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Title: Over The Border - A Romance
Author: Barr, Robert
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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OVER THE BORDER

A Romance

By Robert Barr

New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company

1903

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0008]

[Illustration: 0009]


TO

FREDERICK A. STOKES

WITH WHOM MY LITERARY LIFE HAS BEEN PLEASANTLY ASSOCIATED

SINCE I BEGAN TO WRITE BOOKS.



OVER THE BORDER



BOOK I.--THE GIRL.



CHAPTER I.--ASSERTION.

The end of October had been more than usually fine, and now the
beginning of November was following the good example set by its
predecessor. In the Home Park, the only part of the extensive grounds
surrounding Hampton Court Palace that was well wooded, the leaves had
not entirely left the branches, and the turf beneath was green and firm,
as yet unsodden by autumnal rain.

Along one of the forest aisles there walked a distinguished party,
proceeding slowly, for the pace was set by a disease-stricken man whose
progress was of painful deliberation. He was tall and thin; his body was
prematurely bent, though accustomed to be straight enough, if one might
judge by the masterful brow, now pallid with illness, or by the glance
of the piercing eye untamed even by deadly malady. That he was not long
for this earth, if Nature had her way, a scrutinizer of that handsome,
powerful face might have guessed; yet he was singled out for destruction
even before his short allotted time, for at that moment his enemies,
hedged in secrecy behind locked doors, were anxiously planning his ruin.
They were wise in their privacy, for, had a whisper of their intentions
gone abroad, the Earl of Strafford would have struck first and struck
hard, as, indeed, he intended to do in any case.

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, was accompanied by an imposing
train. On either side of him, accommodating their slow steps to his,
were some of the highest in the land, who waited on his words and
accorded him a deference more obsequious than that with which they might
have distinguished the King himself; for all knew that this shattered
frame was more to be dreaded than the most stalwart personage who that
day trod English soil.

Behind this noble circle followed a numerous band of attendants, alert
for beck or call, each having place according to his degree. A huntsman
was surrounded by dogs kept in thrall by fear of the whip. Falconers
with hooded hawks attested a favorite sport of the Earl, who loved to
have the birds near him even though he made no trial of their flight.
And here he walked the grounds of the King as if he owned them; as
though he were permanent master instead of transient guest. Here he
rested for the moment, hoping to recover some remnant of health by the
placid Thames, after his troublous journey from Ireland, which turbulent
country lay numb under his strong hand, soon to be vocal enough when
the hounds were upon him. No echo of London’s clamour came to this green
paradise. He knew the mob was crying out against him, as in truth
the whole country cried; but he heeded not the howl, despising his
opponents. Better for him had he been more wary or more conciliatory.

Among those now in his company was young De Courcy, one of the numerous
band of Frenchmen smilingly received at Court because the consort of
Charles had a predilection for her countrymen,--a preference unshared by
any save her husband. The French contingent thought little of the scowls
of the English so long as those in authority smiled on them and the
smile brought profit. They were regarded as titled mercenaries; spies
probably, anxious to feather their own nests at the expense of the
Treasury; possibly the propagating agents of a Church of which England
had a deep distrust; certainly possessing an overweening influence at
Court, dividing still further the unfortunate King from his suspicious
people. It might have been imagined that so thoroughly English, so
strenuous a man as Strafford, the last to be deluded by suave manners or
flattery, although he had an insatiable appetite for cringing deference,
yet uninfluenced by it (as witness his crushing of Lord Montmorris in
Ireland), would have shown scant friendship for frivolous French nobles;
but it was a fact that he bore from young De Courcy a familiarity of
address that he would have suffered from none other in the kingdom.
Courtiers find a ready reason for every action, and they attributed
Strafford’s forbearance to the influence De Courcy possessed with the
Queen, for his lordship was well aware that his sovereign lady showed
small liking for the King’s most powerful minister. Strafford was too
keen a politician not to make every endeavour to placate an enemy who at
all hours had access to the private ear of his master, on whose breath
depended his own elevation. Therefore it may well be that he thought it
worth while to conciliate one of the haughty lady’s favourites.

The conversation under the trees was lightly frivolous, despite the
seriousness of the time. Strafford was not one to wear his heart on his
sleeve, and if he was troubled that the King insisted on his presence
in London, refusing to him permission to return to Ireland, where he was
safe,--the wielder of the upper hand,--his manner or expression gave
no hint of his anxiety. A cynical smile curved his bloodless lips as he
listened to the chatter of De Courcy, not noticing the silence of
the others, who disdained a conversational contest with the voluble
Frenchman.

“I give your lordship my assurance,” insisted the young man, “that his
Majesty was much perturbed by the incident. All Scots are superstitious,
and the King has Scottish blood in his veins.”

“As to superstition, I have never learned,” said Strafford, speaking
slowly, “that the French are entirely free from some touch of it.”

“That’s as may be,” continued De Courcy airily, “but her Majesty, who is
French, advised the King to think nothing more of the encounter, so she
regards but lightly any predictions of doom from an old gipsy hag.”

“There were no predictions of doom, and no gipsy hag. The case was of
the simplest, now exaggerated by Court gossip,” amended the Earl.

“My lord, I have it almost direct from the King himself.”

“Your ‘almost’ will account for anything. It was merely a piece of
youthful impertinence which should have been punished by one of the park
rangers, had any been present. The King had honoured me with his company
in the park. We were alone together, discussing problems of State, when
there suddenly sprang out before us a smiling, froward girl, who cried,
‘Merry gentlemen, I will predict your fortunes if in return you tell me
where I may find the Earl of Strafford.’ His Majesty looked at me, and
the hussy, quick to take a hint, evidently saw that I was the person
sought. In any case the King’s remark must have confirmed her suspicion.
‘Your predictions are like to prove of small value,’ said his Majesty,
‘if you ask such a question. Here you have two men before you. Choose
the greater.’ Whereupon the wench seized my hand before I was aware, and
the King laughed.”

“It was an uncourtierlike proceeding,” said De Courcy. “That young woman
will not advance in a world which depends on the smile of the mighty for
promotion.”

“The choice shows her a true prophet,” muttered one of the nobles; but
Strafford, paying no heed, went on with his account.

“The words which followed were more diplomatic than the action. ‘You are
the King’s best friend,’ she said, examining the palm she had taken.
Then his Majesty cried, ‘What do you read in my hand?’ ‘You are the
King’s worst enemy,’ said the pert hussy. This nonplussed Charles for
the moment, who replied at last, ‘I think you are more successful with
my comrade. Read all you find in his palm, I beg of you.’ Then the
gipsy, if such she was, went glibly on. ‘Your fate and that of the King
are interwoven. If you overcome your enemies, the King will overcome
his. If you fall, the King falls. Your doom will be the King’s doom;
your safety the King’s safety. At the age you shall die, at that age
will the King die, and from the same cause.’ His Majesty laughed,
somewhat uneasily I thought, but said jauntily, ‘I have the advantage of
you, Strafford, for you may die at any moment, but I am given seven
years to live, being that space younger than you.’ I was annoyed at the
familiarity of the creature, and bade her take herself off, which she
did after making vain appeal for some private conversation with me.”

“Was she fair to look upon? In that case I do not wonder at your
indignation. To learn that a handsome and young woman was searching for
you in the lonely forest, to meet her at last, but in company of a King
so rigid in his morals as Charles, was indeed a disappointment. You had
been more favoured with any other monarch of Europe beside you. Had
you no chance of getting one private word with her; of setting time and
place for a more secluded conference?”

A slight frown ruffled the broad, smooth brow of the statesman, but it
vanished on the instant, and he shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly.

“I but gave you a brief account of a very simple incident that you were
inclined to make much of. You have now the truth, and so may dress the
retailing of it in the guise that best pleases you. I make no doubt
’twill be fanciful enough when next I hear it.”

“Were it any other monarch than Charles, I should say he was annoyed to
find his minister so favoured; but in his mind the prediction will take
more space than thought of the prophet, be she never so young or so
fair. But all good wishes go toward you, my lord. It is my prayer that
when next you meet the woodland sylph you are alone in the forest.”

As if to show how little profit follows the prayer of a French
exquisite, there stepped out from behind a thick tree in front of them
the person of whom they spoke. She was tall and slender, with dancing
eyes of midnight blackness, which well matched the dark, glossy ringlets
flowing in profusion over her shapely shoulders. Her costume betokened
the country rather than the Court, yet its lack of fashionable cut or
texture was not noticed in a company of men, and the almost universal
gaze of admiration that rested on her showed that in the eyes of the
majority she was well and tastefully garbed.

“My lord of Strafford,” she said in a sweet clear voice, “I crave a word
with you in private.”

De Courcy laughed provokingly; the others remained silent, but turned
their regard from the interloper to the Earl, whose frown of annoyance
did not disappear as it had done before. Strafford spoke no word, but
his underlings were quick to interpret and act upon his black look. Two
attendants silently took places beside the girl, ready to seize her did
his lordship give a sign. The huntsmen let loose the dogs that had been
snarling at the newcomer. They made a dash at her, while she sprang
nimbly to the tree that had concealed her, having first whisked from the
scabbard of an astonished attendant the light sword with which he was
supposed to guard himself or his master.

“Call off your hounds, you villain!” she cried in a voice that had the
true ring of command in it; indeed, to many there the order had a touch
of the Earl’s own tones in anger. “I ask not for my own escape from
scath, but for theirs. I’d rather transfix a man than hurt a dog.
You scoundrel, you shall feel the sting of this point if you do not
instantly obey.”

The thin shining blade darted here and there like an adder’s tongue, and
as painfully. Yelp after yelp showed its potency, and the dogs, quick
to learn that they were overmatched, abated their fury and contented
themselves with noisy outcry at a safe distance from the semicircle of
danger, jumping sideways and backward, barking valorously, but keeping
well clear of the rapier. At a glance from the Earl the huntsman whipped
them back into their former places.

“Yes, lash them, you whelp, but it’s over your own shoulders the cord
should go, had I the ordering, thou meanest of the pack.”

“Madam,” said the Earl of Strafford sternly, “I would have you know that
none give orders here but me.”

“In that you are mistaken, my lord. You have just heard me give them,
and furthermore have seen them obeyed. But aside from the ordering of
either you or me, I understand this to be the King’s park.” Again De
Courcy laughed.

“She hit you there, my lord,” he had the temerity to say.

Strafford paid no attention to his gibe, but gazed darkly at the
fearless intruder.

“What do you want?” he asked.

“I have told you, my lord. I wish a word in your private ear.”

“Speak out what you have to say.”

“’T is to be heard by none but the Earl of Strafford; no, not even by
the King himself; for, you should know, were it other fashion, I would
have spoken when last I encountered you.”

“I have no secrets from the King.”

“Nor need this be one. ’T is yours to proclaim to the world at your
pleasure. But first it is for your ear alone. Send that painted popinjay
to the rear with the dogs. The others are gentlemen and will retire of
their own accord when they learn a lady wishes to speak privily with
you.”

It was now the turn of the English nobles to laugh, which they did
merrily enough, but De Courcy seemed less pleased with the rude
suggestion. He fumbled at his sword-hilt, and muttered angrily that if
any present wished to make the girl’s reference his own, a meeting could
be speedily arranged to discuss the question. Strafford, however, had no
mind for any by-play. His glance quelled the rising difference; then he
said harshly to the young woman,--“What do you here in the King’s park,
lacking permission, as I suspect?”

“Indeed,” cried the girl with a toss of the head, “they say, where
I come from, that everything seemingly possessed by the King belongs
actually to the people, and being one of the people I come to my own
domain asking permission of none.”

“You are young to speak treason.”

“’T is no treason of mine. I but repeat what others say.”

“Still, how came you here?”

“Easily. Over the wall. I was refused access to you by any other means,
so I took the method that suggested itself.”

“You were feigning yesterday to be a gipsy. Who are you?”

“That is what I wish to tell your lordship when I get the opportunity.
As for yesterday, I feigned nothing. I but retold what an old gipsy once
said to me regarding the King and Lord Strafford. I wished to engage
your attention, but, like the underlings of this palace, you turned me
away.”

“Your persistence shall be rewarded, but with this proviso. If the news
you make so much of is not worth the telling, then shall you expiate
your impudence in prison. If you fear to accept the risk, you had better
begone while there is yet time, and let us see no more of you.”

“I accept the hazard freely, my lord.”

The Earl of Strafford said no more, but turned to his followers, who
at once withdrew to the background, except De Courcy, who, not having
forgiven the insult placed upon him, and unconscious that his reluctance
to quit the spot was giving point to the girl’s invective, cried
angrily,--“Beware, Lord Strafford. There may be more in this than
appears on the surface. She has shown herself expert with a stolen
blade. That blade is still in her hand.”

The Earl smiled coldly; he was unused to disobedience even where it
concerned his own safety.

“’Tis but fair,” he said, “that I should take some risk to equal hers.
I’ll chance the stroke. Your prayer was that I should meet this damsel
alone in the forest. Do not, I beg of you, prevent fulfilment of your
devout petition by further tarrying.”

But before this was spoken the girl had flung the borrowed rapier
far into the forest glade, then waved her disencumbered hand to the
departing Frenchman, saying mockingly,--“Farewell, popinjay. The
treacherous ever make suggestion of treachery.” To the Earl she added,
“My lord, I am entirely unarmed.”

“What have you to say to me?” replied Strafford severely, bending his
dark gaze upon her.

“Sir,”--her voice lowered so that none might by any chance
overhear,--“Sir, I am Frances Wentworth, your lordship’s eldest
daughter.”



CHAPTER II.--RECOGNITION.

The Earl lowered upon the girl, and the black anger upon his brow might
have warned a more intrepid person than even she appeared to be that
there was peril in trifling. When at last he spoke, his voice was harsh
and menacing.

“What do you expect to gain by a statement so preposterous?”

“I expect to gain a father.”

The girl’s answer trod quick upon the heels of the question, but her
colour changed from red to pale, and from pale to red again, and
her hurried breathing hinted of some knowledge of her hazard, which
nevertheless she faced without flinching.

“My eldest daughter, say you? My eldest daughter is Ann, aged thirteen,
a modest little maid. I take you to be older, and I should hesitate to
apply to you the qualification I have just coupled with her name.”

“I am sixteen, therefore her senior. Thus one part of my contention is
admitted. If she is modest, it doth become a maid, and is reasonably
to be expected, for she hath a mother’s care. I have had none. If
you detect a boldness in my manner, ’t is but another proof I am my
father’s daughter.”

Something resembling a grimace rather than a smile disturbed the white
lips of Strafford at this retort. He bent his eyes on the ground, and
his mind seemed to wander through the past. They stood thus in silence
opposite each other, the girl watching him intently, and when she saw
his mouth twitch with a spasm of pain, a great wave of pity overspread
her face and brought the moisture to her eyes; but she made no motion
toward him, held in increasing awe of him.

“Boldness is not a virtue,” he muttered, more to himself than to her.
“There’s many a jade in England who can claim no relationship with me.”

This remark, calling for no response, received none.

“Sixteen years of age! Then that was in----”

The Earl paused in his ruminations as if the simple mathematical problem
baffled him, the old look of weariness and pain clouding his downturned
face.

“The year 1624,” said the girl promptly.

“Doubtless, doubtless. 1624. It is long since; longer than the days that
have passed seem to indicate. I was a young man then, now----now----I
am an aged wreck, and all in sixteen years. And so in you, the spirit of
youth, the unknown past confronts me, demanding----demanding what?”

“Demanding nothing, my lord.”

“Humph. You are the first then. They all want something. You think I am
an old dotard who is ready, because you say you want nothing, to accept
your absurd proposal. But I am not yet fifty, nor as near it as these
fell maladies would have me appear; and a man should be in his prime
at fifty. Madam, it will require more convincing testimony to make me
listen to you further.”

“The testimony, irrefutable, stands here before you. Raise your eyes
from the ground, my lord, and behold it. If, scrutinizing me, you deny
that I am your daughter, I shall forthwith turn from you and trouble you
no more.”

Strafford slowly lifted his gloomy face, prematurely seamed with care,
and his heavy eyes scanned closely the living statue that confronted
him. The sternness of his features gradually relaxed, and an expression
near akin to tenderness overspread his face.

“Any man might be proud to claim you, my girl, no matter how many
other reasons for pride he possessed. But you have not come here merely
because someone flattered the Earl of Strafford by saying you resembled
him.”

“No, my lord. I am come to return to you this document which once you
presented to my mother.”

She handed him a paper, which he read with intent care. It ran thus:

“_I have, in little, much to say to you, or else one of us must be much
to blame. But in truth I have that confidence in you, and that assurance
in myself, as to rest secure the fault will never be made on either
side. Well, then; this short and this long which I aim at is no more
than to give you this first written testimony that I am your husband;
and that husband of yours that will ever discharge these duties of love
and respect toward you which good women may expect, and are justly due
from good men to discharge them; and this is not only much, but all
which belongs to me; and wherein I shall tread out the remainder of life
which is left to me----_”

Strafford looked up from his perusal, blank amazement upon his
countenance.

“How came you by this paper?”

“I found it among the documents left by my grandfather, who died a year
ago. It was sent by you to my mother.”

“Impossible.”

“Do you deny the script?”

“I do not deny it, but ’t was written by me eight years since, and
presented to my third wife, whom I married privately.”

“Your third wife? Who was she?”

“She was Mistress Elizabeth Rhodes, and is now Lady Strafford.”

“Then she is your fourth wife. You will see by your own inditing that
this letter was written in March, 1624.”

The date was unmistakably set down by the same hand that had penned the
bold signature, “Thomas Wentworth,” and the bewilderment of the Earl
increased as he recognized that here was no forgery, but a genuine
letter antedating its duplicate.

“Is it possible,” he murmured to himself, “that a man has so little
originality as to do practically the same thing twice?” Then aloud to
the girl he said:

“Who was your mother?”

“I had hoped the reading of this document would have rendered your
question unnecessary. Has a man such gift of forgetting, that the very
name of the woman he solemnly married has slipped his memory as easily
as the writing of the letter she cherished?”

“She was Frances, daughter of Sir John Warburton,” murmured the Earl.

“His only daughter, as I am hers, my lord.”

“But when Sir John wrote me coldly of her death, he made no mention of
any issue.”

“My grandfather always hated you, my lord. It is very like that he told
you not the cause of my mother’s death was her children’s birth.”

“Children?”

“Yes, my lord. My twin brother and myself.”

An ashen hue overspread the Earl’s face, and the hand that held the
letter trembled until the fateful missive shook like one of the autumn
leaves on the tree above it. Again his mind wandered through the past
and conjured up before him the laughing face of his supposedly only son,
whose position was thus unexpectedly challenged by a stranger, unknown
and unloved. A daughter more or less was of small account, but an elder
son promised unsuspected complications. The ill favour with which he had
at first regarded the girl returned to his troubled countenance, and she
saw with quick intuition that she had suddenly lost all the ground so
gradually gained. Cold dislike tinctured the tone in which the next
question was asked.

“If, as you say, you have a brother, why is he not here in your place;
you in the background, where you properly belong?”

“Sir, I suppose that her good name is thought more of by a woman than
by a man. She wishes to be assured that she came properly authenticated
into this world, whereas a man troubles little of his origin, so be it
he is here with some one to fight or to love. Or perhaps it is that
the man is the deeper, and refuses to condone where a woman yearns to
forgive. My brother shares our grandfather’s dislike of you. He thinks
you cared little for our mother, or you would not have been absent
during her last days when----”

“I knew nothing of it. The times then, as now, were uncertain, requiring
absorbed attention from those thrown willingly or unwillingly into
public affairs. What can a boy of sixteen know of the duties thrust upon
a man in my situation?”

“Sixteen or not, he considers himself even now a man of position, and
he holds your course wrong. He says he has taken up the opinions you
formerly held, and will do his best to carry them to success. He is for
the Parliament and against the King. As for me, I know little of the
questions that disturb the State. My only knowledge is that you are my
father, and were you the wickedest person in the world I would come
to you. A man may have many daughters, but a daughter can have but one
father; therefore am I here, my lord.”

Like the quick succession of shade and sunshine over the sensitive
surface of a lovely lake, the play of varying emotions added an
ever-changing beauty to the girl’s expressive face; now a pitiful
yearning toward her father when she saw he suffered; then a coaxing
attitude, as if she would win him whether he would or no; again a
bearing of pride when it seemed she would be denied; and throughout
all a rigid suppression of herself, a standing of her ground, a
determination not to give way to any rising sentiment which might make
the after repulse a humiliation; if a retreat must come it should be
carried out with dignity.

The Earl of Strafford saw nothing of this, for his eyes were mostly on
the ground at his feet. That his mind was perturbed by the new situation
so unexpectedly presented to him was evident; that he was deeply
suspicious of a trap was no less clear. When he looked up at her he
found his iron resolution melting in spite of himself, and, as he wished
to bring an unclouded judgment to bear upon the problem, he scrutinized
the brown sward at his feet. Nevertheless he was quick to respond to any
show of sympathy with himself, even though he was unlikely to exhibit
appreciation, and he was equally quick to resent the slightest lack of
deference on the part of those who addressed him. If the girl had made
a thorough study of his character she could not have better attuned her
manner to his prejudices. Her attitude throughout was imbued with the
deepest respect, and if the eye refused to be advocate for her, the ear
could not close itself to the little thrill of affection that softened
her tone as she spoke to him. He raised his head abruptly as one who has
come to a decision.

“November is the stepmother of the months, and the air grows cold. Come
with me to the palace. In a world of lies I find myself believing you;
thus I am not grown so old as I had feared. Come.”

The girl tripped lightly over the rustling leaves and was at his side
in an instant, then slowed her pace in unison with his laboured mode of
progression.

“Sir, will you lean upon my shoulder?”

“No. I am ailing, but not decrepit.”

They walked together in silence, and if any viewed them the onlookers
were well concealed, for the park seemed deserted. Entering the palace
and arriving at the foot of a stairway, solicitous menials proffered
assistance, but Strafford waved them peremptorily aside, and, accepting
now the support he had shortly before declined, leaned on his daughter’s
shoulder and wearily mounted the stair.

The room on the first floor into which he led her overlooked a court. A
cheerful fire burned on the hearth and cast a radiance upon the sombre
wainscoting of the walls. A heavy oaken table was covered with a litter
of papers, and some books lay about. Into a deep arm-chair beside the
fire Strafford sank with a sigh of fatigue, motioning his daughter
to seat herself opposite him, which she did. He regarded her for some
moments with no pleased expression on his face, then said with a trace
of petulancy in the question:

“Did your grandfather bring you up a lady, or are you an ignorant
country wench?”

She drew in quickly the small feet out-thrust to take advantage of
the comforting fire, and the blaze showed her cheek a ruddier hue than
heretofore.

“Sir,” she said, “the children of the great, neglected by the great,
must perforce look to themselves. I was brought up, as you know, without
a mother’s care, in the ancient hall of a crusty grandfather, a brother
my only companion. We played together and fought together, as temper
willed, and he was not always the victor, although he is the stronger.
I can sometimes out-fence him, and, failing that, can always outrun him.
Any horse he can ride, I can ride, and we two have before now put to
flight three times our number among the yokels of the neighborhood.
As to education, I have a smattering, and can read and write. I have
studied music to some advantage, and foreign tongues with very little.
I daresay there are many things known to your London ladies that I am
ignorant of.”

“We may thank God for that,” muttered her father.

“If there are those in London, saving your lordship, who say I am not a
lady, I will box their ears for them an they make slighting remarks in
my presence.”

“A most unladylike argument! The tongue and not the hand is the Court
lady’s defence.”

“I can use my tongue too, if need be, my lord.”

“Indeed I have had evidence of it, my girl.”

“Queen Elizabeth used her fists, and surely she was a lady.”

“I have often had my doubts of it. However, hereafter you must be
educated as doth become a daughter of mine.”

“I shall be pleased to obey any commands my father places on me.”

The conversation was interrupted by a servant throwing open the door,
crying:

“His Majesty the King!”

The girl sprang instantly to her feet, while her father rose more
slowly, assisting himself with his hands on the arms of the chair.



CHAPTER III.--MAJESTY.

There was more of hurry than of kingly dignity in the entrance of
Charles. The handsome face was marred by an imperious querulousness that
for the moment detracted from its acknowledged nobility.

“Strafford,” he cried impatiently, “I have been kept waiting. Servants
are at this moment searching palace and park for you. Where have you
been?”

“I was in the forest, your Majesty. I am deeply grieved to learn that
you needed me.”

“I never needed you more than now. Are you ready to travel?”

Strafford’s gloomy face almost lighted up.

“On the instant, your Majesty,” he replied with a sigh of relief.

“That is well. I trust your malady is alleviated, in some measure at
least; still I know that sickness has never been a bar to duty with you.
Yet I ask no man to do what I am not willing to do myself for the good
of the State, and I shall be shortly on the road at your heels.”

“Whither, your Majesty?” asked the Earl with falling countenance, for
it was to Ireland he desired to journey, and he knew the King had no
intention of moving toward the west.

“To London, of course; a short stent over bad roads. But if you are
ailing and fear the highway, a barge on the river is at your disposal.”

“To London!” echoed the Earl, something almost akin to dismay in his
tone. “I had hoped your Majesty would order me to Ireland, which I
assure your Majesty has been somewhat neglected of late.”

“Yes, yes,” exclaimed the King brusquely, “I know your anxiety in that
quarter. A man ever thinks that task the most important with which he
intimately deals, but my position gives me a view over the whole realm,
and the various matters of State assume their just proportions in my
eyes; their due relations to each other. Ireland is well enough, but
it is the heart and not the limbs of the empire that requires the
physicians’ care. Parliament has opened badly, and is like to give
trouble unless treated with a firm hand.”

The hand of the Earl appeared anything but firm. It wavered as it sought
the support of the chair’s arm.

“Have I your Majesty’s permission to be seated? I am not well,”
 Strafford said faintly.

“Surely, surely,” cried the King, himself taking a chair. “I am deeply
grieved to see you so unwell; but a journey to London is a small matter
compared with a march upon Dublin, which is like to have killed you in
your present condition.”

“Indeed, your Majesty, the smaller journey may well have the more fatal
termination,” murmured the Earl; but the King paid no attention to
the remark, for his wandering eye now caught sight of a third in the
conference, which brought surprised displeasure to his brow. The girl
was standing behind the high back of the chair in which she had been
seated, in a gloomy angle where the firelight which played so plainly on
the King and Strafford did not touch her.

“In God’s name, whom have we here? The flippant prophet of the forest,
or my eyes deceive me! How comes this girl in my palace, so intimate
with my Lord Strafford, who seemed to meet her as a stranger but
yesterday?”

The slumbering suspicion of Charles was aroused, and he glanced from one
to the other in haughty questioning.

“I never met her until I encountered her in the forest when I had the
honour to accompany your Majesty. To-day, as I walked with De Courcy
and others, there came a second accosting from her, as unexpected as
the first. The girl craved private speech with me, which I somewhat
reluctantly granted. The upshot is, she brings me proof, which I cannot
deny, that she is my eldest daughter.”

“Your eldest daughter!” cried the King, amazed. “Is your family then so
widely scattered, and so far unknown to you, that such a claimant may
spring up at any moment?”

“I was married privately to the daughter of Sir John Warburton.
Circumstances separated me from my wife, and although her father curtly
informed me of her death he said nothing of issue. There was a feud
between us,--entirely on his part,--I had naught against him. It seems
he has been dead this year past, and my daughter, getting news of her
father among Sir John’s papers, comes thus southward to make inquiry.”

“You fall into good fortune, my girl. Your extraordinary claim is most
readily allowed.”

Frances, finding nothing to say, kept silence and bowed her head to the
King, whom she had regarded throughout with rapt attention.

“Where got you your gift of prophecy? Is prescience hereditary, and has
your father’s mantle already fallen on your shoulders? He is my best
friend, you said, and I my worst enemy. God’s truth, Madam, you did
not lack for boldness, but the force of the flattery of your father is
lessened by my knowledge of your relationship, hitherto concealed from
me.”

“Your Majesty, it has hitherto been concealed from myself,” said the
Earl wearily.

“Has the girl no tongue? It wagged freely enough in the forest. Come,
masquerader, what have you to say for yourself?”

“Your Majesty, I humbly crave your pardon. The words I used yesterday
were not mine, but those of a gipsy in the north, who told me I was the
daughter of the Earl of Strafford at a time when such a tale seemed so
absurd that I laughed at her for connecting my name of Wentworth with
one so exalted as the Earl of Strafford. Later, when I received proof
that such indeed was the case, her words returned to me. I had no right
to use them in your august presence, but the entourage of the Lord
Strafford prevented my meeting him; thus, baffled, I sought to intercept
him in the forest, and was willing to use any strategy that might turn
his attention toward me, in the hope of getting a private word with
him.”

“I knew you had a tongue. Well, it matters little what you said; your
mission seems to have been successful. Do not think I placed any weight
upon your words, be they gipsy-spoken or the outcome of a spirit of
mischief. My Lord Strafford, you will to London then?”

“Instantly, your Majesty.”

“I will consult with you there to-morrow. And have no fear; for on my
oath as a man, on my honour as a king, I will protect you.”

The King rose and left the room as abruptly as he had entered it.

For some moments Strafford lay back in his chair, seemingly in a state
of collapse. The girl looked on him in alarm.

“Sir, is there anything I can do for you?” she asked at length.

“Call a servant. Tell him to order a coach prepared at once, and
see that it is well horsed, for I would have the journey as short as
possible.”

“My lord, you are in no condition of health to travel to London. I will
go to the King and tell him so.”

“Do that I requested you, and trouble me not with counsel. There is
enough of woman’s meddling in this business already.”

Frances obeyed her father’s instructions without further comment, then
came and sat in her place again. The Earl roused himself, endeavouring
to shake off his languor.

“What think you of the King?” he asked.

“He is a man corroded with selfishness.”

“Tut, tut! Such things are not to be spoken in the precincts of a Court.
No, nor thought. He is not a selfish monarch, other than all monarchs
are selfish, but----discussion on such a theme is fruitless, and I must
be nearing my dotage to begin it. I am far from well, Frances, and so,
like the infirm, must take to babbling.”

“Do you fear Parliament, my lord? How can it harm you when you have the
favour of the King?”

“I fear nothing, my girl, except foolish unseen interference;
interference that may not be struck at or even hinted against. Did they
teach you the history of France in your school?”

“No, my lord.”

“Then study it as you grow older; I’ll warrant you’ll find it
interesting enough. Ruined by women. Ruined by women. Seven civil wars
in seventeen years, and all because of viperish, brainless women. Well,
we have one of the breed here in England, and God help us!”

“You mean the Queen, my lord?”

“Hush! Curses on it, will you be as outspoken as another of your sex is
spiteful and subtle? Mend your manners, hussy, and guard your tongue.
Could you not see you spoke too freely to the King a moment since?”

“Sir, I am sorry.”

“Be not sorry, but cautious.”

Strafford fell into a reverie, and there was silence in the room until
the servant entered and announced that the coach was ready, whereupon
his master rose unsteadily.

“Sir,” said the girl, “will you not eat or drink before you depart?”

“No.” Then, looking sharply at his daughter, he inquired, “Are you
hungry?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Bring hither some refreshments, whatever is most ready to hand, and
a measure of hot spiced wine. I had forgotten your youth, Frances,
thinking all the world was old with me.”

When the refection came, she ate but sparingly, despite her
proclamation, but coaxed him to partake and to drink a cup of wine. He
ordered a woman’s cloak brought for her, which, when she had thrown it
over her shoulders, he himself fastened at her throat.

“There,” he said, when the cloak enveloped her, “that will protect you
somewhat, for the night grows cold.”

Strafford himself was wrapped in warm furs, and thus together they went
down the stairs to the court, now dimly lighted. A cavalier, who seemed
to have been standing in wait for them, stepped out from the shadow
of the arches, and Frances recognized the French spark whom she had so
frankly characterized earlier in the day.

“My lord,” protested De Courcy jauntily, “you have your comrades at a
disadvantage. You have captured the woodland nymph, and, I hear, propose
spiriting her away to London. I do protest ’t is most unfair to those
who are thus left behind.”

“Sir,” said Strafford, with severity, pausing in his walk, “I would have
you know that the lady to whom you refer is the Lady Frances Wentworth,
my eldest daughter, ever to be spoken of with respect by high and low.
Native and foreign shall speak otherwise at their distinct peril.”

The Frenchman pulled off his bonnet with an impressive sweep that
brushed its ample feather lightly on the stones. He bent his body in
a low obeisance that threatened, were it not so acrobatically
accomplished, to pitch him forward on his nose.

“If I congratulate your lordship on finding so rare a daughter,
rather than offer my felicitations to the lady in the attainment of so
distinguished a father, it is because I am filled with envy of any man
who acquires a companionship so charming. My lady, may I have the honour
of escorting you to the carriage?”

The girl shrank closer to her father and made no reply. On the other
hand the father offered no objection, but returned--rather stiffly,
it is true--the bow of the foreigner, and De Courcy, taking this as
an acceptance, tripped daintily by the girl’s side, chattering most
amiably.

“I hear on the highest authority that our sovereign lady is tired
of Hampton, and that we are all to be on the march for London again;
to-morrow, they tell me. London delights me not. ’T is a grimy city,
but if, as I suspect, a new star of beauty is to arise there, then
’t will be indeed the centre of refulgence, to which worshippers of
loveliness will hasten as pilgrims to a shrine. I take it, my lord, that
you will introduce your daughter to the Court, and hide her no longer in
the cold and envious northland?”

“My daughter has already been presented to his Majesty, and doubtless
will take the place at Court to which her birth entitles her.”

“And to which her grace and charm no less lay claim. I hope to be
present when the lady is greeted by the Queen we both adore. The meeting
of the Lily of France with the Rose of England will be an occasion to be
sung by poets; would that I were a minstrel to do justice to the theme.”

Their arrival at the carriage, with its four impatient horses,
postillion-ridden, saved Strafford the effort of reply had he intended
such. He seated himself in the closed vehicle, and his daughter sprang
nimbly in beside him, ignoring the proffered aid of De Courcy, who stood
bowing and bending with much courtesy, and did not resume his bonnet
until the coach lurched on its lumbering way, preceded and followed by a
guard of horsemen, for the Earl of Strafford always travelled in state.

Nothing was said by either until the jingling procession was well clear
of the park, when the girl, with a shudder, exclaimed:

“I loathe that scented fop!”--then, seeming to fear a reproof for her
outspoken remark, added, “I know I should not say that, but I cannot see
what you have in common with such a creature that you are civil to him.”

To her amazement her father laughed slightly, the first time she had
heard him do so.

“When we travel, Frances, safe out of earshot, you may loathe whom you
please, but, as I have warned you, ’t is sometimes unsafe to give
expression to your feelings within four walls. I may find little in
common with any man, least of all with such as De Courcy, whom I take to
be as false as he is fair; but there is slight use in irritating a wasp
whom you cannot crush. Wait till he is under my hand, then I shall crush
ruthlessly; but the time is not yet. He has the ear of the Queen, and
she has the ear of her husband.”

“Sir, what reason have you to suspect that the Queen moves against you?”

“One reason is that I am this moment journeying east when I would be
travelling west. In truth, my girl, you seem resolved unconsciously to
show you are your father’s daughter with that uncurbed tongue of yours,
for a lack of lying is like to be my undoing. If I had told the King I
must to London, ’t is most like we were now on our way to Dublin.”

“But it may be the King himself who thus orders you contrarywise.”

“I know the King. He is not, as you think, selfish, but ever gives ear
to the latest counsellor. He is weak and thinks himself strong; a most
dangerous combination. With trembling hand he speaks of its firmness.
Now, a weak monarch or a strong monarch matters little; England has been
blessed with both and has survived the blessing; but a monarch who is.
weak and strong by turns courts disaster. ‘War with the Scots,’ says the
King. He will smite them with a firm hand. Very good; a most desirable
outcome. But our captains, promoted by a woman’s whisper and not by
their own merit, trust to the speed of their horses rather than the
ingenuity of military skill, and so escape the Scots. Our army is
scattered, and there is panic in Whitehall. I am called, for God’s sake,
from Ireland, and I come scarce able, through illness, to sit my horse.
I gather round me men of action and brain, and send Madam’s favourites
to the rear, where they will gallop in any case as soon as the enemy
shows front. What is the result? A portion of our Scottish friends are
cut up, and those whose legs are untouched are on the run. Very good
again. The dogs are rushing for their kennels. What happens? An added
title for me, you might suppose. Not so. A censure comes post haste from
London. ‘Leave the Scots alone, the King is negotiating with them.’
In the face of victory he embraces defeat. A peace is made that I know
nothing of; all their demands are granted, as if they had environed
London! I am left like a fool, with a newly inspired army and no enemy.
They termed it ‘negotiating’ in London, but I call it ‘surrender.’ If
you intend to submit, keep the sword in its sheath and submit. If you
draw the sword, fight till you are beaten, then submit when there
is nothing else to do. God’s name! they did not need to hale me
from Ireland, where I had wrenched peace from chaos, to encompass a
disgraceful retreat! Even De Courcy could have managed that with much
greater urbanity than I.”

“And you think the Queen is responsible?”

“Who else? Her generals were disgraced and whipped like dogs. Unvaliant
in the battle-field, they are powerful in the ante-chamber, and their
whines arise in the ears of the Lily of France, who would rather see her
husband wrecked than saved by me. But I was never one to hark back on
things that are past. My duty was to save the King from future errors.
One more grave mistake lay open to him, and that was the summoning of
Parliament at such a moment. It was a time for action, not for words.
‘If you meant to concede, why did you not concede without bloodshed?’
was a question sure to be asked; a question to which there could be no
answer. Very well. I accepted in humbleness the censure that should have
been placed on other shoulders, and sent back by the courier who brought
it a message imploring the King to call no Parliament until we had time
to set our house in order and face Lords and Commons with good grace.
I then arranged my command so that if the Scots broke forth again they
would meet some examples of military science, and not view only the
coat-tails of the Queen’s favourite generals. No reply coming from the
King, I mounted my horse, and, with only one follower, set forth for
London. Pushing on through darkness on the second night of my journey, I
heard the galloping of a horse behind me, and drew rein, fully expecting
that the greedy Scots, asking more than could be allowed, had taken to
the field again. ‘Good friend,’ I cried, ‘what news, that you ride so
fast?’ ‘Great news,’ he answered, breathless. ‘A Parliament is summoned,
and as I am an elected member I ride in haste. Please God, before
the month is done we have Strafford’s head in our hands and off his
treacherous shoulders.’”

The girl gave utterance to a little cry of terror.

“Oh, ’t was nothing but some braggart countryman, knowing not to whom
he spoke so freely, and big in the importance of his membership, dashing
on to London, thinking the world rested on his speed; and thus I learned
how my advice had been scorned. When I met the King he was all panic and
regret. He had conjured up the Devil easily enough, but knew not how
to allay him. He bewailed his mistakes and called himself the most
unfortunate of monarchs, eager to please, yet constantly offending.
He was in a contrite mood, but that soon changed. ’T is my head they
want,’ I said. ‘Do with it as you please. If it is useless to you, toss
it to them; if useful, then send me to Ireland, where I shall be out
of the way, yet ready to afford you what service lies in my power.’
He swore he would concede them nothing. He was done with unappreciated
complaisance, and now it was to be the firm hand. They should learn who
was ruler of the realm. He gave me permission to return to my post.
I was his only friend; his truest counsellor. That was yesterday. You
heard him speak to-day. It is still the firm hand, but I must to London.
There indeed exists a firm hand, but it is concealed, and so directed
by hatred of me that it may project the avalanche that will overwhelm us
all.”

“And what will you do in London?” asked his daughter in an awed whisper.

“God knows! Had I the untrammelled ordering of events, I would strike
terror into Parliament, as I struck terror into the Scots or the Irish,
but----but if, after that, there was a similar sneaking underhand
surrender, why then the countryman would have my head, as he hoped. I
fear there are troublous times before us. This alternate grip of the
firm hand, and offering of open-palmed surrender, each at the wrong
time, is like the succeeding hot and cold fits of an ague; ’T will
rend the patient asunder if long continued. Frances, be ever a womanly
woman. Never meddle with politics. Leave sword and State to men.”

Tired with long converse and the jolting of the vehicle, Strafford
sank into a troubled sleep, from which he was at last awakened by the
stopping of the carriage in front of his town house.



CHAPTER IV.--PROPOSAL.

Frances Wentworth crossed the threshold of her father’s house with more
trepidation than she had experienced on entering the palace of the King
at Hampton Court. Here probably awaited a stepmother with her children,
and Frances doubted the cordiality of the approaching reception. The
ever-increasing fear of her father, a sentiment felt by nearly all those
who encountered him, mingled with hatred, usually, on their part, but
with growing affection on hers, prevented the putting of the question
whether or no Lady Strafford was now in London. Their journey together
had been silent since he ceased the exposition of the difficulties which
surrounded him,--a man whom all England regarded as being paramount in
the kingdom, yet in reality baffled and almost at bay. Looking back
over the day now drawn to its close, she marvelled at her own courage in
approaching him as she had done, light-heartedly and confident. Were her
task to be re-enacted her mind misgave her that she would not possess
the temerity to carry it through, with her new knowledge of the man.
Yet if Strafford were hated in the three kingdoms, he seemed to be
well liked in that little despotism, his home, where servants clustered
round, for each of whom he had a kind word. Whether they knew of his
coming or not, the house was prepared for his reception, fires blazing,
and a table spread in the room to which he conducted his daughter.
Outside, the night was cold and damp, and the inward warmth struck
gratefully upon the senses of the travellers.

“Mrs. Jarrett,” said the Earl to his housekeeper, who looked with wonder
at the new-comer he had brought, “have you aught of woman’s trappings
that will fit my daughter here?”

“Your daughter, my lord?”

“Yes, and as you will be consumed by curiosity until you know how it
comes so, I will add that she is newly found, having lived till now
with her grandfather in the North, and is the child of my second wife,
Frances Warburton, married by me some seventeen years since. Any further
particulars my daughter herself will supply, if you question shrewdly,
as I doubt not you will; but postpone inquiry, I beg of you, until
to-morrow. Meanwhile robe her as best you may with the materials at
hand, and that quickly, for I wish her company at supper.”

Frances was then spirited away to the apartment assigned to her, and
when presently she reappeared she was costumed more to her father’s
liking than had hitherto been the case. They sat down together to the
meal that had hastily been prepared for them.

“To-morrow, if I remember aright what you said, is your birthday.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Is it difficult for you to say ‘Father’? My other children pronounce
the word glibly enough. When you and I first met, and even since then,
you seemed not backward in speech.”

“Sir, I find myself more afraid of you than I was at the beginning.”

Strafford smiled, but answered: “I assure you there is no need. I may
be an implacable enemy, but I have the reputation of being as staunch a
friend. So to-morrow is your birthday, saddened by the fact that it is
also the date of your mother’s death. That is a loss for which a man in
my onerous position cannot even partially atone, but it is a loss which
you perhaps have not keenly felt. It seems heartless to speak thus, but
the fact remains that we cannot deeply deplore the departure of what
we have never enjoyed. One thing I can covenant; that you shall not
hereafter know the lack of money, which is something to promise in a
city of shops.”

“I have never known the lack of it, my lord.”

“Have you indeed been so fortunate? Well, there again you bear a
resemblance to your father. Sir John was reputed comfortably off in the
old days, and I infer he harboured his wealth, a somewhat difficult task
in times gone by. Are you then his heir?”

“One of two, my lord.”

“Ah, yes! I had momentarily forgotten the brother who favours his
grandfather rather than his sire. I am like to be over-busy to-morrow
to attend the mart of either mercer or goldsmith, and if I did, I should
not know what to purchase that would please you. But here are all the
birthday presents of London in embryo, needing but your own touch to
bring forth the full blossom of perfect satisfaction. Midas, they say,
transmuted everything he fingered into gold, and it is the province
of your sex to reverse the process. Buy what catches your fancy, and
flatter your father by naming it his gift.”

He held forward a very well filled purse, through whose meshes the
bright gold glittered.

“Sir, I do not need it, and you have been very kind to me as it is.”

“Nonsense! We all desire more than we can obtain. It is my wish that you
take it; in any case it is but part payment of a debt long running and
much overdue.”

Fearing again to refuse, she accepted the proffered purse with evident
reluctance, now standing opposite her father, who said:

“I am very tired and shall not rise early to-morrow. Do not wait
breakfast for me. Good-night, daughter.”

“Good-night, father.”

Although he had said the last conventional words of the day, he still
stood there as if loath to retire, then he stooped and kissed her on
the lips, ruffling her black, wayward, curly hair so like his own
in texture, colour, and freedom from restraint, and patting her
affectionately on the shoulder.

“You will not be afraid of me from this time forward, child?” he asked.
“Indeed, Frances, I grow superstitious as I become older, and I look on
your strange arrival as in some measure providential. There is none of
my own kind to whom I can speak freely, as I did to you in the carriage;
my daughters--my other daughters--are too young. My Lady Strafford takes
much interest in her garden, and dislikes this London house and this
London town, for which small blame is to be imputed to her. In you, a
man’s courage is added to a woman’s wit, and who knows but my daughter
may prove the reinforcement I lacked in my baffling fight with the
unseen. Do you speak French, my girl, or are you as ignorant of the
language of that country as of its history?”

“I speak it but haltingly, sir, though I was taught its rudiments.”

“We must amend that. It is to our tongue what the thin rapier is to the
broadsword. Good lack! there was a time when one language served the
English, yet great deeds were done and great poems written; but that
time is past now. I must get you a master. I have likely used the
broadsword overmuch, but who knows? You may be the rapier by my side.”

“I hope I shall not disappoint you, sir, though I am but a country maid,
with some distrust of this great city and its Court.”

“City and Court are things we get speedily accustomed to. Well, again
good-night, sweetheart, and sleep soundly. I see those fine eyes are
already heavy with slumber.”

But sleep came not so quickly as he surmised to the eyes he had
complimented. The day had been too full of rapid change and tense
excitement. The strange transformation of the present, and the dim,
troubled vista of the future which opened out to her, cherished thought
and discouraged slumber. Was it possible that she was thus to be
transplanted, was to stand by the side of the greatest man in England,
his acknowledged daughter, his welcome aid? God grant she might not fail
him, if he had real need of her. And so she planned the days to come.
She would be as subtle as the craftiest. She would cover all dislikes
as the cloak had covered her, and her lips should smile though her heart
revolted. Her tongue must measure what it said, and all rural bluntness
should disappear. She slipped from these meditations into a hazy,
bewildering conflict; her father, somehow, was in a danger that she
could not fathom, she lacking power to get to him, restrained by
invisible bonds, not knowing where he was, although he called to her.
Then it seemed there was a turmoil in the street, a cry for help, a
groan, and silence, and next Mrs. Jarrett was moving about the room and
had drawn curtains that let in a grey, misty daylight.

“Is my father yet arisen?” she cried.

“Oh, good lack! no, your ladyship, nor will he for hours to come.”

The girl’s head fell back on her pillow, and she said dreamily, “I
thought there had been trouble of some sort, and men fighting.”

“Indeed, your ladyship, and so there was, a rioting going on all the
night. I think the citizens of London are gone mad, brawling in the
street at hours when decent folk should be in their beds. ’T is said
that this new Parliament is the cause, but how or why I do not know.”

Although the Earl of Strafford did not quit his chamber until noontide,
he was undoubtedly concerned with affairs that demanded attention from
the greatest minister of State. There were constant runnings to and fro,
messengers despatched and envoys received, with the heavy knocker of
the door constantly a-rap. It was two hours after mid-day when Strafford
sent for his daughter, and she followed his messenger to the library,
where she found her father in his chair beside a table, although he was
equipped for going forth from the house. There had been seated before
him De Courcy, but the young man rose as she entered and greeted her
with one of his down-reaching bows which set her a-quake lest he should
fall forward on his face.

“My child,” said the Earl, “I am about to set out for Parliament, and it
may be late before I return. Yet I think you shall sup with me at seven
if all goes well and debate becomes not too strenuous; but do not wait
in case I should be detained. I counsel you not to leave the house
to-day, for there seem to be many brawlers on the streets. Any shopman
will be pleased to wait upon you and bring samples of his wares, so send
a servant for those you wish to consult. My friend De Courcy, here, begs
the favour of some converse with you, and speaks with my approval.”

Strafford looked keenly at the girl, and her heart thrilled as she
read the unspoken message with quick intuition. He had some use for De
Courcy, and she must be suave and diplomatic. Thus already she was her
father’s ally; an outpost in his vast concerns now committed to her. The
young man saw nothing of this, for he had eyes only for the girl. The
broad rim of his feathered hat was at his smirking lips, and his gaze of
admiration was as unmistakable as it was intent.

“Sir, I shall obey you in all things, and hope to win your
commendation,” said Frances with inclination of the head.

“You are sure of the latter in any case, my child,” replied Strafford,
rising. “And now, De Courcy, I think we understand each other, and I may
rely upon you.”

“To the death, my lord,” cried the young man, with another of his
courtly genuflections.

“Oh, let us hope ’t will not be necessary quite so far as that. I bid
you good-day. To-morrow at this hour I shall look for a report from you.
For the moment, good-bye, my daughter.”

No sooner was the Earl quit of the room, and the door closed behind him,
than De Courcy, with an impetuous movement that startled the girl, flung
himself at her feet. Her first impulse was to step quickly back, but she
checked it and stood her ground.

“Oh, divine Frances!” he cried, “how impatiently I have waited for this
rapt moment, when I might declare to you----”

“Sir, I beg of you to arise. ’T is not seemly you should demean
yourself thus.”

“’T is seemly that the whole world should grovel at your feet, my lady
of the free forest; for all who look upon you must love you, and for me,
who have not the cold heart of this northern people, I adore you, and do
here avow it.”

“You take me at a disadvantage, sir. I have never been spoken to thus.
I am but a child and unaccustomed. Only sixteen this very day. I ask
you----”

“Most beauteous nymph! How many grand ladies of our Court would give all
they possess to make such confession truly. Aye, the Queen herself. I do
assure you, sweetest, such argument will never daunt a lover.”

“I implore you, sir, to arise. My father may return.”

“That he will not. And if he did, ’t would pleasure him to see my suit
advancing. I loved you from the first moment I beheld you; and though
you used me with contumely, yet I solaced my wounded heart that ’t
was me you noticed, and me only, even though your glance was tinged with
scorn.”

Notwithstanding a situation that called for tact, she was unable to
resist a touch of the linguistic rapier, and her eyes twinkled with
suppressed merriment as she said, “You forget, sir, that I also
distinguished the keeper of the hounds with my regard;” but, seeing he
winced, she recollected her position and added, “In truth, I was most
churlishly rude in the forest, and I am glad you spoke of it, that I now
have opportunity to beg your pardon very humbly. I have learned since
then that you stand high in my dear father’s regard, and indeed he
chided me for my violence, as ’t was his duty to do by a wayward
child.” The gallant was visibly flattered by this tribute to his _amour
propre_. He seized her hand and pressed his lips to it, the tremor which
passed over her at this action being probably misinterpreted by his
unquenchable vanity. The tension was relieved by a low roar from the
street, a sound that had in it the menace of some wild beast roused to
anger. It brought to the girl a reminiscence of her disturbed dreams.

“Good heaven! What is it?” she exclaimed, snatching away her hand and
running to the window. Her suitor rose to his feet, daintily dusted
the knees of his silken wear with a film of lace that did duty for a
handkerchief, and followed her.

The street below was packed with people howling round a carriage that
seemed blocked by the press. The stout coachman, gorgeous in splendid
livery, had some ado to restrain the spirited horses, maddened and
prancing with the interference and the outcry. Cudgels were shaken aloft
in the air, and there were shouts of “Traitor!”

“Tyrant!” and other epithets so degrading that Frances put her hands to
her ears in horrified dismay.

“Whom are they threatening so fiendishly?” she whispered.

“That is your father’s carriage,” answered De Courcy.

Before she could make further inquiry there came up to them the cold,
dominating tones of her father’s voice, clear above that tumult,--

“Strike through!”

The stout coachman laid about him with his whip, and the curses for the
moment abandoned the head of Strafford to alight on that of the driver.
The horses plunged fiercely into the crowd. The cruel progress changed
the tenor of the cries, as if a wailing stop of a great organ had
suddenly taken the place of the open diapason. The press was so great
that those in front could not make for safety, and the disappearing
coach was greeted with screams of terror and was followed by groans of
agony. Men went down before it like ripe grain before a sickle.

“Oh! oh! oh!” moaned the girl, all color leaving her face.

“It serves the dogs right,” said De Courcy. “How dare they block the way
of a noble, and the chief Minister of State.”

“I--I cannot look on this,” lamented Frances, shrinking back to the
table, and leaning against it as one about to faint, forgetting her
desire to avoid further demonstration from her companion, in the
trepidation which followed the scene she had witnessed.

“Indeed they were most mercifully dealt with, those scullions. The King
of France would have sent a troop of horse to sabre them back into their
kennels. ‘Strike through!’ cried his lordship, and, by God! ’t is a
good phrase, most suitable motto for a coat of arms, a hand grasping a
dagger above it. ‘Strike through!’ I shall not forget it. But ’t was a
softer and more endearing theme I wished to----”

“Sir, I beseech your polite consideration. I am nigh distraught with
what I have seen, and am filled with a fear of London. ’T is not the
courtly city I expected to behold. I am not myself.”

“But you will at least bid me hope?”

“Surely, surely, all of us may hope.”

“Why, ’t was the last and only gift left in Pandora’s casket, and
London were grim indeed to be more bereft than the receptacle of that
deceitful woman. May I make my first draught on Madam Pandora’s box by
hoping that I am to see you at this hour tomorrow?”

“Yes--to-morrow--to-morrow,” gasped the girl faintly.



CHAPTER V.--EXACTION.

A ‘drizzling rain had set in and had driven the crowds from the
streets. Frances drew a chair to the window of the library and sat there
meditating on the strange events in which she was taking some small
part, so different from the tranquil happenings of the district she had
known all her life. She had imagined London a city of palaces facing
broad streets, fanciedly, if not literally, paved with gold; a town
of gaiety and laughter: and here was the reality, a cavernous, squalid,
gloomy, human warren, peopled with murky demons bent on outrage of some
sort, ill-natured and threatening. As the day waned, she saw that in
spite of the rain the mob was collecting again, its atoms running hither
and thither, calling to each other; bedraggled beings labouring under
some common excitement. And now its roar came to her again, farther off
than before,--a roar that chilled her while she listened, and the wave
of sound this time seemed to have a fearful note of exultation in it.
She wondered what had happened, and was anxious for her father if he
were at the mercy of it. Mrs. Jarrett came into the room, followed by a
man-servant, and also by one of her father’s secretaries, as the woman
whispered to the girl:

“My lady, we must close the shutters and bar them tightly, for the
ruffians are threatening again, and may be here in force at any moment,
to stone the windows, as they have done before.”

The secretary seated himself at the table and was arranging papers. The
man-servant opened the windows, from which Frances drew back, and now
the cries came distinctly to her. “Death to Strafford!”

“Down with the tyrant!” “To the block with the King’s Earl!” were some
of the shouts she heard lustily called forth.

“Oh! I fear my father is in danger. Do you think they have him in their
power, that they exult so?”

Good Mrs. Jarrett, anxiety on her own honest face, soothed her young
mistress, and the secretary came forward.

“Be not troubled, Madam,” he said. “While they cry ‘To the block’ it
shows they have not possession of his lordship’s person, but hope to
stir up rancour to his disfavour. While they shout for process of law,
his lordship is safe, for the law is in his hands and in those of the
King, whose behests he carries out.”

This seemed a reasonable deduction, and it calmed the inquirer, although
there remained to her disquietude the accent of triumph in the voice of
the mob.

“Death to Strafford!” was the burden of the acclaim; but now one
shouted, “Justice on Strafford!”--though his meaning was clearly the
same as the others. There was no dissenting outcry, and this unanimous
hatred so vehemently expressed terrified at least one listener. Why
was her father so universally detested? What had he done? Stern he
was, undoubtedly; but just, as his reception of herself had shown, and
courteous to all to whom she heard him speak; yet the memory of that
phrase “Strike through!” uttered with such ruthless coldness, haunted
her memory, and she heard again the shrieks of those trampled under
foot. It was an indication that what he had to do he did with all his
might, reckless of consequence. If any occupied his path, the obstructor
had to stand aside or go down, and such a course does not make for
popularity.

The windows being now shuttered and barred securely, and the tumult
muffled into indistinct murmur, lights were brought in. Mrs. Jarrett
urged the girl to partake of some refreshment, but Frances insisted on
waiting for her father. The secretary, seeing her anxiety, said:

“Mr. Vollins went out some two hours ago to learn what was taking place,
and I am sure if anything serious had happened he would have been here
before now with tidings.”

“Who is Mr. Vollins?”

“His lordship’s treasurer, Madam.”

As the words were uttered, the door opened, disclosing John Vollins, the
expression of whose serious, clean-shaven face gave little promise of
encouragement.

“What news, Mr. Vollins? The mob seems rampant again,” spoke up the
secretary.

“Disquieting news, or I am misled. The rumour is everywhere believed
that his lordship was arrested in Parliament this afternoon, and is now
in prison.”

“Impossible! ’T would be a breach of privilege. In Parliament! It
cannot be. Did you visit the precincts of Parliament?”

“No man can get within a mile of it, the mass of people is so great. It
seems as if all London were concentrated there, and one is swept
hither and thither in the crush like a straw on the billows of the sea.
Progress is out of the question except in whatever direction impulse
sways the mob. There are so many versions of what is supposed to have
happened that none can sift the truth. It is said that Parliament,
behind closed doors, impeached his lordship, and that when he demanded
entrance to his place he was arrested by order of the two Houses acting
conjointly.”

“But even if that were true,--and it seems incredible,--the King can
liberate him at a word.”

“They say even the King and Court have fled, and that hereafter
Parliament will be supreme; but one cannot believe a tithe of what is
flying through the streets this night. The people are mad,--stark mad.”
 Mrs. Jarrett hovered about the young lady in case an announcement so
fraught with dread to all of them should prove too much for her; but
Frances was the most collected of any there. “If that is all,” she said
calmly, “’T will be but a temporary inconvenience to my father which
he will make little of. He has committed no crime, and may face with
fortitude the judgment of his peers, certain of triumphant acquittal.
He is in London by command of the King, his master, and his Majesty will
see to it, should all else fail, that he suffers not for his obedience.”

