foot in the stirrup, and looked the fellow up and
down. “I am mounting it,” said he, and proceeded to do as he said.

But Dare caught him by the tails of his coat and brought him back to
earth.

“You are making a mistake, Mr. Fletcher,” he cried angrily. “That horse
is mine.”

Fletcher, whose temper was by no means of the most peaceful, kept
himself with difficulty in hand at the indignity Dare offered him.

“Yours?” quoth he.

“Aye, mine. I brought it from Ford Abbey myself.”

“For the Duke’s service,” Fletcher reminded him.

“For my own, sir; for my own I would have you know.” And brushing
the Scot aside, he caught the bridle, and sought to wrench it from
Fletcher’s hand.

But Fletcher maintained his hold. “Softly, Mr. Dare,” said he. “Ye’re
a trifle o’er true to your name, as you once told his late Majesty
yourself.”

“Take your hands from my horse,” Dare shouted, very angry.

Several loiterers in the yard gathered round to watch the scene, culling
diversion from it and speculating upon the conclusion it might have. One
rash young fellow offered audibly to lay ten to one that Paymaster Dare
would have the best of the argument.

Dare overheard, and was spurred on.

“I will, by God!” he answered. “Come, Mr. Fletcher!” And he shook the
bridle again.

There was a dull flush showing through the tan of Fletcher’s skin.
“Mr. Dare,” said he, “this horse is no more yours than mine. It is the
Duke’s, and I, as one o’ the leaders, claim it in the Duke’s service.”

“Aye, sir,” cried an onlooker, encouraging Fletcher, and did the
mischief. It so goaded Dare to have his antagonist in this trifling
matter supported that he utterly lost his head.

“I have said the horse is mine, and I repeat it. Let go the bridle--let
it go!” Still, Fletcher, striving hard to keep his calm, clung to the
reins. “Let it go, you damned, thieving Scot!” screamed Dare in a fury,
and struck Fletcher with his whip.

It was unfortunate for them both that he should have had that switch in
his hand at such a time, but more unfortunate still was it that Fletcher
should have had a pistol in his belt. The Scot dropped the bridle at
last; dropped it to pluck forth the weapon.

“Hi! I did not...” began Dare, who had stood appalled by what he had
done in the second or two that had passed since he had delivered the
blow. The rest of his sentence was drowned in the report of Fletcher’s
pistol, and Dare dropped dead on the rough cobbles of the yard.

Ferguson has left it on record--and, presumably, he had Fletcher’s
word for it--that it was no part of the Scot’s intent to do Mr. Dare
a mischief. He had but drawn the pistol to intimidate him into better
manners, but in his haste he accidentally pulled the trigger.

However that may be, there was Dare as dead as the stones on which he
lay, and Fletcher with a smoking pistol in his hand.

After that all was confusion. Fletcher was seized by those who had
witnessed the deed; there was none thought it an accident; indeed,
they were all ready enough to say that Fletcher had received excessive
provocation. He was haled to the presence of the Duke with whom
were Grey and Wilding at the time; and old Dare’s son--an ensign in
Goodenough’s company--came clamouring for vengeance backed by such
goodly numbers that the distraught Duke was forced to show at least the
outward seeming of it.

Wilding, who knew the value of this Scottish soldier of fortune who had
seen so much service, strenuously urged his enlargement. It was not a
time to let the fortunes of a cause suffer through such an act as this,
deplorable though it might be. The evidence showed that Fletcher had
been provoked; he had been struck, a thing that might well justify the
anger in the heat of which he had done this thing. Grey was stolid and
silent, saying nothing either for or against the man who had divided
with him under the Duke the honours of the supreme command.

Monmouth, white and horror-stricken, sat and listened first to
Wilding, then to Dare, and lastly to Fletcher himself. But it was young
Dare--Dare and his followers, who prevailed. They were too numerous and
turbulent, and they must at all costs be conciliated, or there was no
telling to what extremes they might not go. And so there was an end to
the share of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun in this undertaking--the end of
the only man who was of any capacity to pilot it through the troubled
waters that lay before it. Monmouth placed him under arrest and sent him
aboard the frigate again, ordering her captain to sail at once. That was
the utmost Monmouth could do to save him.

Wilding continued to plead with the Duke after Fletcher’s removal, and
to such good purpose that at last Monmouth determined that Fletcher
should rejoin them later, when the affair should have blown over, and
he sent word accordingly to the Scot. Even in this there were
manifestations of antagonism between Mr. Wilding and Lord Grey, and it
almost seemed enough that Wilding should suggest a course for Lord Grey
instantly to oppose it.

The effects of Fletcher’s removal were not long in following. On the
morrow came the Bridport affair, and Grey’s shameful conduct when, had
he stood his ground, victory must have been assured the Duke’s forces
instead of just that honourable retreat by which Colonel Wade so
gallantly saved the situation. Mr. Wilding did not mince his words in
putting it that Grey had run away.

In his room at the George Inn, Monmouth, deeply distressed, asked
Wilding and Colonel Matthews what action he should take in the
matter--how deal with Grey.

“There is no other general in Europe would ask that, Your Grace,”
 answered Matthews gravely, and Mr. Wilding added without an instant’s
hesitation that His Grace’s course was plain.

“It would be an unwise thing to expose the troops to the chance of more
such happenings.”

Monmouth dismissed them and sent for Grey, and he seemed resolved to
deal with him as he deserved. Yet an hour later, when Wilding, Matthews,
Wade, and the others were ordered to attend the Duke in council, there
was his lordship seemingly on as good terms as ever with His Grace.

They were assembled to discuss the next step which it might be advisable
to take, for the militia was closing in around them, and to remain
longer in Lyme would be to be caught there as in a trap. It was Grey
who advanced the first suggestion, his assurance no whit abated by
the shameful thing that had befallen, by the cowardice which he had
betrayed.

“That we must quit Lyme we are all agreed,” said he. “I would propose
that Your Grace march north to Gloucester, where our Cheshire friends
will assemble to meet us.”

Colonel Matthews reminded the Duke of Andrew Fletcher’s proposal that
they should make a raid upon Exeter with a view to seizing arms, of
which they stood so sorely in need.

This Mr. Wilding was quick to support. “Not only that, Your Grace,” he
said, “but I am confident that with very little inducement the greater
portion of the militia will desert to us as soon as we appear.

“What assurance can you give of that?” asked Grey, his heavy lip
protruded.

“I take it,” said Mr. Wilding, “that in such matters no man can give
an assurance of anything. I speak with knowledge of the country and the
folk from which the militia is enlisted. I offer it as my opinion that
the militia is favourably disposed to Your Grace. I can do no more.

“If Mr. Wilding says so, Your Grace,” put in Matthews, “I have no doubt
he has sound reasons upon which to base his opinion.

“No doubt,” said Monmouth. “Indeed, I had already thought of the step
that you suggest, Colonel Matthews, and what Mr. Wilding says causes me
to look upon it still more favourably.”

Grey frowned. “Consider, Your Grace,” he said earnestly, “that you are
in no case to fight at present.”

“What fighting do you suggest there would be?” asked the Duke.

“There is Albemarle between us and Exeter.”

“But with the militia,” Wilding reminded him; “and if the militia
deserts him for Your Grace, in what case will Albemarle find himself?”

“And if the militia does not desert? If you should be proven wrong, sir?
What then? What then?” asked Grey.

“Aye--true--what then, Mr. Wilding?” quoth the Duke, already wavering.

Wilding considered a moment, all eyes upon him. “Even then,” said he
presently, “I do maintain that in this dash for Exeter lies Your Grace’s
greatest chance of success. We can deliver battle if need be. Already we
are three thousand strong...”

Grey interrupted him rudely. “Nay,” he insisted. “You must not presume
upon that. We are not yet fit to fight. It is His Grace’s business at
present to drill and discipline his troops and induce more friends to
join him.”

“Already we are turning men away because we have no weapons to put into
their hands,” Wilding reminded them, and a murmur of approval ran round,
which but served to anger Grey the more, to render more obstinate his
opposition.

“But all that come in are not unprovided,” was his lordship’s retort.
“There are the Hampshire gentry and their friends. They will come armed,
and so will others if we have patience.

“Aye,” said Wilding, “and if you have patience enough there will be
troops the Parliament will send against us. They, too, will be armed, I
can assure your lordship.”

“In God’s name let us keep from wrangling,” the Duke besought them. “It
is difficult enough to determine for the best. If the dash to Exeter
were successful...”

“It cannot be,” Grey interrupted again.

The liberties he took with Monmouth and which Monmouth permitted him
might well be a source of wonder to all who heard them. Monmouth paused
now in his interrupted speech and looked about him a trifle wearily.

“It seems idle to insist,” said Mr. Wilding; “such is the temper of Your
Grace’s counsellors, that we get no further than contradictions.” Grey’s
bold eyes were upon Wilding as he spoke. “I would remind Your Grace,
and I am sure that many present will agree with me, that in a desperate
enterprise a sudden unexpected movement will often strike terror.”

“That is true,” said Monmouth, but apparently without enthusiasm, and
having approved what was urged on one side, he looked at Grey, as if
waiting to hear what might be said on the other. His indecision was
pitiful--tragical, indeed, in the leader of so bold an enterprise.

“We should do better, I think,” said Grey, “to deal with the facts as we
know them.”

“It is what I am endeavouring to do, Your Grace,” protested Wilding,
a note of despair in his voice. “Perhaps some other gentleman will put
forward better counsel than mine.”

“Aye! In Heaven’s name let us hope so,” snorted Grey; and Monmouth,
catching the sudden flash of Mr. Wilding’s eye, set a hand upon his
lordship’s arm as if to urge him to be gentler. But he continued, “When
men talk of striking terror by sudden movements they build on air.”

“I had hardly thought to hear that from your lordship,” said Mr.
Wilding, and he permitted himself that tight-lipped smile that gave his
face so wicked a look.

“And why not?” asked Grey, stupidly unsuspicious.

“Because I had thought you might have concluded otherwise from your own
experience at Bridport this morning.”

Grey got angrily to his feet, rage and shame flushing his face, and it
needed Ferguson and the Duke to restore him to some semblance of calm.
Indeed, it may well be that it was to complete this that His Grace
decided there and then that they should follow Grey’s advice and go by
way of Taunton, Bridgwater, and Bristol to Gloucester. He was, like all
weak men, of conspicuous mental short-sightedness. The matter of the
moment was ever of greater importance to him than any result that might
attend it in the future.

He insisted that Wilding and Grey should shake hands before the breaking
up of that most astounding council, and as he had done last night, he
now again imposed upon them his commands that they must not allow this
matter to go further.

Mr. Wilding paved the way for peace by making an apology within
limitations.

“If, in my zeal to serve Your Grace to the best of my ability, I have
said that which Lord Grey thinks fit to resent, I would bid him consider
my motive rather than my actual words.”

But when all had gone save Ferguson, the chaplain approached the
preoccupied and distressed Duke with counsel that Mr. Wilding should be
sent away from the army.

“Else there’ll be trouble ‘twixt him and Grey,” the plotting parson
foretold. “We’ll be having a repetition of the unfortunate Fletcher and
Dare affair, and I think that has cost Your Grace enough already.”

“Do you suggest that I dismiss Wilding?” cried the Duke. “You know his
influence, and the bad impression his removal would leave.”

Ferguson stroked his long lean jaw. “No, no,” said he; “all I suggest is
that you find Mr. Wilding work to do elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere?” the Duke questioned. “Where else?”

“I have thought of that, too. Send him to London to see Danvers and to
stir up your friends there. And,” he added, lowering his voice, “give
him discretion to see Sunderland if he thinks well.”

The proposition pleased Monmouth, and it seemed to please Mr. Wilding
no less when, having sent for him, the Duke communicated it to him in
Ferguson’s presence.

Upon this mission Mr. Wilding set out that very night, leaving Nick
Trenchard in despair at being separated from him at a time when there
seemed to be every chance that such a separation might be eternal.

Monmouth and Ferguson may have conceived they did a wise thing in
removing a man who was instinctively spoiling for a little sword-play
with my Lord Grey. It is odds that had he remained, the brewing storm
between the pair would have come to a head. Had it done so, it is more
than likely, from what we know of Mr. Wilding’s accomplishments, that
he had given Lord Grey his quietus. And had that happened, it is to
be inferred from history that it is possible the Duke of Monmouth’s
rebellion might have had a less disastrous issue.



CHAPTER XVI. PLOTS AND PLOTTERS

Mr. Wilding left Monmouth’s army at Lyme on Sunday, the 14th of
June, and rejoined it at Bridgwater exactly three weeks later. In the
meanwhile a good deal had happened, yet the happenings on every hand had
fallen far short of the expectations aroused in Mr. Wilding’s mind,
now by one circumstance, now by another. In reaching London he had
experienced no difficulty. Men travelling in that direction were not
subjected to the scrutiny that fell to the share of those travelling
from it towards the West, or, rather, to the scrutiny ordained by the
Government; for Wilding had more than one opportunity of observing
how very lax and indifferent were the constables and
tything-men--particularly in Somerset and Wiltshire--in the performance
of this duty. Wayfarers were questioned as a matter of form, but in no
case did Wilding hear of any one being detained upon suspicion. This
was calculated to raise his drooping hopes, pointing as it did to the
general favouring of Monmouth that was toward. He grew less despondent
on the score of the Duke’s possible ultimate success, and he came to
hope that the efforts he went to exert would not be fruitless.

But rude were the disappointments that awaited him in town. London, like
the rest of the country, was not ready. There were not wanting men who
favoured Monmouth; but no rising had been organized, and the Duke’s
partisans were not disposed to rashness.

Wilding lodged at Covent Garden, in a house recommended to him by
Colonel Danvers, and there--an outlaw himself--he threw himself with a
will into his task. He heard of the burning of Monmouth’s Declaration by
the common hangman at the Royal Exchange, and of the bill passed by
the Commons to make it treason for any to assert that Lucy Walters was
married to the late King. He attended meetings at the “Bull’s Head,”
 in Bishopsgate, where he met Disney and Danvers, Payton and Lock; but
though they talked and argued at prodigious length, they did naught
besides. Danvers, who was their hope in town, definitely refused to have
a hand in anything that was not properly organized, and in common with
the others urged that they should wait until Cheshire had risen, as was
reported that it must.

Meanwhile, troops had gone west under Kirke and Churchill, and the
Parliament had voted nearly half a million for the putting down of the
rebellion. London was flung into a fever of excitement by the news
that was reaching it. The position was not quite as Monmouth’s
advisers--before coming over from Holland--had represented that it would
be. They had thought that out of fear of tumults about his own person,
King James would have been compelled to keep near him what troops he
had, sparing none to be sent against Monmouth. This, King James had not
done; he had all but emptied London of soldiery, and, considering the
general disaffection, no moment could have been more favourable than
this for a rising in London itself. The confusion that must have
resulted from the recalling of troops would have given Monmouth not
only a mighty grip of the West, but would have heartened those who--like
Sunderland himself--were sitting on the wall, to declare themselves for
the Protestant Champion. This Wilding saw, and almost frenziedly did he
urge it upon Danvers that all London needed at the moment was a resolute
leader. But the Colonel still held back; indeed, he had neither truth
nor valour; he was timid, and used deceit to mask his timidity; he urged
frivolous reasons for inaction, and when Wilding waxed impatient with
him, he suggested that Wilding himself should head the rising if he were
so confident of its success. And Wilding would have done it but that,
being unknown in London, he had no reason to suppose that men would
flock to him if he raised the Duke’s banner.

Later, when the excitement grew and rumours ran through town that
Monmouth had now a following of twenty thousand men and that the King’s
forces were falling back before him, and discontent was rife at the
commissioning of Catholic lords to levy troops, Wilding again pressed
the matter upon Danvers. Surely no moment could be more propitious.
But again he received the same answer, that Danvers had lacked time to
organize matters sufficiently; that the Duke’s coming had taken him by
surprise.

Lastly came the news that Monmouth had been crowned at Taunton amid the
wildest enthusiasm, and that there were now in England two men each
of whom called himself King James the Second. This was the excuse
that Danvers needed to be rid of a business he had not the courage to
transact to a finish. He swore that he washed his hands of Monmouth’s
affairs; that the latter had broken faith with him and the promise
he had made him in having himself proclaimed King. He protested that
Monmouth had done ill, and prophesied that his act would alienate from
him the numerous republicans who, like Danvers, had hitherto looked to
him for the country’s salvation. Wilding himself was appalled at the
news for Monmouth was indeed going further than men had been given to
understand. Nevertheless, for his own sake, in very self-defence now,
if out of no motives of loyalty to the Duke, he must urge forward the
fortunes of this man. He had high words with Danvers, and the two might
have quarrelled before long but for the sudden arrest of Disney, which
threw Danvers into such a panic that he fled incontinently, abandoning
in body, as he already appeared to have abandoned in spirit, the
Monmouth Cause.

The arrest of Disney struck a chill into Wilding. From his lodging at
Covent Garden he had communicated cautiously with Sunderland a few days
after his arrival, building upon certain information he had received
from the Duke at parting as to Sunderland’s attachment to the Cause. He
had carefully chosen his moment for making this communication, having
a certain innate mistrust of a man who so obviously as Sunderland was
running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. He had sent a letter
to the Secretary of State when London was agog with the Axminster
affair, and the tale--of which Sir Edward Phelips wrote to Colonel
Berkeley as “the shamefullest story that you ever heard”--of how
Albemarle’s forces and the Somerset militia had run before Monmouth in
spite of their own overwhelming numbers. This promised ill for James,
particularly when it was perceived as perceived it was--that this
running away was not all cowardice, not all “the shamefullest story”
 that Phelips accounted it. It was an expression of good-will towards
Monmouth on the part of the militia of the West, and it was confidently
expected that the next news would be that these men who had decamped
before him would presently be found to have ranged themselves under his
banner.

Sunderland had given no sign that he had received Wilding’s
communication. And Wilding drew his own contemptuous conclusions of the
Secretary of State’s cautious policy. It was a fortnight later--when
London was settling down again from the diversion of excitement created
by the news of Argyle’s defeat in Scotland--before Mr. Wilding attempted
to approach Sunderland again. He awaited a favourable opportunity, and
this he had when London was thrown into consternation by the alarming
news of the Duke of Somerset’s urgent demand for reinforcements. Unless
he had them, he declared, the whole country was lost, as he could not
get the militia to stand, whilst Lord Stawell’s regiment were all fled
and mostly gone over to the rebels at Bridgwater.

This was grave news, but it was followed in a few days by graver. The
affair at Philips Norton was exaggerated by report into a wholesale
defeat of the loyal army, and it was reported--on, apparently, such good
authority that it received credence in quarters that might have waited
for official news--that the Duke of Albemarle had been slain by the
militia which had mutinied and deserted to Monmouth.

It was while this news was going round that Sunderland--in a moment of
panic--at last vouchsafed an answer to Mr. Wilding’s letters, and he
vouchsafed it in person, just as Wilding--particularly since Disney’s
arrest--was beginning to lose all hope. He came one evening to Mr.
Wilding’s lodgings in Covent Garden, unattended and closely muffled, and
he remained closeted with the Duke’s ambassador for nigh upon an hour,
at the end of which he entrusted Mr. Wilding with a letter for the Duke,
very brief but entirely to the point, which expressed him Monmouth’s
most devoted servant.

“You may well judge, sir,” he had said at parting, “that this is not
such a letter as I should entrust to any man.”

Mr. Wilding had bowed gravely, and gravely he had expressed himself
sensible of the exceptional honour his lordship did him by such a trust.

“And I depend upon you, sir, as you are a man of honour, to take such
measures as will ensure against its falling into any but the hands for
which it is intended.”

“As I am a man of honour, you may depend upon me,” Mr. Wilding solemnly
promised. “Will your lordship give me three lines above your signature
that will save me from molestation; thus you will facilitate the
preservation of this letter.”

“I had already thought of that,” was Sunderland’s answer, and he placed
before Mr. Wilding three lines of writing signed and sealed which
enjoined all, straitly, in the King’s name to suffer the bearer to pass
and repass and to offer him no hindrance.

On that they shook hands and parted, Sunderland to return to Whitehall
and his obedience to the King James whom he was ready to betray as
soon as he saw profit for himself in the act, Mr. Wilding to return to
Somerset to the King James in whom his faith was scant, indeed, but with
whom his fortunes were irrevocably bound up.

Meanwhile, Monmouth was back in Bridgwater, his second occupation
of which town was not being looked upon with unmixed favour. The
inhabitants had suffered enough already from his first visit; his return
there, after the Philips Norton affair of which such grossly exaggerated
reports had reached London, and which, in point of fact, had been little
better than a drawn battle--had been looked upon with dread by some,
with disfavour by others, and with dismay by not a few who viewed in
this an augury of failure.

Now Sir Rowland Blake, who since his pursuit of Mr. Wilding and
Trenchard on the occasion of their flight from Taunton had--in spite
of his failure on that occasion--been more or less in the service of
Albemarle and the loyal army, saw in this indisposition towards Monmouth
of so many of Bridgwater’s inhabitants great possibilities of profit to
himself.

He was at Lupton House, the guest of his friend Richard Westmacott, and
the open suitor of Ruth, entirely ignoring the circumstance that she was
nominally the wife of Mr. Wilding--this to the infinite chagrin of Miss
Horton, who saw all her scheming likely to go for nothing.

In his heart of hearts it was a matter of not the slightest consequence
to Sir Rowland whether James Stuart or James Scott occupied the throne
of England. His own affairs gave him more than enough to think of, and
these disturbances in the West were very welcome to him, since they
rendered difficult any attempt to trace him on the part of his London
creditors. It happens, however, very commonly that enmity to an
individual will lead to enmity to the cause which that individual
espouses. Thus may it have been with Sir Rowland. His hatred of Wilding
and his keen desire to see Wilding destroyed had made him a zealous
partisan of the loyal cause. Richard Westmacott, easily swayed and
overborne by the town rake, whose vices made him seem to Richard the
embodiment of all that is splendid and enviable in man, had become
practically the baronet’s tool, now that he had abandoned Monmouth’s
Cause. Sir Rowland had not considered it beneath the dignity of his name
and station to discharge in Bridgwater certain functions that made him
more or less a spy. And so reliable had been the information he had sent
Feversham and Albemarle during Monmouth’s first occupation of the town,
that he had won by now their complete confidence.

The second occupation and its unpopularity with many of those who
earlier--if lukewarm--had been partisans of the Duke, swelled the number
of loyally inclined people in Bridgwater, and suddenly inspired
Sir Rowland with a scheme by which at a blow he might snuff out the
rebellion.

This scheme involved the capture of the Duke, and the reward of success
should mean far more to Blake than the five thousand pounds at which the
value of the Duke’s head had already been fixed by Parliament. He needed
a tool for this, and he even thought of Westmacott and Lupton House, but
afterwards preferred a Mr. Newlington, who was in better case to assist
him. This Newlington, an exceedingly prosperous merchant and one of the
richest men perhaps in the whole West of England, looked with extreme
disfavour upon Monmouth, whose advent had paralyzed his industries to an
extent that was costing him a fine round sum of money weekly.

He was now in alarm lest the town of Bridgwater should be made to
pay dearly for having harboured the Protestant Duke--he had no faith
whatever in the Protestant Duke’s ultimate prevailing--and that he,
as one of the town’s most prominent and prosperous citizens, might
be amongst the heaviest sufferers in spite of his neutrality. This
neutrality he observed because it was hardly safe in that disaffected
town for a man to proclaim himself a loyalist.

To him Sir Rowland expounded his audacious plan... He sought out the
merchant in his handsome mansion on the night of that Friday which had
witnessed Monmouth’s return, and the merchant, honoured by the visit of
this gallant--ignorant as he was of the gentleman’s fame in town--placed
himself entirely and instantly at his disposal, though the hour was
late. Sounding him carefully, and finding the fellow most amenable
to any scheme that should achieve the salvation of his purse and
industries, Blake boldly laid his plan before him. Startled at first,
Mr. Newlington upon considering it became so enthusiastic that he hailed
Sir Rowland as his deliverer, and heartily promised his cooperation.
Indeed, it was Mr. Newlington who was, himself, to take the first step.

Well pleased with his evening’s work, Sir Rowland went home to Lupton
House and to bed. In the morning he broached the matter to Richard. He
had all the vanity of the inferior not only to lessen the appearance of
his inferiority, but to clothe himself in a mantle of importance; and it
was this vanity urged him to acquaint Richard with his plans in the very
presence of Ruth.

They had broken their fast, and they still lingered in the dining-room,
the largest and most important room in Lupton House. It was cool and
pleasant here in contrast to the heat of the July sun, which, following
upon the late wet weather, beat fiercely on the lawn, the window-doors
to which stood open. The cloth had been raised, and Diana and her mother
had lately left the room. Ruth, in the window-seat, at a small oval
table, was arranging a cluster of roses in an old bronze bowl. Sir
Rowland, his stiff short figure carefully dressed in a suit of brown
camlet, his fair wig very carefully curled, occupied a tall-backed
armchair near the empty fireplace. Richard, perched on the table’s edge,
swung his shapely legs idly backwards and forwards and cogitated upon a
pretext to call for a morning draught of last October’s ale.

Ruth completed her task with the roses and turned her eyes upon her
brother.

“You are not looking well, Richard,” she said, which was true enough,
for much hard drinking was beginning to set its stamp on Richard, and
young as he was, his insipidly fair face began to display a bloatedness
that was exceedingly unhealthy.

“Oh, I am well enough,” he answered almost peevishly, for these
allusions to his looks were becoming more frequent than he savoured.

“Gad!” cried Sir Rowland’s deep voice, “you’ll need to be well. I have
work for you to-morrow, Dick.”

Dick did not appear to share his enthusiasm. “I am sick of the work you
discover for us, Rowland,” he answered ungraciously.

But Blake showed no resentment. “Maybe you’ll find the present task more
to your taste. If it’s deeds of derring-do you pine for, I am the man
to satisfy you.” He smiled grimly, his bold grey eyes glancing across at
Ruth, who was observing him, listening.

Richard sneered, but offered him no encouragement to proceed.

“I see,” said Blake, “that I shall have to tell you the whole story
before you’ll credit me. Shalt have it, then. But...” and he checked on
the word, his face growing serious, his eye wandering to the door, “I
would not have it overheard--not for a king’s ransom,” which was more
literally true than he may have intended it to be.

Richard looked over his shoulder carelessly at the door.

“We have no eavesdroppers,” he said, and his voice bespoke his contempt
of the gravity of this news of which Sir Rowland made so much in
anticipation. He was acquainted with Sir Rowland’s ways, and the
importance of them. “What are you considering?” he inquired.

“To end the rebellion,” answered Blake, his voice cautiously lowered.

Richard laughed outright. “There are several others considering
that--notably His Majesty King James, the Duke of Albemarle, and the
Earl of Feversham. Yet they don’t appear to achieve it.”

“It is in that particular,” said Blake complacently, “that I shall
differ from them.” He turned to Ruth, eager to engage her in the
conversation, to flatter her by including her in the secret. Knowing the
loyalist principles she entertained, he had no reason to fear that his
plans could other than meet her approval. “What do you say, Mistress
Ruth?” Presuming upon his friendship with her brother, he had taken to
calling her by that name in preference to the other which he could not
bring himself to give her. “Is it not an object worthy of a gentleman’s
endeavour?”

“If you can save so many poor people from encompassing their ruin by
following that rash young man the Duke of Monmouth, you will indeed be
doing a worthy deed.”

Blake rose, and made her a leg. “Madam,” said he, “had aught been
wanting to cement my resolve, your words would supply it to me. My plan
is simplicity itself. I propose to capture Monmouth and his principal
agents, and deliver them over to the King. And that is all.”

“A mere nothing,” croaked Richard.

“Could more be needed?” quoth Blake. “Once the rebel army is deprived of
its leaders it will melt and dissolve of itself. Once the Duke is in the
hands of his enemies there will be nothing left to fight for. Is it not
shrewd?”

“You are telling us the object rather than the plan,” Ruth reminded him.
“If the plan is as good as the object...”

“As good?” he echoed, chuckling. “You shall judge.” And briefly he
sketched for her the springe he was setting with the help of Mr.
Newlington. “Newlington is rich; the Duke is in straits for money.
Newlington goes to-day to offer him twenty thousand pounds; and the Duke
is to do him the honour of supping at his house to-morrow night to fetch
the money. It is a reasonable request for Mr. Newlington to make under
the circumstances, and the Duke cannot--dare not refuse it.”

“But how will that advance your project?” Ruth inquired, for Blake had
paused again, thinking that the rest must be obvious.

“In Mr. Newlington’s orchard I propose to post a score or so of men,
well armed. Oh! I shall run no risks of betrayal by engaging Bridgwater
folk. I’ll get the fellows I need from General Feversham. We take
Monmouth at supper, as quietly as may be, with what gentlemen happen to
have accompanied him. We bind and gag the Duke, and we convey him with
all speed and quiet out of Bridgwater. Feversham shall send a troop to
await me a mile or so from the town on the road to Weston Zoyland. We
shall join them with our captive, and thus convey him to the Royalist
General. Could aught be simpler or more infallible?”

Richard had slipped from the table. He had changed his mind on the
subject of the importance of the business Blake had in view. Excited by
it, he clapped his friend on the back approvingly.

“A great plan!” he cried. “Is it not, Ruth?”

“It should be the means of saving hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives,”
 said she, “and so it deserves to prosper. But what of the officers who
may be with the Duke?” she inquired.

“There are not likely to be many--half a dozen, say. We shall have to
make short work of them, lest they should raise an alarm.” He saw her
glance clouding. “That is the ugly part of the affair,” he was quick
to add, himself assuming a look of sadness. He sighed. “What help is
there?” he asked. “Better that those few should suffer than that, as you
yourself have said, there should be some thousands of lives lost before
this rebellion is put down. Besides,” he continued, “Monmouth’s officers
are far-seeing, ambitious men, who have entered into this affair to
promote their own personal fortunes. They are gamesters who have set
their lives upon the board against a great prize, and they know it. But
these other poor misguided people who have gone out to fight for liberty
and religion--it is these whom I am striving to rescue.”

His words sounded fervent, his sentiments almost heroic. Ruth looked at
him, and wondered had she misjudged him in the past. She sighed. Then
she thought of Wilding. He was on the other side, but where was he?
Rumour ran that he was dead; that he and Grey had quarrelled at Lyme,
and that Wilding had been killed as a result. Had it not been for Diana,
who strenuously bade her attach no credit to these reports, she would
readily have believed them. As it was she waited, wondering, thinking of
him always as she had seen him on that day at Walford when he had taken
his leave of her, and more than once, when she pondered the words he had
said, the look that had invested his drooping eyes, she found herself
with tears in her own. They welled up now, and she rose hastily to her
feet.

She looked a moment at Blake who was watching her keenly, speculating
upon this emotion of which she betrayed some sign, and wondering might
not his heroism have touched her, for, as we have seen, he had arrayed
a deed of excessive meanness, a deed worthy, almost, of the Iscariot, in
the panoply of heroic achievement.

“I think,” she said, “that you are setting your hand to a very worthy
and glorious enterprise, and I hope, nay, I am sure, that success must
attend your efforts.” He was still bowing his thanks when she passed out
through the open window-doors into the sunshine of the garden.

Sir Rowland swung round upon Richard. “A great enterprise, Dick,” he
cried; “I may count upon you for one?”

“Aye,” said Dick, who had found at last the pretext that he needed,
“you may count on me. Pull the bell, we’ll drink to the success of the
venture.”



CHAPTER XVII. MR. WILDING’S RETURN

The preparations to be made for the momentous coup Sir Rowland meditated
were considerable. Mr. Newlington was yet to be concerted with and
advised, and, that done, Sir Rowland had to face the difficulty of
eluding the Bridgwater guards and make his way to Feversham’s camp at
Somerton to enlist the general’s cooperation to the extent that we
have seen he looked for. That done, he was to return and ripen his
preparations for the business he had undertaken. Nevertheless, in spite
of all that lay before him, he did not find it possible to leave Lupton
House without stepping out into the garden in quest of Ruth. Through
the window, whilst he and Richard were at their ale, he had watched her
between whiles, and had lingered, waiting; for Diana was with her, and
it was not his wish to seek her whilst Diana was at hand. Speak with
her, ere he went, he must. He was an opportunist, and now, he fondly
imagined, was his opportunity. He had made that day, at last, a
favourable impression upon Richard’s sister; he had revealed himself in
an heroic light, and egregiously misreading the emotion she had shown
before withdrawing, he was satisfied that did he strike now victory must
attend him. He sighed his satisfaction and pleasurable anticipation. He
had been wary and he had known how to wait; and now, it seemed to him,
he was to be rewarded for his patience. Then he frowned, as another
glance showed him that Diana still lingered with her cousin; he wished
Diana at the devil. He had come to hate this fair-haired doll to whom
he had once paid court. She was too continually in his way, a constant
obstacle in his path, ever ready to remind Ruth of Anthony Wilding when
Sir Rowland most desired Anthony Wilding to be forgotten; and in Diana’s
feelings towards himself such a change had been gradually wrought that
she had come to reciprocate his sentiments--to hate him with all the
bitter hatred into which love can be by scorn transmuted. At first her
object in keeping Ruth’s thoughts on Mr. Wilding, in pleading his cause,
and seeking to present him in a favourable light to the lady whom he had
constrained to become his wife, had been that he might stand a barrier
between Ruth and Sir Rowland to the end that Diana might hope to see
revived--faute de mieux, since possible in no other way--the feelings
that once Sir Rowland had professed for herself. The situation was
rich in humiliations for poor, vain, foolishly crafty Diana, and these
humiliations were daily rendered more bitter by Sir Rowland’s unwavering
courtship of her cousin in spite of all that she could do.

In the end the poison of them entered her soul, corroded her sentiments
towards him, dissolved the love she had borne him, and transformed
it into venom. She would not have him now if he did penitence for his
disaffection by going in sackcloth and crawling after her on his knees
for a full twelvemonth. But neither should he have Ruth if she could
thwart his purpose. On that she was resolved.

Had she but guessed that he watched them from the windows, waiting for
her to take her departure, she had lingered all the morning, and all
the afternoon if need be, at Ruth’s side. But being ignorant of
the circumstance--believing that he had already left the house--she
presently quitted Ruth to go indoors, and no sooner was she gone than
there was Blake replacing her at Ruth’s elbow. Mistress Wilding met him
with unsmiling, but not ungentle face.

“Not yet gone, Sir Rowland?” she asked him, and a less sanguine man had
been discouraged by the words.

“It may be forgiven me that I tarry at such a time,” said he, “when we
consider that I go, perhaps--to return no more.” It was an inspiration
on his part to assume the role of the hero going forth to a possible
death. It invested him with noble, valiant pathos which could not, he
thought, fail of its effect upon a woman’s mind. But he looked in vain
for a change of colour, be it ever so slight, or a quickening of the
breath. He found neither; though, indeed, her deep blue eyes seemed to
soften as they observed him.

“There is danger in this thing that you are undertaking?” said she,
between question and assertion.

“It is not my wish to overstate it; yet I leave you to imagine what the
risk may be.”

“It is a good cause,” said she, thinking of the poor, deluded, humble
folk that followed Monmouth’s banner, whom Blake’s fine action was to
rescue from impending ruin and annihilation, “and surely Heaven will be
on your side.”

“We must prevail,” cried Blake with kindling eye, and you had thought
him a fanatic, not a miserable earner of blood-money. “We must
prevail, though some of us may pay dearly for the victory. I have a
foreboding...” He paused, sighed, then laughed and flung back his head,
as if throwing off some weight that had oppressed him.

It was admirably played; Nick Trenchard, had he observed it, might have
envied the performance; and it took effect with her, this adding of a
prospective martyr’s crown to the hero’s raiment he had earlier donned.
It was a master-touch worthy of one who was deeply learned--from the
school of foul experience--in the secret ways that lead to a woman’s
favour. In a pursuit of this kind there was no subterfuge too mean, no
treachery too base for Sir Rowland Blake.

“Will you walk, mistress?” he said, and she, feeling that it were an
unkindness not to do his will, assented gravely. They moved down the
sloping lawn, side by side, Sir Rowland leaning on his cane, bareheaded,
his feathered hat tucked under his arm. Before them the river’s smooth
expanse, swollen and yellow with the recent rains, glowed like a sheet
of copper, so that it blurred the sight to look upon it long.

A few steps they took with no word uttered, then Sir Rowland spoke.
“With this foreboding that is on me,” said he, “I could not go without
seeing you, without saying something that I may never have another
chance of saying; something that--who knows?--but for the emprise to
which I am now wedded you had never heard from me.”

He shot her a furtive, sidelong glance from under his heavy, beetling
brows, and now, indeed, he observed a change ripple over the composure
of her face like a sudden breeze across a sheet of water. The deep lace
collar at her throat rose and fell, and her fingers toyed nervously with
a ribbon of her grey bodice. She recovered in an instant, and threw up
entrenchments against the attack she saw he was about to make.

“You exaggerate, I trust,” said she. “Your forebodings will be proved
groundless. You will return safe and sound from this venture, as indeed
I hope you may.”

That was his cue. “You hope it?” he cried, arresting his step, turning,
and imprisoning her left hand in his right. “You hope it? Ah, if you
hope for my return, return I will; but unless I know that you will have
some welcome for me such as I desire from you, I think...” his
voice quivered cleverly, “I think, perhaps, it were well if... if
my forebodings were not as groundless as you say they are. Tell me,
Ruth...”

But she interrupted him. It was high time, she thought. Her face he saw
was flushed, her eyes had hardened somewhat. Calmly she disengaged her
hand.

“What is’t you mean?” she asked. “Speak, Sir Rowland, speak plainly,
that I may give you a plain answer.”

It was a challenge in which another man had seen how hopeless was his
case, and, accepting defeat, had made as orderly a retreat as still was
possible. But Sir Rowland, stricken in his vanity, went headlong on to
utter rout.

“Since you ask me in such terms I will be plain, indeed,” he answered
her. “I mean...” He almost quailed before the look that met him from her
intrepid eyes. “Do you not see my meaning, Ruth?”

“That which I see,” said she, “I do not believe, and as I would not
wrong you by any foolish imaginings, I would have you plain with me.”

Yet the egregious fool went on. “And why should you not believe your
senses?” he asked her, between anger and entreaty. “Is it wonderful that
I should love you? Is it...?”

“Stop!” She drew back a pace from him. There was a moment’s silence,
during which it seemed she gathered her forces to destroy him, and,
in the spirit, he bowed his head before the coming storm. Then, with a
sudden relaxing of the stiffness her lissom figure had assumed, “I think
you had better leave me, Sir Rowland,” she advised him. She half turned
and moved a step away; he followed with lowering glance, his upper lip
lifting and laying bare his powerful teeth. In a stride he was beside
her.

“Do you hate me, Ruth?” he asked her hoarsely.

“Why should I hate you?” she counter-questioned, sadly. “I do not even
dislike you,” she continued in a more friendly tone, adding, as if by
way of explaining this phenomenon, “You are my brother’s friend. But I
am disappointed in you, Sir Rowland. You had, I know, no intention of
offering me disrespect; and yet it is what you have done.”

“As how?” he asked.

“Knowing me another’s wife...”

He broke in tempestuously. “A mock marriage! If it is but that scruple
stands between us...”

“I think there is more,” she answered him. “You compel me to hurt you; I
do so as the surgeon does--that I may heal you.”

“Why, thanks for nothing,” he made answer, unable to repress a sneer.
Then, checking himself, and resuming the hero-martyr posture, “I go,
mistress,” he told her sadly, “and if I lose my life to-night, or
to-morrow, in this affair...”

“I shall pray for you,” said she; for she had found him out at
last, perceived the nature of the bow he sought to draw across her
heart-strings, and, having perceived it, contempt awoke in her. He had
attempted to move her by unfair, insidious means.

He fell back, crimson from chin to brow. He stifled the wrath that
welled up, threatening to choke him. He was a short-necked man, of the
sort--as Trenchard had once reminded him--that falls a prey to apoplexy,
and surely he was never nearer it than at that moment. He made her a
profound bow, bending himself almost in two before her in a very irony
of deference; then, drawing himself up again, he turned and left her.

The plot which with some pride he had hatched and the reward he looked
to cull from it, were now to his soul as ashes to his lips. What could
it profit him to destroy Monmouth so that Anthony Wilding lived? For
whether she loved Wilding or not, she was Wilding’s wife. Wilding,
nominally, at least, was master of that which Sir Rowland coveted;
not her heart, indeed, but her ample fortune. Wilding had been a
stumbling-block to him since he had come to Bridgwater; but for Wilding
he might have run a smooth course; he was still fool enough to hug
that dear illusion to his soul. Somewhere in England--if not dead
already--this Wilding lurked, an outlaw, whom any might shoot down at
sight. Sir Rowland swore he would not rest until he knew that Anthony
Wilding cumbered the earth no more--leastways, not the surface of it.

He went forth to seek Newlington. The merchant had sent his message
to the rebel King, and had word in answer that His Majesty would be
graciously pleased to sup at Mr. Newlington’s at nine o’clock on
the following evening, attended by a few gentlemen of his immediate
following. Sir Rowland received the news with satisfaction, and sighed
to think that Mr. Wilding--still absent, Heaven knew where--would not be
of the party. It was reported that on the Monday Monmouth was to march
to Gloucester, hoping there to be joined by his Cheshire friends, so
that it seemed Sir Rowland had not matured his plan a day too soon.
He got to horse, and contriving to win out of Bridgwater, rode off to
Somerton to concert with Lord Feversham concerning the men he would need
for his undertaking.

That night Richard made free talk of the undertaking to Diana and to
Ruth, loving, as does the pusillanimous, to show himself engaged in
daring enterprises. Emulating his friend Sir Rowland, he held forth
with prolixity upon the great service he was to do the State, and Ruth,
listening to him, was proud of his zeal, the sincerity of which it never
entered her mind to doubt.

Diana listened, too, but without illusions concerning Master Richard,
and she kept her conclusions to herself.

During the afternoon of the morrow, which was Sunday, Sir Rowland
returned to Bridgwater, his mission to Feversham entirely successful,
and all preparations made. He completed his arrangements, and towards
eight o’clock that night the twenty men sent by Feversham--they had
slipped singly into the town--began to muster in the orchard at the back
of Mr. Newlington’s house.

It was just about that same hour that Mr. Wilding, saddle-worn and
dust-clogged in every pore, rode into Bridgwater, and made his way to
the sign of The Ship in the High Street, overlooking the Cross where
Trenchard was lodged. His friend was absent--possibly gone with his men
to the sermon Ferguson was preaching to the army in the Castle Fields.
Having put up his horse, Mr. Wilding, all dusty as he was, repaired
straight to the Castle to report himself to Monmouth.

He was informed that His Majesty was in council. Nevertheless, urging
that his news was of importance, he begged to be instantly announced.
After a pause, he was ushered into a lofty, roomy chamber where, in
the fading daylight, King Monmouth sat in council with Grey and Wade,
Matthews, Speke, Ferguson, and others. At the foot of the table stood a
sturdy country-fellow, unknown to Wilding. It was Godfrey, the spy, who
was to act as their guide across Sedgemoor that night; for the matter
that was engaging them just then was the completion of their plans
for the attack that was to be made that very night upon Feversham’s
unprepared camp--a matter which had been resolved during the last few
hours as an alternative preferable to the retreat towards Gloucester
that had at first been intended.

Wilding was shocked at the change that had been wrought in Monmouth’s
appearance during the few weeks since last he had seen him. His face
was thin, pale, and haggard, his eyes were more sombre, and beneath them
there were heavy, dark stains of sleeplessness and care, his very voice,
when presently he spoke, seemed to have lost the musical timbre that had
earlier distinguished it; it was grown harsh and rasping. Disappointment
after disappointment, set down to ill-luck, but in reality the fruit of
incompetence, had served to sour him. The climax had been reached in
the serious desertions after the Philips Norton fight, and the flight
of Paymaster Goodenough with the funds for the campaign. The company sat
about the long oak table on which a map was spread, and Colonel Wade was
speaking when Wilding entered.

On his appearance Wade ceased, and every eye was turned upon the
messenger from London. Ferguson, fresh from his sermon, sat with elbows
resting on the table, his long chin supported by his hands, his eyes
gleaming sharply under the shadow of his wig which was pulled down in
front to the level of his eyebrows.

It was the Duke who addressed Mr. Wilding, and the latter’s keen ears
were quick to catch the bitterness that underlay his words.

“We are glad to see you, sir; we had not looked to do so again.”

“Not looked to do so, Your Gr... Majesty!” he echoed, plainly not
understanding, and it was observed that he stumbled over the Duke’s new
title.

“We had imagined that the pleasures of the town were claiming your
entire attention.”

Wilding looked from one to the other of the men before him, and on the
face of all he saw a gravity that amounted to disapproval of him.

“The pleasures of the town?” said he, frowning, and again--“the
pleasures of the town? There is something in this that I fear I do not
understand.”

“Do you bring us news that London has risen?” asked Grey suddenly.

“I would I could,” said Wilding, smiling wistfully.

“Is it a laughing matter?” quoth Grey angrily.

“A smiling matter, my lord,” answered Wilding, nettled. “Your lordship
will observe that I did but smile.”

“Mr. Wilding,” said Monmouth darkly, “we are not pleased with you.”

“In that case,” returned Wilding, more and more irritated, “Your Majesty
expected of me more than was possible to any man.”

“You have wasted your time in London, sir,” the Duke explained. “We sent
you thither counting upon your loyalty and devotion to ourselves. What
have you done?”

“As much as a man could...” Wilding began, when Grey again interrupted
him.

“As little as a man could,” he answered. “Were His Grace not the most
foolishly clement prince in Christendom, a halter would be your reward
for the fine things you have done in London.”

Mr. Wilding stiffened visibly, his long white face grew set, and his
slanting eyes looked wicked. He was not a man readily moved to anger,
but to be greeted in such words as these by one who constituted himself
the mouthpiece of him for whom Wilding had incurred ruin was more than
he could bear with equanimity; that the risks to which he had exposed
himself in London--where, indeed, he had been in almost hourly
expectation of arrest and such short shrift as poor Disney had--should
be acknowledged in such terms as these, was something that turned him
almost sick with disgust. To what manner of men had he leagued himself?
He looked Grey steadily between the eyes.

“I mind me of an occasion on which such a charge of foolish clemency
might, indeed--and with greater justice--have been levelled against His
Majesty,” said he and his calm was almost terrible.

His lordship grew pale at the obvious allusion to Monmouth’s mild
treatment of him for his cowardice at Bridport, and his eyes were as
baleful as Wilding’s own at that moment. But before he could speak,
Monmouth had already answered Mr. Wilding.