This conclusion was so reasonable that it had the effect of soothing the
apprehensions of all who heard it, and, young as she was, Frances seemed
to assume a place of authority in the estimation of those present, which
was to stand her in good stead later in the evening.

The headless household, barricaded in, with frequent testimony of public
execration in the ominous impact of missiles flung against doors
and shutters outside, went about its accustomed way in an anxious,
halfhearted manner, continually on the _qui vive_. As the girl wandered
aimlessly about the large house, nothing gave her so vivid a sense of
insecurity as the dim figure of the secretary seated in the ill-lighted
hall, with his cheek against the front door, listening for any hint of
his master’s approach, ready to undo bar and bolt with all speed and
admit him at the first sign of necessity; ready, also, to defend the
portal should the door be broken in by the populace, a disaster which
the blows rained against it sometimes seemed to predict, followed by
breathless periods of nonmolestation. The secretary’s sword lay across
his knee, and, like a phantom army, backs against the wall, stood in
silence, similarly armed, the menservants of the household. The one
scant twinkling light had been placed on a table, and a man sat beside
it, his pale face more strongly illumined than any other of that ghostly
company, radiant against a background of darkness. He was prepared
to cover the light instantly, or to blow it out, at a signal from his
leader the secretary, seated in the chair by the strong oaken door.

It was after nine o’clock, during a lull in the tempest, that there was
a rap at the door.

“Who is there?” asked the secretary through the grating.

“A messenger from the Court,” was the reply. Frances had come up the
hall on hearing the challenge.

“What name?” demanded the secretary.

“De Courcy. Open quickly, I beg of you. The mob has surged down the
street, but it may return at any moment.”

“Open,” said Frances with decision, and the secretary obeyed.

De Courcy came in, unrecognizable at first because of the cloak that
enveloped him. The door was secured behind him, and he flung his cloak
to one of the men standing there. His gay plumage was somewhat ruffled,
and the girl never thought she would be so heartily glad to see him.

“Is it true that my father is sent to the Tower?” were her first words.

“No, Mademoiselle; but he is in custody, arrested by order of
Parliament, and at this moment detained in the house of James Maxwell,
Keeper of the Black Rod, who took his sword from him and is responsible
for his safety. ’T is said he will be taken to the Tower to-morrow;
but they reckon not on the good will of some of us who are his friends,
and they forget the power of the King. Mon Dieu! What a night, and what
a people! One walks the streets at the risk of life and garments. I was
never so mauled about, and despaired of reaching this door. I’ve been
an hour outside screeching ‘Death to Strafford!’ with the rest of them,
else I were torn limb from limb.”

Frances frowned, but said:

“What were the circumstances of my father’s arrest? What do they charge
against him?”

“God knows what the indictment is; chiefly that he is Strafford, I
think. He entered the House of Lords this afternoon, and walked with
customary dignity to his place, but was curtly ordered to withdraw until
he was sent for, as the Commons were at that moment enunciating their
formula against him. He withdrew in the face of this loud protest, and
at last, being recalled, stood before them; was commanded to
kneel, which with some hesitation he did, while the articles to his
disparagement were read from the Woolsack. He was then dismissed, and,
once in the outer room again, the Black Rod demanded his sword, and
so conducted him, under restraint, to a carriage; no man of all then
present capping to him, although they had been obsequious enough when he
entered. A scurvy lot!”

“Were you among them?”

“Not I; I give you the account as ’t was told to me, but had I been
in that contemptible company, my hat would have gone lower than ever
before.”

“You have not seen my father, then; he has sent no message by you?”

“I have not seen him, but I come to crave a few words with you in
private.”

“Sir, you must excuse me. I am so tense with anxiety about my father, I
can think of naught else.”

“’T is on that subject I wish to discourse. He has set in train a
series of events in which I hoped to aid him, but it is like to go
awry through this most unlooked-for arrest. That is why I was here this
morning, and the commission was to have been completed to-morrow. Did he
say anything to you about it?”

“You heard all he said to me to-day. I saw him for but a moment, and
that in your presence.”

“I had hoped his lordship made a confidant of you, so my mission were
the easier of accomplishment.”

“If it has to do with his welfare, I am ready to confer with you. Come
with me to the library.” But before they could quit the hall, they were
aware that another was taking advantage of the lull in the street to
seek entrance to the mansion. Frances paused to learn the result. This
time it was an envoy from Strafford himself, and he brought a letter
addressed to “Mistress Frances Wentworth.” She opened and read the
note with eager anticipation, forgetting, for the moment, all who were
standing there.

Sweetheart:

“You have heard before this what hath befallen me; yet trust thou in the
goodness of God that my enemies shall do me no hurt. I am troubled that
you should be in London at this time, where I can be of no help to you.
It would please me to know that you were safe in the home where you have
lived until this present time. Think not that you can assist me other
than by obeying, for I trust in God and the King, and in the assurance
that I am innocent of the charges malice hath brought against me.
Therefore be in no way alarmed, but betake yourself straightway to the
North, there to wait with your brother, as heretofore, until I send a
message for you, which I hope to do right speedily. Travel in comfort
and security, and take with you such of my household as will secure
both.

“My treasurer, John Vollins, will give you all money you require, and
this letter is his assurance to fulfil your wishes in this and every
respect. Trust in God; give way to no fear; but bear yourself as my
daughter.

“Your loving father,

“Strafford.”

The young woman folded the letter without a word, except to the
secretary, to whom she said:

“My father writes in good confidence, seeing no cause for alarm, having
assurance of his innocence and faith in God and the King.”

Then she led the way to the library, followed by De Courcy, hat in hand.
Vollins arose and left them together, whereupon the Frenchman, with some
slight hesitation, possibly remembering a different plea on that spot a
few hours before, began his recital.

“This morning his lordship, your honoured father, requested my
assistance in a business which he thought I was capable of bringing to a
satisfactory conclusion. It concerned a highly placed personage, whom
it is perhaps improper for me to name, and perhaps unnecessary for me
to particularize further. His lordship’s intention was to present this
exalted lady with some gift which she would value for its intrinsic
worth no less than its artistic quality, and, as he professed himself
no judge of such, preferring to depend upon the well-known taste of my
nation in delicate articles of merit, also so far complimenting me as to
believe that I could, in suitable manner and phrase, present this
token to the gracious accepter of it, he desired my intervention, and I
promised so to pleasure him to the best of my poor abilities. On leaving
you this morning I made selection of the gift, and furthermore gave hint
to the recipient of its intended presentation,--a hint, I may say, which
was received with palpable delight. Judge, then, my consternation when
I heard of the Earl’s arrest, for he had promised to pay me the money
to-morrow.”

The young man paused, his listener pondering with her eyes on the
floor. She had such a deep distrust of him, and was so well aware of the
prejudice, that she struggled against it, praying for an unbiased mind.
Yet much that he had said coincided with certain things she knew,--her
father’s desire that the Queen should cease from meddling in affairs
of State to his disadvantage and theirs; his seeming friendship for De
Courcy, although he despised him; his intention that she should be civil
to him; his disclaimer of all knowledge regarding what a woman valued
in a gift when he presented her with a full purse the night before,--all
these fitted with the Frenchman’s story. The suppliant, scrutinizing her
perplexed brow, seemed to fear that his chance of getting the money was
vanishing, as he continued on the line most likely to incline her to
favour his present demand.

“Of course, I should not have troubled you in this matter did I not
think that if the arrangement your father wished to make was important
this morning, it is ten times more important to-night. Indeed, his
liberty may depend upon it. I am well aware that it is open to me to say
to the lady, ‘Lord Strafford is in prison, and is unable to carry
out his generous intentions,’ but I fear the deep disappointment will
outweigh the force of the reasoning. Your charming sex is not always
strictly logical.”

“What was the sum agreed upon?” asked Frances, looking suddenly up.

“A thousand pounds in gold.”

The question had been sprung upon him, and he had answered without
thought, but as he watched her resolute face a shade of disappointment
passed over his own, as if of inward regret that he had not made the
amount larger, should her determination prove his ally.

“I shall see that you get the money, if not to-night, at the time
promised.”

She sent for Vollins and placed the case before him. The treasurer
stood by the table, with inscrutable face and listened in silence, his
somewhat furtive look bent on the Frenchman.

“Has Monsieur De Courcy some scrap of writing in which my lord signifies
that so considerable a payment is to be made?”

“My dear fellow, this relates to business that is not put in writing
between gentlemen,” said the foreigner hastily.

“I am not a gentleman, but merely the custodian of his lordship’s purse.
I dare not pay out gold without his lordship’s warrant over his own
signature.”

De Courcy shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands, as though he
had washed them of responsibility.

“Mr. Vollins,” pleaded the girl eagerly, “my father’s life and liberty
may depend on this disbursement. I will be your warrant. I have money of
my own in the North, many times the sum I request you to pay. Should my
father object, I will refund to you the thousand pounds; indeed I will
remit it to you in any case, and my father need know nothing of this
transaction, therefore you cannot be held in scath.” Vollins shook his
head.

“I must not do it,” he said. “His lordship is a very strict man of
business and will hold me to account. He would forgive you, Madam, but
would be merciless with me did I consent to so unheard of a proposal. I
dare not count out a thousand pounds to the first man who steps from the
street and asks for it, giving me his bare word.”

“Do you dispute my word, sir?” demanded De Courcy, bristling.

“Assuredly not. I am but putting a case, as his lordship would
undoubtedly put it to me were I to consent,--and what would be my
answer?”

“But you have my word as well, Mr. Vollins,” urged the girl.

“Madam, I beseech you to consider my position. I am but a servant. The
money is not mine, or you were welcome to it. Yet why all this haste?
His lordship can undoubtedly be communicated with tomorrow, and then a
word or line from him is sufficient.”

“You have an adage, sir, of striking while the iron is hot; the iron
may be cool enough by the time your scruples of legality are satisfied,”
 warned De Courcy.

“His lordship can be communicated with; you are quite right, Mr.
Vollins,” cried Frances, remembering. “He _has_ communicated with me.
I ask you to read this letter, and then to pay the thousand pounds
required of you.”

Vollins read the letter with exasperating slowness, and said at last:

“There is nothing here authorizing me to pay the gentleman a thousand
pounds.”

“True, there is not. But my father says you are to pay me what moneys I
require. I require at this moment a thousand pounds in gold.”

“The money is for your safe conduct to the North.”

“You have read my father’s letter more carelessly than I supposed, by
the time you took. He says you are to fulfill my wishes in this and
every respect. Do you still refuse me?”

“No, Madam. But I venture to advise you strongly against the payment.”

“I thank you for your advice. I can certify that you have done your duty
fully and faithfully. Will you kindly bring forth the gold?”

Vollins weighed the five bags of coin with careful exactitude and
without further speech. De Courcy fastened them to his belt, then looked
about him for his cloak, which he at last remembered to have left in the
hall. Vollins called upon a servant to fetch it, taking it from him at
the door. The Frenchman enveloped himself, and so hid his treasure. The
cautious Vollins had prepared a receipt for him to sign, made out in the
name of Frances Wentworth, but De Courcy demurred; it was all very well
for the counting-house, he said, but not in the highest society. The
Earl of Strafford would be the first to object to such a course, he
insisted. Frances herself tore the paper in pieces, and said that a
signature was not necessary, while Vollins made no further protest.
She implored De Courcy, in a whispered adieu, to acquit faithfully the
commission with which her father had entrusted him, and he assured her
that he was now confident of success, thanking her effusively for
the capable conduct of a difficult matter of diplomacy. Then, with a
sweeping gesture of obeisance, he took his courteous departure.

Mr. Vollins deferentially asked Frances to sign a receipt which he had
written, acknowledging the payment of a thousand pounds, and to this
document she hurriedly attached her signature.



CHAPTER VI.--ORDEAL.

Frances made her way to the North as her father had directed, and
everywhere found the news of his arrest in advance of her; the country
ablaze with excitement because of it. The world would go well once
Strafford was laid low. He had deluded and misled the good King, as
Buckingham did before him. Buckingham had fallen by the knife; Strafford
should fall by the axe. Then the untrammelled King would rule well;
quietness and industry would succeed this unhealthy period of fever and
unrest.

The girl was appalled to meet everywhere this intense hatred of her
father, and in her own home she was surrounded by it. Even her brother
could not be aroused to sympathy, for he regarded his father not only
as a traitor to his country, but as a domestic delinquent also, who had
neglected and deserted his young wife, leaving her to die uncomforted
without even a message from the husband for whom she had almost
sacrificed her good name, bearing uncomplaining his absence and her
father’s wrath. During the winter Frances saw little of her brother.
Thomas Wentworth was here and there riding the country, imagining, with
the confidence of extreme youth, that he was mixing in great affairs,
as indeed he was, although he was too young to have much influence in
directing them. The land was in a ferment, and the wildest rumours
were afloat. Strafford had escaped from the Tower, and had taken flight
abroad, like so many of his friends who had now scattered in fear to
France or to Holland. Again it was said the King’s soldiers had attacked
the Tower, liberated Strafford, and the Black Man was at the head of the
wild Irish, resolved on the subjugation of England. Next, the Queen had
called on France for aid, and an invasion was imminent. So there was
much secret preparation, drilling and the concealing of arms against the
time they should be urgently needed, and much galloping to and fro;
a stirring period for the young, an anxious winter for the old, and
Herbert Wentworth was in the thick of it all, mysteriously departing,
unexpectedly returning, always more foolishly important than there was
any occasion for. Yet had he in him the making of a man who was shortly
to be tried by fire and steel, when greater wisdom crowned him than was
at present the case.

One by one the sinister rumours were contradicted by actual events; no
French army crossed the Channel; the Irish did not rise; the grim Tower
held Strafford secure in its iron grasp. Parliament seemed hesitating to
strike, piling up accusations, collecting proof, but staying its hand.
Everyone was loyal to the King, so grievously misled. The King could do
no wrong, but woe to the Minister who could and did. So, this exciting
winter passed and springtime came, ringing with news of Strafford’s
approaching trial. A stern resolve to be finally rid of him, proof or no
proof, was in the air, tinctured with the fine silken hypocrisy that all
should be done according to the law; that the axe should swing in rhythm
with a solemn declaration of judgment legally rendered. And there was no
man to say to the hesitating King, “When that head falls, the brain of
your government is gone.”

Since the letter she had received on the night of his arrest, the
daughter heard no word from the father. Had he again forgotten, or were
his messages intercepted? She did not know and was never to know.
She had written to him, saying she had obeyed him, but there was no
acknowledgment that her letter had reached its destination. Thus she
waited and waited, gnawing impatience and dread chasing the rose from
her cheeks, until she could wait no longer. Her horse and the southern
road were at her disposal, with none to hinder, so she set forth for
London, excusing herself for thus in spirit breaking her father’s
command, by the assurance that he had not forbidden her return. She
avoided her father’s mansion, knowing that Lady Strafford and her
children were now in residence there, and went to the inn where she had
formerly lodged. She soon learned that it was one thing to go to London,
and quite another to obtain entrance to Westminster Hall, where the
great trial, now approaching its end, was the fashionable magnet of the
town. No place of amusement ever collected such audiences, and although
money will overcome many difficulties, she found it could not purchase
admission to the trial through any source that was available. Perhaps if
she had been more conversant with the ways of the metropolis the golden
key might have shot back the bolt, but with her present knowledge she
was at her wit’s end.

Almost in despair, a happy thought occurred to her. She wrote a note to
John Vollins, her father’s treasurer, and asked him to call upon her,
which the good man did at the hour she set.

“Your father would be troubled to know you are in London, when he thinks
you safe at home,” he said.

“I could not help it, Mr. Vollins. I was in a fever of distraction and
must have come even if I had walked. But my father need never know,
and you remember he wrote that you were to help me.’ I wish a place in
Westminster Hall and cannot attain it by any other means in my power
than by asking you.”

“It is difficult of attainment. I advise you not to go there, for if his
lordship happened to catch sight of you in that throng, who knows but
at a critical moment it might unnerve him, for he is a man fighting with
his back to the wall against implacable and unscrupulous enemies.”

“Could you not get me some station where I might look upon my father
unseen by him?”

“Seats in the Hall are not to be picked or chosen.. If a place can be
come by, it will be because some person who thought to attend cannot be
present.”

“Do you think that where there are so many faces a chance recognition is
possible? I should be but an atom in the multitude.”

“Doubtless his seeing you is most unlikely. I shall do my best for you,
and hope to obtain an entrance for to-morrow.”

And so it came about that Frances was one of the fashionable audience
next day, occupying the place of a lady who had attended the trial from
the first, but was now tired of it, seeking some new excitement, thus
missing the most dramatic scene of that notable tragedy. Frances
found herself one of a bevy of gaily dressed ladies, all of whom were
gossiping and chattering together, comparing notes they had taken of the
proceedings, for many of them had dainty writing-books in which they set
down the points that pleased them as the case went on. It seemed like a
gala day, animated by a thrill of eager expectancy; a social function,
entirely pleasurable, with no hint that a man stood in jeopardy of his
life. Although the body of the hall was crowded, draped benches at the
upper end were still untenanted, except that here and there sat a man,
serving rather to emphasize the emptiness of the benches than give token
of occupancy.

The lady placed at Frances’s right, observing that the girl was a
stranger and somewhat bewildered by the unaccustomed scene, kindly made
explanation to her.

“On those benches will sit the Lords, who are the judges; on the
others the Commons, who are the accusers. They have not yet taken their
stations.”

“Will the King be present?”

“Technically, no; actually, yes. The Throne, which you see there, will
be vacant throughout, but the King may be behind that latticed screen
above it, where he can see but cannot be seen. The King must not
interfere at a State trial, but he may overset its verdict, and he will,
if it should go against the Earl, which is not likely.”

“I--I do not see my----I do not see the Earl of Strafford.”

“He is not here yet, and will not arrive until the Houses sit.”

The girl listened to the hum of conversation going on round her, and
caught understandable scraps of it now and then. She was in an entirely
new atmosphere, for here every one seemed in favour of Strafford,
thought him badly used, and was certain he would emerge triumphant
from the ordeal. _Then_ let his enemies beware! Feminine opinion was
unanimous that all those who were concerned in this trial against his
lordship would bitterly regret the day they had taken such action. The
spirits of Frances rose as she listened. The invariable confidence by
which she was environed had its inspiring effect on her depressed mind.
She no longer thought the gathering heartlessly frivolous, as at first
she had resentfully estimated it. She was in the midst of enthusiastic
champions of her father, and realized now, as never before, the great
part he played in the world.

Suddenly there was a movement in the upper part of the Hall, and Lords
and Commons filed in to their places. A silence fell on the audience,
maintained also in dignified state by the judges, but to the section
occupied by the Commons was transferred the rustle of talk which had
previously disturbed the stillness of the auditorium. Men bustled about,
whispering to this member of Parliament or that. Papers and notes were
exchanged, while by contrast their Lordships seemed like inanimate
statues.

Once again the centre of attention changed. The Hall resounded with
the measured tramp of armed men. Two rows of soldiers took their stand
opposite each other, leaving a clear passage between, and slowly up this
passage, with four secretaries and some halfdozen others behind him,
came a bowed and pallid figure, dressed in black, a single decoration
relieving the sombreness of his costume, which hung, loosely unfitting,
about a frame that had become gaunt since its wear began.

“That is the Earl of Strafford,” whispered the lady on the right, but
the remark fell upon unlistening ears. How changed he was! No trace now
of that arrogance of which she had caught chance glimpses during her
brief acquaintance with him; a broken man who had but a short time to
live, whatever might be the verdict of this court. Sentence of death
was already passed on him by a higher tribunal, and all this convocation
might do was to forestall its execution. He stood in his place for a
moment, and bowed to his judges, but gave no sign that he had knowledge
of the existence of his accusers, and the girl began to doubt if the
old arrogance had, after all, entirely departed from him. Then, leaning
heavily on the arm of one of his secretaries, he sank into his seat
and closed his eyes, as if the short walk from the barge to the hall of
judgment had been too much for him. As he sat thus there stole down to
him a boy leading two children. Strafford’s eyes opened, and he smiled
wanly upon them, put an arm around the hoy’s neck, and fondled the girls
to his knee, both of whom were weeping quietly.

“Who--who are those?” gasped Frances, yet knowing while she asked,
and feeling a pang, half jealousy, half pain, that she must hold aloof
unnoticed.

“They are his son and his two daughters. The third daughter is not
here.”

“The third!” she’ cried in surprise. “Does he then acknowledge a third?”

“The third is an infant too young to know what is going on. Hush! We
must not talk.”

The girl’s eagerness fell away from her; she reclined back in her seat
and sighed deeply. The preliminaries of the day passed her like a dream,
for she knew nothing of the procedure, but at last her attention was
aroused, for she saw her father on his feet, and before she was aware
he began to speak, the voice at first cold and calm, penetrating the
remotest corner of that vast room, in argument that even she recognized
as clear, logical, and dispassioned as if he were setting forth the case
of another. He was listened to with the most profound respect by enemies
and friends alike. He seemed to brush away the charges against him as if
they were very cobwebs of accusation. As he went on, he warmed more to
his theme, and by and by the girl, leaning intently forward, drinking
in every word, knew that she was listening to oratory such as had never
before greeted the ears of England, and probably never would again.
A breathless tension held the audience spellbound, and it seemed
impossible that his direst foe could remain unmoved. The belief in his
acquittal now became a certainty, and it was every moment more and more
evident that this acquittal would also be a triumph. He stood, one man
against three kingdoms thirsting for the blood, yet turning the
crisis to the dumfounding of his enemies by the overwhelming force of
eloquence. Not a chord on the harp of human sentiment and passion was
left unsounded. The deft hand swept every string and fascinated his
hearers. When he spoke of his children, pleading more for them than for
himself, they weeping at his knee, his own voice broke into a sob more
touching even than his living words. From the eyes of Frances gushed the
pent-up tears. And she was not alone in her emotion, for the flutter of
lace at the eyes of fair ladies broke like white blossoms everywhere.
And yet----and yet she became reluctantly convinced that her father
in this crisis had entirely forgotten her, and when he spoke of his
children, remembered only those that had been all their lives about his
knees. She was but the daughter of a day!

Recovering himself, the speaker went on to his peroration. “And now,
my lords, I thank God, I have been, by His blessing, sufficiently
instructed in the extreme vanity of all temporal enjoyments, compared to
the importance of our eternal duration. And so, my lords, even so, with
all humility and with all tranquillity of mind, I submit clearly and
freely to your judgments. And whether that righteous doom shall be to
life or death, I shall repose myself, full of gratitude and confidence,
in the arms of the Great Author of my existence. _Te Deum laudamus, te
Dominum confitemur_.”

The Latin phrase pealed forth like the solemn tone of a chant, and the
speaker subsided into his chair almost in a swoon, for physical weakness
had at last overcome the indomitable spirit.

On none of the vast visible throng had the effective oration exercised
greater power than upon an unseen listener. The awed stillness was
suddenly broken by a splintering crash, and the startled audience,
looking up, saw the frail lattice work of the alcove shattered, and
the King standing there like a ghost enframed by jagged laths. Stern
determination sat on that handsome countenance; a look which said as
plainly as words, “_This man shall not die!_” His hands clutched the
broken framework beneath him, and he moistened his lips as if to give
utterance to the words his expression foreshadowed. But before he could
speak, a tall, angular figure sprang out from among the Commons and held
up a sinewy hand. His face was ablaze with anger; his stentorian voice
dominated the Hall, envenomed with hatred, striking the ear with terror
as does the roar of a tiger.

“The might of England, in Parliament assembled, gives judgment
untrammeled and unafraid. The King is not here. The King cannot be here.
The Throne is vacant, and must remain vacant until justice is done.”

As the last words rang out, the long index finger, shaken menacingly,
pointed at the empty chair. There was defiance of King or Minister in
words, and tone and gesture; a challenge to the Throne. The pale face of
the King became ghastly white, his hand trembled, and fragments of the
lattice-work fell from beneath it. Irresolution took the place of
former determination, and he glanced pitifully from right to left, as if
seeking human support, of which, in the amazed stillness, there was no
indication. Then the fine white hand of an unseen woman showed for
a moment on his arm like a snow-flake, and Charles, with one look of
haunting compassion on the prisoner, disappeared from sight. The phantom
picture had vanished from its ragged frame without a sound, and blank
darkness occupied its place. Truly the King was not present, conjured
away by the strenuous hand of the fierce combatant on the stage, and the
soft hand of the woman behind the scenes.

“Who is that man?” whispered Frances, gazing in frightened fascination
on the rude interrupter.

“That is John Pym, the chief prosecutor and deadly personal enemy of
Lord Strafford.”

As the girl gazed at this dominating individuality, all the froth of
confidence in her father’s acquittal, whipped up by the chatter of
conversation at the beginning, evaporated. There stood the personified
hatred of England against the Earl of Strafford. No wavering in accent
or action there, but a determined man, knowing what he wanted and bent
on having it. To her excited imagination the resolute face took on the
semblance of a death-mask, and the clenched hand seemed to grasp the
shaft of an axe. It was as if the headsman had suddenly stood forth and
claimed his own, and a chill as of the grave, swept over the audience
with a shudder in its wake.

A low wailing cry went sobbing across the silence; a cry that tugged
at Strafford’s heart when he heard it. What memory did it stir in his
troubled mind? A reminiscence of something that had escaped him, crowded
out by matters of more pressing moment.

“What is that?” he asked anxiously.

“It is nothing, my lord,” answered Vollins, stepping between his master
and the commotion among the women. “A lady has fainted, that is all.
They are taking her out.”



CHAPTER VII.--APPEAL.

Once out in the open air, Frances Wentworth came again into control of
herself, ashamed that, for the moment, her emotions had overwhelmed her.
She had no desire to re-enter Westminster Hall, even if the doorkeepers
would have permitted her, so she wandered slowly back to the inn which
was her temporary home. In the evening John Vollins came to see her, and
offered money which she told him she did not need. He gave some account
of Pym’s speech, and said that the Commons had not asked the Lords for
judgment, which was taken by Strafford and his friends as an indication
that they knew the weakness of the evidence and feared the effect of his
lordship’s speech in his own defence. The refusal to ask for judgment
was regarded as a good omen, and for some days Frances felt the revival
of hope, when she could forget the grim figure of John Pym, but the
Commons speedily disillusioned the Straffordian party. A bill of
attainder was brought in, and they showed their determination to have
the head of the unfortunate Earl by act of Parliament, if not by legal
procedure. At last the bill, passing its third reading, was sent up
to the House of Lords. There were many who said the Lords would never
assent to it; that the Commons should have asked for judgment at the
close of the trial; that if they could not hope to have the verdict as
they wanted it then, it was not likely the Lords would allow themselves
to be cozened by a side wind now. These predictions were quickly
falsified. The Lords gave their consent to the bill of attainder, and
nothing stood between Strafford and the block but a scrawl from the
King’s pen.

The Lords, it was said by those who defended them, had been coerced by
the populace. The mob had gathered again and had clamoured around the
House of Peers, crying for justice on Strafford; now they transferred
their loud-throated exclamations to Whitehall, for success with the
nobles foreshadowed success with the King.

It was late on Saturday night when John Vollins made his way to the inn
at some jeopardy to himself, for the streets were wild with joy at the
action of the Lords. He told Frances that her father’s life depended
solely on the firmness of the King. If Charles signed on Monday,
Strafford was to be led to the block on Wednesday. Vollins was in deep
gloom over the prospect. The Earl, he said, had some time previously
written to the King, absolving him from all his promises, offering his
life freely if the taking of it would advantage his Majesty in dealing
with his obstreperous subjects.

“But the King is trebly perjured if he signs. He cannot sign,” cried
Frances.

Vollins shook his head.

“If all the Lords in England are held in terror by the people’s clamour,
and so let the greatest of their number slip through their fingers to
the axe, how can one weak man be expected to withstand the concentration
of the popular will brought against him? ’T is blinded folly to look
for it.”

“But the people dare not coerce a King.”

“Dare they not? Go down to Whitehall and you will find them doing it.
This very day they have all but stormed the palace.”

“I will see the King, throw myself at his feet and implore him to keep
his word. I was present when he bade my father take this fateful journey
to London, and when he promised full protection. A King’s word should
stand against the world, for he is the source of truth and honour in a
nation.”

“You cannot get to see him. Every entrance to the palace is strongly
guarded. Highly placed friends of my lord, friends when all others had
fallen away from him, have sought admission to the royal presence in
vain. He has refused to see the Earl of Bristol, whose son, Lord Digby,
spoke out against the conclusiveness of the evidence, and his Majesty
has let it be spread abroad that he gives no approval of Lord Digby’s
plain words, and so the people cry ‘God save the King!’ and revile Lord
Digby.”

The girl stood aghast at this intelligence, remembering the scene at the
trial, when royalty in the person of Charles Stuart, and the people in
the person of John Pym, opposed their wills to each other. Then royalty
had faded from the sight of men, and the strong champion of the people
held his ground alone and triumphant. “Trust in God and the King,” wrote
the prisoner. What a conjunction! Almighty power, and a bending reed!
“Nevertheless, I will see the King,” she said.

On Sunday the immensity of the swaying crowd, shouting and moving like
a slow resistless flood through the streets, daunted her. There was no
employment that day to keep any one within doors, and it seemed as if
that labyrinth of human warrens called London had emptied itself into
the narrow thoroughfares. She hesitated like a timid swimmer on the
brink of a raging torrent, yet if she was to win access to the King
she must trust herself to the current, which had this advantage, it set
toward the direction in which she wished to go. If the streets could be
compared to sluggish streams, the broad avenue or square of Whitehall
might be likened to the lake into which they emptied. It was a packed
mass of humanity, surging to and fro, as if influenced by mysterious
tides, but making no progress. Way through it in any given direction
might well seem an impossibility; but an alert atom, by constantly
watching opportunity, could edge here and there, through chance
openings, and, by a constant devotion to a given direction, ultimately
attain any chosen point. Thus the girl, buffeted about, often well-nigh
exhausted and breathless, came by the entrance to the palace that stood
next the banqueting-house. The gates, however, were tightly closed,
and guarded on the outside by a double row of soldiery, who stood the
hustling of the mob with great good humour, being evidently cautioned
not to exasperate the populace by any hostile act. The crowd itself
seemed good-natured enough, although constant fighting took place here
and there along its choking surface; but the great bulk of those present
appeared to be out on a larking holiday, although they all riotously
lent breath to the unceasing roar, calling for justice on Strafford.
Occasionally there were shouts for the King, and demands that he should
speak to them, but the windows of Whitehall Palace were blank and gave
no sign of human occupancy.

Suddenly Frances found herself in new danger through one of those
unexplainable heaves of the many-throated beast at whose mercy she
stood.

“To the gates!” went up a shout. “We will make the King hear,” and
a great human wave, overwhelming the soldiers, struck against the
shuddering portal. The mere pressure of the multitude was deadly and
irresistible. There were shrieks and appeals for forbearance, but the
unreasoning mass behind pressed on, unheeding, cheering, and shoving. A
crash of rending timbers, and the gates flew inward; then the mob, as
if frightened at what it had done, paused, giving the soldiers time to
collect themselves and help the wounded. There was as yet no malice in
the crush; it was more like a conglomeration of irresponsible children,
bent on mischief of any kind, but temporarily scared at the breaking of
something. This fact seemed to be recognized by a man in authority who
came through the gate and with some difficulty secured a precarious
footing on one of the stone pillars which stood in a row between the
pathway and the road, thus giving him a position which towered over the
heads of the assemblage. He held up a hand for a hearing, and the crowd
cheered him, not in the least knowing who he was or why he was there.
Comparative silence followed the cheer, and the nobleman spoke.

“My good people,” he said, “there is little use in the breaking of gates
that the King may hear you; for the King has heard, and is taking the
requests of his faithful subjects into his august consideration.”

“Where is the King?” demanded an auditor.

“His Majesty is in the banqueting-house, where, as you know, he is in
touch with his people. ’T is a prayerful subject he has to meditate
on, and I beg of you not to disturb his devotions by further----”

“Is the Queen at her devotions too? In that hall she began masked revels
on a Sunday, and six good men were done to death for protesting against
the desecration, each life more valuable than the wicked Earl’s. Let the
King say that he will sign, and we will disperse!”

These and other cries more or less to the purpose baffled the orator,
and the air quivered with denunciations of Strafford. The man on the
stone post had cast his eyes behind him several times, as if to see what
progress was being made with the readjustment of the gate, and from this
his hearers quickly divined that he was but deluding them to gain time,
which was more than likely his purpose, so the shout went up to move
through the breach and surround the hall. Meanwhile reinforcements had
been summoned from within, and a hand-to-hand fight ensued with the
encroachers. Frances, panting and nigh worn out in the struggle,
nevertheless saw her opportunity. There were few women in the throng,
and such as came near them the soldiers sought to protect. She attempted
appeal to the officer, but that harassed dignitary could harken to none,
and thrust her rudely but effectually through the opening, saying,--“You
will find egress at one of the other gates. Take care of yourself. I
cannot help you.”

Breathing a sigh of thankfulness, she cowered and ran along the end of
the banqueting-hall, turned at the corner, then down the side, entering
an archway that let her into a passage. She knew that she must turn to
her right, but where after that she had not the slightest notion. The
tumult at the gate was so frightful that she expected every moment to
hear the victorious assaulters at her heels. Her joy at finding herself
thus unexpectedly within the precincts of the palace, unimpeded, caused
her to overlook the fact that this was scarcely a propitious moment in
which to implore the King to disregard the lusty giant rudely beating at
his doors. A frightened waiting-maid came hurrying along the corridor,
and to her she directed inquiry regarding the entrance to the
banqueting-hall.

“Turn to the right and up the stair.”

“Take me there, I beg of you.”

“I cannot. I bear a message.”

“But I bear a message to the King, so yours must wait.”

At this the maid turned and conducted her to the door of the hall,
saying to the man at arms,--“This lady has a message for his Majesty.”

The first thing that struck her on entering the great painted chamber
was that the nobleman on the stone outside had not spoken the truth when
he said the King heard the demands of his people. A growl as of an angry
lion penetrated the closed windows, but the words spoken were not to be
distinguished.

The King was sitting at a massive table, his head in his hands. Behind
him were grouped a number of bishops in their robes, and it certainly
seemed that his Majesty was engaged in devotional exercises, as had been
stated by the orator. But if this were the case they were of a strangely
mixed order, for behind the lady who was talking volubly to the King,
stood two Capuchin monks with folded arms. Excepting the bishops none of
the English nobility were present, but several Frenchmen, among whom she
recognized De Courcy, held aloof from the cluster at the table, so the
girl quite correctly surmised that the lady bearing the whole burden
of the conversation was no other than the Queen herself, and that these
foreigners were members of her train.

Her Majesty spoke sometimes in French, sometimes in English, the latter
with broken accent, and her eloquence was rather puzzling to follow,
for the flow of her conversation was of extreme rapidity. Palpably
she supposed herself talking in English, but whenever she came to a
difficulty in the choice of a word she made no attempt to surmount it by
any effort of thought, but swam swiftly round it on the easy current of
her native tongue. Translated, her discourse ran thus:

“My God! These good men have made it perfectly plain; for, as
they say,--and who shall question the dictum of the Church in such
matters,--you have two consciences, the conscience of the Prince and
the conscience’ of the man; and where the consciences come into conflict
that of the Prince must of necessity rule, as is the axiom in all
civilized Courts. Is it right that you, a King, should jeopardize
yourself in a useless effort to save one condemned by his peers, because
your private conscience as a man urges you to keep a promise which he
himself has relieved you from, holding you guiltless before God and the
nations, and further advised by these good men, lords of their Church,
that such action would not make toward peace of the realm. It is not a
subject to be hesitated upon for a moment, the good of the ruler being
paramount always----”

“Oh, my lord, the King, listen not to such sophistry, be it from the
lips of priest or woman. The given word is the man, and he stands or
falls by it. If the foresworn peasant be a cringing craven, ten thousand
times worse is the perjured Prince. You pledged your faith to Lord
Strafford, and now, in his just Heaven, God demands the fulfilment of
your word.”

The dishevelled girl had flung herself at the feet of the frightened
monarch, who started back, gazing wildly about him, shaking as
one struck with palsy, so startling and unexpected had been the
interruption. Red anger flushed the face of the no less amazed Queen,
speechless with indignation at the words and the tone of them, addressed
to her exalted husband. The sage bishops were astounded at the lack
of diplomacy on the part of the petitioner, who had thus rudely thrown
herself counter to the expressed wishes of the highest lady in the land;
but Frances, with an instant intuition more subtle than theirs, saw that
the Queen was an enemy not to be cajoled by deference or flattery, so
she determined that the war between them should be open and above board.

The King had reason for agitation greater than the surprise that had
made breathing statues of those about him. The accents that disturbed
him were the accents of Strafford himself, softened as they were by the
lips that uttered them. The boldness of the address was Strafford’s,
and, until he saw that a woman knelt before him, it almost seemed that
the dominant spirit of the prisoner had burst the bonds of the Tower and
sped hither to reproach him for meditated treachery.

Frances, gathering breath, took advantage of the silence her sudden
advent had caused.

“Why is Lord Strafford in a dungeon to-day? Because, trusting your word,
he obeyed your command at Hampton. Why was he put on trial? Because,
faithfully, he carried out his King’s behests. Why was he condemned to
death? Because he stood true to the King. If he deserve death, then so
do you, for you are the master and he the servant. Has God stricken
you and your counsellors with blindness, that you cannot see in the
destruction of Strafford the throwing away of the shield which guards
your breast, leaving you naked to your enemies? Surrender bastion, and
the castle falls.”

“God of Heaven!” cried the quivering Queen. “What country of the mad is
this, where the meanest of subjects may so address a monarch! Strip
the mantle from her back and scourge her rebellious flesh to the kennel
whence she comes.”

“No, no!” gasped Charles, staggering to his feet and sweeping with a
gesture of his hand the documents which lay before him on the table, so
that they fluttered to the floor. “Christ have mercy upon me! She speaks
the truth; happy is the Prince who hears it and heeds it. I have passed
my word to Strafford, and it shall be kept. I will not sign,--no, though
the heavens fall. Rise, my girl! You have my promise,--the promise of a
Stuart,--and it shall be fulfilled.”

Charles graciously assisted the girl to her feet with the same courtesy
he would have shown to the first lady of the Court.

The rage of the Queen now passed all bounds of restraint. “And this
before me, your wife! You weigh the word of this bedraggled creature of
the streets above that of the royal House of France, and Queen of this
turbulent realm! By God, you deserve to be hooted by your loathsome mob.
Who is this strumpet?” De Courcy whispered a word into her ear.

“What! The bastard of that profligate Strafford! Jesu, to what a pass
this Christian Court has come!”

“Madam,” said Frances with frigid dignity, “you misname me. I have the
honour to be Lord Strafford’s lawful daughter, acknowledged by him as
such in presence of his Majesty the King.”

“’T is true, ’t is true,” murmured Charles, visibly quailing before
the increasing wrath of his wife, adding in piteous appeal, “God’s
wounds, have I not enough to bear without the quarreling of women.”

“The quarreling of women! Dare you couple me in the same breath with
such as she? Is there none in my train to whip forth this impudent wench
into the wretched rabble that has spewed her into our presence. The
quarreling of women! A slattern that wishes to divert, from her reputed
father’s head to yours, the anger of the gutter. Listen to it, my lord,
listen to it.”

All this was shrieked forth with gestures so rapid and amazing that the
eye could scarce follow the motion of her hands. Now she flew to the
window and fumbled with its fastening, too greatly excited to succeed
with the opening. Several of the French gallants stumbled over each
other in their haste to aid her, but the lady’s impatience could not
wait for them. She lifted her clenched hand and smote the diamond panes,
which went shivering down beneath the fierce impact of the blow. Glass
or lead or both cut the imperious hand and wrist, and the blood trickled
down the fair rounded arm. The breach she made was like the letting in
of waters; the roar outside became instantly articulate, and waves of
meaning flooded the great apartment.

“To the block with Strafford. Death to the people’s oppressor!” was the
cry, and the tortured King shrank from it as from the lash of a whip.

“Harken to the wolves!” shrieked the Queen. “It is your blood or
Strafford’s! Which, which, which?”

Then, perhaps because of the hurt which she scarcely seemed to feel,
her mood changed as quickly as her anger had risen, and she melted into
tears, glided to her husband, and threw her arms about his neck.

“Oh Charles, Charles,” she moaned, “it is my love for you that would
coerce you. You have not been to blame, misled by an obstinate Minister
who would sacrifice an indulgent master to buy his own safety. A King is
not to be bound as other men. The claim of your wife and children rise
superior to that of any subject, for you have sworn to protect them.”
 Charles stood by the wall which was eight years later to be broken for
his own final exit, his eyes filled with tears, caressing the woman who
clung to his breast. He saw that the girl was about to address him again
and said hastily,--“Go, go! You but pile distraction on distraction.
Fear not; for the word of a King goes with you.”

“No, no!” sobbed the Queen. “For my sake withdraw it.”

Two of the bishops now stepped forward, and with gentle urgency used
their persuasion on the girl to withdraw. “God keep your Majesty firm,”
 she cried, “and so deal with you as you deal with my father.” But the
last sight she was to have of her ruler, as the good men pushed her to
the door, was far from inspiring. His cheeks were womanishly wet, and
wavering irresolution was stamped upon his brow. The twining wounded
arms of his wife had reddened the white scarf at his throat with the
royal, passionate blood of France.



CHAPTER VIII.--EXECUTION.

On Monday there were ever-increasing rumours through the town that
Charles had signed the bill which would send his chief Minister to the
block, qualified by statements equally vague that he had done nothing of
the sort; but as night drew on, the rising jubilation of the crowds in
the streets gave point to the more sinister report. In the evening, his
usual time of calling, the sombre Vollins came to the inn, chiefly, as
he said, to urge the girl to quit the turbulent city, where she could
accomplish nothing, and where she might be in danger were it once
guessed that she bore any relationship to the condemned man; but to this
good counsel the girl would not listen. What she demanded impatiently
was news, news, news, and this, with exasperating deliberation, Vollins
gave forth. It was quite true that the bill was signed, not by the
King’s hand, but by the hands of four Commissioners whom he had
appointed for that purpose. The House of Lords, and even the House of
Commons, was amazed at this betrayal, said Vollins, and the effect
of the announcement had been seen on the populace itself; for, after
certainty came home to the people, they had dispersed quietly to their
houses, and the streets were almost empty.

The girl was mute with dismay, but Vollins pointed out that the case
was in reality no worse than it had been on Saturday or Sunday. By
the exercise of his prerogative the King could at any moment free his
Minister or mitigate the sentence, notwithstanding the fact that the
Commission had signed the bill of attainder in his name. Vollins had
always been distrustful of the King, but his pessimism was not increased
by the hurrying events of the last few days; rather, he saw signs of
encouragement where Frances found only blank despair. The signing had
had the immediate effect of stilling the outcry of the public, yet it
in no way increased Strafford’s danger. The action was merely typical of
the King’s roundabout methods of accomplishing his objects. The people
were notoriously fickle and could not keep up the shouting indefinitely;
indeed there were already signs that they were tired of it. It was more
than likely that Charles would reprieve the Earl, possibly at the last
moment, and have him shipped off to France or Holland before London knew
what had been done. Or, it might be, Strafford would escape when Charles
saw that Lords, Commons, and people were in grim earnest. The Tower
was on the waterside, and the prisoner would not be the first who had
slipped away by boat the night before an intended execution. Such a plan
would be peculiarly acceptable to the mind of the King, for he had
given way to the expressed will of his subjects and could not be held
responsible for the avolation of the convicted man. The Tower was
impregnable and cared nothing for clamour.

Tuesday seemed to bear out these surmises. Frances determined to see the
King once more, and learn from his own lips the fate of her father; but
when she reached Whitehall she found some commotion there, for Charles
was taking his departure from the palace, and people said he was on his
way to the House of Lords, and that it was likely he had determined to
let Strafford go. Even although this suspicion was prevalent among those
assembled, there seemed to be no popular resentment of it, and the
crowd loudly cheered Charles as he rode away surrounded by his jingling
guards--truly a remarkable change in public sentiment since Sunday. She
went from Whitehall to the Tower, viewing the stronghold from various
points, but not venturing near it. At first she had some thought of
asking admission that she might see her father; but she was almost
certain a refusal was all she might expect, and there was ever the fear
she would arouse inquiry by making any application, and so frustrate
plans already formed for his rescue. Vague visions passed through her
mind of prisoners escaping through the devotion of friends sacrificing
themselves, or concocting ingenious schemes that resulted in liberty;
but as she looked at the forbidding, strong fortress, her dreams were
confronted by a very stern reality, and the conviction was impressed
upon her that there was nothing to be gained in lingering about the
Tower. After all, the word of the King was sufficient to open the gates,
could he but pluck up courage to speak it. He was bound in honour to
say the word, and Frances saw that her only chance of helpfulness lay in
urging him to keep his promise.

In the evening she learned authoritatively the object of the King’s
visit to the House of Lords. He had pleaded earnestly for the life of
his Minister, promising, if he were released, never again to employ
him even in the meanest capacity. He implored them at least to grant a
reprieve until Saturday, and this was so small a favour for a King to
ask that Vollins was sure it would be granted, and that many things
might happen in the intervening days. The confidence of a man so
generally despairing as Vollins, in the certainty of a short reprieve,
and in the ultimate safety of Lord Stratford, did much to bring the girl
to a like belief, but she resolved, nevertheless, to see the King next
day if she could win her way into Whitehall Palace.

Wednesday saw no excitement on the streets; people were going soberly
about, each on his own affairs, and the reprieve had provoked no
outburst, which in itself was a hopeful sign. Frances had grown to fear
the hue and cry of the mob even more than she feared the indecision of
the King. If he were left unterrified, all his tendency was toward mercy
and the keeping of his oath.

There was no crowd to distract the attention of the guard at the palace
gates opening on Whitehall, and they absolutely refused to grant her
admission without an order. She turned to the captain of the guard and
asked how such an order could be obtained, and that official, apparently
struck by her youth and beauty, as well as her evident distress, said
that if she knew any about the Court who might be sent for, and who
proved willing to vouch for her, he would allow her to pass; but the
rule at the gate was strict, because of past disturbances, and he had
no option but refusal unless she went in under the convoy of some one in
authority. Frances pondered a few moments, and hesitated, but her need
was great, and she could not choose when it came to finding security.
At last she said with reluctance,--“I am acquainted with Monsieur De
Courcy. Is he within?”

“I do not know, but ’t will be speedily ascertained.” With that he
invited her to a seat in the guardhouse, and sent a messenger for
De Courcy, knowing there would be prompt response when the Frenchman
learned that a beautiful lady awaited him, and in this he was not
mistaken. De Courcy came, as debonair and as well groomed as usual,
twirling his light moustache, and doffing his hat with a grand air when
he saw who his petitioner was.

“I wish to see his Majesty again,” said Frances, rising; “but they
detain me at the gate, and I have no one to vouch for me unless you will
be so kind, though I am sorry to trouble you.”

“To pleasure me, Mademoiselle, you must mean. ’T is an ungallant
country, as I have always said, when they keep so fair a maid a-waiting.
Such a boorish act is not conceivable in France. Most honoured am I to
be your sponsor, and it gratifies me to tell you that the King is at
present disengaged. I beg you to accompany me.”

The friend of the Queen did not even trouble to make any explanation
to the captain of the guard, and he was too powerful a courtier to have
anything he did questioned by the underlings. It was palpable that the
officer had small liking for him, but wholesome fear of his influence in
high places.

As the two crossed the yard together, the young man said with the
greatest affability,--“Would you prefer to see the King alone, or in
company?”

“Oh, alone, if it be possible.”

“Quite possible. I shall delight in arranging a private interview, and
am sure his Majesty will not refuse my request. If you do not wish to
meet any of the Court, I can take you to him by a private route where we
are almost certain to encounter none.”

“I shall be deeply indebted to you.”

They threaded their way through devious and labyrinthian passages,
turning now to the right, now to the left, sometimes ascending a few
steps, and sometimes a narrow stairway, until at last the guide came to
a door which he pushed open.

“If you will wait here for a moment, I will go and fetch the King.” He
bowed gracefully as she passed through the doorway, entering a square
room, the walls of which were decorated by groups of swords and rapiers
of various sorts; a veritable armory. A table occupied the centre, and
there were several chairs, with a lounge against the wall. A door opened
upon an inner room. De Courcy, instead of taking his departure, stepped
in quickly after the girl, closed the door, and turned the key in the
lock. With the grating of the key came the first suspicion to the
mind of Frances that her guide was treacherous. Much as she had always
distrusted him, it seemed incredible that, knowing her to be the
daughter of the Earl of Strafford, anything disastrous might befall her
here in the very palace of the King, the sworn protector of his people.
The leer on De Courcy’s face and his words speedily disillusioned her.

“If you will be seated, my dear, we may have some converse, interesting
and entertaining to us both. You can scarcely imagine my joy at seeing
so lovely a visitor in my poor apartments.”

“Sir, you said you would bring the King. A gentleman keeps his word.”

“Oh, the King in good time, my pretty one. Charles is but a doleful
companion just now, and we are well quit of him. As for a man’s word,
the fashion seems to be the breaking of it, example being set us poor
gentlemen in the highest places. For instance, our last discussion
related to marriage, but times have changed since that day, and you
will not be so cruel as to expect me to carry out the good domestic
intentions I then expressed.”

“Sir, I am very glad I shall hear no more of them.”

“Truly? Then so much the better. I expected tears and reproaches, but am
pleased you are not given to complaining. By my honour, I love you the
more for it. So, then, I’ll steal a kiss from those ripe lips to seal
the new compact we are to make, and I warn you that a scream is not
likely to be heard from this chamber.”

“I need not your warning. You shall neither hear me scream nor see me
weep.”

“By Saint Denis, I like your spirit. Some scream, and some weep, but
they all end by clinging.”

“Sir, a warning for your warning. Approach not another step nearer me.
Stand aside, rather, and allow me quittance of this place as freely as I
ignorantly came hither.”

“And if I cannot consent?”

“Then ’t will be the worse for you.”

“God’s truth, but you spur an inclination already highly mettled. Still
would I treat you with all courtesy. You are a nameless woman, and many
of the highest dames in England are proud to call me their friend.”

“That I believe to be as untrue as your saying I am a nameless woman.”

“Nevertheless, one is as true as the other. Your father never
acknowledged you.”

“He has been burdened with more important affairs, but he will do so
when he is free.”

During this dialogue the participants had been constantly changing their
positions, De Courcy advancing and Frances retreating, keeping the table
between them. The girl’s design was plain enough; she desired to hold
him in conversation, gradually shifting her position, until she got
between him and the door, when a sudden dash might give her freedom. But
he easily fathomed this design and laughed as he checkmated it. At
her last words, however, he drew himself upright, a look of genuine
amazement overspreading his face.

“When he is _free!_” he echoed. “Powers of Heaven! Then you have not
come to reproach the King, but to plead with him!”

“Why should I reproach him?”

“It would surely be useless enough, but feminine. Why? Because Gregory
Brandon, with one good stroke, severed the King’s word and Strafford’s
neck on Tower Hill this morning.”

The girl’s face went white as the kerchief about her throat, and,
swaying half an instant, she leaned against the table for support.
Something in the brutal method of the announcement convinced her of its
truth more surely than if he had spoken with all the solemnity of which
he might be capable. Yet she struggled not to believe.

“You are lying to me,” she gasped.

“Far from it, my little lady. How could I imagine you did not know?
You are surely the only person in London who is ignorant of it. Why is
everything so quiet near Whitehall, where the generous citizens have
been so solicitous about us of late? Merely because the centre of
interest has changed to the other end of the town, and a rare show was
put on the stage for all good people to see, free of cost to themselves,
unless they have the brains to know of what they are bereft by
Strafford’s death, which is most unlikely.” As he spoke he had been
edging toward her, catlike, but she paid no heed to him. Then with a
spring he caught her wrists, but she did not move or make any effort to
free herself. She looked dully at him, as if wondering why he acted so.

“You will be pleased to withdraw yourself, sir, and let me go. My heart
is broken.”

She spoke with forced calmness, but there was a tremor in her tone that
cast doubt on her former assertion regarding the tears.

“Your heart is not broken, and if it was I’d mend it for you. Absurd!
Why, you knew the man for scarce a day, and that time is full short for
the growth of any large affection.”

“I shall never love any as I have loved him.”

“Tush! How little you know of yourself. You are a very goddess of love,
and I will----”

He released one wrist and endeavored to slip his disengaged arm about
her waist. This seemed to rouse the girl from her stupor, for she
suddenly thrust him back, and, taking him unaware, sent him sprawling;
then she sprang for the door. But he was as nimble as she, for, quickly
recovering himself, he held her tight before she could turn the key.

“Sir, you forget who I am. Release me at once, and molest me no
further.”

“Divinest of the fair, I swear to you----”

She whisked herself free of him, and, darting to the other side of the
room, whipped down a thin rapier from the wall.

“You will be well advised to put an end to this fooling. I am now in no
humour for it, and with you, never. If you have not the gift to see it,
I would have you know that I detest you and despise you, and have done
so since first I saw you.”

“Ah, my little lady Termagant, you say as much now; but when the world
knows you paid a thousand pounds for a lover there will be many envious
persons who wish to be despised as much.”

“You ruffian and thief! Well did Vollins estimate your honesty. But
stand aside from that door, or your stealing will profit you little.”

“Indeed!” cried De Courcy with a laugh, as he possessed himself of
a similar weapon to that which threatened him. “’T is already
squandered, and I am in sore need of a further instalment. Are you for a
duel, then?”

“If you are coward enough to lift blade to a woman.”

“I meet kiss with kiss, and steel with steel; always ready for either.
Guard yourself, Madam.”

His pretended antagonism was but a feint to throw her off the guard he
advised her to maintain, for, being one of the best swordsmen of his
time, he knew by her holding of the blade that she was ignorant of its
practice. He brushed her sword aside, dropped his own, and sprang in
upon her, grasping again her helpless wrists, her arms pinioned thus
transversely across her body, her right hand still clinging to the
useless hilt, with the blade extending past her shoulder and behind her.
His sneering, grinning face so close to hers that his breath fanned her
cheek, he pressed her back and back against the wall, the sword bending
and bending behind her until the blade snapped off some six inches from
the hilt and fell ringing to the floor.

“There, sweetest of Amazons, you are stingless now, and naught but the
honey is to be gathered.”

The very ease with which he had overcome her hoodwinked him to his
danger. The proud dominant blood of the Wentworths flushed her face
with an anger that steeled every nerve in her lithe body. As, with a
victorious laugh, he released her wrists and slipped his arms around
her, she struck him twice with lightning swiftness, first across the
brow, then down the face. Nothing could well be more terrible than the
weapon she had used, for the jagged iron tore his flesh like the stroke
of a tiger’s claw. The red cross showed for a brief moment, then was
obliterated in a crimson flood.

“Cowardly poltroon, wear the brand of Cain!”

He had warned her not to scream, but now his own cries filled the room
as he staggered back, his hands to his face. Yet, grievously wounded
as he was, he seemed resolved she should not escape him, and, after the
first shock, groped blindly for her. She flung the broken weapon to the
further side of the room, and the noise of its fall turned him thither,
striking against the table, and then against a chair. She tip-toed
cautiously to the door, turned the key, and threw it open before he
could recover himself, for he had lost all sense of direction and could
see nothing. She took the immediate risk of drawing the key from the
door, to ward off the greater danger of pursuit, and calmly locked him
in. If screams were as ineffectual as he had insisted, he would take
little good from his battering of the door for some time to come.
Frances now threaded her way through the maze of passages, meeting
no one, for the gloom of death pervaded the palace, at least in the
direction she had taken.

She dared not hurry, in spite of the urging of her quickly beating
heart, but must proceed leisurely, as if she had a perfect right to be
where she was, should any inquisitive servant encounter her. At last,
with a deep breath, she emerged upon the great courtyard and so came to
the gate. The officer bowed to her, and she paused for a moment to thank
him for his kindness to her in the earlier part of the day.

“Is it true--that--that Lord Strafford----” She could get no further.

“Yes, my lady, and grieved we all are that it should be so. This morning
on Tower Hill. The Lords refused a reprieve even until Saturday.”
 Frances bent her head and struggled with herself to repress undue
emotion, but, finding that impossible, turned abruptly and walked fast
down Whitehall.

“Her bright eyes, bless her!” said the officer to a comrade, “are not
the only ones dimmed with tears for this morning’s work.”

On reaching the inn Frances thought of waiting for the faithful Vollins,
but she had not the heart to meet him, nor the inclination to rest
another night in the city now so hateful to her. She wrote a letter
which was forwarded to him by a messenger, but said nothing of her visit
to Whitehall, telling him his estimate of De Courcy had been correct,
promising to send the thousand pounds to be replaced in her father’s
treasury as soon as she reached her home in the North, and asking pardon
that his counsel had been declined.

Two hours later Frances was on her way to the North. She paused on
Highgate Hill and looked back on the Babel she had left, vast and dim
in the rising mist of the mild spring evening. “Oh, cruel city!
Oh, faithless man! The bloodthirst of London may be whetted and not
quenched, perjured King of England!” She bowed her head to her horse’s
mane and wept helplessly.



BOOK II.--THE MAN.



CHAPTER I.--COINCIDENCE.

William Armstrong rode his splendid black steed like one more
accustomed to the polishing of saddle-leather than to the wearing out
of the same material in the form of boots. Horse and man were so subtly
suited, each to each, that such another pair might well have given to
some early artist the first idea of a centaur. Armstrong was evidently
familiar with the district he traversed, for he evinced no surprise
when, coming to the crown of a height, he saw in the valley below him
a one-storied stone building, whose outhouses and general surroundings
proclaimed it a solitary inn, but the horse, less self-contained, and
doubtless more fatigued, thrust forward his ears and gave utterance to
a faint whinny of pleasure at the near prospect of rest and refreshment.
The hand of the rider affectionately stroked and patted the long black
mane, as if in silent corroboration of the animal’s eager anticipations.