“You are wanting in respect to us, sir,” he admonished him.

Mr. Wilding bowed to the rebuke in a submission that seemed ironical.
The blood mounted slowly to Monmouth’s cheeks.

“Perhaps,” put in Wade, who was anxious for peace, “Mr. Wilding has some
explanation to offer us of his failure.”

His failure! They took too much for granted. Stitched in the lining of
his boot was the letter from the Secretary of State. To have achieved
that was surely to have achieved something.

“I thank you, sir, for supposing it,” answered Wilding, his voice hard
with self-restraint; “I have indeed an explanation.”

“We will hear it,” said Monmouth condescendingly, and Grey sneered,
thrusting out his bloated lips.

“I have to offer the explanation that Your Majesty is served in London
by cowards; self-sufficient and self-important cowards who have hindered
me in my task instead of helping me. I refer particularly to Colonel
Danvers.”

Grey interrupted him. “You have a rare effrontery, sir--aye, by God! Do
you dare call Danvers a coward?”

“It is not I who so call him; but the facts. Colonel Danvers has run
away.

“Danvers gone?” cried Ferguson, voicing the consternation of all.

Wilding shrugged and smiled; Grey’s eye was offensively upon him. He
elected to answer the challenge of that glance. “He has followed
the illustrious example set him by other of Your Majesty’s devoted
followers,” said Wilding.

Grey rose suddenly. This was too much. “I’ll not endure it from this
knave!” he cried, appealing to Monmouth.

Monmouth wearily waved him to a seat; but Grey disregarded the command.

“What have I said that should touch your lordship?” asked Wilding, and,
smiling sardonically, he looked into Grey’s eyes.

“It is not what you have said. It is what you have inferred.”

“And to call me knave!” said Wilding in a mocking horror.

The repression of his anger lent him a rare bitterness, and an almost
devilishly subtle manner of expressing wordlessly what was passing in
his mind. There was not one present but gathered from his utterance of
those five words that he did not hold Grey worthy the honour of
being called to account for that offensive epithet. He made just an
exclamatory protest, such as he might have made had a woman applied the
term to him.

Grey turned from him slowly to Monmouth. “It might be well,” said he,
in his turn controlling himself at last, “to place Mr. Wilding under
arrest.”

Mr. Wilding’s manner quickened on the instant from passive to active
anger.

“Upon what charge, sir?” he demanded sharply. In truth it was the
only thing wanting that, after all that he had undergone, he should be
arrested. His eyes were upon the Duke’s melancholy face, and his anger
was such that in that moment he vowed that if Monmouth acted upon this
suggestion of Grey’s he should not have so much as the consolation of
Sunderland’s letter.

“You have been wanting in respect to us, sir,” the Duke answered him.
He seemed able to do little more than repeat himself. “You return from
London empty-handed, your task unaccomplished, and instead of a becoming
contrition, you hector it here before us in this manner.” He shook his
head. “We are not pleased with you, Mr. Wilding.”

“But, Your Grace,” exclaimed Wilding, “is it my fault that your London
agents had failed to organize the rising? That rising should have taken
place, and it would have taken place had Your Majesty been more ably
represented there.”

“You were there, Mr. Wilding,” said Grey with heavy sarcasm.

“Would it no’ be better to leave Mr. Wilding’s affair until afterwards?”
 suggested Ferguson at that moment. “It is already past eight, Your
Majesty, and there be still some details of this attack to settle that
your officers may prepare for it, whilst Mr. Newlington awaits Your
Majesty to supper at nine.”

“True,” said Monmouth, ever ready to take a solution offered by another.
“We will confer with you again later, Mr. Wilding.”

Wilding bowed, accepting his dismissal. “Before I go, Your Majesty,
there are certain things I would report...” he began.

“You have heard, sir,” Grey broke in. “Not now. This is not the time.”

“Indeed, no. This is not the time, Mr. Wilding,” echoed the Duke.

Wilding set his teeth in the intensity of his vexation.

“What I have to tell Your Majesty is of importance,” he exclaimed, and
Monmouth seemed to waver, whilst Grey looked disdainful unbelief of the
importance of any communication Wilding might have to make.

“We have little time, Your Majesty,” Ferguson reminded Monmouth.

“Perhaps,” put in friendly Wade, “Your Majesty might see Mr. Wilding at
Mr. Newlington’s.”

“Is it really necessary?” quoth Grey.

This treatment of him inspired Mr. Wilding with malice. The mere mention
of Sunderland’s letter would have changed their tone. But he elected
by no such word to urge the importance of his business. It should be
entirely as Monmouth should elect or be constrained by these gentlemen
about his council-table.

“It would serve two purposes,” said Wade, whilst Monmouth still
considered. “Your Majesty will be none too well attended, your officers
having this other matter to prepare for. Mr. Wilding would form another
to swell your escort of gentlemen.”

“I think you are right, Colonel Wade,” said Monmouth. “We sup at Mr.
Newlington’s at nine o’clock, Mr. Wilding. We shall expect you to attend
us there. Lieutenant Cragg,” said His Grace to the young officer who had
admitted Wilding, and who had remained at attention by the door, “you
may reconduct Mr. Wilding.”

Wilding bowed, his lips tight to keep in the anger that craved
expression. Then, without another word spoken, he turned and departed.

“An insolent, overbearing knave!” was Grey’s comment upon him after he
had left the room.

“Let us attend to this, your lordship,” said Speke, tapping the
map. “Time presses,” and he invited Wade to continue the matter that
Wilding’s advent had interrupted.



CHAPTER XVIII. BETRAYAL

Still smarting under the cavalier treatment he had received, Mr. Wilding
came forth from the Castle to find Trenchard awaiting him among the
crowd of officers and men that thronged the yard.

Nick linked his arm through his friend’s and led him away. They quitted
the place in silence, and in silence took their way south towards the
High Street, Nick waiting for Mr. Wilding to speak, Mr. Wilding’s mind
still in turmoil at the things he had endured. At last Nick halted
suddenly and looked keenly at his friend in the failing light.

“What a plague ails you, Tony?” said he sharply. “You are as silent as I
am impatient for your news.”

Wilding told him in brief, disdainful terms of the reception they
had given him at the Castle, and of how they had blamed him for the
circumstance that London had failed to proclaim itself for Monmouth.

Trenchard snarled viciously. “‘Tis that mongrel Grey,” said he. “Oh,
Anthony, to what an affair have we set our hands? Naught can prosper
with that fellow in it.” He laid his hand on Wilding’s arm and lowered
his voice. “As I have hinted before, ‘twould not surprise me if time
proved him a traitor. Failure attends him everywhere, and so unfailingly
that one wonders is not failure invited by him. And that fool Monmouth!
Pshaw! See what it is to serve a weakling. With another in his place
and the country disaffected as it is, we had been masters of England by
now.”

Two ladies passed them at that moment, cloaked and hooded, walking
briskly. One of them turned to look at Trenchard, who, waving his arms
in wild gesticulation, was a conspicuous object. She checked in her
walk, arresting her companion.

“Mr. Wilding!” she exclaimed. It was Lady Horton.

“Mr. Wilding!” cried Diana, her companion.

Wilding doffed his hat and bowed, Trenchard following his example.

“We had scarce looked to see you in Bridgwater again,” said the mother,
her mild, pleasant countenance reflecting the satisfaction it gave her
to behold him safe and sound.

“There have been moments,” answered Wilding, “when myself I scarce
expected to return. Your ladyship’s greeting shows me what I had lost
had I not done so.”

“You are but newly arrived?” quoth Diana, scanning him in the gloaming.

“From London, an hour since.”

“An hour?” she echoed, and observed that he was still booted and
dust-stained. “You will have been to Lupton House?”

A shadow crossed his face, his glance seemed to grow clouded, all of
which watchful Diana did not fail to observe. “Not yet,” said he.

“You are a laggard,” she laughed at him, and he felt the blood driven
back upon his heart. What did she mean? Was it possible she suggested
that he should be welcome, that his wife’s feelings towards him had
undergone a change? His last parting from her on the road near Walford
had been ever in his mind.

“I have had weighty business to transact, he replied, and Trenchard
snorted, his mind flying back to the council-room at the Castle, and
what his friend had told him.

“But now that you have disposed of that you will sup with us,” said Lady
Horton, who was convinced that since Ruth had gone to the altar with
him he was Ruth’s lover in spite of the odd things she had heard.
Appearances with Lady Horton counted for everything, and all that
glittered was gold to her.

“I would,” he answered, “but that I am to sup at Mr. Newlington’s with
His Majesty. My visit must wait until to-morrow.”

“Let us hope,” said Trenchard, “that it waits no longer.” He was already
instructed touching the night attack on Feversham’s camp on Sedgemoor,
and thought it likely Wilding would accompany them.

“You are going to Mr. Newlington’s?” said Diana, and Trenchard thought
she had turned singularly pale. Her hand was over her heart, her eyes
wide. She seemed about to add something, but checked herself. She took
her mother’s arm. “We are detaining Mr. Wilding, mother,” said she,
and her voice quivered as if her whole being were shaken by some gusty
agitation. They spoke their farewells briefly, and moved on. A second
later Diana was back at their side again.

“Where are you lodged, Mr. Wilding?” she inquired.

“With my friend Trenchard--at the sign of The Ship, by the Cross.”

She briefly acknowledged the information, rejoined her mother, and
hurried away with her.

Trenchard stood staring after them a moment. “Odd!” said he; “did you
mark that girl’s discomposure?”

But Wilding’s thoughts were elsewhere. “Come, Nick! If I am to render
myself fit to sit at table with Monmouth, we’ll need to hasten.”

They went their way, but not so fast as went Diana, urging with her her
protesting and short-winded mother.

“Where is your mistress?” the girl asked excitedly of the first servant
she met at Lupton House.

“In her room, madam,” the man replied, and to Ruth’s room went Diana
breathlessly, leaving Lady Horton gaping after her and understanding
nothing.

Ruth, who was seated pensive by her window, rose on Diana’s impetuous
entrance, and in the deepening twilight she looked almost ghostly in her
gown of shimmering white satin, sewn with pearls about the neck of the
low-cut bodice.

“Diana!” she cried. “You startled me.”

“Not so much as I am yet to do,” answered Diana, breathing excitement.
She threw back the wimple from her head, and pulling away her cloak,
tossed it on to the bed. “Mr. Wilding is in Bridgwater,” she announced.

There was a faint rustle from the stiff satin of Ruth’s gown. “Then...”
 her voice shook slightly. “Then... he is not dead,” she said, more
because she felt that she must say something than because her words
fitted the occasion.

“Not yet,” said Diana grimly.

“Not yet?”

“He sups to-night at Mr. Newlington’s,” Miss Horton exclaimed in a voice
pregnant with meaning.

“Ah!” It was a cry from Ruth, sharp as if she had been stabbed. She sank
back to her seat by the window, smitten down by this sudden news.

There was a pause, which fretted Diana, who now craved knowledge of what
might be passing in her cousin’s mind. She advanced towards Ruth and
laid a trembling hand on her shoulder, where the white gown met the
ivory neck. “He must be warned,” she said.

“But... but how?” stammered Ruth. “To warn him were to betray Sir
Rowland.”

“Sir Rowland?” cried Diana in high scorn.

“And... and Richard,” Ruth continued.

“Yes, and Mr. Newlington, and all the other knaves that are engaged in
this murderous business. Well?” she demanded. “Will you do it, or must
I?”

“Do it?” Ruth’s eyes sought her cousin’s white, excited face in the
quasi-darkness. “But have you thought of what it will mean? Have you
thought of the poor people that will perish unless the Duke is taken and
this rebellion brought to an end?”

“Thought of it?” repeated Diana witheringly. “Not I. I have thought that
Mr. Wilding is here and like to have his throat cut before an hour is
past.”

“Tell me, are you sure of this?” asked Ruth.

“I have it from your husband’s own lips,” Diana answered, and told her
in a few words of her meeting with Mr. Wilding.

Ruth sat with hands folded in her lap, her eyes on the dim violet
after-glow in the west, and her mind wrestling with this problem that
Diana had brought her.

“Diana,” she cried at last, “what am I to do?”

“Do?” echoed Diana. “Is it not plain? Warn Mr. Wilding.”

“But Richard?”

“Mr. Wilding saved Richard’s life...”

“I know. I know. My duty is to warn him.”

“Then why hesitate?”

“My duty is also to keep faith with Richard, to think of those poor
misguided folk who are to be saved by this,” cried Ruth in an agony. “If
Mr. Wilding is warned, they will all be ruined.”

Diana stamped her foot impatiently. “Had I thought to find you in this
mind, I had warned him myself,” said she.

“Ah! Why did you not?”

“That the chance of doing so might be yours. That you might thus repay
him the debt in which you stand.”

“Diana, I can’t!” The words broke from her in a sob.

But whatever her interest in Mr. Wilding for her own sake, Diana’s prime
intent was the thwarting of Sir Rowland Blake. If Wilding were warned
of what manner of feast was spread at Newlington’s, Sir Rowland would be
indeed undone.

“You think of Richard,” she exclaimed, “and you know that Richard is to
have no active part in the affair--that he will run no risk. They have
assigned him but a sentry duty that he may warn Blake and his followers
if any danger threatens them.”

“It is not of Richard’s life I am thinking, but of his honour, of his
trust in me. To warn Mr. Wilding were... to commit an act of betrayal.”

“And is Mr. Wilding to be slaughtered with his friends?” Diana asked
her. “Resolve me that. Time presses. In half an hour it will be too
late.”

That allusion to the shortness of the time brought Ruth an inspiration.
Suddenly she saw a way. Wilding should be saved, and yet she would not
break faith with Richard nor ruin those others. She would detain him,
and whilst warning him at the last moment, in time for him to save
himself; not do so until it must be too late for him to warn the others.
Thus she would do her duty by him, and yet keep faith with Richard and
Sir Rowland. She had resolved, she thought, the awful difficulty that
had confronted her. She rose suddenly, heartened by the thought.

“Give me your cloak and wimple,” she bade Diana, and Diana flew to do
her bidding. “Where is Mr. Wilding lodged?” she asked.

“At the sign of The Ship--overlooking the Cross, with Mr. Trenchard.
Shall I come with you?”

“No,” answered Ruth without hesitation. “I will go alone.” She drew the
wimple well over her head, so that in its shadows her face might lie
concealed, and hid her shimmering white dress under Diana’s cloak.

She hastened through the ill-lighted streets, never heeding the rough
cobbles that hurt her feet, shod in light indoor wear, never heeding the
crowds that thronged her way. All Bridgwater was astir with Monmouth’s
presence; moreover, there had been great incursions from Taunton and the
surrounding country, the women-folk of the Duke-King’s followers having
come that day to Bridgwater to say farewell to father and son, husband
and brother, before the army marched--as was still believed--to
Gloucester.

The half-hour was striking from Saint Mary’s--the church in which she
had been married--as Ruth reached the door of the sign of The Ship. She
was about to knock, when suddenly it opened, and Mr. Wilding himself,
with Trenchard immediately behind him, stood confronting her. At sight
of him a momentary weakness took her. He had changed from his hard-used
riding-garments into a suit of roughly corded black silk, which threw
into relief the steely litheness of his spare figure. His dark brown
hair was carefully dressed, diamonds gleamed in the cravat of snowy lace
at his throat. He was uncovered, his hat under his arm, and he stood
aside to make way for her, imagining that she was some woman of the
house.

“Mr. Wilding,” said she, her heart fluttering in her throat. “May I...
may I speak with you?”

He leaned forward, seeking to pierce the shadows of her wimple; he had
thought he recognized the voice, as his sudden start had shown; and
yet he disbelieved his ears. She moved her head at that moment, and the
light streaming out from a lamp in the passage beat upon her white face.

“Ruth!” he cried, and came quickly forward. Trenchard, behind
him, looked on and scowled with sudden impatience. Mr. Wilding’s
philanderings with this lady had never had the old rake’s approval. Too
much trouble already had resulted from them.

“I must speak with you at once. At once!” she urged him, her tone
fearful.

“Are you in need of me?” he asked concernedly.

“In very urgent need,” said she.

“I thank God,” he answered without flippancy. “You shall find me at your
service. Tell me.”

“Not here; not here,” she answered him.

“Where else?” said he. “Shall we walk?”

“No, no.” Her repetitions marked the deep excitement that possessed her.
“I will go in with you.” And she signed with her head towards the door
from which he was barely emerged.

“‘Twere scarce fitting,” said he, for being confused and full of
speculation on the score of her need, he had for the moment almost
overlooked the relations in which they stood. In spite of the ceremony
through which they had gone together, Mr. Wilding still mostly thought
of her as of a mistress very difficult to woo.

“Fitting?” she echoed, and then after a pause, “Am I not your wife?” she
asked him in a low voice, her cheeks crimsoning.

“Ha! ‘Pon honour, I had almost forgot,” said he, and though the burden
of his words seemed mocking, their tone was sad.

Of the passers-by that jostled them a couple had now paused to watch a
scene that had an element of the unusual in it. She pulled her wimple
closer to her face, took him by the arm, and drew him with her into the
house.

“Close the door,” she bade him, and Trenchard, who had stood aside that
they might pass in, forestalled him in obeying her. “Now lead me to your
room, said she, and Wilding in amaze turned to Trenchard as if asking
his consent, for the lodging, after all, was Trenchard’s.

“I’ll wait here,” said Nick, and waved his hand towards an oak bench
that stood in the passage. “You had best make haste,” he urged his
friend; “you are late already. That is, unless you are of a mind to set
the lady’s affairs before King Monmouth’s. And were I in your place,
Anthony, faith I’d not scruple to do it. For after all,” he added under
his breath, “there’s little choice in rotten apples.”

Ruth waited for some answer from Wilding that might suggest he was
indifferent whether he went to Newlington’s or not; but he spoke no word
as he turned to lead the way above-stairs to the indifferent
parlour which with the adjoining bedroom constituted Mr. Trenchard’s
lodging--and his own, for the time being.

Having assured herself that the curtains were closely drawn, she put by
her cloak and hood, and stood revealed to him in the light of the
three candles, burning in a branch upon the bare oak table, dazzlingly
beautiful in her gown of ivory-white.

He stood apart, cogitating her with glowing eyes, the faintest smile
between question and pleasure hovering about his thin mouth. He had
closed the door, and stood in silence waiting for her to make known to
him her pleasure.

“Mr. Wilding...” she began, and straightway he interrupted her.

“But a moment since you did remind me that I have the honour to be your
husband,” he said with grave humour. “Why seek now to overcloud that
fact? I mind me that the last time we met you called me by another name.
But it may be,” he added as an afterthought, “you are of opinion that I
have broken faith with you.”

“Broken faith? As how?”

“So!” he said, and sighed. “My words were of so little account that they
have been, I see, forgotten. Yet, so that I remember them, that is what
chiefly matters. I promised then--or seemed to promise--that I would
make a widow of you, who had made a wife of you against your will. It
has not happened yet. Do not despair. This Monmouth quarrel is not yet
fought out. Hope on, my Ruth.”

She looked at him with eyes wide open--lustrous eyes of sapphire in
a face of ivory. A faint smile parted her lips, the reflection of the
thought in her mind that had she, indeed, been eager for his death she
would not be with him at this moment; had she desired it, how easy would
her course have been.

“You do me wrong to bid me hope for that,” she answered him, her tones
level. “I do not wish the death of any man, unless...” She paused; her
truthfulness urged her too far.

“Unless?” said he, brows raised, polite interest on his face.

“Unless it be His Grace of Monmouth.”

He considered her with suddenly narrowed eyes. “You have not by chance
sought me to talk politics?” said he. “Or...” and he suddenly caught his
breath, his nostrils dilating with rage at the bare thought that leapt
into his mind. Had Monmouth, the notorious libertine, been to Lupton
House and persecuted her with his addresses? “Is it that you are
acquainted with His Grace?” he asked.

“I have never spoken to him!” she answered, with no suspicion of what
was in his thoughts.

In his relief he laughed, remembering now that Monmouth’s affairs were
too absorbing just at present to leave him room for dalliance.

“But you are standing,” said he, and he advanced a chair. “I deplore
that I have no better hospitality to offer you. I doubt if I ever shall
again. I am told that Albemarle did me the honour to stable his knackers
in my hall at Zoyland.”

She took the chair he offered her, sinking to it like one physically
weary, a thing he was quick to notice. He watched her, his body eager,
his soul trammelling it with a steely restraint. “Tell me, now,” said
he, “in what you need me.”

She was silent a moment, pondering, hesitation and confusion seeming to
envelop her. A pink flush rose to colour the beautiful pillar of neck
and overspread the delicate half-averted face. He watched it, wondering.

“How long,” she asked him, her whole intent at present being to delay
him and gain time. “How long have you been in Bridgwater?”

“Two hours at most,” said he.

“Two hours! And yet you never came to... to me. I heard of your
presence, and I feared you might intend to abstain from seeking me.”

He almost held his breath while she spoke, caught in amazement. He was
standing close beside her chair, his right hand rested upon its tall
back.

“Did you so intend?” she asked him.

“I told you even now,” he answered with hard-won calm, “that I had made
you a sort of promise.”

“I... I would not have you keep it,” she murmured. She heard his sharply
indrawn breath, felt him leaning over her, and was filled with an
unaccountable fear.

“Was it to tell me this you came?” he asked her, his voice reduced to a
whisper.

“No... yes,” she answered, an agony in her mind, which groped for some
means to keep him by her side until his danger should be overpast. That
much she owed him in honour if in nothing else.

“No--yes?” he echoed, and he had drawn himself erect again. “What is’t
you mean, Ruth?”

“I mean that it was that, yet not quite only that.”

“Ah!” Disappointment vibrated faintly in his clamation. “What else?”

“I would have you abandon Monmouth’s following,” she told him.

He stared a moment, moved away and round where he could confront her.
The flush had now faded from her face. This he observed and the heave
of her bosom in its low bodice. He knit his brows, perplexed. Here was
surely more than at first might seem.

“Why so?” he asked.

“For your own safety’s sake,” she answered him.

“You are oddly concerned for that, Ruth.”

“Concerned--not oddly.” She paused an instant, swallowed hard, and then
continued. “I am concerned too for your honour, and there is no honour
in following his banner. He has crowned himself King, and so proved
himself a self-seeker who came dissembled as the champion of a cause
that he might delude poor ignorant folk into flocking to his standard
and helping him to his ambitious ends.”

“You are wondrously well schooled,” said he. “Whose teachings do you
recite me? Sir Rowland Blake’s?”

At another time the sneer might have cut her. At the moment she was too
intent upon gaining time. The means to it mattered little. The more she
talked to no purpose, the more at random was their discourse, the better
would her ends be served.

“Sir Rowland Blake?” she cried. “What is he to me?”

“Ah, what? Let me set you the question rather.”

“Less than nothing,” she assured him, and for some moments afterwards it
was this Sir Rowland who served them as a topic for their odd interview.
On the overmantel the pulse of time beat on from a little wooden clock.
His eyes strayed to it; it marked the three-quarters. He bethought
him suddenly of his engagement. Trenchard, below-stairs, supremely
indifferent whether Wilding went to Newlington’s or not, smoked on,
entirely unconcerned by the flight of time.

“Mistress,” said Wilding suddenly, “you have not yet told me in what you
seek my service. Indeed, we seem to have talked to little purpose. My
time is very short.”

“Where are you going?” she asked him, and fearfully she shot a sidelong
glance at the timepiece. It was still too soon, by at least five
minutes.

He smiled, but his smile was singular. He began to suspect at last that
her only purpose--to what end he could not guess--was to detain him.

“‘Tis a singularly sudden interest in my doings, this,” said he quietly.
“What is’t you seek of me?” He reached for the hat he had cast upon the
table when they had entered. “Tell me briefly. I may stay no longer.”

She rose, her agitation suddenly increasing, afraid that after all he
would escape her. “Where are you going?” she asked. “Answer me that, and
I will tell you why I came.”

“I am to sup at Mr. Newlington’s in His Majesty’s company.

“His Majesty’s?”

“King Monmouth’s,” he explained impatiently. “Come, Ruth. Already I am
late.”

“If I were to ask you not to go,” she said slowly, and she held out her
hands to him, her glance most piteous--and that was not acting--as she
raised it to meet his own, “would you not stay to pleasure me?”

He considered her from under frowning eyes. “Ruth,” he said, and he took
her hands, “there is here something that I do not understand. What is’t
you mean?”

“Promise me that you will not go to Newlington’s, and I will tell you.”

“But what has Newlington to do with...? Nay, I am pledged already to
go.”

She drew closer to him, her hands upon his shoulders. “Yet if I ask
you--I, your wife?” she pleaded, and almost won him to her will.

But suddenly he remembered another occasion on which, for purposes of
her own, she had so pleaded. He laughed softly, mockingly.

“Do you woo me, Ruth, who, when I wooed you, would have none of me?”

She drew back from him, crimsoning. “I think I had better go,” said she.
“You have nothing but mockery for me. It was ever so. Who knows?” she
sighed as she took up her mantle. “Had you but observed more gentle
ways, you... you...” She paused, needing to say no more. “Good-night!”
 she ended, and made shift to leave. He watched her, deeply mystified.
She had gained the door when suddenly he moved.

“Wait!” he cried. She paused, and turned to look over her shoulder, her
hand apparently upon the latch. “You shall not go until you have told
me why you besought me to keep away from Newlington’s. What is it?” he
asked, and paused suddenly, a flood of light breaking in upon his mind.
“Is there some treachery afoot?” he asked her, and his eye went wildly
to the clock. A harsh, grating sound rang through the room. “What are
you doing?” he cried. “Why have you locked the door?” She was tugging
and fumbling desperately to extract the key, her hands all clumsy in her
nervous haste. He leapt at her, but in that moment the key came away in
her hand. She wheeled round to face him, erect, defiant almost.

“Here is some devilry!” he cried. “Give me that key.”

He had no need for further questions. Here was a proof more eloquent
than words to his ready wit. Sir Rowland or Richard, or both, were in
some plot for the Duke’s ruin--perhaps assassination. Had not her very
words shown that she herself was out of all sympathy with Monmouth? He
was out of sympathy himself. But not to the extent of standing by to see
his throat cut. She would have the plot succeed--whatever it might be
and yet that he himself be spared. There his thoughts paused; but only
for a moment. He saw suddenly in this, not a proof of concern born of
love but of duty towards him who had imperilled himself once--and for
all time, indeed--that he might save her brother and Sir Rowland.

He told her what had been so suddenly revealed to him, taxing her with
it. She acknowledged it, her wits battling to find some way by which
she might yet gain a few moments more. She would cling to the key, and
though he should offer her violence, she would not let it go without a
struggle, and that struggle must consume the little time yet wanting to
make it too late for him to save the Duke, and--what imported more--thus
save herself from betraying her brother’s trust. Another fear leapt at
her suddenly. If through deed of hers Monmouth was spared that night,
Blake, in his despair and rage, might slake his vengeance upon Richard.

“Give me that key,” he demanded, his voice cold and quiet, his face set.

“No, no,” she cried, setting her hand behind her. “You shall not go,
Anthony. You shall not go.”

“I must,” he insisted, still cold, but oh! so determined. “My honour’s
in it now that I know.”

“You’ll go to your death,” she reminded him.

He sneered. “What signifies a day or so? Give me the key.”

“I love you, Anthony!” she cried, livid to the lips.

“Lies!” he answered her contemptuously. “The key!”

“No,” she answered, and her firmness matched his own. “I will not have
you slain.”

“‘Tis not my purpose--not just yet. But I must save the others. God
forgive me if I offer violence to a woman,” he added, “and lay rude
hands upon her. Do not compel me to it.” He advanced upon her, but she,
lithe and quick, evaded him, and sprang for the middle of the room. He
wheeled about, his self-control all slipping from him now. Suddenly she
darted to the window, and with the hand that clenched the key she
smote a pane with all her might. There was a smash of shivering glass,
followed an instant later by a faint tinkle on the stones below, and the
hand that she still held out covered itself all with blood.

“O God!” he cried, the key and all else forgotten. “You are hurt.”

“But you are saved,” she cried, overwrought, and staggered, laughing and
sobbing, to a chair, sinking her bleeding hand to her lap, and smearing
recklessly her spotless, shimmering gown.

He caught up a chair by its legs, and at a single blow smashed down the
door--a frail barrier after all. “Nick!” he roared. “Nick!” He tossed
the chair from him and vanished into the adjoining room to reappear a
moment later carrying basin and ewer, and a shirt of Trenchard’s--the
first piece of linen he could find.

She was half fainting, and she let him have his swift, masterful way.
He bathed her hand, and was relieved to find that the injury was none so
great as the flow of blood had made him fear. He tore Trenchard’s
fine cambric shirt to shreds--a matter on which Trenchard afterwards
commented in quotations from at least three famous Elizabethan
dramatists. He bound up her hand, just as Nick made his appearance at
the splintered door, his mouth open, his pipe, gone out, between his
fingers. He was followed by a startled serving-wench, the only other
person in the house, for every one was out of doors that night.

Into the woman’s care Wilding delivered his wife, and without a word to
her he left the room, dragging Trenchard with him. It was striking nine
as they went down the stairs, and the sound brought as much satisfaction
to Ruth above as dismay to Wilding below.



CHAPTER XIX. THE BANQUET

It was striking nine. Therefore, Ruth thought that she had achieved her
object, Wilding imagined that all was lost. It needed the more tranquil
mind of Nicholas Trenchard to show him the fly in madam’s ointment,
after Wilding, in half a dozen words, had made him acquainted with the
situation.

“What are you going to do?” asked Trenchard.

“Run to Newlington’s and warn the Duke--if still in time.”

“And thereby precipitate the catastrophe? Oh, give it thought. It is all
it needs. You are taking it for granted that nine o’clock is the hour
appointed for King Monmouth’s butchery.”

“What else?” asked Wilding, impatient to be off.

They were standing in the street under the sign of The Ship, by which
Jonathan Edney--Mr. Trenchard’s landlord--distinguished his premises and
the chandler’s trade he drove there. Trenchard set a detaining hand on
Mr. Wilding’s arm.

“Nine o’clock is the hour appointed for supper. It is odds the Duke will
be a little late, and it is more than odds that when he does arrive, the
assassins will wait until the company is safely at table and lulled by
good eating and drinking. You had overlooked that, I see. It asks an old
head for wisdom, after all. Look you, Anthony. Speed to Colonel Wade as
fast as your legs can carry you, and get a score of men. Then find
some fellow to lead you to Newlington’s orchard, and if only you do not
arrive too late you may take Sir Rowland and his cut-throats in the rear
and destroy them to a man before they realize themselves attacked. I’ll
reconnoitre while you go, and keep an eye on the front of the house.
Away with you!”

Ordinarily Wilding was a man of a certain dignity, but you had not
thought it had you seen him running in silk stockings and silver-buckled
shoes at a headlong pace through the narrow streets of Bridgwater,
in the direction of the Castle. He overset more than one, and oaths
followed him from these and from others whom he rudely jostled out of
his path. Wade was gone with Monmouth, but he came upon Captain Slape,
who had a company of scythes and musketeers incorporated in the Duke’s
own regiment, and to him Wilding gasped out the news and his request for
a score of men with what breath was left him.

Time was lost--and never was time more precious--in convincing Slape
that this was no old wife’s tale. At last, however, he won his way and
twenty musketeers; but the quarter-past the hour had chimed ere they
left the Castle. He led them forth at a sharp run, with never a thought
for the circumstance that they would need their breath anon, perhaps for
fighting, and he bade the man who guided them take them by back streets
that they might attract as little attention as possible.

Within a stone’s-throw of the house he halted them, and sent one
forward to reconnoitre, following himself with the others as quietly and
noiselessly as possible. Mr. Newlington’s house was all alight, but from
the absence of uproar--sounds there were in plenty from the main street,
where a dense throng had collected to see His Majesty go in--Mr. Wilding
inferred with supreme relief that they were still in time. But
the danger was not yet past. Already, perhaps, the assassins were
penetrating--or had penetrated--to the house; and at any moment such
sounds might greet them as would announce the execution of their
murderous design.

Meanwhile Mr. Trenchard, having relighted his pipe, and set his hat
rakishly atop his golden wig, strolled up the High Street, swinging
his long cane very much like a gentleman taking the air in quest of an
appetite for supper. He strolled past the Cross and on until he came
to the handsome mansion--one of the few handsome houses in
Bridgwater--where opulent Mr. Newlington had his residence. A small
crowd had congregated about the doors, for word had gone forth that His
Majesty was to sup there. Trenchard moved slowly through the people,
seemingly uninterested, but, in fact, scanning closely every face he
encountered. Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he espied in the
indifferent light Mr. Richard Westmacott.

Trenchard passed him, jostling him as he went, and strolled on some few
paces, then turned, and came slowly back, and observed that Richard had
also turned and was now watching him as he approached. He was all but
upon the boy when suddenly his wrinkled face lighted with recognition.

“Mr. Westmacott!” he cried, and there was surprise in his voice.

Richard, conscious that Trenchard must no doubt regard him as a
turn-tippet, flushed, and stood aside to give passage to the other.
But Mr. Trenchard was by no means minded to pass. He clapped a hand
on Richard’s shoulder. “Nay,” he cried, between laughter and feigned
resentment. “Do you bear me ill-will, lad?”

Richard was somewhat taken aback. “For what should I bear you ill-will,
Mr. Trenchard?” quoth he.

Trenchard laughed frankly, and so uproariously that his hat
over-jauntily cocked was all but shaken from his head. “I mind me the
last time we met, I played you an unfair trick,” said he. His tone
bespoke the very highest good-humour. He slipped his arm through
Richard’s. “Never bear an old man malice, lad,” said he.

“I assure you that I bear you none,” said Richard, relieved to find that
Trenchard apparently knew nothing of his defection, yet wishing that
Trenchard would go his ways, for Richard’s task was to stand sentry
there.

“I’ll not believe you till you afford me proof,” Trenchard replied. “You
shall come and wash your resentment down in the best bottle of Canary
the White Cow can furnish us.”

“Not now, I thank you,” answered Richard.

“You are thinking of the last occasion on which I drank with you,” said
Trenchard reproachfully.

“Not so. But... but I am not thirsty.”

“Not thirsty?” echoed Trenchard. “And is that a reason? Why, lad, it is
the beast that drinks only when he thirsts. And in that lies one of the
main differences between beast and man. Come on”--and his arm effected a
gentle pressure upon Richard’s, to move him thence. But at that moment,
down the street with a great rumble of wheels, cracking of whips
and clatter of hoofs, came a coach, bearing to Mr. Newlington’s King
Monmouth escorted by his forty life-guards. Cheering broke from the
crowd as the carriage drew up, and the Duke-King as he alighted
turned his handsome face, on which shone the ruddy glow of torches, to
acknowledge these loyal acclamations. He passed up the steps, at the top
of which Mr. Newlington--fat and pale and monstrously overdressed--stood
bowing to welcome his royal visitor. Host and guest vanished, followed
by some six officers of Monmouth’s, among whom were Grey and Wade.
The sight-seers flattened themselves against the walls as the great
lumbering coach put about and went off again the way it had come, the
life-guards following after.

Trenchard fancied that he caught a sigh of relief from Richard, but the
street was noisy at the time and he may well have been mistaken.

“Come,” said he, renewing his invitation, “we shall both be the better
for a little milk of the White Cow.”

Richard wavered almost by instinct. The White Cow, he knew, was famous
for its sack; on the other hand, he was pledged to Sir Rowland to
stand guard in the narrow lane at the back where ran the wall of Mr.
Newlington’s garden. Under the gentle suasion of Trenchard’s arm, he
moved a few steps up the street; then halted, his duty battling with his
inclination.

“No, no,” he muttered. “If you will excuse me...”

“Not I,” said Trenchard, drawing from his hesitation a shrewd inference
as to Richard’s business. “To drink alone is an abomination I’ll not be
guilty of.”

“But...” began the irresolute Richard.

“Shalt urge me no excuses, or we’ll quarrel. Come,” and he moved on,
dragging Richard with him.

A few steps Richard took unwillingly under the other’s soft compulsion;
then, having given the matter thought--he was always one to take the
line of least resistance--he assured himself that his sentryship was
entirely superfluous; the matter of Blake’s affair was an entire secret,
shared only by those who had a hand in it. Blake was quite safe from all
surprises; Trenchard was insistent and it was difficult to deny him;
and the sack at the White Cow was no doubt the best in Somerset. He gave
himself up to the inevitable and fell into step alongside his companion
who babbled aimlessly of trivial matters. Trenchard felt the change from
unwilling to willing companionship, and approved it.

They mounted the three steps and entered the common room of the inn.
It was well thronged at the time, but they found places at the end of a
long table, and there they sat and discussed the landlady’s Canary for
the best part of a half-hour, until a sudden spatter of musketry, near
at hand, came to startle the whole room.

There was a momentary stillness in the tavern, succeeded by an excited
clamouring, a dash for the windows and a storm of questions, to
which none could return any answer. Richard had risen with a sudden
exclamation, very pale and scared of aspect. Trenchard tugged at his
sleeve.

“Sit down,” said he. “Sit down. It will be nothing.”

“Nothing?” echoed Richard, and his eyes were suddenly bent on Trenchard
in a look in which suspicion was now blent with terror.

A second volley of musketry crackled forth at that moment, and the next
the whole street was in an uproar. Men were running and shots resounded
on every side, above all of which predominated the cry that His Majesty
was murdered.

In an instant the common room of the White Cow was emptied of every
occupant save two--Trenchard and Westmacott. Neither of them felt the
need to go forth in quest of news. They knew how idle was the cry in
the streets. They knew what had taken place, and knowing it, Trenchard
smoked on placidly, satisfied that Wilding had been in time, whilst
Richard stood stricken and petrified by dismay at realizing, with even
greater certainty, that something had supervened to thwart, perhaps
to destroy, Sir Rowland. For he knew that Blake’s party had gone forth
armed with pistols only, and intent not to use even these save in
the last extremity; to avoid noise they were to keep to steel. This
knowledge gave Richard positive assurance that the volleys they had
heard must have been fired by some party that had fallen upon Blake’s
men and taken them by surprise.

And it was his fault! He was the traitor to whom perhaps a score of men
owed their deaths at that moment! He had failed to keep watch as he had
undertaken. His fault it was--No! not his, but this villain’s who sat
there smugly taking his ease and pulling at his pipe.

At a blow Richard dashed the thing from his companion’s mouth and
fingers.

Trenchard looked up startled.

“What the devil...?” he began.

“It is your fault, your fault!” cried Richard, his eyes blazing, his
lips livid. “It was you who lured me hither.”

Trenchard stared at him in bland surprise. “Now, what a plague is’t
you’re saying?” he asked, and brought Richard to his senses by awaking
in him the instinct of self-preservation.

How could he explain his meaning without betraying himself?--and surely
that were a folly, now that the others were no doubt disposed of. Let
him, rather, bethink him of his own safety. Trenchard looked at him
keenly, with well-assumed intent to read what might be passing in his
mind, then rose, paid for the wine, and expressed his intention of
going forth to inquire into these strange matters that were happening in
Bridgwater.

Meanwhile, those volleys fired in Mr. Newlington’s orchard had
caused--as well may be conceived--an agitated interruption of the superb
feast Mr. Newlington had spread for his noble and distinguished guests.
The Duke had for some days been going in fear of his life, for already
he had been fired at more than once by men anxious to earn the price
at which his head was valued; instantly he surmised that whatever that
firing might mean, it indicated some attempt to surprise him with the
few gentlemen who attended him.

The whole company came instantly to its feet, and Colonel Wade stepped
to a window that stood open--for the night was very warm. The Duke
turned for explanation to his host; the trader, however, professed
himself entirely unable to offer any. He was very pale and his limbs
were visibly trembling, but then his agitation was most natural. His
wife and daughter supervened at that moment, in their alarm entering the
room unceremoniously, in spite of the august presence, to inquire into
the meaning of this firing, and to reassure themselves that their father
and his illustrious guests were safe.

From the windows they could observe a stir in the gardens below. Black
shadows of men flitted to and fro, and a loud, rich voice was heard
calling to them to take cover, that they were betrayed. Then a sheet of
livid flame blazed along the summit of the low wall, and a second volley
of musketry rang out, succeeded by cries and screams from the assailed
and the shouts of the assailers who were now pouring into the garden
through the battered doorway and over the wall. For some moments
steel rang on steel, and pistol-shots cracked here and there to the
accompaniment of voices, raised some in anger, some in pain. But it was
soon over, and a comparative stillness succeeded.

A voice called up from the darkness under the windows to know if His
Majesty was safe. There had been a plot to take him; but the ambuscaders
had been ambuscaded in their turn, and not a man of them remained--which
was hardly exact, for under a laurel bush, scarce daring to breathe, lay
Sir Rowland Blake, livid with fear and fury, and bleeding from a rapier
scratch in the cheek, but otherwise unhurt.

In the room above, Monmouth had sunk wearily into his chair upon hearing
of the design there had been against his life. A deep, bitter melancholy
enwrapped his spirit. Lord Grey’s first thoughts flew to the man he
most disliked--the one man missing from those who had been bidden to
accompany His Majesty, whose absence had already formed the subject
of comment. Grey remembered this bearing before the council that same
evening, and his undisguised resentment of the reproaches levelled
against him.

“Where is Mr. Wilding?” he asked suddenly, his voice dominating the
din of talk that filled the room. “Do we hold the explanation of his
absence?”

Monmouth looked up quickly, his beautiful eyes ineffably sad, his weak
mouth drooping at the corners. Wade turned to confront Grey.

“Your lordship does not suggest that Mr. Wilding can have a hand in
this?”

“Appearances would seem to point in that direction,” answered Grey, and
in his wicked heart he almost hoped it might be so.

“Then appearances speak truth for once,” came a bitter, ringing voice.
They turned, and there on the threshold stood Mr. Wilding. Unheard he
had come upon them. He was bareheaded and carried his drawn sword. There
was blood upon it, and there was blood on the lace that half concealed
the hand that held it; otherwise--and saving that his shoes and
stockings were sodden with the dew from the long grass in the
orchard--he was as spotless as when he had left Ruth in Trenchard’s
lodging; his face, too, was calm, save for the mocking smile with which
he eyed Lord Grey.

Monmouth rose on his appearance, and put his hand to his sword in alarm.
Grey whipped his own from the scabbard, and placed himself slightly in
front of his master as if to preserve him.

“You mistake, sirs,” said Wilding quietly. “The hand I have had in this
affair has been to save Your Majesty from your enemies. At the moment I
should have joined you, word was brought me of the plot that was laid,
of the trap that was set for you. I hastened to the Castle and obtained
a score of musketeers of Slape’s company. With those I surprised the
murderers lurking in the garden there, and made an end of them. I
greatly feared I should not come in time; but it is plain that Heaven
preserves Your Majesty for better days.”

In the revulsion of feeling, Monmouth’s eyes shone moist. Grey sheathed
his sword with an awkward laugh, and a still more awkward word of
apology to Wilding. The Duke, moved by a sudden impulse to make amends
for his unworthy suspicions, for his perhaps unworthy reception of
Wilding earlier that evening in the council-room, drew the sword on
which his hand still rested. He advanced a step.

“Kneel, Mr. Wilding,” he said in a voice stirred by emotion. But
Wilding’s stern spirit scorned this all too sudden friendliness of
Monmouth’s as much as he scorned the accolade at Monmouth’s hands.

“There are more pressing matters to demand Your Majesty’s attention,”
 said Mr. Wilding coldly, advancing to the table as he spoke, and taking
up a napkin to wipe his blade, “than the reward of an unworthy servant.”

Monmouth felt his sudden enthusiasm chilled by that tone and manner.

“Mr. Newlington,” said Mr. Wilding, after the briefest of pauses, and
the fat, sinful merchant started forward in alarm. It was like a summons
of doom. “His Majesty came hither, I am informed, to receive at your
hands a sum of money--twenty thousand pounds--towards the expenses
of the campaign. Have you the money at hand?” And his eye, glittering
between cruelty and mockery, fixed itself upon the merchant’s ashen
face.

“It... it shall be forthcoming by morning,” stammered Newlington.

“By morning?” cried Grey, who, with the others, watched Mr. Newlington
what time they all wondered at Mr. Wilding’s question and the manner of
it.

“You knew that I march to-night,” Monmouth reproached the merchant.

“And it was to receive the money that you invited His Majesty to do you
the honours of supping with you here,” put in Wade, frowning darkly.

The merchant’s wife and daughter stood beside him watching him, and
plainly uneasy. Before he could make any reply, Mr. Wilding spoke again.

“The circumstance that he has not the money by him is a little odd--or
would be were it not for what has happened. I would submit, Your
Majesty, that you receive from Mr. Newlington not twenty thousand pounds
as he had promised you, but thirty thousand, and that you receive it not
as a loan as was proposed, but as a fine imposed upon him in consequence
of... his lack of care in the matter of his orchard.”

Monmouth looked at the merchant very sternly. “You have heard Mr.
Wilding’s suggestion,” said he. “You may thank the god of traitors it
was made, else we might have thought of a harsher course. You shall pay
the money by ten o’clock to-morrow to Mr. Wilding, whom I shall leave
behind for the sole purpose of collecting it.” He turned from Newlington
in plain disgust. “I think, sirs, that here is no more to be done. Are
the streets safe, Mr. Wilding?”

“Not only safe, Your Majesty, but the twenty men of Slape’s and your own
life-guards are waiting to escort you.”

“Then in God’s name let us be going,” said Monmouth, sheathing his sword
and moving towards the door. Not a second time did he offer to confer
the honour of knighthood upon his saviour.

Mr. Wilding turned and went out to marshal his men. The Duke and his
officers followed more leisurely. As they reached the door, a woman’s
cry broke the silence behind them. Monmouth turned. Mr. Newlington,
purple of face and his eyes protruding horridly, was beating the air
with his hands. Suddenly he collapsed, and crashed forward with arms
flung out amid the glass and silver of the table all spread with the
traitor’s banquet to which he had bidden his unsuspecting victim.

His wife and daughter ran to him and called him by name, Monmouth
pausing a moment to watch them from the doorway with eyes unmoved. But
Mr. Newlington answered not their call, for he was dead.



CHAPTER XX. THE RECKONING

Ruth had sped home through the streets unattended, as she had come,
heedless of the rude jostlings and ruder greetings she met with from
those she passed; heedless, too, of the smarting of her injured hand,
for the agony of her soul was such that it whelmed all minor sufferings
of the flesh.