The young man was as fair as his mount was dark. A mass of yellow hair
flowed out from under his Scot’s bonnet and over his broad shoulders.
A heavy blonde moustache gave him a semi-military air; a look of the
cavalier; as if he were a remnant of that stricken band across the
border which was fighting for King Charles against daily increasing
odds; but something of jaunty self-confidence in Armstrong’s manner
betokened that the civil war raging in England was no concern of his, or
that, if he took any interest in it, his sympathies inclined toward the
winning side, as indeed was the case with many of his countrymen. His
erect bearing, body straight as one of his native pines, enhanced the
soldier-like appearance of the horseman, and it needed but a glance at
his clear-skinned but resolute face and powerful frame to be convinced
that he would prove a dangerous antagonist to meet in combat, while
the radiant good-nature of his frank countenance indicated a merciful
conqueror should victory fall to him, as seemed likely unless the odds
were overwhelming.

Both prowess and geniality were on the instant of being put to the
test as he approached the inn, where a wayfarer is usually certain of
a welcome if he has but money in his pouch. A lanceman, his tall weapon
held upright, stepped out into the road from the front of the closed
door before which he had been standing, when he saw that the traveller
was about to halt and dismount.

“Ye’ll be fur dawnerin’ on a bit faurer forret,” hinted the sentinel in
a cautious, insinuating manner, as if he were but giving expression to
the other’s unspoken intention.

“A wise man halts at the first public-house he comes to after the sun is
down,” replied Armstrong.

“Ah’m thinkin’ a man’s no verra wise that stops whaur he’s least wanted,
if them that’s no wantin’ him has good airn in their hauns.”

“Aye, my lad, steel ’s a bonny argument, rightly used. Whut’s a’ th’
steer here, that a tired man, willin’ to pay his way, is sent doon th’
rod?”

Armstrong adopted for the moment a brogue as broad as that of his
questioner. He flung his right leg across the horse, and now sat
sideways in his saddle, an action which caused the sentinel suddenly to
grip the shaft of his pike with both hands; but the equestrian making
no further motion, conversing in an easy nonchalant tone, as if he had
little personal interest in the discussion, the vigilance of the man on
guard partially relaxed, probably thinking it as well not to provoke so
excellently equipped an opponent by any unnecessary show of hostility.

“Weel, ye see, there’s muckle folk in ben yonner that has mony a thing
ta chatter aboot, an’ that’s a’ Ah ken o’t, except that Ah’m ta let nane
inside ta disturb them.”

“Whose man are you?”

“Ah belong ta th’ Yerl o’ Traquair.”

“And a very good friend of mine the Earl of Traquair is. Will you just
go inside and tell him William Armstrong is sitting here on his horse?”

“That wull Ah no, fur if th’ King himsel’ were ta ask, Ah munna let him
by th’ door. Sa jist tak a fule’s advice fur yince, and gang awa’ ta th’
next botha afore it gets darker an’ ye’re like to lose yer rod amang th’
hills.”

“I must get something for my horse to eat. He’s done, and should not be
pushed further. I’ll wait outside until their lordships have finished
their council.”

“Th’ stalls are a’ fou already, an’ if not wi better nags, at least wi
the nags o’ noblemen, an’ Ah’m thinkin’ that’s neither you nor me.”

“The stalls may be fou, but my beast’s empty, and I must get a feed of
corn, noble or simple. Ye tell the Earl it’s me and ye’ll be thankit.”

“Indeed, ma braw man, Ah tak’ orders fra the Yerl himsel’, an’ fra nane
else. Jist tickle yer beast wi’ the spur, or Ah’ll gie him a jab wi’ th’
point o’ this spear.”

The descent of young Armstrong was so instantaneous that the man-at-arms
had no opportunity of carrying out his threat, or even of levelling the
unwieldy weapon in his own defence. The horseman dropped on him as if
he had fallen from the clouds, and the pike rang useless on the rough
cobble-stones. The black horse showed no sign of fright, as might have
been expected, but turned his intelligent head and calmly watched the
fray as if accustomed to any eccentricity on the part of his master.
And what the fine eyes of the quadruped saw was startling enough. The
wide-spread limbs of the surprised soldier went whirling through the air
like the arms of a windmill in a gale. Armstrong had grasped him by the
waist and turned him end for end, revolving him, Catherine-wheel-wise,
until the bewildered wits of the victim threatened to leave him through
the action of centrifugal force. By the time the unfortunate sentinel
lost all reckoning of the direction in which solid earth lay with
regard to his own swiftly changing position, he found himself on his
assailant’s shoulder, gaping like a newly landed trout, and, thus
hoisted aloft, he was carried to the closed door, which a kick from
Armstrong’s foot sent crashing inward. The intruder flung his burden
into the nearest corner of the large room, as if he were a sack of corn;
then, facing the startled audience, the young man cried:

“Strong orders should have a stronger guard than, you set, gentlemen. I
hold to the right of every Scotsman to enter a public dram-shop when he
pleases.”

A dozen amazed men had sprung to their feet, oversetting a chair or a
stool here and there behind them, and here and there a flagon before
them. Eleven swords flashed out, but the upraised right hand of the
chairman and his commanding voice caused the weapons to hang suspended.

“The very man! By God, the very man we want! In the Fiend’s name, Will,
where have you dropped from?”

“From the back of my horse a moment since, as your henchman here will
bear witness, Traquair.”

“Armstrong, your arrival at this juncture is providential; that’s what
it is, providential!”

“It must be, my Lord, for you did your best to prevent it. Your stout
pikeman would not even let you know I was within call, so I just brought
him in to give the message properly.”

“Losh, if he knew you as well as I do, he would have thought twice or he
stood in your way. Come to the table, man, and fill a flagon.”

“I’ll empty one with pleasure if the drawer will charge it.”

“We have no drawer, Armstrong, but wait on ourselves, trusting the
lugs of a cogie rather than the ears of a scullion. So I’ll be your
cup-bearer, Will.”

“Thank you kindly, my lord, but I’ll help myself, as my ancestor said
to the Duke of Northumberland when he drove away the English cattle. The
man who will not stretch an arm to slake a thirst deserves a dusty road
all day with no bothy at the end of it.” And, saying this, the young man
drank long and well.

The sentinel had by this time got on his feet and was staring at the
company like one dazed. “Where’s your pike?” demanded Traquair.

“On the stanes ootside, ma lord.”

“Very well, go out and lift it, and see that you hold a better grip of
it when the next man comes along. Attend to Armstrong’s horse, and keep
an eye up and down the road.”

“I’ll look after my own beast, Traquair.”

“No need for that, Will. We have matters of importance to discuss, and
Angus here will feed the horse as well as you can do it.”

“I’ll eat and drink whatever’s set before me, and never ask who is the
cook, but I trust no man to wait on my horse. You bide by your sentry
march, Angus, and I’ll see to the beast.”

With this Armstrong strode out of the house, the ill-used sentinel
following him. As the door closed, the interrupted hum of conversation
rose again.

Who the interloper might be was the burden of the inquiry.

“Armstrong’s the very man for our purpose,” said Traquair. “If any one
can get through Old Noll’s armies by craft or by force, it is Will. I
had no idea he was near by, or I would never have wasted thought on
any other. I have known him for years, and there’s none to match him,
Hielan’ or Lowlan’. We need seek nae farrar if Christie’s Wull is
wullin’.”

“I have never before heard of him,” said the Reverend Alexander
Henderson, of Edinburgh. “What has he done?”

“What has he not done?” asked the Earl. “The Border rings with his fame,
as it has rung with the fame of his ancestors these several centuries
past.”

“Oh, the Border!” cried the townsman, with the contempt of his class for
the supposedly ignorant condition of that wild hilly belt which girded
the waist of the land. “We all know what brings a man renown on the
Border. The chief requisites are a heavy sword and a thick skull. That
the proposed excursion may require a ready blade at times, I admit, but
a man who depends on that will not blunder through. There are too many
of his kind opposed to him in Cromwell’s army. It is not a wilderness
like the Border that lies between here and Oxford, but a civilized
country with cities, and men of brains in them. To win through and back
requires skill and diplomacy, alertness of resource, as well as the
qualities of riding hard and striking swift.”

“William Armstrong has all these qualities, and many more,” replied
Traquair.

“The sample of his conduct just presented to us savors more of violence
than of tact,” objected Henderson. “He comes breenging in on a private
conference of his betters, carrying their sentinel on his head like a
shambled sheep, and flings him in a corner. This proves him a strong
man, but far from a wise one, because, for all he knew, he might have
been walking into an ambuscade that would have cost him his life or
liberty. It was pure luck and not foreknowledge that caused him to find
a friend at our board.”

“You are in the wrong there, Henderson, quite in the wrong, for you all
heard him say that the sentry refused to bring in his message to me.
Armstrong knew I was here, and thus was well aware he was safe enough.”

Henderson shook his head, stubbornly unconvinced. He was a man of talk
rather than of action, and knew he spoke well, so, being a born objector
to other men’s proposals, his tongue was more active than his arm.
When the unexpected “breenging” had occurred, every man in the room
had jumped to his feet and grasped his sword, except Henderson, who
sat staring, exhibiting little of that ready resource he had been
commending. Now the danger was past, he apparently thought that
after-eloquence made good the absence of energy in a crisis.

Traquair, ever suave so long as he carried his point, showed no signs of
irritation at this line of criticism, but made comment and gave answer
in a low tone and persuasive voice. The others round the table kept
silence and listened to the controversy between the man of language and
the man of action, ready, doubtless, to side with whichever proved the
victor. The Earl leaned his elbow on the board and gazed across at his
opponent.

“Look you here, Henderson. You are willing to admit there is no such
city as Edinburgh between here and the King?”

“Doubtless not.”

“And I need not try to convince you that Edinburgh is second to no
town in the world so far as learning, judgment, and good sense are
concerned?”

“Edinburgh is not in question, my Lord.”

“But you’ll agree with all I say regarding it?”

“Well, there are worse places than Edinburgh.”

“Cautiously uttered, but true. Very good. Perhaps you will not dispute
the fact that Lord Durie is one of your most enlightened citizens?”

“Durie, Lord of Sessions? Durie’s Decisions are well known in law, I am
told. I have nothing to say against the man.”

“There you differ from me, Henderson. I have much to say against him,
be his Decisions never so good. He is, and always was, a prejudiced old
fool, who, if he once got a wrong notion in his head, was proof against
all reason.”

“Speak no ill against those in authority over us!” cried Henderson,
bristling into opposition now that a definite opinion was expressed.
“For twenty years he was chosen vice-president by the best men in all
Scotland, none successfully opposing him, so you cannot say ill of such
an one.”

“_Very_ well, very well,” coincided Traquair with suspicious haste, a
faint smile parting his lips. “We will take your word for it that his
legal lordship is all you say. The point I wish to establish is that
Edinburgh possesses an enviable shrewdness, and that Lord Durie is one
of her most esteemed citizens. Other people may hold contrary opinion,
but we defer to yours, Henderson. It chanced that one man holding
contrary opinion so far as his lordship was concerned, and troubled with
grave doubts regarding his impartiality, had a case coming before him
that involved the litigant’s possessions and lands. He knew that
Durie was against him, and that there was no way of getting the thrawn
deevil--I beg your pardon, Henderson--this upright judge--to listen to
justice. This defendant slipped a word in Armstrong’s ear to the effect
that it would be most admirable if there was some other presiding judge
at the Court of Sessions when the case was tried. The consequence was
that Lord Durie, for the time being, disappeared and was accounted dead.
The case was tried before his successor, and won by the contestant I
have referred to, as was but right and just. Then Lord Durie came on the
scene once more, to the joy of everyone but his successor, who should
have been a friend of Will’s if he wished the disappearance to have been
permanent.”

“Ah, there you overstep the bounds of probability in order to establish
a false proficiency for this ranting Borderer. ’Tis well known that
Armstrong had nothing to do with the kidnapping of his lordship. The
judge himself admits that the powers of evil spirited him away and
kept him in a warlock’s castle, hoping to lure him from the path of
righteousness; but, his probity proving impregnable, they could not
contend against it, and were fain to let him go again unscathed, for it
is written, ‘Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.’”

The Earl of Traquair leaned back and laughed aloud.

“Well, you can take my word for it that he did not flee in this
instance. When the judge was enjoying an airing, as was his custom,
sitting his canny horse on Leith sands, Armstrong accosted him, also
on horseback, and the two entered into amiable and instructive
conversation. Old Durie was so charmed with his new acquaintance that
he accompanied him to the unfrequented spot known as Frigate Whins, and
there Will threw his cloak over the distinguished man’s head, lifted
him from his horse, and made off through a section of the country known
better by himself than by any other, and where he was sure he was not
like to meet gossiping stragglers. At last Will deposited his burden in
the lonely Tower of Graham by the water of Dryfe, and there he remained
for three months, not even seeing the people who fed him, for his meat
was let down to him by a rope. As the judge’s horse was found wandering
on the sands, people came to the conclusion that his lordship had been
thrown off, stunned, and drowned, the body being carried out to sea by
the tide. In due time Armstrong took the gentleman back as he had come,
and flattered the auld carle by telling him that, such was his learning
and piety, Satan could not prevail against him. And so the learned judge
just dawnered home with this idea in his head, which he speedily-got the
wise city of Edinburgh to believe.”

For a wonder Henderson remained silent, but one of the others spoke up.

“I remember the incident well,” he said, “and if I am not mistaken the
Tower of Graham at that time belonged to your lordship.”

“Yes, and it does yet,” replied Traquair nonchalantly. “Armstrong, being
an old friend of mine, had no hesitation in using my property without
my leave, for, as he explained afterward, there was no time for
consultation, the case being urgent.”

“It was a most suitable place for the judge’s custody,” continued the
other drily, “because, unless a treacherous memory misleads me, a plea
regarding this very property was decided in your favour by the single
vote of the Lord President, who temporarily took the place of Justice
Durie during his mysterious absence.”

“Sir, you are quite in the right,” replied Traquair, unabashed by the
evident insinuation. “It was my great good luck that the case against
me was heard during Durie’s absence, and, as you were doubtless about
to point out, this world is full of strange coincidences which our poor
finite minds fail to fathom.”

“A finite mind easily probes the bottom of such a shameless conspiracy,”
 cried Alexander Henderson sternly, bringing his fist down upon the
table. “What! Kidnap the Lord President of the Sessions, from the very
edge of Edinburgh in broad daylight----”

“It was drawing on to the gloaming at the time,” corrected Traquair
soothingly, “at least so Will informed me.”

“It was nevertheless an outrageous action; a foul deed that should not
go unwhipt of----”

“Gentlemen,” said the Earl in a tone of authority, which seemed to
recall the fact that, after all, he was the chairman of the conclave,
“we are wandering from the point. At this moment Lord Durie is reported
to be a dying man, and whatever evil has been done against him in the
long past probably troubles him less than the injustice he may himself
have been the cause of. In any case we are met here together for
a certain purpose, and what is said within this circle is said in
confidence, for which our plighted words to each other stand sponsor.
The crux of the discussion is this. Henderson objects to my man as the
most fitting for our embassy, holding him to be a rude and brainless
swashbuckler. That is a definite charge. I meet it by showing that this
same man befooled the wise city of Edinburgh and the most learned man
within its confines. A brainless bravado would have run a dirk into Lord
Durie and left his body on the sands. I wish unanimous consent to tender
our present dangerous mission to William Armstrong, in the hope that
he may get safely to Oxford, and, what is more important, bring us with
equal safety the King’s written command. If any of you have some one
else to propose, whom you think may accomplish his business better than
Will Armstrong, I ask you to nominate the man and give reasons for your
preference.”

Henderson growled in his beard, but said nothing audible. Each man
looked at the others as if waiting for some one else to make further
suggestion; but, as the silence was prolonged, the one who had referred
to the coincidence of Durie’s incarceration with Traquair’s case at law,
cleared his throat and said that for his part it seemed that Armstrong
was the proper man for the mission. With this the others agreed, and
even Henderson gave an ungracious concurrence. The Earl was about to
address the company when the door opened and Armstrong himself entered.



CHAPTER II.--SUSPICION.

Speak of the Devil, Wull,” cried Traquair. “We have been talking of
you, my man, and we have some employment for you if you are ready for
it.”

“Well, my Lord, there’s no lack of that in these kittle times, for
a fighting man gets civility and a welcome, whether in England or
Scotland, whichever side he takes.”

“I hope you are for law and the King, against riot and rebels?”

“Ye see, Traquair, I’m not just a faction man, but am standing clear,
to give both sides fair play, as the De’il said when he was toasting the
Elder on his fork, and changed his front to the fire. I suppose I am
for the King, though I’m not so prejudiced but I can see something to be
said for the other side. It seems to me that the King’s not exactly as
wise as his predecessor Solomon.”

“That’s treason,” roared Henderson.

“Oh, not among friends who are most of them thinking the same thing,”
 said Armstrong suavely. “But no, I shouldna say that, for it’s likely
you’re all as loyal as my horse. Ye see, stranger, it’s not to be
expected that I should fling up my cap whenever the King’s name is
mentioned, for my family have stood the brunt of the battles on the
Border this twothree hundred years, yet we got little thanks from any
King for it.”

“This is a fine enthusiastic messenger to send on important business,”
 growled Henderson to Traquair.

“I would call your honour’s attention to the fact that I am as yet no
messenger at all, and if I am expected to be one it will be because of
Earl Traquair and not on account of any sour Presbyterian that ever,
thumped a pulpit in Edinburgh,” said Armstrong calmly, quite accurately
guessing the standing of the one who seemed to be the objecting element
in the party.

“The crisis is this, William,” broke in Traquair with visible
impatience. “There are papers that we must get through to King Charles
at Oxford. Then, what is much more important, we must get his signed
warrant back to us before we can act to any real purpose in this
ploy. The victorious rebels pretend that they are fighting for certain
so-called liberties, but we have reason to know that their designs run
much deeper, that they aim at nothing less than the dethronement and
possible murder of the King. It is necessary to get proof of this to the
King, and to obtain his sanction to certain action on our part; for if
we move without his written commission, and our plans fail, we are
like to get short shrift from Cromwell, who will deny us the right of
belligerents. Whether the King believes this or not, the documents we
wish to send him are less to the purpose than that you should bring back
to us his commission, so you will know that your home-coming is much
more vital to us than your out-going.”

“I see. Still, if they kill me on the road there, it is not likely I
will win my way back, so both journeys are equally vital to me.”

“You will be travelling through a hostile country, but nevertheless will
find many to favour you; for though the land is under the iron hand of
Cromwell, he is far from pleasing all the people, although they may make
a quiet mouth save a doubting head. Brave as you are, Will, it is on the
smooth tongue rather than on the sharp sword that you must depend; for,
however many silent friends we may have along the route, there are too
many outspoken enemies for even you to fight your way through. Have you
a good horse?”

“The best in the world.”

“The pick of my stables is at your choice. Had you not better take a
spare animal with you?”

“No. That would be advertising the importance of my journey. If I can
get through at all, it must be by dawnering along as a cannie drover
body, anxious to buy up cattle and turn an honest penny by selling them
to those who want them worse than I do; a perfectly legitimate trade
even during these exciting times. They all know the desire of a humble
Scotsman to make a little money, though the Heavens and Kings be
falling.”

“That’s an admirable idea, and you know the country well?”

“No one better. Indeed I’ll trade my way to the very gates of Oxford if
time is not too great an object with you.”

“Time _is_ an object, Armstrong, but you will have to do the best you
can, and we shall await your return with what patience we may. You will
tackle the job then?”

“It’s just the kind of splore I like. Can you allow me three weeks or a
month?”

“If you ’re back inside of a month, Will, you ’ll have done what I
believe no other man in all Scotland could do. Well, that’s settled
then.”

“Oh, bide a wee, bide a wee,” cautioned Henderson, who during this
colloquy had been visibly fuming under the contemptuous reference
Armstrong had uttered regarding him. “This man may be brave enough, but
I doubt his judgment. He may have all the wisdom he traitorously denies
to the King, but it’s by no means proven.”

“I did not deny wisdom to the King, Mr. Pulpiteer. I said Solomon was
the wisest of men, except that he was a little daft on the marrying, and
in that I’m wiser than he, for whether Cromwell catch me or no, none of
the lassies have caught me yet.”

“You are ribald,” shouted the minister angrily, “and would add blasphemy
to disloyalty. I was speaking of King Charles.”

“And I was speaking of King Solomon, and speaking in a lower tone of
voice as well. But while we are discussing wisdom, why are you all
met here in this bothy, instead of in your own castle, Traquair? This
innkeeper is a treacherous, canting dog. I know him of old.”

“Henderson thought it would be safer here than at my house. I’m being
watched. We conceived it would be less conspicuous if the dozen of us
gathered here as if by accident.”

“I wish I were as sure of your messenger as I am of the innkeeper,”
 protested Henderson, his growing dislike of Armstrong not to be
concealed. “The innkeeper is a pious man who----”

“So was Judas; and he was one of the Apostles,” interrupted Armstrong
flippantly, unheeding the other’s anger.

“He is an enemy of your friends, the cattle-thieves,” insisted
Henderson.

“Is he? In that case you’ll know more about him than I do, and I suppose
it is policy for you to stand up for him. But, Traquair, I wonder at
you! Did you search the house before you sat down here?”

“No.”

“I went round the steading, and there was no guard at the back.”

“Angus is keeping watch, and can see up and down the road.”

“The road is the last place I would set foot on if I were a spy. You
have been ranting in here at a great rate. Before I came to you I could
hear every word that was said. One would think it was a Presbyterian
convening, agreeing on the Scriptures. I knew Henderson’s opinion of me
before I opened the door.”

“You look like an eavesdropper,” retorted the man referred to, “and
that you have a libellous ungoverned tongue is proven by every word you
utter.”

“Tut, tut, tut!” cried Traquair, “let us have no more bickering. This
is serious business and not to be settled by bandying words. Now,
Armstrong, the case stands like this. Will you----”

The Earl was interrupted by a roar from the sentinel outside, which
caused every man in the room to start to his feet; but before they could
move, Angus came bursting in.

“Somebody dropped from the hole on the loft above the stables, an’ wuz
aff ta th’ wood afore I could stop him.”

“To horse!” cried Traquair. “Mount instantly, and let’s after him.”

“It’s useless, my lord,” said Armstrong quietly, the only unexcited man
in the group. “Ye might as well look for some particular flea in all the
Hielans. He’ll have a horse tied to a tree, and a thousand cavalry
couldn’t catch him if he knows the wilds hereabout.”

“It may be just some vagrant sleeping in the straw. The loft above the
stables is not the loft above this room,” put in Henderson; but it was
plain that he was frightened. He loved a real eavesdropper as little as
did any of his comrades, and knew he had talked rather loudly at times,
carried away by his fondness for opposition. Traquair stood frowning and
indecisive, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“Where’s the landlord?” he asked at last. “Angus, bring him in here.”

The sentinel left the room and speedily reappeared with a cowering man,
evidently as panic-stricken as any of his guests.

“Have there been some stragglers about to-day?” demanded Traquair.

“Not a soul, my lord, on my oath, not a soul.”

“Is there connection between the room above and the loft over the
stable?”

“No possibility of it, my lord.”

“What did I tell you?” said Henderson, plucking up courage again. “This
turmoil is utterly without foundation.”

“Dash it!” cried Armstrong with a gesture of impatience. “Will you take
a man’s word for a thing you can prove in a moment? Get a ladder, Angus,
and speel up through the hole the spy came out at. Take a torch, an’ if
ye drop a lowe in the straw you’ll no’ be blamed for it by me. See if
you can win your way through from the stables to the house.”

“Go at once, Angus,” commanded Traquair; then to the landlord, who
showed signs of wishing to be elsewhere. “No; you stay here.”

“I’m feared th’ man wull set fire ta the place,” whined the landlord.

“Better be feared o’ the rope that will be round your neck if you have
lied to us,” said the Earl grimly, and as he spoke they heard the tramp
of the sentinel’s feet overhead.

“Is that you, Angus?” asked Traquair in an ordinary tone of voice. “Can
you hear what I say?”

“Perfectly, ma lord. There’s a very cunnin’ trap ’tween th’ stable
loft an’ this, that one would na hev foun’ in a hurry, but the thief
left it open in his sudden flight.”

The lips of the landlord turned white, but he remained motionless,
panting like a trapped animal, for the giant form of Armstrong stood
with his back against the door, the only exit.

“Very well. Come down,” said Traquair quietly. When the sentinel
returned, Traquair bade him get a rope and tie the innkeeper hand
and foot, while the prisoner groveled for his life, his supplications
meeting with no response.

“Now take him outside, Angus, and if there is any attempt on his part to
move, or if there is an alarm of rescue, run him through with your pike
and retreat on us. As for you, you false knave, your life will depend on
your lying quiet for the moment and on what you tell us hereafter.”

“Am I ta be ta’en awa’, your merciful lordship?” sobbed the man, who,
now that his life seemed in no immediate danger, turned his anxiety
toward his property. “What’ll become o’ th’ inn, for there’s nane here
to tak care o ’t?”

“We’ll take care o’t, never fear,” replied Traquair grimly.

The stalwart Angus dragged the man out, and the door was once more
closed.

“I think we may venture to seat ourselves again,” said Traquair, suiting
the action to the word. “There’s nothing more to be done, and pursuit is
hopeless.”

All sat down with the exception of Armstrong, who remained standing with
his back to the door, gazing somewhat scornfully on the conclave.

“You will perhaps now agree with me, Henderson,” continued the Earl
smoothly, “that we are in no position to set up our collective wisdom as
an example to William Armstrong?”

“I may at least say,” returned the minister sourly, “that nothing
whatever is proved. It is all surmise, suspicion, conjecture. The man
who went away may well have been some lout sleeping in the straw, and no
spy at all.”

“There is no conjecture about the fact that the landlord lied to us.
There is no surmise in my belief that he thought his trap-door was
securely closed, when he lied the second time, and that the secret of
the trap-door was in possession of the man who escaped. This is proof
enough for me, and I think it is equally convincing to the others. Have
you anything further to urge against the selection of Mr. Armstrong as
our messenger?”

“Oh, very well, Traquair, have it your own way. I dare say he will do as
well as another,” replied Henderson with the air of one making a great
concession.

“Then it’s settled!” proclaimed the Earl with a sigh of relief.

But it was not.

“You will pardon me, Traquair,” began Armstrong, “for you know I would
be glad to forward anything you had a hand in, short of slipping my
neck into a noose; but at that point I draw back. I’ll not set foot on
English soil now, King or no King. Henderson may go and be damned to
him, for the useless, brainless clacker he is. If Cromwell hangs him,
his loss will be Scotland’s gain. Man, Traquair, I wonder at you! The
lot of you remind me of a covey of partridges holding conference in a
fox’s den.”

“I’m not going to defend the covey of partridges, Will; but, after all’s
said and done, the danger’s not so much greater than it was before.”

“Do you think I’m fool enough to set face south when there’s a spy
galloping ahead of me with full particulars of every item in my wallet?
Not me! It was bad enough before, as you say; now it’s impossible. That
is, it is impossible for me, for the flying man knows all about me. No;
the proper thing to do is to meet at your castle, or some other safe
place, and choose a man whose name and description are not in the wind
ahead of him.”

“But I’ve known you to clench with quite as dangerous a task before.”

“It’s not the danger, Traquair, as much as the folly, that holds me
back. I’ve been in many a foolish scramble before now, as you have
hinted; but I learn wisdom with age, and thus differ from our friend
Solomon.”

“Will nothing change your decision?”

“Nothing; nothing in the world; not anything even you can say, my lord.
I advise you to take a lad of Henderson’s choosing. Any trampling ass
may break an egg, but, once broken, the wisest man in the kingdom cannot
place it together again. To-night’s egg is smashed, Traquair.”

“I cannot blame you; I cannot blame you,” said the Earl dejectedly,
drawing a deep sigh. Then, turning to the others, he continued,
“Gentlemen, there’s no more to be said. We must convene again. Would
to-morrow, or the day after, be convenient for you?”

It was agreed that the meeting should take place two days from that
time.

“I warn you,” said the Earl to Henderson, “that I have no other
candidate to propose, and will confine myself to agreeing with whatever
resolution you come to.”

“You are not angry with me, Traquair?” asked Armstrong.

“Not in the least, Will. I appreciate your point of view, and were I in
your place I should have reached exactly the same conclusion.”

“Then I must beg a bed from you to-night. I have no wish to stay in this
place, and if you are bent for home, as I surmise, I’ll just trot my nag
alongside o’ yours.”

“I was this moment going to ask you, for I confess I’ll ride the safer
that your stout arm is near.”

The company left the inn together, and in the middle of the road,
before the house, they found Angus, with a torch, standing guard over
a shapeless bundle huddled at his feet. The bundle was making faint
pleadings to the man-at-arms, to which that warrior was listening with
stolid indifference. The murmurs ceased as the group of men drew near.
Traquair extended a cordial invitation to all or any to spend the night
at the castle, which was the nearest house, but the others did not
accept. Each man got upon his horse, and some went one direction, and
some another.

“Fling your lighted torch into the loft,” said Traquair to Angus, “that
will prevent this woif worrying about his property. When you’ve done
that, throw him across your horse and follow us. Has there been sign of
any one else about?”

“No, ma lord,” replied Angus, promptly obeying the injunction about the
torch. He then tossed the howling human mass in front of his saddle,
sprang into his seat, and went down the road after the two who preceded
him, the flames from the burning bothy already throwing long shadows
ahead.

The Earl of Traquair, chagrined at the temporary defeat of his plans,
inwardly cursing the stupidity of those with whom he was compelled to
act, rode moody and silent, and this reserve the young man at his side
made no attempt to interrupt until they had reached a slight eminence,
where the nobleman reined in his horse and looked back down the valley
at the blazing steading, which now filled the hollow with its radiance.

“We will wait here till Angus overtakes us,” he said. “This bonfire may
collect some of the moths, and it’s better travelling three than two.”

“We’ve not far to go,” said Armstrong, “and that’s a blessing, for I’m
on a long jaunt in the morning, and would be glad of my bed as soon as
may be.”

“Where are you off to?” asked the Earl indifferently, gazing anxiously
down the road for a sight of his follower, who was not yet visible.

Armstrong replied with equal nonchalance, “Oh, I’m just away for Oxford,
to carry a message from Lord Traquair to the King of England.”

“What!” cried his lordship, nearly starting from his saddle in
amazement.

“Surely my talk before these cuddies did not mislead you? I’ll take your
message through and bring you back an answer, if the thing’s possible,
but I cannot have those fools pottering and whispering in the matter.
They must know nothing of my going. You will meet them two days hence,
accept whomsoever they propose, and let him blunder along to a rebel
gallows. It will be one blockhead out of the way, and then wise folk can
do their bit travels unmolested.”

“But how can I send papers with him when they’ll be in your pouch?”

“Indeed, and that they will not be. This night’s work compels one to a
change of programme. I shall carry no papers with me. If you let me read
them I’ll remember every word, though they be as long as the Psalms.
I’ll repeat them to the King with as few slips as any man in the realm.
If you have a password or sign, or if you can tell me some incident that
only you and the King know of, which will assure him that I am from you,
everything else will be plain plodding. It would be folly for me, now
that Cromwell’s spy is on the gallop, to carry a line of writing that
bears relation to politics. I’ll be arrested before I’m a mile beyond
the Border, so my chance of getting through will depend on the search
they make. If they find nothing it is likely they’ll let me go, and I
must manage to get back as best I can. There’s no sense in being hanged
for a spy the first day I set out. I’ll leave that for Henderson’s man.”

“You think, then, if I give the papers to him, they’ll never see
Oxford?”

“They’ll never see Carlisle, let alone Oxford. If I were you I would
give him whatever papers you wish delivered direct to Cromwell. That
will put Henderson and his gang off the scent, and your information may
be of much pleasure and profit to General Noll.”

The Earl laughed heartily, his spirits rising surprisingly at this
intimation of the young man’s resolve.

“Armstrong, you’re a hero. You shall read the papers to-night, and
look over them again in the morning. The important matter is to get the
King’s commission back to us. Ah, here is Angus with his sack, so we’ll
say no more until we reach the castle.”



CHAPTER III.--DETENTION.

The next morning, early, William Armstrong, on Bruce, his black horse,
set out for the Border with the good wishes of his host. His naturally
gay demeanor was subdued, and he muttered to himself with wrinkled brow
as he rode along. This unwonted abstraction was not on account of the
danger which he knew lay ahead of him, but because he was committing to
memory the message to the King. He carried a mass of notes, which he had
written the night before, and these he consulted every now and then,
for his horse required no guidance, and if it had, its rider was so
accustomed to the saddle that he could have directed the animal in his
sleep, for Bruce needed no tug at rein, but merely a whispered word or a
touch from one knee or the other.

The night after he left Traquair’s castle Armstrong slept on Scottish
soil, still busy with his task of memory; then he burnt the notes in the
fire that cooked his supper. It was scarcely daylight when he faced the
clear and rippling Esk, and after crossing the stream to “fell English
ground” he halted his horse on the southern shore and cast a long look
at the hills of his native country, as one who might be taking farewell
of them. Then, with a sigh, he turned to his task and sent no further
glance behind.

A main road lay white and deserted before him, and the country he
travelled, although in general feature similar to that he left, had
nevertheless a subtle difference which always appealed to his inner
sense whenever he crossed the line, but it was an evasive difference,
which he would have found impossible to describe in words. The same
discrepancy marked the language of the northern Englisher, which to a
stranger would have seemed identical with that of his neighbours, but to
Armstrong’s sensitive ear the speech struck alien.

Arriving at a forking of the road, both branches tending south, he
paused and pondered. Which should he take? He knew them equally well.
The main road led to Carlisle, and in time of peace would have been
preferable; the other, less direct, would probably carry him further in
these uncertain times. The country showed no sign of the devastation
of civil war, unless it was the absence of a population, and a deserted
condition of the thoroughfares. That he could avoid contact with the
Parliamentary forces was impossible, whichever road he took, and the
question now demanding solution was not so much his direction as whether
it were well to bring on his inevitable encounter with the Cromwellites
sooner or later. The Carlisle route promised the speedier run into the
arms of the enemy, but by the other route he would have more chance
of bargaining about cattle, and thereby giving colour of truth to his
statement that he was an innocent Scots drover, anxious to turn an
honest penny. When questioned by an officer he could then say he had
endeavoured to deal with so-and-so, and later investigation would prove
the fact. But to an observer he bore the attitude of a stranger who had
lost his way. This was evidently the conclusion arrived at by an object
hidden in the hedge which had proved his night’s lodging. The object
sprang out across the ditch with a suddenness that made the horse start
and snort in alarm, to be soothed by the gentle pat of its rider’s hand,
for the imperturbable Armstrong seemed surprised at nothing that took
place. The object had the wild, unkempt appearance of one who habitually
slept out of doors. His long and matted hair, emaciated face, and ragged
beard, no less than his tattered clothing, or covering rather, made up
of odds and ends of various costumes, formed a combination by no means
attractive. He held in his hand, grasped by the middle, a long stick,
somewhat taller than himself.

“My gay gentleman,” he cried cheerfully, “will you pay the price of a
fool?”

“Who is the fool?” asked Armstrong with a smile. “You or me?”

“There are many of us, and someone is always paying the price. That is
how I get a little money now and then. England is paying the price of
a fool, and has been for some years past; paying heavily too, for all
fools are not as cheap as I am.”

“I asked you who the fool was?”

“Ah, that is a question you may have to answer yourself,” cried the
object, with a cunning leer in his shining eyes. “Beware how you answer
it, for if you give the wrong answer, the price you pay is your head.
‘Who is the fool?’ says you. That is the point, but whoever he is, we
are paying for him with fire and sword and good human lives. Wherever
there’s strife, look for the fool that caused it, but be cautious in
naming him. Which road are you going to take, my gay gentleman?”

“I was just switherin’.”

“Ah, you’re from Scotland. They tell me they grow a fine crop of fools
there. The road on the right leads to Carlisle, and the fool’s name in
that direction is the King. The safest way is the one you came, and the
fool’s name there is like to be Cromwell, so they tell me. Am I to get
the fool’s price for advice?”

“You haven ’t given me any so far.”

“The advice all depends on what you pay for it. Let me see the coin,
then I’ll show you my wares. We differ in this, that I’ll take whatever
you give me, but you can take my advice or not, as you please.”

The horseman threw him a coin, which the object clutched in mid-air with
great expertness and examined eagerly.

“Thank you, gay gentleman. The advice is to turn your fine horse end
for end, and get back among the fools of your own kidney. We are always
safer among our own kind.”

“Are there any cattle for sale hereabout? I see none in the fields.”

“Everything’s for sale in England, crown, cattle, opinions, swords;
oh, it’s a great market for cutlery. But the price is uncertain and
various.”

“Well, it’s cattle, not cutlery, I want to buy.”

“I sometimes sell cattle myself,” said the object, with a cunning look.

“It does not seem a very prosperous business then. Where do you get your
stock?”

“Oh, I pick it up on the roads. You’ll find no cattle on the way to
Carlisle. The country is swept bare in that direction. But I can lead
you to a fine herd if you make it worth my while.”

“In which direction?”

“Down this way. Come along. Are you after any particular breed?”

“No. Anything there’s money in.”

“You’re just like me,” said the vagrant with a laugh, as he strode off
down the unfrequented road. The object walked with incredible speed,
laughing to himself now and then, and Armstrong was forced to trot his
horse to keep up with him. On arriving at a slight eminence the guide
waved his long arm toward a steading in the valley, which looked like
a deserted group of farm buildings, and said,--“There’s a fine lot of
cattle down yonder.”

“I can see no signs of them.”

“No, no! They’re well stabled. Nothing lasts in the fields nowadays.
They’re not such fools as that. This herdsman knows when to keep his
beasts in shelter.” And with this the vagabond raised a shrill shout
that echoed from the opposite hills.

“What are you crying like that for?” asked Armstrong, without showing
any alarm.

“Oh, just to let the farmer know we’re coming. Always give friendly
warning in these parts, and then you may not get something in your
inside that’s hard to digest. That’s a fool’s advice, and costs you
nothing.”

“Your cry meets with no response,” said Armstrong, laughing at the
shallow cunning of his treacherous guide, for his keen eyes noted
crouching figures making way along the other side of a hedge, and he
knew that if he went down the lane, at whose junction with the road the
beggar stood with repressed eagerness, he would find himself surrounded.
Nevertheless he followed without betraying any knowledge of the trap he
was entering.

As they neared the farmhouse a voice cried sharply, “Halt!” and an armed
man sprang up from behind the hedge, cutting off retreat, if such had
been attempted. While the others made through the hedge to the lane, the
tattered man as nimbly put the hedge between himself and his victim, as
if fearing a reprisal, laughing boisterously but rather nervously.

“Brave Captain, I’ve brought you a fine horse and a gay gentleman, and
the two are for sale.”

The man who had cried “Halt!” stepped forth from the shelter of the
nearest outbuilding, a drawn sword in his hand, followed by two others
with primed matchlocks, stolidly ready for any emergency. Four others
closed up the rear coming down the lane. There was no mistaking the fact
that the man with the drawn sword was an officer, even if the object
had not addressed him as Captain, a salutation to which he paid no
attention; for although his uniform showed little difference from that
of his men, he had in his stern face the look of one accustomed
to obedience. The horseman had drawn up at the word, and sat quite
nonchalantly on his steed, as if this were an affair of no particular
concern to himself.

“Who are you?” asked the captain.

“My name is William Armstrong,” replied the rider simply. In spite of
himself, the stolid face of the leader showed some surprise at this
announcement, as if he knew the name and had not expected to hear it so
frankly acknowledged.

“Where are you from?”

“I came across the Border this morning. I am a Scotsman.”

“Why are you here?”

“I am a cattle-dealer, and as there is little doing in my own country
I thought I would just see if business was better on this side of the
line. This amusing lunatic said there was cattle for sale in the valley,
and led me hither, for which service I paid him a trifle.”

“And so there is, and so there is,” cried the lunatic; “but the price
was for my advice, not for the leading hither. I must get my pay for
that yet. Aye, there’s cattle for sale here, and I’m the marketman.”

“Peace to your folly,” said the captain, scowling. Then curtly to the
horseman, “Dismount.”

Armstrong sprang to the ground.

“Your sword,” demanded the officer.

The weapon was handed to him.

“Do cattle-dealers in your country carry arms?”

“To tell you the truth,” said the young man with a laugh, “if they did
not they would carry little money home with them. I not only carry arms,
but know how to use them on occasion.”

“I ask to see your papers giving you permission to travel in England.”

“I have none. Scotland is at peace with England, and a citizen of my
country should not require papers in visiting England, any more than
an Englishman would need the same to go from one end of Scotland to the
other.”

“Humph,” growled the captain, “you are well versed in the law. I hope
you are engaged in no enterprise that is contrary to it.”

“I hope not, Captain. If you are King’s men, you maintain that you are
upholding the law. If you are Parliamentary, you swear the same thing.”

“We swear not at all.”

“Then I surmise you are no King’s men. But in any case, until, one or
other of you have declared war against Scotland, or until Scotland has
declared war against either of you, or both, you meddle with a free
citizen of Scotland at your peril.”

“It is perhaps wisest to indulge in no threats.”

“I am not indulging in any. I am stating a plain, uncontrovertible fact,
that would be held by none so stoutly as by General Cromwell himself.”

“Then keep your dissertations on law until you see the General, which is
like to happen before we are done with you.”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to have a discourse with
that distinguished man. He is a fighter after my own heart, and I
understand he is equally powerful in controversy.”

“Search him.”

To this order Armstrong not only made no objection, but assisted in its
fulfilment. He took off his doublet and threw it to one of the men who
approached him, then held his arms outstretched that another might, with
greater ease, conduct his examination. A third paid minute attention to
the saddlebags, and a fourth took the saddle itself off the horse. The
search brought to light some papers which the officer scanned, gaining
thereby much information regarding the price of stots, stirks, and such
like, but what these articles actually were, the peruser of the paper
had not the slightest idea.

“What is a stot; a weapon?” asked the captain suspiciously.

“In a way it is a weapon, or at least an engine of attack,” replied
William genially. “A stot is a young bull.”

“Be sober in your answers, sir. This business is serious.”

“I see it is. There never was much humour south of the Tweed, and you
folk seem to have broad-sworded away what little you had of it.”

“What is a stirk? I ask you to be careful of your answers, for they are
being recorded.”

“I am delighted to act as schoolmaster. A stirk is a steer or heifer
between one and two years old. If my answer is not taken as an
imputation on any of the solemn company here, I may add that a calf
grows into a stirk.”

The captain glowered angrily at the unabashed prisoner, as one in doubt
whether he was experiencing a display of brazen impudence or extreme
simplicity. He asked no more questions concerning the papers found, but
gave them to a subordinate and directed them to be tied together. He now
took from his belt a folded sheet, opened it, and read its contents
with care, glancing now and then at the man before him. Apparently the
comparison was to his satisfaction, and he restored the document to its
place with a grunt of approval.

“Is Bates ready? Tell him to come here,” he said to the subordinate, who
instantly disappeared, emerging from among the outhouses shortly with
a young man on a fine horse, evidently a racer before that sport was
abolished. The animal was impatient to be off, but the young fellow on
his back curbed its eagerness with a master hand, as one born to
the saddle. The captain had employed the interval in writing a brief
despatch, which he now handed to the young horseman.

“Ride hard and give that to General Cromwell as soon as you can. In case
you should lose it, tell him we have got our man, who crossed the Border
this morning. Say we are bringing him to Corbiton Manor, as directed,
and expect to reach there before dusk.”

The youth, without reply or salute, pocketed the paper, shook out the
reins, and was off like the wind, Armstrong watching the pair with a
glow of admiration in his eyes. Although unused to the life of a camp,
he was much struck by the absence of any attempt at secrecy in the
proceedings. There was no effort to bewilder the prisoner or make a
mystery of the affair. That his advent had been expected was perfectly
clear, and that a written description of his person had been distributed
along the Border was equally evident. They had been watching for him,
and now they had him. There was no military fuss about the matter,
and apparently very little discipline, yet instant and unquestioned
obedience without accompaniment of formal deference to authority or
manifestations of salute to superiors. But underneath it all was a hint
of power and efficiency. Armstrong realized that he was in the clutch of
an admirably constructed human machine that knew what it wanted and went
straight for it. No one had spoken except the captain, yet every man was
on the alert to do what was required of him instantly, capably, and in
silence.

At a word from the captain a bugle-call rang out, and its effect was
soon apparent. An accoutred horse was led to the captain, who sprang
into his place with the ease of one accustomed to the feat, and from the
buildings appeared something like a score of mounted troopers.

“Get into your saddle,” commanded the captain, addressing Armstrong.

The latter tested the buckling, which a soldier had just finished, drew
up the strap a point, then, with his foot in the stirrup, turned and
asked:

“Am I to consider myself a prisoner, sir?”

“Whatever questions you wish to put will be answered presently by one
higher in authority than I.”

“I must protest against this detention, sir.”

“Your protest will doubtless be considered by the officer I referred
to.”

“General Cromwell, I surmise?”

“Or one delegated by him. Mount, we have far to go.”

Armstrong leaped into the saddle, and the troop set off, with the
captain at the head, and himself in the midst of it. There was no chance
of escape, even if he meditated such an attempt, which apparently he
did not. The direction tended south and east, and as the sun was setting
they came to Corbiton Manor, a large country house, which was seemingly
the headquarters of a considerable section of the army encamped in the
neighbourhood. Into a room in this mansion Armstrong was conducted and
left under guard, and he was pleased to see by the spread table that
there was at least no design on the part of his captors to starve him.



CHAPTER IV.--PREPARATION.

The mansion of Corbiton was a large and rambling structure, two stories
in height for the most part, although in some places it rose to three,
as in others it subsided into one. It was built partly of stone, partly
of brick, and partly of timber and plaster, with many gables, and
picturesque windows in the wide extending roof. Each of its owners had
added to it as his needs required or his taste dictated, and now it was
composed of many styles of architecture; but the jumble, as a whole, was
beautiful rather than incongruous, as might have been expected. Time,
moss, and ivy had blended the differing parts into one harmonious mass.
The house faced the south, fronting a broad lawn that had once been
smooth and level as a table, but was now cut up by horse’s hoofs. A
mutilated sun-dial leaned from the perpendicular in the centre. One
gable contained a wide and tall mullioned window, which had formerly
been filled with painted glass, but the soldiers, knowing nothing of
art, and strenuous against idolatry, had smashed many of the pictured
panes, but, finding that glass, whether colored or plain, kept out
wind and rain, they had partially remedied the results of their own
enthusiasm by stuffing the apertures with gaily-colored cloths, remnants
of doublets or silken trousers, until the window was a gaudy display of
brilliant rags, the odds and ends of a cavalier wardrobe; and thus the
gay gable, from being an allegory of the days of chivalry, had become
typical of the ruin that had overtaken the cause of the King.

Sir Richard Corbiton had been one of the first to fall in the Civil
War, dashing with gallant recklessness against the pikes of the yeomen.
Theoretically these coarsely garbed pikemen were the scum of the earth,
cowardly dogs who, when they saw gentlemen bearing down upon them,
should have turned and fled; but actually they stood grim and silent,
and when the charge broke against this human rock, although many a lowly
hut was then masterless, many a mansion was without an owner, Corbiton
among the rest. Sir Richard, dying, paid the price of a fool, and in the
struggle exacted the same tribute from others.

As evening drew on, the thin crescent of a new moon shed a faint
mysterious light over the scene, as if it were a white sickle hung up in
the sky, useless because there was no harvest in England to reap, save
that of death. The dim lustre outlined the mansion, but failed to reveal
the wounds it had received, and the aspect was one of peace, scarcely
troubled by the footfall of a sentinel slouching along the grass in
front, carelessly trailing his pike, with nothing of alert military
manner about him. From one wing of the building came the somnolent drone
of a hymn, but this was counterbalanced by the more intermittent hoarse
chorus of a ribald song, mingled with a rattle of flagons from another
part of the house, for the ale in the cellars was strong, and not all
of the Parliamentary army were Praise-God-Bare-Bones. The torches within
the house struck flamelike color from the remnants of the pictured glass
in the great window, which gave a chromatic touch to an otherwise sombre
scene unrelieved by the pallid half-light of the moon.

The sentinel stopped in his walk and stood for a moment by the battered
sun-dial, listening. Faintly in the still night air came to him across
the fields the beating of horses’ hoofs on the hard road. Striding
athwart the broken lawn to an oaken door, he smote it with the butt of
his pike, crying,--“Peace within there; the General is coming.” There
was an instant hushing of the coarse song, then a laugh, and when some
one in nasal tones raised the slow tune of a hymn the laughter became
more uproarious, subsiding gradually, however, as voice after voice
joined the drone. The sentinel now walked over to the main entrance, and
said to some one within the hall,--“I think the General is coming.”

The watchman now resumed his promenade, but he shouldered his weapon and
marched more like a man on guard. Several officers came out of the hall
and stood listening on the broken sward. From the darkness emerged three
horsemen, two following a leader, a thickset man, who came somewhat
stiffly to the ground, as if fatigued with hard riding. To the one who
sprang to the bridle he said curtly,--“See the horse well rubbed down,
and in half an hour feed him with corn,” Then to his two followers,
“Look to your horses first, and to yourselves afterward. Be ready in an
hour.”

The chief officer now stepped forward and said:

“You will surely stop the night, Excellency? Everything is prepared.”

“No. Did my order to stay the execution of Wentworth reach you in time,
Colonel Porlock?”

“Yes, Excellency. I would not have ventured to execute him without your
sanction, although the death sentence was the unanimous finding of the
court martial.”

“The sentence was just. It may yet be carried out, or it may prove that
the Lord has other use for him. Lead the way within.”

General Cromwell gave no greeting to the different groups as he passed
them, his heavy riding-boots swish-swashing against each other as he
followed Colonel Porlock into the hall. He strode awkwardly, like a man
more accustomed to a horse’s back than a tiled floor. The Colonel led
him into the great dining-room, one end of which was occupied by the
shattered window, while the other was crossed by a gallery, and above
all, very dim in the feeble illumination of two candles and some smoky
torches, could be distinguished the knobs and projections of a timbered
roof.

The vast room was almost completely bare of furniture, with the
exception of a high-backed carved chair, which doubtless belonged to
it, and a stout oaken table taken from some other part of the house,
replacing the long hospitable board that had witnessed many a festive
gathering, but which had been used for firewood by the troopers. The
General gazed about the ample apartment for a moment, as one who had
never seen it before, estimating his bearings with the shrewd eye of a
practised soldier; then he pushed the table until it stood lengthwise
with the room, instead of across, as before; glanced at the gallery and
table, as if making some computation regarding their relative positions,
drew up the chair and seated himself, setting the two candles by the
edge farthest from him.

“Has Captain Bent arrived with his prisoner?”

“Yes, Excellency. He came at sunset.”

“Is he sure of his man?”

“He appears to be so, sir.”

“Were any papers found on him?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“The other prisoner, Wentworth, is little more than a youth, I am told?”

“He is very young, Excellency.”

“How came he to be set on an important outward post that night?”

“There was no danger of attack, and I placed him there of deliberate
purpose. He was most reluctant to go, making one excuse and then
another, saying he was ill, and what not. For more than a month he has
been under suspicion of communicating with malignants, although we had
no direct proof. He had been seen stealing away from the domain of Lord
Rudby, the chief of the disaffected in the district. On the night in
question he was watched, and as soon as he supposed himself alone he
deserted his post, put spurs to his horse, and rode straight across
country to Rudby Hall.”

“And was arrested there?”

“No, Excellency. An unlooked-for event happened. He rode out from the
grounds of the Hall, fighting his way, as it appeared, against a band of
Rudby’s followers, who were attacking him, and ran into the arms of our
men, who were watching for him. The attacking party, seeing, as they
supposed, an unknown force of rescuers, turned and fled. The night was
very dark, and the account of what took place is confused, but Wentworth
was carried back to Corbiton, tried, and condemned for deserting while
on duty and holding commerce with the enemy.”

“Umph! What version did Wentworth give of the affair?”

“He maintained he was no traitor, but did not give any explanation of
his absence from duty.”

“I thought Rudby had surrendered all arms and had taken the oath to
remain neutral?”

“His men were armed with staves only, and so Wentworth, better equipped,
held his own against them.”

“What view did the court take of this affray?”

“They thought it merely a feint to cover the retreat of a discovered
traitor. The night, as I said, was dark, and our men, being mounted,
could not move silently. Knowing the house would be searched if
Wentworth was hidden, this plan of seeming enmity against him was
prepared beforehand, in case of discovery.”

“How old a man is Rudby?”

“Nearing fifty.”

“What family has he?”

“His two sons are supposed to be with the King at Oxford. There is one
daughter at Rudby Hall.”

“Humph! Is this the young man who is said to be a son of the late
scoundrel, Strafford?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“In that very blood is hatred of the people, contumely, and all
arrogance. At heart he must be a Royalist And yet--and yet----where
was he brought up?”

“On the estate of Sir John Warburton, dead these some years back.
Warburton was his grandfather.”

“Where is the Warburton estate?”

“It adjoins the lands of Rudby.”

“A-h! Is the boy’s mother living?”

“No. His only relative is a sister who seems to be the most bitter
King-hater in all the land.”

“Is there not a chance the boy was on his way to see his sister?”

“It was thought not. She has been at liberty to visit him here, and has
done so on various occasions.”

“Has Wentworth ever been in action?”

“Oh yes, Excellency, and he acquitted himself bravely enough.”

“No hanging back; no wavering in the face of the foe?”

“No, Excellency.”

“Humph. Send Captain Bent to me with the papers. When he is gone, I wish
you to bring me a trooper, some silent man who can be depended upon; an
unerring marksman.”

When Captain Bent arrived he handed to the General the papers he had
taken from Armstrong. Cromwell examined them with great minuteness by
the light of the candles, then set them in a bunch on the table without
comment of any kind.

“Did your prisoner resist at all, or make any attempt at escape?”

“No, General.”

“He made no protest then?”

“He said England and Scotland were at peace, that he therefore needed no
passport; that his arrest was illegal, and that you would be the first
to admit as much.”

“Humph. Was he thoroughly searched? Are you sure he had no other papers
than these?”

“Quite sure, General.”

“Very good. Bring the man here. If the door is open, come in with him.
If it is shut, wait until you are called.”

When the Captain left the room the Colonel entered with his trooper,
who bore a matchlock. Cromwell dismissed Porlock, then said to the
trooper,--“You will take your place in that gallery and remain there,
making no sound. Keep your ears shut, and your eyes open. A man will be
standing before me. If I raise my hand thus, you will shoot him dead.
See that you make no mistake, and I warn you to shoot straight. Go.”

The trooper, without a word, mounted to the gallery, and the General,
rising, went round the table, standing on the other side. “Can you see
plainly?” he cried to the man aloft.

“It would be better if both candles were at this end of the table, sir.”
 Cromwell moved the farther candle to a place beside its fellow, then
stood again on the spot his prisoner would occupy. “That is well, sir,”
 said the man in the gallery. The General walked to the end of the room,
threw open the door, and returned to his seat in the tall chair with the
carved back.



CHAPTER V.--EXAMINATION.

When Captain Bent entered the galleried room with his prisoner, he.
found Cromwell seated at the table, his head bowed over some pages of
manuscript on which he was busily writing. The General did not look up
for a full minute, until he had finished the sentence he was inditing,
then he raised his head and said quietly to the captain: “Go.”

For one brief and lamentable instant the discipline which held the
captain in its bonds relaxed, and he replied in surprise,--“And leave
him unguarded, sir?”

Cromwell said nothing, but a look of such devilish ferocity came into
his piercing grey eyes that the captain staggered as if he had received
a blow, gasped, turned, and fled. When the Commander spoke to Armstrong
there was no trace of resentment or anger in his tones.

“Will you oblige me by closing that door which Captain Bent has stupidly
left open? You are nearer it than I.”

Armstrong with a bow did what he was requested to do, and returned to
his place beside the table.

“I fear I must begin with an apology, a form of speech to which I am
unaccustomed. You have been stopped quite without just cause, and
I trust you have met with no inconvenience or harsh treatment in
consequence?”

“With neither, General Cromwell, if I am not at fault in so addressing
you. I jalous there are not two such men as you in the army of the
Parliament.”

Cromwell paid no heed to the compliment, if such was intended, but
although his voice was suave his keen eye searched the prisoner like an
east wind.

“The stoppage may indeed save you further annoyance if you intend to
travel about the country, for I will give you a pass likely to prevent
such a mistake in future. You are in the cattle-trade, I am told?”

“Yes, General.”

“’T is an honest occupation, and I am pleased to believe my army has
ever been an upholder of it, paying for what it requires in sound
money, even when the wages of the soldier were scant and in arrear. The
requisitions and confiscations which have followed like a plague the
track of the King’s forces, devastating the country like the locusts
of Scripture, are no accompaniment to the troopers of the Lord. It is
perhaps your intention to deal with us rather than with the King’s army,
should you venture so far south?”

“Indeed I know little of English politics, and the man with money in his
pouch, and a purchasing brain in his head, is the chap I’m looking for,
be he Royalist or Parliamentarian.”

“It is a commendable traffic with which I have no desire to interfere.
You know of no reason, then, for your arrestment by my stupid captain,
Ephraim Bent?”

“Truth to tell, your Honour, and I know a very good reason for it.”

“Humph. And what is that?”

The General’s brows contracted slightly, and the intensity of his gaze
became veiled, as if a film like that of an eagle’s eye temporarily
obscured it.

“Some nights since, as I was making for the English line, I stopped for
refreshment at an inn where I had been accustomed to halt in my travels.
To my amazement I was refused admittance by a man who stood on guard. We
had a bit of a debate, which ended in my overpowering him and forcing
an entrance; and which was more surprised, the dozen there gathered
together, or me with their sentry under my oxter, it would be difficult
to tell. Swords were drawn, and I might have come badly out of the
encounter had it not been that a friend of mine among the assemblage
recognized me.”