In the dining-room at Lupton House she came upon Diana and Lady Horton
at supper, and her appearance--her white and distraught face and
blood-smeared gown--brought both women to their feet in alarmed inquiry,
no less than it brought Jasper, the butler, to her side with ready
solicitude. Ruth answered him that there was no cause for fear, that she
was quite well--had scratched her hand, no more; and with that dismissed
him. When she was alone with her aunt and cousin, she sank into a chair
and told them what had passed ‘twixt her husband and herself and most of
what she said was Greek to Lady Horton.

“Mr. Wilding has gone to warn the Duke,” she ended, and the despair of
her tone was tragical. “I sought to detain him until it should be too
late--I thought I had done so, but... but... Oh, I am afraid, Diana!”

“Afraid of what?” asked Diana. “Afraid of what?”

And she came to Ruth and set an arm in comfort about her shoulders.

“Afraid that Mr. Wilding might reach the Duke in time to be destroyed
with him,” her cousin answered. “Such a warning could but hasten on the
blow.”

Lady Horton begged to be enlightened, and was filled with horror
when--from Diana--enlightenment was hers. Her sympathies were all with
the handsome Monmouth, for he was beautiful and should therefore be
triumphant; poor Lady Horton never got beyond externals. That her
nephew and Sir Rowland, whom she had esteemed, should be leagued in this
dastardly undertaking against that lovely person horrified her beyond
words. She withdrew soon afterwards, having warmly praised Ruth’s action
in warning Mr. Wilding--unable to understand that it should be no part
of Ruth’s design to save the Duke--and went to her room to pray for the
preservation of the late King’s handsome son.

Left alone with her cousin, Ruth gave expression to the fears for
Richard by which she was being tortured. Diana poured wine for her
and urged her to drink; she sought to comfort and reassure her. But
as moments passed and grew to hours and still Richard did not appear,
Ruth’s fears that he had come to harm were changed to certainty. There
was a moment when, but for Diana’s remonstrances, she had gone forth in
quest of news. Bad news were better than this horror of suspense. What
if Wilding’s warning should have procured help, and Richard were slain
in consequence? Oh, it was unthinkable! Diana, white of face, listened
to and shared her fears. Even her shallow nature was stirred by the
tragedy of Ruth’s position, by dread lest Richard should indeed have met
his end that night. In these moments of distress, she forgot her hopes
of triumphing over Blake, of punishing him for his indifference to
herself.

At last, at something after midnight, there came a fevered rapping at
the outer door. Both women started up, and with arms about each other,
in their sudden panic, stood there waiting for the news that must be
here at last.

The door of the dining-room was flung open; the women recoiled in
their dread of what might come; then Richard entered, Jasper’s startled
countenance showing behind him.

He closed the door, shutting out the wondering servant, and they saw
that, though his face was ashen and his limbs all a-tremble, he showed
no sign of any hurt or effort. His dress was as meticulous as when last
they had seen him. Ruth flew to him, flung her arms about his neck, and
pressed him to her.

“Oh, Richard, Richard!” she sobbed in the immensity of her relief.
“Thank God! Thank God!”

He wriggled peevishly in her embrace, disengaged her arms, and put her
from him almost roughly. “Have done!” he growled, and, lurching past
her, he reached the table, took up a bottle, and brimmed himself a
measure. He gulped the wine avidly, set down the cup, and shivered.
“Where is Blake?” he asked.

“Blake?” echoed Ruth, her lips white. Diana sank into a chair,
watchful, fearful and silent, taking now no glory in the thing she had
encompassed.

Richard beat his hands together in a passion of dismay. “Is he not
here?” he asked, and groaned, “O God!” He flung himself all limp into a
chair. “You have heard the news, I see,” he said.

“Not all of it,” said Diana hoarsely, leaning forward. “Tell us what
passed.”

He moistened his lips with his tongue. “We were betrayed,” he said in a
quivering voice. “Betrayed! Did I but know by whom...” He broke off with
a bitter laugh and shrugged, rubbing his hands together and shivering
till his shoulders shook. “Blake’s party was set upon by half a company
of musketeers. Their corpses are strewn about old Newlington’s orchard.
Not one of them escaped. They say that Newlington himself is dead.” He
poured himself more wine.

Ruth listened, her eyes burning, the rest of her as cold as ice.
“But...but... oh, thank God that you at least are safe, Dick!”

“How did you escape?” quoth Diana.

“How?” He started as if he had been stung. He laughed in a high, cracked
voice, his eyes wild and bloodshot. “How? Perhaps it is just as well
that Blake has gone to his account. Perhaps...” He checked on the word,
and started to his feet; Diana screamed in sheer affright. Behind her
the windows had been thrust open so violently that one of the panes was
shivered. Blake stood under the lintel, scarce recognizable, so smeared
was his face with the blood escaping from the wound his cheek had taken.
His clothes were muddied, soiled, torn, and disordered.

Framed there against the black background of the night, he stood and
surveyed them for a moment, his aspect terrific. Then he leapt forward,
baring his sword as he came. An incoherent roar burst from his lips as
he bore straight down upon Richard.

“You damned, infernal traitor!” he cried. “Draw, draw! Or die like the
muckworm that you are.”

Intrepid, her terror all vanished now that there was the need for
courage, Ruth confronted him, barring his passage, a buckler to her
palsied brother.

“Out of my way, mistress, or I’ll be doing you a mischief.”

“You are mad, Sir Rowland,” she told him in a voice that did something
towards restoring him to his senses.

His fierce eyes considered her a moment, and he controlled himself to
offer an explanation. “The twenty that were with me lie stark under
the stars in Newlington’s garden,” he told her, as Richard had told her
already. “I escaped by a miracle, no less, but for what? Feversham will
demand of me a stern account of those lives, whilst if I am found in
Bridgwater there will be a short shrift for me at the rebel hands--for
my share in this affair is known, my name on every lip in the town. And
why?” he asked with a sudden increase of fierceness. “Why? Because that
craven villain there betrayed me.”

“He did not,” she answered in so assured a voice that not only did it
give him pause, but caused Richard, cowering behind her, to raise his
head in wonder.

Sir Rowland smiled his disbelief, and that smile, twisting his
blood-smeared countenance, was grotesque and horrible. “I left him to
guard our backs and give me warning if any approached,” he informed her.
“I knew him for too great a coward to be trusted in the fight; so I gave
him a safe task, and yet in that he failed me-failed me because he had
betrayed and sold me.”

“He had not. I tell you he had not,” she insisted. “I swear it.”

He stared at her. “There was no one else for it,” he made answer, and
bade her harshly stand aside.

Diana, huddled together, watched and waited in horror for the end of
these consequences of her work.

Blake made a sudden movement to win past Ruth. Richard staggered to his
feet intent on defending himself; but he was swordless; retreat to the
door suggested itself, and he had half turned to attempt to gain it,
when Ruth’s next words arrested him, petrified him.

“There was some one else for it, Sir Rowland,” she cried. “It was not
Richard who betrayed you. It... it was I.”

“You?” The fierceness seemed all to drop away from him, whelmed in the
immensity of his astonishment. “You?” Then he laughed loud in scornful
disbelief. “You think to save him,” he said.

“Should I lie?” she asked him, calm and brave.

He stared at her stupidly; he passed a hand across his brow, and looked
at Diana. “Oh, it is impossible!” he said at last.

“You shall hear,” she answered, and told him how at the last moment she
had learnt not only that her husband was in Bridgwater, but that he was
to sup at Newlington’s with the Duke’s party.

“I had no thought of betraying you or of saving the Duke,” she said.
“I knew how justifiable was what you intended. But I could not let Mr.
Wilding go to his death. I sought to detain him, warning him only when
I thought it would be too late for him to warn others. But you delayed
overlong, and...”

A hoarse inarticulate cry from him came to interrupt her at that point.
One glimpse of his face she had and of the hand half raised with sword
pointing towards her, and she closed her eyes, thinking that her sands
were run. And, indeed, Blake’s intention was just then to kill her. That
he should owe his betrayal to her was in itself cause enough to
enrage him, but that her motive should have been her desire to save
Wilding--Wilding of all men!--that was the last straw.

Had he been forewarned that Wilding was to be one of Monmouth’s party at
Mr. Newlington’s, his pulses would have throbbed with joy, and he would
have flung himself into his murderous task with twice the zest he had
carried to it. And now he learnt that not only had she thwarted his
schemes against Monmouth, but had deprived him of the ardently sought
felicity of widowing her. He drew back his arm for the thrust;
Diana huddled into her chair too horror-stricken to speak or move:
Richard--immediately behind his sister--saw nothing of what was passing,
and thought of nothing but his own safety.

Then Blake paused, stepped back, returned his sword to its scabbard, and
bending himself--but whether to bow or not was not quite plain--he took
some paces backwards, then turned and went out by the window as he had
come. But there was a sudden purposefulness in the way he did it that
might have warned them this withdrawal was not quite the retreat it
seemed.

They watched him with many emotions, predominant among which was relief,
and when he was gone Diana rose and came to Ruth.

“Come,” she said, and sought to lead her from the room.

But there was Richard now to be reckoned with, Richard from whom the
palsy was of a sudden fallen, now that the cause of it had withdrawn.
He had his back to the door, and his weak mouth was pursed up into a
semblance of resolution, his pale eyes looked stern, his white eyebrows
bent together in a frown.

“Wait,” he said. They looked at him, and the shadow of a smile almost
flitted across Diana’s face. He stepped to the door, and, opening it,
held it wide. “Go, Diana,” he said. “Ruth and I must understand each
other.”

Diana hesitated. “You had better go, Diana,” said her cousin, whereupon
Mistress Horton went.

Hot and fierce came the recriminations from Richard’s lips when he and
his sister were alone, and Ruth weathered the storm bravely until it
was stemmed again by fresh fear in Richard. For Blake had suddenly
reappeared. He came forward from his window; his manner composed and
full of resolution. Young Westmacott recoiled, the heat all frozen out
of him. But Blake scarce looked at him, his smouldering glance was all
for Ruth, who watched him with incipient fear, despite herself.

“Madam,” he said, “‘tis not to be supposed a mind holding so much
thought for a husband’s safety could find room for any concern as to
another’s. I will ask you, natheless, to consider what tale I am to bear
Lord Feversham.”

“What tale?” said she.

“Aye--that will account for what has chanced; for my failure to
discharge the task entrusted me, and for the slaughter of an officer of
his and twenty men.

“Why ask me this?” she demanded half angrily; then suddenly bethinking
her of how she had ruined his enterprise, and of the position in which
she had placed him, she softened. Her clear mind held justice very dear.
She approached. “Oh, I am sorry--sorry, Sir Rowland,” she cried.

He sneered. He had wiped some of the blood from his face, but still
looked terrible enough.

“Sorry!” said he, and laughed unpleasantly. “You’ll come with me to
Feversham and tell him what you did,” said he.

“I?” She recoiled in fear.

“At once” he informed her.

“Wha... what’s that?” faltered Richard, calling up his manhood, and
coming forward. “What are you saying, Blake?”

Sir Rowland disdained to heed him. “Come, mistress,” he said, and
putting forward his hand he caught her wrist and pulled her roughly
towards him. She struggled to free herself, but he leered evilly upon
her, no whit discomposed by her endeavours. Though short of stature,
he was a man of considerable bodily strength, and she, though tall, was
slight of frame. He released her wrist, and before she realized what he
was about he had stooped, passed an arm behind her knees, another round
her waist, and, swinging her from her feet, took her up bodily in his
arms. He turned about, and a scream broke from her.

“Hold!” cried Richard. “Hold, you madman!”

“Keep off, or I’ll make an end of you before I go,” roared Blake over
his shoulder, for already he had turned about and was making for the
window, apparently no more hindered by his burden than had she been a
doll.

Richard sprang to the door. “Jasper!” he bawled. “Jasper!” He had no
weapons, as we have seen, else it may be that he had made an attempt to
use them.

Ruth got a hand free and caught at the windowframe as Blake was leaping
through. It checked their progress, but did not sensibly delay it. It
was unfortunately her wounded hand with which she had sought to cling,
and with an angry, brutal wrench Sir Rowland compelled her to unclose
her grasp. He sped down the lawn towards the orchard, where his horse
was tethered. And now she knew in a subconscious sort of way why he had
earlier withdrawn. He had gone to saddle for this purpose.

She struggled now, thinking that he would be too hampered to compel her
to his will. He became angry, and set her down beside his horse, one arm
still holding her.

“Look you, mistress,” he told her fiercely, “living or dead, you come
with me to Feversham. Choose now.”

His tone was such that she never doubted he would carry out his threat.
And so in dull despair she submitted, hoping that Feversham might be
a gentleman and would recognize and respect a lady. Half fainting, she
allowed him to swing her to the withers of his horse. Thus they threaded
their way in the dim starlit night through the trees towards the gate.

It stood open, and they passed out into the lane. There Sir Rowland put
his horse to the trot, which he increased to a gallop when he was over
the bridge and clear of the town.



CHAPTER XXI. THE SENTENCE

Mr. Wilding, as we know, was to remain at Bridgwater for the purpose of
collecting from Mr. Newlington the fine which had been imposed upon him.
It is by no means clear whether Monmouth realized the fullness of
the tragedy at the merchant’s house, and whether he understood that,
stricken with apoplexy at the thought of parting with so considerable a
portion of his fortune, Mr. Newlington had not merely fainted, but had
expired under His Grace’s eyes. If he did realize it he was cynically
indifferent, and lest we should be doing him an injustice by assuming
this we had better give him the benefit of the doubt, and take it that
in the subsequent bustle of departure, his mind filled with the prospect
of the night attack to be delivered upon his uncle’s army at-Sedgemoor,
he thought no more either of Mr. Newlington or of Mr. Wilding. The
latter, as we know, had no place in the rebel army; although a man of
his hands, he was not a trained soldier, and notwithstanding that he may
fully have intended to draw his sword for Monmouth when the time came,
yet circumstances had led to his continuing after Monmouth’s landing the
more diplomatic work of movement-man, in which he had been engaged for
the months that had preceded it.

So it befell that when Monmouth’s army marched out of Bridgwater at
eleven o’clock on that Sunday night, not to make for Gloucester and
Cheshire, as was generally believed, but to fall upon the encamped
Feversham at Sedgemoor and slaughter the royal army in their beds, Mr.
Wilding was left behind. Trenchard was gone, in command of his troop of
horse, and Mr. Wilding had for only company his thoughts touching the
singular happenings of that busy night.

He went back to the sign of The Ship overlooking the Cross, and, kicking
off his sodden shoes, he supped quietly in the room of which shattered
door and broken window reminded him of his odd interview with Ruth, and
of the comedy of love she had enacted to detain him there. The
thought of it embittered him; the part she had played seemed to his
retrospective mind almost a wanton’s part--for all that in name she was
his wife. And yet, underlying a certain irrepressible nausea, came the
reflection that, after all, her purpose had been to save his life. It
would have been a sweet thought, sweet enough to have overlaid that
other bitterness, had he not insisted upon setting it down entirely to
her gratitude and her sense of justice. She intended to repay the debt
in which she had stood to him since, at the risk of his own life
and fortune, he had rescued her brother from the clutches of the
Lord-Lieutenant at Taunton.

He sighed heavily as he thought of the results that had attended his
compulsory wedding of her. In the intensity of his passion, in
the blindness of his vanity, which made him confident--gloriously
confident--that did he make himself her husband, she herself would make
of him her lover before long, he had committed an unworthiness of which
it seemed he might never cleanse himself in life. There was but one
amend, as he had told her. Let him make it, and perhaps she would--out
of gratitude, if out of no other feeling--come to think more kindly
of him; and that night it seemed to him as he sat alone in that mean
chamber that it were a better and a sweeter thing to earn some measure
of her esteem by death than to continue in a life that inspired her
hatred and resentment. From which it will be seen how utterly he
disbelieved the protestations she had uttered in seeking to detain him.
They were--he was assured--a part of a scheme, a trick, to lull him
while Monmouth and his officers were being butchered. And she had gone
the length of saying she loved him! He regretted that, being as he was
convinced of its untruth. What cause had she to love him? She hated him,
and because she hated him she did not scruple to lie to him--once with
suggestions and this time with actual expression of affection--that she
might gain her ends: ends that concerned her brother and Sir Rowland
Blake. Sir Rowland Blake! The name was a very goad to his passion and
despair.

He rose from the table and took a turn in the room, moving noiselessly
in his stockinged feet. He felt the need of air and action; the
weariness of his flesh incurred in his long ride from London was cast
off or forgotten. He must go forth. He picked up his fine shoes of
Spanish leather, but as luck would have it--little though he guessed the
extent just then--he found them hardening, though still damp from the
dews of Mr. Newlington’s garden. He cast them aside, and, taking a key
from his pocket, unlocked an oak cupboard and withdrew the heavy muddy
boots in which he had ridden from town. He drew them on and, taking
up his hat and sword, went down the creaking stairs and out into the
street.

Bridgwater had fallen quiet by now; the army was gone and townsfolk were
in their beds. Moodily, unconsciously, yet as if guided by a sort of
instinct, he went down the High Street, and then turned off into the
narrower lane that led in the direction of Lupton House. By the gates
of this he paused, recalled out of his abstraction and rendered aware
of whither his steps had led him by the sight of the hall door standing
open, a black figure silhouetted against the light behind it. What was
happening here? Why were they not abed like all decent folk?

The figure called to him in a quavering voice. “Mr. Wilding! Mr.
Wilding!” for the light beating upon his face and figure from the
open door had revealed him. The form came swiftly forward, its steps
pattering down the walk, another slenderer figure surged in its place
upon the threshold, hovered there an instant, then plunged down into the
darkness to come after it. But the first was by now upon Mr. Wilding.

“What is it, Jasper?” he asked, recognizing the old servant.

“Mistress Ruth!” wailed the fellow, wringing his hands. “She... she has
been... carried off.” He got it out in gasps, winded by his short run
and by the excitement that possessed him.

No word said Wilding. He just stood and stared, scarcely understanding,
and in that moment they were joined by Richard. He seized Wilding by the
arm. “Blake has carried her off,” he cried.

“Blake?” said Mr. Wilding, and wondered with a sensation of nausea was
it an ordinary running away. But Richard’s next words made it plain to
him that it was no amorous elopement, nor even amorous abduction.

“He has carried her to Feversham... for her betrayal of his to-night’s
plan to seize the Duke.”

That stirred Mr. Wilding. He wasted no time in idle questions or idler
complainings. “How long since?” he asked, and it was he who clutched
Richard now, by the shoulder and with a hand that hurt.

“Not ten minutes ago,” was the quavering answer.

“And you were at hand when it befell?” cried Wilding, the scorn in his
voice rising superior to his agitation and fears for Ruth. “You were at
hand, and could neither prevent nor follow him?”

“I’ll go with you now, if you’ll give chase,” whimpered Richard, feeling
himself for once the craven that he was.

“If?” echoed Wilding scornfully, and dragged him past the gate and up
towards the house even as he spoke. “Is there room for a doubt of it?
Have you horses, at least?”

“To spare,” said Richard as they hurried on. They skirted the house and
found the stable door open as Blake had left it. Old Jasper followed
with a lamp which burned steadily, so calm was the air of that July
night. In three minutes they had saddled a couple of nags; in five they
were riding for the bridge and the road to Weston Zoyland.

“It is a miracle you remained in Bridgwater,” said Richard as they rode.
“How came you to be left behind?”

“I had a task assigned me in the town against the Duke’s return
to-morrow,” Wilding explained, and he spoke almost mechanically, his
mind full of--anguished by--thoughts of Ruth.

“Against the Duke’s return?” cried Richard, first surprised and then
thinking that Wilding spoke at random. “Against the Duke’s return?” he
repeated.

“That is what I said?”

“But the Duke is marching to Gloucester.”

“The Duke is marching by circuitous ways to Sedgemoor,” answered
Wilding, never dreaming that at this time of day there could be the
slightest imprudence in saying so much, indeed, taking little heed of
what he said, his mind obsessed by the other, to him, far weightier
matter.

“To Sedgemoor?” gasped Westmacott.

“Aye--to take Feversham by surprise--to destroy King James’s soldiers in
their beds. He should be near upon the attack by now. But there! Spur on
and save your breath if we are to overtake Sir Rowland.”

They pounded on through the night at a breakneck pace which they never
slackened until, when within a quarter of a mile or so of Penzoy Pound,
where the army was encamped and slumbering by now, they caught sight of
the musketeers’ matches glowing in the dark ahead of them. An outpost
barred their progress; but Richard had the watchword, and he spurred
ahead shouting “Albemarle,” and the soldiers fell back and gave them
passage. On they galloped, skirting Penzoy Pound and the army sleeping
in utter unconsciousness of the fate that was creeping stealthily upon
it out of the darkness and mists across the moors; they clattered on
past Langmoor Stone and dashed straight into the village, Richard never
drawing rein until he reached the door of the cottage where Feversham
was lodged.

They had come not only at a headlong pace, but in a headlong manner,
without quite considering what awaited them at the end of their ride in
addition to their object of finding Ruth. It was only now, as he drew
rein before the lighted house and caught the sound of Blake’s raised
voice pouring through an open window on the ground floor, that Richard
fully realized what manner of rashness he was committing. He was too
late to rescue Ruth from Blake. What more could he look to achieve?
His hope had been that with Wilding’s help he might snatch her from Sir
Rowland before the latter reached his destination. But now--to enter
Feversham’s presence and in association with so notorious a rebel as Mr.
Wilding were a piece of folly of the heroic kind that Richard did not
savour. Indeed, had it not been for Wilding’s masterful presence, it is
more than odds he had turned tail, and ridden home again to bed.

But Wilding, who had leapt nimbly to the ground, stood waiting for
Richard to dismount, impatient now that from the sound of Sir Rowland’s
voice he had assurance that Richard had proved an able guide. The young
man got down, but might yet have hesitated had not Wilding caught him
by the arm and whirled him up the steps, through the open door, past
the two soldiers who kept it, and who were too surprised to stay him,
straight into the long, low-ceilinged chamber where Feversham, attended
by a captain of horse, was listening to Blake’s angry narrative of that
night’s failure.

Mr. Wilding’s entrance was decidedly sensational. He stepped quickly
forward, and, taking Blake who was still talking, all unconscious of
those behind him, by the collar of his coat, he interrupted him in the
middle of an impassioned period, wrenched him backwards off his feet,
and dashed him with a force almost incredible into a heap in a corner of
the room. There for some moments the baronet lay half dazed by the shock
of his fall.

A long table, which seemed to divide the chamber in two, stood between
Lord Feversham and his officer and Mr. Wilding and Ruth--by whose side
he had now come to stand in Blake’s room.

There was an exclamation, half anger, half amazement, at Mr. Wilding’s
outrage upon Sir Rowland, and the captain of horse sprang forward.
But Wilding raised his hand, his face so composed and calm that it was
impossible to think him conceiving any violence, as indeed he protested
at that moment.

“Be assured, gentlemen,” he said, “that I have no further rudeness to
offer any so that this lady is suffered to withdraw with me.” And he
took in his own a hand that Ruth, amazed and unresisting, yielded up to
him. That touch of his seemed to drive out her fears and to restore her
confidence; the mortal terror in which she had been until his coming
dropped from her now. She was no longer alone and abandoned to the
vindictiveness of rude and violent men. She had beside her one in whom
experience had taught her to have faith.

Louis Duras, Marquis de Blanquefort, and Earl of Feversham, coughed with
mock discreetness under cover of his hand. “Ahem!”

He was a comely man with a long nose, good low-lidded eyes, a humorous
mouth, and a weak chin; at a glance he looked what he was, a weak,
good-natured sensualist. He was resplendent at the moment in a blue
satin dressing-gown stiff with gold lace, for he had been interrupted
by Blake’s arrival in the very act of putting himself to bed, and his
head--divested of his wig--was bound up in a scarf of many colours.

At his side, the red-coated captain, arrested by the general’s sardonic
cough, stood, a red-faced, freckled boy, looking to his superior for
orders.

“I t’ink you ‘ave ‘urt Sare Rowland,” said Feversham composedly in his
bad English. “Who are you, sare?”

“This lady’s husband,” answered Wilding, whereupon the captain stared
and Feversham’s brows went up in surprised amusement.

“So-ho! T’at true?” quoth the latter in a tone suggesting that it
explained everything to him. “T’is gif a differen’ colour to your
story, Sare Rowlan’.” Then he added in a chuckle, “Ho, ho--l’amour!” and
laughed outright.

Blake, gathering together his wits and his limbs at the same time, made
shift to rise.

“What a plague does their relationship matter?” he began. He would have
added more, but the Frenchman thought this question one that needed
answering.

“Parbleu!” he swore, his amusement rising. “It seem to matter
somet’ing.”

“Damn me!” swore Blake, red in the face from pale that he had been. “Do
you conceive that if I had run away with his wife for her own sake I
had fetched her to you?” He lurched forward as he spoke, but kept his
distance from Wilding, who stood between Ruth and him.

Feversham bowed sardonically. “You are a such flatterer, Sare Rowlan’,”
 said he, laughter bubbling in his words.

Blake looked his scorn of this trivial Frenchman, who, upon scenting
what appeared to be the comedy of an outraged husband overtaking the
man who had carried off his wife, forgot the serious business, a part
of which Sir Rowland had already imparted to him. Captain Wentworth--a
time-serving gentleman--smiled with this French general of a British
army that he might win the great man’s favour.

“I have told your lordship,” said Blake, froth on his lips, “that
the twenty men I had from you, as well as Ensign Norris, are dead in
Bridgwater, and that my plan to carry off King Monmouth has come to
ruin, all because we were betrayed by this woman. It is now my further
privilege to point out to your lordship the man to whom she sold us.”

Feversham misliked Sir Rowland’s arrogant tone, misliked his angry,
scornful glance. His eyes narrowed, the laughter faded slowly from his
face.

“Yes, yes, I remember,” said he; “t’is lady, you have tole us, betray
you. Ver’ well. But you have not tole us who betray you to t’is lady.”
 And he looked inquiringly at Blake.

The baronet’s jaw dropped; his face lost some of its high colour. He
was stunned by the question as the bird is stunned that flies headlong
against a pane of glass. He had crashed into an obstruction so
transparent that he had not seen it.

“So!” said Feversham, and he stroked the cleft of his chin. “Captain
Wentwort’, be so kind as to call t’e guard.”

Wentworth moved to obey, but before he had gone round the table, Blake
had looked behind him and espied Richard shrinking by the door.

“By heaven!” he cried, “I can more than answer your lordship’s
question.”

Wentworth stopped, looking at Feversham.

“Voyons,” said the General.

“I can place you in possession of the man who has wrought our ruin. He
is there,” and he pointed theatrically to Richard.

Feversham looked at the limp figure in some bewilderment. Indeed, he was
having a most bewildering evening--or morning, rather, for it was even
then on the stroke of one o’clock. “An’ who are you, sare?” he asked.

Richard came forward, nerving himself for what was to follow. It had
just occurred to him that he held a card which should trump any trick of
Sir Rowland’s vindictiveness, and the prospect heartened and comforted
him.

“I am this lady’s brother, my lord,” he answered, and his voice was
fairly steady.

“Tiens!” said Feversham, and, smiling, he turned to Wentworth.

“Quite a family party, sir,” said the captain, smiling back.

“Oh! mais tout--fait,” said the General, laughing outright, and then
Wilding created a diversion by leading Ruth to a chair that stood at the
far end of the table, and drawing it forward for her. “Ah, yes,” said
Feversham airily, “let Madame sit.”

“You are very good, sir,” said Ruth, her voice brave and calm.

“But somewhat lacking in spontaneity,” Wilding criticized, which set
Wentworth staring and the Frenchman scowling.

“Shall I call the guard, my lord?” asked Wentworth crisply.

“I t’ink yes,” said Feversham, and the captain gained the door, and
spoke a word to one of the soldiers without.

“But, my lord,” exclaimed Blake in a tone of protest, “I vow you are too
ready to take this fellow’s word.”

“He ‘as spoke so few,” said Feversham.

“Do you know who he is?”

“You ‘af ‘eard ‘im say--t’e lady’s ‘usband.”

“Aye--but his name,” cried Blake, quivering with anger. “Do you know
that it is Wilding?”

The name certainly made an impression that might have flattered the man
to whom it belonged. Feversham’s whole manner changed; the trivial air
of persiflage that he had adopted hitherto was gone on the instant, and
his brow grew dark.

“T’at true?” he asked sharply. “Are you Mistaire Wildin’--Mistaire
Antoine Wildin’?”

“Your lordship’s most devoted servant,” said Wilding suavely, and made a
leg.

Wentworth in the background paused in the act of reclosing the door to
stare at this gentleman whose name Albemarle had rendered so excellently
well known.

“And you to dare come ‘ere?” thundered Feversham, thoroughly roused
by the other’s airy indifference. “You to dare come ‘ere--into my ver’
presence?”

Mr. Wilding smiled conciliatingly. “I came for my wife, my lord,” he
reminded him. “It grieves me to intrude upon your lordship at so late an
hour, and indeed it was far from my intent. I had hoped to overtake Sir
Rowland before he reached you.”

“Nom de Dieu!” swore Feversham. “Ho! A so great effrontery!” He swung
round upon Blake again. “Sare Rowlan’,” he bade him angrily, “be so kind
to tell me what ‘appen in Breechwater--everyt’ing!”

Blake, his face purple, seemed to struggle for breath and words. Mr.
Wilding answered for him.

“Sir Rowland is so choleric, my lord,” he said in his pleasant, level
voice, “that perhaps the tale would come more intelligibly from
me. Believe me that he has served you to the best of his ability.
Unfortunately for the success of your choice plan of murder, I had news
of it at the eleventh hour, and with a party of musketeers I was able
to surprise and destroy your cut-throats in Mr. Newlington’s garden.
You see, my lord, I was to have been one of the victims myself, and I
resented the attentions that were intended me. I had no knowledge that
Sir Rowland had contrived to escape, and, frankly, it is a thing I
deplore more than I can say, for had that not happened much trouble
might have been saved and your lordship’s rest had not been disturbed.”

“But t’e woman?” cried Feversham impatiently. “How is she come into this
galare?”

“It was she who warned him,” Blake got out, “as already I have had the
honour to inform your lordship.”

“And your lordship cannot blame her for that,” said Wilding. “The lady
is a most loyal subject of King James; but she is also, as you observe,
a dutiful wife. I will add that it was her intention to warn me only
when too late for interference. Sir Rowland, as it happened, was slow
in...”

“Silence!” blazed the Frenchman. “Now t’at I know who you are, t’at make
a so great difference. Where is t’e guard, Wentwort’?”

“I hear them,” answered the captain, and from the street came the tramp
of their marching feet.

Feversham turned again to Blake. “T’e affaire ‘as ‘appen’ so,” he
said, between question and assertion, summing up the situation as he
understood it. “T’is rogue,” and he pointed to Richard, “‘ave betray
your plan to ‘is sister, who betray it to ‘er ‘usband, who save t’e Duc
de Monmoot’. N’est-ce pas?”

“That is so,” said Blake, and Ruth scarcely thought it worth while to
add that she had heard of the plot not only from her brother, but from
Blake as well. After all, Blake’s attitude in the matter, his action in
bringing her to Feversham for punishment, and to exculpate himself, must
suffice to cause any such statement of hers to be lightly received by
the General.

She sat in an anguished silence, her eyes wide, her face pale, and
waited for the end of this strange business. In her heart she did permit
herself to think that it would be difficult to assemble a group of
men less worthy of respect. Choleric and vindictive Blake, foolish
Feversham, stupid Wentworth, and timid Richard--even Richard did
not escape the unfavourable criticism they were undergoing in her
subconscious mind. Only Wilding detached in that assembly--as he had
detached in another that she remembered--and stood out in sharp relief a
very man, calm, intrepid, self-possessed; and if she was afraid, she was
more afraid for him than for herself. This was something that, perhaps,
she scarcely realized just then; but she was to realize it soon.

Feversham was speaking again, asking Blake a fresh question. “And who
betray you to t’is rogue?”

“To Westmacott?” cried Blake. “He was in the plot with me. He was left
to guard the rear, to see that we were not taken by surprise, and he
deserted his post. Had he not done that, there had been no disaster, in
spite of Mr. Wilding’s intervention.”

Feversham’s brow was dark, his eyes glittered as they rested on the
traitor.

“T’at true, sare?” he asked him.

“Not quite,” put in Mr. Wilding. “Mr. Westmacott, I think, was
constrained away. He did not intend...”

“Tais-toi!” blazed Feversham. “Did I interrogate you? It is for Mistaire
Westercott to answer.” He set a hand on the table and leaned forward
towards Wilding, his face very malign. “You shall to answer for
yourself, Mistaire Wildin’; I promise you you shall to answer for
yourself.” He turned again to Richard. “Eh, bien?” he snapped. “Will you
speak?”

Richard came forward a step; he was certainly nervous, and certainly
pale; but neither as pale nor as nervous as from our knowledge of
Richard we might have looked to see him at that moment.

“It is in a measure true,” he said. “But what Mr. Wilding has said is
more exact. I was induced away. I did not dream any could know of the
plan, or that my absence could cause this catastrophe.”

“So you went, eh, vaurien? You t’ought t’at be to do your duty, eh? And
it was you who tole your sistaire?”

“I may have told her, but not before she had the tale already from
Blake.”

Feversham sneered and shrugged. “Natural you will not speak true. A
traitor I ‘ave observe’ is always liar.”

Richard drew himself up; he seemed invested almost with a new dignity.
“Your lordship is pleased to account me a traitor?” he inquired.

“A dam’ traitor,” said his lordship, and at that moment the door opened,
and a sergeant, with six men following him, stood at the salute upon the
threshold. “A la bonne heure!” his lordship hailed them. “Sergean’, you
will arrest t’is rogue and t’is lady,”--he waved his hand from Richard
to Ruth--“and you will take t’em to lock..up.”

The sergeant advanced towards Richard, who drew a step away from him.
Ruth rose to her feet in agitation. Mr. Wilding interposed himself
between her and the guard, his hand upon his sword.

“My lord,” he cried, “do they teach no better courtesy in France?”

Feversham scowled at him, smiling darkly. “I shall talk wit’ you soon,
sare,” said he, his words a threat.

“But, my lord...” began Richard. “I can make it very plain I am no
traitor...”

“In t’e mornin’,” said Feversham blandly, waving his hand, and the
sergeant took Richard by the shoulder.

But Richard twisted from his grasp. “In the morning will be too late,”
 he cried. “I have it in my power to render you such a service as you
little dream of.”

“Take ‘im away,” said Feversham wearily.

“I can save you from destruction,” bawled Richard, “you and your army.”

Perhaps even now Feversham had not heeded him but for Wilding’s sudden
interference.

“Silence, Richard!” he cried to him. “Would you betray...?” He checked
on the word; more he dared not say; but he hoped faintly that he had
said enough.

Feversham, however, chanced to observe that this man who had shown
himself hitherto so calm looked suddenly most singularly perturbed.

“Eh?” quoth the General. “An instan’, Sergean’. What is t’is, eh?”--and
he looked from Wilding to Richard.

“Your lordship shall learn at a price,” cried Richard.

“Me, I not bargain wit’ traitors,” said his lordship stiffly.

“Very well, then,” answered Richard, and he folded his arms
dramatically. “But no matter what your lordship’s life may be hereafter,
you will never regret anything more bitterly than you shall regret this
by sunrise if indeed you live to see it.”

Feversham shifted uneasily on his feet. “‘What you say?” he asked. “What
you mean?”

“You shall know at a price,” said Richard again.

Wilding, realizing the hopelessness of interfering now, stood gloomily
apart, a great bitterness in his soul at the indiscretion he had
committed in telling Richard of the night attack that was afoot.

“Your lordship shall hear my price, but you need not pay it me until you
have had an opportunity of verifying the information I have to give you.

“Tell me,” said Feversham after a brief pause, during which he
scrutinized the young man’s face.

“If your lordship will promise liberty and safe-conduct to my sister and
myself.”

“Tell me,” Feversham repeated.

“When you have promised to grant me what I ask in return for my
information.”

“Yes, if I t’ink your information is wort’”

“I am content,” said Richard. He inclined his head and loosed the
quarrel of his news. “Your camp is slumbering, your officers are all
abed with the exception of the outpost on the road to Bridgwater. What
should you say if I told you that Monmouth and all his army are marching
upon you at this very moment, will probably fall upon you before another
hour is past?”

Wilding uttered a groan, and his hands fell to his sides. Had Feversham
observed this he might have been less ready with his sneering answer.

“A lie!” he answered, and laughed. “My fren’, I ‘ave myself been
to-night, at midnight, on t’e moore, and I ‘ave ‘eard t’e army of t’e
Duc de Monmoot’ marching to Bristol on t’e road--what you call t’e road,
Wentwort’?”

“The Eastern Causeway, my lord,” answered the captain.

“Voil!” said Feversham, and spread his hands. “What you say now, eh?”

“That that is part of Monmouth’s plan to come at you across the moors,
by way of Chedzoy, avoiding your only outpost, and falling upon you in
your beds, all unawares. Lord! sir, do not take my word for it. Send out
your scouts, and I dare swear they’ll not need go far before they come
upon the enemy.”

Feversham looked at Wentworth. His lordship’s face had undergone a
change.

“What you t’ink?” he asked.

“Indeed, my lord, it sounds so likely,” answered Wentworth, “that...
that... I marvel we did not provide against such a contingency.”

“But I ‘ave provide’!” cried this nephew of the great Turenne.
“Ogelt’orpe is on t’e moor and Sare Francis Compton. If t’is is true,
‘ow can t’ey ‘ave miss Monmoot’? Send word to Milor’ Churchill at once,
Wentwort’. Let t’e matter be investigate’--at once, Wentwort’--at once!”
 The General was dancing with excitement. Wentworth saluted and turned to
leave the room. “If you ‘ave tole me true,” continued Feversham, turning
now to Richard, “you shall ‘ave t’e price you ask, and t’e t’anks of t’e
King’s army. But if not...”

“Oh, it’s true enough,” broke in Wilding, and his voice was like a
groan, his face over-charged with gloom.

Feversham looked at him; his sneering smile returned.

“Me, I not remember,” said he, “that Mr. Westercott ‘ave include you in
t’e bargain.”

Nothing had been further from Wilding’s thoughts than such a suggestion.
And he snorted his disdain. The sergeant had fallen back at Feversham’s
words, and his men lined the wall of the chamber. The General bade
Richard be seated whilst he waited. Sir Rowland stood apart, leaning
wearily against the wainscot, waiting also, his dull wits not quite
clear how Richard might have come by so valuable a piece of information,
his evil spirit almost wishing it untrue, in his vindictiveness, to the
end that Richard might pay the price of having played him false and Ruth
the price of having scorned him.

Feversham meanwhile was seeking--with no great success--to engage
Mr. Wilding in talk of Monmouth, against whom Feversham harboured in
addition to his political enmity a very deadly personal hatred; for
Feversham had been a suitor to the hand of the Lady Henrietta Wentworth,
the woman for whom Monmouth--worthy son of his father--had practically
abandoned his own wife; the woman with whom he had run off, to the great
scandal of court and nation.

Despairing of drawing any useful information from Wilding, his lordship
was on the point of turning to Blake, when quick steps and the rattle of
a scabbard sounded without; the door was thrust open without ceremony,
and Captain Wentworth reappeared.

“My lord,” he cried, his manner excited beyond aught one could have
believed possible in so phlegmatic-seeming a person, “it is true. We are
beset.”

“Beset!” echoed Feversham. “Beset already?”

“We can hear them moving on the moor. They are crossing the Langmoor
Rhine. They will be upon us in ten minutes at the most. I have roused
Colonel Douglas, and Dunbarton’s regiment is ready for them.”

Feversham exploded. “What else ‘ave you done?” he asked. “Where is
Milor’ Churchill?”

“Lord Churchill is mustering his men as quietly as may be that they may
be ready to surprise those who come to surprise us. By Heaven, sir, we
owe a great debt to Mr. Westmacott. Without his information we might
have had all our throats cut whilst we slept.”

“Be so kind to call Belmont,” said Feversham. “Tell him to bring my
clot’es.”

Wentworth turned and went out again to execute the General’s orders.
Feversham spoke to Richard. “We are oblige’, Mr. Westercott,” said he.
“We are ver’ much oblige’.”

Suddenly from a little distance came the roll of drums. Other sounds
began to stir in the night outside to tell of a waking army.

Feversham stood listening. “It is Dunbarton’s,” he murmured. Then, with
some show of heat, “Ah, pardieu!” he cried. “But it was a dirty t’ing
t’is Monmoot’ ‘ave prepare’. It is murder; it is not t’e war.

“And yet,” said Wilding critically, “it is a little more like war than
the Bridgwater affair to which your lordship gave your sanction.”

Feversham pursed his lips and considered the speaker. Wentworth
reentered, followed by the Earl’s valet carrying an armful of garments.
His lordship threw off his dressing-gown and stood forth in shirt and
breeches.

“Mais duche-toi, donc, Belmont!” said he. “Nous nous battons! Ii faut
que je m’habille.” Belmont, a little wizened fellow who understood
nothing of this topsy-turveydom, hastened forward, deposited his armful
on the table, and selected a finely embroidered waistcoat, which he
proceeded to hold for his master. Wriggling into it, Feversham rapped
out his orders.

“Captain Wentwort’, you will go to your regimen at once. But first,
ah--wait. Take t’ose six men and Mistaire Wilding. ‘Ave ‘im shot at
once; you onderstan’, eh? Good. Allons, Belmont! my cravat.”



CHAPTER XXII. THE EXECUTION

Captain Wentworth clicked his heels together and saluted. Blake, in the
background, drew a deep breath--unmistakably of satisfaction, and his
eyes glittered. A muffled cry broke from Ruth, who rose instantly from
her chair, her hand on her bosom. Richard stood with fallen jaw, amazed,
a trifle troubled even, whilst Mr. Wilding started more in surprise than
actual fear, and approached the table.

“You heard, sir,” said Captain Wentworth.

“I heard,” answered Mr. Wilding quietly. “But surely not aright. One
moment, sir,” and he waved his hand so compellingly that, despite the
order he had received, the phlegmatic captain hesitated.

Feversham, who had taken the cravat--a yard of priceless Dutch
lace--from the hands of his valet, and was standing with his back to the
company at a small and very faulty mirror that hung by the overmantel,
looked peevishly over his shoulder.

“My lord,” said Wilding, and Blake, for all his hatred of this man,
marvelled at a composure that did not forsake him even now, “you are
surely not proposing to deal with me in this fashion--not seriously, my
lord?”

“Ah, ca!” said the Frenchman. “T’ink it a jest if you please. What for
you come ‘ere?”

“Assuredly not for the purpose of being shot,” said Wilding, and
actually smiled. Then, in the tones of one discussing a matter that is
grave but not of surpassing gravity, he continued: “It is not that I
fail to recognize that I may seem to have incurred the rigour of the
law; but these matters must be formally proved against me. I have
affairs to set in order against such a consummation.”

“Ta, ta!” snapped Feversham. “T’at not regard me Weutwort’, you ‘ave
‘eard my order.” And he returned to his mirror and the nice adjustment
of his neckwear.

“But, my lord,” insisted Wilding, “you have not the right--you have not
the power so to proceed against me. A man of my quality is not to be
shot without a trial.”

“You can ‘ang if you prefer,” said Feversham indifferently, drawing out
the ends of his cravat and smoothing them down upon his breast. He faced
about briskly. “Give me t’at coat, Belmont. His Majesty ‘ave empower me
to ‘ang or shoot any gentlemens of t’e partie of t’e Duc t’e Monmoot’ on
t’e spot. I say t’at for your satisfaction. And look, I am desolate’ to
be so quick wit’ you, but please to consider t’e circumstance. T’e enemy
go to attack. Wentwort’ must go to his regimen’, and my ot’er
officers are all occupi’. You comprehen’ I ‘ave not t’e time to spare
you--n’est-ce-pas?”--Wentworth’s hand touched Wilding on the shoulder.
He was standing with head slightly bowed, his brows knit in thought. He
looked round at the touch, sighed and smiled.

Belmont held the coat for his master, who slipped into it, and flung
at Wilding what was intended for a consolatory sop. “It is fortune de
guerre, Mistaire Wilding. I am desolate’; but it is fortune of t’e war.”

“May it be less fortunate for your lordship, then,” said Wilding dryly,
and was on the point of turning, when Ruth’s voice came in a loud cry to
startle him and to quicken his pulses.

“My lord!” It was a cry of utter anguish.

Feversham, settling his gold-laced coat comfortably to his figure,
looked at her. “Madame?” said he.

But she had nothing to say. She stood, deathly white, slightly bent
forward, one hand wringing the other, her eyes almost wild, her bosom
heaving frantically.

“Hum!” said Feversham, and he loosened and removed the scarf from his
head. He shrugged slightly and looked at Wentworth. “Finissons!” said
he.

The word and the look snapped the trammels that bound Ruth’s speech.

“Five minutes, my lord!” she cried imploringly. “Give him five
minutes--and me, my lord!”

Wilding, deeply shaken, trembled now as he awaited Feversham’s reply.

The Frenchman seemed to waver. “Bien,” he began, spreading his hands.
And in that moment a shot rang out in the night and startled the whole
company. Feversham threw back his head; the signs of yielding left his
face. “Ha!” he cried. “T’ey are arrive.” He snatched his wig from his
lacquey’s hands, donned it, and turned again an instant to the mirror
to adjust the great curls. “Quick, Wentwort’! T’ere is no more time now.
Make Mistaire Wilding be shot at once. T’en to your regimen’.” He faced
about and took the sword his valet proffered. “Au revoir, messieurs!”

“Serviteur, madame!” And, buckling his sword-belt as he went, he swept
out, leaving the door wide open, Belmont following, Wentworth saluting
and the guards presenting arms.

“Come, sir,” said the captain in a subdued voice, his eyes avoiding
Ruth’s face.

“I am ready,” answered Wilding firmly, and he turned to glance at his
wife.

She was bending towards him, her hands held out, such a look on her face
as almost drove him mad with despair, reading it as he did. He made a
sound deep in his throat before he found words.

“Give me one minute, sir--one minute,” he begged Wentworth. “I ask no
more than that.”

Wentworth was a gentleman and not ill-natured. But he was a soldier and
had received his orders. He hesitated between the instincts of the
two conditions. And what time he did so there came a clatter of hoofs
without to resolve him. It was Feversham departing.

“You shall have your minute, sir,” said he. “More I dare not give you,
as you can see.

“From my heart I thank you,” answered Mr. Wilding, and from the
gratitude of his tone you might have inferred that it was his life
Wentworth had accorded him.

The captain had already turned aside to address his men. “Two of you
outside, guard that window,” he ordered. “The rest of you, in the
passage. Bestir there!”

“Take your precautions, by all means, sir,” said Wilding; “but I give
you my word of honour I shall attempt no escape.”