A look of perplexity had overspread the grim face of the General as this
apparently simple tale went on. He leaned his elbow on the table, and
shaded his face with his open hand from the light of the two candles,
thumb under chin, and forefinger along his temple. At this point in the
discourse he interrupted: “I suppose you wish to mention no names?”

“I see no objection,” continued Armstrong innocently. “I take it that
the men were quite within their right in gathering there, although
I contended they exceeded their right in trying to keep me out of a
public-house. My friend was the Earl of Traquair. The others I did not
know, and I was not introduced, but in the course of the talk I gathered
that the one who had the most to say was Henderson, a minister of
Edinburgh, who spoke much, as was to be expected from his trade. Well,
these gentlemen, finding I was for England, asked me to carry a message
to the King, but I explained that I had no wish to interfere in matters
which did not concern me, and they parted to meet again somewhere else.”

“Do you know where?”

“I think in Lord Traquair’s own castle, but of that I am not sure.”

“This is interesting. We shall, of course, try to prevent any messenger
reaching the King; but I do not understand why you connect the incident
at the inn with your detention.”

“There was a great splore about a spy that escaped, and I have no doubt,
if he saw me there, and heard the proposal made to me, he might well
have brought my name and description across the Border. At least that
was the way I reasoned it out with myself.”

“It is very like you are right. Spies, unfortunately, seem to be
necessary when a country is in a state of war. Many unjustifiable acts
are then committed, including the arresting of innocent men; but I am
anxious nothing shall be done that will give just cause of offence to
Scotland; a God-fearing country, and a friendly. When such injustice
happens, as it has happened in your case, I try to make amend. How far
south do you propose to travel?”

“I may go the length of Manchester or Birmingham. The distance and the
time will depend on the state of trade.”

“If you will tell me places you intend to visit, I will include them in
the pass I shall now write for you.”

“That I cannot say just at the moment. I wish to follow trade wherever
it leads me.”

“Then an inclusive pass, extending as far south as Manchester, will meet
your needs?”

“It will more than meet them, General,” said Armstrong with supreme
indifference.

The Commander took up his pen, but paused, and, still shading his face,
scrutinized the man before him.

“As I am unlikely to see you again, perhaps it would be as well not to
limit it to Manchester. You may wish to travel farther south when you
reach that town?”

“It is barely possible.”

“As you carry no message from Traquair to the King, I can write Oxford
on your permit as easily as Manchester.”

“Thank you, General; but Manchester will be far enough.”

“I may say that we are strict about those whom we allow to journey to
and fro at the present time, and if you should overstep the limit of
this document, you are liable to investigation and delay, and I may not
be so near at hand on the next occasion.”

“I quite understand, and if I wished to go farther south I would have
no hesitation in begging permission of your Excellency; but I doubt if I
shall even see Manchester.”

“You will not be leaving Corbiton until the morning, of course?”

“No, General. I know when I am well housed.”

“Then, as I have much to do, I will make out your paper later, and it
will be handed to you in the morning.”

“Thank you, General.”

With this the Commander rose, and himself accompanied Armstrong to the
door in most friendly manner. The young man, in spite of his distrust,
was very favourably impressed, for there had been nothing, in Cromwell’s
conversation, of that cant with which he was popularly accredited.
The Scot had expected to find an English Alexander Henderson; a
disputatious, gruff, tyrannical leader, committing acts of oppression or
cruelty, and continually appealing to his Maker for justification. But
Cromwell’s attitude throughout had been that of the honest soldier, with
little to suggest the fervent exhorter.

After giving some laconic instructions touching the welfare of the
Northerner to Captain Bent, who was hovering uneasily in the outside
hall, Cromwell, bidding his enforced guest a cordial farewell, ordered
Wentworth to be brought to him, and retired once more into the dim
council-chamber.

With hands clasped behind him, and head bent, he strode slowly up and
down the long room in deep meditation, vanishing into the gloom at
the farther end, and reappearing in the limited circle of light that
surrounded the two candles, for the torches had long since smoked
themselves out, and there had been no replacement of them; none daring
to enter that room unsummoned while the leader was within it. The
watcher in the gallery felt rather than saw that there was an ominous
frown on the lowered face as the Commander waited for the second
prisoner, over whom hung sentence of death.

This time a clanking of chains announced the new arrival, who was
preceded by Colonel Porlock and accompanied by two soldiers, one on
either side of him. The young fellow, who shuffled up to the table
dragging his irons, cast an anxious look at the forbidding face of the
man who was to be his final judge; in whose word lay life or death for
him, and he found there little to comfort him. Cromwell seated himself
once more and said gruffly: “Take off those fetters.”

When the command was complied with, the General dismissed the trio and
sat for some moments in silence, reading the frank open face of his
opposite.

“You are to be shot at daybreak to-morrow,” he began in harsh tones that
echoed dismally from the raftered ceiling. This statement contained no
information for the youth, but the raven’s croak sent a shiver through
his frame, and somehow the tidings brought a terror that had been absent
before, even when sentence of death was pronounced with such solemnity
by the court. There was a careless inflection in the words which showed
that the speaker cared not one pin whether the human being standing
before him lived or died. Allowing time to produce the impression he
desired, Cromwell continued in the same strain of voice:

“I have examined the evidence, and I find your condemnation just.”

The boy remembered that his father had met death bravely, asking no
mercy and receiving none, and the thought nerved him. If this man had
merely brought him here to make death more bitter by taunting him, it
was an unworthy action; so, moistening his lips twice before they would
obey his will, he spoke up.

“I have never questioned the verdict, General, nor did I make appeal.”

The shaggy brows came down over Cromwell’s eyes, but his face cleared
perceptibly.

“You own the penalty right?”

“Sir, it is partly right and partly wrong, like most things in this
world. It is right to punish me for deserting my post; it is wrong to
brand me a traitor.”

“Ah, you have found your voice at last, and there is some courage behind
it. Desertion is an unpardonable crime. The point I press upon you is
this; your life is forfeit, yet, although your fault is unpardonable, I
do not say it cannot be compensated for. Even my enemies admit I am an
honest trader. I will bargain with you for your life. You shall buy
it of me, and I shall pay the price, even though I do not forgive the
crime. We will first, if you please, clear up the charge of treachery.
You were visiting your own home that night, and as it is on the farther
side of Rudby Hall, your accusers naturally thought you had a rendezvous
there?”

“No, General; it was my intention to have visited Rudby Hall.”

“The residence of that foul malignant, Lord Rudby, so called?”

“Yes, but not to see his lordship, who is my enemy, personal as well as
political.”

The scowl vanished from the face of his questioner, and something almost
resembling a laugh came from his firm lips.

“You are truthful, and it pleases me. Why did you make a foolish mystery
of your excursions? I take the case to stand thus. Your grandfather and
Rudby were neighbors, and possibly friends. You were, and are, in
love with my lord’s daughter, but since you belong to the cause of the
people, this oppressor of the people will have naught of you. You have
risked your life to see the girl, who is doubtless as silly as the rest
of her class, as you will discover if I let you live. Stands the case
not thus?”

“In a measure, sir, it does, saving any reflection on the lady, who----”

“Surely, surely. I know what you would say, for I was once your age and
as soaked in folly. The question is, if you will risk your life for her,
will you do what I ask of you to earn the girl and your life, or will
you refuse, and let her go to another?”

“Sir, I will do anything for her.”

“Then harken well. There was here before me, where you now stand,
some moments since, the most plausible liar in the kingdom. He told me
truths, which on the surface appeared to be treachery to his friend,
but which he was well aware I already knew. This was to baffle me into
believing him. He rides to Oxford to see the King, and in that I am
willing to aid him. He may tell the King what pleases him, and those who
send him,--little good will it do any of them. In return the King is
to give him a commission, to be handed to certain lords in Scotland. If
that commission crosses the Border, we are like to have a blaze to the
north of us which I do not wish to see kindled until a year from now;
then, by God-----then, by God’s will I shall be ready for them. We
shall defeat the Scots in any case, but if this commission reaches these
malcontents we cannot have the pleasure--humph!--we shall be precluded
from the duty of beheading the ringleaders without bringing on ourselves
the contumely of Europe. Without the King’s commission they are but
broilers--marauders. With this commission they will set up the claim
that they are belligerents. Do you understand the position?”

“Perfectly, General.”

“The commission must be intercepted at all costs. It will be your task
to frustrate the intentions of the King and his Scottish nobles. But the
task is more complicated than yet appears. It would be an easy matter
to run this messenger through the body, and there an end. I want what
he carries, but I do not wish to harm the carrier. These Scots are a
clannish, troublesome, determined race. If you prick one with a sword’s
point, the whole nation howls. This, then, must be done quietly, so that
we bring no swarm about our ears. William Armstrong is the messenger’s
name, and he has powerful supporters in his own country. He was stopped
as soon as he crossed the Border yesterday, and brought here. He
pretends to be an innocent trader in cattle, and will likely keep up
that pretence. I have appeared to believe all he says, and he leaves
this house to-morrow morning with a pass from my hand, giving him
permission to travel as far south as Manchester, which was all he asked.
I would willingly have given him safe conduct to Oxford, but he was too
crafty to accept such a thing. He thinks he can make his way south from
Manchester. As a matter of fact, he cannot, but I wish to make the way
easy for him. Of course I could give a general order that he was not to
be molested, but there are reasons against this, as we have doubtless
spies in our own ranks, and a general order would excite suspicion, and
would probably prove useless, because this man, south of his permit’s
territory, will endeavour to go surreptitiously to Oxford, and by
unfrequented routes. It will be your duty to become acquainted with
Armstrong and win his confidence. You will accompany him to Oxford and
return with him. You will be protected by a pass so broad that it will
cover any disguise either of you may care to assume. It is such a pass
as I have never issued before, and am not like to issue again, so I need
not warn you to guard it carefully and use it only when necessary. It
reads thus:”

Here the speaker took up a sheet of paper on which he had been writing,
and, holding it so that the light from the candles fell upon it, read
aloud:

“‘Pass the bearer and one other without question or interference from
Carlisle to Oxford and return.’

“The journey south will give you the opportunity to become acquainted
with your man. On the northward march you must become possessed of what
he carries, and when you bring it to me you receive in its stead pardon
and promotion. If you do not succeed before you reach Carlisle, then I
must crush him; possibly kill him as a spy. Will you undertake it?”

“’T is an ungracious office you would bestow upon me, sir. I had
rather meet him in fair fight and slay him, or have him slay me, as God
willed.”

“There speaks youth,” cried Cromwell impatiently. “This man is a
treacherous, lying spy, whose life, by all the rules of war, is already
forfeit. I propose to discomfit him with his own weapons. Nay, more; I
willingly save him from the destruction he merits. You are set to do him
the greatest service one man can offer another. If you fail, he dies. If
you succeed, he has probably a long life before him. God knows I yearn
to cut no man’s thread where it can be avoided, but the true interests
of England stand paramount. Would you condemn thousands of innocent men
to agony and the horrors of prolonged war, to save the feelings of a
Border ruffian who intervenes in a quarrel that should not concern him?”

“Sir, you are in the right, and your argument is incontestable. I accept
your command willingly.”

A gleam of pleasure lit the rugged face of the General, for he was
flattered to believe his prowess in controversy was no less potent than
his genius in war. His voice softened perceptibly as he continued: “We
are enjoined by the Word to unite the wisdom of the serpent with the
harmlessness of the dove. Your mission combines the two attributes,
wisdom and harmlessness, for you are to beguile deceit, and yet suffer
the deceiver to pass on his way scathless. You save your country, and at
the same time save your country’s enemy, forgiving them that persecute
you. What excuse will you give to Armstrong for your desire to visit
Oxford?”

“My friend, the son of Lord Rudby, is there. Although we are on opposite
sides, he has none of the bitterness against me shown by his father. I
will say I wish to confer with him.”

“That will serve. Now this pass is for two, and you can offer to
Armstrong safe conduct under your guidance, giving what plea you choose
for the absence of the man who was to accompany you, and who, it may be,
was supposed to have procured this pass from me. Whatever difficulties
arise on the journey must be met as they advance, and in so meeting them
will come into play whatever gifts of ingenuity you may possess. If you
show yourself worthy and diplomatic, there is scarcely limit to what you
may attain in the councils of your country. The need of the future is
capable men; men earnest in welldoing, energetic in action, prompt in
decision, unwavering in execution. In the hope of finding you one such,
I snatch you from the scaffold. The King cravenly bent your father’s
neck to the block, although he had shown himself to be the one strong
man in his council; I arrest the order to fire at your breast, though
you are yet unproven. See that you do not disappoint me.”

Cromwell folded the pass and handed it to young Wentworth. “Go. This
paper is your safeguard. I shall give the order that you are to be well
mounted and provided with money. Send Captain Bent to me as you pass
out.”

Once more alone, Cromwell wrote the pass for Armstrong, giving him
permission to travel between Carlisle and Manchester. When he had
finished writing, Captain Bent was standing beside the table, and to him
he delivered the paper.

“You will give that to your late prisoner,” he said. “He is to
depart to-morrow morning, not before eight o’clock, and is to travel
unmolested. You have accomplished your duties well, Captain, and your
services shall not be forgotten.”

The silent but gratified captain left the room with straighter shoulders
than had marked his previous exit. His chief looked up at the dark
gallery and called out, “Come down and report yourself to the officer of
the night.”

For nearly ten minutes Cromwell sat at the table in silence, save for
the busy scratching of his pen. Then he rose wearily, with a deep sigh,
his marked face seemingly years older than when he had entered the room.
Once outside, he gave Colonel Porlock the papers he had written, and
said: “The finding of the court martial is approved, but the sentence is
suspended. It is possible that Wentworth may render such service to the
State as will annul the sentence against him. You will give him every
assistance he requires of you, and the amount of money set down in this
order. Bring out my horse.”

“You will surely partake of some refreshment, General, before you----”

“No. My horse; my horse.”

When the animal was brought to the lawn, the General mounted with some
difficulty, more like an old man than a leader of cavalry. The two
silent horsemen behind him, he disappeared once more into the night, as
he had come.



CHAPTER VI.--INVALIDATION.

Nine o’clock of a summer’s morning in rural England is an hour of
delight if the weather be fine. The birds sing whether there be war or
peace in the land; the trees and hedgerows and the flowers make a path
to fairy-land of the narrow lanes; but the man who trusts to these
winding thoroughfares, unless he know the country well, is like to find
himself in an enchanted maze, and Armstrong, stopping his horse at an
intersection, standing in his stirrups the better to view the landscape,
wrinkled his brow in perplexity and felt inclined to change his tune to
the wail of his countryman lost in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral, and
sing,

                   “I doot, I doot, I’ll ne’er win out.”

The sound of galloping hoof-beats to the rear caused him to sink into
his saddle once more and wait patiently until he was overtaken. As his
outlook had shown him the woods surrounding the mansion he had left an
hour before in an entirely unexpected direction, and at a distance not
at all proportionate to the time he had spent on horseback, the
thought occurred to him that his late detainers had changed their minds
regarding his liberation and were pursuing him, but he was fortified by
the knowledge that he possessed a permit written by Cromwell’s own hand,
which no one in that part of England would dare to disregard. If the
oncomer should prove a private marauder, of which the country doubtless
had many, the horseman reposed a calm confidence in his own blade that
gave sufficient repose to his manner. He turned his horse across the
lane, completely barring the way, and with knuckles resting on his
hip awaited whatever might ensue. Premising a friendly traveller with
knowledge of the district, he was sure of a clew out of the labyrinth.

The hastening rider came round a corner, curbing his animal down to a
walk on seeing the path blocked. The two horses neighed a greeting to
each other. Armstrong was pleased to note that the stranger was a
youth with a face as frank and beaming as the day; a face to which his
friendly heart went out at once with sympathy, for it seemed glorified
by the morning light, as if he were a lover sure of a warm greeting from
his lass, which was indeed the hope that animated the boy. The hope had
displaced a chilling dread, and the transformation made this daybreak
very different from the one he had expected to face. He was riding out
from under the shadow of death into the brightness of renewed life and
promise.

Arriving as near the impeding horseman as he seemed to think safe, he
came to a stand, and with a salutation of the hand made inquiry:

“Do you stop me, sir?”

This question carried neither challenge nor imputation, for, the times
being troubled, no man could be certain that he met a friend on the
highway until some declaration was forthcoming.

“Only so far as to beg of you some solution of the enigma of these
roads. I am desirous of travelling southward, and seek a main highway,
which I am grievously puzzled to find.”

The other laughed cheerily.

“You could not have chanced on a better guide, for I was brought up some
miles from this spot, although at the moment I am myself on a southern
journey. We turn here to the right, but we have far to go before we
reach the highway.”

“The more lucky am I, then, that you have overtaken me. ’T would need
a wizard to unravel this tangled skein of green passages.”

“Indeed,” cried the youth with a lightsome laugh, “I’ve often lost
myself in their entanglements, and, what is more lasting, I lost my
heart as well.”

“There is one thing you have not lost, and that is time. You are just
young enough for such nonsense as the latter losing. I am older than
you, and have lost my way before now, as you may well bear witness, but
I have kept my head clear and my heart whole.”

“’Tis nothing to boast,” said the boy, with an air of experience. “It
simply means that you have not yet met the right woman. When you meet
her you will be in as great a daze as that in which I found you at the
cross-roads. You will think it strange that I make a confidant in so
personal a matter of a total stranger, but, truth to tell, if I am to
guide you to the highway, you must bear me company through Rudby Park,
for I hope to get a glimpse of my fair one before I ride farther toward
Oxford.”

“Toward Oxford!” cried Armstrong, instinctively reining up his horse in
his surprise. “Are you, then, making for Oxford?”

“Yes, I have been expecting a friend to come with me, but he is delayed,
I suspect at Carlisle, so I must get on as best I can without him.”

“I travel to Manchester,” said Armstrong, more non-committal than the
other appeared to be.

“Then I shall be happy to bear you company, if it so pleases you, until
we come to the parting of our ways. That is, if you are not in haste and
can wait until I have a word with my lass, in whose direction we are now
tending.”

To this invitation the Scotsman made no reply, and the other began to
fear he had been too forward in his proposal. He rattled on, striving to
cover his error in a flood of talk.

“She is the most winsome little lady in all the country side; the only
daughter of Lord Rudby, who is----”

“Lord Rudby!” echoed Armstrong. “You fly high, my young sir.”

“Why should I not? Although she is the sweetest angel that ever visited
this glad earth, she makes no descent when she joins her hand to mine. I
am Thomas Wentworth, eldest son to the late Earl of Strafford.”

They had been travelling knee to knee in the narrow way, but now
Armstrong pulled up and looked at his companion in amazement.

“Do you mean the Minister to the King of England?”

“Yes. There was no other.”

“Then you are perhaps about to visit Charles at Oxford?”

“Ah, I have already told you more than was wise on so short an
acquaintance,” said Wentworth, trying another tack. “You yourself
gave me a lesson in reticence a moment since, and you have not been
so garrulous concerning yourself as I. I do not even know your name,
although I suspect your native land lies north of us.”

“Sir, I am William Armstrong, and Scotland is my country. As two swords
are better than one, I shall be most glad to travel in your company. I
may say, however, that I hold a pass from Cromwell himself, so, if you
are a King’s man, you may not wish to be my companion.”

“Who journeys in Hades must have the devil’s leave,” answered Wentworth
jauntily. “I am myself abroad through Cromwell’s permission, and
I’ll venture my pass is broader as well as longer than yours. ’Tis
sometimes well to have a friend in the enemy’s camp, and my friend
pretends he can get anything from Old Noll. Read it, if you think I’m
boasting.”

Wentworth handed the document to the Scot, who read and returned it.

“Mine is but a limited permit compared with this. Where do you expect to
encounter your comrade?”

“I fear there is little chance of seeing him until I reach Oxford, if
indeed I find him there. I suspect he is detained at Carlisle.
However, I travel on my own business, and he on his, so it makes little
difference to me, save the lack of companionship. War throws together
strange fellow-travellers, and I do not inquire too minutely into his
affairs, nor he into mine.”

“You go to Oxford alone then?”

“Part of the way with you, I hope. Yes; I’m tired of waiting, and so set
out alone this morning, deviating from the main road and taking these
lanes, the better to approach Rudby Hall without undue publicity.”

“I see,” said Armstrong thoughtfully; then, as he fell into a
meditation, there was silence between them for some time. The theme of
his reflection was the accomplishment of the task which lay before him.
Here seemed a heaven-sent opportunity to win peacefully to Oxford, and
perhaps to return as far north as Carlisle. Once in Carlisle, with Bruce
beneath him, he could defy the whole Parliamentary army to catch him
before he crossed into Scotland. Even at the first, the frank, honest
face of the boy and his cheerful loquacity went far to disarm suspicion;
then the announcement of his name and rank led Armstrong to the
erroneous conclusion that the youth of necessity belonged to the Royal
cause, forgetting that many of the nobles were on the side of the
people, some of them active officers in the Parliamentary army.
Circumstances combined to lull his natural shrewdness and conceal from
him the danger of his position. He thought Cromwell was satisfied that
the wrong man had been arrested, and believed the General had been thus
deluded because no incriminating papers had been found on him. The spy
of the inn must have reported that the messenger to the King would carry
important documents to Oxford. The search had been thorough, but of
course the most minute examination failed to discover what did not
exist. Armstrong’s prompt acknowledgment of his name, his explanation
of the mission proposed to him, his reasons for refusal, must have had
their weight with Cromwell, and if the spy were re-questioned he
would necessarily corroborate most of the details given. Cromwell’s
complaisance in the proffering of an unasked passport appeared to be, in
a way, compensation tendered for injury done, or at least interference,
by his followers. Armstrong remembered that luck had often stood his
friend, and the present encounter looked like another instance of it, so
he resolved to journey with Wentworth as far south as Manchester, there
to be guided by circumstances. Up to that point he need ask for no
favour, for he had his own permit to lean upon. If the lad proved a
true companion, he might then venture to propose that they should keep
together under protection of the pass for two.

“Do you move on to Oxford at once, when you have seen this young lady?”
 asked Armstrong, breaking silence at last.

“Yes, and am willing to ride as hard as you like, if you are pressed for
time.”

“Oh, I’m in no hurry. He’s a churl who would not wait while a lover
and his lass whispered, and I shall do aught that I can to forward your
adventure if there is any obstacle.”

“I thank you, but there is like to be no obstacle at this time of the
day. I hope to have the good fortune to find her walking in the garden.
This would simplify my quest.”

“Are you forbidden the house, then?”

“In a measure I am. I have my enemies within the walls, but my good
friends also. If I get a word with one of the latter, difficulties
will dissolve.” Here the youth reined in his horse and sat for a moment
anxiously scanning the landscape. A belt of tall trees bordered the
lane, with thick undergrowth that seemed impenetrable to sight or
movement. Over the tops of the bushes and between the trunks of the
trees Armstrong gathered glimpses of a large mansion in the distance,
extensive groups of chimneys being the most noticeable feature. Nearer
was seen a carpet of green lawn, and beyond, the dappled glitter of the
sunlight on a lake.

“Will you hold my horse?” asked the youth, almost in a whisper. “I must
reconnoitre.”

He sprang off his horse, and Armstrong grasped the rein.

“I hope they will not neigh,” he said, as he disappeared into the
undergrowth. It was evident the youth was well acquainted with his
locality.

Armstrong sat silent, occasionally leaning over to stroke the neck of
the steed he held in tether. He loved all animals, especially horses,
and they reciprocated his affection. Suddenly the silence was shattered
by a cry hoarse with rage.

“I have been watching your approach, perjured scoundrel! You shall not
escape me this time.”

“Sir, sir, I beseech you,” came the entreating tones of Wentworth; “I
cannot bear arms against you. Listen but a moment, sir.”

“Draw, you dog, or die the death of one.”

“Sir, I implore you; I cannot draw with you opposed. Sir, let me say a
word----Oh!”

There was one clash of steel, then a brief cry of pain, and now silence
again, all so quickly accomplished that first word and last were uttered
in the time during which Armstrong leaped from saddle to earth. He
searched hurriedly for the leafy tunnel through which Wentworth had
passed, but before he found it the lad staggered into sight again, his
left hand grasping his breast, his right dragging the sword, his face
pale as chalk.

“He has killed me,” he gasped.

“Nonsense. You would not now be on your feet if the wound were mortal.
Who is your assailant?”

“No matter for that. Help me home.”

“I shall first give the rogue a taste of his own surgery,” cried
Armstrong, drawing his blade.

But the other restrained his ardour, leaning heavily upon him.

“It is her father. Do not leave me; I faint. If--I----if I----I cannot
direct you, take me down the lane; the high road. My home----the house
to the right.”

The victim collapsed in a heap on the sward, reddening the grass with
his blood.

Armstrong was no stranger to the rough art of the leech. He undid the
doublet and flung it open; tore away the waistcoat and shirt, disclosing
an ebbing gash.

“Well pierced,” he muttered. “An inch to the right would have done the
job. The poor chap parried, but not enough; the onslaught was too fierce
and sudden. The old man’s intention was good, but the deflexion marred
the thrust.”

He staunched the wound with the torn shirt, and tied a sash tightly
round the body. Taking a leathern flask from his pouch, he forced some
fluid between the grey lips, and Wentworth, with a long sigh, opened his
eyes.

“It’s nothing to boast of,” said Armstrong carelessly. “I’ve ridden
twenty miles worse mangled. Can you sit your horse if I put you on him?”

“Oh God! oh God!” moaned the youth, near to weeping. “Fool that I was to
risk all for the chance of a word.”

“Tut, there’s no risk. You’ll be right as Edinburgh in three weeks.”

“Three weeks. Oh, my God! Would he had killed me outright!”

“What is troubling you? Anything in which I can help? I see you are
no coward, and it is not alone the wound that hurts. Is it this Oxford
journey?”

The prone invalid made no reply, but, groaning, turned his face to the
turf.

“Harken!” cried Armstrong earnestly. “Although our acquaintance is of
the shortest, I would dearly love to do you a service. I will go to
Oxford for you, and do there whatever you wish done.”

The speaker reddened as he said this, and his conscience reproved him
for thus making use of the other’s infirmity, although he maintained
stoutly to himself that he was honest in his proclamation.

The stricken youth was no less troubled in mind than in body, feeling
himself a treacherous wretch, accidentally well punished; but he, too,
inwardly braced his weakening purpose by the thought that he acted for
the good of his country, an action tending toward the speedy return of
peace.

“Help me to my horse,” he pleaded, ignoring the proffer just made to
him. “I must get home and learn whether this hurt is serious or not.”

“It is far from serious, I tell you, and it means only a month’s
idleness. Lean you on me. There; make no exertion. I will lift you to
your saddle.”

The powerful Scot raised him as if he were a child, and, with a woman’s
tenderness, set him gently on his horse. He got into his own seat so
promptly that his steadying hand was on his comrade’s shoulder before
the swaying body could do more than threaten a fall.

“This way, you say?”

Wentworth nodded wearily, and the two set out slowly for the high road.
Despite their awkward going, the edifice they sought was soon in
sight, situated in a park, to which a winding lane led from the main
thoroughfare. The place seemed deserted, and as they neared it Wentworth
showed a faint anxiety that he might reach his room unobserved.

“My sister must be told, of course, and a doctor brought; but I wish to
avoid a rabble of gossiping servants if I can.”

“I will carry you wherever you direct, and if we meet anyone we must
enjoin silence. Can you indicate the position of a private door through
which we may enter.”

“The most private door is the most public door. The front entrance will
likely be deserted. I would walk, but that we must hurry or be seen.
Take me up the stair and to the second room on your right. That is
always ready for me.”

The Scot took the youth again in his arms and speedily laid him on
his own bed. The jolting, despite the care taken, had shifted the rude
bandaging, and the wound bled afresh. Armstrong, anxious for the safety
of his burden, had not noticed that his own doublet was smeared
with blood. With the better appliances now at hand, he did what was
immediately necessary, and revived the lad’s ebbing strength with a
second draught from the leathern bottle. A sound of singing came to them
as he finished his ministrations.

“That is Frances----my sister,” breathed Wentworth with closed eyes.
“Break it gently to her, and say I am not dangerously hurt. She will
know what to do.”



CHAPTER VII.--DETERMINATION.

Armstrong stepped out into the hall, closing the door softly behind
him. The melody was coming from the broad stairway, and ceased as the
singer seemed to pause on the landing. He remembered that landing as he
came up with his burden. Its whole length was lit by a row of mullioned
windows, and one of these, being open, gave a view upon the green lawn
in front of the house. He stood hesitating, undecided whether to advance
as far as the head of the stair or await the coming of the girl where he
was. Then he heard her voice evidently calling through the open window:
“John, there are two saddled horses under the trees. See who has come.”

Armstrong strode forward to the stairhead.

“Your pardon, madam,” he said. “One of the horses is mine; the other
belongs to your brother. May I ask the man to look after them?”

The girl turned quickly, her dark eyes wide with alarm. Into the mind
of the intruder, looking down upon her from his elevation, flashed the
words of her brother,--“It simply means you have not yet met the right
woman. When you meet her, you will be in as great a daze as that in
which I found you at the cross-roads.”

“She is magnificent,” he said to himself. With her mass of black hair
falling in wavy cascade over her shoulders, her midnight eyes appealing
and dashed with a fear that swept the colour from her cheeks, she looked
a pallid goddess standing against the pictured panes.

“My brother!” she cried at last. “What of him?” Then, noticing the
blood on Armstrong’s coat, she gave utterance to a startled exclamation,
moving a step forward and checking herself. “Is he wounded? Has there
been a battle? Where is he?”

“He is wounded, but not seriously. I brought him to his own room.”

Without another word she sprang up the stair, past her interlocutor, and
flew along the hall, disappearing into the invalid’s chamber. Armstrong
thought it best not to intrude at the moment of their meeting, so passed
on down the stair and out to the horses, where he found an old servitor
standing guard over them, apparently at a loss what to do or how to
account for their presence.

“Are you John?” asked the Scot.

“Yes, zur.”

“Who is the doctor that attends on this family when any of them are
ill?”

“’E be Doctor Marsden, zur, down t’ th’ village.”

“How far away is the village?”

“‘Bout dhree mile, zur.”

“Very good. Get on that horse, which belongs to your master, ride to the
village, and bring Doctor Marsden here as quickly as you can.”

“Be Marster Tom ill, zur?”

“Yes, he is; but mind you say nothing to any one about it. Away with
you.”

Armstrong led his own horse to a stall in the stables, took off saddle
and bridle, then went to the well and removed the stains from his
clothing as well as water would do it. Going toward the house he met the
girl.

“My brother says you tell him the wound is not dangerous. Is that true?”
 she asked.

“Quite true. I’ve had a dozen worse myself,” he replied, with
encouraging exaggeration. “But he will have to lie still for a month or
more under your care.”

“He says that is impossible, but I told him he shall do as the doctor
orders, duty or no duty. I am going to send for Doctor Marsden, so pray
pardon me.”

“I have already sent for Doctor Marsden. I took that liberty, for it is
better in such a case to lose no time.”

“Oh, thank you!”

The girl turned and walked to the house with him. He found the patient
restless and irritable. The wan whiteness of his face had given place
to rising fever. His eyes were unnaturally bright, and they followed
Armstrong with a haunted look in them. His visitor said nothing, but
wished the doctor would make haste.

When Doctor Marsden arrived he went about his work in businesslike
fashion. A physician of that day had ample experience with either
gunshot or sword wounds, each being plentiful enough to arouse little
curiosity respecting their origin. He brusquely turned Armstrong and
the sister out of the room, after having requisitioned what materials he
needed, and the two stood together in anxious and somewhat embarrassed
silence on the landing, within call if either were needed. The girl was
the first to speak.

“I fear my brother’s case is more dangerous than you would have me
suppose,” she said in tremulous voice.

“Not from the wound,” he answered.

“From what, then?” she asked in surprise.

“I do not know. He has something on his mind. I saw that from the moment
he was hurt. He is very brave, and this accident of itself would make
little impression on him. My acquaintance with him is but a few hours
old, yet I know he is a fearless youth. Are you aware of a mission that
takes him to Oxford?”

“I have not the least knowledge of it. I heard no hint of his going, and
he said nothing of his journey when we spoke together.”

“He told me he had expected a comrade who had failed him. Cromwell
himself gave him a pass for two. He said he was to see the brother of
his sweetheart, who is with the King in Oxford.”

“That is very likely. The two were great friends always, even when they
took opposite sides in this deplorable contest which is rending our
distracted country.”

“There must be more than friendship in this journey, otherwise Cromwell
would not have given him such a pass as he holds. Then for an unknown,
un-vouched-for man to enter Oxford at this moment is highly perilous,
an action not to be undertaken lightly. If he go in disguise, and such a
pass be found on him, not all Cromwell’s army could save him. It may
be he is commissioned to treat for peace, but that is unlikely. Such
proposals should come from the defeated force. Depend upon it, something
important hangs on this Oxford excursion, and if anything can be done
to relieve his mind regarding it, this will do more toward his speedy
recovery than all the leech’s phlebotomy. If I can render service to him
in Oxford, I shall be glad to undertake his commission.”

“Do you, then, go to Oxford?” asked the girl innocently, turning her
disquiet and disquieting eyes full upon him.

“I----I had no such intention when I set out,” stammered Armstrong,
abashed that for once his natural caution had forsaken him. “It matters
little how far south I go, and I am willing to do an errand for a
friend. I took him for a Royalist at first, and so saw no danger in
his purpose, but if he be a Parliamentarian, then Oxford is a place to
avoid.”

“Did he not tell you he was a Parliamentarian?” questioned the girl, now
alarmed in her turn.

“No. You told me so.”

“I? You must be mistaken, sir; I gave you no information about my
brother.”

“You said his friend in the King’s forces had not thought the less of
him because he took the other side.”

“I am distraught with anxiety about him, and gave but little heed to my
words. I would have you remember only what my brother himself told you.”

“You need have no fear, madam. Anything said by either of you will never
be used to your hurt. I am a Scot, and have nothing to do with English
strife.”

Their conversation was interrupted by the opening of the door and the
reappearance of the doctor. The girl could not conceal her trepidation,
for the nontechnical stranger’s assurances had slight weight with her.

“Thomas is doing very well; very well indeed,” said the old man. “You
have no cause for alarm, not the slightest, if he can but be kept quiet
for some days, and rest where he is for a few weeks. You attended to
him, sir, and I take it that you possess a smattering of our art.”

“I have need of that knowledge, Doctor,” replied Armstrong, “for
those who have done me the honour to run me through rarely had the
consideration to make their attack within easy call of a surgeon.”

“Royal; or Parliament, sir? One likes to know before opening one’s
mouth.”

“Neither, Doctor, I’m a Scotsman.”

“Ah, that accounts for it.” Then, turning to the girl, he said, “Your
brother wishes to speak with you, and I have reluctantly given my
consent. You will stay with him as short a time as may be, and I will be
here to see that you do not overstep a reasonable limit. One word more.
Do not argue with him, or dispute anything he says, no matter how absurd
it may seem. Agree to any proposal he makes, even if you know it cannot
be carried out. He is evidently disturbed about his duty. Soothe him,
soothe him and concur. There is little use in telling a lad in his
condition that duty must wait till wounds are healed, but he will
recognize that fact when he is well again. Meanwhile humour him, humour
him. Away, and I’ll count the minutes till you are out again. I will
find John and send him for a competent nurse.”

Frances opened the door gently and met her brother’s hungry eyes. She
sat down beside him, taking his fevered hand between her cool palms.

“Oh, I’m a doomed man; a doomed man!” he groaned.

“Nonsense, Tom; the doctor quite agrees with the stranger that your
wound is not dangerous.”

“I was not thinking of the wound; that does not matter.”

“What does, then, dear?”

“Sister, this morning at daylight I was to have been taken out and
shot.” The girl’s hands tightened on his. “Cromwell himself reprieved me
last night, but on conditions. The sentence still hangs over me, and now
I’m helpless to avert it, and all through my own folly. Oh, I have been
a heedless fool! With every incentive not to take risk, I have walked
blindly----”

“Yes, dear, yes; but tell me how I can aid you. The stranger says he
will do anything you want done in Oxford, going there specially on your
errand, and he looks like a man to be trusted.”

The lad drew away his hand, turned his face to the wall, and groaned
again.

“Cannot you trust him?”

“Trust him!” he cried impatiently, “Frances, Frances, it is against him
I am going to Oxford! The man is a spy carrying a message to the King.
He is interfering in a quarrel that should be no concern of his, and
his life is already forfeit, as indeed is the case with my own. But
the price of my life is the thwarting of him. The King will give him a
commission to be taken to the Scottish nobles. It is that document I was
to rend from him, by force if necessary, by cunning if possible. I was
to give him every aid to reach Oxford, but on the way back I was to gain
possession of this commission and ride to Cromwell with it; then life
and promotion were mine, and now I lie here helpless as a trussed fowl.”

“A loathesome, treacherous task for a man to put upon the shoulders of a
boy.”

“But look you, Frances, ’tis but meeting treachery with treachery.
Armstrong has no right in this contest, and his success means a new
blaze of war with the loss of thousands of innocent lives. It means
the possible triumph of the King who murdered our father and broke his
pledged word to him and to you. And seeming trickery may be real mercy,
as in this case it is, for if Cromwell cannot obtain the King’s letter
by stealthy means he will crush this Armstrong as ruthlessly as he would
crush a gnat. By no possibility can this Scot ever see his land again if
he holds that fatal instrument, for the whole army is watching him. But
once bereft of it, he is free to go as he pleases. The simpleton thinks
he has deluded Cromwell, and is blundering on through a fool’s paradise
that bristles with unseen swords. If I were his dearest friend I could
do him no greater service than to purloin the document of doom he will
carry when he turns his face north again.”

“What do you wish me to do?” asked the girl in a low voice, her eyes
staring into space, her hand trembling with apprehension at what she
knew intuitively was to be required of her.

“Frances, dear, you once took a journey alone to London, to see our
father. Again you went the same road, to aid him if you could,
and failed, to our lasting grief, through the supineness of a
thrice-perjured monarch. Will you refuse to set out on a shorter
expedition, not for my sake only, although the saving of my worthless
life will be one effect of your success, but to overturn what is perhaps
the final plot of our father’s slayer, who has already deluged the land
with blood. Will you not help to bring more speedily that peace the
kingdom yearns for, and the only peace now possible?”

“I’ll do it,” she said quietly, rising, stooping over, and kissing him.

He clung to her hand with the tenacity of the weak and helpless.

“Frances,” he said hurriedly, “remember you are protected by Cromwell’s
own pass, so have no fear. In case of need the army or any part of it
must stand ready to aid you if you call upon it. Old John will ride
behind and look after you. Although the pass mentions two only, it is
so sweeping that they will doubtless take it to include a servant.
Any subordinate will hesitate before he delays one carrying so broad a
permit from Cromwell himself.”

“Yes, yes. I shall meet with no difficulty, you may be sure. You have
already talked too much, and the doctor will censure me. Good-bye, Tom.
Get speedily well, and that will be my reward, for I swear to you, by
our father’s memory, that my hand shall give into Cromwell’s the King’s
parchment.” Kissing him again she tore herself away from him.

“Send Armstrong to me,” were his parting words to her.

Armstrong entered the room shortly after Frances had left it.

“This will never do,” cried the Scot cheerily. “The doctor is in despair
over the time your sister spent with you, and he is at this moment
chiding her. Me he has threatened with direst penalties if I exceed
a scant minute. So I shall just have to bid you farewell and be off,
wishing you quick recovery.”

“Armstrong,” said the boy huskily. “My sister must take to the Oxford
road and remedy my default. Will you be her comrade there and back?”

“As faithfully as ever belted knight attended fair lady,” replied
Armstrong, his eyes suddenly ablaze with joy.

“John will attend her, and I am sure your good sword will protect her if
need be.”

“You may take oath on that.”

“I give you the pass which is safe-conduct for you both, and I think it
will serve to cover John as well. If not, your own might shield him as
far as Manchester.”

“My own will shield me as far as Manchester, and this will, more
appropriately, convey your sister and her servant.”

“Yes, yes! That of course, as it should be. My head is spinning, and my
thoughts are astray.”

“After Manchester we will manage some way. Be not uneasy about that. I
give you the word of a Scottish gentleman I will care for your sister as
if she were my own.”

Armstrong took the pass, which was now ominously stained red. He grasped
his supposed friend by the hand, bade him farewell, and wished him quick
healing. Wentworth’s throat choked, for a feeling of strong liking
for the man almost overpowered him, but a stinging sense of his own
perfidiousness held him silent. Remorse was already biting worse than
the wound in his side. The stranger turned for a moment at the door,
waved his hand, and called to him to be of good cheer. A sob broke from
the lad’s throat, and weakly he cursed the exigiencies of war.



BOOK III.--THE JOURNEY.



CHAPTER I.--DISAGREEMENT.

When Armstrong left the room where the wounded boy lay he found Doctor
Marsden alone, pacing up and down the long hall, visibly impatient.
However, he appeared gratified that the stranger had contented himself
with so short an interview.

“I think,” said the Scot, “I have soothed his mind as successfully as
you administered to his body. I undertook the duty which troubles him,
and now he has nothing to do but get well, which I am sure will be the
speedier that he is in your skilful care.”

“You are very complimentary, sir, and I thank you. If you succeeded in
putting his mind at ease you have taken a great weight from mine, for
I like to treat corporal wounds uncomplicated by mental worry. I am
expecting the nurse every moment and will just step inside until she
comes.”

Armstrong bade the practitioner farewell, and this proved the last he
was to see of him. The young man went to the stables to feed and water
Bruce, not knowing how soon he might have need of him.

Horse and man were glad to greet each other. Armstrong examined the
animal with care, and was pleased to note that he was none the worse for
his long and toilsome journey of the day before. The Scot found himself
wondering into what part of the the land he had got. Cumberland he knew,
and Northumberland very thoroughly, but this district was strange to
him. As a rule he was able to estimate with some exactitude the distance
a horse travelled in a day, but the journey with Captain Bent had been
over a rough country, in continually changing directions that had ended
in bewildering him. High passes had been crossed, and deep valleys
traversed with a speed that said much for the mobility of the’
Parliamentary troopers. They had avoided villages, keeping through
barren lands, uninhabited for the most part, until they reached the
fertile and cultivated region in whose outskirts was situated the estate
of Corbiton Manor. The questions he asked of his captors had invariably
gone unanswered, either because the men were silent from nature or from
command, or because they knew as little of the road as he did. The
trend of the present morning’s journey had been southeast, the country
becoming more and more populous as he proceeded.

Returning to the house, he met Frances Wentworth evidently in search of
him. It seemed to him she had been weeping, and there was a perceptible
change in the cordiality of her manner toward him. He feared this was
perhaps to be accounted for by the admiration of her beauty which his
glances might have betrayed, and he resolved to be more careful in
future, although it was difficult to repress the exaltation he felt at
the prospect of being her companion on a long and possibly dangerous
expedition.

“Has my brother spoken to you of my visit to Oxford?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Are you in great haste?”

“Not in the least.”

“Would it be as convenient to you to set out tomorrow morning as this
afternoon?”

“Quite. It would be better, in fact, for my horse had a hard day of it
yesterday, travelling I don’t know how many miles. Perhaps you can tell
me where I am. I could get no information from my surly gaolers.”

“You are in the southern part of Durham, near the Yorkshire border.”

“We have come even farther than I thought. A day’s rest will do no harm
to the horse, for he little knows what is before him.”

The girl seemed at a loss for a reply.

“I thank you,” she said at last, somewhat primly, as she turned away.
Then, pausing and hesitating a moment, she continued with face half
averted, “My brother and I are twins and perhaps the more devoted to
each other on that account. I would do anything for him. I wish to stay
and see the nurse installed. There are many things to think of at such
an unexpected crisis, and no one to think of them but me.”

“I thoroughly understand the situation, and I wish I were able to tell
you how completely I sympathize with you. Although I know your brother
so short a time, I am only too glad to be of the slightest assistance to
him.”

This gracious avowal did not appear to have the effect it merited. Some
trace of a frown marred the smoothness of the girl’s brow, and her lips
became compressed. If a stranger is to be robbed and thwarted, it is
embarrassing to hear friendly protestations from him, especially when
there is no doubt about their truth. This man was evidently the soul of
honest candour, and the repulsion which had sickened the girl’s mind
at the revolting task fate had assigned to her was increased by the
genuineness of his good will.

“I thank you,” she murmured again, and left him abruptly.

It was very early next morning when Armstrong stood by his black horse
in the lane under the trees, waiting for his fair charge, who seemed to
exercise the privilege of her sex in being late. Old John was already
mounted on an animal that, besides carrying him, was pack-horse for
the luggage required by the young lady on her travels. When the girl
appeared, Armstrong stepped forward to offer his assistance; but he
was a fraction of a second too late, for, ignoring him, she was in her
saddle and away before he could utter a word. He admired the light
ease with which she accomplished this act, and saw at once she was a
practical horsewoman on as good terms with her steed as he was with his
own. She rode down the lane to the main road, then turned south, never
looking again toward the home she was leaving; hurrying, indeed, as
if it were her purpose to get out of sight as soon as possible. The
undulating nature of the country soon concealed Warburton Park mansion,
and the trio rode on steadily, the girl in front, Armstrong following
close, and Old John lagging somewhere in the rear, as if he knew that,
after all, his heavily laden nag must set the pace, however briskly the
more metalled cattle ahead of him started off.

After an hour of this Armstrong began to wonder where he was going.
Nothing had been said to him regarding the route to be taken, and the
girl went on as confidently, never turning her head, as if she and not
he were to be the leader of the expedition. He laughed quietly at this,
then, gathering rein, Bruce, requiring no other hint, stepped out and
overtook the horse in front.

“Have you any plan marked out with reference to the roads we may take,
or the towns we are to pass through or avoid?” he asked.

“Yes. We will reach York to-night, then follow the London road as far as
Stamford. After that we branch southwest through Northampton to Oxford.”

“It is all settled then,” he said, smiling.

“I know the way well, and you told me you were a stranger. I have passed
between York and London four times,” she answered seriously, and with
a chilling tone of finality which seemed to indicate that further
discussion was unnecessary. The inflexion may have been too subtle
to impress itself upon the young man, for he continued with obvious
geniality,--“You have wandered far afield for one so young.” To this
remark the girl made no reply. Her eyes were fixed on the road ahead,
and Armstrong, being at a loss to continue a one-sided conversation,
found nothing further to say. He was vaguely conscious of the constraint
that had come between them, for she had talked with him freely enough
the day before; but he could not account for the change. He had always
been accustomed to the free-spoken communion of men, and knew little
of the vagaries of the other sex, whom he had ever regarded as the
more talkative. He feared he had offended her by some thoughtless
observation, and racked his brain trying to remember what it might have
been. If it were her brother who rode beside him he would have asked him
plainly where the offence lay, and would have fought him joyfully if the
answer was not to his mind; but he was afraid of this dainty lady
and anxious not to displease her. He began to see that he ran risk of
disappointment in his anticipation of pleasure through a companionship
which the other party plainly regarded as enforced and not at all to her
liking.

They approached a declivity which disclosed a small hamlet at the foot
of which flowed a stream.

“Do you know the name of this river?” he asked. “It is the Tees,” she
answered shortly.

“Then that will be Yorkshire beyond?”

“Yes.”

Again he could think of nothing further to say, and inwardly chafed at
his own awkwardness. He sympathized deeply with his companion, compelled
to leave her only brother lying helpless from a serious wound, and
thought her taciturnity arose from brooding on his peril, which in part
it did. He wished he could call to his tongue some consolatory phrase,
but his usually ready wit seemed to have deserted him. Yet he thought
it impossible that they should journey thus gloomily the length of
the land. Perhaps to-morrow would prove an amendment on to-day. And so
through Yorkshire the silent progress continued.

The road was better than that to the north of the Tees, and also less
deserted. They passed long trains of pack-horses travelling toward York,
and occasionally met an equestrian, sometimes alone, but more often
attended by one or more servants. So far they had seen nothing to show
that civil war cursed the country, and no soldier had stepped forward to
question their purpose in being abroad.

“This is not unlike some parts of Scotland,” he said at last, in an
ill-fated attempt to revive a conversation which he did not recognize as
dead and beyond his power to resuscitate. The girl reined in her
horse, and Bruce stopped through sympathy, old John halting, that the
respectful distance he kept might not be decreased. Frances held her
head high, and there was a sparkle of determination in her eye. It was
best to begin right, and she would put this persistent man in his place,
a task already too long delayed. And perhaps the putting of him in his
place would lessen the clamour of her own conscience.

“Sir, who are you?” was her amazing inquiry.

“Me?” gasped Armstrong. “I’m a Scotsman.”

“Perhaps I should have said, what are you?”

“You mean----Oh, I’m a drover--a dealer in cattle.”

“Did my brother tell you who I am?”

“He told me his father was the late Earl of Strafford.”

“Yesterday I was grateful to you for the aid you afforded my brother, as
I should have been grateful to my servant if he had occupied your place;
but I should not have forgotten the distance between that servant and
myself. Strafford’s daughter does not recognize a drover as her social
equal. I ask you to take the position I set for you when I began this
journey.”

Armstrong’s face became very red, and then all colour left it as this
pronouncement went on. His back stiffened, and, although he spoke with
measured calmness, there was a thrill of cold anger in his words.

“Do you mean, madam, that I am to ride with your servant?”

“That is what I mean.”

“I have no objection in the least. From the conversations we had
together he shows himself a man of knowledge and a lover of horses,
which is an easy passport to my liking.”

“I am glad his company is so much to your taste, and I shall be obliged
to you if you fall back with him, as I wish to ride alone.”

“That will I not do under command; for, although I may cherish old
John’s conversation, I cannot admit the claim of superiority you set up.
I am a drover, I said, and so your ancient King Alfred might with equal
truth have dubbed himself a baker, if old tales are true. I am William
Armstrong of Gilnochie Towers, Lord of the Lands of Langholm, Dalbetht,
Stapil-Gortown, Shield, and Dalblane. I can trace my lineage as far back
as any noble in England, and come to my ancestral thieves as soon as
they. In courtesy we Armstrongs are the equals of any Englander, and in
battle we have never turned our backs on them. The castles of my clan
line the river Liddel, and when I ride with my friend, the Earl of
Traquair, I ride by his side and not with his followers.”

“Sir, you overwhelm me with your grandeur,” said the girl loftily,
rejoiced to find herself in what promised to be a quarrel. She was
human, and thought it would prove easier to rob an enemy than a friend.
“I thought the crowns of England and Scotland were united, but I see I
was mistaken. I travel with the king of Scotland, and he is doubtless on
his way to Oxford to confer with his brother the king of England.”

“Madam, I go to greet his Majesty, Charles, and if he dare to address me
as you have done I will tell him I am more king of the Border than he is
king of England, and my saying will be true.”

Frances Wentworth bowed low in mock humility.

“Your Highness of the Border, will you permit me to ride in your train?
I know I am not worthy, but I ask the boon that I may seek consolation
in communion with my servitor.”

“Madam, you may ride where you please,” gruffly replied the thoroughly
angered Scot, tingling with wounded pride.

“Sir, I thank you,” replied the maiden, bowing again, “and I am
delighted that you should exhibit to one so lowly as I, an example of
that courtesy of which you just now boasted.”

To this the indignant man made no reply, thus changing his former
relations as regarded conversation. He urged on his horse, and she,
after pausing awhile and seeing that John would approach no nearer,
also went on, and thus the three kept for the day their new relative
positions.

When the excitement of this verbal encounter had passed, the
gratification at bringing about a rupture between them proved
short-lived. Suddenly she was on the verge of tears, but strenuously
repressed them, fearing he would look back, which he never did. That
mood vanished, and hot anger replaced it, the more intense as she knew
herself the aggressor. Nevertheless he had been boorish, she said to
herself; almost brutal in his insolence. If he were a tithe of the
gentleman he so blatantly proclaimed himself, he would have turned round
and apologized for his rudeness, even if his anger at first had been
justified. But there he rode in front of her, hand on hip and head held
high, as if he were lord of the land. A beggarly Scot, proud and poor,
from whose tongue flowed glibly a list of barren acres which civilized
men would disdain to live upon, like the stunted lands to the north
of her own home. Never turned his back indeed! If her father had been
allowed a free hand, he would have chased all such braggarts home to
their kennels. Even now, with his pretended independence, this Scot was
travelling on his traitorous mission under the safe-conduct of the man
he would betray. It was no treachery to outwit a spy, but a patriotic
duty, and she would bid adieu to all qualms of conscience. And yet--and
yet, he had told her brother he would treat her as his own sister, and
it was they who had begged his convoy! Still, he may have eagerly seized
the opportunity of the pass to get himself scathless to Oxford and
back to Carlisle. Thus varying emotions surged through her heart, to
be followed by anxious questionings and at last deep depression,
during which her head hung and her dimmed eyes saw nothing of the road.
Unheeded, the sun passed the meridian, and at last she was roused to a
sense of her surroundings by the stopping of her unguided horse before a
roadside inn. Armstrong, his black steed brought to a standstill
across the highway, sat rigidly upright, and he said, when she thus
unexpectedly looked at him with something of startled appeal in her
eyes,--“We stop here for rest and refreshment.”

“I need neither rest nor refreshment,” she answered wearily.

“I was not thinking of you, madam, but of the horses. They have already
gone too far without food, but in this benighted land there has been no
opportunity of baiting them till now.”

“Yes, you said it was like Scotland,” she answered sharply, whipped to
fresh anger again that she should have imagined he thought of her when
he did not.

She sprang lightly from her horse to the ground, and, without a look at
the faithful animal that had carried her so far, walked very straight to
the door of the hostelry and disappeared within it.

When the time of waiting had ticked itself out on the old clock of the
inn, Armstrong ordered the horses on the road again, and sent old John
to warn his mistress that the way was still long to York. She came out
promptly, mounting proudly without a word, and the expedition set forth
as before, old John contentedly bringing up the rear. All afternoon they
made their progress along the very direct road, no utterance from any
one of the three. Frances grew more and more tired of this doleful
journey, so woefully begun, placing the blame on her own weary shoulders
for the most part, but now and then filled with a growing hatred of
the stolid figure in front, who never once turned round; never once
slackened the pace; never once made inquiry of any kind. What brutes men
were, after all! The horses they bestrode were the better animals!

At last the nearly level rays of the evening sun glorified the towers
of the grey minster, transforming them for the moment into piles of rosy
marble, and the walled town was spread out before them. They came to
Bootham Bar, and here, for the first time, a man-at-arms questioned
their right of way. Armstrong silently presented to him the
blood-stained pass, bearing the signature of the Man of Iron.

“Is he on the pack-horse of your company?”

“Yes.”

“Enter.”

The man-at-arms stood aside, and the trio went up the clattering street
until they came to a house of entertainment once called “The King’s
Head,” with a picture of Charles on the swaying sign, now slightly
changed to represent Fairfax, a good Yorkshireman, while the lettering
had been obliterated and “The Fairfax Arms” painted over it. The leader
of the expedition ordered the best apartment in the house for the lady,
and sat where he was while the bustling landlord assisted the fatigued
traveller to dismount. Armstrong and old John saw to the disposal of the
horses, then the young man walked to the minster and round it, noticing
everywhere the ravages of the late siege. The town had not yet recovered
its arrested prosperity, and most of the people he met were heavy-footed
soldiers and citizens in sombre dress. York had been Royalist to the
core, and now calamity seemed to brood over it. Armstrong made his way
to a mercer’s shop in the main street.

“My garments,” he said to the obsequious proprietor, “are somewhat
stained, and I would renew them.”

“There are many changing their coats nowadays,” replied the man, “and we
must even cut them of the cloth most popular.”

He whipped out a measuring-tape and deftly took the dimensions of his
customer, muttering the numbers as he stretched his arms.

“I have no time to spare for the making of a costume, but must content
myself with what lies on your shelves.”

“Sir, I took you for a traveller, and am but estimating what will best
become you. Your inches are just on the large side, sir, but I shall
pleasure you, never fear.”

He spread out on the long table some apparel in dejected brown, which,
as it seemed to Armstrong, was but clumsily cut.

“You would garb me as a shepherd, I see. I come from the North, where we
are not tailor’s models, perhaps, but we scorn such duds as you exhibit.
Cannot you furnish me with something more like what I wear?”

The mercer looked at him, hesitating for a moment, then led the way to
an inner room.

“I can show you goods there is little call for, and if you are satisfied
with them you take them at your own price and risk.”

He closed the door and brought out from their concealment rich garments
of the Cavalier fashion, which he handled gingerly, as if afraid of
them.

“Ah, that’s more like. Now I shall set myself out from top to toe in
something suitable for riding. My horse and I are two sections of the
same thing.”

In the privacy of the back room the change was effected, and presently
William Armstrong stood as gay and comely a man as could be found in
all England, superbly attired, with filmy lace fluttering at neck and
wrists. The mercer hovered before him, rubbing one hand over the other,
with an artist’s appreciation of the result his efforts had produced,
and indeed something more glimmering behind in the depths of his
appraising eye.

“You will make many a heart beat faster if you pass through the streets
of York in that fashion,” said the mercer.

“I doubt it. I was never one to be popular with the lasses.”

“I was not thinking of women, sir, but of men who have fought and lost.”

“Oh, all’s not lost because York is taken! There will be a King in
England for many a day yet, never you fear.”

The mercer cast a timorous glance about him, then suddenly thrust forth
his hand.

“You are a brave man. God make your prophecy true. I thought you came in
to change your coat with the times, like the rest of us.”

“Coats matter little if the heart is right,” replied the Northerner,
returning the proffered clasp. “You will do what you like with this
discarded shell of mine, for I travel light and cannot be bothered with
it. So, good-bye.”

“‘Ca cannie,’ as your countrymen say, when once you reach the street.
Avoid the soldiery and get free of York as soon as you can.”

The gloom of evening was on the town when Armstrong emerged, yet he had
not gone twenty steps before a stern officer planted himself square in
his path.

“Who are you?” came the curt demand.

“A friend who has been looking for you. The shops are closing, and I am
purposing to buy a pair of pistols like the one whose butt I can see in
your belt. I may need your help to open a gunner’s booth for me.”

“You speak lightly.”

“There is need of that when it grows dark.”

“Fellow, you shall come with me and explain yourself.”

“Not so. You shall come with me and do my explaining. And as the day is
fading, read that while it still holds.” Armstrong handed him the pass
and the officer scanned it suspiciously.

“To Oxford,” he muttered. “If you are not on the road between Carlisle
and Oxford, you are at least in the costume for the latter sink of
iniquity.”

“Yes, and I have the pass to bring me there. Do you dispute it?”

“No.”

“I am glad of that, for you would come into collision with Oliver
Cromwell if you did. Now give me your aid toward firearms.”

The officer turned with him and walked down the street, beat at the door
of the gunshop, and saw the desires of the stranger fulfilled. Then
he accompanied him to the door of the inn, bidding him good-night, and
disappearing down the unlighted street.

The young lady was partaking of the repast prepared for her in the
private parlour set aside for her use, said the landlord in answer to
his guest’s inquiry. On being shown to the door Armstrong knocked on the
panels, and was admitted by old John, who was in attendance.

The girl sat at a table and looked up with surprise, not recognizing her
visitor in his new finery, thinking some stranger had mistaken the room;
but, seeing who it was as he advanced, she turned her gaze away from him
and gave no greeting. If he came to apologize now, it was too late, she
said to herself, and his first words showed that this was indeed his
purpose.

“Madam,” he said with a courtly inclination of his head, which
obeisance, it flashed across the girl’s mind, had been purchased with
his fresh accoutering, a thought that almost brought a smile to her
lips, which she hoped to keep firm. “Madam, I crave your pardon for
my unseemliness of temper to-day. I am at best an uncouth person,
travelling at the head of my own men, who question neither words nor
acts of mine, and so have led me into the gruff habit of expecting
obedience and not censure. I am no squire of dames, as there is little
need to tell you, for already you know it from this day’s experience
of my ways; but I am deeply grieved that I fell so far short of the
courtesy which is your due, and I trust you will forgive my lapse of
manners.”

Here was an apology indeed, that might well have called forth a generous
response, and undoubtedly would have done so from a woman of the world;
but Frances had been too sorely hurt by his long incivility toward her.
Ladies in the romances she had read were always treated with the utmost
chivalry, and, if truth must be told, she was tired and cross, so she
hardened her heart, bent her proud eyes on the latticed window before
her, and made no reply.

There was a few moments’ silence in the room; then her punishment came
in his next words.

“I had hoped we might part good friends.”

“Part!” she cried in sharp terror, and those wide black eyes of hers
quickly deserted the blank panes to fall upon him. She had never
anticipated such an outcome of their quarrel as this, nor dreamed
that it was easily possible for him to circumvent all her plans by
withdrawing himself from her company. Instantly the dread consequences
of such a determination on his part--and she had had a glimpse of his
resoluteness--loomed up before her, every little disagreement between
them sinking into nothingness before this fearful alternative. She
dared not lose sight of him until her mission was accomplished, or
her brother’s life and her country’s ruin paid the penalty of her
foolishness. She must cast herself at his feet, if necessary, to retain
him, and here she had jeopardized everything in an outburst of temper.
A chilling fear crept into her heart that any complacency she might
show him would be too late. Secretly she had rather admired his sturdy
independence and pride of race, comparing it with her own vacillating
purpose, ready one moment to forgive and the next to ban; but now this
lofty self-respect might prove her undoing.

“I fear I overrated my power of serving you,” he continued, “and I
forgot for the moment how slight was my acquaintance with your family.
Manchester, and not Oxford, is my destination, and I shall make for
that town to-morrow before you are astir. The country is not nearly so
disturbed as I expected to find it, and the roads are perfectly safe;
indeed you know the route better than I. This pass is a most potent
document and will open every gate. I leave it with you.” He placed the
paper on the table before her. “If I might venture to counsel you,
I should advise you not to take it into Oxford unless you have some
satisfactory plea to account for its possession.”

“Have you had anything to eat since you came into York?” Her voice was
as sweet as the note of a nightingale.

“No,” said Armstrong with a laugh. “I had forgotten about that; a most
unusual trick of memory.”

“I was too angry with you at the wayside inn, and I could not touch a
morsel, so I thus came famished into York. John, see if Mr. Armstrong’s
meal is prepared, and ask them to serve it here. I think you Scottish
people possess a proverb that it is unfair, or something like that, to
speak with a hungry man.”

“Yes, many of our sayings pertain to eating. We are an uncouth folk, I
fear.”

“Indeed you are far from uncouth to-night, Mr. Armstrong. I thought it
was we ladies who hurried to the mercers when we came to town, but
you lost no time in the delightful quest. That was why I was so deeply
offended with you when you came in. You are most ungallant not to have
invited me to go with you. I could not have visited shops alone.”

“You had no need to visit the shops. Nothing they sell could improve
you.”

“Am I so hopeless as that?” said the girl, with the sigh of the
accomplished coquette, leaning back in her chair and entrancing him with
her eyes.

Armstrong blushed to the roots of his flaxen hair and
stammered,--“I----I meant you are perfect as it is.”

She laughed merrily at his confusion, and her mirth came the heartier as
she saw she was to accomplish her object; then the laugh was checked as
a sudden wave of pity for him surged over her. For all his size he was
a very boy in lack of guile, and a shiver ran over her as she pictured
what he must think of her when he knew. The sudden tension was relieved
by the arrival of old John and the servants carrying a meal hot and
savoury, whose incense was a delight to the starving man.

“There,” she cried, “sit down opposite me. Put this pass in safe keeping
until I seek for it. You will surely not be so cruel as to desert me on
the first stage of our journey?”

“Madam,” said the bewitched man, “I shall do with eagerness whatever it
is your pleasure to ask of me.”



CHAPTER II.--RECONCILIATION.

Another glorious summer morning greeted the pilgrims at York; a morning
so clear and splendid that it seemed to have lifted the gloom which
covered the captured city, as the sun might dissipate a veil of mist. In
spite of her fatigue of the day before, Frances was the first afoot, and
at this setting forth Armstrong and old John were the laggards, as she
blithely informed them when they appeared.

As they rode away from the ancient town the girl could scarcely refrain
from joining the larks in their matin song, such a strange feeling of
elation filled her being. She had had her first intoxicating taste of
power; the supreme power of a beautiful woman over a strong, determined
man. He had come to her the night before with resolution stamped on his
masterful face; came of set purpose, a course of action well marked
out for himself in the long dreary ride to York, and he announced
that purpose to her, catching her entirely unaware. She was without
experience in the ways of men, knowing nothing of them save such
enlightenment as a sister might gather from a brother, and this
knowledge she saw instinctively would be of no service in the contest
that so unexpectedly confronted her. As boy and girl the arguments with
her brother had been of the rough-and-tumble order, where the best man
won and the other sat down and cried. Armstrong had said in effect, “I
leave your company,” and a glance at his face left no doubt but he meant
it. What instinct of heredity had placed her potent weapons silently
before her; what unsuspected latent spirit of coquetry had taught her
on the instant how to use them? A melting glance of the eyes; a low,
lingering tone of voice; and this stubborn man was as wax in her hands.
She had shorn him of his fixed intention, as Delilah had shorn Sampson
of his locks; and as this simile occurred to her the spectre of her
mission rose before her, and she remembered with a shudder that the
parallel of Delilah held true in more senses than one. She glanced
sideways at her Samson riding so easily on his splendid horse. What a
noble-looking youth he was, and how well his new attire became him. Not
any of the courtiers she had seen in the gay entourage of Charles in
London could be compared with him. And what an ill-flavoured task
was hers: to baffle him; to humiliate and defeat him; to send him
crestfallen and undone to his own land! Delilah indeed! “The Philistines
be upon thee, Samson!” Poor Samson! She had always been sorry for him,
as she read, and now--now--hers was the role to wreck him! Again she
glanced at him, and thus caught his gaze bent upon her. He smiled at
her; was smiling when she turned her head.

“I can read your thoughts in your face,” he said.

“Can you?” she asked in alarm.

“Yes. At first the pure sweet beauty of the morning appealed to you. You
were glad to leave the shut-in streets of the town and be once more in
the fresh open country. The song of the birds charmed you, and had there
been no listeners your voice would have joined theirs. When first I
saw you, you were singing, and that was the morning of the day before
yesterday; yet it seems ages past, and I have known you all my life.
It was my ill-omened fate to break upon you with evil tidings, and a
remembrance of my news disturbed you a moment since. The thought of your
brother came to you, and the sunshine of your face died out in sorrow
for him, wishing you had news of him. Do not be concerned for him. I
have seen many a wound deeper than his, and they were of small account
with youth and health to contend against them.”

The girl sighed and turned her face away, making no comment upon his
conjectures, which were so far astray from accuracy. Why had she given
no thought to her brother, whose welfare had never before been absent
from her mind, yet who never before was in such danger as now? Why had
a stranger’s image come between them, so monopolizing her mental vision
that all her pity had been for him? Delilah was the stronger woman, with
no qualms of conscience to unnerve her steady hand. She remembered her
kin and wasted no thought on the stranger who fell in love with her in
the valley of Sorek. “And when Delilah saw that he had told her all
his heart, she sent and called for the lords of the Philistines saying,
‘Come up this once, for he hath shewed me all his heart.’ Then the lords
of the Philistines came up unto her, and brought money in their hand.”
 Money in their hand! The price of a trusting man! Was there anything so
baleful as that in all Scripture? When she presented Cromwell with the
locks of Samson she would quote that sinister verse to him. Well this
lord of the Philistines knew that her brother was not guilty of the
treason for which he had been condemned. Cromwell came, not with money
in his hand, but with life to be given or withheld, as foul play was
successfully accomplished or the reverse. A helpless rage at the part
assigned to her filled her heart with bitterness, and her eyes with
tears.

“I wonder what valley this is we are descending?” said Armstrong.

“The valley of Sorek,” said her lips before her reason could check them.

“What?” cried the young man, amazed, although the reply gave him no
hint of its inner meaning. Then he saw that some strong emotion had
overpowered her, against which all her struggles were in vain. Instant
sympathy with her sorrow manifested itself in his action. He brought his
horse close beside her, reached out and touched her hand.

“Dear heart, do not grieve,” he said tenderly. “I pledge my faith your
brother is better already. Would I had thought of it in time, and there
might have been a horseman travelling all night to York, bringing you
later tidings of him; but I am ever behindhand with my purposing, and
remember a project when it is too late to put it into action. Many a
fight that same backhandedness has led me into. I am for ever
trusting the wrong man and laying myself open to his craft, yet am I
hail-well-met with the next, learning no lesson from experience. Talking
of this thrust your brother got, I remember well, two years ago, when
three men who bore me no good will came to me and said the Earl of
Traquair had bade them make peace with me. I was very willing and struck
hands with them. So off we set together, at their behest, to Traquair’s
Castle, that we might ratify our compact, for the Earl was a good friend
of mine. We had gone near on five miles, and were chatting pleasantly
together, when in the twinkling of an eye the three set on me. Three to
one is no odds for an active man to grumble at if he can face them and
has a rock or a tree at his back, but we were on the open plain, and I
had a blade in my ribs before I could put hand to hilt. I drove Bruce at
the first assailant and, ran him through as he went down. Then I cut for
it till the followers were separated; so I turned on the one nearest me,
gave him his dose, and chased the third man until I began to sway in
my saddle. If he had but known and halted, he would have won an easy
victory. Well, there were three good honest, satisfying wounds on three
men,--each, I venture to say, worse than the one your brother got, and
no doctor within thirty miles; yet the three of us are as hearty to-day
as if we didn’t know what a sword was made for. So have no fear about
your brother. He’ll be out and about by the time you are home again.”

“Your story reminds me of the Roman tale. It was a cowardly act of your
three enemies.”

“I think it was rather that way. I did not heed their onslaught so much
as their pretence of friendliness beforehand. Still, we mustn’t be
too critical when a feud is forward. Things are done then that we are
sorry for afterward.”

“I judge from what you say that you have forgiven the three?”

“Oh, as for that, I had forgotten all about them; it was your brother’s
case brought them to mind. I suppose I have forgiven them; but if I
met them on the road here I’d loosen the sword in its scabbard and be
prepared for blade or hand, whichever they offered. But come, we have
now a level road before us. Let us gallop. There’s nothing so cheers
the mind as a charge on a good horse. We will make old John stir his
stumps.”

They set off together, and old John did his best to keep them in sight.
Some fourteen miles from York they baited their horses, then pushed on
through Bawtry until Tuxford came in sight more than an hour and a half
after noontide, a longer stretch than Armstrong thought good for either
man or beast. It was not yet five in the morning when they left York,
and with the exception of a bite and sup at their only halting-place
they had nothing to eat until two o’clock. Many of the numerous inns
along the road were deserted and in ruins; the farther south the journey
was prolonged the more evident became the traces of war, and Armstrong
found that he had scant choice as to resting-places.

“I hope,” said the girl, who knew the road, “that ‘The Crown at Tuxford
has not been blown down again. It was a good inn.”

“More chance of its being blown up,” replied Armstrong, flippantly. “Was
it blown down once?”

“Yes, about half a century since, in a tempest, but it was rebuilt. You
should have a kindly feeling for it.”

“Why?”

“The Princess Margaret Tudor rested there in 1503, when she went to
Scotland to marry your king.”

“By my forefathers, then, the ‘Crown’ is a place of evil omen for me.
Would that the fair Margaret had slept in it on the night of the storm.”

“And now I ask, why?”

“Because her son, James V, came down to the Border, and by treachery
collected the head of my clan, with about forty or more of his
retainers, and hanged them, denying either trial or appeal. Jamie missed
those twoscore men later in life, when his cowardly crew deserted him.
We Armstrongs seem ever to have been a confiding race of simpletons,
believing each man’s word to be true as the steel at his side. Margaret
was as false as fair, and a poor Queen for Scotland, yet here am I now
risking life or liberty for one of her breed, the descendant of those
fell Stuarts who never honoured woman or kept faith with man.”

“Sir, what are you saying?” cried the girl, aghast at the unheeding
confession into which his impetuosity had carried him.

“God! You may well ask!” said the young man, startled in his turn at
the length he had gone. “Still, it does not matter, for you would be
the last to betray me. I’ll tell you all about it some day, and we will
laugh over our march together, if you forget what I said just now. The
end of our expedition is not to be the end of our acquaintance, I hope,
and you live but a day’s march from the Border. Will you let me take the
day’s march in your direction, now that I know the way?”

“I make no promise until we reach home again. Then you may not wish to
make the journey.”

“Little fear of that. I must see you again, if only to tell you of my
luck in cattle-dealing, at which you showed such scorn yesterday.”

“Do not let us speak of that. There is ‘The Crown’ inn; and even if the
shade of the Princess Margaret does not haunt it, I am pleased to see
there are people more substantial around its doors. It is not deserted.

“It is level with the times. The crown is blotted from the signboard,
although some of the old gilding shines through the new paint.”

It was late in the afternoon before they were on horse again, and they
jogged down the road at an easy amble. Newark was passed, but they did
not stop there longer than was necessary to show their permission to
travel, for Newark had been a Royal town garrisoned for the King and
besieged more than once. Armstrong had intended to stay the night there;
but the authorities showed some reluctance in accepting a pass for two
as convoy for three, and it needed all the young man’s eloquence and
insistance on respect for Cromwell’s signature to get old John past the
barriers, so when once this permission was granted he thought it well to
push on clear of the place and risk the danger of camping out beside the
road.

His luck still stood his friend, and at Grantham, some ten miles farther
on, as the sun was setting, they came to the ancient archway of “The
Angel” inn, a house that gave every indication of furnishing the best of
cheer.

“At last,” cried Armstrong, “we have shaken off the omens, and I find a
lodging fit for you. ‘The Angel’ for an angel, say I, and here it is. No
haunting Margaret of the past, nor inquisitive Roundhead of the present
to molest us.”

“I am not so sure,” laughed Frances. “If ghosts walk these planks, you
may wish the graceful Margaret in their stead. In one of the rooms
of this house Richard III signed the death-warrant of the Duke of
Buckingham. The place hints the fall of kings.”

“Lord, lassie, you know too much history and too many legends of this
gloomy land. I wish we were safe back in the North again.”

“So do I,” she said with a sigh, as he helped her down from her horse.



CHAPTER III.--COMPANIONSHIP.

The buxom landlady of “The Angel” remembered Frances and her four
former visits to the inn, so she took charge of the girl in the most
motherly way, fussing over her and seeing to her comfort.

“No, nothing is changed here,” she said, “though dear knows there’s
trouble enough in the land, and strife and what not; good men going away
and never coming home again, or coming back broken and torn. I’m sure I
don’t know who’s in the right, but somebody’s deeply in the wrong, and
God’s heavy hand is on us all. England will never be England again, I’m
thinking. I waited on the King my own self in these rooms when he went
north not so long ago, and kind and gentle he was to all about him. I’m
sure I don’t know what he has done that his own folk should rise against
him and pen him up in Oxford, as if God’s Providence had ended on earth,
and His anointed was no more than Jack Lorimer the sweep. And the name
of God is always on their lips, but I’m thinking if they talked less of
Him and were kinder to His creatures they would be fitter to meet Him
when their time came. But, dearie, I must n’t run on like this, for
there are listening ears all about us, and a poor old body like me has
been warned more than once. I fear it is not the King that is to blame,
but them foreign people that’s ever at his ear, and I thought little of
them when they were here. There must be something fell wrong when the
nobility themselves turn against him. Well I mind when the great Earl of
Strafford himself came south and stayed the night here. If he had lived
things would have been different, for he looked more the King than the
King himself. Ah, he was a man for you! There, there, dearie, you’re
tired, and I go chattering along. But don’t you cry again, dearie, for
it’s all long past and done with, and doubtless for the best, though our
finite sight may not see that. What a babbling, thoughtless old wife I
am; for I remember now, when you were here last, and I showed you the
oriel window where Strafford sat, and told you the glint of your eye
and the hold of your head reminded me of him, you sat there and wept and
wept as if your heart would break. Kind-hearted you were, dearie, and
I often thought of you and wondered how you were getting on. But now is
not the time for tears, but for joy if ever you are to have it. I knew
so comely a lass would not wander long alone, and that’s a fine man
you’ve got. I saw how it was the moment you came, for the light in his
face when he helped you down from your horse comes but once in a man’s
lifetime and your own.”

“No, no, no, no! You are wrong. He is almost a stranger to me, but is a
friend of my brother. He is nothing to me.”

“Do you tell me that? Well, well, we never know what the future holds
for us, dearie, and unless I’m very much----”

“He was travelling this way, and my brother asked him to give me
company. My brother was wounded and could not come.”

“Wounded? Oh, I am grieved at that. Many a brave lad----is it
dangerous?”

“They say it is not, but it frightens me.”

“Yes, yes, dearie; but them that know are like to be right, and we must
always hope for the best. Now here’s the meal for you, and you will
not get a better between York and London. Your man--ah, there I go
again--the stranger is looking to his horse, no doubt, as a careful
traveller should, and we will see to him when he comes in, so do not you
wait.”

It was late when Armstrong returned from the stables, for old John’s
pack-horse showed signs of distress from travelling between seventy and
eighty miles that day, and as the slowest horse in the party sets the
pace, the animal had to be seen to and cared for.

After his bounteous supper the young man strolled about the rambling
inn, and to his surprise came upon a lonely figure in a dim alcove.

“Dear lass!” he cried, “you should have been at your rest long ago. This
will never do,”--but he sat down beside her. The place was narrow and
very cosy, as if the oriel window recess had been constructed for two
lovers.

“I am not tired,” she said, “and have much to think of, so I knew I
could not sleep.”

“You should sleep well after so long a day in the open air. Deep
thinking is the enemy of rest, and rather useless in the main. I’ll
wager you’re wishing for news from the North.”

“Yes, I was.”

“Well, see the uselessness of that.”

“I know it, but how can one guide one’s thoughts?”

“Oh, it can be done. They say Cromwell has the power of dropping to
sleep the instant he gets half an hour to himself. He has plenty to
think of, and yet he must be able to guide his thoughts or abolish them
for the moment, or he could not do that.”

“They say also that he has some secret power by which he gets news
before any one else, and thus appears where he is most needed at the
time he is least expected.”

“I doubt that. He has well-trained men in his service, which is the
whole secret. Do you like Cromwell?”

“I do not.”

“You surprise me. I thought you were a partizan of his. You remember
what I said when we were approaching this inn?”

“You said many things.”

“Aye. But I said one in particular that I would have wished recalled
if it had been said to any one but you. I promised to let you know all
about it some day, but I’ve thought over the matter and I’m going to
tell you now.”

“No, no! I do not wish to hear.”

“But listen a moment----”

“No! I have been trying to forget what you said.”

“It is not fair to you that you should be exposed to an unknown scath.
This did not occur to me when I set out, but your journey may be
jeopardized because of my being deeper in dangerous projects than you
have any suspicion of. So I have need to tell you my real errand in the
South.”

“Mr. Armstrong, I refuse to hear you. I will not be burdened with what
does not concern me. Is your memory so short that you forget what has
befallen yourself and your kin by trusting to strangers? I warn you to
beware of me, and to treat me as if I were an enemy.”

“As if I could!”

“As if you must. I have no patience with a confiding man, who needs
ever to be kneeling at the confessional. I wish to know nothing of your
affairs.”

“At the confessional? Indeed, and you are right about that. But I have
no desire to confess for confession’s sake. I wished but to warn you.”

“Very well; I turn the tables and warn you. I ask you to think of
the injustice of what you were about to do. If you are on some secret
mission, there are others besides yourself involved. It is most unfair
to them that you should make a confidant of any person without their
consent.”

“You say sooth. If you take my hint and promptly disown me should I
become involved, I am satisfied.”

“I can the more readily disown you if I know nothing of the traffic you
are engaged in.”

“True, true!”

“They say this inn is part of what was once the monastery of the
Templars, and I think the influence of these warrior priests remain in
it; for I, too, was tempted to confession when you came. But we must
have none of that.”

“My lady, you would find me a more eager listener to a penitent than you
proved to be. This alcove is like a niche in a temple, and doubtless has
heard many a confidence since the Templars built it.”

“It shows us a good example; it keeps silent about them.”

The two were startled by a deep voice that broke in upon their
discourse. They had heard no one approach, but now there stood before
them at the outlet of the recess a tall, gaunt figure in the sombre
garb of the Parliamentarian, as if he were the spirit of some forgotten
Templar of whom they had just been speaking; indeed he seemed the modern
embodiment of one of that fanatic, sinister band, for while his bearing
betokened the fervid exhorter, a sword by his side indicated that he
used the physical as well as the spiritual arm. His cheeks were sunken,
and a two-days stubble on his chin emphasized not only the emaciation of
his face, but the unhealthy clay colour of his skin.

“A word with you. Who are you? Whence come you? Whither are you bound,
and to what purpose?”

“Egad!” muttered Armstrong under his breath, “here’s a father-confessor
indeed, and right willing to take on the task with no misgiving.”

The girl wondered how long the apparition had been standing there, and
rapidly ran over in her mind what had been said between herself and
her companion since he came. Armstrong spoke up, and, while speaking,
proffered his pass to the interloper.

“Sir, that document will possibly satisfy all your questionings.” The
stranger, taking it, held it near the lamp and read its brief wording.

“This answers none of my questions, except, and then by inference only,
that you are perchance destined for Oxford.”

“Is not the signature sufficient passport, so long as you do not find
us south of Oxford or north of Carlisle? We are within the region over
which the passport extends.”

“For the second time I propound my inquiries.”

“Then for the first time I return them to you. Who are you? Whence come
you? Whither are you bound, and to what purpose?”

The man answered without the slightest show of resentment against what
he must have known to be an intended impertinence.

“I am Hezekiah Benton, an humble preacher of the Word, and, if need
be, a wielder of the sword. I came from Newark, and purpose returning
thither, God willing, with more knowledge concerning you than you gave
when you passed the gate.”

“Very well, Mr. Benton, I will be equally frank, pausing to note with
surprise that the signature of his Excellency General Cromwell is
invalid south of Newark----”

“I said not so,” interrupted the preacher.

“You imply as much by questioning after it has been shown to you.”

“If you are entitled to hold this pass, you will meet no obstruction
within its limits. As no persons are named upon this paper, it is my
duty to satisfy my superiors that it is not misused.”

“Pardon me, Mr. Benton, but has it not occurred to your superiors that
if General Cromwell had wished the names known he would have set them
down as fully as his own?”

Hezekiah thoughtfully scratched his stubbly chin, and was evidently
nonplussed by the view so calmly presented to him. After turning the
problem in his mind for a few moments, he replied: “Nevertheless you
are travelling on the London road. This pass reads Carlisle to Oxford.
Newark is not on the highway between these two towns.”

“Admirably reasoned, Mr. Benton, and I envy those who have opportunity
of hearing your discourses. They listen to good logic, I stand warrant.
But the apparent mystery is soon dissolved. This paper was written by
his Excellency at Corbiton Manor, in the county of Durham, at about this
hour of the night three days ago, what time, if I may so put it, I was
the guest of his Excellency at that place. If you will bear the county
of Durham instead of the county of Northumberland in mind, you will
observe I have taken the quickest route to Oxford, when the state of
cross-country roads is considered. So far as the London direction is
concerned, we deflect from it to-morrow at Stamford, and will rest, God
permitting us, at Northampton to-morrow night. Any further questions
will be as cheerfully answered, for I know you would not ask them
without authority and a full explanation to give to General Cromwell,
should he chance to dislike the uncovering of that which he was at some
pains to conceal.”

Hezekiah Benton made haste in returning the passport to the suave and
eloquent man from whom he had obtained it.

“Sir, your disquisition is most complete and satisfactory. If but a
tithe of it had been given at Newark I would have been saved a hurried
journey, and you a cross-examination. I give you good-night, and God be
with you.”

“May he see you safe in Newark again, and grant you length of days to
expound His Word,” responded Armstrong devoutly, as he rose from his
seat and bowed.

Frances rose also when their visitor had taken himself off.

“You are something of a diplomatist, Mr. Armstrong, but I fear diplomacy
requires a touch of hypocrisy. Could you not have dismissed him without
the benediction?”

“Why? I meant it thoroughly. I am a religious man with a creed as grim
as his own; a Presbyterian. I meant every word of it. He is a good man;
notice how mildly he answered my scoffing return of his own questions.
He made me ashamed of my frivolity.”

“A religious man, are you?”

“Yes, why not?”

“I don’t know. I had not thought of you as such. Your account of another
man’s pass did not seem strictly accurate.”

“It was true nevertheless. Every word I said was true. I never even
hinted the pass belonged to me.”

The girl laughed and held out her hand.

“Yet you cannot deny that he gathered a wrong impression.”

“Ah, that was his fault, not mine. Hezekiah himself would tell you to
possess the wisdom of the serpent as well as the harmlessness of the
dove. But do not let me be too self-righteous. I will be honest with
you, and admit at once that had a direct falsehood been necessary I
would have used it. I was determined not to give him any name, for the
pass I hold from Cromwell set Manchester as the limit, and we are now
south of Manchester. I would have given the good Benton my name at York,
but not at Grantham.”

“You think, then, that where great events are at stake,--a man’s
life let us say, or a country’s welfare,--one is justified in using
deception?”

“Most assuredly. I should have no hesitation in trying any ruse to save
my friend or serve my country. Do you not agree with me?”

“I am trying to. Yes, I do agree with you. I do! I do! I do!” she
cried with a sudden fervour that surprised him, for it seemed out of
proportion to the importance of the ethical question they had been
discussing. He had been holding her hand all this time, and she seemed
to become newly aware of that fact and hastily withdrew it, blushing as
she did so. She spoke rapidly, as if to cover her confusion:

“I use the words furnished me by our visitor. I give you good-night, and
God be with you,”--and she was gone before his unreadiness could frame a
response.



CHAPTER IV.--FRIENDSHIP.

Next day the three were not as early beginning their march, because
Northampton was barely fifty miles distant, and the day was longer than
the way. The good landlady of “The Angel,” bustling and voluble, saw
them off with many blessings, and wishings that God would speed
them. Stamford furnished bait for their horses and a short rest for
themselves. Then they took the deflecting road for Northampton, but
their pack-horse limped and their progress was slow. Frances was in
better spirits than was the case since the pilgrimage began, for she had
now persuaded her mind, which eagerly wished to be convinced, that her
future action would save the lives of two men,--Armstrong’s not less
than her brother’s,--and so she had come to look upon her unsuspecting
companion as her beneficiary rather than her victim. He himself had
unknowingly been advocate against himself, and she was surprised to note
how much influence his argument exerted, thinking it was because she was
so anxious to be confirmed that the deed which circumstances compelled
her to do had more of right than wrong in it. If he was indeed a
Presbyterian, as he had said, his sympathies must, after all, lean
toward the Parliamentary side rather than toward the Royal cause, and
disappointment at the failure of his mission could not be very severe.
She had heard him say nothing which showed enthusiasm or even concern
for the King; in truth the remark which had inadvertently escaped him
was to the effect that it was folly for one of his name to do service
for the line of Stuart, and he had characterized the race as fair and
false. Whatever motive, then, had sent him on this dangerous mission,
it was neither love for the King nor loyalty toward his cause. Armstrong
always spoke of himself as an outsider, having little interest in the
quarrels of the English, whom he quite evidently regarded as an inferior
race, easily overcome if fronted by real fighters. She smiled as she
recollected his embarrassment once or twice in the midst of a diatribe
against them, when he remembered just too late that he was talking to an
Englishwoman. One fact, however, she failed to recognize, which was that
in the intervals of conversation her mind was entirely filled with this
blond Scot, to the exclusion of everything else.

The day passed pleasantly enough, even if progress was slow. Armstrong
related many interesting or amusing anecdotes of the Border, and the
girl came to the conclusion that life must be anything but dull in that
hilly district. They partook of their noontide meal at a hospitable
farm-house, for inns were few and mostly untenanted. They learned that
it would probably be dark by the time they reached Northampton, but
there was a new moon to light their way. They were off the main line of
travel and had the road practically to themselves. At about five in the
afternoon they heard the tramping of a squadron behind them, coming on
at a rapid walk. Armstrong suggested that it would be well to draw into
the hedge while the troopers passed, and this they did. The Scot sat
easily on his horse, watching the somewhat imposing oncoming, the
breastplates of the men scintillating in the declining sun, which shone
full upon them. Suddenly Armstrong straightened and, unconsciously
perhaps, his hand grasped that of the girl beside him.

“Have you ever seen Cromwell?” he asked.

“No.”

“That is he at the head of the cavalry.”

She drew away her hand, and sat there, scarcely breathing, fearful of
the approaching encounter, which now could not be avoided. If Armstrong
were equally perturbed he showed no sign of it, and she admired his
nonchalance as she glanced momentarily at him. But her eyes turned
instinctively again to the leader of the troops. There was something
masterful in his very bulk; he seemed a massive man on his huge horse;
power personified were horse and man. His unblinking eye faced the sun
like an eagle’s, and he came stolidly past them, looking neither to the
right nor the left. The firm face was as inscrutable and as ruthless as
that of the Sphinx.

Four and four came the men behind him; some old, but erect; the majority
middle-aged; all cast in the same mould as their leader. They sat like
him, and looked straight ahead like him. Polished steel on head and
front, but nothing ornamental in their outfitting. No drums, no flags,
no trumpets; a shining, yellow bugle at the hip of the foremost,--that
was all. Everything for use, nothing for display.. Clanking past they
came, four and four, four and four, in seeming endless procession;
weapons, and chains at the horse’s bits, jingling the only music of
their march. Not a word was spoken, not a glance to one side or the
other. At last the final four went by, and Frances drew a breath of
relief that a menace was past and done with.

“Do you think he saw us?” she whispered, not yet daring to speak
aloud,--a precaution rather absurd, for she might have shouted while
they were within arm’s length of her, and she would not have been heard
in the trampling of the horses.

“Saw us!” echoed Armstrong, “yes, every thread of our garments. What a
man! God of war, how I should like to fight him!”

“I thought you admired him.”

“So I do, more than any other on earth. If I had seen him before, I
doubt if I had been here.”

“I understood you to say you met him at Corbiton.”

“Met him, yes, by dim candle-light, smooth and courteous. But I never
really saw him until now. You cannot rightly judge a man--a fighter,
that is--until you have looked at him on horseback. That man knows my
business. For the first time since I set out I doubt my success.”

“Will you turn back?” she asked, her voice quavering.

“Oh, no! I’m his Roland. If we do not cross swords, we’ll run a race,
and may the best man win. But I feel strangely uncomfortable about the
neck, and I think of my ancestor Johnnie and the Scottish king.”

He raised his chin and moved his head from side to side, as if the
rope already throttled him. Then he laughed, and she gazed at him in
fascinated terror, wondering he could jest on a subject so gruesome.

“That man is likely to defeat me,” he continued. “His plans are all
laid, and already I feel the toils tightening around me. I am satisfied
he knows every move I have made since I left him. The unseen spy is
on my track, and, by my sword, I’d rather circumvent him than rule the
kingdom. Wull, whaur’s yer wits? Now’s the time ye need them, my lad. In
the first place, I dare not go through Northampton; that’s clear.”

“Why?”

“In my soul I’m certain a crisis awaits me there. I’ll be nabbed in
Northampton. Then the question, ‘Why did you refuse a pass to Oxford’?”

“Did he offer you one?”

“Yes. The next question will be,’ Why are you south of the limit set by
yourself, travelling to Oxford on another’s pass?’ To that query there’s
no answer. I’m a self-convicted spy, and then the scaffold, according to
all the rules of war.”

“Pardon me if I do not follow your argument. If he has tracked you, as
you think, there is no more reason he should stop you at Northampton
than at Newark or Grantham. Aside from that, why did he not hold you
when he had you?”

“Oh, I had not put my neck into the noose then. As for arresting me at
Newark or at Grantham, I see now that such was his intention, but our
friend Hezekiah failed him. It was undoubtedly Cromwell’s purpose that
we should have gone back with Benton.”

“Still, I do not believe you. If Cromwell is as crafty as you seem to
believe, it is likely he wishes you to reach Oxford. Unless that was the
case, why should he have offered you the pass?”

“My lass, there are several sides to this problem, and what you say
has the stamp of probability on it. Nevertheless, I’ll overset his
arrangements. I am the only one of us three who cannot give good excuses
for being in these parts. Here is the pass which protects you and old
John,” he said, giving her the document. “You and he will to Oxford
at your leisure. I shall gallop across country, will evade the
Parliamentary lines as best I may, and will be in Oxford to-morrow
morning. That will throw Old Noll a day out of his count.”

“Then you leave me to meet Cromwell alone?”

“You have no need to fear the meeting. Your plea is perfect. Your
brother was wounded, and you have undertaken his task. Of me or my plans
you know nothing, and I was with you merely because I happened to be
travelling this way, and had brought your wounded brother to his home.
And here is a great warning to us all. Happy is the person who can abide
by the truth; who has no secret designs to conceal. My lady, I envy
you.”

Frances made no reply, but sat there, bending her eyes on the ground.
There could be no doubt that his new resolve was the best move in the
circumstances, and she was not in a position to inform him that his
night inarch was unnecessary, and that he would be wise to husband his
horse’s power until he left Oxford, for then would come his time of
need.

“Well, let us get on,” he cried. “I’ll take the first by-road south.”

Cautious old John, with his limping horse, had gone forward while they
stood talking together, and now they cantered to overtake him.
Frances was glad of the cessation of conversation that she might have
opportunity of meditating on some argument that would retain him by
her side. If he left her, she was resolved to seek out Cromwell at
Northampton, tell him of her brother’s disaster, and explain her own
effort to make good his absence. When Cromwell was convinced that both
her brother and herself had faithfully endeavoured to carry out the
Commander’s wishes, he might then heed her pleading that sentence be
annulled, or at least suspended, until the boy had another chance of
proving his loyalty to his party. She thought she should succeed in this
appeal for mercy, as she was sure Cromwell himself must know her
brother was not a traitor. Her meditations were interrupted by Armstrong
suddenly drawing in his horse and standing up in his stirrups. She also
stopped and looked inquiringly at him. A high hedge bordered the road,
and he was endeavouring to peer beyond it.

“What is it?” she asked.

“I thought I caught a glint of a helmet over yonder.”

They went on at a walk, and shortly after passed a road that crossed
their own. Up this cross-road to the north, two troopers sat on their
horses; down the road to the south were two others. As Armstrong and
his companion continued west, the four troopers came out of their
concealment and followed them.

“By St. Andrew, trapped! I’m trapped as completely as ever was
Englishman in Tarras Moss!” muttered Armstrong.



CHAPTER V.--AFFECTION.

The four troopers allowed the distance between themselves and the
forward party neither to increase nor diminish until darkness set in,
when they closed up, but said nothing. There was no further conversation
between Frances and the young man. He held himself erect, and beyond
the first exclamation gave no intimation that he was disturbed by the
prospect before him. She was victim to the most profound dejection, and
was relieved when the gathering gloom allowed her pent-up tears to fall
unseen. The universal silence made the situation the more impressive.
The sun had gone down in a bank of cloud which now overspread the
heavens, threatening a storm and obscuring the moon.

At last the lights of Northampton glimmered ahead, and shortly after
a guard in front summoned them to stand. The troopers behind them also
stood, but took no part in what followed. An officer examined their
pass by the light of a lantern, but did not return it to them. His words
seemed reassuring enough.

“You are stopping the night at Northampton?”

“Yes,” replied Armstrong, although the pass had been given up by
Frances, and the officer’s inquiry was addressed to her.

“Have you any particular lodging in view?”

“No.”

“You may meet trouble in finding a suitable abiding-place,” said the
officer, “more especially for the lady. Northampton is little better
than a barracks at the moment. I will take you to ‘The Red Lion.’”
 Saying this, but without waiting for any reply, he led the way with the
swinging lantern. “The Red Lion” proved a much less attractive hostelry
than the hospitable “Angel” at Grantham. It seemed occupied chiefly by
armed men, and resembled military headquarters more than an inn.

“You will perhaps wish to see to your horses yourself,” suggested the
officer to Armstrong.

“Yes, after I am assured that the lady is----”

“Have no anxiety on that score. I will place her in the guardianship of
the hostess, and will wait here for you.”

The assurance had all the definiteness of a command, and Armstrong,
without further parley, led away his own horse and hers, followed by old
John.

“Come this way, madam,” said the officer to Frances.

He escorted her up a stairway, and at the top turned to her and said
in a low voice: “General Cromwell’s commands were that you should be
brought to him as soon as you arrived.”

“Very well. I am ready.”

He knocked at a door, and a gruff voice from within told him to enter.
He opened the door and went in, followed by his prisoner.

“I have brought the woman, General. The man is under guard below.”
 Saying this, and receiving no reply, the officer laid the pass on the
table and withdrew, closing the door behind him.

Cromwell stood at the window, looking down on the dark street below,
dotted with moving lights. His broad back was toward his visitor, and
he did not turn round even when he addressed her. On a chair rested his
polished breast-plate and steel cap, otherwise he was accoutred as he
had been when she saw him on the road. His voice was hoarse.

“Who are you, wench, and what are you to this man, that you range the
land brazenly together under a pass written for neither of you?”

With some difficulty the girl found her voice after two or three
ineffectual attempts to speak, and said: “I am Frances Wentworth, sister
to Lieutenant Wentworth of General Cromwell’s army.”

The General’s ponderous head turned slowly, and he bent his sullen eyes
upon her. She wondered Armstrong had not seen the brutal power of that
countenance even by candle-light.

“Why is your brother not in your place?”

“My brother was sorely wounded the morning he set out, and now lies
between life and death in our home.”

“How came he wounded?”

“He met Lord Rudby, who attacked him. My brother would not defend
himself, and so was thrust through the body. Armstrong brought him to
our house, and the doctor says he cannot be moved for a month at least.”

“Why was I not informed of this?”

“I did not know where to find you.”

“You, wench, surely did not know where to find me; but your brother knew
that a message to his nearest superior would find me.”

“My brother, I have told you, was dangerously wounded, and had but one
thing in his mind.”

“What was that? Lord Rudby’s daughter, most like.”

The rich colour mounted in the cheeks of Frances, but she answered
slowly: “It was to have done with the task you had set upon him.”

“He committed it to your hands then?”

“He did.”

“What was the task I set him?”

“It was to steal from Armstrong the King’s commission, and to deliver
the result of that theft to General Cromwell, the receiver.”

“Wench, your tongue is over-sharp; a grievous fault. I pray you amend
it.”

“Not until I have told you I am no wench, but a lady.”

“We have had too much of lady’s meddling in England, and will have less
of it in days to come. A wench, if she be honest, is better than a lady,
who is seldom honest. Your meddling in this matter has come near to
causing a serious disarrangement of great affairs. How was I to know who
you were or why you travelled? Has that foolish head of yours so little
understanding that, though you stopped at York, at Newark, at Grantham,
you gave no officer of mine a clue to your vagabondage?”

“A woman can fulfil her duty without so much babbling of it. My foolish
head never thought a great general wished his designs published from one
end of England to the other.”

The shaggy brows of Cromwell drew down over eyes that shot forth dull
fire. He turned completely around, seemed about to speak, but did not.
The flame of his glance died out, and he advanced to the table, picked
up the pass, examining it critically, back and front. Then he handed
it to her, saying slowly,--“If your brother had your brain without your
tongue, he would advance faster than he does.”

“Am I, then, to go on with this adventure?”

“Yes. You will reach Oxford to-morrow. The King will delay, and shuffle,
and suspect, until our Scot is in a fine fume of impatience. For three
days more I shall be in Northampton. After that for a week I shall be
at Broughton Castle, some few miles west of Banbury. If you should be
delayed longer in Oxford, I shall let you know where I am by means of De
Courcy, who----”

“De Courcy!” exclaimed the girl.

“Yes; what do you know of him?”

“If he is the same man who was in the _entourage_ of the King in
London,--a Frenchman of that name,--I know nothing good of him.”

“You cannot look for every virtue in the character of a spy, and we
who are doing the Lord’s work must use the tools the Lord places in our
hands.”

“The Lord has naught to do with De Courcy. He is a devil’s man, body and
soul.”

Cromwell scowled at her. “What mean you by that, hussy?” he asked
shortly.

“I mean that De Courcy would sell you as readily as he would the King,
if there was gold to be made of the bargaining. The Philistines come
with money in their hands, and they always find a De Courcy, male or
female.”

At this Biblical allusion the face of Cromwell cleared like magic,
and she had a glimpse of another facet of his character. A certain
exaltation which had nothing of hypocrisy in it radiated from his
countenance, and his voice rang clear when he spoke.

“Aye, my girl, and when there is a Samson of sin to be bound and
blinded, the Philistines do right to accomplish the act as best they
may. Judge not, that ye be not judged. Perchance this work to which your
hand is now set is not done for either God or your country.”

“It will be done for my brother’s life.”

“Aye, truly; and that is your Philistine’s wage. De Courcey toils not for
the life of another, but for gold, and let him that is without sin cast
the first stone. I give the wage demanded, and care nothing so that
God’s work be done. God’s work is the one thing important, so scorn not
De Courcy or any other, but seek his aid in Oxford if it be necessary to
communicate with me.”

“That shall I never do,” muttered the girl under her breath; and if
Cromwell heard he paid no heed.

“Have you given thought to your purpose?” he asked.

“I have thought of nothing else; it has never been absent from my mind.”

“How do you hope to accomplish possession?”

“I expect to enact the scriptural part of the ‘thief in the night,’
somewhere between Oxford and Carlisle.”

He had seated himself at the table, leaving her still standing before
him. At these words the frown came again to his brow, and anger to his
eyes.

“I do not like your iteration; it is not to the purpose, and is but
womanish.”

“I am a woman, and must bear the disadvantages of being so. As you have
said, that matters little so that the good work be done.”

“Between Oxford and Carlisle is vague. I cannot trust to a scheme so
lacking in definiteness. I shall have Armstrong laid by the heels long
before he reaches Carlisle. If the wench’s hand fail, then comes the
rough paw of the trooper immediately after. Your chance will be in
Banbury, where you must contrive to have him stop for the night.”

“If we leave Oxford early in the morning he will not be content to stop
in Banbury, which is less than twenty-five miles away, and even on the
coming hither we have covered more than double that distance each day.
He will be urgent on his return.”

“True, but there lies your task in management; you may fall ill, and I
question if he will leave you. I can order your pass taken from you at
Banbury, and a night’s delay caused. You will go to the inn called ‘The
Banbury Arms,’ at the sign of the blazoned sun. The inn-keeper will ask
for your pass, and when he sees it he will place you in adjoining rooms
which are fitted for your purpose. There is a communicating door, bolted
on your side, invisible, except by close scrutiny, on the other.
What follows will depend on your skill and quietness. Has the man any
suspicion of your intention toward him?”

“None in the least. He is honest and kind.”

“Ah! Do not dwell too much on his kindness in your thoughts, nor trust
anything to his honesty. Make it your business to know where he keeps
the King’s letter, and when it is once in your possession speed at once
to Broughton Castle and deliver it into my hands. I will exchange for it
full pardon and a Captain’s commission for your brother, and if you have
further to ask my ear will be inclined toward you.”

“I shall have nothing to ask except that this Scot be allowed to pass
unscathed to his home.”

Cromwell gazed intently at her for a moment, and she returned his look
clear-eyed and unabashed. He replied slowly: “If I were willing to harm
the Scot the case would be much simpler than it is. You left your home
thinking only of your brother, but now the stranger occupies at least a
part of your mind.”

“It is natural we should feel compassion for those we injure.”

A short time before the General had intimated that her tongue was
an unruly member, and for a moment it seemed that her impulsive
inexperience in dealing with men was about to wreck her plans, for now
even the girl was shrewd enough to see that she was sowing distrust of
herself in her opponent’s mind by incautious utterances. Cromwell
leaned back in his chair, and a look of rapt meditation crept over his
features. The girl saw she had vanished from his vision, and that the
grim man was alone with himself, inwardly questioning his thoughts and
demanding an answer. She realized intuitively that once this answer
were given, nothing she could say or do would turn him from the purpose
decided upon.

“O Youth, Youth!” he murmured, “how unstable thou art! A broken reed;
undependable! Give me the middle-aged; the steadfast. Youth is the flash
of the burning flax; middle age the steady flame of a consuming fire. Is
it not better to imprison this man secretly or hang him openly? He is a
convicted spy; every law of war will uphold me. If I grasp the thistle
it may sting me, but I shall uproot it. Yet----yet, why at this time
bring upon me the brawling Scots? Could I be but sure----the brother
risks all at the supreme moment and falls as the fool falleth. Why
should she be more firm? Were I sure of her----”

“Sir, you can be sure of me,” cried the girl in a panic, terror-stricken
at the sight his muttered phrases conjured before her.

“What! What! What! What say you?” Cromwell shook himself as a man rudely
awakened from sleep.

“I say you can be sure of me. I shall not falter.”

“You will bring me this document?”

“I swear to God I will.”

“Nay, nay, swear not at all. If a man’s word bear him not up, he
will sink when his oath alone buoys him. Wench, I will trust you; but
remember this: if I am compelled to take this man through force of arms,
to surround him with a troop and publicly wrench his burden from him,
I must as publicly hang him, to warn the next Scot who would make the
essay on Oxford. If you succeed, you save not only your brother’s life,
but this man’s as well. Now go. Let there be no turning back from the
plough to which your hand is set.”

Frances retreated and let herself out of the room. On the stair-head at
the end of the passage, well out of possible earshot, two soldiers stood
on guard, and between them an elderly woman, who immediately advanced
when she saw the girl leave the General’s room.

“I am the landlady,” she said. “Will you come with me?”

“I wish a word with my friend,” replied Frances. The woman appeared
nonplussed, and stood hesitating; but at that moment the officer who had
conducted her came up the stair and approached. “I wish to speak with
Mr. Armstrong,” she said to him. “Where is he?”

“One moment, madam, if you please,” replied the officer, knocking at the
General’s door. He was not bade to enter, but the single word, “Oxford,”
 uttered in a deep voice, came from within. The subordinate appeared to
understand, and with a bow to the lady said: “Mr. Armstrong is waiting
below. Will you come down, or shall I ask him to come up?”

“You may tell him I wish to see him.”

She walked to the head of the stair and saw Armstrong alone in the lower
hall, pacing up and down with a fine swagger of Scottish indifference,
which he must have been far from feeling, while the doorway was blocked
by two guards holding grounded pikes. The moment the young man saw her
he came bounding up the stair two steps at a time. All the guards, above
and below, seemed struck with simultaneous alertness, and made a motion
which, if continued, would have brought their weapons to bear on the
prisoner, but a slight signal from the officer’s hand brought back their
former stolidity.

“Oh, Mr. Armstrong, I merely wished to know at what hour we set out
to-morrow.”

“_Do_ we set out to-morrow?” he asked in a whisper. “Yes, there is no
obstacle between here and Oxford. I was up so late last night, and that,
with this long, dragging journey to-day, has tired me. All I wished to
know was the hour for to-morrow.”

“But you will have supper with me?”

“No. I can eat nothing. I am too tired.”

“Now, that’s strange. I’m as hungry as the Tweed at flood time. Let me
persuade you.”

“Thank you, but I would rest. Good-night.”

In all his life he never forgot that picture of the girl at the
stair-head looking down upon him. There was a pathetic droop in her
attitude which was usually so firm and erect, as if the gloom of this
fortress-inn oppressed her. Childlike and forlorn she seemed, and
a great wave of pity surged up in his heart for her, while his arms
thrilled with a yearning to enclasp and comfort her.

“Good-night!” he cried, impulsively thrusting forth his hand to her. She
did not appear to notice the extended hand, and he almost imagined she
shrank from it. As she went away he had one more lingering look from
her, over her shoulder. A smile, sad and weary, but inexpressibly sweet,
lingered on her lips.

“Good-night,” she whispered.



CHAPTER VI.--REJECTION.

There had been a lashing of rain and a clatter of thunder over
Northampton in the night, as if the town were again besieged; but
morning broke clear and beautiful, and when the pilgrims got out
into the country again, the freshness of the air, the sparkle of the
rain-drops on the trees, caused the world to seem newly made. The girl
rode silent and thoughtful, but the young man was bubbling over with
high spirits.

“What a wonderful magician is the morning after a rain in midsummer!” he
cried. “It transforms everything and glorifies the commonest object, and
it transmutes our thoughts from lead to silver. Last night, with the sky
overcast and the coming storm growling in the west, when the air hung
heavy and the gloom settled down upon us, every man was a lurking enemy,
and that innocent tavern a place of dungeons instead of ale-cellars.
This morning, hey, presto! a wave of the conjurer’s wand, and every
soldier is a jolly fellow and a well-wisher. I’m ashamed to confess
it in this bright light, but last night I was in a panic, like a lad
passing through a graveyard. Never before did my spirits sink to so low
an ebb. Those kindly men bustling round to be of help to me with the
horses seemed, to my distorted brain, on the watch lest I should give
them the slip, and when the guards were set at the door after I had
entered and was waiting for you, I thought they were so placed to keep
me prisoner, and when the polite officer told me they were there
every night, I actually disbelieved him. Even his own actions seemed
suspicious, but now, as I look back on it, he was merely one of the few
courteous persons in the Parliamentary army.”

Armstrong suddenly threw back his head and laughed aloud, as if some
humourous recollection had come to him.

“That poor officer must have thought me mad. When I came in from the
stables I called for the landlady and asked where you were. She said you
were in your room. I then requested her to find out if you would see me
for a moment, and without reply she disappeared up the stair. I waited
and waited, but she did not return. The officer was now by my side,
chattering away about something to which I gave no attention. All at
once the absurd idea struck me that you were with Cromwell, taken there
by the officer, and that Old Noll was brow-beating you and threatening
you, to learn something of me and what I was about.”

“No one asked me anything about you or your business,” said the girl.

“Of course not. I see that plainly now, but I give you my word it was
real enough then. Without a word of warning I broke in on the amazed
officer and shouted, ‘Where is General Cromwell?’ The man looked
dumbfounded, as well he might; then he answered quietly enough, ‘The
General is in the Castle, half a mile from here.’ Even then a glimmer
of sense came to me, and I explained that the General had passed us that
afternoon, and I wondered if he had stopped at Northampton. The officer
said he had, and next moment the landlady appeared at the stair-head,
and you a moment or two after. What tricks imagination can play with a
man!”

“I was as anxious as you were last night, and shall always think of
Northampton as the gloomiest town I ever saw.”

“I am glad to be quit of it. I wonder if that officer has given us the
right direction? It seems to me that we should be bearing further south
for Oxford. But perhaps the road takes a turn presently.”

“The road is right for the way we are going. We pass through Banbury,
which is not much longer than the direct route. I intend to leave Old
John at Banbury, and with him this permit, which will be a danger to
carry until we turn north again. Banbury is on the straight road to
Scotland, which I suppose will be the way you go on your return.”

“You are right in that. I’ll travel north as the crow flies if I can.”

“Then what say you to making Banbury our first stop on the homeward run,
after we leave Oxford, taking early to the road the next morning.”

“How far is Banbury from Oxford?”

“Less than thirty miles, I think.”

“Oh, we can do better than that. I must make from seventy to one hundred
miles a day on my road home.”

“There is sometimes real speed in apparent slowness.”

“True. We shall be guided by circumstances, of course. Much will depend
on the hour of the day we are done with Oxford.”

Frances said nothing more, for she saw that the stop at Banbury would
have to be managed from Oxford, and that it would require some tact on
her part to arrange it. The ever-increasing moon was against her, for
if there was much delay at Oxford, not only would Armstrong be the more
impatient to get north, but night would soon be almost as light as
day, and therefore travel would only be limited by the endurance of
themselves and their horses. She wished Cromwell had selected some
spot at least fifty miles farther away than Banbury, but, with a sigh,
accepted the conditions presented to her and resolved to do her best.

At Banbury she had no difficulty in leading her unsuspicious comrade
to “The Banbury Arms,” and there they left Old John with his crippled
horse. The landlord was a quiet, furtive-looking man, with a manner that
suggested an intermittent glancing over the shoulder. Frances resolved
to say nothing to him at this time, believing they had come so quickly
from Northampton that she was in advance of any instructions he was to
receive, but in this she was mistaken. With Cromwell to decide was to
act, and some one had evidently come through in the night. While they
halted, waiting the preparation of a meal, the soft-footed innkeeper,
watching his opportunity, drew the girl aside and asked her if she
possessed a pass; if so he would like to see it. He was very apologetic,
saying all public-house keepers so near to Oxford were compelled by the
military charge of the town to assure themselves that travellers who
stopped with them were properly vouched for, otherwise it would be his
duty to detain them and report to the local commandant. She presented
the pass to him without a word, and he read it in silence, then looked
at her as if he expected some comment. At last he said:

“Perhaps you intend to stop here on your return?”

“Yes. Have you received instructions already?”

“I have, and everything is prepared. Would you come up now and look at
the room? Then, if for any reason I am not here when you come back, you
will see that no mistake is made.”

He took her to an upper room and explained to her the action of the
concealed door, which moved without a sound on well-oiled hinges.

“During the night you occupy this room. I shall have a horse ready, and
will be in waiting for you myself until morning. I am to show you the
way to the Castle. When you see the General, perhaps you would do me the
kindness to tell him that this room was prepared within two hours after
I received his commands. He likes prompt service.”

“I shall tell him of your promptness if I remember to do so.”

“Thank you. Perhaps you will let me remind you of it when you ride to
the Castle?”

“Very well.”

“You will find the road to Oxford without impediment until you reach
the lines of the King. I hope you will have a safe sojourn there and a
speedy return.”

The girl thanked him for his good wishes with what courtesy she could
call to her aid, for at heart she loathed him; his smooth, oily,
ingratiating manner, and his shifty glance making her shiver with
repulsion. Yet, she said to herself, conscience accusing, this man was
merely an assistant in a deed where she herself acted the leading part.
He was a mercenary, doubtless, doing what he was bid, but against a
stranger and an enemy, while she plotted against a friend and a man
who trusted her. Fervently she prayed that Providence might intervene
between the resolution and its accomplishment, in some way rendering her
project unnecessary. There was a slight hope that the suspicious King
might not receive Armstrong as the envoy of the Scots. He carried no
credentials, and Charles, if he employed him, must accept the Borderer’s
unsupported word that he was what he declared himself to be. She feared
that Charles was in such straits that he would clutch at any straw, but
hoped his natural distrust would come into play, so that Armstrong might
return empty-handed to Scotland, while she would be relieved of this
fell betrayal, from which, as events stood, she saw no way of escape.

Glad was she to leave Banbury behind her, but tremblingly did she dread
the time when she should see it again. The road, as the innkeeper had
predicted, was clear, and now for the first time during that journey she
was alone with her fellow traveller, Old John pottering over his lame
horse in the stables of the Banbury inn.

The spirits of the young man were as high as those of the girl were low.
He saw that for some reason unknown to him she was depressed, and he
tried to banter her into a more cheerful frame of mind; but, this
effort bringing with it indifferent success, he broke out into song,
and carolled to her some of the Border ballads, both sentimental and
humourous, varying his chanting with explanatory excursions into the
legends that had given rise to the verses. This was more successful,
for few can withstand the magic of a sympathetic voice and a good song,
especially when the summer afternoon was perfect, as all the days of
their march had been. The birds on either hand warbled an accompaniment;
the landscape was empty of humanity, and they had the fair world to
themselves. If tormenting thought would but have left her unmolested,
the girl knew she would have delighted in this irresponsible outing as
thoroughly as her companion enjoyed it. To all outward appearance they
were in a very elysium of peace, yet they were approaching the storm
centre of the most distracted country on earth, and this seemed typical
of her own situation, for although an enforced calm characterized her
demeanour, despair was raging in her heart.