Wentworth nodded without replying. His eye lighted on Blake--who had
been seemingly forgotten in the confusion--and on Richard. A kindliness
for the man who met his end so unflinchingly, a respect for so worthy an
enemy, actuated the red-faced captain.

“You had better take yourself off, Sir Rowland,” said he. “And you, Mr.
Westmacott--you can wait in the passage with my men.”

They obeyed him promptly enough, but when outside Sir Rowland made
bold to remind the captain that he was failing in his duty, and that
he should make a point of informing the General of this anon. Wentworth
bade him go to the devil, and so was rid of him.

Alone, inside that low-ceilinged chamber, stood Ruth and Wilding face
to face. He advanced towards her, and with a shuddering sob she flung
herself into his arms. Still, he mistrusted the emotion to which she
was a prey--dreading lest it should have its root in pity. He patted her
shoulder soothingly.

“Nay, nay, little child,” he whispered in her ear. “Never weep for
me that have not a tear for myself. What better resolution of the
difficulties my folly has created?” For only answer she clung closer,
her hands locked about his neck, her slender body shaken by her silent
weeping. “Don’t pity me,” he besought her. “I am content it should be
so. It is the amend I promised you. Waste no pity on me, Ruth.”

She raised her face, her eyes wild and blurred with tears, looked up to
his.

“It is not pity!” she cried. “I want you, Anthony! I love you, Anthony,
Anthony!”

His face grew ashen. “It is true, then!” he asked her. “And what you
said to-night was true! I thought you said it only to detain me.”

“Oh, it is true, it is true!” she wailed.

He sighed; he disengaged a hand to stroke her face. “I am happy,” he
said, and strove to smile. “Had I lived, who knows...?”

“No, no, no,” she interrupted him passionately, her arms tightening
about his neck. He bent his head. Their lips met and clung. A knock
fell upon the door. They started, and Wilding raised his hands gently to
disengage her pinioning arms.

“I must go, sweet,” he said.

“God help me!” she moaned, and clung to him still. “It is I who am
killing you--I and your love for me. For it was to save me you rode
hither to-night, never pausing to weigh your own deadly danger. Oh, I
am punished for having listened to every voice but the voice of my own
heart where you were concerned. Had I loved you earlier--had I owned it
earlier...”

“It had still been too late,” he said, more to comfort her than because
he knew it to be so. “Be brave for my sake, Ruth. You can be brave, I
know--so well. Listen, sweet. Your words have made me happy. Mar not
this happiness of mine by sending me out in grief at your grief.”

Her response to his prayer was brave, indeed. Through her tears came a
faint smile to overspread her face so white and pitiful.

“We shall meet soon again,” she said.

“Aye--think on that,” he bade her, and pressed her to him. “Good-bye,
sweet! God keep you till we meet!” he added, his voice infinitely
tender.

“Mr. Wilding!” Wentworth’s voice called him, and the captain thrust the
door open a foot or so. “Mr. Wilding!”

“I am coming,” he answered steadily. He kissed her again, and on that
kiss of his she sank against him, and he felt her turn all limp. He
raised his voice. “Richard!” he shouted wildly. “Richard!”

At the note of alarm in his voice, Wentworth flung wide the door
and entered, Richard’s ashen face showing over his shoulder. In her
brother’s care Wilding delivered his mercifully unconscious wife. “See
to her, Dick,” he said, and turned to go, mistrusting himself now.
But he paused as he reached the door, Wentworth waxing more and more
impatient at his elbow. He turned again.

“Dick,” he said, “we might have been better friends. I would we had
been. Let us part so at least,” and he held out his hand, smiling.

Before so much gallantry Richard was conquered almost to the point of
worship; a weak man himself, there was no virtue he could more admire
than strength. He left Ruth in the high-backed chair in which Wilding’s
tender hands had placed her, and sprang forward, tears in his eyes. He
wrung Wilding’s hands in wordless passion.

“Be good to her, Dick,” said Wilding, and went out with Wentworth.

He was marched down the street in the centre of that small party of
musketeers of Dunbarton’s regiment, his thoughts all behind him rather
than ahead, a smile on his lips. He had conquered at the last. He
thought of that other parting of theirs, nearly a month ago, on the road
by Walford. Now, as then, circumstance was the fire that had melted her.
But the crucible was no longer--as then of pity; it was the crucible of
love.

And in that same crucible, too, Anthony Wilding’s nature had undergone a
transmutation; his love for Ruth had been purified of that base alloy of
desire which had driven him into the unworthiness of making her his own
at all costs; there was no carnal grossness in his present passion; it
was pure as a religion--the love that takes no account of self, the love
that makes for joyous and grateful martyrdom. And a joyous and grateful
martyr would Anthony Wilding have been could he have thought that his
death would bring her happiness or peace. In such a faith as that he had
marched--or so he thought blithely to his end, and the smile on his lips
had been less wistful than it was. Thinking of the agony in which he had
left her, he almost came to wish--so pure was his love grown--that he
had not conquered. The joy that at first was his was now all dashed. His
death would cause her pain. His death! O God! It is an easy thing to be
a martyr; but this was not martyrdom; having done what he had done he
had not the right to die. The last vestige of the smile that he had worn
faded from his tight-pressed lips, tight-pressed as though to endure
some physical suffering. His face greyed, and deep lines furrowed
his brow. Thus he marched on, mechanically, amid his marching escort,
through the murky, fog-laden night, taking no heed of the stir about
them, for all Weston Zoyland was aroused by now.

Ahead of them, and over to the east, the firing blazed and crackled,
volley upon volley, to tell them that already battle had been joined
in earnest. Monmouth’s surprise had aborted, and it passed through
Wilding’s mind that to a great extent he was to blame for this. But it
gave him little care.

At least his indiscretion had served the purpose of rescuing Ruth from
Lord Feversham’s unclean clutches. For the rest, knowing that Monmouth’s
army by far outnumbered Feversham’s, he had no doubt that the advantage
must still lie with the Duke, in spite of Feversham’s having been warned
in the eleventh hour.

Louder grew the sounds of battle. Above the din of firing a swelling
chorus rose upon the night, startling and weird in such a time and
place. Monmouth’s pious infantry went into action singing hymns, and
Wentworth, impatient to be at his post, bade his men go faster.

The night was by now growing faintly luminous, and the deathly grey
light of approaching dawn hung in the mists upon the moor. Objects grew
visible in bulk at least, if not in form and shape, by the time the
little company had reached the end of Weston village and come upon
the deep mud dyke which had been Wentworth’s objective--a ditch that
communicated with the great rhine that served the King’s forces so well
on that night of Sedgemoor.

Within some twenty paces of this Wentworth called a halt, and would have
had Wilding’s hands pinioned behind him, and his eyes blindfolded, but
that Wilding begged him this might not be done. Wentworth was, as we
know, impatient; and between impatience and kindliness, perhaps, he
acceded to Wilding’s prayer.

He even hesitated a moment at the last. It was in his mind to speak some
word of comfort to the doomed man. Then a sudden volley, more terrific
than any that had preceded it, followed by hoarse cheering away to
eastward, quickened his impatience. He bade the sergeant lead Mr.
Wilding forward and stand him on the edge of the ditch. His object was
that thus the man’s body would be disposed of without waste of time.
This Wilding realized, his soul rebelling against this fate which
had come upon him in the very hour when he most desired to live. Mad
thoughts of escape crossed his mind--of a leap across the dyke, and a
wild dash through the fog. But the futility of it was too appalling.
The musketeers were already blowing their matches. He would suffer the
ignominy of being shot in the back, like a coward, if he made any such
attempt.

And so, despairing but not resigned, he took his stand on the very edge
of the ditch. In an irony of obligingness he set half of his heels over
the void, so that he was nicely balanced upon the edge of the cutting,
and must go backwards and down into the mud when hit.

It was this position he had taken that gave him an inspiration in that
last moment. The sergeant had moved away out of the line of fire, and he
stood there alone, waiting, erect and with his head held high, his
eyes upon the grey mass of musketeers--blurred alike by mist and
semi-darkness--some twenty paces distant along the line of which glowed
eight red fuses.

Wentworth’s voice rang out with the words of command.

“Blow your matches!”

Brighter gleamed the points of light, and under their steel pots the
faces of the musketeers, suffused by a dull red glow, sprang for a
moment out of the grey mass, to fade once more into the general greyness
at the word, “Cock your matches!”

“Guard your pans!” came a second later the captain’s voice, and then:

“Present!”

There was a stir and rattle, and the dark, indistinct figure standing
on the lip of the ditch was covered by the eight muskets. To the eyes of
the firing-party he was no more than a blurred shadowy form, showing a
little darker than the encompassing dark grey.

“Give fire!”

On the word Mr. Wilding lost the delicate, precarious balance he had
been sustaining on the edge of the ditch, and went over backwards, at
the imminent risk--as he afterwards related--of breaking his neck.
At the same instant a jagged, eight-pointed line of flame slashed the
darkness, and the thunder of the volley pealed forth to lose itself in
the greater din of battle on Penzoy Pound, hard by.



CHAPTER XXIII. MR. WILDING’S BOOTS

In the filth of the ditch, Mr. Wilding rolled over and lay prone. He
threw out his left arm, and rested his brow upon it to keep his face
above the mud. He strove to hold his breath, not that he might dissemble
death, but that he might avoid being poisoned by the foul gases that,
disturbed by his weight, bubbled up to choke him. His body half sank
and settled in the mud, and seen from above, as he was presently seen
by Wentworth--who ran forward with the sergeant’s lanthorn to assure
himself that the work had been well done--he had all the air of being
not only dead but already half buried.

And now, for a second, Mr. Wilding was in his greatest danger, and this
from the very humaneness of the sergeant. The fellow advanced to the
captain’s side, a pistol in his hand. Wentworth held the light aloft and
peered down into that six feet of blackness at the jacent figure.

“Shall I give him an ounce of lead to make sure, Captain?” quoth the
sergeant. But Wentworth, in his great haste, had already turned about,
and the light of his lanthorn no longer revealed the form of Mr.
Wilding.

“There is not the need. The ditch will do what may remain to be done, if
anything does. Come on, man. We are wanted yonder.”

The light passed, steps retreated, the sergeant muttering, and then
Wentworth’s voice was heard by Wilding some little distance off.

“Bring up your muskets!”

“Shoulder!”

“By the right--turn! March!” And the tramp, tramp of feet receded
rapidly.

Wilding was already sitting up, endeavouring to get a breath of purer
air. He rose to his feet, sinking almost to the top of his boots in
the oozy slime. Foul gases were belched up to envelop him. He seized
at irregularities in the bank, and got his head above the level of the
ground. He thrust forward his chin and took great greedy breaths in a
very gluttony of air--and never came Muscadine sweeter to a drunkard’s
lips. He laughed softly to himself. He was alone and safe. Wentworth
and his men had disappeared. Away in the direction of Penzoy Pound the
sounds of battle swelled ever to a greater volume. Cannons were booming
now, and all was uproar--flame and shouting, cheering and shrieking,
the thunder of hastening multitudes, the clash of steel, the pounding of
horses, all blent to make up the horrid din of carnage.

Mr. Wilding listened, and considered what to do. His first impulse was
to join the fray. But, bethinking him that there could be little place
for him in the confusion that must prevail by now, he reconsidered the
matter, and his thoughts returning to Ruth--the wife for whom he had
been at such pains to preserve himself on the very brink of death--he
resolved to endanger himself no further for that night.

He dropped back into the ditch, and waded, ankle deep in slime, to the
other side. There he crawled out, and gaining the moor lay down awhile
to breathe his lungs. But not for long. The dawn was creeping pale and
ghostly across the solid earth, and a faint fresh breeze was stirring
and driving the mist in wispy shrouds before it. If he lingered there he
might yet be found by some party of Royalist soldiers, and that would be
to undo all that he had done. He rose, and struck out across the peaty
ground. None knew the moors better than did he, and had he been with
Grey’s horse that night, it is possible things had fared differently,
for he had proved a surer guide than did Godfrey, the spy.

At first he thought of making for Bridgwater and Lupton House. By now
Richard would be on his way thither with Ruth, and Wilding was in haste
that she should be reassured that he had not fallen to the muskets
of Wentworth’s firing-party. But Bridgwater was far, and he began
to realize, now that all excitement was past, that he was utterly
exhausted. Next he thought of Scoresby Hall and his cousin Lord Gervase.
But he was by no means sure that he might count upon a welcome. Gervase
had shown no sympathy for Monmouth or his partisans, and whilst he would
hardly go so far as to refuse Mr. Wilding shelter, still Wilding felt an
aversion to seeking what might be grudged him. At last he bethought him
of home. Zoyland Chase was near at hand; but he had not been there since
his wedding-day, and in the mean time he knew that it had been used as
a barrack for the militia, and had no doubt that it had been wrecked and
plundered. Still, it must have walls and a roof, and that, for the time,
was all he craved, that he might rest awhile and recuperate his wasted
forces.

A half-hour later he dragged himself wearily up the avenue between the
elms--looking white as snow in the pale July dawn--to the clearing in
front of his house.

Desertion was stamped upon the face of it. Shattered windows and hanging
shutters everywhere. How wantonly they had wrecked it! It might have
been a church, and the militia a regiment of Cromwell’s iconoclastic
Puritans. The door was locked, but going round he found a window--one
of the door-windows of his library--hanging loose upon its hinges. He
pushed it wide, and entered with a heavy heart. Instantly something
stirred in a corner; a fierce growl was followed by a furious bark, and
a lithe brown body leapt from the greater into the lesser shadows to
attack the intruder. But at one word of his the hound checked suddenly,
crouched an instant, then with a queer, throaty sound bounded forward in
a wild delight that robbed it on the instant of its voice. It found it
anon and leapt about him, barking furious joy in spite of all his
vain endeavours to calm it. He grew afraid lest the dog should draw
attention. He knew not who--if any--might be in possession of his
house. The library, as he looked round, showed a scene of wreckage that
excellently matched the exterior. Not a picture on the walls, not an
arras, but had been rent to shreds. The great lustre that had hung
from the centre of the ceiling was gone. Disorder reigned along
the bookshelves, and yet there and elsewhere there was a certain
orderliness, suggesting an attempt to straighten up the place after
the ravagers had departed. It was these signs made him afraid the house
might be tenanted by such as might prove his enemies.

“Down, Jack,” he said to the dog for the twentieth time, patting its
sleek head. “Down, down!”

But still the dog bounded about him, barking wildly.

“Sh!” he hissed suddenly. Steps sounded in the hall. It was as he
feared. The door was suddenly thrown open, and the grey morning light
gleamed upon the long barrel of a musket. After it, bearing it, entered
a white-haired old man.

He paused on the threshold, measuring the tall disordered stranger who
stood there, his figure a black silhouette against the window by which
he had entered.

“What seek you here, sir, in this house of desolation?” asked the voice
of Mr. Wilding’s old servant.

He answered but one word. “Walters!”

The musket dropped with a clatter from the old man’s hands. He sank back
against the doorpost and leaned there an instant; then, whimpering and
laughing, he came tottering forward--his old legs failing him in this
excess of unexpected joy--and sank on his knees to kiss his master’s
hand.

Wilding patted the old head, as he had patted the dog’s a little while
ago. He was oddly moved; there was a knot in his throat. No home-coming
could well have been more desolate. And yet, what home-coming could have
brought him such a torturing joy as was now his? Oh, it is good to be
loved, if it be by no more than a dog and an old servant!

In a moment Walters was himself again. He was on his feet, scrutinizing
Wilding’s haggard face and disordered, filthy clothes. He broke into
exclamations between dismay and reproach, but these Wilding interrupted
to ask the old man how it happened that he had remained.

“My son John was a sergeant in the troop that quartered itself here,
sir,” Walters explained, “and so they left me alone. But even had it not
been for that, I scarcely think they would have harmed an old man. They
were brave fellows for all the mischief they did here, and they seemed
to have little heart in the service of the Popish King. It was
the officers drove them on to all this damage, and once they’d
started--well, there were rogues amongst them saw a chance of plunder,
and they took it. I have sought to put the place to rights; but they did
some woeful, wanton mischief.”

Wilding sighed. “It’s little matter, perhaps, as the place is no longer
mine.

“No... no longer yours, sir?”

“I’m an attainted outlaw, Walters,” he explained. “They’ll bestow it on
some Popish time-server, unless King Monmouth can follow up by greater
victories to-night’s. Have you aught a man may eat or drink?”

Meat and wine, fresh linen and fresh garments did old Walters find him;
and when he had washed, eaten, and drunk, Mr. Wilding wrapped himself
in a dressing-gown and laid himself down to sleep on a settle in the
library, his servant and his dog on guard.

Not above an hour, however, was he destined to enjoy his hard-earned
rest. The light had grown, meanwhile, and from grey it had turned
golden, the heralds of the sun being already in the east. In the
distance the firing had died down to a mere occasional boom.

Suddenly old Walters raised his head to listen. The beat of hoofs was
drawing rapidly near, so near that presently he rose in alarm, for
a horseman was pounding up the avenue, had drawn rein at the main
entrance.

Walters knit his brows in perplexity, and glanced at his master who
slept on utterly worn out. A silent pause followed, lasting some
minutes. Then it was the dog that rose with a growl, his coat bristling,
and an instant later there came a sharp rapping at the hall door.

“Sh! Down, Jack!” whispered Walters, afraid of rousing Mr. Wilding. He
tiptoed softly across the room, picked up his musket, and, calling the
dog, went out, a great fear in his heart, but not for himself.

The rapping continued, growing every instant more urgent, so urgent that
Walters was almost reassured. Here was no enemy, but surely some one
in need. Walters opened at last, and Mr. Trenchard, grimy of face and
hands, his hat shorn of its plumes, his clothes torn, staggered with an
oath across the threshold.

“Walters!” he cried. “Thank God! I thought you’d be here, but I wasn’t
certain. Down, Jack!”

The hound was barking madly again, having recognized an old friend.

“Plague on the dog!” growled Walters. “He’ll wake Mr. Wilding.”

“Mr. Wilding?” said Trenchard, and checked midway across the hall. “Mr.
Wilding?”

“He arrived here a couple of hours ago, sir...”

“Wilding here? Oddsheart! I was more than well advised to come. Where is
he, man?”

“Sh, sir! He’s asleep in the library. You’ll wake him, you’ll wake him!”

But Trenchard never paused. He crossed the hall at a bound, and flung
wide the library door. “Anthony!” he shouted. “Anthony!” And in the
background Walters cursed him for a fool. Wilding leapt to his feet,
awake and startled.

“Wha... Nick!”

“Oons!” roared Nick. “You’re choicely found. I came to send to
Bridgwater for you. We must away at once, man.”

“How--away? I thought you were in the fight, Nick.”

“And don’t I look as if I had been?”

“But then...

“The fight is fought and lost; there’s an end to the garboil. Monmouth
is in full flight with what’s left him of his horse. When I quitted the
field, he was riding hard for Polden Hill.” He dropped into a chair, his
accents grim and despairing, his eyes haggard.

“Lost?” gasped Wilding, and his conscience pricked him for a moment,
remembering how much it had been his fault--however indirectly--that
Feversham had been forewarned. “But how lost?” he cried a moment later.

“Ask Grey,” snapped Trenchard. “Ask his craven, numskulled lordship. He
had as good a hand in losing it as any. Oh, it was all most infernally
mishandled, as has been everything in this ill-starred rising. Grey sent
back Godfrey, the guide, and attempted in the dark to find his own way
across the rhine. He missed the ford. What else could the fool have
hoped? And when he was discovered and Dunbarton’s guns began to play on
us--hell and fire! we ran as if Sedgemoor had been a race-course.

“The rest was but the natural sequel. The foot, seeing our confusion,
broke. They were rallied again; broke again; and again were rallied; but
all too late. The enemy was up, and with that damned ditch between us
there was no getting to close quarters with them. Had Grey ridden round,
and sought to turn their flank, things might have been--O God!--they
would have been entirely different. I did suggest it. But for my pains
Grey threatened to pistol me if I presumed to instruct him in his duty.
I would to Heaven I had pistolled him where he stood.”

Walters, at gaze in the doorway, listened to the bitter tirade. Wilding,
on the settle, sat silent a moment, his elbows on his knees, his chin
in his hands, his eyes set and grim as Trenchard’s own. Then he mastered
himself, and waved a hand towards the table where stood food and wine.

“Eat and drink, Nick,” he said, “and we’ll discuss what’s to be done.”

“It’ll need little discussing,” was Nick’s savage answer as he rose and
went to pour himself a cup of wine. “There’s but one course open to us
--instant flight. I am for Minehead to join Hewling’s horse, which went
there yesterday for guns. We might seize a ship somewhere on the coast,
and thus get out of this infernal country of mine.”

They discussed the matter in spite of Trenchard’s having said that there
was nothing to discuss, and in the end Wilding agreed to go with him.
What choice had he? But first he must go to Bridgwater to reassure his
wife.

“To Bridgwater?” blazed Trenchard, in a passion at the folly of the
suggestion. “You’re clearly mad! All the King’s forces will be there in
an hour or two.”

“No matter,” said Wilding, “I must go. I am dead already, as it
happens.” And he related his singular adventure in Feversham’s camp last
night.

Trenchard heard him in amazement. If any suspicion crossed his mind that
his friend’s love affairs had had anything to do with rousing Feversham
prematurely, he showed no sign of it. But he shook his head at Wilding’s
insistence that he must first go to Lupton House.

“Shalt send a message, Anthony. Walters will find some one to bear it.
But you must not go yourself.”

In the end Mr. Trenchard prevailed upon him to adopt this course,
however reluctant he might be. Thereafter they proceeded to make their
preparations. There were still a couple of nags in the stables, in spite
of the visitation of the militia, and Walters was able to find fresh
clothes for Mr. Trenchard above-stairs.

A half-hour later they were ready to set out on this forlorn hope of
escape; the horses were at the door, and Mr. Wilding was in the act
of drawing on the fresh pair of boots which Walters had fetched him.
Suddenly he paused, his foot in the leg of his right boot, and sat
bemused a moment.

Trenchard, watching him, waxed impatient. “What ails you now?” he
croaked.

Without answering him, Wilding turned to Walters. “Where are the boots
I wore last night?” he asked, and his voice was sharp--oddly sharp,
considering how trivial the matter of his speech.

“In the kitchen,” answered Walters.

“Fetch me them.” And he kicked off again the boot he had half drawn on.

“But they are all befouled with mud, sir.”

“Clean them, Walters; clean them and let me have them.”

Still Walters hesitated, pointing out that the boots he had brought his
master were newer and sounder. Wilding interrupted him impatiently. “Do
as I bid you, Walters.” And the old man, understanding nothing, went off
on the errand.

“A pox on your boots!” swore Trenchard. “What does this mean?”

Wilding seemed suddenly to have undergone a transformation. His gloom
had fallen from him. He looked up at his old friend and, smiling,
answered him. “It means, Nick, that whilst these excellent boots that
Walters would have me wear might be well enough for a ride to the coast
such as you propose, they are not at all suited to the journey I intend
to make.”

“Maybe,” said Nick with a sniff, “you’re intending to journey to Tower
Hill?”

“In that direction,” answered Mr. Wilding suavely.

“I am for London, Nick. And you shall come with me.”

“God save us! Do you keep a fool’s egg under that nest of hair?”

Wilding explained, and by the time Walters returned with the boots
Trenchard was walking up and down the room in an odd agitation. “Odds my
life, Tony!” he cried at last. “I believe it is the best thing.”

“The only thing, Nick.”

“And since all is lost, why...” Trenchard blew out his cheeks and
smacked fist into palm. “I am with you,” said he.



CHAPTER XXIV. JUSTICE

It has fallen to my lot in the course of this veridical chronicle of Mr.
Anthony Wilding’s connection with the Rebellion in the West, and of his
wedding and post-nuptial winning of Ruth Westmacott, to relate certain
matters of incident and personality that may be accounted strange. But
the strangest yet remains to be related. For in spite of all that had
passed between Sir Rowland Blake and the Westmacotts on that memorable
night of Sunday to Monday, on which the battle of Sedgemoor was lost
and won, towards the end of that same month of July we find him not only
back at Lupton House, but once again the avowed suitor of Mr. Wilding’s
widow. For effrontery this is a matter of which it is to be doubted
whether history furnishes a parallel. Indeed, until the circumstances
are sifted it seems wild and incredible. So let us consider these.

On the morrow of Sedgemoor, the town of Bridgwater became
invested--infested were no whit too strong a word--by the King’s forces
under Feversham and the odious Kirke, and there began a reign of terror
for the town. The prisons were choked with attainted and suspected
rebels. From Bridgwater to Weston Zoyland the road was become an avenue
of gallows, each bearing its repulsive grimace-laden burden; for the
King’s commands were unequivocal, and hanging was the order of the day.

It is not my desire at this stage to surfeit you with the horrors that
were perpetrated during that hideous week of July, when no man’s life
was safe from the royal butchers. The awful campaign of Jeifreys and
his four associates was yet to follow, but it is doubtful if it could
compare in ruthlessness with that of Feversham and Kirke. At least, when
Jeifreys came, men were given a trial--or what looked like it--and there
remained them a chance, however slender, of acquittal, as many lived to
prove thereafter. With Feversham there was no such chance. And it was
of this circumstance that Sir Rowland Blake took the fullest and the
cowardliest advantage.

There can be no doubt that Sir Rowland was a villain. It might be
urged for him that he was a creature of circumstance, and that had
circumstances been other it is possible he had been a credit to his
name. But he was weak in character, and out of that weakness he had
developed a Herculean strength in villainy. Failure had dogged him in
everything he undertook. Broken at the gaming-tables, hounded out of
town by creditors, he was in desperate straits to repair his fortunes
and, as we have seen, he was not nice in his endeavours to achieve that
end.

Ruth Westmacott’s fair inheritance had seemed an easy thing to conquer,
and to its conquest he had applied himself to suffer defeat as he had
suffered it in all things else. But Sir Rowland did not yet acknowledge
himself beaten, and the Bridgwater reign of terror dealt him a fresh
hand--a hand of trumps. With this he came boldly to renew the game.

He was as smooth as oil at first, a very penitent, confessing himself
mad in what he had done on that Sunday night--mad with despair and rage
at having been defeated in the noble task to which he had turned his
hands. His penitence might have had little effect upon the Westmacotts
had he not known how to insinuate that it might be best for them to lend
an ear to it--and a forgiving one.

“You will tell Mr. Westmacott, Jasper,” he had said, when Jasper told
him that they could not receive him, “that he would be unwise not to see
me, and the same to Mistress Wilding.”

And old Jasper had carried his message, and had told Richard of the
wicked smile that had been on Sir Rowland’s lips when he had uttered it.

Now Richard was in many ways a changed man since that night at Weston
Zoyland. A transformation seemed to have been wrought in him as odd as
it was sudden, and it dated from the moment when with tears in his
eyes he had wrung Wilding’s hand in farewell. Where precept had failed,
Richard found himself converted by example. He contrasted himself in
that stressful hour with great-souled Anthony Wilding, and saw himself
as he was, a weakling, strong only in vicious ways. Repentance claimed
him; repentance and a fine ambition to be worthier, to resemble as
nearly as his nature would allow him this Anthony Wilding whom he took
for pattern. He changed his ways, abandoned drink and gaming, and gained
thereby a healthier countenance. Then in his zeal he overshot his mark.
He developed a taste for Scripture-reading, bethought him of prayers,
and even took to saying grace to his meat. Indeed--for conversion,
when it comes, is a furious thing--the swing of his soul’s pendulum
threatened now to carry him to extremes of virtue and piety. “O Lord!”
 he would cry a score of times a day, “Thou hast brought up my soul from
the grave; Thou hast kept me alive that I should not go down to the
pit!”

But underlying all this remained unfortunately the inherent weakness of
his nature--indeed, it was that very weakness and malleability made this
sudden and wholesale conversion possible.

Upon hearing Sir Rowland’s message his heart fainted, despite his good
intentions, and he urged that perhaps they had better hear what the
baronet might have to say.

It was three days after Sedgemoor Fight, and poor Ruth was worn and
exhausted with her grief--believing Wilding dead, for he had sent no
message to inform her of his almost miraculous preservation. The thing
he went to do in London was fraught with such peril that he foresaw
but the slenderest chance of escaping with his life. Therefore, he had
argued, why console her now with news that he lived, when in a few days
the headsman might prove that his end had been but postponed? To do so
might be to give her cause to mourn him twice. Again he was haunted by
the thought that, in spite of all, it may have been pity that had so
grievously moved her at their last meeting. Better, then, to wait;
better for both their sakes. If he came safely through his ordeal it
would be time enough to bear her news of his preservation.

In deepest mourning, very white, with dark stains beneath her eyes
to tell the tale of anguished vigils, she received Sir Rowland in the
withdrawing-room, her brother at her side. To his expressions of
deep penitence he found them cold; so he passed on to show them what
disastrous results might ensue upon a stubborn maintaining of this
attitude of theirs towards him.

“I have come,” he said, his eyes downcast, his face long-drawn, for he
could play the sorrowful with any hypocrite in England, “to do something
more than speak of my grief and regret. I have come to offer proof of it
by service.

“We ask no service of you, sir,” said Ruth, her voice a sword of
sharpness.

He sighed, and turned to Richard. “This were folly,” he assured his
whilom friend. “You know the influence I wield.”

“Do I?” quoth Richard, his tone implying doubt.

“You think that the bungled matter at Newlington’s may have shaken it?”
 quoth Blake. “With Feversham, perhaps. But Albemarle, remember, trusts
me very fully. There are ugly happenings in the town here. Men are being
hung like linen on a washing-day. Be not too sure that yourself are
free from all danger.” Richard paled under the baronet’s baleful,
half-sneering glance. “Be not in too great haste to cast me aside, for
you may find me useful.”

“Do you threaten, sir?” cried Ruth.

“Threaten?” quoth he. He turned up his eyes and showed the whites of
them. “Is it to threaten to promise you my protection; to show you how I
can serve you?--than which I ask no sweeter boon of heaven. A word from
me, and Richard need fear nothing.”

“He need fear nothing without that word,” said Ruth disdainfully. “Such
service as he did Lord Feversham the other night...”

“Is soon forgotten,” Blake cut in adroitly. “Indeed, ‘twill be most
convenient to his lordship to forget it. Think you he would care to have
it known that ‘twas to such a chance he owes the preservation of his
army?” He laughed, and added in a voice of much sly meaning, “The times
are full of peril. There’s Kirke and his lambs. And there’s no saying
how Kirke might act did he chance to learn what Richard failed to do
that night when he was left to guard the rear at Newlington’s!”

“Would you inform him of it?” cried Richard, between anger and alarm.

Blake thrust out his hands in a gesture of horrified repudiation.
“Richard!” he cried in deep reproof and again, “Richard!”

“What other tongue has he to fear?” asked Ruth.

“Am I the only one who knows of it?” cried Blake. “Oh, madam, why will
you ever do me such injustice? Richard has been my friend--my dearest
friend. I wish him so to continue, and I swear that he shall find me
his, as you shall find me yours.”

“It is a boon I could dispense with,” she assured him, and rose. “This
talk can profit little, Sir Rowland,” said she. “You seek to bargain.”

“You shall see how unjust you are,” he cried with deep sorrow. “It is
but fitting, perhaps, after what has passed. It is my punishment. But
you shall come to acknowledge that you have done me wrong. You shall see
how I shall befriend and protect him.”

That said, he took his leave and went, but he left behind him a shrewd
seed of fear in Richard’s mind, and of the growth that sprang from it
Richard almost unconsciously transplanted something in the days that
followed into the heart of Ruth. As a result, to make sure that no harm
should come to her brother, the last of his name and race, she resolved
to receive Sir Rowland, resolved in spite of Diana’s outspoken scorn, in
spite of Richard’s protests--for though afraid, yet he would not have it
so--in spite even of her own deep repugnance of the man.

Days passed and grew to weeks. Bridgwater was settling down to peace
again--to peace and mourning; the Royalist scourge had spread to
Taunton, and Blake lingered on at Lupton House, an unwelcome but an
undeniable guest.

His presence was as detestable to Richard now as it was to Ruth, for
Richard had to submit to the mockery with which the town rake lashed his
godly bearing and altered ways. More than once in gusts of sudden valour
the boy urged his sister to permit him to drive the baronet from the
house and let him do his worst. But Ruth, afraid for Richard, bade him
wait until the times were more settled. When the royal vengeance had
slaked its lust for blood it might matter little, perhaps, what tales
Sir Rowland might elect to carry.

And so Sir Rowland remained and waited. He assured himself that he knew
how to be patient, and congratulated himself upon that circumstance.
Wilding dead, a little time must now suffice to blunt the sharp edge of
his widow’s grief; let him but await that time, and the rest should be
easy, the battle his. With Richard he did not so much as trouble himself
to reckon.

Thus he determined, and thus no doubt he would have acted but for an
unforeseen contingency. A miserable, paltry creditor had smoked him out
in his Somerset retreat, and got a letter to him full of dark hints of
a debtor’s gaol. The fellow’s name was Swiney, and Sir Rowland knew him
for fierce and pertinacious where a defaulting creditor was concerned.
One only course remained him: to force matters with Wilding’s widow. For
days he refrained, fearing that precipitancy might lose him all; it was
his wish to do the thing without too much coercion; some, he was not
coxcomb enough to think--coxcomb though he was--might be dispensed with.

At last one Sunday evening he decided to be done with dallying, and to
bring Ruth between the hammer and the anvil of his will. It was the
last Sunday in July, exactly three weeks after Sedgemoor, and the
odd coincidence of his having chosen such a day and hour you shall
appreciate anon.

They were on the lawn taking the cool of the evening after an
oppressively hot day. By the stone seat, now occupied by Lady Horton
and Diana, Richard lay on the sward at their feet in talk with them,
and their talk was of Sir Rowland. Diana--gall in her soul to see the
baronet by way of gaining yet his ends--chid Richard in strong terms for
his weakness in submitting to Blake’s constant presence at Lupton House.
And Richard meekly took her chiding and promised that, if Ruth would but
sanction it, things should be changed upon the morrow.

Sir Rowland, all unconscious--reckless, indeed--of this, sauntered with
Ruth some little distance from them, having contrived adroitly to draw
her aside. He broke a spell of silence with a dolorous sigh.

“Ruth,” said he pensively, “I mind me of the last evening on which you
and I walked here alone.”

She flashed him a glance of fear and aversion, and stood still. Under
his brow he watched the quick heave of her bosom, the sudden flow and
abiding ebb of blood in her face--grown now so thin and wistful--and he
realized that before him lay no easy task. He set his teeth for battle.

“Will you never have a kindness for me, Ruth?” he sighed.

She turned about, her intent to join the others, a dull anger in her
soul. He sat a hand upon her arm. “Wait!” said he, and the tone in
which he uttered that one word kept her beside him. His manner changed a
little. “I am tired of this,” said he.

“Why, so am I,” she answered bitterly.

“Since we are agreed so far, let us agree to end it.”

“It is all I ask.”

“Yes, but--alas!--in a different way. Listen now.”

“I will not listen. Let me go.”

“I were your enemy did I do so, for you would know hereafter a sorrow
and repentance for which nothing short of death could offer you escape.
Richard is under suspicion.”

“Do you hark back to that?” The scorn of her voice was deadly. Had it
been herself he desired, surely that tone had quenched all passion in
him, or else transformed it into hatred. But Blake was playing for a
fortune, for shelter from a debtor’s prison.

“It has become known,” he continued, “that Richard was one of the early
plotters who paved the way for Monmouth’s coming. I think that that, in
conjunction with his betrayal of his trust that night at Newlington’s,
thereby causing the death of some twenty gallant fellows of King
James’s, will be enough to hang him.”

Her hand clutched at her heart. “What is’t you seek?” she cried. It was
almost a moan. “What is’t you want of me?”

“Yourself,” said he. “I love you, Ruth,” he added, and stepped close up
to her.

“O God!” she cried aloud. “Had I a man at hand to kill you for that
insult!”

And then--miracle of miracles!--a voice from the shrubs by which they
stood bore to her ears the startling words that told her her prayer was
answered there and then.

“Madam, that man is here.”

She stood frozen. Not more of a statue was Lot’s wife in the moment of
looking behind her than she who dared not look behind. That voice! A
voice from the dead, a voice she had heard for the last time in the
cottage that was Feversham’s lodging at Weston Zoyland. Her wild eyes
fell upon Sir Rowland’s face. It showed livid; the nether-lip sucked
in and caught in the strong teeth, as if to prevent an outcry; the eyes
wild with fright. What did it mean? By an effort she wrenched herself
round at last, and a scream broke from her to rouse her aunt, her
cousin, and her brother, and bring them hastening towards her across the
sweep of lawn.

Before her, on the edge of the shrubbery, a grey figure stood erect and
graceful, and the face, with its thin lips faintly smiling, its dark
eyes gleaming, was the face of Anthony Wilding. And as she stared he
moved forward, and she heard the fall of his foot upon the turf, the
clink of his spurs, the swish of his scabbard against the shrubs, and
reason told her that this was no ghost.

She held out her arms to him. “Anthony! Anthony!” She staggered forward,
and he was no more than in time to catch her as she swayed.

He held her fast against him and kissed her brow. “Sweet,” he said,
“forgive me that I frightened you. I came by the orchard gate, and my
coming was so timely that I could not hold in my answer to your cry.”

Her eyelids fluttered, she drew a long sighing breath, and nestled
closer to him. “Anthony!” she murmured again, and reached up a hand to
stroke his face, to feel that it was truly living flesh.

And Sir Rowland, realizing, too, by now that here was no ghost,
recovered his lost courage. He put a hand to his sword, then withdrew
it, leaving the weapon sheathed. Here was a hangman’s job, not a
swordsman’s, he opined--and wisely, for he had had earlier experience of
Mr. Wilding’s play of steel.

He advanced a step. “O fool!” he snarled. “The hangman waits for you.”

“And a creditor for you, Sir Rowland,” came the voice of Mr. Trenchard,
who now pushed forward through those same shrubs that had masked his
friend’s approach. “A Mr. Swiney. ‘Twas I sent him from town. He’s
lodged at the Bull, and bellows like one when he speaks of what you owe
him. There are three messengers with him, and they tell of a debtor’s
gaol for you, sweetheart.”

A spasm of fury crossed the face of Blake. “They may have me, and
welcome, when I’ve told my tale,” said he. “Let me but tell of Anthony
Wilding’s lurking here, and not only Anthony Wilding, but all the rest
of you are doomed for harbouring him. You know the law, I think,” he
mocked them, for Lady Horton, Diana, and Richard, who had come up,
stood now a pace or so away in deepest wonder. “You shall know it better
before the night is out, and better still before next Sunday’s come.”

“Tush!” said Trenchard, and quoted, “‘There’s none but Anthony may
conquer Anthony.’”

“‘Tis clear,” said Wilding, “you take me for a rebel. An odd mistake!
For it chances, Sir Rowland, that you behold in me an accredited servant
of the Secretary of State.”

Blake stared, then fell a prey to ironic laughter. He would have spoken,
but Mr. Wilding plucked a paper from his pocket, and handed it to
Trenchard.

“Show it him,” said he, and Blake’s face grew white again as he read the
lines above Sunderland’s signature and observed the seals of office. He
looked from the paper to the hated smiling face of Mr. Wilding.

“You were a spy?” he said, his tone making a question of the odious
statement. “A dirty spy?”

“Your incredulity is flattering, at least,” said Wilding pleasantly as
he repocketed the parchment, “and it leads you in the right direction. I
neither was nor am a spy.”

“That paper proves it!” cried Blake contemptuously. Having been a spy
himself, he was a good judge of the vileness of the office.

“See to my wife, Nick,” said Wilding sharply, and made as if to transfer
her to the care of his friend.

“Nay,” said Trenchard, “‘tis your own duty that. Let me discharge the
other for you.” And he stepped up to Blake and tapped him briskly on the
shoulder. “Sir Rowland,” said he, “you’re a knave.” Sir Rowland stared
at him. “You’re a foul thing--a muckworm--Sir Rowland,” added Trenchard
amiably, “and you’ve been discourteous to a lady, for which may Heaven
forgive you--I can’t.”

“Stand aside,” Blake bade him, hoarse with passion, blind to all risks.
“My affair is with Mr. Wilding.”

“Aye,” said Trenchard, “but mine is with you. If you survive it, you can
settle what other affairs you please--including, belike, your business
with Mr. Swiney.”

“Not so, Nick,” said Wilding suddenly, and turned to Richard. “Here,
Richard! Take her,” he bade his brother-in-law.

“Anthony, you damned shirk-duty, see to your wife. Leave me to my own
diversions. Sir Rowland,” he reminded the baronet, “I have called you a
knave and a foul thing, and faith! if you want it proven, you need but
step down the orchard with me.”

He saw hesitation lingering in Sir Rowland’s face, and he uncurled the
last of the whip he carried. “I’d grieve to do a violent thing before
the ladies,” he murmured deprecatingly. “I’d never respect myself again
if I had to drive a gentleman of your quality to the ground of honour
with a horsewhip. But, as God’s my life, if you don’t go willingly this
instant, ‘tis what will happen.”

Richard’s newborn righteousness prompted him to interfere, to seek to
avert this threatened bloodshed; his humanity urged him to let matters
be, and his humanity prevailed. Diana watched this foreshadowing of
tragedy with tight lips, pale cheeks. Justice was to be done at last,
it seemed, and as her frightened eye fell upon Sir Rowland she knew not
whether to exult or weep. Her mother--understanding nothing--plied her
meanwhile with whispered questions.

As for Sir Rowland, he looked into the old rake’s eyes agleam with
wicked mirth, and rage welled up to choke him. He must kill this man.

“Come,” said he. “I’ll see to your fine friend Wilding afterwards.”

“Excellent,” said Trenchard, and led the way through the shrubbery to
the orchard.

Ruth, reviving, looked up. Her glance met Mr. Wilding’s; it quickened
into understanding, and she stirred. “Is it true? Is it really true?”
 she cried. “I am being tortured by this dream again!”

“Nay, sweet, it is true; it is true. I am here. Say, shall I stay?”

She clung to him for answer. “And you are in no danger?”

“In none, sweet. I am Mr. Wilding of Zoyland Chase, free to come and go
as best shall seem to me.” He begged the others to leave them a little
while, and he led her to the stone seat by the river. He set her at his
side there and told her the story of his escape from the firing-party,
and of the inspiration that had come to him on the morrow to make use
of the letter in his boot which Sunderland had given him for Monmouth
in the hour of panic. Monmouth’s cavalier treatment of him when he had
arrived in Bridgwater had precluded his delivering that letter at the
council. There was never another opportunity, nor did he again think of
the package in the stressful hours that followed. It was not until the
following morning that he suddenly remembered it lay undelivered, and
bethought him that it might prove a weapon to win him delivery from the
dangers that encompassed him.

“It was a slender chance,” he told her, “but I employed it. I waited in
London, in hiding, close upon a fortnight ere I had an opportunity of
seeing Sunderland. He laughed me to scorn at first, and threatened me
with the Tower. But I told him the letter was in safe hands and would
remain there in earnest of his good behaviour, and that did he have me
arrested it would instantly be laid before the King and bring his own
head to the block more surely even than my own. It frightened him; but
it had scarcely done so, sweet, had he known that that precious letter
was still in my boot, for my boot was on my leg, and my leg was in the
room with the rest of me.

“He surrendered at last, and gave me papers proving that Trenchard
and I--for I stipulated for old Nick’s safety too--were His Majesty’s
accredited agents in the West. I loathed the title. But...”--he spread
his hands and smiled--“it was that or widowing you.”

She took his face in her hands and stroked it fondly, and they sat thus
until a dry cough behind them roused them from their joyous silence. Mr.
Trenchard was sauntering towards them, his left eye tucked farther under
his hat than usual, his hands behind him.

“‘Tis a thirsty evening,” he informed them.

“Go, tell Richard so,” said Wilding, who knew naught of Richard’s
altered ways.

“I’ve thought of it; but haply he’s sensitive on the score of drinking
with me again. He has done it twice to his undoing.”

“He’ll do it a third time, no doubt,” said Mr. Wilding curtly, and
Trenchard, taking the hint, turned with a shrug, and went up the lawn
towards the house. He found Richard in the porch, where he had
lingered fearfully, waiting for news. At sight of Mr. Trenchard’s grim,
weather-beaten countenance he came forward suddenly.

“How has it sped?” he asked, his lips twitching on the words.

“Yonder they sit,” said Trenchard, pointing down the lawn.

“No, no. I mean... Sir Rowland.”

“Oh, Sir Rowland?” cried the old sinner, as though Sir Rowland were
some matter long forgotten. He sighed. “Alas, poor Swiney! I fear I’ve
cheated him.”

“You mean?”

“Art slow at inference, Dick. Sir Rowland has passed away in the odour
of villainy.”

Richard clasped nervous hands together and raised his colourless eyes to
heaven.

“May the Lord have mercy on his soul!” said he.

“May He, indeed!” said Trenchard, when he had recovered from his
surprise. “But,” he added pessimistically, “I doubt the rogue’s in
hell.”

Richard’s eyes kindled suddenly, and he quoted from the thirtieth Psalm,
“‘I will extol thee, O Lord; for Thou hast lifted me up, and hast not
made my foes to rejoice over me.’”

Dumbfounded, wondering, indeed, was Westmacott’s mind unhinged,
Trenchard scanned him narrowly. Richard caught the glance and
misinterpreted it for one of reproof. He bethought him that his joy was
unrighteous. He stifled it, and forced his lips to sigh “Poor Blake!”

“Poor, indeed!” quoth Trenchard, and adapted a remembered line of his
play-acting days to suit the case. “The tears live in an onion that
shall water his grave. Though, perhaps, I am forgetting Swiney.” Then,
in a brisker tone, “Come, Richard. What like is the muscadine you keep
at Lupton House?”

“I have abjured all wine,” said Richard.

“A plague you have!” quoth Trenchard, understanding less and less. “Have
you turned Mussulman, perchance?”

“No,” answered Richard sternly; “Christian.”

Trenchard hesitated, rubbing his nose thoughtfully. “Hum,” said he at
length. “Peace be with you, then. I’ll leave you here to bay the moon
to your heart’s content. Perhaps Jasper will know where to find me a
brain-wash.” And with a final suspicious, wondering look at the whilom
bibber, he passed into the house, much exercised on the score of the
sanity of this family into which his friend Anthony had married.

Outside, the twilight shadows were deepening.

“Shall we home, sweet?” whispered Mr. Wilding. The shadows befriended
her, a veil for her sudden confusion. She breathed something that seemed
no more than a sigh, though more it seemed to Anthony Wilding.





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