Several times the obedient Bruce, guided by an unseen touch, edged close
to her, but Armstrong could not fail to perceive that the girl shrank
from his proximity, and this abashed him, silencing his song and
jocularity. But a lover must be bold if he would prosper. Here was a
Heaven-sent opportunity, and what more can a man ask than that? In an
hour or two they would be in the midst of a thronged city, where she
would meet the friends she expected to see. Who could predict what might
happen? It was possible she would elect to remain in Oxford. One or more
of her friends might accompany her back to Durham. Now or never was
the motto. Yet he had not the least notion how he ought to begin,
but thought that in such a crisis a great deal must depend on the
presentation of the case. Why had he let slip so many chances of getting
information on a subject that now loomed with new importance before him?
There was her own brother, to take the latest instance, who would
have been glad to find a confidant, and needed but the slightest
encouragement that morning in the lane to dissipate all the mystery
surrounding a proposal. Thomas Wentworth had solved the problem, yet he
was no older than this slip of a girl riding by his side. They had gone
a mile or two in silence; a silence in marked contrast to his soniferous
setting out. Frances feared that her seemingly sullen indifference had
offended him, and, glancing surreptitiously at him from under her long
lashes, met his own eyes fixed upon her. She smiled a little and said:
“Have you no more songs?”

“I have one more,” he answered, speaking hurriedly, “but I have never
sung it before, and am just a little in doubt how to begin. I think if I
got the measure of it I could carry it on, but am not sure.”

“Is it that you have been thinking about so long?”

“Yes. There is a chorus to it, and there you must help me.”

“How can I if I don’t know it?”

“If I can sing a song I never tried before, perhaps you could do the
same with the chorus.”

“Very well, let me hear the song. Is it one of those fighting ballads?”

“No. It is a love song, pure and simple.”

“I like the others better. Brave and noble actions are the only deeds
worthy of poetry.”

“I used to think that myself, but I have come to change my mind. It
seems to me now that true love is the only theme for either song or
story.”

“Oh!” said the girl, with a coldness that froze instantly his budding
enthusiasm. She sat up straighter on her horse, and turned her face
resolutely toward Oxford, as if she did not approve the tendency of the
conversation. Armstrong was stricken dumb at finding his indirect course
thus blocked before him. The girl was the first to speak.

“I wonder how soon we will be in sight of Oxford,” she said.

“Not for a long time, I hope.”

“Why do you say that? Are you not as eager as I to reach Oxford?”

“There are some important matters to be settled before we come to the
end of our journey.”

Frances directed upon him a look of troubled resolution. Intuitively
she knew that they were come to the edge of a declaration which she had
hoped might be avoided. Several times on the way the danger seemed to
approach and vanish, but now the glow of his luminous eyes were not to
be mistaken. In them she read a consuming love of herself which was not
to be balked, yet which must be balked, and so it became now or never
with her, as it was with him. Whatever words he found would be less
eloquent than the glances he had before now cast upon her, and it was
well to have the event over and done with.

“What important matters are to be settled?” she asked firmly.

All courage seemed to desert him under the intensity of her survey, but
with the dourness of his race he urged himself forward, yet not in a
direct line. Something of the military strategy with which he would
approach a fortress insinuated itself into his love-making.

“We must decide in what guise you are to enter Oxford.”

This remark certainly had the effect of throwing the holder of the
fortress off her guard. It swept away the tribulation from her brow.
After all, the case might not be so serious as she had thought, and
jubilantly she welcomed the respite, for she had no wish to add a
humiliation to the wrong which fate had decreed she should work upon
him. She breathed a sigh of relief and said:

“What guise? I’m afraid I do not understand.”

“You see, hitherto we have been shielded by a pass. Its wording was such
that little inquiry was made about either of us. Now, for the first time
we have no protection, and what we say to those who accost us must prove
our safeguard. I shall be asked who you are. I told your brother that I
would treat you as if you were my own sister, but I cannot call you my
sister at Oxford.”

“Why not.”

“For one reason, because you go to meet friends who know that I am not
your brother, and if inquiry is made we are at a disadvantage.”

“True, true! I had forgotten.”

“Another reason is that if we claimed such relationship no one would
believe us, for your hair is as black as the raven’s wing, and mine is
like the yellow corn.”

For the first time that day the girl laughed outright and lifted her
eyes to the locks that so well became him. The simile of Samson
again flashed upon her and checked her mirth, but she put the thought
resolutely away from her. Armstrong laughed also, well pleased with his
progress.

“I had not thought of that,” she said.

“But I thought of it, and also of a way to circumvent it. If they ask
who the lady is, I shall tell them she is my betrothed.”

“No, no, no!” gasped the girl.

“Why not? as you asked a moment since. All’s fair in love----and war.
The country is at war, and we may make true the rest of the adage.”

“No, no!” she repeated.

He was now close by her side and endeavoured to take her hand, but she
held it from him.

“You say no because you will not act a lie, and I honour you for your
truth. You are robed in truth, my beloved, as an angel is----”

“Oh, cease, cease, I beg of you!”

“Frances, this is the song that bubbles in my heart, and if my lips
could worthily fulfil their prompting, I would put it to such words and
such music as woman never listened to before. But, lacking eloquence, I
can only say, My lady, I love you.”

“And I can only say I am sorry if this be so.”

“If! Why do you say if? Do you not know it to be true?”

“I know it now that you tell it to me.”

“Must a man speak ere he can convey to the woman he loves the fact that
he loves her?”

“If the woman love him not, he must speak, and still she finds his
preference unaccountable.”

“You do not love me?”

“No.”

“And cannot?”

“And cannot.”

“You would even rob me of all hope, the lover’s guiding star?”

“If you call it robbing to take from you what should never have been
possessed.”

“Why should I not have possessed that hope? Is it because I am untitled,
while you are the daughter of the man who was the proudest peer in
England?”

“Titles have naught to do with it.”

“Titles are but a breath; still, men have intrigued for them, have sold
their souls for them, as others have bartered for gold. That shall I do.
I thought never to beg from any man, yet for this King I stake my life,
and it is but fair he should cover my wager. I will say to him, I go to
Scotland on your behest, through an enemy’s country. Death or treachery
dog every footstep I take. I may win or lose, but if I win, then I
demand the stakes, which will not take a silver penny from your depleted
treasury. Make me Earl of the Southern Marches.”

“You ask a just reward, but ’twould be useless as assistant to the
quest you now pursue.”

“Frances, no lover truly entitled to bear that dear name, thinks himself
worthy of her on whom his heart is set, and I do not plead my own
worthiness when I sue for your favour. But I am buoyed up by the thought
that every day we live some woman marries some man, therefore are women
to be persuaded, and there are none on earth but us to persuade them.
Why should my fortune be worse than that of my fellows?”

“Sir, you forget or ignore that every day of our lives some woman
refuses some man, and never marries him. Why should your fortune differ
from that of so many of your fellows?”

“You have pierced the armour there, my girl, so I own my simile
defective, and fall back on my own unworthiness, to beseech your pity on
it, and point the way to that amendment which will make me deserving in
your eyes.”

“Sir, you force me unduly. You drive me toward confession. Pitying God
is my witness that I hold naught against you.”

“Then, Frances, all is well with us. An English princess, as you told
me, journeyed north to marry a Scottish king. Let us furnish a _quid pro
quo_, for the King of the Border rides south to win an English princess.
Here we are on the march together to meet the descendant of Scottish
prince and English princess, so we cannot do better than follow the
example of his forebears.”

“Sir, your precedent is unfortunate. The English princess made but a
foolish wife for the royal Scot, and their descendant is a man whose
word is a frail dependence. Indeed you said their house had exercised
a fatal influence on yours, so beware the omens. Put not your trust in
princesses, English or other.”

“I put my trust on one as on an altar, and kneel before it.”

“That I warn you not to do. Many a man has lost his trust through such
blind folly.”

“So shall not I.”

“Sir, you are confident, and are likely to meet with confidence
betrayed. You must accept my answer as final, and let us have an end of
this fruitless and embarrassing conversation. I can never marry you.”

“There is but one circumstance to prevent it.”

“Then believe that circumstance exists.”

“You love another?”

“I do not.”

The young man laughed joyously, but no corresponding smile disturbed the
set lips of the girl. He should have seen how painful this dialogue had
been to her, but with a lover’s selfishness he had eyes for nothing but
the object of pursuit; ears for nothing but the words he hoped to compel
her to say; pursuing her thus from one point of refuge to another, each
abandoned in turn, with no thought but that of capture. Her face was
white with dread, a whiteness made the more striking by the jet framing
of her hair. Never during the conference had she looked at him since the
first direct gaze when she took the resolution to have this disturbing
business put at rest forever. The horses walked on unguided, her eyes on
the road immediately before her. When he accused her of loving another
she glanced up at him for one brief moment, and answered before she
thought, wishing her reply recalled as soon as it was uttered, for if
she had agreed with him, he himself had said it was at an end. Bitterly
did she regret her heedless destruction of the barrier which would
have separated them. Now she must erect another, more terrible, more
complete, be the consequences what they may.

“Sir, you laugh. I am glad your heart is light, for mine is heavy
enough. If I loved another, ’t were a small matter, for the man were
not likely so estimable in a woman’s eyes as you are. As I have said,
you drive me toward confession, and here is one bold enough for a maiden
to make. I admit you please me well, and if I had loved another--a
woman’s affection is fickle--you were like to benefit by its
transference. But there is an obstacle between us more serious than the
one you proclaimed sufficient. Take that as truth, and ask me no more.”

“I must be the judge of the obstacle. What is it?”

“I dare not tell you.”

“Will you never tell me?”

“I shall make full confession when this war is finished, if you ask me.”

“What have we to do with the war?”

“You speak as a Scot. ’T is an unnecessary question, for you know all
in England are entangled in its meshes.”

“But it can have nothing to do with your feeling toward me, or my
adoration of you.”

“You shall judge when you hear.”

“Then let me hear now.”

“No. Your persistence, when you see how distraught I am, dims your title
of gentleman. A lady should not be coerced.”

“Your censure is just; but oh, pity my despair if this obstacle be real!
It cannot be real. Whatever it is it shall dissolve before my burning
love as mist before the sun. Tell it to me now, that I may show you that
it is the fabric of a vision.”

The girl remained silent, her impetuous lover fiercely questioning
her bowed head with his eyes. But as if in the interval of stillness a
spectre intervened between them and brought a startled expression into
his eyes, their intensity sharpened suddenly, and he said in a low
voice: “Do not tell me you are already married?”

“And what if I am?” asked the girl hopelessly. “Would the knowledge that
such were the case end this useless discussion?”

“No, by my salvation, it would not. If you admit but the slightest
esteem for me, I will carry you to my castle in the North and hold it
safe for you against the world. Are you, then, wedded?”

“I am wedded to deceit. Sir, I am not worthy your love, or that of any
other honest man. If you knew what it costs me to say this, you would
let these words be the last we speak in this painful debate.”

“Deceit? Not worthy of any honest man? Lord save you, child of sweet
innocence, if this is all that troubles you, there is nothing in our
way to the church. Your eyes are limpid wells of honesty. You could
not harbour a deceitful thought if you tried. I would trust my life, my
honour, my very soul to your keeping, assured that------”

“O God of mercy! why do you torture me?” cried the girl in a burst of
anguish, bending her head over the horse’s mane. The astonished young
man placed his hand affectionately on her shoulder, and felt her shudder
beneath his touch.

“My dearest lass,” he began, but never finished the sentence.

“_Halt!_” came a sharp command. Armstrong looked up like a man awakening
from a dream.

“‘Fore God!” he cried, wonder-stricken, “we’re on the outposts of
Oxford.”

A ragged soldier barred the way, with musket held horizontally. An
officer in a uniform that had once been gaudy, but now showed signs
of hard usage, came out from the cabin at the side of the road when he
heard the sentinel’s challenge. Though his costume was so threadbare,
he carried it with a swagger that had almost a touch of insolence in it,
but this bearing melted to a debonair deference when he saw a handsome
young woman before him. He lifted his hat and addressed her companion.

“Pardon me. Have you the pass-word?”

“No. I am from Scotland and bear a message to his Majesty the King.”

“From Scotland? May I glance at your credentials?”

“I carry none. I have come through a hostile country; have been searched
once or twice and arrested as often. Had there been writing on me I
should not now be standing at the doorstep of Oxford.”

“I shall do myself the honour of conducting you to the Chamberlain of
his Majesty. And the lady?”

Armstrong took the girl’s hand, this time without opposition on the part
of its owner; it was cold as ice.

“The lady is my wife,” he said boldly; then added, in a whisper heard
only by herself,--“that is to be.”

The officer bowed and led the way to the town.

“I wish we were in Scotland,” said the young man very quietly.

“So do I,” sighed the girl.

“Because what I said at the outworks would then have constituted a
marriage between us, if you had replied yes.”

The girl withdrew her hand from his and turned away her head.



CHAPTER VII.--CHECKMATED.

The one on foot and the two on horseback entered the fortress which had
hitherto proved impregnable, and traversed its streets until they came
to “The Crown” inn. Oxford was no longer the home of learning for any
art save that of war. A few students still strolled its thoroughfares,
but the military man was everywhere. The colleges had been turned into
barracks and arsenals; the King himself lived in Christ Church, over the
towers of which floated the royal standard, now almost the only red spot
in all England.

As the party came to a halt the officer turned to Armstrong. “A
propitious meeting,” he said, “here comes the Lord Great Chamberlain
himself.”

Armstrong noted the approach of a man with a countenance so remarkable
that it might have been taken as typical of war. From brow to chin
was drawn a long red scar, while another ran transversely across the
forehead just over the eyes, so that there flamed from his face an angry
cross that gave a most sinister expression to a visage which, lacking
these time-healed wounds, would have been handsome. The Chamberlain
stopped abruptly in his advance, his gaze riveted upon the girl,
and there came into his eyes a look of such malignity that Armstrong
instantly turned his glance upon his travelling companion. The girl’s
cheeks had gone deathly white, and she swayed blindly in her saddle,
perilously near to falling. The young man sprang from his horse and
caught her just in time. Bitterly he blamed himself for this unexpected
collapse, cursing his persistence on the road, when he had plainly
seen that some strong emotion tormented her. This mental perturbation,
combined with the physical strain she had undergone during their long
journey, fully accounted for the prostration of the moment at the end.

“My poor lass,” he said regretfully, “I am to blame. I am a thoughtless,
selfish hound to have so sorely troubled you with my insistence.”

“It is not that,” she whispered faintly, leaning heavily on him with the
pathetic helplessness of a tired child, a dependence which sent a thrill
of pity and love for her tingling to his finger-ends. “Take me in; take
me in quickly. I am ill.”

Now the Lord Great Chamberlain, all smiles and courtesy, stepped forward
and said with authority to the innkeeper:

“The chief rooms in the house for the lady. Turn out whoever occupies
them, whatever their quality.”

The landlord called his wife, and Frances was given into her care.

The officer introduced the traveller to the high official: “My Lord
Chamberlain, this gentleman says he has come from the Scottish nobles
with a message for his Majesty. Sir, Monsieur de Courcy, Lord Great
Chamberlain to the King.”

Frenchman and Scot bowed to each other, the grace of the gesture being
almost entirely in favour of the former, despite his marred face.

“Sir,” said Armstrong to the officer, “I thank you for your guidance;
and you, my lord,” to De Courcy, “for your kind and prompt command with
respect to the lady. She has had a long and tiring journey through a
dangerous country, under continual fear of arrest, and so it is not to
be wondered that a woman should succumb to the strain at the last.”

“Our countries have ever been friends and allies,” said De Courcy with
the utmost amiability, “and I trust that we, meeting on what is to each
of us foreign soil, may be animated by a like regard.”

“I thank you, my lord, and, speaking for myself, admit that I have
always looked with affection upon France and her brave and gallant
sons.”

Again De Courcy graciously inclined his head, and replied: “And believe
me, sir, if you were acquainted with her daughters, your affection for
the fair land would not be diminished. I regret that I have never set
foot in Scotland, but hope some day that such will be my privilege. The
officer who has left us did not give me your name.”

“I am William Armstrong, somewhat known on the Border, a Scottish
gentleman, and a loyal subject of his Majesty the King.”

“Then you are very welcome in Oxford, and I am sure his Majesty wishes
there were more like you in the environs thereof and the regions beyond.
It is now too late to see the King to-day, and probably you are not
loath to meet a night’s rest after a hard day’s riding. I will arrange a
conference for you with his Majesty as soon as possible.”

“Thank you. If I may hint that every day is of value, you will perhaps
urge upon the King the danger of delay.”

“I shall not fail to do so. Good-night.”

For the first time in his life Armstrong left his horse to the care of
others and entered the inn to inquire after the welfare of the lady who
absorbed his thoughts. She sent word that she was quite recovered, but
would see no one until the morrow. With this he was fain to be content,
and he wandered about the town in the gathering dusk, hoping to do her
a service by discovering the whereabouts of Lord Rudby’s son, to whom he
supposed she carried some message from her brother. He learned that this
young man, who was a captain in the King’s army, had been sent, it was
supposed, to London, but nothing had been heard of him for a month
or more, and whether he was prisoner or not, none could say. This
intelligence depressed Armstrong, who feared that the girl had taken
her long journey for nothing, and that the failing to find the one she
sought might entail serious consequences upon her brother or herself,
for each in turn had manifested great concern touching the mission she
had undertaken.

Next morning his first visitor was the Lord Chamberlain, who expressed
deep regret that the King was indisposed and could not see any emissary
from the Scots that day. The high official spoke feelingly of the
disappointment the monarch had been called upon to endure through the
unmerited success of his rebellious subjects, and this statement seemed
to the traveller only what was to have been expected.

During the day Armstrong was privileged in securing one brief interview
with Frances. The landlord had placed two rooms at her disposal, and in
the scantily furnished parlour the young man had called upon her. The
improvement she had affirmed the evening before was scarcely borne out
by her appearance, for she was wan and dispirited, so much so that when
Armstrong announced the disappearance of Captain Rudby, the tidings did
not seem to depress her more than was already the case. However, the
news clung to her mind; for, as he was telling her that the King could
not see him that day, she suddenly said, in a tone which showed she had
not been listening, that as Captain Rudby was not in Oxford, there was
no reason why she should stay. She would go on at once to Banbury, and
there await the coming of Armstrong. But the young man would not hear of
such a course. It was impossible, he said, that an unprotected lady in
the disturbed state of the country should travel alone between Oxford
and Banbury. It was not likely that he would be held from the King more
than another day, and then they would both set out together. Besides,
she needed all the rest she could obtain before they turned north again.
The girl was too deeply dejected even to argue the question, when he
so strenuously opposed her desire. It seemed that a contrary fate
was tightening the coils around her, and all struggle against it was
fruitless. There were unshed tears in her eyes as she glanced timidly
up at him, and she had the haunted look of one who was trapped. The
unforeseen meeting with De Courcy, although Cromwell’s words should have
prepared her for it, had completely unnerved her; that nightmare face of
his confronting her whenever she closed her eyes. The past had come
up before her in its most abhorrent guise. She remembered striking him
fiercely with the jagged iron she happened to hold in her hand, and
thought anything was justified that enabled her to escape his clutches,
but that he would carry so fearful a disfiguration to his grave chilled
her with fear of his vengeance; for if ever murder shone from a man’s
eyes it glared in his when she caught his first glance the evening
before. All during the night the terrifying vision drove sleep from her
couch, and she pondered on some possible method of escape, but without
result. How gladly she would have confided her peril to Armstrong, did
she stand in honest relation to him, but she could not bring herself
to ask help from a man whom she had just rejected and whom she would
shortly rob. When Armstrong mentioned the absence of Rudby, she had
utterly forgotten that the ostensible reason for this Oxford journey
was to see him, and for a moment it appeared that here lay a loophole of
escape, but Armstrong’s outspoken opposition to her plan left her
with no adequate excuse for persisting in it. All force of purpose had
deserted her, and it seemed impossible that it could have been she who
for the sake of a father she had seen but once had braved the rage-mad
Queen of England and threatened the monarch himself in his own court in
the height of his power. What subtle change had come over her imperious
will? What alchemy had converted the strong wine of her resolve to vapid
water? It was not personal fear. She had met De Courcy before, and even
when he had her at his mercy, lured into his private room, her high
courage never faltered. But now her whole impulse was to call for aid
from another; to have that other protect her, and to obey his slightest
wish. Here was a mutability indeed for the daughter of the strenuous
Strafford! This feeling was something new, something strange, something
unaccountable. And that other stood before her, anxious to heal her
hurt, but diagnosing wrongly, powerless to apply the soothing balm.
She wished him there, for his strong presence calmed her; yet she also
wished him gone, that she might collect her scattered thoughts. Absent
or present, he disturbed her, and she wondered if this could be love,
which she had imagined brought peace and joyous content.

During this unsatisfactory coming together, little was said by either.
The girl sat in a chair by a small table, and he stood on the other
side. Most of the time her head rested on her hand, and he saw she was
near to tears. He censured himself again for his ill-timed avowal of the
day before, but saw no method by which he could annul its consequences
save by saying nothing more.

On the third day of his stay in Oxford the suave De Courcy was compelled
to bewail the continued indisposition of the King. There were various
important matters awaiting his Majesty’s attention, he said, but nothing
could be done until his recovery. Meanwhile, to pass time that must
be hanging heavily on the visitor’s hands, the thoughtful Frenchman
suggested that Armstrong should indulge in a stroll around the
fortifications. Oxford was believed to be unassailable, but De Courcy
would be pleased to hear any criticisms the new-comer cared to pass upon
the defences. Armstrong expressed his concurrence with this proposal,
and thought at first that the obliging foreigner was to be his guide;
but shortly after they set out, De Courcy introduced him to an officer
who was to be his cicerone, and excused himself because of the King’s
illness, which had placed on his shoulders many duties that had
heretofore been absent from them. As soon as the two were out of sight,
De Courcy hastened back to the inn, passed up the stair, and knocked
at the door of the room occupied by Frances Wentworth. On receiving
permission to enter, he went in and closed the door behind him. The
girl, who had expected a different caller, rose from her chair and stood
silent.

“Madam, this is a meeting which I have long looked forward to with
pleasant anticipation.”

“Sir, I regret that I have no share in your felicity.”

“Perhaps you prefer that we should meet as enemies.”

“I prefer that we should not meet at all, and, knowing this, you may be
good enough to make your visit as short as possible.”

“I cannot find words to express my sorrow, on learning I am so
unwelcome. I am sure that when last we met, I did my best to make your
visit as long as I could, so why should you wish to shorten mine?”

It seemed to the girl that there was something unnecessarily shameless
in his allusion to a circumstance that had so disfigured him. As she
made no reply, he went on with airy nonchalance: “Will you excuse me
if I lock the door, and, showing that experience is a proficient
schoolmaster, I ask the extension of your forgiveness to cover the act
of putting the key in my pocket. We live and learn, you know. Not that
I fear any interruption, for the innocent and excellent Scot is at this
moment investigating our battlements under the care of a shrewd guide,
and will not return this three hours or more.” The polite intruder
locked the door and put the key in his pocket; then advanced toward her.
She retreated to the other room, and for a moment he thought she was
about to barricade herself within, but she reappeared on the instant
with a jewelled dagger in her hand.

“I warn you, sir, that if you approach within striking distance I will
pierce you to the heart.”

The Frenchman smiled and waved his fine white hands with a gesture of
inimitable grace.

“Fairest of the Wentworths,” he said, “the glances of those lustrous
eyes have already pierced that sensitive organ. Alas, that it is my fate
they should beam upon me in anger. Well, my Lady Wentworth, you see I do
not approach you, but grant my bravery the justice to believe that it
is not fear of the sting that prevents my sipping the honey. May I sit
down, and if I place this table between us, will you feel safer?”

“_You_ will be safer so long as it remains between us.”

“I assure you my own safety weighs but lightly with me. I implore you to
be seated, for I cannot converse at ease with a lady who is standing.”

“I prefer to stand. Your ingrained courtesy will then cause you to make
our conference brief.”

“It distresses me to say that you are prolonging the conference by
standing. We have grave particulars of state policy to discuss, and I
cannot begin while you are so cruel as to put me in the light----”

“Oh, very well!” cried Frances, impatiently, taking her own chair;
whereupon he, elegantly gracious, seated himself opposite her, with the
table between them.

“How ideally charming you look! I swear there is none to compare with
you, even in that land of loveliness to which I have the honour to
belong. Will you believe me when I say that there has not been a day
since I last saw you, that I have not thought of you. I was angry at
first, as you may well imagine, but at last I saw that I had been to
blame, although I think the punishment must have obliterated my crime.”

He paused for a few moments, but, she making no reply, he continued:
“Grief for the loss of you filled my heart. You think I come here as an
enemy, but I come as a suppliant. In the folly of that time at Whitehall
I refused you marriage, and I do not wonder you were wroth at me. I wish
to atone for what you justly considered an insult, and am willing to
marry you in the face of the world.”

“I thank you.”

“I shall ask no questions anent this awkward Scot who has been your
courier, for I am sure you can have thought nothing of him.”

“I thank you.”

“You return thanks coldly, but I know that is the English nature. The
fire of France is not to be expected in this northern clime, but if you
say yes to my pleading, I am satisfied.”

“If I wished for fire I would go down and not abroad for it. I had
sooner wed the fiend from the pit than you.”

De Courcy laughed lightly.

“That were a sulphurous mating indeed! Still you see how I adore you
when I restate my determination to occupy the devil’s place at your side
before the altar. You but whet my expectation, for I should dearly love
to tame you as your Shakespeare tamed his shrew.”

“That you shall never do while a hand’s breadth of steel will rid me of
you, or myself of the world. Escape is too easy.”

“Not from an Oxford dungeon, my dear. This mediaeval town furnishes us
with dark pits in which there is no fire, and consequently they have a
cooling effect on the hottest temperament. These are pits of which I am
the fiend. My dear, you underrate my power, or overrate my patience.”

“There are English gentlemen in Oxford. On what plea could you induce
them to think that an English lady should be placed in a dungeon?”

“Yes, there are English gentlemen here, and some French gentlemen as
well. They are unanimous in their detestation of a spy, male or female.
Your man we shall hang out of hand, and there will be little difficulty
about the pleasing task. I shall myself plead that your life be spared,
and they will agree. Everything will be done with that beautiful
legality which the English so much admire, but even from this moment you
are entirely in my power, and a sensible woman should not need so much
argument to convince her that the situation is hopeless.”

“Armstrong is no spy.”

“He may have difficulty in proving he is not. I am glad to note that you
admit by inference that you are a spy.”

“I can prove he is not a spy.”

“Your evidence would be tainted. You are an accomplice. Besides, you
could not clear him without condemning yourself.”

“Such will I gladly do. I glory in that I would sacrifice myself with
joy to save William Armstrong, the awkward Scot, as you called him. What
would you give to hear me say this of you?”

“Much, my dear, much. Oh, I delight in you! You know how to sting
without using your poniard. But I am not of a jealous nature, and love
conquest for its own sake. I have told you I care nothing for the Scot,
and you might easily have had him journey for the North again if you had
not been so impetuous. Now I shall hang him, merely as the first step in
breaking the stubborn pride which adds such zest to your overcoming.”

“One word from me to Armstrong will transfer the danger to you. He will
break you like a reed.”

“Indeed, my dear, you do yourself injustice in threatening me. You shall
have no opportunity of speaking your one word, for when next we meet, if
we part now without coming to amicable arrangement, you will be on your
knees to me pleading for his life.”

“That will I not. I shall go to the King.”

“Frances, you dishearten me, and cast grave doubts on the possession of
that sound sense with which I credited you. Was your first appeal to the
King for a man’s life so successful that you build hopes on a second?”

“If Charles had kept his word with me then, he would not now be encaged
in Oxford. He abandoned my father and clung to such as you, and not a
foot of English ground remains to him but what he stands on.”

“What would have happened had Strafford lived, neither you nor I can
tell, and all discussion thereon is aside from our present purpose. Will
you make terms with me?”

“I will not.”

“You prefer the dungeon?”

“You dare not imprison me.”

“Why?”

“Your master will not allow you.”

The Frenchman leaned upon the table, a patient beneficent expression on
his scarred features, and spoke to her gently, as one who must deal with
a petulant, unreasonable child.

“My dear, let me put a quietus for ever upon your mad idea that any help
is to be expected from the King. I beg you to believe that I speak the
exact truth. Do you know what the King thinks of you?”

“He does not think of me at all. He has forgotten me.”

“Pardon me. There you are mistaken. He thinks you came to Whitehall
the day of your father’s death to assassinate him. He believes that
I imperilled my life to save his. The scars of your claws, however
repulsive they may be to others, are to him a constant reminder of his
supposed debt to me. Judge you then, my dear, what your position in
Oxford would be did the King but dream you had crept surreptitiously
into his stronghold. Need I say more?”

“No. But you should have paid better heed to what I said.”

“What did you say?”

“I said your master would not permit you to injure me.”

“But I have shown you that the King----”

“I am not speaking of the King. Your master is Oliver Cromwell.”

Either the cross on his face became redder, or the sudden pallor of his
other features made it appear so. Slowly he withdrew his elbows from the
table and leaned back in his chair, moistening his lips, gazing on
the girl with the intensity of a new-born fear. She sat motionless,
returning his look without flinching.

For some moments the room was as silent as if it were deserted. At last
he spoke huskily:

“What do you expect to gain by making so absurd a statement?”

The girl rose with a gesture of impatience, walked to the window and
back; then to the window again, and unfastened a latch that let free a
latticed sash, as if the room stifled her and she wanted air. Then she
exclaimed: “Oh, let us have a truce to this fooling; I am tired of it.
You say I shall beg on my knees to you, but you have mistaken your own
attitude for mine. Why do I make such a statement? Because Cromwell
told me in Northampton that if I met difficulty in Oxford, you, his spy,
would assist me.”

“Good God!”

“Aye! Good God! You did not think such a man would blab out secrets of
death to a woman, but there is this to say on his behalf, that he was
merely recommending one spy to another. He thought mutual safety would
be their bond of union, and he was right.”

“Then you knew you would meet me in Oxford? Why did you seem so
distraught when the event happened? That was acting, I suppose, to fall
the easier into the arms of the Scot.”

“I had no need to act to bring that about. I hoped to avoid you, and
would have done so but for the chance encounter. And now you see, sir,
that my peril is as nothing to yours. My countrymen will not injure me;
I know them better than you do, but even if it were otherwise, I have
but to bend my strength to the pillars and crush you and myself in the
ruins of the falling house,--an enactment, I assure you, that fits my
nature better than the part of Delilah into which I am cast.”

“They would not believe one self-convicted.”

“Would not believe me? I dare you to put it to the test. Believe me?”
 She stood by the window and held up her hand. “I have but to strike open
this leaded pane and cry to the officers passing in the street, ‘I am
the daughter of Lord Strafford, help me, for here I am caged with a
French spy, a creature who has sold King and comrades for Cromwell’s
gold.”

“In God’s name, woman, do not speak so loud. There is no need for
frenzy. I did but jest when I spoke of molesting you.”

“I am in no jesting mood.”

“You do not need to tell me that. I am quite willing to further your
behests, if you but trust me and tell me what you want.”

“Can you expect me to trust you?” asked the girl, coming back to the
table.

He was now standing on the other side, all self-confidence gone from
his attitude, speaking almost in a whisper, so anxious was he that she
should have no excuse for raising her voice again.

“I suppose I have not earned your trust.”

“Oh, but you have. I trust you implicitly because you stand under the
shadow of the scaffold, and at a word from me the bolt is drawn. You
will postpone all thought of revenge until your neck is out of the
noose; of that I am very well convinced. I refuse to make terms with
you, but I give my commands which you must rigidly follow unless you
court calamity. You will take Armstrong to the King, and cease to
block his way. You will see that we are free to leave Oxford, and are
unmolested while we are within these walls. One false move and you
bring your doom upon you. While we are in Oxford the rope is round your
throat, so pray to the demon who aids you that we may make speedy and
easy exit. Shudder to think that your fate hangs on the action of a
woman, wholly unstrung, and that even a suspicious look from any officer
in this garrison may instantly precipitate the disaster you apprehend.”

“I implore you to be calm, madam. I swear I will carry out your orders
to the letter. Do not, I beg of you, take panic at any chance word by
another.”

“Unlock the door and leave me. See that you do not come again.”



CHAPTER VIII.--DESTINY.

On the morning of the fourth day Armstrong was delighted to learn from
De Courcy that the King had recovered and would see him at noon. The
foreigner engaged the envoy in a long conversation, the object of which
was to discover whether or not the girl had said anything to him of the
excited conference of the day before. The unsuspecting Scot, entirely
off his guard, thinking he spoke with a friend, was read by the other
like an open book, and De Courcy was speedily convinced that Frances
Wentworth had kept her own counsel. This gave the spy renewed
confidence, and as they walked down the street together De Courcy held
his head higher than had been the case when he last turned his back
upon “The Crown” inn. His buoyant nature was quick to recover from
depression, and his malice, fed anew from his late rebuff, set his alert
mind at work to contrive some plan whereby he might salve his wounded
pride and avenge himself on the girl and his favoured rival, even at
some slight risk to himself. Although the danger of exposure seemed
imminent enough when he was with her, he knew that as she grew calmer
and reflected upon the situation she would be more and more reluctant
to wreck everything in order to bring punishment upon him. He would get
them out of Oxford that day if possible, but he would instill a poison
in the young lover’s mind that would take all sweetness from the
journey.

De Courcy had offered to show Armstrong the way to the King’s rooms, so
that there should be no delay when the Scot set out for his appointment
at twelve o’clock, and they had now entered the quadrangle of Christ
Church, which was deserted save for the guards at the gate. Armstrong
thanked him for his guidance, and was turning away, when the other, who
seemed about to speak, glanced at the soldiers on duty, then, thinking
the spot ill chosen for what he had to say, invited the Scot to his
room. They went up a stair together, and entered De Courcy’s apartment,
the host setting out wine and asking his guest to seat himself.

“Has the lady who accompanied you quite recovered from her fatigue?”
 asked De Courcy, indifferently.

“Well, as I told you, I met her yesterday for a few moments only, and I
am sorry she was not in the highest spirits, but she will be the better
for seeing the green fields again. Like myself, she is of the country,
and does not thrive within the walls of a town.”

“Yes, I noticed that when she was in London.”

“In London? Did you know her in London?”

“Oh, hasn’t she told you of our relationship? Perhaps I should not
have mentioned it.”

“What do you mean by your relationship? You are French; she is pure
English.”

De Courcy threw back his head and laughed, unheeding and indeed
unnoticing the angry colour mounting in a face that had grown suddenly
stern.

“My dear comrade, there are other relationships between a young man and
a handsome woman than the ties of kinship. But those days are long past,
and I should never have recalled them had it not been that you two have
been travelling about the country together, I make no doubt, with an
innocence that recalls the sylvan days of yore.”

Armstrong pushed back his chair and rose to his feet.

“Sir, the lady took her brother’s place, he being unexpectedly and
grievously wounded. My position has been that of true comrade to her.”

“That is precisely what I have said. I said your journey was one of
Arcadian innocence.”

“Those were your words, but your tone bears a meaning I resent.”

“You are quite in error. I will say no more about her.”

“You have already said too much or too little. Tell me in plain words
what this relationship was to which you have referred.”

“First answer me a question. Are you betrothed to Frances Wentworth?”

“No. I told you I acted the brother’s part toward her in this journey.”

“Oh, we all say that; but I am not in the least curious. If you intended
to marry her, then were my mouth sealed. Very well; since you will
have it, and I take your word as a gentleman pledged that you will say
nothing to the girl of this until you are clear of Oxford, know that
I was once her betrothed. She was to have been my wife, and would have
been my wife to-day had her father not fallen.”

“Your wife!”

“Yes. Her father gave me permission to pay my court to her. She could
not have been much more than sixteen then, and I was her first lover,
a personage that a girl never forgets. At first she was frightened, but
that stage did not last long. Her father’s ruin changed my plans, and I
refused to marry her. I announced this refusal to her in the seclusion
of my own room in Whitehall and----”

“Sir, you lie!”

Armstrong’s sword seemed to spring of its own will from the scabbard,
and his hand drew it a-swish through the air with the hiss of a deadly
serpent. The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders, but did not move. The
three words of his opponent had been spoken very quietly, despite his
impulsive action. De Courcy did not raise his voice as he asked: “Which
of my statements do you question?”

“No matter for that. We fight on this phrase in Scotland. No man ever
called me liar and lived.”

“’T is a coarse phrase, I admit, and did I not represent my King--were
I as free as you--you should have had my response in steel ere this.
But I cannot wreck the King in a private quarrel of my own. Whether you
killed me, or I you, ’t would be equally disastrous to his Majesty.”

“I care nothing for the King. Draw, you poltroon, or I shall kill you
where you sit.”

“My dear Armstrong, I refuse to be murdered under a misapprehension on
your part. I have said nothing against the girl. ’T is all your own
hot blood. And indeed your brawling is the girl’s greatest danger; she
might well tremble if she knew your present occupation. If you run your
nimble sword through me, you give the girl to the fate that befel her
father.”

At the first word of danger to Frances the point of Armstrongs blade
sank to the floor, and he stood hesitating. A gleam of triumph glinted
and died in the eye of the Frenchman. He knew he was the victor,
although the chance he had run at one stage of the game almost made his
heart stop beating.

“How can any action of mine jeopardize Lady Frances Wentworth?”

“If the King knew this girl was within his jurisdiction, she would be
instantly arrested, tried, and condemned. She entered Whitehall the day
her father was executed, for the sole purpose of murdering Charles. I
prevented the carrying out of that purpose, and these scars on my face
are the results of my interference with a maddened woman.”

“Again, you lie, yet if she had killed you both she would have
accomplished but the justice of God.”

“As to the truth or falsity of my statements, regarding which you make
comments of unseemly terseness, you may ask the King when you see him,
or you may ask the lady herself when you get her out of Oxford. If you
precipitate a turmoil here, you are like to tumble her pretty head in
the basket. When this war is done with, I will go far to teach you the
correct method of addressing a gentleman.”

Armstrong’s sword dropped into scabbard again, and he drew a breath that
was a sigh. The poison was already at work. He remembered the distress
of the girl on the road, and her wail, “I am not worthy the love of any
honest man.”

“I shall never question her or any other, but will believe her lightest
word against the world when she condescends to tell me. Meanwhile I
shall get her out of this thieves’ den as soon as may be, and by God
when I meet you----”

De Courcy had risen, and now bowed slightly to his perturbed guest.

“Sir, you shall meet me at twelve, and it will be my privilege to
conduct you to his Majesty. Good morning.”

He stood by the window overlooking the quadrangle and watched his late
visitor cross it, staggering once as if he had partaken freely of the
wine which remained untasted on the table. As the Scot disappeared under
the archway De Courcy laughed.

“My fine, strutting cockerel,” he muttered, “I’ll lay you by the heels
before two days are past. Cromwell’s at Broughton, curse his tattling
tongue. How many more has he told of me? Never mind. He’s the coming
man. The King’s game is up, and I shake the dust of Oxford from my
feet to-night. Saint Denis, if she had only known! Every man in Oxford
distrusts me except the King.”

When Armstrong was brought before Charles, a great pity filled him as
he gazed for the first time on that gaunt, haggard face, the face of
a beaten man with his back to the wall. He found no difficulty in
convincing the King that he was a well-accredited envoy, and his Majesty
inquired eagerly about the disposition of the Scottish people toward
him, the number likely to take the field in his behalf, who their
probable leaders were, and how soon they would be ready for the fray.
All these questions Armstrong answered as hopefully as he could, in
deep commiseration for a defeated man. The King commanded one of his
secretaries to write out the required commission, and while this was
being done Armstrong related to him the purport of the papers which he
had not dared to bring with him. The names of the nobles were inserted
in the document from the dictation of the Scot; then the King’s seal was
affixed, and Charles signed the parchment. He seemed in feverish haste
to get the business done with, as if every moment lost was irreparable.
When the ink was dried, and the parchment folded, Armstrong placed it in
safe keeping within his vest. While thus engaged the King said a word
to the secretary, who handed him a light rapier, then whispered to the
messenger the single word “Kneel.” The Scot flushed to think he had
been wanting in the etiquette of the court, his kind heart yearning
to proffer any deference which should be rendered to a monarch, more
especially that he was no longer in a position to enforce homage. He
dropped on one knee and bowed his head. Charles, rising, touched the
rapier blade lightly upon the shoulder of the kneeling man, saying:
“Rise, Sir William Armstrong, and be assured that if you bring this poor
signature of mine to Scotland, there is no title in my gift you may not
demand of me.”

Armstrong rose, awkward as a school boy, not knowing where to look or
what to say until he caught the cynical smile of De Courcy standing at
the right hand of the King.

“I congratulate you, Sir William,” said the Frenchman. The sight of the
smile aroused the new hatred against the man which was smoldering in
his heart, and he made no reply to the greeting, but said to the King:
“Sire, the only thanks I can tender you is haste to the North, and may
God make my arm as strong to defend this signature as my heart is true
to your Majesty.”

With that he turned his back upon royalty, a grievous breach in the eyes
of courtiers, and fled.

“God grant it,” said the King, with a sigh, as he sank once more in the
seat from whence he had risen.

“There is no doubt of it,” said De Courcy, softly.

“Doubt of what?” asked the King.

“The oath he took will sit lightly on his conscience. He prayed that his
arm’s strength might equal his heart’s fealty. I distrust those who
talk glibly of their hearts, and his was a most ambiguous prayer. If his
heart be not true, and he made no assertion that it was, his strong arm
will avail us little.”

“Surely if ever honesty beamed from a man’s face it was from
Armstrong’s. The Scots are trustworthy men.”

“Some of them, your Majesty.”

Uneasy suspicion came into the sunken eyes of the King as he turned them
on his Chamberlain.

“What do you fear, De Courcy?”

“I have been studying the man these three days past. I accepted without
question his assurances, and threw him off his guard. Cromwell loves
an honest-looking envoy, and from what Armstrong said I am sure he saw
Cromwell no farther away than Northampton. He was very ready with his
account of his own country people, but he told us nothing about the
marvellous luck that brought him safely through a hostile land, which we
know to our cost is admirably patrolled. There is young Rudby, gone this
month and more to Edinburgh, and yet no word of him. And this stranger
expects us to believe he came over the same ground unscathed and
unquestioned in less than a week.”

“O God! O God! In whom can I place dependence,” cried the tortured King,
burying his head in his hands. Then he raised it and said with a trace
of anger in his voice: “If you knew this man to be a traitor, or an
emissary of that rebel, why did you bring him into our presence?”

“I could not be sure of him, your Majesty, and there was always a chance
that he was loyal and might get through.”

“To raise my hopes like this and then dash them to the ground!”

“Not so, your Majesty, if you will pardon me. Do you place importance on
this commission?”

“The utmost importance. I know Traquair, and he will raise all Scotland
for me if this commission reach him.”

“Then we will mak siccar, as a famous Scot once said.”

“Ah, De Courcy, that was said when a treacherous murder was intended.
How will you make sure that Armstrong is honest?”

“I should trouble no more about Armstrong, but if you will issue a
duplicate of that commission I will guarantee that it reaches the hand
of Traquair. I am a Frenchman, and a subject of the French king. I carry
my passport to that effect. Even if I am stopped, I shall resist search
on the ground of my nationality, and Cromwell is too greatly in awe of
the power of France to risk its might being thrown in the scale against
him. Indeed I doubt if I could offer a greater service to your Majesty
than to be captured and appeal to Louis.”

The King’s face cleared.

“You would not stop Armstrong then?”

“Assuredly not. If his copy gets into Cromwell’s hands he may slacken
his alertness and not be on the outlook for a duplicate. As I said
before, there is a chance the Scot plays fair, but two commissions in
the hands of Traquair will do no harm, and we mak siccar.”

“You are in the right, and your advice is always of the best. How soon
will you be ready to leave?”

“This very moment, your Majesty. There is no time to be lost.”

“True! True! True!” Then to the secretary, “Write another. Do you
remember the names?”

“Yes, your Majesty. I have them here on a slip.”

De Courcy bade farewell to the King, who urged him to return as soon as
horse could bring him, and went to his room to prepare for his journey,
the duplicate commission following him there.

Armstrong strode to the inn, sped up the stair, and knocked at the door
by the landing. Frances herself opened it, the determination on her face
to refuse admission to any other than he melting into a welcome as she
greeted him.

“My girl, are you ready for the North?”

“Yes, yes, ready and eager. Have you seen the King?”

“I have, and his royal signature rests over my heart.”

The joy fled from the girl’s face; she turned and walked with uncertain
steps to the table. A hope had arisen that the venomous De Courcy would
have prejudiced the King against the young man, and that the hateful
task of robbery would not be required. But now this last refuge had
failed. She strove not to weep.

“If you would rather not go until to-morrow,” said Armstrong, “I can
wait, but, lassie, I’m desperate anxious to leave Oxford as soon as
possible. We will not travel farther than Banbury to-night.”

“I am ready,” she replied with forced firmness.



BOOK IV.--THE RETURN



CHAPTER I.--TENSION.

The road between Oxford and Banbury is the most peaceful of
thoroughfares, laid with reasonable directness, gently undulating
in parts, passing through quiet villages and a sweet country, mildly
beautiful, yet to the mind of Frances Wentworth this innocent highway
ever remained, as it were, a section of the broad path to perdition.
In after life she never thought of it but with a creepy sensation of
horror. She was compelled to traverse ground that was the scene of
her lover’s proposal, with the lover whom she had rejected. The futile
incident, she thought, must be constantly recurring to his mind as it
recurred to hers, now that they rode side by side once more along this
ill-favoured highway. Even though he sat silent on his horse, more
gloomy than was his wont, she guessed what he was thinking. In Oxford,
God be thanked they were quit of it! a grave danger was left behind, but
in Banbury awaited the cruel test. There the stage was prepared for her
enactment of the part of a midnight Lady Macbeth, to rob the sleeping
Scot, not of his life, but of that for which he had staked his life
and for the preservation of which he stood willing to give up his life.
Heretofore she had lulled an accusing conscience by telling it that her
deed would preserve his life, but now that she knew him better, such
solace was withdrawn from her. There was little likelihood that he would
travel far beyond Banbury without discovering his loss, and, while he
would never suspect her of the theft, it needed no seer to predict his
course of action. He would return instantly to Oxford, and when next he
was baffled it would be by Cromwell’s troopers, and then, she had the
General’s own word for it, came condemnation and the noose.

Despondency seemed to be the portion of William Armstrong as well as
of his fair companion. She surmised that he was pondering on the events
which had happened when their faces were set south over this course, and
in part she was right; but the thoughts which rankled in his mind were
those implanted by De Courcy, and the wily Frenchman had been accurate
enough in his belief that the young man’s pleasure in the northward
journey would be spoiled. He could not bring himself to ask any
explanation from the girl, nor even tell her what De Courcy had said,
for he saw that already a weight of woe oppressed her, and to that
burden he would not add a pressure of the slightest word. He possessed
a supreme confidence in her, and only feared that she had loved this
runagate once, and that some remnant of this long-ago affection still
remained. Her own words before they reached Oxford, her own action
during the encounter fronting “The Crown” inn, disturbed him far more
than the insinuations of the Frenchman. He strove to rid himself of
these thoughts, but they were very intrusive and persistent. At
last with an effort he roused himself and cried with feigned
hilarity,--“Frances, we travel like two mutes. The influence of saddened
Oxford is still upon us both. We are long out of sight of the town, so
let us be done with all remembrance of it. The meeting with the King
this morning has stirred me up to a great pity for him, but vexed
meditations on his case are no help either to him or to us. The spur is
the only weapon I can wield for him now, so let us gallop and cry, ‘God
save the King!’”

With that they raced together for a time and were the better of it. He
had become almost cheerful again when the spires of Banbury came into
view, and thanked fortune that the first stage of their march was safely
over.

They found Old John and his pack horse both ready for the road again,
and Armstrong was plainly loath to let such a fine evening slip by
without further progress, but Frances seemed so wan and worn that he
had not the heart to propose a more distant stopping-place, and, with a
sigh, he put up his horse for the night.

While he was gone the innkeeper came furtively to Frances, and, after
seeing the pass, led her to the prepared room and showed her the door.

Much against her will, Armstrong insisted upon her coming to supper with
him, although she protested she had no appetite, and indeed sat opposite
him most forlorn and could not touch a morsel. In vain he urged her to
eat, but she shook her head, avoiding his glance and keeping her eyes
downcast.

“My girl,” he said anxiously, “you are completely tired. I see that you
are on the point of being ill if better care is not taken. Rest here a
few days, I beg of you. Eager as I am to be forward, I will stay if you
wish to have me near you. Or I will push on and come back for you.”

“I shall be well enough in the morning, most like. I am tired to-night.”

“And dispirited too.”

“Yes, and dispirited. You will excuse me, I know.”

“Frances rose to her feet, but seemed so faint that she leaned against
the table for support. He was by her side at once.

“My sweet lass, I am so sorry for you. Tell me what I can do for you,
and on my soul, my life is yours if you require it.”

“No, no! God grant you take no hurt for my sake.”

He slipped his arm about her waist and would have drawn her toward him,
but with more strength than he had expected her to possess she held
away. His great love for her almost overcame him, and all the prudence
he had gathered was scattered suddenly to the winds. “Dear, dear lass,
one touch of our lips and see if all doubts do not dissolve before the
contact.”

Now she wrenched herself free, and would have escaped but that he sprang
forward and caught her by the wrists, a grip she was to remember later
in the night. In spite of this prisoning, her hands were raised to the
sides of her face, and a look of such terror shot from her eyes that he
feared some madness had come upon her.

“Not that! Not that!” she shrieked. “The kiss of Judas! It would kill
me!”

His arms dropped paralyzed to his sides, and he stepped back a pace,
amazed at the expression she had used and the terror of her utterance.
Next instant he was alone, and the closed door between them. Still he
stood where she had left him.

“The kiss of Judas!” he muttered. “The kiss of Judas! She loves him,
thinks me his friend, trying to take Judas advantage of him because we
are alone together. De Courcy spoke truth. Wae is me, she loves him,
and I, blind fool----Oh God! pity that poor girl, and this insanity of
passion wasted on so rank a cur!”

Frances fled to her room and threw herself on the bed in an agony of
tears. This storm subsided into a gentle rain of subdued weeping, and
finally ceased as she heard the heavy tramp of riding-boots in the
adjoining room. She sat up in the darkness, listening intently. He
closed the wooden shutters of the window, shaking them to be sure that
their fastenings were secure. Then the bolts of the outer door were
thrust in their places, but, this apparently failing to satisfy the
doubts of the inmate, there was a sound of some heavy article of
furniture being dragged across the room; then the tramping ceased and
all was still. She sat there thinking of nothing; her mind seemed to be
dulled by the ordeal awaiting her and the fear of it, but there was no
thought of turning back or trying to avoid it. Dimly she was sorry for
herself and for him, sleeping in his fancied security, yet in a set
trap; but on her action this night depended her brother’s life, and that
outweighed all other considerations, even if her brain were alert enough
to cast them in the opposite scales. Unheeding she had heard the clock
in a neighbouring tower toll the hour; now it struck again and she
counted the notes. Eleven! It was still too early. People slept heavier
as the night wore on. She thought of their journey; of the halt at York;
of their talk in the niche in the hotel of the Templars; of various
incidents along the road; the march past of Cromwell’s troopers, four
and four, all looking straight ahead, and as she remembered them they
seemed to be passing her now; passing, passing, passing; then Cromwell
stopped and smote his steel breastplate with resounding clang. She
lifted her head with a start, and the clang of the breastplate changed
to the toll of the bell in the tower. Heavens, she had been asleep; her
brother’s life hanging on her drooping eyelids! One, two, three four,
five, six, seven! It must be midnight, and the first five strokes had
been on Cromwell’s breastplate. She roused herself and attempted to take
off her shoes, but her hands were trembling so she was forced to desist.
She sat up again, telling herself it was better to wait until all effect
of the long chiming had ceased, for the striking of twelve sometimes
disturbed or awakened the soundest sleeper. The clock tower seemed
dangerously near, as if it were approaching her hour by hour. At last
the shoes came off, and in stockinged feet she stood by the secret door,
waiting till the frightfully rapid beating of her heart should moderate.
It threatened to choke her. Then she slid back the bar and drew open the
door, all so smoothly oiled that there was not the whisper of a creak.
She tiptoed into the cavern of blackness and silence, holding her spread
hands in front of her, moving slowly with the utmost caution, step by
step. In her mind she had estimated, from her earlier survey of the
room, that nine steps would take her to the bed; now she realized she
had taken a dozen and yet had not come to it. She stood bewildered and
listened. The helplessness of a person in the pitch dark thrilled her
with a new fear, upsetting all her calculations. The panic of pulsation
in her throat and in her ears at first rendered any attempt at listening
futile; but at last she heard his regular breathing, as peaceful as that
of an infant, and it came from the other side of the room. For a moment
this terrified her, and she wondered if she were really awake, or in the
mazes of some baffling nightmare; but the solution came to her mind
and quieted the growing agitation. It had been his bed that he dragged
across the floor, and he was now sleeping against the outside door. And
all his preparations were as naught, because of this midnight spectre,
moving upon him! She changed her direction and, with her former stealth,
came ghost-like to the edge of the couch.

His doublet was open at the throat; that was so much to the good. Like
a snowflake in its coldness and its lightness, her hand stole down
underneath his vest, fluttered by the slow, steady, subdued beating
of his heart, running no such wild race as her own at that moment. It
seemed incredible that at last her fingers closed on the parchment; but
there it lay, and gently she drew it forth. Was the robbery to be so
easily accomplished after all? Ah, she had congratulated herself too
soon. It stuck fast; either the silken cord that bound it was caught,
or the document was secured to the vest,--a contingency she had never
thought of, and yet what more natural? Twice she tugged it gently, then
a third time more strenuously, when it came unexpectedly away and her
knuckles struck the sleeper under the chin. Instantly, like the snap of
a steel trap, his fingers closed upon her wrist, and his voice rang out
as wideawake and clear as ever he had spoken to her: “Frances!”

Now the racing heart stopped dead. Lucky for her that at this supreme
moment all action was impossible, and that she was stricken into frozen
marble. She imagined he was awake and knew her, and then the cold horror
of her situation numbed thought at its source.

“Frances!” The voice came more sleepily this time, and he repeated
thrice very rapidly, “Frances, Frances, Frances!” Feebly her heart had
taken up its work again. She was not to die as she had feared. Sodden
with drowsiness, his voice rambled on, and came to an indefinite
conclusion.

“My darling, you are in danger. We must get out of Oxford. Everything,
every----your safety, my dear. The King----” Then the words became
indistinct and died away; but alas! the grip of iron remained on
her wrist. For a long time she stood there motionless; then tried
to disengage his fingers gently; but at the first movement the grasp
tightened again. One o’clock struck. He slept so silently that it began
to appear to her agitated brain that she was a prisoner of the dead. She
came near to sinking from very weariness. Two o’clock tolled from the
tower. Sometimes she fancied she slept standing there, but her five
jailors did not sleep. She kept wondering in which direction lay
the open door, for at times the room seemed to swim around her, thus
disturbing all sense of locality. She almost laughed aloud when she
thought of herself free, but groping helplessly for the open door,
failing to find it, and she shuddered that even the remembrance of
laughter should come to her at such a time; surely a sign of approaching
frenzy. Then it seemed the fingers loosened; but hand and wrist had lost
all feeling, and she could not be sure. She tottered and nearly fell;
when she stood upright again she was free; he muttering to himself, and
his hand slashing undirected on the mattress, as if it missed something
it sought drunkenly to recover. The girl could scarce repress a cry of
joy at her release. She moved eagerly in the path that should lead her
to the door, but, hurrying too much, came upon his jack-boots on the
floor, and fell helplessly, so overwrought that even when her feet
touched them she could not draw back.

“Who’s there? Who’s in this room?” cried Armstrong. She was standing
again, fully expecting to hear his feet on the floor; but the bell
struck three, and he counted dreamily, and all was still again. When she
reached her room, she closed and barred the door as silently as she had
opened it. The tension relaxed, she felt she was going to swoon. Blindly
she groped for her shoes, murmuring, “O God! not yet,--not yet. Give me
a moment more.” Finding her foot-gear at last, she dared not wait to put
them on, but stole softly down the stair, steadying herself against
the wall. The cool air outside struck her like the blessing of God, and
soothed her whirling head. She heard a horse champing his bit, then a
whisper came out of the darkness: “Is that you at last, madam?”

“Yes,” she said, sinking on the doorstep, and leaning her head against
the lintel, the cold stone grateful to her hot forehead.

“You are not hurt, madam?” inquired the man anxiously.

“No, no,” she gasped; then, with an eldritch little laugh, “I want to
put on my shoes, that’s all.”



CHAPTER II.--ACQUITTANCE.

Either the moon had set, or lay behind a cloud; for the night was very
dark, with no trace of morning yet visible in the east. Frances buckled
on her shoes and stood up. The innkeeper led forward his horse, and
would doubtless have proffered his assistance, but when she spoke he
learned she was already in the saddle.

“Set me on the road to Broughton, if you please?”

“The word for to-night is ‘Broughton,’” he whispered, then took the
horse by the bridle and led him down the street. The girl became
aware that the town was alive with unseen men; for at every corner the
innkeeper breathed the word “Broughton” to some one who had challenged
his progress. She realized then that Cromwell had surrounded Armstrong
with a ring of flesh; a living clasp, as her own wrist had been circled
earlier in the night. At last they came suddenly from the shadow of the
houses into the open country, and the night seemed lighter.

“Straight on for about a league,” said the innkeeper. “You will be
challenged by a sentinel before you reach the castle, and he will lead
you there. Remember that the word, going and returning, is ‘Broughton.’
Do not forget, I beg of you, to tell the General that all preparations
were made to your liking;” and with that the honest man let go the rein,
smote the horse on the flank, and bade her goodnight.

In spite of herself the girl experienced that exhilaration which comes
of the morning air, the freshness of the country, and the movement of
a spirited horse. She breathed deeply and felt as one brought newly
to life again. If it were not for her upbraiding conscience and her
distress of mind, she could have sung for the joy of living. But the
Biblical phrase, “A thief in the night,” haunted her, and brought a
choking sensation to her throat. Once or twice she wavered and almost
turned back; for there was still time to undo; but reflection showed her
the uselessness of retreat, as the town she had left was man-environed,
and, until Cromwell gave the word of release, Armstrong could no more
reach its outer boundary than she could have escaped when his fingers
closed upon her wrist. Her sacrifice must be complete, or all she loved
were involved in common ruin. So, with the phrase ringing in her
ears, “Thief in the night, Thief in the night,” through the night she
galloped, until her horse suddenly placed his fore feet rigid, and came
to a stop so abrupt that the shock nearly unseated her.

“Who goes?” came the sharp challenge from under the trees that
overshadowed the highway.

“Broughton,” she answered automatically.

“Are you the woman from Banbury?”

“Yes.”

“This is Broughton Castle. I will lead your horse.”

They descended a slight depression and came to a drawbridge, passed
under an arch in the wall, then across a level lawn, on the further edge
of which stood the broad eastern front of the castle with its numerous
mullioned windows, a mysterious half-light in the horizon playing on the
blank panes, which recalled the staring, open eyes of a blind man. The
house seemed high and sombre, with no sign of light within. The sentinel
beat against the door, and it was opened at once. Muffled as had been
the knocking on the oak, it awoke the alert General; for when Frances
had dismounted and followed her guide into the ample hall, Cromwell
stood at the head of the stair, a candle in his hand. Less mindful of
his comfort than Armstrong, he had evidently slept in his boots; and,
as Frances looked up at him, his strong face seemed older than when she
last saw him, although but a few days had passed. The swaying flame of
the candle, held on a level with his head, made the shadows come and go
on his rugged features, and emphasized the deep furrows in his face.
His hair was tousled, and he had the unkempt appearance of a man who
had slept in his clothes. But his eyes burned down upon her, as if their
fire had never been extinguished even for a moment.

“Come up,” he commanded, and, as she ascended the stair, cried
impatiently, “Well!”

“There is the King’s commission,” she said quietly, presenting the
document to him. He took it without a word, turned, and entered the
room; she following him. He placed the candle on a table, did not take
the time to untie the silken cord that bound the royal communication,
but ripped it asunder, and spread open the crinkling parchment,
holding it up to the light. He read it through to the end, then cast it
contemptuously on the table, muttering:

“Charles Rex! A wreck you have made of life and opportunity and
country.” Then to the girl. “Wench, you have done well. Would you were a
man.”

“The pardon for my brother, sir, if it please you.”

“It is ready, and the commission as captain also. You see I trusted
you.”

“So did another, and through his faith he now lies undone in Banbury.”

“You have not killed him?” cried Cromwell sharply, looking with
something almost like alarm at the uncanny apparition. All beauty
had deserted her, and her face seemed pinched and small, white as the
parchment on the table, and rendered unearthly in its hue by the mass of
cavern-black hair that surrounded it.

“Killed him? No! But I have killed his faith in woman, cozened him, lied
to him, robbed him, to buy from you, with the name of your Maker on
your lips, a life that you know was not forfeited, but which you had the
power to destroy.”

“Ah, yes, yes, yes! I remember your tongue of old; but it may wag
harmless now, for all of me. His life _was_ forfeited; aye, and this
Scot’s as well. But no matter now.”

He threw before her the pardon for her brother and his commission as
captain, then strode out of the room to the head of the stair again, and
she heard his strenuous voice:

“Hobson!”

“Here, Excellency.”

“Ride at once to the commandant at Banbury. Tell him the Scot goes free.
Tell him to send word north, and see that he is not molested; but should
he turn in his tracks and attempt to reach Oxford again, hold him and
send word to me.”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“Send up a stoup of wine.”

He waited at the stair-head until the wine was brought, then took it
into the room and placed it on the table before her.

“Drink,” he said.

“I cannot,” she cried.

“Drink, _drink_,” he shouted in a voice so harsh that it made her
tremble. She lifted the flagon to her lips, and barely sipped the
liquid.

“Drink!” he roared, bringing his clenched fist down on the oaken table
with a force that made the very room quiver. The word had all the brutal
coarseness of an oath, and it beat down her weak resolution as the storm
levels the sapling. She drank deep, then let the flagon drop, raised her
hands to her face, and burst into a helpless wail of weeping.
Cromwell’s face softened, now that he was obeyed, and he looked at this
passion-swayed human flower with the air of a puzzled man. Then his huge
hand patted her heaving shoulders with some attempt at gentleness.

“There, there,” he said, in tones not unkindly, “do not distress
yourself. You are a brave wench, and the wine will do you good, though
you take it as it were a leech’s draught. I meant no harshness toward
you; indeed you remind me of my own daughter, who thinks her father
criminal, and will shout for this foolish King in my very ears. Aye,
and is as ready with the tears as any one of you, to the bewilderment of
straight-going folk. I have a younger daughter who is your namesake, and
I love her well. You will rest here in Broughton.”

“No, no!” sobbed the girl. “I must at once to Banbury. Give me, I beg of
you, a pass for my servant to the county of Durham. I would send him on
to my brother without delay, so that your release may reach him as soon
as may be.”

“But you? You do not purpose travelling further with this Scot?”

“I have done the crime; I must not shirk the punishment.”

“Tut, tut, this is woman’s talk. There is no punishment. He dare not
place a hand on you. You may have an escort of twenty men, who will see
you safe for all the Scots that ever depredated their neighbours.”

The girl dolefully shook her head.

“My punishment will take the shape of no harshness from him. It will
come to me when I see his face, knowing me a thief in the night. This
punishment is with me now and will be with me always.”

“Woman, I do not like your bearing, touching what you have done. You
did your duty by your country, God aiding you. Neither do I like
your attitude towards this meddler in affairs of state. What is your
relationship to him?”

“Merely that of the highwayman toward his victim.”

“Sharp words again; hollow-sounding brass, and the tinkling of cymbals.
I ask you if there has been any foolish talk between you?”

“If ’t were so, ’t is not an affair of state, and I shall follow the
example of General Cromwell and allow no meddlers in it.”

A wry smile came to the lips of her questioner, and he remarked drily:

“I told you the wine would do you good.”

He sat down by the table and wrote the pass for John, the servant, tying
the three papers together with the discarded silk cord that had wrapped
the parchment of the King. Giving her the package, he accompanied her to
the head of the stair, and stood there while she descended. He did not
offer her his hand, nor say any word of farewell. They needed now no
candle, for the early daylight was coming through the broad eastern
window. Half way down the stair she turned, and looked up at him.

“The innkeeper at Banbury did everything that was possible for a man to
do in aiding me.”

Cromwell made no comment on this piece of information, standing there as
if he were a carven, wooden statue, part of the decoration of the hall.
She completed her descent, passed outside without looking back, and
mounted the horse which a soldier was holding for her. The birds were
twittering in the trees, and the still water of the moat lay like molten
silver in the new light. She rode up the aclivity, then galloped for
Banbury, reaching the town before anyone was astir. The streets were
entirely deserted, Cromwell’s command having cleared them, and the
invisible guards of a few hours before, whom the magic pass-word
stilled, seemed as nonexistent as if they had been phantoms of a vision.

The sleepy innkeeper received the horse, and she crept up the stair of
Old John’s room and knocked upon it until he responded. She gave him his
pass, and the two documents for her brother, and told him to set off for
Durham as soon as he got his breakfast, making what haste he could to
Warburton Park, he was to tell her brother that she was well and would
follow shortly. Then she went to her own room, threw herself on the bed,
dressed as she was, and, certain she would never enjoy innocent sleep
again, slept instantly.



CHAPTER III.--ENLIGHTENMENT.

When William Armstrong awoke, he thought he had overslept himself, for
the trampling of horses sounded in the paved courtyard below. The one
window of his room, over which he had drawn and fastened heavy wooden
shutters the night before, let in a thread of light which showed him a
new day had come, and the activity in the yard made him fear he had lain
longer abed than was his custom. He was the more convinced of this in
that he remembered hazily the clattering hoofs of a horse some time
before, and then later, another being led out; now there appeared to be
a third, and the hum of talk came up to him. His window overlooked
the stable yard, and he recognized the mumble of the hostler who had
assisted him yesterday. He lay still, half drowsed, the mattress most
alluring to him, when suddenly he was startled wide awake by a voice he
knew.

“Then I turn to the left for Broughton?”

“Yes, sir,” muttered the hostler.

Armstrong leaped from his bed, placed his eye at the chink in the
shutters, and peered down into the stable yard. The voice had not misled
him. De Courcy, sitting on a horse, was just gathering up the reins and
departing. The Scot lost no time in pulling on his boots, pushing aside
the bed, unbolting the door, and making his way down the stair. What
did this gaily plumaged bird of ill-omen here in the country of the
Parliament, when his place was beside the King? Was there treachery
afoot? It looked like it. Once outside, he saw it was still early, with
the sun scarcely risen. He accosted the yawning hostler.

“Who was that man you were directing to Broughton?”

“I don ’t know, sir.”

“When did he arrive?”

“Last night, sir, after dark.”

“Did he stop in this house?”

“Yes, sir. I thought he was a friend of yours, for he knew your horse
when I was putting up his own. He asked if you were here, and I told him
you were in the room over the yard.”

“What is Broughton; a hamlet?”

“It is a castle, sir. Lord Say’s castle, about three miles from here.
General Cromwell is there now; it is his headquarters in this district.”

“Cromwell!”

The young man stood stock still, his eyes gazing into vacancy. What
traffic had this King’s Chamberlain with Cromwell? How dared he come
within the Parliamentary lines, undisguised, unless--unless----Like
inspiration the whole situation flashed upon him. De Courcy knew the
burden he carried, and had seen where it was placed. He was on his way
to sell his secret and set the troops on the track of the messenger. He
must be off at once and outride the traitor. Before De Courcy had gone
his three miles, he would have traversed a dozen, and from then on it
would be a race to the Scottish border.

“Is my horse fed?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Get him out at once. I will arouse the others.” He took three steps
toward the inn, then stopped as if shot, his hand clutching his breast.

“By God, he’s got the thing itself. Robbed, as I’m a sinner!”

Now the disturbance in the night stood out clear in his memory, but he
wasted not a thought over it. In upon the astonished hostler he swept.

“Never mind the saddle, fellow. Spring up behind me and show me the road
to Broughton. Up, I say, the horse can carry a dozen like us. Here are
two gold pieces for you; guidance and a still tongue in your head is
what I want.”

Armstrong grasped the two pistols from the holsters, flung the
hesitating hostler upon the animal’s back, and leaped up in front of
him.

“Which way, which way, which way?”

“Straight down the street, sir,” gasped the terrified man, clasping the
rider round the waist. “Now to the right, sir, and next to the left.
That’s it, sir. Up the hill. Ah, there’s your man, jogging on ahead,
leisurely enough, if it’s him you seek.”

“Right! Slip off; I can ’t stop. God be with you!”

The hostler rolled in a heap along the ditch, staggered to his feet,
feeling his limbs for broken bones, thinking his gold pieces hardly
earned in such usage; then, satisfying himself that the damage was not
great, hobbled back to Banbury.

De Courcy, riding easily, as the man had said, wholly unsuspicious of
pursuit or any reason for it, had disappeared into a hollow when Bruce,
like a thunder-cloud, came over the crest, and charged down upon him
with the irresistible force of a troop of dragoons. The Frenchman,
hearing too late the rumble of the hoofs, partly turned his horse across
the road, the worst movement he could have made, for Bruce, with a
war-neigh, came breast on, maddened with the delight of battle, and
whirled opposing horse and rider over and over like a cart-wheel flung
along the road from the hand of a smith. De Courcy lay partly stunned at
the roadside, while his frightened steed staggered to its feet, leaped
the hedge with a scream of fear, and scampered across the field to
its farthest extremity. Armstrong swung himself to the ground with a
quieting word to Bruce, who stood still, panting, and watching every
movement of his master. A pistol in each hand, Armstrong strode over to
his victim.

“You halter-dog, traitor, and scullion, give me the King’s commission.”

“Sir, you have killed me,” moaned De Courcy faintly.

“You bribed thief, the rope is your end. You’ll take no scath through
honourable warfare. Disgorge!”

De Courcy, vaguely wondering how the other knew he carried it, drew from
within his torn doublet the second commission signed by the King, and
handed it up with a groan to the conqueror. As it was an exact duplicate
of the one he had lost, even to the silken cord, the honest Scot had not
the slightest doubt he had come by his own again, and the prone man was
equally convinced that some one had betrayed to Armstrong his secret
mission, yet for the life of him could not guess how this were possible.
The young man placed the document where its predecessor had been, then
said to his victim: “Had I a rope and a hangman with me, you would end
your life on yonder tree. When first I learned your character, you were
in some danger from my sword; a moment since you stood in jeopardy from
my pistols; beware our third meeting, for if you cross my path again, I
will strangle you with my naked hands, if need be.”

De Courcy made no reply. He realized that this was not a time for
controversy. A standing man well armed has manifest advantages over an
enemy bruised and on the ground, and some thought of this came to the
mind of the generous victor now that his anger was cooling. He felt that
it was rather undignified to threaten a helpless adversary, and if he
were a traitor to the King, let the King deal with him. So, whistling to
his horse, he sprang on his back, and rode to Banbury at a slower pace
than he had traversed the same highway some minutes before.

The hostler made grievous pretence that he had been all but murdered
by his fall, and Armstrong examined him minutely, as he would have done
with a favourite horse, pronouncing him none the worse for his tumbling,
but rather the better, as he was now more supple than he had been for
years. He rewarded the man lavishly, nevertheless, and gave him the
recipe for a liniment good for man and beast, should after-complications
ensue.

“I hope, sir,” whined the man, “that you did not treat the gentleman you
were in such haste to meet, as roughly as you did me.”

“Very much the same,” cried Armstrong, with a laugh, “but you are the
better off, because I left him neither gold nor medicine; taking from
him rather than bestowing.”

“Ah, is _that_ your game?” whispered the hostler, a glint of admiration
lighting up his eyes. “Dang me, if I did not take thee for a gentleman
of the road when first I clapped eyes on thee. Be sure I’ll say naught,
for I’ve cut a purse myself in younger days. Those times were better
than now. There’s too many soldiers and too few gentlemen with fat
purses travelling the roads nowadays for our trade.”

Again William laughed, and shook hands with the old man, as one
highwayman in a good way of business might condescend to another less
prosperous, and the veteran hostler boasted of his intimacy with a noted
freebooter for the rest of his days.

“Rub down my horse well, while I am at breakfast,” said Armstrong, and,
receiving every assurance that the beast of so excellent a highwayman
should get earnest attention, he went to the inn and there found Frances
awaiting him.

The girl was standing by the window, which was low and long, with a
valance of crimpled spotted muslin running athwart the lower half of
it. A bench was fixed beneath the window, and on this bench the girl had
rested a knee, while her cheek was placed against the diamond panes.
The light struck her face and illuminated it strongly, and she stood so
still that she seemed to form part of a tableau which might have been
entitled “Watching.” On the table placed in the centre of the room,
breakfast was spread.

It was a jubilant man who disturbed this quiet picture by his abrupt
in-coming. The early morning gallop, the excitement of contest, the
flush of victory, all had their effect on his bearing, and he came in
with the mien of a Saxon prince, his yellow hair almost touching the
beams of the low ceiling. The two formed a striking contrast when the
embodiment of elation approached the embodiment of dejection. There was
a new furtiveness in the brief glance she cast upon him, and after her
first startled cognizance she looked beyond him, on either side of him,
over his head, or at his feet, but never turned her eyes full upon him
as of yore.

“Ah, my girl,” he cried, “you have not slept well. I can see that at
once. This will never do; never do at all. But you are certainly looking
better this morning than you did last night. Is that not so?”

“You are looking very well,” she said, avoiding his question.

“Oh I’ve had a morning gallop already.”

“What! With the ride to Scotland still before you. Is not a merciful man
merciful to his horse?”

“He should be, but I may say this for Bruce; he enjoyed the ride quite
as much as I did. And now I am ravenous for breakfast, and eager for the
road again.” He tinkled a little hand-bell that rested on the table.
“We have another splendid day for it. The sunrise this morning was
positively inspiring. Come, lass, and sit you down. We must get the
roses back into those cheeks, and I think the ride to-day will do it;
for we will be nearing the North, ever nearing the North, and you are
just like me, you are yearning for the Northland, where all the men are
brave and all the women fair.”

“Fair and false, perhaps you would add. That was your phrase, I think.”

William laughed heartily, drawing in his chair.

“Yes, about our Stuarts, not about our ladies. They are ever leal and
true. And indeed many of them are dark as well as fair, and they are the
best. Dark hair, fair face, and a loyal heart; there is a combination to
cherish when God is good to a man and allows him to meet it.”

The servant had now answered the tinkling bell, and Frances was too busy
acting the housewife to make any comment on his enthusiastic description
of what was to be found in the North. Her pale cheeks reddened as he
spoke, and he took this for a promising sign. She was convinced that he
had as yet no knowledge of his loss, and wondered when and where such
knowledge would come to him. She hoped the enlightenment would be
delayed until they were near the Scottish line or across it. Then she
must tell him the truth at whatever cost to herself, and persuade him,
if she could, not to return. When she made her confession, she would be
in a position to relate all Cromwell had said to her; show him that the
General had given orders which would block any backward move, and reveal
his determination to hang the Scot should he entangle himself further
with English politics. Yet she had the gravest doubts that these dangers
would influence him. She knew him well enough to be aware that his own
personal safety weighed but lightly with him, and the very opposition
would determine him to try conclusions with it, unabashed by the
overwhelming odds against him.

These reflections troubled her until the time they were on their horses
once more, when Armstrong interrupted them by crying out:

“Where’s old John?”

“I sent him on ahead long since,” replied Frances.

“Good. We shall soon overtake him. Good bye, pirate!” he cried to the
grinning hostler. “May I meet you on the road next time with a thousand
pounds on you, and if you whisper ‘Banbury’ to me, I will not lift a
penny of it.”

“Good luck to you and your fair lady, sir,” replied the enriched old
man, raising his cap in salute. He wished more travellers like the
brawny Scot came that way.

“Why do you call the poor man a pirate?” asked Frances.

“Oh, we’re comrades!” laughed Armstrong. “He thinks me a capable,
prompt, and energetic highwayman, and admitted on the quiet that he had
cut a purse himself upon occasion in the days of his youth.”

“And why does he think you a highwayman?”

“Ah, that would be telling. Suppose it is because I escort the fairest
lady in the land? The sex have ever favoured the biggest rascals. No, I
shall not incriminate myself, but shall maintain my pose of the amiable
hypocrite. Here rides Will Armstrong, the honest man, if you take his
own word for it. But the hostler knows better. He sees secret comings
and goings, and draws his sage conclusions. Banbury! O Lord, I shall
never forget Banbury! It is a place of mystery, the keeper of dark
secrets and sudden rides, of midnight theft and of treachery. Ask the
Broughton road, where Cromwell lies, to reveal what it knows. Things
happen along that track which the King knows nothing of, and his royal
signature takes journeys that he never counted upon.”

“Heaven’s pity! What do you mean?” moaned the girl, whitening to
the lips. He laughed joyously, but checked himself when he saw the
terrifying effect of his words on his companion. They were now clear of
Banbury and trotting along the Coventry road. Their departure had met
with no opposition, and they had seen not even a single soldier. The
open country lay before them, the turrets of the town sinking in the
rear.

“My foolish words have frightened you. Forget them! I am accumulating
experiences that will interest you to hear when the time comes for the
telling of them, but of one thing I am assured, the good Lord stands
by his own, and He has shielded me since yesterday morning broke. Come,
Frances, let us gallop. That, and a trust in the Lord, will remedy all
the ills of man or woman.”

She was glad of the respite and they set off at full speed, nevertheless
her mind was sorely troubled. “What did he know, what did he know?” beat
through her brain in unison with the clatter of the horse’s hoofs. It
was not possible that chance had brought him thus to the very centre of
her guilty secret. Cromwell, treachery, midnight stealth, the Broughton
road, these words and phrases tortured her. Was this, then, the line
of his revenge? Did he know all, and did he purpose to keep her thus in
suspense, hinting, soothing her fears, then reviving them, making her
black crime the subject of jest and laughter? She cast a glance over
her shoulder. Banbury had disappeared; they were alone, flying over
the land. The doubt was unbearable; she would endure it no longer.
Impetuously she reined her horse to a stand. “Stop!” she cried, and at
the word her own horse and Bruce halted and stood. The young man turned
with alarm to her agitated face.

“What do you mean by your talk of Broughton and Cromwell?”

“Oh, that is a secret! I did not intend to tell you until our journey
was ended, when we could laugh over it together.”

“It is no laughing matter. I must know what you mean.”

“All dangers are laughable once they are past. An unknown, unsuspected
danger threatened me at Banbury. It is now past and done with, and the
person who plotted against me can harm me no more. There are reasons why
I do not wish to mention this person’s name. Barring that, I may tell
you now as well as another time, if you care to listen.”

“Do I know the person?”

“Oh, yes! You knew the person long before I did. It was a person I
trusted, but not know to be a traitor and a thief.”

It was some moments before Frances could speak, but at last she said
very quietly, looking down at her horse’s mane,--“Tell me the story, and
I will tell you the name of the thief.”

“You slept badly last night Did you hear anything?”

“I--I-----I heard the clock strike the hours.”

“I heard it strike three, but lay so locked in drowsiness that I knew
not the Lord was calling to me. If the Seven Sleepers were melted into
one, I would outsleep that one. Well, to get on, I was robbed in the
night. It must have been at that hour, for I remember dimly some sort
of disturbance. But Providence stood my friend. By the merest chance, it
might seem, but not by chance as I believe, I saw the creature make for
Broughton. ‘So, here’s for Broughton,’ cried I, ‘on the bare back of
Bruce, and see if my good pistols would win back what had been stolen
from me.’ The Broughton road it was, and the pistols did the business.”
 Saying this, he whisked from his pocket the King’s commission, waving
it triumphantly aloft. Her wide eyes drank in the amazing sight of it,
slowly brimming with superstitious fear, and then she asked a duplicate
of the question that had been asked of her a few hours before.

“Did you kill Cromwell?”

“Cromwell! I never saw him.”

“From whom, then, did you wrench that parchment?”

“From the thief, of course. He never reached Cromwell.”

“Oh, I am going mad! Who is the thief, who is the thief?”

“De Courcy, if you must know. Why does this trivial matter so disturb
you? De Courcy followed us from Oxford last night, and was lodged at our
inn. By some means he penetrated into my room, stole this from me, and
I never missed it until I saw him ride for Broughton, and not even then,
to tell the exact truth. But I remembered that he had seen me place this
paper in the inside pocket of my vest, in the King’s own presence, and
then the whole plot came to me. Before he saw Broughton, Bruce and I
were down upon him like a Highland storm on the Lowlands. ‘My sword!
you should have seen us! For a minute there was one whirligig of horse’s
legs and Frenchman, like a raree-show of acrobats struck by a whirlwind.
If I had not been so angry I would have had the best laugh of my
life,”--and the genial William threw back his head and made the wood
echo with his merriment at the recollection. But the girl was sober
enough.

“This is not the King’s commission,” she said quickly.

“Oh, but it is!”

“It is not. Have you read it?”

“No, but that’s soon done.”

He untied the cord and unfolded the sheepskin.

She leaned eagerly forward and scanned the writing, while Armstrong read
it aloud.

“You see,” he cried gleefully. “Of course it is the commission. There
are the names of Traquair, and all the rest, just as I gave them to the
secretary, and there is ‘Charles Rex’ in the King’s own hand.”

“It is a duplicate. Cromwell has the original. You never left De Courcy
alive within a mile of Broughton Castle?”

“I did that very thing. Not as lively as I have seen him, yet alive
nevertheless.”

“Then ride, ride for the North. We have stood too long chattering here.”

“All in good time, Frances. There is no more hurry than ever there was;
less, indeed, for it seems to me that Cromwell, for some reason, wants
to come at this by fraud and not by force. But now that De Courcy’s name
is mentioned between us, I ask you what you know against him more than I
have told you?”

“Against him? I know everything against him. Would that you had killed
him. He would sell his soul, if he has one. He robbed my dying father,
and on the day of his death, when I was the only one in London who
did not know he was executed, De Courcy lured me to his apartments at
Whitehall under pretense of leading me to the King that I might plead
for my father’s life. There he attempted to entrap me, snapped in my
hand the sword which I had clutched from the wall to defend myself,
and I struck him twice in the face, and blinded him with his own false
blood, and so escaped. Judge, then, my fear when I saw him there at
Oxford.”

“The truth! The truth! At last the truth!” shouted Armstrong, as if a
weight had fallen from his shoulders. “The truth has a ring like honest
steel, and cannot be mistaken when once you hear it. He lied to me about
you in Oxford, and I called him liar, and would have proven it on him,
but that he told me you were in danger. I should have killed the whelp
this morning, but that he could not defend himself.”

“The truth! Yes, but only part of it. He did not rob you last night.”

“Nonsense! He did.”

“I robbed you. I stole into your room and robbed you. I carried the
original of that document to Cromwell himself, and it is now in his
hands. It was the price of my brother’s life. My brother was set on
your track by Cromwell, and, being wounded, I took up his task. Do you
understand? That was my mission to Oxford. To delude you, to rob you,
and I have done it.”

“Girl, you are distraught!”

“I am not. Every word I tell you is true.”

“You are saying that to shield some one.”

“Look, William Armstrong! For two hours and more, last night, you
held me by the wrist. There is the bracelet with which you presented
me,--black proof of the black guilt I confess to you.”

She held her hand aloft, and the sleeve fell away from the white and
rounded arm, marred only by the dark circles where his fingers had
pressed.

“Do you say I did that?”

“Yes. If still you do not believe me, measure your fingers with the
shadow they have cast.”

She reached out her hand to him, and he took it in his left, stroking
the bruised wrist with his right, but looking into her eyes all the
while.

“Frances, is it this secret that stood between us?”

“Yes.”

“Is this _all_ that stood between us?”

“All! Is it not enough? All! It is a mountain of sin that bears me to
the very ground.”

“Why, dear lass, did you not tell me?”

“Tell you? It was from you, of all the world, I must conceal it until
now.”

He laughed very quietly, fondling her hand.

“Bless me, how little you know! What is quarreling King or rebellious
country to me compared with you? No wonder my beating heart did not
awaken me with your hand upon it, for it was co-conspirator with you,
and wholly your own. Heaven mend my broken patriotism!--but if you
had asked me, I would have ridden myself to Cromwell with the King’s
signature.”

“Do you----can you forgive me, then?”

“Forgive you? You are the bravest lass in all the land,”--and with that,
before she was aware or could ward off his attack if she had wished to
do so, he reached impulsively forward, caught her off her horse, and
held her in his arms as if she were a child, kissing her wounded wrist,
her eyes, her hair, her lips. “And now, do you forgive _me_, Frances?”

“Oh, willingly, willingly! Trespass for trespass. ‘As we forgive them
that trespass against us.’ But set me on my horse again, I beg of you.”

“I can hardly believe you are here yet.”

“Cease, cease, I beg of you! The moments are too precious for it.”

“Precious they are and most preciously employed.”

“Will, Will, I implore you. Do you not understand? You are jesting on
the brink of the grave. De Courcy has crawled to Cromwell ere this,
and that grim man is lighting the North against us. They are now on our
track.”

“The way is clear. There is no one in sight, and we can outride them
when they come.”

“They are riding across country to intercept us. Oh, let not my arms
hold you back for destruction. Cromwell himself told me he would hang
you if he had to take you openly.”

“He dare not. Have no fear!”

“He dares anything. You do not know that man, and your condemnation,
this document, rests now on the heart it would still. Cromwell will move
the world to tear it from you. If you love me as you say, let us to the
North at once.”

Well he knew the truth of her warning, now that he understood the case,
but was reluctant to let her go. The last appeal had its effect, and he
placed her once more on her horse. Together they set off again, through
a land that seemed silent and at peace; but it was only seeming.



CHAPTER IV.--ENTANGLED.

There was some delay at Warwick, and the authorities proved reluctant
to let them proceed farther with the journey. It was evident that
the commandant had received instructions regarding the very pass they
presented to him for their safe conduct, because he retired with it to
the guard-house, where he remained for a time that seemed perilously
long, and even when at last he came out with it he was plainly still
suspicious, and in doubt regarding what action he should take. It
was Frances who turned the scale in her own favour and that of her
companion.

“Where did you get this pass?” the commandant asked.

“At Corbiton Manor, in the county of Durham.”

“Who gave it to you?”

“It was given to me by General Cromwell’s direction, and written almost
in my own presence, I might say, or at least a few moments after I had
been speaking with him.”

“You went from Durham to Oxford?”

“Yes.”

“And have come from Oxford here?”

“Yes.”

“Did you travel through Banbury?”

“We stopped the night at Banbury; at ‘The Banbury Arms’.”

“Stopping there by the direction of General Cromwell himself,” put in
the girl, much to the surprise of William Armstrong. The officer looked
up at her with interest.

“When did the General give you such instructions?”

“Several days ago, at Northampton.”

“You saw him at Northampton?”

“Yes, and I saw him again this morning before daybreak.”

“Really. And where was that?”

“At Broughton Castle, three miles west of Banbury. In my presence he
told his aid to ride to Banbury, and send word North that this pass was
to be honored. Has the commander at Banbury not obeyed his General’s
instructions?”

“Yes, he has,” admitted the officer, looking with admiration on the
young woman who spoke so straightforwardly; “but the communication
came to me by way of Coventry, and it was somewhat vague. The messenger
reached here but a scant half hour since, and he spoke of one person,
not of two. May I ask your name?” he continued to the man.

“William Armstrong.”

“That is right, my orders are to pass William Armstrong, holding a
permit from the General, but say nothing of a lady.”

“That is doubtless the messenger’s mistake,” said Frances confidently.
“My brother is, or was, up to this morning, Lieutenant Wentworth of the
Parliamentary forces in Durham. This morning General Cromwell wrote
out his commission as captain, and that I brought away with me from
Broughton and sent it direct to Durham by my servant. But you may detain
me if you wish, or send an escort with me back to the General. It will
be a more serious matter if you detain Mr. Armstrong, who is a Scotsman,
and whom the General has been at some pains to further.”

“Indeed, madam, I shall detain neither of you. My only excuse is that
the messenger was not as clear as he might have been, and you come
so close on his heels. Besides, I have had disquieting news from
Birmingham. There is a rising of some sort forward. Birmingham has
already been smitten sore by the King’s troops, so there is little fear
that the citizens have risen in his favour, but I surmise that there has
been some sort of Royalist outbreak elsewhere in the North. Something is
afoot, for messengers have been galloping through Alcaster to the east
of us for Birmingham. You heard nothing of that further south?”

“No,” said Armstrong, who nevertheless had a shrewd suspicion where the
trouble lay. “If there is any Royalist rising in Birmingham I would like
to avoid the place. I have no wish to get among the Royalists. Are there
roads by which we can win east of Birmingham?”

“Oh, yes! I will sketch out a route for you, whereby you may reach the
main highway some seven miles north of Birmingham, at Sutton Coldfield.”

“I shall be much indebted to you, if you will be so good.”

The officer retired to the guard-house and brought out a rude map of
the district, which he gave to Armstrong after explaining it. He sent
a soldier to set them on the right way when they had left the village.
When the soldier had departed, and the two were once more alone,
Armstrong turned in his saddle and looked back at the frowning towers
of Warwick Castle, looming up through the trees, very suggestive of a
prison.

“That was a narrow shave,” he said, “and I have to thank you, Frances,
that we have squeezed through.”

The girl shook her head.

“Alas, circumstances are proving too strong for me,” she said
sorrowfully, “and all my old ideas of right and wrong are being flouted
day and night. Just now I have used truth for the purposes of falsehood,
a fault which I chided in you earlier in our journey. I wish we were
free of the entanglements and might be honest once more.”

“You have done well. Have no fear, and I still insist that the Lord
stands by us. We cannot meet force with force, and must use what craft
we are possessed of. Cromwell uses it, and so does the King. Why should
we be debarred? I think we are well out of that trap, and I am wondering
how many hours will elapse before the commander is sorry he let us go.”

They lunched on bread and cheese at a wayside hut, and once, when they
reached the top of a hill, they saw what they took to be Birmingham away
to the west. The by-roads they were traversing proved to be deserted,
and they resolved to keep to them rather than seek the main highway
at Sutton Coldfield or elsewhere, for they considered that their
comparative slowness would be more than compensated for by greater
safety. This course soon proved of doubtful wisdom. Without a guide
the intricate lanes were puzzling, and often came to an end without any
apparent reason. When they took to the fields the soil was heavy in many
cases, and fatigued their horses, besides entangling them sometimes in
low-lying lands that were almost marshes. To add to their difficulties
the sun became obscured in a haze, and the temperature dropped sharply,
condensing the moisture in the air about them, involving them in a mist
that was worse than the darkest night. Still they struggled on, leaving
the direction entirely to their horses. At last they came on what
appeared to be a cart track, and, following it, they arrived at a
labourer’s hut which faced a lane. Armstrong, without dismounting,
knocked at the door with his sword, and a frightened woman, holding it
ajar, answered the summons.

“We have lost our way,” said the young man, throwing her a coin to
bespeak good will; “can you tell us where we are?”

“Where are you going?” asked the woman, which proved a somewhat
difficult question to answer.

“What is the nearest town to the north of us?”

“Lichfield.”

“And how do we get to Lichfield from here?”

“Follow this lane to the cross-road, then take the lane to the left for
two miles, and it will lead you into the main road. Turn to the right,
and Lichfield is five or six miles further on.”

“If, instead of going to the main road, we keep to this lane, where will
it lead us?”

“It stops at the cross-road.”

“Where will the lane turning to the right lead us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is there any way to the North except by the main road?”

“I don’t know.”

“How long have you lived in this cottage?”

“Twenty-three years, sir.”

“And you know only the way to Lichfield?”

“Yes, sir.”

He thanked the woman, and they rode on through the fog. The limited
knowledge of the English peasantry regarding the geography of their own
district had baffled him more than once during their journey, and this
was but a fair example of the ignorance he had to contend against. He
resolved to take the turn to the right in preference to the leftward
lane. He feared Lichfield or any other place of similar size, and he
dreaded the main road. It was impossible for Cromwell to patrol the
whole country at a moment’s notice, so the by-ways would be safer if
less direct. Their progress had been so slow that there was ample time
for a hard rider with relays of horses to have spread a warning far
ahead of them, and now caution, rather than speed, was their game. These
points he discussed with his companion as they rode along in the fog,
and she agreed with his conclusions. Each tried to cheer the other, but
both were undeniably discouraged by the conditions that surrounded them.

About a mile from the hut they came to the end of their road, with the
horizontal lane at its head, extending east and west. As they turned to
the right, some object loomed in the fog ahead, and there came a sharp
cry:

“Who goes there?”

“To the left,” whispered Armstrong, turning his horse. Frances obeyed
instantly, but the man in front fired his musket into the air and raised
a shout, whereupon four others sprang from the dripping bushes, and two
of them seized the reins of the startled horses.

“Resistance is useless,” said the soldier hanging to the rein of the
plunging Bruce, “there are a hundred men along this lane.”

“I have no need to resist,” cried Armstrong with affected indignation,
although none realized so well as he that the game was up. “We are
peaceful travellers under safe-conduct from General Cromwell himself.”

“The lieutenant will be here directly,” said the man, and as he spoke a
party of horsemen came galloping down the lane.

“Who fired that shot?” cried the officer in charge. Before an answer
could be given he came upon the two captives. “Who are you?” he
demanded.

“Travellers to Carlisle, who have lost their way in the mist and are
seeking the high road.”

“If you have a pass, let me see it.”

“Here it is!”

“Your name is Armstrong, perhaps?”

“The pass does not say so.”

“Do you deny it?”

“No.”

“You are prisoners. Where is the bugler?”

“Here, sir.”

“Sound the recall.”

The man placed the bugle to his lips, and the merry notes rang out into
the obscurity. All remained silent, then, like an echo from east and
west, almost in unison, came a similar call; and faintly in the further
distance another. The company seemed to increase mysteriously, as if
pikemen were being distilled out of the fog, and after a roll-call,
every name being answered, the lieutenant gave the word to march, and
horse and foot set out for the west, the two prisoners in the centre
of the phalanx. The head of Frances drooped, and Will rode close by her
side as cheerful as ever, trying to comfort her.

“Clever man, this Cromwell,” he whispered with admiration in his tones.
“You see what he has done? He has run thin lines across the country as
fast as horses could gallop, stringing out the local men as they went
along. We have probably blundered through one or two of these lines, but
were bound to be caught sooner or later, unless we made for the coast on
either side, and that would but have delayed things a bit, for there was
little chance of us getting ship with all ports in his hands. It serves
me right. I should have killed De Courcy and then galloped for it.
However, the Lord stands by us, Frances; never forget that.”

“It doesn’t look much like it,” said the girl despondently.

“Oh, well, nothing looks like itself in this accursed fog. Why could n’t
we have had this mist on the road from York? Still, I don’t think it
would have made any difference, once Cromwell’s riders got to the north
of us. Resourceful man, Oliver. I like him.”

“And I don’t. Yet you are supposed to be against him, and I am supposed
to be for him. I fear him; I fear him.”

“Oh, there’s no danger; not the slightest for either of us. You have
done your task, and have done it well. I am the blunderer. But I stand
on my status as a Scot, and I will argue the matter out with him. The
man I tumbled into the ditch was the King’s Chamberlain, and not a
Parliamentarian, and a foreigner at that. The document I am supposed to
carry was not given to me by the King, but taken by force from a minion
of the King, and a Frenchman. I have assaulted no Englishman, and
Cromwell knew I was travelling on this pass. He cannot deny that he
wrote it, and for exactly the purpose it has served. Oh, I shall have a
beautiful legal argument with Old Noll, and will upset him with his own
law. I’m in no danger; neither are you.”

“I trust it will appear so.”

“It cannot appear otherwise. He was trying to frighten you when he said
he would hang me. He is a sly, capable dog, who will be satisfied with
having beaten me, and will not court trouble with my countrymen by
hanging even a Borderer. It cost one of our Kings his throne to do the
like of that.”

This conversation, with which there was no interference on the part of
their captors, was brought to a conclusion by their arrival at the main
road. Here a halt was called and the bugle was sounded, again to be
answered, as before, from different directions. “Dismount,” said the
officer to Armstrong, whereupon the latter, without a word, sprang to
the ground. Against the next move he protested, but his opposition was
unavailing and indeed unreplied to. The officer gave the lady and the
two horses in charge of a party of six, with orders to take them to
Lichfield and install them in the cathedral. A guard was to be set at
the door, and no communication was to be allowed with any one outside.
Orders from headquarters were to the effect that the lady was to be
treated with every deference, and these orders were impressed upon the
six men. The detached squad disappeared down the road in the fog, and
Armstrong stood disconsolate and angry, but helpless, surrounded by
troopers.

The monotony of waiting was relieved by the frequent arrival of
companies from the east and from the west, who did not stay at the
cross-roads, however, but marched south toward Sutton Coldfield and
Birmingham. Thus the little company standing at arms was continually
augmented, and continually reduced to its original size. It was waiting
for some one higher in command than the mild lieutenant, and nearly two
hours passed before this man, set in authority, arrived. Armstrong heard
the trampling of horse to the south, and presently the sound of voices
became quite audible through the fog. There seemed to be a dispute going
forward, which was something unusual in the Parliamentary forces, where,
if discipline appeared lax, instant obedience was invariably required.

“I tell you, Colonel, I am to take charge of the lady and escort her to
Cromwell.”

“I have no orders to that effect.”

“I have come direct from Cromwell, and those were his orders.”

“I do not take orders from you. I hold written instructions relating to
both the man and the woman, and these I shall carry out.”

“You will be wise to hang the man on the nearest tree, and take his
papers to Cromwell.”

To this there was no reply, and Armstrong now knew that De Courcy had
not been so badly hurt as he had pretended, for he had taken a long ride
to the North since then. The prisoner recognized his voice long before
his cavalier costume emerged from the mist. De Courcy had not changed
his apparel, and it formed a strange contrast to the Parliamentary
uniform, as indeed did Armstrong’s own dress.

“Ah, my young friend,” cried De Courcy, the moment he recognized the
prisoner, “you had your laugh in the morning, and I have mine in the
evening.”

“There is a time for everything,” replied Armstrong indifferently, “and
my time for laughing is in the morning. It is brighter then.”

“Yes, it looks rather dark for you at the moment, and you seem less
merry than when I met you earlier.”

“Oh, there were more amusing things happening then, that’s all. How’s
your horse?”

“We are neither of us the worse for our encounter. Do n’t you wish you
could say the same for yourself?”

“I do, and I thank you for your sympathy.”

“Have you sent the woman to Lichfield?” asked the officer-in-chief of
his subordinate.

“Yes, Colonel; some two hours ago.”

“Very well. We will relieve you of your prisoner. Take your men to
Birmingham.”

“Is there any truth in the Royalist rising there, Colonel?”

“None in the least. Have you heard anything?”

“Nothing but a rumor that there was an outbreak of some sort. I heard
that a detachment from Lichfield was to leave for Birmingham.”

“We will turn it back if we meet it. Good night!” At the word the
lieutenant and his men marched off to the south, and Armstrong was taken
in charge by the squadron of horse. A trooper was dismounted and his
steed given to Armstrong, of whom no questions were asked, as he had
expected. They seemed very sure of their man. The cavalry set off to the
North, and De Courcy rode close beside his enemy, taking a delight in
taunting him. To this enforced companionship the Scot objected and made
appeal to the colonel.

“Sir, am I your prisoner, or do I belong to this renegade King’s man?
Who is in authority here,--you, or this Frenchman?”

To this the colonel made no reply, nor did he order De Courcy to the
rear, probably not wishing to offend one who seemed to be a friend of
Cromwell’s. The angry Scot was forced to make the best of it in silence,
while the Frenchman, very polite and jocular, pressed ironic services
upon him, asked after the girl, and said he would use his influence
with Cromwell to have a silken rope used at the coming execution of so
distinguished a spy. It is ill to tamper with a Border temper, as the
Frenchman soon discovered. Armstrong slipped his knife from his belt and
held it in readiness, when his attention was drawn to the trampling of
an approaching host in front of them, and he remembered that here was
coming the troop from Lichfield, which expected to meet a body of the
King’s men if the rumour from Birmingham were true. The rumour had no
doubt been started by the riding North in hot haste of this courtier now
at his side, at a time when such costume was not seen outside Oxford.
Besides, the country was in a constant state of alarm, and the wildest
tales were current, whose constant contradiction by afterevents did
nothing to allay ever-recurring panic. Armstrong quietly gathered up
his reins, watched his opportunity, and, instead of running his blade
between the ribs of De Courcy, jabbed the point into the flank of the
Frenchman’s horse.



CHAPTER V.--SANCTUARY.

However graceful the Frenchman might be on foot, and no one denied his
elegance of bearing, he was but an amateur on horseback, and when his
steed unexpectedly plunged forward he relinquished the reins and grasped
the mane. For one brief moment the attention of the troop was diverted
toward the unexplained antics of the maddened horse and the imminent
overthrow of its rider. It is one of the defects of human nature that
man is prone to laugh when he sees a fellow creature in some predicament
from which his own superior skill leaves him free. Every man in the
company was a faultless rider, and nothing their horses could do would
have been any embarrassment to them. To see this dandified foreigner,
whom at heart they despised in any case, crouching like a gaudily
dressed monkey on a frolicsome dog, and screaming for help, was too much
for even the saddest of them, and a roar of laughter went up which did
nothing toward quieting the injured and frightened quadruped. If it had
been the horse of Armstrong that had begun these dancings, his guards
would have been instantly on the alert for an attempted escape, but at
the very moment their eyes should have been on the Scot their attention
was withdrawn. Armstrong did not laugh, but, thrusting back his knife,
whipped out his sword, and struck De Courcy’s horse twice with the broad
of it. His own steed leaped forward under the prick of the spur, and
before the colonel could give a word of command the two had disappeared
in the fog ahead. Even then the colonel, who was the only man that had
his wits about him, did not think there was the least chance of escape,
for he had heard the troop coming toward him, and Armstrong must run
directly into it. He rose in his stirrups to give the alarm to those
ahead, when all heard a ringing shout: “Charge, cavaliers! God save the
King! To hell with the Roundheads! Charge!”

Out of the fog came a spattering fire, then a volley. Two horses and
three men went down, while the other troopers hastily unslung their
carbines and fired down the street without waiting for the word of
command.

“Stop, you fools!” yelled the colonel, “you are shooting your own men.”
 Then to the oncomers he roared a like warning, which was drowned in
another volley. The Lichfield men were not to be taken in, even if they
had heard the warning. With their own eyes they had seen two cavaliers
burst upon them out of the fog with a strident cry for the King. De
Courcy, coming first, they concentrated upon him, and he went down
before them. Armstrong, swinging his sword, smiting right and left,
bellowing like a fiend in true cavalier style, a very Prince Rupert
come again, dashed at the weakest spot, and his impetuosity carried all
before him.

“Never mind him,” cried the leader, as some would have pursued. “Fire,
and break their charge,” and fire they did right stoutly, until a
maddened officer, with a bravery that scorned the bullets around him,
galloped along their front, waving his sword and commanding them to
stop.

“You are killing your own men! There are no Royalists, but an
interfering fool of a Frenchman and an escaped Scot. Back to Lichfield!”
 Nevertheless, a battle is not quelled at a word, and the brave colonel
pressed through among them and galloped in pursuit of his late prisoner.

Once clear of the clash, Armstrong was not sparing of a horse that
belonged to someone else. At great risk to his neck he raced through the
blind fog, sword in hand, ready for further opposition should he meet
it. He emerged from the fog with a suddenness that startled him. The sun
had set, and there, barely a mile away, stood out against the darkening
sky the great red bulk of the cathedral with its war-broken towers, and
the little town huddled at its feet. At the same moment he became aware
that some one was thundering after him, and again he dug the cruel spurs
into the labouring horse. A glance over his shoulder showed him the
colonel breaking through the bank of fog, and he thought of turning and
fighting him on the run, but the sound of firing had ceased, and he knew
the colonel would prove a stouter combatant than the Frenchman, so he
hurried on. Aside from this, Lichfield had been roused by the sound of
the guns, and he saw the long narrow street that lay between him and the
cathedral becoming alive with pikemen, and knew he would have his work
cut out for him if he was to get safely through the town. As soon as he
came within earshot he shouted to them: “Barricade the street! The King
is upon us. I have just escaped. Our men are on the retreat. Defend
the town to the south. Barricade! Barricade!” Thus he clattered through
Lichfield, shouting.

Soldiers are so accustomed to the word of command that they obey first
and think after, if at all. Seeing a rider in the costume of a cavalier
come tearing down upon them, they made hasty preparation for stopping
him; but his tone of authority was so well assumed that they gave
way before him, and began the running out of carts and whatever other
obstructions they could lay their hands upon, to make the way difficult
for the oncoming colonel, who swore as loudly at their stupidity as if
he were the King’s own.

“What are you about, you accursed clodhoppers? Don’t you know a
King’s man when you see one? Leave that rubbish and follow me to the
cathedral.”

Armstrong’s horse, nearly done, staggered over the bridge and up the
slight incline that led to the cathedral precincts. Across the grounds
surrounding the church had been raised a great earthwork, and the
battered west front of the sacred building showed that war had been no
respecter of sculptured beauty. A lone pikeman paced up and down before
the cathedral door, but paused as he saw this impetuous rider, whose
horse had stumbled and fallen at the top of the rubbish heap.

“What do you there?” shouted Armstrong, springing nimbly from his fallen
horse. “Did n’t you hear the firing? Down to the street and help your
comrades; the town is attacked! Run!”

“I was told to stand here,” objected the bewildered guard.

“Run, confound you! Do you question the word of an officer?”

The man, trailing his pike, ran, and disappeared down the street.

“Frances, Frances, are you within? Open the small door; it is I,
Armstrong.”

“Yes, yes, I knew you would come,” he heard her say, and then followed
the welcome rattle of the bolts. But they must be speedily drawn if they
were to clear the way for a man hard pressed. Over the barricade surged
a wave of pikemen, twoscore or more, the mounted colonel behind them,
urging them on with pungent oaths.

“Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” shouted Armstrong, raising his sword aloft,
standing under the arched doorway, steadfast as one of the stone knights
beside him.

“Sanctuary be damned!” cried the colonel, urging his horse up the
embankment. “Down on him, you dogs, and take him dead or alive!”

In spite of the cursing of the colonel; in spite of the battered
condition of the great church; in spite of the deadening influence of
the war, the cry of “Sanctuary” struck home to many of the hearts there
opposed to the fugitive, and the pike-topped crest of the human wave
paused for one brief instant, yet it was enough. Before the wave broke
and fell, the small door gave and swung inward. As the pikes rattled
against it, Armstrong had the bars and bolts in their places again.

“Break down that door!” he heard the colonel roar outside, while the
impetuous William clasped the girl in his arms and kissed her.

“Lord, lassie, I’m glad to meet you again, although it’s just dark
enough in this place for the seeing of any one.”

The young woman shook herself free.

“We wasted too much time at that before. Let it be a lesson to us. This
place is a stable. Our horses are well fed, and the saddles are still on
them.”

“But is there a way out?”

“Yes, a small door in the northeast corner. Come.”

“It will be guarded, surely.”

“No. I think they wanted me to escape, for they went out that way after
barring the front door. But they did n’t think you would be with me
when I took my leave. Come quickly, or they will be round to it from the
front.”

“I doubt it. The colonel is a Birmingham man and a powerful swearer, who
knows nothing of this church--or any other, I think. The men will not
remember the back door until it is too late, and then I pity them; they
will hear language from the colonel.”

The two made their way to the farther end of the cathedral, where the
horses were stalled. The vast nave was dark and would soon be black as
a cellar until the moon rose. It was used as a military storehouse, as a
stable, and as a dormitory for troops when the accommodation in the town
was overtaxed. As Armstrong and his companion stumbled over obstructions
toward the horses, the spacious chamber rang with the impact of timber
against the stubborn doors. Frances, knowing the geography of the
place, led the way with her horse, and Armstrong followed with his. Once
outside, there was more light than he wished for, but their way to the
rear was clear, and, mounting, he took the lead, crossing an alpine
ridge which had done duty during the siege, and taking a somewhat
terrifying leap down to the greensward of the field at the back of the
cathedral. Then they ran north through a slight valley, and, for the
moment, were safe from observation.

“The moon will be up soon,” said the young man, “and I do n’t know
whether to welcome it or fear it.”

“We shall do neither, as we have no influence one way or another, and
must bear its disadvantages or the reverse, as chance wills. Now tell me
what happened. How did you escape?”

The tale was soon told, half humorously, as if it were an escapade
rather than an escape, and the narrator wound up with a determination to
avoid the main road in future.

“There I do not agree with you,” she said. “I have been alone in that
cathedral some three hours or more, and have had time to think. You said
we blundered into the ambuscade, and so we did. You have hewn your way
out by a marvellous combination of luck and prowess, but such exploits
are not to be depended upon. You must use your mind, as well as your
right arm and the swiftness of your horse, if you are to win Scotland.”

“Frances, you discourage me: I looked upon my escape rather as a triumph
of wit than of muscle. The setting of the Roundheads at each other’s
throats in the mist seemed an inspiration, and the cry of ‘Sanctuary’
gave me just the moment of time that was needed. Your estimate of me is
that of the Reverend Henderson of Edinburgh, who held I had barely sense
enough to direct a stout blow.”

“No, no, I give you full credit for great ingenuity, but we stumbled
upon, the Parliamentarians with no plans made. Everything has been
done on the spur of the moment, and has not been thought out before
the crisis came. A few chance remarks got us clear at Warwick; while
inspiration and a fog were your safety at Lichfield, and even then by
one brief instant of time. The recurrence of such strokes of luck and
good management are not to be looked for. Some time the moment needed
will go against us, and then all is lost.”

“True enough. What do you propose?”

“I propose we take to the main road again, which must be near at hand on
our left.”

“You forget we have no pass from Cromwell now. The lieutenant has it.”

“You will have a pass for yourself the moment you are north of
Manchester, which cannot be more than fifty miles away. We must get
over those miles as speedily as possible; therefore the main road is our
route.”

“Yes, if it were practicable; surely danger lies thick along the main
road.”

“I do not think so. While in the cathedral I heard troop after troop of
men going northward. They will carry the news of your capture, but not
of your escape. Until they beat in the door of the cathedral and search
the place thoroughly, no messenger will be sent North. We are ahead of
them once more, with the news of your capture travelling in front of us.
We will keep ahead so long as we ride fast and until we stop somewhere
for the night; then they having relays of horses, while we have only
our own, will pass us. We cannot ride all night, or we shall kill our
horses; but We can cover a good deal of the ground between here and
Manchester. Once north of Manchester I think you are fairly safe. So
I propose we ride now for the main road, and keep going as long as our
horses are able to travel.”

“Agreed; but, following your own instructions, what are we to say when
we are stopped? We have no pass, so how am I to account for myself?”

“You are a Roundhead soldier, sent on to Manchester by the colonel at
Lichfield.”

“I look like a Roundhead soldier!” cried William, with a laugh.

“You will. It is always well to have some one in a travelling party who
can think. Have you not noticed the load you carry behind your saddle?”
 Armstrong turned. The rising moon displayed a steel cap that looked like
an overturned pot and a bundle of cloth, all neatly strapped on.

“The cathedral is a storehouse for uniforms and accoutrements enough to
fit out a regiment. I selected the largest suit I could find, with cloak
and cap, and belted them to your saddle. Now I shall hold your horse
while you go into the thicket and change your raiment. Conceal your
cavalier costume as well as you can, so that, if they trace us over
this fog-sodden turf, which is likely, they will get no hint of your
new appearance. It might be well to climb a tree and tie your discarded
shell among the leaves, with the straps that bind the bundle to your
horse, and be careful to leave neither the King’s message nor your purse
with your finery.”

It was a happy omen for future domestic peace that the huge man did at
once and without question what the comparatively fragile young woman
bade him, she holding his horse while he made the rapid change. When he
emerged, the horse plunged, and she had some ado to hold him until he
heard his master’s voice and laugh.

“Yea, verily, this is a transformation indeed,” cried Armstrong, looking
at himself in the moonlight. “My name is Hezekiah, and the steel cap is
a thought on the small side, but the rest o’ the duds are not so bad.”

“The cap was the largest I could find,” laughed the girl, “and will fit
closely enough when your locks are shorn.”

“Oh. Must I sacrifice this vanity of Absalom as well?”

“Surely. If I am to be your Delilah, I must fulfill my duty. I searched
the whole cathedral for that which would do the work of shears, but
could find nothing. However, the first cottage we come to will supply us
with a suitable instrument. Now mount, and let us away.”

They speedily came upon the main road, and cantered on through the
beautiful night, determined to put fifty miles, or thereabout, between
themselves and Lichfield, but before they had accomplished half that
distance Armstrong saw that the girl was completely exhausted in spite
of her disclaimers, for, aside from the tiresome day’s travel, she had
had little sleep the night before. It was most tempting to push on, for
the night was perfect and the road was good. Even though they passed
through several villages they were not questioned. Soldiers in drab
cloaks and steel caps were too common on the road to cause comment, and
they were, as yet, in advance of any news of escape.

At last they came to a farmhouse near the roadside, and Armstrong beat
up the inmates, bringing a woman’s head to an opened window. At first
she would admit no one at that hour of the night, but the moon shining
on the steel cap and the long cloak apparently gave her confidence. Her
husband was in the south with Cromwell, she said. She could make a
place in the house for the lady, but the soldier would find better
accommodation than he was accustomed to in an outhouse. With this
Armstrong expressed himself as amply satisfied. They dismounted, and he
led away the horses. He found a place for them in a shed, examined them,
and rubbed them down with care. Having satisfied himself that they were
none the worse for their long journey, he attended to their wants and
flung down some bundles of straw for his own night’s lodging. He began
to think he must go supperless, or run the risk of foraging in an
unknown pantry, if he could find entrance, when he saw Frances approach
from the house with a loaf of bread and a lump of cheese on a trencher,
and a measure of ale. He met her half way and relieved her of the load.
Under her arm she carried some cumbrous weapon, which she brought out
when he assumed the burden of the provender.

“It is a pair of sheep-shears, which the woman tells me is all she has,
but I assured her they were most suitable for my purpose. Now sit on
this stone here in the moonlight and be shorn; for we must set out in
the daylight without those long locks of yours. You look too much like
the King, even with your cloak and steel cap.”

The girl laughed softly as she said this, and snapped the big shears
menacingly. He sat on the stone like the obedient young man he was,
shook out his lion’s mane, and in a few moments was bereft of it. The
girl stood back and surveyed her work, laughing, but nevertheless with a
tinge of regret in her laughter.

“Oh, it’s a pity!” she cried. “All the King’s horses and all the King’s
men are not worth the sacrifice. I hope it will grow again, for, if not,
the Philistines be upon thee, Samson. Your dearest friend would n ‘t
know you now.”

Armstrong smiled ruefully and passed his hand in anxious doubt over his
cropped head.

“I suppose it will grow again, unless my dearest friend refuses to
acknowledge me with this curtailment, when I shall become bald through
grief at her defection.”

“I make no promises, if you mean me. I shall very likely reconsider. You
are never the man who cast a glamour over me at Oxford and elsewhere. I
fear I am no true Parliamentarian after all, but I shall not come to
a decision until I see you in the daylight. Perhaps the cap will be an
improvement, but I doubt it.”

He squeezed on the cap, which was still too small.

“By the bones of my ancestors, it will need Peter, the blacksmith of
Gilnockie, to get this off again!”

“That is worse and worse,” urged his tormentor. “I cannot bear the sight
any longer, or it will drive sleep away from me. Good night, my poor,
shorn Samson,”--and she was off before he could spring up and intercept
her.



CHAPTER VI.--EXPEDIENCE.

Great is the recuperative power of youth, and shortly after sunrise the
two were on the road again, refreshed and with high courage, to face
the outcome of another long ride. They had travelled farther than their
estimate of the night before, and so found themselves but little more
than twenty miles south of Manchester. In the night the weather had
undergone another change, and the sun was hidden, while now and then a
scurry of rain passed over them. To the North the outlook was black and
lowering. They were approaching the land of storm.

“I have made up my mind,” said Frances, “that we must part. No, it is
not on account of that cropped head of yours, but rather to save it.”

“I have been thinking myself that it is wrong you should share my
danger, when there is nothing to hinder you from going across country to
your own home.”

“I shall not go across my country until I have seen you safely into your
own. But, as you know, the swearing colonel and his men are not looking
for me. Perhaps they think I took the opportunity left open to get
away from the cathedral; but on the other hand, if wise, they must have
looked for our horses’ tracks, and then they learned we left Lichfield
together. I propose to act as your scout. I shall ride a mile or two
ahead, and if I am stopped, you will strike to the right or to the left,
and avoid the danger if you can. On every elevation I reach I will stand
for a few moments. If my horse faces west, the way between us is safe;
if he faces east, there is danger.”

“Frances, I would rather run the risk and have your company.”

“I am sure you would, but”--and she laughed--“now that you are clipped,
you are the one who is beautiful, and I the one who is wise. It is
really to your advantage that I should see as little of my Roundhead
lover as possible, and you would be foolish to detain me, for I cannot
help glancing at you now and then, and whenever I do, I sigh for the
cavalier who wooed me yesterday. Women are not so changeable as they
say, and I am constant to my first adorer.”

To this William made no reply, gazing somewhat gloomily at the storm
away on the horizon.

“There, there,” she cried, riding alongside and touching his hand. “I
have offended his vanity, and he doesn’t like to be laughed at. Poor
boy, you little know what is in store for you. Don’t you understand you
will have enough of my company in the days to come, and may well spare
some of it now? I shall not disown my promise if you remind me of it
when your love-locks are over your shoulders again. But, seriously, my
plan is a good one unless you have a better to propose. We must quit
the main road now, and avoid Manchester as we avoided Birmingham, but we
should have a care that we do not ride into another ambuscade, and if I
go first that may be prevented.”

“When I see you interfered with, I will just gallop to your assistance.”

“You shall do nothing so foolish. No one in England is going to injure
me; but you are not safe until you are over the Scottish line. We shall
be north of Manchester in three or four hours, and then you have your
own pass. You are really a most creditable Roundhead. After Manchester
we can travel in company again, if you wish. Have you anything better to
propose?”

“Yes. I propose we stay together and take our chances.”

“Good bye,” she cried gaily, touching up her horse, then, over her
shoulder as she galloped off, “Remember. West, safety; east, danger.”

Armstrong had not only to curb his own inclination, but his horse as
well, who viewed with evident disapproval the departure of his mate. At
the summit of the first hill the girl turned her horse across the road
facing west, waved her hand to him, and disappeared over the crest. And
thus the journey went on; sometimes two miles between them, sometimes
less. Manchester was seen and left in the rear. He now tried to catch
up with her, but she kept valorously ahead, as if she were some fabled
siren luring the poor man on. For a time he lost sight of her, then,
as he mounted a hill, saw her standing on a crest a mile away, like an
equestrian statue against an inky sky; but this time her horse faced
the east, and he thought she was motioning with her handkerchief in that
direction. She stood there until he sent his horse over the hedge and
made in the direction of a forest, then the darkness seemed to swallow
her up. He skirted the edge of the wood. Rain was now coming down
heavily, but before it blotted out the landscape he passed the head of
a valley and saw dimly through the downpour a large encampment of white
tents. A man in drab on a black charger stood little chance of being
seen against the dark forest from the encampment, but he moved on as
rapidly as he could, knowing that if a lull came in the deluge he ran
great risk of detection by the outposts. Some distance on he stood for
a time under the trees, blessing the long cloak, which formerly he
had maligned for its ugliness, for now it proved of good material and
waterproof. The girl had evidently gone directly down into the camp,
and he was at a loss what to do. Duty called him to press forward to the
North, but duty is often an ill-favoured jade whose strident voice is
outdistanced by the soft whisper of a beautiful woman. Armstrong dared
not shout, and the deluge formed an impenetrable curtain whichever way
he turned. He skirted the wood for some time, then crossed the fields
to the west until he came to the road which trended North from the camp.
Here he stood in the rain, and wondered whether she was detained, or
whether she had already passed the spot he now occupied. They had made
no arrangement for meeting again in case they should lose sight of each
other, and he blamed himself for his negligence on this important
point. One thing was certain. It was useless to stand here until he was
dissolved. Even his stout-hearted horse had assumed an attitude of the
utmost dejection, with drooping head, the water pouring off every part
of him. Should the weather clear, which he was compelled to confess
there seemed little likelihood of it doing, he was in danger so near the
camp. He resolved to turn North, go on until he reached some place of
shelter, and there wait. Progress was slow, for the lane had become a
quagmire. The forest which he had skirted extended now to the west, and
the road became a woodland track, but just where it began to penetrate
into the wilderness there shone upon him a ray of hope. From an
overhanging branch of the first tree hung a limp and dripping white rag,
tied by one on horseback in such a position that it might brush the
face of a rider passing that way. He took it down, and it proved to be
a lady’s handkerchief. If he had followed the edge of the wood, he could
hardly have missed it; if he came along the lane he was almost certain
to see it. He thrust this token under his cloak and chirruped to his
discouraged horse. When something like a mile had been cast behind him,
his horse neighed, and was answered by another further ahead. Then he
came to a forester’s hut, and in an open shed, sheltered from the
storm, stood the companion of Bruce, who showed lively pleasure at the
encounter.

Inside the hut a cheerful sight met his eyes. A fire of faggots blazed
on the hearth, and before it stood a radiant young woman, arranging the
brands to their better burning with the tip of her boot. On a high stool
was spread her steaming cloak. In a far corner sat the old forester and
his wife, frowning on their visitor and their newly arrived guest; for
strangers were viewed with universal suspicion by high and low, little
good ever coming of them in the minds of the peasantry, while the chance
of danger was always present; danger whether hospitality was proffered
or withheld. There was more likelihood of entertaining devils unaware
than angels, and well the afflicted poor knew it.

However, less risk lay in succoring a steel cap than a feathered hat, so
the moment the dripping horseman shoved in the door, the old woman rose
and began to set out a meal of dark bread and swine’s flesh, boiled and
cold.

“Ah, here you are at last,” cried the girl. “I was beginning to fear I
should have to go back to the camp for you. Did you find my token?”

“Yes.”

“Give it to me.”

“Not so. Findings are keepings. You cannot prove your right to the
property.”

“Alas, honest travellers are few, as these good people seem to think.
Throw off your cloak. Here is a wooden hook by the fire that I have kept
for it. Draw up your stool and eat. I was so hungry that I didn’t wait.
You see what it is to possess a good conscience once more.”

“I possess a good appetite any way.”

“Then sit down, and I shall be your waiting-maid.”

“What news have you?”

“Hush! Great news, for I am the very princess of scouts. One thing at a
time, however, and the one thing now is this black bread, which is like
the old woman here, better than it looks. We can get nothing for our
horses at this place, so must set out again as soon as possible, in
spite of the rain.”

When he had finished his meal and stood again with her before the fire,
she whispered to him: “You must not pay these people too lavishly. They
are somewhat near the camp, and although they do not seem over talkative
it is better to run no risks. Bargain with them; be as a very Jew in
computation.”

“I’ll do better than that. I’ll be a very Scot, and so save money.”

Once on the road again, she gave him her budget of news.

“You are a hero, William Armstrong. England is ringing with your
exploits, and I never dreamed with what a valorous knight of old I
travelled. It seems you stormed Warwick Castle and took it. You passed
unseen through cordons of troops, and it is suspected you have dealings
with the Devil, who travels beside you in the guise of a female, as
is right and proper, and who appears and disappears at her will.
Single-handed, you scattered two armies at Lichfield----”

“Oh, give the Devil her due!”

“With her aid, of course; that is always understood. You attacked
Lichfield cathedral and captured it, and there is much disapproval among
the peasantry that Cromwell had formerly dismantled it, for they think
that if this had not been done the holy belongings of the place would
have baffled you. The cathedral now reeks of sulphur, and you escaped
in a whirl of flame amid a storm of bullets. They know that nothing
will prevail against you but a silver pellet, and even that must be well
aimed. So I am not sure but I have been mistaken in disguising you, for
if any Cavalier shows himself in the North, the inhabitants are like to
take him for Satan and fly from him.”

“Then they are not good Christians, for they are told to resist the
Devil and he will flee from them. You think, then, that my fiendish
character will protect me?”

“Not so; but you have nothing to fear between here and Carlisle. I
thought you said De Courcy had been killed?”

“He went down, and I supposed him shot, but was in too much of a hurry
to inquire.”

“He and others rode to the North last night, and they are now between us
and Carlisle.”

“He has as many lives as a cat. If that is the case, why do you say the
road to Carlisle is clear?”

“Because from Carlisle to Newcastle, right across England, the cordon
is to be stretched, and from Carlisle west to the coast. Before we can
reach there; a line of men, almost within touching distance of each
other, will extend from sea to sea, and all traffic North will be
stopped. A thousand pounds is on your head, and Cromwell thinks to stay
you, not with silver, but with gold. The General himself is on his way
North, to see that you are trapped, or to be ready for any outbreak of
the Scots should you win through.”

“I fear I have been unable to convince Oliver that I am the devil,
since he takes such excellent human means of frustrating me. A thousand
pounds! And yet you held that first day I was of slight value!”

“I have confessed my error since. The camp I visited is breaking up
to-day, and moving on to Carlisle. Twenty-three thousand men, I was
told, but, being mostly foot, there is no chance of their overtaking
us.”

“Well, the North looks black with more than rain, though goodness knows
there is enough of that. I wish I were in Glasgow.”

“What do you propose to do?”

“You are the plan-maker of this foray. What do _you_ propose to do, or
have you thought of that yet?”

“I have not only thought of it, but have received instructions on it. I
have heard the officers discuss what should be done, but I want to hear
your conclusions first.”

“Very well. The line runs from the west coast to Newcastle. At Newcastle
I am more than forty miles from Scotland at the nearest point, while at
Carlisle I am less than ten. Every step east I go, I am placing myself
more and more at a disadvantage, yet I might go east simply because of
this, and because they know that I know that they know I am on the road
to Carlisle. Having fallen into one ambush, they will imagine me on the
constant outlook for another. Going free for so long, they might even
count on my increasing carelessness, but shrewd men would not lippen to
that Knowing I am singlehanded and can make no stand, they will expect
me to creep through at night, either east or west of Carlisle, and as
near as may be to that place, trusting to the short distance and
the fleetness of my horse in a race for the Scottish Border. I am a
hillsman, accustomed to threading my way through a wild country, with
a keen eye for an enemy. I have avoided all the big towns, Birmingham,
Manchester, and the like, so they will not expect me to risk either
Newcastle or Carlisle. Night will be the time when they are greatly on
the alert, especially if this storm continues. Very well again. Who am
I, if questioned? I am a trooper of Cromwell’s own horse, sent North
from Warwick, having seen this escaped devil of a Scot, and therefore
the more likely to identify him. I have become detached from my company
in the storm. I will ride into Carlisle in broad daylight, and ask where
the Warwick horse are to be found. They were ordered to Carlisle, I
shall say. I shall not avoid the commander, but will seek for him. Then,
if I can saunter over the bridge, it’s ‘Hoorah for Scotland,’ and may
the best hoofs win.”

“Good,” cried the girl, “and well reasoned. They all agreed that
Carlisle was the weakest link in the chain.”

“Did they so? Then that makes me hesitate. If those in Carlisle think it
the weakest link, they will strengthen it.”

“The officer’s plan was not so bold as yours. Of course they did not
know you were travelling in the likeness of one of themselves. They
thought you would abandon your horse before you came to Carlisle, creep
into that town after dark, avoid the bridge, which is sure to be well
guarded, swim the Eden, and be across the Scottish border by daylight.
There are two defects in your own proposal; your accent is not that of
Warwickshire, and De Courcy is sure to be in Carlisle and may recognize
you. Besides this, you may meet some one who knows the Warwick
regiments, and you are not even acquainted with the name of the captain
of your supposed company. I think the night attempt more like to
prosper.”

“In the night every one is on the alert, and a Roundhead cannot be
distinguished from a cavalier, so there is closer scrutiny. I can enact
the stupid trooper to perfection, having natural gifts toward stupidity.
There is a risk, of course, but this is a risky journey at best. If I
once get over the bridge at Carlisle, I’ll beat all England in a race
for the Border.”

“I hope you will. I said I would see you across into Scotland, but I am
convinced that purpose is futile, and I shall prove but a danger to you.
A Warwick trooper on duty does not wander over the country a-squiring
of dames. I have given you good advice and a Roundhead’s equipment, and
have acted as your scout, so I must not imperil your mission by hanging
to the skirt of that sopping cloak. To-night we shall likely reach
Yorkshire, and to-morrow I bid you God speed and make across the county
to my own home.”

“Indeed, lass, I have come so to depend on you, I shall be but a lost
sheep, shorn at that, if you leave me.”

“The wind is tempered to all such, and if you depend on your own wit you
are likely to prosper. But you should have some care for me. It is my
own safety I am thinking of.”

Although the day was far from being one that incited toward hilarity,
Armstrong laughed, and turned his dripping face up to the storm. The
girl joined him, but with less of merriment in her tones.

“You will never persuade me,” he said, “that there is a tinge of
selfishness about you, or that you ever think of yourself when there is
a friend to think of.”

“There is worse to come,” she went on. “I must beg of you to sacrifice
that moustache. You will never get through Carlisle with that on your
lip. Anyone who has ever seen you before would recognize you now, in
spite of cloak and cap.”

“Madam, you ask too much. The kingdom of England may fall, but this
moustache, never.”

“Really,” laughed the girl. “If you saw it at this moment you would not
be so proud of it. It has drooped and wilted in the rain like a faded
flower. ’Twere better done away with, for it will mark you out from
the smooth-faced troopers who throng Carlisle.”

William somewhat wistfully wrung the water from it, and attempted to
draw it out across his cheeks.

“Madam, I suspect your design. One by one you have depleted me of what
goes to make up a Borderer, and gradually you have reduced me to the
commonplace level of those crop-eared villains who are fighting against
their King. Then, when I come to you and say, ‘I beseech you to fulfill
your promise to me,’ you will reply, ‘Away, Hezekiah, I know you not.’”

“’T is near to that point now, and a little more or less will make
slight difference with me, while it will greatly aid your passage
through Carlisle.”

“Would it not be well to have my ears cropped also?”

“They are somewhat prominent, now that your locks are gone. I wish I had
brought those shears with me. You see now why I must leave you. Oh, the
vanity of man! The self-conceit of woman is a molehill compared with a
mountain. But take courage, William. I shall not be near you when
the deed is done, and the moustache sacrificed, and you will wait in
Scotland until it grows again. Perhaps by that time our English troubles
will be finished, and thus Armstrong and England will be their true
selves at the same moment.”

They had long since reached the main road and were making way as well as
they could through the mud. The rain had not ceased, nor did it show any
sign of ceasing. It needed frivolous talk to keep the spirits up in such
weather. The young woman was earnest enough in her resolve to further
his disguise by the means she had suggested, but to this she could not
get Armstrong to say either yea or nay. He changed the subject.

“You never told me how you managed to get so much information in the
camp. Did they let you pass unquestioned?”

“It happened that I knew the officer in charge, and he knew me, and was
rather apologetic in his demeanour toward me, for he was one of those
of the court-martial who condemned my brother, I told him, truly enough,
that I had been to see Cromwell and had obtained his complete pardon.
That I had seen the General at Northampton, where he had made me a
promise, and again at Broughton Castle, where he had redeemed it. I was
now on my way home; that was all. The officer was very glad indeed to
hear of my success, and said, what was also true, that he had deeply
regretted the condemnation, but that the court could not do otherwise
with the evidence before it. He had no suspicion that I was the female
fiend who accompanied the man they sought, and as the talk was all of
this man I could not help but hear, and was indeed very glad to listen.”

As evening drew on, conversation lagged, and they rode silently
together, keeping doggedly to the work in hand, in spite of the flagging
energies of their horses and their own bedraggled weariness. The rain
fell with pitiless steadiness, and darkness came on early, with no
chance of a moon being visible that night. The welcome light of a town
twinkled ahead at last, and they resolved to stop there unless the risk
threatened to be overwhelming. At the outskirts they learned that
they had reached Clitheroe, and that “The Star” inn offered fair
accommodation for man and beast. They were not to reach Yorkshire that
night, and had accomplished less than thirty miles from Manchester.
They dismounted at “The Star,” two very water-soaked persons, and their
reception was far from being particularly cordial.

“Are you one of the troopers billeted here tonight?” asked the host, who
appeared not over pleased to welcome such enforced guests.

“No, I pay for my accommodation. I am an officer of the Warwick horse.”

“I was warned this morning to keep all the room I had for a company from
Manchester.”

“Then that need not trouble you. They will not be here to-night. They
did not strike camp until this afternoon, later than they expected.
Should any arrive who have a better right here than I, I will turn out,
at whatever time of the night it is necessary. I want two rooms, and
a sitting-room with a big fire. And get us a hot supper as soon as you
can. There is good stabling for the horses, I hope?”

“The best in Lancashire. You are on this hide-and-seek business, I
suppose?”

The landlord had become wonderfully genial, now that there was the
prospect of good orders and gold ahead.

“What hide-and-seek business?”

“This slippery Scot. Have you got him yet?”

“No. It is thought he has made for the coast.”

“Never you fear, sir. I know that kind of cattle, and have had them
staying with me many’s the time. He’ll take to the hills, and you mark
my word, unless you hold hands across England, you’ll not catch him, and
even then you’ll have to look well to your feet, or he’ll slip through
between them.”

“I hardly, see how a man on horseback can do that.”

“You mark my word, they’ll be looking for a man on horseback, and he’ll
be sneaking through the grass; then they’ll be looking in the grass, and
he’s whistled to his horse and is off over the hills. I know they chaps,
and have played blind man’s buff with them myself. You mark my word,
that lad is in Scotland before to-morrow night, and laughing at you
all.”

“Oh, I hope not!”

“You try to catch an eel by diving after it, and all you get is a
wetting.”

“Well, I’m wet enough now, landlord, and have caught no eel yet, so if
you’ll order a brisk fire going, we will see what we can do in the way
of eels tomorrow.”

It proved that Armstrong was quite right about the non-arrival of the
Manchester contingent, and his deep slumber was not disturbed by any
notice to quit. All night long the rain lashed down, but at daybreak
it ceased, although the heavy clouds hung low in the sky. After a good
breakfast the two set out, and were not molested or questioned as they
passed from under the shadow of the castle at Clitheroe.



CHAPTER VII.--VICTORY.

Despite the night’s rest, the horses were stiff after the long struggle
with rain and mud the day before. If the situation was to be saved by
a race, there seemed little chance of success with animals so tired and
discouraged. With the exception of the departure from Oxford, the riders
were more silent and melancholy than at any other time during their
journey together. They had discussed the case in all its bearings the
previous night, before the blazing fire, and had come to the conclusion
that it would be safer to part. Armstrong was now in a country that he
knew reasonably well, and he had no need to ask his direction from any
chance comer, which was an advantage to a fugitive. They had agreed to
deflect toward the east and bid good-bye to each other at Kirby Stephen,
he striking northwest to Penrith, and she taking the main road east,
entering Durham at Barnard Castle. There was no blinking the fact
that while a Parliamentarian trooper might pass through this land
unquestioned, especially as so many soldiers were making their way
North, a trooper with a beautiful young woman of aristocratic appearance
would certainly cause comment and excite curiosity. The nearer they came
to Carlisle, the greater would be the danger of embarrassing questions.
They had a wild country to traverse, bleak hills and moorland, and the
roads as bad as they could be; but although they left Clitheroe at
five o’clock it was past noontide before they reached Kirby Stephen, a
distance of less than forty miles. They had met no one, and so far as
the morning section of the journey was concerned, the road to Scotland
was clear enough. At the squalid inn of Kirby Stephen they partook of
what each thought was their last meal together for a long time to come,
and then, in spite of her protests, he accompanied her east out of the
town and into the lonely hill country. At last she pulled up her horse,
and impetuously thrust out her right hand, dashing away some tear-drops
from her long lashes with her left.

“Good bye,” she cried, the broken voice belieing the assumed
cheerfulness of the tone. “I cannot allow you to come farther. You must
now bid farewell to your scout.”

“Dear lass, it breaks my heart to part with you in this way,” stammered
William, engulphing her small hand in both of his, then drawing her to
him. “It shames my manhood to let you go this wild road alone. I must
see you to your own door, in spite of all the Cromwells that ever broke
their country’s laws.”

“No, no!” she pleaded. “We went over all that last night, and settled
it. I am safe enough. It is you who are in danger. You will come to me
when this trouble is passed and done with.”

“By Saint Andrew, I’ll come to you as soon as this letter is in
Traquair’s hands.”

“Again, no, no! Cromwell is a hard man, and if you steal through his
cordon you must not come within his power in a hurry.”

“No fear, lass, he dare not touch me. Once my foot’s in Scotland, I’m
like that ancient chap you told me of; I draw virtue from the soil and
am unassailable. Cromwell wants nothing of me when this packet escapes
him. I’ll turn back from Traquair the moment I give it to him.”

“I do not permit such folly; remember that.” She wept a little, then
laughed a little. “I do not wish to see you until your hair is grown
again. My Scottish Samson, you must come to me with flowing locks, as
when I first saw you, so that I may forget I have been your Delilah.”

For answer he kissed her protesting lips again and again, then she hid
her face in his sombre cloak and sobbed quietly. The patient horses, now
accustomed to any vagaries on the part of their owners, stood quietly
close together.

“Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye,” she cried breathlessly, then whisked
herself from him and was gone, never looking back, but waving her hand
as she rode. He sat motionless as she had left him. At the top of the
distant hill, outlined against the dark sky, she drew in and stood.
Dimly he saw the flutter of something white in her waving hand, and
he drew from his breast her own handkerchief and waved in return. He
pressed his hand across his eyes, and, when he saw more clearly, only
the blank sky and the bare hilltop confronted him.

“Now curse the man who tries to stop me,” growled Armstrong through his
set teeth. “I have been too mild with these ruffians. I’ll break him
across the pommel of my saddle as if he were a rotten spear.”

The rain began to fall once more as he passed again through Kirby
Stephen, but he paid slight heed to it and pushed on to Penrith, where
he bought a day’s provender, so that he would have no need to make
request for food as he neared the danger spot. Just before darkness set
in, the sky cleared somewhat, and he saw ahead of him the gloomy bulk
of Carlisle castle. He turned aside from the main road, and before the
night became black found quarters for himself in a barn that contained
some fodder for his horse. He threw himself down on the fragrant hay and
slept peacefully.

In the morning the rain was again falling steadily. He reconnoitered his
position. There was no dwelling near, and he determined to let his horse
rest all that day and the next night, so that he should be in trim for
anything that might happen when the pinch came. A day more or less could
make little difference with the effectual guarding of the bridge, which
was now doubtless held as strongly as it could be. He was convinced that
success must depend ultimately on the speed of his horse, and he could
not enter the contest with an exhausted animal. Bruce was never so
carefully tended as on the day before the crisis, and as his intelligent
head turned toward his master, he seemed to know that something unusual
was afoot. On the second day Armstrong thought it best not to enter
Carlisle too early in the morning. He wished to mingle with a crowd and
not to ride the streets alone. The second night in the barn, with the
rest of the day and night before, had left both himself and his horse
fit to face anything that might ensue. The day was fine; the clouds had
cleared away, and the sun was shining on the sodden ground. When he came
in sight of the main road he saw what appeared to be an army marching
North. He halted at the cross-road, in doubt regarding his next move.
The men, in a long line, were on foot, trudging sullenly, wearily
forward, water-soaked and mud-covered. No man looked up or seemed to
take an interest in anything but the dismal work in hand. Far on toward
the gates of Carlisle rode a group of horsemen, and at the rear another
squad of mounted men encouraged the laggards to keep up for a little
longer. Armstrong sat on his horse until the latter company was abreast
of him.

“That is Carlisle ahead, I hope,” said one of the officers.

“Yes,” answered Armstrong. “Is this the Manchester contingent?”

“Yes. Brutal weather we’ve had,” growled the officer.

“It was that,” assented William, cheerfully, falling into line with
them, “but it seems on the mend.”

“Aye, now that our march is finished.”

“Oh, you are likely to go farther afield, across country, when you reach
Carlisle.”

“I suppose so,” replied the officer, gruffly, not too good-natured
over the prospect. No one asked Armstrong who he was, and the elaborate
fiction he had prepared to account for himself was not called for. The
troopers were worn out by their contest with the elements and the roads,
and all curiosity was dead in them. There stood Carlisle in front, and
that was enough. The foot soldiers struggled on, in no definite order of
formation, each doing the best he could. The officers rode silent behind
them. Thus they all marched into Carlisle without question, and in their
company the man the army was seeking. After a slight delay and pause in
the streets the new troops moved on to the castle. Armstrong found no
difficulty in falling behind, being thus free of the town. He knew every
turn of every street and lane in the place as well as he knew the inside
of his own pocket. He resolved to ride leisurely to the bridge, cut
through the guard, if it did not prove too strong, and then trust to the
spur. The town was thronged with military, but no one paid the slightest
attention to him. As he jogged along very nonchalantly, more contented
with the prospect than a few days before he would have thought possible,
Bruce awoke the echoes by neighing loudly.

“Now, old man, what did you that for?” whispered William.

He looked ahead and was stricken speechless for the moment by seeing
Frances Wentworth on her horse, without doubt a prisoner, two troopers
riding on either side of her, and a young officer in front. She had
unquestionably seen him, for her brow was wrinkled with anxiety; but her
eyes gazed steadily past him into the distance. As he made toward the
party they flashed one look of appeal upon him, which said as plainly
as words, “For Heaven’s sake, ride on and do not recognize me!”--but the
young man was oblivious to everything except the fact that she was in
some trouble.

“Where are you going with this lady?” he demanded of the officer.

“You may well ask,” said the man, in no accent of pleasure. “We have
come across country to Carlisle under orders from one in authority,
and now we must hale her back to Durham, where General Cromwell is
stationed; and those are the orders of some one else.”

“But it is all a mistake,” cried William.

“That’s what I’m telling you,” said the man, with a short laugh.

“This lady is the sister of Captain Wentworth of our army.”

“So she says. Others say she is the woman who was with the Scotch
renegade. I know nothing of it and care less. I obey orders.”

“Sir,” said Frances, coldly, “I beg you not to interfere. It is a
mistake that will be explained in due time, but these men must do as
they are told. That much you should know.”

Although her words were spoken harshly enough, her eloquent eyes
were bringing him to his senses and a realization of the unwisdom and
futility of his behaviour. Before he could speak again, a sharp voice
behind him rang out: “Why are you loitering there? Get on with you!”

Without turning, he knew who the speaker was, and if he had not, the
gleam of fear in the girl’s eyes might have warned him of peril.

“This man questions my orders,” said the officer.

“No man has a right to question your orders. Who is he?”

Armstrong was edging away, but De Courcy spurred the horse he rode in
a semicircle to cut off his retreat. Instantly the Frenchman raised a
shout that echoed through the streets of the town, and arrested every
foot within hearing.

“The Scot! The Scot!” he roared. “Stop that man; never mind the woman.
After him. Sound the signal and close the bridge. The thousand pounds
are mine, by God!”

Now Bruce was doing his best down the main street of Carlisle. A dozen
shots spattered fire harmlessly, and a big bell began to toll. Armstrong
was well ahead of the troopers who followed him, and he gained ground at
every stride. The pursuers were continually augmented from each lane
and alley, and came thundering after the flying man like a charge of
cavalry. A turn in the road brought the bridge in sight, and Armstrong
saw it was guarded only at the end nearest him, and that merely by two
lone pikemen. He would mow them down like grass, he said to himself, as
he drew his sword.

“Stand aside,” he yelled. “The Scot is loose, and we’re after him.”

The men jumped aside, glad they were not called upon to arrest such a
progress as they beheld coming down upon them. It was apparently one
of their own officers who commanded them, and there was neither time
to think or question. As the horse’s hoofs struck the bridge, the
deep crash of a cannon boomed from the castle, and before the fugitive
reached the centre there arose at the other end of the bridge--he could
not guess from whence they came--a troop of horse, as if the thunder of
the gun had called the company magically from the earth. Bruce stopped
on the crown of the bridge, at a touch of the rein, quivering with
excitement, raised his head, and gave a snort of defiance at the
blockade ahead of him. Armstrong glanced back; the bridge had closed on
him like a trap, both ends stopped by forces impossible for one man to
contend against.

“That cannon-shot did it. Well planned,” he growled to himself, his
horse now drawn across the bridge, alert for the word of command
whatever it might be. Below, the swollen Eden, lipping full from bank to
bank, rolled yellow and surly to the sea. Right and left, at either end
of the bridge, stood a mass of steel-clad men, impregnable as the walls
of the castle itself. De Courcy sprang off his horse and advanced with
a valour which Armstrong, sitting there, apparently calm, had not given
him credit for.

“He’s my man,” he cried. “Shoot him dead if he raises his hand.” Then to
the Scot. “Surrender quietly. You have no chance. A score of muskets are
turned on you.”

“If they shoot, some of them will wing you. Better warn them not to
fire,” replied Armstrong mildly, as if proffering to a friend advice
which did not concern himself.

“Do you surrender?”

“Come and take me, if you are anxious for the thousand pounds. It’s
worth the money.”

The Frenchman hesitated, edging cautiously along the parapet, so that if
his friends shot he would be as much as possible aside from the line
of fire. Seemingly his confidence in their marksmanship had not been
augmented by Armstrong’s warning.

“If you raise your hand to a weapon,” said De Courcy, “they will fire on
you, and I cannot stop them. They will not wait my word.”

“I know. I shall not raise my hand.”

The Frenchman dashed forward and seized the bridle of Bruce.

“Come quietly,” he shouted.

“I will,” said Armstrong. He leaned forward; said sharply to his horse,
“Over, my lad!” and smote him a rising blow on the shoulder with his
open hand. The horse raised his powerful front, and stood poised for
a moment like a statue, then launched himself into space. As De Courcy
felt his feet leave the stones, he let go the rein and fell sprawling
on the parapet, but Armstrong leaned over and grasped him by the loose
folds of his doublet.

“Come down with me, you traitor!” he cried. There was a scream of
terror, and the next instant the river roared in Armstrong’s ears. When
he came to the surface he shook his head like a spaniel, swept the water
from his eyes, and looked aloft at the great bridge. The parapet was
lined with troopers, all stricken motionless, as if they had been
transformed to stone. De Courcy, one moment afloat, shrieked for help,
then sank again. Armstrong knew that the paralysis on the bridge would
not last long, and he turned his horse toward the bank of raw clay.

“No one in command up there, apparently,” he muttered. “We must make the
most of it, old man.”

The panting horse, breathing laboriously, essayed the bank and slipped
back. Armstrong let loose his sodden cloak and flung it on the flood,
turning the horse that he might take the ascent at an angle. The crowd
still stared at him as if it were a show they had come out to see.
Bruce, his feet once more on firm ground, shook his mane and gave forth
a wild whinny of delight. Now the voice of command came in a blast of
anger from the bridge.

“After him, you fools! What are you staring at?”

“Too late, my lads, I think,” ventured William, as he leaped his
horse across the ditch that divided the fields from the road. Once the
followers came near him, and he turned in his saddle, threatening them
with his pistols, and they, forgetting that his powder was water-soaked,
fell back.

The troopers found no difficulty in believing that a man who jumped
his horse over Carlisle bridge into the Eden was directly aided by the
devil, as had been rumoured, and they made no doubt the powder would
soon dry on such a pit-scorched favourite as he. They felt sure he could
put the pistols to deadly use in case of need.

From the moment Bruce struck his hoofs on the road the horses behind had
no chance of overtaking him. They fell farther and farther to the
rear, and at last the silvery Esk gleamed ahead, while all along, since
pursuit grew hopeless, William had been feasting his eyes on the blue
hills of Scotland. He walked his horse through the Esk, but it, too, had
been swollen by the rains, and Bruce again had to swim for it before
he reached the other side. William sprang to the ground, flung his arms
round the neck of his sterling companion, laying his cheek against that
of the horse.

“You’ve won the race, my boy. All the credit is to you, and Bruce, my
lad, poets will sing of you.” Then, with a choking in his throat, he
knelt down and kissed the soil, the sensible horse looking on in wonder.
As the young man rose to his feet and saw, on the other side of the Esk,
the troopers lining up, his mood changed, and he laughed aloud. Drawing
forth his leathern bottle, he held it aloft and shouted to them: “Come
over, lads, and I’ll give you a drink. Don’t be feared; none o’ the
water got into this.”

But the officer dared not cross the boundary, Cromwell’s orders had been
strict, so he and his men stood glum, making no response to the generous
invitation.

“Well, here’s to us a’,” cried William, raising the bottle to his lips.

“And now, my friends,” he continued, replacing the flask and springing
into the saddle, “don’t be so down in the mouth. You’ve seen a Scotchman
run, which was more than your ancestors saw at Bannockburn.”

And with that he rode for Traquair Castle.



CHAPTER VIII.--ACCOMPLISHMENT.

As evening drew on, the old warder of Traquair Castle beheld a sight
that caused him to rub his eyes in the fear that they were misleading
him. A horseman bearing the guise of a Roundhead trooper, his steel cap
glittering, approached the ancient stronghold. That such a man dared set
foot on Scottish soil and ride thus boldly to the home of the most noted
Royalist on the Border seemed incredible, but the warder was not to be
caught napping, and he gave orders that the gates be closed and guarded,
for the Border was ever a land of surprises, and one must take all
precaution. Doubtless this lone trooper had a company concealed
somewhere, and was advancing to parley, although he carried no flag of
truce. He came on with a fine air of indifference, and stopped when he
found his way barred, sitting carelessly on his horse with an amused
smile on his lips.

“What’s yer wull, surr?” demanded the warder from the wall.

“That’s it,” replied the horseman.

“Whut’s it? I dinna unnerstaun’ ye.”

“Wull’s ma name,” said the rider with an accent as broad as that of his
questioner. “Wuz that no’ whut ye were spierin’? Dinna staun glowerin’
there, Jock Tamson, like an oolet or a gowk. Can ye no’ see Ah’m
English? Gang awa’ and tell yer maister that a freen o’ Crummle’s at th’
door an’ craves a word wi’ him.”

“Dod!” cried the Bewildered warder, scratching his head, “if ye hae a
tongue like that on ye since ye crossed the Border, ye’ve made the maist
o’ yer time.”

“Is the Yerl o’ Traquair in?”

“He’s jist that.”

“Then rin awa’ an’ gi’e ma message, for Ah’m wet an’ tired an’ hungry.”

The warder sought Traquair in his library, where he sat, an anxious man,
with many documents spread out on a table before him.

“Yer lordship, there’s a soldier in the uniform of the English rebels at
th’ gates, wha says he’s a freen o’ Crummle’s, and begs a word wi’ ye.”

“Ah!” said the Earl, frowning, “they’ve caught poor Armstrong, then, and
now, in addition to our troubles, we’ll need to bargain with that fiend
Noll to save his neck. Everything is against us.”

“He may be an Englisher, but he’s got a Scotch accent as broad as th’
Tweed.”

“He’s one of our countrymen fighting for Cromwell, and therefore thought
by that shrewd villain the better emissary. Bring him in.”

“There may be others o’ his like in hiding, ma Lord.”

“Close the gates after him, then, and keep a strict watch. There’s no
danger on that score yet, but lippen to nothing. This man’s just come
to strike a bargain, an’ I’m afraid we must dance to the tune he pipes.
Bring him in.”

When William and the warder came in together, a moment or two passed
before the Earl recognized his visitor, then he sprang forward and held
out both his hands.

“In God’s name, Armstrong, is this you?” he cried. “What have they done
to you? Save us all! Who has shorn and accoutred you like this?”

“The necessities of the chase, Traquair. This is a disguise, and
although you saw through it, I’m happy to think I deluded Jock Tamson
there.”

“Losh!” cried Tamson, peering forward, “ye’ll never threep doon ma
throat that this is Wull Armstrong.”

“Sir William, if you please, Tamson,” corrected the new knight. “The
title was bestowed upon me by his Majesty himself, and I shall expect
that deference from the lower orders, Tamson, which the designation
calls for. Still, Jock, I’ll forgive your familiarity if you’ll help me
off with this helmet, that seems glued to my skull.”

The old man grasped the edges of the steel cap with both his hands
when Armstrong bent his head. He braced his foot against that of the
helmet-wearer, and pulled with all his might, but his strength was
unequal to the task.

“Lord pity us!” growled Will, “catch me ever putting my head in a trap
like this again. I’ll have to take it off with a boot-jack.”

“Bring in Angus,” laughed the Earl, “he’ll pull either the helmet or the
head off you.”

The huge Angus came lumbering in after the warder, who went in search of
him.

“Have you had your supper, Angus?” asked the Earl.

“Yes, ma lord.”

“Then let us see what strength it’s given you. Tug this iron pot from
Armstrong’s head.”

Angus, bracing himself as the warder had done, jerked ineffectually
several times.

“Pull, ye deevil,” cried Armstrong. “Ye’ve no more strength than a
three-year-old wean.”

“Ah’m feart to thraw yer neck,” protested Angus.

“Never mind the neck. Being hanged by Cromwell is as nothing to this.
Pull, ye gomeral! Am I to go about with my head in a metal bucket all my
life? Pull!”

Angus put forth his strength, and the helmet gave way with unexpected
suddenness, whereupon Angus sat down on the floor with a thud like an
earthquake, the steel cap in his lap. Traquair slapped his thigh and
roared till the rafters rang.

“Will, you’ll be an inch taller after that. I never saw the like of it.
I’ve heard that a man’s head grows with new honors placed upon him, but
I had no idea it was so bad as that. Man, where’s your hair? And did
they chop it off with a battle-axe? If that’s a fair example of barber’s
work in England, I’m glad I live in Scotland.”

Armstrong rubbed his shorn head slowly with his open palm.

“A barber may have other qualities than expertness with the shears,” he
said.

“The trick of the shears is surely the chief equipment for the trade.”

“Yes. You’re in the right. My hair was cut in a stable-yard under the
moonlight, with great haste and blunt blades. We will see what your
own poll-man can do in still shortening the result. I have been hotly
chased, Traquair, and hair-cutting was the least drawback that troubled
me. I think my tailoring is even worse than my barbering, and there,
also, you must stand my friend. Is the Castle tailor out of work?”

“My whole wardrobe is at your disposal, Will.”

“Nothing in it would fit me, and I am a thought particular about a new
dress, as I have lost all self-respect in this one. I may borrow a hat
from you, if you have one of the latest fashion, with a fine feather on
it.”

“Aha! What’s come over you, Will? Some lady in the Court of Charles? You
didn’t fash much over your clothes in the old days.”

“I don’t fash much now, as you may see by my array. Still, it is n’t
duds, but food that is the first necessity. I’ve had nothing all day but
a hurried drink out of the Eden. It was as thick as brose, and about the
same colour, but not so sustaining.”

“They’re preparing supper for you now, and I’ll bear you company when
it’s ready. I’m eager to hear what befell. So the King knighted you.
Deed, he might have gone farther than that and made you a marquis or a
duke at the same cost.”

“Oh, he offered me anything in his gift if I brought the commission
safely through to you,--a promise that I’m thinking I’ll never trouble
him to redeem. Nevertheless, here’s the packet, a little damp, but none
the worse for that.”

He placed the cause of all the trouble on the table, and Traquair turned
it over and over in his hands, with no great delight in its possession,
as the messenger thought. The Earl sighed as he opened it at last and
slowly perused its contents in silence, laying it on the table again
when he had finished.

“You’re a wonderful man, William,” he said. “If every one in Scotland
did his duty as thoroughly as you do it, we would soon place the King on
his throne again.”

“Is there more trouble brewing?”

“More trouble, and the old trouble, and the new trouble. Every one
pulling his own way, and in all directions, thinking only of himself,
and never by any chance of the interests of the whole.”

“May I tell Cromwell that? He seemed at some pains to intercept a billet
that you receive but lightly.”

“Tell Cromwell! You’re never going to write to that scoundrel?”

“I intend to see him before the week is past.”

“What! You’re not such a fool as to put yourself in Cromwell’s clutch
again?”

“Just that.”

“Will, I wonder at you. Angus got the steel bonnet off you with some
work, but no man in Scotland can get Cromwell’s rope off your neck if
once you thrust your head through the noose.”

“Cromwell’s not such a fool as to hang me. If he did, it would but unite
your wavering hosts like an invasion of Scotland.”

“It would be a heavy price to pay for union, Will.”

“The price will never be paid. Cromwell knows what he wants, and he does
n’t want me now, however anxious he was for my company this morning.”

“Have you actually seen him?”

“I met him the first day I crossed the Border. I saw him once again, and
I travelled over most of England on a pass from his own hand. Cromwell
and I have a mutual respect for each other by this time, but there are
some matters of difference between us that I think will best be settled
by word of mouth, so I’m off day after to-morrow to foregather with him.
I cannot go sooner, because my new gear will not be ready, and I want to
give the General time to withdraw his troops from across the country, so
that I may come on him in other fettle than as a prisoner.”

“Who is the woman, Will? I knew you would go clean daft when you met
her.”

“Never you mind. As the Border is a land of nobility and romance, we
will call her an Earl’s daughter to please you.”

“More like some peasant girl who assisted you to escape from your
enemies.”

“Well, whoever she is, Traquair, I’ll make her Mrs. Armstrong when I get
the chance.”

“Lady Armstrong, you mean. You’re forgetting your new dignity. Surely
if the case stands thus you will ask the King to fulfill his promise and
make you a baron at the least.”

“That will I not. I’ll trouble the badgered man no further.”

“I know the ways of the sex better than you do, and I warrant you the
lady will give you no rest until the title’s yours, whenever she knows
you have earned it and have had the offer of it.”

“She thinks less of these things than I do, even.”

“Then she is no peasant lass.”

“I never said she was.”

At this point, greatly to the delight of Armstrong, whose answers were
becoming more and more short, his supper was announced, and Traquair
with his arm over the shoulder of his guest, led him to the dining-room.

The tailor came when supper was finished, and measured his new customer,
received minute directions concerning the garments, and retired
protesting he would do his best in the limited time allowed him. The
barber operated as well as he could on a head that began to nod in spite
of the efforts of its owner. Sleep laid its heavy hand on Armstrong,
and the voice of Traquair sounded distant and meaningless, something
resembling the rush of Eden water in his ears, whereupon William nearly
got those useful members cropped in earnest. At last he found himself in
his room, and, for the first time since he left that hospitable mansion,
enjoyed the luxury of lying between clean sheets with his clothes off.
Then he slept as dreamlessly as his ancestors.



CHAPTER IX.--MATRIMONY.

A night, and a day, and a night rejuvenated the tired man and his
horse. Clothed and in his right mind he was once more the gallant
Borderer, ready to face whatever fortune had in store for him; on this
occasion, so Traquair said, more superbly attired than ever had been the
case before; but Armstrong held that this was merely interested praise
of the Castle tailor. Traquair endeavoured to persuade him not to
trust himself again on English soil, but his advice was unheeded, as
is usually the fate of unasked counsel. Traquair wished him to take a
bodyguard of a score or more, but Armstrong pointed out that unless
he had an army at his back able to defeat Cromwell’s forces all
other assistance was useless. He risked everything upon his belief in
Cromwell’s common sense, and from this position nothing Traquair said
could turn him. The Earl rode with him as far as the Esk, and there bade
him good luck and God speed.

When Armstrong had once gone over a road, he needed no other guide
than his own memory and instinct of direction. He made directly for the
farmsteading where first he had been arrested, and found it deserted;
then took the route over which his captors had conducted him, expecting
to reach Corbiton Manor before darkness set in. This plan was frustrated
by the fact that he had allowed too scant time for the cordon across
the country to be withdrawn. Cromwell was indeed calling in his men,
and massing them at Carlisle, Newcastle, and Hexham, which latter town
Armstrong’s own ancestors had frequently pillaged. He learned of this
movement from chance wayfarers, and was on the alert not to fall within
the scope of any marching company. There was evidently no secret about
Cromwell’s intentions, and the Scot surmised that the General wished his
plans to be well spread over the land, and thus overawe the Northerners
in any hostile projects they might think of undertaking, showing his
readiness to crush them if they ventured to set foot across the Border.

About mid-day Armstrong caught sight of the first large body of men, and
he was compelled to hide for several hours in a depression on the moor
until they and the danger were past. This delay retarded his arrival at
Corbiton Manor until after nightfall, when the full moon shone upon
the ancient mansion, instead of the silver crescent which hung in the
western sky when last he visited the place. It seemed incredible that
the space of time could have been so short, for the events of a life
were crowded into the interval. As he approached the ancient house, the
challenge of a sentinel brought him to a stand, and called from the hall
several officers.

“Is Cromwell here?” asked the newcomer.

“This is the headquarters of his Excellency, General Cromwell,” said
one of the officers, with some severity in his tone, a rebuke to the
questioner’s off-hand method of designation.

“That’s the man I mean,” replied Armstrong. “I never heard there were
two of the name or the kind. Well; tell him that William Armstrong, who
carried the commission from the King to Scotland, is here, and requires
a private conference with him.”

The strong moonlight was shining on the back of the horseman, and in the
faces of the officers. The latter did not obey the injunction laid upon
them, but their leader gave, instead, a brief command, and in a moment
two dozen pikemen surrounded the rider, who laughed heartily and said:
“My lads, you are too late. You should have done that trick several days
since. Oliver will give you no thanks for it now. Go in and tell him I
am here, and send some one to take charge of my horse while I talk with
him.”

The chief officer hesitated for a moment, then turned and disappeared
within the mansion, while Armstrong dismounted and gave to the soldier
who took his horse minute instructions touching the treatment of the
animal.

“You are all good horsemen,” said the visitor, in his most genial
accents, “and will doubtless respect Bruce here, whatever you think
of his master; for this is the charger that louped over the parapet of
Carlisle bridge, and, after that, beat the best you had in your cavalry
in a race for the Border. If your chief should come to a disagreement
with me, take care of the horse at least, for you have n’t another like
him.”

The horse was led away, palpably admired by all the men, for some of
them stroked and patted his flank, speaking soothingly to him. William
stood with his hands in his pockets, the centre of a ring of armed men,
his gay dress in striking contrast to the more sober uniform of his
guards. Cromwell was taking his time making up his mind, and the young
man thought this delay was not an encouraging sign. He had thrust his
head between the lion’s jaws, and the minutes that passed before he
could know whether the brute was going to bite or not were irksome to
him especially as there was now nothing to do but await the issue. At
last the officer reappeared, dismissed the guard, and said curtly to the
prisoner: “Follow me.”

Armstrong was ushered into the huge room which he remembered so well,
and found Cromwell sitting alone at the table, as if he had never left
it. Even the two candles stood where they had been placed before, but
the face of the seated man seemed more inscrutable, more stern, than he
recollected it. This was the leader of the Ironsides on the Northampton
road, rather than the urbane man who had pretended to believe the story
of the search for cattle.

Armstrong swept off his feathered hat most courteously as he approached
the table, bowed, and, standing at ease on the spot he had formerly
occupied, said: “Good evening, General!” The General lifted his heavy
eyes to the cropped head, now glistening in the light, and although
his firm mouth remained immobile, the slightest suspicion of a twinkle
scintillated for one brief moment in his searching glance.

“Good evening. You wished to see me?”

“Yes, General, and have come from Scotland this very day for no other
purpose.”

“You are out of employment, perhaps, and are looking for re-engagement?”

“Well, General, if I was, you are the man I should come to for a
recommendation. In a manner of speaking, you are in the right. I have
been riding hard this while back for other folk, and now I have taken a
bit of journey on my own account. You see my case is----”

“I will state the case,” interrupted Cromwell, menacingly. “You stood
here and lied to me.”

“You sat there and did the same by me.”

“You stood here and lied to me. You came as a spy, mixing with affairs
that did not concern you.”

“Pardon me, General. I took service for my King, and you will be good
enough to remember that Charles is King of Scotland, even if it pleases
you to forget that he is King of England, and that he will be, till he
dies, your King as well as mine.”

“He is King of Oxford solely.”

“Very well. Let me tell you, you’ll find that same Oxford a very hard
nut to crack if you attempt to take it by assault. I went carefully
around the fortifications, and would seek no better job than to hold it
against you and your whole army. There would be many a cropped head
low before you got mine in your clutches,” and William passed his hand
sympathetically over his denuded crown, as had become a custom with him.
His questioner bent forward with more of eagerness than he had hitherto
shown, all thought of the indictment he was heaping up seeming to pass
from his mind.

“Where is its weakest spot?” he said, as one expert might seek counsel
from another who had personal experience of the subject.

“That is the beauty of it. There is no weakest spot.”

“Is there not? We shall never need to take it by assault, but if that
were thought best, it might be attacked from the south.”

Armstrong raised his eyes to the ceiling and meditated for a moment.

“I think you’re right,” he said, “but it would cost a’wheen o’ men.”

“Yes; better men than are within its walls, and they shall not be
sacrificed. I can wait, and the King cannot. You delivered the King’s
message to Traquair?”

“Yes. That’s what I went for.”

“And you have the impudence to come to me, thinking I will allow you to
return?”

“Say confidence, rather. I am very sure you will allow me to return.”

“Yes, confidence is the word, but with a mixture of impudence as well;
the malt and the hops. It never crossed your mind that it was a dungeon
you were approaching?”

“I thought if you did anything, it would be hanging.”

“And why not?”

“Because my death by rope would be just the little fillip that Scotland
needs at the present moment. You thraw my neck, and the Scots are at
yours before I am fairly happit in the ground.”

“You look upon yourself as important to your countrymen, then?”

“I do nothing of the kind. Man, I wonder at both you and the King.
Neither of you understand the Scottish nature in the least. If the King
had any comprehension, he would have had the heather afire years since.
A man may dawner about Scotland all his life, hungry and athirst, cold
and in rags, getting fewer kickshaws than kicks, none paying heed or
anything else to him, but let him die the death of a martyr, and his
tired bones are more potent than ten thousand live men. Ma sang! I’d
like to see ye hang me! There’s poor Traquair, at his wit’s end for
discouragement through dissension among the people and their leaders.
You hang me, and you’ve done the trick for him.”

Cromwell leaned back in his chair, his lids partially closed, but they
could not veil the look of admiration he cast upon the man standing
before him, who spoke enthusiastically of his own execution as if it
were rather a good joke on his opponent. For some moments the General
kept silence, then he said abruptly:

“Will you take a commission in my army?”

“I will not.”

“I thought you were a fighter.”

“I am, but I prefer to engage under Traquair’s banner if he raises it.”

“Against me?”

“Just that.”

“And you think I will let you go?”

“I’ll take my oath on it.”

“You are right. The way is clear to Scotland, to Oxford, or where you
please. What have you come to me for?”

“For Frances Wentworth.”

“I thought as much. In this I cannot oblige you. With you I have nothing
to do, and you are at liberty. That wench of Wentworth’s stands on a
different footing, inasmuch as she has proved traitor to her own. I
shall do nothing to injure her, but she shall taste captivity until she
confesses her error.”

“She is no traitor, but did well the work you set for her.”

“I set no work for her. ’Twas given to her brother, and his folly
brought her into the business.”

“You gave your consent at Northampton; thus I say you set her to the
task, and well she performed it. If your men had done your bidding as
faithfully, I had never crossed the Esk.”

“She connived at your escape from Lichfield, and elsewhere.”

“True, but she was a free woman then, having fulfilled her duty to you.”

“You are quibbling. She is a traitor, and more honest than you; she
admits it.”

“I say she is a true woman,” cried Armstrong, red anger flushing his
brow. The hot Border blood sprang into mastery for the first time during
their controversy, and he failed to note that Cromwell remained cold as
at the beginning, and might be negotiated with, if he had remembered the
commander’s resolve to enlist the Scot in his service. But before the
General could give hint of a bargain, the impetuosity of the younger
man left him only the choice of killing the Scot where he stood, or
apparently succumbing to him, a most dangerous alternative had Armstrong
to deal with one less schooled in the repression of his feelings than
Cromwell. The ill-advised Borderer dropped his hat silently to the
floor, flashed forth his sword, and presented it at his opponent’s
throat.

“They tell me you wear concealed armour,”--his voice was quiet in its
intensity, almost a whisper,--“but that will not help you. No human
power can avail you at this moment, for if you cry out my blade
advances, and a bit of your backbone sticks to the point of it. You see
I cannot help myself, but must kill you unless I get your promise.”

Cromwell sat rigid, not a muscle of face or body moving. The sword was
held as steady as a beam of the roof.

“I implore you to heed me,” continued the young man, seeing the other
did not intend to speak. “I implore you, as if I were on my bended knees
before you, and my life in your hands, instead of yours in mine. Will
you let the great affairs of state be jeopardized to thwart two lovers?
With you slain, the King wins, for there is none in England can fill
your place. Have you sons and daughters of your own that your heart goes
out to? Think of them, and be kind to us.”

“Will you marry the girl?”

“Surely, surely.”

“Here, before you depart together?”

“Here and now, if there is one to knot us.”

“You know that a promise given under coercion does not hold?”

“I know it well, but the word of General Cromwell is enough for me, once
it is passed, however given.”

“Then take down your sword; I promise, and am well rid of you both.”

With a deep sigh of relief Armstrong sheathed his sword and lifted his
hat from the floor. Cromwell rose from his chair and paced twice up and
down the long room between the great moonlit windows and the table. He
paused in his march, looked up at the dim gallery, and said: “Cobb, come
down.”

To Armstrong’s amazement, who thought he had been alone with the
General, he heard lurching heavy steps come clumping down the wooden
stair, and a trooper, with primed musket in his hand, stood before his
master.

“Cobb, why did you not shoot this man dead when you saw him draw his
sword?”

“Because, Excellency, you did not give the signal.”

“If I had, what then?”

“He was a dead man before he could move an arm, or your finger was on
the table again.”

“You have done well. That is what I like; exact obedience, and no panic.
Keep your lips closed. Go and tell your colonel to come here.”

The man withdrew, and Cromwell resumed his walk, making no comment
on the brief dialogue. William blew a long whistle, then he laughed a
little.

When the colonel came in, Cromwell turned to him and said: “Is that
malignant brawler, chaplain to Lord Rudby, in the cells yet?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“Tell your men to clear out the chapel at once and light it. There are
some stores in it, I think, and bring the reverend greybeard to me.”

In a few moments the colonel returned, accompanied by an aged clergyman,
who, despite his haggard and careworn look and bent shoulders, cast
a glance of hatred at the General, which seemed to entitle him to the
epithet Cromwell had bestowed upon him. To this silent defiance Cromwell
paid no attention, but said to him:

“Sir, you may earn your liberty to-night by marrying two young people in
the chapel.”

“That will I not,” returned the clergyman stoutly, “and all your tyranny
cannot compel me to do so.”

“The wench,” continued Cromwell, unmoved, “you already know. She is
Frances Wentworth, daughter of the late Earl of Strafford. The groom
stands here before you; William Armstrong, a Scot, who has but lately
carried a message from the man Charles, at Oxford, to Traquair on the
Border. I should hang him, but he prefers the noose you can tie to the
one my hands might prepare.”

The old clergyman looked at Armstrong with an interest he had not
displayed on entering the room.

“Have you, then, seen his gracious Majesty, the King?”

“Yes, reverend sir, and but a few days ago.”

“And carried his message safe through these rebellious hordes now
desecrating the land?”

“There was some opposition, but I won through, thanks to my horse.”

“And thanks, no doubt, to your own loyal courage. God bless you, sir,
and God save the King. The lady you have chosen is worthy of you, as
you of her. In God’s shattered temple, I will marry you, if its walls
remain.”

When the colonel came in with Frances, the girl turned a frightened look
upon the group as she saw who stood there.

“Oh,” she cried impulsively, “I told you not to come.”

“’Tis you who are to obey, not he,” said Cromwell harshly. “He has
come for you. Will you marry him?”

The girl allowed her eyes to seek the floor, and did not answer him.
Even in the candle-light her cheeks burned rosy red.

“Come, come,” cried Cromwell impatiently, “yes, or no, wench.”

“I will not have her so addressed by any,” spoke up Armstrong, stoutly
stepping forward; but the girl flashed a glance from her dark eyes on
the commander.

“Yes,” she said, with decision, then directed her look on her lover, and
so to the floor again.

“Are there candles in the chapel?”

“Yes, Excellency,” replied the colonel.

“Bring some of the officers,--I think witnesses are needed,--and your
regimental book, if there is signing to be done. ’Twill hold them as
fast as the parish register, I warrant.” Then to the clergyman, “Follow
me, sir, and the rest of you.”

With that Cromwell strode out and led the way to the chapel, so hastily
converted from a storehouse to its former purpose. The old divine took
his place with the young people before him, the group of officers in the
dimness near the door. Cromwell, however, stood near the girl.

“Slip off one of your rings and give it to this pastor,” he whispered
to her. “We are short of such gear here, and I doubt if your man ever
thought of it.”

Frances, without a word, selected from the number on her fingers
that which had been her mother’s wedding-ring, and handed it to the
clergyman.

“_Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God,
and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this
Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of
God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical
union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ
adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he
wrought in Cana of Galilee_.”

As the sonorous words resounded in the ancient chapel, the old man
straightened himself, the former anger in his face gave way to a
benignant expression, and his attitude took on all the grave dignity of
his calling. He went on with the service until he came to the words:

“_Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?_”

Cromwell stepped forward and said brusquely, “I do.”

The clergyman seemed to have forgotten the Commander’s presence, and
now paused when it was recalled to him; then he went on to the end, and
added, in a voice trembling with emotion: “God bless you, my children,
sworn to love and cherish each other in this time of hatred and war.
May you live to see what my aged eyes may never behold,--peace upon this
distracted land, and the King upon an unchallenged throne.”

“Amen, and amen!” said the deep voice of Cromwell, “provided the word
‘righteous’ is placed before the word ‘King’.”

*****

Once more on horseback, and clear of Corbiton Manor, her hand stole into
his.

“Well,” he said, “which way?”

“If you are willing, I will take the way known to me, and lead you to
my home; to-morrow you may take the way known to you, and lead me to
yours.”

“Frances, I am ready to follow wherever you lead.” And so they went
forth together in the glamour of the moonlight.


THE END





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